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.
Monday, May 26, 2014
The Hacker Life
For the last two weeks, I've been playing what feels like God but I'm Buddhist, so I'll go with playing Mother Nature...because, well, that's what I've been doing in the yard. I obsessively go outside armed with clippers, shovels, hoe and bags of shit because, or so I think, right now I need to remedy achingly ugly personal circumstances and bring sunshine back into my life. A circumference that's achingly beautiful created by my own wit for everyone to see feels like Aha! Take that!
Scheming my very own site/sight for sore eyes has not been easy. For one thing, Mother Nature has such copious and fiercely stubborn networks, I don't think even the Chinese military could infiltrate them. She's got underground filaments running everywhere: under stonework, around tree roots, through hard-pack gravel. They even push through clay. Dandelions, cud, crabgrass and strangling purple vetch reach further afield than Comcast promises and pretends. Their social networking puts Facebookers to shame. Every day I am out there digging, yanking and clipping endlessly thick tangles, pulling one thread after another, proud I've whacked the hell out of those weeds only to find more greeting me a few days later. These "Likes" are stronger than Stutznet because, even with the NSA and CIA by my side, I don't think I could hack deep enough or far enough or fast enough for mission accomplished. Buddha knows I have tried but as Karmapa likes to say: nothing happens. Of course by definition, a weed is an organic plant an MBA has not yet found some use for. Many if not most of the elegant perennials we treasure in our gardens have shockingly humble origins as somebody else's wild thing. Statuesque siena September Eupatorium, which I admit I have lovingly amassed, is familiarly known --and sold--as Joe Pye Weed. Here's what, ta da, Fine Gardening says about my perennial Cranesbill geraniums: "Geraniums occur as
wildflowers widely—around the world from alpine slopes to low grasslands
and woodlands—so there’s likely to be a geranium for any garden... ." The thing about being Mother Nature is that I get to decide what use they are for mine.
The stupid thing about me out there tearing up and cursing dandelions is that I like to eat dandelion greens at the start of spring. Their unique ability to flush the body of toxins is Nature's perfect cure for winter sluggishness. I buy the greens at farmers' markets or organic food stores and although they're three times the size of what's in my yard, they are still just dandelion greens. The stuff I am furiously yanking out as toxic waste.
Obviously I am not with the program. Mother Nature apparently adores these garish little creepers that polka dot the place and wants them around because she has endowed them with the sneakiest ways of thriving to spite my massive eradication effort. She won't even let me mow them down. They have the damnedest habit of falling over, lying down and playing dead when my cheap push mower rolls over them, so they can bounce right back as soon I move on. You have no idea how maddening it is when you think you have a weapon of mass destruction to get the finger like that dozens of times. And even if I do manage to decapitate one or two, I only make matters worse: everybody knows those yellow heads become that gray fuzz the wind so effortlessly carries and carelessly sows. Dandelions have set up a survival system that makes all those Congressional incumbents look punk. But I have to say it's just as polarized. Dandelions, purple vetch, cud, tansy and crabgrass, aka witchgrass... everybody is on one side or the other, absolutely unwilling to reach out and cross over. Mother Nature loves these plants because she keeps 'em coming. Polite society hates them because it has us paying millions to "weed them out." They make a place look derelict and you look slovenly. Just like the Buddha said: we all see the world exclusively through our own experience.
So digging up dandelions and hacking through vetch networks to make way for impatiens, salvia and agertum makes me, at least right here in my own little world, the supreme being who decides what lives and what gets thrown into the compost pile to reincarnate. Oops, wait... I don't dare throw dandelions, tansy, crabgrass or vetch into the compost pile because they'll easily commandeer it. Truly getting rid of this stuff is actually a humungous problem worthy of a strategist not connected to Iran or Afghanistan or the ever faltering Democratic Party. This is a huge obstacle to me getting my way right now. And because I so badly want to be in control of something, this insult feels like "do you get it now?" ploy Mother Nature thought up to teach me to live with what's happening--without thinking it's just one more depressingly ugly circumstance I have to fix. ~Sandy Garson
"Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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The last day or two has brought shock and awe, and mostly lament, at the no longer ignorable realization that our Supreme Court Justices are not supremely impartial in the name of fairness and the common good. They are personal, prejudiced and political to the core, determined to make this country in their own image.
I for one am not surprised. Wasn't it the Buddha's great realization 2500 years ago under that Bodhi tree--the reason he exclaimed: "Wonder of wonders!" and became enlightened, that everyone sees the world through their own prism and acts accordingly, as though what they imagine is reality? Wasn't it his realization that all of us chasing our fantasies live in a world of our own creation, distinctly different from everyone else's, and that creates Samsara in which we are all drowning in our own delusion and confusion? Isn't meditation learning that what we think is not what is really happening? As it happens, I am also not surprised about these personality revelations because the week before the Supreme Court's conservatives put their stamp of approval on Christian prayer at government meetings, I had to ponder Buddha's insight as it erupted in my own life. I had just traveled across the country in a car with a friend who grasps with all her might at a particular perspective. For seven days, I was seat belt to seat belt and suitcase to suitcase with a dedicated fan of Fox News, a big city Ivy Leaguer who now disdains NPR and the New York Times and Jon Stewart as "too liberal." I had to go into major withdrawal. No listening to All Things Considered as we drove, watching the Daily Show on the hotel's cable and no letting on that I was secretly checking the news at the Times on my iPad whenever she was in the bathroom.
Anyway this woman wasn't interested in world news, only family matters, and her phone, which has the shrillest ring ever sold on Itunes (it sounds like a tomahawk), rang all day with them. This reminded me that while my friend has no use for news, she used to listen religiously to Dr. Laura and take her everything is black or white advice to heart --until Ms Tough Love went off the air. Now it's only Fox she friends with occasional black or white advice from Rush Limbaugh. (Although it did not come up on this trip, my friend consistently demonizes, as well as votes against, anyone who believes
abortion is a personal decision. I didn't understand this until she confessed she once chose to
have one. I could see in her demeanor that the memory makes her so uncomfortable, she wants all
abortion abolished--as though making the issue that starkly black or white will make her unhappy memory miraculously vanish.)
My friend often jokes that when her husband came to ask her father for her hand in marriage, her father said only: "Do whatever she wants and you'll get along just fine." It's one of the ways she introduces herself as someone who needs to be, how shall I say, on top of things, by which I mean in control driving the agenda at all times. Her father must have had a talent for understatement. She is dead serious about getting her way down to the exact table she wants in a restaurant. I've learned to quietly concede. Momentary circumstances really don't matter to me anyway; the sun will still rise in the morning and the Buddha's teaching will remain pure and perfect. And momentary circumstances are just that: impermanent.
So here's how it went. The first day she thanked me for not criticizing her driving quirks. (I thank years of practice for giving that urge up.) The second day she couldn't stop complaining about mine to the point she started every morning with: "Do you want me to drive?" So she drove not only the agenda but the car. I passed a lot of road time doing mantras or trying to accommodate her wish to have a more
euphemistic synonym for her old nickname, bossy. Persuasive was her favorite while
assertive and persistent were mine.
To be fair, road trips are really not my friend's idea of travel. Flying business class to Paris or going to Art Basel in Miami is more her thing. Everything between New York and San Diego is a flyover zone. She's never ventured beyond western Europe and the Caribbean, never follows international happenings and speaks no language but English. She only stays in well known hotels or tediously researched rental apartments about which she needs to nail down and know every last detail before she commits. The unknown unnerves her. She doesn't ever go there.
This trip, she was exceedingly happy that I finally conceded and let her book us into a $350 a night hotel highly reviewed on Trip Advisor for its royal service and posh clientele. She was also implacably annoyed with me for impishly pointing out that the royal service did not include breakfast like a Best Western does or a bottle of water in the room, which Embassy Suites gives its not so posh clientele.
I had to be as cautious choosing just right restaurants as she was in picking satisfactory hotels because my friend does not like spicy food, vegetables or Asian cooking. She likes creamy pastas, roasts, grilled steak, crabmeat and chicken soups. She eats meat daily, yet it has never once occurred to her that all she remorselessly consumes comes from living creatures killed for her pleasure. What came to mind several times along the way was that grotesque Buddhist illustration of someone gleefully sucking the meat off the bones of a roasted animal a nearby yogi understands was the incarnation of the glutton's late mother. What came to mind was how far along the path of awareness I had traveled, how different from my old and her self I had become.
Also how beautiful Dharma is, all the gifts of insight it has given me.
My friend insists what she values is "beauty." She means beautiful things and beautiful people in elegantly dreamy surroundings. Young girls with parasols; a lavishly set dinner table with chargers, silver and lots of candles; always lipstick; the American Versailles--Asheville NC's Biltmore--she booked us to see. She loves Game of Thrones and absolutely hates Mad Men, my new favorite TV reality series. (So no talking about that either.) She is a collector of everything she finds beautiful, no matter how much else she has. She must own what she admires so she requires a lot of time for shopping. It became easy to see how hard my friend works to keep her life aimed straight and narrow at her idea of beauty whether objects, ideas, places or people. She culls so carefully to reinforce her sense of self, I realized, she has always only been surrounded by white people who have money and the beautiful things shopping can buy. As I said, the unknown unnerves her.
Did I say she invariably votes Republican? Because it seems to me these shining characteristics of hers, this conservatism or clinging your personal view of the world as a life raft, this refusal to embrace conflicting ideas or change, risk or adventure, or otherness, this inability to let go and let happen, add up to a lack of empathy or charity, or what the Buddha called compassion. Such lack of wisdom explains her and the Supreme Court majority's political persuasion, its need to create the world in their own image because they fear everybody else's. It's the unknown. The fact that I see that as ugly brings up that old saying: beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. The Buddha nailed that, didn't he?
I was born into my friend's world and she knows that. It's what made me acceptable in the first place. But I chose to move on, leave all that behind, and now I know how far away I got. My life has been its own cross country trip with its own idiosyncratic beauty not necessarily promoted by Vogue. Still I thought the difference wouldn't matter among old dear friends with a history of helping each other over humps. And because I had become so artful at conceding to her whims. My bad. The close proximity and long distance of the actual road trip kicked in. My friend hugged and thanked me when I left her off at her husband's side in Philadelphia, but after that she did not reply to my follow up text messages, a week of them. Finally the other day she sent this email: "I am in recovery from our grueling road trip and trying to process the journey."
I had already let it go. It was over; there were new challenges and demands. But that long stiff silence and coldly curt email signaled blunder of blunders. Apparently I had been tried in the court of her imagination for something not beautiful that marred her fantasy and found guilty as charged. So I tried to "process the journey" myself. Yes, I poked fun at the haute hotel she was delighted to stay at. No, I didn't gush all that effusively over the riches of the Biltmore. Yes, once I got annoyed that she read directions too slowly for me to turn on them (Her response was that I drive too fast). No, I wasn't enthusiastic about shopping but I always went along without comment even though there were sites I really wanted to see. Yes, I was happy to let her drive if that's what she wanted, even if this meant she did most of the work. It never occurred to me that letting her have her way would set up a grudge. What else was so unforgivable it smashed a 20-year friendship?
Perhaps my otherness finally intruded on the beauty, the certainty, the dreamy prism through which she views everything. Perhaps I am somehow no longer who or how she always imagined me to be, less shiningly beautiful in reality than in her fantasy. Perhaps why that's I was put out with the trash. Now everything in her experience will continue to match her expectations. No unknown knowns. The Buddha said we all see the world from our own private perspective, so persuaded it's the real deal we live totally unconnected lives, unable to identify with each other as one and the same. Still this experience that we all want the world created only in our own image came as a shock, and I lament. Om mani peme hung. Om mani peme hung. Om mani peme hung.
Author of How To Fix a Leek and Other Food From Your Farmers' Market, new edition published May 2011; and Veggiyana: the Dharma of Cooking, published September 2011 by Wisdom Publications. Founder and president of Veggiyana, a charitable effort to feed Buddhist monastics and schoolchildren in India, Nepal and Tibet. On Facebook as Prima Dharma Cook.
This is a blog of essays from the Buddhist perspective of Sandy Garson.
Visit my web site Yours In The Dharma, where I try to make sense of the bewilderment in daily life. I meditate aloud on how the teachings of my guru Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, the golden rosary of his Tibetan Kagyu lineage and the Buddha himself come alive in the headlines and heartaches to rescue us all from suffering.