Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


1 Comment

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.


2 Comments

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!


6 Comments

Rejection

I wasn’t going to blog this week, because nothing really stuck, but then as is often the case, life intervened and gave me something to think about.

I did something last night that I kind of regret.

I got a rejection from a writing event and instead of graciously filing it in the Rejections folder, I responded. I didn’t say they’d made a mistake, I didn’t tell them they sucked, not exactly; but what I did say was that I was disappointed and that it would have been a good event with me in it. So in a way, I guess, I implied that they’d made a mistake. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t terribly gracious, either.

This morning, my wise writer friend K. suggested I not send it. “I know it’s disappointing,” she said. “But you don’t want to burn any bridges.” And this morning, it turned out she was right. (She often is.)

But last night, when I sent it, I wanted to burn bridges. I wanted to rage. Even though it’s not a huge event or even a huge deal, it felt like one because of my sense lately that there’s that cocktail party going on that I’m not invited to. I hate the way this sounds—self-deprecating, whiny, weak. But there are times when I want to scream out to the world that life is unfair, that I have been personally wronged, that everyone is making a mistake about me.

Yes, that tiny little rejection sent me into a very dark and ugly place last night. I admitted to Marc through many tears that I honestly can’t envision happening for me the two things that I want desperately right now: to get published and to have another baby. Friends will say optimistic things like, “when you’re pregnant” and “when you get published” and I will immediately think, if. IF. And I don’t even really believe the if. I believe that lots of good things could happen for me, but I don’t believe those two things will.

I grew up believing that our mistakes would kill us. I grew up with a dad who would order the wrong thing in a restaurant and still be talking about it six hours later. “I should have had the oysters,” he’d say. This seemed like normal behavior to me, and I am still very prone to regret. I shouldn’t have sent that stupid email, I told myself over and over again this morning. I’m such a train wreck.

I called a friend. She agreed that if I’d reflected longer I wouldn’t have sent the email, but that it wasn’t, really, such a big deal. And then she reminded me that the real issue is not this small rejection, and my regret about it, but this dark place that I’m in.

“What if you really acknowledged it?” she asked. “What if you really let yourself feel that darkness? What might be on the other side?”

Taped to my front door is this quote, from my Osho Zen tarot deck:

Zen, or meditation, is the method that will help you to go through the chaos, through the dark night of the soul, balanced, disciplined, alert. The dawn is not far away…but the dark night has to be passed through.

This morning, meditating, I thought how lately all I do is sit on the zafu and worry. I’m not meditating, I’m sitting there thinking. And then I realized that part of the path is showing up even if you’re just sitting there thinking the whole time, even if Enlightenment feels as far away as Pluto.

Who knows what’s on the other side. Do I want to find out?


Leave a comment

On Being Self-Critical (Or: Why Facebook is a Bad Idea)

Last night I was lazily zoned out on the couch, trolling Facebook. Lex was asleep in my bed, Marc was at a Giants game, and I was killing time. I’d been feeling pretty good about things. Sunday night I went to a reading in the city and afterwards was chatting with two good friends who are also writers along with a book publisher and another writer I’d just met. We were chatting about writing and publishing and mutual acquaintances and I had this nice feeling of having a place in the world. There was nothing pretentious or annoying happening, no one was trying to compete. We just were.

So last night on Facebook I see that two–two!–people from my grad program have just been offered tenure-track positions at prestigious colleges. Did I mention I haven’t had anything published since 2011?

And so off to bed I went, grumbling. I was pleased for these colleagues, honestly. But I keep feeling a bit like the flunky cousin who just can’t get it together. Lately it seems like everybody I know is getting tenure-track positions somewhere or publishing a book, while I’m just stinking up the joint.

And as I lay there trying to fall asleep next to Lex, I had this image in my head.

It was a cocktail party.

And everyone was there except me.

 Cocktail Party At the Imperial Hotel March 13, 1961, thank you Wikimedia Commons


Cocktail Party At the Imperial Hotel March 13, 1961, thank you Wikimedia Commons

If it wouldn’t have woken up Lex, I might have started to laugh out loud. Because I realized I’d had this image before. I’m not talking about a metaphor, here, like “everyone’s invited to the party but me.” I mean that I literally pictured, for a second, all of the wildly successful people from my grad program hanging out together, having drinks, changing the world. In some remote corner of my brain, I thought that this happened. They all get together–despite the fact that everyone lives in different cities, now–and have drinks every week because they’re all terribly successful and I’m not.

I’m so relieved I realized this was an illusion. Because laughing at myself completely diffused the situation.

Lots of work to do, I reminded myself. Lots to do. And I went off to sleep unfettered.

Isn't it so great that I just got tenure? (Thank you Wikimedia Commons)

Isn’t it so great that I just got tenure? (Thank you Wikimedia Commons)

Interestingly, I noticed that one of the women who posted on Facebook about her great new appointment said something like, “I feel like this is the life I’ve always wanted, and it’s just beginning.” Seeing that in print made me realize how much that notion–that life will begin when I find success–has been with me. Later (at the time I couldn’t see this) it was lovely to notice how much this practice has helped me to see that my life has already begun. That this is all life.

In other words, the path, not the cocktail party.


2 Comments

Growing Pains

I’m back.

After writing that post last week I felt clearer but also more vulnerable, a little raw, like I had revealed too much about my body and my desires and my self-absorption and my weakness. In case you’re wondering, I am officially not pregnant, TCOYF and its 18-high-temperatures-rule notwithstanding. It’s silly to feel betrayed by a book, but I do.

On Monday afternoon I was sitting on the deck at my friend Steph’s house, watching our children play nakedly in California spring sunshine, when all of a sudden I turned to her and said, “I am learning so much this year. It’s astounding.” When I said it, I could almost feel my head expanding, like a little brain growing pain.

I said this because I’d just had yet another revelation about the patterns I’m interrogating and trying to change this year, on this mindfulness journey. Context: A writer friend had offered to read an essay for me, and when she emailed, her response was simple and to the point: “I enjoyed your essay. I have some comments. When should we meet?” But all day I had been worrying that she wasn’t more effusive. What kinds of comments? Was there anything good in the essay at all? And as I revealed this paranoia to Steph on a sunny Monday afternoon my brain grew a little with the understanding that this is another of my unhealthy patterns that I need to change.

It seems I have this kind of revelation every week, lately. I notice so much more than I used to, or at least, I notice it and don’t let myself turn from it anymore. I can only assume that this is a consequence of taking the road to Enlightenment. But in the present, in the moment, it’s kind of a drag. I don’t want to be reminded of my patterns of behavior every week and realize how much they’re not serving me. I don’t want to feel so acutely hurt by an offhand comment from a friend that ultimately means nothing. Lately everything feels very weighty: the things Marc says, the times when we don’t connect, the coldness I perceive on the part of friends, my guilt over letting other friendships go, changes with Lex. These are things that a year ago I would have been able to turn from and ignore, or at least, not dwell so fully on.

I’m reminded of when I was a kid and told not to be so sensitive.

It’s occurred to me that, a bit like therapy, with mindfulness practice things might get more difficult before they get better. I say that because I do trust that the end goal here–if it’s not too anti-Buddhist to talk about goals–is to stop being attached to small hurts. But it feels as though in the short term I need to be MORE attached to small hurts. I’m continually surprised by this, and I’d love to hear from you if this is a phenomenon you’ve experienced, too.

I think I will look back on this year and remember it as a period of intense growth and learning. I just didn’t know how painful some of the growing would be.


2 Comments

The Path

I’m a little obsessed with The Path.

Last night before bed, I read a few pages of When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodrön. (Disclaimer: no, I am not in love with Pema Chodrön. Yes, I read other things.)

Marc climbed in next to me.

“God I love Pema Chodrön,” I gushed. [Okay, fine. I love her. Busted.]

“Why?”

“Because, when I’m having a difficult time, she always calms me down.”

“Because she validates your feelings?”

Not exactly, I said.

A gorgeous, muddy path at Pt. Reyes, California

A gorgeous, muddy path at Pt. Reyes, California

I explained to Marc that lately, I’m feeling a lot of conflict in my life. Mostly, this conflict comes from a happy thing: inspiration. I’m inspired, lately. I’m inspired to revise my memoir, I’m inspired to send out my work. I have an idea for a short story. I have an idea for an essay. I wrote a poem a few weeks ago, after a long hiatus. I have so many irons in the writing fire, and it’s terribly exciting.

The flipside: I don’t have the time to do all the work I want to do. And I’m still getting rejections in the mail, sometimes twice a week. And I’m still wrestling with questions about who I’m supposed to be: a fiction writer? Poet? Memoirist? All of the above?

And I’m still asking myself: am I any good?

And I’m still jealous of other people’s success.

And I’m still obsessing about turning forty this year.

And I’m still trying to get pregnant. And I still have a kid who loves and needs and challenges me.

And it’s still tax time, so I’m worrying about money.

And all of this adds up to me feeling like I’m probably doing something wrong.

But Pema, and Buddhism in general, teaches us that all of this—noise—is an illusion. It’s not a message of “this is human, and you’re normal to feel this way, sweetie!” No. The message is that this is all part of the path. Life is about suffering, dukkha. Life is about struggle. There will never not be struggle or difficulty. I am not doing something wrong; there is no wrong. There is just life.

It’s so hard to articulate, and I’m not sure I explained it to Marc very well. But when I said, “It’s almost like Buddhism teaches you to look at your life like a movie. It’s happening—all that struggle, all that difficulty—but you don’t get involved in it. You just accept it. It’s just The Path, and you just keep walking down it. So in a way, none of it matters. It’s supposed to be exactly like this.”

“Wow,” Marc said. And I thought, yeah. Wow.

It’s enormously comforting. Was it supposed to be? Why didn’t I find it sooner?