Wednesday, June 30, 2010

meditating on compassion

At various points in my life, I have been very into Buddhism. When I started reading the Bible again, it really struck me how Buddhist teachings and those of Jesus are similar. Emphasis on compassion, love, equality, peace of mind abound. Perhaps the closest resemblance I found was in Matthew 5:43-47:

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in Heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the even and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?"

In many Buddhist sects, practitioners undertake compassion meditations. In this meditation, the focus is not on someone they love and care for, to whom they naturally show compassion without effort; no, the focus is on someone you really can't stand, someone you feel you hate or whose actions you despise. The First Noble Truth of Buddhism states that all human beings experience suffering and desire a release from suffering. So practitioners start there.

Try it right now. Think of someone you despise, or that makes you angry. It doesn't have to be someone close to you. It could be a television star you think is gaudy, or a person you used to work with that always irritated you. Take stock of this person's actions without letting your own feelings come into it. What incomprehensible things have they done? (I say "incomprehensible" because the root of all dissonance between two people is misunderstanding. A person is not necessarily "bad" just because you don't understand their actions.) Now, imagine you were this person. Don't think of what you would do- think of yourself doing what they have done, and think of the emotions they would experience in those situations. As you can imagine, with some people this is very difficult. It is one thing to imagine why a wife would cheat on her husband, and entirely another to imagine why a man would kill another man. However, the focus is to "put yourself in their shoes" and see what it would be like to do the things they did, face the consequences they have faced.

This meditation is not an opportunity to make excuses for someone who has done something wrong. It is rather a doorway to understanding. If your child steals a CD from the store, they face the appropriate consequences. But by putting yourself in your child's place, feeling what they felt- fear, exhilaration, a desperate longing for something- then it helps you connect with them in a different way. The meditation is not meant to release people from fault. It is meant, rather, to find compassion for all your fellow men, even the ones you don't understand. Many children, for example, act out because they don't feel that anyone listens or understands them. If their parents could understand and therefore feel compassion for them, it might make a difference in their lives.

A good article to read regarding Tibetan Buddhist views of feeling compassion for enemies is here (scroll down to "How to be compassionate to enemies?")

Jesus was saying the same thing. It is infinitely more difficult to love your enemies than it is your friends. But it is by loving our enemies, treating those who have wronged us with kindness, that we become like our Father in Heaven. We take it for granted that Jesus forgives our sins without a thought. If someone killed your friend, would you forgive them without a thought? Would you show them kindness? Would you put yourself in their shoes?

Matthew, chapter 5 ends with "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." Obviously, no one can be perfect. But by looking at our fellow man as God does to us, we can get closer to Him.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

reconnecting with God

i went to the methodist church today for the first time in Lord knows how long. i got there late, and for a second considered not going in, but it was the first time in a long time i had had confidence about entering a church. so i went in late. i sat, i sang, i listened to the lesson (which talked about "coveting" and wanting things you don't have). everyone who remembered me was glad to see me. i remembered why i wanted to be part of a group in church in the first place.

the Lord has heard my prayers, and i am feeling better after a week of being very depressed and questioning my whole being. the answer to part of my prayer came from a message from my friend, who revealed to me that (unbeknownst to me) she had suffered from depression for a long time. i have always envied her faith, and finding this out really hit home with me- i thought, if she can do it, so can i!

i have so much to learn. i don't think i will ever stop learning.

two good things about today:
i found beautiful yarn at the dollar store
i found out a christian band i like (Mercyme) will be playing at the fair this year :)

praise be to god.

Monday, June 7, 2010

knitting/crocheting for charities

i recently started doing knitting/crochet for charities and it's just remarkable how many people there are in need out there. the other day i was reading a book called voluntary simplicity: toward a way of life that is outwardly simple, inwardly rich. the author talked about meeting a woman who at a conference went to the buffet and took an apple, a piece of cheese, and a piece of bread. when he asked if she was feeling okay, she explained to him that she didn't want to eat more than many other people in the world were capable of eating.

my head went twang! and the first thing i thought was, i wonder how much i have that is more than most people have. here is the list i came up with:

clothes (i think we can all make a claim to this- i'm a big thrift store shopper so i usually buy way more than i "need". some can make the claim that we have the luxury of buying more than we "need" in this day and age- but my boyfriend has half the clothes i do. what gives?)
shoes (not by much, though; i wear the same few pairs faithfully with a couple of deviations)
yarn (lord help me, and i just got a garbage bag full from my mother who was de-stashing)
diet soda (i need to stop drinking this but i'm addicted)
fabric (kind of like yarn but in lesser amounts)

i'm pretty good at keeping most things to a minimum- i am a pseudohippie after all, and do not spend gobs of money on makeup, jewelry, expensive clothing, cell phone bills, cable TV, and the like- but as far as having more than i need? definitely.

i'm human, and like every human have desires. the more wealth you have, the more you desire. so luckily my desires are few. i do not have champagne tastes on a beer budget and have never lived beyond my means. still, i am a child of excess in some ways. and forcing myself to think about how i could use LESS- well, it's unpleasant, to say the least. but it also sounds kind of... liberating.

think for yourself. what do you have too many of that most people have little to none of? don't feel bad, but don't justify it to yourself either. could you cut it by 10% and still be happy? 25%? 50%?

if i got rid of all my yarn, i'd be sad that i couldn't craft anymore, because knitting and crochet are a big part of my life. but i have way more yarn than i need. i was careful when my mom gave me hers to only pick out the skeins i'd use. still, if someone crept in at night and stole 10% of my yarn, i probably would just shrug my shoulders.

since i was a little kid i have played the what-if game. at the age of 5, my biggest fear was fire. i had a list in my head of all the things i would grab if the house suddenly caught fire. now that i'm an adult, i still play the games. what if your house suddenly caught fire? imagine you could take 5 things (not counting family, pets, etc.- pretend everything living got out okay.) what would you take? why? what would you do, standing across the street in your pyjamas, looking at all of your earthly possessions reduced to rubble?

try it. okay, it's a little depressing. but it's good food for thought.