Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Successful dating and Right Effort

The single life can be so dreary and stressful at the same time – alas, what is a poor gay boy to do? Striking the right balance can be so difficult. Endlessly checking Grindr or Jack’d for new cute faces more frequently than not leads to disappointing meetings and meaningless hookups that, when looking back, really weren’t very satisfying.

It’s enough to make you renounce the dating life altogether and retreat to the solitary life of, what? Perusing Internet porn? Watching episodes of Glee? Fantasizing that you’re in the Amazing Race? Maybe there’s a new Vietnamese restaurant I could check out. I got it, I’ll go buy something!

It’s like being on the dance floor between songs, during that period when there is no real melody and the back beat is transitioning. Do I just stand here and wait for the song to start? Do I dance a bit to the backbeat, uncertain of where it might go? Do I just go get a drink?

Actually, I think it’s more I am like a guitar with strings that are either too loose or too tight, never playable or in tune. Wait, that sounds so familiar, like something the Buddha would say.

Don’t faint or start thinking that I’ve lost my mind. I know what you’re thinking: What has the Buddha ever said about the gay dating scene? Nothing specific perhaps, but if you take a look at the Sona Sutta, the Buddha uses a very interesting metaphor.

Sona was a monk who exerted himself so intensely in his meditation practice that one time he had done walking meditation for so long that the soles of his feet were cracked and bleeding. He sat for some more meditation when the thought occurred to him something like this: “You know, I’m not getting much out of this monastic scene, there are still so many things I want. Why don’t I just chuck it all and go back home? I can still support the Sangha, plus enjoy a more comfortable life.”

Well, the Buddha became aware of this so he teleported himself to Sona’s side where he asked the monk, “Dude, what are you thinking?”

The Buddha then uses a metaphor involving a vina, a stringed instrument, to help Sona understand how to balance his efforts. If the strings are too tight, the instrument is unplayable. If the strings are too loose, the instrument is unplayable. Only when effort is exerted to find just the right string tension will the instrument be playable.

If you noticed, this sort of Goldilocks state of tension with the vina strings is right in the middle: not too tight, not too loose, but just right.

OK, I know what you’re thinking – what has this got to do with finding a boyfriend? Probably not much. Or maybe everything. But the real point is when our lives feel out of sorts, it may be from a lack of proper concentration, and to regain proper concentration, we must put forth the Right Effort.

Wow, aren’t I clever? I managed to turn the topic of gay dating into one about the Noble Eightfold Path!

But seriously, just about every time I feel like my life is a bit disconnected, I can trace the problem back to my meditation practice. While I seldom have gone to the extreme of meditating so much that my ass is sore, there are times when my practice becomes so lax that I go for days without even getting 10 minutes in. And what the Buddha was telling Soma was the right method, the Right Effort, was in the middle.

The notion of Right Effort is part of the concentration group in the Noble Eightfold Path. Among the key elements of Right Effort are the Four Right Efforts. These are:

1. Develop skillful actions that one does not already possess
2. Further develop skillful actions one already possesses so they become more refined
3. Abandon unskillful actions one already has
4. Prevent the development of unskillful actions that one does not have

In other words, strengthen whatever qualities you have that make you a decent person and a good date, work on developing other qualities that would make you an even better person and date, work on getting rid of those qualities that annoy people, and make sure you don’t develop any new negative qualities that limit your dating prospects.

Think of it this way: if you’re not aware of the things you do that bug people or make you less attractive to people, you’ll continue to lose on the dating front. And on a more serious note, if you’re always worried about what you do, how others perceive you, or continuously worry as to why people don’t want to date you, then you will be distracted and restless whenever you attempt to meditate.

Right Effort is required to develop disciplined concentration, and our most serious impediment to our efforts at concentration is all of the unskillful things we do that bring us regret or confusion, or just plain restlessness. It goes back to thinking about our practice as if it were a three-legged stool: each leg represents either Wisdom, Virtue, or Concentration. We need to refine our virtue to be able to concentrate during mediation without distraction by the things we’ve said or done, and when we achieve proper concentration, we start to develop wisdom that helps us further strengthen our virtue. Of course, before any of that is possible, we need at least wisdom enough to know what virtue is and how to get started.

So it’s back to the cushion for me with a bit more regularity. Remember, overdoing it can be just as bad as not doing it at all. And finding that balance in anything takes effort – the Right Effort.

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