Monday, May 17, 2010

Achieving the Here and Now

Although I've been an avid student of various theologies over the years, it was only about four years ago that Brad and I took a six week course together on mindfulness meditation at Sequoia Hospital.

Everything I knew about meditation and Buddhism came from my readings and discussion (and one gay Buddhist sangha meeting I attended 12 years ago).

There are so many things that are attractive about Buddhist thought to me from the emphasis on acceptance of things as they are to the active practice of detachment from things that may cause suffering.

I am especially drawn to the idea that loss is inevitable, and becoming excessively attached to our things, our ideas and even our self, will lead to more suffering. Walking the middle ground between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-punishment is a worthy goal achieved through the practice of nirodha, which is essentially learning to become dispassionate about things that lead to suffering. With much practice, Buddhists believe that you can ultimately achieve nirvana, which is a state of freedom from worry, troubles, ideas and fabrications.

Coming from a fundamentalist Christian background, it has not been easy for me to comprehend a world without right or wrong, judgment and penalty.

In my upbringing, there was an ultimate truth and there was no middle ground.

It was only when I left the household I grew up in, and made my way to college, was I exposed to other ways of thinking and believing.

This, of course, is the very reason that education and intellect is so frightening to evangelicals in my opinion. Maintaining control is much more difficult when you allow freedom of perspective.

In his extraordinary book, Man's Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl, a Jewish neurologist and psychiatrist described his internment at Theresienstadt and the development of his existential theories of mental health and suffering (called Logotherapy). One crucial concept that he vividly illustrated was his realization that no matter what the Nazis took from him- whether his belongings, his family or even his life- what they could not take from him was his ability to view the situation however he chose.

This was a powerful point for me, that I believe has underscored much of my own search for meaning in the events that occur in my life.

Dr. Frankl helped me see that I am in control of my suffering and my pain.

And meditation offers me a specific path to achieve less suffering with the caveat that I must practice.

Interestingly, my family would be quite threatened by my exploration of thinking that is outside of their box. Leaving the box would mean abandoning the safety that comes with having all the answers in black and white and facing the potentially frightening shades of gray that fall in between. Maybe it's just me, but I see more compatibility between the words and actions of Christ and Buddhist thinking than I do between the actual examples of Christ and modern day fundamentalist evangelism.

I realize that I have been avoiding meditation because at some level, I must be avoiding the gray areas too.

In my case, I think those gray areas include the feelings that I would rather not feel, which in all likelihood blossom from thoughts that I have become too attached to.

My anger/fears/sadness arise only from thoughts.

Living in the moment seems like a nice alternative.

No comments: