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GG Day 4: she loses her faith

Buddhism is not, of course, a “faith.” It’s a way of life, a set of principles, ethics, and stars to steer by. I have not lost any of that. But I have definitely lost a dream. For many years, I thought, “If I can just get through this, eventually I’m going to become a Buddhist nun, and then I will be fully who I am.” Hah. It was a romantic fantasy I had, that in my old age I would blossom into a saint, or something like that, in flowing and graceful robes, with a shaved head and a smile of bliss on my face. (I haven’t read Queneau’s La Dimanche de la Vie four times for nothing.) The truth is, I have have spent my life becoming fully who I am. The idea that living in Buddhist community would be a kind of glorious finale for my life is a delusion, like so many that have come before. It is always wonderful to be freed of another delusion. I felt more fully alive and more connected with the universe in Portugal, sitting on the miradouro in Melgaco, than I have felt at either of these Zen centers. That is not to say anything negative about the Zen centers. They are wonderful in their way, and they offer nourishment for many people. But not a way of life for me.

Truthfully, I am not so fond of equanimity. In times of great stress, it’s attractive, but I’d rather be dancing. I’d rather wear a feather boa to the grocery store. I yearn for orange and magenta and puce. I am tired of black and gray and white. I’d rather kick back and listen to a good friend talk about why her last relationship didn’t work out. I’d rather listen to music. I haven’t heard music since I left Texas, except the drums and gongs and bells. Yesterday after an afternoon in bed with a migraine, I got myself up and into the Zendo for the afternoon sit, and all I could do was daydream. I’d have spent the time better lying in a hammock under some trees. This morning at 5 a.m. I took my seat but kept nodding off to sleep or drifting into daydream. I couldn’t discipline my mind, and some rebel spirit in me didn’t want to. So I let myself remember where I was this time last year. I remembered the LIFE and the joy of Portugal: the music in the square in Braga, the dancing, the sweet woman in Guimaraes who kissed me on both cheeks because it was my birthday, Leo sitting by me in Leiria saying he can’t make ends meet, flowers tumbling over balconies, people standing out on their balconies, sipping wine or coffee, watching the life below, shouting at their children or nuzzling with their partners. I jerked my head up from a nod in the cold Zendo and peeked around me at all the people in black robes. I thought, “I don’t want to be one of these equanimous gray heads in black robes, sitting in silence, finding balance.”

That was what gave me the force to leave Smith College. I didn’t want to be one of those gray heads on the front row at commencement, having spent all my life grooming brilliant young women for the world. I wanted to be more fully in the world myself. So I went to Africa. I am a gray head myself now, and although I have no idea what I’m going to do between this moment and the day I die, I don’t want to spend the rest of my time in a Zen center. No siren song there. It was better in the fantasy than in the fulfillment. Why is it that so many things in life are that way?

I love what foolishness gets us into: mistakes, juicy stories, crazed attempts (like this one), deep connection to all other beings for the foolishness in all of us. I love us for trying to create better lives for ourselves and others. I love the world. I don’t want to leave it, not even for the bells and gongs and morning mist swirling around the most beautiful Zen center in the world. If I were going to live in a Zen center, it would be Upaya, where there are some people I want to grow with and know better, and where several of those very interesting people have said they really hope I come back. (Here, I don’t think anyone gives a shit whether I come back or not, so long as I get the dishes stacked where I’m told to. I’m just a number. I can’t even get eye contact with anyone, let alone a heart-to-heart talk.) I’m honored that people at Upaya hope I’ll come back, and it does pull at my heart….

But no. I don’t think I will go to Upaya and fall into the workaholic pattern that dominates their lives and has burnt me out so many times in the past. I don’t think I need to do that to myself again. Yet I am of the world and in the world, and I want to continue that way. I love the merry-go-round. I don’t want to get off. I just want to know, when I am on the merry-go-round, that I am on the merry-go-round. I want to be present and mindful in the thick of life, suffering and exulting and making mistakes in good company. Maybe in Portland?

So now I am marking time. I have committed to be here till Saturday, and I am doing what they expect me to do, to pay my way and to make a contribution to their vision. This morning I washed dishes for several hours, cleaned rooms and bathrooms for a few more hours, and then washed dishes some more. I’m on my break now. This afternoon I am supposed to be sitting in the Zendo at 5 p.m., but I think I will skip. (I am in full-blown rebellion.) The sun is out, and I have been inside all day. I want to feel California sun on my skin, and I don’t want to be pulling weeds as I feel it. I will take my sunglasses and walk down through the gardens to the beach. I will gaze into the Pacific. That will be my meditation today. And if they don’t like it, what will they do? Fire me?

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-3 responses to “GG Day 4: she loses her faith”

  1. stephenbrody says:

    “…it puzzles me that these joys, so precarious at best, and so rarely perfect in the course of human life, however we may have sought or recieved them, should be regarded with such mistrust by the so-called wise, who denounce the danger of habit and excess in sensous delight, instead of fearing its absence or loss; in tyrannising over their senses they pass time which would be better occupied in putting their souls to rights, or embellishing them …..”
    Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian, 1954

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