The Spritual Path
Today’s blog is how I found Buddhism. I’ve been meaning to write this blog for a long time. Finding the suitable rhetoric and tone for a topic so ingrained in my life hasn’t been easy. The history, the words and the ideas exist in my head. Now, thanks to the invention of technology, I can share this twenty five thousand year old existential knowledge with you. This is my story. This is how I found the only path – the spiritual path. This is how I found Buddhism.
Buddhism changed me on a very fundamental level. Do you know what a fundamental change is? For me, it was a shift in perspective. This shift in perspective amounted to so much that I can only think to describe it as a change in head space. Taking drugs is also a change in head space. However, this kind of change comes across as a natural and healing response to life and a complete shift in paradigm. There is a better way to live and view the world than the one which has been served to us by modern western civilization – which is wandering farther away from the roots of what it means to be alive. Since I’m speaking about our civilization, let me share with you an expanded view of our path as human beings. If you examine our quality of life in context, it’s very obvious to see that human beings are enjoying the most comfortable and luxurious standard of living. This is in comparison to the many generations that came before us. Thanks to the pioneering and ingenuity of many brains before us, you are living a very comfortable life. Don’t believe me? Aren’t you reading these words on a screen which puts ever-expanding knowledge and influence at your fingertips, and for your convenience? This is all true. Shouldn’t our well being be more as well? It isn’t. At least not in the first world. And especially not in the western world. The western world is facing an epidemic of poor well being like never before. Now, there exist conditions that weren’t even known to the much happier earthlings living before us. Poor self esteem, self hatred, depression, anxiety, chronic stress, loneliness, animosity and polarization. Why does this exist to a generation of humans which have so much knowledge and information. We have boasted our big brains and supposedly superior intelligence. Don’t be fooled. Look at the condition of human being. We are suffering much more than we should be. This sounds like a very pessimistic view. Don’t see it this way. This is realization. The first of the four noble truth – the teachings of the Buddha. Suffering exists in the world. If we come to terms with suffering, than we can also see a path to the end of suffering. This has been my spiritual path. In every stage of life, one thing always remained the same for me – I asked questions. I’ve wanted to know things big and small. Who am I? Where is beginning and end? Why are things as such? Is there a meaning? Ironic as it may be, I only came to understand the purpose and nature of things through my own suffering. My suffering came to me through delusion and conceit. If you mean to join me on the spiritual path, you must find humility. Humility greater than you can imagine. That humility had to be so great, that I couldn’t even find it on my own. It only came to me through the accidental discovery of psychedelics. That is another story.
A little over a year ago, I sank into deep depression. At the time, it seemed to come to me out of the nowhere. Now, I know that there were a lot of things that existed for that condition to arise. There was substance abuse. There was chronic pain. There were preexisting mental health conditions. There was a detrimental and specific loss of belonging following the loss of my religion. All the conditions were there – so the depression came. It began to plague my mind and destroy my well being. It began to make me afraid and lost. It was a god awful hole that I couldn’t climb out of. It was a lonely path. Some of you are likely well acquainted with depression. If you are, than you know the battle.
There was also guilt and shame, because at the time, I didn’t know how to be there for my partner. I couldn’t find my way to her. I became lost and distant. There was nothing she could’ve done to help me. It felt like such a burden. I didn’t know how to communicate my suffering to her. At the time, I was naive and conceited enough to think that I had a handle on things. It was my fearfulness that was feeding into the downward spiral, and my partner couldn’t have understood or done anything to help. Destruction was already happening to me.
There inside of me is a quality which I’ve always had. Even though I have an unbelievable ability to make the same mistakes over and over again (ask my exes) – I take pride in the fact that I always figure it out eventually (ask my exes). When my existence encounters something dreadful, I change it! I’ve always been this way. When I met depression and anxiety, it was that quality which told me that it’s time to change. This is probably because I was too afraid to let it continue. It was already awful enough. So, having a good sense of initiative told that I needed to do something – anything. I knew I needed more peace and simpleness in my life.
This is how it began to take off. I grabbed a self help book about the power of mindfulness and the peace it’s meant to bring. I’m not a dummy. Even then, I knew that there was something substantial in the practice of looking inwards. This is likely because of my background and culture. My Hispanic upbringing brought with it, a simplistic, communal and common sense mentality – which exists in third world countries.
From that book, I learned what it meant to relish in the incredible amount of things happening in the present moment. I learned about the mind that knows how to “do”, and the mind that knows how to “be”. The was the first of many realizations. It was the start of consciousness and awareness. I didn’t know how to observe my mind this way. But, with diligence, I eventually realized the difference between when the mind is in a unconscious state of doing things, and the conscious state of being in things. That book was not about Buddhism. It was a western physiological approach to the power of mindfulness.
“When your happiness is dependant on what is happening outside of you, constantly you live as a slave to external situations”
On Finding Meditation
From that book, I was led to meditation. Meditation was the start of Buddhism. In retrospect, I can say that I was having a very hard time with my thoughts that year. I didn’t know it, but I had become unconscious to the fact that my thoughts had been leading me astray for months. At some point in time, my mind got stuck in a repetitive cycle of following and identifying with thoughts and feeling. I only lived in my head. I wasn’t living anywhere else. I especially wasn’t living my life. So I began to meditate, with the primary purpose of finding some peace, somewhere away from my thoughts which were running amok. I never thought that could be possible. I used to tell my partner that the mind is like as stage, and there’s always something playing. I was so wrong about that. My realist mind only believed in what my limited experience encountered. And in my experience, I couldn’t remember a time when there wasn’t thought or emotion in my mind. I was very inquisitive about meditation. What is it, why does it work? What is happening in my mind during meditation for there to be stillness?
The start of my meditation was frustrating, because I would loose concentration quickly, and the stream of thoughts would wash me away so rapidly. I quickly learned how to sink beneath the surface of thoughts and emotions. When I say quickly, I mean it was only two or three days of practice before beginning to realize that thoughts and emotions are only functions. In retrospect I can say that I learned how to do breathing meditation so quickly because I was so desperate to find a moment of peace and solace.
What I found in my meditation was slipping into a head space that I’d been desperate to find. I was so skeptical about the human mind being able to find a moment with nothing in it. But my inclination told me to trust and to try. My breathing meditation trained me to give my mind one focus – following the breath. When thoughts and emotions came – I labeled them; “these are thought, this is boredom, this is frustration, this is a breath.” In this way, the stream if thoughts and emotions became fewer and farther in between. After some practice and with subtle concentration on breath, my mind became empty and still. In this state, I could be incredibly aware to what was happening to me in the present time. I found that there are so many things happening in the breath. So many in fact, that I could spend up to an hour blissing out at the mere realization of how good breath feels. I subtly realized how great it feels to have a heartbeat, warm skin, a face that can smile, and so many more things. All of this had me realize just how grand and amazing it is to be alive and to be in the creation. This isn’t an exaggeration. Being mindful of breath lead me to discover the innumerable simple things which are happening all the time in the present.
This change in mind and spirit began to carry on into my daily life. I made more discoveries in the subsequent year. Meditation did not cure my depression and anxiety. It didn’t need to anymore. Being mindful and learning to find peace in any moment was a way to bear the depression with grace. I can say, “this is my depression, but it is not me”. These kinds of sufferings (mental unwelness) are the nature of being human. It’s not so bad, but it seems like it because our mental faculties add to the grief by becoming the poor victim of something that is supposedly so awful. But, just like everything else, it is a matter of perspective. Even though I found healthy ways to ease my mental burden, I could never be rid of it. So rather that letting it consume me, I decided to see it as my blessing. That is true. It is my blessing. It isn’t a dissolution. Because, of my mental suffering, my character has become better and stronger. The most ironic thing about facing my challenges with Buddhism is that my spirituality didn’t directly combated the things I have suffered. The dharma only gave me perspective. With a change in perspective, my sufferings became less burdensome. I didn’t give much focus to my suffering. Eventually they took care of themselves. This was true with my chronic pain. That is another story I’ll be exited to tell.
The teachings of many spiritual leaders from the great and ancient eastern religions were tools to assist me in finding my way. There are too many things to share in one blog, but I can share a crucial but of insight which I’ve been eluding to. Life comes with suffering. This is something irrefutable. How often does it work to take external problems into your own hands? Maybe it works sometimes. If this method works for you, than you know that it is very tiring. And then the suffering is still there. I know that from experience. Things in life do not go your way. Breakups happen, death happens, change happens. If you focus on changing your mind rather than changing the world, than nothing is every very much to bear. If you practice living this way, than fear eliminates on its own, and everything is really great. When my closest friend asks me how my day has been on a day when it’s been bad, I say, “It’s been a bad day, but that is good. When it’s a bad day, it’s also a good day”. It is so great to be this way. Understand this. There are so many great and powerful forces that exist in the cosmos. However, if your intelligence turns against you, there is no force or power in the universe that can help you. Make your intelligence work for you! That is the way we are meant to live. Your mind and intellect belongs to you, doesn’t it? So make it work for you. If you can make if work for you, than wouldn’t you chose to make every moment a good one? You can do this with the teaching of the Buddha. You can do this with the teachings of many great eastern philosophies. The Dharma has come to the west. If you are reading this, than it’s at your fingertips. Whatever your path may be, take the Dharma with you.
This blog is thanks to the many characters in my life who have assisted me along the way. Thank you Megan, for being an embodiment of life. Thank you Jenn, for seeing me along the way and giving me unconditional love. Thank you Mom and Dad for giving me all the support through the years of exploration. Thank you brothers and sisters. And thank you Erik, for giving yourself the space, the compassion, and the understanding to live another day.