Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


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The Mørketid

In Norway, this time of year is called the mørketid, the dark time. You can guess why; in Oslo right now the sun rises around ten a.m. and sets at three. This morning, walking L. to school, I remembered how five years ago at this time I was morning sick and thankfully underemployed, so I spent much of November and December sleeping away the morning, rallying for the sunlight, then going back to bed. The evenings were the best time, the time I was able to consume the most tomato juice and watch The Simpsons with Norwegian subtitles on our tiny illegal television. Then we’d light some candles. My brother’s wife had just left him and he came to Oslo for three weeks, slept on our couch and brought me my tomato juice. Together we flew to Copenhagen for a few days and stayed in a one-star hotel, talked and talked and talked, weathered the cold, weathered his great tragedy.

photo-4I was thinking about this this morning because we had a frost in Berkeley. Marc and I are cracking ourselves up by refusing to turn on the heat until we really need to this winter. Instead we cook big pots of soup or roast whatever we can think to roast so the oven warms the small space; let’s face it, 40 is cold for Berkeley. But last night, Jack Frost painted the roof white and when I woke I could practically see my breath. There had been a strange dream, a man was trying to get into the house and the door wouldn’t lock against him and I couldn’t find my phone to call 911. When I woke, Marc was gone, off to work early, and L. was stirring so I just had a five-minute sit on the zafu before he bustled into the living room with a giant blanket. Our hands and feet, like ice. “One of these days Daddy and I will turn on the heat,” I told him, shaking my head, laughing. We are strange people sometimes. We like a challenge.

And all of it made me feel a little weepy: not being pregnant, not being in Norway, Marc off to work early, my love for L. feeling difficult because he has so forcefully been trying my patience lately, not being published, working so damn hard at all of it for what? For what? For what?

But underneath, oh, underneath—there has been this beautiful and clear sense of gratitude lately, for that cold house, for the breakfast I put together, for Marc, for Lex, for having had so much luck and joy and happiness in my life. I’ve been feeling like I’ve spent a lot of time not understanding that one could have both: disappointment and happiness, or perhaps: failures and success. Or perhaps: struggle and ease. Yes, that’s what I mean. Struggle, and ease.

I loved Amanda Green’s Thanksgiving post for this reason. You overflow with gratitude, but it can almost feel like too much. And sometimes, even if you are a fortunate person, you overflow with sorrow for the things you miss.


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Sick Kid

I feel sometimes when I visit Becoming Buddhist that I live a secret life. I log out of my other blog, and into this one, where I see all the posts from people I’m following in my life as a Buddhist–my secret life as a Buddhist–and I enter this space where I read about boredom on A Year of Meditating or enjoy one of bussokuseki’s gorgeous poems or appreciate the wisdom of Amanda Green, and I feel a little like I am not even at my own house anymore, where we have a sick kid and no one got up to meditate this morning because we were sleeping off two middle-of-the-night puking sessions.

Hmm.

This is something I think about a lot, this idea of trying on different costumes, different roles. It’s actually something I have felt my whole life. I was a pudgy kid, and when in my twenties I started dropping pounds upon pounds without really trying, until I became the objectively thin woman I am today, I felt for the first several years that I was faking thin. When I traveled around the world with Marc, it felt for a while like someone else was taking that trip. Someone bold, intrepid: not anxious, scared me.

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Me in Hawaii, 2012

Being Buddhist feels a little like that, like something I’m trying on. Maybe that’s why I feel the need for this secrecy.

But man this Buddhist stuff gets in your bones. I’ll admit: my practice has been crap lately. I’m tired, and getting up before Lex doesn’t always happen. A few mornings my “meditation” has looked like this: a sleepy me on the zafu, shushing the wiggly toddler in my lap, both of us ensconced in blankies since it’s so damn cold in Berkeley lately. I grab a nanosecond of mindful intention before the wiggles shake us towards breakfast and the start of the frantic day.

Nonetheless, I feel myself different than I was a year ago, slightly more able to pause in the moment as I just…exist. And, of course, struggling to practice mindfulness as I…exist.

Today I had a sick kid. I also had a boatload of work I wanted to do. The two were mutually exclusive. I stayed home with Lex and got no writing or professional development done; we watched a leopard documentary, read some books, went for a short walk, and later, miraculously, he let me do some sewing. He wouldn’t eat more than a couple pieces of toast all day, but his spirits were high. I felt sure he’d be back at school tomorrow and me, off to do the work I’d not done today. But at dinnertime he still hadn’t eaten more than that toast. And he had a fever. And was totally listless and couldn’t climb out of my lap. And I am seeing my work for tomorrow slipping away, too.

I long–or perhaps I should say, I strive, since that’s what this project is all about–to be someone who thinks, “Today I am home with my sick kid,” instead of “I will never finish my book at this rate!”

That will be my mantra for tomorrow:

I am home with my sick kid. I am home with my sick kid. I am home with my sick kid.

I am lucky to be able to spend the time with him, after all.

Maybe we’ll watch the polar bear documentary.