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, October 15, 2014

Crib Notes

I have been pushed again into the world of baby shopping. Not something necessarily on my to-do list but birth, like death, is too monumental to ignore. A new baby is the wrong occasion for keeping your credit card to yourself.  You've got to rush out very promptly and turn yourself into a veritable welcome wagon of stuff, especially if it's the mother's first. Who wants a child connected to you to grow up thinking you didn't care about its needs?

By now, I am an old hand at newborn purchases, but this experience seemed brand new. That could of course be due to old age memory loss. Who knows why standing in the store, I realized--with one of those mental bangs comic strips reduce to !--that if you dare stray beyond the layette and pass on vital rompers and diapers, you invariably find yourself smack dab in the animal kingdom. You are on safari spotting bears, dogs, turtles, moose, pigs, elephants, zebras, horses, frogs and, if you are in Maine, lobsters, I've even found seals and once, a life size raccoon. Yesterday I spotted owls--made lovably plushy as possible. A crib owl! What a hoot.

I have no idea why it is incumbent on us as grownups to surround our human newborns with fauna to make them right off the bat best friends with select members of the animal kingdom. I just know there isn't a nursery between the Atlantic and Pacific above the Mexican border that isn't some kind of fuzzy petting zoo. We even let one-year-olds sleep with bears! Really! Do you know a kid who doesn't have a Teddy bear? This vicious animal tamed by squeezy stuffing and named for the great hunter Theodore Roosevelt has become the epitome of killer cute, used, as Wikipedia puts it, to signify love, congratulations or sympathy.  Just like a rubber duckie.

I have absolutely no clue why we encourage our kids to cuddle elephants and snuggle up to pigs. I just know that kids lovingly clutch these fuzzy animals, drag them around and scream when they're missing. They get so attached, a stuffed moose or turtle is a sure-fire baby gift to make you the huggee of choice. Trust me, a kid will have no fear of a plush squishy lion, even if it's got a little gizmo inside that makes it roar when squeezed. They'll just adore it and giggle.

I didn't get focused on this bizarre custom because Princess Chelsea Clinton's new baby arrived with loud fanfare for a nursery full of elephants. I probably did because for the past weeks, I found myself delightedly surrounded by real creatures. In my living nursery, I hear the woodpecker loudly ratatating away high in the sickly pine tree near the driveway, spot the bald eagle camouflaged in the oak leaves across the water, and watch the neck banded kingfisher swoop to perch on my dock and look for lunch. Several days last week, a seal swam up the inlet. The last time I spotted it, it was doing a jaunty dolphin dive on its way back out. The chipmunks exuberantly chase each other through the leaves fallen all over my yard. The gray squirrel is scampering up and down the trees with acorns. Flock after flock of honking Canada geese scramble into perfect V formation as they glide by overhead. Wild turkeys waddled down the road. A deer leapt across it. I haven't seen raccoons or the fox this year, but I did finally spy the fat groundhog that is likely the mysterious ghost who ate my black raspberries, blueberries and flowering annuals. And of course every other day or so, the bizarrely beautiful great blue heron, Nature's cup hook, stands tall in the low tide shallows below my window patiently seeking supper.

I've also seen schools of fish, fish hawks flying out of their massive nests, screeching crows mass into a brigade of storm troopers, and seagulls fighting over a food find. Living in a large menagerie like this makes me insanely happy. Others pay huge fortunes to fly to Africa and drive around the plains for the thrill of sighting wild animals while I get that same giddy childlike wonder almost every day right here.

The privilege of observing this vast richness on Earth is the exponential plus of living in the country. It makes me feel like a real world insider, which is seriously awesome given that "insider" is the most coveted position in our exclusive world today. It also helps me to understand something city people in their virtually artificial man made reality don't: I am not alone here. Life isn't all about me. There are other species who need to be taken into consideration. I am just another animal in a network, and being linked in I see what a grand network it is.

Thinking of city people in their unreal environment makes me think we want to put stuffed animals in the playpen now that we humans don't much live among them in real life, some atavistic thing. It lets us introduce our kids to what the Buddha called the higher and lower beings who share in our existence here on Earth. Or maybe we feel compelled to give them stuffed animals because we've destroyed their inheritance of real ones who should have been their neighbors on this planet. It could even be an age-old need to teach them existence is not always all about them alone: they must learn to think of others. Even if we ourselves don't.

I'm sure it has something to do with why we use Mother Goose, Babar and Bambi, My Friend Flicka and Charlotte of web fame to teach them stuff about life we can't articulate. Don't we relentlessly buy them puppies and kittens, guppies and turtles for the same reason? I suppose we want someone to be in that gloriously peaceful Garden of Eden that we grownups have been expelled from. Like kids, animals are also innocent about the ticking time bomb of mortality. Maybe that's why the two are such good companions. Recreating Eden in the crib lets us remember, maybe even relive, the joy of not knowing the party's going to end shortly.

I think we secretly treasure that innocence and although we lost it discovering ourselves to be the cause of life and death, we want it back. We want to be happy as kids in a world where everything is so cute and fuzzy, nothing threatens or scares us, as if that will make knowing we are the cause of life and death all better. 

And here's another aspect of this. In spite of our tendency to cute them up, when we want to be especially derogatory, we sneer that some people live or behave like animals. Isn't that seriously backward, the reverse of truth? After all, animals behave much better than humans. You cannot argue that fact. Maybe it's why we surround our babies with them. Animals are innocent of our crimes and immorality, our inhumanity to each other. They don't kill just for the fun of it or fuck their children knowingly or stockpile chemical weapons of mass destruction or deliberately deceive and cheat out of sheer egomaniacal greed. Honestly, who is the real killer for the thrill of it: a tiger or ISIS? Who is going to be more helpful, loyal and honest: your dog or your insurer?

In land Teddy Roosevelt himself once stalked with a gun, there is to be a ballot referendum, Number One, on the first Tuesday this November that asks if hunting bears by baiting them with junk food or snaring them in leg breaking traps or attacking them with a pack of dogs should be banned as cruel, inhumane and, get this, unsporting. All it is saying is give bears a chance. Pollsters say the grownups will say NO, they don't want to. Well, do you want to bet me that all their kids have or had Teddy bears and maybe once they did too? Did you know that beloved toy was named for the particular bear President Roosevelt refused to shoot because it had been baited, chased by dogs and snared to make it too easy and senseless for him to kill a living creature. Do we rush to buy them for the kids just to remind ourselves of all the decency we've lost?

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

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Friday, October 03, 2014


Oh dear. You might not want to read this because I've been very unAmerican. For a whole week, I did not have a nice day, was not happy all the time, did not splash stupid smiling selfies all over social media, didn't even do a What me Worry? smirk. I know. I could be deported as subversive-- especially because I didn't reach out to embrace the pharmaceutical industry that so greedily profits by pushing happy pills.

I will say in my defense, Mother Nature sent a long run of gray, chilly weather to match my mood. I can also say the switch from September to October when leaves fall and Spring seeds are harvested, light dims and cold flares, animals scurry, birds disappear, insects die on my rugs and pine cones thud eerily on my roof feels like a time of reckoning. Cloudy with a chance of shortfalls.

I am not alone with this suspicion. Jews use the moment to reflect on the past and promise for the future.  Nepalis have Dashain's 15 days from the new to the full moon to strengthen personal bonds and celebrate the idea that Good will triumph over Evil, which is to say the hope of Spring will come again. The Irish have or had Samhain to mark this coming of the dark, their time for taking stock-- often literally counting cattle, slaughtering, and purifying/night lighting bonfires. The animal kingdom has its rituals too: wild animals are running for cover and spiders are quite busy killing the last bugs. One way or another it is time to confront the spook of death, which inevitably includes the mortality of our efforts. Dead reckoning.

It doesn't help that these weeks mark my own loss of mother, grandfather, brother-in-law and best childhood friend. I just don't have any of our culture's most valued currency, cockeyed optimism.  Bankrupt me just has experience and piles of it to choose from. That's probably why, as they say in redneck states, I stood my ground. This is to say, wallowing without demanding something to prevent me from a change of mood. You know, brighten the blues with entertaining movies or TV, or paper them over with surfing Social Media. Or drown them out with loud pounding music, or, for something classier, vacate by running away to somewhere sunny or romantic, like a friend who fled to Quebec for the weekend. Aha! As the Zen people like to say: wherever you go, there you are--tucked into your carry-on baggage. I didn't even contemplate the great American cure: a mall shopping spree that proves I have therefore I am. I don't need Buddha to tell me how pointless that is. Having been there, done that more than I want to acknowledge, I kept my credit card to myself. I can definitely guarantee you the secret of life is not in Saks.

I can also guarantee not running from whatever pains you is a heavy duty challenge. Facing it took every bit of Buddhist muscle I have managed to develop. I actually wanted to shoot myself because I hated myself for harboring a black mood that wouldn't brighten on demand. I mumbled beseeching mantras to skull crowned Mahakala, breaker of obstacles. I mumbled the word "warrior" as frequently used in Dharma to point out that you don't cut and run like the Iraqi Army when the negative confronts you. I tried embracing the trite consolation of weather reports to remember how changeable conditions are. There is drought, there are floods, there is ice and the sun will come out...eventually.

I don't know whether I went through a week of cowardice or courage. I just know something urged me to arm myself with perspective and experience --the mind's assault rifle--and fight. For what? Well, the title of  Pema Chodron's first and best book: The Wisdom of No Escape. What? Wisdom: realizing you will never vanquish what pains you until in your heart of hearts, you get comfortable with what is going on. What is going on? Mortality: it unnerves us all --all the time. Black noise.

Right up close in a ringside seat, I watched my fears joust and parade. I wallowed in the suffering of change, the suffering of dissatisfaction, the suffering of falling short without knowing for sure short of what, the suffering of singularity (no connection is ever as airtight as we want it to be), the suffering of mortality (impermanence) and its corollary futility, which takes over as you get older and seen the real end results of trying. Think Ozymandias or Charles deGaulle's glorious dis: "Our cemeteries are full of indispensable people. Think Samsara: doing the same thing over and over always expecting a better result. Oh hell, make it easy: think America in iraq, think rednecks voting Republican.

And so up close and personal I got it: why the Buddha and my own teacher and everyone from the 2500 years in between say the only effective way to reach happiness in this human realm is to tune out its frenetic noise and practice Dharma. Embrace this shaky mortality and ramp up to propel your consciousness to the next level. That does seem to be the only way to overcome built-in suffering, maybe because it's the one I haven't energetically tried.

At any rate, the universe delivered. I always say it's better than Domino's: it brings what we need exactly when we need it most, even if we're don't know that yet. I can now see these rainy days have fertilized a desire to practice that had been stagnating in a sea of more seemingly exciting events.  So I can't dis funk for you. I can only recommend a shameless taste from time to time. Tune into the black noise so you can learn how to dance with it.

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

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Haiku for this very moment

My phone just rang with a caller ID I didn't recognize. 
"Is Hope available?" a man asked.
I didn't know what to say.
Then I realized he'd dialed the wrong number.
He was sorry. I was too.

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

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Scare Tactics Gone Wild

The world is such a depressing moral free mess these days, I haven't been able to figure out what to say. This could have happened because while it's true, as everybody tells you, wisdom finally does come with age, so does short term memory loss. Maybe that's why all the people with wisdom forgot to tell me that.

My silence could also be due to fear. Last week I heard a voice over Public Radio say ISIS releases those gruesome beheading videos only because its leaders know that to be a true terrorist, you have to ignite terror in the human heart. Well, shiver me timbers, that means I myself have become something of a terrorist. Senior moments have escalated to the point I actually called a friend to berate her for not telling me where we were to meet in two hours and heard her say she'd texted me last night and I texted back: Yes, ok, see you there.  For the first time in my long life, I went to an airport not knowing what flight I was on. I forgot to save the confirmation email on my computer and even though I did look up the information through the airline website, I forgot to bring the piece of paper I wrote the flight number and departure time on. I can only hope the Department of Homeland Security and its TSA folks get that it was suddenly finding myself turned into a ditz that struck terror in my heart.

In three days the Scots will decide whether or not they want to stay married to the Brits or file for divorce. I know theses two have been married now for more than 300 years, long enough to know each others' behavior well enough to take each other for granted. But over the past 20, in what appears to have been a mid strife crisis, the Brits radically shifted gears. They reversed themselves from having good governance and bad food to having great food and bad governance. So you have to wonder: did videos of Ottolenghi's vegetarian cooking and the foodie invasion it might inspire strike terror in the heart of haggis eaters?

Really, everything is terrifying nowadays: ebola, Al Shaabab, nitwit Russian rebels, ISIS, not knowing whether it's ISIS or ISIL, dangerous cold viruses and Honduran children on the loose, Tea Party tantrums, Taliban, Hamas' tunnels, aging pipelines, secret money, the cesspool called Pakistan, Texas, food from China, anti-abortion creeps... .  And we're not even near Halloween yet, although it is scary to see how early the big stores dare to put all that candy out. Nothing in the public realm is funny, even in a sad way like the literally pitched battle over airline seat space could have been if it didn't strike terror in the heart of every economy class ticket purchaser in this country. 

Perhaps this tsunami of public panic is what's made Mother Nature, with her keen sense of balance, quite the private joker. Her startlingly intense September light let me see in my brush how much hair is falling front and center from my head, and let me see how much hair is growing long and wild all over my legs. Yesterday I discovered why the three eight packs of annual flowers I've spend four months lavishing water, fertilizer and attention on never yielded a bloom I could see, let alone admire. I have been farming groundhog food. For every moment I've spent crowing over how blessed I am with so many birds circling, haunting or residing on my property-- because the late Karmapa Rigpa Dorje claimed birds are wisdom goddess dakinis, I've spent thirty minutes every three days trying to scrub sticky bird shit off my car. It's been so frustrating I finally resorted to sandpaper and now I have permanent scratches in my windshield --on the driver's side, right at my eye level. Some blessing.

Having been what others in the business call "criminally cheated" by a propane provider, I immediately  tried to switch to a local company that wasn't bought out by some faceless conglomerate in the business of glomming. Sadly, the locally owned company was so busy, partly converting distressed customers like me, it couldn't get me their tank for a month. "But," I was assured, "you'll get reimbursed for all the propane you didn't use and they'll have to do it at the ridiculous rate they made you pay." Naturally, I've spent the waiting time trying NOT to use any more propane than cooking required. And of course the last five days brought what has been a surprisingly unusual cold snap for mid September, bone chilling nights of 43º, days of 56º that require using the propane based heat.  Ha ha, where is global warming when a body needs it?

I know it's another of Mother Natures' private jokes that I can't remember what I wanted to say.  It's another sick joke how all the bruising years of building up enough experience to finally reach the lower peaks of wisdom now seem totally useless. I can't go back to do it all again and none of the young people I know gives a hoot about benefiting from what I just about killed myself to discover. They want to do their own thing, have it their way. In these situations I actually remember what I want to say, but I've had to learn--like many of my elder friends --to restrain myself from pointing out potential errors in their way. If I want to keep them coming into my life, I have to just shut up and smile. So much for currency in the so called sharing economy.

It could be that Mom Nature is having fun trying to scare the hell out of Father Time for his dedication to evolution because we humans don't evolve. We just keep doing the same damn dumb things over and over again, rolling the wheel of samsara around and around. The war in Vietnam was a pointless mess we had no business being in just like the war in Iraq was a pointless mess we had no business being in. Just look at the bigger mess it created. I could drone on and on like our government because now we're eagerly going to mess up bigtime all over again. Honestly, who wants to benefit from Dwight Eisenhower's hard won experience and go to war against the genuine enemy: the military industrial complex that keeps itself wealthy at the expense of education, infrastructure and other vitals of civilized society, by ginning up enough fear of gun control and marauding Middle East Muslims to strike terror into our political heart. They have products to sell and, yes, they do a fantastic job of creating demand for them. Really, who cares that Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned the only thing we should truly fear is this kind of genetically modified, fatheaded, fast growing fear itself.

I thought we were just now supposed to be coming into fear's official moment, characterized by the spookiness of Halloween, but it certainly seems as if the scare tactic season has been stretched as artificially as the NFL's. We call this season Fall because everything comes down or dies-- the leaves, the light, the warmth, the plant food supply and the animals we hunt, the airy dreams of a summer night-- propelling us into the barren, stark and scary dark of winter.  We call it Fall because cold winds blow away the hopes of Spring so truth will out. Hope falls in the face of so much fear.

I suppose all anyone with any moral fiber left can do is use this early onrush of dark and terrifying times to assert a bit of countervailing power by trying to plant a little hope. I myself spent Sunday burying daffodil and tulip bulbs deep in the soil, wise enough to know anticipating the cheer of their resurrection in Spring will give me a little joy to live for--if the groundhog doesn't eat them and I remember to come home.

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

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

On Balance

My nephew the extreme athlete just passed through and when I confided how I feel I'm losing balance-- at least I think I am, he immediately took me to a sporting goods store to find what's called a Stability Disk. This turned out to be a black rubber pancake you don't fully inflate in order to make it squishy when you stand on it, so squishy you have to struggle to keep balanced. One foot or two, the same frustrating effort to hold yourself straight up as the rubber bobbles below.

The disk packaging is covered in ecstatic claims about strengthening your "core", toughening your abs, and as my nephew suggested, stretching your hamstrings. Frankly, when I whipped out my credit card, I didn't care squat about achieving any of that. Nobody will ever accuse me of fitness. No, I just wanted to get rid of this new feeling I'm slip-sliding away, this troubling sense that I am living on a banana peel. When I climb into a kayak or walk on waterfront rocks or even go down the flight of stairs from bedroom to kitchen to get my morning coffee, I feel like I'm teetering enough to topple. Since I really need to get to that coffee, this is seriously distressing.

It seems agility is another crucial skill you lose when you gain in age, a birthday present nobody tells you back when you were pinning the tail on the donkey you're don't get to keep. It comes on loan like eyesight that also diminishes more rapidly than you'd like. It's part of the impermanence plan we all signed up for at birth. It promises we get to keep absolutely nothing. 

This still shocks me even though Dharma harps on impermanence and I can tell you all about it. I can even encourage you to embrace the idea as I have: throw out those clothes, beliefs and friends that don't fit. Pack up and move on, mentally or physically because we go through life as nomads anyway. Yet I now find myself very unhappily suffering the indignities of Father Time's takeaway. Unhappy because he's got no give back, so there's no escape. The onset of cataracts, thickening of waist, change in sleep pattern and loss of short term memory are already more I can manage... as gracefully as I'd like to think I am, so I wasn't prepared to lose stability. I guess there is the good riddance thank God impermanence (getting rid of the bad boyfriend) and the bad news hang on a sec dear God impermanence I am now suffering.

I am trying to liberate myself. I so much do not to be super klutz, I religiously do what my nephew suggested: step on and off and back on that squishy rubber pancake a few minutes every morning to try to get my agility back. I do this right after I offer tea to Mahakala remover of obstacles, say prayers for blessings and recite mantras to benefit others. I didn't plan it that way, but for space reasons, I had to put the pancake on the floor beside my shrine. So I've now got a mind/body balancing ritual going.

I think this inadvertent juxtaposition of mind/body balancing just gave me a new Aha! My struggle to stand on that slippery black, shape shifting rubber disk trying to be somebody in control of herself on wobblies takes place right next to my altar, which reminds me I am not the only one who wants this happiness of holding my own. Everybody does.  In our own ways, each of us is struggling to get stability on this bobbling disk called life.

I thought about my 95-year-old uncle who visited me two weeks ago, a month after my aunt passed away. After 72 years of married togetherness, he was suddenly on his own, an amputee feeling the phantom pain. He seemed to be filling the void by getting everyone he was visiting and telephoning to tell him stories about their adventures with his wife. He told me he was going to compile them into a book about her. I suppose this is how he is keeping her alive and staying married, the core strengthening needed to keep balance.

I thought about my friend who abruptly abandoned me in May, because three weeks ago in a burst of tears, she said she couldn't stand (get that word: stand) not having me in her life. As she went through the days and had to deal with death, family and other disturbances, she kept missing me, talking to me about what was going on. She felt strangely empty without my advice. She wanted me to be her best friend again.  She wanted me to stretch and make things "right."

I thought about other friends whose house and lives had been vacated by grown kids or deceased pets. I thought about how they dealt with the impermanence, the sudden imbalance in their routine, by going right out to get more pets or taking in foster kids. I thought about people I've known who came from dysfunctional families and feel so wobbly when they find themselves in a stable situation, they upend it, trading momentary joy for good old familiarity.

I recalled the headlines about the brutal aftermath of the messy divorce between Russia and Ukraine. The physical shrinking of Russia makes Vladimir Putin too wobbly for comfort, so he's having a big case of the Nastees. Determined to deny impermanence and not move into the future, he's pushing toward the past, destabilizing Ukraine until it tips over into his arms. 

I have started standing on that shifty black rubber pancake to really get it: what life feels like when you are willing to admit it's a struggle for agility. I  step on and off not only to regain balance, but to teach myself compassion for everyone of us trying to gain it as well, everyone of us taking strange and sometimes desperate measures to stand firm on our own invisible squishy disk.

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

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Monday, August 18, 2014

A Huffing Post Buzz Heed: How I turned Nirvana into Samsara

 Once a week now, on Sunday morning, words from my perfect teacher are posted via email to those of us who want to hear them. They are bracing. Here are Rinpoche's chosen words on July 27: "I would like to stress that increasing one’s presence of mind and cultivating the stability of shamatha should not be confined to the meditation session.  We should try to be more mindful in all situations and at all times in our lives." 

Here was a special favorite on July 6: "Presently it seems to us that the first bodhisattva level is miles away, is completely out of our reach and that it is impossible to get there.  But, because time passes and things happen quickly, before you know it, one day you will be there and suddenly you will be a bodhisattva on the first level.  Because things always change and continue happening, then one day before you know it, you will be a Buddha too.  So impermanence is very good."

And the week after that: "Everything stands or falls with this point.  Do we know the very identity of momentary thoughts to be the empty and luminously cognizant mind, or not?  That is what makes the entire difference.  If we know that the nature of any momentary thought or emotion is empty cognizance, we are no longer fooled by it."

I should truly like to say Amen to these mini sermons and sometimes I actually do. Most of the times, I cringe because my concerted effort to be more mindful of myself in all situations has now made me dishearteningly aware how foolish I am, and that just knocks the Buddhist right out of me. I am never going to be in the running for a Bodhisattva. How can I be when I finally had the precious chance to be in the same room with my aged teacher who so kindly came for a brief shining moment to America, and I spent the weekend pained by the chance I had sacrificed to be having a plain old fashioned good time back home. Yes there I was in Denver smiling among sangha mates and listening keenly to the teachings while regretting how on a sunny August weekend I was trapped in the dull flat tar and concrete sprawl of Denver when I could've been on the gorgeously vivid coast of Maine swimming and kayaking. I was with a dozen Sangha mates I hadn't seen for months, regretting how I was missing the opportunity to see 2 long lost friends who were suddenly appearing only that weekend. 

Of course being me, I regretted aloud not being able to eat my own good cooking or local food, stuck as I was with a gang that gravitated to the franchised vegan restaurant and franchised salad bar for every meal. I actually got into a dispute over tofu imitation food (tofu chicken, soy burgers) with my normally stoic motel roommate who lives on what I deplore. And of course, having been involved for decades in the world of food, I thought I was right. And I definitely wanted to be right about resenting something.

I got Rinpoche's blessing, twice, and his precious teaching for two full days, knowing all the while, given his age--83--and his frail condition, it might well be the last time. That's why I chose to go. And still I hated having to get on an airplane, hated more that it was both ways delayed by weather when I could've stayed home and enjoyed the only summer weekend that had real summer weather. There's actually no better teacher of impermanence than Maine weather.

Of course while I was hating and resenting and regretting, I was aware enough of my idiocy to try to counter it. I made the effort to remind myself at least once each day how my teacher and other Rinpoches remind us of the great troubles the ancient masters put themselves through to acquire the Dharma teachings we now benefit from. They trekked on foot from mid India over the Himalayas to Tibet or vice versa. They beggared their way and their stay, never knowing if they'd have food or lodging. They slogged through hells for this gold and all I had to do was eat vegan food and hang around airports to board Jetblue. 

I have been trying so hard to get over myself, for days I couldn't figure out what to write on this blog. I did of course re-read those words about Bodhisattvas and the value of time passing impermanence, hoping they'd sink in like marinade. Then this morning, one of the monks closest to Rinpoche posted these comforting words of his on Facebook:  "Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always."

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

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Do You Know Where Your Awareness Is?

I've just spent three overly hectic days hosting my childhood friend and her family, down to the six-year-old granddaughter. They turned on a lot of lights even though it was sunny bright, kept the little television going and never turned anything off until they went to bed. They did not notice the gardens they walked through or the moonrise off the porch they were sitting on. The six-year-old dismissed the very large horseshoe crab shell I found for her as something she'd seen before and preferred spending time watching Netflix shows on her mother's iPad. 

There was a lot of going shopping, and back at the house a lot of time spent fussing over distributing fairly to unseen family children at an overnight camp the tons of cheap candy they brought with them. My dining table was completely covered by bags of licorice sticks, jelly beans, peanut clusters and I don't know what because I've never seen such stuff before. To them this was very important as was getting the right looking clothes from a nearby Ralph Lauren store.

They went there in the gas guzzling car they think makes a status statement without the slightest inkling what it costs the world to get the gas into it. They just know they can afford the gas. They have no idea where from or how the electricity comes that keeps all the lights and TV burning; they have no interest in knowing about dams or wind power, coal pollution or oil wars. They just want their lights to be on. They have no idea where the water in the sink, the toilet and washing machine comes from or what it takes for me to keep it pure and flowing. They just expect it to be there when they want it. They have no interest in knowing the real toll of the electricity or water or stove gas or TV.

I have known my friend since childhood and I love her, so I cooked two four-course dinners with local farm ingredients for her family and left them on their own with the refrigerator for breakfast. Because I am proud of what the people around me produce and because I take care of my aging body by eating as local and seasonal as I can, I had filled it for them with farm fresh jumbo eggs, local artisan cheeses, freshly picked raspberries and blueberries, homemade jam and farm butter. They buried it all in bottles of drinks that came in shocking colors from some supermarket or convenience store. That is where they exclusively food shop, which is why my friend also put in my fridge three Granny Smith apples, making me wonder how anyone could buy in July, the heyday of berries and melons and stone fruits, a winter fruit imported from South America to convince people to eat the same thing all the time. It amazed me that her husband felt compelled to go to a nearby supermarket to buy a plastic container of Del Monte grapefruit sections because that's what he likes to eat at home all the time. 

It was extra super painful to watch my friend make a second breakfast for her husband one of the mornings. Since there were three jumbo eggs left in the carton, she took the what the hell route toward all three for his omelet. Then she took my $17 a lb artisan local cheese and peeled off half the block as though it were Velveeta to put on top. It wasn't the money but the cholesterol pileup and total disregard for the handcrafted specialness of that cheese and the fact that she served the dish with ice water (they don't drink anything not iced) that made me have to leave the kitchen for a moment. 

I've now spent about two dozen years studying and sharing the world's accumulated wisdom of eating. I know we're not created to eat the same thing everyday, even every month because the body can't process the same chemicals over and over without them becoming a toxic buildup that leads to disease like cancer. The universe prompts us to eat for the moment by providing a huge panoply of ever changing fruits, vegetables, greens and animal life. I know we can't eat too much of anything without negative blowback like diabetes, high blood pressure and liver failure. I know we need to eat salty oily foods in the times we sweat and need moisture. I know we need to eat fatty, warming foods in times of frost. I know we need the tonic of greens to get us tuned up in Spring. Yet even though my friends know I've written two books and taught all this, they never ask me about it. They don't bring up what I do at all, even when I'm serving them a four-course dinner.

To be fair to that omelet, my friend loves cheese. She always says she does and always digs in to eat lots of it, even though she has a serious cholesterol problem. In fact at this point, she has so many physical problems, she comes with one of those long white plastic pill containers with a section for everyday. I know she has at least 8 different color and shapes pills in each of those seven sections because I watch her dump them out and sort. Her husband comes with an entire dopp kit of pills that he always leaves on the living room coffee table for quick access.  

I have no idea whether or not my friend has ever noticed I don't take any daily pill at all. Nada. I just know she's never asked me why, never connected the fresh unpackaged, unprocessed seasonally pertinent food in my fridge and at my table with my strong health. Years of meditation practice and focus on what's happening around me let me see just how oblivious humans can be. I totally get what the Buddha meant when he said we are all clueless, existing inside a bubble of imagination, day dream walking, reaching out for unreal things we think we need to make us happy, wreaking real harm we never notice. I saw these dear old friends as perfect images from a thangka painting, perhaps of the 12 nidanas: the wheel of Samsara shown as the interdependent causes of suffering- the Buddhist if this, then that. 

In Mahamudra, we do the Jungne Drolsum or Three Questions practice to become more aware of the relationship between us and our thoughts: where do they come from or originate, where do they stay while we recognize them and where do they go afterward when we move on to think about something else? I think we can fathom the same connection to everything else in life too: where did it come from, what is it doing here and where will it go when we're over it. Yes, where did you come from to slip in utero? Where did the you of the past go? Can you actually pinpoint where you are and where you will go when your heart stops beating? I mean, there's more to life than headline news and shopper's specials. It's 10 AM: Do you know where your awareness is?

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

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