P.G. Wodehouse: “If you come to think of it, what a queer thing Life is!”

February 23, 2010

PG WodehouseWe spend much of our time and energy trying to pretend impermanence isn’t real, but the strange thing is that when we embrace impermanence we become happier, Bodhipaksa argues.

Here’s a very “queer thing” about life: sometimes the things that we think will make us miserable actually make us happier. When Professor Eric D. Miller of Kent State University’s Department of Psychology asked people to imagine the death of their partner they reported that they felt more positive about their relationships and less troubled by their significant others’ annoying quirks.

 I spent the afternoon musing on Life. If you come to think of it, what a queer thing Life is! So unlike anything else, don’t

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Marcus Aurelius: “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself…”

December 29, 2009

Rock in ocean wavesWe can’t choose what happens to us in life, but we can choose how to respond to it. This piece of practical wisdom is found in the Buddhist tradition, but was also a cornerstone of Stoic philosophy. Bodhipaksa explains how we can untangle ourselves from the stories we tell ourselves about our experience.

Marcus Aurelius is my favorite Stoic philosopher. The Stoics, if you’re not familiar with them, were a school of philosophy who started about 300 BCE and who continued teaching until 529 CE, when the Christian emperor Justinian I banned pagan philosophies.

Although we use the word “stoicism” to mean something like to “grin and bear it” or to “suck it up,” Stoicism … Read more »

Barbara Sher: “We are like violins. We can be used for doorstops, or we can make music.”

November 30, 2009

violinWe all want to be happy, but often we’re not. Bodhipaksa argues that this is because of the way we treat ourselves as a thing that lacks happiness, and happiness as a thing to be grasped.

In a parable in the Buddhist teachings, a king hears the sound of a lute for the first time and asks to see what produced such sweet music. A lute is produced, but the king is not satisfied. He wants to know where the music is. His ministers say,

“This lute, sire, is made of numerous components, a great many components. It’s through the activity of numerous components that it sounds: that is, in dependence on the body, the

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John Dewey: “The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.”

September 21, 2009

John DeweyDewey’s saying echoes Buddhist notions of impermanence and not-self. Bodhipaksa points out that the Buddhist position is not merely descriptive of how things are. Rather it amounts to a technology of happiness — a set of perspectives and tools that allows us to create more deeply fulfilling lives.

One of the most crippling — and often unacknowledged — beliefs we can have is that the self is something fixed and unchanging. When we have the idea that our personalities are set like words carved in stone the possibility of change is closed off to us.

A mountaineering friend of mine once commented that when coming down a hill you were faced with innumerable choices about … Read more »

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.”

August 31, 2009

Climbing a cliffSome 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 a couple … Read more »

G.K. Chesterton: “The true object of all human life is play.”

July 27, 2009

GK ChestertonThe 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 sometimes get … Read more »

Henri Matisse: “When we speak of nature it is wrong to forget that we are ourselves a part of nature.”

April 24, 2009

Woman in purple robe, MatisseIf 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 inner science of … Read more »

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…”

March 20, 2009

Richard WagnerWagner’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 life-prolonging care … Read more »

Publilius Syrus, “To do two things at once is to do neither”

February 23, 2009

Latin inscriptionThe 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 economy built on the labor of information workers when … Read more »

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…”

January 21, 2009

Aldous Huxley

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. At … Read more »