Giving Up the Dream

 

I finally made the tough decision. I had a dream, and now I’ve let it go. The act leaves me feeling slightly sad and also free. After more than 10 years, I’ve disbanded my meditation group.

This journey was an extension of my dream to be a Zen Buddhist sensei, a seed that began 10 years into my 20-year practice. When it became clear that my Zen teacher thought it was essential to cripple my ego, it was time to leave. But in the meantime, she had encouraged me to start a meditation group when I came to Florida 10 years ago.

In spite of my teacher’s harshness, I still loved Buddhism.

I found another Zen community in North Carolina led by a husband/wife team, where I thought I could work with a teacher and reach my aspirations to be a sensei. My disillusionment was twofold: like so much of Buddhism, the community teachers were politically left and did a poor job of hiding it. And then I finally realized they weren’t interested in my becoming a sensei — two teachers at their Zen Center were enough. I left, bereft.

Now the reality of my pursuing my dream to become a sensei was dissolving. And even my commitment to the larger Buddhist community was splintering. Through all of these difficulties, I realized that my love of G-d had never waned. It was an arduous journey, but through many unpredictable and gratifying encounters, I found my way back to G-d — and Judaism.

Meanwhile, I had adjusted my definition of our meditation group. I removed the Buddha from the little altar. I no longer listed us in the community directory as a Zen meditation group, but only as a meditation group. I still loved meditation and had always appreciated that ironically it deepened my connection to G-d.

But as often happens in life, the group dynamics shifted. It was becoming harder in the current political environment to prevent people from bringing up politics (which I’d always disallowed); naturally, almost all of the participants were politically left. I avoided talking about G-d since most of the people were secular and it seemed foolish to try to find an acceptable substitute for what was so obvious to me. And gradually participation began to fall off.

Now it is true that we live in a 55+ community, where people pursue activities they enjoy. Meditation is not seen as an “activity,” and most people don’t imagine it is something they would enjoy. For those who try it, they don’t have the discipline or drive to pursue it; if it’s not easy, it’s not fun. And of course, we have 200 other clubs people can join in our community. So the meditation group had a lot of competition.

Then again, they may have simply decided not to come because of me, or the person I’d become.

Last Monday one participant attended. Of course, it is summer and the snowbirds are gone. But this is supposed to be a group. The one person who came is a tall black man named Earl; he has attended for many years, frequently talks about how he loves the group and what we do. I will continue to work with him privately since we often discuss spiritual books and ideas.

Tomorrow is the last meeting of the group. I wonder who will come. I wonder what they will say. It’s all good.

But I’ve given up the dream.

And as a side note, the door has fully closed on Zen Buddhism.

^Click^

There are 71 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Susan Quinn: Now the reality of my pursuing my dream to become a sensei was dissolving. And even my commitment to the larger Buddhist community was splintering. Through all of these difficulties, I realized that my love of G-d had never waned. It was an arduous journey, but through many unpredictable and gratifying encounters, I found my way back to G-d—and Judaism.

    I think you got to where you were meant to be.

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Percival (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: Now the reality of my pursuing my dream to become a sensei was dissolving. And even my commitment to the larger Buddhist community was splintering. Through all of these difficulties, I realized that my love of G-d had never waned. It was an arduous journey, but through many unpredictable and gratifying encounters, I found my way back to G-d—and Judaism.

    I think you got to where you were meant to be.

    Thanks, @percival. I just wonder why it had to be so difficult and take such a long time. Life would have been so much different in so many ways if I’d only looked in my own backyard.

    • #2
  3. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    I’ve always enjoyed your posts on Buddhism, so I’m sorry to hear you are giving up on it.

    As an agnostic surveying what I understand to be the fundamental teachings of the various religions, I’ve always found the fourfold noble truth of Buddhism to be the most accurate representation of the human experience (well, at least the first 3.)  Unfortunately, I’ve always found the sacrifices required of Buddhist monks to be several bridges too far me (in this lifetime at least.)  In my youth, I used to tell people I was a Buddhist, but then Richard Gere ruined the whole Buddhist thing, so I stopped saying it.  

    I’ve been fascinated by the recent book “How To Change Your Mind” about how the brain maps of people on certain psychedelics mimics the brain maps of experience meditation (I think it was discussed most clearly in his EconTalk interview

    I’ve also been fascinated by how pervasive meditation is among the world’s religion (albeit often in ways that are not explicitly called meditation).  There seems to be some sort of common fundamental truth at the bottom of these experiences and I wish I had the discipline to pursue it.  

     

    • #3
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    A-Squared (View Comment):

    I’ve always enjoyed your posts on Buddhism, so I’m sorry to hear you are giving up on it.

    As an agnostic surveying what I understand to be the fundamental teachings of the various religions, I’ve always found the fourfold noble truth of Buddhism to be the most accurate representation of the human experience (well, at least the first 3.) Unfortunately, I’ve always found the sacrifices required of Buddhist monks to be several bridges too far me (in this lifetime at least.) In my youth, I used to tell people I was a Buddhist, but then Richard Gere ruined the whole Buddhist thing, so I stopped saying it.

    I’ve been fascinated by the recent book “How To Change Your Mind” about how the brain maps of people on certain psychedelics mimics the brain maps of experience meditation (I think it was discussed most clearly in his EconTalk interview

    I’ve also been fascinated by how pervasive meditation is among the world’s religion (albeit often in ways that are not explicitly called meditation). There seems to be some sort of common fundamental truth at the bottom of these experiences and I wish I had the discipline to pursue it.

     

    What a thoughtful and kind response, @asquared! Actually I have left Buddhism, but not all its ideas. (Buddhism really doesn’t have dogma.) The Four Noble Truths are invaluable, and the fourth one says that Buddhism is the path. I have always believed that Buddhism was not the only path to accomplish that goal.

    I think you probably know I wasn’t a Buddhist monk, although many of them don’t follow arduous lifestyles. I know what you mean about Richard Gere, though. I haven’t read the book you reference, but know of it. There is no doubt that meditation actually changes the brain; we now know that the brain is plastic, in effect. When we meditate, we thicken the pre-frontal lobe, our center of pleasure; that contributes to our sense of wellbeing.

    I still meditate, by the way! But I focus on a Jewish phrase. I still find meditation deeply satisfying, and as you say, it appears in many religions.

    • #4
  5. Nanda Pajama-Tantrum Member
    Nanda Pajama-Tantrum
    @

    Welcome home, SQ!

    • #5
  6. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Susan, I always appreciate the straightforward honesty in your posts here.

    In what I think is something of a serendipity, you may enjoy Kevin Williamson’s NR online post today entitled, strangely enough, “Stalin at the Movies.” I believe it speaks to the struggle you have been having with your faith.

    As something of an aside, it seems to me that the reason so many people seek “alternative faiths” is their unwillingness or inability to accept the fact of man’s fallen nature and the impossibility of his perfectibility apart from Divine intervention. We naturally want to believe we can achieve it on our own.

    Blessings,

    Jim Mc

    • #6
  7. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: Now the reality of my pursuing my dream to become a sensei was dissolving. And even my commitment to the larger Buddhist community was splintering. Through all of these difficulties, I realized that my love of G-d had never waned. It was an arduous journey, but through many unpredictable and gratifying encounters, I found my way back to G-d—and Judaism.

    I think you got to where you were meant to be.

    Thanks, @percival. I just wonder why it had to be so difficult and take such a long time. Life would have been so much different in so many ways if I’d only looked in my own backyard.

    But look at all you have learned. 

    • #7
  8. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Susan Quinn:

    Tomorrow is the last meeting of the group. I wonder who will come. I wonder what they will say. It’s all good.

    But I’ve given up the dream.

    And as a side note, the door has fully closed on Zen Buddhism.

    I felt a similar loss recently.  My wife and I are driving to Denver for her high school reunion this September.  I was looking forward to having dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant in the whole wide world.  It’s in Bergen Park, Colorado, and it’s called The Whippletree.

    Or it was.  It’s no longer there, replaced by some trendy, Mediterranean restaurant.  The same thing has happened to some of my wife’s favorite Mexican restaurants, including La Tertulia in Santa Fe (at least I ate there one time on one of my many trips to Los Alamos).

    The point is, losing something we treasure, value, or enjoy is always tough.  It’s even tougher when it happens beyond our control, and it’s toughest when politics is the cause.  I suggest you get a glass of wine (a whole bottle is better), sit down, and raise it in a toast to Zen Buddhism.

    ZB will always be around, just remember:  It’s them, not you!

     

    • #8
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Susan, I always appreciate the straightforward honesty in your posts here.

    In what I think is something of a serendipity, you may enjoy Kevin Williamson’s NR online post today entitled, strangely enough, “Stalin at the Movies.” I believe it speaks to the struggle you have been having with your faith.

    As something of an aside, it seems to me that the reason so many people seek “alternative faiths” is their unwillingness or inability to accept the fact of man’s fallen nature and the impossibility of his perfectibility apart from Divine intervention. We naturally want to believe we can achieve it on our own.

    Blessings,

    Jim Mc

    Actually, Jim, I didn’t go looking for Buddhism; it found me. (Long story) I was fairly satisfied with Judaism, but fell in love with many Zen ideas and meditation. I never left Judaism (since Buddhism doesn’t require conversion). So I wasn’t looking for an alternative faith, and as a returning Jew, don’t believe in man’s fallen nature nor do I embrace the need for perfectibility. Those are not part of Jewish belief. I believe I’m here to serve G-d, and if I do that to my very best (not even approaching perfect), G-d will accept who I am.

    • #9
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):
    In what I think is something of a serendipity, you may enjoy Kevin Williamson’s NR online post today entitled, strangely enough, “Stalin at the Movies.” I believe it speaks to the struggle you have been having with your faith.

    I don’t know that Kevin’s post closely relates to my experience, but certainly the abuse of power and how it manifests is a fascinating exploration, @jimmcconnell. As it happens, my first Zen teacher’s teacher also had sex with students; I struggled with that for a while, although I thought he had made amends. In fact, I just remembered that my very first teacher, a man, had the same problem! When I asked him to be my teacher, he told me then of his history, including all those things he had done to make amends. Unfortunately, I discovered he was a liar (since a friend told me he was having relations with her). At that point he was living in a different state, and when he called me, it took me all of five seconds to say we were done, finished: he was no longer my teacher, and I was no longer his student. And he knew why.

    But as Kevin points out, these selfish, sick people show up in every religion. It is a terrible abuse of power. I do work with my Torah study partner, but she is a friend (and obviously a woman) and we are friends.

    • #10
  11. I. M. Fine Coolidge
    I. M. Fine
    @IMFine

    Such a (characteristically) thoughtful, wise, but this time bittersweet reflection. I think there is a difference – however small and quiet – between giving up on a dream and letting it go. And I think in your case it is the latter. Like releasing your grasp on a shiny balloon and watching it slowly sail up into the sky and out of sight. The season has changed, and another dream will fill the space it left. Perhaps it already has. But it doesn’t make the absence any easier to bear in these early days. Peace to you.

     

    • #11
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I. M. Fine (View Comment):

    Such a (characteristically) thoughtful, wise, but this time bittersweet reflection. I think there is a difference – however small and quiet – between giving up on a dream and letting it go. And I think in your case it is the latter. Like releasing your grasp on a shiny balloon and watching it slowly sail up into the sky and out of sight. The season has changed, and another dream will fill the space it left. Perhaps it already has. But it doesn’t make the absence any easier to bear in these early days. Peace to you.

     

    Thank you so much, @imfine! You are correct; I often make the distinction between giving up and letting go, and the latter is what I’ve done. Your image of the balloon is lovely, as is the sentiment.

    If anyone wonders if he or she or another has given up or let go of a situation, here’s one easy measure: if you keep talking about it, grieving over it, complaining about it–you get the picture–you haven’t let it go yet. That’s okay, it can take time. But the true freedom is in letting go. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify that, imfine.

    • #12
  13. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Spirituality is like walking up a snow-covered mountain. Following too closely in other people’s footsteps can get one washed away in an avalanche. Instead, find your own path. Maybe others have used it in the past, but they should be far enough ahead not to cause one trouble.

    • #13
  14. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Spirituality is like walking up a snow-covered mountain. Following too closely in other people’s footsteps can get one washed away in an avalanche. Instead, find your own path. Maybe others have used it in the past, but they should be far enough ahead not to cause one trouble.

    Beautiful. And so very true. Thanks, @arahant.

    • #14
  15. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

     

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Susan Quinn Post author 

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):
    In what I think is something of a serendipity, you may enjoy Kevin Williamson’s NR online post today entitled, strangely enough, “Stalin at the Movies.” I believe it speaks to the struggle you have been having with your faith.

    I don’t know that Kevin’s post closely relates to my experience, but certainly the abuse of power and how it manifests is a fascinating exploration, @jimmcconnell. As it happens, my first Zen teacher’s teacher also had sex with students; I struggled with that for a while, although I thought he had made amends. In fact, I just remembered that my very first teacher, a man, had the same problem! When I asked him to be my teacher, he told me then of his history, including all those things he had done to make amends. Unfortunately, I discovered he was a liar (since a friend told me he was having relations with her). At that point he was living in a different state, and when he called me, it took me all of five seconds to say we were done, finished: he was no longer my teacher, and I was no longer his student. And he knew why.

    But as Kevin points out, these selfish, sick people show up in every religion. It is a terrible abuse of power. I do work with my Torah study partner, but she is a friend (and obviously a woman) and we are friends.

    Susan, what I thought particularly applied to the conversation was this, in Williamson’s column (I should have copied it):
    “What Christianity and Buddhism share is the sense that man is stranded in this world, trapped by his own nature.”

    • #15
  16. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):
    Susan, what I thought particularly applied to the conversation was this, in Williamson’s column (I should have copied it):
    “What Christianity and Buddhism share is the sense that man is stranded in this world, trapped by his own nature.”

    Yes, that’s correct. In Buddhism, people are victims of their own suffering, because they don’t want what they have and they want what they don’t have. And we simply want to hold on to the good stuff and get rid of the bad. Talk about self-torture! @iwe also believes that people want to suffer, but we don’t agree on that point and I don’t think you’ll find that in the Jewish texts!  ;-)

    • #16
  17. Nanda Pajama-Tantrum Member
    Nanda Pajama-Tantrum
    @

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):
    Susan, what I thought particularly applied to the conversation was this, in Williamson’s column (I should have copied it):
    “What Christianity and Buddhism share is the sense that man is stranded in this world, trapped by his own nature.”

    Yes, that’s correct. In Buddhism, people are victims of their own suffering, because they don’t want what they have and they want what they don’t have. And we simply want to hold on to the good stuff and get rid of the bad. Talk about self-torture! @iwe also believes that people want to suffer, but we don’t agree on that point and I don’t think you’ll find that in the Jewish texts! ;-)

    Jim, as a matter of accuracy, KW is a bit off: the notion of being ‘stranded’ or ‘trapped’ in the world is more Hindu and Buddhist than Christian, albeit it is present in some early writings.  The world is a school rather than a prison…Although one can make a prison wherever one happens to be, I’d suppose. :-)

    • #17
  18. Christie121 Member
    Christie121
    @Christie121

    I’m curious what a meditation group session is like? 

    • #18
  19. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Christie121 (View Comment):

    I’m curious what a meditation group session is like?

    Well. I assume that you know what meditation is–sitting quietly, focusing the mind and bringing it back when you get distracted. In group meditation, everyone sits together on chairs or sofa, usually in somewhat of a circle. We begin our meditation with a bell (different bells with different traditions) and meditate for 30 minutes, and end with one or more bells. In our group, we make sure our feet aren’t asleep (!), stand, and the bell master has a set of clappers to cue us, leads us in slow meditation for 5 minutes, then regular pace for 5 minutes. And yes, we walk focusing our attention–with our eyes open! Once the walking meditation is over, we head back to our seats, sit down, and begin meditation with the bell again. We have two meditation periods separated by one walking meditation, and a short discussion on a topic at the end. The energy in a group is quite wonderful. I’ve tried to be brief, but if something doesn’t make sense, ask away, @christie121!

    • #19
  20. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    I know how you feel. Just last year on my 57th birthday I finally gave up on my dream to play Second Base in Major League Baseball. I’ve become much more realistic and pragmatic. I’m more of the First Base type anyway.

    • #20
  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    EJHill (View Comment):

    I know how you feel. Just last year on my 57th birthday I finally gave up on my dream to Second Base in Major League Baseball. I’ve become much more realistic and pragmatic. I’m more of the First Base type anyway.

    @ejhill, you crack me up! Oh, so sorry for your loss. 

    • #21
  22. Christie121 Member
    Christie121
    @Christie121

    Thanks, @susanquinn! Interesting. I have tried meditating, on a Scripture mainly, but never very successfully and never for that period of time! 

    • #22
  23. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Christie121 (View Comment):
    I have tried meditating, on a Scripture mainly, but never very successfully and never for that period of time! 

    Practice, practice, practice! 😉

    • #23
  24. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Christie121 (View Comment):

    Thanks, @susanquinn! Interesting. I have tried meditating, on a Scripture mainly, but never very successfully and never for that period of time!

    I just saw something on Facebook that said, “A five-minute meditation is always better than an hour meditation you didn’t do.”

    • #24
  25. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Christie121 (View Comment):

    Thanks, @susanquinn! Interesting. I have tried meditating, on a Scripture mainly, but never very successfully and never for that period of time!

    That’s more than most people do! Just to explore a little further, meditating on Scripture is more a contemplation practice–a close cousin to meditation. If you decide you’d like to try again, there are tons of apps and websites to offer guidance. And @arahant is correct–just doing five minutes per day is better than nothing! Don’t feel obligated to do a set amount or certain time. One of my favorite sources is Meditation for Dummies; I not only love the title but it has great information.

    Thanks so much for asking, @christie121.

    • #25
  26. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Susan, I love the fact that you would be willing to share a somewhat embarrassing failure.  You trust Ricochet, don’t you?

    By the way, I’ve never understood meditation.  I’ve tried it from time to time. Transcendental meditation was all the rage for awhile. (I try to be up to date), so encouraged by the Zeitgeist, I would sit on my easy chair and try to focus on one thing. (That’s meditating, isn’t it?)

    I always got bored.  I know, I should have tried harder.  But I just didn’t seem to get the same kind of mellow feeling that other people said they were getting.  I have the same feeling about smoking marijuana joints. (Remember, it’s legal here in Oregon.  There’s a very big and upscale marijuana store just down the road.)  I smoke one each night, a strain of marijuana that’s supposed to improve sleep.  I think it does improve my sleep, but I never feel mellow, only dizzy. I want to feel mellow. I want to be mellow.

    I sometimes sit in the hot tub at night and think hard.  Sometimes I even pray to Someone out there that It will forgive a few dark things in my past.  (Not very dark, by the way. I’m not a serial killer.)  Prayer is very close to meditating, isn’t it?   (Uh oh!  I just realized I’m overusing parentheses in a response to Susan Quinn.)  (I’m sorry, Susan.  I’ll try harder next time.) (Oh my goodness, I just used three parentheses in a row.  I think that’s a Ricochet record.)

    One more thing:  I used to live in Eugene, Oregon, a hippy-dippy town if there ever was one.  I noticed that in Eugene, a lot of Buddhists flew their little flags.  I always thought it was as much a kind of virtue signaling as much it was an attempt to have the flags wave in the wind and thus spread the message that the flag contained. (Yes, I’m a cynic.)   I never saw any American flags or any indication that a Christian lived in a particular house.  I always thought that the Buddhists—in Eugene in particular—were secure in their knowledge that people would admire their little flags, but patriotic Americans and Christians didn’t think their their displays (including the little fish) would be greeted by the same kind of approval.  Buddhists should move to Eugene.

    • #26
  27. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    I sometimes sit in the hot tub at night and think hard. Sometimes I even pray to Someone out there that It will forgive a few dark things in my past. (Not very dark, by the way. I’m not a serial killer.) Prayer is very close to meditating, isn’t it?

    [I’ll forgive the parentheses–again.] Yes, actually prayer and meditation are similar. When I meditate, I breathe in the words, Baruch Hashem, which literally means blessed is the name (Hashem is a word for G-d) It’s my way of reaching out to G-d, to praise Him, to seek Him, to ask for wisdom, to ask for healing for others. All of that is wrapped up in those two Hebrew words. Meditation isn’t a one-shot deal. Some people feel calm right away; it took me weeks of regular meditation to feel calmer, and years to focus, and even now I’m often interrupted by thoughts. . . and then come back to Baruch Hashem.

    BTW, it’s interesting that you think I shared “an embarrassing failure.” I’m not embarrassed (only sad) nor do I see it as a failure (rather a disappointment). Those who lose out are those who don’t find value in meditation, particularly with a group. I have no power over them. So it’s time to move on. Thanks for sharing!

    • #27
  28. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    I sometimes sit in the hot tub at night and think hard. Sometimes I even pray to Someone out there that It will forgive a few dark things in my past. (Not very dark, by the way. I’m not a serial killer.) Prayer is very close to meditating, isn’t it?

    BTW, it’s interesting that you think I shared “an embarrassing failure.” I’m not embarrassed (only sad) nor do I see it as a failure (rather a disappointment). Those who lose out are those who don’t find value in meditation, particularly with a group. I have no power over them. So it’s time to move on. Thanks for sharing!

    Susan, I probably used those words because I just posted a piece on my failures.

    Thanks for your take on meditation.  I think I’ll try it again.

    • #28
  29. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    You don’t get to be upset with my parentheses until I start nesting them.

    • #29
  30. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Percival (View Comment):
    You don’t get to be upset with my parentheses until I start nesting them.

    But only if you forget one on either end.

    • #30

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.