On being hope less

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I wrote this a month ago and have been sitting on it, hesitant to post it in the days leading up to Christmas because I didn’t think that a post on hopelessness would be appropriate. But now that Christmas is over…

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I am taking another WordPress writing 101 class and today’s assignment is to write a post inspired by a single word. One of the words on the list was “hope.” It’s really weird that this is a suggestion because when I asked Twitter last month what I should write about one of my Twitter friends suggested “hope.” So I’ve had this empty draft sitting on my dashboard for a month entitled “On Hope.” I suppose I’ve been writing it in my head.

I feel very ambivalent about hope. Some of the thoughts I have are probably not going to be very popular.

After I wrote that paragraph I happened to be reading through a kid’s books for work. In the book one of the characters reads from a book and this is what it says:

Hope

‘Tis hope that makes the midnight seem less black,

‘Tis hope that in our hardest times inspires.

If the cold of winter stops you in your tracks,

Let hope be both your compass and your fire.

 

This is little poem sums up what society thinks about hope, doesn’t it? That it is our compass in our darkest hour. And I like that thought. I like the thought that tomorrow will be a better day, and that hoping for the future will help me make it out of a dark time. And I suppose there is some truth to that, in the sense that impermanence exists and that everything we experience is temporary.

However, what if what I am hoping for can never happen? When my stepfather was dying of cancer I hoped that he would get better and he didn’t get better. He died of cancer. And when he died of cancer it hurt like hell (still does). So where does hope help me in that case? How does hope help when what I am hoping for is impossible?

It kind of seems to me that hope is just another word for grasping for things that we want. And grasping leads to suffering. And suffering sucks.

This blog post here explains what I am thinking on this topic.

I would like to propose that giving up hope will make you feel much better. Hope focuses on the future, and the future doesn’t exist. So, in essence, hope is delusion.  Deal with what is right in front of you in each moment, because that is all you have.

I say all of this but the idea of hope is so deeply ingrained in the core of my being and it is hard to break the habit. If I was in a situation that was truly terrible I might feel differently. Maybe? But then I have been in a terrible situation and when I was in that situation I was forced to deal with what was happening right in front of me. It was scary and horrible but I faced it and felt all of the feelings associated with it and it seems like that was the right way to deal with it.

Though I imagine that there are really terrible situations where, perhaps, hope can help.

In the end, though, my hope is to someday be able to live a hope-free life.

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I still don’t know what to think about hope, re-reading this a month later. I think I am still addicted to the lovely feelings that hope generates. Maybe addicted is not the right word. Maybe it’s human nature to hope. But on the other hand, I understand the importance of focusing on the present moment because that is all I have. Everything else is delusion. 

This is just another one of those Buddhist teachings that I am grappling with at the moment. Thank you for listening, dear readers. :)

On being goal less

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Last night at my meditation group I  got in a discussion about goalless practice. This is a Zen thing – the idea that the state you are in at this moment is perfect and goals imply that you are imperfect in this moment and that you need to somehow change.

This idea of not having a goal is crazy hard to grasp, especially being informed by Western, and even, American culture. Goals are such a huge part of who we are. Who am I if I don’t have goals? What kind of a person doesn’t have goals? A person who veers off in every direction. A person who has no focus. That seems like a crazy idea to me. I was born into a strict set of things I should strive for in my life. I am supposed to get married. I am supposed to be a homeowner. I am supposed to have a good job my entire life and then retire at age 65. These are the basic goals that have been instilled in me from the time I was born.

However, as I get older, I have been warming up to the idea of being goal-less. Indeed when I ask myself that common interview question “where do you see yourself in 5 years” I kind of draw a blank. In fact, that question kind of scares me a little. I like the idea of life taking me where it wants to take me. I think life is more exciting that way. I think that, if you let it, life will unfold in ways you will never expect, and they can be completely amazing beyond your imagination.

Lately I’ve been saying things to myself like, “Why don’t I read ‘The Heart Sutra‘ everyday and see what happens.” Or “What would happen if shot one large format pinhole photo everyday.” Basically doing  these things to see what will come of it.  I am naturally a very curious person and this kind of experimental living works well for me.

As a result, I have found myself  more immersed in the moment, rather than focused on the outcome. And when I do notice an outcome from doing this “thing” everyday I am surprised and excited by what I’ve learned. The wisdom seems to bubble up from inside my heart somewhere, rather than it being all in my head. For example, the outcome of reading The Heart Sutra everyday has been that I have learned about self compassion – which has been what I’ve needed to learn about! The outcome of shooting a large format pinhole shot everyday was that I learned a ton about how my camera works.

So now I am thinking about how I can apply this to health goals. This might be harder. I have some specific things I want to do with regard to health. I want to lose some weight – at least 15 pounds. The sad thing is that I’ve  been trying to lose this 15 pounds for a long time. It has been an elusive goal. So maybe it is time to let go of this goal. Maybe instead I should say, “what would happen if I went to the gym twice a week?” Or “What would happen if I ate a salad everyday for lunch?”

Embracing goalless practice when it comes to health might be harder to do…

Aside

My hands are trembling as I type this. I was out for my lunchtime walk and almost was hit by a car. I was crossing the street and the driver was turning left and wasn’t paying attention because he didn’t make any attempt to stop until I screamed and ran out of the way.

I made it to the corner and he stopped and I turned to him with a look of horror and yelled, “You almost hit me!! I was crossing the street! Jesus Fucking Christ!!” and he looked mortified but blew me off by waving his hands in a kind of “I’m Sorry gesture” and he drove away.

I kept on walking, very shaken, and then I had to stop on the sidewalk and cry because I don’t know what else to do with these feelings that bubble up to the surface when I am in this situation.

I have been hit by a car in the past and so am very sensitive about this and I am very unforgiving when I find myself in this situation. The last time this happened I decided the person needed to understand my feelings and I made it very clear to them, by yelling hysterically, that they could have killed me. Afterward I felt bad about doing that, along with feeling like an idiot for completely losing my cool.

This time I just walked away and cried. I am not sure I feel any better right now.

Rage and anger boil up to the surface regardless.

How can people be so completely oblivious?

How dare they?!?

I don’t know what to do with this anger that goes hand in hand with the terrifying fear I am also feeling.

 

This is me facing my fear

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Today I’m thinking about the tenuous nature of life and It is stirring up all kinds of feelings. I don’t know what to do with them. I guess I am just going to sit here with them. I want to grab a hold of something substantial, something concrete, and never let go. But that won’t work because things go away. So I am left with this feeling of the ground shifting beneath my feet and it scares me a little bit. A lot. It scares me a lot.

Fear and running in Sandy, Oregon

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I’ve been working with fear for the past couple months.

At the end of August I saw a Facebook post in my neighboorhood watch group that a mountain lion cub was spotted sleeping in the middle of the path of a popular trail that winds through town. The cub was seen at around noon on a Friday. Well. We all know what it means when a baby is spotted. It means a mom isn’t far away. I recalled how that very morning I did my usual Friday Morning 4 mile run along that very trail, right around day break (when they are most active). I probably ran right past it.

I am very afraid of mountain lions.  And I have reason to fear. They actually attack humans. I recall at least two news stories when I lived in California where a runner and a bike rider were killed by mountain lions. So yeah. It’s a rational fear.

Yet It was bugging me because, while it is something could could possibly happen  I was really letting it get to me.  I wondered if it went from being rational to irrational. Yes, there have been attacks on humans, but what, really, were my chances of getting attacked?

I tried running on parts of the trail, but the fear of getting attacked was so great that I ruined the relaxing nature of the run. I had to finish it on the street. Each time I would go out I would try to talk myself into running on the trail, but when I got to the trail head and saw the sign I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Finally, one Friday,about three weeks later, I woke up and I wasn’t afraid anymore. I didn’t wake up with that dread of fear. I decided that this was the day I would run on the trail again. So I did. And it felt good. Oddly, all of the signs were taken down, so apparently the threat moved on.

It makes me wonder if that fear I was feeling was my gut telling me to avoid the trail. Maybe primal instinct was keeping me off the trail while the mountain lions (it turns out it was a mother and 2 cubs) made their home there. And then when they left, so did my fear.

Perspective

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lost shoe

We went hiking with our pinhole cameras up at the Salmon River on Memorial Day weekend and the trail was a little more crowded than usual, thus, more people curious about the cameras we were using. Someone had left a baby’s bright pink shoe sitting on a rock at the trailhead and I instinctively decided to photograph it with my pinhole camera. As I was exposing the shot, a couple wandered up the trail and the woman asked me, “Why are you photographing the shoe?” The question took me by surprise because I didn’t have an answer. I don’t know why I did it. I just did it. My answer to her was completely idiotic. I think I said, “Oh we are just messing around.” And she said, “you are in a beautiful place for photography” and I said, “Yes it really is.” Weirdly, I felt like I was defending myself. I kind of had this weird nudge of anger.

As I hiked along and ranted to my husband obsessively about it for a few minutes I realized why her question bothered me. I think it bothered me because she asked “Why.” When people ask me about my camera I am very happy to obliged them. But the “why” question as it relates to creativity is odd. Why does anyone do anything? When you do something creative it is not done from that place in us where we are thinking intellectually. Creativity is more intuitive and instinctual. And I think the creative person inside of me resents having to defend her creative impulses.

Now that I have thought about it I know why I chose the shot: I liked the color contrast. I was using Ektar film (known for its saturation) and I liked the bright pink against the greens of the forest. I also liked the juxtaposition of the shoe in the natural environment. But saying all of this kind of takes the magic out of it, doesn’t it?

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Geeky Bits:
Camera: Terrapin Bijou
Film: Kodak Ektar 100
Exposure time: 10 seconds

Enjoy the silence

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Yesterday I went to my third-ever all day meditation retreat. I have to admit, I was little anxious about going a few days before I went. And if I was being really honest with myself, I was a little cranky about going. The thought of spending an entire day doing nothing but sitting and breathing and not talking to anyone sounded excruciatingly boring. I could think of a million other things I wanted to do. I could think of a million things I probably should otherwise be doing on one of my days of the weekend.

But I went because I knew that I needed to go.

I practice Buddhism in the Sōtō Zen tradition, which focuses on zazen (sitting meditation). And this is what we did for most of the day. We sat for 20 minutes, and then we would do something else to break up the zazen, like walking meditation, or work practice (cleaning, gardening, etc). We had a formal lunch, and we even did a form of meditation called Mondo (which is really cool). These extra things broke up the day in-between periods of sitting. We were not to speak to each other the entire day unless it was to give very brief instructions during the periods between zazen.

It seems weird to not talk to other people, almost rude actually. However, once you are in this kind of setting you realize that you can communicate with other beings without words. No I don’t mean telepathic mind-meld. I am just saying that words are only one way we communicate. Maybe we don’t need to  constantly be speaking to one another.  It’s ok to explore not speaking to other humans who are in the same room with you. You know?

The first 20 minutes of meditation first thing in the morning I almost panicked because I sat there, bored and wondered if this is what I was going to be dealing with all day. Not a great way to start things off.

But then my mind settled and I fell into a groove of watching my breath and my thoughts.

At some point in the afternoon I realized that I was, very much, enjoying the silence. My life is full of chatter and noise. I work in a public library and noise comes at me from so many directions. And I am an introvert – so this chatter tends to tire me out. I have gotten used to living with this constant chatter that I don’t even notice it anymore. Until it isn’t there. So I was really grateful for the lack of chatter yesterday. It allowed me to really follow what was going on inside my head, and it allowed me to put  some space around all of the thoughts so I could watch them arise and fall as they drifted through my mind.

Interesting thing that happened: all of those things that I felt like “I should otherwise be doing” didn’t matter at the end of the day. And they still don’t matter.