Sunday, January 25, 2009

My first Buddhist meetup

I attended my first Buddhist meetup this afternoon. I've been reading up on Buddhism for a while, listening to hours and hours of lectures on podcasts; but I'd never actually met other Buddhists before. I was a little nervous, wasn't really sure what to expect.

I was pleasantly surprised. There was no spiritual mumbo jumbo, no new agey talk of karma or nirvana or any such (which is as it should be, but I was a unsure, since they were meeting in a Universal Unitarian church).

Aside from the meditation--which was good, because, surrounded by other people, I couldn't fall asleep or get frustrated and walk away when I couldn't instantly still my mind--the group leader read some quotes from Thich Nat Hahn about anger, and we did a little meditation on anger (which just means introspection--nothing fancy).

It reaffirmed to me the purpose of my exploring Buddhism--it's about introspection. So much of what we do, what we feel, goes unexamined in our lives. If we stopped to really think, take a good hard look at ourselves and ask "why am I doing this? why am I feeling this?", we'd see how often our thoughts and actions are childish. And, by childish, I mean they're instinctual; they're unintellectual. Buddhists often call it our "monkey mind," and if you've ever spent any time watching monkeys, you'd know how apt a description it is. We are really not all that different from our cousins, the non-human primates; a lot of the difference, really, is more nurture than nature (and here is a beautiful [if somewhat poor quality] video illustrating that point). It's easy, sometimes, to slip back into that frame of mind; it takes no effort. Don't consider that the car in front of you may have a sick grandma, or a sleeping child, they're going too slow, dammit! Don't worry that the project you worked on so hard at your job got scrapped because of monetary issues, you're upset so you're going to take it personal and get pissed off!

We all know better, really. So it helps to have someone remind you, sometimes (at the right time--a sage lesson while you're pissed off probably won't be received too well!). At the sangha earlier this evening, we were reminded to look at the roots of what makes us angry, what makes other people angry; we were reminded that anger tears down relationships, it destroys happiness. And then we were asked to meditate on it; which simply means to think about it, ponder it, roll it over and over in your mind until it sticks a little better. Our brains are used to absorbing so much useless information throughout the day, it becomes a survival mechanism to let things flow in one ear and out the other. By choosing to focus on certain concepts, certain modes of thought, I'm in the process of training my brain to not discard these kinds of thoughts. Next time I get angry and I suffer the temptation to let my monkey mind take over, I've got a slightly better chance of stopping, taking a look, introspecting. 
That's all I can ever really hope for, I guess: increasing the odds. My brain is flesh; it's monkey flesh and its reptile flesh and even older stuff all coded in over billions of years... all competing with just a few thousand years of culture. And most of the culture is crappy, too.

I better keep practicing.

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