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Upaya Day 6: I want to run away

I’m not doing this well. Most of my new friends have disappeared. Dawa and Hiumaya were gone for a second day today, Soham left last night for a week, Saro simply vanished, and if it weren’t for Rebecca and Rose (both of whom are generous in putting up with my neurosis) I’d have had no company but my own sour judgments of myself, although there are plenty of new people here. The big shots arrived today. Roshi Joan, the two nuns, and other people I don’t know. I feel overwhelmed by a thousand ways to be wrong. Today Rebecca (one of my four roommates, a woman in her fifties with good sense, my best confidante, who has been here three weeks and has committed to be here three months) and I had our instruction in “Temple Etiquette.” It lasted an hour. Our teacher was a lovely young nun with a beatific smile, who said something really lovely that I can’t now remember, as a way of introducing us to the “form.” I came back in a state of panic and wanted to make a funny poem out of it. I was going to just repeat what I’d heard, and my sense was that any sane person would find it hilarious. But I found myself really trying to repeat it, and the poem ended up being eight pages long, and not funny at all.

The opening lines are these:

Enter zendo with the left foot.
Bring hands together, all finger pads touching.
Let elbows fly up so forearms are parallel to the floor.
Fingers should be just below eye-level.
Hands should be one fist-width from nose.
Bow from the hips at forty-five degree angle.
After bow, make fist with left hand, thumb folded inside fist.
Cover left with right and allow right thumb to nest atop the left.
Put two hands over solar plexus.
Step out with left foot and walk with ease and joy.

And so on. For eight pages. All these details and specifics are ways, the lovely young woman said, to help us be mindful of what we’re doing. For Rebecca, the hour of instruction was merely “cool.” She said it was good to get clarity on what everyone else has been doing, and she figures by a year or so she’ll get it down. For me it was a nightmare. I expect to get it right. Instantly. For me it was an hour’s worth of very precise, complicated choreography, with no rehearsal, and the performance imminent and if I don’t have it right, I’m not going to be in the show. This is all in my head, of course, but I am nothing if not hypervigilant, rigid in my expectations of myself, and harsh when I fail to meet those expectations. I feel some panic, some depression, some fear (of my inner judge, who carries a very big stick), and a HUGE desire to run away, forget Buddhism. I whisper to myself, this was a crazy idea. Find some other way to live. Run away. I’m teary, feeling ridiculously neurotic and incompetent, miserable. I look forward to escaping on Thursday, but then what’s next? Another week at another such place. Oh god, what have I gotten myself into?

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3 responses to “Upaya Day 6: I want to run away”

  1. stephenbrody says:

    Dear Kendall, perhaps I shouldn’t say it but I think I warned you! For heaven’s sake, it’s not YOU, you’re in a nest of pretentious hypocrites and neurotics by the sound of it and you might have taken note of an ominous sign a few days ago – tricked-up meals of ingredients no sensible person has ever heard of together with grubby lavatorial habits is not a very promising combination.

    “Mindful of what we’re doing” fiddlesticks. They’re not doing anything except ripping off a few other fools and making a fake song and dance about it is my impression …..

  2. constance says:

    Kendall, how I miss you! There are so many things in life to be mindful of, like the unimportance of repetitive motions that “teach” us to be mindful. If Buddhist practice causes suffering, isn’t time to let go of that attachment?

  3. admin says:

    Oh, Stephen and Constance: thank you, you are such wonderful friends. Of course it isn’t practice that causes suffering; it’s what we do with the practice in our minds. Unless the practice is with a certain teacher we know well….

    Tricked up meals, Stephen? I love this stuff. What can I say? You and I have established that my gustatory sensations leave much to be desired.

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