October 01, 2009

THE Question

How does one deal with anxiety and confusion? I know what a Buddhist would say – “Sit more.” Yeah, like that’s going to happen. I don’t sit. I try in fits and starts, but it never sticks. Others might suggest going for a jog, working it off, taking up kickboxing. That isn’t a bad idea, but it implies there is time and money to be had. Likewise, a little sex can be great at stress relief, but again there are certain logistical issues. There are always drugs, but I don’t have a chemical imbalance in my brain (that I know of) in need of correcting and I’ve never much cared for recreational use.

And those are all excuses, things I tell myself so I can fall back into my habitual pattern, my old standby – talking to myself. Or writing to myself, which is basically the same thing. I like talking to myself. I like thinking. I like to believe and I can think my way through anything. When that fails, there’s always just the hang in there until it goes away option. In the meanwhile, I can think to pass the time. I like thinking so much that I don’t like sitting much at all. It invalidates my entire concept of self worth, or tries to. Sitting threatens my ego. Of course, it’s also damned boring, uncomfortable crossing the border into downright painful, time consuming, and of dubious value. Again with the excuses.

I know, I know. So many thousands of years of buddhas and lamas and Rinpoche and sensei’s and roshi’s can’t be wrong. Blah, blah, blah. I don’t even disagree with them. I received hours upon hours of meditation instruction. I’ve experienced the value of it for myself. I know exercise is good for me too, but I don’t do that either. Of course, I’m not obese or unhealthy. I don’t have high blood pressure or bad cholesterol or anything else that exercise might significantly impact. Sure, I’d feel better. It’d be nice to be fit and toned, capable of leaping tall bushes in a single bound, and have a nice, flat tummy. But the trade off doesn’t seem to be worth it – all that effort to marginally improve something I’m not terribly dissatisfied with in the first place.

I went to psychological services today. I filled out some forms and made an appointment for tomorrow. Drug abuse – no, sexual abuse – no, depression – no, suicidal thoughts – no, feelings of worthlessness – no, eating disorder – no, on and on down the line. Of course, I did stop and stare at the “I feel that there is something wrong with my mind” for quite some time before checking the box marked “Frequently,” but I was smiling when I did it. I really hope they aren’t overbooked, because I’d hate to take the spot of someone in more desperate need than I, but the fact that they could get me in under twenty-four hours later makes me think they have the time to help me figure some things out.

Like the stereotypical actor, I want to know “What’s my motivation?” It seems rather hypocritical to complain that I’ve got it too good. But in the end, how do you work up the motivation to put in the work to seek the end of suffering when you’ve got yourself convinced that this whole samsara thing ain’t so bad?

That’s the question, isn’t it. That is THE question. I think the answer is going to have to lie with others. Maybe I don’t have it so bad, but others do. If I am truly, genuinely sincere in my desire to alleviate the suffering of others, then I need to practice, I need to get a handle on my own mind so that I can put it to use towards their benefit. Yet right here right now the suffering of others is a distant, nebulous thing. There is nothing pressing and immediate about it. Maybe there should be.

In the books I’m reading (the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher) the characters briefly discuss that at a certain point, no one can teach you anything more and the only way to continue learning is to teach others. Now, these novels may be fiction (and good fiction) but I believe this is a true thing. I think this is why I have always liked to argue and to teach. In explaining things to others, I learn more about them myself. Of course, I'm not in a position to help others in that way yet, but I could be, and I know what the path to get there looks like.

Maybe that’s the question. I made this appointment with psychological services thinking that maybe if I talk out my career path confusion with someone else, they’ll be able to find the question, THE question I’ve been missing, the one with the obvious answer that sheds light on everything else.

Maybe THE question really is the first question – how do we become free from suffering?


Jack Daw said...

Its a big question and the answer is so different for everybody (lame answer I know but I also get tired of the Zen standby "Just Sit").

For me, nothing gets rid of suffering. I suffer when sitting my measely 15 minutes a day and would suffer if I sat for 3 hours. It is the acceptance of that suffering that helps relieve it.

That being said, I walk for three miles and talk to myself the entire time to "burn it off". Mind you, not aloud but my inner monolouge runs like crazy. By the time I am done I have some (not great or good sometimes but something) resolution at hand.

But that has worked for me for years. I hope you find your path.

I did try sex but damn the logistics of that to clear the mind are nearly impossible. Best to leave that for when you know it will just lead to more suffering but just don't give a damn.


bitterroot said...

The Buddha wasn't opaque on this question. He showed that to be free of suffering one must experience the natural state free from our error-based self-absorption. We get there by ethical living, concentration and meditation, like it or not. The result is genuinely and impartially caring about, and working for, the welfare of others.

Teacher Jim said...

Samsara is never too far away, but it takes an open mind to see how close it really is.

Maybe the surly guy working at Starbucks just had a fight with his girlfriend. Or that student frantically running across the quad to class is failing and doesn't know what to do. Or one of your professors holds too tightly to his knowledge because he is afraid if he admits it could be wrong, his self-worth as a teacher is a joke. No, you don't have to go far to see and feel samsara.

When your young, the future is pretty bright for most. My advice, don't sweat it. But open yourself a little bit to others and you might be surprised how easy it is to help a fellow sentient being by just listening and understanding - sometimes nothing else is required.