You Just Saved $16

The library reopened gradually. First, the lime green tape that blocked the mouth of the book drop was removed. A few weeks later, an email announced that library books requested online would be available for pickup. Patrons were required to make a reservation, then show up, masked, at a table outside the library, where a masked librarian would hand over the goods in a brown paper bag. Getting a book had never felt so dangerous. Continue reading You Just Saved $16

Listening to Let It Be

The first record I ever became obsessed with was the Beatles’ Let It Be. Music wasn’t a part of the house I grew up in—not that my parents were against it, they just weren’t interested. When my older brother got a record player, I’d sneak up to his attic room when he was out and listen to his collection of 45s. Let It Be was the one I played over and over and over.

At the time, the message escaped me. Like most kids, if I had a scab, I’d pick it. If there was a puddle, I’d jump into it. The song made me sad, though I wasn’t sure why. Or why, if it was sad, I continued to play it.

As an adult, I fear inaction—a particularly American anxiety. If I’m wondering whether or not to do something, my default position is that it’s always better to do than not to. I regret the things I haven’t done, rather than what I did, no matter how bad the outcome. Continue reading Listening to Let It Be

Buddhism as a Hobby

I felt distinctly guilty—almost accused—when Joseph Goldstein said, “If Buddhism is more than just a hobby to you . . .” I don’t remember how he finished the sentence. I was one of a hundred or so students in the meditation hall. I’d never met the man, yet I felt like he was directly addressing me. Is Buddhism just my hobby? I wondered.

My fear, of course, was that I was an amateur Buddhist, a dilettante, a poseur in a lotus t-shirt. Clearly, I was not a professional. I’ve never listed Buddhism as my religion on a questionnaire. And though I’m all for enlightenment, it seems unlikely I’ll realize it in this lifetime. It’s not even on my to-do list.

In a good week, I meditate seven out of seven mornings. In a bad week, I may not sit at all. How often I sit is the sort of thing I sometimes discuss with others meditators, though it seems a lot like asking married friends how often they have sex. Everyone, I’m sure, imagines everyone else is doing it more than they actually are.

When I got home from the retreat, I looked up hobby in the dictionary. “An activity or interest pursued outside of one’s regular occupation and engaged in primarily for pleasure,” was the definition.

Hmmm. If you substitute sanity or well-being for pleasure, maybe I am a Buddhist hobbyist. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.

When I first read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind years ago, Shunryu Suzuki’s simple text inspired me to try to meditate for the first time. I somehow trusted the author’s words and his shaved head and kind face in the photograph on the back book.

Twenty years later, I’m still trying. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve made any progress or if it’s all been an enormous waste of time. No. Yes. No.

Yes. Begin again.

Insomniac Nights with Joseph Goldstein

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In the anxious hours of the night, I took a bath, pouring a capful of lavender bubble bath into the running water. I hoped the scent and the warmth would finally lull me to sleep. I’d felt tired when I went to bed at 10. Now, at 2, I was wide awake and exhausted.

I soaked for a while, a warm washcloth over my face. The water felt good, and then less good as it cooled. Eventually, with some effort, I rose into the cold air and pulled the rubber plug. Water rushed noisily down the drain.

iPhone showing Joseph Goldstein podcast on screenBack in bed, I picked up my phone, found a Buddhist podcast, and hit play. I placed the phone where another pillow would have been, had there been anyone else in bed. After the familiar throat-clearing sound, Joseph Goldstein began to speak in his deep, nasal, New York voice. He spoke slowly, with space between each word. I curled in, listening to what would either be a thoughtful dharma talk or a doorway to sleep.

Another insomniac night with Joseph Goldstein. The next thing I remembered was the sound of the morning alarm.

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The first time I did not meet Joseph Goldstein was in 2008, at a retreat at the Insight Mediation Society in rural Massachusetts. Continue reading Insomniac Nights with Joseph Goldstein