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Lions Roar : November 2015
Senses Fail started as melodic punk, but has morphed into a capital-H heavy act over the years. Neither type of band typically takes it name from Buddhism, but yours did. When I named the band Senses Fail, it referred to the story of the Buddha’s encoun- ter with ascetics who argued that the body is what holds us in suffering, and if we can transcend it we can find nirvana. Of course that’s an incorrect view of Buddhism. Now, after thirteen years of practice, I understand it as being about how the five sense-gates fail in showing us the truth. Our whole lives, we think that what we see, what we smell, what we taste is true. We don’t understand that it isn’t wholly the truth. So the name Senses Fail has morphed and grown with my understanding of Buddhism. You’ve credited Buddhism with helping you get a handle on the suffering that addiction and sexual-identity issues have caused you. The suffering, the anxiety, the depression— understanding the impermanent nature of those feelings was instrumental in allow- ing me to have a little bit of freedom. Of course, no feeling is going to last, but when it’s so conditioned, you don’t have any other view of it. It’s just, I’m anxious; I’m always anxious. I’m always depressed. I’m always fearful. That’s not necessarily the case, but you don’t have enough awareness to see that it’s not the truth. You’ve said, “I do not identify as straight but I fall somewhere on the spectrum of sexuality closer to the middle, yet do not feel I identify with a specific label.” And you’re recently, and quite happily, engaged to a woman. How has Buddhist practice helped you come to terms with different facets of your identity? Buddhism says that nothing’s permanent. So why would human sexuality and gen- der be rigid? I mean, if everything is sup- posed to be flowing and ever-changing, then that should be true of our sexuality and gender roles. Have you found support in the Buddhist community? The group I practice with, Against the Stream, is always trying to be radically inclusive, radically accepting. That pro- vided me with a safe place where I could explore these ideas. It’s so valuable to have the support of a sangha and be able to interact with people who feel or identify similarly. You do vipassana meditation, and you’ve also said you’re trying to cultivate a more vulnerable and open heart. There are two aspects to prac- tice: there’s the development of wisdom and the cultivation of the heart practices. I have a lot of trauma in my history, and sometimes the wisdom practice can leave me feeling a little unsafe and unsettled as insights arise. So one of the really important things I was taught was to throw myself wholeheartedly into loving- kindness or metta practice, making it equal to the wis- dom practice of cultivating insight. Doing all this, especially given the complexity of your traumas and identity issues, can’t be easy. At Against the Stream, there’s a joke that people make to new students: “It got so bad that you want to meditate?” [Laugh- ter] I had a pretty weak and wounded ego when I started. This may be counter- intuitive, but I have to construct a more solid, safe ego before I can deconstruct all that and work on the “emptiness” stuff. I think as Buddhism continues to grow in the West, we’re going to see a lot of people coming to it, like me, who have trauma in their past. I think there’s going to be a real need to teach how important the heart practices are. Now that you’re talking about this kind of stuff publicly, are your fans along for the ride? Some of them are, most aren’t. That’s fine. I’m not here to preach. I think people are mostly along for the authenticity. ♦ Q&A Pull the Thorns From Your Heart Senses Fail frontman BUDDY NIELSEN on trauma, sexuality, and Buddhism MEAGHANTHOMPSON In Senses Fail’s latest LP, Pull the Thorns From Your Heart, songs like “The Courage of an Open Heart” and “Take Refuge” address Buddhist themes. SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2015 15 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE