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One City


Hardcore Dharma sings Jenny I Got Your Number

posted by Julia May Jonas

This is a story about my friend Jenny.

Jenny and I attended the Tuesday night gathering at the New York Shambhala center. Jenny’s new to Buddhism – this was the second Shambhala talk she’d ever attended.  My normal tendency would be to skip the weekly post-talk reception and book on out of the building to experience my cognition of the teachings in solitude and open air.  But Jenny requested that we stay.

As we drank our tea and discussed her recent engagement to her long term boyfriend I did my normal, “attempt to avoid eye contact with people you kind of know”, cagey routine.  Jenny was Jenny, no more or less Jenny-esque than previous incarnations of Jenny.  But to my disbelief, during the course of the reception, three different people approached Jenny, shook her hand and said, “What’s your name?”  As we were leaving the center, a man said, “she looks like a good meditator.” 

Um.  Who says that?

 

I admit I can be a bit of a social curmudgeon, but even a porcupine must feel a little wounded sharing a cage with a puppy at a petting zoo – especially when the porcupine has been going to the Shambhala center for 3ish years and the puppy only twice.  As we were walking to the east village I interrogated her:

JULIA:  So do you like that kind of thing, that kind of reception?
JENNY: I really like it!  It’s like a mixer.
JULIA: I hate mixers.
JENNY: I love them.
JULIA:  I don’t like to talk to people.
JENNY: I love talking to people!
JULIA:  (thinks deeply) I’m always afraid when I’m talking to people I don’t really know – you know – like at a mixer – that invariably they’re going to disappoint me in one way or another.  Like they’re going to say something stupid or shallow and then I’m going to have to judge them in my mind.  Or they’re going to want something from me that I don’t want to give.  The prospect of that makes me tired and resistant.
JENNY:   I’m always afraid that *I’m* going to disappoint other people.  So then I want to prove myself wrong and so I want to talk to them.
JULIA: Hmm.  Do you judge them?
JENNY:   Not while talking.  I don’t think so, no.
HOMELESS MAN: There’s a book sale!  Doesn’t anybody read anymore?
JULIA: (shrinks into ball of self-protection)
JENNY: (Laughs.  Smiles at man as we pass)

My favorite ‘focus’ during the loving kindness practice, the one that I can just open my heart and pour all of my love and wishes for the best of humanity is the “neutral person” (If you are unfamiliar here is a good breakdown of the loving kindness meditation).  When good old neutral – haven’t-done-any-interacting-with-you bartender from last night pops into my mind during loving kindness practice I wish the hell out of happiness, health, safety and ease for them with a heart shining forth like the Great Eastern Sun.  Why shouldn’t I?  They’re a completely blank slate.

The hardest loving kindness object for me is the “hero.”  My autodidactic, narcissist, intensely analytical habit energy frequently prevents uncomplicated hero worship.  It’s a problem.  A quotation from Crumb, the excellent 90’s documentary about cartoon artist R. Crumb, has always stuck with me: “Yes he (R. Crumb) is hard on other people.  But that’s because he’s even harder on himself.”

When I was 23 and I heard that line and I thought, Yay, just like me.  5 years later, I tend to think, Boo, too much like me.

One of the many reasons I started studying Buddhism more in depth is due to trying a visualization exercise I came across in a podcast by Bob Thurman.  At the start of the exercise, one imagines oneself surrounded by their heroes.  At first, I couldn’t think of a single one.  It was fascinating to watch the hero-candidates in my mind get kicked out faster than a mid-western teen at a Broadway chorus call.  Bob Dylan was evicted for the Victoria’s Secret advertising campaign, Joni Mitchell for “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter,” Bruce Springsteen for everything after 1983.  Ghandi and Mother Thersea seemed too far away to be real, I couldn’t figure out how to visualize my beloved Old Dead Writers, and I didn’t know what Robert Altman looked like.  My high school English teachers just reminded me of what a putz I was in high school, as college professors reminded me of what a putz I was in college.  When I did come across heroes I admired I would often have the thought, “well there’s probably something wrong with them.”  Thus revealed, this attitude was troubling – where was my humilty?  My love for humanity?  My sense of reverence, respect and wonder?

Studying the dharma has, in the past five years, made me more apt to appreciate someone.  Kind of.  At least I’m more apt to catch myself the moment I start to negatively analyze the “other” in order to hold up the fragile stronghold that is my sense of self.  I do, however, still long for Jenny’s blatant fearlessness toward the prospect of getting to know you.  I don’t necessarily want my meditation to be another project, but I do hope that Loving Kindness will eventually weaken my rigid self-protection and judgment so that I can be more open to discovering the varied peoples of this wide vast world.

Because who knows.  A couple of them may well turn out to be my heroes.



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Jerry Kolber

posted July 30, 2009 at 2:45 pm


“I do, however, still long for Jenny’s blatant fearlessness toward the prospect of getting to know you.”
vs.
JENNY: I’m always afraid that *I’m* going to disappoint other people. So then I want to prove myself wrong and so I want to talk to them.
Wanting to prove something to other people is not the same thing as fearlessness. It just looks the same, right?
Fearlessness = sharing intimate details about your neurosis and what you perceive as your “failings” on Beliefnet. Unless your just trying to scare us away or prove something.
Love the essay. you made me laugh out loud several times.



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Ryan

posted July 30, 2009 at 4:08 pm


Jenny sounds super cool — at ease with herself and her world. The news of her recent engagement crushed me. But I take comfort in the prospect of het becoming not just a good meditator but a great one.



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Damaris

posted July 30, 2009 at 4:19 pm


I like how you said you “interrogated her”. That says a lot.
It’s great that your friend is willing to put herself out there to prove something to “herself”. I know the feeling. There are plenty of things I tried in just the same manner and I’ve found that it can be a positive thing to do.
I appreciate your candor about your judgments and the fear of disappointments. I’ve found in my own experience that my greatest teachers where gifted in areas they taught me but had flaws in other areas. When I really examined that I discovered I pretty much have the same situation going on. It helped me to be more understanding. Also, I discovered that the people who don’t appear to have much to offer or who I categorize as deficient or flawed (which is really my own stupidity) usually have an outlook that is unique and valuable. These days I enjoy the moment when folks open up and their wisdom reveals itself. When it happens I feel happy that I was blessed enough to witness it.
As for “shrinking” vs “smiling” at the homeless and seemingly unstable people. Smiling is the smartest thing to do. As a native New Yorker, I’ve learned the friendless works to prevent and sometimes deflect aggression from strangers (not to mention “friends”).
And the neutral people; well when I think about some of my intense life experiences. It was the neutral people who helped me. Strangers on the streets who asked for nothing and gave me everything I needed in that particular moment. No matter how low I go or how high I rise I know they are there and they always show in the nick of time.



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Ryan

posted July 30, 2009 at 4:58 pm


Jenny’s willingness to experiment, to test her own assumptions, in the act of connecting to another human is the hallmark of metta. I think we have a bodhisattva in our midst.



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Julia May

posted July 30, 2009 at 5:05 pm


Ryan: I agree. Jenny is collasol.



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Ryan

posted July 30, 2009 at 5:21 pm


Is she colossal like the still-insitu Buddha sculptures of Bamiyan?



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Julia May

posted July 30, 2009 at 5:26 pm


Similar. But different.



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Ryan

posted July 30, 2009 at 6:01 pm


You’re climbing mountains, Julia. Jenny is not.
Everyone has the desire to climb high mountsins. Why? Because the mountain is yourself. If you know that the mountain is yourself, then you don’t need to climb the mountain. You may know that the mountain is yourself, but as you cannot really be the mountain itself, then you still want to climb the mountain. So when you get very nervous in the world, you want to escape into the mountain and live there, because the mountain is yourself.



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Ryan

posted July 30, 2009 at 6:03 pm


You’re climbing mountains, Julia. Jenny is not.
Everyone has the desire to climb high mountsins. Why? Because the mountain is yourself. If you know that the mountain is yourself, then you don’t need to climb the mountain. You may know that the mountain is yourself, but as you cannot really be the mountain itself, then you still want to climb the mountain. So when you get very nervous in the world, you want to escape into the mountain and live there, because the mountain is yourself.



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Your Name

posted July 30, 2009 at 8:40 pm


Then, why was Tenying Gyatso the only Sherpa to go up Everest with Edmund Hillary while all the others truly wondered, “Why do civilized people want to go up there?” [He was worried about the English.] We are the mountain already, so why climb? We prefer our Yak Butter Beer and a night of celebration. Summer comes, and we go to the ‘Central Mountain,’ Kailash (Celestial Mount Meru). Holiness is everywhere. Meru the center of everywhere. “The Universe has no center and no edge.”
(?).



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Ryan

posted July 30, 2009 at 11:09 pm


Some climb because they take themselves to be a mountain to climb, in other words, an object, perhaps to be analyzed incessantly as some on this blog do. They do not see that there is no need to observe the world or themselves as objects. They affirm the world from the point of view of the small mind. What is remarkable about Jenny is that she very naturally acts from the point of view of absolute mind.



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Bob

posted July 31, 2009 at 12:43 am


@Ryan:
What you said:
“Everyone has the desire to climb high mountsins. Why? Because the mountain is yourself. If you know that the mountain is yourself, then you don’t need to climb the mountain. You may know that the mountain is yourself, but as you cannot really be the mountain itself, then you still want to climb the mountain. So when you get very nervous in the world, you want to escape into the mountain and live there, because the mountain is yourself.”
is really great and full of wisdom. Amazing!



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Julia May

posted July 31, 2009 at 10:45 am


@Jerry: Jenny wrote me an email saying the same thing.
@Damaris: Yes, trying to shift the focus toward the good is the challenge. I do get better at it – it is just interesting to note tendencies pop up when they do.
@Ryan: Unless we’re enlightened, we’re all climbing mountains in one way or another.



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Your Name

posted July 31, 2009 at 11:47 pm


@Ryan, are you quoting a zen master? It is better to provide a reference if you are quoting so much with exactly the same words.



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Jemm

posted August 1, 2009 at 10:15 am


@Your Name: Ryan is a Zen master, only he’d rather not be called one because of snake oil salesmen and charlatans like Merzel who calls himself Genpo Roshi. I’ve known and admired Ryan for years.



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Your Name

posted August 1, 2009 at 1:41 pm


This Zen master Ryan cannot speak for himself? Why quoting someone else without giving a reference?



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Jemm

posted August 1, 2009 at 2:59 pm


@Your Name: I’m sorry, anonymous person, you’d have to ask him that. He’s kinda famous, you know, like has his own center. I’m sure you can email him if your impatience gets unmanageable.



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Your Name

posted August 1, 2009 at 7:09 pm


I have seen too many fake Zen masters. So I just want to find out if this is another fake Zen master or a good one. Can you give his full name? I will check him out.



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D5Order

posted August 2, 2009 at 12:47 pm


Your Name (aka C4Chaos), why don’t you just email him instead of wanting your work done for you?



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Ethan Nichtern

posted August 2, 2009 at 1:05 pm


This certainly wins weirdest comment thread of the summer award on the One City Blog.



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Julia May

posted August 2, 2009 at 3:08 pm


AGREED!



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gza

posted August 3, 2009 at 11:05 am


There was a big porcupine around my cabin last week. He would gnaw on the porch at like 4 am. It was so loud, it sounded like someone out there with a hand saw and much vigor. I would yell at him to go away and he would lumber off, real slow like.



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Tiago

posted November 17, 2012 at 6:08 am


Next to the birth of my son and meeting my fcnaie .this was right up there as one of the happiest days of my life. Thanks so much to the Sofitel for making mine and Shawn’s dreams come true. Thanks again to everyone and as soon as Shawn gets a clean bill of health .the planning will begin.



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