Live Through This

This Too Shall Pass

Buddhism Lite for Lazy Neurotics

Illustration by Emma D.

Illustration by Emma D.

I’m an old person in a young person’s body. Change exhausts me. I like routine. The simple motions of a school day were always calming to me—the same classes, the same people, the same hours spent in a predictable pattern. I eat dinner at the same time every day and never stay up past 11. When I was in school I preferred scheduled, predictable activities like drama club and choir to on-the-fly, anything-can-happen parties.

When my plans change suddenly, it feels like gears grinding in my brain. Instead of rolling along with my routine, everything in my head seems to jam while I erase everything I had planned for the day—dinner, homework, television—and replace it with my new plans. It doesn’t matter if the new plan is better than the old—having to quickly rebuild my mental schedule almost physically hurts. My brother once made a last-minute decision to visit our parents (who live five hours away) and gave me an hour’s notice to decide if I wanted to go with him, and I burst into tears. (I eventually gave in, which led to a very nice weekend.) I like my family, but I need a couple of days to psych myself up for such a big change.

I know that no matter how hard I try, I can’t prevent things from changing. The school year ends, people move, friendships fade. But I get so attached to the familiar that even positive changes have been difficult for me to accept. Every new school year or college semester meant exciting new classes, but also the absence of my former classes and classmates, which felt unbearably sad. A relative getting married or having a child meant a happy new addition to our family, but also meant that every holiday gathering was now going to be different, so I’d have to mourn the end of an old era and adjust to something new. I even sniffled a little over getting my braces removed (in all fairness, we’d been together for five years).

I kept the same close friends, a core group of five people, all through middle school and into high school. We called each other’s parents Mom and Dad, spoke entirely in inside jokes, and were even writing a series of novels together. After our years of shared memories, I was sure we’d literally be best friends forever. But during sophomore year, one of the girls in our group suddenly backstabbed another without provocation. And just like that, our tight-knit group unraveled. I had no desire to keep the backstabber in my life, but I missed the cohesion and happiness of our former group, and I mourned the loss of the friend she used to be. Now there was tension and bad feelings even when she wasn’t around, and we all knew that the five of us would never willingly be in the same room together again.

My life had been incredibly stable up until this point, which could possibly help explain my neurosis about change. I’d never experienced real loss, trauma, or drama, and so I’d grown to see any change to the status quo as a threat. But now I had a taste of the truth, and it terrified me. If my longest, closet friendships could be broken, then nothing was safe. There was nothing I could count on.

My life went on relatively unchanged (by that I mean full of inner angst but outwardly stable) for the next few years, as the backstabbing friend switched schools and the rest of us kept up our now slightly uneasy friendships, but the coming end of high school meant I had a bigger change to contend with, and my one brush with drama wasn’t enough to teach me how to deal with it.

I really, really hated all the uncertainty involved in the college application process. Picking out schools was kind of fun, but the application process and all the waiting afterwards was not. I just wanted to know where I was going so I could start making a mental map of the rest of my life, and all this waiting was driving me nuts.

Fortunately, I had plenty of time to think of a solution. Every year in high school I’d have at least one period—newspaper or yearbook or what have you—that consisted of about five minutes of work followed by 40 minutes of staring at a computer screen. Minesweeper gets boring after a while, so I developed a habit of choosing some random topic to google near the beginning of the meeting, then spending the next 40 minutes obsessively researching that topic. You can learn a lot when you read up on something for 40 minutes every day. In order of interest, I became an expert on ghost photography, modern paganism, mental illness, and autoimmune disorders (I was apparently setting myself up to become a witch-doctor, which is sadly nothing at all like my current career).

During one of these periods (I think it was a web design workshop) in my senior year, I decided to look up Buddhism. One of the top Google results was a National Geographic article about Buddhist monks and happiness: It was posited that their daily practice of meditation actually trained their brains to feel more satisfied with life. I was really intrigued by the idea that people had found a way to basically think themselves into contentment. I wanted to know more about how Buddhism worked and if it might offer me any cures for the anxiety in my own life.

Turns out happiness involves a lot of reading. There are multiple branches of Buddhism, and each one comes with a lot of homework, in the form of voluminous scriptures. Some, like the popular Mahayana Buddhism, are very mystical, with a belief in godlike beings, various heavens and hells, and countless scriptures. The second-most-popular sect is called Therevada Buddhism. Their “bible,” the Tipitaka, fills an entire bookshelf. There’s a reason Buddhists believe in reincarnation. You just can’t absorb all this in 70 or so years.

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13 Comments

  • soviet_kitsch December 30th, 2013 7:22 PM

    not three days ago was i looking up buddhist temples in my city. i’ve been horribly stressed out for a while now and think giving meditation a shot would probably be a good idea, and at the very least give my brain something new to focus on. very sweet article <3

  • Skatapus December 30th, 2013 7:44 PM

    Interesting, and definitely a solid article. Wondering it maybe it would have been more interesting to have had an article written by an actual Buddhist though, who can speak as someone trying to actually practice the Buddhist lifestyle all the time. This kind of seemed to focus on Buddhism as a kind of fad, to pick and choose from.

    • krystalavender December 30th, 2013 9:44 PM

      An article done by a true Buddhist would’ve certainly been great. Either way, I’m all for anyone in this generation looking to Buddhism for character improvement and happiness.

      Slightly off topic but one important Buddhist ideal left out of this article that would probably make many kids our age a bit happier is humbleness, balance and being okay with not being “special” or “unique.” Letting go of desires that lead to lofty delusions of self grandeur.

  • spudzine December 30th, 2013 8:18 PM

    My anxiety feels a lot like what is mentioned above. Small changes can set me off to, worst case, a panic attack, and it SUCKS. But I keep on going, hoping that better things are to come.

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

  • sparklingbutterfly December 30th, 2013 8:57 PM

    The whole time I was thinking, i hope this chick is seeing a therapist lol. i feel like there must be underlying factors for this extreme reaction to even the smallest of changes. I think it should be suggested that if you are going through such serious anxiety to try to seek a professional counselor along with exploring philosophies like buddhism. Because as someone who is involved in all of the above, I have to say it is truly life-changing. Especially yoga/meditating for anxiety, one yoga class can turn your whole life perspective upside-down!

    • Rachael December 30th, 2013 9:26 PM

      I’m on medication now. :) I’ve written about anxiety and mental health in the past, but for this article I just wanted to tell people how cool Buddhist teachings can be. Meditation and mindfulness are good for anyone, although some of us do need to supplement them with more modern therapies. Good call!

  • zephyr December 30th, 2013 11:18 PM

    I am amazed by Rookie everyday. I have found so many kindred souls!
    Feeling warm…

  • Sarah December 31st, 2013 12:00 AM

    A few months ago, my dad talked to me about Buddhism and how much he would love to become a monk in Tibet or Nepal when he retires… I thought he was just being goofy until I began reading into it. I used to be a firm believer of the law of attraction (that everything you exhale to the universe, positive or negative, bounces back to you), but I love the idea of Buddhism and Buddha’s teachings so much that I’m quite torn between the two. Just like Rachael said, the Buddhists don’t believe in owning or being attached to anything. How amazing would it be to live in the ideal world where everyone only cares about making others happy? Unfortunately though that’s a bit hard to achieve in this turning-to-shit modern reality.. So I guess what I’m trying to say is, if like me you’re interested in Buddhist values, maybe for living in the 21st century, try look into the law of attraction and live on that for now. Hihi. Think positive, and you will become what your mind is. :)

  • pendulous-threads December 31st, 2013 2:14 AM

    THANK YOU for this article! I’m happy that Rookie has a chance to open up the basics of buddhism (BOB) to a wider audience. I took a asian philosophy course this semester and the Buddhist lectures definitely stuck with me the most.
    Cheers.

  • jenaimarley December 31st, 2013 5:24 AM

    So stoked to see this article on Rookie! Buddhist philosophy has played a very important role in my personal spiritual practice. Meditating just 10 minutes a day has done wonders for my life!

    One of my favorite Buddhist concepts is that of emptiness: the idea that we project own own meaning onto the world through our experience.

    http://www.theknowledgebase.com/products/understanding-emptiness-the-key-for-transforming-your-world-2013-arizona-geshe-michael-roach

    I totally found the Life After People program surprisingly positive as well! As a fellow environmentalist, it might be an unconventional view, but I feel like our efforts to save the earth are really just in our best (self) interest! If we destroy ourselves, the earth will continue on as if humanity was just an ephemeral speck of dust on her epic timeline. That being said, I’d like to make our experience on earth the best it can be for as long as possible, so of course let’s continue to work on protecting our beautiful planet!

  • lode December 31st, 2013 8:13 AM

    Really nice article. Internet is really great to share and learn about new ideas. Buddhism is about understanding your own mind. This is also a spiritual path. I read books about Buddhism was a teenager and then when to Nepal when I was 21. I’m now in my thirties and trying to put the teachings into practice. Looking back I did not understand much about the Buddha’s teaching by reading. But meeting with people who have been practicing it since many years and could explain it to me in clear and practical ways was transformative. This totally changed my life and gave it purpose. I would suggest trying to find a centre close to your place (no need to travel to Nepal!) and try to go to some meditation and teaching. Books are great but they can’t communicate the living experience, the heart experience. You’ll get that when you meet with teachers and practitioners.

    Here the Tibetan Buddhism school I met in Nepal, they have centres all over the word : http://www.fpmt.org

    Peace in everybody’s heart!

  • Savidi January 1st, 2014 1:39 PM

    This is a fantastic article! I’m a Buddhist and i practice Theravada Buddhism. Buddhism is great because it doesn’t force you to do anything and it teaches you to live in peace and harmony with yourself and the earth. Even more than a religion, it’s basically a philosophy. “Nothing is permanent,” one of the Buddha’s most famous sayings. The bad things will pass, and so will the good. We will die, just the same as a flower. I think it’s great and i’ve been trying to meditate for 10 minutes a day to help with my anxiety. It really helps.

  • teen-Escapist January 3rd, 2014 2:12 PM

    This is truly amazing! I suffer from anxiety and depression and have started practicing meditation and yoga to cope. It’s been amazing so far, I truly hope I can continue on this journey. I’m glad you’ve found a similar one.