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.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Poise in the Boat

Rain or shine, every day for the past few weeks, as soon as the sun rises and again not long before it sets, local college rowers glide by my house in sleek white shells of one, two, four and eight. The simultaneous dip of so many oars into fast moving water creates a rhythmic thump loud enough to wake me at dawn and divert my attention in the twilight.  I just love that sight.

Most times there are enough sculls going by to be an armada. That's because women have equal opportunity now, scull for scull, and some days it's hard to tell who's who out there. I can only distinguish their boats from the males' on those not freezing days when guys tend to row bare-chested and all torsos in others boats are covered by tanks or tees or sweats. Because women in my time weren't allowed to row and I love the sport, I have been known to spontaneously shout: "Go Girls!"

That's about it for segregation at sea here, a sensible matter of muscle might. Since everyone's legs are bare, this year I see some are dark and others caramel. An encouraging addition to a very Brahman blueblood sport--like women.  But then, sex and skin color don't matter half as much as the guts to get up in the chilly dark of 5 am to be out uncovered on the water by 6, especially when it's raining or so cold I'm inside wrapped in fleece, snuggled in sleep. It amazes me they get out there. The crews have already gone a mile when they pass by me and will glide another mile before they turn back stroke and feathering without letup: four miles with and against a stubborn, powerful tide. stroke feather stroke feather. 

Sex and skin color have nothing to do with the energy, stamina and sheer will to go the distance. It's all mind. Mind over matter. Mind is the matter. Rowing is the most grueling sport because there's no pause, no time out, no chance to step aside on the field. Just continual stroke feather stroke feather with everybody dependent on you keeping up keeping on the stroke feather. A mantra. 

Even when crew is done, it's not done. The rowers have to lift their shell out of the water and carry it away. There's no locker room to retreat to and relax in. Just a van ride back to campus. And there are no cheerleaders or friends/parents in viewing stands. It's lonely that way. Not an ego trip.

I think I am perpetually mesmerized by the sight of those shells sliding by because sex and skin color, slaps on the back, standpoint and sensibility are all so irrelevant. Rowing is every body literally pulling together. It is the awesome phenomenon of persistence, the miracle of exertion and the dazzling display of diligence--qualities I recognize I don't have enough of every time those boats glide by.

That magnificence was of course the point of that thrilling book, The Boys in The Boat. Those ragtag eight Washington state boys went for the gold and by their merit beat both bad weather and cheating Nazis to it in 1936 because, man to man, they could not bear to disappoint each other.  If ever there was a team sport, crew is it.

The single scullers must look over their shoulder all the time to see where they are going. They look lonely out there in the crowd, and uninteresting to me. They get no coxswain to help, no one to to set the pace. Performance is strictly up to each of them with no way to know if it's good enough or not. Going it alone has obstacles and handicaps that go away when the number of rowers in a boat goes up.  I think I am mesmerized by the sight of all those sculls sliding by two times a day because they are a memorably picturesque message not only about how much more persistent exertion I need, but more crucially perhaps, how much faster, smoother and friction free we humans can go when we are in the same boat diligently pulling together.

~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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Eulogy for a stranger

In mid July, instead of being at the Bob Dylan concert I had a ticket for, I was in Vancouver, Canada at Rinpoche's monastery for a special weekend teaching. That's where I came upon a tall, middle aged blonde I'd met there the year before. Back then she joined a friend and I for lunch, essentially because we had a rental car and she had no wheels at all. My friend had evidently made this woman's vague acquaintance years earlier at a retreat in the lonesome highlands of SE Colorado when they both found themselves washing dishes together in the kitchen. 

I newly made Arlette's acquaintance at that pub lunch. She was from Hawaii, Maui to be specific. She wore bright red lipstick. She was single, at that moment.  She was a therapist. When the waitress came to take our order, she was an inquisitor. "I really want the chicken," she said, eyes on the menu, "but is it organic?" It was. "Is it free range?" It was. "How much of a range?" The waitress didn't know. "Was it well treated?" The waitress didn't answer. I thought I was in an SNL skit. I couldn't believe this woman was that ditzy, that a person long past 40 could be that much of an easily parodied type. I felt like shouting: "Order the baked potato!" but we were on a break from a Buddhist prayer gathering, so with considerable effort, I zipped my lip and pulled out my patience. In other words, I didn't say a word.

When I spotted Arlette in the shrine room in Vancouver this year, that chicken shtick was all I could think about. I could not get over her total lack of self-consciousness, more to the point self-awareness.  She had not been making a Portlandia joke. I had been making a judgment. She was a type.

This July, Arlette was, as she had been, full of zest and zeal. She still wore bright red lipstick.She had flowered shirts. She cadged rides with my dharma brother, who found her charming. She waved at me. We chatted briefly, and I got reminded she was from Hawaii, Maui to be specific. I got reminded she smiled all the time. I got reminded how temporary a judgment can be. For what purpose was I carrying that chicken shtick memory around? To keep labeling her as a type.

Little more than a month later, an unusual and unusually mysterious post showed up in my Facebook feed. The author introduced herself as Arlette's dear friend and went on to say while she was very uncomfortable speaking out on this medium, she needed to convey a message. To those who knew Arlette, all was not well. She had cancer. She had gone to Germany for an "alternative" treatment. 

Prayers for Arlette began to appear in my Facebook feed, followed the next day by news her body had reacted to either the cancer or the treatment with a stroke. She remained unconscious. More prayers surfaced on Facebook before a post that evening announcing she'd left her body, as Buddhists say. Just five weeks after I saw her red smiling lips, Arlette had gone free range. Thirty years of the teachings and talk about impermanence boiled down to Arlette gleaming in July, gone in August.

Her friends posted like mad. They were going to miss her high spirits, her sparkling energy, her resolve to handle anything thrown at her. People said she never shirked. She always smiled. She had great strength and character. Someone posted a video of Arlette in her Maui apartment spontaneously dancing to the live voice and guitar of a gray haired, long bearded old friend. It was like watching Zorba the Greek exposing the joy of being human. Infinite love and admiration kept pouring through my Facebook feed for someone I hardly knew, someone I remembered as an SNL skit, someone very alive who died in a flash, just like that!

I wondered if behind all those red-lipped smiles and bright energy in Vancouver, Arlette knew she had cancer and was doing a spectacular acting job. Or was it a surprise waiting when she got back home? A shocking hit, like a landmine. that blew her away to Germany where she died alone, in a hospital.

Most of the world didn't know Arlette and I didn't either. But the unsolicited outpouring of pain and praise says she was a rare type: a human being worth knowing, worth the space she took up and the organic food she consumed. She didn't have a lot of money or a fancy house or a world mastery agenda. She just had a lot of heart and persistence that apparently made other people's lives happier. What more could anybody want out of life than to be a blessing to others? Who can do better than die alone yet be instantly mourned as a tremendous loss, someone remembered with unanimous love.

"Now she is with Rinpoche," my dharma brother wrote in his post, "sharing his blessings." Her spirit, as Bob Dylan would say, is blowing in the wind. "Viva Arlette!" I spontaneously commented.  "Viva Arlette!"

~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

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Jam Session: Bodhicitta in a jar

Everyone can breathe easier today. The world is a happier place. This morning
I was up earlier than the sun could burn off cold fog, so I fired up the range and made a small batch of late crop strawberry jam. Now there should be enough-- although truthfully when it comes to sharing the love of homemade jam from farmer’s market fruits there is never enough.

The jars of seasonal strawberry I made late in June were disappearing rapidly, chosen over peach and apricot, even blueberry, so I was fretting. For 48 years, I have been making pure ingredient strawberry jam (just the berries with lime juice, rose water, spices and tiny bit of raw sugar), and there have definitely been years I wanted to quit, this being one of them. But people wait for it. They look so forward to getting a jar or two, I feel like that Titanic love: I must go on.

There’s definitely a jar for me, if I even want it because I don’t eat that much jam. But others, they’re crazy for it, and my jam making is always for others. Frankly, no matter how much stuff and money people have, they go gaga over a jar of simple homemade jam. It’s still the best handout money can’t buy. I love how happy it makes everyone, how simple it is to make people happy in this monstrously troubled world.

So, when to my surprise yesterday, I saw a few piled-high pints of late crop strawberries at my local farmers’ market, I figured “what the hell’ and the pig in me grabbed two. I could’ve sliced and enjoyed them, but I was, as I said, worried about others. So I am happy to report the four jars of jam those berries just made reduced my anxiety. More people are going feel the love. Homemade jam is such an easy way to share it, I am in fact on my way back to the kitchen to turn the four peaches a local farmer gave me and the handful of blackberries I picked by the side of the road into a few more jars to give away. On this very happy morning, I feel like the world is going to be a more perfect place.

~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