Monday, August 29, 2016

idealism, pragmatism and cynicism

What I love about the Order is that it fulfills my triad of needs for idealism, pragmatism, and cynicism. I was on my ordination retreat with a lot of idealists, which was great - when I was inspired. But it was only when I returned home and spoke to my other friends in the Order, some of whom are burned out, disillusioned, or doubtful, that I remembered that the whole spectrum of experience is welcome in - and integral to - our practice.

So when I’m idealistic, the Order is a tremendous force for good in the world. I think of all those I've seen walk through the doors of the Buddhist Centre and transform their anxiety, depression or loneliness into purpose, hope and agency - mostly through the powers of learning to be with their own mind. Our work does not stop with Buddhist Centres; I was aware at the convention of the myriad ways people made a difference to the world, either by working in climate change, taking active roles in government politics and political campaigns, or engaging with the Dalit community in India.

Click here to watch a video on how the Order works together to instigate change (also titled: clearing 500 + chairs and dismantling a shrine room in twenty seven seconds).

When I’m pragmatic, I’m grateful for the responsibility, confidence, and worldliness that we’ve developed over the almost 50 years of growing as an Order. We're more financially responsible and stable, owning our centres and retreat centres, contributing to charitable causes, and providing for those who work in our institutions. But I also heard people proclaim that while we can be a force for good in the world, we’re not going to change it on our own, and probably not very quickly. Just admitting that is a great relief, and can allow me to come back around to wanting to make as much effort as I can in my sphere of influence, to the extent that I’m able.

When I’m cynical, I really appreciate being able to complain about how boring meditation is, how annoying I find this person, and how far away enlightenment can seem. Sometimes, in other spiritual situations I find myself, including some spaces in the yoga community, I feel overwhelmed and exhausted by the relentless assertions of constant happiness and joy. I don’t feel like that all the time! In fact, I don’t want to feel like that all the time. Of course, I also don’t want to be constantly angry, suspicious, and judgmental. But allowing the energy that is bound up in these states to find an outlet whilst at the same time working to transform them in other areas means I can bring my whole self to my work, to my practice, to my life. What a relief.

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