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Looking At Forty . . . And Zen Buddhism

Aging. It happened before I even knew it. And as I fight my way to live life day by day, it keeps happening. And, most days, I can’t truthfully say I’m enjoying the ride.

When I was a little kid, the world was full of endless possibilities. Anything was within reach. And they were, so I thought, the best years of my life. But, unfortunately, that was about to all change.

My early teen years just sorta happened. But in my mid to late teens, I noticed more reality than I cared to. And the closer I got to eighteen, the more and more I dreaded becoming an adult.

I was blissfully ignorant of the things of the world despite my constant teachings and lectures from my father. I should had listened. But I already knew everything. Or so I thought.

My twenties came in like roaring tornado. A swirl of having to quickly grow up, getting my own place, paying my own bills, and the unexpected surprise of parenthood. And that’s how it goes, I guess.

In my thirties, I wizened up. I looked at teenagers and twenty something year olds and thought to myself, They have no clue. Little did I realize, but neither did I. It was my thirties I began to see life for what it truly was: a bitch.

I didn’t want to turn forty. And, even without having my consent, it happened all the same. It was at this point that I have started to look more deeply and more seriously at my life. I now understand what they mean by having a mid-life crisis.

This year for me (and my wife) has been a torrential cascade of bullshit in the worst kind of way. The events of this year have been the fuel that has propelled this rocket car of bullshit, slamming us into a brick wall only to discover there to be more and more brick walls.

It just doesn’t seem to want to end. But, even so, we have one another. And, for that, I am beyond grateful. I am blessed in that way. I can only hope she, as I’m undoubtedly sure she does, feels the same way.

Waking up everyday with a heavy heart, going to a factory job that continually sucks the happiness from my very soul when I thought there was none more to be gotten, and fearing what’s going to happen to us this time, leaves me everyday – several times a day – asking two questions over and over:

What is my life’s purpose, and where do I go from here?

I find myself at a crossroads. And a very important one. But, I must digress . . . .

When I was a young man-child, my dad taught a form of martial arts called Goju Ryu. Later, a man came from Okinawa and was handed the class. From there, I learned Kodokan karate. Interestingly enough, and to the best of my knowledge, both styles being Japanese.

During this time, I was introduced to the famous David Carradine movie, Kung Fu; a series that ran during the 70’s before becoming a singular film. Kung Fu . . . the grandfather to the Goju Ryu my father taught. With Kung Fu also came Tai Chi. Like Goju Ryu, another offspring.

In short, it was Kung Fu that planted a seed that I would find myself coming back to to water from time to time.

I was grateful for my dad being hard on me, teaching me how to defend myself all those years ago. But it was the spiritual connection I found in martial arts that captivated my soul.

With this, meditation to calm oneself and to look inward became a very real thing to me. Mind you, I came from a very Christian family, so, of course, my dad never divulged much on the topic being Buddhism the principle behind it.

On a side note, I one day managed to get my hands on a book about self-hypnosis. I’m not going to say much about this here, because this was a whole new avenue of self discovery in and of itself. But it did play its part in its own way.

Fast forwarding . . . I grew up in a strict and religious family. I’m not sure when it happened or what sparked it, but, at some point in my mid to late teens, I began to question the bible. It no longer made sense to me. I found it contradictory.

So, I started to look deeper at what it was saying – trying to explain things myself with historical and scientific fact rather than just accepting a belief on blind faith. This ideal to just believe in something made no sense to me.

Little did I realize then that I had taken it upon myself to follow a teaching, I would later discover, from the Buddha: To not follow something on blind faith, but rather decide for yourself if a thing is worth believing/following (to paraphrase).

This dissecting of the bible led me to “study” demonology. From there, I looked more into witchcraft; namely Wicca, of which I began practicing, then into Druidism, which I felt more comfortable with.

With witchcraft, there was also meditation. Different from what I had known thus far from martial arts.

I never got too serious into being a practitioner of the craft, but it made a lot more sense to me than what my family had forced me to believe in. On the other hand, I still found something was missing. Then came metaphysics. And suddenly, the rabbit hole I thought I knew well showed it’s true colors.

And, my god, it was beautiful! Albeit vastly confusing.

So, with all of that said, I come to this point in my life; confused, emotionally racked with pain and heartache, sad, depressed, angry, temperamental, and still ever curious. In what seems like a time when I would have my mid-life crisis I see a door. A familiar one. And, this time, I’m walking toward it.

I’ve told people many times before that if I ever once set foot in Japan I would never leave. That’s funny considering I’ve never been there. But I can say that because there has always been something about the Chinese and Japanese cultures that have drawn my attention. Particularly that of Japan.

Somehow, I feel drawn to it. It pulls my heartstrings in a way that only a bird, who feels when it’s time to migrate, can understand. Although modern Japanese culture is now technologically advanced and fast paced, it’s the simplicity of the old ways that I love and admire most.

And, so, here I am.

As I mentioned before, this year has been horrific. The results of events that have driven me to the edge, looking deeply into the abyss, contemplating if it’s worth it – reaching a level of stress and unhappiness that has me weighed down to my breaking point.

Of course, I could never make the leap. I’m not that kind of person. However, I know I can’t continue going like I am, so I began to re-evaluate myself and my place in the cosmos.

Many things I would do, places I’d go, I can’t. It’s the sort of sacrifice you make when you marry. You have to find a middle ground. Granted, this can be a struggle, going against what you feel is best for yourself, but part of the end result, the happiness at the end of the tunnel, is finding a solution that you and your significant other can be happy with together.

Moving to a new locale, at the time of this writing, is not a solution; even though we both feel a change of scenery would do us good. Unfortunately, I can’t change jobs either because of reasons I won’t go into.

What I can do, and must do, for now has to start with me and start at home. I must devote my energy doing what I enjoy doing whether there is money in it or not; writing, art, treasure hunting. Mainly because it’s inner satisfaction and tranquility that I’m looking for anyway, right?

Money is one of the leading causes to my stress and worry. It can only provide relief, but never happiness. And this is a new programing I am having to force myself to face because it’s definitely not how I was raised.

Enter Zen Buddhism.

When one thinks about Zen, they often think about gardens filled with sand and rocks. I know I do, but there’s an interesting thing about that. At least, for me anyway. Let me explain:

The rocks in a Zen garden represents different things, and I like the representation of the five elements; earth, air, water, fire, and metal. For others, they may represent islands. Hence the raking of the sand to show water flowing from and/or around the stones.

But it’s the raking that I want to mention here.

For as long as I can remember, I have often enjoyed sweeping. Somehow, I find it relaxing and meditative. I figured this out long, long before I learned Zen Buddhist monks rake the sand in their gardens for this exact same reason.

With Zen Buddhism comes the obvious: meditation. Ah, yes. There it is again. It’s something that I am all too familiar with. And something I have probably, and unknowingly, been grooming myself toward most all of my life.

But there are the roots of Buddhism, as well. This is where I put forth the real work in my quest for inner peace. And, admittedly, although I’m obviously not looking to become a full fledged Buddhist monk, it’s still something that will take a conscious effort on my part.

So what am I hoping to get from this? I can answer that question in a word: contentment.

To come to terms with your true self and not who and what you perceive yourself to be is a journey. To accept the problems you must face, and face alone, is also a journey. To understand where you belong in the grand scheme of things the universe has laid out for you as an individual . . . also a journey.

There are questions I keep asking myself everyday. Questions that, ultimately, are negative when you really take a hard look at them. And these questions need to be replaced with different questions; the right questions.

I heard once that to find the answers you are looking for you must ask the right questions. This is seemingly much more difficult than it sounds. Wording is everything. This is where meditation comes in.

I need to change. If not myself, then, at the very least, my outlook on things. I have come to terms with the belief that Buddhism is the answer; has always been the answer. I have just been too ignorant to realize it.

Buddhism has always been there like a shadow; you see it, but so much so you take it for granted. Only this time, I’m stopping to give it my attention. It’s time. Past time! It’s simply what I have to do.

It may seem easy on the surface, but it’s actually a complicated thing with many labyrinths of subtle layers.

I have a good idea of where I want to be this time next year. But maybe, somewhere along the rails of self-discovery and change, I’ll learn that the path I once believed to be the correct one for me will turn out to be something completely different. For better or for worse, only time will tell.

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