Saturday 11th February 2017

by chel

you should dwell with the door to your senses well-guarded

“… you should
dwell
with the doors to
your senses
well-guarded.”
– Buddha

That’s what I have been doing the last few months- dwelling with the doors to my senses well-guarded. That’s the reason I haven’t updated- I’ve just been keeping quiet and busy with art and with school (more on that later) and with life on a sort of immediate level.

After the election, I went into a bit of a frenzy. For a week after the election, I believed that if I really tried hard enough, I could lend my voice to the literally millions and someone might actually *listen*.  Then I sort of shut down. Not in a terrible way, just in a “no one is going to jump in and fix this” kind of way.

It wasn’t actually the election that shifted everything for me, though- it was something I saw a few days later, on Facebook. It was animal-abuse related (a post hoping to raise awareness and find and prosecute someone) and something that will haunt me forever. I cried for days over it. That was the thing that changed everything for me.

After I saw the story on my feed, I immediately logged off Facebook and blocked Facebook from my computer, deleted it from my phone. I also shut down a bunch of my email accounts and blocked all other social media sites. I took a huge step back from my computer (I was never much of a phone person to begin with, so the phone wasn’t a challenge…) I just felt like I had to take control, once and for all, to what I was ingesting, news and media-wise.  I spent a lot of 2016 in a constant panic about the election and I was just DONE. I’m all for being informed, but the glut of shit that is floating around on social media sites and news sites is toxic and repetitive. It’s not necessary.

And I realized that I didn’t have to participate, and the thought of shutting off some of that flow of information felt like a relief. I logged off those sites and haven’t logged back on since that day, except to deactivate my Facebook account.

You know that meme that goes around after any sort of crisis, the Mr. Rogers quote about “look for the helpers”?

In November, I realized there weren’t enough helpers. Not for the election, not for all the people affected by it (on both sides). Not for abused and neglected animals, or citizens in countries where elections like this happen constantly, etc. Not for the environment or the people feeling lost and alone. Etc.

I immediately realized that I had to stop screwing around, and do what I could to be a helper.

I’m not talking about becoming superwoman, or an activist, or anything. I did a few days of activism after the election and it just left me depleted. Getting angry just made me angrier. I was tired of spinning out. Everyone was spinning out, and in more articulate ways than I was, so my voice was not adding anything to the mix.

I was thinking a lot about personal ethics and philosophy, especially with the state of the world and US politics. And it kept leading me back to Buddhism. And not in a “hey, I should check that out a little more…” kind of way, but a “hey, it’s time to take this seriously” kind of way.

About ten years ago I got interested in neuroscience and psychology, and it kept leading me to Buddhism. Over and over again. The biggest coincidences was when I would ponder something in my mind and form an idea or ethical stand on something, and I’d google it and it would turn out to be part of the Buddhist philosophy. It just kept happening. I wasn’t looking for Buddhism, but it kept finding *me*.

I did look into Buddhism on a more serious level a few times, but some of the more rigorous parts of the religion and philosophy scared me. Suffering and impermanence are BIG “reality checks” of Buddhism. There is suffering. Everything changes, all the time. Every time I read about those specific “truths” of Buddhism, I backed away. I was looking for a religion that would be the magical antidote to suffering and impermanence, a faith that would comfort me and then lock that bliss in. Peace on earth. Only good things. I was not interested in a religion/philosophy that has “there is suffering” as its first noble truth.

It was when Cecil the Lion got killed a few years ago (by a man who has a house here on Marco Island, no less…) that I found myself really face to face with Buddhism. That event really upset me, on a very deep level. The ONLY thing that was able to comfort me after that situation was one thought: “There is suffering.” For some reason, the idea of an entire faith acknowledging the terrible fact that life on Earth could often hurt was tremendously comforting to me. It let me know that there was nothing I could have done to personally prevent Cecil’s death, and nothing I could do to make it better for him. It was just tragic. And there were other people who were feeling just as broken over it, and as helpless.

If you know me at all, you know I’m a big softie when it comes to animals. Probably the most profound decision I ever made was when I chose to become a vegetarian in my early teens. I wasn’t told to do it, or inspired by someone to do it, and it certainly wasn’t a trend. The suffering of animals was just something that I became aware of on my own, and it was like something inside my shifted and I knew I could NEVER eat meat again. And I haven’t. In thirty years, I haven’t been tempted to eat a single piece of meat or chicken or fish or anything that ever roamed the earth. It was the one little thing I could do to help prevent the suffering of animals. It was just something that clicked inside me and I was at peace with that decision and haven’t questioned it since.

Since then, my devotion to animals has only grown. And it’s a hard thing to feel so incredibly strongly about, especially when 90% of the world doesn’t really give a crap. I just feel very strongly that if we are going to consume animals or use them for their skin or fur, the least we can do is provide them with a decent life while they are alive and give them a painless passing. People go to a pro-life rally and then directly to a pig roast in a friend’s yard, they hunt animals for fun, they kill animals for ritual sacrifice, they fight dogs for sport, they do so much worse. And factory farming… *sigh* Every single day. I’m not accepting of this, but it’s just a part of life. It’s not okay in any way, shape or form, but it all exists. There is suffering. It’s just a part of life on earth.

But, I believe it’s wrong. I’ll go so far as to say that I know it’s wrong. Keep in mind that I write this, and my own child is NOT a vegetarian. We keep a vegetarian house, but she does eat meat and chicken when she’s at her grandparents’ house or at school or with friends. That’s her decision to make.  I know it’s a personal thing. It’s just something I personally don’t have wiggle room for in my own life. It’s a certainty for me, one that came to at a very young age, and one that has not wavered. It’s one of the only things I know for certain in this life.

For a while in the 90’s and the early 2000’s, humane issues were part of the vocabulary of the government, even in a very fringe way. It was an issue connected to the environment, so it got a little ground. But then a bunch of people decided trying to build a time machine to the 1950’s out of the White House was more important than anything else (including the planet) and once again the issue got lost in the mix. Which I understand- like I said, it’s not on everyone’s list of concerns.

But it happens to be the first precept (rule) of Buddhism. No harming living things. Period, end of story. Just because you are human doesn’t mean you are entitled to make any living being suffer for your own sense of gratification. (Which is what I realized and felt so strongly about when I was 13. duh.)

And then this year, with the health problems I had- I kept remembering Buddha’s teaching of the impermanence of things – including negative emotions and tough situations. Meaning, THINGS GET BETTER.

The election itself was a big lesson in how important it is NOT to get attached to certain outcomes. I was devastated by the results because I was very very very attached to a specific outcome. The idea of the election not happening the way I wanted it to was absolutely unthinkable. And yet…

And the reason the election happened the way it did was also because of attachment- millions of people are attached and grasping hard to a way of life that doesn’t exist anymore, and a man who promised that he might be able to bring it back for them (which is false speech, which is another “you shouldn’t do that…” thing in Buddhism…) And then there’s ignorance, which is a key issue in Buddhism. Factors of identity, power, etc.

ANYWAY.

As far as diving into Buddhism once and for all, the truth is that I was scared to finally let go of the ragged edges of the Christian faith I had tried so hard to make work for so long. But there wasn’t anything left for me there. It’s so ironic that I spent so many years of my life trying not to make God mad (I’m even scared to write and publish this), and in the end it was *me* who got really mad at God. The specific animal abuse thing I mentioned above was just too much for me. And no one was answering for it.

I know for some people things like the election and other tragedies are sort of personal opportunities to become even *more* faithful in God- I’m very familiar with Job and other similar stories in the Bible, and that just doesn’t resonate with me. It never has. I know lots of amazing Christians, it’s just that I couldn’t ever find my fit in it.

At first, I wanted to do study Buddhism academically, because that’s how I tend to approach things. I figured if I was going to seriously explore converting, and really embracing a faith and philosophy, I needed to be fully informed about it. Regardless of whether I might convert or not, it was something I was very interested in, and had been for years. So the idea of doing some sort of academic study of it appealed to me. (Plus, I’ve been flirting with the idea of going back to school since I finished grad school in 1999.)

I mentioned it to Tom one night and a few hours later he came to bed clutching a bunch of papers- he researched a bunch of online graduate programs in Buddhism for me and printed out a bunch of stuff. One of his co-workers actually went back to school for Buddhism, so he already knew a bit about it.

Two days later I registered for a graduate level Foundations of Buddhism course at Rangjung Yeshe Institute for Buddhist Studies, which is at the University of Nepal. It’s a six month long intensive course on Buddhism- the history, the geography, the ethics, the philosophy, the scriptures- everything. It’s not for credit, because their graduate degree requires residency in Nepal, and that’s not happening for me. But it was everything I wanted, and I knew it would be a good start.

It’s TONS of work. HOURS. TONS of reading and translating and lectures and research and figuring out what the heck the 37 Factors of Enlightment are (and what each of them mean and where they figure in to everything) and trying to puzzle out how there isn’t a self (!!! but this actually makes sense, I’ll maybe talk about that later) to watching three hour long sermons on conditions and causes to try and educate myself on all the things I wasn’t understanding from the class texts and lectures.

The flipside is that I love it. All of it. It’s like a giant puzzle and I love putting it together. Even the stuff I don’t agree with, I can still see how it could work.

There are some super sharp edges to Buddhism. Some “ummmm… wtf?!” moments. But even those don’t make me feel like I’m trying to convince myself of something I don’t deep down believe. I think that’s because Buddhism is fairly fluid- although there are some rigid fundamentalists, in general, the faith has adapted itself to advances in science and the world in general so that it still makes beautiful sense. There’s flexibility to it.

The bottom line: the Buddhist path is all about easing suffering. And learning how to do things via the “Middle Way”, which is not too much and not too little.

You do it not only for the world, but yourself, as well. It’s pretty amazing to have had someone come along and say “all living things deserve to be free from suffering. And that includes *you*” and then create a whole movement around that. I think that’s pretty great, especially for right now. I don’t know what will happen at the end of this academic course- whether I’ll continue on academically or switch my focus to spiritual studies. Maybe I’ll discover something along the path (Zen? Jainism?) that resonates more and follow that. It’s up in the air, but at least I’m planning on spending the next little bit of my life doing something that really feeds my soul as opposed to letting these next few years be solely defined by the state of our government. I don’t want to look back at these years and think of them as dark ages. If I can’t do anything else, at least I can take back my focus, my emotions, my attention, and my time.

So there’s where I’m at. I’m about six weeks into my studies and I’m enjoying it, even though it just took me about two weeks to make my way through just a small part of the material with the translating and research I had to do. It was worth it.

Note No. 1:
Honestly, I DIDN’T want to share any of this. I wanted to just leave it be and keep it to myself and quietly go forward. It feels very personal, and something that I want to keep to myself. It’s like when I first met Tom- I didn’t talk about it for a while, didn’t journal while we were just starting out. I wanted to keep it close and quiet while the roots were growing. I get like that with things that are extremely important or sort of fragile and new to me. This is one of those things.

But a few people asked me about the whole Buddhism thing, so…

There’s this tradition in Buddhism that there’s no proseltizing. But if someone asks you to share your experience, you do it. The history is that when Buddha (who was just a regular guy- no divine being, no God) realized his path, he wasn’t going to teach it. He was just going to live ethically and hope it rubbed off on others. But then someone asked him to please teach what he learned, because it might benefit others. So he decided to go ahead and do it, just in case someone *could* benefit. And it turned out it benefited a LOT of people. So there’s a tradition in Buddhism that if someone asks you about it, or shows interest, you share your experience. Just in case. And it’s tradition for students to find teachers and ask them for education and information, which they freely give. It’s kind of a nice thing.

Note No. 2:
A few people inquired about why I dropped off the face of Facebook and disappeared from online life, and this is why. I feel compelled to write again (which I say a lot, but this time it might be different because:

A) it’s been 20 years (!!!!!!) since I started keeping an online journal, and it still matters to me.

B) I feel a lot more free in what I’m saying because I realize that I might lose a few “sometimes reads” who will read this and think I lost my mind. I’m not too worried about that anymore. I used to be worried about appealing to everyone and keeping it light, but the more I think about what I was writing when I started this journal way back in 1997, the more I realized how much more valuable and useful it was to *me* to have that outlet. When I started writing, no one was reading.

C) Comments are turned off simply because I get too attached to them- I started letting the number of comments indicate to me what sort of posts people like and then found myself not publishing posts I thought might not appeal to people, etc. It’s not that I don’t want to hear from anyone, but I think my journal (and that’s what this is- not a brief blog, but an online journal/diary, hence the very long entries…) will only work if it goes back to being about writing it and expressing things rather than trying to keep people interested. I actually considered starting some anonymous journal elsewhere so I could write and just be free from worrying about how many readers I might offend or bore, but then I realized I can just do that here. I just have to be ready to let go of comments and tracking page visits and stuff, and after so much time away, I’m okay with that.

D) Also, I don’t tend to reply to comments or email (or even texts) because I am SO FREAKING LONG WINDED. I think the long-winded thing is very clear by now. I can’t NOT do that- after 25+ years online I am just coming to terms with the fact that when I write, no matter what the heck it is, it’s going to be long and take a lot of time. So I always think “it’s going to take more than a few minutes, so I will sit down and focus on it later today when I can really give it my attention…” and then I don’t. I have freakin’ emails in my inbox from two years ago that I *fully* intend on responding to.)

(This is all very ironic considering I’m VERY shy and tend to be very quiet in real life. Maybe I just save it all for the computer.)

Note No. 3:
I’m not turning this site into an online Buddha center or anything. I’ve been actually doing a ton more art stuff (mostly painting in acrylic and watercolor – like the little splash/wash thing up above-, and some collage) and I think the reason for that is because being offline so much has freed up some time, energy, and the whole “comparison” thing. I plan on doing a lot more art-related posts now that I feel like I don’t have to share completed works or do tutorials or share everything across every platform. And also those “around here” posts I used to do, because those are fun and also form as a sort of documentation of life. I’ve put scrapbooking and photography totally to the side, and that’s okay- I just want to focus on painting and studying at the moment. So I want to go back to documenting life on some level.

Okay, hope you are really really well. Seriously. And I thank you for reading this. Have an incredibly wonderful weekend.

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·


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hello!
I'm Chel (pronounced "shell", short for "Michele").

I'm an artist, graduate student (Buddhist Studies), writer, gardener, art historian, long-distance swimmer, crochet-er, movie watcher, animal lover, and avid reader.

Random facts: I have an eleven year old daughter named Gracie and a husband named Tom. I grew up in New York (Long Island, to be specific), went to college/grad school in Atlanta (Emory University) in the 1990's, and now I live in Southwest Florida. I'm incredibly shy but I adore my friends and family. I've been a vegetarian for almost 30 years and I love animals of all kinds- we have four rescue cats, three parrots, and an elderly gecko and we raise butterflies. I swim five miles every day- rain, shine, storm, or travel. I was born with Spina Bifida, and swimming keeps me healthy and sane. When I'm not in the pool, I'm in my art studio, with a hot cup of tea.

If you'd like to know more, click here

contact me at:
lists@gingerblue.com



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