Yours in the Dharma:  Essays from a Buddhist perspective by Sandy Garson

This blog, Yours in the Dharma by Sandy Garson, is an effort to navigate life between the fast track and the breakdown lane, on the Buddhist path. It tries to use a heritage of precious, ancient teachings to steer clear of today's pain and confusion to clear the path to what's truly happening.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Summertime...and the living isn't easy

Just before Independence Day, I saw headlines about medical scientists close enough to curing cancer, people were no longer going to die. Also gididier headlines that other scientists, blessed with Botox and ice, are close to extending human life spans to 150 years. By the end of this 21st Century, people will get closer to being eternal. A century later we should all be death-proof.

Like most grandiose schemes of grandeur, kissing mortality goodby does not seem to have been thought through.  I have yet to read how some mad scientist is working on the critical shelf life issue, changing the expiration date of ears, eyes, knees, hips and heart valves. I know the young disrupters and innovators and starter uppers don't want to hear from the worldly wise and experienced, but I feel it necessary to point this out because here I am less than half of that 150, and already two of those five have worn out. Contemporaries have plastic hips and knees. Organ by organ we are trading hardware for soft ware, turning into plastic. I no longer need the Buddha to tell me impermanence is a bitch. It is a weapon of mass destruction, but we are not going to win a war that abolishes it.

And why should we? Let's suppose folks two hundred years ago found a way to surpass death and make themselves permanent. Makes themselves the chosen. We would not be here now. Nobody would've made way for the new, the fresh, the flexible. Nothing but stagnation and paralysis.

That's why these efforts feel as reckless as Brexit. Resentful of their lot in life--in this case a four score and ten year expiration date shared with others, people want out. They're angry at limitation, angry at loss of control over their own lives. So badly do they want what they want that as with Brexit, they haven't bothered to consider the hard realities and consequences.This quest reeks of animosity toward the forward pressing hordes of younger, stronger folks with all their hipbones, taut skin and not-fading smarts. As i said, impermanence is a howler.

 A few weeks ago, or so I read, the octogenarian actress Vanessa Redgrave told an interviewer she was not afraid to die. In fact, she was looking forward to it. "Living is very hard," she said. "It will be easy to give up." 

A non-Buddhist has nailed it. Living is actually so hard, we should be glad to give it up. Let somebody else deal with it. Not even a life of vast privilege and vaster talent that brought more of it liberated Vanessa Redgrave from human suffering. Her adult daughter died abruptly in a skiing accident; her younger sister died of cancer; she went through divorce and probably sorrows and sicknesses her publicist did not let us know about. She's a reminder nobody escapes the inevitable suffering the Buddha pointed out 2600 years ago: being born into this erratic world, bodily sickness, the painful deteriorations of old age and death with its paralyzing fears. That's just for starters.

Over the long July 4th holiday weekend, I thought a lot about what Redgrave said because the weather was so heartbreakingly exquisite. The sky was spotless blue, breezes fluttered, flowers bloomed, and the sea was warm enough to swim in. Perfection was right here with fireworks. And right beside it in full bloom with its own fireworks was Samsara, a tidal wave of sadness flowing from phone calls, emails, kaffeeklatch and texts. 

On July 2 for no apparent reason any medical examiner can find, a 16-month-old two houses from mine abruptly died. The young parents are inconsolable and the 5-year-old does not know what to do. On July 1, an 85-year-old woman who lives alone and has no close family was told to report at 6 AM to the hospital for invasive testing that could provoke immediate heart surgery.  The woman is terrified.

A normally doting grandmother confided the daughter-in-law divorced from her son had been cited by Child Protective Services for beating up the 14-year-old daughter my friend so loves because this mother is incapable of managing anger. What to do? Another upper middle class grandmother who is the pillar of privilege is trying to reach the much younger children her morbidly angry and weird son beat up. Finally the mother walked, taking the kids with her. Another grandmother hinted how physically painful it has become to keep and keep up with her overactive six-year-old grandson for a month while his single mother tries to sort her life out. 

Cancer has returned to the body of the woman next door and the doctor says this time it's terminal. Meanwhile the chemo is killing her; some days she can't breathe. On July 1, I worked with three 7-year-olds. When i asked the sweet boy if he'd go to the office to ask for a photocopy, he stepped back, looked pained and whispered: "I can't. I'm shy." When I caught the more brazenly assertive and plumper of the two girls secretly stuffing herself with sugar, butter and whipped cream, her look defied me the way it did when she threw a plastic knife past my head toward the sink.

On July 4, I finally reached an old friend mourning for her 50-year life partner who passed in late May after a short, bloody battle with an exotic cancer. They had no children, just each other 24/7 all those years and suddenly she's all alone. I checked in with another friend who lost her 48-year life and business partner--same story, no children, together 24/7--two months ago and was struggling to establish her own life. Still no new job for a childhood friend who at 72 can't quit because she has no inner life and needs something to do, something to fill her time between grandchildren visits. I had a long phone conversation with another childhood friend in Manhattan who since she was forced to retire from her lawyer job has been a mess trying to figure out who she is and what she should do without a title and office. She has money, privilege, a husband, regular Botox injections in her face and a nice perch in midtown but she's bored, sad and scared.

Before the weekend, I had lunch with a young Sherpa woman graduated from community college in the US and totally on her own here, very unhappy that in the name of "efficiency" she doesn't get regular hours or a set number of hours per week at her paying job that pays erratically. After the weekend I had a long phone call from a friend in southern California, frustrated that he'd just lost 1/4 of his annual income because a competitor underhandedly underbid him on a big job, deliberately taking a loss to knife my friend. "Foul play," he grouched.

My French sister wrote that she couldn't go up to Paris for a weekend to enjoy the free concert tickets I offered her because she had to take care of senile parents and grumpy husband. A young friend working as a journalist in Europe was in tears after visiting a Syrian refugee camp, seeing how inhumane everything was.

A Dharma brother forwarded an email about the Chinese invading Sera Monastery inside Tibet and removing the nuns and monks trying to practice there.  An elderly Buddhist nun of Swiss origin wrote from her retreat in Nepal that the monsoon and the monastery were hell on her body. Also her visa was about to expire so she was forced to leave the country without a clear place to go. And I got a call from my six-year-old "granddaughter" saying she missed me so much and when was I coming back. I tried to invite her mother to bring her across the country for a week--a week the mother was searching for something to occupy the child--but the mother already had her own life too programmed. What to say? "I miss you too."

Not even on a physically perfect Independence Day could I be liberated from human suffering. And these people want us to live to be 150?!?

~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

That Blast from the Past

It's June again. I have been sitting through the tightly scripted exercise called graduation, watching a  drama that plays throughout America during this long light time of year. Act 1: Pomp and Circumstance. Act 2: Robed celebrities in tasseled mortarboard hats spout sanctimonious words of sweet promise about the future, that unknown void the graduates seated in front of them are about to be shoved.into. The future is all yours. Grab'n'Go. Have it your way. Act 3: Graduates get diplomas, toss tassels and are tossed into the world... oops, I mean the future. 

This year I sat reflecting on my own post graduation life and how I've learned to live with it. Of course I remember absolutely nothing about the mortarboard moments, least of all what any speakers had to tell me. But since tradition dies hard, I'm willing to bet they droned on about how shiny and bright the future is and how tightly I should embrace it. Yeh, right, I thought as I looked back. Good luck with that

The canned blah blah blah made me wonder why we still think the future is so imperative, influential and inviting we need to lavish praise on it at delicate moments like these. A quote from a different kind of midsummer night came to mind: "What fools these mortals be!" Rinpoches regularly warn us never to think about the future because there is no there there. it hasn't happened yet. Who can speak with certainty about it? (Certainly not pollsters or pundits.) Whatever anybody says, they are just another fortune teller making it up. They are just braiding strands of imagination into a tale. 

We need to give graduates news they can actually use. How much more beneficial it would be if celebs with microphone and mortarboard talked about the past. You know what George Santayana said. I say: see in the endless headlines reiterating what a holy mess we're making of this planet, see how it's mainly thanks to all those people who just can't get passed the past. You have to learn how to do that.

I'm not talking only about all the fossil fuel profiteers denying climate change and denying all of us a future on this planet. That same old same old yet to be disrupted. I'm referring to all those angry people in the Middle East hellbent on recreating some imagined past far more powerful and glorious than their reality right now. ISIL wants the 8th C Caliphate, Orthodox Jews want BC Jerusalem, Saudi Arabians want 18th C fundamentalist Muslim extremism. The Taliban wants the 19th C before electronics and women's liberation, the Serbs want the 13C before the Ottomans invaded and converted some of their neighbors to Islam. These folks are so obsessed looking backwards over their shoulder, they can't see where they are going. They constantly crash into each another, provoking road rage and fist fights writ large as war.

On this side of the pond we have the cohort of Antonin Scalia fond of sitting in modern clothes interpreting the Constitution solely in terms of the powdered wigs and cod pieces of 1790. We have Quebecois with license plates that proclaim: "Je me souviens!" although after 46 years of seeing them, beats me what they're so dead set on remembering? How they killed the native tribes? The few months the French controlled all of Eastern Canada? What is there to remember?

We have fundamentalist Christians determined to use modern technology to impose sharia style ancient   Bible law on America, starting with the declaration that homosexuality is an abomination. We have all those Trumpeteers desperately dragging this country back to 1860 when white Christian men could lord themselves over every other being on the continent because a future without their hegemony is way too scary. That's what got Nazis going in defeated postwar Germany: resentment of changing reality, particularly diminished masculinity. It's the same thing when gray haired old guys try a makeover with young trophy wives. Everybody is crying over spilled milk. They want to go back to that particular past when they were in charge, in control instead of out of it.  You don't have to wonder why the Buddha listed impermanence as the number one cause of suffering.

Fixation on the past turns out to be bonanza for our vocabulary. Look at all the words-- how unflattering they are yet how familiar: vindictive, vengeful, antagonistic, retribution, retaliation, animus, vendetta, revenge, enmity, vengeance, avenger, feud, grudge, resentment.  Graduates: do you want these words attached to you? They describe eternal ping pong between past and present, a back and forth that is nothing more than continual jockeying to get even. An eye for an eye. But as Rinpoche likes to warn, there can never be even because the last party assailed will inevitably become the next assailant and strike back. It goes on and on without end until everybody has no eyes, or ayes. The odds for ever getting even are totally against you, so fuhgetaboutit.

And here's where we find a few sunny words for our fixation with the past: pardon, redress and forgiveness, with its sibling synonyms compassion, mercy and reprieve. Also its reminder, see the word in its center, to give. By the inviolable law of Karma, what you get as a future totally 100% depends on how much give you give the past. That's what there is to learn.

Graduates, you need to embrace the past. You need right now to be like Milarepa in his cave. First he tries to shoo away the demons that haunted it, but naturally they bounce right back. So he tries to viciously scare them away but they scare him by returning undaunted. So in desperation, he embraces them. They dance and melt away. 

Take it from Lily Tomlin:  "Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having a better past." If you can do this, I guarantee you will have a really good shot at that bright future all those speakers promise you.

~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Moving On

Every time I've heard or said: "This too shall pass", I was not thinking it would one day refer to my waist, my memory, my energy and my appetite. But here I am, pushed an inch shorter by gravity, with legs that have enough veins showing and liver spots to look like road maps. Now comes hearing aids and cataract removal. This is impermanence up close and personal--literally in your face.  Without even trying, I've become the poster girl for primate change.

I guess you could say I am now running life's marathon in the breakdown lane. Bravery, mega doses of bravery are required daily. It's galling to realize I have a shelf life, tough to accept the use-by and expiration date, scary to live through the daunting inconvenience of them often being very different. Last year waist, this year ears...  I feel like I am taking a final for that Dharma practice where you ask yourself: am I my eyes? If i lose my left little finger, I am still I? Is my hair me? Am I not me without hair? Thank Buddha I know that practice. Using it has been like putting aloe on a burn.  

Lots of people, all way younger, would say I've also lost touch. They consider my considerable experience worthless in their bright, new shiny new world so do not hire me. I'm losing it. Right? Age has become my handicap. 

Sometimes I tell myself I'm being shunned because the kids don't want to be reminded there is other knowledge, another way, another age to become. They're short term and I've gone long.  I might have something to add-- say, perspective -- but they can't bear to think they don't know everything already. They're strictly DIY. The famous disrupters are evidently not allowed to be disrupted.

What's funny about this is how addicted these young'uns are to speed, to hurry up, to having it now bigger and better and faster than ever. Except when it comes to aging. Given how fast it happens, you'd think they'd be all for it. But they want slo-mo and lots of instant replay. Magazines keep trying to convince everyone 70 is the new 40 and 80 the new 60. Well, even though most people are amazed that I am at least 25 years older than I look, reality has me convinced these are the same old, same old. Life is not easily fooled, especially by the glitzy rhetoric of corporations with products to push. Have they never seen the sag of a lifted faced? Are those wrinkles me? If I lose my hearing, am I still fully me?

These days I find myself explaining, particularly to doctors, I can't tell if what's happening is perfectly normal--wear and tear, or a crisis I can't bear to recognize. Should I panic about stomach cancer because I don't eat the large portions I used to? Are these brown polka dots decorating my skin signs of melanoma or just age? I've never been where I am, so how can I know what to expect? Every year has become a new city never visited, a place I haven't explored before to get bearings and comfort level. Then just when I start to know the territory, I'm in some place totally new having to get acquainted with different terrain.  I feel like a perpetual tourist: asking directions, clutching at maps, wandering wondering when I get to go home to the familiar. 

The only part of me still in the passing lane, no where near as close to the off ramp as the rest of me, the one piece of my pie not noticeably deteriorating or diminishing is that ineffable, intangible, secret "voice" that keeps on noticing everything and gossiping about it. My mind is still teenage peppy even though my body is anything but. It sees what's happening to the rest of me while it is going nowhere. This energy that some call the spirit or soul is living proof the Rinpoches are right: one part of me will survive because it is indestructible. It will go on and on--where it goes depends on how I have trained, or tamed, it.  Is the mind me? What does it mean to lose your mind?

Demise is the most inconvenient truth. Life is a conveyor belt we don't control. We have taken to barricading ourselves in stone mansions, tenured jobs, Kryptite and Botox to paralyze forward momentum, yet time still turns us into nomads who move from one pasture to another. Although we won't admit it, we are all migrants. We immigrate from 20 to 50 to 75 and onward. We migrate from peaks to plains to canyons, from oases to deserts, or maybe the other way around. We do not stay put. There is no holding steady. And no security line to guarantee safety. There is only getting used to those ideas.  

Go to your 50th college reunion as I just did and you can't escape this truth. All those good looking hunks now had paunches, blotches, wrinkles, glasses and gray hair. And so triage. There's nothing left to do but save the only thing I now know I can. All this physical deterioration has begun to feel like a dirty trick the gurus are playing to force me to finally get what they've been trying so hard to say: give up the losing battle of the flesh and focus on the mind, the only part of you guaranteed to live forever. Get over into the break out lane.

~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"

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Saturday, May 07, 2016

I'm on a Himalayan Food panel


 I am among those "others" on the panel that night. I get to talk about how certain ingredients and cooking styles crossed the world's highest mountains and came down to earth for the rest of us. Very familiar foods!  Come one and all!

6:30 - 8:00 PM
This panel discussion is organized by the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) and co-presented by the Rubin Museum. The event will take place off-site in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens.
Jackson Heights, Queens, is one the most diverse neighborhoods in the country. The neighborhood’s international population is reflected in its dizzying array of food businesses, from Indian mega-grocers to taco trucks. Since the 2000s Jackson Heights has also become home to a large Himalayan population and many restaurants that serve that community. Now it’s possible to savor Tibetan momo dumplings and milk tea, as well as Nepali sukuti (meat jerky) and thali platters, all within a few blocks of the subway.
Join us for a panel discussion moderated by Yanki Tshering of the Business Center for New Americans with Tashi Chodron of the Rubin Museum, Pema Yangzom and Tenzing Ukyab of Himalayan Yak, and others.
Learn about the culinary and cultural diversity of Himalayan cuisines, and hear the personal stories of Himalayan food entrepreneurs in New York. Afterward, stick around for tastings from the neighborhood.

~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Surfing the maverick waves of Samsara

At the start of this year of the Fire Monkey, a Dharma brother of mine confided our beloved Rinpoche had been pushing him for three years with greater and greater ferocity to start a simple, free meditation group, perhaps in the afternoon to be available to seniors. Rinpoche intuited we are going through normal physical and mental changes while buffeted by the stressful swirl of cultural shift. "He told me we were heading into rough times and he wanted to make the umbrella of the lineage available for everyone during the storm. He wanted those of us having a rough time in a rough life to get under it to take shelter with the greatest masters." 

Mark claims he finally gave up procrastinating and got a group going because of me: because I spontaneously reached out and contacted him to have coffee when I was in his neighborhood, because I agreed to help him with this group in any way, because our omniscient Rinpoche specifically wanted me to know he heard me praying and was responding with this embrace. 

 Apparently my coffee call to Mark was not spontaneous after all. Rinpoche was riding to the rescue at the most auspicious of all calendar times: the start of a Guru Rinpoche year when actions and merit are exponentially magnified. It has been a rough time in an often rough life so I write beyond awed that Rinpoche chose this moment of enormous changes at the last minute to reveal himself as a magician. It's like discovering Tinkerbell really will twinkle again if only you will believe.

Rinpoche's move came simultaneously with the start of the Fire Monkey year. Every day since early February has lived up to that billing. Life has been a tornado of breathless energy and sweeping change, action and opportunity, innovation and enervation, whirlwind shake-ups and quantum leaps. In current lingo, mass disruption. Headlines tell us every day in every way, the whole culture, the whole country, and half the world is topsy-turvy. Institutions, ideologies, inventions, identities are falling apart, torn asunder by cyclones of human fury. It's very Yeats: "The center cannot hold, the worst are filled with passionate intensity." We are slouching toward... who knows.   

I have not been spared. Endless physical and circumstantial punches seem to be sculpting me into somebody I don't recognize as me. It's almost impossible to see without glasses. My hearing has been diagnosed as sub par. I didn't get a job I was perfect for or any job I applied for because I am too old. My latest cooking project collapsed. My flat won't sublet no matter how many outlets I advertise it. And my closest loved one is taking a spouse who doesn't want to know me. Add to this, me who will never be accused of exercise now goes faithfully to a water aerobics class. And I who have always been a night owl am now asleep by 10, awake before 6.

Yesterday news reports confirmed what everybody who lives in what used to be the shining city on the hill, San Francisco, knows too well: the city has become the property crime center of the country. This has nothing to do with the well documented crime of landlords evicting low income tenants to get high Airbnb rates or put up luxury properties for the narcissistic techies. It's about auto burglaries being up 300% in two years, assaults happening regularly, the dissolution of rapid mass transit exacerbating low income rage, and the increase in derelict homeless shitting on the streets because they have "rights" here while committing crimes for drugs. The gloriously vaunted, fabled venture capital utopia by the bay is in reality dirty, dangerous and dysfunctional.

It's not just that I can't get to the grocery store without navigating a narrow path through pit bulls, punks, pushers and panhandlers. Five weeks ago today, my car was stolen from a legal parking spot on a very busy street at the busiest time in the very busy civic and cultural center of town. Vanished without a trace. I went from flabbergasted to infuriated when I discovered how hard it was to reach any official city number because of low staffing, then how uninterested the police were when I finally got through. They didn't even care there was a video camera on the portico of the closest building because, I later learned, the DA doesn't care to prosecute or deal with crimes like this. San Francisco supports crime without consequence. Just another incident, what's new, shrug, sigh.

But this crime was my incident. And as life would have it, it happened on the very day I started working for the San Francisco Police. Having waited three weeks for the precinct Captain to have time for a meeting, I was in his office that very morning starting my volunteer position as Communication Liaison, being introduced to precinct personnel and warmly welcomed.  In 21 years, I had never been in a San Francisco police station, and by some bizarre turn of events I was back that same evening as a crime victim.

How did I come to be volunteering as a reporter for the Police? Because hordes of homeless were overwhelming my front steps. Every morning there were human feces and urine in front of the garage, used needles and bottles on the steps. Often rags were strewn across the sidewalk. What broke me was the individual who refused to abandon her camp on the front steps to let the five-year-old upstairs get down for preschool, then threw all her rags, needles and dirty cups at the kid before running away. I went right to this computer and wrote the most politely scathing letter to the district supervisor--someone who has to be elected--asking where our tax money was going since we paid the same as the uppity folks in super clean Pacific Heights, why the police were never visible, and what exactly did she plan to make the city do to stop my street from being a public toilet? Didn't ordinary citizens have rights?

Within an hour, the Supervisor responded. She confessed I'd made her aware of huge gaps in a system she thought she had coordinated. Evidently clearing the homeless from one area merely pushed them to another that had been ignored. An hour later I got an email from the precinct police captain, saying he was going to beef up patrols so our street was no longer ignored because he takes complaints seriously. And speaking of complaints, I wrote the best letter he'd ever seen and he happened to be looking for a good writer to help the station communicate better with the community. Would I like to help him do that? 

In conversation with neuroscientists and psychologists, the Dalai Lama has often insisted you never find what you are not looking for. He was speaking about consciousness, about the Dharmakaya, the world wide web of invisible but powerfully tight connections. Everything is happening as part of a process, for a reason. We just have to understand the process and the reason is that the universe--the energy we are a piece of--wants us to float free and be well.

 So I've detected a pattern in the seemingly random circumstances of my life at the start of this tumultous year of the Fire Monkey. In its very first week, I was able to do a bit of good by getting our street cleared of the daily download of human shit and urine and used needles. I got a physical mess cleaned up.  I was now a friendly face and helping hand in the police precinct where the Captain said I had "a good heart." He couldn't see it had been badly broken by recent turns of events, but his welcome started to clean up that mess. Then Rinpoche stepped in by finally getting Mark's special meditation class started, located perfectly on an uncrowded bus line. At the height of my plight, for an hour I got to meditate on being swaddled by our guru's love, supported by his wisdom, protected by his omniscience. Everything was going to turn out fine.

Sometimes amid the chaos, we don't get to know that until much later. That nerve-wracking night, while I was standing in front of the plexiglass windows of "my" police station filling out the requisite theft form, my Tibetan goddaughter phoned. I told her I couldn't talk because my car had just been stolen and I was at the police precinct.  "Well good," she said cheerfully.  "A big obstacle has been removed from your life."  In the tension of that moment, I wanted to kill her and her unrelenting Tibetanness with my bare hands so I clicked the red hang up button. I walked home, newly terrified of the darkness, and spent the whole night awake, fuming about the brazen theft of my car, the callous police response, how dangerous San Francisco had become and Tashi saying my loss was good news.

Police officers I now worked with kept trying to assure me 90% of stolen cars in this city get recovered. The Captain took my welfare so personally, he sent a police escort to bring me home from returning my temporary insurance funded rental car. The precinct's chief investigator fed my information into all his databases. Ten days went by and the car did not surface. Stuck with San Francisco's dismal public transit and unable to do the things I loved like senior swimming, I cursed the statues on my shrine for not helping me. I put the entry fob in front of the Karmapa and sometimes Mahakala, remover of obstacles, to no avail. I dissed them both.

Well, friends began to say jovially, at least now you won't have to drive again across the country, which you didn't really want to do anyway. Yes. How about that! I didn't have to drive that damned car back to the East Coast, 10 excruciating days of white lines, bad food and ugly motels. Been there, done that, hated it. And now I didn't have to make the dreaded journey again. Tashi was correct: an obstacle had been removed. That was quite a relief. It got even bigger after I found a free miles cross country air ticket at a decent time, not even a red eye. Getting from sea to shining sea was now going to be so easy and cheap, I found myself praying the police did not recover my car. I apologized to Mahakala and Karmapa and Rinpoche.

As life moved on, I began to see the theft was a message to stop going back and forth between two coasts, especially when life has gotten noticeably brighter on one of them but not the other. I don't have the money anymore for doubling up on everything including property taxes.  A dual life is not sustainable because you are always leaving people who want to see you or not participating because of events after your time. I didn't want to hear that I had to give my beloved home up. The Buddha warned us amply about the suffering of impermanence and I am nowhere exempt from hanging on to what I love just because I love it. Rinpoche was pushing courage on me, forcing me to wind down and clear up so I could focus tightly now on what's most crucial.

I managed to find a new car. It's going to cost money I no longer have but a good friend long ago organized a loan I can still draw on. I have other financial problems that won't self-solve no matter how hard I try. But the police have chauffeured me around in moments of great need to thank me for my work on their behalf. I have met new people through that work. I have play dates with children and concert tickets, free food talks and Dharma events to attend so I get out of the little space I have. 

I don't get around as much as I could with a car but I've survived. I get through the day with enough food, phone conversations, and activities to make me tired and I celebrate that fact. Day by day, bird by bird, I'm doing just fine. Looking ahead, out there two years, brings real stress but now is the time and there is food, friends, fun. So there isn't any stress if I stay focused on what I have at hand and what I have to do that minute. No ruing the past: can't change it now to make it better. No peeking at the future. Rinpoche's fast forwarded the action. Real Dharma practice has suddenly happened, ready or not.

When I started study 28 years ago, I was told the end game was to not get knocked over by killer waves in the ocean of Samsara. We start by letting little ones lap at our ankles and try to stand firm. We wade in up to our calves and use our dharma training to stay upright. Waves cut us off at the knees but we learn to stay afloat.  Last week Mark asked us what we felt about our meeting and Rinpoche's words. I quickly volunteered that to my own amazement, while everything had been going wrong and I felt the me I know was drowning, I was totally all right. My life has become a scary mess but at the end of the day I feel fine. I just know what really matters is my mind and that Rinpoche is guiding me.  "That's it!" Mark said. "That's what Rinpoche wants us to feel, safe under the umbrella. That's his blessing."

Oh yes, one last bizarre bit: the only image of the remover of obstacles, Mahakala, I could find for my altar has been this plastic amulet on the right. As you can see, I keep it supported
by the cup of my tea offering, which I place anew every morning. Normally when I take it away to change the tea, the plastic amulet falls over as does that tiny heart I put next to it. When I bring new tea in the morning, I have to re-position them both against the cup. I do not know how to account for the astonishing fact that about a week after my car was stolen and I began to realize it might be for the best, when I removed the tea cup, Mahakala and the heart remained standing unsupported and unmoved. This happened for several days. I have not been able to make it happen again. There really is magic in this universe.

~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

sorry for the silence

 I've been through a tumultuous time that I am sorting out so I can post something meaningful. Please stay tuned and forgive me.

~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Ordinary Day

My yesterday started with the usual cup of cappuccino in the ordinary one size fits all morning. I sipped. I sat at my computer trying to get it all together because I don't wake ready to roll. I wake up slowly. I opened my email and was immediately drawn to a message from an old college friend who had been spectacularly generous to me. She wrote to say her husband of 48 years, from whom she'd been inseparable--business partners, best friends, yacht crew--for the last 25 died two days earlier. "I'm already at the point where I realize I need to be around friends," she said. "This is hard... ." 

I could only imagine. But what to do? I immediately wrote back offering to come right over and I invited her to join a mutual friend and I for dinner next week. With a heavy heart, I read the rest of my mail, three newspapers and my Facebook feed, always thinking about my friend suffering. Then I washed out my coffee mug and did something hard. I went to the public pool for morning swim. I have such a long tradition of being lazy, I always say rather cheerfully: "Nobody will ever accuse me of exercise." Lately though, I find exercise imperative because as my late aunt warned me: "If you don't move, you won't move."  

Thinking about the loss of a life motivated me to make the effort to extend my life. I killed myself for 25 minutes in that pool, doing jumping jacks with Styrofoam barbells and laps with a kickboard, stretches with a noodle and breast strokes galore. I was grateful I could do this, glad I did and dedicated the merit of my good fortune to have access to this pool and time to use it.

 I was in the locker room elatedly exhausted when I heard a cell phone sound. Certain it couldn't be mine, which is normally quiet, I kept toweling myself. The phone kept ringing. How come nobody was answering? Just in time I realized, it was coming from my locker, my purse. I almost missed an even longer term friend, one from childhood. She's been the athletic one among us, queen of exercise. She's been encouraging me in my less and less feeble attempts. "So," I began brightly, "you got me in the locker room. I did all the things you told me to do in the pool. I hope you're proud."

"Not right now," she said just above a whisper. "I'm calling at this odd hour because i needed to tell someone my dear friend Joyce's daughter was just killed while riding her bike. I've known her since she was a baby and she became this terrific person. She's the one I was going to visit on the way to visit you. Now I won't be coming. This is just so so...horrible."

I told my shaken friend I'd call her later to see how she was doing. I dressed, drove home, sat in front of the computer and tried to continue an ordinary day. But I got other hints it wasn't the usual. In the midst of a brutal El Nino winter, spring was sending a save the date message: the sky was cloudless, the wind still and the air temperature a very balmy 74º. The next day was forecast as cold and cloudy, more rain on the way. 

I made another coffee and went back to the computer and tried to keep on keeping on. But two deaths with signs of Spring gnawed at me, gnawed...pawed... . Finally, I got out of my cushy chair, grabbed my keys, put on my sunglasses and went outside. I needed to see the trees bursting into bloom, hear the birds chirping as they made their nests. I watched all the human beings in their various get-ups and brightly colored hair scampering along the sidewalks happily oblivious of their final destination. I walked on the brightest side of each street, stuck my face into the sun and eventually even threw my arms out wide. That I could courageously do this like jumping jacks in the pool made me smile. The sunshine took my thoughts to all the Dharma gurus and the message they're trying to deliver and the way every single one of them who gets the message so easily laughs at everything, and I said to no one in particular: "Yes!"  Out here exulting in the sunshine, the fragrant blossoms, the melodious birds and gurgling babies being rollered by,  I am alive!

Then I went back home.

~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"

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Yours In The Dharma 2001-2010, Sandy Garson Copyright 2001-2010 Sandy Garson All rights Reserved