Sunday, July 10, 2005

Island Spiritual Director

One of my coworkers recently jokingly suggested that I be hired into such a title and it may not be all that inappropriate where I’ve bizarrely found a new role as the resident Buddhist dharma instructor. Now we all know that I’m not really a Buddhist. But somehow in terms of religion I find much freer expression as a Buddhist than a Mormon.

For example, familiar with the fact that I’m a marital artist our clinical director asked that I teach the boys some meditation techniques to help work on their stress reduction requirements in the school. So far I have taught them a couple of forms of meditation including Zen meditation and Shambala meditation as describe by Chogyam Trungpa. (The Holy Mother Eph knows about this book.) It has produced mixed results. A couple of kids I recommended it to have used it and have seemed to think they were getting something out of it. At least one of my students is too mentally lazy to put enough effort into it for him to get jack. The others who have not really used it have avoided even learning how. I think there is something about it that frightens them from trying it. Maybe they see themselves as too cool for it or something.

Part of my motivation for teaching meditation came from a conference I went to where I attended a lecture on something called, “dialectical behavior treatment.” It is a treatment that has been used successfully with people who have borderline personality disorder. I took the lecture because I think that some of our kids are in fact borderline and they mentioned that part of their therapy involves mindfulness exercises inspired by Zen meditation. I think the meditation is a good thing for people with all kinds of problems because the meditating person is forced to look inward and become more aware of how their own minds work. In cases of emotional dysregulation and impulse control it allows them to learn new behaviors for responding to their emotions. By being more observant of their own minds they acquire the power to choose behaviors that contradict their feelings or their initial reflexes to events. I also believe it requires them to use their prefrontal cortex in ways that it doesn’t usually get used and thereby actually develop the part of their brain that is involved in higher order decision making.

If anyone happens to know anything about dialectic behavior treatment I would love to hear from you.

Anyway, back to the Buddhism thing: You may or may not realize this but there is a tendency for educators to be relatively liberal politically. One of the things I’ve noticed a lot about people who would classify themselves as liberal is there is a very strong trend in the way they interpret their religiosity. It seems that they (and unfortunately it seems like almost everyone right and left does this these days) allow their political views to dictate their religious views for them. What this means among the trendy lefties out in this part of the world is usually a rejection of any form of organized Christianity that adheres to any kind of doctrine and frequently means associating one’s self with Buddhism but not actually committing to profess Buddhism as their religion. As my buddy Jed has cited, “I consider myself more spiritual than religious and I really like to put out because I think men respect that.” That kind of blah blah blah. Anyway, because I too associate myself with Buddhism but haven’t committed to it as a religion but have committed myself to living in a Buddhist monastery I’m the local monk.

One particular guy I work with frequently engages the Buddhism conversation with me, which is cool. Sometimes it is simply me regurgitating something my Zen master has said. But a few weeks ago there were a couple of instances where he interpreted things I said in a Buddhist sense where they weren’t necessarily intended to be. It may be that I’ve internalized some Zen teaching to the point where it is a part of my personality and so it just comes out but I don't know. Either way, I’ve found that at any moment I can unintentionally become the unqualified dharma instructor teaching through parables and casual interactions the path of illumination.