Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


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Whoa, Horsey

The year of the bound-and-tied horse (with toilet paper tube). Thank you, LAE

The year of the bound-and-tied horse (with toilet paper tube). Thank you, LAE

I am in a pretty dark place.

It seems funny that a couple of weeks ago I blogged so innocently about the Year of the Horse and the challenges and joys it would present to me in the first part of 2014, challenges like whether or not to buy a house, whether or not to pursue IVF, the challenge I have not talked about–my husband’s extreme unhappiness in his job and his inability to find something else–and the ever-present rollercoaster that is my relationship to writing and publishing. Because like many other times since I turned 39 and started this blog, I feel like life lately has been a bit like hurtling through a series of valleys and mountains and finding myself, a little too often, in the valleys (or hanging on terrified at the top of a steep mountain).

(Every night: the five-things-I-am-grateful-for list, just to keep me honest. Last night, like pulling teeth: my incredibly comfortable bed that will go with me whatever house I live in; The New Yorker; having a job; green tea; my family.)

M and I got burned pretty badly this week. A month ago after the fixer house didn’t work out we casually emailed our landlady to ask whether she would ever sell us the duplex we live in now. It’s too small for long-term as is, but perfectly fine for now, pleasant, and on a lovely cul-de-sac in a neighborhood we like, in a community we like, with friends and neighbors we like. We figured it was a long shot that Ingrid would sell it to us, but no harm in asking. We’ve been feeling anxious to set down some roots. And we like living here–we like the garden and the sunny living room, the south-facing kale bed and the efficiency of the space.

And to our great surprise she said yes, that she “liked and respected” us very much and had thought about selling us her house, actually. We had a long and warm phone conversation where she expressed excitement and stressed that she appreciated open and honest communication, that she wanted to sell to us rather than putting the house on the market because she didn’t want the house to fall into just anyone’s hands. How she felt emotionally connected to the house since she’d lived here all those years, and needed to feel sure that good people were living in it. That she knew we fit in so well in the neighborhood, and that was important, too.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

All of a sudden that cart seemed to be hurtling along towards the top of a mountain, driven by her and her enthusiasm and us and our cautious, terrified enthusiasm. Holy cow. We might be buying a house.

Ingrid asked whether we could afford the house now; we said we weren’t sure. She said she could wait for us for a year to get the money together, if need be. That she was in no rush. Weeks went by; we continued to talk. We met with our mortgage guy. We talked to our realtor friend. We alerted our friends in the other half of the duplex that we were potentially buying the place. Things were hanging in the balance, but also hunky dory; we so appreciated her kind, calm willingness to work with us.

Then she said we should get an appraisal, and we agreed.

When the appraisal came back, she was all of a sudden all business. “It came in at X,” she said. “Can you do that?” We said we wanted to see the appraisal. She waffled. M asked again. She waffled again. We worked the numbers backwards and forwards. We asked for a little time. Her emails became more and more terse until, on Wednesday morning, she called me to tell me she was concerned about the legal issues around selling a house and felt she needed a realtor. Not a realtor to help with a private sale, mind you–a realtor to help her sell the house on the open market.

In other words, deal over. Remorseless.

On the open market, the price will go too high for us to even get a look in. This is Berkeley, people, where 1,000 square feet can sell for $700,000 and no one bats an eyelid.

What galls me–what galls me so much–is the dishonesty of her approach. If she had called and said, “The truth is, I’ve realized that I can just get so much more for it on the open market, and I really need to take care of my long-term financial well-being,” I’d be upset, but not as upset as I am now. Instead she mock-innocently referred to our “misunderstanding,” and assured us that she felt sorry we were upset because she had been “nothing but open and honest” in her approach. What galls me more than her being a lying sack of shit is her insensitivity. When you sell a duplex, new owners can both raise the rent and evict at least one of the families living there. Since we’ve moved in, rents have gone way up. Our neighbors were saving up for a down payment. Both of us will likely be kicked out in six months or less (she’s putting the house on the market this spring; so much for not being in a rush). Can we afford to still live in this town? I have no idea. Good thing we’re all signed up for Kindergarten, and all.

We’ve said all of this and more. I said it to her face; I told her she had betrayed our trust and behaved badly. I told her she was dishonest. And M told it to her via email. Her response to him is prevaricating and grasping. She is a small, small person.

One who really, honestly, isn’t worth my time.

Sure, I think about how you’re supposed to send lovingkindness to even those you have trouble with, those who you–shh–hate.

I’ve been so sad, friends. Near tears at all times. I’m tense and short with Leo. Short with my dad, who is visiting, for all his repeating himself and his long, rambling stories. I feel guilty that we opened the can of worms and have ensured the eviction of our neighbors. Mostly, I feel so disillusioned. It’s not about the house, not at all about the house–it’s about feeling betrayed. I’m painting California with the whole bad brush, too–my prevailing feeling in the last 24 hours is homesickness for New England, where–and I am probably deluding myself–I feel sure no one would do business like this. I feel like the betrayal and uncertainty is up to my eyeballs and I don’t know how to sleep or eat or even be anymore. I think we should move away; then I don’t. I think we should try to reason with her again; then I think we should not bother.

And of course: I got rejected by another agent today, and while she said such beautiful things about my book all I could hear was that she “thinks it will be tough to position.” L whined the whole way home from San Francisco in the car. Another mom said something that hurt my feelings at L’s school this morning. I wrote an essay, and a friend doesn’t think it’s any good. My dad lectured M for an hour last night on how he can be more of a go-getter. M’s boss has lost his biggest client and M fears the firm will fold.

And I just keep thinking, when can I crawl under the covers and cry for three days? Can I do that now?

 

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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.