The Binary Consequence of Attachment and the Arising Joy of Now

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In Buddhism, there are eight worldly conditions of life identified that are at the central route of much of our own suffering during our physical lives. They are broken into four pairs of opposites. They are;

Gain and Loss

Praise and Criticism

Fame and Disrepute

Pleasure and Pain

As human beings, no matter how hard we try, we will experience all of the above at some point in our lives, often several times over. The presence of any one in a pair will lead to the manifestation of the other.

I call this the binary consequence of attachment.

The easiest place to look is gain and loss as it is something most of us have experienced and have a memory of from an early age. I remember the first time my mother took away a toy of mine as “punishment” for being bad. I had initially gained the toy and infused it with the ownership of “mine” and the responsibility of happiness. Its removal from my life created a vacuum of happiness, as if my identity were ripped at the seams.

Flash forward to adult life and the mechanics are the same, just different objects. Last week I lost a brand new winter hat. I loved this hat, it made me look good and I spent hard earned money it. It made me feel, attractive, confident, warm and I experienced GAIN. Even though I know that hat is gone, I keep looking for it. No other hat will do because that was THE HAT. How could another hat possibly keep me warm? I am lazy, irresponsible and careless with money. I have LOSS.

Here’s the sneaky part. The moment I started to infuse the hat with meaning for good, I guaranteed an eventual loss. This is the binary consequence of attachment. In and of themselves, experiences in life can bring us endless amounts of joy. The key difference is that joy does not arise from attachment, it arises from present moment awareness, and fully dedicating yourself to the experience that is really happening in your life.

Instagram is a great example for describing the above, and a daily reminder for me on how fast ego and the eight worldly conditions can spring into action.

The entire platform is engineered to create content and then share that content with real time feedback on whether or not your content is liked, viewed and generates connection. So lets say I share something on Instagram and it receives 100 likes. I instantly feel the pleasure of being liked, the fame of being seen, the active praise those little hearts communicate and maybe even the gain of a few friends.

And then the bottom drops out. Two days later I post something and my pride and ego from the previous post have set sufficient expectation that this is going to top the last post. BOOM!!!!

….. and 34 likes. What is happening? Why do people hate me? I am a fraud. People are sick of reading my shit. Why did you even post that? Someone un-followed me? #Imdead No one cares. Blah, Blah, Blah.

And it happens like that, the moment expectation and attachment to outcome is not met. The high of posting something that achieved gain, pleasure and fame instantly creates the fertile soil for loss, pain and disrepute.

As part of my journey over the last several months, I am beginning to find a way out, a way that brings peace and most of all, joy. It is the practice of enjoying, with the most present moment awareness I can create, whatever I am doing or what is, in my life. I am free to interact with anyone I meet without agenda. If I experience loss, I don’t focus on what the loss has taken way, rather how I can enjoy what IS NOW PRESENT in my life. I will share much more about this later.

Today I am sharing the first longer form poem I have written in several years. I wrote it last night sitting at a bar that also serves late night coffee as I am on day 21 of who knows how long of removing alcohol from my life. More about that later as well.

This is not a poem that will or even should receive any critical acclaim. It is presented as another step on the path of discovering my dharma, and sharing it with the world.

I am not mad

Red is not the color I see

I simply choose to be

This is my free

From society

Wanting me

Angry.

I am not sad

Reject your perception of blue

Embrace what is true

Each day is new

In the morning dew

Sunlight’s hue

My coup.

I’m not jealous

Joy is not a prize to be won

We all stand in the sun

Envy Arson.

Accept what is done

Wanting none

Become.

I’m not happy

A soaring balloon that will fall

Inflated protocol

Crackpot cure-all

Dubious drywall

I install

Over all

I’m down with Joy

Spontaneous-no cost attached

Or wits that must be matched

The now is hatched.

Life’s purpose dispatched

Soul Impact

I attract

I accept death

Impermanence as we decay

Bodies wither away

This moment-Stay

Begin again day

After day

Today

A Condition of Complete Simplicity

waterfall

How I sometimes stand in line at Whole Foods grocery stores during their peak hours is a window into how often and easily I resent the current moment I am in, and to some degree my level of complete insanity.

The breakdown begins at the approach. I see the line from a distance, separated into three lines, and suddenly my mind goes into calculation mode as if I were the man who knew infinity. How many people are in each line? Which number was called last?  Who are couples in line and therefore look like two people and will only take one spot? I do everything short of attempting to code an algorithm which will permit me to spend the least amount of time possible in that line.

After I make the choice and commit to a line, I start to analyze if I have made the right choice and if I have, I actually feel better about myself. Better yet, if I realize I will get to the checkout faster than someone who had entered another line before me, I feel like I have won an Olympic gold medal and instantly more clever than everyone. That podium feeling soon dissipates however, when I notice people screwing up the line. They miss their number being called or they won’t walk forward as the line advances. Each offense I personalize as a transgression against me and my mission to get out of the line as fast as possible because I have somewhere more important to be.

The urge to be somewhere else is not only at the grocery store. It could be any line or task that is requested of me. I can recall being asked to do something on numerous occasions to which my stock response is “I don’t really feel like it” and upon doing the thing, spending most of the time in action being upset or victimized that I had to do because naturally, I have better things to do.

The interesting questions which I never bother to ask on the other side of the above statements are “What DO I feel like doing?” “Where do I need to Be” “Why am I resisting doing this thing right now?”  and “What is the source of my resentment?”.

In reflection on these questions and through my journey of the last several months, a quote by Shakespeare from HAMLET continues to pop into my mind.

……for there is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

-Shakespeare, William HAMLET 2.2.P11

In the dialogue Hamlet is having with his friend Rosencrantz, Hamlet is describing how Denmark is a prison to him, and how in fact the whole world is filled with many confines and dungeons, with Denmark being the worst for him. When his friends tell Hamlet they do not feel it is, Hamlet delivers the above quote noting it is his own mind that has created Denmark as a prison.

There are so many prisons I put myself in, these may sound familiar.

  • I am sick of doing other people’s job
  • My job drains me and I wish I could leave
  • My boss is very annoying
  • I can’t stand my coworkers
  • If I don’t do it, nothing gets done so I don’t have time to “be in the moment”
  • I always feel behind
  • No one understand me
  • I am putting in effort and he/she isn’t noticing
  • I wish I had more money
  • I wish I had more time
  • I’m always behind
  • I’ll never be as successful as (fill in the blank)
  • I wish I had that body
  • I wish I had that apartment/house
  • This is all their fault
  • Things just don’t work out for me

I could go on for pages, and the core source of every dissatisfaction and resentment listed above comes from the same place; our own minds. All born from the thought that my current condition is bad. The resentment comes from the simple notion that I am not where I should be and the attachment to meaning derived from a future ideal to achieve or destination to reach.

This resentment can show up anytime you have a conversation with someone and from the beginning of the conversation your mind is pointed toward making an exit. The person opposite you could be delivering tomorrow’s lottery numbers and the only thing you hear is the voice in your head preparing how to steer the conversation towards conclusion.

It rears its head anytime you spend more time arguing or debating about avoiding an activity than it would take to do the damn thing. The feeling underneath being that if you cave and act, the other person is right and you are wrong.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a practicing Buddhist or spiritual master to momentarily free yourself from all of the attachments which are causing you have anxiety and the feeling that there is something more for you other than what or where you are.

The practice is simply to choose each moment for exactly what it is, and what it is not and reminded me of another literary work, this time from T.S. Eliot. Choosing to be in the ‘Now Here’ moment will create what Eliot called, in his poem “Little Gidding”, ‘A condition of complete simplicity.’ He also notes that condition will ‘cost you everything’.

What is the cost?

Choosing to be in the very moment you are will force you to give up anywhere you want to be or who you think you are or should be. In that moment you are present, you will lose all you have defined yourself to be or need to be, which can certainty feel like everything.

The beginning part of the last section of Four Quartets, describes the never-ending discovery of each moment.

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And to know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot –  from “Little Gidding”

Every moment of every day is an opportunity to for discovery. In my own experience lately, I am finding that going with the flow of life is taking a breath when the river is sending me towards a waterfall of unknown height.

Instead of cursing the river and all the moments that brought me to the precipice of the cliff, I take in as much beauty and connection I can to what is around me and know that wherever I am in life is not a failure. It is rather, exactly where I am supposed to be.

Instead of creating the potential doom and destruction that waterfall may hold, I notice the trees, notice the feeling of my hand on the oar and the weight of my body in the boat. I notice the sounds of water rushing around me and breeze of air as my body moves through it.

I understand that water is not my enemy and is not trying to kill me. I forgive the person who sold me the map and told me to take this river. I know that the only thing I really have control over is how I will engage the moment I am in, and as much as possible, I plan to keep exploring the newness of every movement. In the moments I can stay present, I will enjoy the limitless discovery and joy that arises from knowing every moment for the first time.

In the past I would have resisted writing what I just did and I want you to know this is how I feel now. It is always a practice and I still experience fear, doubt, envy, and still delve to insanity when standing in line and still will engage in endless procrastination and debate on something as simple as taking the trash out.

And the practice continues.

The practice I offer to you this week is to notice if you find yourself in a situation you are resisting, trying to escape or move through as fast as possible. Perhaps it is at the gym or yoga practice during a difficult workout, a household chore or task at work you don’t want to do, or a conversation with someone you are dreading or putting off.

Once you notice the feeling, try choosing everything about the moment or action and let everything else fall away. If you are taking out the trash, be incredibly involved in every detail of the bag, the walk to the garbage area, the weight of the bag. If you are talking to someone, turn off your phone and listen to what they are saying- interrupt yourself any time you start to plan your own reply.

Call yourself out. If you notice yourself resisting or trying to escape, say it out loud and come back into noticing and choosing your current moment.

Lastly, share your experience with someone and any and everything that you noticed in the moments you were present, and how you were feeling when you were not.

Thank you for reading and know I am with you, taking one breathe and step at a time in THE DAILY PRACTICE OF LIVING.

Waking Up

December 8, 2017

My life transformed while I was folding laundry.

I read the above sentence and can’t help but laugh and also remember the skepticism with which I used to view stories like the one I am about to share. On a single day over three months ago, my life shifted completely and put me on the path I walk today. It is a path of humility, constant learning, missteps and hiccups, laughter and clarity. It is a path I call THE DAILY PRACTICE OF LIVING and it all started on August 25th, 2017.

I was standing in the middle of the living room, mindlessly watching Law & Order SVU and folding clothes fresh out of the dryer. I had a long sleeve shirt stretched out arm to arm in both hands with the collar pinned between my chin and chest.

Out of nowhere my heart started to beat out of my chest and my fingers and toes started to tingle. I was intensely aware of the room, my breathe, the sounds and colors in the room, and all of the sensations in my body, heartbeat included. After what felt like minutes but was really only 5-10 seconds, I heard a voice. Not as a sound from a stereo, but in the same manner you might hear words in your head when reading in silence. The voice I heard was new, yet also familiar to me. The message was clear.

Change your life now, or you are going to die very soon

Since that day I have endeavored to put into words some explanation of everything I felt and what happened.

The impact and immediacy of the transformation felt like a light-switch turning on.

The best rationale I have for what happened came from Baron Baptiste. In addition to being an incredibly powerful and empowering human being, he is someone I consider to be one of the great teachers in my life. When I told him what I experienced, he said simply and without hesitation, “It sounds like you were ready to wake up”.

Since that day I have experienced a peaceful serenity and freedom from anger I had not known in my 36 previous years of life. My eating habits, meditation habits, and physical exercise habits all shifted. The tool I have practiced every day since then, in the moments of greatest difficulty and relative ease, is to keep coming back to the present moment and be mindful of exactly where I am. It is a practice every moment of every day.

Sometimes I go long stretches without being present and then I catch myself, and come back. The practice is to stay in the awareness and to try and shorten the length of time between being lost in thought, and present in the moment. There is so much I want to share and today is the first step in that journey.

THE DAILY PRACTICE OF LIVING – Living a Life of Practice, One Breathe at a Time- is what I intuitively know I want to share with the world. As I type now I see, in addition to my own reflections shared, the insights of others (some who I already know and some who I have yet to meet) on the tools and practices they put into action to lead an empowered and fulfilling life.

I look forward to sharing what comes next and openly admit I have no idea what that will be.

What I do know is I want to share it.