Auspicious Birth — Preface

Several years ago, I was searching for an English-speaking Buddhist temple in Chinatown. I stumbled across a website, complete with a picture, about a Caucasian man who was a resident monk at a local temple.

As fate would have it, I ran into the monk, Venerable Benkong, a couple of weeks later at the bus stop near my apartment. Tall and white, attired in a mustard-colored robe, he was unmistakable.

I introduced myself just as the bus pulled up, and we continued our conversation as we headed uptown. He told me that his temple did not conduct any services in English. He was, however, spearheading a Chinese-to-English Buddha Dharma translation team. I mentioned that I had an editorial background and offered to edit completed translations.

I had the privilege of editing a number of these translations over the years. Although I had read countless Buddhist books and attended a myriad of classes and “sits,” I quickly realized that I had only scratched the surface and had no hope of becoming an expert during this lifetime. These were scholarly works written by monks who had spent their lives learning and living Buddhist “theology.” (I use the word “theology” here as a sort of shorthand, since the Buddha himself told his followers not to waste their time worrying about whether there was a God. Here, “theology” refers to the investigation — and explanation — of Buddhist concepts as they relate to the world.)

In addition to being academic in nature, these writings were inherently Chinese from a religious and cultural perspective. So I felt like I was given a secret window into a world to which most Westerners weren’t privy.

Venerable Benkong and I remained in contact via email even after I was no longer able to edit for his team due to time constraints. I feel honored to count him as a reader of this blog. Recently, I asked whether he would like to write a guest column. He declined, but graciously offered to allow me to share those Chinese-to-English translations that the author, Venerable Zhiguo, considers to be public domain.

Rather than publishing only the English translation, I’m going to include the Chinese source as well. I’m going to start with bardo, an “in between” or “transitional” state between lives, from a work entitled Auspicious Birth. It’s a concept that I wasn’t very familiar with prior to editing these works, and I hardly consider myself an expert. I only hope to share these scholarly works with my readers.

I hope that you find them as fascinating and enlightening as I do.

愿生命

化作莲花

May Life Transform

into a Lotus

願生命

化作蓮花

Translated by the Buddha Dharma Translation Team
Preface

 

伴随着一阵阵惊天动地的哭泣,一个个新生命降临人间。 Accompanied by waves of earth-shattering cries, new lives arrive on earth one after another. 伴隨著一陣陣驚天動地的哭泣,一個個新生命降臨人間。
此时此刻,整个世界都在微笑,而唯有他(她)一心一意地哭个不停,此中的委屈,此中的辛酸谁人能知? At that moment, the whole world is smiling, and only the newborn is consumed by ceaseless sobbing. Who knows what that grievance and those feelings of suffering and distress must be like?

 

此時此刻,整個世界都在微笑,而唯有他(她)一心一意地哭個不停,此中的委屈,此中的辛酸誰人能知?

 

同是父精母血所成,何以生来就有胖瘦净垢、身形美丑、天资优劣种种差别,此中的因由,此中的变化谁人能知? What makes babies different from one another? They are all born from the sperm of a father and the blood of a mother. Chubby or thin, perfectly formed or deformed, naturally gifted or dull witted, who knows the causes for these variations? 同是父精母血所成,何以生來就有胖瘦淨垢、身形美醜、天資優劣種種差別,此中的因由,此中的變化誰人能知?

 

谁不希望自家的小孩天资聪颖,乖巧伶俐,体格健壮,智慧超群! Who does not hope their child will be exceptional, clever, more able-bodied and wiser than the rest? 誰不希望自家的小孩天資聰穎,乖巧伶俐,體格健壯,智慧超群!
可怜天下父母心,为了让孩子有个较高的起点,有个好天赋、好开端,常不等出生即千方百计地加强营养,迫不急待地施行胎育,意在强身补脑,提高先天智力。 Pitiful parents across the world, in order to give their child the best start in life and enable their child to express its giftedness, often do not wait for the birth of their child before bending over backwards to enhance their fetus’ nutrition.  They then eagerly implement an education with the intent of strengthening its body and supplementing its mind to uplift its innate intelligence. 可憐天下父母心,為了讓孩子有個較高的起點,有個好天賦、好開端,常不等出生即千方百計地加強營養,迫不急待地施行胎育,意在強身補腦,提高先天智力。
其心之迫,其意之诚,着实令人感动! Such extraordinary effort, such sincerity, is touching indeed. 其心之迫,其意之誠,著實令人感動!

 

     然而胎儿的思想,胎儿的感受有谁能知? However, who can know what the fetus is thinking, what the fetus is feeling?      然而胎兒的思想,胎兒的感受有誰能知?
父母的良苦用心,胎儿是否领情,是否真实受用,初为父母又能知道多少内情? Is the fetus appreciative of its parents’ well-meaning attentiveness? Is it truly benefited? How much of its inner feelings can parents know? 父母的良苦用心,胎兒是否領情,是否真實受用,初為父母又能知道多少內情?

 

其实,早在两千五百多年前,佛教对这些问题就有非常系统的认识,并且指导历代的人们不断地运用于生活实践,如今结合一些现代的科学手段和方法,已经逐步得到证实。 As a matter of fact, as early as 2,500 years ago, Buddhism provided systematic answers to these questions. Moreover, Buddhism guided our predecessors as they put those answers into daily practice. Today, these practices, combined with modern scientific approaches and methods, are being proven correct. 其實,早在兩千五百多年前,佛教對這些問題就有非常系統的認識,並且指導歷代的人們不斷地運用於生活實踐,如今結合一些現代的科學手段和方法,已經逐步得到證實。
这些思想的真实不虚,内容叙述的完备精细,无不令人叹为观止! Therefore, a Buddhist would naturally see these ways of thinking as being true and concrete. See their meticulously crafted tenets as impeccable and irrefutable, regarded by practitioners as being the epitome of rational perfection. 這些思想的真實不虛,內容敘述的完備精細,無不令人嘆為觀止!

 

比如佛经中描述胎儿在母腹中度过三十八周的阶段性变化,与现代胚胎学的描述基本一致,尤其描述胎儿精神意识层面上的内容,现代科学还无法触及,也无法否认。 For example, the Buddhist sutras explain the periodic changes in the fetus over the course of the thirty-eight weeks that it is in the womb of its mother. This depiction is consistent with modern embryology. However, modern science is as yet unable to verify, but cannot deny, the sutras’ description of the stratification of the fetus’ consciousness. 比如佛經中描述胎兒在母腹中度過三十八週的階段性變化,與現代胚胎學的描述基本一致,尤其描述胎兒精神意識層面上的內容,現代科學還無法觸及,也無法否認。
爱因斯坦:“如果有一个能够应付现代科学需求,又能与科学相依共存的宗教,那必定是佛教。” Albert Einstein once said,

“If there is any religion that could respond to the needs of modern science, it would be Buddhism.”

愛因斯坦:“如果有一個能夠應付現代科學需求,又能與科學相依共存的宗教,那必定是佛教。”
爱因斯坦说:科学没有宗教就象瘸子,宗教没有科学就像瞎子。 He also said,

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

愛因斯坦說:科學沒有宗教就像瘸子,宗教沒有科學就像瞎子。

Einstein, Albert (1930). “Religion and Science” New York Times Magazine (Nov. 9): 1-4

孙中山先生说:“佛学乃哲学之母,研究佛学可补科学之偏。” Mr. Sun Yat-sen, the founder of a new democracy in China, once said, “Buddhism is the mother of philosophy. The study of Buddhism can mend science’s prejudices.” 孫中山先生說:“佛學乃哲學之母,研究佛學可補科學之偏。”

 

希望在当今强国富民、优生优育的社会形势下,挖掘佛教文化中有关优生优育方面的先进理念及中华民族传统文化的成功经验,这也是人类智慧的结晶,我们应古为今用,补现代文明之不足,美化心灵,作为科学研究的借鉴,及生活的参考。 I hope that today’s powerful nations with their wealthy people and their societies that reward conscientious child-rearing will discover advanced concepts related to sound child-rearing from Buddhist and traditional Chinese culture.

The discovery and use of these concepts would be the crystallization of human wisdom. We should make the past serve the present, mend what is not satisfactory in modern civilization, beautify our minds and spirit, become a reference for scientific research, and most of all, we should take all of this as a reference for how to lead our lives.

希望在當今強國富民、優生優育的社會形勢下,挖掘佛教文化中有關優生優育方面的先進理念及中華民族傳統文化的成功經驗,這也是人類智慧的結晶,我們應古為今用,補現代文明之不足,美化心靈,作為科學研究的借鑒,及生活的參考。

 

客观认识生命的规律,参照佛教的文化思想,结合现代科学成果,以调整大家的育儿观念,深刻而亲切地理解生命的意义,关爱孩子身心健康、体会他们思想和心灵上的感受,从先天呵护到后天全程关怀,一路陪同,从而孕育出健康又端正、智慧又乖巧的麟儿贵子,实乃父母之愿、国家之幸、万民之福。 We should better understand life’s patterns in order to modify our perceptions of early education. We can do this by consulting Buddhism from a cultural perspective and by combining Buddhist understanding with the achievements of modern science. We can gain a profound and intimate comprehension of the meaning of life as well as enhance our care and concern for the physical and mental well-being of our children, as we experience their physical, mental, and spiritual feelings. Buddhism and modern science combined can escort us along the entire course of the prenatal and postnatal care of our children. Considered together, Buddhism and modern science will help fulfill the dream of parents to give birth to healthy and wholesome, wise and astute children who will bring blessings to society as a whole. 客觀認識生命的規律,參照佛教的文化思想,結合現代科學成果,以調整大家的育兒觀念,深刻而親切地理解生命的意義,關愛孩子身心健康、體會他們思想和心靈上的感受,從先天呵護到後天全程關懷,一路陪同,從而孕育出健康又端正、智慧又乖巧的麟兒貴子,實乃父母之願、國家之幸、萬民之福。

 

 

 

 

 

The best-laid plans of mice and (wo)men

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren’t alone]
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.

— Robert Burns, “To a Mouse”

DH and I were supposed to go antiquing upstate this morning. We were going to take our neighbor’s Yorkie, who we’re babysitting for the weekend. Her carry case was ready to go. I was going to make PB&J sandwiches for the people and pack some kibble for the pup. It was going to be a fine and glorious Saturday.

Except it wasn’t.

I woke up with a migraine at 1:00 a.m., took meds and went back to bed. Ordinarily, my rescue meds knock a migraine out within two hours. This morning, the migraine laughed. It was a deep, maniacal evil villain laugh devoid of mirth. At 7:00 I stumbled out of bed and told DH that I had a migraine that wasn’t responding to meds. He graciously said that we’d go next weekend. I patted the dog, who thought that I had woken up to play ball with her, and went back to bed till 3:00 in the afternoon.

Much of that time, I was unable to sleep, so I meditated. This wasn’t pretty, formal, “sit in a lotus pose after lighting candles on an altar” meditation. This was “survive the pain and get through the next moment in one piece” meditation performed in fetal position with my forehead slathered in peppermint and lavender oil and buried into the pillow.

For a while, I opted to meditate on the migraine, breathing into the pain as I pinpointed it. Usually, this is a wonderful technique that demonstrates that pain is rarely, if ever, stationary. Not only does its location change, but its very nature changes; one moment it’s throbbing, the next it’s stabbing, the next it’s dull. Everything about pain validates the Buddhist concept of the law of impermanence.

When this technique proved to do nothing but draw attention to the fact that the migraine wasn’t getting any better, I changed the focus of my attention, first to the breath itself and later to the hum of the industrial-sized air conditioner outside the bedroom window. Eventually, the latter lulled me back to sleep.

Amidst all that meditation, I prayed…a lot. I begged Jesus, Archangel Raphael and all the healing angels to lift the pain. While there was no “Be healed!” moment, at least I didn’t feel so alone.

When I got up mid afternoon, the pain was, for the most part, gone.

Years ago I saw a cartoon in The New Yorker that I can’t seem to find on the Internet. The gist of it was that someone (man, woman, child…I don’t remember) was kneeling by their bed praying something along the lines of, “Dear Lord, please don’t teach me any lessons today.”

I don’t believe that God designs our days to “teach us a lesson,” but I do believe that, if we are mindful, we will learn something most days, including on the “worst” of days.

Today’s lessons, in order of appearance, were:

  • “Mensch tracht, un Gott lacht,” a Yiddish proverb that, loosely translated means, “Man plans and God laughs.” I don’t think that God laughs, but our mundane plans are easily derailed. The question is, “How do we handle these derailments?”
  • Pain impacts everyone associated with the person suffering it: spouses, children, friends and pets. Today’s migraine ruined not only my plans, but DH’s and the dog’s. This has happened countless times in the decades that we have been together. I am grateful that he understands that, on the rare occasion when a migraine doesn’t respond to meds, I cannot function. My only option is to try to sleep it off.
  • Meditation can make pain more bearable. I’ve said this before on Eclectic Spirituality and I will, undoubtedly say it again. Meditation isn’t just something that we sit down and do for a specified time frame every day. It’s a tool that we can reach for when the going gets rough.
  • When the pain is gone, or at least bearable, salvage what you can from the day. No, I didn’t get to go antiquing. But when I felt better I did get to watch Orange is the New Black, play with my pets and the neighbor’s dog and read a fashion magazine. And I wrote this post, which was no small feat. Was it the Saturday that I planned? No, but it was the one that I got. And if my spiritual practice has taught me anything, it’s that I need accept “what is.”

Judge Not

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose,
in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.                                — Jon Kabat-Zinn

As my loyal readers (you know who you are!) may remember, I see a biofeedback therapist every week. Actually, I’m lucky enough to see two biofeedback professionals: Susan Antelis, Director of Biofeedback, Mental Health Counseling & Creative Arts Therapy PLLC, and Cindy Smalletz,  who is studying biofeedback under Susan’s direction.

At the beginning of every session, we do a check in. This week, I told them that I had experienced two migraine-free days. Then I mentioned that the Muse,* a meditation tool that I’ve been using for the past month or so, is helping me to be less judgmental, at least when it comes to meditation.

Muse is a headband that reads your brain signals. According to the Muse website,

Muse gives you feedback about your meditation in real time by translating your brain signals into the sounds of wind. When your mind is calm and settled, you hear calm and settled winds. When your mind is active the winds will pick up and blow.

Also,  birds sing and chirp when your mind is calm.

Muse generates a report that you can view on your cellphone at the end of each meditation session and saves them so you can compare your progress over time. I’m a Type A personality, so I’m very much driven by results. And the results showed me two important things:

  1. I’m staying “calm” or, as I like to call it, “in the zone,” for far longer periods than I did when I first started using Muse.
  2. Sometimes I’m “in the zone” even when I think that my mind is wandering.

The second point is the one that made me realize how self-judgmental I have been with regards to my meditation. I have been practicing mindfulness meditation for years. The basic instruction is to focus on your breath. When you notice that your mind has wandered — and it will…repeatedly — simply bring your attention back to the breath.

During some meditation sessions, I feel as if I have a constant subliminal monologue running through my mind. It’s as if my attention is divided between my breath and thoughts that I can barely hear, like talk radio playing quietly in another room. As a Type A personality, I want to meditate “perfectly,” as if there is such a thing. I want my mind to hone in on my breath and not deviate at all. Of course, as any meditation teacher will tell you, meditation isn’t about not deviating from the breath. It’s about being aware (mindful) that you are thinking, planning or daydreaming, not judging the fact that you were doing so and gently returning to the breath.

Muse is helping me to become less self-judgmental by providing objective data that clearly refutes that my mind is drifting. I suspect that, after years of mindfulness practice, I simply “catch” myself the moment that my mind starts to drift and return my focus to my breath. So I’m less likely to allow the initial thought to turn into a planning session or daydream.

Susan Antelis told me that many migraine sufferers are judgmental. As a rule, we tend to be extremely sensitive, and being judgmental is a reaction to being overwhelmed by stimuli. We see, hear, smell and feel everything. This rings true for me. Not only am I self-judgmental but, by nature, I am judgmental of everyone and everything. One of the times that I notice it the most is when I’m walking on a crowded sidewalk. When I’m in a crowd, I tend to take other people’s “rudeness” personally. If they cut me off, stop abruptly, walk too slowly, text while walking…I consider them to be rude.

While it may be true that some of these individuals are rude, it is more likely that, like the Dalai Lama says, they are “innocent.” They simply have no idea that their actions are inconveniencing me or anyone else.

I react to them the way that I do because I feel overwhelmed. I feel threatened. What if I run into someone who is texting and they get angry? What if someone runs into me and knocks me down?

It’s easy to see that being judgmental is a character defense, not a character defect. My mind is simply trying to protect me from dangers real or imagined.

Years ago, I memorized the following passage from AA’s Big Book:

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation —
Some fact of my life — unacceptable to me,
And I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation
As being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober;
Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms,
I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much
On what needs to be changed in the world
As on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition p. 417

Whenever someone blocked the subway doors, shoved their backpack in my face or did anything else that I perceived (judged) to be rude, I would recite this passage in my mind, concentrating on the last three sentences. They weren’t the problem. My reaction was.

My initial impulse is to react, to judge. But my reaction doesn’t stick with me as long as it used to.  In the past, I would have carried the guy with the backpack’s “rudeness” around in my head all day. Today, it’s a blip on the radar thanks to awareness and acceptance.

Do you have a tendency to judge yourself and others? How does this character defense affect your life? What tools do you use to lessen its impact?

 

* This is not a paid endorsement. I am not in any way associated with the manufacturers of Muse.

e-Sangha

 

I take refuge in the Buddha.

I take refuge in the Dharma.

I take refuge in the Sangha.

— The Three Jewels

The Three Jewels are common to all forms of Buddhism. The Buddha refers not only to Shakyamuni Buddha, but to all beings who have become enlightened. The Dharma is the Buddha’s teachings, handed down through countless generations in order to help followers awaken. And Sangha refers to “…the community of those who enjoy the jewels of refuge, who learn that teaching, seek that understanding, and work to embody that Dharma. They are consciously evolving toward being buddhas, sharing their understanding and bliss with others, as teachers of freedom to other beings, helping them discover these jewels.” Thurman, Robert. The Jewel Tree of Tibet. Free Press, 2005.

I got my first taste of Sangha at a Zen temple in Chelsea. A group of newbies sat on cushions surrounding the Abbess as she taught us the basics of meditation. The Abbess had a shaved head and wore layers of shapeless saffron robes, but I thought that she was beautiful. She radiated calmness and serenity, as I thought a good Abbess should, but her quiet humor was a pleasant surprise. It made her seem real, approachable. And it made her instruction less lofty and more accessible.

Over the years, I went to a number of Buddhist temples and meditation centers, eventually settling on a mindfulness meditation center in the Flatiron District, which quickly became my spiritual home. I had read countless volumes on Buddhism, but they didn’t begin to make sense on a practical level until I committed to this Sangha. I attended one series of classes after another on everything from meditation to the Four Noble Truths. I went to countless “sits” and special events featuring speakers who were rock stars in the Buddhist world. And I supported the Sangha through my attendance, my annual membership and through dana, donations given from the heart.

Ironically, I became less active at the meditation center when I lost my job in April of 2016. I should have had all the time in the world to attend sits and events. But I decided to write a book, and my days quickly fell into a rhythm of writing, building a social media empire to promote my book and going to the gym.

Visiting the meditation center became the farthest thing from my mind.

It wasn’t as if I had abandoned my meditation practice. Quite the opposite. I still sat daily at home. And most days my meditations were guided, courtesy of a few apps on my phone.

Meditation. Yes, there’s an app for that.

My favorite was Calm. It’s an easy-to-use, subscription-based application that features a soundscapes like the beach or rain on leaves; a variety of sessions that are meant to be done on sequential days, such as “21 Days of Calm”; and, my favorite, “Today’s Daily Calm,” a 10 -to 12-minute guided mindfulness meditation that closes with a brief Dharma talk.

A month ago, a dear friend gave me a Muse meditation headband for my birthday. Muse is designed to teach people mindfulness meditation. You place the headband across your forehead, put on a pair of earphones and turn on the app. The headband senses your brain activity and provides feedback. If you’re calm, focusing on your breath, you’re rewarded by the sound of birds chirping and singing. If your mind begins to drift away from your breath, a storm will arise, only to disperse when your mind returns to what I call “the zone.”

Since I received my Muse, I have worn it during all of my seated meditation sessions. It is undoubtedly teaching my mind to recognize when I am in the zone. I am experiencing longer periods of being “calm,” when little birds are chirping and the rain is but a light patter on virtual leaves.  I am sleeping better, which is one of the benefits promoted by the makers of Muse. Another touted benefit is migraine relief. I haven’t yet experienced this, but I remain hopeful.

In addition to my meditation apps and gadgets, I have a virtual Sangha of like-minded seekers who I met online. I consider some of the people who have interacted with this blog to be members of this “e-Sangha.” Others include online friends I have known for years who share their experience with Buddhism and other spiritual practices and support me on my quest.

While I believe that this virtual Sangha is every bit as “real” as the meditation center that I used to frequent, I don’t believe that it fills the same void. The Dharma can be taught online through blog posts, articles, classes and podcasts. But there is a huge difference between receiving the Dharma face to face from a teacher in real time and reading or listening to it online. There is something to be said for being able to ask questions and for hearing other people’s questions. There’s something to be said for building a relationship with a teacher and with other students, other members of the Sangha.

And while meditating at home alone is my norm even when I am an active member of a meditation center, there is something incredibly powerful — almost magical — about meditating in a group…in a Sangha. The sense of calmness is deep and profound. It infuses each meditator. It permeates the room.

I love Calm and Muse and plan to continue to use them in my daily meditation sessions. I believe that they, especially Muse, are useful tools that should be made available to all meditators, after they receive meditation instruction from a live teacher. But it’s clear to me that I need to become active in a real world Sangha again. I can’t afford to carelessly cast one of the three jewels aside.

Are you a member of a Sangha or other religious/spiritual organization? Do you practice alone as well? Has technology changed your relationship to your religious/spiritual organization? If so, how and was it for the better?

 

 

 

 

What Brings You Joy?

The following post was written by spiritualjourney17. It really made me think. If you enjoy it, please “like” it and leave a comment on spiritualjourney17’s blog.

spiritualjourney17

“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are”  Marianne Williamson

What brings you joy? It might be something you used to have in your life that put a smile on your face such as music, scrap booking, art, dance or writing poetry. Whatever it is, just thinking about doing more of this should make your heart sing.These are the things that fully engaged you, causing you to be present in the moment, not feeling depressed about the past or anxious about the future.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s important to give yourself permission to take time for yourself. If you need to make a few changes in your life, that’s ok. You’re worth it. Try to make it possible for you to do something you enjoy. With these new experiences and learnings your outlook today may be better than yesterday. 

With change. We learn. We…

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Everybody play nice!

I don’t remember being overtly bullied when I was a child, but I was definitely the odd man out. I was surrounded by other children, but I was alone. Alone in the classroom. Alone on the playground. Painfully alone.

Part of the problem was that I read constantly in class regardless of the lessons or activities that were going on. I was already reading the classics when I started school, so reading about Dick and Jane bored me to tears and frustrated me to no end. Instead of trying to getting me to participate, my teachers left me alone for the most part. It was easier for them. However, when a student asked why I didn’t have to participate, one of my first teachers announced to the class that I was retarded. I went to school with these same kids until high school, so my fate was sealed. I was retarded. I was different. I certainly wasn’t someone they wanted to play with.

(My mother told me, “They only tease you because they like you.” If your kids tell you that they’re being teased, please don’t respond with this reply. It won’t make them feel any better and it will undermine your credibility. Go to their school and find out what’s going on. It could save them years of unnecessary suffering.)

When I grew up, I realized that the one of the main things that set me apart was my introversion. My mother had always said that I was shy. But that wasn’t it. People thought that I was snobby and rude. That wasn’t it, either. I was perfectly capable of and comfortable with speaking to people — even strangers — about real issues. But I froze up whenever the situation called for small talk. I hate crowds, bars and parties. My idea of a party is having dinner or playing board games with a few close friends. While extroverts, who make up the majority of the population, thrive on social interactions, introverts such as myself require lots of alone time. We’re happy with our own company. And when forced to socialize, we require lots of alone time in order to recuperate.

The 12-step programs played a major role in my social development. It was there that I learned to say, “Hi, my name is Judie.” It was there that I learned that I excelled at leading meetings and that I enjoyed it immensely. Once, I attended a class that was sponsored by my very corporate job. I volunteered for one of the exercises, which entailed leading a meeting comprised of a number of belligerent, uncooperative people. I did such a good job of keeping the meeting on track that the facilitator pulled me to the side and asked, “Where did you learn to do that?” Of course I didn’t tell him that if I could keep a 12-step group in line I could keep anyone in line.

My sponsor told me early on that I didn’t have a substance problem, I had a people problem. And she had a point. I used my introversion as an excuse not to engage. I built walls around myself with books and a “don’t you dare approach me” attitude. Why? Because it was easier than allowing people in and being rejected.

The fact that I had a people problem — not that people had a problem with me — hit me hard. I’d like to say that this revelation changed everything overnight, but that’s not the way it happened. I started by forcing myself to interact with salespeople, taxi drivers, waiters and people in other service roles. The old me used to get in a cab, tell the driver my destination and not say another word until I paid him for the ride. Now, I get in a cab, thank him (it’s inevitably a him) for picking me up and ask him how his day is going. This practice has lead to some lovely conversations about everything from the mundane to the spiritual. One of my favorite conversations was with an older Pakistani gentleman about religion.

In time, chatting with “service people” extended to going out of my way to engage coworkers. When I opened conference lines, I would find out who was on the call and talk to them until the rest of the attendees joined. I did my best to ensure that everyone felt welcome. And I made sure that everyone had a voice by saying things like, “Bobbi, you’ve been uncharacteristically quiet today.” [Pause for laughter…] “What do you think of the approach that we’re discussing?”

At home, I made a real effort to stop whatever I was doing — reading, watching TV, playing with the computer — to really listen when my husband spoke. He wasn’t a distraction. He is the love of my life and deserves to be treated as such.

My spiritual practice, particularly metta, strengthened my desire to connect with people in a more kindly manner. I realized that most people have the same core desires: to be safe, well, free from anxiety and happy.

Yesterday, I was on the bus. A man about my age was sitting in front of me. He was nice looking, but was radiating a well-cultivated aura of toughness. A toddler ran down the aisle and the man started laughing and commenting to no one in particular that the tyke had a mind of his own. I said, “He’s really cute, isn’t he?” This launched a conversation about how his children had turned his life around. I learned that his beloved son was in Afghanistan. When I got up to exit the bus I asked him, “What’s your son’s first name, sir? I will remember him in my prayers.” He told me that his boy’s name is Justin. I said a prayer for the soldier immediately and he has crossed my mind several times since then. I prayed for Archangel Michael to keep Justin and all those around him safe from all harm.

And so, if only through prayer, I am connected to Justin. We’re all connected. We owe it to each other — and to ourselves — to play nice.

 

 

 

 

bent into shape

When I logged into my computer this morning, the first thing that I read was the following post from tiramit. Although his headaches stem from a different cause than mine, I was very moved by the way he described dealing with one from a mindfulness perspective.

I wholeheartedly recommend subscribing to tiramit’s blog dhamma footsteps. His breathtakingly beautiful prose reads like poetry and he draws upon his daily experiences to bring the dhamma (dharma) to life.

Source: bent into shape