Thursday, October 20, 2016

Being is Always Becoming


I never quite understood why people are so quick to want to tell their religious testimony. I have never been a heavily religious person. I've never felt like I needed to put my neck out on the line for anything. Then something happened.

I've read about Buddhism on and off for the better part of the last eight years or so. Never devoting too much time or power to it, but reading books and educating myself. This changed around July when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. It's my mom's second go-round with cancer, the first being colon cancer roughly six years ago. Back then I did some reading, I got a mala. I tried to center myself. At 19-20 years old, it is hard to devote yourself to anything. Fast forward these six years and I was ready for a change. Beyond my mother's sickness, I had been dealing with an immense amount of struggles in my life. I felt lost. I felt depressed. I felt hopeless. That's when I found my old mala and started to delve in.

What I love about Buddhism isn't that it isn't exclusive. It is for everyone. It can be a religion, it can be a philosophy. It is whatever you want it to be. Buddha wasn't a higher power, he was an enlightened man who wanted to share his peace with everyone.
What is there to disagree with about that? Isn't that what we are all searching for in every religion or philosophy, inner peace?

So I started reading, studying, and meditating. Every day. For the last few months, I've devoted small to large chunks of my day to dharma. What is so great about it, what I find so interesting, is that it is always changing. Meditation is never the same twice. Some days I feel so centered, other days my mind is racing. What they teach you in Zen Buddhism is don't be mad at your thoughts, don't be upset that you can't clear your mind. Acknowledge each thought, let them have their moment, and release. As someone who is known to have a propensity of overthinking things, to dwell, this was enlightening to me. These thoughts are there for a reason. In Buddhism, I've found a peace that I never thought would exist for me. Through my years struggling with depression and anxiety I never thought this was attainable.

Four Noble Truths & Eightfold Path 
It is all about the Four Noble Truths: there is suffering, suffering has an origin, suffering can cease, there is a path out of suffering. Let go or be dragged. The world cannot be controlled by you or anyone. Acknowledge that there is natural suffering, recognize where it comes from, find a way to stop it, and leave it behind by practicing mindfulness and compassion. The path is broken into eight parts. While it may seem like a fundamental simplification of larger and more difficult concepts, there is something to exploring them.

I see a change in myself, my wife sees it too. My anger, my disappointment, my irritation. These things don't disappear but they don't control me. Now I know why they're there. I acknowledge them and find a way to move on. I realize that expectations set by myself or by others ruin everything, we've been letting expectations rule our lives. If you are mindful you can have control of your mind. Calm yourself and no storm can affect you.

There are many misconceptions about Buddhism. One doesn't have to shave their head, wear robes, and become a monk to practice mindfulness. The more I study, the more you realize that dharma is everything. Looking at one of my favorite things ever, Star Wars, Buddha has his fingerprints all over it. Yoda, for one, is a pop culture Bodhisattva. The Force is mindfulness. "For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship." That right there is certainly in line with Buddhism.

What's amazing about Buddhism, and particularly Zen Buddhism, is that once you start practicing it overwhelms your life in the most positive way possible. In moments before when I'd just be sitting somewhere it'd be a dull moment, but now I feel a calmness and mindfulness. Truly zen. It's beautiful. Nothing is ordinary. Making a cup of coffee or doing dishes while practicing mindfulness make the ordinary become extraordinary. Being present, not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, is freeing.

It may sound hokey to some but I know what I feel. It has transformed my life. I'm not perfect. I'm not always calm. But within my anger I now see a light at the end of the tunnel that was not there before. Amidst my feelings, my mind reminds me of what I'm capable of. That's what it provides me. It champions all the feelings I have inside. It legitimizes my soul. I feel purpose. I acknowledge the suffering but I can see beyond it. I can't imagine my life without Buddhism now.


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No one can be enlightened for others. Dana prajna paramita, give wisdom to cross over. If you're at all interested in learning about Buddhism, drop me a line. Buddhism works with all religions or philosophies. You can love Christ and practice mindfulness. Feel free to leave a comment or tweet me @kaityballgame. If you're too shy and just want to read more, here are some resources:

Finally, this is one of my favorite videos about Buddhism. A former Marine who converted to be a Buddhist monk, but not quite what you might have envisioned:




Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Election Season Nostalgia

I'm hearing a lot of "this election is the lowest of low" or "this election has made me depressed." That is fair. What I've never been able to stand for is "I hate politics." Especially as if this year is how it always is. It isn't.

America politics has major flaws, don't get me wrong.  As Winston Churchill said, "No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise." The most obvious flaw being the power hungry tendency of the people who run for office. That is fine and I'll acknowledge it. But in my mind, the positives outweigh the negatives. I've spent the better part of my young adult life studying our Presidents. The lot of them are heavily flawed but endlessly spectacular. It takes a certain kind of person, willing to put the weight of a nation on their shoulder. At the end of the day, there was always a sense of respect on both sides. Everyone acknowledged that the men running believed they could do right by the country that they love so dearly. After the first debate, I watched the outstanding Netflix documentary, 'Mitt.' It follows Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney on his quest to achieve the highest office in the land. I've never been a huge Romney fan, I voted for President Obama. This documentary sheds a new light on the man. It showed his family fighting tooth and nail for him. It showed his patriotism.

That feeling is one absent from this election on one side. As unimaginable as it seems now, this used to be American politics. We can still have this, it's still out there. It isn't far from our grasp. I read this letter than President George H.W. Bush wrote to President Clinton and I feel a sense of hope. One that tells me that we can get back to this.


There is something beautiful about watching a documentary that shifts the way you view a public figure. Like with 'Mitt,' 'Journeys with George' did a similar thing. While it doesn't quite show his passion or concentrated battling, it shows the guy behind the seal. This documentary follows President George W. Bush as he ran for President, made by Nancy Pelosi's daughter, Alexandria. If you haven't watched it, please do. Even if you hate Bush 43, it is a great inside view into campaigns and what the media goes through covering a campaign.



I don't have all the answers or any answers on why politics can be so hard to stomach at times. I can't answer what inside of me makes me want to devour the information and history. What I do know is that educating yourself on the history of our great country and the men who have sat behind a big desk in the Oval Office is so insanely important. It gives you a different perspective of what goes into all of it. Some may not want to see the laws and sausages side of it but don't forget the consequences of being misinformed. As FDR said, Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education."