Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Time for a Bigger Boat

Daishin has a nice post today about expanding your awareness, and watching the way you label experience. The first paragraph resonated with me a lot.

In her book Seeking peace: chronicles of the worst buddhist in the world, psychologist Mary Pipher chronicles her ”polite breakdown” when, after many years of building a successful career of helping others and a happy marriage, everything fell apart. Something in the healer broke. Then, somewhere along the road toward wholeness, she recalls a scene in the movie Jaws where the big bad shark suddenly rears up behind the little boat and the captain shouts “We need a bigger boat.”

Yes! Yes! I feel this right now. I have spent years working in Adult Basic Education, making connections, doing advocacy work with my students, training myself to be a better, more diversely skilled teacher. For almost a year, I worked to build a healthy, lasting relationship with a wonderful woman and her two children. I've spent years dedicated to my sangha, volunteering hours of my time, sitting and walking and bowing and chanting and studying hours and hours with my sangha brothers and sisters.

And when I sit with all of this right now in my life, there's a cracking open going on, a standing at a crossroads kind of experience going on that's kind of scary to be honest.

Of the three, my relationship with my sangha is probably most stable - whatever that might mean. I just feel like how I'm relating to the practice, and to the community, is shifting somehow, in ways I can't label right now.

The other two situations seem to have broken wide open, pointing me towards the need for a bigger boat, or reminding me that too close of an identification with careers, or relationships, or even one's root sangha is a road of suffering. By "identification," I mean viewing who you are through the lens of work, or relationship, or sangha, or even all three of them.

You can be completely intimate with a lover, with work, with a sangha, and yet still see that your life is vaster than all of it. You can look into any one of these situations and see the vastness of the universe expressed within it.

I've experienced both of these. But those experiences have been fleeting. The boat I've been working with is too small. Or it's that the boat I "see" is too small. Because mostly, I'm get tangled in identifying with, or trying not to identify with, various parts of my life.

How's your boat these days?

*Cool boat, eh? You can read more about it here.


Chong Go Sunim said...

(a boat like that just cries out for a James Bond-type villain!)

Interesting post, Nate. I used to find that I could sustain my enthusiasm for something new for about two years before I hit the wall. Looking back now, I can see that it was because I was trying to place my hopes(?)into a certain, fixed aspect.

In Chinese, the characters for "Taking refuge" break down to "Return to and rely upon." The only thing I've found that really works for me is returning back to and relying upon the empty(of fixed forms) nature of this thing within.

Sabio Lantz said...

Funny: our minds shift as our real lives change and we change. Our mind then plays with our ideology to catch up with its changes.

Sounds like your story. You are telling it in abstractions and intellectualizations which are fumblings to catch up with the real changes that have already happened to you -- the concrete particulars and now you must adjust the philosophy (your clothing, so to speak) to fit you comfortably for a good showing. You know you will make some outward changes to make it all match but you need to be dressed well first.

I'd say it is important to share the particulars, not the abstract stories your mind makes up for you. Maybe a blog is not the best place.

Best wishes on adapting to the shifts in what you want to be and do.

Nathan said...

You know, Sabio, I seem to be getting the same criticism about abstracting and intellectualizing frequently lately. Maybe there's some truth in that. I also wonder if some people reading these posts want me to squeeze every last ounce of specific juice out onto the page.
It makes me wonder where these expectations come from.

You want me to share the particulars. Others have said similar things. There's an assumption that I am not sharing any particulars, which isn't true.

When people write that I'm just writing intellectualizations or abstractions, I wonder is just criticism? Are you trying to teach me something?

Arguments like this are just as abstract and you say my post is. If you want to "school me" on something, please spare me. If you want to criticize, please be more specific, so I might actually be able to respond and perhaps learn something as well.


Sabio Lantz said...

Hmmmm, I did not know you were already getting that lately from several people. And no, I don't think you should give particulars here. I guess I am just another off-centered nagging voice.

You did not offer anything in your post to criticize -- it safely wrapped in great images and abstractions.

It sounds like my words do not resonate with any part of you and we may not have Yuan.


Anonymous said...


[feel free not to post this]

I don't get over-done abstraction so much and I don't particularly crave the gory story details.

What I hear you express is: you are tired of but not done yet with a bunch of stuff. And you haven't created enough possibility yet to move in a new direction.

So you're boat is mid-stream and leaking and you are torn between keeping on with the old stuff or risking a new direction.

Seems pretty normal to me if this is right. I think you have written 10 or 12 versions of the same post more or less with different poetry or different images.

I don't think more blog posts and commenters is going to create much forward motion. Mostly the posts seem like opportunities to ruminate and over-think limitations.

Wonder if you printed out some posts that you think were pretty clear to you and read them to some friend who listens well and has done some successful career transitions of their own.

Ask them how they got some new dreams going, created a sense of possibility, some energy, took some appropriate baby steps.

Ask them to help you get a new conversation started that has some juice in it.

Even if you are going to stay where you are you probably want some fresh vision and a sense of making something respectful and good happen for yourself. If you started dreaming out loud and shamelessly about what a "bigger boat" looks like maybe you could spot some new possibility and some new energy. Maybe if you looked into your current job and made a list of
-what skills you have that you intent to take with you
-what stuff -boss styles- and the like you aren't taking with you
-what talents you want to develop

Anyway I bet you could make some pretty great lists to bring into focus a little more what you are going to pack your bags with if you do move on or what you are going to repack if you are staying where you are.

In my view do some baby steps, get ready to jump and then jump. You can be smart about making changes if you like.

I recommend checking out Dick Leider's book RePacking your Bags. Google/Amazon

Algernon said...

Descriptions of feelings with analogies like "a cracking open" is hardly dry or academic. I can't find an "ideology" here as Sabio seems to be talking about. I'm not sure what Sabio finds objectionable but it might boil down to taste. There are different ways to write about personal phenomena, and your way isn't everyone's cup of tea.

In a way, this is all an abstraction. Desire is the abstract, and the most basic "intellectualization" we human beings share is in making objects for our desire. But we are all doing that and, as Sabio suggests, we intellectualize this process further by making an "I" and "my worldview" and "my values" and so on, changing our ideas about this "I" as the objects of our desire change.

Nathan said...

"Desire is the abstract, and the most basic "intellectualization" we human beings share is in making objects for our desire."

Yes, isn't that the truth.

Anonymous, I think you're reading things pretty well. Thanks for considering these posts. As for the job, I just made the leap to leave it. We'll see what comes of that, but you are right that I have repeated myself in some of my posts.

I will say that if you look at any blog dealing with practice in any kind of personal way, you'll find over time that the author almost always has repeated posts in the way that I have done. Writing about it might keep us stuck, and/or it might be a way to help break that stuckness.

This, I think is one of the challenges of blogging about one's life in any kind of intimate way. Your bound to have some repetition, as that's how the mind plays out. Often I end up sitting down and having to decide if I'm going to write something more personal or if it would be better to let that sit for a little longer. It's actually a support for my meditation practice because when I find my writing isn't too clear, I can go back to the cushion to pay more attention.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Algernon
I liked your insight and phrasing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

You know I often wonder about your life.... fellow efl/esl teacher, fellow Zennist, fellow blogger, and lots in common too in terms of attitude and approach I think - but I could be totally wrong! LOL!

Anyway, you write "when I sit with all of this right now in my life, there's a cracking open going on, a standing at a crossroads kind of experience going on that's kind of scary to be honest."

And of course I don't know the details and am not asking for them, but I do think I know something of the feeling. Funny how life can suddenly seem to shift around you leaving you feeling disorientated and having to choose!

I have no advice to give (beyond trusting the promptings of the deepest and truest parts of yourself) - but just want to wish you all the best.

With a deep bow,

Marcus _/\_

Nathan said...

Thanks so much Marcus. I really appreciate it.

I'm hanging in there with all of this shifting going on, feeling really grateful for the practice and dharma friends in my life.