Sunday, December 13, 2009

No buts about it

[image: Pema Chondron]
Early in my practice I had no access to a Teacher, so I bought tapes and listened to them while I was ironing, working in the kitchen, driving. I remember Pema Chodron telling about how - maybe it was after her ordination as a nun - she was in hot wool robes, sweaty and exhausted, and “I’ve never been so happy in my life.”

That struck me as odd - I hated to be tired and sweaty - and I remembered it today. We’d had The Grandson, a ten-year-old spontaneous reaction, overnight, and Saturday had been a big day for us. We went to an old friend’s Memorial Service before we picked Otto up, and had no time to rest at all. The evening with him was exciting. He demolished a lot of pizza and discarded the Anime we'd rented, Spirited Away, saying, "I've found that with the Disney films, you always know how they're going to turn out." Hmm, I thought, narrative theory at age ten. It turned out what he'd rather do was play Uno with us. Tom is a card shark when it comes to this old game, which he learned at an impressionable age. I am not good at it, but tend to scream. These things make it lots of fun for Otto. He wore me out and I went to bed at 9:00, while Tom and he cut snowflakes for the front door.

I was barely up in the morning and lighting my candle and incense, being very quiet, hoping to get in some meditation before he woke up, but he came padding into my study. We arranged an amiable settlement; he got on my computer, on ESPN, where there is all sorts of information he is interested in, and I sat a foot away, back to him, having an interesting meditation. He's seen me meditate before, asked a question about Buddha, had me show him about sitting crosslegged. Cassie has taught him how to stop and take three deep breaths when he gets too wound up.

On the day went. Root beer and Cheezits for breakfast. More snowflake cutting, then I had cooking to do before Cassie and Chris arrived at noon for dinner, and a little more Christmas decorating. I noticed myself getting tired, especially my legs. I can get a kind of exhaustion now that I seldom knew before I had failing kidneys. I was in a very fine, clear place, and noticed my reaction. There. That, exactly that, noticing what you're doing, is the eventual outcome of practice. My internal reaction was fear, and then a thought that I'd got to sit down and rest or . . . or else. And then I recalled Pema saying how happy she could be when she was totally exhausted.

That fear was one of those conditioned responses, going back to the previous couple of years when I got hidden UTI's easily, and would get very sick and lose still more kidney function. But last year, after much maneuvering through the medical system I had a consult with a Famous Urologist who put me on the right preventive antibiotic. Eureka. I don't get those infections anymore. In other words, the fear was leftover from a past (nonexistent) me. I think that's a good example of a conditioned response, one that is not about present reality. That doesn't seem like much, but it's the same mechanism, isn't it, that governs more disabling mental reactions.

So I kept going. Then sat down and knit, watching Otto and Tom play Blokus, and leapping up a couple of times to do this and that. I didn't even have to be "tired but happy." I could be tired and happy, and was.


  1. I love Pema Chodron. Whenever I feel out of sorts, I listen to her lecture tapes, and I'm back here again.. to where I am. And not stuck somewhere in that drama of mine.

  2. Pema is indeed the bee's knees.

    Too bad he wasn't interested in Spirited of the Studio Ghibli/ Miyazaki greats, and a favorite of our family. Next time tell him it's just a re-label, not really Disney at all. Of course now I realize this was back in 2009--never mind!

  3. Yes - we are trying to learn to set boundaries on Otto. We will have him this summer for several days, God willing, as he attends OSU basketball camp, and we've learned we have to be firm about some things. On that occasion, I thought his real interest was in playing a game with us, and I'm glad I wrote about it, because it is so nice to remember. Have you seen The Illusionist? Available on DVD from Netflix. By the people who made The Triplets of Belleville. It is refined, a coherent narrative, sad, a beautiful palette, very fine animation. And actually, led to a rather Zen discussion among ourselves afterward.