Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


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Small Things

Just a short one, today.

The family friend I mentioned months ago died last week. I watched the last of his videos, one where he launches the wooden boat he had spent the last year building with his kids. His face in the video is gaunt with rictus. He looks terrible. His kids—just teenagers, heartbreaking—look drawn and terrified. But the boat moves beautifully in the Portland harbor.

He died a few weeks after the launch.

Meditating, the night after he died, I couldn’t find him anywhere. I hope that means he’s already sailed off to wherever it is we go; I don’t want spirits hanging around, after all, and why would he come to find me? But I have felt in the past two years a deep connection to this man that I don’t even really know, I think because from afar, I watched him die. And I watched him die with incredible grace. He furthered my practice in that I realized along the way that, as Pema says, no matter what we do, we still have to face old age and death. He made me realize that if I want to live this life I have to really live it. Experience it, be present with it, breathe through it. And so in that way, I wanted to find him and send him off.

Meditating the night after he died, I said this:

Jonathan, I send you lovingkindness, safe passage, and gratitude for your grace.

And I send your children and your family love and white light to continue living.

Hard, though.


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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.