15 May 2007

Best. Week. EVER.

Man, what a jerk! It may surprise you to know that a lot of
people thought the Buddha was a douchebag of simply epic
proportions and told him so to his face quite frequently. Good
thing they did and he talked about it, otherwise I'd have no
idea what to do when it happened to me. Blessings come in the
strangest packages.


I've had the best week EVER. You couldn't top it if you tried. And when I tell you everything that has transpired, you're gonna thing I'm being facetious, or nuttier than an acre of squirrel crap, or grasping your frilly underdrawers and giving them a firm tug, or all three. Let me assure you I am not. I'm totally serious.

Don't get me wrong. Nothing good happened. And a bunch of stuff happened that was quite arguably bad, or would at least make a minor saint wring his or her stigmata-covered hands in despair. But it was still the best week ever because I didn't forget to practice the Dharma!

Look, c'mon, I'm not holding myself up as a paragon of patience or virtue. I've been pretty much a hypertrophic bleeding heart at the parade of my own pity most of my life. And I still may very well be. But at least I'm figuring out how to not make myself or others suffer for it. And that, dear brother, is the very first step on the Eight Fold Noble Path. (Or not. You prolluby oughtta go back and read "Buddhism for Dummies" again. -Ed.)

So here's what happened. I gots a whole list.

A few days ago, I got two crowns way back in the hurty part of my mouth, way back where the ear canal connects to the hurt bone. First they stabbed me in the facial nerve when they were delivering the anesthetic (felt like somebody had clefted my chin with a flaming tomahawk), and then they just kicked my ass for fun with every tool in their arsenal of ultimate pain for a couple of hours. They put one mammoth temporary crown over both teeth, giving me a gigantic dinosaur tooth to crunch on stuff with, which would be ossum if I were seven years old and still liked to eat saplings, but is not so cool when I'm forty four years old and like to eat blazing hot lasagna...which doesn't feel so good on an inflamed double-mammoth-crown. So the pain wakes me up at night, and not just the pain, but the whoomp-whoomp-whoomping in my ear because the whole area is as inflamed as the Middle East. So what do I do? I sit. I breathe. I try to remember other people who are also in pain. I try to visualize them all. I don't try to make my pain subside. I just sit there and observe it, and let that pain build more empathy within me for all those other people - like Michael Coates, that guy in the paper I sent money to so he could get his teeth fixed. Why just sit there and observe the pain and use it to generate empathy? Because the Dalai Lama said to. That's what he does when he's in pain. Who am I to argue with that? (Hey, look at what I found! Wikipedia tells me that aspirin was invented in 1899. I bet they're still making it. Maybe you could eat one and sleep at night and dream of all the other people who are sleeping, hmmm? -Ed.)

And then - well I won't bore you with how I spent more than four hours on the phone with Qwest trying to get the long distance at my new house to work. Everybody does that. If you haven't spent four hours on the phone with Qwest, you're just not living a human life.

And the DirecTV guys have been showing up (or not showing up) at my house at all crazy hours. They were supposed to come over between 1PM and 5PM one day. They showed up at 9:30. That's PM. And it wasn't even on the day they were supposed to show up. I made 'em go away. Then on the day they were supposed to show up, they called and said they had a hangnail or terminal ennui or some damn thing, and so they'd have to reschedule me. So I said, sure fine, why not Tuesday night between 6 and 8? And they said why 6 and 8? And I said because I like even numbers. So I get a call this morning - Tuesday morning - at 9:45, which is in no way an even number or night - from a DirecTV guy saying there was nobody at my house to let him in except this one crazy guy who was digging in the backyard for no apparent reason. And I thought "Hey! Great! That contractor I hired showed up to do the excavation!" So me and the DirecTV guy had a big laugh over all the miscommunication and he said you have a great attitude and I said hey, it's my TV not my dialysis machine so who cares? If I miss The Daily Show my kidneys won't fail. And we laughed some more and when I went home for lunch, lo and behold there was a satellite dish perched up on my roof. Finding humor is practice, too.

Is there more? Mais oui.

I got a letter from the IRS telling me that they were disallowing my IRA contributions, and that I owe another $2,211 in taxes for 2005. But if I freaked out over it, that'd mean that I was attached, right? So I didn't. S'just money.

But that's okay.

My ex-wife sent me an email. That doesn't happen every day. She was asking for something, and I thought that when I declined her request I was being pretty reasonable. I said I'd rather take it up with the person it concerns, which was not her. She, on the other hand, did not share my view, and returned to me a raging screed that was awesome (as in it inspired awe - I'm no-shit serious here) in its terrible majesty. As I recall, no portion of my person, heritage, parentage, profession or religion was left unassaulted. (She left out your complexion. I mean, get some dermabrasion for that keratosis, wouldja? -Ed.) You may think I'm poking fun or trying to capitalize humorously on someone who has enraged themselves way beyond reason, but in all seriousness I'm not. First of all, it's pretty apparent that you have to hate somebody pretty bad to disparage their religion as false, call 'em half a dozen names like "phony", "sperm donor", "miserable life entity", a "blind fool", sub-human, and then compare them to George W. Bush. (Surprisingly, no common swear words were used. What the fuck is up with that? -Ed.) I mean you have to sit down and think through what would hurt the worst, and then spend time crafting it into a letter. Malice aforethought. Again, I have to remind you, I'm not making a joke here. So what do you do in a case like that? How do you reply? Even more to the point, why would you reply to someone who is trying to impress upon you in a very specific and exhaustive if not catholic manner that they hate you - as though they were vaulting all their energies into describing the breadth of the sky?

Illuminating point: I have a card on my desk that sits right next to my computer. I read it every day about a million times. I don't think of it as an adage or a bromide. I take it absolutely to heart. It reads:

"Every day, think as you wake up, 'Today I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others. I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.'" -H. H. The XIVth Dalai Lama

So, instead of answering rage with rage, I figured that if I really wanted to make difference, I'd have to take that moment to become the peace I wanted to see in the world. You can take refuge in the Dharma only if you can remember to. Again, I can't say that I'm Joe Serene or that I'm the best Buddhist in the world. I get mad, I'm self-centered, I'm short-tempered with people, and I think badly of others sometimes. Christ, I cut people off in traffic yesterday! (Man do I suck!) But at least in this one case for one moment - in the middle of a week like this one, no less - I remembered the Dharma and tried to practice it as well and honestly as I could. (My reply to her is below.) It gives me a little hope that I can do something about the only thing that I can really do something about, which is me.




Your opinion is yours, your insults are yours, your anger is yours, and your hatred is yours. However you choose to act on those things is up to you. I can't share that with you, take it away from you, or return it in kind. Nor do I need to defend myself against any of it. Also, it would be wrong of me to try to change you or change your mind and not accept you the way you are. You may believe that you hate me, but I think the fundamental reality is that I am your best friend, and you are mine.

I've never been called names like that or had someone slur my religion until your last email. Being Jewish, you probably have had people slur your religion to your face, and not being Jewish, I can only guess how awful it makes you feel. When I feel like somebody is really trying to make me feel bad, instead of getting really wound up over it, I think of a newspaper story that I read once. I've reprinted it below.

"...try to empathise with the person who harmed you. The Dalai Lama believes that no-one is congenitally evil. He believes that all of us have a right to a certain measure of happiness, and, remember, even people who love you will hurt and sometimes betray you; it doesn't necessarily mean you should sever the relationship.

If these things seem difficult, think of forgiveness as a gift to yourself. The Dalai Lama calls this an 'enlightened self-interest'. No-one benefits from forgiveness more than the one who forgives.

Whenever the Dalai Lama talks about forgiveness, he likes to use the example of Lopon-la, a Lhasa monk he knew before the Chinese occupation. Lopon-la had spent 18 years in a Chinese prison before he was released and came to India.

The Dalai Lama told me: "For 20 years I did not see him. But he seemed the same. Of course he looked older. But, physically, OK. His mind still sharp after so many years in prison. He was still the same gentle monk. He told me the Chinese forced him to denounce his religion. They tortured him manytimes in prison. I asked him whether he was ever afraid. Lopon-la then told me: 'Yes, there was one thing I was afraid of. I was afraid I may lose compassion for the Chinese.'