I’ve been a practicing Buddhist for decades now, and it’s less a religion than a lifestyle. I make it a habit to think very long-term about the things that I do, making sure that I’m doing the right thing. I try very hard to practice the whole “right speech, right action, right livelihood, right thought” thing, although I must admit that my own personal weakness is right thought. My biggest indulgence is a constant stream of mental snark that occasionally spills out of my mouth as speech.
One concept that colors my thought is that of the ten worlds. These ten worlds are ten different states of being, and while they are typically presented from lowest to highest, you can move from any one of them to any of the others. For a list of the ten worlds and how they interact, go here. I’ll wait.
For the first half of my life, my normal state was hunger. As a middle child, I craved attention from those around me and often acted like a drama queen to get that attention. I was a young child in the early 1970s and suffered the double whammy of a terrible recession and hippies. That meant two things: we had no money and everyone was on a health food craze that meant that “treats” looked like carob and sesame seeds, which are (and let me be perfectly blunt about this) NOT TREATS. Treats are candy and potato chips, and I desired them inordinately. When I got them I hoarded them, guarded them jealously, ate them quickly.
The interesting thing I’ve come to realize, though, is that my normal state has changed. I’m decades away from childhood and privation, and I’ve come to realize that there are very few people whose attention I actually want. I’ve worked hard in life to make a career for myself and to become good at the things I do. For my husband and myself, hard work has paid off and we’re doing very well for ourselves. I feel very lucky in that regard.
But I’ve come to realize that I’ve lost patience with people.
I no longer work a paid job. Nowadays, all my work is volunteer work done on behalf of my chosen charity, but right now I’m frustrated because I’m trying to accomplish a set of tasks, but nobody I work with believes that I know what I’m doing or can accomplish what needs to be done. I want to yell “Don’t you know who I am? I’m the woman who makes other people jump to do her bidding because she’s the god of Getting Shit Done!” I have similar frustration every time I read a short story or novel that’s just bad. I think to myself “I write better grocery lists than this! Why am I still getting rejections?”
My life is particularly blessed right now, but I find myself prowling, growling, scowling, howling. I’m not recognizing what’s going right because I’m so busy railing against what’s going wrong.
The nice thing about the ten worlds is that it takes so little to go from one to another. Buddhism is not about striving to achieve anything: it’s about striving to give things up. For the foreseeable future, I’ll be working hard to give up resentment and the need to get people to acknowledge my superiority. Because Buddhism is about giving up one’s illusions about life, and if there’s one thing that I do know deep down inside, it’s that I’m not superior to anybody.