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.

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014: The Takeaway

 Here is what I learned in 2014:

Now that the Supreme Court has declared corporations are people, you are not paranoid to think people are out to get you. You are realistic.

Those who have the status will always defend the status quo.

Gluten is not the enemy. Monsanto’s Roundup is: most of the wheat in the United States is saturated with Roundup two weeks before harvesting to make it easier for the machines to do that job. Its main chemical glyphosate is a lethal toxin that causes all the symptoms people attribute to gluten.

Suffering is usually great expectations adjusted for inflation.

When you get it backwards, live becomes evil.

When i gets more rounded and richer, to live becomes to love.

Jerry Seinfeld has made gazillions simply by having the chutzpah to say out loud in polite company what everybody is actually thinking.

The loss of Stephen Colbert’s on-air character is devastating because he was living proof that we have become such a controlled medieval society, only a jester can speak truth to power and get away with it.

It is absolutely amazing how people don't come through and things go wrong merely because the universe is doing its damnedest to make things right for you.You just have to wait a minute to see that.

You can be too rich and too thin.

People who keep looking over their shoulder at the past can't see where they're heading and stumble.

You can relive the happier moments of your childhood for free now that Mary Martin’s Peter Pan, the Wizard of Oz, Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, Charlotte’s Web, Peter and the Wolf, and so much more is somewhere on the Internet just waiting for you to Google it. And they are far superior to everything in the movie theaters right now.

You will never be a fat head if you learn to bite your tongue.

S/he who does not expect cannot be disappointed.

Boredom is just your resistance to whatever is happening at that moment.

Wisdom comes with age but so does short-term memory loss because Mother Nature has figured out young people don’t want to learn from your experience.

Women live longer and remain stronger than men because Mother Nature realized infants and toddlers and their moms need grandmothers’ help to get by.

Being “professional” simply means not being able to tell a jerk he is one.

All the news that’s fit to print is no longer reliably in The New York Times.

A major cause of suffering the Buddha forgot to mention is that men were created before product liability, tort laws and mandatory defect recalls.

People do not change. What they are just becomes thicker and more impenetrable, like the ingredients in a sauce you are reducing.

Dwight Eisenhower was dead right about the insidious military industrial complex. The Korean, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghan wars were only about Lockheed, Raytheon and Halliburton selling product.

Fatuous is the word that best describes today's people, politics, products, entertainment and what passes for news.

Theory of Relativity: In Maine in December 57º is a heat wave. In San Francisco it’s a cold snap.

Life is best when the fork is with you.

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

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Buddhist Christmas Message

Dear Editor—
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O'Hanlon
115 West Ninety Fifth Street
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.
We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
"Is There a Santa Claus?" reprinted from the September 21, 1897, number of The New York Sun.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Losing It

  I have reached the point where I am forgetting so much, I don’t remember what I forgot. I just learned this from a zipper. Since someone who knows California apparently got a message to Rain Down This Drought Now, I’ve had to spend a lot of time in the shiny green Gore-tex raincoat I’ve had for about 15 years. For nearly a week, that green slicker went from my body to the bathtub and back on my body. Until the morning last week I put it on, pulled and, damn, the front zipper wouldn’t zip. Even when I went and got my glasses to thoroughly examine the situation. Even when I put a flashlight on it.  As the Karmapas like to say: Nothing happened.

This broke my heart. I have trusted that raincoat for years. It has flapped, zipped pockets and inside mesh pockets, a hood, knee length, water repellancy--everything you need to be singing in the rain. I didn’t want to replace it with today’s shoddy flimflam.  I didn't want to not have it anymore. But I didn’t want to get soaked wearing a raincoat that kept flopping open. So on the morning the downpours and high winds ceased for a second, I trotted the seven blocks to the Chinese tailor, hoping she had the magic to replace the zipper. Or at least know whether a shoemaker could.

I was so happy to see she did pretty much what I did: try to hook the bottom pieces together a few times, reach for her glasses and try again; put it under stronger light and try anew. Then she did something I did not do: she looked further up the zipper. Apparently she was able to remember an up and down zipper that wants to work both ends against the middle has two connectors. She found the top grip, the one with the pull, the one that has to click into two pieces at the bottom so it can glide to the top. It was up at the neck. “See,” she said brightly, zipping it down, “you put that into these two. Now fine.”

You would have thought I was Ms Holiday Spirit herself, standing there with a red face and a green coat. I had been a ditz in public. Here I thought these lapses were only happening in the privacy of my own life where I have been trying to control them.  I Google the line of lyric that haunts my head to find song titles I forget (spoiler alert: you can actually find the li li li li song there…). I use an old red leather pocket address book to get phone numbers I suddenly can’t remember, numbers I don’t remember I forgot to enter as Contacts on my iPhone. I take the kitchen timer with me anytime I have something on the stove, which, when I don't go to another room and forget about it too, has saved a few pots from burning to death.

I also make lists. Faithfully I write down what I must remember to do each day. Only now rather fatefully,  each day when I go out to do it, I do not remember I forgot to take my To Do list with me. And I do not even remember that. Some days when I come home, I’m even surprised to discover I actually made a list because nothing I was just so busy doing was on it.

At least only I knew that. Now others are finding out that I am losing it, which is like having your slip showing. Yesterday I didn’t remember I forgot to put a stamp on a holiday card. Actually, I am not sending greeting cards this year. On purpose I didn’t buy any. But I did have two left from last year, and the minute after I opened a very expensive card sent by a childhood friend, I dug one out. I absolutely had to send her one to prove I wasn’t totally over the edge because last month for the first time since we were kids, I missed her birthday. Entirely. I remembered that when her holiday card came. I had to do something. I wrote a lovely long message on my leftover card and sealed it up.

I gathered up her card with two bills I’d sealed the night before and went down the block to the post office, which has four mailboxes out in front. I was maybe 20 yards from the first of them when I noticed her card had no stamp on it. Another lapse! Immediately I turned around and starting walking home.  I’d gone maybe 10 yards when a voice popped up in my head: “Idiot! Why are you taking the stamped mail back? Just put those two in the mailbox and then go home.” This made me hesitate, stop, turn around, turn back around, take a step, turn around and walk back to the mailboxes where I dropped the two bills, making extra effort to cling for dear life to that unstamped card.

When I turned to walk home, I noticed a middle aged man nearby. He had watched my little backward forward ballet. He had a chary look on his face and a disbelieving pity in his eyes. He smiled knowingly before he walked the other way.

What I am getting for Christmas is dread. What I am getting is so out of sync with the season’s joy to the world, I want to convince myself I should just loose a hardy Ho Ho Ho at being so MIA. I should dismiss my failings with a big belly laugh and embrace ditzhood. It’s so… now. 

On the other hand, in this age when failure is not supposed to be an option, I could just fahgettaboutit. I could stop caring and worrying about being Mistaken in Action. I could just try to be more like our elected President  and all the people around him who don’t have to worry about their mistakes or even learn from them because they never acknowledge they make any. Ha ha.

It doesn’t help to remember my grandmother was 93 when she first completely forgot a phone number past all recall. It sent her into quite a tizzy.  “You have to help me!” she screamed, obviously able to remember my number. “You have to come here and do something. I’m senile now. I just went to call Gladys (her niece) and couldn’t remember her number. It’s happened to me. I’m senile. Do something!” 

At the time I was laughing so much I could barely get words out. “Nanny, calm down. Just calm down. You’re fine. Trust me. If you really were senile you wouldn’t know that. You wouldn’t know you forgot a phone number or even whose it was. You’re just fine.” Now I don’t see one bit of ho ho ho in there.

I definitely did not laugh last weekend when I couldn’t find my favorite little utility knife, the 3” serrated one with a black plastic handle. It has been my reach for snack slicer (fruits, cheeses, hard boiled eggs, pastries) for at least a decade and suddenly it was gone. It wasn’t on the knife rack, wasn’t in the sink, wasn’t in the plastic utensil bin of the metal drying rack on the counter. It wasn’t even on the floor under the stove or in the recycling bin. That’s how hard I searched. What kind of loony tune would break into my apartment, leave everything perfectly neat, not touch the computer and just take a 3” serrated knife? Really. That is what I thought. The world’s gone mad, and everybody’s looking for some attack weapon or other, so they took my little knife. 

How else to explain my knife as gone as a sock in a washing machine, as lost as America’s democracy, due diligence, dignity, decency, derring-do and downright honesty.

It really hurts not to reach what you always reach for. Not a good kind of emptiness. I’ve had to adjust to another new reality. Learn to make do in reduced circumstance. The old steak knife stuck in oblivion on the magnetic bar cuts apples, cheese and fig cake just fine, but I missed my favorite knife, like I miss living in a can-do country that can always cut it.

This morning I reached for the rubber spatula in my canister of cooking utensils and discovered I had two things in my grip: the long handled white spatula and my 3” serrated knife. There it was! Ms Ditz had somehow put it not in the usual and therefore wrong place where she didn't think to look.

Right there, I had to stop doing anything and everything. I had to sit down with a cup of tea. How worried should I be that I am really losing it? Of course I did remember I had that knife. I did remember I lost it and I did look for it in all the usual places. I did finally remember I forgot my friend's birthday. When my friend Joan’s mother was diagnosed with true dementia, the doctor told her a diagnosis of real dementia is made like this: did she just forget where she put the soup spoon or did she take the entire silverware tray and put it in the trunk of the car thinking that was the kitchen drawer.

You better believe I immediately ran to check the trunk of my car for the nail clippers missing three days now. Thank Buddha they were not there. Still, they are not in the medicine cabinet, not in any of my travel pouches, nowhere in the crannies behind the toilet on the bathroom floor. I got down and checked. They are nowhere to be found.  Honestly, I just cannot for the life of me imagine why a thief would break into my apartment, leave everything in tact, not even touch my computer or iPad and just take an old pair nail clippers. Has the world gone that mad or is it me?

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

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Needy: A Selfie

My mother never let me open a Christmas present without first reading one of the famously published Neediest Cases.  That's probably how I developed what Buddhists call habitual tendency to think of this annual moment as Neediest time. And that's probably how I suddenly got focused on the whole idea of neediness. And straightaway of course got focused on me.

What a gadzooks this has been. I always thought a big part of Buddhist practice was keeping my mind on a diet, so I would reduce my life to its Zen: essentials only. I have tried. Egads, have I tried. I have let go of one spending opportunity after another: a movie, a membership, an airplane trip, a pair of shoes I really really wanted. I have passed up, passed by and passed on (tiz the season for Goodwill). Sometime back I turned into thrifty with a hint of miser--except when other people honestly need a little help. I am no Scrooge.

 I thought I was fit enough by now to be extra vigilant in this post turkey season. I was secretly jolly about my lack of folly. I thought I could definitely handle the uphill slog, the cold swim against a storm tide. After all, everybody knows gobble day launches all out gobbling up, i.e. the spending season. Get out the tree ornament, wrapping paper and compassion time is get out the wallet time. And just in case there's an ET around, hints and cues for what Buddhists call real letting go bomb from every direction. You just never know how needy you are until December. Got chestnuts roasting on an open fire?

As I said, I was sure long exposure let me build immunity to these inflections and no longer be among the needy. My practice ha been to--ahem, pardon me, Buddhists --not detach from my money. Perfect that nobody was expecting Christmas gifts from me, except perhaps one four-year-old. Good that I didn't feel I had to rush to replace the two juice/water glasses other people broke. I was not getting suckered into the jaws of shopnado. Not me. So that me has been shocked, shocked to discover my wallet is hemorrhaging and my credit card is feverish. 

It took me a week to write this, dumbfounded as I am by how infected by neediness a determined not needy person can be. I needed shampoo, conditioner, sensitive dry skin face cream, sensitive gums toothpaste, laundry detergent, clock batteries, a garage door remote battery, wood floor cleaner, mop to replace the missing, and food to eat at the same time I needed to buy my godson's newborn a gift and replace a lost pair of reach-for gray wools socks. I needed a new bath rug to replace the five-year-old one that was badly frayed, torn and stained--if I didn't want to fall on the marble floor. I needed a haircut. I needed new pads inside the yellow leather sneakers slightly too big without them. I needed toilet paper and Kleenex.  I needed to replace the old metal towel ring that finally fell off. I needed more jars to seal my quince jam in. I needed tins for my annual bout of spiced walnut and pumpkin seed production--gifts for the year to come. I needed gas in my car and coffee in my pot. I needed to pay for the dinner I ate out meeting an old friend. I needed to mail a birthday package of homemade goodies to a young friend. I needed a new water filter in my Brita pitcher. I needed more food to eat. I needed a little dry cleaning. I needed... needed ...okay, wanted at least one set of towels that wasn't thin, scratchy and water-resistant after ten years of constant use. 

If you need an end to this story, you need to know there won't be one. Recent research, mine, (see above) reveals needs are endless. That is the gadzooks. Evidently, those of us not among the neediest cases are nevertheless still among the needy.

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

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Thursday, December 04, 2014

More Well Chosen Words You Can Quote

 "Change is possible at any second because change is happening every second." --Ringu Tulku

"If we have no regard for inanimate objects, our neglect will expand to our dealings with other sentient beings." ---Traleg Rinpoche

"The only real meaning we can give to our being born on this planet — and in particular being born as human beings on this planet — and the only really meaningful result that we can show for our lives is to have helped the world: to have helped our friends, to have helped all the beings on this planet as much as we can."  --Thrangu Rinpoche

"We often hear what we want to hear, or even what we are afraid of hearing, because our receptivity is so intermingled with our fears, desires and expectations. ...There is often a tremendous gap between what a speaker intends and we we actually hear... ." --Traleg Rinpoche

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

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