Am I on the path less traveled?
In Buddhist practice we study the Dhamma or as it is pronounced in some lineages, Dharma. The teachings of the Buddha are said to lead to enlightenment, which is liberation from suffering/happiness.
The Buddha asserted what we call, the 4 noble truths.
Buddhism’s four truths are called noble because they liberate us from suffering. They are the Buddha’s basic teaching.
Life always involves suffering, in obvious and subtle forms. Even when things seem good.
2. The Cause of Suffering
The cause of suffering is craving and fundamental ignorance. We attach to things and all things that exist are impermanent.
3. The End of Suffering
Suffering can end because our awakened mind is always available to us.
4. The Path
By living ethically, practicing meditation, and developing wisdom, we can take the same journey to enlightenment and freedom from suffering that the buddhas (awakened ones) do. We too can wake up. This path is the 8 Fold Path.
THE NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH
- Right understanding
- Right thought
- Right speech
- Right action
- Right livelihood
- Right effort
- Right mindfulness
- Right concentration
Having put that out there, I want to make a point. My nature causes me to suffer. Human nature leads me to suffering. We will suffer. We will hurt. We will fall ill, lose loved ones, fail at love, harm others unintentionally, etc. If we practice an ethical and compassionate life we can often mitigate our suffering but if you are participating in this thing called life, things will happen.
Our untrained, unmindful thoughts are usually leading to disaster. But mindfulness does not end suffering. The 8 Fold Path is not the end of suffering.
Monks train constantly to think, speak and act mindfully. They practice mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation. Monks eliminate most of the distractions and attachments which cause suffering or limit happiness. These same attachments for a lay person lead to great joy at times, great suffering at others.
I do not chase enlightenment but instead simply try to live in the moment. I can do many things Buddhist monks can do. I can chant in the Pali language, recite the blessings, study the scriptures and teachings, go without jewelry, and more. But I live in the world, seeking companionship, friendship, financial security and love. I enjoy pleasure, accept pain. I try to not resist a change of circumstances or fortune, especially one that is unwelcome or unpleasant. Rather, I have a dedication to the development mindfulness and skill, wisdom and compassion. I do not expect the elimination of difficulties or attachments. I have learned to moderate and mitigate suffering and to navigate the type of difficulties that can rob a person of peace.
The past few years have been littered with difficulties and blessings. I would have been crushed under the weight of my own insecurities, fears and low self-esteem. But now I recognize that I am not my thoughts and feelings. They are the story I generally tell myself but which I can alter and improve upon by acting in a skillful, wholesome and kind manner.
Monastic life has advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is that it is a simpler life generally without the complications and the challenge of paying rent, buying food and clothing and raising daughters. I would if I could but I cannot I know. I can live more simply but I will always be encumbered by the responsibilities and distractions of a non-monastic life. It beats the old way though by a significant margin. It is a life of service, free from intoxicants and a recognition that I can be in the moment when all my fears and insecurities are pulling me back to the pain of the past or anxiety of the future.
“If you just walk with me
And let me walk with you
I’m on a journey
I don’t wanna walk alone” Pearl Jam.
When the heart weeps for what it has lost, the soul laughs for what it has found. ~ Sufi aphorism ~
It would be hard if you were not there to know the changes. There were changes constantly going on, physical, mental, psychological and spiritual. I was meditating today and had a flashback. I have had it before but not while meditating. I was 13-14 years old. There was an overnight party at a rented cabin by the beach. The party was all high-schoolers of various ages. I was the youngest.
My “friends” at the time were proud to act like animals. On this occasion they decided to vandalize the cabin. I cannot recall but there were probably 3 of us who did this. The older guys must not have said anything to stop us. As I discovered the joy of destruction, I went wild. I do not know how much damage others did but I broke everything breakable. Furniture! We pulled out dresser drawers and broke the wood bottoms. Destroyed chairs. Broke the plasterboard walls, kicked through doors, whatever.
No one ever reprimanded me, that I recall. I believe our club got a bill for the damage but I do not remember anyone telling me what a fuck up I was.
As I had this memory come back to me during meditation it hit me so hard I opened my eyes and my heart was beating fast. I wanted to undo what I had done. I was so ashamed. I never had the good sense to be fully ashamed before. I did apologize to my date about 20 years later but never to the cabin owners.
I grew up to be a good person. I did many fine things for many people. But when I was young I did many bad things to people and property. I broke into dozens of residences and stole their belongings. Some days I would steal anything not locked down in stores and homes. I spent hours quietly unglazing and taking windows out of buildings so I could get in. I manipulated door locks with screw drivers and knives to get in where I did not belong.
I would walk down the street and try every car door late at night to see if a car was unlocked so I could steal what was inside. I jumped through the window of an empty police car one time and stole everything that was loose on the front seat.
I pick-pocketed students in school for their drug stashes. I would eat in restaurants and stay for hours and would eventually order a second meal but only pay one of the checks. And then steal the toilet paper out of the restaurant bathroom for my apartment. I enjoyed my reputation as a thief and a thug.
Of course I was victimized plenty also. A kid on the streets gets exploited as much as he hustles others. People stole from me, assaulted me, tried to use me sexually. I dropped out of high school so there were plenty of hours to get in trouble.
Years have gone by. I have been through so many phases, changes and transitions. Drug addiction, recovery, addiction again and recovery again, marriages and divorces. I got an education , became a social worker, lawyer, teacher, counselor, friend, husband, father and more. Each phase, every twist and turn carried change.
But nothing has been as transformative as mindful meditation accompanied by the practice of loving/kindness. I do not just change, I am change. I do not just grow, I am the growth. I see change unfolding in the quiet moments of reflection. I see the past with clarity and without excuse or praise. I see the moment without justification or reservation and I only ask for absolution from the world on these rare occasions.
I am a better person than I have ever been. I will be better as time goes by. But in this moment I am able to be the better parent, son, husband, friend, customer, driver etc. All the changes before were mechanical in contrast. They happened because they were necessary to stay off drugs or get through school or do my job or stop pain or derive pleasure. But in Vipassana (Insight) meditation as taught in Buddhism by my teachers, I change organically because I simply want to be better. I want to operate free from any motive other than to just be a best me.
I am absorbed in social media and I have to constantly expend effort to write mindfully and skillfully so that I adhere to a morality which I embrace. It is so challenging. What a great tool Facebook has been for me to grow. Nary a day, an hour goes by on Facebook where I am not presented with the chance to practice vigilance, restraint of pen and tongue, and yes, restraint of knife and gun.
I show up each day for life. I have no reason to avert the gaze of others. I need no reason to reach for a kind word to share. To be the best me is possible in this moment for no reason other than it is the rightest thing I can do. I am nice when I can be because in the quiet moments of meditation, I saw the source of all my suffering and I wanted to be free from it. My life was non-stop attachment and desire to what I thought I needed or wanted and my life was one long painful event which pain I interrupted by moments of service to others. I was petty and resentful. And meditation exposed how corrupting my thoughts were and how my own thoughts put distance between me and happiness. In this revelation lived my liberation. I was the cause of all my suffering.
I hope to inspire others to create the change they need to be free from suffering. I intend to use the time remaining to be useful. I can feel the physical unraveling in my body they call impermanence. It is liberating to not have to escape aging and to be aging. I do not have to flee death, I am, like all beings, dying. I am a long way from where I would like to be in terms of behavior, but my soul does laugh for what it has found.
“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly. – Buddha