Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: noah rasheta

Using Buddhism as a Practice

“No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners” is definitely a beginner’s book. Short and sweet, right to the point, and I loved it. It’s a wonderful start at using Buddhism as a practice. In the hopes of remembering more of it…insert eye-roll because I can’t believe I have such a hard time with this…I’m putting it on top of my current book from awhile and reading one page of it first thing and then moving on to the rest of my day.

using buddhism

That’s what’s awesome about this book. Each question or concept is covered in one or two pages, making it easy to take in, one step at a time. No, you’re not going to get the in-depth and detailed nuances and rich history of Buddhism, but you will get the big picture and be able to start using the ideas immediately. It’s the edge pieces of the puzzle I was talking about looking for in my last post on The Protestant Ethic.

I’ve read a few books on Buddhism; Returning to Silence, The Art of Happiness, and The Story of Buddhism. All of them were wonderful, but this one has been the most useful. It’s more practical, less spiritual, of course, since Noah Rasheta does an amazing podcast called Secular Buddhism, where I found the book.

There is so much in this book to act on, that I can’t simply pull out a couple quotes to sum it up. That’s why I’m going to re-read it, much as I used to re-read and study my bible, one page at time, in the hopes of soaking up the information, digesting it and turn it into actions that make my life (and the lives of the people around me) just that much more peaceful.

There is one quote that I felt I needed to put down here:

“Buddhism can be practiced somewhat like yoga: as something you do, not something you are.”

This really got me. Years ago, I finally succumbed to pressure and started a meditation practice. At the beginning, I would go out to put the laundry in the washer and then sit beside it and practice for five minutes. That five minutes changed my life. Sounds crazy, but it is true. Nothing about my life changed though, it was only my awareness of my surroundings that changed, and my awareness that I could take a breath, pause, and then act. Something that had never occurred to me before.

That same year, I added yoga to my morning routine as an active meditation. And, wow, things really started to move around in my head. The process of learning to move and stretch my body as I breathe, putting all else aside for thirty minutes brought me peace that I took into the rest of my day.

Slowly but surely, I’m still learning more and more every day. I wish the process would speed up, or that I could go back in time and start earlier. Maybe I’d have made some better decisions in my life, or at least drove fewer people crazy with my reactionary habits. But that’s life. We live and learn. And because I started to learn these teachings as my sons entered their teens, I’ve been able to pass the ideas on to them early and it does look like they are using them. Another example of how we become immortal, passing a bit of ourselves into the future.

My practice today isn’t long and involved, but it is more consistent, and that means progress. A practice is something you do every day in the hopes of getting better and better. You never finish. You never arrive. You only practice until you die. Life is crazy like that.

So, yes, I enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it if you’re curious about the basics of Buddhism. Every page is useful. Every chapter is helpful.

No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners: New Read

How do I even begin to tell you, to explain what goes on in my head? You’ll think I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not. It’s true. I have a very hard time remembering things. How does that relate to the book No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners? You’ll see.

no-nonsense buddhism for beginners

I write things down a lot, lists of things I need to do, people I need to talk to. I make lists in retrospect as well, so that tomorrow I can look back and remember that I did that thing. I take screen shots of conversations and save them so that I don’t forget that someone loves me deeply. Playing cards with me is easy. You don’t ever need to worry about me seeing your cards. The moment I can’t see them anymore, I forget. Playing pinochle with my family was always hilarious because I have to put all my focus on remembering how many cards have been played. But that’s not really a big deal, right?

I know I’ve probably brought this up before but, there is a lot that I don’t remember about the books I’ve read shortly after I put them back on the shelf. I know I did read them because I wrote in the book. And there are some books that have stuck with me. I’ve read that I’m not alone there. Most people, when asked if they’ve read a certain book, can tell you yes or no, but then not be able to give the details about it. They just remember that they liked it or not. One of the reasons I write here is to put conscious effort into putting my thoughts in order and then keeping them to look back on. I remember more of what I talk about and/or explain than what I read.

What does that have to do with No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners?

I’ve been listening to Noah Rasheta’s podcast, Secular Buddhism, for several months. I like what he has to say. I feel like he explains the concepts in ways that are useful to me. But, in day-to-day interaction, I forget what I meant to remember. I keep trying to rewire the way I react to the world, remember that everything is connected, to take a breath and respond instead of reacting, to listen and watch the world around me, but I fail more often than not. It’s frustrating.

I bought his book because I thought having a physical book to flip through every day, instead of just listening once a week, would help cement the concepts into my mind so that I can use them. My goal is to read through it all once, and then go back and re-read each piece once a day, like a meditation practice.

Buddhist principles have helped my mental health tremendously this past year. I wish I had found it earlier in my life. It may have saved me a lot of heartache. This line is what keeps me on the path, “To be enlightened is to be liberated from our habitual reactivity, freed from our perceptions and ideas in order to see reality as it is without wanting it to be different.” That’s it! That’s what I want.

I’m a highly habitual person. I build up habits to keep order in my mind and make the world around me safe. Sometimes the habits aren’t helpful. I try to reassess my habits on a regular basis. I sit down with my notebook and write out my day, the things I do, and ask myself, “Is this serving me?” That’s easy to do with things like housework, exercise, and learning. But emotional habits are a whole other ballgame. Those are well engrained, and I’ve had a rough time changing them, no matter how badly I want to.

It’s like learning new eating habits. I start a new diet, get into it, really feel like I’m getting somewhere, and then BAM, a bad day, a party, a holiday, and I’m right back on the track of a poor diet filled with empty calories, loads of carbs, and plenty of alcohol. My body thanks me by feeling terrible, which makes me crave more “comfort” food, and I spiral down into “you suck” mode.

I have some pretty piss-poor relational habits that need to be resolved if I’m going to live well the next forty years. I’m trying so hard to change those habits in positive ways, but I keep forgetting the damn principles. Just like the game, when the cards are hidden from view, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do. I need reminders.

A few weeks ago, I was getting gas in town and across the island I saw a guy with a Buddhist mala prayer bead bracelet on. A light went on. The prayer beads are a reminder, each bead connects to the other to make a whole, just like we each connect to each other. They can also be a focus, moving along the chain and taking a breath, saying a mantra, or thinking a name, until you come back to the beginning.

Today, I ordered a set of wooden prayer beads. I’m hoping they’ll serve as a physical reminder that I’m changing. When I see them, I’ll remember my meditation, and (hopefully) pause to think a bit.

I’m about halfway through No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners already. I think keeping it close-by and ready for me to meditate on a page or two will help me build up these new habits. I’ll keep the beads with me as well and maybe, over time, my brain will connect the peace of what I read, my mediation, and the beads will serve to bring me back when I start to get lost.

I’ve written about my Buddhism journey many times before. Check out Zen Blogging: Writing to Learn? It’s one of my favorites. It’s also one that I have recently went back to and thought, “Wait…what? I’ve had this thought before?!” …sigh…

Tetris: Can my Zen Master Level be Applied to Life?

I heard something fantastic on the Secular Buddhism podcast yesterday. He said, “Life is more like a game of Tetris than Chess.” Imagine Linus when Lucy explains the meaning of “pantaphobia” and you’ll know my reaction to that analogy as I drove into the city.

PS I remember this as being in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special with Charlie Brown being the one receiving enlightenment, but I guess it’s elsewhere as well. Thanks, internet search!

Tetris and my Game Boy
Vintage! Can you still see my name written on it?!

I am the undisputed master of Tetris. In 1990, I was 18 when I got a Nintendo Game Boy for Christmas, and the first games I got were Tetris and Centipede. Tetris was by far my favorite pastime. I brought it everywhere I went; at school, at home, waiting for my car to be repaired. At work on Space Mountain at Disneyland, you would find me in the breakroom playing it, eyes glued to the screen, fingers tensely poised waiting for the next block.

When it got too easy to beat all ten levels, I made it harder by turning off the preview block, and then starting at the higher speed so that blocks didn’t ramp up coming down faster, they just started throwing themselves down. Undisputed I tell you! Twenty years later, when my sons were pre-teens, I wowed them with my skills when I brought out that bad boy and showed them what’s what.

So when Noah Rasheta said Tetris, my ears perked up immediately and it all came into focus. He went on with the analogy and I added some to it in my mind.

Have you played Tetris? It’s an simple game, not like these crazy ones they make today. Different shapes of blocks come sliding down the screen and you turn and pile them up to complete lines across the bottom so that they disappear. The lines pile up if you don’t complete them and then you lose. The key is to wait to see the piece, turn it to fit below in the best way possible, and return to the top. The pieces don’t stop falling and will speed up as you complete levels.

It’s fun. Trust me.

You run into trouble if you panic. Maybe you planned on getting a long piece to complete a Tetris (four lines complete at the same time), but you got a square and that’s not going to help. Maybe you accidently slammed the cross piece down in the wrong place and now you have a bunch of empty spots you can’t fill. Lines pile up. Heart rate increases. You freak out and turn it off.

That’s life. We can’t plan life out ten pieces into the future. If we’re lucky we can plan for the one we have and then next, but that’s it. The best way we can deal with it is to wait to see what happens, take a deep breath, and find a way to best fit that piece into our life. The alternative is messy and not fun.

Life throws us a square when we needed a straight piece, a left L shape when we wanted an X. It’s not what we get that makes us nuts, it’s panicking and making a bigger mess that throws us.

One of my biggest issues is that I am always trying to anticipate what the next ten pieces will be in my life and then forgetting to deal with the current piece that’s coming down the screen. Instead of doing the dishes, folding the laundry, and enjoying watching cartoons with my babies today, I’m worrying what we’ll do about the bad neighborhood we live in, whether my husband will be able to keep working, or if we’ll be able to afford going on a grand vacation next year. That’s a great way to miss life completely.

The other issue I thought of while I was contemplating the Tetris analogy, was that my already completed lines at the bottom might move out of place or not want a new piece to fit in with them at all. That doesn’t happen in the game! If I were operating alone in this world, levels would be simple to complete, but I’m not. I have a husband, children, extended family, and close friends to consider. But, then again, I am the Zen master of Tetris and those are the challenges that make the game more fun.

Hearing that analogy yesterday eased my troubled heart. There’s just so much up in the air, so much that could change. It’s hard to make plans for the future. But I can live right now as things are. Sure, I can take a glance out the corner of my eye at what might be coming in that small preview space, but my focus should be on the piece I have.

Life changes in the blink of an eye. I can’t let what might have been, what could be, or what everyone else is doing, distract me from what I have right here in front of me. I am the Zen master of Tetris. Bring it!

It turns out I’ve at the Tetris thought before! Check out Managing Distraction: A Repost to see some progress.

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