A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Meditation: Letting Go Of Ambition

Krishnamurti, the Indian social critic and sage, says in the book Think On These Things that ambition breeds anxiety and "therefore ambition does not help to bring about a mind that is clear, simple, direct, and hence intelligent."  It is relatively recently that I've identified in myself the cyclical spurts of ambition.  I want to write a book and paint pictures and become a Buddhist.  I want to do something in order to be someone.  I don't see that in existing I already am someone.  In modern western culture we are asked at a young age, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  I knew I wanted to be some sort of artist.  Here and there I have embraced that intention, but I never committed to it for the long haul.  And so I have judged myself as not living up to my potential.  This is a subtle form of aggression towards myself, one that I share with many other people who aspire to creative success.  Krishnamurti also has said, "Is not ambition an urge to avoid what is?....Why are we so frightened of our loneliness, of our emptiness?"  These questions bring me back to the Buddhist practice of sitting with my discomfort, of not running away into one of the many ambitious activities I lay out for myself each day.

I have been meditating, but I am a restless meditator.  The nature of meditation is to face and accept the eternal restlessness of our spirits, to keep coming back to the breath, to keep touching and letting go of thoughts.  I used to see meditation as relaxation, and when I practiced it in conjunction with yoga, it often was deeply relaxing.   Now I experience it as more than a relaxation technique.  When I sit on my meditation cushion I try to imagine myself as an eternal witness, a breathing Buddha statue.  At the same time I resist that stillness.  I scratch my nose; I look over at the clock; I shift my legs.  My natural tendency is to react when I feel any discomfort.  This tendency has a long history, as long as I've been alive, and so it is no wonder that I am a restless meditator.

The fundamental nature of mediation is discipline; it requires the ability to both concentrate and let go simultaneously.  That sounds like a contradiction, but anyone who has meditated knows that it is not.  You let go into concentration; the concentration in turn lets go of all those restless urges to interrupt concentration.  You have to make the decision to do that.  Without a commitment, you will be caught up again in thoughts and desires.

Ambition is all about thoughts and desires and thoughts and desires are all about how we see ourselves, about our egos.  Buddhists describe the ego as a fixed sense of self, an unchanging "I", but the very nature of life and self is change.  Ego is nothing but an illusion; there is really no fixed and solid self.  Who I am now is not who I was last year or who I was as a young adult, or youth, or child.  In some ways that saddens me, as in the loss of the resiliency and optimism of youth, and in other ways I am relieved, as in I am no longer caught in debilitating delusions and paranoia.  Moving on in life frees me and confines me.  I am free to choose my direction in life, but confined by all the choices I've made to get to this point, confined by my karma.  I can transform negative karma into positive karma through consistent effort, but I can't change past choices or how those choices affected those around me.  I can only work with the fluid process and personal awareness I call, for convenience sake, my "self".

I struggle with the illusion that I have a fixed self and that that fixed self has to get somewhere else and improve itself in the process.  This struggle, this restlessness is counter to the aim of meditation, which is to be here now, to accept self and circumstances exactly as they are.  When I settle into a good zone within the meditation process, I feel peace.  It is then that I experience my own personal dignity and worth.  It is then that I have nothing to prove to myself or anyone else.  No wonder Buddhist teachers continually stress the necessity of including meditation practice in one's life; the goal is to incorporate the practice into daily life activities that go beyond the traditional seated meditation.  Meditation then becomes not some temporary isolated activity, but a way of being.

It is my wish that my meditation practice will grow and deepen into just that.  If I can be mindful of my moments, I believe I can let go of the restless quality of my ambition to become something else and instead rest mostly content with just being.  The real reason why I love artistic creativity is that when I'm in it, it is meditation and so I will continue to write, to paint and to make up songs.  I would like to write a book, but I want to change my attitude about why I want to write a book.  I still hold on to the idea that if I create a book, it will validate my existence, that it will give my life the meaning it presently lacks, but this is a grave misconception.  My life has meaning; it is the process of being and creation that gives it meaning and not the end products.  I am more than what I create.  The reason for creating anything is not self validation, but to help and give pleasure, maybe understanding, to others and to deepen the sense of our interconnectedness.
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