Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


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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.


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Triggers

I had the revelation the other day that becoming Buddhist is a bit like being in recovery from drug addiction in that you’re wandering along, feeling like you’ve conquered the thing, when all of a sudden there’s a particular sort of trigger that throws you back into danger. If you’re an addict, the trigger might be a breakup, an illness, sad news, who knows, and the danger is that you’ll start to use again. If you’re working on your mindfulness, the danger is falling back into anxiety, depression, self-loathing, and attachment.

This could sound incredibly lofty, I realize.

But I’m serious. The other day around 7 p.m. I told Marc how much my meditation practice is helping me with my career angst. When I sit every day, I told him, I feel less sure that my book sucks and that I will never achieve success. When I sit every day I feel less attached to its success at all. I feel proud of the work–but not too proud!–and good about how far I have come. I have this realistic understanding of process, of the path, of the journey that the book and I are on together.

I am much less hard on myself.

I said all of this, and meant it, and really felt I had had a breakthrough.

At 8 p.m. I checked my email to find that a school colleague had had an awesome career success. (One I instantly felt he hadn’t deserved, because I was being petty.) And just like that, my whole night was ruined. I started to panic about how little writing I have done this week, and how little writing I will be able to do this whole month, what with all the papers to grade and not being able to afford more childcare for Lex, and since I am so shamefully bad at managing everything, and because I waste time with blog posts and jealousy–and because, let’s face it, I have no talent to speak of, anyway………………

Yes, folks, I got triggered.

Yuck.

The mindful Buddhist response, of course, would be to notice the trigger and move on. And I am relieved to say that at this, at least, I succeeded in doing what Pema Chödrön says we should do: stop making everything such a big deal.

“I’m jealous of J.,” I said to Marc. “I am just going to admit it.” And saying it helped immensely.

But of course, that doesn’t solve the thing. I’m sure the addict who resists the fix still kind of wants it for a few days and feels bad for having almost gone there.

More, I realize the world is filled with triggers.

And that, I think, is what this is all about.


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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.