I just finished thirty minutes of zazen, and what better way to treat myself than to drink a nice “Lucky Buddha” beer (according to the bottle, it’s an “enlightened beer”)? Of course, drinking beer means that I’ve violated the fifth of the “Ten Grave Precepts“….but, oh well.
Next Thursday will be the last day of my “Introduction to Zen Buddhism” class. I’m so glad that I’ve taken this class, as it gives me a lot of comfort to know that I’m attempting to have a more spiritual life. I love the teacher. She’s a young, probably thirty-something, American woman who has such a kind and gentle energy. It’s pretty clear that she was like this before she ever got into Buddhism, so I often find myself thinking that somebody like her doesn’t really need Buddhism to teach her to be a better person. I’m glad that the class is being taught by a young American laywoman instead of a Japanese monk. I’m not racist, but I think it would have been hard for a newbie like me to relate to somebody who is so culturally and spiritually different. Before I took the class, zen seemed so esoteric and mysterious, and this woman has made it appear so warm and inviting. I love her honesty and humility, and her willingness to share her weaknesses with her students.
This wasn’t my first experience with meditation. When I was twenty-one, I went on a ten-day silent Vipassana retreat when I was living in France. I got a lot out of this experience but the meditation teachers seemed so aloof and somewhat hierarchical. To continue our meditation practice at home, they also said that it was very important to meditate for an hour every morning, and an hour every night. In an ideal world, yes, this would be the best thing to do, but how many people can really afford to mediate for two whole hours each day?! I certainly couldn’t keep this up for long, and when I failed, their rigid “two-hours per day” rule made me give up completely in despair. It would have been far more encouraging if they’d just told us to mediate each day for as long as we could manage, even if only five minutes. For someone like me, who is already so hard on herself and rigid, I needed a more gentle approach.
Besides the teacher, I also like the people in my meditation class. I haven’t gotten to know any of them really well, but a quick, intuitive scan of the room always reveals that everybody meditating with me is thoughtful, smart and questioning. I feel safe around these people.
I’m now so interested in Buddhism that I’m thinking about starting the “Secular Buddhist Studies Program” with the Interdependence Project up in New York City. I want to learn as much about Buddhism as I can now, and the good schoolgirl in me very much likes the idea of being involved in a Buddhist “program”. I’m sure it’s very un-Buddhist of me to like the idea of getting some kind of certificate for having completed the program, but, well, that’s just the way I am, I’m afraid.
Unfortunately, I can’t say that I am quite so enthusiastic about the people who attend my Saturday SLAA meeting. I wouldn’t say that I feel “unsafe” or that I actively dislike anybody, but, well, I just don’t particularly like sitting in a room filled with fellow addicts. Maybe this is just because I don’t like seeing my own worst qualities reflected in other people.
I probably shouldn’t feel this way because, according to Josh Korda, there isn’t much of a difference between people who end up at a twelve-step meeting and people who start going to a Buddhist centre:
With the exception of a few students who are just interested in it philosophically, the vast majority of people who come to Buddhist centers, it’s similar to why people wash up on the shores of AA: It is because they have really hit bottom. The difference is, people in AA have hit bottom with drinking or drugs, and with Buddhism it’s because they’ve hit bottom with excessive thinking of some sort, or fear, or some form of behavior. The problem may include drinking or drugs, but often they just feel their mind is a really uncomfortable place to be. They suffer from what the Buddha calls papanca—thinking too much, proliferation of thought, worry, fear, anxiety. So the arc of recovery is, “How do I get to a place where I can be in my own mind, my own body—which carries so much stress—comfortably?” (http://www.thefix.com/content/josh-korda-buddhism-alcoholics-anonymous00330?page=all)
The main difference between twelve-steppers and people who attend Buddhist centres is that addicts are probably a lot more self-absorbed and self-obsessed. I would also say that this applies to me since nearly every single one of my waking thoughts is concerned with my own unhappiness and what I can do to make myself feel better. Nonetheless, I do like to think that I think about other people at least some of the time.
I hung out with my sponsor and two other women recently, and that experience clearly revealed some of the issues I have with addicts. These women all knew each other, and they spent most of the time talking amongst themselves and ignoring me. Of course, they didn’t mean to ignore me, or hurt my feelings, but, well, they did. It was that addict self-absorption again. I wasn’t expecting to be the centre of attention or anything; it would just have been nice to have been included in their conversations. I know that I would have made sure to include somebody who was an “outsider” in a group.
I do feel bad complaining about these women, however, as they are all perfectly nice, and my sponsor has helped me a lot, and supported me whenever I needed her to. I guess it would just nice to be around people who were a little bit more “healthy”, and I feel that the people at the Zen centre are that for me.
On the other hand, my issues with the women from SLAA could very well be denial on my part – my desire to tell myself “Oh, I’m not like them. I’m not a real addict”. My sponsor is always trying to get me more involved in SLAA activities (e.g. going out for lunch after the meeting; attending the group consciousness meetings; going to SLAA conferences and fellowships) and I’m somewhat reluctant. I do admit that I’m an addict, but I don’t want all my weekly social interactions and engagements to revolve around SLAA. Addiction is just a part of me; it doesn’t define me.
It would be interesting to hear the perspective of other people who have attended twelve-step meetings. Do my complaints above just sound like somebody who is still a bit a in denial about her addiction, or do I have a point?
All I know is that, right now, I’m getting more out of going to the Zen centre and meditation than I am from going to SLAA meetings. But perhaps that will change when I start working the steps?