Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


Recording with the Buddhist

I had the loveliest experience last week. I play music occasionally with my friend David, who is, incidentally, a Buddhist. He ran into Marc a few weeks ago and told him he was going to record some songs and that I should call him. I did; we played music one night last week; and then Dave invited me into the studio on Friday.

My relationship with music is a little fraught. Growing up, I amazed my marginally-musical-at-best family with a big, big voice. “You just open your mouth and it comes out!” my mom once said. I starred in the school musicals and sang in all the choirs; I went to District chorus in Massachusetts, got chosen for the “special octet” at my school, and took classical voice for many years. In college I sang in an a cappella group and took jazz voice, too, and then somewhere along there I started to play guitar; later, after college, I sang in a bluegrass band for a while.

There’s my resume. 

Growing up, there was always this expectation that I would be a performer my whole life. But there was also this expectation that I go to college, have something to “fall back on,” and because I didn’t come from a particularly musical family I was also content to be good enough; I’m terrible at music theory, and while I have a beautiful voice and a really good ear, if it’s not too conceited to say so, I can’t sightread to save my life and I’ve never moved from “okay” to “good” at guitar, despite having been playing for twenty years now.

So somewhere along the way, music kind of moved out of my life. And I have felt conflicted about it for many years. Honestly, it may be my last demon. I’ve worked out my relationship with my parents, I’ve forgiven my brother, I don’t have an eating disorder anymore–but I do have this tortured relationship with music. On some level, it’s a very practical sort of tortured: I chose not to pursue it. And I sometimes really regret that, or at least, I worry that I will regret it later. Marc has helped me to see that maybe the lifestyle that goes with the performing arts just wasn’t for me, and that’s something; writing fulfills me on a deeper, more true level than singing does. I have trouble putting down the pen (okay, the laptop), but I’m usually ready, after kicking ass on a few songs, to put down the guitar, accept some praise, and have a glass of wine.

Opportunities to make music and perform come up, of course, and I love them when they do. Last summer, for example, I was asked to sing at a fundraiser, and my friend Sean and I played a set to a rapt audience. It felt great. And then there was Dave, asking me to record with him.

SusieSingingThat Dave is a Buddhist is relevant because, folks, I saw non-attachment in action on Friday. Originally I was singing harmony on Dave’s songs, but then he decided that because I have the stronger voice that I should sing lead. That I should inhabit lead. Standing in front of a microphone in a dark little studio in Oakland, I found myself singing like I was on trial. I did it in one take. And then with the help of a guitar-teacher-cum-wizard named Emery, we figured out some harmonies, and I sang those, too. The guys mixed it after I left, and on Sunday Dave popped by the CD. There I am, singing an alt-country song with some grungy guitar in the background. It sounds amazing.

And now, I have to figure out my complicated relationship to making music. In the meantime, I have this great CD to listen to.

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The Practice

We have a family friend with Stage Four cancer, and this morning my mom sent me his latest YouTube video reporting on his progress. I don’t know him terribly well; I wouldn’t say we are close; but throughout the last twenty months I’ve watched his YouTube updates and sent him lovingkindness and generally felt both terribly saddened by his experience and enlightened by it. In addition to Western medicine and chemo, he’s found a Traditional Chinese Medicine healer named Master Lee, and he talks about his work with Master Lee in every video. Master Lee treats him with herbs and acupuncture but also teaches him to do yoga, to meditate, and to be mindful. In this latest video, Jonathan said: “My advice to you is to look into these things.” (Yoga, meditation, breathing, mindfulness.) When he said it, I found myself starting to weep in the coffee shop where I’m sitting, and I thought two strange and disparate thoughts: one, that no one in my family, watching this video, knows that I have been meditating since last November; and two, that my own personal, bodily dukkha these days is not cancer but my journey to try to get pregnant. For a second, they felt on the same plane, though I know they are not. Jonathan will likely not come out of this with his life. But we will all look back on this as the period in his life when he came to truly know himself, when he got as close to enlightenment as one can get. And I wonder how I will look back on this period of disappointment and confusion, whether it will feel worth it, whether it just is.

The other day my friend Steph, who has a new baby, said something I found terribly enlightening. She talked about how the baby had been up for six hours crying and she had to continually remind herself, “This is happening NOW. It is not happening tomorrow or the next day, and there’s no point in worrying about whether it will happen again tomorrow or the next day.” This was enlightening because I realized that the opportunity for mindfulness is continually happening. It is not something we do when we sit on the zafu, though sitting on the zafu is practicing—practice for real life, I guess. I feel when I am not finding the time or space to meditate that I am not practicing, but actually, the opportunity is always there, and that, it seems to me, is where I need to go next: the practice of daily life.

I share these stories because they help me see that not being pregnant NOW does not mean I will not be pregnant another time. And being sad today does not mean I will be sad tomorrow. It’s deceptively simple, really, but a good reminder for someone like me, who tends towards anxiety and fear and not being in the present. It’s not just a simple “this too shall pass.” It’s the realization that the feelings can be sat with and experienced, not passed through or tossed off. And it’s the realization that I can approach the dark moments and the frustrating ones alike with presence and a sense of, I am here now. This is my experience. This is the dark night that must be passed through.

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I tend to write these blog posts in my head while I’m doing dishes, walking around, and of course, meditating (though I try try try try not to). These past ten days I’ve been tossing around ideas, little bits and pieces, but nothing sticks. I just sort of drift on. I’m able to focus when I’m working–I’m amazed at how much I have gotten done in the past month, writing-wise–but sometimes in life I feel not present. I’m meditating when I can, though it seems every rare morning when I have the energy to pop up at seven and get on the zafu that’s the morning Lex wakes up at seven, too. Then the mornings when I cannot get out of bed, he also sleeps in, and then I regret not having taken advantage of the extra half hour. (An aside: since he was born we have had this very slight symbiotic/sympathetic thing going on. It’s like he knows it’s a morning he should sleep in, since I’m clearly planning to.)

Today when I got up I decided I just had to acknowledge the reason for the sleepiness, and the drifting.

DriftingJelliesI feel really, really weird lately. And I believe fertility drugs are to blame.

Now, I am a pretty notoriously natural Mama. I cook almost everything from scratch, I take a slew of high-quality supplements every day. I don’t drink Coke or eat crap. This commitment is very much a part of me. In fact, it was a pretty big surprise to everyone when, during my brutally long labor with Lex, I huffed nitrous oxide from a mask and accepted the epidural. And trying to make numero dos has also made me decide to embrace the dubious powers of Western medicine. To wit: Clomid. HCG shot. Now, progesterone supplements.

The Clomid was pretty much fine, though I do think my slightly irrational behavior last week might be attributed to it. The HCG shot made me feel pregnant, which is bittersweet. But this progesterone, oof. I slept ten hours on Sunday night. Monday afternoon, I took an hour-long nap. And today I woke up with vertigo and nausea and couldn’t do my sun salutations. Over the weekend I tried to have a couple glasses of wine and the hangover was outrageous.

I don’t feel unhappy, I have to say, though the mood swings have been a little much. Last week I was crying one minute, and the next, I danced into the kitchen singing “Wishing Well” by Terrence Trent D’Arby, prompting Marc to ask me if I thought I was bipolar. (Not bipolar, just a true child of the eighties.) He and I are fighting all the time, but that’s probably his fault (kidding!). I don’t doubt my great love for him, or for Lex. I just feel kind of foggy, strange.

More strange, though, is that I have no desire to go off the progesterone. I take the pill, and wait. I think maybe my body feels like it wants it. Maybe it’s addictive. Who knows.

Ah, the mindful approach to fertility drugs. What does that even look like? This?