Posts Tagged 'buddhism'

The Opposite of Faith

I hate to be bored, but there are some times when there is so much happening which provokes complex reactions that even the great garble of the English language is insufficient to separate out and label each thought and feeling, leaving me with a rather unsophisticated rage.

I am often reminded these days of the very wise philosophy of non-attachment – to wit, we can only control ourselves, therefore we can and should act in accordance with our own morals and principles, and let go entirely of the notion that the world will respond with the result for which we aim, or that individuals will have the same motivation, moral code, or priorities as ourselves.

It is, essentially, a constant acknowledgment that we are not the boss, that life is chaotic, and that negative reactions arise from our own thwarted desires and expectations.

It is a very democratic principle. It is often difficult, however, to accept and respect the decisions, actions, and comments of others when they are diametrically opposed to one’s own sense of justice, whether personal or political.


Stephen Harper has won a conservative majority in Canada. This enrages me because I do not understand how my fellow Canadians can not only accept the many questionable decisions made by his minority government, but hand him a sufficient parliamentary majority to pass more and more restrictive legislation that is actively bad for the majority of Canadian citizens.

Why does this offend me so? Because I am attached to my expectations of Canada. I go through life assuming that the Canadian electorate is somehow immune to the capitalist pseudo-logic peddled by corporate-behemoth-funded conservative parties everywhere. I assume that 30 million people have the same definition of justice that I do. My expectation is not met, and I am hurt and frustrated.

I could, and do, take solace in the fact that part of the reason for the majority is a major leap in the number of votes going to the NDP (aka socialists), which essentially split the non-conservative vote. Although they did not win, I can remind myself that the issues central to their party platform will have more regular airing, and being less of a ‘centrist’ party, they have more reason to actively oppose most of the conservative legislation. This means, essentially, there will be a more pronounced debate. Of course, this solace-taking, too, is attachment. I am again expecting a large group of people to think and act as I would.

Also fueling my un-Zen political rage is the rampant politicking over eliminating abortion rights in the US, the ongoing mockery of logic, sense, and good taste that is the tea party, and the vast, nauseating cuts to social services in the UK (made, of course, by a group of independently wealthy white males who want to remake England in their image. Like it isn’t sufficiently patriarchal, classist, and racist already).

That is one downside of living many places: I am affected by the local politics all over the place.

On top of this, there are my confused feelings about the killing of Osama bin Laden. I am a pacifist. I don’t believe that violence or war does humanity any good (which isn’t to say that there aren’t a happy few who do very well out of it – there quite clearly are, nor that some goals are not sometimes met by violent action – this is also sometimes true, just not often enough to justify the frequency with which violence is resorted to).

That said, even thinking about it now, I am hugely relieved. I get a genuine lump-in-the-throat feeling when I think about how relieved other people feel. It is like a muscle I didn’t realize was knotted suddenly relaxed. Several million people feel a little safer, and I cannot help but feel touched by that. bin Laden was a powerful symbol, which is not to deny that he was also a person, albeit a massively fucking evil one, and to have that symbol of such unadulterated hostility towards not just the ‘Western world’, or the capitalist system (that, ahem, his father did so well by), but also all of the Muslims around the world who didn’t subscribe to the hyper-orthodox -hide-the-women and kill-the-infidels school of Islam.

What do I expect now, after this symbolic event? I don’t know. I hope that things will get better.

Non-attachment doesn’t mean not caring, but it does mean not making assumptions. I can hope, without trusting something that I cannot know. It is the opposite of faith. I don’t believe that there is a master plan, I do not place childlike trust in a god/dess or the universe. I can only hope that all will be well.

“May all that have life be delivered from suffering”
Gautama Buddha
(c.566 BC – c.480 BC)
image and quote from


Working Hard or Hardly Working?

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=water+flow&iid=239285″ src=”″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]
Mihály Csikszentmihályi has a theory about something called Flow, a state of, essentially, absorption in a particular task, where the mind is focused and intent. In this state, we don’t really feel time. As when doing something we enjoy, our mind is so focused on the present that everything else falls away. With jobs and tasks we don’t enjoy, or can’t ‘flow’ with, we are constantly counting the moments until we can stop doing whatever we’re doing. We aren’t performing the task for its intrinsic value, but to get it over with.

Theoretically, we can flow with almost anything. Basically, it’s practicing mindfulness, as in Buddhism, being in the present moment without feeling attached to what has passed or what will come – essentially freeing oneself from worry, anxiety, or guilt.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=buddha&iid=215992″ src=”″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /] Ideally, we should be able to ‘flow’ in whatever job we have, however high-stress or mind-numbingly dull (Csikszentmihályi’s work suggests that an element of challenge is important, as part of flow is the effort to master the task at hand – there needs to be an ongoing, ever-increasing difficulty to the work for it to sufficiently entertain the mind and attention. Zen Buddhism, on the other hand, is more about the ‘flow’ of mere existence, whatever the moment involves).

This takes practice, and a suspension of judgment – in high-stress jobs, we anticipate deadlines or negative repercussions of mistakes. With dull jobs, we judge ourselves for the lack of effort or mental energy required, or simply for the menial nature of the work – deeming it less worthy of our time that other things and therefore feel ourselves to be guilty of wasting our time and talents, judging our work to be inferior, however well executed.

The jobs that make us happy, then, are those in which we perform activities where we naturally flow. At present, I absolutely love my job. I do primarily research, at the moment, hunting down answers and organizing information. Essentially, solving puzzles. This is ideal for me, and, helpfully, is research on something I find intrinsically valuable; both stress and negative self-judgment are then largely eliminated (though not entirely – there is a deadline, but the mild pressure I find helpful motivation).

I know that this particular phase of my job is unlikely to continue for more that a couple of months, but I am really relishing it. What it’s given me is the knowledge that I can love this kind of work (or any kind work – I was starting to despair). There are other things I find absorbing (writing, for example), but as yet I’ve not found a way to make a living from them.

I suppose jobs are, in some ways, like relationships – even if they suck, you learn more about yourself, your taste, your needs, as time goes by.

The point I wanted to make, really, in what a relief it is to love your work, to feel satisfied and fulfilled by it – it is, after all, what we spend most of our time doing (with the possible exception of sleep, depending on your hours). Every job has the odd unpleasantness, but to be so content day-to-day is – well – I can only think of Maslowe’s hierarchy of needs – once food, shelter, health and a basic standard of living are established, one wants suitable mental stimulation and activity to feel self-actualized – that one is living in harmony with one’s aptitudes, feelings, and judgments.

This may not last. Nothing does. Having experienced a real love of my occupation, I can make a concerted effort, from an informed opinion, to keep what I love in my job description. I have also, happily, learned that, as I quite enjoy research, I would probably love grad school.


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