Tag Archives: The Four Noble Truths

Mindfulness in 2016: A Silver Bullet Resolution?

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On this New Year’s Eve morning I spent some time reading the blog entry I wrote exactly one year ago today, “Mindfulness in 2015: A Silver Bullet Resolution.”  I liked what I read.  That’s a nice blog post, I said to myself.  I was proud of it, proud of the writing and of the sentiment expressed but very disappointed in myself. In the assessment of the previous year in light of this particular resolution, I had clearly failed. You can follow the link above, if you like, to read the entry in full, but for now, let me just quote the passage here where the actual resolution is made:

I resolve in 2015 to be more mindful and to find opportunities daily for meditation practice.  And to conclude, I want to make a short list of areas in my life where mindfulness may become particularly handy.

Simple enough, yes. And the short list of areas wherein mindfulness may come in handy? Last year I listed these: mindful drinking, mindful working, mindful parenting, and mindful creativity. Now, I’ve said that in the year 2015 I failed in my resolve.  That’s how I felt at first–on a gut level. Perhaps, that is not the best approach to take here.  Perhaps, it would be safe to say that I was more mindful in 2015 than I was in 2014. Let’s say it’s true, and that, by itself, is something, isn’t it? But I did not meditate daily or even find opportunities to meditate daily. My drinking was not nearly as mindful as I hoped it would be. My school year was as stressful if not more so than the previous year, and this school year is shaping up to be a stressful one as well. Take a look at “Against the Wall: A Teacher’s Manifesto” for an assessment of how things are going in this particular arena. It is possible, but not verifiable, that I had fewer struggles with my son this year than I have had in previous years. So there may be some gains in that area, and maybe mindful parenting resulted in fewer gaskets blown overall. As for creativity, my fiction writing has stalled and sputtered quite a bit, which is really the writing I want to be doing most, while my poetry and my blogging was quite successful in terms of words written and posts published.  Musically, it’s been a bad year.  The monthly songwriting has suffered. As part of a songwriting circle we’ve been writing six songs a month since 2004; this year, we were successful less than half the time at producing anything at all. But I guess that part of the practice of mindfulness around creativity would be about accepting what comes as a gift and not beating oneself up when nothing comes at all. It’s not a personal failure. It is what it is. Right?

To me, mindfulness has to do with being right with the world and being right inside the head, to simply be conscious and intentional about what it is we do, why we do it, and how we respond to the world, to our experiences, and in our relationships . It has to do with our relationship with and understanding of The Four Noble Truths: life is suffering; suffering has causes, those causes can be discovered, and through practice of the eightfold path there is a way to minimize suffering or at best transcend it. That’s the key, isn’t it, to understand what causes us to suffer and to take steps to minimize such suffering.  This is, at least, the way I understand it, and I envision a meditative practice as being helpful toward feeling more balanced, feeling unhinged less often, reducing stress, finding clarity about issues that bug me, and ultimately, suffering less.

So I just stole this blog post title from last year’s, changed 2015 to 2016, and then I added a question mark at the end. Mindfulness was not a silver bullet for me in 2015.  Perhaps, my expectations were too high. Maybe I was not thoroughly committed. When I was most successful, during a single week in July, I had companions, a sangha, if you will. And this might be a key element in finding more success with this resolution, which, I think, is worth trying again–even if I fail again.  I need to take a class. Go to a temple. Find a community.  Try yoga. It’s too hard, nearly impossible, I think, to go it completely alone. Let’s try a new and improved resolution for 2016:

I resolve in 2016 to be more mindful, to find opportunities daily for meditation practice, and to seek out a community, some companionship on the journey.

That can’t be so hard.  Happy New Year friends, readers, and strangers.

 

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Filed under Self Reflection

#29: After Teaching the Ancient Chinese Masters, the American English Teacher Considers Buddhism Through an Exploration of the Four Noble Truths

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After Teaching the Ancient Chinese Masters, the American English Teacher Considers Buddhism Through an Exploration of The Four Noble Truths

Life is suffering.
Not the physical pain of suffering,
a burnt hand, a broken limb, an illness,
but an uneasiness, a dissatisfaction,
a desire that comes not from a dream or a goal
but from an overwhelming sense of scarcity.

Suffering has causes.
And they are all right between my ears.
Whatever makes me feel disgusted with life
comes from some stupid thing I think I need
in order to be happy, and if I understand
those unfulfilled desires and the thinking
that enables them to haunt my waking hours,
I am half way there.

It is possible to end suffering.
Really? I don’t have to go on
wallowing in self pity or jealousy or envy
or desire for whatever it is I don’t have;
I can jettison regret, guilt, embarrassment
about the past and wild grasping and hand wringing
about the future?  Sign me up.

Suffering ceases through the practice
of the Eightfold Path: right view, right intention,
right speech, right action, right livelihood,
right effort, right mindfulness, and finally,
right concentration.

In my adulthood I have learned
to reject most everything about religion,
but here, after teaching the poems of Li Po
and Wang Wei to high school students,
and finding it necessary for contextual purposes
to introduce them to the Four Nobel Truths,
I find myself without argument or criticism,
humbled and awestruck by this little bit,
by these touchstones of Buddhist practice.

Such an elegant prescription,
I’m tempted to say simple, even,
but I know that is not remotely true,
or at least, not easy. Simple in its
straightforwardness, in the absence
of dogma, in its pure, undeniable wisdom,
but a difficult and complex practice.
I’m not sure I have the stamina,
the discipline, the honesty, the selflessness
to ever become a true practitioner, or,
what might be considered a good Buddhist.

But just having them there
on the page and in my mind,
these Four Noble Truths,
as clear as any prescription by the greatest
psychologists the world has ever known,
gives me a great deal of comfort and, perhaps,
the only and best kind of compass I’ve yet
encountered since abandoning the faith
of my youth, my family, and my culture.
I know I’ll wander off here and there,
meandering, getting stuck in the thickets,
but it’s a path I can follow, imperfectly,
the Middle Way leading me home.

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Filed under Poetry