Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Human Condition Part 3

With my love of philosophy, I've gotten deeper into Buddhism's philosophy with the help of its many interpreters. Alan Watts made an excellent video, capturing in image and sound some of the brilliant interpretation's of the Buddha, in particular meditation. As Buddhism's main practice, meditation has always intrigued me, but also intimidated me. I have tried several times to properly meditate, but each time I feel that I have failed miserably. I have never reached that highly coveted state of nirvana that the Buddha is said to have reached while in deep meditation under the Bodhi tree.

Meditation bemuses me. I am learning about it more and more to peel away its mysteries. According to its many experienced practitioners, it is to be conducted while in a calm tranquil environment, with slow, rhythmic breathing. Your mind should acknowledge the present, while the past should remain a distant memory. The past should no longer exist. The future shouldn't either. Your body is suppose to simply, be. Let the mind flow freely. Thoughts that enter the mind should be considered noise, like the sounds from nature. Reflect.

It is this part that I usually have such an issue with. Whenever I meditate, I cannot stop thinking about my past, and worrying about the future. It consumes me to such a degree that all hopes for even the lowest slopes of enlightenment are thwarted. It is something I am working on, along with my problem controlling my breathing. With meditation, I hope to reach a state of tranquility. I hope to reflect on my existence in a new light. All the petty issues that are bothering me, that cause me so much stress in my day-to-day life, I hope will become washed away, if even for a moment.  But for the long term, seeing past events in a new light can at least alleviate the negative effects it has on one's peace of mind.

This is an issue that cuts right to the heart of what often troubles me. How do I deal with my problems in life? How do I deal with people I do not like? How do I deal with situations that annoy me? Simple reinterpretation on past events is not the long term solution for me. Change needs to be made for dealing with these same problems for the future, so that the past is not repeated. I'm not sure if meditation is is even the solution for addressing such problems. Maybe it is not. If I can successfully meditate, perhaps that will change my behavior towards my problems in the future.

Philosophically, there are many parallels between Buddhism and stoicism. They both seek to alleviate suffering by the removal of desire, which they claim is the cause of suffering in the first place. To detach ones self from desire is no easy feat. Some desire can be very healthy and is the motivation of doing good. But other desires are indeed a product of ego driven narcissism. So there are healthy desires and unhealthy desires, but there is desire, and even the Dalia Lama acknowledges this fact. I too, am driven by such selfish desires at times. If I could purge myself as much as possible of the unhealthy desires that consume me, that lead to such internal suffering when not fulfilled, perhaps I could better my overall peace of mind.

But how does one simply release their desires? As a man I often pay close attention to the social hierarchy when with other men. Many men want to be the alpha male, and although I don't desire it always, I do get jealous and angry when another man assumes that role. At work I often settle for less than I could be in terms of social status, because I don't assert myself as vulgar as I normally do. So at work I basically play the role of the quiet but hardworking cubicle dweller. About half of the people I work with I do not get along with at all. My inability to connect with others is another source of mental suffering. When I am unable to connect with others, and am often forced into the role of the outsider, it is then that I am most depressed. As I have written, we are social creatures, and our status amongst our peers is deeply important to us.

But if I could care less for what others think of me, then my status within my peers wouldn't bother me. However, it is not easy to simply just not care about my interpersonal relationships. This attention to social status has been enforced by millions of years of evolution, and a 2,500 year old philosophy may be no match against it. I think that a calm and slow release of my unhealthy desires can be something achievable, with or without the help of meditation.

I am not immune to desires of violence towards others. I have, like we all do, fantasies of killing and torturing those I despise. I recognize this as a part of being human, perhaps a remnant from our evolutionary past, but something I wish to suppress. I know it is wrong to kill those you feel have wronged you, and a society that practices or allowed that would be a mess. It is unlikely that I will ever kill because of my sense of morality and my non violent nature, but as if written before, I think anyone is capable of murder if put under the right circumstances.

Meditation as a tool for bettering one's life, through the acceptance of what is, and the alleviation of one's desires, which leads to suffering, is something I am looking into further. I think a change of one's lifestyle and surroundings is ultimately what can alleviate suffering best, but when that is not immediately possible, meditation and careful reflection may be the best remedy.

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