Sunday, March 23, 2008

Written March 5, 2008

I will be in retreat next week (March 10-16) -- we're doing Daijukai this year (you can read more about it at It starts Monday evening, and goes through Sunday afternoon. During that time I should be able to check e-mail every so often, but will basically be too busy to do much. My job for this retreat is assistant tenzo (the tenzo is the head cook), so I will spend a lot of my time in the kitchen next week (and a lot of time on the cushion sitting meditation, of course). Bukkai is tenzo, and I look forward to working with her. I expect I will learn some things.

This week I'm working on writing a grant to Meyer Memorial Trust. I've assisted in these things before (several years ago) at Head Start, and kind of wondered why Linda D was spending so much time worrying about it. Now I know. I find myself considering and reconsidering how to approach what is after all not all that much writing (with strict word count limits that make it actually more difficult). I'm asking input and advice from lots of people around here, sending lots of e-mails, and such. It's an interesting process. The deadline is officially March 15, but since that is almost to the end of Daijukai, my own deadline for myself is Friday the 7th. Now I see that I'm not going to have everything together by then, but should have most of it done, maybe just some review and tweaking from others during the weekend. At the latest, I should be able to post it on the web (which is the only way to apply) by Sunday.

As for what I'm working on in a training sort of way, maybe I can say a little about that, finally. One thing I'm seeing is that I tend to approach things in an all-or-nothing fashion. That is, I need to be in control, in charge, know as much as possible about things, follow the plans, make sure everything is covered, do everything right, don't make mistakes. When things go badly, I tend to give up, fall into despair, feel inadequate, decide not even to try, not to speak up because nothing I say is worth anything, and in extremis, feel that I deserve to die, maybe even have thoughts of killing myself. I've never gotten past *thoughts*, and there's at least an equally strong sense that I will never and can never actually kill myself. When I reach that point, I realize that I'm in trouble and need to figure out some other way through. I tend to shut down, go to sleep, get sick, or whatever. Eventually those feelings pass, and I go on.

Now this mode of operating has served me fairly well for decades. I've been pretty functional, and have managed to do a lot of good things. Even when I've become aware occasionally that there's this difficult emotional stuff coming up, I try to find some way to deal with it and mostly can't figure out anything, so just shrug and go on with my life. I suspect this is the case for a lot of people -- that "quiet sense of desperation" that some writer (I can't remember who at the moment) said most people live with. There is a form of courage in that just continuing to go on, and I honor that, both in myself and others.

When I started into this practice, though, I became more aware of what was really going on -- something that I basically denied all my life because I prefer to be happy and productive, and would rather not admit to the destructive emotions of despair and anger. And furthermore I began to realize that Buddhism not only addresses just exactly this, but also has tools for slowly (at least in my case, I can't speak for others) unravelling the knots that have kept me bound up to this desperation. I'm becoming aware that these are things in my own mind, that they have a cause and an effect (generally referred to as karma), and that eventually I can find more beneficial ways of living with my own karma, my own conditioning, my own situation and place in the world. My goal and intention here is to be more authentic, more whole, more effective as a force for good in the world.

How I'm doing this is slowly, with lots of mistakes and lots of times when I'm pretty clueless. Lots of patience. Lots of sitting still. Talking with my teachers. Watching what happens when I try this, when I try that. Currently I'm trying to dial back habit energy in three areas: activity, speech, and food. I realize that all three of those areas really exemplify the all-or-nothing pattern of my life to some extent. What happens when I don't just automatically jump in and clean something because I see it's dirty? Or otherwise fix something? What happens if I don't put my own opinion forward in a general conversation? What happens if I don't eat that extra cookie? How does it make me feel? Sometimes any of these can send me into that downward spiral of despair and feeling worthless.

So these days, I'm sitting with all of that and trying to dial back in all three areas in very tiny ways and watching. If I can just sit still and watch, without getting into a whole big emotional deal with it, that's a huge step forward. So that's what I'm trying to do.

Well, this got longer than I intended, not an unusual occurrence. Hope it is of interest to some, at least.


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