Monday, November 28, 2011

The Do-Over Life: 1 Year Later

One year ago today, I launched this blog to chronicle my foray into Buddhist Practice. It's been my "Year of Living Buddhist-ly," otherwise known as My Do-Over Life. No, I have not achieved enlightenment, but I have edged my way closer to finding clarity in many areas of my life.  I've found that the more open I am to accepting the truths about myself, the happier I am—even if discovering those truths isn't exactly pleasant. And that the best way to learn about myself is through my relationships with others. In other words: I honor every person who enters my life as my teacher.
Jack's beloved and well-worn companion,
Panda Ping.
  Relationships have always been important to me. And the lessons I've learned have been a common theme throughout my blog. Whether it was through my relationship with my son, my relationship to my ISP, my relationships with my girlfriends, or my relationship with an annoying ex-boyfriend, these personal connections have taught me about my shortcomings and my strengths. I've always learned from the people in my life, starting with my parents and siblings, but now I'm more keenly aware of the messages imparted by everyone who crosses my path. How I react to each person and the actions he or she might inspire in me have helped define what is truest in me, and what I should let fall away. In fact, I look at this year as a reductive process, stripping away all the old, worn-out perceptionsreactions and dreams. Letting go of these old, comfortable ways may be harder for me than for Jack to give up his beloved Panda Ping. We all have relationships to people, places, things or behaviors that we cling to, either emotionally or physically. Understanding why they are so important to us is part of the process of growing up and letting go.

    I recently asked a friend and loyal blog reader to suggest a topic. Since relationships have been a running theme throughout the blog, I shouldn't have been surprised by his request: "An open letter to potential suitors on what qualities single moms look for in a future partner. (I know  your perspective on men may have changed since the first go-around, and I think that’s what would be interesting to readers).  I know it’s a personal topic, but I think that’s what makes your writing great." 
   At first I thought this topic was too personal, but since his query addresses the essential aspect of relationships, I decided to take on the challenge. (And yes, I've given this topic more than a little consideration over the past months.) In the past I've made lengthy lists of qualities that my Prince Charming should possess. Today, I have just one all-important characteristic, but it's a biggie and very simple, yet difficult to attain. And like most attributes we seek out in others, I know that I must first possess it myself. It's no coincidence that my Buddhist Practice is bringing me closer to this goal. 
   The ultimate quality in a future partner is not success or wealth or status—these qualities are superficial. It's not good looks or charisma or chemistry—although these attributes don't hurt. It's not kindness, compassion or unconditional love—yes, these qualities are admirable. The single most important quality in a future partner comes down to this: He must be Present. Let me explain.
   At this stage in the game—in our 40s—most of us have accumulated more baggage than can fit in the overhead compartment. Most people suffered disappointments, heartache, death of loved ones, abuse or worse. Many had parents who were less than present in their lives. Many have gone on to marriages and divorces with bitter consequences. All that is in the Past. Yes, I believe it is often necessary to explore those past wounds, find the source of the suffering and uproot it. (A good therapist can help, as can meditation and prayer.) I have a lot of compassion for anyone who has carried the woes of their past with them for decades, sometimes without even knowing it. I understand it because I've lugged my share of baggage with me, too. I'm clung to my emotional Panda Ping, afraid to let it go. But in embracing Buddhist philosophy coupled with the belief in a loving and Present God, I see that the past doesn't exist anymore. To cling to it is to cling to an allusion. 
   Likewise, projecting into the future is folly because the Future is an allusion as well. It doesn't exist. Remaining in the Present is the key to any spiritual practice. Of course, it's easier said than done when our thoughts are trained to race back to what is known, or rush into the future to concern ourselves about what is not known. 
   Being Present means simply focusing on whatever is happening right now; appreciating the beauty of the world as it is right now; loving the people who are in our lives right now; acting with compassion and kindness right now; speaking with the best intentions right now. Being present means finding joy in all of life.
   Being Present means being attentive, not self-absorbed or selfish. Being Present means not withholding affection, love or intimacy because of some deep-seated fear. I believe being present is the essential element necessary in any healthy relationship, romantic or otherwise.
  The good news is, we can choose to be present at anytime. We can choose to put aside our Panda Pings. What happened in the past is past. Every day provides the possibility for Do-Over. Over the months to come, as I strive to be more present in my Do-Over Life, I'm trying not to think about "future" partners. But when I do meet that special someone, we will both be present.


  1. Hey fellow pathfinder, Here comes another request - not from a friend, but at least an avid reader. If you don't mind, may I ask what the pathway to 'be in the present' is? I like what you wrote, and I think we agree about the destination, but as usual the way seems to be what is important. I beg to disagree with the statement "the past doesn't exist anymore". I can tell I tried to move on to the "next life" - it did not work. The past still does exist, it always will, and it is in part what defines us. If we embrace all the past experiences, that might actually be something very, very valuable. I also think it is impossible to uproot anything from our past, even if we identified it as something causing suffering in our later life. I believe the key is to learn to accept the past, in which we are deeply rooted, and accept, whatever the ghosts of yesterday may be, as part of our history, and at the same time move on into the future. Just don't know yet, how that works exactly. Any ideas? I do know one thing, it won't be a simple do-over, we can not move back in time and start new again. I expect it to be a life-long experience.

  2. Karl, thanks so much for the comment. And thanks for following my blog. The blog, of course, represents only my limited perspective, based on my experience and knowledge. So here goes:

    I think honoring the past is one thing, reliving, clinging, obsessing over, and enacting the same unhealthy behaviors learned in the past is another. The past doesn't exist. Only this moment exists. Yes, we are informed by everything that has happened to us, but when we live by the fears created from past experience, we are not living in the reality of the present. We cannot appreciate what is happening here and now.

    It is possible to uproot past woes and set them aside. It is called forgiveness. It is called having compassion for ourselves and others. AND, as you point out, acceptance is forgiveness and compassion. I wish I could tell you a formula for letting go of those deeply rooted wounds. Being mindful of my emotions has helped me identify triggers, which in turn, have shown me where the shit is buried. And Do-Over isn't just tracing back to past and re-doing. It is doing things better now. If I'm aware of my issues and triggers and shortcomings, then I can stop myself from adversely reacting in the same old way again. I can take steps to amend my behavior. And little by little that awareness brings with it peace. I don't know if any of this makes sense! This is just my perception. I can recommend some good books on Buddhist practice if your interested. And you're right, "getting it right" is a life-long experience, but the sooner we can get some things right the happier we'll be in this life.