Comfort from a Yodeling Pickle

“… and every new product represents a new potentiality of mutual swindling and mutual plundering.”   —Karl Marx, 1844

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Produce.

Why?

To be heard.

No one’s listening.

To provide value to others.

Again, no one’s listening.

Money?

No one’s paying.

On the random chance someone finds this, finds comfort—succor from their own useless scrolling. Continue reading Comfort from a Yodeling Pickle

Succeed Immediately

Yes, those were the words: Succeed immediately. Was that possible, or even desirable?

Sudip’s father died. When I heard about the Medicine Buddha Puja in his honor, I decided to attend, though I wasn’t sure what a Medicine Buddha Puja was.

The ceremony was held at a Tibetan Buddhist center in a Boston suburb. Driving there, I missed a turn my phone instructed me to take. As I was trying to find my way back to the main road, I turned a corner and saw the moon— huge and full and beautiful— rising above an empty parking lot. Continue reading Succeed Immediately

Why I Dislike the Term “Path”

I get annoyed when someone says, “I’m on a spiritual path.”

If someone says, “I have a spiritual practice,” I’m interested. I want to know what the person’s practice consists of and how consistently it’s practiced. When did they begin to practice and how has the practice changed over time?

I’m not against paths. As a devout walker and hiker, I appreciate well-marked trails. I’m grateful for those who cleared and maintain the pathways along which I tread. Though I love the thought of­ bushwhacking, my poor sense of direction (and having got lost in the woods after dark) has convinced me of the usefulness of  paths, as well as maps. Continue reading Why I Dislike the Term “Path”

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

The Thought of Getting Out of Bed

Monday morning after a late Sunday night. The alarm ringing. I don’t feel like getting out of bed. But I must. But I don’t want to.

I turn over and try to sleep a few more minutes, not remembering if I hit the snooze button. The alarm rings again nine minutes later. I shut it off. I have an 8:00 meeting, which means I have to catch the 7:20 bus, which means I have to get out of bed. Now.

Curled up on my side, I roll onto my back—a slight emergence out of the cocoon of warmth and sleep. Steady rain pelts the windows, which makes the thought of rising even less appealing.

I try to sit up, to just get going. My head lifts, a suggestion of motion, but too much of me just wants to stay in the snug comfort of bed. No. I roll back onto my side. What if I didn’t go to work? What if I stayed here all day? How long before someone phones or comes looking? Continue reading The Thought of Getting Out of Bed

Matchbox Buddhas

I meditate for 30 minutes every morning. Well, most mornings. Though I’m not religious, I’ve created a short ceremony for the beginning of my practice, a pre-sitting ritual that helps me settle in.

I drag my cushions out from under the bed, start my timer, then light a votive candle on the small altar I’ve created on top of a bookcase.

I’m fond of fire, verging on borderline pyromaniac. Lighting a match provides a moment of focus. All senses are involved: the feel of the wooden matchstick gripped between thumb and index finger; the sound of the match head scratching against the side of the box; the Tada! sound of the spark igniting; the smell of sulphur and burning wood; the sight of the white-orange flame rising upward; the faint taste of smoke on the tongue.

A small act to pay attention to.

Continue reading Matchbox Buddhas