Thursday, April 30, 2009


For years I've read a blog called One City, which is the blog of the Interdependence Project in New York, a meditation community that J was part of when he was living there most recently. I think it started as a small meditation group or school in the East Village, but they've grown into a non-profit organization with a small staff, lots of classes, and activities having to do with activism, the arts, and Buddhist meditation. They're good folks, very committed and hard-working. This week they moved their blog to beliefnet, which is a very irritating sort of pseudo-religion web site, including astrology and new age stuff along with ads for teeth whiteners, etc.

I guess you would say I'm a lapsed meditator. I haven't sat more than a handful of times since I went back to school almost 2 years ago -- before that I sat almost every day for years. But I still consider myself a Buddhist. My outlook, my attitude, my worldview is Buddhist, as I understand it. I've never belonged to a sangha (Buddhist community), mainly now because I don't have a car, but, even if I did, I probably wouldn't. The few encounters I've had with Buddhist groups here and in San Francisco have left me annoyed more than anything else. I have this theory that so many Buddhists are huge narcissists because Buddhism promises some relief from the incessant nagging chorus of Me Me Me in their heads. (That's what attracted me to it, if I'm totally honest.)

So I enjoyed this blog because it gave me a connection to a Buddhist community and I liked that it was New York based because I just like keeping connected to New York, but after a couple days of the beliefnet nonsense flashing at me at 6:30 in the morning when I read my blogs, I left a comment saying basically, "Y'all have changed. This is not for me anymore. Goodbye." Ads for teeth whiteners are so exactly opposed to what I consider to be the basic values of Buddhist philosophy. Being told every morning that my teeth aren't white enough makes it hard to cultivate contentment.

What else?

I've been nursing a crush since Saturday. I met this young man, spent one beautiful night with him, and he moved to San Francisco yesterday. Since he is 24 (exactly half my age), I've been contemplating time and aging along with love and erotic obsession and the usual stuff. There's a paradox I can't solve. The feeling that I'm smarter now that I am older and have experienced a lot of things gives me great pleasure. And relief, because I know there are things I know now and will not have to learn again. Painful experiences I don't have to repeat because I've learned the lessons they have for me. So that's good.

Now, I know, even though I have playfully talked about following him, there doesn't seem to be an ounce of me that really believes I would do that. I don't even feel anything I might call a desire to do that, even though at times in the last few days I've felt a pain in my gut that would be relieved by his presence near me. (Just to put this scenario in a light that shows me at least a hair closer to sane, though I did just meet him in person Saturday we've been chatting on and off online for a couple years -- does that mitigate things at all?) Twenty years ago, I might have followed him there. I might have at least thought about it. Now, what that adds up to in my mind is the shutting down of possibilities, which is how most people describe aging. The shutting down of possibilities. Most people, but not me!

Every time I learn something, a door shuts behind me?


Anonymous said...

Hi Steven,

I followed your recent comments over at the one city blog, and was compelled to respond there, but felt it a bit too public. I found your comment here about it, and thoughr this space might be a bit more appropriate.

I've been a practitioner for many years (and would even consider myself a lapsed meditator myself) and have recently gotten involved with the interdependence project sangha in New York. As with every sangha I've been a part of (and I've been blessed to belong to a couple in my short years), the idp sangha has many strengths, and surely has its weaknesses. As you mentioned, and this resonates with my experience, the community is full of good people, committed people interested in creating positive things both in the community around them (both off and online) and within themselves. And, of course, it has it's faults, which while important to be aware of, I'm not going to dwell on here.

One of my favorite dharma teachers, a monk, would end every talk by saying that from all the words spoken, those listening should only take what's useful, and should leave the rest behind.

I don't want to be presumptuous, but I feel like this might be possible to do with the one city blog. I'll agree that the teeth whitening ads and and whatnot are annoying, and even according the idp's own principles can foster mindstates that are unskillful and to me are a somewhat unfortunate compromise not only of the community but of the structure of the society we live in. Regardless of this though, I've found that content of the blog remains pretty much the same. More importantly, if the blog provided some kind of positive light in your life, if it was a source of real dharma for you, it would feel unfortunate to see that baby potentially being thrown out with the bathwater. My intention in writing isn't to get you to return to reading the blog, but rather is oriented around seeing where your aversion to the changes that it underwent might prevent you from still benefiting from the insight that I believe still exists there.

Regardless of what you do, I hope you go well, like water. All the best.

Steven said...

Anonymous, I'm not sure if you'll come back here and read this -- I hope you do! Thanks for your comment, your thoughts. I will check back with onecity from time to time, I'm sure, just to keep up, but it won't be a regular part of my morning like it has been for the last couple years.

I'm surprised that, besides my short exchange with Ethan, there's been no dialogue at all there about the move and the new site. It makes me wonder if I was mistaken about the ideals of the Interdependence Project and Ethan. If not a single person had a negative reaction to moving to a web site with angels, astrology, weight loss, and lip plumpers, I don't know what else to think.

For me, it's a matter of right speech and right livelihood more than anything else.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steven,

I do agree that there is a lack of conversation about the move to beliefnet, though I do understand it. I think that many people involved in idp do support the sangha, and recognize the challenges that come along with trying to support it, and it's possible that people are keeping the reservations they may have to themselves for that reason. As someone who works in nonprofits, I certainly do understand the challenge of sustaining an organization myself, especially in the current economic situation. I'd say that I am personally conflicted myself about the move, as you are, but also see that the ability to reach more people with dharma as quite important, and there are few sanghas as forwarding looking as idp when it comes to this.

As to the question of ideals, that's definitely a fair one, and I think ultimately the question of the move does come down to whether there's greater value placed in reaching more people and having revenue that allows the sangha to continue to put out it's message, or greater value put on remaining as absolutely pure as possible while reaching less people. I definitely acknowledge that I think a compromise was made here. Whether it was the right decision for me remains to be seen.

jdjb said...

But twenty years ago, he would've been four years old!

ep said...

"shutting down of possibilities, which is how most people describe aging"

Who have you been talking to?

Aging is about a lot of things, not all of them pretty, but I wouldn't say there are less possibilities. Maybe age and experience helps a person forecast more probable outcomes.

When you're 20 you're not thinking about the long or short term, just the immediate. What's hard about being older is that your perspective shifts, as the long and short term are ever-present (responsibilities - yikes).

Staying in the moment is the trick.

Colette said...

Yes! Stay in the moment with the trick.

Well put.