And no, I haven’t been on Jon Stewart’s closing segment. I’ve just been taking a stress-reduction class, which flies under the radar even in this rather hippy-dippy town as a “wellness” course, but in fact has been an introduction to Buddhist practice.
I’ve got nothing against hippy-dippy. Half my youth would’ve been lost without it (although I imagine a few folks might think I squandered it precisely because of my hippy streak – c’est la guerre). But I’ve been ambivalent about Western uses of Buddhism. It has always felt to me like cheap cultural appropriation. After all, this is not my tradition; what right to I have to lay claim to it? I’ve also suspected it was an easy way for Hollywood stars to appear “spiritual.” Fair or not, Richard Gere pops into my mind. I do have a friend out West (and occasional reader of the Kitty) who is absolutely a bona fide practitioner and a wise old soul. Overall, though, I thought people too often call themselves “Buddhist” to be trendy.
This class is changing my mind. It’s possible to engage in Buddhist practices, such as meditation, mindfulness, and compassion, without buying into Buddhism as a religion. One can be agnostic and Buddhist at the same time. And yet those practices feel like they’re transforming me. I feel less pain and am better able to cope with what remains. I am not quite so much at the mercy of the chatter in my head, and as a result, my concentration is growing sharper. That’s especially welcome after I lost most of it last winter. And compassion? Well, I am trying to meditate compassionately upon Dick Cheney. My teacher wrinkled her nose and said that might be a little advanced. But I figured I’d start with the person whose lack of compassion has created the most pain in today’s world.
The class has been stressful, itself, in that I’ve found nowhere near enough time to practice. (So much for stress reduction!) We had a one-day retreat out in the country, during which only our guide spoke, and that was a huge gift. I’m not quite so taken with tai chi, but I’m very enamored of meditation.
How does this affect my daily life? I feel as though I’m thinking more clearly. I find more focus in my lectures, so my teaching is better. I’m better able to approach my kids with patience (most days …). And I want to explore compassion’s deeply radical potential. Because if I can cultivate compassion toward Cheney, and if millions of others did so, Cheney might not change – but the rest of us surely would.
Anyway, maybe I’m just immersed in navel-gazing, but I thought I’d open up discussion to paths you’ve take toward cultivating mindfulness and compasssion in your lives. This Buddhist, lapsed Presbyterian, hopeful agnostic would like to know.