Finding love and finding meaning, the human reasons to keep going

buddhaWhen we entered the temple last week we were told that we couldn’t go into the Hondo because a family was grieving and we’d have to enter in a little while.

Later we learned that it was actually the family of that young woman , Natsumi Kogawa, from Japan who had gone missing in September. Her body was found on the grounds of that mansion on Davie Street in Vancouver’s West End. They had come from Japan to plan her memorial service. It’s impossible to comprehend the sad reality that her family is now facing.

All I could think of was the excitement this young woman surely felt in coming to Vancouver, in improving her English. In thinking about all the new friends and experiences she imagined having before stepping onto the plane from Japan, and how unlikely it was that something like whatever transpired and that led to her death would happen to her here. 

As my attention focused back on the room, I wondered what had motivated all my fellow students to take an introduction to Buddhism course. I wanted to know their real motivation, deep inside, not the sanitized reason they shared about being interested in Buddhism and wanting to learn more.

For myself the past few years have all been about seeking, some people might say to my detriment. They would say that I just need to find a way to accept my life where I’m at. But I think I’ve finally recognized that it goes against my temperament to ever be satisfied for lengthy periods of time if things just stay the same and if I know I could be doing so much more, and I can’t seem to make that work where I’m at.  Isn’t that what “life” is about – experiences and moving through change?

Some things haven’t worked out, in fact, sometimes it feels like nothing has worked out very well in the past few years, and with  Salt Spring as the contrast where everything just felt like it was seamless and worked out with ease and little effort, the opposite has been a shock, another disappointment, an ongoing frustration and endless questioning about what I’m missing that surely must be right in front of me. 

On the other hand, the trying to make things work have led to the meeting of many people I wouldn’t have otherwise met and learning, and yet, I’m missing the key ingredients it seems: love in the way I feel I need it or would like to share it (which may be the problem and I’m smart enough to recognize that)  and meaning.

Zen Buddhism was the topic on our last week given by Reverend Michael Newton of Mountain Rain Zen Community at 2016 Wall Street and a professor in religious studies at SFU.

There were two things that really stood out for me from his words. The first was about how when we wake up from the stories we’ve been telling ourselves, stories that others have told about us since we were children that may or may not reflect who we really are, and we let go of those stories from the past, we can begin to step into the beautiful, clear presence, that’s the essence of Zen.

Each person according to their past and their uniqueness finds unique truths and that is why the truth cannot be told. Someone else cannot tell you your truth. You must find it within. Truth comes from your own experiences, your own practice.

That really resonated with me in the moment because I feel that looking around, looking at others isn’t giving me the answers I need, isn’t showing me my own very personal path. Their answers, their way of living, is not mine. So it requires that I get to the heart of what matters as my own very personal truth about my own life.

Yesterday as I was driving to a friend’s place to hear about her recent trip to Morocco, I was lucky to catch a radio show, Meaningful Man, on CBC Sunday Morning. It was about Viktor Frankl, the former Holocaust survivor, a brilliant man, and the author of  the book, Man’s Search for Meaning, a book that apparently poured out of him in nine days, and one that he had to dictate into a recorder to capture the manic stream of thoughts.

Today on Twitter, I’ve learned that Oct. 10th is World Mental Health Day, and I think some of the ideas spoken within the above documentary have the potential to bring comfort, or at least food for thought, to anyone who is struggling.  Please set aside about 50 minutes to listen to it.

Acronyms as paths to peace

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Turtles lined up at Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, BC

If you’ve been following the blog lately, you’ll know that I’ve been taking an Introduction to Buddhism class at Vancouver Buddhist Temple.

As part of the 5 week introduction, Dr. Adrianne Ross from BC Insight Meditation led us through a really good meditation check in about two weeks ago and although I can’t recall everything she said, she had some really good acronyms to share.

ELSA

  • Embrace : good and bad
  • Let go of reactivity
  • Stop
  • Act

WAIT

  • Why am I talking?

She explained the Eight-fold path is divided into three sections including mind, using effort wisely and concentration.

RAIN

  • Recognize it
  • Attitude towards it
  • Investigate it
  • Not taking it personally

She talked about recognizing a feeling as outside the body, not taking it on as being a reflection of good or bad. For example, if you are depressed or angry, you acknowledge it: Depression is here. Anger is here. Sadness is arising. That way, you can recognize emotions as a temporary state.

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Fluttering at the feeder

Set an intention for the day and remind yourself of that intention throughout the day.

Take a 3-minute breath break and stop. Ask yourself, Where am I? How’s the body right now? Where’s the mind? How am I feeling? Recognize the emotion and name it.

Envision your body and mind as connecting with the space around you and just passing through that space into something much larger which has a diluting effect on whatever you are experiencing in the moment, especially if it is highly energized in a negative way.

How big is your wanting? Exaggerate it to let it move through.

Introduction to Mindfulness and Meditation

If you’re interested in mindfulness and/or starting a meditation practice, then you still have time to sign up for a class beginning on Tuesday, October 11, 2016 at St. Marks church on Larch Street in Kitsilano and offered through BC Insight Meditation Society. The cost is $40.

Fall Food Bazaar

Something else to note in your calendar if you’re so inclined. The Vancouver Buddhist Temple will have their Fall Food Bazaar on Sunday, Oct. 30th from noon – 2pm.

Buddhism for Dummies at the Vancouver Buddhist Temple

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Vancouver Buddhist Temple altar with Amida Buddha

I was at the Powell Street Festival in August when I walked across Oppenheimer Park and noticed the Vancouver Buddhist Temple at 220 Jackson Street.

I climbed the steps and walked in. A gracious man whose name I would later learn to be Patrick [Couling] was taking questions from the few people dotting the pews. Yes, pews! In a Buddhist temple. Go figure.

In my brief visit, I learned of a 5 week course offering a very elementary introduction to some main types of Buddhism by knowledgeable speakers. At $30 for the five weeks, the opportunity was a no brainer.

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At San Fran temple

I’ve been interested in Buddhism ever since I set foot in a Buddhist temple in 1988 in San Francisco during a walking tour that began in Chinatown. I still have a photo above my desk that I took of the smoke wafting up from the incense sticks into a space that had a great view of the nearby Transamerica Pyramid. 

On the first night of the course, a fresh-faced young guy was tasked with explaining the mythology of Siddhartha.  Casey Collins, a PhD student in Asian Studies at UBC, ended up being one of the very best storytellers I have heard in recent memory. He wove contemporary references into the ancient story to make it entertaining and memorable.

Think of it this way. It would be like if one of the Kardashian sisters suddenly woke up and thought, this isn’t enough, I want more, I’m dissatisfied, but not just any dissatisfied, a very specific type of ennui. I want to know the meaning of life. I want to know why we have to get old, get sick and die. I think I’ll sit under a palm tree off Rodeo Drive, night and day, and then after renouncing Mac Cosmetics, Coach bags and Pilates, gossip, bitchiness and martinis, I’ll venture out into the world penniless to see what I might learn. And at the end she’d arrive at the four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold path.

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Green Tara poster bought from the OM guy on Salt Spring

Mr. Collins didn’t use this analogy — thankfully — but as someone who has sat through many, many stories in the past few years, I found it ironic that an academic-in-training would end up being the most exceptional story teller I’ve heard in a very long time. Yay for him.

The second evening was presented by Lama Rabten Tshering. I’m guessing he might have been in his 40s. He was dressed in his maroon robe, one long maroon sleeve, one short, golden, cap sleeve. His shaved head gleamed under the lights. He did, fittingly, seem pretty darn happy. An iPad for notes was propped up in front of him. I think I saw a cell phone as well.  Not sure why I expect monks to renounce technology in this day and age but I do. If you’re a grown man wearing a robe in public, it just seems wrong that you should be carrying tech gadgets to taint your spirituality. My bias. Partly kidding. He’s associated with a temple in East Van called NalandaBodhi.  

I enjoyed taking in his presence and my mind drifted back to my time in Thailand and Cambodia. I had so much curiosity towards the monks that I saw there, all ages, wandering the streets or cloistered on a mountain top (Sampeu Hill) just outside Battambang, Cambodia.dsc_0151

Every time I’d see them, they’d elicit so many questions. What were their days like? Were they content? Did they wake up in the middle of the night and think, ‘oh, if only I’d just gone into engineering when I was 21 like my dad said I should have.’  I realize that whenever I see monks, I always assume they’re happy. Maybe they’re miserable. Maybe their misery is what drove them to become monks in the first place.

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in Angkor Wat compound

Back in the temple, Lama Tshering was drawing us in with long silent pauses while he gathered his thoughts. I filled those gaps by observing him intensely. I followed the irregular cadence of his voice that accompanied his slow sentences. I tried to stay awake as he used words I’d never heard, a challenge compounded by his accent.

He explained how important lineage is in Tibetan Buddhism. The right teacher and teachings handed down generation upon generation is really important.  He spoke of the Common and Uncommon paths. The Common path focused on recognizing human preciousness, death and impermanence, cause and effect, and Samsara, circuitous change.

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favourite print of mine

All I recall about the Uncommon Path is how many times you have to do stuff – 100,000 times – which for a full time monk, could take just two months to achieve. But, for the rest of us, possibly more than one lifetime. I see a disconnect with my way of being here. Ya think?

We did some meditation. Spine very straight. The lama sat in the lotus position, “not necessary,” he said. Chin not up, not down. Straight ahead, relaxed glance. Mouth not open, not closed. Huh? How does that work? A slight smile. Relaxed focus on the breath. Tibetan Buddhists do not close their eyes when they meditate. He had a lot of eyes staring back at him that night.

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Another favourite print of mine that hangs in my bedroom

The temple is right down there in Vancouver’s Downtown East side. Ambulance sirens blared every so often as we sat inside the Hondo hearing what might have been yet another call to another fentanyl overdose, just one type of struggle in a world where wandering off the “right path” seems to have become the predominant theme. And maybe that’s why staying curious, staying open, and seeking, in a spiritual way, feels like a necessity.