Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Stage Fright

My cowardice is in vain
There is nowhere
To hide

Lately, I’ve been noticing the interplay of three characters on my mental stage.

Actor number one is my intellect, recently mused about in Mental Fractals.

Having avoided taking psychology at university (it wasn’t “real” science), I’m not hampered by knowing what to call the other two.  Looking them up in Wikipedia would spoil the fun.

The intellect lives in the brain and generally talks too much.  The other two can be hard to tell apart, as they both live in the viscera, emanating uneasy gut feelings.

One of them warns me that I'm about to do something that is likely to hurt me or someone else, as when my hand is about to pocket the change the cashier accidentally gave me too much of.

The other one tells me I don’t want to do something, like approaching a vaguely familiar stranger and asking if we used to be acquainted.

The same unease accompanies leaving a comfort zone, thinking outside the box, taking a risk, being vulnerable, going out on a limb, breaking a habit, facing an addiction, relinquishing a crutch, defying a superstition, embracing the unknown.

I got to study these two up close when I wrote When I Fell.  I felt a strong urge to write it, but I sure didn't want to.

The first gut feeling seems to be an impulse to act compassionately, follow the precepts, be skillful, “do the right thing”.  The other one is, well, fear.  To make things interesting, the intellect chimes in and explains why the first one should be ignored and the second one followed.

I don’t have much to say about the first - it seems to give pretty straightforward signals.  The real problem is when the second one masquerades as the first or drowns it out.  If I'm about to cross a high and very unsafe platform, both 'instincts' will urge me not to do it, but only the second one will urge me to stay back no matter how safe the platform is.  Going ahead despite our fear is called courage.  We have other words for going ahead against our better judgment.

A little healthy fear can be an antidote for complacency.  They say if you ever stop getting a few butterflies in your stomach before giving a speech or performing, watch out – mistakes are sure to follow.

Intuition or inhibition?  Probably by paying attention to the sensations as they occur, I’ll get to know them better and be a little braver.

To paraphrase a native story, there are two dogs inside me that fight: one leads me forward, the other holds me back.  Which one wins?  The one I feed.


[Note from 2011]:

Here's a plug for some upcoming blogging on May 1 [Note - this has been changed to May 8].  Nate DeMontigny over at Precious Metal has organized Article Swap 2K11 and paired up volunteers to write guest blog posts.  TMC from Return to Rural will be posting here, and I'll be writing a post for Danny Fisher's blog at Rev. Danny Fisher. Cause for a few butterflies...

Monday, April 18, 2011

In Good Company

Do you know what all of these folks have in common?

Albert Einstein●Albert Schweitzer●Alexander Pope●Anne Hathaway●Anthony the Great●Apollonius of Tyana●Ashoka the Great●Basil of Caesarea●Brigitte Bardot●Carl Lewis●Casey Affleck●Cesar Chavez●Chelsea Clinton●Christian Bale●Clement of Alexandria●Cloris Leachman●Confucius●Daryl Hannah●David Ashton<:)Dennis Weaver●Dick Gregory●Ellen DeGeneres●Emanuel Swedenborg●Empedocles●Flavius Claudius Julianus●Forest Whitaker●Franz Kafka●Fred Rogers●Gaius Musonius Rufus●Gautama Buddha●George Bernard Shaw●George Harrison●Grace Slick●Gustav Holst●Gustav Mahler●Hayley Mills●Hesiod●Isadora Duncan●Jane Goodall●Jeff Beck●Jiddu Krishnamurti●Jim Carrey●Joaquin Phoenix●John Coltrane●John Harvey Kellogg●John Peel●John Wesley●Johnny Appleseed●Julie Christie●k.d. lang●Kabīr●Kate Winslet●Killer Kowalski●Leo Tolstoy●Leonardo Da Vinci●Lewis Gompertz●Lilli Lehmann●Linda McCartney●Lord Byron●M.K.Gandhi●Malcolm Muggeridge●Martina Navratilova●Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley●Moby●Nikola Tesla●Ovid●Pamela Anderson●Paris Hilton●Percy Bysshe Shelley●Percy Grainger●Philip Glass●Plato●Plotinus●Plutarch●Porphyry●Pythagoras of Samos●Quintus Sextius●Rabindranath Tagore●Richard Gere●Richard Wagner●Ringo Starr●Saint Angela de Merici●Saint Catherine of Siena●Saint Francis of Paola●Saint Hilarion●Saint John Chrysostom●Saint Richard of Chichester●Shania Twain●Sir Edwin Arnold●Sir Paul McCartney●Sir Richard Phillips●Sir Stafford Cripps●Sotion●Spike Milligan●Stella McCartney●Stuart Murdoch●Surya Bonaly●Swami Satchidananda●Swami Vivekananda●Tertullian●Theophrastus●Thomas Ignatius●Thomas Pitfield●Tobey Maguire●Weird Al Yankovic ●Wil Wheaton●Yehudi Menuhin●

All vegetarians.

No deep message here.  As being a veggie can sometimes be a lonely undertaking, I thought I would list a few to keep you company.  My favourite is Mister Rogers.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

When I Fell

When I fell
You stopped
To help me up

Somewhere in far-off Australia, a bookbird is happily chirping.

A couple of days ago, I got a very sweet tweet from @CaptnSpaceCadet, who has a very nice blog over at bookbird  which continually touches me with its honesty and sincerity.  The tweet said some very very nice things about my blog.  Before I had even finished blushing, a follow up tweet arrived, inviting me to do a blog swap, where we would each pick a topic for the other to write in the next 5 days.  I gallantly agreed, and slyly suggested her topic: “Why am I doing this?”  The twinge of guilt I was beginning to feel evaporated when BB shot back with a topic for me: “Why did I do that?”  I was trapped.  BB did a beautiful job, as usual, with Bookbird vs the Donut, and with 4 days to spare.

So now I have to step out of my comfort zone.

Back in 2002 (when BB was still a fledgling), I was going through a low point in my career.  Four years previously, I had quit drinking because I was doing it too much.  Now, without anaesthetic, I was responding to stressful encounters by hiding from them, leaving telephone messages unanswered and letters unopened.  To make a long story short, I learned the meaning of burnout.

A colleague with some personal experience suggested I try Alcoholics Anonymous, which I did, for 181 meetings.  The fit didn't seem quite right, but it was a port in a storm, and I worked hard at it.  By now I had let my Zen practice slip, although I did continue to recite the bodhisattva vows every day.  At the AA meetings, we took turns telling our stories.  I can say that after a while, I got really tired of hearing myself “talk the talk”.  At one of the last meetings, I remember sharing about the bodhisattva vows, and heard myself saying how arrogant I was to think I could save all sentient beings.  That was the turning point.  I felt as if I had stabbed myself in the heart and was about to throw away something priceless.  I knew I had to leave the group.

It was around then that I read Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now and started doing zazen again.  When I went to my last meeting, it was with a little sadness that I didn’t add “and I’m an alcoholic” after “Hi, my name’s Dave”.  One of the members asked me if this meant that I was rejecting their group.  I said no, just the opposite – they would always have a place in my heart because they welcomed me like family, with unquestioning acceptance, when I needed it most.

Why did I burn out?  I don't know.  I saw warning signs of procrastination and avoidance, but didn't want to acknowledge the problem.  All I know is, if you think you are falling, reach out.  If someone else is falling, reach out.

Fast forward to here and now.  I’m grateful for the sangha – cyber and otherwise, and for remembering a couple of things I had forgotten, and for that little group of bodhisattvas.  And thank you, bookbird, for the invitation to crawl out of my shell and talk about things I would have preferred to forget.

Why did I do that?  Perhaps it was so that I could do this.

There but for the...
No - just:
There go I

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mental Fractals: Thinking About Thinking About Thinking

Thinking about thinking about thinking
Ripples on the pond
Where the frog jumped in

I think too much.  At least I think I think too much.  Or maybe I just think I think I think too much…..  OK - I think too much!!

In my job, I have to think a lot – analyzing clients’ problems, poring over documents and statutes looking for loopholes, combing the internet for similar cases, writing briefs, editing and more editing, all the time scheming, scheming, scheming.  Going to court is like a breath of fresh air.

There is no question that thinking is a vital part of my life.  I couldn’t do my job without using my brain, and the microcircuits inside the contraption I’m staring at are the product of some serious brainwork.

But an old saying comes to mind: just as the eye can't see itself, the intellect can't comprehend itself.  Thinking about thinking just goes around and around like a fractal pattern.

In Zen, intellect is a two edged sword. Thinking about logical problems is fine, however discovering what our essential nature does, and how it operates, is not an intellectual exercise.  Thinking about it is like boarding a locomotive headed in the wrong direction.  Attempting to say more would be offering free rides to the train station.

When I walk to work, I intend to be mindful, but invariably catch myself scheming.  When I walk home, I catch myself replaying the day's scenarios.

So lately, the emphasis in my Zen practice is just to be present when I’m not taking action, and when I am, to just act.  At least that’s the theory.  My brain takes the position that zazen is a splendid opportunity for more scheming and scenario replaying.

One of the things that seems to help at work is to take a deep breath and be present for a moment before picking up the phone.

Another is to perform frequent micro tea ceremonies throughout the day.  I keep a carafe of green tea far enough away from my desk that I have to get up and walk over to it, and I use a small cup that needs refilling often.

If there’s time, the icing on the cake is a stroll in the nearby forest, where scheming and replaying seem to fade into the rushing sounds of the creek.

Like the hallucinations in the final scene of A Beautiful Mind, I don’t imagine random thoughts will ever go away, but with practice, I’ll pay less attention to them.

So c’mon, Monkey Mind, give me a hug and then run off and play!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sense of Self

(There is a video clip on this page but it doesn't seem to be visible to every computer.
If you can't see it, a thousand apologies! :)

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