Monday, March 13, 2017

“Have you ever thought of looking at it this way instead and seeing how that feels?”

(This is part two of the series I started with February 27’s post)

Yesterday, after not sleeping well, I just wanted to cancel the whole day due to lack of interest. After a few minutes of puttering around trying to motivate myself enough to keep from going back to bed, I decided to myself, Forget this--I'm going to raise my life-condition, right now. Making the determination that I deserved better than to feel as crappy as I did, I sat down in front of the Gohonzon to do a vigorous morning gongyo with an emphatic focus on breaking myself out of my funk. And wow, did it work.

Have you ever prayed and felt your spirit suddenly tap in, a true mystical experience right there in your living room while doing something you do every day and which sometimes feels simply like part of your routine? It’s like finding an internal battery you didn’t know you had, or a light-bulb in your soul suddenly switching on when you hadn’t even realized how dark it was in there.

This gongyo was one of those for me, and it brought to mind one of my favorite inspirational quotes, from T. Davis Bunn’s novel The Book of Hours:

“. . . [Y]ou must develop prayer as a regular discipline. You must make it a constant in your life, and not just a sometime act. Prayer will grant you a very special distance, allowing you to step back from life and view everything more clearly—both the internal and the external, both the good and the bad. . . . Little by little, relinquish all that separates you from God. Your grief, your woes, your fears, your worries, your unfulfilled desires. Not every time of prayer will provide consolation or fulfillment. But only through the preparation of this discipline will you become ready for that holy moment when it does arrive. You must be brought face-to-face with the shadowy vista within yourself where God is not. Then you shall be ready to climb the glorious Jacob’s ladder toward the miracle of a heart renewed in God.” (pg. 242)

I first read this novel over a decade ago, when I practiced God-centered religion. What it says about prayer still resonates deeply with me even now that I’m a Buddhist, and if I was to re-write a Buddhist version of this quote I would change it minimally.

As I wrote a couple weeks ago, I’m not usually one of those outgoingly cheerful, exuberant kind of people, even at times when people would expect me to be, such as when sharing about getting my work published in a popular inspirational book series. I wrote in that post that I actually felt glum the day of, and when I did emotionally register a sense of accomplishment it was still more of a quiet “Wee :)” rather than a loud and celebratory “WEEEE!!!”

I’ve always had difficulty managing extremes. This doesn’t mean I never have them, but I do try really hard not to. In contrast to walking on air all day long and having a party to celebrate an achievement, I choose instead to pace myself and stay more in the middle-range. If I do that I’m more likely to maintain emotional equilibrium throughout the next few days instead of crash when I have to go back to the mundanity of dirty dishes or my workweek or dealing with the logical challenges of car repairs.

This can be perceived as a lack of enthusiasm, reluctance to be happy, or a “bad attitude” by outgoing people who like big celebrations and who don’t get freaked out by being the center of attention. Throughout my childhood and early adulthood this kind of misunderstanding caused me a great deal of distress, and led me to misunderstand myself and feel like I needed to force myself to become an “extravert” so I would have better social outcomes.

Over the years, I’ve met other people who’ve had similar experiences, many of whom are still questioning themselves. This sort of self-doubt leaves us particularly vulnerable to the disempowerment of being put into diagnostic boxes by well-meaning therapists or other health professionals.

Over the past few years I’ve been introduced to better alternatives to the limitations of medical labeling, which I wrote about last summer. There are a few ideas that didn’t make it into last summer’s “Holistic Health and Buddhism” series, so I decided to share them now in my next couple posts.

As with that series, my point is not to argue with mainstream doctors or their patients that they are “wrong;” my intention is to say, “Have you ever thought of looking at it this way instead and seeing how that feels?"

Image: “Deep Thought by Candlelight” by Karla Joy Huber, 2008; Sumi ink

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