Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Dharma of Conserving Your Life

This is a post for all of us 21st century digital boys and girls! Katie, over at her blog Kloncke, has a knack for raising up life issues, and then pointing out things the regular commentaries miss. So refreshing!

Today, she takes up a new book by Soren Gordhamer entitled "Wisdom 2.0." Although skeptical of it's self-help feel, Katie digs in anyway and finds actual wisdom within. In addition, she's not afraid to challenge the book, such as here:

The snappy magazine tone isn’t my favorite — partly because it tends to veer into upper-class magazine generalizations, where the only external causes for stress are cranky co-workers and long lines at Starbucks, rather than, you know, institutional racism.

What's funny is that I felt something akin to this last weekend, during a talk and question/answer period at my zen center. The talk was on, among other things, the difference between waiting and patience, which Katie speaks about in her post as well. I enjoyed the talk, but found myself at a loss when the same tired examples came up about impatience while driving, or waiting for the computer to download something or whatever. It says a lot about how tied to these technologies many of our lives have become. And it also speaks to the failure of the "everyday dharma" approach to speak about the ways the teachings can be applied to the deep-seated injustices that some of us experience everyday, due to race, class, disability, sexual orientation or other cultural marker.

All of this plays out everyday in the world, both in the flesh, and online. We need not leave anything out, be it social injustice, traffic jams, or even the following:

That’s another thing: this book is reminding me that waiting can be pleasurable! Waiting for photos to upload, waiting for a page to refresh, waiting for a wireless connection to come through…simply by reworking my own mind, I experience them as moments of rest and alert relaxation, not impatience and weird greedy hypnosis.

How often does something terribly mundane, like slow wireless, cause a tornado to appear within you?

Seems silly to waste so much energy on something barely tangible, and yet we do. And that makes dealing with the more challenging things in life, like the death of a parent, being turned down for a loan because your credit "isn't good enough" (i.e. the bank doesn't lend to people of color), or loosing your lifelong career that much more difficult. Part of what Katie, and Mr. Gordhamer are pointing to is energy conservation. The conversation of your life.

I've heard teachers speak and write about many of us being leaky vessels. We go about our life wasting the precious energy we have been given on the wrong things, or on the right things in the wrong way. And then, when the challenging stuff appears, we wonder why we can't handle it, and are tossed away into rage and blame and sadness and all sorts of sloppy behaviors.

So, I think all the "green" metaphors floating around out there that have to do with a healthy planet, are also available to us for application on ourselves. Certainly it makes sense to conserve one's energy. It also can make sense to recycle old skills, thought patterns, and ways of being into something slightly or vastly different, but made of the same "stuff." We'd also do well to reuse that which we thought was only applicable to a certain job, relationship, or situation.

I have long been of the opinion that you can discover wisdom anywhere, even in junky self help book filled with cliches and soft platitudes. Now, maybe it's better not to wade through hundreds of these books, or go out clubbing every night seeking the wisdom of the barroom or dance floor, but simply being open to such possibilities means that if one of these lands in your lap, you'll be ready. This, too, is how you conserve your life - every lessening of resistance to what's happening now is a way of not leaking away the life you have.


Algernon said...

It is acknowledging that there is something we might call 'wisdom' (dharma that needn't be called 'dharma') in every moment. Recognizing this wisdom feels like an accident; learning to listen moment after moment will make us accident-prone.

Bruce Behnke said...


Who among us is not a leaky vessel?

For me, lessening resistance to what is happening in the here and now is a valuable suggestion.

Yet, we all need to go beyond that. Once we've conserved that energy, the challenge is to focus it and use it on "the right stuff"-- not what's apparently important, momentarily important or what is screaming the loudest for attention-- but what is REALLY important.

Thank you for a most thoughtful and provocative post.

Anonymous said...

Hey Nathan! Thanks for the love. :)

Someday you and I (and, like, a whole team) should compile a list of topics we would like to see addressed in dharma talks. Like:

The precept to avoid stealing. We can all understand this on a vulgar level, but how does it relate to a capitalist system that operates on the basis of unpaid labor creating profit? Or our responsibility to Native Americans whose land was stolen from their ancestors, and now live in some of the poorest, most abysmal conditions in the U.S.?

I would loooove a dharma talk like that! Maybe I will need to make my own. ;)

What are some of your dream topics?

Nathan said...

Hi Katie,

Ah dream topics - what a fun question.

We recently had a class set up to discuss the third precept, but it was canceled due to low sign up. I was excited to talk about sex, sexuality, and Buddhism, but apparently it wasn't so exciting for the rest of the sangha. It's hard not to think that this is because of the prevalence of Boomers who, for various reasons, have decided that they don't want to explore sexuality in a spiritual context. I have a retired friend who frequently wants to explore sex and spirituality, so I know it's not just an age thing. Anyway, that's one topic that needs to be talked more about.

I'd also like to really dig into Right Livelihood, because too often I hear people saying things like "It doesn't matter what job, as long as your mindful and supporting others." That's fine to some degree, but it totally misses how a lot of our professions - especially corporate ones - are simply gateways to more suffering for the masses.

So there are two ideas.

Anonymous said...

Good ones! A supportive, nuanced discussion of sex work (and the patriarchy and political economy surrounding it) might be able to touch on both! :) But that kind of discussion gets dicey depending on the crowd, I suppose. And nobody in your sangha, I'm guessing, would (or would be able to safely) discuss their experience as a sex worker. (?) But yeah, plenty to discuss about both issues that bring them home to people in real ways.

Is it a no-no for sangha leaders like you to suggest topics to teachers? I don't really know how that works....

hugs :)