Category Archives: Buddhism

GOOD BOUNDARIES, HEALTHY EMPATHY

BOUNDARIES– what does this word really mean?  I once heard a speaker at a spiritual conference refer to boundaries as a joke.  I remember hearing this person scoff at the word and laugh in front of hundreds of people while she issued her commentary on lifestyle magazines and their “silly” articles.  I remember immediately thinking- really?  I actually was quite surprised and felt sad that there were so many vulnerable people around me learning that “boundaries” in a spiritual context were something dreamed up by the mind and trying to maintain them was ignorance.

It bothered me because I was someone that had very poor boundaries growing up, and was still someone struggling to understand what they really meant in my relationships- particularly with my boyfriend (and past boyfriends).  That conference was years ago, and I am still learning- but fortunately, years later- I have really owned up to my lack of boundaries and my former lack of awareness.

When I first started hearing about this word “boundaries”, I remember feeling like it was a word from an alien language.  I eventually learned that as a very sensitive person that learned to be the balancer in my group of siblings, I had a real problem blurring the lines between my feelings and someone else’s, leading to a deep lack of understanding that other people are capable of taking care of themselves and I am not responsible for how other people handle their consequences and reactions.  I lived a life of co-dependent relationships, lacking the ability to provide any accountability for behavior that was not in line with my definition of integrity.  I constantly compromised myself by being in relationships with people that also had bad boundaries and would do things that didn’t feel “right” to me.

It is easy to take the nihilistic point of view here and interpret the understanding of emptiness in a way that can be extremely dysfunctional.  Things do exist in the way that we see them from our point of view- but that is our reality and it does not mean that our point of view is any less skewed than another person’s because if we are living in an ego-driven reality then we are all delusional.  But it is also important for extremely empathic, compassionate people to understand that we are not responsible for another person’s choices and all we can do is stand in our own integrity and simply love by loving the Buddha nature of that person.

When we hold someone in that space, we are doing more than we realize, and we don’t always have to do anything else.  When we correct our mind, we help others correct their mind as well.  If we choose to not engage in another person’s drama and allow them to experience their karma through their gift of free will, yet love them by healing our inner-divide, we are doing them a greater service than trying to be involved in a relationship with them that is based on you being accountable for their state of mind.  For me this was revolutionary, and for the first time in my life I had real clarity when I was able to say in my heart that this person before me was capable of being responsible for their reactions, not me.

One morning in my journey to work I heard a clip on the radio from the interview with Rihanna and Oprah.  In the interview Rihanna was talking about how all she really cared about was that her abuser was happy in his life, and that was what mattered the most to her.  As I listened I realized how co-dependent this person still was, and it made me feel deep compassion for her.  I also felt sad that this was not brought up by Oprah in the interview because it seemed so clear to me.  She was still living out the same pattern with this person- and she was still feeling accountable for how this person felt- whether it was happiness or sadness.  This is the reason many people stay with abusers- another blurry line.

That speaker I heard years ago can mock me too if she would like to, or compare me to a silly lifestyle magazine.  But I feel it is extremely important in my work as a life coach and teacher to remember that there is a gradual process in understanding how our ego-driven mind can block us in understanding what the Buddha nature is within ourselves and how we share it with one another as spiritual beings innately connected with one another.  Until we can heal that which is broken within us emotionally, we are blind to our oneness.

It begins with recognizing the Buddha nature within our hearts and having compassion for our own suffering, then others.  And compassion is not about giving your power and energy away in an effort to ease someone’s suffering.  It is about seeing someone’s suffering and understanding that it is your suffering as well.  It involves seeing that we in our ignorant mind may not understand fully the dynamics of a karmic situation, but we can end dysfunction through the free will and choice that we have, and choose to live our life in a healthy way free of dysfunctional self perception.  This leads to forgiveness and no attachment, and without attachment we are able to see our true nature, our Buddha nature.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM POP CULTURE

Ok- as part of my work as a writer, I find myself always dishing about movies and how they provoked my mind and heart to open just a little wider.  I love movies, what can I say?  And no matter what I’m dealing with while I navigate my mental and soul-driven landscape, watching a movie is like opening a book up to a random page that will teach me something relevant to what I am learning in that present moment.  Since perception is largely guided by the ego-driven mind, perceptions and points of view are constantly changing and impermanent.  I can watch a movie now, and years later watch it again with a whole different interpretation and feeling around it.

Every experience that we have in life is a tool for personal growth if you choose to look at it that way- even pop culture!  I know you’re asking, really?  And I’m saying, “ABSOLUTELY!” I might be the only person in the world that watched Bridget Jones Diary after every break-up (I know that is ridiculous and completely untrue) and cried when she cried after her run-in with the American stick figure in her man’s bathroom, but I guess I’m choosing to “out” myself here.

Nonetheless, I was watching Babel for the first time because I secretly knew for years that the film would completely put me into a spiraling depression, but there I was on a Saturday night ready to rock and roll.  As I watched the film, I felt my anxiety rising like the speed of a rocket bound for a crash and burn.  Every situation continued to get worse, and I found myself thinking- how could it get any worse, and yet- it did, again and again and again!

The most difficult part of that film for me was watching people suffer and make choices that you knew would cause even more suffering.  In being a deeply empathic person, films like Babel should come with a warning sticker for me.  Like those fluorescent green “Mr. Yuck” stickers my Mom used to put on everything in the kitchen sink.  Racism, emotional isolation- all mental torture.  So of course, I had to do some reflection while I watched.  In Buddhism, emptiness teaches at its core that there is no separate self.  The ego-driven mind will do everything it can to prove to you that there is and it is easy to buy into it because it is a mental habit that we have relied on for thousands of years.  Babel was painful for me because it demonstrated the constant battle we carry around with us between the ego-driven mind and our higher mind- the part that is simply, patiently waiting for us to pay attention and “get it.”

I found myself practically yelling at the screen, which is probably the way I would be yelling at myself if I could watch my life like a film.  Every choice we make affects another, whether we are conscious of it or not, because we are not separate beings.  We are interconnected in our deepest essence- whether you want to call it a soul, or our nature.  The “out” we have in all of our suffering in watching others suffer is the path of compassion and the choice to not live in ignorance.  The more awareness we choose to gain and develop, the less we live in ignorance, the more compassion we can cultivate, and the more we help the world.  It all starts with a redevelopment of our self perception, and choosing to remember our true nature- which is empty of meaning, empty of a separate self.  Thank god that movie is over!

Knocking on Death’s Door

Knocking on Death’s Door
By: Jessica Burnham

Think not disdainfully on death, but look on it with favor, for even death is one of the things that nature wills.
Marcus Aurelius Antonius, Meditations

The notion of death can be perceived in many ways. Kali the Hindu goddess is deemed the bearer of death and destruction. Many fear the idea of death and destruction that Kali embodies, without thinking about how important it is to our life. Without death and destruction our lives would not be a mirror for our evolution at all. We would remain without growth, enlightenment- and nothing would ever end. We would be living Bill Murray’s life as the eternal weather man in the film Groundhog Day, only it probably wouldn’t be quite that funny.

The great thing about Murray’s character in that film, is that he finally gets sick of trying to die and end everything without ever growing and seeing beyond his self centeredness- and realizes that he has this great opportunity to become something worth living for and for others. Would it not be amazing if we could look at our present life as the eternal Groundhog Day? That this life will continue on after our death, only in another form, and we would still experience the same old crap that we currently experience unless we decide to take hold of this amazing gift and use it for the highest good of all sentient beings?

Grace has given many of us experiences that show us how fleeting our current life is, and the wisdom to take heed. We can choose to use this life to its maximum capacity for our growth as evolving beings, and not only change the world in which we live in- but change the world others live in as well.

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. Mahatma Gandhi
This quote by Mahatma Gandhi says it all. “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” He certainly did, didn’t he? The thing is, we will live forever and if not in this life, or maybe in the next, we will all experience what we are meant to experience- the understanding that every moment is a moment of dying or ending. Only it is not the way our ego perceives dying. It is the end of something completed, only to give rise to the next step, phase, experience; yielding to us the present moment- a moment without attachment to anything in the past or future.

In my coaching work, we are taught to ask this question- what are you willing to risk or give up in order to accomplish your goal. I often think of this as- what are we willing to end? What pattern or addiction that we are attached to keeps us chained to our monkey mind’s demands- and does not provide opportunity for growth and evolution?

In Buddhism, they teach a lot about attachment. I was sitting on a plane returning home after visiting family for the holidays. I was reading a book about anger by Thubten Chodron, a Buddhist nun, and I looked over at my significant other wanting affection. I gave him affection- hoping for some in return and it was not granted. I felt bad inside, but didn’t say anything. Then I looked at my book and began reading again. I immediately came to a paragraph about attachment to relationships, and how they feed an expectation for affection. I laughed inside at how amazing the universe delivers these little tidbits when we need them most.

I chose to look inside myself and say- it is time for me to give up this attachment to this personal relationship, and all others. I can love without attaching my expectations and desires to this person. I made the choice for this addiction to end. And hopefully it will not carry over into the next life, if I can continue with my dedication to let go of my mind’s attachment. It is our attachment that makes death appear so daunting. If we were not attached to anything around us, then the idea of death would seem very simple- wouldn’t it? The fear of destruction would end- because change would be okay.

Think about it- this psychology- the fear of ending the fear of something ending. I know that sounds confusing at first- but it is a reality. How many of us really are afraid of ending the attachment to what fear does for us? What does your fear do for you? How does it give you the opportunity to hold onto things that you’ve outgrown? It is like having a co-dependant relationship with your inner demon. This co-dependant relationship is what creates our perceptual hell. Many people are afraid of death, because they don’t know what will happen after they die. But the truth is, we never know what will happen from moment to moment. All we can do is continue our evolution by letting go of our attachment to the fear of the unknown, what some people call death or destruction.