When you always strive for the path of greatest growth and possibility, there are bound to be some growing pains at times, particularly if the hunger for growth is not accompanied by the patience and self compassion of a growth mindset.
A growth mindset, if you are not familiar with the term, is about believe it’s not about innate potential, it’s about deliberate practice and learning from your mistakes. And the fact you don’t get it on the first try doesn’t mean that you never will.
I have never had a growth mindset or that much kindness for myself. For a long time, I’ve struggled with all-or-nothing thinking and also the belief that I am no more than my successes, that I don’t have any worth outside fo that.
I believe the past approximiately five years of struggling with depression in various forms and amounts is a pretty clear picture of the end result of that. if my choices didn’t lead to roaring success and happiness on the first try, and if I fucked up one bit, I blamed myself and believed I was no good, which just created a vicious cycle of mistakes I watched almost as a bystander and I couldn’t take my foot off the gas pedal watching myself self sabotage. I also felt I just didn’t deserve so many good things given that I didn’t take the riskiest most fantastical route to success, I made soem strategic accomodations to practicality, that made me feel like a sell-out of the first degree. I then fantasized about all kinds of ways to escape and made escaping my mind and its gloom a first priority over self care, self love, and self respect.
That meant eating food that didn’t nourish me, spending money I didn’t have for moments of temproary relief, blocking myself off from the possibility of a real love relationship, and in short, believing the answer was somewhere out there and I just had to find it. That there was an ideal job, an ideal man waiting for me, that once I found myself all would ecome clear.
And as I understood myself, I felt more and more trapped by my previous decisions. With the self knowledge I have now, I am not entirely certain I would have made the same choices- but then, isn’t that how I learned who I was? To an extent, no amount of navel gazing could have saved me, but on the same hand, I had such fixed ideas about who I was and who I should be that blocked me from envisioning those possibilities. And let’s face it, my mistakes have given me strength, experience, and wisdom I wouldn’t have had if I had gotten it “right,” on the first try. If I was some kind of explorer journalist or travel blogger, I would not have the lived experiences of being in business which for good or bad defines so much of our world. I don’t know if I could have had such wisdom if I had gone straight into a communications or education focused career. My greatest weakness or worst mistake in my mind will set me apart- I am a lot more than a communicator or explorer, I am a decision maker and a leader and will have learend the highest arts of persuasion adn a damn good bit of how the world works.
So long story short maybe I am not a dirty sellout who doesn’t deserve true happiness and maybe I should stop being so hard on myself. Even all the debris created by my depression is nothing compared to the person I have become. And I believe, though I could be wrong, that with the beliefs I held, there was no possible outcome but depression. It was my very strength and willingness to be hard on myself that drove me into the ground. If I was an inch less of a rigid person, I would not have suffered quite so much. And thorugh this, I learned the suffering comes from the mind.
Which is a priceless insight and the only one that can lead to enlightenment.
In terms of the Buddhism/Christianity thing, I would say they are describing to an extent two different things. Buddhism is taking about the mind and awareness, which we can observe. It teaches there is no creator god or external savior, that only we can save ourselvs by working with the mind. There is no good or evil, just consequences that arise from our level of awarness of the true nature of things, namely that there is nothing real beyond the free play of space and time and even we ourselves are stories being experienced by mind. Mind is reincarnated countless times before reaching understanding.
Chrisitanity is concerned with the soul, with a god who has always existed and who judges our souls before death, a god who was loving but also righteous in that the only way mankind who had chosen to sin could be redeemed was through the form of a blood sacrifice, which God made himself in the form of his son. Sacrifice for others is the highest good, and the best we can hope for is to reconcile us to God to avoid eternal punishment and achieve salvation.
So the units of understanding are much different. Christianity is the story of the universe, yes, but specifically our planet and the human race, with a focus on the Jewish nation until the birth of the son of God at which point the religion becomes more universal and less focused on norms within an ethnic tradition dedicated to monotheeism.
One demands very specific articles of faith, in events that happened in a physical place and time of a very supernatural nature, namely the death and ressurection of the Son of God. The other presents a path to deeper understganding of oneself and the universe through the examination of mind. In either case, actions have consequences. THough one merciful forgives sin, good and evil exist as distinct entities, and to serve others one is denying oneself in order to fulfill the will of God. So the most important thing is to sacrifice the self in one form or anything to achieve holiness. In Buddhism, there is no real distinction between self and other, and bad actions arise frm confusion, not evil. Self denial just reinforces the belief in the self, which is in the end just another story distracting from the reality of things as they are. In Buddhism, the whole point is to avoid suffering which comes from this lack of understanding of reality, whereas in Christianity, suffering is a virtue that can lead to eternal salvation through the miracle of God’s mercy.
I think I stopped really being a Christian last year when I went to Christmas mass and was reminded of nothing so much as animal sacrifice by animist people. That being said, I had met many people who mixed Catholic and animist beliefs and practices, which might not exactly be orthodox but both kind of agree that things exist in a solid form. Buddhism is kind of the opposite, pointing our attention to the space from which the galaxies arise. From nothing comes everything, because nothing and something are one and the same- one field of possibility. And there is no thick black line separating me from you , God from man- we are neither shadows playing on the wall of Plato’s cave, there is no purer world beyond this, there is nothing sacred nor profane, nor are we simply matter with no hope of spirit, because there is no real difference between them, both are an illusion. We are matter, we are spirit- we are awareness coming to understand reality beyond the forms.
A long time ago, I thought that even if Christianity were a big lie, and there was no god, I wouldn’t be disappointed that I had did my best to do good things in my life, or even that I was stepped in incarnational Western Christianity which is really about the spark of divinity in man and man surpassing his individual self. I think there is really something to it.
The thing that seems most interesting to me at this point, is that Christianity could be 100% real in all its claims, including the ressurection of the son of a creator God, Heaven and Hell could really exist, and I don’t think that even really poses a problem for Buddhism. Buddhism can let them all exist, and also pass away, because all compound things are impermanent, and even a creator God cannot be eternal, unless that which is called God is rather the field of possibiliy that is the union of space and bliss. I also personally think that there is not really that big of a conflict between a mind that reincarnates and a soul that is judged. Of course awareness will continue; the soul, the story of me, the essence of me that is an illusion anyway, that can exist on some level and then go to Heaven or Hell I suppose. What’s even more interesting is that Jews at the time of Jesus did believe in reincarnation after a fashion and asked Jesus if He was Elijah returned. I think the image of God as judge/compassionate father and human worth as a score card/legal record with the possibility of sublimation if one professes belief in the love of God for man in the form of Jesus and His ressurection, which in a way is a form of non-duality and the union of God and man, is quite interesting. If all sounds are mantras merely for the fact that they exist, why is this any different tahn the Buddha forms one meditates on to gain awarenss? It is an image that can bring some degree of understanding and freedom from selfishness. And I thinkt aht both truths can exist simultaneously, if one drops the Western/Christian habit of dualism. If you can lose your concept of a paternalistic, solid god that was a patron of a particular tribe which to a large degree hijacked him to codify their customs (see Leviticus) and became a universal God (largely due to contact with Greek thoughts particularly Platonism) coming to save Jews and Gentiles alike but still being something of a judge on his throne, and one single, exclusive truth, I think you can have your Christianity and eat it too to a certain degree. Whether its helpful or not for realization and enlightenment beyond it is a separate question.
So those are the things I have been thinking about. I did think I would go back to Christianity, but I think that even if at first I just thought I was a visitor, then a participant observer, my real aim is to believe Buddhist and to give up some of the old beliefs and sometimes flawed ethics. I don’t blame Christianity for my depression, but I don’t think it gives a critical mind a partiuclarly robust hold on things. Everything rests on whether there is that one absolute truth or not. I believe this insistence on knowing the absolute truth of things sets us up for frustration and insantity to a degree, as not eveyrhing is absolute and black and white. Perhaps there is a richer Christinaity than that which I have experienced, but I havne’t discovered it yet. I have heard it said that God expects us to sin and loves us anyway and we are meant to depend on him for forgiveness and that’s how he wants it, which I suppose is a bit non dual, but for me the insistence on figuring out which action is good or bad and trying to figure out the best option has been really hard on me as an adult. Christianity isn’t that kind to business, unless you’re of the sort that thinks God loves rich people and so blessed them on earth because they are divinely predestined according ot Calvinist doctrine, even though the Roman Catholic Church is one of the most successful and long standing organizations on the planet. Maybe I should go learn more from the Jesuits.
As my perspective has expanded from being an ethnocentric American who really believed in eternal progress and that there was one beste way of organizing society and something along the lines of captialism was it, to a globnal citizen, with quite a bit of Frenchiness in me, seeing America as just another power flowering and fading onthe world stage, it has led to a lot of deep questions. And as I’ve realized the relativity of beliefs and just how long time is, the chants coming down from the early Christians who were perhaps in their way, the “deplorables” spoken of by Hillary Clinton, the unlettered masses unable to grasp nuance who were willng to get thrown to the lions for their beliefs, seem much less old when you have been in contact with civilizations much older like that of the Indian subcontinent, whcih also had something that came before and is considered not even that old by some. It’s hard to exist in this kind of relativity if one is holding on to some absolute truth or other. Perhaps the thing that I needed to hear most during business school, which completely tore me apart, was “there are many truths,” from the woman who accompanied us during a part of the study abroad portion.
I think there is a lot in Buddhism that is just ethnic and not particularly that helpful, but I think every religion gets confounded with culture from time to time. And perhaps monotheism to non theeism is an interesting leap for a human like me to make. From polytheeism to monotheeism and from tribal to universal religion are meant to be quite important leaps in the story of humanity, and the accomplishments of Western Christianity, particularly Protestants, in subdoing the rest of the world have been menat to be proofs of its superiority, but now in todya’s world, I don’t think that’s the end of history. I think all things are born, grow, mature, fade, and die. The West is losing power on a relative scale, although I hope some of our better ideas stay and influence the rest of the world and our legacy is not just McDonald’s. It’s interesting that China is takig back its historic place in the world, although my money is that it will collapse in its current form. Maybe the West will come back stronger than ever, and the US will be able to fundamentally adapt itself.
I’ve shared with Buddhists taht I don’t know if I could have made the leap of mind to Buddhism without my experiences living in France, but they said there is something in me that would have called me even if I had stayed in the US. Perhaps. But for me its hard not to notice this part of the story. ANd while I love France, I love that which is not French as well. I also struggle with my identities as American, Parisian, French, and global citizen. As a Buddhist in a way I am not even properly Western anymore. I am a do gooder who got disenchanted in a way and went into business and I don’t want to hate myself for it anymore, taking care of myself is important too.
And taking care of myself is taking care of my own small section of the world, one of the few things I have much power to control or influence, and making the most of the blessing of another day.
It feels good to write.