I of the Storm
We in the precinct of the paramitas have come to the end of patience practice month not a second too soon. The universe has been way too accommodating this September, raining down a monsoon of opportunities for private practice in case all the public chicanery wasn’t enough. “Everybody’s stressed,” an old friend said on the phone from Phoenix, referring to her multimillionaire son-in-law with two fabulous houses and lots of first class airline tickets. “Read the news. Even a superrich guy like McAfee had to sell his multizillion dollar house underpriced to round up money.”
In smallville, where we never rich or nouveau pauvre reside, this was the month my condominium management job from hell produced an even worse cavalcade of client demands, time consumed by evening meetings and horrific screaming by a homeowner’s perpetually work-free boyfriend who wants to do away with me so he can have my job. This was on top of the even more tragicomic dysfunction in an office the cheapskate owners run with a changing array of unpaid high school interns. I even got to be face to face with luxury people who pay me $80 a week for 10-15 hours of complex work as they rushed to refuse a raise to $88 for next year.
During Patience month, the superman general contractor handyman I rely on at my job stopped showing up or returning calls, abandoning me in mid crises. Yesterday he fessed up. The corporation he’d sold his private business to was forcing him to “prioritize their way.” Although he was famously calm even in calamity, he had become stressed to the breaking point by losing his old customers, reputation and independence. The people he now worked for had no idea what it was like to be face to face with customers and stay on the human side as he'd always done. And there aloud was the corrupting truth of corporatism, the sole cause of our health care and financial disasters: those tidily removed from the effects of their decisions don’t have to take the affected into their accounting like real people fighting on the front line of reality.
This month the janitorial contractor failed to show up because his lady returned from visiting her native El Salvador so sick, he had to rush her to an emergency room and wait all day until someday took care of her. Then he had to spent two days at his house fending off her family who kept showing up to demand she come home and get back to work—their infinite demands being what weakened her enough to get so sick. A heating contractor with five kids confessed he was so stressed out from customer losses after following an attorney’s expensive advice to incorporate and change his company name, he needed to find something to help him get up in the morning and what did I know about meditation.
This was the month a young Nepali couple here in San Francisco found out the baby they’re expecting will be a girl, so I should think pink for my shower invitations. But the bad news is that little girl will not be in the pink if the little mother-to-be doesn’t eat more protein. Her family wasn’t vegetarian, she said, but as a youngster, she couldn’t bear to swallow meat or eggs, even when her late mother tried to force her. Ironically, only a week earlier, while I was plying her with corn pudding and mashed fava beans, she asked me why it was so hard for me to convince Tibetans in Nepal to add vegetables to their diet when vegetables were so available all around them. And here she was in protein-packed America, knowing she was in jeopardy yet resolutely sticking to her same old tofu and lentils. “She’s doing the best she can,” her husband said.
This was the month I lost rental income when the friend who signed up for my little cottage in Maine found herself glued to a chair at New York’s Sloan-Kettering Cancer Hospital, as the holistic advocate for her beloved sister being alternately bisected and battered by differing teams of specialists, often making matters worse. It was the month an older friend fell, broke her leg and had to move fifty miles away to live with cousins who could take care of her. She was stressed about her cats.
This was the month a tidy, conscientious couple each suddenly had to take on more than forty hours of work to pay for repairing termite damage to their front entry—something insurance refuses to cover. An older friend of mine was denied hardship refinancing for her apartment, meaning she is being forced to move—who knows where? A younger friend is completely out of work, so stressed he is trying to sell his house and go across the country to live with his parents. To really push the patience point, a family member, with whom I choose not to communicate to protect myself from more years of being harmed, showed up in my town because all is not whoopee anymore and invited me to lunch as though nothing had gone before. Because this was patience month, I went.
Of course the beat-all patience practice came from the computer. Twenty six hours down the tubes trying, trying and trying some more to sort out the scrambling of my charitable Veggiyana website just because I tried to post updates. That will teach you absolute truth about higher power and your own impotence in this world. The most frustrating part was the host support aides refusing to help me because I wasn't the original site manager, my cousin who knew how to do it. The world is so awash in crime and porn --during September criminal hackers hijacked the New York Times site, fearful web hosts have to be so vigiliant, mine wouldn't even let me onto my own Buddhist site! Stubborn me then solicited a tech professional who took my chair for four hours trying, trying, trying himself to fix things, all the while telling me nothing in the world requires as much patience as computers. They are merciless in demanding perfection; their way or no way.
This is just some of what’s been happening in my small world. As we plunge into October, which will be exertion month, life in these United States feels like a cultural earthquake at 8 on the Richter scale. “Things fall apart,” Yeats said, “the center cannot hold.” We are suffering the birth fangs of impermanence, the sea change of seeing change.
The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche defines the paramita of patience in three ways: not caring about beings doing harm—not being bothered by that but remaining still as a log, enduring the pain of situations with calm and clarity and enough resoluteness to not let pain hijack or detour you on the path, and finally, to appreciate the inescapable truth—suffering, impermanence, emptiness.
There was no way to deal with such a heavy barrage of stressful public and private issues this month, nothing to do but just give up. "What me worry?” It was a seismic shift for someone so used to sticking her neck out, she damaged it years ago. But with too many fires to put out, there really was nothing to do—except be patient. A people pile-up like that teaches you to give up hope of influencing anybody’s outcome, neither the national health care fiasco nor the little protein problem. Just worry about the virtue of your own. As a cousin of mine used to say: Everybody has to walk their own gangplank. Calm was called for.
Learning to keep that calm was learning to get out of the way—not so much of others as of my own expectation that I was going to make a difference--change the world-- or be a failure if I couldn’t. Fortunately the Dharma teaches that changing your mind IS changing the world.
"Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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