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(Personal) Accountability Report, February 2017

Self Improvement 150At the beginning of the month, I noted that while I hadn’t quite achieved a perfect run on meditating and writing every day I had done pretty well for myself. There were a couple of days with Further Confusion where I didn’t hit my goal and a few more towards the end of the month, but overall I was building a pretty good routine for myself. For February, I had resolved to keep it going — write, meditate and count my calories every day. I had identified a few things that were working to keep me away from the meditation bench, writing desk and calorie counting app, and had developed a few ways to get past those potential blocks. This month, however, was a major stumble. In just about every metric I failed to write or meditate every day, and I was exceedingly spotty with my calorie counting.

Write every day. This just didn’t happen, for a lot of reasons. I seriously got out of the habit here, and I’m not even sure why. I think a lot of it was just…pressure, in general. Work has been a little difficult, and the whole thing with my online math course for school happened, and work on “Stable Love” and the “Gift Exchange” finale proved to be a bit more intimidating than I had bargained for. There were a lot of days this month where I just didn’t have the spoons for writing, even though I should have toughed it out and wrote anyway. It’s been really difficult to balance those kinds of long-term goals against the day-to-day demands of what comes up in the moment. I’m really going to have to find a way to do that, though.

This month, I will set the same goal I did in February: I will write every day, working on either a blog post or a short story. March will be notably busier; my “Argumentation and Debate” class starts up with twice-weekly classes on Tuesday and Thursday, and I’ll be working on my “Elementary Statistics” textbook in an attempt to get ahead of things for that eight week class starting up in April. Somewhere in there, I’ll be hitting up Texas Furry Fiesta — that’s something I’m really looking forward to, but it’s also something that I’ll need to prepare for ahead of time. I’ll need to make sure that my schoolwork and writing is positioned ahead of time so I can enjoy the weekend without worrying about all of the stuff I’ve let slip.

Meditate every day. This also just didn’t happen. There were a few nights of insomnia that made it really difficult to get up in the morning, and there were a few mornings where I just ended up getting distracted by my phone instead of doing the things I should have been doing. So far this month I’ve missed eight days, mostly at the beginning, but it’s still not great. There’s not a whole lot I can do about insomnia, I realize, but I could also make it a priority to meditate as soon as I get home on the days where I’m just not able to do it in the morning.

This month, I’ll set the same goal that I did in February: I will meditate every day for at least fifteen minutes. Ain’t nothing to it but to do it, but I do think that I will need to pay better attention to my bedtime. If possible, it’d be best to avoid a lot of phone usage before bed and if necessary I’ll take melatonin at around 10 pm to reset my body clock. I should be getting tired right around then, and preparing to hit the hay. If I can manage to do that successfully for a while, it’ll be easier and easier to wake up at 5:45, meditate, then get out the door and kick ass at work.

Counting calories every day. This also didn’t happen, and was probably the thing I was worst about over the month. I think I’ve just gotten really bad at updating things through my phone, to be honest. I use it for games and chatting more than anything, and I just don’t think of it as a tool that I can use to be better at holding myself accountable. Being a bit more strict about my phone usage would be a really good thing; making sure that anything I’ve eaten or spent has been logged before I do anything else would be an awesome habit to get into! I am just not sure I’ll be able to pull it off.

In March, I will log every calorie I eat and every dollar I spend through my phone. This will help me reset my habits and idea of what the phone is for, and start pushing me towards making more responsible decisions for it. I’ll be trying to take better care of my diet as well, and maybe reinstalling Fitocracy would be a good way to look up quick bodyweight exercise routines or a circuit of stretches for the days when I’m not running. My phone needs to be more than a mobile entertainment unit or boredom eradicator; I’d love for it to be more of a digital assistant. It can get there, but I have to be a lot more mindful about its usage.

So there we go. In March, I’m still trying to build the writing, meditation and accountability habit. February was a step down from January; there were a lot more things working against me, but that’s likely to be true in March as well. I’ll need to work pretty hard to make sure that the right things are a priority for me this coming month and make better decisions to emphasize that.

I’m curious about what the struggle is like for other people by this time of the year. Are folks still working towards fulfilling their New Year’s Resolutions? Or have we dropped them at this point because real life is way more complicated and antagonistic than we had anticipated? Does anyone have recommendations on what might help build a good habit?

 
 

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(Buddhism) Right Mindfulness

Buddhism 150Mindfulness is one of the cornerstones of Buddhist thought. In order to realize your enlightenment, you must see it just as it is, through direct experience unfiltered by emotion or judgement. What’s really interesting to me about this is that it’s possible to have these moments where everything seems to click and you have this epiphany about yourself, or the world, or the nature of reality whether or not you’re Buddhist. That to me, is the realization; a small taste of enlightenment that arises when you’re fully engaged in that moment.

For Buddhists, those moments aren’t necessarily goals; they’re more signposts that tell us where we are in our practice. Mindfulness is not a state that we achieve and then do no more work with. It is a habit, a way of living, an action that we perform every moment of every day.

So Right Mindfulness is the sustained effort required to take the things we’ve learned so far and use it to clear away the cobwebs in front of our eyes, so to speak. So much of our daily experience is filtered through the lenses of our emotions, our judgements, our aversions and attachments. When we realize exactly what those are, and how they distort the reality we see them through, we have a better chance of recognizing, accepting, and eventually letting go of them.

Mindfulness is primarily cultivated through meditation — the act of simply sitting with ourselves and being present with what arises. I think that there is often a misunderstanding about the “goal” of meditation, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t done the greatest job of describing it before. But here’s what it means to me, and what I get out of it.

Mindfulness meditation is a way of checking in with yourself, noticing the patterns of your own thoughts and feelings. This can often be very difficult — there are notions and emotions that we don’t like to confront for various reasons, after all — but sitting with them can teach us patience, compassion and empathy that we can then bring out of the meditation space and into the rest of our lives. Eventually, as you become more familiar with the ways you think and feel, you may find yourself detaching from them — and with that, a newfound ability to examine what arises with interest and tenderness.

That detached, amiable curiosity is a wonderful friend. With it, you can follow difficult emotions down to the root. You can shake loose these very deep emotions that may prevent you from engaging with something fully; that, too, is difficult work. I’ve often found hypocrisies within myself that make me feel ashamed, uncertain and like an all-around terrible person.

But you keep sitting. You allow these thoughts and feelings to spend time with you; you watch them dissolve after a time. And the more you do it, the longer you sit, the more you realize how ephemeral these emotional states and thoughts are. The pain in your shoulders arises, then fades. The embarrassment of that really stupid thing you said eases into amusement, then acceptance. Your mind begins to exhaust itself of the memories and thoughts and emotions that constantly bombard you. It begins to get easier to return to your breath, to focus on the simple physical act of inhaling and exhaling.

What mindfulness meditation has given me is the ability to see myself as separate from the emotions and sensations that arise within me, and the chance to step back to examine them before acting. Granted, it doesn’t always happen that way, but I feel a lot better about how I handle difficult situations in the moment on my better days.

Mindfulness meditation gives us direct experience into the impermanence of our existence. The things we think flit into our brain, and will just as happily flit out again if we don’t hold on to them. The emotions that come with them rise as well, and remain with us for a time, but fade again; they just might use a longer timetable. The physical sensation that often accompanies emotion will rise and fade as well, and even though these might feel longest and be the most difficult to sit with, eventually we see that they are impermanent too. Beneath all of these — thought, emotion, physical sensation — something separate persists. Our heartbeat. Our breath. It is a constant that we can use to remind ourselves of the fleeting nature of other things, that we are not what we think or feel, that we do not have to follow those things into immediate action.

For someone like me, who has let his emotions get him into trouble so often in the past, this feels wonderful. I still get depressed. I still wrestle with anxiety. I still have tremendous trouble with focus. But the more I meditate, the more mindful I become of the way these states feel and pass; the more mindful I become, the more I am able to see the truth of things beyond the filters of that emotion; the clearer I can see things, the better able I am to recognize what is needed at any given time and respond in turn. Being mindful is how we can move past the things that make us angry to recognize the reason they exist. We can acknowledge our anger, recognize its presence, but allow it to have no bearing on our reaction if it’s not needed. Mindfulness isn’t denying what arises — it’s quite the opposite. We hold it, give it its proper perspective, and then move on with clear eyes.

So many Zen koans are calls for this mindfulness. “What is Zen?” asked a monk to his teacher while they were shopping. “Three pounds of flax,” the master replied. No matter what you’re doing — meditating, chanting, or relieving your bowels — Zen calls for full, clear engagement with it. Practice doesn’t end when we leave the meditation space. Meditation is rehearsal for the rest of our day. Right Mindfulness is the spoke on the wheel of the path that lets us do that.

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2016 in Buddhism, mental-health, Self-Reflection

 

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(Personal) Retaining Mindfulness Under Stress

Buddhism 150So far this year has been an obstacle course, as I’ve mentioned a few times here. Work has flared up significantly as I shift positions and my company makes fairly major changes on an organizational and product level; priorities have been shuffled accordingly, and even though I’m getting better at juggling many things at once my ability to remain organized and focused still leaves a lot to be desired; and I still have a problem with saying “yes” to too much, underestimating the amount of resources and time each new thing will take. I can’t pretend that I’m on the verge of figuring things out, but I do think I’m making steady (if slow) progress addressing everything.

The latest hurdle has been entirely tech-related. My laptop went out of commission when the screen was broken, and the backup laptop I brought out of storage worked for a little while before simply turning off one day and never coming back on. My desktop has been having crazy performance issues where the hard drive is pegging at 100% usage for no discernable reason, and I’ve eaten up so much time troubleshooting it. Depending on where you go, it could be the “Show me Windows tips” feature in Windows 10, the Superfetch or Windows Search services, Google Chrome’s pre-loading capabilities or Skype doing whatever it is Skype does. It could be the AHCI driver for the Intel chip I have getting stuck in a loop, or it could actually be malware. I’ve tried nearly a dozen things for the past two weeks without success; Ryan and I eventually determined it has to be corrupted files on the HDD causing the OS to freak out.

Long story short, I’ve purchased a new laptop (at a great deal) and a new solid-state drive for the desktop that should improve things drastically. Hopefully, I’m out of the woods for now with my tech issues. But that still leaves me with a ton of sunk time where it was difficult to get anything done.

Life has been stressful for a few months now, and it doesn’t look like things will abate any time soon. Stepping back to take stock of the first four months of my year, I’ve noticed that despite a minor crash last month I’ve been holding up pretty well. I’d like to think that improved diet and exercise, better sleep and a recommitment to my meditation practice has helped with that a lot — and it has. But also, my perspective has shifted on being kept off my feet and I think this more than anything has helped me become more resilient.

The world is not a perfect place. I consider myself an idealist; there are ideals and goals that I strive to achieve and I genuinely believe the world would be a better place if everyone did the same. Not necessarily MY ideals, but some set of values that they would like to embody. I won’t even pretend that the things I care about are the things that others should, too.

But those ideals can often get in the way of my ability to deal with situations where I need to adapt on the fly or respond quickly. If something goes wrong and my instinctive response is to sink into anger or depression because my vision of an ideal world has been challenged, that’s a problem. Of course it would be great if all of my stuff worked, or if other people respected my time and boundaries, but that’s not quite the world we live in. The only world we have is the world of what is, and we are best served accepting what is in front of us and determining the best thing to do with it.

That’s not to say that I don’t get angry or frustrated; I certainly have these past few weeks. But it’s important for me not to get attached to those emotions, or the idea of a perfect, fair world where things are the way I prefer. I allow myself to express my frustration, vent a little, and then try to deal with whatever I need to. Giving myself space to be frustrated is important, but so is letting go of that frustration so I can see the situation as clearly as possible.

There’s always a solution to a problem. Sometimes, that solution is “Walk away from this!” or “Learn to accept this will not work the way you want it to.”, but there’s still a solution. Really bringing this in to my understanding of the world has helped me stick with a problem longer without feeling helpless, exasperated or depressed.

This is actually something I learned at my day job in tech support. Learning how to troubleshoot is an incredibly useful skill, and while I’m not great at it I’m leaps and bounds over where I was just last year. It’s a set of techniques that can be adapted for just about anything — figuring out tech problems, or home repairs, or car problems, or even why audiences aren’t flocking to your blog or story or comic. Being able to step back and look critically at something helps us to pinpoint problems and address them as best as we are able.

For example, my current serial for the Jackalope Serial Company isn’t one I’ve been terribly happy with. After some time taking the story apart, I’ve realized that my protagonist is as bland as Wonder bread, and that the supporting characters who’ve been introduced aren’t quite engaging enough to pick up the slack. This is mostly because I set out to be a discovery writer, which really hurts me when trying to write a story on a regular basis. In order to be excited about the story, I have to know where the plot is moving. In order to know that, I have to understand how the characters relate to one another and the world around them.

The Jackalope Serial Company hasn’t been a rousing success exactly, but instead of giving up on it (like I probably would have a couple years ago) I’ve been able to troubleshoot some problems and come back more excited and with more direction. This latest run might not live up to my ambition, but that’s totally fine. I’ll take stock, learn what’s wrong and try a few more things to fix it.

Detaching from ideals about the way the world should be or our own meager abilities has really helped me have a healthier relationship with my mistakes and flaws. And even though 2016 is going to stay super-challenging, I feel that the challenges are shaping me up instead of wearing me down.

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2016 in Buddhism, Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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(Personal) Spiritual Appropriation: Lent

Buddhism 150Today is the first day of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting and contemplation for those of us who practice Christianity. It begins with Ash Wednesday, where Christians are marked with the ashes of palm leaves that had been blessed during last year’s Palm Sunday and told “From dust you are, and to dust you will return.” Over the next six weeks — ending with Easter Sunday — worshippers engage in prayer, penance, the giving of alms, and self-denial. For most of us who are a bit more secular, Lent is mainly a way to feel a bit better about falling off of our New Year’s Resolutions by vowing to give up a bad habit for 40 days or so.

I’ve always been fascinated by festivals of self-denial and contemplation. Shortly after 9/11, a friend of mine still in high school practiced Ramadan as a show of solidarity with the local Muslim community and I joined in. I learned an awful lot about my relationship with food over that time and just how hard it is to deny yourself something if you’ve gotten used to indulging in it whenever you wanted. As the month went on, I cultivated a significant appreciation of food — getting up before sunrise every morning to make breakfast helped me to spend some time in the quiet, loving the small bit of food I’d take in to last me the rest of the day. And eating at sunset — often with other people — was almost always something special. The whole month brought a mindfulness to eating and gave me a newfound respect and joy when it came to breaking bread with other people. I may not act on the lessons I’ve learned there right now, but I still remember them.

The period of Lent is meant to give Christians a small taste of what it must have been like for Jesus Christ those forty days he wandered in the desert before beginning his public ministry. It’s a way to take a step back, focus on the things that are really important to you, put yourself in a space where you think about things a little differently. The most popular aspect of Lent — self-denial — can still be useful even to those of us who aren’t practicing Christians by showing us just how much we’ve come to rely on certain things and just how little we actually need them.

If you’re Christian and about to embark on the forty-day contemplation of Lent, I wish you a wonderful and holy season. If you’re non-Christian and using this as an opportunity to examine your relationship to something you think you can’t do without, good luck. You absolutely can, and I hope you’ll have a deeper appreciation of yourself and how you work when Easter Sunday rolls around.

Me, I’m going to do my best to give up mindlessness over Lent. It’s a bit of a cheat, but really zeroing in on habitual behaviors — especially when they’re negative — is something I could really use. It’s all right to get some down time, of course; but it’s so much better when that’s a conscious decision I’ve made as opposed to a default behavior I fall into whenever there’s free time. I will do my best to cultivate mindfulness, to speak, write and act with purpose, to strive to make myself, my surroundings and my fellow man better.

Now it’s just a matter of figuring out exactly how to do that! Are any of you giving up something for Lent? What does the observance mean to you? Have I gotten anything wrong in my understanding of it? Let me know in the comments!

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2016 in Buddhism, Self-Reflection

 

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Further Confusion 2016!

Fandom 150Folks, it’s that time again — the time when downtown San Jose is suddenly flooded with bizarre people descending onto the Convention Center to engage their weird hobby. The volleyball girls are back! Oh, and also Further Confusion is coming up this weekend.

Of course I’ll be there — just look for the portly black dude probably wearing a sweater vest and a backpack and some sort of jackalope badge. I’m really looking forward to meeting lots of you coming from all around the country, or hooking up again with friends I haven’t gotten to see for a while, or chatting with fans about the things that we love and care about. It should be a blast!

One of the best things about Further Confusion is the robust slate of panels, seminars and events that encompass almost every aspect of the furry fandom — art, writing, music, performance, science, spirituality and crafts are all well-represented there. As a writer, I’ll be on a few panels this time and I wanted to tell you about them, just in case you were interested!

THURSDAY, JANUARY 14TH
OUT OF POSITION Release Party (Marriott: Almaden) – 7 PM
My good friend Kyell Gold will be releasing the latest novel in his Out of Position series — Over Time — at the convention! His release party will be pretty awesome, and one of the best ways to kick off a weekend-long party is by celebrating a friend’s success. The book won’t be available for sale there, alas, but he’ll be there to chat and sign things, so it really is the next best thing.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 15TH
Power and Privilege in an Anthropomorphic World (Hilton: Santa Clara) – 1 PM
I’ll be talking about how to illustrate the societal effects of different species co-existing within the same world with Chipotle and my husband, NotTube. I’m really excited about this topic; it’s not necessarily all about how power dynamics from the real world translate into our fictionalized furry ones, but what a whole different set of dynamics borne from the traits of vastly different species might look like. Would carnivores really dominate the power structure? How would physical characteristics shape the world? And what advantages would humans have once we lose opposable thumbs and sapience?

Write Now! (Hilton: Santa Clara) – 3 PM
Kyell Gold and I will be talking about ways to think about the shape of your short story with an eye towards finally sitting down and banging it out! We’ll break down the basic elements of your story — what you’ll need to get started, most of the time — and then providing 30 minutes to work on it using the tools you have at your disposal. How generous!

SATURDAY, JANUARY 16TH
Mindfulness and Transformation in Action (Marriott: Almaden) – 11 AM
Kannik and I will be discussing the transformative power of bringing mindfulness into your life. We’ll talk a bit about our perspective and background working with it, discuss examples illustrating exactly how clear and present thinking can redirect negative experiences, and engage in a brief meditation session and a few exercises to give folks a feel for using it. This is always one of my favorite times at the convention; I look forward to it every year.

Furries and the “Other” (Hilton: Santa Clara) – 4:30 PM
Here we’ll be discussing how the concept of “otherness” applies to furry — or if it even does! Mapping real-life social and political differences to furry fiction is an interesting thing; there’s often not a direct parallel, but what can we learn from the way divisions are drawn? What does that say about us as creators and readers? I’ll be talking about this with Mary Lowd and Chandra al-Alkani.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 17TH
Brainstorming in Real Time (Hilton: Santa Clara) – 11 AM
One of the biggest things I’ve learned in writing last year is to always try out multiple answers to the question “And then what?” Your first answer is going to be the most common one, and the further out you go with ideas the more creative opportunities open up! Even ideas you instinctively discount can be the best ideas you have for really pushing your story into new territory. My writing group — Chipotle, Kyell Gold, NotTube and myself — will be hosting this panel detailing the brainstorming process and how you can use it to your benefit.

Unsheathed Live (Hilton: Santa Clara) – 10 PM
To close out the convention, the adult writing podcast is all set to go for another year! Kyell, KM Hirosaki and NotTube will talk about furry writing for adults, take audience questions and probably have a lot of wine. This is always a blast, and I’m really looking forward to going out on a high note with FC 2016!

So that’s my schedule! Feel free to join me at any of these panels or say hello if you see me bumming around the convention. I’ll even have business cards for the Jackalope Serial Company! Whoo!!

See you at the San Jose Convention Center this weekend, folks. It’s going to be legendary!

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2016 in Furries

 

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(Personal) Three Pounds of Flax

Buddhism 150A monk asked Tozan when he was weighing some flax: “What is Buddha?”
Tozan said: “This flax weighs three pounds.”

It is so impossibly hard to do one thing at a time in this day and age. As I sit to write this, I’m thinking about a number of other things — the 500 words I promised myself I would write on a short story, populating the latest to-do app with all of the steps I’ll need to take to finish all of my projects, the salmon in the oven, the vegetables on the stove, the friends who are hurting very far away, the people who dislike me. It’s difficult to consistently bring my attention to the present, to the words I’m writing right now. Why is that?

We live in a time of instant gratification. If we want to know something, most of us who are reading this have a way to look it up instantly. A lot of us are lucky enough to be able to buy something we want — if even only for a fleeting moment — just as fast. All we have to do is go to a website, click a few buttons, and expect that what we want will arrive in a few days. This is a wonderful time, but it also means that we’ve lost the ability to wait for things, to be uncomfortable, to anticipate something we’ve worked or waited long for.

Don’t worry — I’m not going to spend this entire post talking about how instant gratification has ruined our ability to actually enjoy the moment. But it has hindered it. Because we can get so much done so quickly, it’s easy to take care of business and move on to the next thing without thinking about it. Sometimes we’re already thinking about the next thing before we’ve even finished the thing we’re currently doing.

I’ve fallen into this trap. There are so many things I’d like to do, and there are only so many hours in the day I can do them. While I’m at work, I’m thinking about all of the writing I could be doing. While I’m home watching TV, I’m thinking about writing, or email, or work, or studying. While I’m writing, I’m thinking about all of these other projects. I’d like to try to send Christmas cards this year, and there’s a limited amount of time that I can actually put that together. Same with Christmas presents. Same with any Kwanzaa plans I’d like to organize.

My life has been filled to the brim, which makes it difficult for me to find enough space to take a breath. Those breaths are absolutely necessary for orientation; they give me a sense of perspective about how far I’ve come, how far I have to go, allow me to enjoy the distinctive place in which I find myself. I’ve spent a very good part of these last few months rushing around, trying to get things done, but not enjoying the process of doing them.

The koan at the top of this post is one that I use to center myself often; Buddha nature is three pounds of flax, no more and no less. Buddha nature are these words that I’m writing, the feeling of my fingers on the keys, the sound of video game music in my ears. It is here and now. That’s it.

Because I’ve made such great strides in determining what’s been blocking me from being productive this year, the anxiety I had about my ability to do things has been replaced by a different anxiety — one in which I’d better be doing things all the time. When I try to step back to think about all of the things that I have to do, it makes me think that any time wasted is another goal that won’t be met.

This month, I would like to take a moment and focus on the three pounds of flax. I’d like to re-center myself so that I’m fully engaged in what I’m doing. It might mean that I’ll be doing less, but hopefully it also means that I’ve invested so much more of myself in what I do achieve. Stripping away the distractions that surround me all the time to give myself over entirely to a project for a certain length of time is the only way to really enjoy the process of working.

I know how difficult this might be to pull off. December is a frenzied time of the year; we’re trying to manage our daily lives — which are full enough — while also trying to find and buy presents, send cards, prepare for parties and Christmas itself, decorate our homes and trees, prepare for New Year’s…the list goes on. This year I’m trying to do quite a bit more than I ever have before; I have a feeling a strong sense of organization, a great to-do list and a determined, efficient managing of my time is a necessity to make it to the next year without completely losing my mind.

But first, I have to make sure that I only focus on one thing at a time. First, the blog; then, a breath; then, the next project. So on, and so on, taking pleasure in the doing and completion of each task. The holidays provide an excellent opportunity to practice mindfulness and embrace single-tasking. It’s high time I took it.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2015 in Buddhism, Self-Reflection

 

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Combatting Mindlessness with Personal Myth

Buddhism 150When I’m not pretending to be a giant rabbit who writes fiction on the Internet, I work at a services company where I deal with customers all day. The nature of our business is such that people often mistakenly believe we’re responsible for things that we aren’t, so it’s not uncommon for me to get calls from an irate stranger demanding that I change something I have no control over.

I would love to be able to say that my meditation and Buddhist practice enables me to respond in a calm and present manner to these calls, but I can’t. It’s times like these when the lizard brain takes over — often, I’m confused about why I’m being screamed at, and that makes my chest tighten and my heart beat faster. I’ll try to tell the caller why it’s not my fault they’re in this situation, which if I were thinking clearly I would realize is the wrong tack to take. Then an argument ensues, and all that matters is gaining the upper hand. For me, a ‘win’ would be getting the caller to drop their accusation of responsibility and go elsewhere. It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re frustrated or feel like they’ve been helped. As long as they stop being angry with me, specifically, that’s what matters.

When I’m rational, I know that this isn’t a personal thing. I’m merely the most convenient face for a problem that someone has, and since I’m on the front line as it were I’ll bear the brunt of the negativity for some people. But it’s really difficult to remember that as it’s happening; that the person repeating “What are YOU going to do about it?” in your ear again and again isn’t speaking of a literal ‘you’. At that moment, you’re a representation of your work place, an entire company given a voice.

I’m not sure if you would have guessed it or not, but I like to avoid conflicts whenever possible. Part of it is I don’t like the stress that a conflict brings, but another part of it is the knowledge of my own temper. It’s a quick one, and I’ve learned a while ago to disengage myself from a situation that sparks it — chances are it’ll die down quickly and I can come at it reasonably later. Obviously, this isn’t an option when there’s someone on the phone with you, refusing to give you space until you resolve a problem that you just can’t solve.

But see, this is why you meditate. The feeling that you get on the bench, when you’re just breathing, is meant to be carried with you through the rest of your life. If you can remember, all it takes is a few breaths to bring you back to mindfulness, to remember who you are and what you’re doing, to take an approach to the situation that’s less instinctive and more helpful.

I ended up raising my voice to the caller the last time it happened. He was especially pushy, demanding that something be done and using the time-honored “repeat yourself in a louder voice” to control the conversation. I admit, I was flustered. I took it personally and handled it poorly. At that moment, all of my meditation training went out the window. I played his game, and lost.

If I had taken just a few breaths, I would have realized the truth of the situation. He was painting me as an enemy, an obstacle to a desired outcome, but I’m really not. Instead of allowing myself to be placed into that role I could have side-stepped that relationship entirely. I could have said, “No, I’m a friend, let me help you any way I know how.” While I don’t have direct control over the situation, I could have come up with a somewhat workable solution with just a little thought. But it’s hard to think straight when you’re running on adrenaline.

One of the things that I’ve tried to do is tell a story of myself that runs closer to the person I would like to be. I suppose this is an advanced version of ‘faking it until you make it,’ but hopefully it will be useful. As I move through my day, I tell myself that I’m a friend to everyone, even the people that would rather not see me. I tell myself that I’m helpful, generous, kind, attentive, compassionate. I construct a myth of myself — a rabbit who is an Avatar of Comfort, dedicated to putting everyone around him at ease. It doesn’t always work, of course — sometimes I forget myself and then I’m just David, grumpy and harried, who’d rather get back to whatever it was he was doing instead of being patient and helpful. But that’s OK. People fail to live up to the myths about them from time to time, but it shouldn’t stop them from striving for it.

That’s one of the ways I ‘access my totem’, I suppose. I marry my vague, animist spirituality to my Buddhist practice, so that my idealized self, the picture of myself at enlightenment, is a rabbit that radiates calm and peace. I’m not sure if there’s a name for that sort of thing (besides insanity), but it helps, when I remember to let it.

Does anyone else do this? What sort of stories do you tell yourself, about yourself, to encourage you to be a better person?

 

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