Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


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Secrets of Adulthood Revealed

photo (1)It’s Thursday. Thursdays have long been my favorite day of the workweek. When L. was smaller, Thursdays were his long day at school but my work-from-home day, which meant a day I could do as much writing as I could and still have time for grading/planning, a load of laundry, a trip to the store. And then, it was Friday. Now that I’ve gone full-time at work, I teach on Thursdays, but not until 3:30, which means I still have a nice long day before I have to get on Bart and go into San Francisco. I mean, look—it’s only twenty past nine, and already I’ve tidied my desk, made the bed, done a load of laundry, and checked my email.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be an adult. The days peel off the calendar, and then it’s Thursday again, and some Thursdays, faced with all this time, I feel at loose ends. All week I look forward to having time to write–but then, on Thursday mornings, what I really want to do is tidy my very messy house and make sense of everything that’s been piling up all week. This, it occurs to me, is both totally mundane and totally what being an adult is all about. Balancing all these pieces–lunch boxes, laundry, clean bathrooms, messy desks, student papers, agent letters, bills to be paid, things to be mailed, gardens to be watered, dinners to be prepped, food to be shopped for, garbage cans to put out, novels to be pondered, soccer uniforms to be located, emails to be sent, tea to be drunk, lost items to be located–is this really what it’s all about?

In class this week, I had my students read the first chapter of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, where she lays out her year-long experiment to become more happy. I’d been resisting sharing it with my students since I worried they would all declare her an old lady, and boring, and while a few of them did just think she was having a “midlife crisis,” many of them found the reading really compelling. We talked about how sometimes you’re just rolling along in life and you forget to work hard and appreciate what you have and that that is true for everyone, at every age. I liked hearing from students in their twenties that they also contend with this feeling, because I’d worried, a bit, that it was just me.

I’ve realized that for the past four years, M and I have had this very strong diversion in our lives. Coloring everything–L’s milestones, our work, our marriage—has been this persistent drive to get me pregnant. In some ways, it’s been the hardest four years of my life. And in others, it’s been a project that has diverted us from everything real, and from the mundanity of adulthood. Last week, that project ended. We learned that our second frozen embryo transfer was not successful, and the dream of me ever being pregnant again went poof.

Of course miracles happen. Of course it’s not a definite. But I have to think of it that way in order to make it real, because hope hasn’t gotten me very far on this journey.

And so it’s been a week of adult-style reality. The reality is a nice one: I have a beautiful five-year old kid, a husband I genuinely want to be with. We have enough money (yay!), we have a loving family. We have, knock wood, our health and our happiness. But this is also it, this life of lunch boxes and lost sweatshirts, of work and taking out the trash and food prep. For many years, we have tried to add a piece of joy and chaos to this life of ours—a baby—and it hasn’t worked. It’s devastating, and it’s sobering, and it’s confusing, and it’s unreal, and mostly, it’s just a deep and central sadness that I suspect will be with us for a long time. And on the other hand, it feels like it’s just our path. It’s what was supposed to happen, it’s what we have to sit with, it’s our dukkha. It’s our adulthood.

In that first chapter of The Happiness Project Gretchen Rubin lays out her Twelve Commandments (the first one: “Be Gretchen.” I like that). Then, her Secrets of Adulthood, which includes gems like “If you can’t find something, clean up” and “Turning the computer off and on a few times often fixes glitches.” After we read, I had my students write either their own Secrets of Adulthood or their own Commandments. I loved how into it they got. One eccentric student who always comes to class in a suit and tie wrote “Dress for Success” and “Don’t Boast”; another, “Eat Happier.” One student’s list consisted of items like “Don’t smoke so much,” “Don’t drink ’til you black out,” and “Don’t eat out every night.”

And me? I wrote my own Secrets of Adulthood. It felt like a really happy moment in an otherwise sad time. I can’t exactly say why. I think because I remembered for a second that despite a large disappointment, I am still me. Me, who has lived on this earth for 40+ years and has gathered some basic wisdom. Me, who knows herself. Sometimes a tragedy or a loss can really shake your core. It’s good to remember who you are in those moments, that you still need a cup of tea first thing and a snack in your purse at all times.

—-

My Secrets of Adulthood

It all has to get done.

Putting things away when you’re done with them saves time later.

It’s okay to go out to dinner occasionally.

Don’t check email after ten p.m.

A cup of tea first thing.

Exercise saves all.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

No cell phone at dinner.

It’s worth it to instill good table manners in your kid.

Back up your data regularly.

If you can’t find something, clean up.*

If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.*

Don’t shy away from difficult conversations.

Be honest—but not too honest.

A little TV will not kill you.

Bring a snack.

Enjoy each other.

Guilt is the enemy of the good.

 

*Thank you, Gretchen Rubin

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Why Are Blessings So Hard to Accept?

I’ve had such a wonderful few weeks. On May 17, my spring semester ended, and I turned in final grades a few days later. Lex’s school has been in session the whole time, which means, yes–my somewhat harried usual 15-20-hours-of-work-in-20-hours-of-childcare (and grading on the weekends) became long days with no grading to do and no kid to chase around until 12:30 or 3:00 p.m., sometimes 4:00. Sometimes, during these breaks (I get two long ones, and one short, per year), I can’t concentrate, and I fritter away the days worrying about the missing paychecks, but for whatever reason I fully embraced this break.

I:

  • Fulfilled my goal of sending out my memoir to at least 3 agents a week (my general goal was 5 submissions a week, of the memoir, of essays, whatever)
  • Finished up and sent out one essay
  • Drafted and polished another, and sent it out, too
  • Blogged
  • Figured out Twitter (insofar as one can do such a thing!)
  • Lazily graded the papers and exams I needed to for the other school where I teach very part-time
  • Got caught up with my preschool chair duties
  • Cleaned my house
  • Read some books
  • Cooked some good food
  • Meditated
  • Relaxed and concentrated on my IVF
  • And, today, went to yoga.

Formal yoga classes have left my life sphere in the last year or so. This started as a logistical issue; I couldn’t find a teacher I particularly liked, and all of the classes were either too long or at the wrong time. Then I decided that I’d rather save the money for a house (in these parts $16 per class is a good deal–oof–and a tiny house costs $650,000–double oof). So I began just doing a little yoga at home and the occasional 20-minute video here and there, which, actually, is pretty sustaining (try it!). So when I decided last minute today to hit a lunch-hour yoga class with a friend, it felt indulgent, exciting, and just a little bit like…a guilty pleasure.

Ah, guilt.

A little reminder that sits on the kitchen cupboard at a friend's house

A little reminder that sits on the kitchen cupboard at a friend’s house

At the class, the teacher talked about the concept of wounds, and how we heal from wounds by seeking out experiences that fulfill needs we missed as children. Some of this didn’t make sense to me; I of course have my wounds, but the ones the teacher was referencing were not ones I feel I need to address, exactly. Nonetheless it got me thinking about ways that I hurt–that we all hurt–and how those same hurts come up, again and again. And my experience of being in that class–feeling an inexplicable guilt because many of my friends were at work; my husband was at work; I was paying someone else to watch my kid while I was at yoga; etc etc etc–was compounded by the realization that one of my wounds is this inability to accept the blessings in my life without feeling guilty for them.

Put another way: why, when I have the chance to go to noon yoga, or morning meditation, or take a nap in the afternoon, why do I not think, wow, what a lucky, blessed life, that I can do this? and instead go to, you’re such a privileged little shit, you who only works part time and gets 12 weeks off a year. You suck.

This kind of guilt has pretty much plagued me my whole life. Call it white guilt, or privileged guilt, or just plain-old guilt, I always feel guilty for the good fortune I have had and conflicted when things are really going right for me, like I don’t deserve it.

Interestingly, this revelation dovetailed with something that happened yesterday. A writer friend told me she thinks I need more “mystery” on my writing blog, less an air of “Oh God I want to be published so badly” and more of an air of “I have so many irons in the fire, so much great is happening, look at me.” At first, this unsolicited advice really hurt. It made me feel I was doing something wrong. After, it made a little sense. It made sense because she reminded me that a) a prestigious publication has an essay of mine right now and is deliberating; and b) a prestigious literary agent is looking at my book. Both of these things are true! They’re flattering! It’s great! BUT, I am also the type of person who feels that more than likely neither of those great possibilities will pan out, and, I guess I am too superstitious to assume they will.

Now I’m a bit muddled. I think what I’m getting at is that it feels difficult to accept that blessings are all around me, and that, well, great things could happen for me and do happen for me and that I’m very lucky and I don’t need to feel guilty for having time off or good fortune or the ability to go to yoga sometimes. And, on the other I hand, nor do I need to feel less than authentic when shitty things happen to me.

—-

May I be open to the joy and happiness in my life. And may you, reader, too.

 

 


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And Then There Was One…

I have been feeling a little guilty for the negativity of my last post. Shortly after I wrote it, I hauled out my Osho Zen tarot deck and gave myself a reading. And the predominant card that came up was the Courage card, in the position of “repression,” as in, what was missing in my life was my courage. And that rang very true.

photo-12I love the Courage card–this scrappy daisy pushing up through a crack in a rock; it has come to me before and always reminds me that negativity and pessimism are just another expression of fear. It also reminds me that anything is possible. I had all these brilliant thoughts about this last week, all these very Zen, very mindful thoughts–but today as I’m trying to write them down, they’re all gone, save the imperative I have given myself to keep moving forward, through the fear, and to carry courage with me as I go.

Because IVF is not for the faint of heart, people. (Aside: the root of the word “courage,” of course, being coeur, French for “heart.”) It somehow hadn’t registered with me how many opportunities there would be for disappointment along the way. That’s not quite true; of course I knew; but I hadn’t focused on how there would be this day-to-day roller coaster of emotions. To wit: when I last wrote, I was injecting my belly with stim drugs every day, and there were nine follicles. Then there was that appointment with the nurse who told me somewhat coldly that if there weren’t at least five mature follicles, we wouldn’t move forward. Then there were all of a sudden fifteen follicles, but we weren’t sure how many were mature. Then there was the egg retrieval, and the doctor got a whopping ten eggs and sent them off to the lab. That was on Friday, and it was a good day.

But on Saturday morning, we got the bad news that of those ten eggs, only two had fertilized normally. We spent the weekend in tears and triage mode, poor L confused about why there was so much weeping, so little laughter, so much heavy energy in the air.

Then Monday, the doctor called to say that the two embryos looked terrific–grade A embryos, all normal cells, good news. The roller coaster was back up.

Then today: one of the embryos still looks good. The other has not changed. It has likely, he said, “arrested.”

So there is one.

Wow. It feels a little like being on the edge of a knife, and this–baby–could topple in either direction; into existence, or gone forever. I know that in this moment there is every reason for me to find as much courage as I can, and what else can I do? We will get another phone call in the morning, telling us whether #1 embryo has also arrested or whether it has progressed from an “early blastocyst” to a regular-old blastocyst. And if it has, it will be instantly frozen and be suspended in time until my body is ready to receive it. And then there will be more terrible waiting, not knowing, and uncertainty.

But there’s no way to get there but to keep moving forward.

Thanks for listening, readers, and for me keeping me in your thoughts.

–BB

 


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Someone is Throwing Rocks at My Head; or, The IVF Files

Hi. My friend Laal reminded me that while silence and privacy are great and all, she missed my ruminations. And I realized I did, too. Though as I also told her, I’m not sure where to start since it kind of feels like someone is throwing rocks at my head. M put it this way: “It’s pouring on us.” And, I have to say, it seems like it’s pouring on most people I know. Is this what it means to be an adult? That all of a sudden you can’t remember what it was to be carefree because your life is insane?

(Aside: read this rambling, funny, very cool article about being in pain when everyone around you seems to be, too.)

Short version of the pouring: I’m doing IVF. I am uttering this out loud on this blog after having felt more than usually private about it. But there it is: I am taking injectable fertility medications twice a day, preparing a cadre of eggs for what, we hope, will eventually become a sibling for L. My feelings about IVF alternate between excitement/joy and fear/anxiety; mostly I am just happy that the side effects of the drugs are minimal and I’m doing something proactive in my life about something that has felt unchangeable, fixed, and stagnant. In and of itself, IVF is surprisingly okay.

Longer version of the pouring: I am doing IVF at the same time that our house is being sold out from under us and the landlady is being pushy and unreasonable (all correspondence now goes through a lawyer); on the same day there may be an egg retrieval there is a brokers’ tour going on at my house. I am doing IVF while I got an email on Tuesday from my supervisor at one of the schools where I teach telling me my contract won’t be renewed, and I suspect that this is retaliatory because I complained a couple months ago about the extremely unreasonable pay schedule. So I have been talking to an employment lawyer. Both of these things have me feeling more than a little upset and freaked out: I love lawyers when they’re my husband and my dad; I don’t like getting letters from lawyers who represent clients hostile to me, and while I have an email from the employment lawyer saying I might actually have a winnable case, I’m not in any position to sue the school and just want it all to go away. And I am doing IVF while my parents are dealing with logging trucks at their nice home in the country, people using a right-of-way to bulldoze the hell out of my parents’ property. On a lighter note, I am doing IVF while planning a terrific party for 150 people at L’s school, which takes place tomorrow, after yet another ultrasound. That task has actually felt like a really nice distraction, planning cheese trays and making hummus and organizing.

My Buddhist practice has been in full force. Ha! That makes it sound so lofty. What I mean is, I’m trying–trying–to practice mindfulness at every step of the way. I’m meditating every day, alternating between a cheesy 5-minute IVF meditation I found on YouTube (“Picture your ovaries nice and full…”) and my usual silent meditations, or guided ones courtesy of Insight Timer. It is helping; yet the feelings of despair/anxiety/fear/excitement/uncertainty very much remain. The happiest thing in my life right now is my relationship with M., who, after I texted him fretting yesterday that there are only nine eggs, and it might not be enough, texted back: “Nine eggs is great, I’ve decided. Nine beautiful little eggies.” We watch a silly episode of Parks & Rec most nights before bed, and he helps me “cook up” the meds and watches without wincing while I inject them into my bruised and swollen belly.

I very much hope this works out, but I suppose that goes without saying. This morning at a pre-op appointment I was told that if I don’t have a certain number of eggs all maturing at about exactly the same time, there won’t be an egg retrieval at all. So all my energy is forward to those nine beautiful little eggies, may they be what they are meant to be……

Onward.


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Post from Paradise

ForogBuddha I’m in Hawaii.

I came here with my cousin, who has meetings on Oahu this week. Over Christmas, she called and suggested we splurge: meet a few days early for some R and R before she had to enter the world of business. And after some deliberation (money, childcare, logistics), I said yes.

We spent three days at a place called the Zen Treehouse, on the windward side of Oahu in a town called Waimanalo. Our Zen Treehouse was quiet and calm and spacious, with sliding doors to little lanais (decks), a sitting area, a giant bathroom with a rain shower. We were steps from the beach. I got up every morning to do yoga and meditate on the back lanai. One day we drove up to the North Shore to see surfers, stopped for plate lunch and shave ice, then came back and grilled some fish for dinner. Other days we poked around “our beach,” and explored several others, too. The sand was like cornmeal, unmarred by even many shells, so different from the East and West coast beaches I’m used to. We went on two great hikes, and on both, saw humpback whales far off in the distance. On the North Shore, the whales were slapping their flukes against the water and breaching. I have always wanted to see whales!

I also snorkeled a bit, finished a page-turner novel, thought a lot, watched a movie, drank too much rum punch one night, slept badly, slept well, missed L and M, etcetera.

Yesterday we left the Zen Treehouse and headed for one of the massive corporate resorts that dot the Hawaii landscape. We’re in a huge room six floors up, overlooking a pool and a human-made lagoon where, yesterday, we paddleboarded and swam. My cousin’s meetings started this morning; this afternoon, we’re being taken out on a boat to snorkel with dolphins (or something). Later, there will be cocktails, dinner, and schmoozing by the pool. It all feels a little unreal, to have gone from the Zen Treehouse and plate lunch to this fancy sixth-floor room with Top-40 hits blasting from poolside.

IMG_0895When I go on vacation, my prevailing difficulty is the realization that it’s hard for me to relax. I wish it weren’t so. We’re contemplating doing an IVF cycle next month, and I thought how great it would be for me to take this trip before we walked down that road, so I could come back rested and calm. There have been many calming moments, to be sure–those whales inspired something in me, and my daily yoga and meditation has been a luxury I don’t always afford at home. It’s good to have a break from L. But on the other hand, I’ve felt a bit untethered without my boys to anchor me, without M’s steadiness and consistency.

I’m writing and working this morning; since Lou is in meetings, I figured I should use the time too. Later we’ll be wined and dined, and tomorrow, I’ll leave. I expect to feel that mix of feelings when you come home from vacation: sad the adventure is over, but happy to be home, too.

Many alohas, friends!