I’ve had this mug over 30 years. I received it as a thank-you gift for supporting my local PBS station in Syracuse. It’s one of the best things I’ve owned, in that it is lovely to look at, comfortable to hold, a just-right size, and made of a clay that retains heat. To my amazement, it has survived 15 household moves, including two cross-country ones.
Every single morning, unless I’m ill in bed, I brew one pour-over mug of coffee. It’s a small ritual that anchors my day. As I looked at it this morning with steam wafting up, it reminded me of a witch’s brew in a cauldron. I’m entering my crone years, and I embrace the creativity and crazy wisdom that emerges in this age.
Last summer I realized there is another practice that I have inconsistently applied, one that opens me to appreciating and awakening to life. A practice that I need, because it really does help me be sane, and that can only help the world. I realized that if I can take time to make a single cup of coffee without fail every single day, surely I can do this other practice every single day. So, I committed. And 132 days later, it has become integral to my life.
Now I am looking at other practices that I know support my life and, indirectly, other people. I am setting an intention to do them, which means designating a time and place, and treating it as if I am meeting a loved one.
Existence is hard; it is literal suffering. It has wonders and joys, amazements and fascinations, yes. And it has love. All of this along with suffering, which happens to us and which we inflict on others and our own selves. Claire once asked me, if life is suffering, what is the point of being alive? In the end it seems simple enough: we are Life experiencing itself. We are Consciousness holding everything. We are the Mystery. It doesn’t bear too much thinking about, because thinking is a distraction. Better to simply pay attention to what is happening right now, what is right in front of me, and to meet it as fully and with as much attention as I can.
Taking my own advice, I happened to notice the sunlight on freshly washed grapes when I made my lunch. After visually appreciating them for a time, before relishing them in my mouth, I snapped a photo to share.
Being an introvert and ambivalent about interacting, I often keep myself folded up when I’m out in the world. This also increases my sense of disconnection and loneliness, and yet I persist. However, sometimes I relax, and life beautifully unfolds.
I was at the motor vehicle department to apply for a REAL ID, which is the federally-approved driver’s license that will permit me to fly without carrying a passport. For this I needed several types of paperwork to confirm my identity; to provide proof of address, I brought a life insurance bill. When my number was called, the associate who helped me was first struck by my purple hair and commented how much she liked it. I get this a lot. I’ve been purple for six years, and it seems to delight other people as much as it does me.
Then she began looking at my papers. She asked me what the life insurance paper was, and I replied it was a bill for my life insurance. She paused and said, “I told my husband the other day we really need to get life insurance.” Then she stopped her work entirely and began telling me about her life. She has two adult children who moved back home and who don’t get along. She told me about the stress it created, and how she couldn’t afford the fee to file evictions on them (they won’t move out). I listened and empathized. I mentioned how I’d had a fight with my 12 year old daughter the day before, and how she’d said something utterly disrespectful. The associate sympathized. We talked about how difficult it is to parent. She continued to tell me how her husband and son nearly came to blows in a recent argument and advised me to nip insolent behavior in the bud. Somewhere in the conversation she began working on my license application as she spoke. When our transaction ended, I thanked her for sharing with me and wished her well, and she returned the sentiment.
I stepped into the next line to get my photo taken, but when it was my turn, my file wasn’t accessible. The associate had forgotten to close it; the photographer couldn’t proceed. The associate had gone to lunch and left her station. So I stepped aside while they searched for her. The staff was apologetic, and I said it really wasn’t a problem. As I waited, several other staff members passed by, and one woman said I was “rockin’ the purple hair!” and high-fived me. It was altogether a congenial experience. What surprised me was the connection outside the business at hand. I marvel at this, at the serendipity that arises when I am relaxed and receptive while out in the world. It changed the tone of my entire day for the better.
“Thoughts — and feelings triggered by thoughts — are mutable and impermanent, and yet because we humans incorrectly identify our being with our thinking, we construct a false notion of ourselves out of ideas and memories that have no actual substance. No wonder the ego is called “the false self.” The false self — the thinking mind — is continuously talking to itself, disturbing itself, even lying to itself. Reimagining the past or fantasizing about the future. Setting up expectations that aren’t met, then casting judgment and blame. Struggling every step of the way to stop struggling. Naturally, it doesn’t work.”
“The dharma — understanding, peering into the nature of reality — is not specific to Buddhism. The dharma is truth. And the only choice we really have is whether to try to be in relationship with the truth or to live in ignorance. There are no other choices. You have to actively engage. How did I come to be? How do I think of myself? How did I get what I have? (I don’t mean your degrees.) Where did I come from? What land are we on?If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. All of us, in some way, have profited from our wrong knowing.”
“Dharma practice is founded on resolve. This is not an emotional conversion, a devastating realization of the error of our ways, a desperate urge to be good, but an ongoing, heartfelt reflection on priorities, values, and purpose. We need to keep taking stock of our life in an unsentimental, uncompromising way.”