In my experience, the most difficult part of writing is the first sentence and the last sentence. With one, there's nothing that comes before. With the other, there's nothing that comes after. So those sentences are unique.
I struggled with the first sentence in my book, Return to the One. Until finally, a sentence popped into my head that seemed just right to me.
If something has been lost and you're not sure where to look for it, there's good reason to start searching right where you are rather than far afield.
Then I spoke about the familiar situation (familiar to me, at least) of looking for your car keys only to discover that they were sitting unnoticed in a pocket or purse the whole time.
But let's think about what's necessary for a search to make sense. To begin with, you really need to have lost something. Meaning, it was in your possession at one point, and now it isn't. Then there has to be a decent probability that you can find that thing you used to possess.
If you're on a cruise and drop your glasses into the ocean while leaning over a railing, you know what you've lost, but for all practical purposes you have a zero chance of finding that item.
In Return to the One I argued that we have a sense of loss, yet most of us don't understand what we're longing to recover: God, or the One. I feel like I did a pretty good job making that argument, yet in my current frame of mind I no longer find what I wrote to be persuasive.
I still like my first sentence in the book, though. But now I see it as pointing toward the desirability of living in the here and now, rather than a there and then. After all, where we are, where everyone is, without exception, is the present moment.
No searching required. Just be here now.
This, of course, is the essence of mindfulness. And of the non-religious aspect of Buddhism, which includes Zen. Such distinguishes these forms of spirituality from the seeking forms of spirituality and religion where there is much talk of a path to be followed, and signs of progress along the way.
Here's some illustrative passages from Jon Kabat-Zinn's book, Mindfulness for Beginners: reclaiming the present moment -- and your life.
Not only is it always now. The "curriculum" of this adventure we call living, where mindfulness can play such a pivotal role, is always what is unfolding in this moment, whether we like what is happening or not.
Whatever is arising in this moment becomes the curriculum for liberating ourselves from the shackles of greed, hatred, and delusion. We do not need some ideal or romantic fairy tale of what would be best for us. What we most need is what is already given to us: the actuality of things as they are in the only moment we will ever have -- this one.
...So as we have already seen, the notion that in meditation practice there is no place to go, nothing to do, and nothing to attain can be quite strange and mysterious -- even foreign -- to our striving temperaments and our need to always be getting better.
...Non-striving is not trivial. It involves realizing that you are already here. There's no place to go, because the agenda is simply to be awake.
It is not framed as some ideal that suggests that after forty years of sitting in a cave in the Himalayas, or by studying with august teachers, or doing ten thousand prostrations, or whatever it is, you will necessarily be any better than you are now.
It is likely that you will just be older. What happens now is what matters.
If you don't pay attention now, as Kabir, the great Indian poet of sixteenth-century India said, "You will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death."
...Awareness itself is what mindfulness is about. It is not about achieving an ideal, or a particularly desirable or longed-for special state.
If the mind is thinking: "If I meditate I'll always be compassionate. I'll be like the Dalai Lama. I'll be like Mother Teresa" or whoever your spiritual guru/hero of the moment is, it may help to remind yourself that you don't stand a snowball's chance in hell of being like the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa or anybody else. Nor do you know what their interior experience is.
The only person that you have the remotest possibility of being like is yourself. And that, when it comes down to it, is the real challenge of mindfulness: the challenge to be yourself.
The irony, of course, is that you already are.
How we talk online is much different from how we talk in person
Next year I'll celebrate the 20th anniversary from when I started this blog in 2004. But, hey, I figure that I might as well spread out the festivities by making some observations from time to time about this here Church of the Churchless.
Like, right now.
The most important thing I want to say is gratitude. Over the years I've learned a great deal from the people who visit this blog and leave comments. Typepad, my blogging service, says there have been 70,198 comments on 3,390 posts.
So that's about 21 comments, on average, per post that I've written. I read most comments, though if I'm busy, I'll just take a glance at a comment, especially if it's a lengthy one.
Those comments are my blog's way of having a conversation -- with me, and with other blog visitors. I wish Typepad allowed for editing of comments by the people who share them, and that it was possible to organize the comments in a different fashion than in a chronological fashion.
But wishes aren't reality. Anyway, I deeply appreciate the time and effort people put into their comments, though obviously the quality varies from a high quality essay to random observations that make little sense.
Which is no different from the conversations all of us have in everyday life. But otherwise, there's big differences between how people communicate online versus in person.
Online, many choose to not use their real name. I can understand why in certain circumstances. For example, on this blog criticism of a religious leader, or the religion itself, can be problematic if someone uses their real name and is still involved with the organization they're criticizing.
That's why most people who write to me with an interesting story about their faith ask that I share it anonymously. The downside of anonymity, though, is that it enables people to say things in cyberspace that they'd be reluctant to say to someone face-to-face.
I'm definitely guilty of this myself at times. So if I'm directing a blog post or a comment at a specific person, I need to do better at visualizing that person standing in front of me as I say what I want to say about them.
Another problem with online conversations is that in ordinary life communication doesn't just involve words. It also involves a tone of voice, facial expressions, body language. And of course, an ability to say things like "I don't quite understand; please elaborate on what you meant when you said _______"
So its easy to misunderstand those with whom we interact online.
I like to express strong opinions. Many commenters on my blog posts also like to express strong opinions. So we’re going to feel misunderstood by other people at times. That comes with the territory of expressing strong opinions in a setting where only written words can be shared, not the other ways we use to communicate with people.
In a way it's surprising that comment conversations on this blog are as friendly and productive as they usually are, given how many obstacles there are to understanding another person in cyberspace.
But sometimes feelings get hurt. This is unfortunate, though often unavoidable. Partly it's due to different ways of communicating between men and women. I don't want to overemphasize this. It just seems like a reality to me.
I talked about this in a 2005 post on my HinesSight blog, "Why men don't share their feelings."
“How’re you doing?” says Dennis as I walk into the Pacific Martial Arts changing room. Instead of replying with my habitual robotic “Fine, how’re you?” I have a crazy impulse to actually tell him. I’ll share my feelings!
“Well, my feet have been tingling for about a week. I don’t know what’s going on. I’ve got an appointment to see a doctor tomorrow.” Without missing a beat (appropriately: Dennis is a drummer) I hear, “You’ve got a brain tumor. No doubt about it. You’re going to die.”
For the rest of our hour and a half training session, whenever I stop to check on how my feet are doing Dennis again says, “Oh yeah, you’ve got a brain tumor. Your time is up.”
Sensei Warren, our regular martial arts instructor, came in late. After telling him my tale of tingling feet I got a marginally better prognosis: “You’ve got diabetic neuropathy. No doubt about it. You’re going to lose your feet.” And I don’t even have diabetes.
Now, I know both Dennis and Warren care a lot about me. They demonstrated their manly concern by telling me that I’m either going to die or lose my feet. If one of them had given me a big hug and said “Don’t worry, everything is going to be all right,” I would have begun to worry that he had a brain tumor.
If I want sympathy, I’ll tell my troubles to my wife. From my marital arts buddies I get camaraderie and support that isn’t expressed in words. Dennis taught the class that evening. He started off by saying, “Let’s work on kicks tonight since your feet are giving you a problem.”
Which is what we did. For almost an hour. The unspoken message was, “Your feet are OK. Suck it up. This is no big deal.” That’s pretty much what the doctor said the next day: “Your feet look fine; I’ll do a blood test anyway; call me in a month if you’re not better.”
I'm sharing this anecdote because it points to a seeming fact: men are more comfortable with the rough-and-tumble of online communications because they're more used to joking around with each other in some rough ways.
This is fine.
But I worry when a woman shares something on this blog, then gets attacked in an intense fashion. Mostly or entirely by men. That's when I feel protective toward the woman, since I feel responsible for providing a safe space for people to share their ideas without feeling like they're in some sort of danger.
Well, those are my thoughts for tonight. Thanks for listening. I'll get back to a regular Church of the Churchless blog post soon.
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