Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The mindful iconoclast...

I have considered myself to be an iconoclast for quite some time... ever since I heard the word on a "Pinky & the Brain" episode of the Animaniacs, one of my favourite early-90's cartoons. :) My sense of what the word "iconoclast" means is/was of someone who refuses to worship the idols of popular (or any) culture. I just looked it up un "Webster's II" & discovered that you actually have to break the idols to be an iconoclast... that seems rather hair-splitting to me, so I'll continue to consider myself one (I'm not that big on mayhem, really...).

One of my manifestations of iconoclasm is refusing to believe that famous people are anything more than just people, or that anyone in authority is, at heart, is anything more than just a person. At this phase of my life, this attitude doesn't get me in much trouble. I don't have a boss, & the "authority" figures in my life (doctors, mostly) seem comfortable that I call (most of) them by their first names... :) Consistant with this philosophy, B goes to an alternative school where all the staff are known by their first names, & B's classmates know me either as "B's mom" or "Lisa". C has no interest in anyone outside of his office referring to him as "doctor" (we have a few friends who affectionately call him "doc"), so he's with the programme as well... Occasionally we rub-up against the rest of the world, where I get referred-to as "Mrs. my-last-name", but I've gotten used to it as a make-believe sort of thing (since I've never really been "Mrs. my-last-name" or "Mrs. C's-last-name") so it kind of makes me smile, rather than irritates. B is on first-name basis with most of our friends, but we are careful to be aware of those who would not be comfortable with this & introduce them to him with the honourific. B's twist on this is that he generally forgets any honourific & cuts to the essence, calling them by their last name, which we try to gently correct, but has offended no-one so far (he does this with anyone with an honourific attatched- doctors as well :).

As I mention in my profile, I agonised for quite a while over whether or not I should refer to myself as "Jedi" when signing into the HP forums for the first time... seems silly, perhaps, for such an iconoclast, but it's the stubbborn desire to adhere to the truth that makes me an iconoclast, & led me to want to be a Jedi in the first place, so I didn't want to portray myself as one unless it felt true... I think it was remembering childbirth & B's infancy that convinced me that I had passed my "trials" & was truly a Jedi. Of course, it's having survived Survivor bootcamp that really did it... but it's the nature of my present state of Survivorhood that made me forget. I've come to understand that it's a good thing to forget all about the abuse for lengths of time- that not having to live every moment as a Survivor is one of the things I claimed when I came out the other side of recovery. I have ruminated occasionally in here about what it means to me to be a Jedi- & how my Jedi diverge from the Hollywood version (sorry, George... I do hope you knew what you were doing when you unleased this idea out into the world :) Zilari's comment to my last post reminded me that I should mention that my Jedi do not have to be buff swordfighters, either. My 48-year-old arthritic body wouldn't last half a minute with any of the Darths in a lightsabre duel- but in my world it doesn't have to. I prefer to encounter my Darths with Force of will, not brawn or even speed. In the past couple of years I have come to see these encounters not as battles, with good guy & loser, but as ways of getting my head around someone else's point of view, so that we can come to an agreement. This takes at least as much effort as a battle, believe me, & is rarely as clean as severing someone in two, but the long-term benefits are much more positive :)

About a year & a half ago C & I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a strong proponent of the mindfulness movement (which is based on Buddhist principles, but does not go so far as to train people as Buddhists... sort of secular Buddhism, to my mind :) here in the US. C has a partner who leads mindfulness workshops for his patients & who has trained with Kabat-Zinn, which is how he ended-up lecturing in our town... We were interested in attending the lecture partly because we had a couple of K-Z's books, including "Everyday Blessings", a book about mindful parenting (written with his wife, Myla) that C had given me when B was an infant. I must confess that I never made it through the book- it was far too abstract for me to relate to while coping with baby B. Having dipped-into it again recently, I am still put-off by the bits I read, relating being a parent to Arthurian legend. (I have to confess here that I also have a predjudice against the word "parenting" as being a psudo-word that promises more than it gives, but that's just me...) However, both C & I have been interested in learning more about mindfulness, since we are both interested in Buddhist philosophy & have, at different times in our lives, tried za-zen as a spiritual practise. We were equally as curious to observe Jon K-Z as a lecturer as to hear what he had to say. The lecture was to the medical community & primarily concerned the results of using mindfulness as a daily practise to help people live healthier lives. I applaud these efforts- I think that we in the US are far too interested in having doctoring done to us, & not taking enough responsibility for how our lifestyles affect our health. Where I have difficulty is with the proponents themselves. They seem to send my iconoclast-meter sky high... I know a couple of active mindfulness teachers, people adored by their students, who are some of the lousiest parents I have met. They talk their kids down, right in front of them, to the point that I want to just shake them (the parents). The Jedi in me says "what the hell!?!" when I encounter this sort of thing- where is the true practise of mindfulness? C & I have discussed this at length, so we were particularly interested just to see how an internationally known practitioner of mindfulness comports himself...

The talk was interesting & the information presented impressive- there is no doubt that people who adopt mindfulness practise have good results health-wise. The speaker... wrestled with his power-point presentation in a most clueless way... was passionate about his subject... had a nice, relaxed way of speaking & did not seem full of himself... in other words, seemed like a nice enough person. I had no interest in shaking his hand or meeting him, so did not have the opportunity to find out if he was interested in meeting me :) He had quite a crowd swarming around him after the lecture, so C & I slipped out without him noticing **grin**

I am led to wonder how people who become well-known or even "stars" escape the guru syndrome of having people believe that you are the source of their feeling of well-being, rather than the inspiration. There is so much emphasis in our culture placed on being more special than others- I know I felt a strong pressure as I was growing-up to want to be better-looking, more successful, wealthier, happier than everybody else. There was a time when I wanted to be "someone" in the knitting field- I have had patterns published in various books & magazines & have been moderately well-known as a knitting teacher locally. It's taken me many years on my life-journey to understand that my happiness does not rely on being better than others, but on being better along with others. I am not interested in being a "star" or even well-known, but on being respected for what I do (even if not many know what the heck I'm doing...). For me the process of teaching has become much more important than being known as a teacher. So, perhaps the concepts of humility, mindfulness, & iconoclasm have all become mixed-up in my mind in a way that no-one else finds relevant, but for me these are inseparable concepts. It seems to me that if you are truly practising mindfulness & living in the moment, then competition, striving against others for rewards, the desire to be respected above others, even thinking that you are better than someone else- these things become meaningless ideas. To me. So to me a "mindfulness superstar" is an oxymoron... I wonder how anyone, particularly someone whose livihood depends on selling books & being well-known, can escape the guru syndrome, particularly when the need for the public to know & invade one's life increases the better-known one is. Some of these thoughts were brought back to mind when I heard the story of "J-Mac", the autistic young man who recently made such a splash in the media for his basketball triumph. As inspiring as the story is, I wondered how such a media intrusion would affect our lives, & decided that I would not be happy to have anyone, let alone Disney, mucking about with us. Selfish, perhaps, & very unlikely to happen, of course, but there we are...

After the lecture I asked my therapist, who has done quite a lot of exploring of eastern philosopies in her life-journey, if she could recommend some mindfulness literature that was free of the superstar-syndrome sliminess. She laughed, understanding what I meant immediately, & recommended Thich Nhat Hanh's writings. For our anniversary that year I picked-up a couple of his books as part of C's present, since I thought it would be fun to do some further reading together. As it turned out, it's wonderful & interesting reading, but very difficult when read out loud- there's a lot of repetition that becomes almost mantra-like, very appropriate in books by a Buddhist monk, but really difficult to listen-to when read aloud (or so we found). So we've continued our individual mindfulness journeys, uh, individually. I was delighted to have recommended to me, by an HP forums friend, Matthew Bortolin's The Dharma of Star Wars, & even more delighted to discover that he studied with Thich Nhat Hanh... it's a wonderful book, illuminating Jedi philosophy from a Buddhist point of view, & very similar to what I try to practise myself... with a big difference. Here's the thing- to truly become a master of any practise takes dedication & TIME. Time to meditate, time to just be aware... TIME! I have loads of time- in which I have a very full life as a mother & partner & artist... I do not have the TIME to become the full master of any practise. What I do have is time to practise :) I have time to try to be mindful, to be as present as possible, to think positively & creatively, to take the time to work things out or think things through before reacting- or not. I even have lots of opportunities to practise my patience & creative thinking, since my kid requires it of me daily. I think of it as the flip-side of monastic-based practise: full & mindful engagement in everyday life. It takes a long time to become adept at anything, but it's never boring!


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