Sunday, December 2, 2012

You Win Some. You Lose Some.

It seems my role in life is usually relegated to that of translator, diplomat, & guide.  I don’t mind it, but I also wish people could see where I come from as easily as I see it myself.  I find the best advice is that which is random and taken out of context.  In fact, one of the best pieces of advice I've ever received professionally is, “you win some, you lose some”.  Try applying that when you have a tendency toward insanely detailed perfectionism.

Today I had a conversation with someone who I am just getting to know.  I really like our interaction so far. I feel like this is a person who I “get” in many ways because he reminds me of myself.  He recently shared an experience of “feeling something inside him break” and he came into work announcing that he wasn't going to let anything get to him.  I’m not sure that he realized how big of a deal that was.  I got a chance to tell him so today.  We vaguely talked about our issues and I tried to explain how my understanding of Buddhism has really helped me understand my own social anxiety issues and helped me cope and how the experience he had was one that many people are willing to pay for; the experience of letting go of what we can’t control and accepting that the only thing that’s real is the here and now. 

He wants to get a tattoo that reminds me of some Buddhist philosophy, but was, in fact, Greek origin and I said something to the effect of “Truth is truth no matter what the origin”.  This, of course, reminds me of how I came into Buddhism. 

I grew up in a “liberal” Catholic family with some treks to the Lutheran church my great grandmother attended.  We were a family that accepted the Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Mary, Saints, evolution, ESP, auras, horoscopes, and reincarnation.  Yeah, we were not your typical Catholics.  So I felt free to explore and I remember becoming very disgruntled at an early age. In fact, I was so distraught by my philosophical musings that by the age of 9 I had decided I was an atheist.  In high school I grasped for meaning and belonging and tried to find my place anywhere that was what I considered “anti-christian”: Satanism and paganism.  My resources were limited. I fell in with people and ideas that were part of an agenda more so than anything real on my end.  But it was never serious.  I think in high school, religion was not that big of a concern so I wanted to be evil because it was the anti to what I was angry at as a younger person, but I didn't really understand enough about it.

In college, I finally had some real experience with some of those groups. I got involved online with a group of Satanists (Church of Satan, not “devil worshipers") and I learned rather quickly that I did not fit in with them either. I explored aspects of paganism at this time as well. While I agreed with the basic principles and desired the aspect of ritual and community, I couldn't find a place there either.

It wasn't until I took a class called Philosophy and Religion of India that everything came together and became clear to me.  Now, I admit I had somewhat of preference for non-American culture at the time.  I had traveled to England, Scotland and France and loved it immensely.  But, I never sought out Eastern Philosophy during my soul searching days of yore. 

Have you ever had the experience of knowing that you have learned something new and it was amazing?  Like a light went on in your mind where there was just darkness?  That’s one kind of learning experience - and I've had a few of those as well.  But in this class, I had an experience altogether different.

When I began reading what the basic tenants of Buddhism were, in the context of it’s Hindu origins, I had the experience of: “Ahah!  This is how to articulate what I already know to be true about life”. Not: “this is new information”.  It was odd to find a language to express these deep sentiments and feelings about life after searching and giving up and just feeling so lost.  This also gave me a language to understand and discuss Western religion for the first time.  For the first time ever I understood that the religion I had grown up with had a historical context and that I could understand that context and appreciate the message instead of feeling constricted by dogma.

If anything, this experience reinforced one of the Buddha’s teachings that I came to hear much later. “If you see the Buddha in the road, kill him”.  What this means to me is that you shouldn't take a person’s claims to be enlightened at face value, but also that our expectations of “the Buddha” will cloud our judgment and it’s possible that we've already come face to face with that “being” a million times without realizing it.  “kill him” is not to be taken literally.  It means, destroy the concept in your mind of this perfect “enlightened” being you call the Buddha, because he only exists in your mind.  It also refers to who we accept as our teachers.  If we take on a teacher, they are not Gods.  They make mistakes and that doesn't change the teachings.  If a teacher or teaching goes against what you KNOW in your heart to be true, maybe the teacher or teaching is wrong. 

What I just realized as I type this is that Buddhism, for me, has been a way for me to learn to trust myself. To trust my instincts about life.  And you know what?  I am rarely wrong in that.