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Posts tagged ‘Buddhist philosophy’

Let’s Not Talk About It

Thich Nhat Hanh is my favorite Buddhist author. The gentle Vietnamese monk uses homely analogies to teach mindfulness, self-understanding, and compassion. I love the way he compares human relations to plants decaying into garbage, then composting into rich soil which feeds new plants. “We do not expect a person always to be a flower. We have to understand his or her garbage as well.”

I find his “In-Out” exercise helpful for curbing stress when driving through heavy traffic, waiting in line, or rushing frantically through a to-do list.

Breathing in, I calm my body.

Breathing out, I smile.

Dwelling in the present moment,

I know this is a wonderful moment.


One area where I do find the celibate monk lacking, however, is his marital advice. His recommendation that husbands and wives talk problems out before they become major obstacles is great in theory. It would, no doubt, work for couples who have gained control of their own egos and can overcome the temptation to manipulate the other into agreement. Unfortunately, few mortals attain that degree of perfection no matter how diligently they pray or mediate and practice mindfulness. Most married couples find, in George Eliot’s words, “invisible barriers to speech between husband and wife.”  That’s certainly true in areas where compromise isn’t an alternative.


A friend told me her parents survived years of marriage by walling off a painful topic. In their early years, he wanted to take a job with great opportunity for advancement. She refused to move, and he missed the opportunity for a more fulfilling career. The decision could not be changed. I suspect they eventually reached a point where it was no longer an issue.


I don’t see how this couple could have compromised. She did not want to uproot the children and herself to move to a remote, inconvenient area, but his self-esteem needed success in his field which only this job would provide. What was the point in having a conversation that would likely end with blame and accusation: “You’ve always been selfish.” “You don’t care about what I want.” Discussing difficult issues requires more understanding of self and spouse than most of us have.


When I was a young wife, our Relief Society President told a story on herself. “It made me mad that my husband never rinsed out the basin after shaving. So, one day I told him we should each tell the other one thing that irritated us. He agreed and I told him about the whiskers. He said he would remember to rinse the basin, and I said, ‘Now it’s your turn to tell me what I do that irritates you.’ He said, ‘Nothing you do irritates me.’”


I remembered her story one day when George suggested we tell each other one thing that really bothers us. “Go ahead,” I said sweetly. “Nothing you do bothers me.” That little lie has saved me from hearing how many of my favorite habits get on George’s nerves.

Giving So It Doesn’t Hurt

Last Sunday at the Big Heart Zen CenterMinverva, the discussion leader, used Big Mind  techniques to facilitate a look at the “Giver” aspect of our personalities. Several of us were confused when she asked us to identify as the voice of the Giver disowned by the Self.

In Big Mind workshops, we usually identify a negative aspect our Self has disowned. Why would the Self disown the Giver? Everybody knows it’s more blessed to give than to receive.

We sat in silence for a few minutes. Finally, someone volunteered, “My Self disowns the Giver because it finds the Giver exhausting.”

Bingo. We could all relate to the fatigue of giving more than our strength allows. To the guilt from never feeling we’ve given enough. To the resentment of thinking our giving is unappreciated. To the neediness of giving with the expectation of receiving something in return—praise, gratitude, or just that warm, cozy feeling.

Then Minverva asked us to speak as the voice of the Giver fully owned and accepted by the Self. “How can the Giver, fully owned, help the Self?”

Another light switched on for me: When fully accepted by the Self, the Giver can give to others without being attached to the outcome. The Giver can give contentment to the Self—allowing the Self to give without the need of recognition or to feel she has solved every problem.

What  wonderful insight I received from Big Mind and the hour spent at the Big Heart Zen Center Sunday morning. My thanks to those who made it possible.

On Our Own

Several years ago, I read a book called Room for One More by Anna Rose—a memoir about a family with three children who took in troubled teens. I picked up the book because I’d seen the movie when I was a kid. Cary Grant and Betsy Drake played the parents coping with the problems of their enlarged family. I remembered the movie being very funny and that Cary and Betsy, besides never losing their cool, were far more glamorous than my own parents.

The book, while humorous, was less glamorous and more insightful than the film. One situation I’ve remembered was the author confronting the 14-year-old girl who had stashed stolen money, clothes, food, and other items in a bag under her bed. When asked why, the girl replied, “So I can take care of myself when you kick me out.”

Knowing she could not convince a kid who had been abandoned by her natural family and removed from a series of foster homes that they would not kick her out, Rose told her foster daughter: “I’ll show you a better way to take care of yourself.” She took the girl to the bank and opened an account for her. “Now, you’ll always have money when you need it, and you can add to your account when you get paid for working.

I thought of this incident while reading Unlimiting Mind by Andrew Olendzki. In making the case for everything being transitory, Olendzki says:

To the young child in her crib, it is reassuring to know her mother does not disappear when her eyes are covered. But when she loses her to old age, sickness, and death, as she surely will some day, it can be even more valuable to learn that her own well-being need not depend on her mother’s continuing physical existence. It is the experience that is comforting, and the quality of a mother’s love for a child can be enacted at any time by covering the eyes and filling the heart with loving kindness.

I thought of losing my mother when I was 10. Promises that we would be united in heaven weren’t terribly comforting. I needed my mother now—not after I died. I might have found it more comforting if someone had acknowledged that my mother was gone—but the love, strength and courage she’d given me still existed within my own heart. I could feel her love and guidance by being still and listening. I could take care of myself.


In Buddhist philosophy, the Self is an illusion. As Alan Watts puts it, “the thing you call ‘I’—is really a stream of experiences, of sensations, thoughts and feelings in constant motion. But because these experiences include memories, we have the impression that ‘I’ is something solid and still, like a tablet upon which life is writing a record.”

The notion of a fluid Self makes sense. I noticed a long time ago that I become a different person in different circumstances. And it’s often frustrated me to feel I’ve attained significant personal growth only to return home and be treated as the person I was several years ago.

A river may be a useful analogy for the Self. The old saying goes, “You can never step into the same river twice.” True of course—the water changes continuously. Yet, the general outline of the river remains the same—usually. In times of flood, a normally placid river froths with rage, exceeds its banks, destroys. During drought, water dwindles—the river becomes a fragment of its former self.

Like a river, the Self maintains a certain sameness although experiences constantly change. The self sometimes energizes into a different form and sometimes dries into dusty memories.

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