JOMO–The Joy of Missing Out

If, in your course, you don’t meet

your equal,

your better,

then continue your course,

firmly,

alone.

There’s no fellowship with fools.

Dhammapada 61

I cringe when I read the last word of this verse. Fool. Fool is a pejorative word. None of its synonyms are nice. Since I want to be a nice person, I can’t imagine saying this word outloud, unless I sneak it in behind someone’s back. Yet, Dhammapada 61 is just the first of sixteen verses from an entire chapter entitled “The Fool.”

If I substitute the word “deluded” for “fool” in this first verse, then I feel less judgmental. “There’s no fellowship with the deluded.” But, since we are all deluded, the verse loses it meaning. Maybe I could say “the seriously deluded”?

How can I dance away from the (inner) accusation that I am being judgmental? I might waffle and say I am discerning, not judging someone as good or bad. Although the dictionary gives a bland definition of judging—to form an opinion—the word usually carries the added moral weight of “bad.” In common usage, judging is almost never good.

Using my discerning eye, I look at my more distant foolish “friends,” the places I spend time. Social media, for instance. If you, like me, sometimes say, “Facebook is a time sink,” then you already feel like you are wasting your time with this “friend.” Sometimes, Facebook can be useful, but after my twelve-year friendship with Facebook, I can truthfully say the “cost” of my time outweighs any benefits I receive.

News. Another addicting habit. Can I listen to the news once a day? Can I spend five minutes reading my local paper and let that be it? A friend, who is an empath, says she has to strictly limit her exposure to the news if she doesn’t want her feelings to be overwhelmed.

Now that we’ve gotten started on our list of “foolish friends,” we can add to our personal list. Mine includes shopping, chocolate, and salty chips.

When it come to people, this verse from the Dhammapada sounds judgmental. Who’s to say who is a fool? Am I judging my friends? Then I feel ashamed to admit: Yes, I am judging my friends. I still love them, but maybe I don’t want to spend that much time with some of them. The toxic friend. The drinking relatives. The neighbors who can’t stop talking about politics—even if their view is the same as mine.

When I say I don’t want to take a walk every day with my toxic friend, part of what I’m saying is that I don’t want my mind to be contaminated by her frequent anger and hostility. We are friends, so I will walk with her once a week. That’s enough. I’d rather take a walk by myself than spend too much time with her.

Since my mother was an alcoholic, I do not particularly like to spend time around drinkers. Yet I am related to several. Many of my “social drinker” friends and relatives don’t stop at the single glass of wine suggested by the American Heart Association—which equals one bottle of wine per week. My friends are of the one bottle per night variety, and sometimes that means one bottle per person per night.

I take the Buddha’s admonition about refraining from intoxicants quite seriously. Any intoxicant is the gateway to breaking the other four precepts—sexual misconduct, unskillful speech, taking something—such as air time—that isn’t freely offered, or harming someone.

My sweetie, who limits himself to 1.5 ounces of whiskey per evening, is much more likely to snap at me after his drink. He doesn’t notice it, even if I point it out to him. I myself prefer clarity of mind. I spend quite a bit of effort trying to mindful. Why would I throw it away on a glass of alcohol?

These relationships with in-toxic-ants are surreptitiously toxic, because, at first, they are fun and can even be intoxicating.

Would I really rather be alone than spending time with a fool? As an introvert, I can easily say Yes. I prefer to spend my time with wise friends. Sometimes that means taking a walk by myself in the woods and noticing the wisdom of Nature. Sitting by myself in meditation. Reading a Dharma book by myself.

I call it JOMO—the joy of missing out.

Noble Friends and Noble Conversations

One day, Ananda, the Buddha’s attendant, comes back from a day of meditating. I imagine he’s been out in the forest with one of the senior monks, perhaps Sariputta or Mogallana, and they’ve had some inspiring conversations.

Back at the monastery, Ananda greets the Buddha and says, “This is half the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie.”

The Buddha reproves Ananda. “Don’t say that Ananda. Don’t say that. Noble friends and noble conversations are all of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, she can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.”

This clear teaching points me toward developing relationships with my spiritual friends. I feel very grateful to my Dharma friends who keep me on the high road, even when i’m tempted to go low.

But what about my “ignoble” friends? I love people who don’t know anything about the eightfold noble path and aren’t interested in it.

I asked Gloria Taraniya Ambrosia this question. “I love my ignoble friends” She responded, “Then be a noble friend to them.”

Who Do You Spend Time With?

If, in your course, you don’t meet

your equal,

your better,

then continue your course,

firmly,

alone.

There’s no fellowship with fools.

Dhammapada 61

Reading this verse from the Dhammapada, I imagine the ascetic Buddha walking down a dusty road. A farmer falls in beside him and chatters on about his sons and his crops. Perhaps on another day, a villager talks about the politics of the village he lives on. Or maybe a young man is in love and tells the Buddha how beautiful the girl is. Oh, if only his parents would agree; if only her parents could afford the dowry.

That’s when I’d want to extract myself as gracefully as possible and ask, “Which way are you going? Oh, I’m taking the other turn at the crossroads.”

Then I imagine another scenario as the Buddha happens to meet up with Sariputta. “Which way are you going, friend? Let’s walk together.”

I start my day by spending Zoom time with my noble friends—my meditation friends. At six, I meditate for an hour on Skype with Elizabeth, who I met at a five-day retreat with Culadasa in September 2017. That retreat offered a bi-weekly study group as a follow-up, and one Sunday afternoon, Elizabeth asked, “Does anyone here want to meditate for an hour in the morning?” I jumped at the opportunity.

In his book The Mind Illuminated, Culadasa recommends meditating for at least an hour a day; I knew I was unlikely to follow through on that intention all by myself, so I am grateful for the spiritual companionship. After an hour of meditation, we chat about our practice for a few minutes. I am inspired by Elizabeth’s steady progress.

Thanks to Zoom, I can hop over to the 7 a.m. meditation at Vermont Insight Meditation Center. Though I am always five or ten minutes late, the timekeeper lets me into the silent Zoom room. Afterwards, I stick around to chat and catch up on any local Dharma news.

My neighborhood meditation group meets at 8 a.m. as it has for the past 24 years. It’s a big enough group that there are always at least two of us; in Zoom times, there may be five of us; if we meet in person, there may be eight. After catching up on neighborhood news and reading a page of a Dharma book, we sit for twenty minutes. We close with chanting the refuges and reciting the precepts.

By 9 in the morning, I’ve spent between two and three hours meditating with my Dharma friends, my noble friends. These are the friends who always encourage me to take the high road, even when I’m feeling low.

Following in the Buddha’s footsteps, I spend as much time as possible with my wise, spiritual friends.

Refreshing My Self

Every time I think a thought, the self refreshes itself like a website refreshing itself when I hit the Refresh button. When thoughts peter out to occasional wisps, the self drifts off into scattered clouds, and the spacious, clear blue sky can be seen.

Thoughts are often self-referential, which is to say, i’m often talking to myself about myself, not unlike James Joyce’s character, Mr. Duffy, who lived a short distance from his body.

Outdoors, in the garden is a good place for thoughts to drift away. Suddenly, there’s just a body walking on a path to the vegetable garden. Hmmm. I wonder who she is. A coalescing of very familiar habits, including mental habits. Continue reading

3 Doctor’s Appointments in 1 Week

Aging.jpgOn Monday, Bill went to the dermatologist to have skin cancer removed from his bald head. On Wednesday, he went to a neck specialist because he can barely turn his head. On Friday, he had knee surgery for a torn meniscus, and, by the way, the surgeon removed a one-centimeter sized floating piece of cartilage.

That’s three doctor appointments in one week. One definition of old age is when you have a doctor’s appointment every week. Bill had three in one week. The neck specialist diagnosed the problem with Bill’s neck as O.L.D. His neck is old. Arthritis plus the vertebrae and discs are worn thin. Nothing to do but go to physical therapy. Continue reading

Ignorance and Want

From the foldings of its robe, the Ghost of Christmas Present brought two children;
wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

‘Oh, Man. look here. Look, look, down here.’ exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and
touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

‘Spirit. are they yours?’ Scrooge could say no more.

‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers.
This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it.’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.’ Continue reading

The Ghosts of Christmas Past & Future

Image result for scrooge wakes upA year ago, i wrote 10 blog posts about Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which i see year after year for its Buddhist teachings. Now i have yet another insight into this old chestnut of a story.

The Ghost of Christmas Future shows Scrooge his own death, and this is his transformative moment. We may have several insights in our meditation practice, but only a very few of them lead to a transformation of our personality. Continue reading

Body Ghosts

Image result for foamWhat is a ghost anyway? A disembodied spirit; a vague, shadowy or evanescent form. Once in a while we might say, “He’s a ghost of his former self,” meaning the resemblance remains, but the body seems to be thinning out.

In The Foam Sutta, the Buddha says, “Form is like a glob of foam.” What??? Is my body no more substantive than dishwater or a bubble bath? Continue reading

What If There Are No Neutral People?

Image result for powdermilk biscuitsWhen we practice loving-kindness, we first infuse ourselves with kindness and friendliness. Then we think of dear friends and relatives and pervade our minds with more benevolence. Next, we consider neutral people–those people we see in our daily lives, whose names we may not know–the grocery store clerk, the bank teller, the post office clerk. But what if we had no neutral people? Continue reading