Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


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Grace

Two dear friends visited over the weekend, and the talk turned to meditation. My friend Original Steph started meditating shortly after I did, and has embraced it beautifully; she even has a mindfulness counselor she sees once a month. Annie said she’s started to sit a little, too. “I can get behind the sitting and clearing my mind thing,” she said. “Meditation as stress relief. But I can’t get into meditation as a spiritual practice.”

Then she asked the question I’ve been mulling over since Sunday: “I mean, Buddhism isn’t a religion, is it? There’s no God in Buddhism, right?”

That, I thought, is a very complicated question.

On the surface, she’s right. Buddhism predates Christianity and Christ; the Buddha never met a Jew. As such, there is no one God in Buddhism. And no afterlife. And yet, I have always thought of Buddhism as a religion, and since embracing mindfulness last November I feel for the first time in my life that I have found a spiritual practice. That I believe in something. When I meditate, when I have those glimpses of clarity and feel that the universe is connected to me and I to it, I feel I am praying. At the end of my sit in the mornings I send out compassion to all beings. I single out a few: my friend Elizabeth, whose ten-month-old has autism. My family friend Jonathan, who is battling cancer. My brother, who was at Brigham and Women’s hospital right after the blasts on Monday. And the people maimed or killed in that horrible attack. And all those suffering, everywhere. Is this prayer?

On Monday night, at dinner, Marc asked whether we should say grace.

Grace? He surprised me.

Growing up, grace was something we said three or four times a year. My grandfather might say, “God is good, God is great, let us thank him for our food.” I was taught that I was a Protestant, but we never went to church. When I was older and could understand such things, I learned that no one in my family believed in God. I counted myself among them.

“Should we say grace?” Marc asked on Monday, and I said, “Yes. I will.”

Here’s what I said:

Thank you to Mama and Daddy for working hard for this food that is on our table.

And may we send love, peace, and light to all beings who are suffering tonight.

Prayer? I guess so.

I love the double meaning of grace: grace as prayer, and grace as the ability to be detached from suffering. I realize sometimes how difficult it is for me to find and maintain grace, how difficult it is for me to find that quality of detachment from the things that make me suffer.

I wonder if one kind of grace is the way to the other kind.

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On Making Resolutions, or What I Learned from Reading The Happiness Project

I just finished Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, a book that in a roundabout way had some bearing on my decision to undertake this project. As I said in My Story, I’m not doing an experiment in happiness, exactly, but nonetheless Rubin’s decision to take a year to improve her relationships, be more mindful, clear out clutter, and pursue a passion definitely appealed to me. She and I are very different people, but I liked and admired her strange, thoughtful, and sometimes-hokey journey through self-improvement.

The Goddess in the side yard

The book is full of resolutions, and I must admit that was part of its appeal. I love to make resolutions: resolutions to be more tidy, resolutions to write more, resolutions to do yoga everyday, and the biggie, this resolution to find a spiritual life and live more mindfully. I have to admit, though, that I can’t tell whether resolutions are actually antithetical to what I’m trying to do. I struggle with the dichotomy of “get your ass to yoga, slacker” and “actually, if you choose not to go to yoga–and have a glass of wine instead–that’s A-ok.” I know Buddhism, and any spiritual practice, really, is about discipline. I also know that personally, I err way on the side of giving myself too many tasks to accomplish and things to do, and sometimes, the best choice for me would be saying no–even to yoga.

So I had an idea. I decided to make some mindful resolutions. What’s a mindful resolution, you ask? Well, resolutions that take me beyond those states like Ego, Anger, and Animality–and closer to Enlightenment. Resolutions that ultimately might help me end dukkha (suffering). Being more tidy is a good resolution, but let’s face it, it won’t bring me closer to God. Or will it?

Stay tuned, readers: next week. My mindful resolutions.

To read: The Happiness Project