Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


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Codependence; Who Knew?

After my last post comparing becoming Buddhist to being in recovery, I thought it would be funny (yeah, real funny, you sicko) to come here and write, “I relapsed!”

In fact I did not.

photo-1 copy photo-2 copyBut I realized this past week that this whole mindfulness/meditation gig does not remove the tendency or the temptation to be a nervous, anxious wreck. In fact this has been my tendency for as long as I can remember–or since I was seven, whichever comes first.

I have definitely been angsty of late, angsty about career and friendships and fertility and parenting, and with each move towards anxiety I have to breathe, strive for mindfulness, renew my commitment to the zafu, and remember my boundaries.

This last one is a biggy. Coincidentally, after I wrote that last post, I went to dinner and yoga with a friend who is in Al-Anon. Over sushi at the local Whole Foods (look, that counts as dinner these days, okay?) she explained to me the concept of codependence. Holy cow. I always thought “codependent” was the word you used to describe a couple who can’t spend any time apart. I didn’t realize that codependent has much more to do with boundaries, with not respecting someone else’s, with not being heard as an individual or listening to someone else as an individual, with trying to be all up in somebody else’s bisnatch all the time. With control.

What a revelation for me.

A revelation because I finally had some language to describe:

A. My sometimes difficult relationship with my parents

B. My often difficult relationship with various friends

C. The feeling I get when someone pushes me to do something after I have said no, or offers advice for a scenario I have made up my mind not to pursue

D. My own instinct, lately, to really strive to meet friends and family where they’re “at,” instead of pushing them to be different or offering advice

How does this relate to Buddhism? Because, if you’re working to remove attachments (to outcomes, to other people), somehow the urge to be codependent starts to go away.

And, at first, your tolerance for other people’s codependence goes down.

But maybe you have better tools to deal with codependence as it comes up. I hope. I’m still figuring this out. As Anne Lamott says in her lovely book Operating Instructions: “Little by little I think I’m letting go of believing that I’m in charge, that I’m God’s assistant football coach. It’s so incredibly hard to let go of one’s passion for control. It seems like if you stop managing and controlling, everything will spin off into total pandemonium and it will be all your fault.”

I guess this is part of the path.

photo copy

The path was in Northern California this whole time.

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Triggers

I had the revelation the other day that becoming Buddhist is a bit like being in recovery from drug addiction in that you’re wandering along, feeling like you’ve conquered the thing, when all of a sudden there’s a particular sort of trigger that throws you back into danger. If you’re an addict, the trigger might be a breakup, an illness, sad news, who knows, and the danger is that you’ll start to use again. If you’re working on your mindfulness, the danger is falling back into anxiety, depression, self-loathing, and attachment.

This could sound incredibly lofty, I realize.

But I’m serious. The other day around 7 p.m. I told Marc how much my meditation practice is helping me with my career angst. When I sit every day, I told him, I feel less sure that my book sucks and that I will never achieve success. When I sit every day I feel less attached to its success at all. I feel proud of the work–but not too proud!–and good about how far I have come. I have this realistic understanding of process, of the path, of the journey that the book and I are on together.

I am much less hard on myself.

I said all of this, and meant it, and really felt I had had a breakthrough.

At 8 p.m. I checked my email to find that a school colleague had had an awesome career success. (One I instantly felt he hadn’t deserved, because I was being petty.) And just like that, my whole night was ruined. I started to panic about how little writing I have done this week, and how little writing I will be able to do this whole month, what with all the papers to grade and not being able to afford more childcare for Lex, and since I am so shamefully bad at managing everything, and because I waste time with blog posts and jealousy–and because, let’s face it, I have no talent to speak of, anyway………………

Yes, folks, I got triggered.

Yuck.

The mindful Buddhist response, of course, would be to notice the trigger and move on. And I am relieved to say that at this, at least, I succeeded in doing what Pema Chödrön says we should do: stop making everything such a big deal.

“I’m jealous of J.,” I said to Marc. “I am just going to admit it.” And saying it helped immensely.

But of course, that doesn’t solve the thing. I’m sure the addict who resists the fix still kind of wants it for a few days and feels bad for having almost gone there.

More, I realize the world is filled with triggers.

And that, I think, is what this is all about.