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!"

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Click here to request Sandy Garson for reprint permission.
Yours In The Dharma 2001-2010, Sandy Garson Copyright 2001-2010 Sandy Garson All rights Reserved