Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


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Reflecting on a Year of Becoming Buddhist

Hi; long time.

BirchesagainstskyI’ve been realizing, in that way we realize when a ridiculously long period of time has seemed to pass in a ridiculously short one, that it’s been a year since I started this blog and this project. It was about a year ago that I collapsed crying on the couch one night and, when I came to, decided that I really needed to change something about my life.

Reflecting on this past year has been a bit like a roller coaster, every day a different tiny revelation. The first one came in the form of the tight thought “NOTHING has changed in this past year. I’m still an anxious mess.” But a few days later—I can’t remember what I was doing—I realized that for a blissful second I was watching my life like a movie, utterly unattached to outcome. Also, some dear friends broke up, and while Marc has been terribly affected by it all, I’ve really been able to watch their process of separating with something like detached compassion. And, most of all, my Insight Timer stats tell me that since I started using the app (254 days ago, or about 8.5 months ago), I’ve meditated 140 times. There are days that number feels small, but it’s about 139 times more than I had meditated a year ago, right? On some level it amazes me: 140 times?

If I’m honest, I self-centeredly wished to be in a different place than I am, this year later. I wished to be unaffected, or at least, differently affected, by life’s difficulties: my waning fertility, my extreme anxiety about my book. Just two weeks ago I decided I was going to write a multi-part post about The Infertility Dukkha, in a moment of deep sadness about my failure to make another baby (I still might). I thought to write about the terrible process of getting published, or not, and the way I beat myself up and tell myself I’m not good enough. Then I heard myself say to someone over the weekend, “I consider myself very lucky,” and I realized that’s true, too. How lucky I am, how fortunate. How lucky I am. How fortunate. I think I used to say that with some feeling that I should, but some misgiving that I was, and maybe in the last year Buddhism has made me more grateful, realistic, mindful, and humbled.

Things to be grateful for: a tiny fall harvest from our garden

Things to be grateful for: a tiny fall harvest from our garden

And that is obviously a good thing. But it’s still all very mixed.

This past week, I was wrestling a bit. I have a lot on my plate these days: teaching isn’t letting up; L never stops talking; I’ve got appointments and meetings scheduled til Kingdom Come. In the midst of this, I decided to write a new pitch for my book and when I sent it out to friends to read and give me feedback, the response was not what I wanted. Several blew it off; several made lukewarm comments, and one old friend told me to scrap the whole thing and start over. I called Marc, crying. I told him that I should have known it might be that way, that I wished I could keep this in perspective, that every time there’s a minor setback I needn’t lose it. But I did lose it; I felt my self-worth challenged, again, by this difficult business of art-making and what I perceive as my failure to do things right. I thought, again, about giving up. And the worst part is that because of that busy week (poor planning, lady) I had no time to actually work on the damn thing. The words just sat in my inbox, tormenting me. And then it was Friday, and as luck had it I had a day to myself.

But I sat on the couch and read all day instead of scrambling to work on the pitch.

So over the weekend there was guilt, fear, confusion. I wasn’t working hard enough, etc. And then, trickling up like the first lava, there was this better, clearer sense that actually, I needed to take that tiny Friday break. It reminded me a little of the decision to start this blog and this project. Because if I had manically panicked to fix the pitch, to send it out, I wouldn’t have fully experienced the disappointment of not having gotten it right the first time. I wouldn’t have been at all present. (Not to mention I wouldn’t have read that wonderful book.)

I don’t know if this is making sense. I guess: I paused in the difficulty. I didn’t just press through it. And after a bit of time, I let go of some of the deadly importance I had attached to the task.

Yesterday, my neighbors had L over for a long playdate, and I was on my own, cleaning house. I put on my Pema Chödrön CD. Earlier, I’d listened to a guided meditation on Insight Timer, one where, partway through, the speaker tells you to make space for the difficult feelings that undoubtedly are coming up (yup; there they were: guilt, anxiety). I noted that I was on a nine-day meditation stretch, that I’ve begun to crave sitting like I crave exercise and my morning tea. I couldn’t do a retreat, this weekend, and I don’t know when I will. But it nonetheless felt like I had a mindful weekend, a triumphant one, one where I just might have become Buddhist.

Here’s to another nine days. Here’s to another year!

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54 percent

I use Insight Timer as a meditation tool, not the free app but the “real” one, which gives you a timer; about ten options for starting and ending bells (I use the lovely “Kangse”); and stats about your friends, your sessions, your percentages, your progress. It may seem counter-intuitive to measure mindfulness–it’s certainly very 21st-century!–but I have found it to be a lovely little tool for some reason. I like seeing that Susan in Berkeley has been meditating alongside me, or that my friend in Norway has gathered four gold stars. Meanwhile, I’m hovering at a mere 54%.

Huh?

Well, I meditate 54% of the days. When I started this gig, I was closer to 60%, mostly 59%, if I’m being honest. I’m not sure why, exactly, but over the spring and summer my percentage dropped to 55% and then to 54% and I started to feel a little panicked: am I only half mindful, I wondered?

It seems wrong, because I actually feel like I’ve become more like 65% mindful. Over the weekend I managed to avoid several potential conflicts with Marc’s family by choosing silence, for example. And when I woke up feeling out of sorts and depressed today, I reminded myself that this too shall pass, that it’s okay to sit with the strange revealing dream I had about wanting another baby, or the fact that I feel this week like there hasn’t been enough intimacy in my life, and this slow-dawning realization that I’m not that into my job(s). For example. I feel more mindful, yet I get to the zafu about five percent less.

I wonder what’s the end goal, here, if there is one. I know Pema Chödrön talks about the importance of sitting every day, but Pema Chödrön also lives in a monastery and doesn’t have a four-year-old jumping on her head every morning. (This morning, 7:25: “Mama, I thought you were meditating!” Yep, me too…) But I mean–is the idea to get so mindful that you don’t need the sitting anymore? Or is the idea that the sitting will always be necessary because mindfulness will always, always be challenged?

And is it possible to become, well, better at the practice, so that even when you’re making it to the cushion less often you’re being more mindful in your life? Or is this some self-serving illusion I’ve created?

I love asking all these questions, because I know there aren’t really answers. I have this feeling that if I asked Pema, she’d say: sit every day, and find out.


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Fear of Flying

As I wrote the title for this blog post I remembered how there is a tarot card in my Zen Osho deck called “Fear of Flying,” and I think, though I don’t have the card handy, that it has to do with fear of jumping into the unknown and the idea that all of us need to get over that fear in order to live.

But I meant it quite literally: I’m terrified of flying.

Beautiful, calming tulips...

Beautiful, calming tulips…

This is relevant because I’ve come to Boston to visit my folks for a long weekend and this afternoon, I have to get on an airplane. I am dreading it so much that I actually called to find an earlier flight, and paid $50 to change my ticket, just so I can get it over with sooner. I don’t know what about the experience I like the least: those hours upon hours crammed into a seat, the claustrophobia, the emotional piece of it—in order to see my family, whom I love and miss, I have to endure this experience—or, simply, my terror that the plane will crash. Suffice it to say I’m trying to be calm today…and it’s not working.

I wish this didn’t happen every time I have to get on an airplane, but it does. I meditated and did my yoga this morning, I’m doing my best to show up, and I’m feeling like a bit of a wreck nonetheless.

I’m wondering whether I need to stop thinking of “fear of flying” so literally. Maybe my fear of airplanes is related to my fear of jumping off into the unknown.

Oof, it’s a journey, isn’t it?

On a lighter and more fun note: I downloaded Insight Timer for my phone, and have used it to meditate the last two mornings. It’s so nice because I don’t have a singing bowl, and if I did, I’d want someone else to ring it for me. Insight Timer gives you these lovely bells to start and finish that sound a lot like the real thing.