Have to be careful though that compassion doesn’t turn into enabling. I felt so sorry for an addict’s pain, he took advantage of that and robbed blind. I’ve heard that called “idiot compassion” and I was brought up thinking it was a virtue!
29 Oct 2014 Leave a comment
23 Oct 2014 Leave a comment
In a new location
by the round glass coffee table
Below the window.
Eyes cast down to its glass surface and
Reflected in the glass
The pale blue sky
Only wearing a thin strip of cloud
Birds, so distant from the floor
where I sit
Slip through the sky like tiny arrows
And disappear into the horizon.
A branch of the Plumeria stirs in the wind
then illuminated by sunlight
In the distance,
one arm of a tall palm
stretches its fingers into the air.
From my modest apartment
A million dollar view.
11 Oct 2014 7 Comments
…are many. One of the hardest things for many people is to be silent and alone. This is what makes meditation so difficult for us at the beginning. Sitting in meditation may be the first time we have seen our habituated mind and body in action.
I tried to give up TV for a couple of months. I wasn’t doing this for any noble reason. I didn’t want to pay for cable when I watched so few channels and quality programs are so few. My budget is tight and this seemed like a good place to loosen it a bit.
Three things happened. I discovered the contents of my mind are worse than the contents on TV. I saw how addicted I was to TV and I replaced my addiction with the internet. I also saw how my mind was filled with negative thoughts. I live alone (even without a dog for the first time in 30 some years), so my habit in the evenings when I had no plans to get together with friends, has been to find some “connection” to the world via TV and internet. When I’ve lived with people or a partner, I didn’t use the tube as much, but then I was often addicted to whoever I was with, so that is not not necessarily the easy fix. It’s actually just another “fix,” in my case. Besides there is a lot I like about living alone too.
Though I switched my addiction from TV to internet, I still had more time that was not filled by either and what I saw on the big screen of my mind was not a pretty picture. My mind spewed forth negative thoughts like an opened fire hydrant and I was shocked.
Now I have not been what you might call a really jolly person for my 66 years on the planet. I’ve suffered with depression my entire life, but it’s treated it so I no longer start crying non-stop for no reason. Well, there was a reason and it was usually my thoughts. Dark thoughts of inadequacy. I was not enough, did not have enough and didn’t do enough to deserve life. I was surprised to find that my mind tuned into to the Not Enough Channel on nearly an hourly basis. In fact, my mind is like an analog channel, programmed to the same few old stories.
I started to want to sleep a lot. I felt heavy, deep fatigue and everything seemed difficult to do–even to call and correct my newspaper delivery. I was tuned in to Depression, the Lifetime Series. Starring me and my ego.Lost in SELF, I lamented aging and that I couldn’t stop working. I recalled the losses of my dogs and loves, my house. And my default setting was envying anyone who had what I did not have somehow. Like a puppet, my ego pulled the string that made me compare myself to those more wealthy or young or….on and on. I started to believe in this false self that had been built for many years and that I have been completely dismantling for the past three years.
I thought maybe my anti-depressant had stopped working and maybe I needed to call the doc for a change. I kept up my meditation and spiritual practices but did not recognize that I was being taught a major spiritual lesson: distractions were keeping me from knowing myself. I always knew I struggled with envy and feeling always “less than,” but I did not know the full extent of how prevalent, how much I still believed those things.
No, I did not come through the other side sans TV, enlightened, drinking my chai tea on my yoga mat. I took back the TV and, eureka! I cheered right up! However, I was mindful now; I recognized how I “used” and why. I am grateful for my two month adventure in the mindfield of my thoughts. I have information that I can use in my practice about the power of addiction to thoughts as well as TV.
I have decided to take a fellow-Buddhist friend’s advice to do a silent retreat, guided by my teacher at the”Empty Cloud” cottage of Florida Community of Mindfulness. Now that I know what to expect when silent and alone, I’m less afraid of doing that.
Friends, I leave you with this:
“There is nothing wrong with feeling the energies of fear, jealousy or attraction. It’s not your fault that such energies exist…They are not you. You are the one who’s watching, and that one is pure consciousness. Don’t think you’d be free if you just didn’t have these kinds of feelings. It’s not true. If you can be free even though you’re having these types of feelings, then you’re really free—because there will always be something. If you can learn to remain centered with the smaller things, you will see that you can also remain centered with the bigger things. You can be fine, deep inside, even in the face of a deep sense of loss.”—-Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul.
05 Oct 2014 Leave a comment
He who would be what he ought to be must stop being what he is.
24 Sep 2014 Leave a comment
Robert Campbell Chodo began using amphetamines and alcohol at age 16. He continued using amphetamines until age 24, before moving on to cocaine for the next 10 years. In 1988, Campbell got sober after seeing a psychotherapist and joining Alcoholics Anonymous, where he attended meetings 3 times a week. While Campbell says that “AA unquestionably gave me the tools to make the life changes,” it wasn’t until he began his Zen practice in 1993 that he began to get “really, really sober.” Today Campbell is one of the Executive Directors for New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, an organization that provides direct care to the sick, dying, and suffering.
From Trycicle online:
What’s your experience with addiction? For me “addiction” is an odd word, because it’s such a catchall. When it comes to addiction we’re usually talking about alcohol or substance abuse, but there can also be an addictive quality to our thinking. When I latch on to thoughts, either positive or negative, and they become obsessive, it has the same quality as getting the fix—“I hate this, love that, want it, don’t want it; why is this happening to me, why is my life so difficult, why can’t I be more this or less that?”— and on and on.
As a kid I can remember thinking, “I’ve got to get the hell out of here.” I come from a long line of addicted family members, running the gamut from smoking and drinking to gambling and drug dealing. More often than not there is a fair amount of violent behavior that is the norm in this kind of environment. So my earliest thoughts were of running away. The endless loop was, ironically, a healthy stream of obsessive thinking: “This is not healthy. I am not going to survive. I need to get out of here in order to survive.” And later that turned into “All I have to do is survive.” And then that opened the door to the life of addiction. In order to survive, I had to anesthetize myself with substances or behaviors.
Did Buddhism play a role in your recovery? Not in the beginning. I was five years sober before I found my Buddhist path and met my first Zen teacher, Dai En Friedman. I was in supervisory training at an analytic institute on Long Island, and every week when leaving supervision I would see this woman coming into the office. She was really amazing-looking—bald with piercing blue eyes— and I thought, “Wow. She’s someone I’d like to know.” The next time I saw her, I said, “Hi. I’d love to introduce myself to you,” and she said, “OK.” And I said, “My name’s Bob. I’m living out here, training in this institute, and I hear you’re a Buddhist monk.” She said, “Yes,” and I said, “Well, I’d love to learn a little bit about that.” Then for some reason I just blurted it all out: “I’ve been sober for five years, and I’m having a really hard time with it. I’m so depressed, and my childhood was terrible with incest and drugs and this and that. And I come from this long line of alcoholics and violence.” Basically, I just vomited all over this woman. Her response was the catalyst for my shift in consciousness: “You know what you need to do? You need to shut up. You need to shut up, and shut up long enough to hear your story, because it’s just a story, and you’ve been carrying it around now for what, 35 years, 40 years? And that’s what you’re living out of, so how about rather than acting out of it, listen to it and take a look at it?” “How do I do that?” I asked “Just come to the zendo,” she said, “and let’s see what happens.”
She told you to shut up. Yep! And you know, sometimes we need to shut up. Actually nobody cares as much as you do about your story. It’s not that interesting to anybody else.
That moment was as important on your path as the Twelve Step program? Oh, yes. It turned my life around. I was sober, living a very comfortable life, and I was depressed as hell. I remember thinking, “If this is sobriety, I’m going back to drinking, because this is not fun. This is not the life I had imagined being sober was about.” Sure, I had the material gifts, but I was so unhappy. I hadn’t yet found the spiritual component you hear about in the Twelve Step programs. Yes, I knew all about Higher Power and didn’t question the concept, but it just wasn’t enough for me. When I started to meditate, things started to become clearer for me, and I was listening to someone who was speaking to me in a language that I could understand. I was listening to me with a fresh understanding of life. We could call it acceptance. It was real to-the-gut: “Sit down, shut up, stop with the story, and just take a breath. You’re addicted to the story. Start to unravel all that.” And that’s when I think that I really began to get sober, really sober.
You were five years sober before finding Zen. Did Alcoholics Anonymous work? I vacillate back and forth over this question. Did AA work, or did I walk into the right place at the right time and hear the right words? I went to my first AA meeting in a church on Park Avenue, with all these women in fancy coats and business guys from Wall Street, and here’s me from my world, which was very different from that. And the minute I walked into the room, I’m thinking, “What am I doing here? This is not me.” But someone was telling their story, and I thought, “Wow. Actually, you know what? This is me—the same story, just dressed up differently.” So for a while I kept going back, as they say, to more meetings. So did AA help me? On one level absolutely: it kept me out of the bars and gave me a direction, but at a certain point I was like, “I can’t hear any more of these stories.”
When you talk about Zen practice and the Twelve Steps, it makes me think about self-power versus other-power in dealing with addiction. Can we say that Zen emphasizes self-power and that you believe that you have to deal with your addictions yourself? I would hate to come across as saying that I could’ve done this without any help from AA and the other programs. For sure, in the first years of sobriety what kept me coming to the meetings was the friends I made—the other comrades in the battle, if you like—who were also fighting their own addictions. We had this beautiful group of addicts together in recovery, and that’s what kept me in the rooms. It was not so much what I was hearing from the Big Book [Alcoholics Anonymous, the Twelve Step sourcebook]—in fact, I hated Big Book meetings—but what I was hearing from other travelers on the road, all their war stories.
Could I have done it by myself? No. The rooms definitely got me to a certain point. But as I said, at five years sober I still did not feel that I was alive in the world.
So maybe the other-power doesn’t have to be God, but it’s there. Perhaps that’s where the sangha comes in. The power for me is definitely not God. God played no part in it. Perhaps one day I will change my mind about that but a lot more healing has to take place. For me the power was the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, the community. My community was in the zendo. When I moved back to Manhattan in 1998 I was fortunate enough to meet my current teacher, Enkyo Roshi. She has had her own experience of addiction, so it was an easy fit. I could bring my questions about practice as a recovering addict to interview.
If “addiction” is a catchall, as you say, should we employ different techniques when trying to work with our various addictions? Or is there a common approach that we can use, whether we’re addicted to, say, alcohol or compulsive eating or thinking or going to the gym? I think it’s in realizing that we always have a choice. Even when we’re at the height of our addictions, most of us might think, “I have no choice, so this is all I can do.” I think we always have a choice. My path was that I chose to do more cocaine. I chose to do more drugs. I chose to behave in ways that were not skillful. I chose to put myself into dangerous places, knowing all the time that I didn’t have to do that.
We always have a choice? Many people would say that being addicted to something means that it’s out of our hands. I know that it’s not a popular foundation to stand on. I can only speak about myself, and I always knew I had a choice. My choice was to get fucked up. My choice was to do whatever I needed to do to put myself in another place physically, emotionally, psychologically. When I reached my bottom, to use Twelve Step terminology, that was the bottom that motivated me into to go into Twelve Step recovery. But was that my worst bottom? Was that the worst situation I’d ever been in? No. I actually woke up after a blackout on the corner of Thompson and Bleecker Streets, after being out all night. Was that the worst situation I’ve ever been in? No. And it certainly wasn’t the most dangerous. But I came out of that blackout, and I very vividly remember thinking, “This has to stop. I don’t want to do this anymore.” It was a very definite choice on my part to not continue in that way.
I’ve worked with so many addicts over the years, from crackheads, prostitutes, and ex-prisoners to crystal-meth addicts and overspenders, and what I’ve almost always found is there’s a part of that person that doesn’t want to do it—whatever that “it” is. Doesn’t want to shoot up again, doesn’t want to go out on the streets to cop, is tired of the meth scene. To me, that implies that they realize they have a choice. If I think to myself, “This is all I can do. This is all I know. There’s no other way,” then I’m leaving choice out of it. But if I have the capacity to think “Actually, it could be different. Do I have to do this?” there is a choice.
But I would also say: Don’t confuse choice for control. You don’t approach this head on and say, “I’m in charge now. I’m going to stop,” and everything is hunky dory from then on. Ego is not going to give up so easily. But something is going to happen. You reach the point where the only thing to do is to not do it, and stop talking and shut up. You shut up. You put your money where your mouth is. Don’t tell me you want to stop and then not stop. The talking is smoke and mirrors. Why would you talk about it?
In Buddhism, within the framework of karma, yes, there is a choice. But there’s a certain sense of serendipity when a person says “enough,” or when that moment of choice presents itself. Why now and not before, or later? There’s a window of opportunity that somehow opens up because of causes and conditions that we don’t quite understand. Is there room for the idea of a moment of grace? Or karma? Maybe there is an opening into…My Buddha nature was there as the alcoholic. I was in Buddha nature in my blackout. But yes, in coming out of that blackout there was grace.
How do you understand this moment of choice from a Buddhist perspective? We learn the first noble truth: There is suffering. And we can look at our dependencies, if you like, as a form of suffering. I now understand that suffering is not permanent, that nothing is permanent. This is not going to last; I can move away from this. These feelings, these cravings for alcohol, cocaine, sex—whatever the drugs—these feelings aren’t undying. They will subside if only for a moment. In the early days of recovery, a moment of relief felt like a lifetime.
The other side of that coin is that the relief isn’t permanent. I could be sitting there thinking, “Wow, I’ve got this totally licked. I haven’t had a drink today,” and then in the next breath I’d be saying, “Fuck, I don’t want this. I want a drink.” So it’s not only the suffering that is impermanent; it’s also the relief that’s impermanent. It’s a constant back and forth. Drink, don’t drink; shoot up, don’t shoot up; wake up, don’t wake up. For all of us, not just the addict, it really is life and death in each moment. The choice is yours.
—Sam Mowe and James Shaheen
Artwork by Edouard Fraipont.
18 Sep 2014 Leave a comment
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
My mind is trying to do me in. Notice, I do not say it is trying to kill me, but it wants me just at the edge of the abyss. We have been dancing to the edge and back all of my life.
Allow me to introduce you. My mind’s name is Vito the Enforcer, or Vito for short. He goes by a stereotyped mafia persona because he is both a bully but also has that weird, false sentimental side—he showers me with approval when I am a success in his eyes, but then could break my metaphoric legs in the next moment just because he can. Since I am a female, I sometimes wonder why my mind takes this masculine form, but I now understand. It’s all about who dominates. Vito is that part of me that is tough and unforgiving. He also has dominated my thinking all my life, ridiculing my instinctual/heart-centered tendencies.
Now, you might assume that the other “part” of me is feminine, supportive and gentle. There you would be wrong. This other part– the one Vito can’t stand– is genderless, though it resembles the feminine due to its compassion and love. Vito would like it better if she was indeed clearly “feminine,” more of what he can deal with, a womanly woman, all soft, docile, quiet, her only power sexual. This aspect of my self has a name as well,not Darshan, an entity with a Sanskrit name meaning something like “looking into the divine.”
Darshan is hard to pin down, which drives Vito crazy. It’s neither male nor female, good or bad, not this or that. You see, Darshan has no sense of the duality Vito holds to so tightly. For Vito there is us and them. And plenty of reasons for lingering disputes and resentments. For Darshan there is only us. You might say this entity is a spirit of some sort or an energy of some type, but no definition is adequate. This is intolerable for Vito, who has defined every living thing he sees. When he is not ridiculing Darshan, he simply ignores it, pretends it does not exist. That is kind of funny since Vito himself, as the mind full of thoughts that he is, resembles a cloud than a person. He can seem solid, even dark and scary when all clumped together with drama or angst, but like the cloud, he has no real substance. Whereas Darshan is quite real and lives in atoms and molecules, protons, neutrons, blood and oxygen. Darshan even has a face and a body, unlike Vito, that you can see when you look at a tree or a weed or a bug.
Unfortunately, I have been in cahoots with Vito and belittled Darshan as well; he and I diminished its power over the years so much that I barely knew she still existed until a few years ago. Alas, I still too often have more Vito than Darshan in my life.
Here’s some irony; you’d think it was my father who brought Vito into my life, but it was my mother. Turns out he was the motivating force for generations on that side of the family. He had abused her as well. My father, who favored the weaker spirit self, was no match since he cowered before Vito and his emotionally and physically violent relatives.
Vito ignores Darshan entirely and after many years of following Vito’s loudly proclaimed beliefs, I have developed the same habit. Most of the time I do not hear or heed her. This leaves plenty of room for Vito to stomp around in his snakeskin boots and spew thoughts of regret and self-recrimination into my mind. He blows these dark thoughts like smoke in my face from his big cigar. Then, he settles back in his barcalounger and tells me tales of my past humiliations and failures. Those are the stories he favors as he has no use for the present. The present is heart territory, the place where Darshan lives. When he goes there he gets nervous and paces a lot because he doesn’t need to do or be anything special, which of course makes him feel utterly lost. The present, Darshan’s reality, can be painful sometimes too and Vito, though he loves to create painful thoughts, also knows that he doesn’t know what to do with them if has to spend time with them. Vito’s modus operandi is to keep the misery moving but don’t look at it or its source.
So Vito drags me to the past all the time. The past is where Vito feels most alive. He feels secure on that terrain because the past is full of facts and certainty and he loves certainty. In contrast, the present is not static, so there is nowhere he can plant a flag that will stay planted. In the present things move and shift like sand. Now light coming in the window, next clouds cover the sun. Now a sweet moment, next someone is crying…but not forever, not for long. Darshan is like the wind: constantly changing, ever present.
Vito’s role in this life is to defeat me. He has honed my perspective with his sharp and deadly blade: I wrote a book and got an agent, but I didn’t stick with it and get it published. A victory for Vito; I succumbed to self-doubt, never thought I was worth a mentor who might have championed me, and never pursued it further. I published in small presses instead, and Vito told me that wasn’t good enough. He continues to laugh at my attempts to publish and tells me I will never be as good as “they” are. This is the same “they” who are better than me in every other way also. I chose loveless men as my partners and Vito was pleased. Vito belittles the passion I put into working with working class kids who were on their way to jail or suicide when I was in my twenties. He dismisses as naïve how I wanted to do work that served others in some way, and reminds me of how I wasn’t savvy about making money.
Sometimes, even now, Vito likes to put on old Sinatra albums (that I love too!) and force the issue of my single, unmarried state. Of course his view of “love” is like a hit-man’s: you do for me or else. He only implies that of course, with Frank singing about not being able to live without love. Vito never sees the contradiction of “love “ that makes you so desperately dependent that you want to kill yourself when it’s gone.
I wrote a book exposing Vito, but he is confident it won’t see the light of day. These days it’s aging he uses to pummel me with. He tells me there is no place for someone my age since I don’t have grandchildren. After sex appeal goes, the grandchildren become the focus, he tells me. That is the natural way, he says. Then he calls me names like spinster and old crone. He tells me I am every young woman’s nightmare.
Vito is loud, muscular, wrong and only in my mind.
Darshan’s role in this life is to make me laugh. Darshan sometimes dresses up in lederhosen and does a polka at a hipster’s cool gathering where everyone else is in understated black. Darshan comes to boogey at a staid awards ceremony.
Darshan is not like Don Rickles, the joke is never mean, but more like Robin Williams when he was full of life and compassion for our absurdity. Darshan sings and writes and paints. It knows that I am, as the song says, “like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free.” It knows how I long for that freedom, that for me it’s often been true that “I’ve been down so long it looks like up to me.” It knows all this and more.
Darshan is kind, right, and everywhere. Even within Vito the Enforcer.
13 Sep 2014 1 Comment
No Birth, No Death
Everything is a circle
A Sufi in the middle
A round of white skirt
Like the earth
Consistent rings of light.
where is the start
of the ocean?