Thursday, July 23, 2009

Take Your Foot Off the Brake

I'm pondering what "calming down," which I mentioned in yesterday's post, means to me.
The physical changes that come with age--the possible lessening of sexual drive, for instance--aren't what I mean. I have noticed that some people are calm about those natural changes and some are not. (Judging from the popularity of hair dyes and viagra, I'd bet more not-calm than calm.)
In fact, I feel less confusion and shame about sexuality at midlife, so while my hormonal impulses may be less intense--and I'm not sure they are--I actually feel more authentically sexual. Even if that means getting all broody about Captain Kirk... (Those teddy-bear ears! That pretty nose!)

"Calm down" is a phrase that can seem almost like a weapon. When kids are being "too" exuberant, adults may yell this at them. So calming down may seem like an unwelcome restriction, a diminishment of energy, a tamping down of desire.

That's not what I mean either.
I mean something more like an example Anthony deMello uses: if we are nervous when we drive, we keep tapping the brakes. We waste fuel, we wear out parts, and we make ourselves seasick. Or, if we are inattentive, we may drive with the parking brake on and really burn-out the system.
If we are confident and calm, we take our foot off the brake and just drive smoothly. If we need to stop or swerve, we do it. So, calming down is about having more power*, not less, to sit in the driver's seat, go where we're going, and deal with whatever comes up.

Like right now. I am resisting writing an index due today and if I don't get off the web and DO it, I'm going to make myself and the person who's waiting for it unhappy.
So, foot off the brake, Fresca!
* By "power" I simply mean the ability to do or to be, like the Latin root (possere?), not the ramped-up stuff of political wrestling and emo-porn.


Darwi said...

Then how about to use the term 'Wise up'?
I mean that is my view of the things. As one gets older stops wasting the energy and time on the things one knows that they are fruitless.

Fresca said...

"Wise up."
I like that, Darwi!
I've noticed that getting older does not guarantee that we get wiser, but I'm hoping that by the time I'm 80, maybe I'll be a little bit wiser. We shall see, godwilling.

Annika said...

When I first read your previous post, the words "calming down" struck me in a slightly negative way, maybe along the lines of the second paragraph here. I also felt that calling zazen "calming down" is a little off the mark; I'm reading Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen right now, and he doesn't shy away from the frustration, pain, boredom and annoyance that the zen student will encounter. Sessions that are refreshing fountains of serenity are few and far between - but of course, they do occur now and then, and the long term effects of zazen could definitely be described as calming in precisely that good way you describe.

By the way, I started reading Brad Warner thanks to your link to his blog ("Spock Thoughts"). I've seen Hardcore Zen on the shelf at my sangha and thought it looked pretentiously teen-oriented, but after checking out his blog I gave it a chance and it's my best zen read so far. Exactly what I need, want, and can relate to. Thank you for the inspiration! And I hope you'll go through with the zazen plans. Your Catholic congregation won't mind?

Fresca said...

Hi, Annika!

Now I'm really glad I wrote this clarification about "calming down" because I definitely do not mean I want to search for ''refreshing fountains of serenity" --a line of thinking that I always found a turn-off, actually, as if Buddhism would turn you into an emotional zombie (or, as if it were like the Vulcan training to strip you of all emotion, to use Brad Warner's example of what it is NOT).

That's interesting to hear, that you, a practitioner of Zen, like Warner too. I also thought the book was visually off-putting, like maybe trying to be "youth oriented." I don't even know why I picked it up to read finally, from the library. I relish his honesty and pop culture references.
Pema Chodron is still closer to my heart, but I like this guy.

I didn't go to the dharma talk this Sunday. The Zen Center house has always felt so unwelcoming, even though now I had this personal welcome...
The zen place I'm much more attracted to is a long bus ride from here, but I think one of these days I'll go there. I've met the main teacher/priest there and she's a wry, sparkly little woman who I liked a lot.

Catholicism (the liberal kind, not the rule-bound kind) can be a really good match with Zen--I know a bunch of people who've moved back and forth between them, including a priest who sat zen for 16 years (while he was a priest).

The two are more complementary philosophies than contradictory religions, for me anyway. (I don't believe in the christian god anyway, except as a metaphor for Love and Truth.) Thich Nhat Hanh wrote about this in "Living Buddha, Living Christ".

A big problem is the time demands of each practice!
I'm not actually a practicing Catholic though. I'd call myself a Humanist Catholic or a cultural Catholic. I went to Mass a few times around Easter and loved being in church again and seeing old pals, but I didn't feel any desire or need to keep going.