Monday, September 5, 2011

Content to Make Do

In choosing motherhood, or rather, in choosing to be a mother the way I am (full-time, stay-at-home, homemaking  mom), I feel like often I have to put things that I want to do on the back-burner.  There's my writing, my career, traveling, and oddly enough, spiritual pursuits and endeavors.  Typically, I'm fine with that especially since by the time my youngest is old enough to pretty much take care of himself, I will not even be 40 years old.  I think and hope I'll have plenty of time to accomplish all those things that I can't really focus on now. 

I mean, it's just the nature of the game.  If I want to exercise in the morning and do anything spiritually focused, I have to get up early--like around 5.  If I am too tired to manage getting up that early, I have to skip something and lately it's been the spiritual stuff.

I've been practicing Nichiren's Buddhism as taught by SGI for the last 3 years.  When I first started practicing, I was very enthusiastic.  It seemed like something I could stick to and the teachings really resonated with me.  Basically, it said that I could be happy and I could determine how I want my life to be just by chanting nam-myoho-renge-kyo.  I believed it and I did manifest some wonderful things in my life such as my Saturday job, the income from which has enabled me to do a lot of things I probably would not have been able to do.  (Ironically, most of those things involve the very thing that vies most tenaciously for my time: fitness, i.e., running shoes, weights, gym membership, DVDs.)  Anyway, as time has gone on, my practice has fallen to the wayside.  There are the time constraints:  sometimes I just don't wake up early enough to practice and the evenings get so hectic that it seems impossible.  I had been putting serious pressure on myself to chant morning and evening and it just started to feel like a chore so I pulled back and then my practice just seemed to disappear.  I couldn't find the balance between effort and ease in the practice.  And then I started to question some of the teachings.  I already had issues with how the SGI organization treats its leader President Ikeda.  I have little tolerance for people worship (blame it on the fact that I'm a pastor's kid) and I just didn't find much of what he had to say all that inspiring--not enough to revere him as my "sensei".   I also started to become uneasy with certain things like the whole "priesthood issue" (a complex and heated breaking away from the original Nichiren Shoshu school) and the sayings of Nichiren himself which seem to knock other schools of Buddhism and honestly, tend not to make that much sense to me.  But beyond that, I started to feel like this form of Buddhism--or at least how it's espoused by SGI--was not in line with what the Buddha actually taught.  Here I am, energetically chanting for the things I want to get and facing serious disappointment about not being able to get them and then being told that I just needed to chant more.  But I had learned and experienced that once you get what you think you want, there's always something else to get.  And the Buddha teaches about getting rid of attachments.  He taught that desire is the root of all suffering.  I just couldn't reconcile the two.  I mean, I guess I believe in the idea of calling things into one's life and at the basic level, that's all chanting is but I started to feel that I needed something more.  And then  to add complexity to the whole thing, I started feeling like I needed a quiet, more contemplative practice.  Something reflective.  I had started to feel that maybe one day I would like to lead a monastic life--maybe not forever but for some time.  I needed to get to know my mind and learn how to deal with my thoughts and emotions in an effective way--something I didn't seem able to achieve practicing Nichiren's Buddhism. I then read this interview with bell hooks and right in the opening lines, she says what I had been starting to feel:


Tricycle: What was your first exposure to Buddhism?
bell hooks: When I was eighteen I was an undergraduate at Stanford and a poet and I met Gary Snyder. I already knew that he was involved with Zen from his work, and he invited me to the Ring of Bones Zendo for a May Day celebration. There were two or three American Buddhist nuns there and they made a tremendous impression. Since that time I've been engaged in the contemplative traditions of Buddhism in one way or another.
Tricycle: And that excludes Nichiren Shoshu? Which is the only Buddhist organization in America with a substantial black membership?
bell hooks: Yes, Tina Turner Buddhism. Get-what-you-want Buddhism—that is the image of Buddhism most familiar to masses of black people. The kind of Buddhism that engages me most is about how you're going to live simply, not about how you're going to get all sorts of things.
Tricycle: How do you understand the absence of black membership in contemplative Buddhist traditions?
bell hooks: Many teachers speak of needing to have something in the first place before you can give it up. This has communicated that the teachings were for the materially privileged and those preoccupied with their own comforts. When other black people come to my house they say, "Giving up what comforts?" For black people, the literature of Buddhism has been exclusive. It allowed a lot of people to say, "That has nothing to do with me." Many people see the contemplative traditions—specifically those from Asia—as being for privileged white people.

She said it right there:  I wanted a form of Buddhism that teaches me simple living not "gimme" living.  I started to feel that this is the reason why Nichiren's Buddhism became popular in the first place: give people what they want.  It's just not what I needed.

So I started to look for other schools of Buddhism or meditation nearby so I could go and learn and see if there is perhaps a better fit for me.  And this is when I started to get seriously frustrated.  Most meetings are on days when I can't make it because I've got my kids and the hubby is not off.  They are usually at 7:30 or 8:00 which would be great if I had a 9-5 job and no other responsibility but these times are horrible for me because that's when I need to start putting my kids to bed.  If it wasn't the time issue, it was the fact that these meeting places were so far away--with 20 minutes driving being the closest and almost an hour being the farthest.  The last straw was when I started to look into Transcendental Meditation, a form of meditation my good friend started some time back that helped her overcome depression and get motivated.  I mean, her transformation was miraculous.  It cost quite a bit of money to learn the method but I was willing to try to work out a payment plan.  I go to find a local teacher and the closest one is 40 minutes away.  Great.  Well, I could get around time and distance by hiring a babysitter but seriously?  We haven't even worked a babysitter into the budget yet for our so-called monthly date night . . . I have to be honest, it feels a bit selfish to hire a babysitter to work on spiritual stuff that may or may not be beneficial to me.  

So, like so many other things in my life right now, I'm putting this spiritual quest on the back burner.  I can't deal with the frustration right now . . . it kind of sends me to a dark place and how crazy is it that in trying to find spiritual enlightenment, one ends up there?  I've recommitted to chanting nam-myoho-renge-kyo morning and night but not for anything tangible.  I am just using it as a meditation--trying to stay focused on it totally while I'm doing it instead of letting my mind wander all over the place.  I also do a little bit of breath-watching meditation after I chant which gives me the piece of quiet meditation I need.  I'm reading books by Thich Naht Hanh and Pema Chodron and listening to insight meditation podcasts on Itunes.  When the time is right, I believe, I will be introduced to something that will fulfill my need totally.  Right now, I'm just going to work on being content to make do.  

1 comment:

navelgazingbajan said...

One of the things that stuck with me about Octavia Butler's "Parable of Sower" and "Parable of the Talents" books was the notion that the only constant we are guaranteed is change.

I hope you find the spiritual practice that you seek/need at this point in your life. Perhaps this particular journey is a big lesson in letting go of attachments, material or otherwise?

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