Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


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On the Advice of a Friend, Woman Writes Letter to Her Paranoid Self in a Time of Crisis

Dear BB,

Don’t be a fucking idiot. Many people lose some hearing with an ear infection and get it back just fine. You’ll be one of them. The Buddha would remind you that everything is always changing, that this—this horrible tinnitus and hearing loss—is what’s happening now. It does not mean it will be happening in a month. I know it’s been scary and all, that the other night you sat shivering and crying and saying “please make it end, please make it end” for hours all alone in bed with your ears roaring, absolutely roaring, after you read some scary stuff on the Internet, but put things in perspective: there are women being raped and murdered across the world. ISIS is terrorizing us. Ted Cruz just announced he’s running for POTUS. Your fucking ear problems are small fish. Seriously. Everyone—all the doctors—have said you will most likely regain full hearing when the infection clears up. Let’s assume that “most likely” actually means “definitely” or “100% positive” and just stop with the horrible anxiety that somehow you’ll live with tinnitus and compromised hearing for the rest of your life, okay? Don’t be an idiot. You know in two weeks you’ll look back and think, well, I knew deep down I would be okay. What was I freaking out about?

I should say—I know this illness has been absolutely the worst for you. It’s rare to get what you think will be a relatively mild cold and have it turn into a ten-day flu, complete with 102-degree fever, chills, aches, exhaustion, a racking cough, and congestion so bad that it turns into an intensely painful double ear infection after a week. I know it is doubly shitty that this all happened during your spring break, when you had big plans for that book proposal and that book revision and maybe even just a few hours puttering in the back yard without a care in the world, and instead, you spent the entire thing in bed. Yes, that sucks.

Still life with used tissues.

Still life with used tissues.

I know you’ve tried the following over the last two weeks:

Osha root tincture

Licorice root tincture

“Wellness Formula”

Advil

Tylenol

NyQuil (never again)

FloNase

Nasal decongestant

Mucinex

Antibiotic ear drops

Garlic-mullein ear drops

“Xiao Chai Hu”

Lycopodium 30c (homeopathic for tinnitus)

Vitamin C

Zinc throat spray

Azithromycin

…and none of it has worked, but still, don’t lose heart. Don’t assume that you’re going to be deaf for the rest of your life. That’s crazy!

Oh, and, I know you’ve also tried:

Acupuncture

Hot steam

Salt water as a gargle, in the neti pot, and in the humidifier

Raw garlic

Visualization

Bone broth

Acidophilus chewies

Acidophilus fancy drinks

Prayer

…and you still mostly feel like crap, but seriously. Enough is enough. Take a deep breath, a hot shower, another shot of zinc, and a slow walk. Clear thy head, girl.

Remember Pema Chodron when she reminds us to think of adversity as no big deal. Remember the adage: this too shall pass.

No really, this too shall pass.

Love,

BB


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Extra! Extra! Woman Feeling Guilt, Shame, and Negativity Writes Herself a Love Letter

photo-4 copyFriday: one mom, me, talking to another mom, Kate, about a situation at my son’s school. I tell Kate that I want to say something about it but am concerned about backlash. I also admit to feeling like a coward, and thus, am thinking maybe I will complain anonymously.

“I hear that,” she says, gently, “but I think it’s not a great attitude for a parent to have. Because we all need to advocate for our kids, right?”

Me: awash in shame. Instantly. Kate is so much wiser than I am, and I am truly a coward. And a bad parent, likely because I am infertile and only have one child to practice on. 

Thursday: L has a playdate with one of the most ill-behaved children I have ever met. When I tell him we’re out of cream cheese at lunch time, he screams at me that he hates me. When it’s time to clean up, he tells me, “I’m not your slave!” When he bonks his head and I try to comfort him, he yells, “Stop touching me!” I know this kid well; he went to preschool with L, so I worked with him in the classroom every week, and we have relatives in common. So I feel pretty comfortable with him. So comfortable, in fact, that when he screams at me the last time, I say, calmly, “If you’re going to speak to me like that, T., I’m not going to invite you to my house again.”

Told the hubs, M, about it. He was a little shocked, said it sounded kind of harsh.

Me: awash in shame. Instantly. I’m such a terrible person, for speaking that way to someone else’s kid. And T’s dad is going to find out and tell all our friends that I’m a monster. 

Wednesday: I’m applying for this…thing. I need a letter of recommendation. I email a couple of friends who have academic jobs and ask a couple of questions about whom I should list as recommenders and whether I should include X or Y on my CV.

My friend Brooke writes back. “Don’t make assumptions about what they’re looking for,” she says. “This is a prestigious *thing* and they’re going to get a ton of great applicants, so just pull out all the stops.”

Me: awash in shame. Instantly. There’s no way I will be competitive with all those great applicants out there, since I am just an untalented 41-year-old wash-up whose career is in the toilet. 

Yup, that’s the week I’ve had. (I won’t even tell you about Monday and Tuesday.)

I go through these periods where I feel I just can’t do anything right. I’m a bad parent, a bad writer. I’m a bad teacher. I don’t keep my house clean enough. I have gray hair, I’m no longer pretty. I eat too much cheese. I yell at my kid. I can’t keep my room tidy enough. I’m not financially savvy, and generally, I suck.

If I’m honest, I spend a lot of my life in this pattern of thinking. Some weeks, when I’m meditating a lot, when I remember to be mindful, when things with L and M are smooth, when I’m exercising enough and writing enough—I can take these small, relatively insignificant moments and roll them off the back like so much water. I can remind myself that at 41, I’m still learning. That it’s okay to make mistakes. That Kate, M, and Brooke are not out to get me; they’re trying to be supportive, helpful, and kind. That really, geez, these are tiny things to get all het up about.

But other weeks, small wounds like these go straight to some place in me that believes it’s not okay to make mistakes, and more than that, that my tiny falters somehow indicate terrible things about my character. On these weeks, it feels like the whole world is persecuting me. I’m hypersensitive about everything. Negativity runs the show. Look at me wrong and I just might freak out.

I’ve thought a lot about this pattern. At 41 I am no longer in therapy, and honestly (no, believe me!) not so tethered to my anxieties and insecurities all the time. I’m actually a pretty functional and whole person, capable, kind, evolved. But I have this dark place in me that still holds a lot of sway. It comes, I think, from having grown up with parents who second-guess every move they make; in addition to brown eyes, good teeth, and olive skin, I got this tendency towards self-doubt, and this belief that mistakes mean weakness.

And I am heartily, heartily sick of it. In fact, one of the reasons I started a meditation practice was to try to let some of this negativity go. And it worked, for a while; or at least, meditation helped me remember not to make my life, and these small parts of it, such a big deal. But lately, for a thousand reasons, my meditation practice is spotty, at best. The mornings have become too tight, since we’re trying to get everyone up, dressed, fed, and out the door in a calm fashion (instead of what was happening before: bedlam, fights, tears). I sometimes manage to meditate before bed, but it just doesn’t feel as powerful, somehow. L’s own negativity and moods have been weighing heavily on our house—it’s amazing how powerful the discontent of a five-year-old can be—and that’s been hard to be mindful through. Also, it’s been raining and raining and raining, and while my joy and happiness that this is the case (remember our 4-year drought?) is palpable, it’s also meant less exercising for me and just more time indoors, with cabin fever (and that cranky five-year-old, did I mention him?).

So it’s been a tough week.

And so here, at the end, I will just note the writing prompt that appeared in my inbox this morning, from Kat McNally and her #Reverb project (a reflective writing prompt a day, in the month of December):

It all starts with kindness. Everything I have learnt, everyone I have interviewed, every word I have studied has guided me to this simple but profound conclusion: true happiness begins and ends with self-kindness.

No more guilt. No more shoulds. No more comparison.

And the very best way to give your weary soul some kindness at the end of this year? A love note.

Write a letter from you to you… filled with forgiveness, love, and a big bear hug.

Here’s mine:

Dear BB,

I forgive you for making mistakes. I forgive you for being oversensitive. I forgive you for not meditating. I forgive you for making things such a big deal. You’re tops.

Love,

BB

This post is, sort of, part of the Reverb 14 December daily writing challenge, a series of reflective writing prompts designed to help let go of 2014 and move into 2015 with intention.

 


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On Realizing What It Means to Be a Grownup, or: A I Really Doing this All on My Own?

I’ve been having this persistent sensation the past couple of weeks that for the first time in my adult life I really understand what it means to be a grownup. This started the other day, lying in bed, when I had the somewhat stark realization that I am officially a person who has not and probably will not get everything she wants in life. Now, bear with me: this is pretty basic, I know. I mean, duh–no one fulfills every wish and dream! But, having been raised to expect that hard work breeds success, it was a bit of a shock to think that I might prove the exception to that rule. I wanted a second child, I wanted to own my own house, I wanted to have published a memoir. And, as of this writing, those three big desires are totally unfulfilled, and they weigh on me.

And, in one sense, it’s a lot to bear. We Americans, we love getting what we want. We educated, overachiever types, we expect to continue to over-achieve. I am no exception. I felt acutely the loss of the fleeting pregnancy that happened last month. I was hysterical when the doctor called to say that despite his initial optimism, my HCG levels were not increasing at all and I would soon lose the embryo. Ironically, right after I got this news I was walking to L’s school, sobbing on the phone with M., when I ran into the people who bought our house. They tried to catch my eye; we’d had a nice conversation when I met them earlier in the month; but all I could think was please, please, don’t remind me of my other hardships right now. That afternoon, we had an eviction notice in our mailbox. What a cluster of a situation it all was.

And yet, and yet. In the past couple of days, when I’m not mentally packing boxes or agonizing over whether the sublet we snagged from a friend is the right choice, and whether that editor at the major magazine is ever going to get back to me, I’ve felt a kind of clarity that being a grownup is not a bad thing–it just IS. My friend AJ and I were talking about this on Tuesday. He told me that when he was having a hard time at work recently, and they were trying to buy a house but it felt very stressful, that he had this realization that if he drastically fucked up, there was no one to save him. Sure, his parents loved him, and so did his wife, but at the end of the day, it was all on his shoulders. I’ve been thinking about that. About how that is true, and about how it’s profound, and how in most ways having the independence that is afforded to adults is a good thing. And that, even though it means dealing with life’s difficulties, which sometimes feel completely overwhelming, I would not trade it for some other reality.

Oh, and–oh wow. As I wrote this, I just received some really excellent news. News in the realm of, that major publication is going to publish an essay of mine. After I was completely sure that the editor had fallen off the face of the earth and was never going to return my emails again.

Sometimes, life is sweet.


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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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Teachers

Just a quick one, here.

I wish I could lie and say my pity-party is over, but for whatever reason what happened a couple of weeks ago with our house has felt like that proverbial rock thrown into a pond that ripples outwards in concentric circles. Like, the house instability has made our job instability that much clearer, and the job instability makes M’s depression more obvious, and M’s depression somehow sheds light on my terrible anxiety about most things, but especially about my writing–which makes it impossible for me to actually get much writing done since I feel so stymied by anxiety. Then the acupuncturist tells me in the most gentle way she can manage that she thinks my anxiety is partially to blame for my infertility–how could it not be?–so I’ve been trying my damndest not to be anxious, which, if you think about it, is pretty funny.

Oh, and the guilt for even feeling this way! Yes, I know there are terrible things happening in the world. I know how many blessings I have. I do know, I promise. But telling yourself not to be blue because of all the much realer and scarier sadness in the world is about as futile as trying not to be anxious, wouldn’t you say?

Yesterday I was reading a novel and the concept of teachers came up. Not yoga teachers or gurus, not writing teachers like me–rather, those people we encounter in our lives because they’re here to teach us hard lessons. And my first thought was, Ingrid. Our landlady. What is she here to teach me? I suspect, though my first reaction is “to never trust people again,” that it’s something about knowing what’s fundamentally stable and good in my life, and relying on that, rather than on illusions and might-bes.

But I don’t know, yet. I guess that’s what I have to figure out.


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Keep Walking Forward, or: The Year of the Horse

I have been feeling totally pregnant with this blog post and felt almost irrationally worried that, with a to-do list a mile long, I wouldn’t get to it today. But a quick time-check has revealed that I can blog this morning. Yes!

My mother in law sent me a note about Chinese New Year that really resonated with me. Among the bits of (somewhat scary) wisdom:

“Decisions you make in any new cycle are important, for they can have a profound impact on the rest of the cycle. The decisions or choices you make now, as the Horse Year begins and unfolds, can be even more significant than those you made in 2013 – impacting you in big ways throughout 2014 and beyond.”

and

“To make the best choice, you must be clear about what you want. That takes mastery. You are learning to differentiate between what your conditioned ego-self wants and what is in your highest good to want. You must be grounded and in your heart to make the optimal choices. It’s not enough to mentally say that you are in your heart – you must truly reside there and operate from there. That sounds easy, as though intent were enough. In fact, it involves great skill and lots of practice.”

and, most significant:

“Compared with previous years, the energies of 2014 will involve more movement. That means more ups and downs, more twists and turns, and more peaks and valleys. The energy of the Horse Year is all about movement, journeys into new territory, and an intense desire to be free of past limitations.”

(I don’t know exactly where to find the note, though this web address was at the end of her email. Thank you, Intuitive Healing Worldwide!)

Now, I feel about horoscopes like many people do: I always manage to find something true in them, some perfect tidbit that relates totally to my life. (Aside: my husband, like many other people, thinks they’re a bunch of hooey. This is probably why we get along.) And so I was delighted to read these words just three weeks into the new year, when life has been feeling like it’s been throwing me a lot of fast pitches. And these words about choices, intent, mindful decision-making, and movement really got me thinking.

The Path.

The Path.

So much of my adult life has been spent agonizing over the right path to take. M. is a Gemini, and I’m a Libra, and I joke sometimes that we spend all our time weighing both sides of the issue and/or feeling “of two minds.” We’re the type of couple who discusses buying a new car or taking a vacation and then spends so long thinking about it that we’re still driving the same 1998 Honda Accord three years later (and no plane tickets have been purchased). It was dawning on me at the start of the new year that we—well, I, anyway—had become paralyzed with indecision around my infertility and what to do next. I felt like adoption was too risky; IVF too unlikely. I spent day after day trying to convince myself that I didn’t really want a new baby anyway—and gearing up to convince M.—but my heart felt heavy and sad. So I just trundled on, getting older and less fertile by the minute. I’m not sure when things shifted, but all of a sudden one day M. said to me, “let’s stop agonizing and just DO it,” and I was actually able to hear that message loud and clear. Later that week, I pulled some of my friend Other Steph’s “Goddess cards” and the message was the same: stop weighing everything judiciously, drop down into your body, and take a big, risky leap.

The next day, I called a new fertility clinic, and made an appointment.

At the same time—fast pitch—we learned that an old fixer-upper house in our neighborhood was for sale. It’s across the street from Other Steph, and next door to my friend C., in the best location possible in my view, and we decided to check it out, even though we have just started on the road to house-buying (and found ourselves thoroughly depressed about the Bay Area housing market, where 1,000 square feet typically sells for $650,000+). I just called the guy, and asked whether we could come by and look at it. And he said yes.

Now here’s where the revelation comes in.

In the past, I would have waited a week before making the appointment at the fertility clinic, worrying over it all the time. In terms of the house, I would have immediately decided it was too much effort to pursue (it’s a real dump; it may in fact be too much effort to pursue). But with a kind of lightning-rod clarity, I realized how easy it would to simply

Take.

A.

Step.

Forward.

Instead.

So I had that appointment, and then I had another one. And then I just scheduled the third and the fourth. I trust myself that if at any point there’s a red flag, or a clear reason to stop, I can stop. And with the house: we went to look at it. Then we arranged a time to bring by an architect friend and a realtor friend. We called for the inspection reports. We may decide it is absolutely not worth pursuing. But without moving forward, we’ll never know.

I feel like my meditation practice and my general efforts at mindfulness are almost entirely to credit for this shift in my behavior. I’ve been doing this guided meditation through my fave app Insight Timer, and the—what do you call the person leading the meditation? Anyway—voice says, “Breathe in unlimited possibility. Breathe out what no longer serves you.” It came to me immediately that what no longer serves me is fear.

And so, last week, when I….

  • Taught my first class of the semester…
  • Had an appointment at the IVF clinic…
  • Recorded another song with my friend Dave, one I’d co-written (!)…
  • Pursued the fixer-upper…

I kept breathing in possibility and breathing out fear. I just kept moving forward.

Moving forward is scary. It’s so much easier to stay where you are, weighing things. I couldn’t sleep last night for dreaming of the possibilities of the house (and then another voice reminding me how much those possibilities would cost). As M. said, “When you move forward, things move awfully fast.” He’s right. It might be too fast. But I just want to keep walking.