Saturday, July 25, 2015

Make a wish

My mom recently heard about an organization that grants senior citizens' wishes, like those groups that send terminally ill children and their families to Disney World, but this was for regular seniors with no special issues. This led her to think about what she'd wish for, she told me.

Her first thought was a trip across the country to visit my aunt. Sadly, the wish-granting organization is bound by the laws of time and space, and she'd still have to undergo the actual travel, which is what's holding her back. She dislikes airplanes, and other methods would take too long (otherwise I, her daughter, could grant this wish). No tesseract, no travel.

So then she thought that she'd like to revisit our family vacations in Cape Cod. But again the organization lacked the capacity to take everyone back 20 years when the grandkids would be happy hunting hermit crabs and digging holes for hours on end while she doled out Twizzlers.

She decided she didn't really have a grant-able wish, so she would simply be happy with how things are. She's a wise woman.

Our conversation made me think, though, of how often our hopes and wishes and expectations -- conscious and especially unconscious -- would crumble under the light of awareness. Do we realize how much our good mood depends on the weather cooperating or our co-worker's mood or the arrival of an anticipated email? How much we expect consistency from our technology and environment and friends? How much we are thrown off balance when we don't get that?

We pin our happiness on achieving some ideal situation, big or small -- the dishwasher will be empty when we open it; we'll find a well-paying, fulfilling job that benefits society; the tomatoes will have ripened overnight. And if that doesn't happen, we're disgruntled at having to empty the dishwasher or answer phones cheerfully or eat plain salad.

We fail to see what we have, right now, because we thought it would be different.

But we can change that.

Monday, July 20, 2015

What has Buddhism done for you?

I was fortunate to spend a week this month on retreat with a teacher who had kickstarted my personal exploration of the Buddhist path a few years ago. By then, I'd been studying Buddhism for a while, but it had been largely intellectual until I did a weekend program with him, and later a weeklong retreat.

Since then I've seen him mostly for weekend programs and kept up with his podcasts and books. Sitting with him again in person was a push my practice needed -- and an opportunity for reflection on where I am and where I had been.

"Buddhism saved my life," I told him one evening after a session where several people shared their stories. (This was a retreat that emphasized building sangha; we were silent for half the day and spoke during the other half.)

Maybe I was being dramatic. Maybe not. Buddhism definitely helped me see and change negative patterns of thinking. It let me be touched by joy as well as suffering, to see the inseparability of the two. Suffering exists; it feels good to admit that, to not try to talk my way out of that. It arises from causes and conditions. It can be eased.

Today, July 20, is celebrated in Tibetan Buddhism as Chokhor Duchen, the anniversary of the Buddha's first teaching, which was on the Four Noble Truths. This is also known as the first turning of the wheel of dharma.

I am personally deeply grateful for the teachings, those who teach them, and those who study them. My all beings everywhere without one exception benefit.