Category Archives: Dear Ayye: Q & A

* * * Ever wish you could ask a senior Buddhist nun your question? Go for it. Post your question by writing to DearAyye [~at~] gmail [~dot~] com. (Please spell ayye in the email address with an ‘e’.) * * *

Help! Dad rejects my partner

A man writes to “Dear Ayye” for advice when his father continues to reject the man’s long-term gay partner. The writer has practiced Buddhism for many years, and generally is a calm, happy person, but cannot get past his anger towards Dad. The correspondence includes a few updates.
Hello, Bhikkhuni, I hate to burden you with any of my issues, but I am at a loss of late.
I am having a reoccuring issue regarding anger towards my dad. Since the time I came out, my dad has never spoken to me about this particular issue. On top of that, in the almost 12 years my dad has never said anything to [my partner] James.Last year at my grandparent’s christmas party, my dad actually pulled a drawer out and hit James with it. It was an accident, but my dad hit James [by opening the drawer] rather thanDesk drawer edited for blog 0301131133-00 speak to him to ask him to move out of the way.This triggered so much anger from [me regarding] my dad growing up. I get into horrid episodes of panpanca sankara! [thinking that spins out of control]
I just can’t get over the anger! If I thought talking to my dad or sending him a letter would make a difference, I would do it. But my dad has a character flaw, that when he is directly questioned or “challenged”, he actually acts out even further. It is just a conundrum.Do you have any suggestions of how I may begin to get over this obstacle? I try to send loving kindness. I also try to remember that he did the best that he could with the resources he had. however, I still get angry!
Any thoughts? Tim

 

Dear Tim,

Yeah, that is pretty outrageous. I can see why you would see red when that happened — what a diss! Clearly he isn’t valuing what you value, isn’t loving the person who you love, and it hurts. You feel disappointed, and from that you feel angry. It makes sense, I certainly understand why you’d feel this way. Perhaps this is coming up more strongly right now as the Christmas holidays draw closer, as you will want to spend time with family but certainly will not want to see James so disrespected again like that.
Two suggestions come to mind. 

  • (1) One begins with completely stepping away from the confrontational mode of thought, which as you said won’t work, especially with your Dad. So where do you go with it instead?
Here is an illustration from my own recent experience: A resident kept criticizing a decision I made some months ago to get rid of a set of ten thick useless cartoon books on the Buddha’s life that I found in the attic — it’s part of my job as the monastery’s Librarian to dispose of books that have no use, and these awful cartoons hardly managed to get any facts straight. They were like some strange fantasies that someone might have regarding Buddhist history if one briefly read crib notes on a badly written bio on the Buddha some years prior to drawing the cartoons, and also were on drugs. They’re that off. And I dislike fictionalized biographies of real people, especially anything misrepresenting Buddhism or Buddhist history.

But it turned out that the books were by a famous Japanese artist, rare and valuable, the set being worth (according to the offended resident) about $800. Everyone to whom she bitterly complains reacts with surprise and disappointment to learn that I got rid of them. Apparently the stupid books were beloved by many, and no one had known that they’d been tossed into the attic long before I arrived. This person has held onto her resentment about the lost books like a bulldog, and the way she keeps raising the issue to residents and visitors has been more hurtful to me each time. I already apologized but that didn’t faze her. I was considering how to make her stop, how to make her aware that she has started to really hurt my feelings.

Then finally it hit me: I need to put myself into her place. On trying to see it from this person’s perspective, I suddenly realized that she must be motivated by feelings of hurt, helplessness, disappointment, and feeling a lack of control over her environment (at a time when many things are changing around here quickly without her having any control). My focus shifted from reflections about what I don’t like about how she acts out, to mulling over what may be hurting her. Right away I softened up and resolved not to confront her about her behavior but to gently feel out what is upsetting her, out of loving concern — really out of sympathy, not out of a wish to control her behavior!

I haven’t talked with her about the books yet, as we have been very busy around here lately helping to prepare for the big celebration that we held yesterday, and she is still working on a big project. When the time is right I intend to sit down with her and sound out her feelings —

“I guess you must have felt pretty disappointed to learn that I got rid of those cartoon books that you liked to look at sometimes.” “I suppose you felt pretty hurt that I didn’t appreciate these art books that you love so much, and that I put them down so heavily based on my own dogma rather than considering what they meant to you.”

(She is artistically inclined; although she is brilliant she hates to read, and she prefers something like the cartoon books; they spoke to her.) Can you imagine how much better this approach may be received rather than criticism from me or a heavy-handed attempt to silence her rude jabs!

As it happens, however, while drafting this, I got a call from the former resident to whom I gave the books (he scooped them up before I took them to a charity as I’d intended), and it occurred to me to ask whether he still has the books. He readily agreed to bring them back; he just didn’t want them to get discarded. So my problem is going to be solved in this other way it seems. But I have learned something important from this experience.

How do you think this other approach may apply to your Dad? What could you say to him if you were to REALLY stand in his shoes for a few moments? Write back to me what you think.

  • (2) Second approach is to reflect on reasons for gratitude. Given your Dad’s aversion to the whole topic, he has been pretty mild. And aren’t there other reasons for gratitude towards him as well? Go on, give it a try:
  • “I am grateful that Dad clammed up on the topic rather than tell me exactly what he thinks even once, let alone repeatedly every time we see each other!” (There could have been some hurtful, hard-to-forget comments from him if he hadn’t chosen to bite his tongue — perhaps in order to save the father/son relationship.)
  • “I feel grateful that Dad hasn’t expressed his negativity directly to James.” (Bad as his silence is, bad as it is that he ignores poor James, Dad could do worse!)
  • “I’m grateful that Dad hasn’t severed our relationship but chose to salvage what he feels he can.”
  • “I’m glad Dad doesn’t make snarky comments that would make it unbearable to be around him.”
  • “I’m grateful that Dad didn’t go on to whack James in the HEAD with the drawer in a fit of pique.”

Not to mention:

  • “I’m glad that Dad made such-and-such personal sacrifices to give me a stable childhood.”
  • “I’m glad that Dad took responsibility for our family, taking care of us.”
  • “I’m glad that he taught me in these and those ways.”
  • “I’m grateful that Dad continues to support Mom,”
  • “I’m grateful that he hasn’t got dementia,”
  • “I’m grateful that I am one of the lucky ones to have my father still alive into my adulthood,” and
  • “I’m grateful that I still have opportunities to be with him, hug him, remind him how much I love him, do little favors for him!” 
  • (
  • My Dad died 9 years ago. I sure do miss him. I can’t do anything for him now. But if I think he may be in trouble sometimes I do some chanting for him.)   
Best of luck.
  • Metta, [with loving-friendliness]
Ayya S.
November 19, 2012
 

UPDATE 1:

Dear Bhikkhuni, Thank you for sending the email. I appreciate it. I have been working with the suggestions you have provided regarding my dad. I was at my family’s for Thanksgiving. My dad was there, but, for the first time, we didn’t speak at all. He usually says hey, but this time — nothing. I am going to continue to work on it. I wonder if it is even salvageable at this point.

I am feeling that the issues I have with my dad are really with me. I am finding that all of the things I dislike about my dad, are inherent in me. I am very much like my dad. I even look like him! So many of my traits are his. I am very much fallen from the same tree. I feel that if I can heal that in my self, that it would heal the issues with my dad.I will continue to work on these things, but this is very difficult for some reason at this point.

Thank you for continuing to support me! I appreciate your wisdom!I know you are traveling now. I hope you have a safe trip. I hope that I may get to see you!

Tim  November 29, 2012

UPDATE 2:
Dear Bhikkhuni, Merry Christmas!
Christmas miracle! My dad spoke to James and even shook his hand!!!
Best present ever!
Tim, December 25, 2012

  • Dear T.,
    Spoke? Shook his hand?! Wonderful! I want to hear the whole story!
    Merry Christmas indeed!
    Metta, A.S.
December 25, 2012

UPDATE 3:

Dear Bhikkhuni,
The Christmas surprise from my dad was a complete shock! I will go back to your advice in a previous email to put this into perspective.

I took much of your advice. I work around the idea that my dad did and is doing the best he can with the resources he has/had. It was a difficult task because I have had many issues with episodes in my childhood where I feel that my dad did not respect me as an individual with my own needs, likes, and desires. I felt that he was intent on making me into the man he wanted to be.

For instance, his greatest dream was for me to go into the army. He sincerely wanted to join the military, but his step-father wouldn’t allow it because my dad was the bread winner of the family. You see, at 16 years old my dad had to start working in a cotton mill in order to provide for his family. His step-father went on disability due to several massive heart attacks. At the same time, my dad was in high school. He went to work third shift, went to school during the day, and after school had to do chores and such. He got little sleep and had little time for doing his homework. Despite being a fairly smart guy, his grades suffered. When he wanted to join the military, he was told no because he had to work to provide for the family. He had a tough time.So, fast-forward to my childhood and my father wanted me to do the things that he never got a chance to do. The issue was of course, that those things did not interest me. There were more than a few tiffs as a result of my not meeting his expectations. Looking back, I can see that he thought he was doing me a favor by making sure I had he chance to do these things. His error was that he was confused by thinking those things were an interest of mine.

These types of situations come into play with my current situation because once again, being gay and having a partner and choosing not to have children, did not fit with what my dad wanted in his life. Again, he is confusing his desires with what he thinks my desires should be. There have been, like I said, years of my dad ignoring James and ignoring the fact that I am gay. It has had a strong impact, in the negative, on our relationship.

Starting in early November, I think, I reached out to you regarding the issues I was having. Your advice struck home on many levels. I worked, as I have said, on the fact that my dad is doing the best he can given his experience, kamma, and resources. I chose not to confront him directly. I actually chose a passive-aggressive approach. I simply did not speak to my dad unless he spoke to me directly. We did not speak on Thanksgiving and we did not speak at my Grandparents Christmas party. James did not attend the Christmas party this year due to my father’s behavior. Two major events and we had no communication.

Moving forward to Christmas, James and I went to my parents home. Again, I went in and spoke to my sisters, my mom, brothers-in-law and all. I did not speak to my dad. He was walking by at one point and nudged me. At that point I said, “Merry Christmas.” That was it. We had breakfast and then exchanged gifts. My dad always holds his gifts to unwrap after everyone else is done because he is busy playing santa. He opened his gifts, one of which was a gift card to a hardware store from James and me. I wasn’t paying attention really so I don’t know what his reaction was to the gift card I selected to put it in. It is funny that I had such a hard time selecting a card for him, because I did not “feel” the words in the card. However, I decided on a nice card with kind words and determined that I can at least give him this much. It was much like doing metta [loving-kindness] meditation actually.

After my dad finished opening his gifts he was walking through the house. I was sitting next to James, and my dad grabbed my head in a rather awkward hug. I patted him on the arm.
HERE IS THE KICKER: my dad reached over and shook James’ hand and said, “Thank you.” I was floored! I really didn’t know what to make of it. But there it was: after 12 years, my dad acknowledged my partner. I could not have asked for a better Christmas present.
I am still not sure what prompted the change and I really don’t care. I sent my dad the following text:

“Thank you. You gave me the best Christmas present I could ever have asked for. I love you. I hope that you know that. I am really blessed and very happy with my life.”

I have never received a response and I do not feel that one is warranted. I received what I needed.
I apologize for the lengthy email regarding this. I have spent some time thinking through this episode and I could not think of a short way to express what has occurred.

I understand that this is possibly a beginning. It may have been a one time Christmas miracle. At this point, I will trust that what I saw was genuine and I will try to have a relationship with my dad from that place.I would appreciate continued good thoughts to this situation!

Thank you for your advice and wisdom!
Theruvan Saranai! [Triple Gem bless you]
Tim, January 8, 2013

* * * Ever wish you could ask a senior Buddhist nun your question? Go for it. Post your question by writing to DearAyye [~at~] gmail [~dot~] com. (Please spell ayye in the email address with an ‘e’.) * * *

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Help! My dog’s dying

(From correspondence with an old friend.)
Sent: Friday, November 30, 2012
Subject: Please think good thoughts…
Dear Ayye, Please think good thoughts for my 13 year old chihuahua. She’s very sick and she’s like my little girl.
My heart is breaking despite what my Buddhist reasoning tells me.
Kindest regards,Tom (name changed)

Nov 30, 2012

Dear Tom,
Blessings…! Entering this life isn’t easy, and exiting can be even harder. Much compassion to your little friend!

The main thing to hope for is a good rebirth; i.e., palliative care and lots of acceptance and love is the key. It is good to stay involved and clearly approving, not looking away due to the difficulty of seeing her in pain, for that can look like rejection which is a dog’s great fear (much worse than pain). I’ve heard that vets are leery of giving enough pain killers to dogs due to risk of human owners abusing the stuff; you may want to push for strong narcotics if she’s in pain; they are available and legal, and can bring great relief and comfort to her last days.
Metta,
Ayya Sudhamma

Sent: Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Subject: Re: Please think good thoughts…

Ayye,Just a quick update. Our chihuahua with heart disease had a suspected stroke last weekend. She has been hospitalized since Sunday but should get to come tonight. We got to spend some time with her yesterday and she was very happy to see us. She hasn’t given up the fight

Your continued good thoughts are most appreciated.

Kindest Regards, Tom

Dear Tom,

Okay, I’ll hold you in my thoughts. You mentioned earlier that your heartbreak — feelings of grief & resistance to what’s happening — happens despite what your Buddhist reasoning tells you. That’s okay, don’t feel disappointed. An end result of Buddhist practices is a reduction of grief in challenging situations, but we cannot reason ourselves into that end result, nor push ourselves to it nor guilt ourselves into it. We can only nurture the causes that lead to reduction of grief.

When hit hard by the pain of a loved one’s suffering or loss, one can shift the situation into being a cause for wisdom/relief by applying one’s attention in certain ways. A good start is to 1st decide to honor the dear one by making their pain/loss meaningful (in the sense of a longterm benefit to the world): that is, make a determination to make good use of this painful situation.

Then you have a number of options of how to do that. One is how you focus your attention:

  • develop compassion for all in this world who right now have even more causes for overwhelming grief;
  • develop compassion for yourself, your little friend & all beings who go through these scenes of pain & loss lifetime after lifetime;
  • develop gratitude that things are not even worse for your chihuahua (the body can turn into a torture chamber with seemingly no end to the possibilities for worse misery, so just apply your imagination a little bit to see how bad everything could be for her right now if she weren’t so lucky);
  • develop gratitude that things are not even worse for yourself (you have a home, food, loved ones, heat/cooling, good water, stability in your life, financial ability to take care of your dog, etc.)

Another approach is to give or do charitable work in her honor.

Another is to use her situation to reflect upon the predicament of all beings that are subject to impermanence and suffering. Or to reflect upon inevitability of decline & death, and what that means in your life.

When you step back to do these things you become less lost in the situation, and thus diminish your grief a little bit, right then and there. When you reach out to others in your heart or with your hands, you take the (self-centered) momentum out of your feelings of grief. When you wisely focus your attention, your mind — in those moments — cannot stray into unwise trains of thought that would create waves of pain; you give yourself a bit of a break from them. When you deepen your understanding of the way things really are for us all (impermanent etc) you stop investing in all the little story lines that hurt so much. You walk through the stages of grief more lightly and much more quickly than you otherwise would have done.

Hence grief naturally diminishes as a result of these kinds of efforts.

Metta,
Ayya Sudhamma

Sent: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 2:53 PM
Subject: Re: Please think good thoughts…

Dear Ayye, Those are all excellent points. I realized that a lot of my misery was coming from the “what ifs”. What if she has another stroke, what if something happens during the day when we aren’t home, etc. So, most of my pain was a result of fantasy.

I made good use of your previous advice regarding “fear of rejection”. When we got to spend time with her yesterday I made sure I stayed in her field of vision (she lost part of her vision due to the stroke) and spoke in supportive, encouraging tones. I really think she appreciated that. I was rewarded with a kiss on the nose.

My biggest challenge is to separate my selfish clinging from the true compassion that I feel for her situation. I tell myself that a lot these days but it harder to put in practice in reality. The two mingle quite easily and turn into a potent force.

I also like your idea of doing something in B.s honor. My becoming vegetarian was my contribution to leading a harmless life and it has kept me true to the cause. I will have to ponder this one a while.

Thanks again for your most excellent advice! Kindest Regards, Tom

Dear Tom,
Yeah, “what if’s” worry is very painful. Good that you see it so clearly. Re compassion versus selfish clinging: “The two mingle quite easily and turn into a potent force.” Yes. (Excellent way to express it.) Their combination can shift into a potent aversive force, or a potent beautiful healing force, depending on how you hold them.

The kiss on the nose reward — wow. Glad to hear that my advice was well taken and so effective for her comfort. Real comfort in the way needed them most. Today I read something online about the practice of tying dogs up outside being painful for them even if they have water & shelter etc. since as pack animals they perceive the separation as a punishment.

Metta,
Ayya S.

Dear Ayye,

I am sad to report that G. [wife] and I had to make the decision to put B. down this early Thursday morning. Her little body was shutting down and had starting rejecting every medication the vets tried to give her. Her doctor told us Wednesday night that he as very worried about her condition. He was concerned that without the meds she would have an additional stroke and said at best she had two weeks left.

We took her home and hoped she could rest peacefully, but she was miserable for most of the night. She was so tired but she couldn’t sleep because her breath was so rapid and shallow. We stayed up all night with her and did our best to comfort her. We told her repeatedly how much we loved her and appreciated what she given to us over the past 13 years. By morning we realized that neither wanted her to have to struggle that way for the next two weeks. We wanted her to have a peaceful exit.

Her doctor concurred that our decision was the compassionate one. I was allowed to hold her in my arms while the medication was administered. I spoke in soothing tones and told her over and over how much she was loved. G. was able to look her in the eyes during the procedure and reassure her as well.

She passed away so peacefully. Her breathing smoothed and she very gently drifted off to sleep. I held her for several minutes after.

We are having her cremated with one of her favorite toys. We plan to spread her ashes in one her favorite spots in the mountains.

I feel so empty but I know that will pass with time. I am trying not to get mired in the grief but boy is it tough. B. was such a bright light in the world.

In the meantime we are concentrating on showering our other dog, Andre, with all the love we can give him and comforting one another.

Thanks again for your counsel and kindness. It means a lot to both G. and me.

Kindest Regards, Tom

*     .     *     .     *     .     *     .     *     .     *     .    *     .     *    .    *     .     *

Dear Readers,

With this last email Tom raised the perplexing topic of compassionate killing. These situations and decisions are not easy. I’m glad that Tom and his wife feel comfortable with the way in which their dear friend passed away. Tom’s account makes an appealing case for euthanizing a suffering pet.

Yet I generally do not encourage euthanasia, for intentional killing, even in kindness, has consequences, usually bringing unwanted karma and deepening wrong views that propel a person into continued pain in future. The wish to reduce the beloved one’s suffering may be generous, compassionate, and in some cases heroic, but nonetheless misplaced, based on a not-fully-informed view of the situation.

Pet owners often fail to see that their own discomfort, craving, ill will or fear may motivate the decision — not really the ultimate good of the other being. If you haven’t first made yourself quiet, soft and sensitive, taken time to pause and listen inside, then the decision is premature. How the memory sits later in a sensitive person’s intuition helps indicate whether the decision was truly altruistic. I would guess that most cases of euthanasia were premature decisions, made too quickly without first becoming emotionally balanced and deeply sensitive to the pet’s own wish. If the pet owner did proceed with such caution, patience and sensitivity, then perhaps it was for the best.

On a Buddhist discussion forum one pet owner, “harlan”, related her experience that after she put down her ill cat, her other cat cringed whenever Harlan tried to pet him, though he remained friendly to visitors; but later, when that cat had become mortally ill and suffering, he accepted Harlan’s touch willingly, and purred as Harlan gave him the shot. http://newbuddhist.com/discussion/5511/buddhism-and-euthanizing-your-pet

Some additional Buddhist voices:

If you are reading this blog post because you are in pain, I wish you comfort and love, sending you waves of compassionate understanding. Remember that whatever happens, all pain will pass. May you and your friend receive every blessing, and may you both step forward with gratitude, gladness and confidence.

Kind regards,

Ayya Sudhamma

Have a question about Buddhism, ethics or life in general? Write to DearAyye [~at~] gmail [~dot~] com. 

Help! My husband is leaving (Part 1)

Question & Answer With A Buddhist Nun

Help! My husband is leaving…Part 1

Several years ago while traveling I met Justine (not her real name), a devout Buddhist, who invited me to her home. There she spilled her sorrowful story: her beloved husband, Kirk (not his real name) had recently announced that he will leave her. She suspected him of having an affair; at that time he denied it, but there were many signs. A devoted wife and traditional woman from a Buddhist country in Asia, Justine was devastated. I offered what comfort I could. Weeks later she sent me an email seeking advice; below is the first part of our correspondence:

Hi Bhikuni Sudhamma,
I am Justine. I hope you still remember me. I really enjoyed your visit here. As i said I have a very hard time to do Metha [metta or loving-kindness] meditation. I can do vipassana [meditation] in a some sort of level.I need your help keep my family together. Because there is a child [her daughter] behind and suffering.So I don’t want to see this happen. Please can you pray for me. I heard that when you had a cancer again some group prayed and next time when you visit to the doctor they confirmed that there there was no cancer. Is that true?
Now I believe any thing to make my family together.I am in constant pain.What should I do. My prayers not working yet. May be I had done a bad Karma
I am in middle of the ocean without knowing how to swim
I love to have your tell no .Then I can talk you.
Trippel blessing,
J.

Dear Justine,
Thank you for your email. My number is… (etc) Please call me on Monday or after Monday. No, I was not cured of cancer by prayers. Prayers certainly helped, especially when my life was in serious danger, but I also made good use of highly paid Stanford graduate doctors!

Since you asked for my advice, here are some suggestions.

Cultivate compassion. If metta (loving-kindness) is too difficult to do right now, do something that is easier. How about compassion (karuna)? You may feel compassion for yourself for what you are going through. Were you there when I talked to the group about compassion for oneself? (when I talked about stroking one’s own upper arm like holding a baby, while saying “This is just what it is like to be ‘me’ right now.”)

Or, you may feel compassion for all the women in the world who are having a more difficult situation that you are experiencing. Some are poor, and are being left in poverty with many children, with no ability to get a job… Some are being left for another woman who is a life-long rival and enemy… Some have been wealthy all their lives but suddenly are losing everything to the husband… Some have done something wrong causing the husband to leave them and they feel remorseful and guilty and cannot bear the pain… Some are innocent but wrongly blamed by him or by everyone, and feel wretched…

Some have gone through a terrible experience such as the loss of a child or getting cancer, and the husband cannot endure the difficulty and so he leaves (years ago my husband left me because he could not deal with my having gone through cancer. On my cancer ward all the men had women beside them, but most women remained alone)… Some women are unexpectedly widowed and cannot bear the grief… Some have lost husband and children at the same time… Some are aging women being left for a young woman the age of their daughter (that happened to my neighbor when she was around 55 or 60 years old)…

You do not have these problems. You do not have reason to fear becoming impoverished, you do not expect to see your children starve, you do not have to deal with the bitterness of a long-time rival/enemy getting your husband, you do not have a guilty conscience or self-blame to deal with, you are not being misjudged and blamed for wrongdoing by your family and friends, you are not dealing with terrible loss alone, you are not an aging woman who cannot hope to obtain another husband, you do not have the worse pain of grief of the sudden death of a husband, and you are not severely suffering from also losing a child.

Therefore you can develop compassion for all the women who suffer worse than you. You can sit and think, “My pain is bad enough –but there are women who are suffering this and more; may they be relieved of their suffering! May they become happy!”

Analyze your thinking. Whenever waves of anxiety or grief come, look at the thinking that triggered the feelings. What were your thoughts? Did you think something like, “He loves her more,” or “He will leave me and I will be alone” or “Our daughter will suffer”? Look hard at whatever you were thinking, for if it hurt, then the thought was probably not really true on some level.

Let’s look at my examples:
(a) “He loves her more than me.” He may be swept up in lust, but love takes a longer time to develop. He probably does not love her at all. If she were to, perhaps, develop an ugly cancer on her face, he would probably leave her. In fact, as soon as he gets to know her better, he will probably be unable to tolerate her. When he realizes she cannot cook (few American girls can) he will slowly realize just what he has lost.

Furthermore, as you pointed out, once she gets to know him better, discovering that his charming ways won’t last past courtship, she will not like him much, and likely will quarrel with him or reject him. Also, I noticed that in all your past family photographs, your husband looks chubby, but now all of a sudden he is lean and good-looking. (The weight loss may be due to his recent health problem?) Before long, he may gain back all his weight and this young lady may not be attracted to a pudgy man. She probably does not love him at all, either. One expert is quoted as saying that only about 1/4 of affairs lead to a new marriage, and only 25% of these marriages will last. (Private Lies by Dr. Frank Pittman.)

If you love yourself, you won’t worry about whether someone else loves you; there will not be a hole in your heart that needs filling. Do you love yourself? If you don’t, how can you judge him for not doing what you cannot do? Take it easy on him. Who he loves is none of anyone else’s business.

Who you yourself love is your business. Try to radiate love to yourself. Start with words of metta: “May I be well, happy and peaceful.” Look in a mirror and say “I want me to be happy. I want Justine to be happy. I want her to be well, and happy, and free…”
By the way, the quickest way to get love from others is to give it to yourself. Self-love is beautiful and attractive.

(b) “He will leave me and I will be alone.” He may indeed leave you. It may be temporary or long-term. Thus you have a choice: to enjoy the thought of his absence, or to suffer.

I myself live alone. I never miss living with men; even sharing a monastery with male monks is full of painful difficulties, because even really good men rarely understand women. Most of the happiest people I know are not in romantic relationships.

In the past I had female companions here with me at my Vihara, but not for the last two or three years. Living without a companion creates some logistical problems.

For a long time I suffered with the belief that a nun should not live alone—yet I could not get anyone to stay with me here. I tried everything. US Immigration repeatedly blocked my efforts to bring in nuns from overseas, and all the good nuns in the USA have their own centers in other cities or wish to live close to their relatives.

I became reconciled to being alone, first by deciding to accept the lonely situation as my karma. Then I began to notice all the reasons why I like living alone. Actually, I LOVE living alone. It was just the thought that I “shouldn’t” like to be alone that made me unhappy about it. Now I delight in it.  For example, when someone lives with me, she often needs to talk. Talk talk talk. Now my house is completely silent, and I delight in the silence. The absence of useless talk makes it easier to quiet the mind.

Other people bring their neuroses, jealousies, quirks and rigid ideas (some even getting bossy about how I should, say, fold towels, while others refused to do their share of housework). A few have even tried to divide the supporters. Now I have no such problems. My home is orderly and peaceful and unobstructed by the needs and problems of other residents. It is my good karma to live alone!

I wonder whether there are any downsides to living with Kirk. He may be perfect, with no downsides? If you can find even one small reason to like his absence, you can begin to let go of suffering over the thought about him leaving.

About remaining alone, as I mentioned before, you are not an aging woman who cannot hope to obtain another husband. You are still youthful and pretty. Adorable, actually! (Americans like to say “cute” for “adorable.”) So if you want a new husband, it is likely that you will find one — if you want that much trouble in your life.

In this country (USA), even old women still have a chance to obtain a husband. My neighbor whose husband left her for a young woman (their daughter’s age) felt very bitter for years, but one day saw her former high school boyfriend, and they got married in their 70’s, and became very happy together. A friend of mine, when she was a teenager, saw her father leave her mother for another woman, the whole family felt miserable. Her mother lived alone for many years. When she was nearly 80 years old she met a nice man her age, they fell in love, and quickly married. They spent the next ten years traveling around the world and enjoying each other’s company.

My mother’s cousin was widowed; decades later, when she was around 77 years old, she came across a widower whom she had known in high school; they quickly married, to the shock of the whole family. This man happens to be wealthy, so our cousin is suddenly enjoying wealth for the first time in her life, and having fun; I’m very happy for her.

(c) “Our daughter will suffer is he leaves me.”  Can you really know whether that is true? Your daughter may suffer more from watching you cling to him than from watching him leave.

In fact, if you handle this whole situation with dignity and grace and humor, she will notice. Through your good example, you have now the opportunity to give her life-skills that will help her to survive any disappointment.

It could turn out to be the most important education she gets; it could even be the best thing that could happen to her. Twenty years from now she may say, “Mother, when I went through my own difficulties, I kept remembering how well you handled it when Dad left us, and I knew that I can get through anything. That is how I have survived my own disappointments.”

Look to the wisdom of arahants. Keep in mind that an enlightened person never feels troubled over anything. So if there is emotional pain, it must come from some part of one’s mind that is not yet clear and enlightened. I often remind myself, when upset by something, that if I were a fully enlightened arahant, this circumstance would not bother me at all. That helps me keep calm. And then I look at whatever brings up the suffering: Is it my clinging? My aversion? My delusion? Consider:

  •  Is there clinging and delusion such as the idea “He belongs to me!”? Even one’s own body does not belong to oneself, so how can another person’s body? It is all just a lot of changing conditions. Don’t let your clinging and delusion make you unhappy; don’t let it win.
  • Is there aversion such as the idea, “He should not do this to me!”? Many husbands leave. They may be driven by past karma; they may be driven by their own greed hatred and delusion. Don’t let your aversion make you unhappy; don’t let it win.
  • Try to have unselfish compassion for others, like an arahant would have. If Kirk is suffering more by not going to her, then why would you want him to stay? Don’t you want him to be happy? Do you really want to say to him, “Kirk, even if it makes you miserable, I want you to stay in order to make me feel secure and happy?”

Remember gratitude. Reflect, for example:

“He has given me 18 good years. Some women don’t get even one good year.”

“He did well for this child of mine. He has acted like a father to her (not all fathers do!). He has been trustworthy with her. He has often babysat her so I could do other things. He has taken an active interest in parenting my child, and made sure she got a good education so far. I feel grateful for all he has done for my child. She has depended upon him for her whole life. He is only failing her a bit now because his mind is confused, but he will probably be a good father again in the future.”

“He has given me a good warning of his future plans, so that I know to arrange now to take care of myself in the future.” “Even though he seems to be crazy for this other person he has not completely abandoned our family thus far; in this way he has made a bigger sacrifice than many men in his situation could do.”

“He has given me (and my child) a fine house and money etc., while I got to stay home to enjoy my child and raise her properly, which is what I really wanted to do.”

“He has never hit me, never beaten me, never kicked me, never whipped me with a belt, never hit me with furniture or glassware, never locked me outside, never imprisoned me, and for 18 years he has never left me. I feel grateful.”

What is your Refuge? When you write that you will do anything to keep your family together, I feel worried for you. That is an attitude guaranteed to bring worse suffering. What is your refuge — the Triple Gem or your own wishes?! Who are you to decide that staying together will be the best outcome?! Many families break up and the people go on to have better lives.

Turn to your true refuge in the Triple Gem, not to refuge in your family life. Just do what is the next right thing to do, and leave the results up to the Triple Gem. Don’t make your own desires like a religion for yourself, or you will suffer. You recite “Buddham saranam gacchami” “In the Buddha I take refuge”– not “Kirk saranam gacchami“! And not “Justinassa lobham (Justine’s desires) saranam gacchami”!

Focus on you. Whether or not Kirk leaves you, this is your good chance to start a new life. Put aside the whole question of Kirk, and look into the question of Justine. What do you want for your own life? Imagine that Kirk never existed — what, then, would be a life that Justine can now feel pleased about living? Focus on you. Nurture you. Do nice things for you. You are worth it.

Kind regards,
Bhikkhuni Sudhamma

Have a question about Buddhism, ethics or life in general? Write to DearAyye [~at~] gmail [~dot~] com. 

Help! My husband is leaving (Part 2)

Question & Answer With A Buddhist Nun

Help! My husband is leaving, Part 2

Please read Part 1 first.

Some weeks later, Justine telephoned me. During our talk she indicated a belief that it would be too risky, even immoral, for her to take any action to protect her interests, due to the chance that she‘d be perceived (by him or others) as pushing Kirk away. She was choosing to remain passive and let Kirk make any decisions. She begged for advice to help her feel less devastated. Then our call was interrupted. Unable to reach her, I wrote the following practical advice:*

Dear Justine,
Unfortunately I lost your call when I accepted the call-waiting. I do not have your phone number. Just before I lost your call, I had been talking about possible actions for a wife in your situation, such as taking control of family assets. Not to advise that you should do these things, but I wanted you to see that there are various options and choices to make.

You are a loving woman who is making difficult choices every day: choosing to stay with your husband, choosing to be patient, choosing not to take family assets, choosing not to push him into making a decision. These choices require a lot of strength, and I appreciate your strength.

Thus far you also choose not to talk with an attorney, but I hope that you will change your mind. She can tell you your rights as a wife. Hopefully you will not need the information. But one day you may suddenly need to know what to do, and may experience difficulties due to lack of advance knowledge; so it is good to prepare just in case. Furthermore, after you talk with an attorney, then if Kirk mentions legal issues, you can know whether he is bluffing.

In my recent email I already gave some suggestions to hel pyou get through this difficult time. Some more suggestions:

Do Buddhist practices. Something good for you and your daughter is doing Buddhist practices together. You can make a little shrine in your house. (When I stayed at your home, I looked at the room in which I stayed, and wished that you would remove the bed and make a nice shrine room out of it!) A large shrine is more inspiring, but with even a little shrine, you can do Buddha puja every day. You can put on Pirit tapes and take 5 precepts every morning. Perhaps you can get your daughter interested and teach her how to do this.

Focus on the career you set aside for him years ago. You may decide to prepare yourself to easily re-enter the workforce full-time, by going back to school or doing an internship or other re-training. If you cannot be home every evening, arrange with friends (a family whom your daughter likes very much) for her to spend those evenings at their home until you can get her.

Get active. Turn your mind from Kirk. Try to remember everything you ever wanted to do but couldn’t because Kirk didn’t want to, and take advantage of the opportunity of this time without him constantly controlling your lives. Stay active so that you do not have time to notice what Kirk is doing. Look for ways to bring pleasure back into your lives even though Kirk remains disinterested. Examples:

  • When he goes out, perhaps you and your daughter can rent a movie; or go out to dinner; or you can both spend time with a family whom you like, and you can talk with them while she does her homework.
  • Maybe re-paint the house or remodel it.
  • Find some women willing to come over at dinnertime, and prepare an elaborate, fancy dinner-party just for women; your daughter can help.
  • Undertake an art project: you and your daughter can paint or draw to express whatever you are feeling; or do a sculpture.
  • Put on loud music and dance; maybe bring over friends who can dance with you (or teach you to dance).
  • Let your daughter do something Kirk would object to as irritating, such as playing loud music or having a party. Let her bring girlfriends home overnight for a “pajama party”.
  • When he is out, enjoy cooking food that he wouldn’t like.
  • Rent movies he would hate.
  • Go to museums or other activities he thought to be too boring.

Develop compassion for this man lost in evil. It seems like Kirk is really in the grip of Mara [evil] right now. Whenever you make a wish for him to change his ways, focus on compassionately hoping that he will stop the evil deeds that will hurt him — rather than focusing on what you want from him for your own benefit.

Change your thinking. Whenever you get upset over Kirk’s actions, you are actually getting upset from your own thought or attitude about his actions. So try not to believe that “Kirk is hurting me,” and realize instead: “My thoughts and attitudes about Kirk are hurting me.” Then you see what you can change to help yourself feel better.

Try to figure out what was the last thought that made you feel pain, and write it down. Analyze the thought and try to see if there is anything in that thought that is not ultimately true. If there is even the slightest untruth, reject the thought as a lie.

For example, if you think ”my husband,” you can reflect something like this:

“How can anyone be ‘mine’; how can someone belong to another person? Even my own body does not belong to me. It belongs to nature. I did not command it to arise and I cannot prevent my own body from eventually deteriorating. When even my own body is not mine, how can I hope to own another person? He is fellow sufferer in Samsara; but he could never be ‘mine’.”

If you think, “I wonder where Kirk is. He may be at ‘her’ house right now. I wish he would come home,” you can decide to think instead, “My husband is not himself lately. As long as he is so strange and unfriendly, I may be better off if he stays away from the house. I hope he does not come home too soon and make me see him look at me without friendliness.”

Keep the kid out of it. One more thing. If you can avoid telling your child anything about your marriage problems, that is best. If she feels like she is in the middle of this situation, it is a heavy burden for her. All she needs to know is that “Daddy is having a difficult time right now” or “Mommy is having a difficult time right now.”

Earlier we talked about counseling; you ended counseling because Kirk wasn’t sincere. Nonetheless, if you can find a good family counselor just for you and your child, it may help the two of you a lot. Many times children feel irrationally responsible when parents have marital problems, so your daughter may really need counseling to deal with what is going on.

Hope these ideas are useful.

Kind regards,
Bhikkhuni Sudhamma

Epilogue: Kirk was indeed having an affair. He moved out and sought a divorce, along the way inflicting unpleasant, hurtful surprises. Justine and their daughter went through much misery.

Last time I saw Justine, a few years after our correspondence, she lived in a lovely new home with her daughter and a lively kitten. Kirk was no longer part of her life. The divorce had been settled, and Justine looked bright and confidant. She seemed happy, perhaps happier than she ever had been while living under her domineering husband.

Have a question about Buddhism, ethics or life in general? Write to DearAyye [~at~] gmail [~dot~] com. 

Help! Roadkill guilt

Question & Answer With A Buddhist Nun

My student, L., sent this question a few years ago.

Dear Ayye,

The other day I was driving with a friend and her two year old and infant in the car.  A chipmunk ran across the road. I could not swerve or slam on the brakes for fear of hurting the children, so I hit it and killed it. I felt so badly. My friend tried to comfort me by reminding me of natural selection, but guilt still lingers in my mind.

L.

Dear L.,

I know you have a very tender heart. Don’t worry about the chipmunk. Accidents are no reason for guilt. You know for yourself whether or not you were being mindful; and if you were, for what can you feel remorse?

Since the chipmunk has the unusual good karma to come to the attention of a Buddhist practitioner, do good deeds and share merits with him or her, or share the already-accumulated merits of your life, and wish that by the power of the merits of the Buddha and by the power of the merits that you share, may it attain Nibbana before the end of this Buddha-dispensation.

Remind yourself that the little guy (or gal) was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and that was its karma. The accident was as impersonal and lacking of blame as an elephant stepping on a cricket.

It was a great way to die. All beings must die, remember? Some ways are truly horrific. A quick smack from the tires of a fast-moving car is just about as quick and easy as it gets. Wish him well, wish him a good new life.

Remember, lingering remorse is an unwholesome mental state. Don’t indulge in it.

*** That is what I wrote back then to soothe her. Revisiting the question now, I would like to address the discomfort that L. felt due to having chosen the children’s safety over the chipmunk’s life.

Imagine if L. were transporting a few chipmunks (without human passengers) when a child suddenly runs across the road. Wouldn’t L. brake, swerve, skid, and make every effort to spare the child from certain death on the road, regardless of risk to herself and her rodent passengers? If at all possible, she would try to keep everyone safe.

Our friend L. likely could have made an effort to spare the chipmunk without bringing disaster if she had valued the creature highly enough, and as a sensitive person aware of the value of all life, she probably would have tried it, if there had not been children in her car. The presence of the kids changed her priorities. A normal caring adult cannot even take a small risk of harm to a child, even if it means certainly crushing a small wild animal to keep the child completely safe.

Buddhism teaches us that a sentient being’s moment-to-moment experience of living, and his or her attachment to continued life, have the same bases among all creatures. Animals and humans share the same mind/body building blocks.

The more deeply we understand this truth, the more we must acknowledge the equal value shared by every being. And yet we cannot treat people and other sentient beings equally, unless somehow freed of all social sensitivity (through perfect enlightenment or gross psychosis), for usually our hearts rebel most strongly against harmful consequences to our fellow humans. That is our nature. It’s an attachment, but I believe it to be a necessary one along the spiritual path. Even enlightened ones must act with compassionate awareness of the trauma that fellow humans would feel if not given special consideration.

The disconnect between these ideals — valuing all life yet also holding a special allegiance to humans — brings sharp discomfort when the ideals conflict. Hence L.’s unease over her split-second decision continued long afterwards. The deeper our compassion towards all beings, the sharper the discomfort… Unless our understanding and compassion for all beings is so perfect as to overcome all distinctions. In that case, one’s actions may be the same (due to compassion), but without the underlying attachment and delusion that one or the other can be more worthy.

L’s situation calls for redirecting compassion towards herself, by reflecting: “This is what it is like to be caught up in Samsara.* It isn’t comfortable. It isn’t supposed to be. May I find freedom from all these conundrums and difficulties, and pass beyond all pain forever!”

*Samsara = the endless rounds of rebirths, here meaning particularly the pains that accompany impermanence and lack of control.

Have a question about Buddhism, ethics or life in general? Write to DearAyye [~at~] gmail [~dot~] com. 

Help! low self-esteem

Question & Answer With A Buddhist Nun

Dear Ayye,

Any Buddhist way of dealing with inferiority complex / low self esteem / constant negative and pessimistic thought generation in the mind?

Thank you very much,

S. [In earlier correspondence S. also mentioned fear of failing university exams, despite her record of excelling.]

Dear S.,

You cannot easily overcome these things by working wholly on the mental level.  “Actions speak louder than words,” especially to oneself.  Take action.  Do things differently.  Act as if you matter.  Act as if you care about you.  You may want to imagine a beloved younger version of yourself, and get her to do everything you would lovingly want to see this girl do — good exercise, good sleep, dump the guy who is a user, turn down late-night parties, eat a hearty breakfast…  Make her take care of herself.  That is, adopt this 3rd-person approach to get the perspective needed to advise yourself well on what to do, then follow through on your own good advice.  You probably already know most of what to do, but there is just some obstacle inside temporarily preventing you from tapping into your own wisdom.

Also, what comforting words would you say to a beloved younger high-achieving girl who stresses out over her next exam?  Write these words down in a free-association style, and see what you come up with.  Then edit & post that message on your wall or mirror to see every day.

Buddhism is mostly about action.  The Buddha’s 8-fold path to Freedom is broken into 3 parts:

A. Panna/Wisdom:

(1) Right (or Harmonious or Skillful) Understanding –understanding suffering, its being inherent to Samsara & that it doesn’t relent so long as you keep feeding its causes (desires & grasping);
(2) Right Intention/Thinking –i.e., letting go, making peace, being kind, being gentle & compassionate.

B. Sila/Virtue:

(3) Right Speech;
(4) Right Action –being gentle to life/not killing; not grasping after other people’s things/not stealing; not harming others’ relationships with selfish sexual behavior;
(5) Right Livelihood –passing up any seriously harmful livelihood.

C. Samadhi/Stillness:

(6) Right Effort –effort to replace unwholesome mental habits with wholesome ones;
(7) Right Mindfulness;
(8) Right Stillness/Concentration.

After you’ve done most of the work in changing your lifestyle and habits (Steps 3-5) based on the insights & direction gained from the first steps (Steps 1-2), then you have cleared the path to make Step 6 a breeze.  Well, easier at least.  Here is a quote of the Buddha’s description of Right Effort:

-Effort to prevent unarisen unwholesome evil states of mind from arising by making effort, stirring up energy and exerting mind.

-Effort to abandon unwholesome evil states of mind that have already arisen by making effort, stirring up energy and exerting mind;

-Effort to develop wholesome mental states that have not yet arisen by making effort, stirring up energy and exerting mind.
-Effort to maintain & perfect wholesome mental states already arisen and not to allow them to disappear, but to bring them to growth, to maturity and to the full perfection of development by making effort, stirring up energy and exerting mind.

In other words, deliberately choose beautiful wholesome mental states, such as kindness, serenity, bliss, joy, happiness, generosity, determination, loving-kindness, energy, patience, compassion, calm, and many more, over unwholesome mental states (which include any miserable negative mental states such as anger, jealousy, anxiety, dishonesty, laziness, self-aversion, pride, cruelty).

Every waking moment, stay alert to what mental states you are cultivating right now, and seek to thwart the nasty ones in favor of the delightful ones.  Pay attention to which efforts do or do not work to pull you into the wholesome states; experiment with yourself like a scientist, taking good note of what works, and make a habit of whatever works — thereby making a habit of the resulting good pleasant mental states.

Just try to make a little progress in this every day.  “Don’t say that goodness will never come to me; Drop by drop is the water-pot filled.”

Right Mindfulness & Right Stillness (Steps 7 & 8) call for you to take time apart from the bustle of everyday life, to sit comfortably upright and let your mind settle down, become calm and clear.  You can let your attention fall to your breath, just casually flowing along with its gentle movements.  (Rein in any straying thoughts with the same kind of amused patience with which you would bring back a baby that randomly crawls off the blanket you placed for her on the floor.)

Amazing how much can change in your day, even in your overall life, simply due to ten minutes of doing nothing. Give it a try for a little while each day.

Also, I want to mention loving-kindness practice known as “metta”.  Try to fill your own mind & body with loving friendly feelings, then radiate these good feelings towards others.

If you can truly love yourself, questions of success & failure become irrelevant.  If you truly deeply love yourself, then so-called failure is not so big, in fact becomes meaningless.  I’d go so far as to say that the only real failure is the failure to be loving, particularly towards oneself.

If there are any circumstances out there in which you would choose to deny yourself a sense of well-being, a sense of comfort, a sense of being okay, a sense of being worthy of love & respect, then that is indeed scary.  If you decide to give yourself kindness and respect and so forth no matter what , then you can take each step of your life without fear.

Also, what other people think won’t matter so much.

With metta,

Ayya Sudhamma

Have a question about Buddhism, ethics or life in general? Write to DearAyye [~at~] gmail [~dot~] com.