Saturday, May 7, 2011

Obstacle or Impetus?

Often, life will provide us with unexpected twists and turns in our journey. We may feel that they are undeserved, or unwelcome, or, in some cases, more than we are capable of contending with.

When some situation or circumstance is imposed upon us in this fashion, we must decide how we will respond.

Lamenting our bad fortune or indulging in self-pity may be an honest human reaction, however, when one considers that it seldom improves our circumstances, and more often than not only serves to alienate others who may otherwise be part of our support group or community, or to declare our 'victimhood' and thus, our powerlessness, it is my thought that this is a wasteful use of mental, spiritual and physical energy and generally only increases the level of suffering that we already are contending with.

So. What am I referring to, and what can one do with such circumstances?

I am referring specifically to a personal obstacle that I am confronting; I have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and Hypertension (high blood pressure), and my doctor advised me that I must lose weight. I cannot say that he is wrong, I am 6' tall, and weighed 271 lbs on 30 March 2011, which was the day that I saw him to receive medical clearance to undergo surgery to have a ventral hernia repaired. As I write this post, I weigh approximately 243 lbs, and steadily losing (though I am at a 'set-point' just now, and will strive to maintain this weight for a few months before focusing on losing another 10% increment of my body weight - otherwise my body, striving to retain its homeostasis will do whatever it may, including to breakdown muscle-mass in order to creep the body weight back to what it perceives to be a 'set-point'. I will outline some of the other steps I have taken to address this situation in as mindful and conscious a method as I am capable of.)

In a general sense, however, the 'obstacle' might be anything that is unexpected, and which forces us to change our approach to living. As humans, we tend to fear and resist change, or at the least to view impending change, particularly that which is forced or imposed upon us, as negative. It may or may not be... but, no matter the case, until we fully accept the situation, we will not be capable of moving on with our lives in a positive manner.

I think that at this point, many people will be thinking 'accept?! How can I accept *this*?!! It is UN-acceptable!!" -- so, in order to offer some clarity as to my meaning, I offer this; When I say accept, I do not mean 'embrace' or 'like' or 'enjoy'. I mean, well.. 'accept'. What I am saying is that a fact is a fact. It is information, and does not inherently have any degree of judgement attached to it. Any circumstance or situation may be good or bad depending upon who or what is viewing it... and their subjective circumstances. If we are faced with a health problem, we must accept that this situation is a fact, we may find it painful, but.. a fact is a fact. Once we have learned to open our hearts to the reality of the circumstances.... there is nothing that prevents us from determining how we might either bring about positive change, if that is an option.. or tinkering and tweaking our response to the situation in order to arrive at the most positive approach available to us. Being overweight, or having been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, for instance, offers a number of positive responses; Improved diet, healthy and active exercise/lifestyle, improved self-awareness and self-responsibility, etc. The simple truth is that while Type 2 diabetes and hypertension may be leading causes of stroke, heart disease, amputations, blindness, kidney failure and a host of other health issues and complications... MANAGED diabetes and hypertension are the leading cause of . . . ** NOTHING **.

I suppose that the main theme of this post, if there must be one, is self-responsibility. To accept the reality of our current situation and state of being, status, or what have you... to remain firmly grounded in the truth, with both feet planted solidly... and to directly face whatever we are called upon to confront without flinching, rationalizing, deflecting or avoiding is not an easy thing to do.

There are no guarantees in life, however.. and whatever happens to us is part of our story. No one is coming to rescue us. No one can fix our problems. We must do it. Or, conversely.. we will be forced to accept the consequences of our failure to do so.

In my case, I have come to realize that I have a choice; I can make time to eat right, exercise properly, improve and maintain my health and vitality...


I will have to make time for disease, blindness, amputations, pain, and likely an untimely death.

I choose life.

While it is true that diabetes is a crappy job with no days off and lousy pay... where one is forced to play the 'human pin cushion' each and every day... it is also true that if this is one's situation, it must be faced.. or not.

What you choose or do not choose has ramifications. Not choosing to do something is the EXACT same thing as choosing NOT to do something.. albeit in a mushy, indistinct, sleep-walking fashion.

Living 'mindfully' or 'consciously' means just that.. being 'awake' and 'conscious' and 'mindful' of each and every moment and fraction of a moment that comprises one's life.

I suggest that it is vitally important, if one has chosen to life in this fashion to strive diligently for more self-direction, personal responsibility, self-management, and a greater capacity for innovation. The benefits of this are an ability to exercise independent judgment, to open frontiers of the limitless possibilities which will then face us no matter in which direction we happen to look, fearlessness, and, consequently, a higher degree of self-autonomy. It is empowering indeed to realize that we are capable of cultivating our own resources, and to truly take responsibility for our own choices, actions and values. Learning to trust in ourselves, and to rely upon our own capabilities, judgment, discernment, and self-reliance confers a belief in ourselves that is based in truth and reality. This, in turn, instills confidence in our ability to think, learn and skillfully react to whatever life may place in our path.

There are no guarantees. I have said this in the past, and I will reiterate it.. over and over. The moment we truly accept and believe this to be true.. that we are humans; and that it is our nature to become sick, to grow old, and die... but that in this moment, there are infinite possibilities available to us to live fully and completely in this breath-moment.. and that in this moment.. the only moment that we will ever have access to; the entire cosmos exists. Our lives are inextricably intertwined and interwoven not only with one another's lives, but with everything. There is no subject/object. There is only *this*.

I have done my utmost to respond to the circumstances that I am facing; by doing whatever I can do.. whenever I can do it.. it isn't a sprint. Its a marathon, and I am in it fully for the long-haul. The surgery repaired an injury that prevented me from being able to do very much in the way of physical activity.. and happily, that obstacle has been removed from my path. The rest is entirely up to me.

I am walking every day, under the sun.. or the rain, depending upon the day. I am training diligently in the gym a few times per week. I am eating more mindfully, sleeping better, and feeling better. My blood pressure and glucose levels are fantastic, and I am getting stronger by the day.

The diabetes and blood pressure is not, as it turns out, my obstacle.. my *mind* and my *attitude* were the obstacle. Change is often thought to happen over a long, slow period of time... but change happens in an instant! Just like that! -- The implementation of that change.. and the measurable results might take a bit of time... but, that seems to be both the good news, and the bad news.

The bad news is that change takes time to produce measurable results.

The good news is that change takes time to produce measurable results.

The truth is that change will occur, and we can try to hide from it .. or we can respond to it, with skill and with the best effort that we can bring to bear, both consciously, and with mindfulness.

Whether change is an obstacle, or whether it provides us with a positive impetus to bring about the best possible circumstances attainable to us is entirely according to our state of mind.

In peace & brotherhood.

Bu-Gohn Unsui


Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Meditation ...

Suppose that your life will never be any different than it is in this breath-Moment?

Suppose that you have exactly 24 hours left to live, and there is nothing that can be done to change it?

The clock is ticking...

What then?


"This is the way of those who are skilled and peaceful, who seek the good and follow the path:

May they be able and upright, straightforward, of gentle speech and not proud.
May they be content and easy wherever they are.
May they be unburdened, with their senses calm.
May they be wise and not arrogant.
May they live without desire for the possessions of others.
May they do no harm to any living being.

May all beings be happy.
May they live in safety and joy.
All living beings, whether weak or strong, old or young, man or woman, smart or foolish, healthy or disabled, seen or unseen, near or distant, born or to be born, may they all be happy.

Let no one deceive or despise another being, whatever their status.
Let no one by anger or hatred wish harm to another.

As parents watch over their children, willing to risk their own lives to protect them, so with a boundless heart may we cherish every living being, bathing the entire world with unobstructed and unconditional loving-kindness.

Standing or walking, sitting or lying down, in each moment may we remain mindful of this heart and this way of living that is the best in all the world."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Being Ordinary

Zen is not about being special in any way. It is about being ordinary. Going somewhat further than that, it is about reducing the self to nothingness.. if you are 'anything' you will suffer, but if one can dissolve one's self completely, another more basic, truer self will fill the void.

This true self is sometimes called one's 'Buddha Nature' or Buddha-Dhatu. This intrinsic, immortal potential for enlightenment is a natural human legacy that we all share.. indeed, all sentient beings share this, and it is this 'Buddha Nature' that we recognize and love in one another.

In my own personal practice, I have been striving to slowly cut and chip away at everything and anything that is even slightly extraneous, with mixed success. It is an effort to bring my zen more into my everyday, ordinary, mundane life. One might think of it as 'Zen off of the cushion'.

During this last year of practice, I detected in myself a tendency to act and practice from a standpoint of one who would be subsequently writing a post to describe my experiences and insight... which had the counter-productive result in my experiences and insights turning out to be somewhat false and less than spontaneous. In effect, I began to subconsciously 'nudge' my practice in the direction of a more interesting and thought-provoking blog post. And so, the ego creeps in, as it is continuously wont to do, and before one realizes, the prisoners are running the prison, and the blog is creating the life that the blogger will write about. I therefore decided to simply set the blog aside and to focus on my 'daily life zen' living as much as I was able in an honest, straightforward, mindful and spontaneous fashion. A life without pretense, lived directly, with as few 'plys' of notional thinking, opinion etc.

I am beginning to feel the need to further simplify my lifestyle, both in my daily activities and by way of purging material belongings that I do not honestly have any need for.

Oddly, each time I do this, I come to learn that my needs are much less than I had believed the previous time I have done this. So, I am very skillful at deceiving myself through multiple iterations, it would seem.

My practice, much like breathing, seems to follow a curving path of increased and decreased tension or sustained effort. I don't analyze this, I simply accept it as being what it is. In this final year of Ferocious Effort, I will likely bring much of the more traditional trappings and formalities of Zen practice back into my daily practice. The experiment with 'Zen as daily life' (i.e., eating, sleeping, working zen) was a success. I do not need the formalities.. but, I find that the formal 'envelope' is a convenient method of ordering the day, and of effortlessly focusing the energies of my practice.

I feel that I may now resume posting, at least until I catch myself altering my practice to suit a blog post.

On a more personal note, I have gotten comments and some complaints from family and friends making reference to my reclusiveness. I am not sure how best to address this. I am a renunciant and contemplative. I reside and practice in a hermitage, and I find that this solitude is very helpful to my practice. It is not, however, indicative of any lack of care or love on my part toward others. What is difficult for many people to accept about monasticism is, I believe, the monastics desire to remain detached and the monk's intrinsic quest for the 'Great Silence'. I have come to believe that if lay people *did* understand this, they would be monks. However, this would not be good for anybody. The world cannot consist of monks. I also think that those of us who do have a calling for a contemplative lifestyle are, in essence, somewhat peculiar. It is this peculiarity that drives us to find answers to questions that most people do not pose, and also to seek a lifestyle that best fits our intrinsic nature. It is neither bad nor good. It simply is. So, I suppose I must answer that I am living precisely as I am living... and that I am what I am. My practice continues, and I am grateful that anyone would hold enough care and love for me in their hearts that my absence would drive them to broach the subject. What I would like them to understand is that there is no subject or object.. there is no here or there.. and there is no distance, no absence. I am always 'here' always holding everyone in my heart.

We, as humans, want to take those that we love into our arms, and embrace them, holding them close in an eternal embrace that will never change, and never end. We want to preserve the perfect moment for all time.

It would be nice if this were possible, but, when we embrace, and want to hold on to our loved one forever, it is also true that eventually; someone ALWAYS has to go to the bathroom!!

The upside is that we can always embrace again.

I wish you success in your practice.