Want

I’ve been thinking about desire a lot lately. Mostly because I have a whole freaking lot of it. I want my skin to get better. I want my own room. I want a real bed. I want to go home. I want to be happy. And these are only the big ones. Other moments are filled with other miniscule desires and cravings that for some reason my mind believes will make me satisfied, happy. I want chocolate. I want the bell to ring (during zazen). I want to not have to write this paper.

The problem is that I can want as many things as I want but (1) that doesn’t mean I’ll get them, and (2) if I do get them, I still won’t be happy. It’s similar to meditating for the purpose of achieving enlightenment. Here is an anecdote that I read last night in preparation for one of the papers that I didn’t want to write. It comes from the traditional biography of Chan Master Nanyue Huirang:

During the Kaiyuanera [713-742] there was a monk named Daoyi (that is, the great teacher Mazu) who resided at the Chuanfa Cloister and spent every day sitting in dhyāna (C.zuochan, J.zazen 坐禪). The master [Huairang] knew that he was a vessel of the dharma, so he went to him and asked,“What do you intend to accomplish by sitting in dhyāna?” Daoyi replied,“I intend to make myself into a buddha.” The master picked up a tile and rubbed it on a stone in front of the hermitage. Daoyi inquired,“Master, what are you doing?” The master said,“I am polishing it to make a mirror.” Daoyi said, “How could you sitting in dhyāna ever result in becoming a buddha?” Daoyi asked, “How is it done, then?” The master said, “It is like a man driving a cart that does not move: should he strike the cart to get it to go, or should he strike the ox?” Daoyi had no response. (Foulk 25)*

In this case, “striking the ox” is to sit with the understanding that there is no such thing as awakening rather than to sit with the desire of gaining awakening. Now this isn’t a perfect analogy and I don’t claim to be an enlightened philosopher, but I have recently been coming to the realization that achieving my desires will not produce happiness… so why not let go of desire? To be quite honest, its something that has kept me from living in the present because of all the potential I invest in the future. I don’t mean letting go of dreams and ambitions, because goals are something that keep us going and give our lives purpose. I mean letting go of those silly little superficial wants that we have no control over.

By no means is this an easy task. I was actually thinking about my experience at Toshoji and one of the things that made it so difficult was the fact that the entire time we had no control. It was very much about doing things that you didn’t want to do at times that you didn’t want to do them. But in a way, it made things easier because it became so clear to me that I had no control and I had to just let things be.

Anyways, this morning at zazen, I sat and meditated. I didn’t sit with the hope that the bell would ring soon and I didn’t sit thinking about what I wanted for breakfast. Sure there were moments when my mind would begin to wander here and there, but this morning I sat with the focus of being in the moment. It was probably one of the best zazens I’ve had on this trip besides my time at Toshoji. I think from now on, I’m going to focus on letting go of the things I can’t control, accepting that I can’t control them, and instead choosing to focus on the moment.

*Foulk, T. Griffith. Standard Observances of the Soto Zen School. Tokyo: Sotoshu Shumucho, 2010.

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Surprises

I’ve been off antidepressants for nearly a month now. And its been kind of a wild ride. I first went on about a year ago after my anxiety debilitated me to the point that I constantly thought I was having a heart attack and I couldn’t sleep every night for fear that I was going to die in my sleep. Despite a chest x-ray and an EKG, I visited the doctor’s office or the health center at least once a week with a different ailment in my head. I finally succumbed to medication, and it really made a difference.

Of course there were the side effects. I was numb, emotionless, I couldn’t concentrate. When I wasn’t in class or even if I was, I was asleep. But I stopped constantly believing I was on the edge of death, and honestly, it was worth it. My anxiety vanished.

The only problem was that I simply didn’t care anymore. I didn’t care about my grades which I had previously lived for, I didn’t care about what I did with my body. And I became really impulsive. This continued until I nearly failed all of my midterms, and I saw that something had to change. At this point, I lowered my dosage slightly and more or less coasted to where I am now, not in a particularly successful way, but at least I made it.

I finally decided I needed to stop. I was sick of wasting my life sleeping all the time and honestly, I hated being dependent on medication and I was willing to do whatever it took to stop. I was worried that I would spiral into a depression, that my anxiety would again debilitate me, but I wanted to have control again.

So here’s what happened: I spent a few weeks more depressed than I have ever been. I considered cutting again and I spent more time crying than not. My anxiety came back too, slowly but surely, and I had one of my worst panic attacks ever. But I started caring again. I found myself truly smiling and being genuinely happy for the first time in months. My foggy thoughts disappeared and I was able to think clearly and logically. And lately, I’ve found myself experiencing really deep emotions, the gut wrenching tearing up in a good way kind. And caring. Really and truly caring. My anxiety continues and every day I still have moments when I’m certain that I’m about to have a heart attack or my eardrum’s about to burst (which is a whole nother issue), but its no longer constant, and I’ve been able to talk myself through the situation.

It’s taken a really long time to get here, but I’m finally starting to feel like me again. Not just a shell walking through life, but a person that really and truly cares. I’ll always be a work in progress and I know that with all that’s going on in my life I may still face some very large obstacles in my near future. But here, right now, in this moment, I’m satisfied. And that’s what matters.

This is my experience and it is in no way universal, but have hope. Sometimes, its all you can count on.

When I’m sad…

When I’m sad, I try to remember all the awesome experiences that still lie ahead of me. They might not last very long, they might just be one fleeting moment, but I take comfort in the fact that they are there, waiting for me to stumble on that moment. They are little presents waiting to be unwrapped. And I become the child waiting anxiously for Christmas Day.

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Cherish The Good Times

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I get really nostalgic at night. During that hour that I can’t fall asleep, my mind manages to cycle through every possible thought that will make me as sad as possible. It got me thinking Maybe, just maybe, life is designed to make us miserable. Personally, I have two sets of memories, the sad memories and the happy memories. (My neutral memories tend to end up not being that memorable for me). So I remember my sad memories, I think about how awful they made me feel and these emotions come rushing back, making me as miserable as ever. Then the happy memories start floating around. I think about how great they are. And then immediately, I become more depressed then ever, thinking Wow, the best moments of my life were right there. Now they’re over. Nothing like that will ever happen again.

When something like that happens, I get in my “stay in the present mindset”. People always tell you to live in the present right? Because its not worth it to dwell on the past or worry about the future. I try my best to shove down all those memories. I try to forget because it hurts too much to remember knowing that they’ll never be back. But as I was lying in bed last night trying to crush all these memories, I realized that it didn’t have to be that way. Honestly, life isn’t designed to make us miserable. I know it because there are so many positive people out there, people that have been through horrible experiences and manage to still keep their head held high.

And I thought. No, I’m going to cherish these happy memories. Because they’re mine and no one can take that away from me. And I feel like in that moment a weight was lifted. There’s no need to push away wonderful happy memories because its too painful to remember them. Instead, I’m going to tuck them away in that album in my brain. I’m no longer going to feel guilty for remembering something that made me happy. I’m going to take them out for walks in my mind and cherish the delightful emotions associated with them. I’m not gonna pretend that they weren’t great because they truly were. And so from now on, I’m going to focus on that. I’m going to be thankful for the fact that I was able to experience something so wonderful, I’m going to stop mourning their loss, I’m going to stop trying to recreate the memory because life doesn’t work that way. The best little surprises are the ones that you don’t expect. No matter how hard you try, you can’t capture the perfect view on your camera. You can’t replicate the scene. But you can seize the moment, pocket the happiness, and just be grateful.