Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fireflies in the Morning

When I was a kid I was fascinated by the fireflies I'd see hovering around in the hot evening summer air. One night I trapped a few of them between my cupped hands and stuck them into a jar, screwing the top on and leaving it on the side of our suburban home. I thought that by doing this I'd be able to have a mini-light show again in the morning and throughout the day.

By the time I got to the jar the next morning, the fireflies were already half dead and barely able to fly around, and I had inadvertently zapped any trace of the energy that enabled them to pulsate with their brilliant yellow glow. Suddenly they looked like ordinary insects and I was very disappointed. Frustrated, I let them out of the jar and squashed them against the pavement with my foot. For just a few seconds I could see a trace of that amazing glowing light streaked across the sidewalk, only now I couldn't enjoy it at all as I could the night before--it felt artificial and anticlimactic.

I do the same thing now as a grown man, only in other ways that most people think are logical—through grasping and trying to hold on to those experiences that give me some pleasure.

When we try to hold onto an experience or person that pleases us, we're instantly setting up a situation where the only possible outcome is suffering. We naturally try to hold onto things and people, hoping that they'll stay the same and perform for us whenever and however we want them to.

By doing this we're confining both ourselves and the object of our desire within a virtual jar, just as I did with those fireflies. And all that does is to suck the life and spontaneity out of things because we're resisting the natural ebb and flow of life and instead demanding that it be a certain way at all times, with no room for change or growth or new possibilities.

When we can appreciate the beautiful brilliance that each new moment offers us without latching onto it or fearing its eventual absence, we allow ourselves an escape from suffering and an authentic sense of freedom.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Not Being Ignorant / Do Not Get Intoxicated (a paper on the precept)

This is a portion of my monthly precept paper for the Zen Center Chaplaincy Training program.

Not Being Ignorant
(Seeing Things Clearly)

The way in which I get the most clouded and unclear about things is through anger. Anger is extremely alluring and intoxicating because when I am angry my sense of identity and separateness is at its strongest. When something "out there" offends or hurts me "over here" I feel as solid and substantial as I possibly can and that sensation is very appealing.

The moment I fall into anger I'm no longer living in the present moment. Instead, I am reacting to something based on an erroneous belief I've formed in the past or assumptions I'm making about the present or future. Either way the ensuing thoughts and feelings aren't based in reality—but they do pump up my ego and this gives both the angry thoughts and feelings the illusion of realness. Rage gives me a real high, and the ensuing drama that goes on within my head is usually much more interesting than whatever it is I simply need to do at any given moment. I rob myself of just being here when I allow my thoughts to swirl around and feed them with attention or action. This gives way to fanciful conversations, imagined political debates with world leaders I'll most likely never meet, and blistering verbal attacks on anyone I'm at odds with or was at odds with at any point in time.

What's great about anger is that it gives me an outer focal point to blame for its presence—and the oxymoronic righteous indignation that goes hand and hand with it causes me to feel very superior and important. To support my case, I make a mental list of the reasons why I'm right and someone else is wrong. I'm certain that if only the object of my rage would be rational for a moment, they'd see how awful they are and how wonderful I am (and maybe even thank me for pointing out their fatal flaws).

For me, anger takes me away more than my use of alcohol does. I drink moderately and never get intoxicated to a degree that seriously impairs my judgment or ability to take care of myself. Alcohol does dull my overall experience and perceptions however, but I've gotten in the habit of being mindful of how off my senses are whenever I've had a drink or two. It's sort of like being mindfully intoxicated if that makes any sense.

Another way in which I get intoxicated is through fantasy. When things feel less that satisfactory or if I'm getting bored, my mind starts creating the ideal home—either my current apartment refurnished in some minor or major way, or when I'm really needing to escape I conjure up images of a huge two bedroom with ample space and a spare, modest room devoted solely to my practice and reading. While there is a practical aspect to this fantasizing and I could use more space, much of the time I'm just doing it to avoid whatever reality is asking me to experience at any given moment.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year