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It may seem strange to some that while I consider myself an atheist I attempt to follow the teachings of the Buddha. It isn't odd because I don't think of the Buddha as a god or all powerful being, he was a man, he lived and he died. I don't consider his ideas to be the 'only true words' they are simply true to me. I don't need a special building to consider his ideas- I can read about his ideas and think about them anywhere I happen to be. And he had some really good ideas! His ideas are simple and easy to understand. In fact, I can put them all on one piece of paper. How beautiful is that?! I carry them on a little piece of paper in my wallet.

As I have written before, my husband died of Alzheimer's and we lived with the disease for about 10 years. At one down point during the journey I was questioning everything, my life, my problems, my husband's illness, the stress of it, and the purpose of it. Many well-meaning people said things like, "Have faith." OR "God wouldn't give you more than you can handle." What the heck did that even mean? I happen to be sitting in front of the computer with 100 negative thoughts bombarding my mind and I typed in the search box: "Why do people suffer?" I found this:

 

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It wasn't my fault! I wasn't carrying around some sin from people long ago. I wasn't being 'tested'. I was not being 'punished'. I am not a bad person. I don't need 40 lashes or 10 Hail Mary's. I wasn't going to burn in hell. It was simply the randomness of life. Due to factors beyond our conntrol my husband's body got a disease. I was married to him and he needed my help. It was just how things were and while I could not cure his disease I could cure my thoughts and feelings and actions about it. I began to see how those Four Truths applied to so many other aspects of life. When I didn't get the raise I wanted at my job I realized that I could either be upset or I could change my reaction to it- I could accept the amount, ask about how I could improve it, or look for another job. I had options because I could let go of my desire to change the raise and take action or change my thoughts about it. It was also right about this time that 9/11 happened. I could curl into a ball and hate life, feel like a victim, feel that the world was a terrible place and wish it was different OR I could change my attitude about it. I could find out how to help, send money to charities and organizations working on the problem, support emergency efforts, and other ideas instead of laying down and being depressed. And that is how I interpret The Eightfold Path, it is a guide on what I can do to affect my suffering and change my way of looking at and thinking about problems. If I could apply these ideas to my life I could change my feeling of being a victim, change my attitude about my own suffering and the suffering around me.

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We live in a chaotic world, some of it is our creation, some the creation of others and much is simply the nature of the world. We can change some things and many we cannot. How we react is what makes a difference. The Buddha  lived approximately 2500 years ago yet his message still resonates and I think it is because humans are fundamentally the same. It also emmulates a modern saying: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference." Or an even simpler expression: "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade." There is only so much of life we can affect, the rest we have to adjust to in one way or another.

When one begins to explore Buddhism, meditation and yoga come up. In fact, it was on my way home from a yoga session that the seeds for this article developed. I felt refreshed both physically and mentally, as I usually do after yoga. Sadly, a friend once said to me that her pastor told her that meditation was an opportunity for the devil to enter our minds. Obviously that pastor had never tried yoga or meditation! Most of us live in a chaotic world of job, family commute, chores, appointments, crowds and stress. There have been times when I literally wanted to remove my brain from head just so I could get some rest! "What about this? What about that? I forgot to do this. Will I have enough money for that?" The barrage of thoughts on our mind is endless. How can we possibly think about The Right Viewpoint, The Right Values, etc. when there is constant chatter going on in our head? Sometimes we even replay our problem over and over on a repeating video in our mind. That is why mediation and yoga are often partnered with the philosophy of Buddhism. When one is attempting Tree Pose or Pigeon Pose it is really hard to think of anything else except not toppling over. The chatter in your mind is pushed aside and your brain has a respite. There is evidence that lack of resting our brains may be a contributing factor in dementia. We really need down time, not just our bodies but our mind also. Have you ever noticed that your shoulders are almost up to your ears as you sit at your desk? That's stress. Sometimes we even forget to breath! Yoga and meditation are helpful in reminding us how to relax. The beauty of yoga and meditation is that they are adaptable to our own body. My yoga instructor tells us. "There is no suffering in yoga." What she means is that we do not compete for who has the steadiest pose or who can touch their nose to their knees, you do what your body can do, not trying to look like an idealized picture in a magazine. I even took my husband with me to sessions and he seemed to enjoy himself. There was no judgement on what he was doing or not doing.

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Some may say I have picked and chosen my statements here and they are correct. I have. I studied Catholicism in school as I was growing up. I studied religion in college and I read constantly about a variety of topics including philosophy, psychology and religion. That is how I came to have the view of life I have, because I have chosen what fits for me and discarded what does not. I do not think of meditation, yoga or Buddhism as religion. I think of them as tools to help me through life especially in trying times.  Religion and philosophy are not one size fits all and I believe we should adjust the ideas we learn to fit our life, adjust to fit new evidence, and adjust to fit new information. What is suffering to you may not be to me, what is pleasurable to you may not be to me. What is spirtual to you may not be to me. We have to find our own way to live peacefully together. I believe we have more in common than we have in difference and that is why I say "The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you" because what we have on the inside is more important than our color, our race, our religion, our address, our job title.  Namaste.

Deborah Baron

Deborah Baron

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