June 14, 2007

The Head-Slapping Path

“When the world is filled with evil, transform all mishaps in the path of bodhi.” This is what the slogan card sitting on the shelf above my desk says. Right now I’m having a hard time seeing that path.

Karma brought me here. You might even call it bad karma that I didn’t manage to find the architectural internship I spent all spring seeking, interviewing with dozens of companies. So, instead I cam out here, knowing I would only make a quarter of what I could have had I staying in Nebraska and found a job at a shoe store. Karma is what it is and I didn’t regret the circumstances.

Now I am filled with fear – fear that I will regret having to leave here. It was all contingent, coming here, so many ifs. If I didn’t find an internship. If I could save enough money during spring semester. If I could find a sub-letter. I didn’t find an internship. I saved up five hundred dollars. I found a sub-letter with good references.

Now I don’t have my internship. My car broke down almost as soon as I arrived here, so I don’t have my five hundred dollars (though I do have a working car). I have not received June’s rent from my sub-letter and his third chance is about to expire. No matter how hard I try, I can’t pay my bills on my salary, which is pathetically small.

I want to stay. Two people, young men who came to work for the summer, have already been forced to leave because of financial difficulties. They went home to find ‘real’ jobs and pay their bills. I want to stay.

How do I transform this path into bodhi? Bodhi is enlightenment, or sometimes “the path of no more learning.” (H.H.D.L. in How to Practice, p.203) The Buddha would probably tell the young man to keep his money and keep the apartment and live well. I called him and told him if the money is not deposited today he is going to be evicted.

I’ve heard people say that when you come here everything comes up. All the neuroses and psychoses and issues and mental baggage, eventually it all comes up, because we practice, we sit, we work with the mind, but also because this is a hard place to live. It makes you question your very lifestyle, your culture, and all your habitual patterns that you find just don’t work up here. They are right. I have gone to bed angry, frustrated, and scared (mostly of imaginary bears) more times since coming here than in the six months previous. I have listened to my mental monologue, that nightly rant which I have lived with, let settle, let go of, and then found again the very next night on a different topic.

A friend who stopped by my office asked me if I was lonely. I have an office all by myself, but I am so far from lonely that I couldn’t hit it with a pole the width of the Grand Canyon. I eat three meals a day with hundreds of people, dozens of friends and acquaintances I know and like and can speak with on almost any subject imaginable. The Facilities guys and so many others are wandering in and out of the shop all day. My only “private” space is my tent, which I only go to for sleeping. There are usually a half a dozen girls in the shower to chat with. Even sitting outside or in one of the lounges reading a book, there is usually someone sitting next to me. Angie and I are even share a book by reading out loud together. No, I’m not lonely.

It is no wonder then that most of my nightly rants center around people. Let’s face it, I’m a hopeless introvert, but I learned how to work with other people, how to be considerate and kind, compassionate and gentle, flexible and accommodating. I have not yet learned how to be confrontational, and I hope I never do, but I am thinking I at least need to learn how to be more firm, how to put my foot down.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I can get people to do what I want, or that I should or will. Each person has their own choices to make, and they often don’t factor me into the equation when making them. So when my problems stem from the people around me (or five hundred miles away and living in my home), I can use them to learn how to better serve others. They say wisdom must be combined with compassion in order to reach perfect enlightenment. Sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do is slap someone upside the head, but only wisdom will tell you when is the right time to do that (and how much force to put into the swing).

While this may give me the opportunity to learn both wisdom and compassion, it won’t put enough money in my bank account to let me stay here. And this is probably the place best able to teach me those things. It seems chock full of people put here to teach me, sometimes by slapping me upside the head, and sometime with hugs, words, or just a quiet presence on the bench beside me.

What’s a girl to do?


Stuff said...

Beat up a bear. That's what I'd do.

Monica said...

Yes, well, you also get into rumbles with coffee tables....