buddhism

Who Are You? The Mystery of Existence and The Importance of A Rich, Inner Experience

Who Are You? The  Mystery of Existence and The Importance of A Rich, Inner Experience

Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Who Am I?” What comes up when you do ask that question? I imagine that most of us start with labels or descriptions of our life. For example, I could say, “I'm a 5’8” Asian-American therapist that weighs 155 pounds. I was born in Mountain View, California but now live in New York City.” But would that encompass who I am in any meaningful way?

I don’t think so. In fact, I think that description is mostly worthless because it says nothing about what is going on in my subjective everyday consciousness. So maybe we’re our thoughts and feelings? That would better describe our inner, subjective experience. But have you really examined your thoughts before?

What Meditation Isn't: 5 Common Misnomers of the Ancient Practice

What Meditation Isn't: 5 Common Misnomers of the Ancient Practice

So you want to meditate… kudos to you for wanting to improve your mental health and life. When I’ve practiced it consistently, which admittedly wanes depending on the week, meditation has changed my life for the better. While some have tried to quantify meditation with a number, I feel like that might be doing meditations benefits a disservice. With regular practice, you just aren’t the same person you before meditation; suddenly there is space between thoughts and you are more present. You’re kinder, more loving and more patient.

But there is a lot of disinformation on what meditation actually is. I’ve heard wild things about meditation from people trying to reach astral planes or from novices who believe that meditation means clearing one’s mind of all thoughts. So without further ado, I thought I’d try to address 5 common misnomers about meditation.

When You Stop Meditating Consistently...

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There is an old Zen saying: You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour. That saying always resonated with me because it speaks to the importance of meditation not only for relieving anxiety and being productive but for seeing the true nature of your mind and reality.  

But I haven't been meditating consistently. I could give you a lot of excuses or reasons. There has been lots of travel and change in my life recently for instance. Those are perfectly valid reasons... 

The odd thing about not meditating consistently is that you stop remembering what you are missing. Your mind turns into slush like most people's. Your attention span is much shorter. Your emotions pop around like a pinball. You're more susceptible to mood swings or giving into unproductive habits. But the thing is you're mostly unaware that you're doing it. 

And that is the real benefit of meditation: awareness. Awareness of your smallest movements or your breath. Awareness of what spikes your anxiety or what your temptations are. Awareness is key. Without awareness, we can become mindless, following our every urge or instinct with reflection. Without awareness, we can easily become the worst versions of ourselves. And it is that thought that always gets me to put meditation back on the calendar every morning even if I don't always do it. 

In Praise of Pantheism

In Praise of Pantheism

“I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”- Albert Einstein

Just a quick blog post before I get back to real work...

I've been mulling over my religious views more lately as I've contemplated what a spiritual life looks like. Despite admiring some of its thought, I've found atheism or agnosticism lacking as a worldview, but the monotheistic ideas of a personal God are far worse and repellent to me at least as it can often promote the worst in human nature (i.e. see all of human history from the crusades to 9/11). 

I've found myself drawn to Buddhism as an adult because there are no creator gods. The goal is to end suffering. There are no strict dogmas, but useful list of guidelines to get there known as the four noble truths and the eightfold path. 

Visiting Home

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I'm currently at San Jose Airport now to head to Seattle and Vancouver for a few days. This year, I went to visit my parents as I do every year around the holidays. I don't get to see them much anymore. Living in New York makes it impossible to visit except for maybe twice a year. 

This year felt especially hard for me. Watching my parents get old is especially tough. My father, in particular, has turned into an old man. He lives with pain and constant arthritis. He walks slowly. His hand shakes. His hearing is going. His eyesight is poor. It can feel heartbreaking to watch.

We had a conversation last night that was especially poignant, I thought. He talked about knowing he will die soon and about passing on his legacy to my brother and I. He talked about some of the connections he had made in recent years that have sustained him. But he admitted that he accepted his death but that it scared him. How could it not? He wanted nothing more than for me to get married before he left the earth. 

And then this morning, my mom seemed heartbroken by the prospect of me leaving and only visiting for a few days. Again, it was hard for me to watch as she nearly teared up.  I seem to live with a lot of guilt. Or maybe it's a lot of empathy. I can feel the deepness of a person's pain acutely. And it made me wish for a brief second that I lived in California still, that I had not chosen the "selfish" path and moved away to find my own life. 

I don't know what to do with these feelings besides accepting them as they are. Life is often sad. People get older. I'll get older and older. It's just the way things are. It's not easy or particularly fair. But that doesn't stop it from happening. 

Deepak Chopra Is Selling $350 Meditation Glasses. Deepak Chopra Is A Fraud

Deepak Chopra Is Selling $350 Meditation Glasses. Deepak Chopra Is A Fraud

I've always had an uneasy relationship with commerce and spirituality. (I even feel weird putting ads on this website, even though it's really just to try and pay for the costs of hosting this website). But I do think there is much value in mindfulness meditation and the spread of meditation centers and apps; these things probably help many in our age of anxiety and late capitalism. 

But when I see an article about  "Luxury Meditation Class" in the Flatiron District, or how everyone in Google meditates to essentially be more productive,  my first reaction is to throw up a little in my mouth and then get angry. (From that article, "Johanna Sistek, a trademark lawyer, says the emotional skills she refined in the class help her focus on her many tasks, despite a fire hose of professional demands. Like most of her colleagues, she still faces “instant deadlines” but says they no longer freak her out." This might be the worst thing I've ever read). 

Why does this upset me so? Well, Buddhism is first and foremost about ending suffering. Not just your own suffering but the suffering of all sentient beings. And a Buddhist accomplishes this by following the Eightfold Path.  Meditation is a part of the Eightfold Path, but it is only a small part of it. So much of the Eightfold Path is about morality, including Right Livelihood, which tells us that we cannot choose careers that exploit, and Right Action, which tells we must abstain from killing, sexual misconduct and creating suffering in other people directly. 

And meditating to become productive or lessen your anxiety has so little to do with any morality or ending suffering. It's about lessening your anxiety so you can continue to be productive and a good consumer. An $18 dollar meditation class or Google's meditation centers does little to address any real morality or change in the world. In fact, it's just the opposite: It just reinforces neoliberalism through and through.