Mission not accomplished
My oh my. For 27 years and 5 months, I have been trying to be a Buddhist and the last six weeks show what a miserable failure I am. I suppose in retrospect I got into Dharma the way America got into Iraq: thinking I could smartly and quickly clean up a mess and make everything sparklingly perfect with a surge of effort here and there. Ha ha ha ha ha.
I just got to see how I'm doing with the most basic point of the Buddha's teaching: his First Noble Truth, suffering. That's the ABCs of Dharma right there and it's what I wanted to deal with when I started all those years ago. The Buddha diagnosed how we are all continually suffering in three profound ways: we suffer from suffering pain, fear and stress; we suffer from inevitable change-- when joy disappears, when we get what we don't want, sickness sets in, aging occurs, death happens; and we suffer from the very deep malaise of being isolated in our bodies so that no connection is ever complete and satisfactory. Right on.
I suppose the best known of these sufferings is the truth of suffering from change, famous perhaps because it is so intimately related to the buzzword impermanence. So many wannabe and non-Buddhists have heard Dharma is about impermanence, dealing with the inescapable transitory quality of everything. (I would have said "absolutely everything" if I hadn't been looking at the fat on my thighs.) The Buddha--unaware of hormones and high school and high tech innovations-- pointed out the major changes everyone of us will all have to deal with: birth, sickness, old age and death, hinting they were not fun things to tweet about.
I know this, at least at some level. I know the sun will set on a beautiful day and the night bring a killer storm; I know money made in the stock market will inevitably be lost; I know a cute kitten will become an obnoxiously whining cat, someone I have a crush on will turn out to be a jerk, and that my hair will turn gray. For 27 years and five months, I have been trying to follow the Buddha's remedy for the sadness of change, schlepping along his path to liberation from its affects. The famous buzzword for this is emptiness. Or maybe it's Now, as in the Present. The present is a gift, a truly useful one you don't ever want to regift. Yet in the thick of enormous changes coming at you like hail pelts, it can end up under the bed where you can't find it when you need it. All you can see is the past before the change or future due to it. That so scares the wits out of you, you forget you are still here now.
Sometimes I think I'm making real progress; I'm a big girl. I get it. This time is definitely not one of those times. Mercury and I are both retrograde, well me anyway. I have already written about being abruptly cancelled without notice by my 25-year-long VBF, which felt like a sudden airplane crash death for which there is no closure. That was followed by the news that my trusted carpenter/handyman, the guy who built my house and therefore claims the right to tend it, was in the hospital somewhere between life and death. He wouldn't be working for a long time. My house was not going to get fixed until I found someone new. I am going to have to live with uncomfortable problems for at least a year.
I wasn't taking these kinds of change very well and thought maybe I am not seeing clearly. That was a growing frustration. Then the eye doctor confirmed it would continue to be: I now have cataracts, one of the joys old age brings you. So now I get to test a new frustration point: the higher it is the longer I can postpone surgery. I figured it best to try not to have a nervous breakdown over this beginning of the body breakdown because the last thing I wanted was quick surgery when the excommunicator VBF was listed as the person to call in emergencies and my bedroom needed fixing.
I was trying, about as successfully as the Americans in Iraq, to cope with all these unwelcome challenges when I got word of the death of a major family member. I was alerted she had maybe a week to ten days, but she was gone an hour after that email came. This was an earthquake that shook disturbing memories down off the family tree and smashed a crater in the mindscape.
I like to suppose I could've coped with this increasing pace of subtraction--I was doing a lot of the Chenrezig puja for suffering, if it didn't suddenly speed up like today's high tech frenzy. Maybe because I was feeling weak, I had my breath knocked out by someone's casual news that a goddaughter of mine was getting married: date and place, registry on The Knot and airline tickets all done. Who knew? Although I have been close to the bride-to-be since she was three and adapted me as her fairy godmother, I am apparently now out of her loop. She needed my support as a young child; as a teenager she needed my expertise in navigating New York and a sense of style; at 21 she needed me to show her how to drink fashionably and sustainably, and to provide the flowers for her graduation recital. Now she is 42, lives in New York and knows it so much better than me, she picks the places we meet for coffee when I visit. She doesn't need my support or guidance any more, so I'm in the dark of the closet where childhood things are stored and wasn't told she was getting married. I get it intellectually, I understand the moving on. That's normal. But blood goes to the heart, so bloodless coups cause real suffering there.
Amputation from someone's life causes pain because they are automatically cut out of yours too, a gutting that creates a vacuum that needs to be filled. Thus the phantom limb for physical amputees and for those of us loped off others' lives, phantom images of other so called close friends or family members who needed us for a time, and when they were out of whatever that pickle was, moved on without saying goodbye. Best friends not until the end probably because they needed to forget how they used to be. Some people don't want their rainy day friends around when the sun shines. That is change of considerable magnitude, and its inevitable mantra: What did I do to deserve this? shows how change creates so much suffering. The Buddha nailed it.
Of course, not all change is dire. I got a surprise call two nights ago from my Nepali heart son. It was a double surprise because he is a famed musician supposed to have been on his European tour, not in the US on his local cell. So I suspected something was up. "I have great news for you," he blurted right away. "Really great news! You're going to be a grandmother!" Oh my, all these people leaving and now someone new is coming. The center of attention is going to shift like the tectonic plates under the San Andreas fault. This relationship is now going to be different too.
Change is the step from comfortable familiarity to the unknown, and I didn't think I was one of those "conservative" who couldn't digest it without burping up the sort of bile we have in politics today. But telling myself the Buddha said disruptions are inevitable--I should've seen 'em coming, doesn't make any of them go down more easily. Meditation is supposed--operative word is supposed-- to make it all go away, like the US military was to make all those violent Islamic jihadists go away. But at this assault rifle pace, it is very hard to keep standing. One change means another. When someone casts you aside with their childhood things, they're reminding you you've aged, telling you they've got so many new people filling their life, you're irrelevant--or perhaps redundant, as the Brits would say. When someone gives you good news of childhood coming, you also know you've aged-- enough to catch the scent in the baby gain of losing some treasured emotional intimacy, enough to sense you're the one who has to be even wiser now. And when on top of it all, you lose your clarity of seeing, your family matriarch and the workman you've counted on for a decade to keep your house livable, you feel horridly upended. And alone. The lonely kind of alone.
So mission not at all accomplished. I have to hand it to the Buddha. He was right about change being an arrow that hits the bull's eye of your life and causes suffering. He was right about pain and fear and stress and also about transient, unsatisfying connections: they are weapons of mass destruction.
~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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