30 June 2007

Loving Everyone, Squirrels And A-Holes Included

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Scariest book you'll ever read. It's a scary, scary
squirrel world, and we're just living in it.


It's me, Thaddeus. Remember me? I showed up in your house somewhere back in 1962 - June, I believe. The 27th, to be exact. 45 years and three days ago. You thought mom and dad had brought a puppy home from the hospital. Ring a bell?

I'd have to use a calendar to recall how long it has been since I heard from you. And not just any calendar. I mean the Mayan Calendar, because it seems like millennia. I know you have a penchant for holing up inside your tuba with a peanut butter sandwich and a book of Green Stamps, thrift and nut butters being your keenest interests. But you should really poke your chalky-white face outside once in a while and take a look at who's making all the racket. You may find that it's me, the puppy your folks brought home from the hospital, begging you to throw me a bone. Or a word. Whatever.

I've been doing things. Working, for one. Reading, for another. I got a couple of really great books for my birthday. One was "Squirrels of the West" (Tamara Hartson, editor). Squirrels have filled me with a combination of warmth, fascination and horror ever since we had one as a pet when we were kids. Remember Desiree? Our little pet squirrel that we kept in the house who taught herself how to ride the turntable on the stereo? (Squirrels are such smart little bastards! Cross a monkey and a rat, get a squirrel. S'true. It's in every squirrel's creation mythology that they are the descendents of Hanuman and Karni Mata. Just ask one.) And remember how she pooped on, like, everything we owned? Living with a partially-domesticated squirrel is like randomly firing crap-rockets inside your own home. Few except us will ever experience the exhilaration of a chittering, crapping blur whizzing by their oatmeal bowl and caroming off the walls first thing in the morning. Unbelievable that we got away with it. No wonder dad drank so much. Either he let us get away with it because he was anesthetized by a half-rack of Carling most of the time, or he kept himself half-racked as a defense against random crap-rocket attacks. Not too sure which. Anyway, the book lets me feed my fascination with these vituperate, tree-dwelling rodents in the comfort of my own home, where I'm now safe from crap-rocket attacks. That is until I step outside of course.

Perhaps this book will teach me how to harness the power of squirrels for good. This has been one of my goals in life, believe it or not. A friend of mine once wrote a play wherein squirrels were a pervasive and aggregate evil. Hundreds of them would combine to create human forms and then attack the unsuspecting, Trojan Horse style. Not too far from real life, if you ask me. Judging from his personality, my cat could be nothing more than a dozen bilious and phlegmatic squirrels held together by cat-shaped spackle who are just waiting for the opportunity to explode like a seed pod and attack me from every corner of my being. But what if I could harness those squirrels and use their combined power to mow the lawn, replace my toilets, or shoot out the legs of my rivals? (That's a job best left for raccoons. -Ed.) Then I could make some real money. Then I could drive down Broadway in a faux gold trimmed Lincoln with a license frame that read "My Other Car Is A Squirrel".

The other book I got for my birthday was "Best Buddhist Writing 2006" which is more of a hoot than its title would lead you to believe. Usually books on religious matters are all too serious and leave me feeling like I've taken some kind of medicine that does nothing more than make me feel bad for being a schmuck. Not so much with this book, though. Allow me to submit as proof the laugh-out-loud-funny and deeply touching "Hair Braiding Meditation" by Seattle poet Polly Trout that is included in the book.

May I be filled with loving kindness. May I be well. May I be peaceful and at ease. May I be happy.

May my daughter, who wants a billion tiny little braids this morning, be filled with loving kindness. May she be well. May she be peaceful and at ease going to school with a billion tiny little braids.

May her best friend, who got a billion tiny little braids put in her hair at Club Med Ixtapa last week, be filled with loving kindness. Also her mother, may she be peaceful and at ease. And the woman the mother hired to do all that cornrowing, may she be well. May she be happy.

May I be filled with loving kindness as I put in these billion tiny little braids. May I be peaceful and transcend greed. Also, may I go to Club Med Ixtapa next season, when the beach will be even more inspiring due to my newly enlightened and greed-free state. May I be happy.

May my coworkers be filled with loving kindness as they wonder why I am late for work as I make these billion tiny braids. May they be peaceful and at ease.

May my daughter not notice that these braids are not nearly as cute as her friend’s braids that got done professionally in Ixtapa, or if she does notice, may she be peaceful and at ease about that, please for God’s sake.

May my toddler, currently trying to vie for my attention as I make these tiny braids for her big sister, be filled with loving kindness. May she be peaceful and at ease.

May my mother, who did this for me when I was five, be filled with loving kindness. May she be peaceful and at ease. I wonder why I never thanked her for that.

May I remember this day sitting with my daughter, braiding her hair, late for work again, peaceful and at ease, happy.

There's also the work of Marc Ian Barasch, an apparently very prolific Buddhist writer who I've never had the pleasure of reading before. What I really like about him is that he's a sort of Buddhist Everyman, a Dharma-working shlub who readily exposes his multiple warts and confesses his manifold failings in the face of his Bodhisattva vows. It's kind of like what it would be like if Thich Nhat Hanh did slapstick. My kinda thing, in other words. I highly recommend his essay "Searching for the heart of compassion". Aside from being quite engaging on an intellectual level, it's just plain fun reading. There's something very refreshing about teachers who engage in this sort of reverse pedagogy: "I can't tell you how to do it right, but I can tell you how many times I had good intentions and still completely fucked it up. Maybe you can pick up where I left off."

Which brings me to a point which I consistently get hung up on: how to love the assholes in your life. As Barasch says in his essay, it's pretty easy to love the good people. Our expressions of compassion get winnowed down to the precious few in our lives. But compassion is supposed to be for everybody. And everybody means everybody: you, me, that guy I don't know, that asshole that wants to kill me, squirrels - everybody. The issue that I'd like to addressed exhaustively is how to express compassion for people who hate you. Better still, how to express compassion for people who will turn around and use your compassion to harm you. I mean, c'mon. Everyone has had that happen one time in their lives. There are people in the world who will do whatever they can to capitalize on the best part of your nature and will at some point use whatever you say or do to stab you. One of that species of person is mentioned in the article, but the issue is only dealt with briefly, and that is to say that a line was drawn in the sand. "Letting you use me as a doormat isn't good for either of us, so in the spirit of compassion, I'm telling you in the kindest way possible to fuck off and stay fucked off. Namaste." But there has to be more you can do than that, isn't there? Or is there? Maybe there comes a point when you're dealing with someone who can't help but be abusive that you just have to say "Okay, I'm done" and break that contact permanently. Maybe the only way to make that action compassionate is to not do it in a spirit of anger or retribution, but in a spirit of contributing to mutual well-being.

Or maybe I should just sic some squirrels on 'em.



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