Saturday, January 5, 2013

A lesson from Buddha

In Buddhism we learn to bypass the pendulum of suffering and satisfaction with equanimity for life's ups and downs. Just two blocks from my Buddhist meditation center an SUV honked at me and sped down a fork in the road. After the usual series of large-speeding-vehicle close shaves on my bike, it frightened and angered me so much my only relief was in fantasizing about shooting electric pulses to shut down his computer system, stalling the car. By the end of a half hour meditation, I wished him love and safety in sincere compassion. I had found a gentle kindness toward myself which spawned kindness toward everyone around me. If only I can balance survival instincts with compassion in my everyday life.

I have an older friend who looks a generation younger than he is. He sheds his suffering and ecstasy by exploding them instantly from his body, keeping his vitality and a light heart. For those around him, though, the unfiltered expressions pass anguish from his body and heart to theirs. Perhaps this is the old "drama" I've criticized before. What can this teach me?

He is teaching me that bottling up my emotional responses to fit my standards of appropriate behavior and of identity harms me. At the same time, I have to be mindful about the solution so I don't simply transfer the harms to empathetic friends around me. This brings us back to my experience of kindness.

If we can feel unconditional kindness (love, compassion, or any other name) toward ourselves, then we can extend it to those around us and still the pendulum of suffering. We need to confront the barrage of distraction: money, information, relationships, household, judgment; in order to return to our fundamental selves. Self care is a growing value. Identity, though, can be a distraction itself, putting up barriers and drumming up defensiveness and judgment. Buddhism and many other practices offer generosity as a solution.

It's not generosity as reason, e.g. giving to this needy organization fits my ideals, but as instinct. That same empathy that shakes me up when I'm near my explosive friend gives me peace when I can share my security and kindness with others.

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