Heiku Jaime McLeod came to Commons on Friday, September 29 to give a talk titled “Mindfulness & Relationships.” McLeod is a priest in the Soto Zen tradition and is the Buddhist Chaplain at Bates. The talk was the first Mindfulness Lunch of the year. These lunches are a collaboration between the Multifaith Chaplaincy and the Bates Wellness Program. McLeod has been practicing meditation and mindfulness for 15 years and became an officially sanctioned teacher over a year ago.

For anyone in the community interested in practicing mindfulness or meditation, the Bates Dharma Society holds daily 20 minute sits. For those interested in the Soto Zen tradition, McLeod holds Zen services every Tuesday night at 7 PM.

“I am married, I’m queer I should say”, she told the crowd. “I have a wife, Melissa. We’ve been together for sixteen years. We’ve been legally married since 2014, which was shortly after gay marriage became legal in Maine. We have a young son, Silas, who’s fifteen months old and we’ve got a second baby on the way in April! My wife would be very surprised to find out that I’m talking about relationships,” McLeod laughed, “because I think that a lot of the time, people idealize spiritual teachers and think that they must have it all figured out. But the truth is, I piss my wife off daily.” At this, the audience chuckled.

Typically, Buddhism isn’t the first thing that comes up when thinking about relationships. As McLeod stated, the archetypal Buddhist we think of is somebody who is either living in a monastic community or off as a hermit in a mountainous area.

Buddhism does not exactly have a good track record with relationships. The Buddha (also known as Siddhartha Gautama) famously left his wife and newborn child in pursuit of enlightenment.

“A practice like that was very much normalized at the time,” said McLeod. She elaborated that is was considered a noble thing to do since it was seen as a higher calling. McLeod added that she thinks “it’s only been within the last fifty years or so that anyone has really looked at that and thought … ‘How can this tradition reconcile with followers who do want families, who want to try to mix being a householder with practicing mindfulness in a very earnest way?’”

Another reason people do not associate relationships with Buddhism is the word ‘Detachment.’

To McLeod, “detachment was something that really held me back from wanting to become a Buddhist when I first started studying it. I had this idea from high school and college religion courses that Buddhism is about becoming detached from your emotions, detached from all your desires and living in this sort of robotic cloud. I didn’t want anything to do with that.”

This belief was quickly dispelled when McLeod met her first Soto Zen teacher while living in Pittsburgh, PA. For McLeod, “she was an incredibly warm person and very candid about the fact that she loved things and had preferences.”

“What we do ask, or what we point to, is the possibility of ‘non-clinging’”, said McLeod, “which is very different from non-attachment. Instead of saying, ‘I don’t care about this, I’m not emotional about this, I’m cutting myself off from having human desires’, what non-clinging means is that we are free to love the things that we love as they are, and not in a selfish way.”

McLeod continued by adding that “if we can realize that desires exist, have compassion for ourselves for having those desires, but then allow ourselves to set free the object of our desires, then that’s what I think can be a truer form of love. That is love that is about the beloved, and not about my own needs, my own desires, my own affections.”

McLeod concluded her talk on mindfulness and relationships with the advice that “thinking everything the world has to fall in line with our wants needs and desires is what causes all the suffering in the world.”