Monday, November 30, 2015

suffering of our own making

This has been a month fraught with anxiety for me. Our car was stolen on the first day of the month. It was no prize -- a 2003 Honda SUV with almost 170,000 miles on it, with the scratches and nicks and dings that a city car invariably acquires. But it was paid for, and I was flat broke. So I worried.

Fortunately, we have insurance, and we never skimp on coverage. So by the 3rd, I had a rental car. A brand new GMC SUV with 2000 miles on it. It's shiny, a huge silver thing with tons of chrome. I hate it. It is really stupid engineering -- nothing about it makes any sense. It's huge, but has no room inside. I can't find a place to put my purse. I could barely fit my groceries in the way back. Still, it has heated seats, a nice stereo, a backup camera.

We went car shopping, test driving new cars. We found a car we love. It's perfect! It has none of the ugly unattractive qualities of the rental. It drives like a dream. We waited the 21 days the insurance company required. We were set -- suddenly overjoyed that we will have a new car. Except.

Apparently our car was recovered. It had been at the city impound lot since the 15th. So now I have a new wave of anxiety. How bad will it be? Do I want it to be okay? Do I even want our old beater back? or do I want it to be totalled? I go to the impound lot and they take me out to the car. It's not so bad. It's got a broken rear window and some jerk tried to scrape off the bumperstickers, doing some real damage to the paint in back, It's full of trash -- pizza, drinks, loose tobacco everywhere. The front seats are fully reclined.

I find out that the car sat, and we didn't get a call because the police made a mistake on our paperwork and so the incident number they recorded was an old one. So our car wasn't listed as stolen. Had our insurance not found it in the impound, lot database it would have been auctioned off in a couple of days. I fumed and fretted and spent some useless time being irked.

And then we waited. We had a lovely Thanksgiving. We waited some more. I called the adjuster and he said the car isn't totalled. It will be repaired. So no new car. And I have to wait some more, driving around in the perfectly decent, intolerable rental car. I almost cried. I felt thwarted and disappointed.

I have spent the month being irritated. I've been anxious. I've pouted. I've been spoiled and entitled. I've coveted. I've been dissatisfied. I've worried about money. Every bad moment I've had this month has been generated by my own thinking, by my own mind.

What really happened -- I had my car, then I had a different car. I have a different car and then I'll have my car back. My insurance company is paying for everything. Poor little me. I had some inconvenience. That's really ALL that happened.

A little dharma lesson, wrapped up in a Baltimore City bow.

Monday, November 16, 2015

mourning for Paris, mourning for all of us

The attack on Paris made me weep. I love Paris -- the cafes, the art, the history, the style, the people. If a place can be deserving of special grace, I would say that Paris was that place. But all places, and all people, should be safe from bombs, from guns, from hatred. No place deserves what happened on Friday. People eating dinner, dancing, watching a soccer match -- there is no place where this should end in blood.

I mourn for Paris. I mourn for all of us.

In the aftermath, people are calling for war. People are asking that we turn away the Syrian refugees, close mosques, bomb Syria back to the stone age. I have seen such astounding amounts of  bile, vitriol, just pure undisguised hatred in the last few days, directed mostly toward "muslims". People are afraid, and channeling all that fear into a single target. That the vast majority of Muslims have nothing to do with terrorism has not diminished the anger.

The more we hate, the more we engender hate.

I mourn for Paris. I mourn for all of us.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

a convert to quiet

For most of my life, I have been immersed in sound. When I was small, our house had five people in a two bedroom space. It was never really quiet. When I was 10, I discovered AM radio. I listened as often and as long as I could. I even recorded American Top 40 onto cassettes, so I could replay it during the week. When I was 15 and started driving, I had an FM radio in the car. I would drive places just to have the music going. When I was 20, music was a large part of my social time. Music videos with friends, music when we would just hang out, music while I studied, music while I wrote my papers. As I got older, I swapped in TV for background music. Listen to the news while I caught up on work, or endless student, while I wrote papers or read for class. I had a stereo in my office, and couldn't get through the day without my tunes.

I literally couldn't work without the noise. It was never quiet. I live in the city, and even the nights are filled with sound - cars, racing dirt bikes, sirens, cats in love, dogs barking, foxes with their unearthly cries.  When I began meditating, I was really uncomfortable with the quiet. No music, no talking, nothing. Just me breathing. Now I really enjoy it.

I dive into it, submerge, let it lap over me. I bathe in it. And I find that it nourishes me, fills me to the brim. And slowly, in impossibly gentle increments, I begin to hear the softest of sounds. But now I notice them, really hear them. By becoming a convert to quiet, I have gained the ability to really and truly hear.

Friday, November 06, 2015

seemed to have mislaid my outrage

Sunday our car was stolen from in front of our house. We forgot to lock it when we came home from the grocery store. Our street is normally pretty busy, with lots of foot traffic, people walking dogs, neighbors going in and out. For whatever reason, Sunday was quieter than usual. There must have been a window of opportunity for someone to take a couple of minutes to open our car door, and hotwire our car.

The car was no prize -- a 2003 Honda Pilot with 170,000 miles on it. It was beat up, with lots of dings and scratches and issues. I repaired our side mirror with tape. In short, it was a car only an owner could love.

I should be outraged. And I was, for an hour or so. It just seemed so unreal. I mean this is my HOME. And it was Sunday afternoon. I don't live in a "dangerous" area. I do live in the city, but in a neighborhood of single family homes, with trees and sidewalks and kids and dogs and all the things that are usually found in neighborhoods. And the car was MINE. MINE. I worked for it. I paid for it. We took our son to school in that car. We went on car trips. That car went to Nova Scotia, to Montreal, Tennessee, Michigan, Maine, New York.

But the anger went away. And I think I should be pissed. I really do. I just can't seem to sustain it. It seems to me that people steal because they've given up other options. I had a car; someone else didn't. It's really that simple. Maybe instead of moaning because I don't have a car I should wonder why EVERYONE who needs one doesn't have one.

I will be happy to get another car. I'll really enjoy it, I think. But I might just look at it differently.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

two feet planted - the value of sangha

In Buddhism, the sangha is a spiritual community. It is one of the three pillars of Buddhism, along with the Buddha and the dharma (the teachings). For me, it has been the most challenging part of my path.

I came to Buddhism as an adult. I already had a life built apart from my practice. I feel stretched thin, between work and family and friends. It's a good problem to have, to have so many people I cherish and want to spend time with that I can hardly squeeze it all in, but it's a problem nonetheless. To add another community, is to somehow carve a small pie into even smaller pieces.

I think though, it is what I need to do. Because I am coming to see the wisdom in that third pillar. It is hard to practice in a community of one. To respect your own journey, you almost have to see someone else's. There is a huge relief in the feeling that you are not the only one experiencing something. Other people have felt the same leg cramps or the same irritation or the same peace or joy. Sometimes you need a reminder, or encouragement or even a correction from someone who has been in your shoes. You need an example, for good or ill. The sangha provides all that and more. Sometimes you need to be an example for someone else, or the only way forward is to help someone else get something they need. There are lessons in the reciprocity of community, in the give and take among like minded folk.

II am not solely a spiritual being. I need my non-spiritual community, my loved ones, as much as I need a sangha.  I have two feet planted firmly, one in each world.  The two provide balance and strength and keep me on the middle way.

Monday, January 26, 2015

making lemonade

I've been trying, of late, to turn minor annoyances on their heads. If I have to do something over and over, why shouldn't I find something I can get out of it, that I can enjoy or feel good about?

For example, passwords. I hate having to remember 15 different passwords just to navigate my day. But I do. I have 5 or 6 passwords at work. I have passwords for banking, for social media, for school. So I've started using my passwords to commemorate events, or to remind me of something I want to think of multiple times a day. I've used my mantra as a password, I celebrated a big birthday with a password, used song lyrics, lines of poems. Something that makes me pause, be awake and aware, put a quick smile on my face. Suddenly setting a new password is a chance to express myself. And as an added bonus, I rarely forget one.

I used to trudge through my short walk from the car to work, and from work back to the car. I didn't see anything, I was just absorbed in whatever mood had taken over. Then I decided I would do a sort of walking meditation instead. I notice my breath, the way it feels to be walking, the colors, the smells, the sounds, the feel of the sun or the wind or the rain. I start every day feeling good, and I end every workday the same way. I try not to rush it, even if it's freezing or raining. I don't always succeed -- I admit to a real struggle with icy sidewalks.

I have to fit exercise into my day. I hate it. So I decided to make my time on the exercise bike my reading time. Now the time goes by a little faster. I still hate exercising, but I do love reading, so at least I get something out of my effort.

It isn't earth shaking stuff. It isn't a new idea. But it works for me.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

politics on the side

It is amazing to me how political "diet" has become. Last year, I gave up pork. This year, I am giving up eating beef. Both of those things should be fairly personal decisions. Other than my immediate family, I can't see what impact my decision has on others. But people have been weighing in, sometimes quite vocally.

Why would you do that? What are you doing that for?Are you going vegan? I am mostly doing this because my conscience bothers me. When I think about eating pig, it makes me feel bad. It didn't use to, but it does now. I used to call cows "steaks in leather coats", now I feel gross when I think about eating beef.

Of course, there are more reasons, intellectual reasons. Ethically, I think it's the right thing to do. This is horribly inconsistent -- I still eat chicken and fish. Ethically, that's wrong too. But I have justified it, for now. From an ecological standpoint, it is a no-brainer. It is horribly resource-intensive to produce beef and pork, and very damaging to the planet.

There is, for lack of a better word, religious reasons. I am a Buddhist. I took a vow to not harm sentient beings. Deciding where that line falls, between sentient and non-sentient, is a difficult one. Pretty much I have come down on the side of -- if it can form friendships, it is sentient. Not a perfect definition, but something I can work with.

There are health reasons. My family has a history of heart disease. Lots of it. My doctor recommends I follow a hearth-healthy diet. I should limit red meat, eat plenty of veggies, whole grains, healthy fats. If you are over 40, you have heard this spiel or a variant of it before. I also eat oatmeal several times a week, but no one seems to find that offensive.

But people do take offense. They loudly proclaim that they will never give up meat. They spend a lot of time telling me how delicious bacon is, how wonderful steak or hamburgers are. I know that. I love the taste of meat. This has not been an easy choice for me to make. I get how good what I am giving up tastes.  Apparently my decision makes people feel I am questioning their choices. I'm not. It makes people defensive. Relax -- I am not judging what you eat, only what I eat.

My choice is not prescriptive. You do not have to follow my lead. Eat what you want. Just let me do the same.

Friday, January 02, 2015

the size of my life

When I was little, I was always told I would do big things. My teachers would predict a great future. Maybe I would be a writer. Or president. Or famous. It was undefined, but HUGE. Because I was smart. I was a really good student even though I didn't study, and I didn't work hard. I just had a terrific memory, and a quick mind.

I did almost as well in junior high. My teachers no longer predicted the future in such glowing terms, because by then I had also become a pain. I was a smart-ass, and I was clearly coasting through my classes doing the bare minimum necessary to stay on the honor roll. Not a teacher's dream. It didn't matter -- I had been so indoctrinated by other people's visions of my future that I didn't really give it much thought. I was going to be a huge success some day. Details were irrelevant.

I got to high school, where I thought I had life figured out. I was cynical, a bigger smart-ass than before, and was always playing the angles. I could work really hard and get an 'A' , or I could do almost nothing and get a 'B'. I would take the 'B' and laugh at the suckers who worked so hard for so little return. I was going to be rich someday, and hire grinds to work for me. Or so I thought.

Made it to college, although not the Ivy League that I somehow thought was in my future. My worldview took some serious hits, pretty quickly. There were people at school who where smarter than me. And there were tons of people who worked harder than I did. And I began to realize that my future was not so rosy. I still expected that someday I would work my way into fame and fortune; maybe I would write a best-seller, or work my way into the C-suite. But I began to realize that I might have to put in some work to make that happen.

I worked hard over the years. I went back to school. Got bigger, better jobs. Added credentials.  We moved, and moved again. Moving up, I thought. At some point, though, I began to understand what worked for me. What made me truly happy. And doing "big things" wasn't part of it.

Now what I want most of all, is life on a small scale. I want to sit in the sunshine with a good book. I want to walk by the water holding my husband's hand. I want to have dinner with my kiddo and hear how his week was, or what great movie he saw today. I want to hang out with friends and drink a few beers. I want to take a nap on a Sunday with a purring cat by my feet. A hot cup of tea on a cool morning. Blueberry pancakes on Saturday. A new song on the radio that makes me sing along.

I'm not dissing ambition. The world needs the people who do big things. I just don't need to be one of them.

My life is finally just the right size for me.