Siddhartha and Me
I hope this post will be the first of several, and marks the beginning of a journey.
I don’t meditate as much as I should, but when I do, I am always surprised by how agitated my mind truly is. As I close my eyes and begin to focus on my breath, I notice how much I have been thinking about just outside the forefront of my mind. There is music, anxiety, sexual fantasies, poker hands, chess moves, memories of conversations, roleplays of future conversations, painful memories, anger, thoughts of what I’m going to eat later or do at the weekend. It is as if I have been walking through a busy city with music in my ears, and I when I take out my earphones I hear a whole metropolis’ worth of sound. It’s scary, overwhelming, and I realise how disconnected my own consciousness is, and my own lack of self awareness.
There are plenty of people I have found on the internet who talk only using sentences like the last one, Frank Yang and Nick Howard spring to mind. The words they use are so difficult that they often lose their meaning on me, and I don’t understand them. I was dismissive of them both at first, when they talk about “higher consciousness”; I didn’t believe that your conscious state could be changed much, other than to be focused/distracted, or perhaps emotional/rational. I had read about experiences such as Kundalini awakenings, and quickly written them off as hallucinations, a result of some kind of sensory deprivation through meditation. Recently I watched a Frank Yang video about a 10 day Vipassana silent meditation retreat he attended, and it opened my mind to it a little, enough to read more about Vipassana and other forms of meditation, and to watch his other videos about his experiences with meditation and consciousness. To be honest, I have no idea if his Youtube channel is a masterful troll, if it is the product of large quantities of illegal drugs, if he is mentally unwell…. Or if he has had experiences that have changed the way he perceives the world, that the rest of us haven’t.
I have never been a spiritual person. I went to Christian schools my whole childhood but I remember my belief in a Christian god fading away around 11 or 12, into a kind of agnosticism for a couple of years, into religious apathy once my depression began to get really bad at 16 or so. Since then, I have only thought that I will never know, and that every explanation is as wildly improbably as the others (I began to believe this after reading David Eagleman’s book, Sum). All I believed in was science. But a while ago, after having tried mindfulness meditation a few times and seeing some benefits, I became curious about Buddhism. It isn’t really a religion in the same way others are, in that it has no god, no otherworldly deity, only Siddhārtha Gautama, or Buddha, who was a human like the rest of us. He was the first to be enlightened, and taught others what he had learned, and then they taught others, and so on and so forth. There are no priests in Buddhism, only teachers. Do I believe Buddha sat under a Bodhi tree for 49 days meditating, without moving, until he understood the fundamental truths of human nature and the universe? I definitely don’t believe he sat under a tree for 49 days. I highly doubt he attained enlightenment. But I don’t doubt at all that he undertook the journey to attain enlightenment, and that might be important.
Much of Buddha’s teachings, or dharmas, centre around suffering, including the Four Noble Truths:
- The existence of suffering
- The origin of suffering
- The cessation of suffering
- The path to the cessation of suffering.
I think almost everybody, regardless of spirituality, wants to be happier, and less suffering in their life would make them happier. Many Buddhist teachings provide practical ways for anyone to be happier - sort of, I think. Here is where some of my reservations about Buddhism arise.
Suffering is important, which Buddha recognised. From personal experience (seemingly the most important factor in spirituality), suffering is what leads to growth. Had I not suffered so much when I was younger, I do not think I would be who I am today. I really like this clip from Little Miss Sunshine, and I have talked before in the blog about embracing suffering. When I meditated today, I realised why my thoughts were so loud - I constantly postpone my suffering. Whenever I have a big losing session playing poker, I feel negative emotions and I suffer - my first reaction is to play a video game to “relax”. By doing that, I do not process the emotion, I merely push it to the back of my consciousness. If I am bored, anxious, lonely, angry, I eat, play videogames, or watch porn - postponing my suffering. I think we have developed a culture of this now, I know I certainly have. Even writing this, if I pause to think of what to write next, rather than face the difficulty of finding the right words straight away, I flick to another tab and read for a couple of minutes. I have mastered postponing my suffering instead of dealing with it, inhibiting my own growth.
In that sense, Buddhism of course recognises I need to acknowledge and process my suffering in order to eliminate it. I now do too, otherwise I assume I will simply explode at some point. Meditation is suffering, and I am going to do it more. I have felt a sense of purposelessness for a while now, but recently I have discovered my purpose, to learn to love myself (another core focus of Buddhism). I think this is going to involve a lot of suffering, and ultimately overcoming it. By forcing myself to do uncomfortable things now, eat clean, meditate, exercise, study - I will love myself (I of course that loving myself will be the journey and not the destination... I haven't quite figured it out yet). Instead of indulging myself to dopamine-duct-tape over my problems, I will try to face them - facebook/instagram are gone, less videogames (only for fun, not when experiencing negative emotion), might try NoFap for a bit. I think to start with, it will be very difficult, almost akin to withdrawal symptoms, and I will suffer a lot. But I will overcome it, and then I can start to process the rest of my suffering. And once I overcome that, I will be ready to do anything.
My last problem with Buddhism is the end goal - the rejection of self, an acceptance of nothingness, the end of suffering. This contradicts everything I’ve ever felt about the human condition - it has its ups and its downs, but that’s the whole point. In my life I have felt crushing lows and euphoric highs. Would I experience all the bad for more of the good? In a heartbeat, it’s not even a question in my mind. Would you rather never have ice cream again, or occasionally have too much ice cream? When I think back to certain happy times in my life, to pursue never feeling like that again, or even believing that never feeling like that again would be “enlightened” is impossible for me. Those experiences are why I get out of bed in the morning, why I have motivation to do anything, what drives me as a human. It is an animal instinct, but really we are all animals, and I’m OK with being an animal and not transcending. Is there really peace in the end of suffering, even if such a thing could be real? If my suffering was over, would there be any point in life anymore (perhaps enlightenment is death, or perhaps we’re getting really off the rails here)?
So, what is the point to all this. I guess the point is, I am trying to become more open-minded and not write off spirituality like I have done in the past. I want to establish a serious meditation practice, as a way of suffering-to-grow, and getting to know and love myself better. I’m going to read more about Buddha’s teaching, and I don’t know if I can just pick and choose the bits that suit me, but either way, it will be interesting. Hopefully during my meditation practice I don’t become so self aware that I suddenly zap myself out of existence. Oh, and if I ever start talking like Nick Howard, punch me in the face.