Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


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Done

My plan for today was to write about my garden, freshly spring planted, and how it is the loveliest little Buddhist thing in my life.

LettuceOne

The lettuce box with its shade cover, against the fence

I was going to write about homesteading, about caretaking, about how, after a difficult last week, I felt renewed on Monday by some sunshine and the imperative (self-imposed) to make a giant batch of chicken pho from scratch. It fragrantly simmered all afternoon while Lex and I played in the garden, and I took a photo of the platter of goodies we ended up with at dinnertime. All that green.

PhoPlatter

But instead, I’m going to write about this:

NotPG

Thud.

It is not even so much about that pregnancy test being negative (but it is so starkly, horribly, depressingly negative), but about what it represents. It represents my complete and total obsession for the last two weeks with whether or not I might be pregnant. It started harmlessly enough, with a promising ovulation, which I knew because, eager to see whether my hormones were on track or not, I charted my temperatures religiously this month and did an ovulation predictor kit, too. Whereas before I’d maybe manage a faint pink line, this month it was a magenta proclamation saying, “the egg is en route!” And that afternoon I felt the egg coming, a kind of tugging in my right side (the side where I still have a tube).

Marc was enlisted; acupuncture happened; optimism ensued.

We’ll see what happens, I told myself, meditating, feeling calm.

I’m not sure when things shifted into high gear, but I suspect it was when I started to read Taking Charge of Your Fertility a little too earnestly, comparing my chart to the charts in the book. I even hauled out old charts and studied them, looking for patterns. Like the charts were hieroglyphics containing ancient secrets, I studied them.

I won’t go into all the details. If you’re interested in how the body works, you can read this. The quick and dirty is that in the luteal phase, the body heats up because of the addition of extra progesterone. When you’re pregnant, your temperature is high. You can make a graph, and see when your temperature rises; that means you’ve entered the luteal phase. According to the book, if the luteal phase stretches to seventeen or eighteen days, you’re very likely pregnant.

I’m on day sixteen, but color me impatient.

Since day thirteen, I haven’t slept well. I dream I’m pregnant; I dream I’m bleeding. I wake up waiting for blood. There is no blood. Flood of relief and optimism. Flood of self-doubt and depression. I have to pee all the time; but I drink water and tea all the time. Vivid dreams and insomnia are signs of early pregnancy; vivid dreams and insomnia are signs of anxiety, too.

I just wish I could stop. I should never have peed on that stick.

Remember last week, when I wrote about how Buddhism is like accepting that your life is a movie, watching it without attachment? Well, that is a beautiful goal for me, to watch my life without attachment, and sometimes I attain it. But most of my life I have spent jumping into the screen of the movie and hollering at the characters, telling them what to do.

This week has been like that. Hard. Hard for many reasons, but hard for this one, too. Marc and I have been trying to have another baby for going on two years. In January I lost one that was never viable. I’ve swung from not wanting it anymore to wanting it so badly I’ve become obsessed. Every month is like a fucking carnival of disappointment. And the worst part is how stupid and vulnerable I feel. I said to M this morning, “I feel so dumb for being optimistic, like the world is laughing at me.”

Intellectually, I know this is an illusion. I know the answer to all of this is to keep sitting every morning (and maybe therapy and heavy drugs).

The sitting feels labored, but like a small relief.

It just can’t solve every problem. That’s not the point.

I knew that, of course.

And I admit how attached I am to another blue line showing up before this thing is done.

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Grace

Two dear friends visited over the weekend, and the talk turned to meditation. My friend Original Steph started meditating shortly after I did, and has embraced it beautifully; she even has a mindfulness counselor she sees once a month. Annie said she’s started to sit a little, too. “I can get behind the sitting and clearing my mind thing,” she said. “Meditation as stress relief. But I can’t get into meditation as a spiritual practice.”

Then she asked the question I’ve been mulling over since Sunday: “I mean, Buddhism isn’t a religion, is it? There’s no God in Buddhism, right?”

That, I thought, is a very complicated question.

On the surface, she’s right. Buddhism predates Christianity and Christ; the Buddha never met a Jew. As such, there is no one God in Buddhism. And no afterlife. And yet, I have always thought of Buddhism as a religion, and since embracing mindfulness last November I feel for the first time in my life that I have found a spiritual practice. That I believe in something. When I meditate, when I have those glimpses of clarity and feel that the universe is connected to me and I to it, I feel I am praying. At the end of my sit in the mornings I send out compassion to all beings. I single out a few: my friend Elizabeth, whose ten-month-old has autism. My family friend Jonathan, who is battling cancer. My brother, who was at Brigham and Women’s hospital right after the blasts on Monday. And the people maimed or killed in that horrible attack. And all those suffering, everywhere. Is this prayer?

On Monday night, at dinner, Marc asked whether we should say grace.

Grace? He surprised me.

Growing up, grace was something we said three or four times a year. My grandfather might say, “God is good, God is great, let us thank him for our food.” I was taught that I was a Protestant, but we never went to church. When I was older and could understand such things, I learned that no one in my family believed in God. I counted myself among them.

“Should we say grace?” Marc asked on Monday, and I said, “Yes. I will.”

Here’s what I said:

Thank you to Mama and Daddy for working hard for this food that is on our table.

And may we send love, peace, and light to all beings who are suffering tonight.

Prayer? I guess so.

I love the double meaning of grace: grace as prayer, and grace as the ability to be detached from suffering. I realize sometimes how difficult it is for me to find and maintain grace, how difficult it is for me to find that quality of detachment from the things that make me suffer.

I wonder if one kind of grace is the way to the other kind.


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The Path

I’m a little obsessed with The Path.

Last night before bed, I read a few pages of When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodrön. (Disclaimer: no, I am not in love with Pema Chodrön. Yes, I read other things.)

Marc climbed in next to me.

“God I love Pema Chodrön,” I gushed. [Okay, fine. I love her. Busted.]

“Why?”

“Because, when I’m having a difficult time, she always calms me down.”

“Because she validates your feelings?”

Not exactly, I said.

A gorgeous, muddy path at Pt. Reyes, California

A gorgeous, muddy path at Pt. Reyes, California

I explained to Marc that lately, I’m feeling a lot of conflict in my life. Mostly, this conflict comes from a happy thing: inspiration. I’m inspired, lately. I’m inspired to revise my memoir, I’m inspired to send out my work. I have an idea for a short story. I have an idea for an essay. I wrote a poem a few weeks ago, after a long hiatus. I have so many irons in the writing fire, and it’s terribly exciting.

The flipside: I don’t have the time to do all the work I want to do. And I’m still getting rejections in the mail, sometimes twice a week. And I’m still wrestling with questions about who I’m supposed to be: a fiction writer? Poet? Memoirist? All of the above?

And I’m still asking myself: am I any good?

And I’m still jealous of other people’s success.

And I’m still obsessing about turning forty this year.

And I’m still trying to get pregnant. And I still have a kid who loves and needs and challenges me.

And it’s still tax time, so I’m worrying about money.

And all of this adds up to me feeling like I’m probably doing something wrong.

But Pema, and Buddhism in general, teaches us that all of this—noise—is an illusion. It’s not a message of “this is human, and you’re normal to feel this way, sweetie!” No. The message is that this is all part of the path. Life is about suffering, dukkha. Life is about struggle. There will never not be struggle or difficulty. I am not doing something wrong; there is no wrong. There is just life.

It’s so hard to articulate, and I’m not sure I explained it to Marc very well. But when I said, “It’s almost like Buddhism teaches you to look at your life like a movie. It’s happening—all that struggle, all that difficulty—but you don’t get involved in it. You just accept it. It’s just The Path, and you just keep walking down it. So in a way, none of it matters. It’s supposed to be exactly like this.”

“Wow,” Marc said. And I thought, yeah. Wow.

It’s enormously comforting. Was it supposed to be? Why didn’t I find it sooner?


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Thinking

Faithfully meditating. Faithfully, five mornings a week, showing up to the zafu and…thinking too much. Then doing the Pema Chodron routine and gently saying to myself, thinking. Focusing on the birdsong helps, too, but it’s fleeting. This morning it occurred to me that it could be like this for six months, a year, two years, five. All the thinking. Then what? One day I reach Boddishatva, then Enlightenment, and cease to overthink? (I can hear my husband chuckling.)

Sometimes the thoughts are needling; more often, petty, small needs to run over and over some logistics in my mind. Because I suffer from anxiety, I have real trouble with routine changes. And so a lot of this morning was spent trying–trying!–to create space for today’s different routine: the early-morning visitor, a different work schedule for me, the arrival of my parents this afternoon, Lex being done two hours early. Breathe. Birdsong. Thinking. Thinking!

Lex taking the time to smell the flowers.

Lex taking the time to smell the flowers.

I loved Amanda’s post Turning Nine. I loved it because yesterday (routine change), I was home with Lex all day and did not feel that awesome contentedness that Amanda writes about. We did “medium” (this was reported to me by Lex at the end of the day), but I confess there were many moments when I felt unsatisfied, or he did, and I also hollered significantly at one point (because we were driving down 880, which may be the Bay Area’s sketchiest highway, when a size-ten purple Converse sneaker whacked me in the side of the head). And of course I was thinking about this, this morning, too. Every day with a 3.5 year old I resolve to do better than “medium.” Breathe. Thinking. Thinking.

I think I found the practice at the right time in my life.