Flowers, Weeds, and Betrayal

daffodils 2.21.18

It has been a long, very cold, very damp winter. Sometimes it feels like the winter is interminable. And everywhere I turn, I see betrayal. People that I thought were my friends are not. People that I thought I could trust, I can’t. For someone like me, who doesn’t trust very many people, and who takes a really long time to bring someone into my inner-circle, being betrayed by someone who I thought was my friend, is shattering. It sends me reeling into weeks of rumination and introspection.

Before my mother died, she gave me a brown paper grocery sack filled with daffodil bulbs from her garden. I planted them on the side of my house. Every year, after waiting beneath the hard, frozen ground, my mother’s daffodil bulbs somehow wake up and grow. And just like those daffodils, my true friends, my roots, the people who ground me, the people who would drive two hundred miles in a snowstorm to rescue me, are there. I may not always see them. I may not always pay much attention to them. But when things are dark and gloomy and I feel alone, they peek their heads out from the cold wet muck and remind me that I am loved. Truly, deeply loved. And I don’t have to work for it, and I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not, and I don’t have to be positive or happy or fake. I just have to be me. They’ve got my back. They’re on my side. I never have to worry if they’re going to leave me. They’re just there.

I may put down leaves and mulch in an effort to keep the weeds at bay, but weeds are persistent. No matter how diligent I am, they break through my defenses. The only thing I can do is recognize the weeds as weeds, pull them out, and move on. My flowers will always be there, waiting to bloom, in spite of the dark, and in defiance of the weeds.




Getting Unstuck


How many times as a practicing Buddhist have I been told to “Live in the moment”?

I’ll answer that question for you. Hundreds. It’s one of the basic tenets of the practice. It’s the whole reason we focus on our breath when we meditate — to live in the moment. And yet, so many people I know are stuck in the past. Some of them have set up a tent and are living there permanently. And guess what? They’re miserable. And they’re missing out on a whole lot of good stuff that’s going on in front of them.

One friend of mine was betrayed by his wife twenty-five years ago and is just now starting to move past it. Others reminisce constantly about their lives when their children were young and needed them more. Some people can’t stop partying with the people they went to high school with, even though they graduated more than thirty years ago. Nearly everyone I know is in denial about getting older and is resisting the natural progression of life.  We’re born, we get older, we get sick, and then we die. If we’re lucky, we die at an age that people at our funeral say things like “She had a good long life.”

I’ll admit that I’m guilty of ruminating about past events, wishing that I’d said this instead of that, or done this instead of that. Regret is a bitter mistress.

We have to forgive ourselves for the things that we’ve done and said that we wish we hadn’t. We have to accept that we are going to age. Our bodies will change. There’s no sense in resisting it. We can do as much as we can to eat healthy foods and get exercise and fresh air, but regardless of whether or not we do that, the end result is that we are going to die. So if we keep in mind that no matter what, we are going to die, it enables us to consciously choose this moment in which to live. If we live in the past, and we set up a tent and wish things were different “if only”, we rob ourselves of contentment. We rob ourselves of the ability to be grateful for our lives right now.

No matter what path we take, no matter what fork in the road we opted for, no matter what the outcome of that turn was, it put us where we are. Regret, shame, guilt, resistance — none of these things serve us well.  What serves us well is to show up, in this moment, and say, “Here I am. With all of my faults, all of my mistakes, all of my successes, and all of the things that make me Me. I’m here. Right now.”

Inhale. Exhale. Let go. Unstick. Contentment is waiting.


Sick and Tired


I’m tired.

My soul is tired.

My body is tired.

I’m sick with a cold, which isn’t the end of the world, but I’ve been coughing so hard that I’ve pulled a muscle in my back. Ever since I came down with bronchitis in 2012, every upper respiratory infection turns into a nasty chest cold. I spent most of Saturday night not sleeping because I couldn’t breathe, and when I could breathe, I was coughing. But because I am (theoretically) an adult, I still went to the grocery store, cleaned the house, did the laundry, took my daughter to her figure skating show last night, and got both of my kids up and out the door for school this morning.

With a cough, a stuffed up nose, a headache, and as of late last night, a hundred-degree fever.

My cold has turned into something else. My grandmother always said that when you’re sick, on the third day you either die or get better — and I’m on day eight and getting worse. This does not bode well for my future.

Isn’t it funny how we don’t listen to our bodies and push through illness because we have responsibilities, and then we end up sicker than we would’ve been if we’d just stopped to rest? Sometimes our bodies, and our souls, whisper to us, and sometimes they have to yell and scream and stomp their feet. My body is currently using a bullhorn to note its displeasure with me.

I need to be better about listening to the whispers. But first, it’s time for a nap.

The Nest

The next

There is a wooded trail close to my home where I often take walks. During the spring and summer it’s quite busy with people running, biking, pushing strollers, and walking. I see children on the nearby playground. I see older kids walking in the creek, climbing trees, and sitting in what my daughter calls “The Nest”, which is a tree whose intertwined roots are exposed over the creek bed, making it the perfect place to hang out with a friend or two.

This weekend was chilly where I live. The wind was cold, and the trees are bare of leaves, so there’s nothing to stop it. I went on an afternoon walk and noticed how quiet everything was.  I heard a few squirrels scurrying around looking for food to eat, and to bury. I heard a couple of birds squawking. There were no people. Everyone was holed up inside of their warm homes except for me. I was completely alone, and aware of how alone I was.

I started thinking about how grateful I am to have such good friends; people who check in on me, knowing that this time of year is particularly difficult. I have healthy children, and a happy life. I don’t have any health problems, we don’t have to worry about money, and since my children are older, I have a lot of free time to spend however I wish. And yet, there is a nagging dissatisfaction deep within me.

This will be the seventh Christmas since my mother died. My time on Earth is fleeting, and since I am approaching the half-century mark, I am well-aware that I have more days behind me than in front of me. Why am I at war with myself? Why is anyone at war with anyone else? When will we realize that when we break down this human uniform that all of us wear and look beneath, our souls resonate the same truth. We are all broken. Our afflictions are different, our bodies are different, our situations and histories are all different, but underneath all of that are souls, and awareness, and consciousness.

The Dharma talk at my temple the very next day was about mindfulness, and the speaker noted that when we look in the mirror, we see this human form changing. We are all getting older, but our awareness, our soul, doesn’t age. If we become aware of that awareness, of that mindfulness, and take each moment without judgement, the war within ourselves stops. The need to be at war with other people’s ideologies and behavior ceases, and what’s left is love and compassion.

Our bodies are vehicles for our souls. Like The Nest, our bodies cradle our true nature and it is up to us to recognize and become aware of it. It is up to us to stop judging ourselves and others, to raise our consciousness and lower our expectations, to put aside our dissatisfaction and practice gratefulness, and to strip off the ideas of who we think we are and what we think we should be, and our opinions of how other people should behave, and just rest in our awareness. It is up to each one of us to practice this, and to love one another, and most importantly, ourselves. ❤


The Blessing of Taco Tuesday

I am fortunate to live in a community that has a high percentage of Mexican immigrants. This means there are some really awesome taco places near me. My favorite has $1 tacos on Tuesdays and I frequently stop in to get two or three to go.

I’ve been feeling down lately. Seasonal depression is kicking in, especially since it’s been cloudy and damp for days on end.  I have a lamp that I sit in front of, I am getting exercise and taking my vitamins, but I’m still feeling blah. I haven’t felt like eating much, but today I decided to treat myself to some authentic barbacoa tacos, the kind that are on warm tortillas with fresh onions and cilantro, and a spicy tomatillo taco sauce. I can’t even adequately describe how delicious these tacos are. They make me (almost) believe in God.

As I walked in, I saw a homeless man holding a sign asking for help. I didn’t have any cash on me, so I opened the door to the restaurant — and then I stopped. I turned around and walked over to the man and asked if he wanted some tacos.

It turns out that he did.

He is a veteran of the Marines. He was living about an hour north of where I live when a tornado hit last March, and he lost everything. He made his way to my town in April and has been living in the woods ever since. He’s tried to find a place to live, but his Social Security check and military checks are having trouble finding him so he doesn’t have any money, and the homeless shelters prioritize pregnant women and people with families — and he is a single male. In other words, he’s last on the list.

The line for the tacos is always long, even at 10:30am, which is when I usually go. If you go at lunchtime the line snakes around the attached grocery store and takes forever. An intolerable wait when you’re craving these tacos.  So as we were waiting, we talked. It turns out in addition to being homeless, he’s lonely, too. And funny. And intelligent. And tells great stories. He lost his wife of 29 years last year, and his home this year, but his attitude is surprisingly positive.  He said there’s a woman that comes by where he lives every so often to get his clothes, and she washes them and then returns them. He has a raccoon he’s named Oscar. Oscar is old; his whiskers are grey. And Oscar likes to steal what food my new friend has, but he’s grateful for the company. There’s a nunnery not far from the taco shop where he can get a home-cooked meal on occasion. And today, he got tacos and someone to talk to, so he deemed it a good day.

When I left, I hugged him and thanked him. He didn’t understand why I was thanking him, since I was the one that bought his lunch. I told him that he helped me more than I helped him. I walked into the taco shop feeling depressed and I left feeling grateful and uplifted. It is possible to receive blessings everywhere if you are open to them — even at a taco shop on a Tuesday.


The Birth of My Practice

birth of practice

A few days ago I was asked by the Executive Director of my temple to give a talk at the 9 and 10:30am services on Sunday. The topic he asked me to address was how illness has affected or inspired my practice.  Little did he know that it was because of an illness that my practice was born.

Seven years ago my daughter had just begun Kindergarten, and my son was in the 3rd grade. I had taken this opportunity to go back to work full-time after being a stay at home mom for eight years. I had also been voted into the position of PTA President at my children’s school, and because, why not — I accepted the position as leader of my daughter’s Girl Scout troop (something I had absolutely no experience in or clue about). I was still clinging tightly to my role as homemaker in addition to all of this, so after work and PTO meetings and Girl Scout meetings I would come home and make dinner and clean the house and do the laundry, and do everything that I had been doing before I started working 40 hours a week outside of the home.

To say that I was overscheduled and busy is an understatement.

And then my mom got sick.

And true to my mother’s nature of never doing anything halfway, she didn’t get just a little bit sick. She was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in November of 2010. Her health had been declining for several months and I had been helping clean her house and make meals for them when I could, but I never stayed long and I was always too busy to do too much.

There was a day in late October that I finally noticed that she needed help, and I called her doctor to tell her that my mother wasn’t eating enough and looked sick. So on November the 2nd, she was admitted to the hospital. A few hours after that, we were told that she had an inoperable mass that was wrapped around her esophagus and squeezing it shut, making it nearly impossible to eat and breathe, and that nearly every other part of her body, including her brain, had cancer in it. She had two, maybe four, weeks to live.

Weeks.  Not months– weeks.

The next morning, I took a leave of absence from my job (which turned into a permanent resignation). I stepped down from being PTA President, and I handed off my Girl Scout leader duties to someone else.  I spent the next four weeks living with my parents in my childhood home, waking every two hours to give my mother her medicine and breathing treatments, trying to get her to eat, and helping her to the bathroom. I also spent a lot of time lying in bed next to my mother watching TV, talking, reminiscing, and sleeping.

I slowed down.

It’s funny how the things you don’t have time for suddenly become important when there’s not much time left.

One night while I was lying there, I remembered a class that I had taken in college that focused on World Religion, and specifically Buddhism. I remembered the part about meditation and I thought “I need to get me some of that inner peace. Where do I sign up for that?”

So I did what every new Buddhist does and ordered a meditation cushion from Amazon. And it gathered dust for a couple of months until I finally sat down on it one day after my mother had passed, and my practice was born. My mother’s illness taught me the value of slowing down. It taught me the necessity of saying no.  It taught me that when my brain is scattered and I have too much to do and not enough time to do it, the solution is always to sit and be still, and then do what’s next. To focus on what’s in front of me. But most of all, it taught me to appreciate every single moment we have – even, and especially, the really hard ones.


Uncovering Our Buddha Nature


Every morning one of my friends sends me a photo of the sunrise.  He works near a pond, and the sun coming up over the water is beautiful. It’s a simple reminder to me that the sun rises every morning, without fail, to shine its light on every living thing, without exception. The sun may be hidden behind clouds on some days, but it’s always there.

It’s always there, like our Buddha Nature. We are born inherently good, even though Christianity would have you believe otherwise. There is no Original Sin in Buddhism, only Original Good — or Buddha Nature. It is waiting for the clouds to part so that we can shine our light on everyone and every thing, without exception.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and making an effort to part the clouds that have enshrouded my heart for so long. A few weeks ago I made a list of people that I have wronged in some way, and I have been working through apologizing to a few of those people. Some of these people are not ready to hear me, and that’s okay.  One of my open-hearted apologies was met with hostility and an insult to my maturity and intelligence,  and it took me a moment to gather myself. I have realized that there are those that are stuck in their own versions of themselves and fail to see themselves clearly, and so they lash out. Their attempt to look secure and better than everyone else results in a cycle of suffering that they can’t get out of. When something goes wrong, or someone rejects them, they puff themselves up even more, alienating more people and making their situation worse — and then they blame everyone but themselves for their troubles.

Imagine what would happen if those people, who are stuck in their own shit up to their knees, would simply humble themselves and ask for forgiveness and help.

The Eightfold Path includes Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Effort. All of these generate loving-kindness, generosity, skillful speech and actions, and attempt to squash greed, anger, and ignorance. During this practice of clearing my Karma and my conscience, and working on being a more open, authentic and vulnerable human being, I have encountered those negative qualities in others, and in myself.

I am a work in progress. Even though some days are cloudier than others, my Buddha Nature is always there, like the sun, ready to shine its light on the world. ❤



The Right Stuff


I was chatting with one of my friends the other day about life and love, and he said:

“You can’t focus on why you’re not good enough for some people.

Some people you’re just not meant to be right for.

Focus on what makes you the perfect person for the right person.”

BAM.  Sometimes somebody says something to me that shakes me up and wakes me up, and that did it. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

We spend so much time mourning the loss of relationships when we should be focusing on our strengths. We should be focusing on what is right with us, not wrong with us. We should try to understand that sometimes Mr. or Miss Right may in fact be Mr. or Miss Wrong. We can fight it all we want. We can try to change them, change ourselves, and force it to work, but the fact is, it never will. And when you meet someone that you can be yourself with, and not hide, and not lie, and not pretend to be someone else — when you meet that person, or those people, take note of how easy it is. Relationships can be hard at times, sure, but are you constantly swimming upstream? Are you constantly battling the same demons, having the same fights, ignoring the same faults over and over and over? If you are, it’s time to re-evaluate.

The Dharma talk at my temple this Sunday was about surrounding ourselves with people who support us on our spiritual path. Now, I’m not against being around people who make things a little difficult sometimes — it’s hard to grow if you’re constantly comfortable. But why do we nurture relationships with people who hurt us? Isn’t it better to spend time on relationships with people who love us unconditionally? Who understand us and support us and our goals?

Some people you’re just not meant to be right for, and that’s okay. Once we understand this, we can open our hearts and make room for people who ARE right for us. People who wake us up to our own uniqueness, and who make us aware of our innate goodness.  And who doesn’t need more people in their lives that can do that? ❤

The Dharma of Cats

love cat

Trust can be a sticky, scary business. Learning to trust ourselves, our lovers, our friends, our family members, can be lifelong work. In an ideal world, we trust them not to hurt us. We trust them not to lie to us. We trust them to be faithful and generous and kind. When one of these trusts is broken, it sends us spiraling into a frenzy. We feel betrayed. We are angry. We don’t understand why they are behaving this way. Why can’t they act like we think they should?

The other day one of my cats killed a baby rabbit in my yard, and I was angry with him. Later, I realized how ridiculous this was. I was angry at a cat for behaving like a cat. He was simply doing what cats do. Cats are hard-wired to hunt-catch-kill-eat. He doesn’t see rabbits or birds or mice as sentient beings like himself. He sees them as prey. He’s a cat.

How many times in our lives have we expected the people we know to stop acting like themselves? How many times do we get angry at a cat for being a cat?

Certainly there are times that we should expect children, friends, co-workers, or lovers to behave differently — but that isn’t what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about is asking people to change who they are. There’s an old Maya Angelou quote: When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

Personalities and habits are not likely to change without a great deal of personal commitment by the person himself. If someone makes a habit of cheating on his lover, he is unlikely to change the pattern — particularly if he’s done it more than once. If your boss takes credit for your work regularly, she is unlikely to stop doing it, even if you complain. If your kids always wait until the last minute to finish homework no matter how many times you remind them to start, they are unlikely to become the kind of student that gets things done ahead of time. These are cats. You can try to keep the cat inside, you can talk to the cat and try to explain why they shouldn’t hunt prey, but as soon as the cat manages to escape outside and away from your view, he will hunt down another bunny, bird, or mouse, and behave like a cat.

The same is true for people. They will not change who they are intrinsically no matter how much we cry, scream, or beg. When we engage ourselves in transactional trust, meaning “I will love you as long as you behave in X way”, we are robbing ourselves and our loved ones of acceptance and true love.

When we see people for who they are, instead of who we wish they were, or projecting a view of how we would like them to be, and then fighting about why they aren’t that way, our hearts can open, and we feel pure compassion for not just the ones we have relationships with, but all beings, without exception. When you stop trying to make a cat behave like something other than a cat, you are able to allow the cat to be who he is without judgement. You can still not like that he’s killing bunny rabbits, but stop expecting him to do anything differently.

Suffering is rooted in expectation. Love is rooted in trust and compassion. If we trust that the cats in our lives will continue to behave like cats, we can stop the cycle of transactional trust, and watch our relationships unfold into more meaningful connections.