Friday, January 24, 2014

Breaking Good


When you're making a change in attitude or behavior, you can -- as Tina Turner says -- do it nice and easy, or nice and rough. That's true whether you're singing "Proud Mary" or vowing to spend an hour without electronics for Responsible eConsumption month.

Part of the mindfulness practice behind Responsible eConsumption month is to power off your electronics for an hour a day. I chose to make that the first hour of my day, when I usually listen to music and check email. I discovered that the quiet let me tune in to myself. Rather than bypassing a bad mood with 30 minutes of funk, I had to face it. Instead of pushing it down or covering it up, I looked at it and let it go instead of letting it fester.

That should be incentive to keep going, right? Results should reinforce behavioral changes.
But this week, I broke my vow. And the practice here is being OK with that.

Being OK with not living up to expectations (or my perception of what's expected of me) has been a main focus of my practice since I started meditating and studying Buddhism seven years ago. It's been a lifelong struggle. In my family, meeting expectations was how you earned love, so it was crucial to do it right. And that's hard to do all the time.
Notice that I said "I broke my vow." That's harsher than "I didn't follow through on my intention," which is more accurate.

And all of that is true only on the outer level. If you look only at what meets the eye, I failed because I put on Prince and danced around the kitchen while making breakfast on Wednesday. (As if dancing around the kitchen to Prince could ever be a fail.)

On the inner level, the intention is to know what's going on in my mind rather than mindlessly follow habit. And on that level, I succeeded. The music, and the dancing, was a reflection of my inner state of boppy happiness, not an attempt to cover up or bypass. It was mindful dancing, not mindless movement.

And that's really why I practice -- so I can be in touch with the boundless, encompassing, accepting, non-judgmental joy that is our inherent state instead of holding myself to impossible standards, to work with my inner intention rather than outer appearances.

For the benefit of all beings.

Dancing breakfast by Robin Ward illustration.
Lion breakfast by Daily Mail / Rex Featur / Alex Coppel

Monday, January 13, 2014

Buddhism and jazz

Jazz musician Herbie Hancock has been named the 2014 Norton Professor of Poetry by Harvard. He'll be delivering six lectures, not on poetry per se but telling stories from his personal history, including the interplay between creativity and Buddhism.

He talked about his introduction to Buddhism (he practices Nichiren chanting, as does Tina Turner) through his bass player in a 2007 interview.

The cool thing is that jazz is really a wonderful example of the great characteristics of Buddhism and great characteristics of the human spirit. Because in jazz we share, we listen to each other, we respect each other, we are creating in the moment. At our best we’re non-judgmental. If we let judgment get in the way of improvising, it always screws us up. So we take whatever happens and try to make it work. We try to make it fit. We try to enhance it.