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The Buddha at Work - "A Letter from the Bahamas"

Excuse me, I just went to the Bahamas for a second. Steve Martin used to say something like that, back in the day, when a joke flopped or he lost his train of thought. I feel like getting it tattooed on my left arm, because apparently the “Peace is Every Step” on my right arm just isn't doing the trick. 

Unfortunately, I missed part of this past Friday, along with part of today; while my body was in Brooklyn and Manhattan, my mind was living in a fantasy world, mostly in early 2010 and early 2011. In reviewing my fantasies about the past, I found that I had made nearly all the wrong decisions. Fortunately, in my fantasies of the future I'm barely surviving, so I won't have as many chances as in the past to totally screw things up.

Oh, and during my sit this morning, Katy Perry's California Gurls kept popping back up. Just the chorus, the "Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top" part. Kenneth Folk has me noting everything now. Imagining sounds. Frustration. Imaging. Anger.

Huh? Glad you asked. Somehow I'd forgotten about this whole “present moment” thing. I was stressed about some work stuff on Friday and walked around inventing various scenarios where I'd really blown it, virtually ensuring that all my years of hard work would go into the toilet. It was pure fantasy. Oh, and I sold my scooter early last week, immediately feeling regret. I hadn't gotten enough money, I was wrong to want to buy a newer one, I shouldn't be riding a scooter in the first place, I could get killed, my children would grow up fatherless, and if I did manage to escape death, I'd probably regret whatever I bought the minute I rolled it out of the showroom.

Then I sold my motorcycle, regretted it, and got even more annoyed when the guy backed out of the deal. It's on eBay now if you're interested. Who knows how I'll feel about you buying it.

And then Sunday's rain brought another flood to our laundry room; I was sure it was a sign our house was falling to pieces.

I called a friend and told him what was happening; I knew my thinking was awry, but logic-ing myself out of it wasn't doing the trick. He reminded me that I'd recently sent him Tolle's The Power of Now––an Oprah-approved mindfulness primer for those who might be frightened by the label “Buddhist”––and I was hardly being in the now as I was talking to him. Where are you, man? he said. I was somewhere in 2011, with occasional leaps back to early '10 and late '09. So I stood there on Sixth Avenue, listening to the traffic, feeling the breeze on my skin, following my breath for a moment. Got it! Wait. Shit. I'm not in the present moment. I really should be in the present moment. Crap. How'd I get into this mess in the first place? If I just stare at the spreadsheets enough, I'll feel better.

I know it's bullshit but I allow myself to believe it for a moment. And then that moment gets hooked onto another moment, and five minutes later I'm back in the Bahamas.

Kenneth reminds me to note my thoughts, feelings, and sensations both on and off the cushion. Panicking, I said. Tension. Numbness. Aversion. Itching.  If I notice them, I won't identify with them. But instead I try to analyze my way out. There's really nothing to worry about, I say, going over numbers in my head, looking for possible answers and courses of action. I'm totally identified with the discursive thought train, and I'm having a hard time just remembering to stop.

But I've been practicing, I think to myself, I meditate, I study, what the fuck? I know about the whole discursive thought thing, I've trained plenty. Shit. Oh yeah. Fighting. Frustration. Aversion. Disappointment.

So Tolle tells us:

To be identified with your mind is to be trapped in time: the compulsion to live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation. This creates an endless preoccupation with past and future and an unwillingness to honor and acknowledge the present moment and allow it to be. The compulsion arises because the past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfillment in whatever form. Both are illusions.”

To which I say, yeah, but, so what? I know that already. And I'm still pissed. But I'm back to wanting that external solution––not to my business concerns, but to my lack of mindfulness. I want mindfulness, I think. Where's my enlightenment? Hmmm. Sounds familiar. I'm looking for something to save the day, that's for sure. More reminders. Maybe another tattoo. Back to the old pattern: one day, when things work out... Maybe I just need another teacher. Except I've done too much studying, too much meditating to really believe that. So my unease is even greater, knowing there's no real hope for salvation.

So where does that leave me?

Here's Thich Nhat Hanh:

“You've got to practice meditation when you walk, stand, lie down, sit, and work, while washing your hands, washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, drinking tea, talking to friends, or whatever you are doing: 'While washing the dishes, you might be thinking about the tea afterwards, and so try to get them out of the way as quickly as possible in order to sit and drink tea. But that means you are incapable of living during the time you are washing the dishes. When you are washing the dishes, washing the dishes must be the most important thing in your life. Just as when you're drinking tea, drinking tea must be the most important thing in your life. When you're using the toilet, let that be the most important thing in your life.' And so on. Chopping wood is meditation. Carrying water is meditation. Be mindful 24 hours a day, not just during the one hour you may allot for formal meditation or reading scripture and reciting prayers. Each act must be carried out in mindfulness. Each act is a rite, a ceremony. Raising your cup of tea to your mouth is a rite. Does the word 'rite' seem too solemn? I use that word in order to jolt you into the realization of the life-and-death matter of awareness.”

Practice. A Rite. Got it. 24 hours a day. Well, that should be easy enough. Christ, I tried to mindfully eat a salad last week and grabbed my iPhone after two bites. Have you ever tried to chew a mouthful of salad thirty times? Not easy, my friend. After about fifteen chews I'm just chewing air, like I'm pretending to eat for a baby's entertainment. Yummy pears! Yes they are! So yummy!

So much for a rite.

I suppose I get his point, though. Mindfulness isn't just something to practice on the cushion. In class last week, John Baker told us:

“The whole trick is always, always coming back to the present moment. This is where it all lives. This is where the teachings are. This is where the relationship with the guru is, this is where the guru is. No place except right now.”

Aversion. Feeling stupid. Wanting to stop chewing. Got it.

Here's Charlotte Joko Beck:

Sooner or later we realize that the truth of life is the second we are living, no matter whether that second is at the ninth floor or the first. In a sense, our life has no duration whatsoever: we're always living the same second. There's nothing but that second, the timeless present moment. Whether we live the second at the fifth floor or right over the pavement, it's all at the same second. What that realization, each second is a source of joy. Without that realization, each second is misery. (In fact, we often secretly want to be miserable; we like being at the center of a melodrama.

Most of the time we don't think there's any crisis. ('So far, so good!') Or we think the crisis is the fact that we don't feel happy. That's not a crisis; that's an illusion. So we spend most of our life trying to fix this nonexistent entity that we think we are. In fact, we are this second. What else could we be? And this second has no time or space. I can't be the second that was five minutes ago; how can I be that? I'm here. I'm now. I can't be the second that's going to arrive in ten minutes, either. The only thing I can be is wiggling around on my cushion, feeling the pain in my left knee, experiencing whatever's happening now. That's who I am. I can't be anything else. I can imagine that in ten minutes I won't have a pain in my left knee, but that's sheer fantasy.

I can remember a time when I was young and pretty. That's sheer fantasy also. Most of our difficulties, our hopes, and our worries are simply fantasies. Nothing has ever existed except this moment. That's all there is. That's all we are. Yet most human beings spend fifty to ninety per cent or more of their time in their imagination, living in fantasy. We think about what has happened to us, what might have happened, how we feel about it, how we should be different, how others should be different, how it's all a shame, and on and on; it's all fantasy, all imagination. Memory is imagination. Every memory that we stick to devastates our life.”

Wow. That's intense. I remember when I was young and pretty, too. I was an idiot, though.So what now? Just keep practicing?

Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top.

Duly noted.

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