Aug 31, 2009
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Some years ago, two friends took me rock-climbing in Colorado. I’d only ever climbed with ropes once before, and that had been many years earlier, so really I was a complete beginner. And nervous.
I found myself suspended half-way up a cliff, in a state of anxiety, with my friends shouting encouragement from below. My breathing was tight, my heart was pounding, and my limbs felt weak and shaky, but I didn’t have time to think much about that. I was holding on to a narrow ledge that ran horizontally across the rock face — really it was more like a crease. The toes of my climbing shoes were precariously holding on to …
Jul 27, 2009
The bodhisattva moves through life elegantly, “in the zone” and in a state of playful “flow,” and he can do this because he has abandoned any clinging to the idea of self. “Let go of your sense of self; you have nothing to lose but your suffering,” Bodhipaksa tells us.
I think Chesterton was absolutely right when he said that the object of life is play. The best kind of life we can live, I believe, is one in which we love, laugh, and learn: one in which we can be serious without being down, and can laugh irreverently at life’s difficulties without being facetious or trivializing them.
One problem is that we …
Apr 24, 2009
Henri Matisse: “When we speak of nature it is wrong to forget that we are ourselves a part of nature.”
If science is about the study of cause and effect in the physical world, meditation is, Bodhipaksa argues, a form of inner science that helps us to understand how to avoid creating pain for ourselves and others.
Matisse said: “When we speak of nature it is wrong to forget that we are ourselves a part of nature. We ought to view ourselves with the same curiosity and openness with which we study a tree, the sky or a thought, because we too are linked to the entire universe.”
Although Matisse was an artist rather than a scientist, he has a lot to say to those of us who are interested in the …
Mar 20, 2009
Richard Wagner: “We must learn to die, and to die in the fullest sense of the word. The fear of the end is the source of all lovelessness…”
Wagner’s advice, that we need to learn to die, may bring up thoughts of our mortality: thoughts we may not be comfortable dwelling upon. But Bodhipaksa suggests learning to die really means learning to live fully, embracing the ungraspable flow of life.
In Wagner’s epic Ring cycle, Siegfried is the hero precisely because he lives by a code: never to let your life be shaped by fear of its end.
Religion is often supposed to free us from fear of death, and yet that doesn’t always happen. A recent study of patients with terminal cancer revealed that those who regularly prayed were more than three times more likely to insist on receiving intensive …
Feb 23, 2009
The other day I read about a family of six who were wiped out when a truck-driver plowed into their vehicle. He’d allegedly been driving and attempting to look at a laptop screen at the same time.
To do two things at once is to do neither (Publilius Syrus, an Iraqi enslaved by the Romans. Flourished first century BCE.)
Not all multitasking is that catastrophic, but nevertheless attempting to juggle too many things in a short space of time is causing us stress, reducing our productivity, and making it harder to maintain focus when we need to.
What happens in the long term to an …
Jan 21, 2009
Aldous Huxley: “We can only love what we know, and we can never know completely what we do not love. Love is a mode of knowledge…”
Halfway between “the season of goodwill” and Valentine’s Day, Bodhipaksa looks at Huxley’s understanding of what love really is. Is love a feeling, or is it a way of knowing?
What do we mean when we say the word “love”? What does it really mean to love someone? In what way is love “a mode of knowledge.” When we’re talking about the fact that we love ice cream we obviously mean something very different from the love we talk about having for a person. One’s just a simple desire for sense-fulfillment while the other is much more complex. But even when we talk about loving another person there are many different forms of love. …
Dec 10, 2008
Ursula K. Le Guin: “Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; re-made all the time, made new.”
Everything’s impermanent, but rather than be depressed by this fact we can use it to our advantage. Bodhipaksa looks at the Buddhist practice of developing lovingkindness and offers six lessons that can help us keep love alive.
Buddhism teaches that everything’s impermanent, which can seem like a real downer until you look more closely into what that means. At first glance it can seem rather depressing: I’m impermanent, and everything I love is impermanent too. I’m going to die. Everything I love is going to die. Love itself is impermanent. Oh, oh! Here comes bleak existential despair!
But the fact that everything is impermanent is actually the most wonderful thing about life. …
Nov 21, 2008
Bodhipaksa explores the relationship between hats, iPods, desires, and needs. And also figures out what the Pali for “Palm Pilot” is. Oh, and he also offers a radical approach to dealing with distraction in meditation.
“Any so-called material thing that you want is merely a symbol: you want it not for itself, but because it will content your spirit for the moment.”
Twain argues that when you find yourself desiring, say, a hat, it’s not actually the physical object that you want but something else: perhaps something like the admiration you’ll get from your friends for having such a fine hat. If it turns out that your friends don’t like the hat and think …
Oct 25, 2008
Blaise Pascal: “All of man’s misfortune comes from one thing, which is not knowing how to sit quietly in a room”
Everyone is prey to distractedness, to seeing solace in activity as an escape from experiencing ourselves. In fact this is one of the major obstacles to a meaningful life. Bodhipaksa argues, however, that the force underlying our distractedness is a creative one, and that properly channeled it can take us all the way to enlightenment.
I’ve always been fond of this saying from Pascal’s Pensées, which reminds me that not being at peace with ourselves is a human condition rather than a uniquely modern one. All people at all times have suffered the pains of boredom, self-doubt, loneliness, irritability, restlessness, and anxiety that come from not being at peace with ourselves. I’ve experienced …
Aug 20, 2008
The words “abundance” and “spirituality” may not seem to go hand in hand but, Bodhipaksa argues, mindfulness, properly seen, is inherently enriching.
Once, on retreat, I was in a discussion group in which we were discussing the metaphors that encapsulated how we saw our spiritual practice. We all had very different ways of seeing what we were trying to do with our lives.
One person thought in terms of becoming a kinder person, shedding compassion like the sun sheds light; another in terms of really seeing how things are. One saw himself as a spiritual warrior; another as a tree taking root, aspiring to provide fruit and shade for other beings. I was …