Category Archives: personal

Struck by the golf club of wisdom

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Years ago now, back when I was still deeply involved in the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), I felt I was very firmly “on the path”. I had my bags packed for Enlightenment, or at the very least, some Pure Land.  I had my map, which we chanted at the beginning of each class - Prayers for the Stages of the Path. I trusted that my Spiritual Guide knew how to get to the top of the mountain, I just had to be willing to make the schlep.  I was going was to a place beyond suffering where I would abide in bliss and emptiness and hang out and radiate blessings to all the poor suckers still stuck in samsara. Or at least I thought it was something like that.  The only model we had for enlightened beings were old Tibetan dudes, most of whom were dead.  Enlightened beings never looked like me.

When I stepped off the Mahayana path and started down the much more mindfulness oriented path of Vipassana, my spiritual goals changed.  I stopped fetishising Enlightenment as the end all and be all. That may come eventually, but for now I was simply trying to stay present, right in this moment.  And by going on retreats, I was able to get a taste of some of the bliss that comes with a highly concentrated mind, and experience the peace that comes from mindful attention to my moment-by-moment experience.

Yet, I still had this sense that I would never totally have my spiritual shit together.  All the teachers I had come to admire had traveled to Burma, Thailand, India, etc. and did long retreats. Instead of old Tibetan dudes, my new spiritual role models became the prototypical Spirit Rock teacher – a Marin-dwelling, Jewish psychotherapist.

One day, not so long ago,  I was on my way to see my therapist – a Marin-dwelling, Jewish Spirit Rock teacher. As I drove up to his home office I saw him remove a set of golf clubs from the back of his car. Golf clubs? Gurus don’t play golf. I was completely thrown. We probably spent half the session talking about why I was having such an averse reaction to the fact that he played golf (nay! loved golf). No conclusion was reached by the end of the session. I left as baffled as I was when I arrived.

The next morning as I was driving to work I was still mulling my rather extreme reaction to the golf clubs. Then it hit me. Seeing my teacher with those golf clubs pretty much shattered the picture in my head of what a person who has their spiritual shit together is like.  So, I mulled, if that picture is false, then who is to say that I can’t have my spiritual shit together? Why does my awakening have to look like an old Tibetan dude’s, or  my Marin-dwelling, Jewish therapist/teacher’s?

Those golf clubs struck me like a vajra.  For the rest of the trip into the office,  my ordinary view of other drivers and pedestrians shifted, and I saw them as potential Buddhas (beings who totally have their spiritual shit together).  The hipster girl walking across the street talking on cell could have been a Buddha. The old Chinese lady getting off the bus with her bag of groceries had a Buddha nature. Even the cabbie who cut me off may have been fully enlightened. So why not me?

I never realized how much I had been holding on to these pictures of what a person who had deep spiritual realizations looked or acted like. Nor did I know how much I had excluded myself from that picture.

But, no more.

Tears for Aurora

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I blame my metta practice for how easily and frequently I find myself tearing up.

As I watched Anderson Cooper tonight interviewing victims of the Aurora, CO theater shooting,  I noticed I had stopped breathing. I recognize too well the look of shock and horror in the witnesses eyes. My heart breaks for them. I cry for them. I know from experience their lives may never be the same. A trust has been broken. While there is no written contract stating that your life will never be touched by violence, you certainly never expect to be just minding your own business in the relative safety of your home or a movie theater and then be confronted by someone with a gun.

That happened to me over 30 years ago and there are still reverberations. I was at a friend’s house and two men burst into the home threatening to shoot us. They didn’t. They did other things. My body still holds the memories. The event still occasionally revisits me in my dreams. This even after years of psychological and spiritual work. I feel fortunate to have therapists and teachers who have helped me turned that shitty event into the manure in which to grow my compassion.

But through the tears there is also anger and outrage. But, it’s not directed at the shooter. I don’t feel pity for him, yet I know it takes a very sick, deluded person to do what he did. No, my anger is at the NRA and its supporters who think it’s OK to be able to legally sell assault rifles to the general public and who have fought tooth and nail for people to be able to buy as many guns and as much ammunition as they please. No red flags were raised about this guy and his recent weapon buying spree. It was all legal. And it makes me sick. And I want to get on a soapbox. I want to blame some “other” for allowing this. But, I know it will do no good. Already online I can read the gun control debates. Everyone just spouting “I’m right, you’re wrong” with no true dialogue.

Tonight as I was doing my metta practice I did a round for everyone affected by the events today in Aurora. And while I certainly wish them happiness and peace, health and strength, and ease of well-being, I wish with all my heart for them that one day that they may once again feel safe and protected. It may take some work, but I want to hold them and tell that it is indeed possible.

Coming clean

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Recently I made a big decision. Not a particularly life-changing one at this point in my life, but it is a big commitment of time and finances. It’s a bit of unfinished business from a time in my life when everything went very, very wrong. It’s a decision that under most circumstances should be applauded. But, instead this decision means I have to tell the truth and face the shame of having misrepresented myself for most of my adult life.

I have decided to go back to school to complete my Bachelor’s degree.

Even now that’s hard to write. In telling even my closest friends it feels like a coming out of sorts. It’s hard to admit to others that I didn’t finish my degree. Most people thought I have, and I have made no effort to dissuade them from that notion. When people talk about college I have always said with confidence “I went to Berkeley”. I don’t say I graduated from Berkeley, nor do I tell the complete truth that  I dropped out from Berkeley in the latter half of my senior year.  Well, that’s not entirely true either. Since I’m being honest, I have overtly lied about having a degree. When I was much younger I lied on my resume and said I had my BA in Film Studies. I figured a) being only one semester away from graduating was close enough b) they wouldn’t check anyway and c) no one was going to hire me based on a degree in Film Studies, for fuck’s sake. But still, it was a lie and lies have a way of weighing on your conscience.

The decision to go back to school was a relatively sudden one, not something I’ve been ruminating on for a long time. It never seemed necessary.  I’ve made my way through the working world based on my smarts and initiative, not on a couple of letters after my name. Yet, after some long, deep discussions with a colleague of mine about our accidental careers, I realized I had painted myself into a corner. Granted it was a comfy corner with good pay and benefits, but it was still a corner. Will a BA open up whole new career horizons? Especially a BA in Humanities? Maybe, but probably not, especially not at my age. But, at least I won’t think twice about applying for jobs where a BA is required. Also, should the foolish notion of graduate school cross my mind, at least I will have met that whole “graduated” requirement.

I will be attending an evening BA completion program at a lovely, small, and well respected private university that is with only 7.5 miles away from my home. Rather than doing an online program, I wanted to have that human touch (after all, my degree will be Humanities) and to be in an environment where studying non-career enriching topics such as literature or art history is valued, not questioned, as in “how on earth is that going to help you in the real world?”

So far everyone I have chosen to tell has been very happy for me. A couple of them were downright verklempt. And as I have started to free myself from this lie I had to told to others (but mostly to myself), I am finding myself feeling oddly vulnerable. I am stripping off a layer of identity – “Berkeley graduate” – that I had taken on even though it was a lie. And under this layer of faux identity, I am finding the skin is very pink and tender.

And it’s OK. It’s amazingly OK.

2 bd/2 ba apt available – dogs OK

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Tonight, as was I was fumbling with my keys to get into my house, I was besieged by the frantic barking of the dogs in the apartment building next door.

“Jesus, dogs, I live here. Can’t I come and go from my own house without you losing your shit?” I mutter to myself. (And yes, I know it’s not the dogs’ fault, but the humans. Still it gets old. Really old.)

It’s not a new complaint. These dogs are only the latest in a series of frantic dogs who have lived in that particular apartment over the years, which got me musing about the occupancy criteria.

Potential tenants (PT): We love it!  We’ll take it.
Landlord (LL): OK, great, but I need to ask you some questions first. Do you have a dog?
PT: Um, we have two. The ad said dogs were allowed.
LL: No, that’s great. How big are they?
PT: Oh, they’re small. Chihuahuas.
LL: Perfect. Do they bark a lot?
PT: Well, they’re protective. Yes, I guess they can be a bit vocal at times.
LL: But could you characterize them as “yappy”?
PT: Some might call them that. But, they’re only like that when they get bored or lonely.
LL: How often are they left alone?
PT: We both work, so they’re alone pretty much all day, and well, frankly most of the evenings too.
LL:  Are they territorial?
PT: Like we said, they’re protective. If anyone comes close to the house, they’ll probably bark.
LL: How close?
PT: I don’t know, 50 yards?  Yeah about half a football field in any direction sounds right.
LL:  Perfect!  Your dogs sound like they will continue the long distinguished history of bored-psycho-yappy dogs that have occupied this particular apartment. I’ll get you the paperwork and we’ll get you moved in ASAP. Welcome to the neighborhood.

If it’s not one thing . . .

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A few days ago, the last of Binkles’ foot drama was over. The vet removed the pin in his foot that was used to reset the bone that had fractured.  I felt relieved that not only was my Binks as good as new, but I was looking forward to a period of time where it didn’t feel like I was dating my vet, so frequent were my visits.

As I pulled into the driveway with my newly-pinless bunny, I noticed that Pretty, my pet feral cat, was limping pretty badly as she came out to greet me. When I got out of the car, she came up to me, gave me a plaintive meow and held her paw up. Part of me was thinking “oh no, you poor thing” and the other part (the cheap, less compassionate part) was thinking “oh for crying out loud! Seriously?”

I took a look at her paw and could see nothing obvious. It clearly wasn’t broken as she was putting weight on it, and there was no visible or felt object stuck in it. She was moving around (albeit limping a bit) and eating just fine, so I figured this was a watch and wait situation.

The next day, she seemed better. Still slightly limping, but definitely in better spirits. I was relieved. However, the day after (on a Saturday, of course) I could see the paw had definitely taken a turn for the worse. It was swollen to twice its normal size, and her limp had become much more pronounced. No more waiting and watching. She is a feral cat, after all, and if it got worse she may go into hiding and I would never be able to get her.

Fortunately, she does let me touch her, so I petted her a while as she ate.  Then I betrayed her by quickly scruffing her and then stuffing into a carrier. She complained loudly and mournfully as we drove to the emergency vet.

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The question

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Since I left the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) close to five years ago, I’ve been spiritually promiscuous. I’ve tried on a number of Vipassana teachers and sanghas in hopes of finding some place that feels like home. I’ve toyed with a local Dzogchen teacher, studied Mahamudra with a Vajrayana teacher and earlier this week, I returned from a six-day retreat that combined Dzogchen and Vipassana.

Usually when I return from retreat there is a bit of an afterglow. The real world seems rather harsh in comparison to the quiet I feel inside. That wasn’t the case this time. It was an odd retreat. Not bad. Just different than what I’m been used to at past retreats at Spirit Rock.  This retreat was co-led by two heavy hitters in the Dzogchen and Vipassana worlds (whom I’m not going to name simply because I don’t want this blog to show up when someone Googles them).   The main draw for me was the Vipassana teacher who literally wrote the book on Metta/LovingKindness. But, since I had been dipping my toes back into the world of Tibetan Buddhism, I was also interested in what the Dzogchen master had to say.

I wish I had been warned that this was primarily a Dzogchen retreat with an emphasis on the teachings (approx three-to-four hours a day from the Rinpoche and another hour from Ms. Metta).  In the past, I’m used to four-to-five hours a day of sitting meditation, plus another two-to-three doing walking meditation. During this retreat I barely broke two hours of meditation per day, and the walking meditation breaks were really just 15 minute stretch breaks.

Which is not to say the teachings weren’t amazing. They truly were. All the things I loved about Tibetan Buddhism – the intellectual rigor, the precision, and the magical infusion of “blessings” – came flooding back to me. Ah, why did I ever leave?  But, then in the evenings, when Ms. Metta gave her teachings based in the Theravada tradition, I was reminded why I had changed direction. There is a beautiful simplicity and practicality, a psychological resonance, and a strong sense of morality.  I have found a teacher and a sangha I connect with and my practice is strong, why would I want to stray off this path?

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Mr. Binkles, the overly dramatic rabbit

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I had such high hopes for the month of April. This was to be the month of getting my fitness regime on track. March was all about getting caught up routine medical stuff, and reintroducing myself to my doctor, whom I hadn’t seen in four years. Everything checked out fine and dandy, so the next step was to work with a personal health coach on the exercise stuff, and then in May I was going to start working with a nutritionist. Yup, those were my plans. And you know what they say about plans  . . .

Instead, April became all about Binkles (and I could totally hear him saying “and that problem with that is . . .?”  (and yes, I realize rabbits don’t talk, much less read, much much less read my blog)).  You see, on April 1 (no joke), much rabbit drama ensued.

It was about 6pm on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I noticed the Binks was laying on his stomach stretched out. Warning sign number one of possible GI stasis. When I leaned down to check on him, he dashed into the bathroom and behind the bathtub. Warning sign number two. And finally when he rejected his most favorite treat in the whole world, a banana chip, I knew I had yet another case of stasis on my hands.

Uh oh

Thanks to my friend Judy, the Bunny Bodhisattva, I’ve learned how to treat this life-threatening condition myself at home: take his temperature, then sub-q fluids, heat, medication, and the most fun part, force feeding him this liquified hay goop. Then I confine him to his carrier and wait for his appetite to come back and some poops that tell me his digestive system is once again working. It’s nerve wracking and scary, but I’m getting more confident in my abilities to pull him through these episodes. But, this time something went wrong.

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