My spiritual teacher is Thich Nhat Hanh. I started reading his work maybe 30 years ago, but until recently I was just an intellectual Buddhist. I read it, I really appreciated it, it resonated with me, but it wasn’t something I practiced in a diligent manner. Then, 6 years and 3 months ago, I finally got sober from alcohol, and one of the things that is recommended in AA is that you find a power greater than yourself. It gave me the gift of practicing Buddhism rather than just reading and thinking about it.
I started reading Thich Nhat Hanh because a friend of mine from graduate school recommended it to me. I began to love Thay because of the simple clarity, with which he writes, and how it resonated with me. For me it’s about mindfulness, about being present in this moment, which is the only moment we have, and about the repudiation of dualism. I have never felt separate from other people. I was born and raised Catholic, I had that moral and social consciousness of a Catholic. Being in the present moment, mindfully aware of what the experiences are, was wonderful for me. The interrelatedness and interconnectedness of everything in the universe fills me with a lot of joy and happiness. It is consistent with everything I know about science and about sociology. You know, Einstein had a general theory of relativity and a special theory of relativity, and then he spent the rest of his life trying to find a unified theory, something that would bring together both the general and special theories of relativity. I think Buddhism does that, the teachings are so multidimensional. It helps me understand our world and myself or non-self in it.
Right now my biggest challenge is the fact that I am getting older. This year I tore a ligament and sprained some other ligaments on my knee, and was laid up for about six or seven weeks. My mobility was limited, my stamina was not the same. There are a lot of things you take for granted, when your health is good, and I realized I cannot take these things for granted anymore. I obviously don’t recover as I did even ten years ago. Accepting that I am aging and that I am really on the downhill side of aging in terms of mortality, that’s a real challenge. One of the ways I can and do work with it is reminding myself of the Four Noble Truths. I can have this experience without suffering. The night I hurt my knee, I came home from a Dharma talk by Ajahn Brahm, in which he was talking about kindfulness. I really liked that notion of kindfulness. He was saying, if you are experiencing pain somewhere, touch that area, caress that area, and be kind to it. Give it some kindfulness. I thought how auspicious that I hurt my knee after having heard such a wonderful teaching. It’s about not pushing it away or shrugging it off, the limitations I have because of it, but accepting it and figuring out how I want to move forward from that. And that’s where I need to be more deliberate and mindful. I have so much good fortune in my life, I have health insurance, I can have my knee taken care of, I can go to physical therapy, I can afford a gym membership, so I can ride the stationary bike and strengthen the muscles around it. So aging is one of the things I am sitting with, and I am watching the fear arise and transform.
Alcoholism is a disease. I started going to AA in a serious manner rather than just trying to keep my partner happy. One of the recommendations in AA is to find a power greater than yourself and that you start trusting that power. They also recommend that you find a spiritual path in order to stay sober and in recovery. For me that’s where all the intellectual Buddhism started meeting up with practicing Buddhism. I found a lot of synchronicity between the teachings of the Buddha and what AA was offering in terms of tools for staying sober and being in recovery. There is a book by Kevin Griffin called “One Breath at a Time”, in which he talks about the 12 steps of AA from a Buddhist perspective. The Buddhist precepts and practice became my spiritual path, and that is also how I stay sober and in recovery.
One of the ways I practice letting go is by observing when I am telling a story. When I am thinking too much, I am telling myself a story. I constantly need to remind myself that it is just a story. Obviously, in my stories I am always rather heroic and rarely unskillful, so the practice for me is letting go of the stories I tell myself. And that also helps me let go of resentments, hurts and anger. I have become a lot calmer, less reactive, less angry and more content. Sometimes I find myself not wanting to practice and to be angry instead, but overall I think Buddhist practice has really helped me with letting go of anger and resentment.
The teachings about impermanence are important to me, they help me understand that bad times are not going to be forever, and that good times are not going to be forever. And the realization that experience isn’t defining me has helped me to become calmer and more patient. Buddhist teachings also help me with judgement and comparing. If I am in you and you are in me, then I am in every one of those individuals whose actions might cause reactivity to arise in me, like Dick Cheney, George Bush, the souls in Iraq who are beheading and murdering people. I am not separate from them, realizing this helps me to develop compassion.
Love is when you suspend judgement and the comparing mind, when you allow yourself to experience and know a person just as they are. Yes, that is love.