79 Comments

I think the part of the Pema school of thought that appeals to me more than any of the other options is that at least there is an acknowledgment that heartbreaking things will happen and we will suffer. I agree with you, it takes a lot of mental gymnastics to put the heartbreaking stuff in the gratitude column and I think there are a lot of people in the spiritual community suffering from toxic positivity. But just surrendering to the reality that suffering is a normal part of life feels better than white-knuckling your way through thinking there’s some super judgmental ahole in the sky keeping score, rewarding you for good behavior and smiting you for normal behavior like, y’know, touching yourself. I mean the mind boggles at the absurdity of thinking an entity powerful enough to create the universe would care whether we got divorced, were gay, or had an impure thought. It makes me laugh. As did your essay, many times. Great stuff.

Expand full comment
author

Let's start a religion where laughter is a commandment and shame is a sin. What a church that would be, huh?

Expand full comment

First sermon: Don’t block the sidewalk with your car and other obvious shit you should already know.

Expand full comment
author

Ha! For I am the Lord, Groucho Marx, and have given you my son Lenny Bruce.

Expand full comment

I’m in!

Expand full comment

Can we promote Groucho to God? I'd totally be in for that.

Expand full comment

Why do we remember pain more readily than pleasure? Simply a biological function, default mode etc., or more likely a cultural mis belief reinforced by monotheist religions. I can’t discern that far back thru the mists of time to experience what it was like before that belief was enforced. Uncontacted tribes might know thru other means.

As I said to a friend today, at my age, as my friends fall away more often, perhaps I should focus on documenting what is, what happened, and the devious dead ends to be avoided; notes to future generations, so that they can figure life out for themselves.

Expand full comment

A religion that makes sense? About time!

Expand full comment

What a concept!

Expand full comment

Part of me thinks I should just follow the school of The Man in Black (not Johnny Cash, though that might work too, I mean from The Princess Bride) “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who tells you different is selling something.”

Expand full comment
author

Yes. And never get involved in a land war in Asia.

Expand full comment

Toxic positivity. Yes.

Expand full comment

Brilliant essay. At least you've got great humor to help us all cope.

And oh lordy, this bit: "I thought it a terrible shame she wasn't at Auschwitz, where she could have explained to the dying piled up in mass graves just how fortunate they were. "Chin up, Mordechai! This is a chance to grow!"

Today someone posted that quote about bringing someone into your peace on my meditation support group. Inception moment!

Anyway, my reading suggestions are just as trite but helpful for me, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, and of course The Disappearance of the Universe by Gary Renard, as I've suggested before.

Or just some hugs 🥰

Expand full comment

I am so glad to receive these posts, Shalom. I am not smart enough to write a worthy comment, but let me just say, I read this -- "Neither of these approaches speaks to me, but together they provide me that strange comfort in knowing we're all terrified. That we're utterly beside ourselves with worry and pain and fear." -- and I know that this is precisely the reason I subscribe. I feel like a small part of something large and real.

Expand full comment
author

When I'm feeling miserable and downcast, it seems everyone else on Earth is happy and content -- the bus driver, the traffic cop, the woman rushing to her office -- and that sense of being alone in misery makes the struggle worse. Which makes me more miserable. Which makes me feel more alone.

If you ever find a cure for "Life sucks," let me know. Until then, remembering "but not just for me" seems to help. For me. Slightly.

Expand full comment

When I had cancer, the biggest relief was reading in a book about facing cancer that the oldest person who ever lived was 106 and then she died. Voila! I wasn’t going to be the only one. Now people are living to 114 and still they die. Yay!

Expand full comment

I remind my daughter when she is not coping and at home, that she is not alone. She only sees those people who are out and about. Some are happy, some are not. There are many millions more behind closed doors.

Expand full comment

Yes, it adds a measure of needed perspective. But, Shalom, there is always someone MORE miserable than you and me, and sometimes a bit of schadenfreude can't hurt. Yesterday I saw a woman older than I, in a wheelchair, rolling along a city sidewalk, with all her meager possessions on her lap. I felt so much better -- because with all my worries and pains, at least I had a home to go back to. I felt so fortunate. It is all relative, isn't it.

Expand full comment
author

There's a great cartoon by the late John Callahan which is a take on the classic Man Panhandling on Sidewalk cartoon: it's basically a panhandler who's just a head, looking over at the panhandler beside him who is just a pair of eyeballs, and the head is saying, "People like you really inspire me."

Expand full comment

What a perfect example of inspiration porn! I must find it!

Expand full comment
author
author

There's another one that's just eyeballs, I'll try to find it.

Expand full comment
founding

I subscribed for his eternal gratitude Sharron, but making fun of Pema? Well I might have to gift him a New Year’s present. It eminded me of the Xmas my sister in law gave me one of the Chicken for Soul books (1st off- chicken I am not! Flamingo they keep calling a chicken- ok!); but the more I read, the angrier I got. Did she really think this would be helpful? Or was she just making fun; having her way with me (like a scorpion in your boot, you never see coming). Well- I told her what I thought of it in every blank space in the front of the book. Then thinking she might see- or the kids- years later, I erased it all. [Some things are done best in erasable ink.] Finally, I realized she couldn’t empathize with me & the horrible Karma I MUST be paying for- even if she lived several more wicked lifetimes. So I threw it in the garbage!!

[Oh, & in case you read comments S. T/U very much! Lol 😝 ]

Expand full comment

You wrote the comment that reflected my thoughts. Thank you.

Expand full comment
Oct 1, 2023Liked by Shalom Auslander

This is hilarious and wonderful and terrifyingly true.

(By the way, I believe the word "any" is missing here: <<The first is that you can superimpose just about words in elegant type>>)

Expand full comment

Funny stuff. She's always annoyed me too. It's a kind of digestible nothing that might be immediately soothing but then there's no nutrition it. All Buddhism is not this way. I'm an SGI Nichiren Buddhist (we're the noisy Buddhists, this particular actress said once) we chant out loud rather than meditate, and face issues and grapple with them rather than imagine them away or retreat to solitude. Life is rough, sometimes - in the words of Tom Petty, everybody's got to fight to be free. Bob Dylan said, "I accept chaos. I'm not sure whether it accepts me." Exactly. Offering it tea is a quaint idea. I will say, however, since in most things, there is something good to be found, she's got a point. Where I work, the front desk of a quaint New Hampshire Inn, sometimes the kitchen is in chaos. Unmanageable chefs - the stereotypes are true. If I go in trying to impose some orderliness with a strident voice, it usually exacerbates the situation. If I go in with a completely helpful attitude, with compassion for the hapless dishwasher, for instance, and do what I can to assist things, humbly, bus the tables for the overworked waiter, (offering a cup of tea to chaos) it works. Things smooth out. In the face of chaos that's more serious, you have to up the approach. My own "Baby Shark" singing is the chanting, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, which in crisis, does the same kind of thing in a grown-up version. In any case, it's always a question of reestablishing your internal strength and mental balance - Kipling's "Keeping your head when everyone else is losing theirs" - or you're close to losing yours - then you can take some constructive action and aren't at the mercy of the chaotic world.

Expand full comment
author

Whatever floats your boat, William - and I mean that sincerely. Whatever keeps you from sinking is fantastic, I'm glad you have something. It's nonsense-disguised-as-meaningful that irritates, which is why I can't stand Dylan, either. I imagine he and Pema would make a great couple; they could sit in bed mumbling things to one another that sound meaningful but aren't, masturbate to their own images, then snuggle together and talk about what they're not going to eat for dinner.

Expand full comment

Thanks Shalom. I'll keep an eye out for your posts. I'm always up for good shot of acerbic wit.

Expand full comment
Oct 1, 2023Liked by Shalom Auslander

Hello. I was not raised with religion so I don’t have a a yearning for god or saints in my search for salvation. Though I often enjoy Thich Naht Hahn communications I prefer my enlightenment filtered through (some) western psychologist and scientists

Recommending Jon Kabat-Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living) and Robert Wright (Why Buddhism is True) as starter kit. Try? May you become one with everything. Because guess what you you already are 💕 Put that on a stock photo! And if baby shark works, why not. There is only one true dog.

Expand full comment
author
Oct 1, 2023·edited Oct 1, 2023Author

Thou shalt have no other Baby Shark before me.

PS: Hahn drives me bananas.

Expand full comment

Hehe. Even: There is a misconception that Buddhism is a religion and that you worship Buddha. Buddhism is a practice, like yoga. You can be a Christian and practice Buddhism. I met a Catholic priest who lives in a Buddhist monastery in France. He told me that Buddhism makes him a better Christian. I love that.”? Seriously, I think Western Buddhism is all we got. And baby Shark I guess :)

Expand full comment

I used to do a meditation group in Berkeley with Zinn’s teacher-son Will Kabat-Zinn

Expand full comment

Wow, if even slightly a chip off the old block(s) (Howard Zinn for maternal grandpa!) must be a good guy :)

Expand full comment
Sep 30, 2023Liked by Shalom Auslander

Difficult it is, trying to stay a bit positive without often being completely idiotic. But I now know why my child loves Baby Shark and Alphabet Lore: therapeutic.

Expand full comment

Starting a club? I’ll join.

Yom Kippour is the only holiday that ever made sense to me. Making amends for stuff you did but shouldn’t have? Ok.

I’m actually grateful my early years were spent attending a Greek Orthodox Church (never with dad who only stepped into it once a year) where the only thing you were offered were threats, wine and bread. Some incredible, ominous art. But delicious food for the dead - the recipe for which was thousands of years older than the church. A Sunday school class that convinced me Al Capone had nothing on the god of the Old Testament. Whoever screwed Job over was a maniac, let’s face it.

(Also in category of oh give me a break: Mother sanctimonious Theresa. Anyone who advocates giving birth even if you through the infant into the garbage? Please. Just. Shut up.

With thanks.

Expand full comment
author

So would Mother T put the baby in recycling or organics?

Expand full comment

I've thought about this very thing many times: what kind of sadistic sociopath would god have to be to do what he did to Job? Sounds more like certain past president than a spiritual guide to me. Definitely not a god I would consider worthy of my devotion. I think Job had grounds for a very lucrative lawsuit against god.

Expand full comment

Pema has so so many relatives/friends/acolytes in Woodstock. Go to the health food store, hear people talking about their chakras, their whatevers. I feel like an alien here cause I know my chakra died. Or maybe I never had one.

Expand full comment
author

Chakra Supremacists.

Expand full comment

Spiritual teachings are soothing if bland by nature. They’re annoying because we don’t feel seen. My shit started when my children were 5 and 1. Thing were falling apart around me. I’m reading books like this by renunciantes while nursing my one year old and they’re telling me I should take two weeks off twice a year to connect with myself. I was terribly annoyed. It took me a decade to rebuild my life. I had to find wisdom written in different stock paper. I think what helped me most at the time was a quote from Winston Churchill. White simple font on solid black: when you find yourself walking through hell, keep walking.

Expand full comment
author

Loved this: "I’m reading books like this by renunciantes while nursing my one year old and they’re telling me I should take two weeks off twice a year to connect with myself."

Bukowski has a similar line: "What matters most is how you walk through the fire." Of course, he walked through it shit-faced.

Expand full comment

When I was young and depressed, I read a stack of self-help books. They all had advice in them that wasn’t bad. I even sort of tried to put a few into operation, like remembering people’s names, per Dale Carnegie. Nothing I read in a self-help book worked for me until I wasn’t depressed.

Ah, but how did I get undepressed?

Expand full comment
author

Gin?

Expand full comment

It works for me. I'll take a double.

Expand full comment

I've always avoided Carnegie. Every time I see his most famous book title I think "but what if I don't want to win friends or influence people?"

Expand full comment

Interesting tidbit: You know who studied Carnegie like a master? Charles Manson.

Expand full comment
author

Are you sure? I thought Carnegie studied Manson.

Expand full comment

I can't even begin to say how happy this makes me! It's a fleece blanket lined with razor blades, cyanide and chommile tea. The coziest kind cyncism that makes me feel right at home.

Expand full comment
author

Mind if I use that on my next book? "A fleece blanket lined with razor blades" is pretty perfect.

Expand full comment

Please do. Consider it a gift from me to you, from one jaded formal spiritualist to another. Selah lol

Expand full comment

My dick is broken too, and I have a vagina: yours in solidarity.

Expand full comment

This is so funny. Thank you (once again).

Expand full comment

Why I am NOT a Buddhist by Evan Thompson. Excellent NF confessions of a failed Buddhist.

Expand full comment

Next time you should try Paulo Coelho. I recommend Warrior Of the Light as it's peak Coelho. I will leave you with a quote. “Try to live with the same intensity as a child. He doesn't ask for explanations; he dives into each day as if it were a new adventure and, at night, sleeps tired and happy.” So just do that.

Expand full comment