About a month ago, I wrote an article on the Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center for my journalism class. Following the conventions of immersion journalism, I sought a hands-on, personal experience and thereby practiced 30 minutes of meditation during each visit. (Cautiously tiptoeing across the studio room, I'd choose a black mat, sit down and cross my legs. Carefully closing my eyelids, I'd set my hands on my lap, interlace my fingers and exhale softly. After the bell rang three times, I'd start my meditation.)
Through speaking with the center's regular visitors and attending their Friday night book discussion, I learned a bit about the tenets of Buddhism. At book group, I listened to the discussion leader, Regine, introduce "When Things Fall Apart" by Pema Chodron, a leading writer on Tibetan Buddhism.
We passed the book around the circle and each person read a paragraph from a chapter entitled "Opinions." After the first paragraph, we paused to consider its meaning. Finally, Regine spoke: "We must detach from our opinions. We usually identify with them, saying 'I am what I think.'" But this is not true.
I wondered how you could have an opinion without being the opinion. Regine spoke as if man and his opinion were two separate physical entities. But thoughts are not physical entities; thoughts are abstract. How do you distance yourself from them? Suddenly, I pictured the anatomy of my mom's bad knee and how before her knee replacement surgery, her worn cartilage gave way to her bones. The bones rubbed against each other and caused her excruciating pain. Now replacing her cartilage are metal and plastic implants separating her femur from her tibia. Even bones need space.
In her book, Chodron connects opinion with blame. ""We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who's right and who's wrong." It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others. Blaming is a way to protect our hearts.
In my mind, I related Chodron's words to my work for the Messenger. I pitch story ideas to staff writers, edit submissions and write my own articles for a two-page section dedicated, in many cases, to pointing fingers. The Opinions section criticizes the cultural underpinnings and political leaders of America. It criticizes our college and our peers. Letters to the Editor directly attack either the validity of previously published articles, or they address other sources of personal discontent.
Opinions, Regine said, tend to manifest themselves as aggression, and aggression is polarizing. She suggested maintaining a space between events and your reactions to them. If you take a moment to see the alternative perspective, you may find that your will to rise up falls down.
The principles of Buddhism, however, do not promote a stagnant mind. The mind, by nature, will always think. It should always think.
Correspondingly, Buddhism does not suggest dispelling your opinions; rather, it advises finding compassionate ways to express them.