Bodhisattvas and Boundaries

Someone around me is drinking himself to death. It’s not anyone in my immediate family or a friend – but that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking to watch. It’s made me keenly aware of the sense of powerless that comes when addiction grabs hold of a person and won’t let go. It’s also made me keenly aware of the boundaries that exist between people. There is also an acknowledgment of letting go.

I remember back to a few years ago – I submitted a question to a teacher who was a guest on the Buddhist Geeks podcast related to the concept of “bodhisattva burnout” and what to do if you felt exhausted from running around trying to save the world. She replied something to the effect of ‘if you’re a true bodhisattva, you won’t burn out.”

Uh.

That didn’t really help. I felt like I did when I first discovered Wonder Woman as a child. I dressed up as her one Halloween and then decided that I would adopt a superheroine ethos and truly embody her full time. I’d run around our neighborhood asking people if they needed help with anything. Usually I’d be helping people hang laundry up, or sometimes they’d need help with eating the extra cookies they made. That part wasn’t so bad.

Discovering Buddhism led me to some pretty great new ways of living in the world and relating to others – all while exploring myself. The drawback though was that I found Buddhism at a time where let’s say my self-esteem and self-concept wasn’t fully realized. I think for a good chunk of my ‘Buddhist career’ we can say this has been the case. Without a solid grip and solid instructions on what it means to be a bodhisattva, it’s easy to see how I could feel much like that kid in the costume, running from house to house, breathlessly trying to save the world.

Now I have a sense of my own self-preservation. I am consciously checking in to see when I start to feel that burnout and know to engage in self-care and chillaxation.

I’m also aware of the boundaries that exist for another ‘self.’ I’ve become more attuned to how individuals are – the forces that come about in their lives to help them become who they are and make the decisions they make. The self-work I’ve done has helped me gain a deeper perspective into this kind of stuff. It’s mind-blowing and life changing really.

I now see that not everyone is going to take the help a bodhisattva offers. I no longer take this personally or think that I’ve failed and need to grind myself to a paste to force what I want to happen. The ideal ending for the story sometimes doesn’t get written.

I practice letting go of the outcome I have in mind and working with the outcome that is. I generate compassion for myself in knowing that I tried my best to save the world – even if those actions seem so small and meaningless.

I no longer feel like I’m burning out because there’s always an opportunity to practice loving-kindness and compassion. There’s always a living being that is in need of aid. True change can only come through the relationship that that other being has in taking the help offered. I’m in no way in any sense of the word someone who understands karma, but I see that some outcomes are beyond what I can influence. There is both a sense of freedom in seeing this as well as a complete sense of powerlessness. I’m learning to dwell in both areas and stay with the discomfort.

Readage: The Zen of You & Me – A Guide for Getting Along with Just About Anyone

Diane Musho Hamilton always delivers the goods when it comes to applying the Dharma to the real world. Her first book Everything is Workable: A Zen Approach to Conflict Resolution broke the stereotype of the perpetual peaceful Buddhist and helped demonstrate that we all are subject to getting a little hot under the collar. Her latest book, The Zen of You & Me – A Guide for Getting Along with Just About Anyone is similar in focus in that it relays “how we are the same and how we are different.” We engage in judgments that cloud our thinking. This makes us feel less than – like we’re beyond hope for enlightenment. How can we consider ourselves spiritual beings when we’re consumed with petty complaints about our co-worker being nosy, or our frustration with the neighbor’s loud parties?

This book asks us to begin to examine differences. So often we want to be polite and not rock the boat when we’re upset. We also may not want to look at why we feel threatened by those we perceive as ‘others.’ Getting comfortable with this discomfort is what Diane calls for in order to help us better understand both ourselves, and the world around us. We like to think that our world is stable, that our partners are solid and that nothing changes. As Buddhists we know our friend impermanence is always at play.

Using many examples from her life as well as stories from her readers, Diane provides relatable material that shows we’re not so weird after all. She is deeply philosophical and her writing has a lyrical and evocative quality about it. She includes several practices for readers to try in order to work towards shortening the distance between self and other.

Conflict can be healthy – but only if we have the courage to face it directly and not flee from the struggle we find ourselves in. The Zen of You & Me uncovers how our brains and bodies react to conflict, judgment, and differences. It provides real world advice in a step-by-step format that helps us work with conflict and learn to negotiate with others. She posits that some conflicts can help us learn and grow. They may force us into making necessary changes in our lives.

We can become confident in knowing that we can work out any situations because we’re flexible and have some basic wisdom we can draw upon. We can also let go and drop clinging to our perspective and allow others to express themselves. We may not agree with them, but we hear them and we’re curious to learn more. We’re at one with the person we’re listening to. People want to be heard. We want to be heard. We all have unique perspectives and backgrounds. We come from different Vajra families.

Diane offers direct insight into what is involved in becoming an effective communicator. How well we listen and how skilled we are able to speak both go hand in hand with how well we are able to connect with others and express ourselves. She deep-dives into exploring feelings and how important it is to be aware of all of our feels – but not be trapped by them. They are temporary states – impermanent.

Our old friend ego is at work when we’re engaged in conflict. We are hardwired to habitually react based on what we’ve learned aka we’re mindless. Learning to be mindful and aware is discussed at some length within this book as a means to transform how we relate to others. The ability to listen deeply is also examined and the author describes techniques to help deepen one’s ability to stay tuned in.

Diane mentions the concept of natural compassion – something that can be missing when we are engaged in heated debate. She encourages us to reconnect with our compassion when we get consumed by conflict. Check in with your inner bodhisattva.

This book is less self-help and more self-awareness. It provides a reality check for how we think things are – and demonstrates that things are much deeper than they seem on the surface. We can exist between two extremes and make ourselves comfortable living in the grey. And we can engage in conflict – mindfully without negating the “you” and sticking too firmly with the “me.”

This is a bit of a no-brainer to say but given the current global situation and political climate, this book is a must read. Seriously. What are you waiting for?

The Dharma of Ryan Adams

I have been fangirling over the new Ryan Adams album for about a month now and I’m driving everyone crazy.

I just finished watching an interview with him because I’m avoiding homework and wanted to highlight this little segment where he drops some Buddhist thinking. I don’t really have any intel on his Dharmic tendencies beyond a few mentions here and there, but here’s another celeb that I don’t mind including in the fold. 

This is how I feel sometimes.