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November 23, 2005


I had a creepy single moment the other day.

Most of the time I really enjoy the freedom of being alone. However, sitting down in a movie house to see a chick flick, two young teenagers in the same row gave me a look reminding me how our society views people not in a group.

I wanted to explain that I do have friends, that I didn't have to see this film alone; that I wanted to. However, explaining all that would make me seem even creepier so I let the feeling go and sat back to enjoy the movie (which was about two people who were obviously destined not to be alone).

If a girl likes her alone time in public, there is no getting away from the occasional creep feeling - I imagine it is infinitely worse for a guy.

Our whole lives seemed programmed towards being with other people. Even at home we are hanging out with our friends on TV, listening to our favorite musicians or reading what other people wrote. We are supposed to grow up with our families, go to college, meet other students and find our mate, get married, have kids, go out with friends... If you aren't going out as a couple you are going out in a group.

Yet is this a bad conundrum? The same feeling those teenagers gave me could preserve them from predatory people who really are creeps.

Nevertheless, people who are alone are pitied - the Norwegian bachelor farmer and the old spinster auntie. They end up abandoned at the nursing home depending on the church, strangers, or nieces and nephews to visit.

Perhaps that is too harsh; remember Pippi Longstockings? What about witches and midwives? Remember that favorite uncle who just "never could settle down"? I aim to create a new stereotype, instead of being the crazy old cat lady, I aspire to be the insane guinea pig gal - with the little critters running rampant in my house. Instead of dour, I'll be giggly, always chuckling about the infinite nature of the universe and inside jokes that no one else could possibly understand.

November 20, 2005

Dukkha vs Suffering

Commonly interpreted as "Life is Suffering," it took me awhile to agree with this first noble truth. Although introduced to it at a young age, it was several years before I experienced enough ups and downs to agree that while there is certainly joy, there is also regular sorrow. A lot of time would have been saved, had I read this passage first, instead of being told the abbreviated version:

Dukkha, then, names the pain that to some degree colors all finite existence. The word's constructive implications come to light when we discover that it was used in Pali to refer to wheels whose axles were off center or bones that had slipped from their sockets. (A modern metaphor might be a shopping cart we try to steer from the wrong end.) The exact meaning of the First Noble Truth is this: Life (in the condition it has got itself into) is dislocated. Something has gone wrong. It is out of joint. As its pivot is not true, friction (interpersonal conflict) is excessive, movement (creativity) is blocked, and it hurts.

It isn't so much that life is suffering, but rather that we suffer because life is off center. Reading onto the next page, the book explains why life goes off center so frequently:

The Buddha taught that what we usually think of as our "self" is actually an ever-changing product of five co-conditioning components (skandhas), namely, body, sensations, perceptions, dispositional tendencies, and consciousness. Because they themselves are instinctively but ignorantly grasping for a center, a "self" that is not there, they themselves are unsatisfying. "The five groups of grasping are themselves dukkha,"says the Buddha.

We feel off kilter because haven't got a real kilter to stand on in the first place. What may be "your center" one moment, may be something completely different the next. However, there is some continuity that leads us to recall who we were and plan who we will be. Scientists have been trying to find the root of the assumed identity:

The medial prefrontal cortex could be continuously stitching together a sense of who we are. Debra A. Gusnard of Washington University and her co-workers have investigated what occurs in the brain when it is at rest - that is, not engaged in any particular task. It turns out that the medial prefrontal cortex becomes more active at rest than during many kinds of thinking.
 "Most of the time we daydream - we think about something that happened to us or what we think about other people. All this involves self-reflection,"Heatherton says.

Little Christian kids think they have it bad - worrying about going to hell and all. Ha! Little Buddhist kids worry about the fact that they don't exist.