Thursday, November 11, 2010

Favorite Buddha Quote

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Inner Child

I attended a class awhile back where the teacher was talking about addiction in relation to the gunas.  In yoga there are three states of being, or “gunas”: sattva, rajas, and tamas.  Sattva is purity, rajas is dim and tamas is dark.   His hypothesis was that in order for someone to become addicted to something it has to be an acquired thing, that in our most sattvik state, we do not indulge in behaviors that make our souls dim or dark.  Only when we are in a rajasik or tamasik state do we do things that are bad for us.  

He then went on to say “I mean you only have to look at kids to know what is good for you. It’s not that hard.  Kids, well kids are pure right? They will always tell you if something is good or bad for you. You give a kid scotch and what do you think they will do? They will wrinkle their noses and spit it out, right?” 

Ah yes, the eternal “purity of children” speech. How many yoga classes have I been in where the teacher uses the impulsiveness of children as an example of our “true and blissful” state or, better yet, the lack of impulse control as an example of what we “should” do?  This trite, simplistic idea that children intrinsically know good from bad, and right from wrong because they are “pure”. That the only reason why we do bad things is because we become tainted by our environment, time, experiences and worst of all: growing up.

First of all, no matter how adorable and fun kids are, they do not have that “pure” filter people fantasize about. Leave a bunch of kids to fend for themselves for a period of time and I promise you it will be way more Lord of the Flies then Never, Never Land.  Furthermore, being a kid is not simple.  It’s hard.  Every day is an organizational mess. It’s a constant struggle of learning new tools, impulse control, of being dependent upon, yet wanting to be independent of those who protect them.  Their emotional lives make the Real Housewives of FancyPants County look like a Zen masters.  They spend all their time trying to understand the world around them and learn new things all the while being frustrated by the constant stream of “no’s” and “don’t do that’s” and “be careful’s.”  Sure, they appreciate the small things, they play with abandon, think the world is their oyster, but not because they are more spiritually realized than adults.  They do so because someone has their backs.  A happy, healthy child is not an abandoned or neglected one.  A happy, healthy child has someone watching over him, taking care of his needs, helping him navigate the world.   

And this is not to say “Hey what about us grown-ups? Let’s give a shout out to the real heros here!” but merely to say that childhood is not an end unto itself.  It is not something we are supposed to sustain or better yet, aspire to.  Childhood is necessarily transient.  It’s a tipping off point. The place where we get the tools we will use to go into the world and either support or destroy it.     

Second of all, when someone says “be more childlike” most often they aren’t fantasizing about the perfection of childhood, but rather cloaking sanctimoniousness.  Telling an alcoholic that “a kid will tell you that stuff is crap” separates those without suffering as “good people” who know better from those who suffer as “bad people” who don’t.  I mean, even a little kid knows that stuff isn’t good for you. Why don’t you?  

Suffering does not mean someone is good or bad, or lazy or stupid.  It means he suffers.  In conversations where we condemn pain as so simplistic that even a child could do better, what we are really saying is “be like me” or “do things my way.” There is no progress in that.  It only creates shame.  But, shame is powerful.  It’s the Alpha Male of the emotional manipulation pack. The weight of shame is heavy.  Shame makes people feel dirty, worthless and awful.  They will do anything to avoid having it bear down on them.  It creates fear.  Fear begets obedience.  People will follow the rules of the Shamer implicitly.  The Shamer, full of conviction and authority, has power to either validate or invalidate everyone around him. The only problem is, no matter how much power shame wields, it doesn’t support authentic healing. Blind obedience out of fear isn’t the same thing as someone saying “I do not want this in my life anymore.”

Yet, it’s hard to see human suffering.  It makes us uncomfortable.  It’s confusing and often disorienting. We’re confronted with our own limitations and our own lack of suffering.  We’re intensely grateful not to be suffering, maybe even feel a little guilty that we’re so glad we’re not suffering, and we’re desperate to do something to make the uncomfortable situation go away.  The faster it goes away, the better.  It’s so much harder to say “This pain is terrible.  This pain is confusing, but this pain is not you.  It’s not your punishment.  Let’s sit together and see if this faith, this practice, this place, this medication, etc. can help in some way alleviate your suffering.”  So instead we offer up simple, often trite, answers.

Sadly, the answers to suffering often aren’t very simple.  Barring fundamental injustices like lack of clean water, food, shelter, clothing and medical care, most causes of suffering are complexly human. They are a combination of life experiences, physical limitations, economic restrictions, genetics, etc.  The cures are going to be as varied as the people suffering.  The “correct” action is not just one thing, but a collection of tools and supplies tailored to meet the person’s needs. 

It’s like a house.  A newer house is going to need different attention then an older one.  Say you want to repaint the interior of an old home. First you strip the walls right?  You sand the walls, get rid of the old layers and start fresh.  That’s what you do right? Sure, but stripping the walls in a home built before the 1970’s runs the risk of exposing yourself to harmful levels of lead.  In an old house you have to take precautions. You have to seal off the room and work one room at a time, wear specially designed protective gear, make sure no children or pregnant women will be in or around the house and clean up meticulously.  In the end both homes get a new coat of paint but how they get it is very different.  

Rather than glorify one state of being, i.e. childhood, as something we need to sustain, or tell each other that we aren’t “doing it right” because the cure we found that worked so well for us isn’t producing the same results for someone else, why not just offer it up? Hey, I did this, it worked really well.  It’s not for you? OK. Maybe this is more your speed? Or maybe this would be useful?  Why not create for grown-ups what we strive to do for our kids: safe, nurturing environments where we are free to explore, question and be ourselves.  

When we encourage each other and remain open to different ideas, we create environments where the healing goes from a promise to a possibility. And it's that possibility of being that lays the foundation for genuine, authentic change. It's that possibility that eases suffering. It may not always be the right fit, but it's active and participatory.  It allows you to affect your own being, to remain flexible and interested in your own life. 

So, for what it's worth, you take care of your house.  Find the hardware store that offers the best quality, best return policy and most helpful service.  If you go somewhere and their products are junk and their clerks are jerks, don’t go back. Even if everyone tells you they got really good service there.  Choose tools, materials and contractors that prop you up and make you the strongest, healthiest and most structurally sound person you can be within the framework you've got.