January 30, 2006

Taking refuge

You know, I thought I was pretty well set up with the Buddhist precepts. I'm vegetarian, pretty socially conscious, and I quit drinking (I was a pretty light drinker to begin with, so it wasn't areally big transition there.) I figured, all I've gotta do is be more aware about doing the right thing, here and there, and I'm all set.

Not so easy.

The ceremony in which you vow to follow the precepts is preceded by the 'Three Jewels' ceremony, in which you vow to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. In other words, when you're having trouble, look to the Buddha, the teachings, and your community to help give you enough inspiration and love to get you through the rough patches in life. Sometimes it's difficult to follow the precepts, which I think is why the two ceremonies are connected.

Everyone has pressure release valves that they "take refuge in" when they've had a stressful day. For many of us, those release valves include having a drink or two with friends, or watching TV, or snacking, eating ice cream, running or other exercise, etc. For some people, it can mean seeking a rush of adrenaline, for instance through skydiving, or even shoplifting.

Lately when I feel like I need some stress relief, I've been sitting in front of the boob tube with a snack, even if I'm not hungry, even if there's nothing on. Which really sucks. What a waste of time and food. 'Vegging out' in front of crap TV stuffing your face with junk definitely violates the spirit of the precepts, if not the letter. When I catch myself doing that I'm going to try working out instead. Or maybe seducing my sweetheart. :-)

I think this is a different definition of "taking refuge" than was meant in the ceremony. But I think they're related. Hopefully, with the support of the people I love, and with the Dharma pointing me in the right direction, I will be able to muster up the willpower to make that transition from couch potato to active healthy person.

I'm not planning on giving up TV, or reading blogs (another time waster :-)), I'm just cutting out the stuff where I recognize I'm just killing time, where I'm not really, really enjoying it.

9 Comments:

At February 02, 2006, Blogger DA said...

Cool deal. Best o luck to ya.

 
At February 03, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

Hey Jules,

Being awfully hard on yourself, no? I think the precepts can be viewed metaphorically and literally. I may be wrong, but I don't think they're intended as a virtual checklist against which you compare your decisions and actions. It would seem to me that if you did so, then you would be thinking dualistically -- this is a good action because it is right speech, this is a bad action because it isn't -- and it's this same type of thinking that we try to seek to minimize, or at least understand.
I don't think the precepts are meant to be incorporated into our lives the way some people incorporate the Ten Commandments. They don't strike me as being absolute in the way that the Ten Commandments are.
As for killing time, I leave you with this quote by Henry David Thoreau: "As if we could kill time without injuring eternity!"

 
At February 03, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

Thanks, Da.

Michael,
Actually, a big part of my efforts are in the direction of not being hard on myself. You're familiar with the idea of changing behavior by offering a carrot vs. using a stick? In my interpretation of the precepts, I've always tried to hold a view that they are meant to be thought of in the positive sense. Instead of "not killing," I try to respect all forms of life. Instead of "not stealing or lying," etc. I try to respect others. Instead of "not using intoxicants" I try to cherish mental clarity.

So I'm trying not to think of being a couch potato as "bad." I'm focusing on how much happier I'd be if I spent those hours working out, or talking with my wife, or reading a good book, or improving my Perl programming skills, or practicing playing bass guitar.

I agree with your idea that the precepts aren't a list of items to get judgemental about. But if they aren't meant to be incorporated into our lives, what's their purpose?

I love that Thoreau quote.

Part of the reason why I want to change that TV/junk food habit is to explore more deeply why I'm doing it. Why am I 'taking refuge' in mindless TV and mindless consumption? I'm not really even enjoying it. I'm talking about real crap TV, mostly bereft of any redeeming qualities. I'm not eating because I'm hungry, I'm just munching mindlessly. I ask myself why I'm watching this stuff. "There's nothing better on" is the first thing that comes to mind.

I have an intuition that it's deeper than that. I suspect there's something I'm subconsciously trying to avoid thinking about, and watching this stuff distracts me just enough to relieve the mild general anxiety. Maybe I should occasionally do zazen instead of those other stress-relievers, and just watch what comes up.

Thanks for the comment, Michael.

 
At February 03, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

Hi Jules,

I'm not sure if this comment will make it on your blog. It seems there are technical issues with the server that hosts my blog, and I'm wondering if this affects my ability to post comments.
Anyway, I'd like to respond to your very thoughtful answer as soon as I find out what's what with blogger.

 
At February 06, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

Hi Jules,

"But if they [the precepts] aren't meant to be incorporated into our lives, what's their purpose? ...

Part of the reason why I want to change that TV/junk food habit is to explore more deeply why I'm doing it. Why am I 'taking refuge' in mindless TV and mindless consumption? I'm not really even enjoying it. I'm talking about real crap TV, mostly bereft of any redeeming qualities. I'm not eating because I'm hungry, I'm just munching mindlessly. I ask myself why I'm watching this stuff."

I think the precepts are indeed meant to be incorporated into our lives, but for me the main thing to remember is that Buddhism is "the middle way." Placing undue emphasis on keeping the letter of the precepts, rather than the spirit (and I think there's a time for both) would create too much potential counterproductive thinking for me.

 
At February 06, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

P.S. That last line should read potential **for** counterproductive thinking."

 
At February 06, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

"I think the precepts are indeed meant to be incorporated into our lives, but for me the main thing to remember is that Buddhism is "the middle way." Placing undue emphasis on keeping the letter of the precepts, rather than the spirit (and I think there's a time for both) would create too much potential for counterproductive thinking for me."

Thanks for sharing your perspective, Michael, I think we're pretty much on the same page

I can't say I've made a lot of progress in changing my habits over the past couple weeks. I haven't watched as much junk TV, but that was pretty easy to give up. I've still been indulging in snack food pretty much the same as ever. But I'm not too worried about it.

I think for now the honest intention to be mindful of what I'm eating is enough. As the habit of eating mindfully gets more established, I think it will get easier to stop with the junk food. But if it takes a while, it takes a while. I'm not going to push myself beyond a mild discomfort. I think slow change for this one is OK, as long as I keep pushing my comfort zone just a little and keep making progress in the right direction.

That didn't work for me in giving up smoking. I found it was a lot easier to just go "cold turkey," and give it up all at once, so I could just put it out of my mind and I didn't have to balance between whether or not I should have a smoke now or hold off until later.

But that doesn't work with food. Well, I guess it's possible, but that's basically anorexia. Much better to just be mindful of what I'm eating, and forgiving of myself, without drawing a hard line or getting judgemental about success or failure.

 
At February 08, 2006, Blogger Siren said...

Jules,
I think slow, incremental changes are much longer lasting. Something that helps me is to think of adding good things, instead of subtracting bad things. For instance, very gradually adding good foods- and I mean gradual- like 'I will eat an apple today'. It might seem silly, but over time you'll have filled up your day with fueling your body on good stuff and the bad foods basically drop away over time.

'Small additional increments are transformative'.

 
At February 09, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

Sounds like good advice.
Thanks, Siren!

 

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