Tonglen Says…

… I get to breathe in bitter disappointment when I feel it. I’m alright. Nothin’ wrong with feeling shitty every now and then. However, I agree that:

“Complaining continues to create the vibration of what you don’t want. Today, take your focus off of what is wrong and focus on what is right and how you desire things to be. Put all your love, energy, mental power and decision-making toward what you want, and do not entertain thoughts that are to the contrary. You are more responsible for the way you feel than your environment, circumstances, or relationships. Step toward love today, step toward the solution.” – Jackson Kiddard, Author

That was a nice reminder.

I know the solution. Estrangement and love are not mutually exclusive. They can coexist quite nicely. They already have. I’m down today, and fine.

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Well, I’ll Be Damned

I haven’t practiced Tonglen so much as I recognized it could be useful in my professional struggle. Whenever my co-worker has told me who was on the phone after hanging up, I’ve thought bitterly, “I know. We all know.” So I haven’t behaved, according to my own goal, set just days ago. I ignored her new update until I heard a change in her tone.

She was in the emergency room on Sunday. I’ve been hearing about it for 2 days straight. I know her Coumadin levels are low, and, sure enough, the gal who did her labs called just now to report my co-worker’s residence in the “Danger Zone,” to confirm that she’d had another pulmonary embolism, and to instruct emergency medical follow-up this time. By now, I’d taken off my glasses, giving the woman my full attention as she cried about having to inject herself in the stomach for the next 4 days.

And I’ll be damned, my eyes got watery. Tonglen is real, folks. I didn’t even do it, just thought about it, and it did the rest. It softened me. If only for a moment, it softened me.

“Thank god for modern medicine,” I said to her. “I’m glad there’s a solution, and that you don’t have to do it for long. But I’m with ya,” I continued. “That sounds pretty awful.”

“Isn’t that awful?” she sobbed.

“It really is,” I agreed, “but you can do it for 4 days. Thank god it’s not forever.”

Thank god, too, for my first hell-free moment as a government cog.

Then she told me about the time her mother’s gall stones moved into her pancreas.

Tug-of-War with Tonglen

Ugh!

I played too hard over Memorial Day weekend to feel sufficiently rested for work, and I am cranky. http://dreamermadwoman.blogspot.com/2013/06/san-rafael-swell.html I started out the morning being friendly enough with my office mate. I felt patient as she recounted everything that’s happened since we saw each other last week. For about an hour. Then I tuned her out and began a new project I’d been handed. However, as per usual, I was given no instructions with my assignment and quickly grew resentful when the natural investigative resources I have were exhausted and I simply sat in need of TRAINING, already! Meanwhile, the crone at the other desk is still talking about her 2 pulmonary embolisms. And eating a cinnamon roll.

I didn’t want to bother my manager, who assigned the task, because her instructions had been to ask my officemate, should I have any questions. This time, my co-worker can’t even try to explain it to me – starting at the dawn of time – because she just doesn’t know. So she stands over my shoulder shouting in my ear, “Try this. Try that.”

I DID!!!!!

And… she spits.

I wonder if I really need this. My friend Dave, who got me into Africa Heartwood Project, works for the city and comes to my office every now and then. He asked me 2 weeks ago on the way to another performance with the group how I like it here. I confessed I didn’t yet and why (the training issue, not my disdain for a poor, infirm woman). He reported that this office seems to go through a lot of temps. “Maybe that’s why,” he speculated.

I’m miserable.

Is this a chance to practice a new spiritual/life skill or is it just a waste of my time? I’m an awesome temp. I’m always working. I don’t need to feel like this. It’s certainly not worth the wage. Is this an instance of wishing to avoid uncomfortable situations and emotions or can I simply leave a circumstance that doesn’t suit me or meet my needs? (“Simply,” in that context, meaning without feeling disappointed in myself for not following through or finding a workable solution.) I cannot be a useful employee here because no one will demonstrate what’s expected of me. I’m bored and aggravated.

I don’t know what to do.

“So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.” – Benjamin Franklin

Professional Challenge

Even while closing yesterday’s rant, I had the thought that this might be an opportunity to live Tonglen. I only recently discovered the concept for myself. So far it has uplifted and excited me. Now it’s real. Tonglen is not easy. Tonglen is a tool that requires application, discipline, and intent.

I intend to succeed. I don’t know what that will look like. To date, when she’s begun a new story (which she finished 5 minutes ago), I’ve not responded at all. I totally ignore her. I feel so rude. I’ve tried the polite, silent smile or a glance of acknowledgement, but it’s fuel. Best to continue unresponsive. I think she’s used to it, sadly. She doesn’t seem to notice. The challenge is to not curse her every time she speaks.

Additionally, I must recommit to doing my job with integrity. I confess, hating my post, I have phoned it in. I resent that I have no training, yet I’m charged with a task I have no resources to complete… except to ask her. (Remember, she’s growing senile. She can still do it, but she can’t demonstrate how! And she starts at the advent of this strange box called Computer!!!) Worse, asking for her help is an invitation to hear her script. She begins with renewed vigor, and recites ALL OF IT.

My response has been not to do it, my job. “What do I care?” I rationalize. “I’m a dirty temp.” And, “What are they gonna do, fire me?”

Awful!

I have defined my new professional challenge. I accept this opportunity to live Tonglen. Ugh.

Job [Dis]Satisfaction

It would be hard to overstate how much I dislike my current assignment. I’m surprised, really, by how difficult a time I’m having here. I LOATHE this place! I’ve withheld judgement during the learning curve, which can be… bitchy (on the inside, only, cuz I know me and I know it’ll go away). However, I’ve been here for a month now and my disdain only grows. In fact, it’s becoming personal.

I hate the people I work with, except for one, who is quirky, stylish, smart, hard-working, and ambitious [simultaneously pursuing graduate degree], and the others who just do their boring tasks quietly, if vacantly. The 2 women whose professional lives most impact mine NEVER SHUT UP. I’ve tried to be patient, because I’ve had/ will again have this problem myself. But seriously, shut up! What makes you think we care about the minutia of every nuance of every idea and event in your life!?

One is very old. Seventy-nine! She should have retired five years ago at the very least. She doesn’t take care of herself, eats candy and doughnuts all day, then complains about the consequences. I know how thick her blood is, and she showed me her cellulitis!!!

She thinks her conscious stream of thought interests everyone else, and she’s losing her memory. “She must be very lonely,” I tell myself, urging patience. I’m a story repeater, after all, finding myself so utterly engaging and my stories so entertaining that they warrant second, third, and life-long reiterations. She was surely this character, too, when she was bright, young, and relevant. But I cannot take it. (Of course, I can.) Still, I want to crawl out of my skin or tear into hers!

I worked in hospice, for god’s sake! I’m terrible.

I haven’t struggled with guilt like this… ever. I’ve felt exceedingly blessed by the seeming-effortless skill I have of recognizing guilt as a signal for repair and restitution, or simply a destructive emotion that, not serving me, is quickly discarded. I’ve never sat in guilt this long. Feelings of hostility plague me; their amplitude alarms me. It’s affecting my life, and I’m in charge of that choice.

So I feel angry with myself for giving that power away, and giving so much sway to base and compassionless emotions. I actually have compassion training! I feel weak and defeated. And ever-impatient, screaming inside, “SHUT THE _____ UP!!!”

This woman makes the other prattling municipal drone intolerable, when normally I could tune her out like an inconsequential gnat. “You are not clever,” I want to inform her. “And saying the same sarcastic thing 3 different ways does not change that.”

I consider the practice of Tonglen. I breathe them in, because we are all irritating. I breathe them in because we are all irritated with our fellowman and our jobs some days. I breathe in my anger and personal failings, because we all fail. I breathe out patience, compassion, and understanding for myself and others, all the while feeling fake, ungrateful, and empty. I’ve spent time praying that I can stand to do this for a year. I made a commitment I wish to honor. Furthermore, I have a lot to learn, gain, and offer here. I also feel vulnerable being so candid about the ugliest parts of myself. Right now I just feel like crying. It’s the first time I’ve given concrete voice to what’s been sapping my energy for the entirety of this, my favorite month of blessed early Spring.

“God loves April babies more, but May’s his favorite month.” And I’m a total bitch.

You’ll Know I’m Dead When The Noise Stops

Then again, if there were ever a spirit that could make itself heard, it would be me. So I’m not promising anything quiet… (in forty years when I die…)
quotebydalailama

“Listen or your tongue will make you deaf.” -Tribe unknown

I’ll be learning that lesson for as long as I live, and I’ll never quite master it. But I’ll get better! It’s fun, like a game.

Growing Up

I heard once, of raising children, “The first 40 years are the hardest.” That could certainly be said of me for my parents, ha!

Last night, I posted on ye ol’ Facebook the invite to my “Forty Fabulous Forty!” birthday party, and I’m getting so excited. I can’t say what an amazing year this has been, to go through the last of what has been consistently traumatic family interaction to arrive at today. As I’ve said, it sorrows me that the successful solution seems to be estrangement, but I’m so consistently happy and productive since I struck out in this new way – giving up and giving in – that I must also conclude, again, that it was the right thing to do. It has given me precisely what Pema Chödrön promised it would: softening. I feel so much better!

Today, a passage in her book, “When Things Fall Apart/ Heart Advice for Difficult Times,” struck me with such peace and clarity that I have to quote the whole segment. I haven’t picked it up for months, so the timing was incredible, with my much-anticipated 40th merely 10 days away. (Or not incredible at all, really. 🙂 )

“When we feel squeezed, there’s a tendency for the mind to become small. We feel miserable, like a victim, like a pathetic, hopeless case. Believe it or not, at that moment of hassle or bewilderment or embarrassment, our minds could become bigger. Instead of taking what’s occurred as a statement of personal weakness or someone else’s power, instead of feeling we are stupid or someone else is unkind, we could drop all the complaints about ourselves and others. We could be there, feeling off guard, not knowing what to do, just hanging out there with the raw and tender energy of the moment. This is the place where we begin to learn the meaning behind the concepts and the words.

We’re so used to running from discomfort, and we’re so predictable. If we don’t like it, we strike out at someone or beat up on ourselves. We want to have security and certainty of some kind when actually we have no ground to stand on at all.

The next time there’s no ground to stand on, don’t consider it an obstacle. Consider it a remarkable stroke of luck. We have no ground to stand on, and at the same time it could soften and inspire us. Finally, after all these years, we could truly grow up. As Trungpa Rinpoche once said, the best mantra is, ‘OM – grow up – swaha.’

Finally! I am growing up. Phew! I held on to the mantra, “NOT FAIR!” for too long.

I have no ground to stand on but this ground, this beautiful earth, and I’m on it!
I’M FORTY!!!!!

“Having been so dissatisfied with my own and the world’s shortcomings, I would have thought myself a suicide by 30.” -Alice Walker

first 40 years
It was my therapist who said it. 🙂 She was right.