“They say goldfish have no memory, I guess their lives are much like mine. And the little plastic castle is a surprise every time.” Ani Difranco, Little Plastic Castle
Last weekend, I took the Bodhisattva vow (more on that in a future post). People who take the vow are asked what area of practice they want to focus on—this is often used in their Bodhisattva name as a reminder of the aspiration. My aspiration is discipline in studying the Dharma. The challenge is that my brain is full. That’s a common phrase these days, captured wonderfully a while back in a Gary Larson Far Side cartoon, but that’s how I’m feeling: in order to learn something new, something else has got to go.
My memory has never been great for day-to-day stuff, but it did serve me well in school. These days when reading, I start over a lot, re-reading the same paragraph multiple times. Age, overwork, multi-tasking, the abundant electronic distractions—whatever the reason, I just don’t retain stuff. I wish the upside of having a lousy memory for a Buddhist was that it’s easier to live in the moment, at least!
I want to clear space for learning two things: Dharma and Spanish. With the Dharma, I regularly read books and feel I’m absorbing it on some level, but I want to be more knowledgeable as well as speak more knowledgably. I also want to challenge myself with the discipline of memorizing more Dharma. With Spanish, I took lessons for two semesters at a community college five years ago and really enjoyed it, seemingly overcoming some old issues that had blocked me when I was younger in speaking another language. But then I stopped practicing. And most of what I learned has evaporated by now.
I’m hoping my simpler living semi-retirement will boost my ability to study and learn. It’s not that I don’t expect there will be daily distractions then, but at least I won’t be trying to feed my brain something new to remember in the evening after an exhausting day at work.
For now, I’m going to try something different. I’m going to start simple and, instead of reading a few different topics or authors a month, I’m going to try using that time to learn one teaching really well. I’ll read a few books about that one thing so that I get a greater sense of understanding (or at least a better ability to speak knowledgeably about it, this is Dharma after all). And until then, I’ll run the risk of one of my loyal readers commenting something like “hey, you wrote almost the exact same post a year ago. Don’t you remember?”
- Little Plastic Castle by Ani Difranco
- Bodhisattva Vow: a formal commitment, in front of others, to aspire to be a Bodhisattva for the benefit of all sentient beings. For more info, see Chögyam Trungpa On the Meaning of the Bodhisattva Vow (source: Shambhala Sun)
- Gary Larson (source: Wikipedia)