As I awoke this morning I was reincarnated, just like yesterday, the day before that and the preceding 21,391 days. That’s the perspective of “me”, the Reform Buddhist, or Liberal Buddhist – maybe better: the Progressive Buddhist. Sort of like the members of Reform Judaism and the Protestants, just with less magic.
What’s the difference between a Progressive Buddhist and a traditional Buddhist? The progressive school approaches the dharma in a practical and philosophical manner, without paying too much attention to fables with miracles and science-defying spectacle. I can embrace and practice mindfulness and loving kindness and see that by doing so, my wellbeing benefits, as does the wellbeing of those immediately around me and beyond.
So how can a Progressive Buddhist apply the concept of reincarnation? The way I look at it, roughly 5,000 years ago the Buddha taught his followers that their actions now, today, will determine their wellbeing tomorrow. In practice, I know that when I wake every morning, the situation I find myself in is the result of my behaviour the day before, as well as the sum of all my life choices during the past 21,391 days. Of course there are external factors, but the manner in which I managed the various situations in the past has put me where I am now, with this new day. My reincarnation, for better or worse.
Yes, this is a reinterpretation of a core Buddhist teaching, the teaching that reincarnation is realised at death, and this cycle repeats itself until one attains Nirvana. Looking at the world’s religions, you will discover countless varied interpretations of teachings. In this case, mindfulness and loving kindness can be practiced whether one is a Progressive or Traditional Buddhist, everyone benefits, there is no rivalry.
In fact you don’t even have to be a Buddhist to practice mindfulness and loving kindness, everyone can do it.
It is said that the Buddha encouraged his followers to apply critical thought, and to reject teachings that did not resonate with them. As I have not seen any evidence that there is an afterlife, a daily reincarnation experienced every morning simply makes more sense to me. In my life it’s happened tens of thousands of times – so I’m convinced!
Getting back to mindfulness and loving kindness, I stumbled upon a book that explains how clinical studies provide fact-based data (a.k.a. “science”) that illustrates the effectiveness and benefits of practicing mindfulness and loving kindness. Dr. Judson Brewer, Md. PhD. has worked with numerous patients seeking to address anxiety issues as well as bad habits such as smoking and over-eating. By introducing clients to the concepts of mindfulness and loving kindness, teachings that Buddhism has promoted for centuries, Brewer enabled them to see the downsides of binge-eating, smoking and living under the dark cloud of fear generated by anxiety.
Brewer has provided tools that assist with incorporating Buddhist teachings in systematic ways that in today’s parlance are “user-friendly”. Far from being onerous, these can be applied at a manageable pace, ever so briefly, at appropriate moments throughout the day.
Brewer shows how habit loops, these repetitive unwanted behaviours that trap people under clouds of anxiety, the weight of binge eating, self-destructive smoking, and essentially any kind of unhealthy repetitive behaviours can be “mapped”. Here the drinker can consider what triggers the destructive behaviour and what the behaviour leads to. Being mindful of undesirable outcomes like hangovers helps motivate people to change unwanted behaviours, and instead initiate behaviours that provide a bigger and better offer.
At the most basic level, those interested can simply note three elements that are present for every habit; the trigger, the behaviour (habit) and the result. Awareness of these factors is the first step towards effectively managing them, replacing bad habits with good habits, elevating one’s wellbeing.
This is all outlined in the wonderful book Unwinding Anxiety, which had me making small but positive life-changing behavioural adjustments long before I reached the last page. Brewer has also developed a smartphone app to assist with breaking bad habits. To assist with the understanding of our habits, he also provides a free Habit Mapper PDF.
What I have written so far only scratches the surface regarding the many treasures that are shared by Brewer on the pages of Unwinding Anxiety. I can’t do justice to them all here, and would encourage you to discover them yourself in Brewer’s own words.
I’d also like to acknowledge the fellow who drew my attention to Brewer’s work, the New York Times columnist Ezra Klein. His podcast interview with Brewer by itself was enlightening, and left me wanting to know more. The book more than satisfied my curiosity. Links to the book and the podcast appear below.
May you be well, wherever you may be. Namaste.
The book: Unwinding Anxiety