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You Can't Always Want What You Get

"The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self-awareness."
ANNIE SAVOY Bull Durham
 

My parents are both well into their eighties. But its only been in the last four years that they've begun to lose the  momentum of living. In 2009 they made their last cross country road trip. Two years ago my dad began planning his day so he only had to make right hand turns when they ventured out around town. A year ago he stopped driving all together. In this last year their aging has started to accelerate along a geriatric Moore's Law. My dad is falling. My mom is fading. Literally. She's tough as a bear but you can almost see through her when the light is strong. My mom's big concern is that they can't leave the house whenever they want, but have to wait for the days when their health care aide is there. But they make do. Its not the life they had, but its the life they have now.

My wife's parents are going through similar changes. We live close to them, within a mile actually, and in the last two years we've become their de facto caretakers. We wouldn't have asked for this, but its what we've been given. I'm not saying its bad, because honestly its not so bad. Its hard for Paula to be reminded on an almost daily basis of the changes in her parents, and between shopping trips and doctor and hospital visits it has spoken for a lot of our free time of late. But in other ways its been a gratifying and enriching experience for both of us. But, again, it wasn't a choice. It just is what it is. The underlying elements I want to pull from the stories are that we have no real control over what happens to us in our lives, and that we live in an active push/pull relationship with life. Life acts, we react. Finally, I understand the central truth of Buddhist belief.

  • Rule #1: Shit Happens

Buddhist's have a kinder phraseology for this first Noble Truth, that 'suffering exists,' but the sentiment is the same. At face value the idea that living means suffering is a bit of a downer, and it is really antithetical to Buddhism itself. I'd like to offer an alternate definition of that truth to use. It follows as; "challenges exist." And it is our acceptance of, and response to these challenges, both short-term and long, that determines whether or not suffering exists in our lives.

  • Rule #2: You Can't Always Get What You Want

Its a simple matter of living. There is always more to want if wanting is what you do. I remember just a couple years ago seeing a pair of boots in my latest GQ magazine. Up to that point my life was pretty perfect, but in an instant everything changed. Suddenly my life was incomplete, and not only that, I had the realization that it had always been incomplete, and would continue to be so until I owned those boots. I was devastated. It took until the next month's issue and the ad for the orange watch for me to get over it. But when I was over it, it was over for good. Its the second Noble Truth; "attachment creates suffering."

  • Rule #3: Learn to Let Go

The third Noble Truth states that "Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional." It reinforces this idea that between stimulus and response lies choice. Choice is our one true power. It is our single wieldable weapon in the struggle between living a life of suffering or a life liberated from suffering.

Our modern first-world view conflicts with this concept, as it allows that we alone determine the circumstances of our life. But its a narrow and ego-centric view, and at odds with the basic principles of nature. For as much as we believe that we can control what occurs around us, the simple truth is that we can only control what lies within us. Cause and effect aside though, the result is the same, as we still maintain ultimate responsibility for any measure of our satisfaction with our life.

I suppose at some time then we need to measurably define the meaning of suffering. My parents, for all the limits their circumstance has put on them, do not suffer, nor do my wife and I from ours. Perhaps it is because societally we put so much emphasis on getting what we want that have such a difficult time with simply accepting what we have. As a society we've set the bar pretty low as to what constitutes suffering. We focus on the accumulation of of things as the purpose of living. We define any want/need as equal in importance and urgency. But true suffering is more than the mere endurance of an unpleasantness or the desire for things we do not own. Suffering is the experience of a genuine life quality change. When we begin to feel physically or spiritually diminished by our condition, or feel helpless to change our circumstance, at this point we can say that suffering is taking place. And acceptance or acknowledgement of the cause of suffering is the key to ending suffering. Acceptance is not the same as giving up, its giving over. And only then can you harness the power that lies within you.

  • Rule #4: Walk the Line

So how do we end suffering? In short, we don't. (see rule #1) Our mission therefore, should we choose to accept it, is to endeavor to minimize suffering; for ourselves, and when possible, for others. Yeah, but how? Currently we leave most of the heavy lifting for the pharmaceutical industry and our friends at Grey Goose, but there is another option. Buddhists call it the eightfold path or the middle way. Redefined, it simply means first accepting the existence of a circumstance, and then crafting a balanced response to it. Its not a "when life gives you lemons..." approach, because sometimes life can hand you a bucket of nails instead. It comes from exercising our one true power; choice, and empowering ourselves to make change. Once you acknowledge the existence of a circumstance, you have the power to control your interaction with it. Denying it merely prolongs our suffering, and enables us to disguise it as something else.

And when it comes to healing, a balanced approach is always the best. Extreme measures rarely work.  The Buddhist parable is the story of the music teacher. He tells his student that when stringing a sitar, "If you stretch the string too tight it will break, and if there is too much slack it won't play". "You must find the middle to make the music." Its a delightful and magical solution to life. Measure your response, look for the good, let go, and make music.

peace and love,

mark

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Launch Day

rocketLaunch Day. It's been a long time coming. It was back in April of this year that I first posted to Bodhicyclist. I don't have the post anymore, and I don't remember what I was going to write about. I do remember that I liked the name though. There is a good chance that it would have been about my observations whilst cycling. That is if I had ever followed through on it then. Instead I preface this new iteration by making an admission.

I am flawed. When I first conceived to start this project I imagined it would offer to readers insight, advice, and humor. But in truth, I have no advice to give, no insight to offer. Rather, I have a lot to learn. I live a life full of inconsistencies. I'm essentially insecure, and never really certain that I'm doing the right thing. What I used to perceive as the long, beautiful fan in my wake is actually a twisted trail of disappointment dotted with former lovers, friends, and students; I'm an equal opportunity disabuser.

How I came to this conclusion. Over the last year I've completed some wonderful accomplishments and suffered some terrible failures. On one hand I managed to organize and host a hugely successful charity event almost entirely on my own. It was awesome. I run a profitable small business and have done so for years. But I also managed to alienate a couple close friends and damage those relationships in a way that I'm not sure is repairable.

Everyone I know seems to be a better version of themselves than I am of me. Maybe you know what I mean. I have a few friends who are far more dedicated to their photography than I am to mine. To them its religion. Nothing can dissuade them from spending their free time photographing. And they are really good. My wife knows every actor and director from every motion picture made before 1934, and has an appreciation for these films like no one else I know. I photograph all the time but the last time I picked up a camera and just went "walkabout" was well before Christmas. I claim to eat a paleo diet, but if I'm buying organic ground beef from Uruguay, is it really paleo? Is pizza? I call myself a Buddhist but if I can't describe the difference between Mahayana and Theravada traditions, and what I follow personally is the philosophic core wrapped in a jacket of my own design, am I still Buddhist or just something akin to Buddhist?

Taming the beast. Too often I treat my convictions more like suggestions because it all just seems too hard. I like to speak romantically of battling 'inner demons', but honestly- I'm not plagued by demons, I'm plagued by bullshit. I know when I start to cut myself slack its a signal that things are out of balance, and that I'm skimming along just fast enough to stay above the water. And I let conviction lapse.  So every few months I screw up the strength to clean up my diet, or make the time to read my 'holy cards'. And I can feel whole again. For a while at least.

Revelations. Clearly, I have much to learn from my family and friends. Most people aren't afraid to ask for what they want. or to stand up for what they believe in, or to pursue their passions undeterred by convention or circumstance.  I need me some of that. I need to learn the secret of stamina. I need to understand the true meaning of the word "conviction." I also acknowledge that I need the assistance of my friends, and am helpless without them. And this is where you come in. I will be seeking your advice, both in public and private, and sharing your insights here. And what was once to be a blog about my insight will instead be a blog about personal growth and the wisdom of others.

And so it goes. How this plays out over the next several months I don't really know- this is all new to me. But to quote Russell Kirsch, the inventor of the first internally programmable computer, "Nothing is withheld from us what we have conceived to do." Translation? Do, because you have conceived to do, and trust that the answers will come. He said God told him that.

The answers will come. Who am I not to believe that. This blog is proof. This first post is proof. What I initially envisioned for Bodhi, with its outward looking form, seems inconsistent with what is unfolding now. The answer to a question it never occurred to me to ask made itself apparent only because I was advised by a friend to push Bodhi's launch date back by a month. That Bodhi should now be about the inner journey is a direct result of sitting at my desk and simply writing whilst waiting for the new launch date to arrive. And now a very inward, very personal blog is what I have conceived to do. And we shall see where it leads, and from it what answers will come. But through it all I will continue to rely on my friends and loved ones for guidance and reassurance, because I know, fully, that they are the better part of me.

Until then.

namaste,

Mark

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