Monday, May 14, 2012

Less Idealism

Preparing for the Young Urban Zen talk on sexuality led me to confront my own idealism in a way that changed my current attitude toward the Zen practice. In trying to prepare for it by reading texts, I got very idealistic, and then I realized that my idealistic hopes stemmed from a desire to escape my present situation, which was actually making me feel worse. It was also distancing me from others. Seeing that, I realized that projecting the ideals of a book onto my life was not the way to go.

Next I noticed that, in the brief course of writing this blog, I've already started to focus less on the interpretation of other people's teachings and more on the direct pursuit of lasting happiness. It has been dawning on me (once again) that one's own happiness is a better guide in life than words in a book. My intention when writing the first several entries was to bridge the esoteric terminology of Buddhism with everyday experience and hopefully show that the basic ideas are already familiar. Then I started to wonder, "If these ideas are already familiar, why even talk about Buddhism?" So I've recently been compelled to write less about Buddhism and just relate everyday experience to the pursuit of happiness, since that is really what motivated me to pick up this practice in the first place, and that is what Buddhism is about anyway, to a large degree. The vocabulary, the stories, the myths, and the teachings are somewhat extraneous if you can learn from your own experience. And if you can't learn from your own experience, I don't think the teachings will be much use either. When it comes down to it, learning from your own life is clutch.

After seeing that, I met with a couple of the YUZ panel speakers before the talk. We tried to figure out what we were going to say. In doing that, we looked at the experience of sex in our own lives. An awesome thing happened: we discussed the issue in terms of our own feelings and experience, with little reference to the buzz-words of Buddhism. It was a natural and genuine conversation that clearly drew on what we've learned through the practice of Zen Buddhism, but it was about reality, not some words on a piece of paper. It was the kind of conversation I'd been looking to have since I first showed up to YUZ last year. This gave me confidence that we can use our experience and intuition to guide us on the path toward lasting happiness; we don't have to rely on some exotic words or customs to take us there.

Finally, at the talk itself, it seemed that focusing on the personal, everyday challenges and benefits of being mindful toward sexuality was more helpful and better received than previous attempts to discuss the precepts in abstraction. I left feeling pretty confident that one's internal compass--comprised of emotions, understanding, and intuition derived from experience--is a fully capable guide for navigating the complexity and uncertainty of ordinary American life if the mind and heart are open to learning.

So I might not write explicitly about Zen or Buddhism anymore. There are plenty of books about those topics, anyway, and I'm certainly not an expert. What I'd like to share--in the most direct way possible--is the discovery that has steadily changed my life for the better: our everyday experience points the way to genuine happiness, if we allow ourselves to learn from it.

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