You Just Saved $16

The library reopened gradually. First, the lime green tape that had 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 again.

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 is always to do. I regret the things I haven’t done, rather than what I did, no matter how awful 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 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 never list Buddhism as my religion on a questionnaire. And though I’m all for enlightenment, it seems unlikely I’ll reach 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 other 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 them.

When I got home from the retreat, I looked up hobby: “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.

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 water’s 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 pulled the rubber plug and stood up in the cold air. Water rushed noisily down the drain.

Back in bed, I found a Buddhist podcast on my phone 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 prelude to sleep.

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