Lean On Me (At Your Own Risk)

“You’re my rock,” she said to me as we stood draped in a powerful embrace.

Culture tells me that I should feel gladdened and honored; I should cherish the fact that I’m so important to someone. Her admission should make me feel strong, capable, and loved.

Our culture is stupid.

Beneath her heartfelt conveyance, I heard, “I’m going to suffer immensely if you disappear.” Unfortunately, I could disappear at any given moment. I could keel over dead at this keyboard this very instant.

Because I’m not a rock. A rock is firm and durable. I am soft. I am fragile. I’m an impermanent dependent arising. Anything someone derives from me is as impermanent and dependently arisen as I am.

Everything I have—everything I am—was loaned to me by time and circumstances. One day, whether it’s a minute from now or 60 years away, time will stop issuing me loans. My control over the whens and hows is very limited. What little control I do have, I tend to surrender to my habits; habits that harm me; thus they also harm the ones who love me.

Each time I overeat or take a drag off a cigarette, I’m harming everyone who cares about me. This is important for me to remember because I’ve never cared much about (or for) myself. If it weren’t for the love given to me by others, I would’ve happily drunk, ate, or smoked myself into the ground by now.

I’ve always been highly self-aware, and I think people who are self-aware tend to be harder on themselves because they’re equally aware of who they are and who they could become if they applied a little effort and discipline.

I could be a Buddha if I really put energy into it. I can see that potential in myself. But I’m very lazy, and I enjoy overindulging in sensual pleasures. I’m also afraid of the lifestyle upheavals such a journey demands; it would mean me taking the plunge into utterly unfamiliar territory. I’d see the arising of traits and patterns that I never knew existed in me. Day-to-day life would become a perpetual experience of the wholly unknown.

Writing them down, these concerns seem so shallow and simple to work with or overcome. I could start right now, this very moment. But, maybe, I’ll just have one last cigarette and one last piece of pizza first for, ya know, old time’s sake…

The world is toxic, everything about it is toxic. The world (the mind) isn’t toxic in itself; it’s me who makes it so by clinging to and craving toxic experiences. There is absolutely only one way for me to be there for that lovely person who considers me her rock: renounce all of the delightful, but toxic, views and sensations that the world has to offer me. Until I do this, I’m going to suffer, and I’m going to be a condition for others’ suffering.

It is my goal to help this lovely person be her own rock, for the Dharma to be her rock. This is my motive for everyone who comes to me for guidance or who depends on me for their happiness and well-being. I can’t do this if I’m still hindered by my own selfish tendencies. Worse, these tendencies could remove me from those I love long before they’re able to be rocks unto themselves, long before the Dharma is their rock.

For me to actualize my full potential, I have to complete the two preparations for Buddhist practice: bodhicitta and nekkhamma.

Bodhicitta is the earnest desire for oneself and all beings to be enlightened and free of suffering. Nekkhamma is the renunciation of the causes behind delusion and suffering. Each is incomplete without the other. Without nekkhamma, bodhicitta makes our practice erratic and riddled with hedonism. Without bodhicitta, nekkhamma makes practice dull, stagnant, and prone to asceticism.

I’ve always been overflowing with bodhicitta, but sorely lacking in nekkhamma. When this happens, the Path is highly volatile and unstable. At times, I’ve gone from confusion to near nibbana, to utter delusion in the span of a few minutes. That’s what happens when you have the desire for growth but lack the motivation to do what it takes to facilitate it.

I think this is natural, and that’s why I’m being honest with myself but not hard on myself. I’ve already said it a million times: being hard on yourself is the antithesis to the Path. It’s possible to be self-accepting and self-critical at the same time. The mind doesn’t have to have an either/or structure; it can accommodate all things—even contradictions. That’s one of the core principles of Zen.

Even though the ups and down of practice are natural, they’re not necessarily optimal. The Buddhadharma is, in many ways, totally unnatural. It has us going head-to-head with all the tendencies we were born with, all of the perceptions and dispositions given to us by evolution. That’s why practice is so hard. The Buddha is basically asking us to float upstream; not swim—float.

Siddhartha asked the impossible, but demonstrated that it isn’t impossible. That, in fact, all beings have this potential. For me to practice effectively, bodhicitta can’t just be overflowing; it has to be all-encompassing, my only desire. Enlightenment has to be even more important to me than the air I breathe. I have to be willing to give up everything just for one simple thing: clarity.

This doesn’t mean that I have to actually give up everything; it means I have to have the earnest capacity and genuine willingness to do so—that’s the Middle Way. One can have the spiritual benefits of asceticism without harming oneself by being an ascetic; one can have the enjoyments and satisfactions of hedonism without harming oneself by being a hedonist. This was one of the first teachings Siddhartha gave to his five ascetic friends.

To serve others and not harm my trusting benefactor, the Middle Way must be my way as well. I have to place clarity as my number one value in life. Because without clarity, I am truly impoverished. With clarity, I’m the richest man on earth. The question is, am I willing to do whatever it takes to for my heart and mind to be clear? Am I willing to change?

Yeah, I was gonna post “Lean On Me,” but this song’s better.

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