I’ve always been intrigued by the Buddhist culture, partly because of my vegetarianism and partly because of Lisa Simpson, but my impending trip to Cambodia has reignited my interest in the whole concept of it all. After some thorough Google research, it seems that I’ve been missing out on a lot!
The thing about Christianity has always been for me that while it’s not always practical to believe in the exact scripture of the Bible in these modern times, I’ve always thought that the moral and social codes which they detail are a good basis to live your life on, AKA DO NOT KILL YOUR NEIGHBOUR GUYS. It’s pretty obvious stuff but in my struggle with religion and God, it seemed the obvious conclusion to me that whether you are Atheist or Theist or whatever, you should use the basic principles of religion to live a good and fulfilled life. And this is where Buddhism comes in. You see, in my research I discovered what I probably already knew but had forgotten, that Buddhism is not technically a religion where you have to worship some distant deity, but is in fact more simply a guide to how to live your life in a happy and fulfilled way – exactly my aims.
I’ve always believed that as the wise playwright himself said, ‘expectation is the root of all heartache’ and I know that a lot of disappointment and sadness in my life is caused by my eternally unreachable and unrealistic expectations of events and others around me. And so when I read about Buddhism teaching that want is the cause of suffering, I felt something intangible click in my head. Buddhism tries to help us understand that by curbing our wants and by keeping in touch with our spiritual side, we can be happy in our lives and in ourselves, and all this without being forced to believe in a God, or some ancient scripture, or anything we don’t want to. It seems to be more an ethos of life and the more I read and comprehend about it, the more I think it’s something I want to be a part of. It’s about finding happiness in yourself, not in those around you, and this spirituality is something I feel lacking in my life at the moment. The need to define oneself is something which echoes across time and art and literature, and I think Buddhism might be a way in which a lot of people succeed in doing this. I’m personally excited to see what comes of my venture in to the realms of Buddhism and self-realisation. First up: meditation.
As someone who has massive problems compartmentalising, and I mean my brain WILL NOT SHUT UP at the most inappropriate of times, I thought meditation might be a good idea. I tried it for the first time ever yesterday and perhaps to give you a flavour of a strangely relaxing yet stressful event, here is an account of what happened:
So after some thorough YouTube research (typing in Buddhist meditation and clicking on the first link – very similar to my ‘How to be Buddhist’ Googling) I settle down in my darkened room and prepare to turn my incessant mind off for a while. The video is narrated by a New Zealender whose voice is oddly relaxing. He is talking v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y and repeats things a lot but he tells me to focus on different parts of the body and ‘with an open mind to accept any sensations without trying to alter them’. Now this is one of those situations where as soon as you are told you aren’t allowed to move, you immediately feel a thousand itches stir up on your skin, like insects crawling up and down which is obviously impossible, hello over-active imagination. However, I ignore them and try to focus on the parts of the body the narrator is telling me to – my forehead, my eyes, my face, my neck, etc., etc. – and I suddenly feel as if all of those body parts are isolated from me and a million miles away. Not really the intended ‘oneness’ which meditation promotes. I continue to mentally focus on the different parts, restraining from fidgeting and all together feeling rather focussed and calm until the video abruptly stops after ten minutes and I spend another ten minutes trying to locate the second half of the video on YouTube.
After failing to find the next part of the video (am I being completely stupid?) I read up on breathing mediation and find some relaxing music. Again, I find it difficult to concentrate and I become bored of just breathing pretty rapidly. I also start to panic that my breathing is really shallow and in my mentally-induced asthmatic state struggle to take any deep calming breaths. I hope the music hurries up and finishes and after a few minutes it does and I open my eyes, unsure to whether I am in any way relaxed.
I think this pretty much proves that I am in need of some further practice, but it was exciting to try it for the first time and I have to say there was something nice about taking time out of my day for this. I’ve found some local meditation classes but I’m not sure if the pressure of doing it in a group in front of an instructor will make me crack – I can feel a Miranda-esque moment coming on pretty soon – but I hope that will bring a sense of community to this little jaunt of mine into Buddhist culture.
So I’ll keep you updated on how my spiritual journey is progressing and I honestly hope that I’ll find something useful in it – I’m sure I will. Spirituality is a part of humanity as much as physicality is in my mind and while I completely understand the reasoning of Atheism, I think I’d like to live my life with a little more purpose and justification, even if not in the traditional Christian sense. Who knows, maybe I’ll come back from Cambodia a converted Buddhist?
Best wishes on your trip to Cambodia! I have several friends who have spent time there and fallen in love with the people. I’m sure it will be grand!