Laundry Lists and The Dharma
There is Suffering: Isolation and Responsibility
A Laundry List for today
Here beginneth a series of nine blogs in which I attempt to blend the Fourteen “Laundry List Traits” of ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholic/Dysfunctional Families) and the teachings (Dharma or Dhamma) of Buddhism.
The marriage of ACA language/program and contemporary Buddhism is an interesting, instructive, but often tricky thing. I am practicing both ACA and Buddhism actively…daily. Sometimes my mind and/or spirit get twisted in ugly knots. Sometimes I am exhilarated by the dynamic fusion of these powerful practices. Often I am simply humbled by the complexity of life. To keep perspective on it all I read the “funnies” every morning soon after meditating. Keep it simple. Keep it down to earth. Keep it real. And don’t try to keep it too hard. Chuckle with Charlie Brown.
Around 1978 Tony A. was part of a small group of young adults from NYC who were in an Alateen program that was transitioning to a young adult Alanon group. They had all grown up in alcoholic or dysfunctional homes. Tony compiled a list of character traits based on his interaction with this group. The group identified with the list, called it their “Laundry List” of Adult Children character traits. The name stuck. There are fourteen of these traits.
I am in a small ACA study group that is part way through a week by week progress through the Laundry List Workbook. In order to both stay with our current trait and to catch up with the ones we have already considered I will do two a-week for five weeks. This week I’ll talk briefly about Traits One and Six…and begin talking about the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism (huh?). Spring cleaning time in the barn, don’t you know.
Trait One - We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
Trait Six - We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves: this enables us not to look too closely at our own faults, etc..
Noble Truth I - There is suffering.
Trait One - Retirement has given me room to retire to the isolated quiet of our woodland home. Sometimes it feels like ESCAPE. Here I need contend only with the flighty personalities of the birds, the howling noises of coyotes, the rustling in the leaves behind me of a snake, and the disruptive intrusions of hungry bears. I don’t have to deal with “people and authority figures”. We get our mail at the local post office, which used to be the town’s one room schoolhouse. Easy and quiet interpersonal stuff. I do our marketing at a suburban market that is rarely crowded. To get from our home to the town we frequent involves two stop signs and two mountains. Let me be like this sun-warmed garter snake.
All of which is to say that I need to watch out for isolation, whereby I avoid those people that have historically frightened me. I don’t like crowds. I’m OK with authority…but not angry authority (see Trait 3).
Trait Six - I just started looking at this one today. I can break the trait down into three important points
Responsibility - Where is this out of balance in my life?
Concern for others - This comes easily to me (especially given my career as a pastor and teacher) and is preferred to…
Concern for self - I have always avoided this with guilt…”need to do more for others!!!!!”
All of this tending, caregiving, rescuing and fixing (with attendant shame, guilt, feelings of inadequacy and urgency) conveniently distract me from giving attention to my shortcomings, flaws, errors, bad habits, compulsive fears, and more.
First Noble Truth - There is Suffering - The Buddha needed just one word (in Pali) to sum up human experience: Dukkha. This word can be translated as unsatisfactoriness, and can be subdivided into three aspects: the dukkha of pain, the dukkha of mental constructions/fabrications, and the dukkha of change. As these three things are always present in all people it is fair to say that Dukkha is. There is suffering. Chain saw blades are mostly dull. They can inflict pain, and represent all sorts of action, destructive, constructive, and dormant. This is just how it is. This is the Dhamma.
What then do I make of the fusion of these two traits and the First Noble Truth? Clearly my fearful isolation and often overwhelming sense of responsibility for others come from and lead to suffering. I go to Buddhist meditation retreats, where we sit and walk all day. I am aware that many of the 99 other yogis around me are there because they are in touch with the suffering in their lives and want to practice being with it mindfully.
I find this same dynamic true in my ACA meetings. We have a “No Cross Talk” rule, that discourages both positive and negative reactions to what folk around the table are sharing. (We have this rule because most of us grew up in homes where we were either forbidden to express our thoughts and feelings, had them ignored, or were given mixed messages in response.) The result is that you are free to share without any sort of judgment. What comes out is as honest a statement of our personal suffering at the moment as we can frame at the moment. This is Dukkha. There is suffering.
(By the way, my selection of these few images from my catalogue—the laundry list is not my own, ditto the one of the church interior, but it sure looks like a church in which I served—was the result of reaching into my catalogue for what seemed to jump out at me. In the future I plan to have fresh images, just taken that week. These feel a little like a sermon recycled. But rather than judge myself harshly I include them.)