Last week I didn’t post because my computer broke. It’s fixed now. I won’t go into details – talking about your computer breakdown/revival is like telling someone your dream, extremely interesting for you, extremely boring for them.
However last week, hot, gloomy and fitful with hysterics about my precious machine-baby lying inert atop my bedroom desk, I thought: I really don’t want to write some stupid post about how I get to work with my mind and its sense of expectations because my stupid computer broke. I just want my stupid computer to work so that I can write, and if it doesn’t work, I just want to be upset about it. Enough with the 45 layers of ‘how should I be feeling about this event’ rigmarole.
That’s probably why I chose to avoid reading the assigned chapter in our Tonglen book dedicated to transforming adverse circumstances until an hour before class. Oh how I wanted to suffer. You know what I’m saying. I wanted to listen to that Ryan Adams song about “stealing all my records.” I wanted to delve into my hidden memory banks and review every single shameful moment from four years old on just to feel that blush of pain. I wanted to overanalyze every recent conversation I’d had with anyone and see why I was a jerk. I wanted to think about all the dumb things I did for romance when I was younger, a subject always best left to fizzle into oblivion. You know that Buddhist dart teaching? How there’s the first dart of the painful experience? And then we throw more darts, and those darts are the suffering? I wanted the World Championship of Darts to take place in my bedroom.
What I mean is only that I was wallowing. Which, Buddhist or not, most everyone knows is lame. But in my mind I was like, “whatEVER. What is the problem! I just want to mope for a bit. It doesn’t hurt anyone!”
Except it kind of did.
I ate worse, drank more, smoked more, and kept weird hours. Wonder of wonders, now I’m sick. I was insecure, obtuse, and unrealistically demanding with my boyfriend, and wonder of wonders he felt abandoned by his partner who had sent Zelda Fitzgerald in as her replacement. I was sulky and irritable with my mother and father who wonder of wonders felt unreasonably attacked. You know, it would be one thing if I didn’t care. But the truth is that I spent the entire time wracked with guilt about how I was acting, how I was feeling, etc. etc. etc. My meditation sessions turned into “meditations on why you can’t have a better attitude about life, Julia, p.s. you should be doing more work you are lazy” sessions.
Even our Lojong reading got tinted by my blues. I thought, arghhh these slogans. They’re so unsubtle! I can’t work with these! First I’ve got to get my shamatha in order, then I’ve really got to have a better relationship with vipashana, then I’ve got to get my loving kindness into practice and then (maybe) these pithy slogans can help me. Right now, saying over and over to myself, “turn all adversity into the path of the bodhi” makes me feel like a goth teenager whose parents keep pressing them to try out for the cheerleading squad. Blech.
Then what always happens happened. I dragged my feet to class. We talked through the slogans. We talked about how commentaries on the Lojong slogans render the slogans more specific. I marveled at my fellow classmates and their intelligence, optimism and dedication to the teachings. I realized that the teachings don’t work without that degree of dedication. I’m fiercely analytical, and upon first glance, could find a hole in anything, including the dharma. The amazing thing about Buddhism to me, however, is that if you stay with analysis, if you have the faith to stay with the analysis, you tend to find a truth that lies deeper than any hole you could burrow.
The Lojong slogans about transforming adversity teach you how to take responsibility for yourself in relationship to the world. That can seem like such a daunting task. It seems like a rising to the challenge instead of a surrendering to experience. In actuality, though, it’s both – because real surrender means truly realizing that you cannot control the world – you can only work with your perspective. And that surrender gives you the energy to rise to the experience – to be grateful to everyone, to drive all blames into one, to transform all mishaps into the path of awakening.
I’ve been thinking about that a good deal recently: about how practicing Buddhism rests on this weird wager you make with yourself. It’s like you have to put all your chips onto letting go in order to rake in that windhorse of energetic joy. You got to go all in on acceptance to score pure and blissful motivation. You gamble with the void to win pure possibility. You trust the odds. You have faith.
I’m obsessed with Mary Oliver these days, so I’ll leave you with the last bit of her poem, “Mockingbirds.”
Wherever it was?
I was supposed to be?
whatever it was I said?
I would be doing–?
I was standing?
at the edge of the field–?
I was hurrying??
through my own soul,?
opening its dark doors–?
I was leaning out;?
I was listening.