What about the Buddha’s Wife?
29th June 2017
by Naomi Kent
This excellent blog which comes in 6 weekly articles is by the Radio Presenter Naomi Kent.
This is week 1 of the level 2, Six-week course.
So I’m back in the throngs of meditation education, in the Kuti in Surya’s back garden. A Kuti, FYI, is a hut or a home for a monk – thank you, Google – and this is where the mindfulness courses take place. Last time I was here it was the depths of winter so I couldn’t appreciate the tranquil setting, nestled amongst pretty flower beds & presently dusted in April showers, but here were a small group of meditation fans admiring the view, and wanting to learn more.
Why did we want to learn more? Honestly, I get a bit slack when I don’t have a whip-cracker encouraging mindfulness and meditation and some days I forget my sitting practise, or I find myself the victim of the two daggers. The two daggers, if you missed the first course, are the process of giving yourself a mental beating if and when something goes wrong. Dagger one: The bad thing happening. Dagger two: Getting cross about the bad thing happening and repeatedly going over why it’s such a disgrace to humanity that this bad thing happened and how very dare it and if only you’d done X Y and Z then maybe this wouldn’t have happened but god it’s a tragedy etc. etc. Get the drift? Good.
The second reason I want to learn more is because I’m fascinated that since introducing mindfulness and meditation to my life, I’m genuinely a calmer and happier and more level-headed individual, and it has made me enjoy myself and my life more. Which is mental. I sit for fifteen minutes a day in silence. My life is better. I still can’t get my head around how or why this has made the difference it has, but it has.
So Surya begins by talking us through the roots of meditation. Enter Buddha. So I’ve got to be honest, at the start of the story of Buddha, he sounds like kind of an idiot. The privileged prince, who has never left the castle until he’s 29, and at which point he sees illness, old age and death for the first time and is horrified by each; sheltered much?! He also sees a content chap walking around with a book looking like the weight of the world has never caught eye of his shoulders and decides he wants to be like him. So – here comes the idiot part – he swiftly abandons his wife and child for a life of solitude in the forest. Which feels kind of selfish, and mean, and the poor wife! But don’t fret, it’s for the greater good. Phew!
After spending a bit of time in the forest with some guys who deprive themselves of all the fun stuff, barely eating enough to live, Buddha thinks this option is a tad too extreme so decides to find the ‘middle way’. A bit of the fun stuff, and a bit of the solitude, and after a little wrestle with his ego that wants to lure him back to a life of drama, he resists the temptations thrown his way and hey presto, the path to a life of freedom and joy is officially open for business. And what got him to this point? Sitting and listening to his ego, and ignoring that dramatic pull. Which is why years and years and some more years down the line, we’re still following Buddha’s middle way and silently sitting on the floor cross-legged, daily. Well, daily when we don’t forget!
I still feel bad for Buddha’s wife. I hope she found the benefit of his middle way, as well as a good-looking man to never leave her. But I’m glad Buddha found this key to freedom and joy, so we can all have a go at doing it too without the treacherous journey to get there. Cheers Buddha, we owe you one.
Week 2 Do you know who you are, Like really!
Do you know who you are? Like, really know? Because it turns out I haven’t got a clue. I have been blinding myself to bits of me and even now when I’m staring me straight in the chops, I’m still not sure.
Let’s go back a step.
So this week we talked about Buddha’s Noble Truths. There are four apparently, of which we learned two. The first is ‘Suffering’. We all suffer, suffering exists in the world, you can’t argue with that, which is why it is a Noble Truth. The second is ‘Clinging’. Now this is the bit that’s thrown a big fat spanner in the works, but I’ll get to that. The clinging bit is the ideas our ego has about us or about our lives that we can’t let go of. Status. Power. How we should look, feel, act, be. All these fall under this huge banner of, ‘Clinging’. And it’s the dreaded cling that often forces us back to the first bit, suffering.
Surya asked us to think about the things we’re clinging to, and I had a bunch. I’m a radio presenter. I love my job, it’s a pretty cool one and I like the fact that I’ve made a decent career out of it and can drop a few celebrity names into convo in a non-braggy if slightly-braggy fashion. Without that job, who am I? I lost it once and had to do a brief stint at the job centre, on benefits. I felt like I didn’t know me and didn’t want to know me because I’d lost that cool career and without it felt unworthy. So I cling to my job to feel worthy.
I have a lovely boyfriend but I was single and/or in ropey relationships for too long so now I cling to being a girlfriend, being part of a pair, because I know what goes down after 30 when you drop the S word – SINGLE! It’s almost as horrifying as admitting you’re on the dole. The real kicker is the double S. “You mean you’re STILL SINGLE?” God forbid! So I cling to my nice, cosy, coupley relationship status.
I like to be perfect. At everything. I think I’m my bikram yoga teacher’s dream because no matter how much my body is like, “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME. I’M DYING!!!” I have to do everything exactly as they tell me to. Now being constantly perfect is totally impossible and bloody exhausting, and yet I cling to perfection.
You get the drift right? We’re clingy. I say we, because I’m hoping you have some cling too. Who am I kidding. It’s a Noble Truth for crying out loud. You have some cling!
But here’s the bit that’s thrown me off. Without this stuff: My job title, relationship status, house, car, dog, yoga-poses-on-point etc. then who the heck am I?
Now I’m hoping I don’t need to be without it because I like my life as it stands. But I’ve realised the reason I suffer is through fear that I’ll lose those things, and because I don’t know how much I value myself without them. I’m regularly anxious about work because if I’m not perfect it all might go to pot and then I’m lost. Same with the relationship. I’m stitching myself up left right and centre.
Meditation and mindfulness is now my path to finding me, so regardless of the other bits, it’s all good. Let go of the cling, and you let go of some of the suffering. Wish me luck with that one!
Week 3 It’s Surya’s fault
I’m talking to myself again, and it’s Surya’s fault again. In a good way, if there is a good way to have conversations with oneself.
This week, each of us in our class of eight felt royally exposed. I mean, I assume the other seven did, as I felt mentally starkers. It’s one thing to sit in silence in a room of strangers, meditating and hoping your body keeps any weird noises to itself, but it’s another to verbally expose your inner workings for all to see. The aim of the game was getting in touch with our intuition. How’s yours? Maybe try this out and see.
So Surya prefaces this part of the session by saying what he was about to ask us was “a bit weird” and might feel “a bit uncomfortable” so if we didn’t want to participate we could just raise our hand. I am weak & don’t want to be left out or stand out too much from the crowd, so I kept my hand in my lap as I watched everyone else do the same. He could’ve been asking us anything. ANYTHING. But we – foolishly or unfoolishly, you decide – trusted him.
“I want to speak to your intuition,” he declared. “I want you to all physically shift in your seats and next time I talk to you I will actually be talking to your intuition, not you.” Has he gone bananas? Have we all? Because we all did it.
“How much are you around, Intuition? How much does she trust you? Why are you here? What do you feel like? Look like?” And similar kinda questions.
Now talking in the third person makes anyone uneasy, and should, so when I had to BE my intuition and answer the questions about myself and about ‘her’ as in me, it all felt very weird and very uncomfortable – you undersold that bit Surya! But it also felt strangely eye-opening. Or mind-opening. Because intuition is basically the wisest bit of your psyche, and yet I manage to trust the drama queen, over-thinking, nutty bit of my brain, more than my wise intuition. The general consensus at the end of the activity was that we all need to listen to and trust our intuition much more.
So since the exercise my drama queen, over-thinking, nutty bit has been on the receiving end of a few words from my intuition, and it’s felt pretty good. And my brain feels all the more balanced for the experience, which means that on the whole I feel more balanced and happy. So doing the weird task and having weird conversations actually makes me less weird. Win!
Week 4 Ranty, moany and sweary
What are you saying? And is it any good for you?
Surya talked to us about the importance of what we’re saying, how we’re saying it, why we’re saying it; and when you really start to listen to the many, many words spilling out of your mouth, it’s quite the education.
God I swear a lot. And I often joke with friends that I swear so much because I work on the radio so I have to expel all the swears in real life, so as not to do it on air leaving school-run mums to explain what a B, an S, or even an F is. You’ll be pleased to know I’ve never sworn on air. Yet.
I’m also a bloody moaner. I love a good rant. The perfectionist in me likes to pick out all the imperfections in daily life and tell someone about them. My moans are humorous, I’m not a complete mood hoover. But I’m from a family of moaners and I honestly think moaning is a social currency for Brits. I moan, you moan, we all moan together and are therefore more deeply bonded than before.
So what has my ranty, moany, sweary mouth got to do with mindfulness, meditation and Buddhism. Well according to Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path – basically eight truths we should live by – ‘Right Speech’ is key. There is no room for lying, divisive speech, abusive speech and idle chatter. I can get on board with the first three, but idle chatter should be abstained from?! Idle chatter pays my bills! Should I resign from my breakfast show now?!
On a serious note though, I’m trying to find inner peace, while doing a lot of negative verbal spewing. Not all the time, obviously; I am nice too, honest! But now I’m aware that on some days, I’m projecting a lot of rubbish, it makes sense that I spend a limited amount of time feeling zen.
Since I started meditating, there’s definitely a shift in feeling less put out by negative situations, so I know I often feel less hard done by than the words leaving my lips, but Im’ used to being a moaner, so I revert to what I know. I’m also of the mentality that is something is bothering you, you let it out. But I’m quickly realising that a lot of the stuff I’m letting out isn’t really bothering me, but I find it bothers me more the minute my mouth engages with the bit of my brain that says “MOAN!”
So my mission is to clock the times it’s okay to let it out, notice when my mouth exacerbates a tiny niggle that isn’t really even a problem, so the only things I say are kind, factual, reasonable truths. Buddha likes those. And I’ll also try to find friendly alternatives to swear words. My mum likes those.
Week 5 Fat insatiable and greedy
We all contain a hungry ghost. Fat, insatiable, greedy little things that really like to mess with our regular-sized, satisfied, happy little brains. These hungry ghosts, we learned this week, form part of the Buddhist wheel of life, and part of our daily craving for more.
I don’t think I’m a greedy person. I can buy clothes, in moderation. I can eat chocolate, in moderation. I can drink wine, mainly, in moderation. But apparently my inner workings are less familiar with moderation and are driven by a hungry ghost. And instead of what appears to be a small hungry ghost on the pictures Surya shows us of the wheel of life, in my brain there’s a whopping Godzilla-sized hungry ghost, always greedy for the next thing.
I’m generally satisfied in life. I say generally because if I was completely satisfied maybe I wouldn’t have needed to call upon meditation and mindfulness to feel that satisfaction. But I have a good job, loving family and friends, a comfortable home and effectively there’s nothing I could really want for. And yet I always feel like it’s not enough, and like perhaps I’m not enough.
There’s a big light board in my bedroom, lit up with the phrase, “I am enough,” as a reminder for the times I regularly forget. Working on the radio means my working life to a large degree is under scrutiny, in the spotlight, and open to critique from any Tom, Dick or Harry. Which means I’m constantly putting myself under pressure to be the best I can be, to be better than yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. I love my job, and that inner-critic of mine actually helps me to perform and succeed, but also has the potential to do put myself under unnecessary mental strain. That’ll be the ghost.
My relationship is the best I’ve had for as long as I can remember. I don’t want to blow smoke up my boyfriend’s behind here – I do that enough to his face! – but as our relationship is long distance I’m not satisfied with waiting for nature to take it’s course and for our world’s to collide when our careers decide to fatefully align themselves. I want him to move in with me yesterday. I want to get married last week, and have babies last year, because I’m so damn happy I just want more of the stuff. That’ll be Godzilla the ghost again.
On top of that, also courtesy of the wheel of life and at its centre, we have a pig, a snake and a cock all chasing the living daylights out of one another in our minds. Known as the three poisons, they represent ignorance, aversion, and clinging. So put the lot of them together in your head and it’s no wonder we occasionally feel like there’s a nutty party going on in there; I’m confident my clingy cockerel has a lot to answer for!
Aim of the game in learning about these sneaky drivers is to be aware when they’re taking over our thinking, and replacing good-old-fashioned logic with fiction and fantasy. And then when that does happen, reminding ourselves it’s all just a ghostly con.
Week 6 Fantasy is fun though
My life is a sandcastle. An elaborate, intricately decorated, shell covered, mansion of a sandcastle. And some little scoundrel keeps coming and kicking it down, but I keep building it back up. Who’s to blame? Well, me.
Too much hope is bad for our health, says Surya. Because we create embellished fantasies of what our lives SHOULD be like, and then are devastated when reality in comparison, is the same as what we had before our minds got carried away with the prospect of a fancier version of events.
So I feel like my life in my head, is the kind of carefully crafted sandcastle I’d have created as a kid, and reality is its good kicking down by some cheeky beach brat.
Don’t get me wrong, real life is good, but the life I dream of is better, so naturally letting go of these hopes is a tough ask. Having said that, realising that clinging to these hopes and not always having them realised which in turn makes me unhappy, should make it an easier ask. Note my use of the word, ‘Should’.
Fantasy is fun though. We’re taught to dream big, reach for the stars, and other cliches. And to a degree we should still hope and have ambition and want great things for ourselves; that kind of hope is okay. But equally, we all know those times we’ve been disappointed when something hasn’t gone exactly to mental plan, and we feel crappy about it.
In my head my long-distance boyfriend is secretly arranging to send me flowers, googling engagement rings and crafting a WhatsApp message packed with sweet nothings. But in reality he’s having a cup of tea, procrastinating over some spreadsheet and ordering contact lens solution. And come the end of a busy week, when I’ve cried down the phone to him about my boss refusing my holiday dates, sniffled my way through virus-ridden meetings and slumped into my bed that desperately need the sheets changing from fake tan abuse but I’m too shattered to care and my flowers STILL haven’t arrived, I’m cross with him. And it’s not his fault, the poor bugger. It’s mine.
And yet I keep playing out these illicit fairytales and wondering why I don’t always feel fulfilled in life. Mindfulness and awareness is part of my toolkit when it comes to stopping or at least slowing the circle, but I’m not sure I’m ready to give up my fantastical wanderings completely. My head, for all its disappointed times, can be a pretty magical place. So I’ll continue to meditate, and continue with my quest to embrace and exist in the present moment without clinging too hard to hope. And I’ll try to be less cross with my boyfriend when he doesn’t send me peonies, and reply politely when he texts about accepting his delivery from Specsavers.
Tagged as: Naomi Kent
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