Just Breathe


Random crystal snowflakes fell through the yellow
sodium light of a pathway lamp and on into shadow.
The breeze was light as ducks on the river voiced
their displeasure at the interruption of my passing.

My breath counting came into unison with my footsteps
and suddenly everything slowed as I slowed and the
snow and the ducks and my breath and the air and
my thoughts all came into perfect harmony and

I, for the first time in my life experienced what
Buddhist nuns and monks have spent centuries
seeking, perfect enlightenment. A feeling of such
beauty and peace as to be indescribable.

Harmony of body and soul, and of mind were mine
and in one split second were gone and I felt
such a profound sense of loss, an ache of heart
that I fell to my knees and wept.

Why, I asked, would the universe come together
for me to experience, just to have it ripped away
and leave a truck sized hole in my middle?
Why should I, a random person, be given this?

Only to have it taken away again so that even
moments later I could hardly remember what it was
like at all. Breathing as if I were punched in
the stomach, I stayed on my knees and felt emptiness.

And now, hours later I have to ask myself, did I
really find enlightenment on the path, in the park
of a small mid-western town in Winter or did I
just imagine what my mind told me it might be like?

Imagine, the unimaginable? Did I tell myself this
is what you’ve been seeking, you and everyone who’s
ever went down this path and you’ve hardly begun
your journey but here’s a taste of it, so here ya go?

And now I sit with the feeling of loss for something
I’ve not even gained, the loss of something I can’t
explain, or describe. All I can do it seems is, sit
and breathe and not think about it. Just breathe.

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Buddhism-Right View

keep right
Depending on whose work you read, Right View, is the first step in the Eightfold Path that Buddhism teaches as the path to end suffering. Volumes have been written over the years describing the Eightfold Path and what it means. As with any religious practice, ten people can have ten different ideas as to what any part of their religion means to them. Buddhism is different in many ways from other religions but one major point should be understood. Buddhism does not have a dogma, a set of beliefs that have to be adhered to in order to “belong.” The Dali Lama has said that if you find something that you do not agree with in Buddhism, then leave it behind. Take only what makes sense to you and leave the rest. For me, Buddhism is more a way of life than a religion. There is no deity to worship, no messiah to cling to or wait for. It is a path to follow that will improve and enrich your life and in turn make life better for all.

What does Right View mean? It means seeing the world and life, as it actually is. No rose colored glasses, no pretending or wishing things were different. Accepting things as they are without judgement can be a daunting task. If we see a loved one doing harm we can sometimes block it from our minds or make excuses for their behavior. Seeing things as they really are means admitting that our loved one does harmful things. Seeing the world as it is means accepting that there is good and bad and a lot of it makes us suffer. And we make ourselves suffer. Most of us cause our own problems. Admitting that, can be hard to do. Right View and Right Intention are the first two practices of the Eightfold path. These two make up the Wisdom aspect of the path. Being able to see things as they really are without judgement shows that we are gaining wisdom, and wisdom is needed to travel the Eightfold Path.

pile of rocks

Buddhism teaches impermanence. 2500 years ago the Buddha knew that nothing is permanent. Everything changes all the time. people are born, grow and someday, die. Science has proven that all life consists of nothing but constantly moving molecules that continually break down and die to be replaced by other molecules. Studying the world around him, the Buddha knew this to be true (although he probably didn’t know about molecules.) And this is one of humanity’s biggest problems. We know we’re going to die. Whole industries exist to fight the effects of old age. Cosmetics, surgery, clothes and so on are at the ready to make us look and feel younger. Seeing life as it really is means accepting that we’re going to die and dealing with that, as it is, without judgement. Trying to stave off old age and death makes us suffer because deep down we know we just can’t do it. It’s a losing battle.

Buddhism teaches that suffering exists because we desire or cling. In other words, because life is impermanent and all things are impermanent, there is nothing that can give us true happiness. But we seek happiness all the time. Everyone wants to be happy. We want to experience joy. And we look for happiness in things and people, none of which can deliver what we want. Realizing this, seeing things as they really are, is Right View. Understanding that nothing outside yourself can give you true happiness is Right View. It is wisdom. And it is the start of the Eightfold Path.

lotus flower non judgement

And it just may be the hardest thing to do. Realizing that we cling to things and working to stop doing that is an ongoing task. We cling to everything. We desire. We love our new car. We want the latest electronic gizmo. Not clinging doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have and use things. There is nothing wrong with a new car or cell phone. For me, not clinging means I can buy a new cell phone when I need one but not because I desire the latest and greatest or because I think that having a new phone will make me happy, but because I need a new phone to do the things I need to get done in my life. And if it breaks or I drop it in the toilet I don’t get very upset and suffer needlessly because it’s gone. It’s just a thing. I will replace it if I can and if not, well, then I’ll think of something else. My happiness does not come from my new phone. Not putting high importance on things, ideas, or opinions is not clinging. Right View. Next time I’ll talk about Right Intention. We’re on the path, but don’t just take my word for all of this. There are many, many Buddhist practitioners who know way more than I do. I am an amateur! Find a good Buddhism book or teacher who can help you. I’m here to offer my view and hopefully send you in the right direction. Until next time.

My Religion History

In earlier posts I have written about Buddhism, the basic ideas, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold path. As I discover more things about Buddhism myself I’m going to write about what I find. But I’ll give you a little personal history first. I was raised attending non denominational Christian church. A church that follows the basic Christian belief but was not affiliated with Baptist, Lutheran or any other Christian denomination. When I moved from my parents home and got out on my own at 17, I left church behind. You could say I believed in a God but really didn’t give it much thought. In my early thirties I came to a point in my life where I thought I needed God. I started reading the Bible and tried to clean up my life. Up to that point I smoked and drank and pretty much lived how I pleased. Things happened to me of a crisis nature that made me believe that I needed saving. I went back to church, prayed a lot and really tried to live a good life. Whatever the reasons, I never felt the presence of a God. No matter how I tried it just never happened for me. Even when things turned around, and my life got quite a bit better I could never say that I felt it was “Gods presence” that made it happen. So I left religion and belief behind.
christian cross

A few years ago my wife and I joined a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship that some of our friends belonged to. The UU, as it’s commonly known is a religion that pretty much leaves your religious beliefs up to you. Founded on the Christian religion, UUism has come to be a haven for people of any and all religious beliefs or no belief at all. Everyone is welcome and no one is told that their belief or non belief is wrong. It is a great place for people like me who want the community and fellowship of a church but just can’t bring yourself to believe the dogma of mainstream religion. Over the years I have read about and studied Buddhism. Buddhism is considered a religion by many but I see it as a way of life. A way of life and living that helps you find spirituality and continually helps to improve your life and the world around you.
uu chalic
UU Symbol

I read an article about 30 years ago in a magazine about Catholic monks in a monastery in Massachusetts who practiced Buddhist meditation. I found it very intriguing that it was okay to combine Buddhism with other faiths. That’s when I really started looking into it. Since then I’ve read a ton of books by The Dali Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, and many other Buddhist practitioners. I have learned to meditate, and practice what’s called “Mindfulness.” There is a Buddhist meditation center in my home town that I have visited a few times and I have a friend who is a Zen Buddhist Priest. I am by no means an expert in any of this but I have learned some over the years and I believe that it all has helped me to be a more spiritual person and one who acts and thinks with a clearer mind. Buddhism teaches about the impermanence of everything including material objects and life itself and knowing this has helped me to worry less, make less assumptions, stop judging, and just be a decent person because I can and want to, and not because I think there will be some kind of judgement of my life after I die. It is very freeing to believe this way.
dali lama The Dali Lama thich nhat hanh Thich Nhat Hanh

So that’s my religion history, such as it is. If you have read my earlier posts you will recall that I wrote about “The Four Noble Truths.” The Buddha, (who was a man, not a god) taught about these truths or beliefs and what they mean about life. Very briefly, this is what they are. #1 There is suffering in life. #2 There is a reason for the suffering. #3 There is a way to end the suffering. #4 Following the Eightfold Path is the way to end suffering. Sounds intriguing right? Well it does to me and it did when I first started learning about it. So I’m going to write some posts about what I’ve learned as I have applied these truths to my life. And as with anything, I’m still learning and will always be learning. That’s one of the great things about this. You can never know it all so there is always something else to know and keep you going.
person meditating

One of the things I read about Buddhism that really helped me to discover what it is about was written by the Dali Lama. He said, give Buddhism a try, if it works for you that’s great. If not, leave it behind. It really helped me to see that Buddhism is not some dogmatic belief system that you have to ascribe to in order to “belong.” It’s probably the most important thing I have read about Buddhism. It really opened my eyes. With my next post I’ll write about the first Noble Truth and what I think it means. See you then!