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Incognito Buddhist

February 18, 2018
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“Hidden Buddha,” by Sakkra Paiboon via Flickr.com

As the first week of my new position in Rochester drew to a close, I pondered when and why I choose to disclose to others that I am a Buddhist. Why did I tell the Jewish student-leaders and the Hindu gentleman who visited us, but I did not tell the Catholic bishop or the Campus Crusade for Christ students? What is Right Speech in this instance?

Sometimes it has to do with the natural flow of the conversation. When speaking with the Muslim chaplain, we were joking about who was older and I asked if the past lives of Buddhists counted. We had a good laugh.

Sometimes disclosure creates a sense of empathy and solidarity between religious groups. With the Hindu gentleman who was completing CPE at a local hospital, we commiserated over the novelty of chaplaincy as a profession for both Hindus and Buddhists.

At other times, I did not disclose. I attended the Catholic mass for Ash Wednesday and I was very happy to see a packed chapel, with several rows standing in the back. However, I did not get ashes or receive communion, and so it was very obvious I was not Catholic. Yet, when I introduced myself to the bishop emeritus who had kindly presided over the lovely service, I only mentioned my new position.

I also attended the Campus Crusade for Christ meeting on Friday night, or Cru, for short. They are a very energetic and charismatic group. After the presentation (I hesitate to call it a “sermon,” though it had certain flavors of that), we were encouraged to discuss four questions about grace with one another. I joined a small group and listened, but did not offer any opinions. I thanked them for letting me listen.

Cru offered a good opportunity for students to develop what one might call a “self-authored worldview” – to think deeply about the beliefs with which they were raised (or not) and decide for themselves what they will follow (or not). Yet, again, while I introduced myself by my title, I did not mention I was not Christian. If they assumed so, I did not correct them.

The Catholic mass was formulaic and beautiful. I deeply enjoy their message of being mindful of our failings and resolving to do better. The Cru meeting less ritualized, but still compelling. I felt that the Cru meeting deliberately engaged more critical thinking skills. Though I naturally disagreed with several assertions and chains of reasoning presented, it wasn’t the time or place to say so.

In general, I noticed that I tend to disclose my Buddhist identity to other religious minorities in order to foster a sense of empathy and solidarity. I don’t know if I always succeed. Am I highlighting a reassuring commonality? Or simply noting a difference?

I am less quick to disclose my religious identity to the religious majority (i.e. Christians) as I feel it would create a sense of separation, rather than a drawing closer. But I wonder if this assumption has more to do with me and my baggage (however light)? I have no doubt that the Catholic and Christian chaplains know and welcome me, but what would a freshman student who’s interacted very little with someone from another religion do with that knowledge?

Nor have I felt it necessary to disclose my religious identity to colleagues from other departments with whom we might collaborate on programming. Rather I reassure them that my department is happy to provide programming both for specific people with specific religious needs and for non-religious and inter-religious populations on common topics. In other words, we can tailor our offerings to welcome the nonreligious constituents of the university.

Self-disclosure is a question that Buddhist chaplains commonly face no matter where we work. When is it Right Speech to disclose our Buddhist identity? Generally, I only disclose when it is timely, relevant, true, and helpful to do so, but that is still a judgement call. There is no way to control how another will receive that information and what they will do with it. Will it build a bridge or a wall in their minds?

But there is also a flip side to that question. When it is not Right Speech to withhold our Buddhist identity? Can silence ever be wrong speech? This is especially pressing for those of us who don’t “look Buddhist” or wear any outward signs of our religious commitments. Am I doing harm by allowing others to assume I’m Christian or another religion? Could this later foster a sense of distrust?

Of course, it is also hard to know just what they assume. When someone makes an overt statement about my religious identity, I have corrected them (not this week, but in the past). But mostly people keep their assumptions to themselves. I can only assume what they are assuming, and assumptions are dangerous things, as we Buddhists know.

I can only proceed with Right Intention, Right Mindfulness, and Right Speech and hope that the seeds I plant create good fruit. But I’m sure I’ll also have to do a little weeding.

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Be Excellent

February 4, 2018

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When they finish their doctorate, many people say, “I don’t feel like a doctor.” This feeling can continue for a year or more, even into their first faculty gig. It’s especially prevalent in women and minorities. It’s called “impostor syndrome.”

When I finished my doctorate by successfully defending my dissertation on January 25th and my chair told me I could now call myself “Dr.” and use PhD behind my name, I owned it. I feel like an effing doctor. I worked hard for it. I earned it. But that’s not why I feel like a doctor.

I feel like a doctor because I’ve been treated as a peer by people who do carry that title for the last several years. I believe that is the decisive factor. How others treat us influences who we feel we are.

Our sense of self is conditioned by the behavior of others, behavior we can very rarely control. This has huge implications for issues of race, gender, class, orientation, ability, age, and so many other factors.

A few years ago, I worked with a group of student leaders who were predominantly minority and the first members of their families to go to college. They came from poor high schools that did not fully prepare them for college. They all worked outside of school, often in low-paying jobs (like fast food) with bad managers.

Staff wanted them to do well, but in attempting to give them advice, the students felt disrespected. Staff members’ behavior had unintentionally mimicked how the students had been treated by teachers and supervisors of the past who clearly did not respect them. The students were conditioned to perceive disrespect because they had been treated disrespectfully so often.

Moreover, the people who treated them this way in the past also exercised power over them. The students protected themselves by closing off relationships with people who treated them that way, which was a good strategy at the time, but not effective in the new context. They now had the opportunity to step into their leadership roles, tell the staff how they wanted to be treated, and improve communication in the long-term. First they had to overcome old habits (which I’m happy to say they did).

People with imposter syndrome often have more power than they believe they do. They fail to exercise it because they cling to old ideas of self that are conditioned by how others have treated them in the past.

For years I was limited by an old notion of myself as a student. I was a “bad student,” a trouble maker, the kid who was “smart but…” I expected my teachers to abandon me and, at a certain point in the relationship, I would begin to sabotage it. My behavior was conditioned by how others had treated me in the past and I was clinging to an old understanding of self.

The last few years, I have finally shed that identity. I have seen through it and I didn’t do it all by myself.

There were three primary factors that helped me overcome my impostor syndrome. First, my Buddhist practice gave me the cognitive framework I needed to understand the nature of my identity as conditioned, conditional, and changing. Second, my wonderful peers and colleagues valued me, which helped my value myself and grow into my own expertise. Third, good teachers stuck with me and helped me understand my old patterns in new ways; they affirmed that I was not only a good student, but a worthy scholar.

In respect to the second and third points, these people helped me by acting as spiritual friends on my path. By presenting a new set of conditions, they helped me let go of old attachments and identities and form newer healthy ones – while simultaneously gaining a deeper understanding of the conditionality of that identity.

Sometimes I see things online that say “You get the love you think you deserve” or “How can others love you if you don’t love yourself?” Encouraging people to love themselves more is well-intentioned.

I also believe these ideas are total and complete bullshit. We are social beings. We are entirely conditioned and interdependent. Telling people they only get the love they think they deserve is like telling them “It’s your fault other people treat you poorly.” That’s horrible and also completely untrue.

On the one hand, the student leaders saw the disrespect they expected, even when it wasn’t there. I didn’t see the support of many teachers who helped me because some of them hadn’t. We perceive what we expect, and we need to become mindful of how limiting that is.

On the other hand, be really do need other people to treat us well in order to begin to believe we deserve to be treated well. Sometimes we have to demand it ourselves, and other times we are fortunate enough to find people who do it despite persistent self-limiting behavior. Either way, people overcome impostor syndrome when they are repeatedly treated like the experts they are.

To paraphrase Bill and Ted: be excellent to each other. Even if someone isn’t an expert yet, treat them with respect now so that they can grow into the kind of experts we need to face the urgent problems of the world.

New Adventures

January 24, 2018
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‘Walk Away’ by Michał Koralewski via Flickr.com

This blog has lain dormant for a bit. Writing my qualifying exams last year, followed by my dissertation, tapped out my literary energies. I have produced more scholarly writing in 2017 than any other year and I am proud of what I have accomplished.

I look forward to revitalizing this blog, in part, with what I have learned through my academic adventures. But that is not the adventure I have come to share. That is soon to be in the past.

My dissertation sits on my desk beside me, all 339 pages, ready to defend tomorrow morning. I will probably be nervous about that tomorrow, but today I am not worried about it. First, worrying today will do no good. I’m actually managing this present moment thing we Buddhists talk so much about. So much so, that I usually role my eyes on hearing about it again, even though I do try to practice it. Second, my committee chair wrote on Facebook over the weekend that he was enjoying reading my “kick-ass” dissertation. So I think that’s a good sign, right? I’ll probably still be nervous tomorrow.

The adventure I really want to share is the one coming up after the defense. It is both happy and sad. I am sad because I will be leaving University of the West, which has been my home and family in California these past seven years. I came as a graduate student in 2010, which is when the Dharma Cowgirl blog began. I was hired part-time, then full-time, then promoted to the executive team.

I have worked hard with a dedicated group of folks who love our small, slightly dysfunctional school, to make it better. It’s still slightly dysfunctional, but in the way of your favorite sitcom family. I don’t expect that to change until UWest grows a bit and can hire people to do what should properly be six jobs, but one person is currently managing alone. Until then, it will continue to be a lovely quirky family. I hope it never looses its family feeling or quirkiness even as it gains more students and staff in years to come.

I could not have learned as much as I did at a larger school, where they have the six people to do the six jobs (and they all have assistants). Instead, I was able to see everything that any school needs to do, regardless of size, and understand how the pieces work together. Everyone in academia should spend some time in a very small school. My time at UWest is invaluable.

I’ll miss the people most. Who will I have lunch with in the dining hall and dinner with on Thursdays and go to movies and marches with on weekends? I’m sure I’ll make new friends, but I’ll still miss my friends from UWest, students, faculty, and staff. Let me tell you about these people.

Yesterday, they threw me a Star Wars themed going away party in a hall decorated like the Mos Eisley Cantina. They had light sabers and theatrical music and a very cool video narrating my departure, make by my friend and colleague, Eddie Escalante:


It was like my 10-year-old self finally got the birthday party she always wanted, full of friends and laughter, presents and hugs and cake. How could I ever leave such a great family?

That brings me to my new adventure (I realize I’ve buried the lead). Next week, Colin and I will be packing up the dog, cat, and everything else, and driving 2,500 miles to Rochester, New York, where I will become the Assistant Director for Spirituality and Religious Life at Rochester Institute of Technology. I get to be a full-time campus chaplain to a school full of geeks! How fantastic is that?

My car is already on its way. The moving company is coming next Tuesday. Our house is waiting for us. There is snow on the ground, but I’m looking forward to that. I miss snow. (I might change my mind by March.) I start at RIT on February 12. Hello, Tigers! A new life and new adventure is waiting.

As far as I know, I will only be the second Buddhist in the country to hold such a position. But I won’t be alone. Rochester is the home of the famous Zen Center founded by Philip Kapleau Roshi and there are several other Buddhist groups in the Rochester area and many retreat centers throughout New England.

I am looking forward to sharing more about this upcoming adventure and revitalizing Dharma Cowgirl for a new chapter in life.

I Contain Multitudes – Or the Laws of Physics

November 9, 2017

Story time!

TL;DR – Saw a car accident that made me question my religion, nationality, race, and gender.

Physics tells us that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. For example, the grey Honda cannot occupy the same space as the blue shuttle van. The grey Honda cannot occupy the same space as the white Toyota or the white Chevy. The blue shuttle van cannot occupy the same space as the white pick-up truck.

While in the eyes of science, this does not constitute sufficient proof that no two solid objects can ever successfully occupy the same space at the same time – in fact, what we know about atoms and subatomic particle physics, mainly that atoms are made up mostly of empty space between their particles, much like our solar system is mostly empty space between planets separated by vast distances yet bound by strong but invisible forces, leads us to believe that somewhere, at sometime, two objects probably will successfully occupy the same time and place, given that the universe is as near to infinite as we can conceive and objects have infinite opportunities to try and occupy the same place at the same time – however, it is sufficient to convince me (not a physicist) that I saw a demonstration of a law of the universe at 2:00 p.m. on the 210 freeway at the San Dimas exit. But I digress, what is what my mind does when it’s hopped up on adrenaline and has no other immediate outlet for that energy.

I was driving to deliver a guest lecture in a class on interfaith spiritual care from the Buddhist perspective when I approached a slow down on the freeway, not unusual in this area. I was almost fully stopped when I heard a loud bang directly to my left, in the carpool lane. Then the grey Honda hurtled past me within inches of my tiny red Smart car and hit the white Toyota directly in front of me before continuing sideways to hit the white Chevy next to it. The blue shuttle van hurtled by some ways further down the carpool lane to my left, impacting with a white pickup truck and possibly another car.

The words that immediately came out of my mouth were “Jesus Christ!” They also came out in a distinctly Australian accent. In case you don’t know what that sounds like, I have found this helpful clip from the movie Crocodile Dundee (which I admit to watching repeatedly in my youth):

The very next thought that went through my head is “What dafuq did I just see?” and it was in Jamie Foxx’s voice. This may be an adaptation from Baby Driver, though I don’t know if he says precisely that line, but this is close:

So apparently, when startled, I am no longer a white, Buddhist, American woman. I am a black, Christian, Australian man. Who knew?

I sat there in my car for a few minutes. Am I hurt? No, I’m not hurt. Is my car damaged? No, my car is not damaged. Can I do anything to help these people right now? No, I don’t think so. I’m not an EMT and they all seem to be mobile and have people helping them. Should I stay to give a witness statement to the cops? I have no idea what caused the accident or who was to blame. I just saw the aftermath – up close and personal. Traffic was slowly moving all around me, so I put my blinker on and rejoined it.

I drove to my exit with one hand on my heart. I left the freeway for surface streets. I reached the stoplight before my turn onto the college campus before I realized what I had said and thought and started laughing.

I guess this ‘self’ we treat as real, whole, and independent, really is just a fabricated amalgamation of causes and conditions collected throughout our lives. I carry within me and incorporate into my personality small details from the places I have been and things I have experienced, including pop culture. As I continue to live and experience, new things will mix with old. Thus the ‘self’ I consider ‘me’ is ever changing, never permanent.

It can also end in an instant. I’d like to say that this led to some profound reevaluation of my priorities and a reinvigorated practice life…but it didn’t. I went about my day as planned, though I apologized to the class I was visiting if my thoughts were somewhat disjointed and speedy. Side effect of the adrenaline high that lasted several hours. I went about the next day as planned.

It is now two days later and I tend to look at the entire incident with a certain amount of inappropriate humor. Several people had a very, very bad day on the 210 freeway. It is mere chance that I was not one of them. In contrast, I only had a mildly odd day and a clear reaffirmation in my belief in the laws of physics and the truth of non-self.

Making Things

September 27, 2017
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Cover art by Good Citizen Media Group

I made a thing. I am making other things. It feels good to make things, but it is also time-consuming and nerve-wracking. In Buddhism we talk a lot about non-self, about not clinging to the ego, about the dangers of pride. But when I make a thing, I become anxious about it because I want people to like it. I want them to enjoy it, even if they never know who made it. And I realize it is because, in some small way, my self-worth is contingent on the value other people place on the products of my labor. From a Buddhist perspective, this is, perhaps, not terribly wise. But I am a social animal, so I am genetically programmed to care what others think of me.

Beyond that, there is a certain satisfaction that comes from making a thing you can actually point to. I spent many years in college shuffling facts away into my memory and turning in papers that only one person ever read before I had this satisfaction. Then I took a watercolor class. I spent hours painting in the studio. Sometimes, I would only be working on color pallets or perfecting a particular stroke on a piece of practice paper, but at the end of my session I could sit back and literally point to what I had done. I could take it home and show it to my mother. I felt accomplished, even in a tiny way. I wonder if much of the dissatisfaction in our current work culture simply arises from our inability to point to any tangible product from our hours of toil.

For many years, my blog has filled this niche in my heart. I make a thing with words and put it out there on the internet for a few other people to find. Mostly, I simply enjoy the making of it and I enjoy rereading my old work from time to time. It is a ‘thing’ I can point to and remind myself where I’ve been and what I’ve done between here and there. (Which is probably more clinging, so that’s more grist for my meditations.)

You may note, however, that I have been absent of late. This is mostly due to my dissertation. This is predictable for PhD students, I have observed. We vanish into the wilderness of our books and data and theories, only to emerge months later starved for human company and incapable of monosyllabic conversation. I predict my blog will continue to feel the neglect for a few more months yet.

However, in the midst of all that, I did make a thing. It’s a little thing, a podcast with three episodes. It’s about my alma matter and current employer: University of the West. I had fun making it because I got to interview some of my favorite students and I got to work with a wonderful crew at Good Citizen Media Group who really made us sound far more professional than I ever felt. We were able to use some music from our students, Venerable Frank on a classic Chinese instrument and the punk duo Melody and PJ of Atomic Attractions. The entire process was fun.

The podcast was funded by a grant from the Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism. They were very kind to offer us support not knowing what we might create with it. We could only make these three episodes (no plans for an ongoing series), but we did our best to ensure they give any listener a good idea of what our school is like and what a Buddhist-inspired education could be. Most of the students I interviewed were not themselves Buddhist, but they’re very happy to be at a school founded on the principles of wisdom and compassion.

Anyway, check it out, if you like. It’s called Journey UWest, which is a play on the ideas of education as a journey, the idea of Buddhism as a path, and the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West. If you’ve every wondered what I sound like, now is your chance to find out. Then you can read all future posts in my voice. (Although, personally, I prefer to read all my old posts in the mental voice of Patrick Steward, but who doesn’t?)

 

Better Than Caffeine

July 21, 2017
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‘Borobodur 4’ by Hartwig HKD via Flickr.com

July has been a month of cognitive overload. I’m working on three highly creative, analytical, and energizing projects simultaneously. As much as I told myself architecture school was tough, I couldn’t have done this six or seven years ago. Even though I worked through my entire sentence in Arch Hall, it was usually on one major design project, a couple of boring part time jobs, and a one night a week at the student newspaper.

This month, I’m teaching an intensive summer class for three days each week in 2.5 hour morning blocks, with afternoon labs where I make cameo appearances to return graded work, give instructions to my TA, and basically provide comic relief. I love it. I love all 19 of my students and sincerely want them all to pass, even the ones who are failing right now. But it’s a constant performance, writing the script as I go with barely enough time to memorize the lesson plan and grade the papers in between. Luckily, it’s a class I’ve taught before, though not for a couple of years. The students finish their projects next week and I want to celebrate with all of them.

Amid that, I’m collecting and analyzing data for my dissertation. This involves 90-minute intensive interviews with fellow Buddhist chaplains. They’re a humorous, poignant, and enlightening bunch of folks. As this is a grounded theory study, between interviews I’ve been conducting continuous data analysis, reading and coding thousands of lines of text, writing hundreds of words of memos and notes. Questions and hypotheses proliferate like dandelions. There’s no time to slow down, because each interview must be coded and analyzed before the next. I’m sitting at ten interviews in the past six weeks with at least two more to go.

Then there’s my third baby. In February, my boss launched a major creative project at work and asked me to do two things as part of a taskforce of ten. First, I keep the team organized and on track. That’s mundane, sending meeting reminders, putting together agendas, checking in with folks. The second part is the more challenging bit: take what those ten people produce and synthesize it into something coherent and persuasive to present to the Board of Trustees.

We spent the first month just figuring out what our job was and the next four evaluating our options. This month, we’ve been working on designing something truly beautiful. Everyone has made a major contribution and it’s up to me to make sense of it. That’s okay, it’s what I’m good at. I’ve done it with accreditation reports, strategic plans, learning outcomes, and a dozen smaller projects. In all those instances, I had good relationships with open communication among the parties. This project is going to the Board, though, whom I know far less well and are often opaque in their intentions (at least to me).

I’m coping with some major transference. It’s like architecture school all over again. I fear I’ll pour my heart and soul into something beautiful that never gets built. This appeared as sad dreams and low energy in early June. Once I identified the source and worked through some of it on a weekend meditation retreat, the depression receded and I got back to work. Now as the deadline approaches, I am once again experiencing mild exhaustion and a strong impulse to retreat into Netflix and napping. Thus far I’ve held it off by focusing on being highly productive as early in the day as I can for as long as I can and resting in the evenings, without guilt tripping myself too much. I’ve even given up on walking the dog in the summer heat until this is complete. He’ll make do with weekends.

Thankfully, the end is nigh. With the end of July, the class, the interviews, and the project presentation will all come and go. The dissertation and project will continue, but move into different phases with extended deadlines. I plan to take at least two days off in the following week, which my boss heartily endorses. I could not have done this in the College of Architecture. Even as recently as three years ago, I don’t believe I could have done this. So what changed?

I started doing something different. Though I do very little meditation, maybe ten minutes a day on a good day, meditation does me a lot of good. It focuses the mind wonderfully. I noticed the difference on my recent meditation retreat. It was the first one I’ve ever attended from which I didn’t want to run screaming at any point. I believe this was partially due to it being a small retreat with people I knew in a mostly deserted retreat center. We cooked for ourselves and looked after ourselves. We interacted as equals, though we all looked to Venerable Guan Zhen as our senior, our teacher. No one gave me any advice or grief about my unorthodox meditation posture. No one tried to ‘fix’ me. (Buddha bless chaplains!) But also, I meditated.

I mean, really meditated. Not for ten or twenty or thirty minutes, but hours. I loved the silence and stillness of my squirrely mind. I’m sure that sounds like a paradox because it is, but there is a beautiful calm in letting the mind be squirrely without letting it make you run laps around the room. And I spent an entire day barely talking at all. What a relief that was!

Ten minutes of meditation most mornings are enough to help me concentrate and focus when I need to, let go of worries and ruminative thoughts when I need to, notice when my mind gets discursive in meetings, listen to my body when it says it’s tired, ignore my body when it wants five more minutes of sleep it doesn’t need, and have just the right amount of self-compassion, minus just the right amount of self-indulgence. Then there’s five years of audio books about social science, psychology, and Dharma. Back that up by two years of teaching a class about willpower while trying not to be a hypocrite. I guess teaching really is the best way to learn.

The people around me are also different. In Arch Hall, I felt a keen isolation. Here, I have ten other professionals on my design team, an entire support staff shepherding these 19 students through the summer program, and three dissertation advisors who actually reply to my emails once in a while (which, I’ve heard, is not that common among dissertation committees). Years ago, when I emailed my thesis chair for help with burnout, my message went unanswered. I also have a supporting partner, who obligingly asks “Should you be writing?” when I’ve spend more than an hour or two on the couch and makes me the best ever baked potatoes for dinner just because. Today, when I ask for help, I get help.

On Wednesday, I taught class in the morning like normal, had lunch in the dining hall with coworkers, and then retreated to my office to grade papers, answer emails, and write a summary of my upcoming presentation. A few minutes past three o’clock, I wandered over to stick my head into lab, where my students should have been working on their final project proposals only to find they were all gathered in Locke Hall.

A student who’d come through this very same class with me three years ago was there, holding these baby freshmen captive while she read them the riot act about stepping up, paying attention, showing respect, working hard, and using this opportunity to pass so they didn’t have to take this class all over again. “You don’t have to go to college,” she reminded them. “You chose to be here.” Some of these kids, ahem, young adults where freshmen at her high school when she was a senior. She took no prisoners, while the staff stood back and watched, some with stunned looks, others with barely concealed delight. Later that day, two students came to find me in my office for input on their projects and an unprecedented three of them emailed me with questions or completed work two days before deadline. I found our fierce lecturer before I left and gave her a hug. (Brainwashing works!)

I couldn’t have done this six years ago. I couldn’t have done this without good teachers leading me through, a sangha all around me, and the Dharma at my back. I don’t necessarily recommend it to anyone, but I think it shows what training the mind and the right environment can accomplish. The Three Jewels are better than caffeine, it turns out.

Final Path Update

July 4, 2017
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‘Dharma Wheel #280’ by trugiaz via Flickr.com

8-Month Reflection

Last October, I began a project to bring the Noble Eightfold Path more fully into my life and daily practice. I was inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s cultivation of 13 virtues through focus on one virtue each month in an endless cycle and by the Christian liturgical cycle, which uses annual events and a three-year rotation to cover the scriptures in the Bible. I also drew on game theory and the psychology of habit formation to try to engage more deeply in Buddhist practice.

Now that June is concluded, I have completed eight parts of the path in eight months. However, I am not done yet. I originally conceived of this process in three rounds. That means a complete cycle would be two years. Each part of the path would be focused on three times, first for impact on self, then on near others, then on the world at large. After two years, the cycle would begin again with a focus on self cultivation. At this point, I have completed the first third of a full cycle.

The results are interesting. I’ll share my June report below. This reflection is about the entire process.

One thing that has become increasing clear over the last three months, in particular, is the need to support this effort with daily and weekly rituals. It is not enough to set a goal at the beginning of the month, without also having strong habits already in place for checking back in on that goal and staying accountable to oneself and others.

Therefore, as I continue on this project, I will consider ways to weave it into a daily routine that includes regular self-check-ins and a weekly routine that involves deeper practice and a check-in with others. I do not presently know what form this may take. I think it is critical to my continued growth in this area.

June Report: Right Intention

My goals for June included metta mediation, clarification of project goals at work, clarification of my career path, and clarification of intentions in my relationship at home. I did very little metta mediation in the month of June, but I did far more shamatha mediation than normal. In June, I did my morning meditation 16 of 30 days, which is about average for me. However, I also attended a 2.5 day retreat with fellow members of my Buddhist order which was certainly my best and most enjoyable retreat experience to date. I may reflect on the factors that contributed to this in a later post, but this retreat helped with my June goal of Right Intention.

First, the retreat offered several sessions of prolonged shamatha meditation that I was able to engage with in a deep and meaningful way. My focus was good and my mind steadier and more comfortable than it has ever been in such prolonged practice. For one full day, I also tried diligently to practice more silence and say very little. I found that the less I spoke, the better my meditation became. The more I spoke, the more discursive my mind became during meditation, often fretting over what I said or what someone else said. When this happened, I longed to return to the more peaceful state that coincided with silence.

I carried this insight with me into the following week and practiced saying less at work and at home to good results. I did not feel that I was stiffing myself. Rather, I was genuinely curious to see what would happen if I spoke less, listened more, and just let things unfold as they will. So far, the results have been positive. I hope to continue this experiment as appropriate in the coming months. It is hard, however, to break out of existing habits to jump into conversations, but I am also watching myself when I do jump in to see both precisely what my intention is (to contribute or just to be noticed) and the outcome.

I did not write out a career plan. However, some stress and sad dreams early in the month prompted me to exercise my demons by writing out worst case scenarios and clarifying what was really troubling me. It also clarified my intentions in relation to those scenarios. I found this process very helpful and my dreams have been less depressing. I also ran across this TED talk about stoicism and writing down your fears shortly after completing my own worst case journal, and I recommend both the talk and the practice.

So while the month of June didn’t proceed precisely as I had intended (heh), I feel that I still made a good deal of progress on Right Intention during this month. I am also renewed and refreshed in my meditation practice and considering seeking out more regular retreats to deepen my shamatha practice and perhaps start learning vipassana.

Going Forward

I have decided to discontinue monthly reports on the blog. However, I will continue with some kind of a practice journal. I may share insights from this work from time to time, particularly when they are interesting and relevant. I think the monthly blog posts have taken on a kind of ‘homework’ flavor. I think we would all prefer better quality posts on more interesting subjects.

I shall, however, share an update in eight months time on the conclusion of the next section of the cycle. This section of the cycle will focus on how cultivation of the Eightfold Path affects the people in my life. In many ways, I see potential for this section to be more fruitful.

I shared with a friend just the other day that, as an introvert, my instinct is to withdraw and seek solitude when my mood is low but that I have learned that this is actually one of the worst things I can do. Instead, if I go out and try to help people, I would find myself feeling infinitely better. It’s like magic. So perhaps these next eight months will be very magical.

I hypothesize that we will each get something different out of the three rounds. Extroverts may find the first round the most difficult and most rewarding, while I suspect that for me it will be the second round. Who knows what will happen when I expand the circle of care still further in the third round to include the entire world. It will be interesting to find out.

Happy travels on your path.