You’ve often heard me describe myself as a Buddhist.
You may have some preconceived notions about what Buddhism is and what it means to be Buddhist. I sure did before I actually learned something about the practice.
Here’s what I thought being Buddhist meant before I became one:
1. You had to give up all attachment to material possessions.
2. You were in a constant state of serenity.
3. Your life would be simple, thus without stress.
I had no idea how all this would happen, but it sounded great to me. Sign me up! Tell me what I have to do or buy to achieve enlightenment and send me on my way.
Like all neophytes, I was so far off base that I wasn’t even in the ball park.
I can’t go into what Buddhism is in on one blog post. Heck, people spend their whole lives studying one aspect of the Buddha’s teachings. Suffice it to say that as a Buddhist, you aspire to remember that:
1. Nothing is permanent (thus attachment to anything–material things, ideas, relationships–will inevitably bring suffering).
2. While the Buddha offered his teachings as a way to end suffering, he also said the there will always be suffering because we are human and seem to create the opposite of serenity in our lives by continually wanting things to be something other than what they are.
3. Buddhists practice relentless self exploration, which, believe me, is stressful. Rather than turning away from pain or unpleasant emotions, we turn toward them–examine them (through meditation and self-reflection). Taking an honest look inside yourself is an act of courage that most people find too difficult to face. They would rather zone out with TV, inebriants, sports. Any escape will do.
The practice is as elegantly simple as it is astoundingly complex: be present for each moment, pay attention to what is happening in that moment, and make the most skillful choice in thoughts, words, and deeds that will result in making you feel less miserable.
Buddhists don’t believe they are better than anyone else; they are keenly aware that they are continually screwing up. That’s because they pay attention.
Case in point.
Yesterday I was stressed. I’m refinancing my home and have been getting all kinds of emails for documents I must provide. My filing system falls somewhere between Okay and Are You Kidding. I bought my home under my married name and then had it legally changed back to my maiden name when I was divorced. This confuses refinancing people. They need proof that I am who I say I am and I’m not who I not longer am. Confusing, eh?
You would think I would have copies of those papers and know right where they are.
But I don’t. So I was searching frantically for those blasted documents cursing the day I agreed to take my ex-husband’s last name. I never wanted to and just did it because he guilted me into it.
I was elbow-deep in papers reminding me of the hoopla around my separation and divorce, when my wonderful Philip came through the door. I didn’t even look up or say “Hi!” to greet him. I was that wrapped up in my quest to be frustrated.
Finally he got my attention by saying, “Look, Lorna. I got something for you.”
I turned around and there he stood–this big handsome guy–with a bright, big sunflower (stalk and all). He was holding it like a little boy holds a flower he just picked for his mom. He said, “I wanted to pick you the biggest flower I could to show you how much I love you.”
What did I do? I said, “Wow. I sunflower.” And then I turned back to rifling through those darned papers.
Yeah. I know.
It gets worse. He proceeded to find a vase to put it in. I offhandedly said, “You’re not actually putting that thing in here are you?” Yup. That’s what I said.
“It reminds me of you: bright and happy and beautiful.”
“Whatever.” I actually said that.
When he finished putting the flower in a vase, he sat with me and helped me sort through the pile of papers. He wasn’t upset. He was his normal, even-tempered, happy self.
Later in the day, I admired the flower and apologized profusely for not being present for that moment of sweetness. I missed a magical moment with the man of my dreams. And I told him. He understood. Of course he did.
One of the things about Buddhism that I find so comforting is that it is a forgiving practice. Simply noticing that I wasn’t present and that I didn’t handle that moment skillfully is better than not noticing at all. And there is always this moment to practice the principles. And it is a humbling practice.
I have a long way to go, but this moment is all that really matters. That’s Buddhism for you.