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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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!