Soul Sunday: Monkey Brains and Bullies

anger robs happiness

This morning I started my day doing my usual routine: Walking the dogs and feeding the cats. Then I sat down to meditate for twenty minutes. Lily, my youngest kitty decided she would rip the corner of the carpet so she could pull off a thread and chase it around the room. My meditation time turned in to me getting up to stop her (several times) from ripping off more carpet and then yelling at her. Before I knew it my timer went off. My twenty minutes were up. I was too aggravated to sit still anyway.

I think our pets pick up on our energy, or did I attract that energy? The teachings of Law of Attraction says it definitely was me.

My plan today is to continue researching alternative therapies as it relates to disease and then write about them, but I find myself distracted. My thoughts are elsewhere. A few days ago, Kris Carr,  a blogger I follow since I was in cancer treatment, wrote a post about the importance of writing one’s thoughts in a journal or a blog. This is a quote from her post:

“… Personally, I write what I need to read. I write what I need to say. But most of all, I write to get to know myself—to better understand what I want, how I want to feel, and what’s troubling (or exciting) me…”

I decided to change my plans for now and write about what’s bugging me.

This may come as a shock to some of you but I am not as cool, calm and collected as I appear. There are days I want to sock someone in the eye who is (in my opinion) behaving like a bully . I know it is not good for me to get angry over bullshit and compared to battling cancer, my problems are pretty much all bullshit, but there are times I can’t help myself. Without going in to detail, there is someone in my condo complex who has nothing better to do than create chaos and drama. He sit’s on the HOA board. He’s a bully and has been getting away with it for too long.

As I’m writing this I know my annoyance isn’t about him (I think). I know I cannot control anyone’s behavior except my own and allowing him to invade my thoughts means he’s already won. The funny thing is he is not picking on me. He is attempting to enforce a rule that may affect me though… IF I choose to follow it. But when have I ever followed any rule that I see as stupid or as an attempt to have control over the behavior of others? The answer is rarely.

I am not the only one pissed off at this man. The next meeting is this Wednesday and I am told there will be plenty of angry people showing up. At the same time, I know that what people say they’ll do, is not necessarily what they actually do. I have to wait until Wednesday to find out.

After my cancer diagnosis, I told myself I would change the way I dealt with difficult people and situations; no more obsessing over someone else’s bad behavior. I think I’m getting better, but today… not so much. Hopefully I am purging this nonsense out of my “monkey brain” right now. Stress is so bad for our health! I’ve blogged about it. I tweet about it and I tell my cancer patients all the time.  I tell myself. My priority is to keep myself as healthy as possible. I’m very good sticking to my healthy diet. I’m pretty good doing my exercises. I still need work when it comes to controlling stress.

Later on I will go back to meditate. Lily is taking her afternoon nap. The house is pretty quiet. I will focus on what I’m grateful for. There are many others in this world who would trade problems with me in a heartbeat. I also believe in karma. The energy we put out will come back to us and that includes bullies. This particular person will eventually push around the wrong person and he will end up with a black eye.

I have given this person too much of my precious time. I’m done obsessing over it. I have important things to do, information to share. I have been given a second chance at life and I want to do it right this time.

I ask the Universe, the Great Goddess or whoever may be listening… “could you send me some Buddhalicious, Zen-like wisdom before Wednesday, or sooner?”

Thank you Kris for sharing your thoughts on your blog. It came when I needed to hear them. Hopefully my words will help others who read it. My life didn’t come with instructions and neither did yours. I believe we can figure things out together… we aren’t that different.



Be Your Sh*tty Self: Book Review

shitty self

Isn’t the Internet is the best invention ever!  I use it every day to do my research on a variety of topics; it keeps me informed about what’s happening in my community and the world and most of all, via social media, helps me connect with people who I otherwise, would never met. Sometimes I connect with others who practice Zen Buddhism, and sit Zazen. Zen is the form of Buddhism that I am attracted to, probably because of the silence. I like sitting in silence. It’s a nice contrast to my noisy life. I live in Southern California. Traffic jams. Crazy drivers. People who are obsessed with looking trendy. Fake boobs. Fake personalities. Why do I live here? The ocean. The beach. Health food stores, great vegan restaurants, my terrific oncology doctors are here, and a variety cultures and lifestyles all thrown in to one crazy mix. And I am only a few hours away (in any direction) to experience the desert or the mountains. But the Internet allows me to travel anywhere in the world without leaving the comfort of my futon. Sometimes people even find me.

Mark Van Buren

Mark Van Buren

Mark Van Buren, a yoga teacher, recently found my blog (the one your on right now) and left a comment about one of my posts. I found out he wrote also wrote a book about meditation, specifically Zazen and I wanted to know more. It’s titled, Be Your Sh*tty Self and I knew right then, I had to read it. He sent me a copy. I wasn’t sure what to expect even though the title was humorous. Would it condone asshole behavior? Was it meant to be sarcasm? Mark is twenty-something and I read his generation can be a bit self-centered—and I do live a few miles away from the self-absorbed capital of the world… Hollywood! The only way to find out was to read the book.

I was hooked after reading the first paragraph:

“One day I was listening to a talk given by a Buddhist teacher, when a woman in the audience revealed that no matter how much she meditated and was aware of herself throughout the day, she was still just her same old shitty self. Her brutally honest confession cloaked in humor made me sit up and take notice. Finally, someone who felt the same way as me! I didn’t know this woman, nor had I ever met her, but I was sure as hell relieved to hear someone else was struggling like I was.”

That sounds like me! I struggle with my “shitty self” all the time (especially when I have to interact with rude, self-absorbed people. Remember… I live in Southern California, but that doesn’t stop me from being disappointed in my own behavior).  I knew I could relate to what Mark was writing about even though we are a generation apart. Many of the Buddhism books I read are written by monks and Zen priests, which is good, but sometimes they get all “esoteric” on me and I have no idea what they are taking about. Take koans as an example. I can read a Zen koan a hundred times and it still sounds like an algebra problem to me (algebra and geometry are not my best subjects). I know these writers from centuries ago are the real deal, but if I don’t understand them, how will that help me? … And keep me interested in studying Zen? I do better with contemporary writers, especially those who live in the same hectic, western world I do. I simply cannot relate  to someone who lives in a cave (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I also cuss. I can relate to someone who has a “colorful” vocabulary like mine. Not that his book is full of cuss words, it’s not, but occasionally you will find one. It makes the author human.

Be Your Shitty Self, is divided into two parts; Section I: Concepts and Beliefs. Section II: Applications and Practices. It’s easy to read, with several anecdotal stories that we all (probably most of us at least) have experienced and how to deal with a particular situation. Of course the theme is meditation and mindfulness. How many of you read books on “how to meditate” or watched videos, but the author never went in to detail about the actual experience of meditation? They make it seem so easy, but when I did it, I experienced all kinds of problems. Why couldn’t I just “sit” like the pros? Did they know something I didn’t? Why was meditating so hard? How many have given up because they think it’s too hard to do it “right”? Mark challenges that excuse:

“The excuse I hear most often from people is that meditation is too hard. “I can’t stop my mind from thinking,” people complain to me. This excuse comes from a misperception that thoughts need to be stopped when practicing meditation. As discussed prior, your thoughts are not to be annihilated—they’re to be noticed and then released.The idea that thoughts must be stopped is not only the wrong approach to meditation, but it also fills your head with the impression that your thoughts are bad, creating an internal war between the object of meditation and your thoughts. This leaves you more tense than you were before you began. Warring with yourself is the complete opposite of what you are trying to do when you sit and meditate. Let go of the struggle. There need not be any wars in your mind during your practice. Label your thoughts “thinking” and then let them go, even if it happens a thousand times in your session.”

Yay! Finally, someone says it’s normal to have thoughts invade your meditation. Actually, another contemporary author, Brad Warner, said the same thing, but it’s nice to know there are more Zen practitioners who admit it.

So many of the conservative Zen authors come across quite formal (and that’s ok) but I am anything but a formal kinda gal. (I wear my leopard coat over my pajamas when I walk my dogs in the morning.) I like to laugh. I have a sick sense of humor and love to prank people. A sense of humor got me through my cancer treatments. I think a lot of people’s problems stem from the fact that they take themselves too seriously and don’t laugh at themselves. Mark seems to agree.

Humor will be your best friend when things get tough, and it will allow space in your mind for the problems of life to float freely through, causing less harm to yourself and those around you.”

Mark’s book is going on the shelf to join my other books on meditation. I enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone who wants to learn how to meditate and find out what it means to live as a “shitty self.”

You buy a copy on Amazon.




Sitting Zazen with Brad Warner

Brad and me

Brad and me

I have not devoted a full day to myself in a few weeks, so today I planned to do make some collage pictures, stay in doors and lay low — that is until I read one of the blogs I follow. I really don’t remember how I stumbled on to Brad Warner’s books. He is a fifty-year old Zen priest who lived in Santa Monica (He now lives in Philadelphia), plays in a punk band and wrote three books about Zen Buddhism. They aren’t the typical mainstream Zen books you will find in your local bookstore. That’s probably why his writings clicked with me (I am anything but mainstream). So last night I looked to see what he was writing about and discovered he is here for the day, in Culver City, California. That is about an hour north of me. My collage would have to wait. I was going to sit Zazen with Brad and other devotees.

My day started at 7am. After a quick breakfast and walking the dogs, I was on the 405 freeway to formally sit Zazen, something I haven’t done in ten years. The freeway was clear which is a good and  bad. If it’s rush hour, cars are going slower and I feel more relaxed. If the roads are clear, drivers speed and dart in and out of traffic. There’s always some guy riding my bumper. I go the speed limit, so I guess the guy behind me thinks, if he gets close enough to my rear-end I’ll speed up. That never works but it sometimes makes me nervous. Today I ignored them and thought back to when I went to the San Francisco Zen Center.

When I lived in the City I went several times a month to sit 5:30pm Zazen. I really enjoyed meditating with a group and reciting the Heart Sutra at the end. Would today’s experience be the same or different? The last time I sat Zazen was New Year’s Eve 2004. I took the city bus, which was free to all riders that night, to keep party goers who had too much to drink, from driving. It was an interesting experience coming back from midnight Zazen and watching other passengers. At one point someone stood up and sang, “The wheels on the bus go round and round.” The others quickly joined in. It was quite a contrast from the hour long silent meditation I just came from.

I was in Culver City before I knew it. We were meeting in a room at the Veteran’s Memorial Building. Right across the street is Sony Picture Studios. The Sony Pictures (where they make movies and television shows). How cool is that!

I had no idea which room we were meeting in so I just wandered the building until I spotted Brad (He looks just like his photos on the book jacket) standing around waiting for someone to open the door. There were around seventeen of us when we started. The last time I sat Zazen I did not have a walker. Today I brought my fancy one that comes with a seat so I could sit and meditate on that.

When you do Zazen meditation you keep your eyes open (barely open anyway) and face a wall. The wall I was facing had a large window above me and the blinds were partially open. I couldn’t reach the stick to close them, so the hot sun was on my face the whole time. I ended up squinting because of the sun’s rays. Oh well, I was sitting Zazen and that’s all that mattered.

For the most part my monkey brain behaved, but I did find myself daydreaming about being outdoors in a motor home, enjoying the day. The scene in my mind was quite relaxing so I decided to let the images hang around for a while. It was certainly better than rehashing old arguments with people, something I can do all day long if I allow it. Meditation has really helped put a stop to that. I still get those thoughts, but I see them for what they are and can move on.

We meditated for thirty minutes (which felt like ten) and before I knew it we were having a discussion about what it means to be a bodhisattva and what taking the vows of a bodhisattva mean. I don’t know if that is what Brad had in mind for his dharma talk, but that was the first question someone asked. This group was less formal than San Francisco, which is fine with me. One of the things I want to practice more of is to “go with the flow.” I figure I am here today for the experience and hopefully learn something, and I did.

I learned that I live my life (although not perfectly) as a bodhisattva already. I do try to be kind to others and to take care of creatures big and small. Here is a quick reference to those vows:

1.I vow to save innumerable sentient beings.
2.I vow to eliminate endless afflictions/delusions.
3.I vow to learn innumerable doctrines.
4.I vow to accomplish the unsurpassed Buddha Way

A few weeks ago my kitchen was over run with ants. We are in the midst of a drought and they are looking for water and they found it — in my kitchen. They found the cat food too. How would I ever get them back outside? I keep a clear plastic cup in a cupboard to relocate critters that find their way indoors, but there were too many ants to do that. I vacuumed them up and I felt terrible. They can’t help it. They are wanting to survive. I would do the same thing if I were an ant, unless I was the Queen ant, then I’d sit around doing queen stuff (whatever that is).

My point is that I don’t like to see any sentient creature suffer, whether it’s a homeless person or an ant. We all have a right to be here on this beautiful planet and I think we all basically want the same thing — to live in peace and enjoy life. I am guessing that ants feel the same way (I know they don’t have brains) but we don’t know what they “feel.” Just because a creature is physically different than us doesn’t mean they experience life any differently. After many studies we now know that animals experience similar emotions like us humans. Why not ants?

A couple hours after I arrived for Zazen, I was back on the freeway heading back to Anaehim. I enjoyed myself. I even got to recite the Heart Sutra with the group. I was home.

This is a good video of the Heart Sutra that I do by myself:

If you’re interested in Zen Buddhism from a different perspective, check out Brad’s books: