Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


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Reflecting and Regathering

Hello friends; long time. I’ll make the usual excuses: colds, flus, holidays, new year. I’d planned various kinds of new year’s posts, was going to write about how I woke up at midnight on New Year’s Eve (I’d gone to bed at ten), heard the teenagers whooping down the street, and felt an enormous sense of peace and excitement. It’s 2014, I thought. This is the year I’m going to have my second child and get my book published.

That lightening bolt thought totally thrilled me.

Trees on an island in Maine

Trees on an island in Maine

But before I could sit down to write about it, I got food poisoning–salmonella, I think. Last weekend and the early part of this week were awash in despair as I….worked it out of my system. At one point, I honestly thought death would be preferable. I was having flashbacks to the three months M and I spent in South America in 2004 and 2005.

But I’m back, almost like new, and it’s a beautiful sunny day in California, where we have never heard of the “polar vortex.” Everything seems to carry weight in the new year; habits new and old, relationships new and old, routines new and old. I keep thinking, maybe I should resolve to do X….and then the moment passes. And on the other hand, so many small changes already seem to be happening to me, and I notice them more at this time of year.

I’m reading a self-help book called Feng Shui Your Mind. First: I don’t read self-help books. Second: this one was written by my acupuncturist. Third: If I can get over the fact that I, you know, don’t read self-help books, I would say that there is this message in the book that has really reminded me of Buddhism and has really helped me to reframe things. The book is all about positive thinking, how opening yourself up to positivity can shift the very energy around you. I’ve been trying to replace thoughts like “I will never get published” with “How exciting that I finished a book and am in the process of finding an agent.” Does it sound cheesy? I think two years ago I would have immediately said yes. But somehow, in 2014, I feel like this kind of thinking could change my life. It could certainly help me feel more calm and positive about life’s challenges.

Truth: My meditation practice has been spotty. I’ve been reflecting on that. My sense is that, maybe due to my new positive thinking, I’ve been needing it less. But I know intellectually that that’s no reason to stop, that if anything, that’s when to go deeper. I’m trying to reconcile that.

It’s been almost a year since I had the ectopic pregnancy rupture and nearly died. I can’t, as you’d imagine, stop thinking about it. Part of the horror of the salmonella was that I kept having flashbacks to that experience, too. 2013 was a difficult year in many ways. But I’m not sorry it happened. Just happy to move on.

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It’s Always Changing

I went to meditation on Thursday night, and the Dharma talk (which, it occurred to me mid-way through, is a sermon) by James Baraz was about “embracing change.” At first I expected a discussion of ways we might resolve to be better in the new year, but actually it was about accepting the transience of every moment in our lives: everything is changing, always. Baraz told a great story about being on retreat and one night, having the revelation that he had “conquered doubt.” He was prepared to go for a meeting with the retreat leader the next morning and bring this very lofty revelation to him about having conquered doubt. But by the time the next morning rolled around, he’d had a hundred other revelations, and had begun to doubt that he’d conquered doubt at all. So in the meeting he burst out, “It’s always changing!”

To which his spiritual leader said, “Yes. Exactly.”

Lex playing in a lake. Why can't I be as carefree as a three-year-old?

Lex playing in a lake. Why can’t I be as carefree as a three-year-old?

I have been feeling over the last few days a bit of the return of Shirley. I’ve been home with Lex, since preschool is out these past two weeks. Being home with my kid all day is always a roller coaster. We get so close that he wants to hold my hand wherever we go, has much less interest in his dad when he comes home, and acts loving and sweet when we play together. On the other hand he exhausts me with his constant questions and all the small things that make him feel wounded: broken toast, an animal figurine not in the place he expected it to be, me refusing him Playdough five minutes before dinner. Yesterday afternoon I was totally wiped out, feeling old and world-weary and concerned about my lack of energy. I watched an animal documentary with Lex on a beautiful dusky late afternoon instead of getting out his bike or taking him on a run. Guilt ensued.

I also suffered a bit of a professional setback this week, one I pretended didn’t hurt but, if I’m honest with myself, does.

Running underneath all of this is this feeling I have had this past year in Berkeley, where we live. I’ve been surprised by how much I like this city. I’m a true liberal, but I suspected Berkeley would be like a parody of itself, everyone having walked out of People’s Park in 1969. It’s not: it’s full of nice, community-minded, very normal people, and I have made some great friends here. But it also feels inexplicably small, sometimes, and some of my friendships are causing me a lot of anguish. One in particular has become—how to say this—totally oppressive. And I am working out my feelings around it.

If I were not studying mindfulness—and therefore, learning that really, all change begins with me and that I am the only person whose behavior I can control—I’d say this: I never intended to become close friends with this person. She inserted herself into my life very forcefully and she wants to spend time with me more than I want to spend time with her. There are moments when we connect beautifully, but for the most part I find she’s not a great listener and she can be by turns considerate and poisonous, hateful. Our children adore each other, which makes things hard. But the main issue is that I find her to be very manipulative. I say “no,” and she finds a way to make me say “yes.” I put up a boundary, she attempts to knock it down. She asks if she can borrow something and I say yes, come by in the morning, she says, can I come by right now? When I say now is not good, she says, well, it’s much better for me, would I reconsider? To say this person tests my patience would be an understatement.

Last night we had dinner with a Buddhist friend and I brought this up. Kim asked me two questions: what is this person here to teach you? And, if you turn it around, what do you admire about her that you want for yourself? The answer to the first, it seems to me, is that she is here to teach me how to get what I want, to be true to myself, to be strong and to have even clearer, better boundaries. After all, how did I let someone “insert herself” into my life? The answer to the second, I guess, is that I admire her ability to get what she wants out of a situation. (I don’t actually, totally admire that quality, but I guess I have some reverence for it.) But practically speaking, what do I do? Kim’s girlfriend suggested that I encourage hanging out in the ways I most enjoy this person, and I thought that was a great idea: she is great fun in a group, at a party, out to dinner with a few other women. So, to cultivate those experiences and minimize the times when we are attempting an intimacy I just don’t always feel.

But right now, here on a Saturday morning, what I feel is guilt, like somehow, I fucked this up. Maybe I did. I think in the new year I need to change the way I relate to this person. It feels hard, but I’ll embrace that. I feel better just having written about it.

If you want to hear the Dharma talk “Embracing Change,” you can do so here.