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Kindness and Her Annoying Little Brother, Sarcasm

1 flowerWhen you find someone whose sarcasm is sharp and quick, likely two things are true about them; they’ve had to develop their sarcasm as a weapon against cruelty, and they have been shown very little kindness.

But that’s not your problem.  It’s enough of an effort to cultivate deep compassion within yourself. When you do that, it will eventually radiate outward and infect those around you.

Kindness is a rare and beautiful quality these days. I mean real kindness, the kind that just kinda hangs around with someone all day despite their being tired, stressed or lonely. It is not some magical quality. No, darlings. It needs to be cultivated like that six-pack of abs, or your ability to cook.

Now, given that my last post was titled, ‘I Took Etiquette Lessons – Asshole’, I openly admit, that my supply of kindness runs out rather abruptly when I’m encountered with someone who is plainly rude in order to make themselves feel superior to me, or anyone else.

This morning a social media pal posted something about someone  pointing out that he had gained weight. His quick retort was funny, but my pal, with what I can only imagine was a voice in his head wondering loudly, how the heck anyone thinks saying something like that is appropriate.

I on the other hand tend to land retorts deep and quick in the guts of my passive aggressive commentators. When  a colleague called me ‘pretty good looking for being so stout’, I smiled and replied coyly that he wasn’t so bad for a fat old man himself. I looked in his eyes and smiled for a one-two-three beat, and then turned my back and walked away.

I try to say something positive and kind every day when I enter my workplace, when I’m greeted, or before I tuck my kiddo into bed. That doesn’t mean that I passively accept rudeness, mean-spirited comments, or bow to sarcasm. I kindly return the bitterness to the sender on a lovely silver platter with a smile, as little sarcasm and as much honesty as I can muster.

Kindness is; telling someone you like a certain outfit, rather than telling them that something makes them look fat.

Kindness is; passing a breath mint instead of waving your hand in front of your nose and telling someone their breath stinks.

Kindness is; asking someone who’s put on a few pounds if they’d like to go for a walk instead of pointing out their weight gain.

Kindness is; seeing someone in distress socially, and buoying them up with your smile and gentle defense.

Kindness is; handing back mean words, rude observations and a bad attitude so that the person generating negativity has a chance to reconsider and come up with something more positive for themselves and those around them.

Sometimes, kindness is also just keeping your mouth shut, coming home, putting on your stretchy pants and having a nice, cold, white-wine spritzer while listening to Solomon Burke….well, for some of us anyway.

The Amazing C and I often used to say to one another when asked our opinion, ” Do you want me to be honest, or do you want me to be nice?”

Well, I’ve done a lot of living since those days, and I believe that you can be honest and nice all at once. So now, instead of honesty, I want honesty delivered in a kind way.

We’re all old enough to know when we’ve done something stupid or been duped. We know that we make mistakes when we’re vulnerable and in love.

At the beginning of my study of the dharma with monastics, my partner at the time laughed at me when I became emotional and said something about wanting to be a more kind and gentle person. Having been known as a strong, independent woman, it took courage to want to tear down some psychological barriers and it took courage to confide  in him.

His response was not gentle or kind, but sharp sarcasm…and that my darlings, was the beginning of the end.  In that moment, I knew he was not the one. I did not need sarcasm, discouragement, or belittling. I needed kindness.

This Sunday morning, I give you this recitation by George Saunders….

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The Lazy Buddhist

"You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you're too busy; then you should sit for an hour." ~ Old Zen Saying~
“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”
~ Old Zen Saying~

I’m a lazy Buddhist.

Some days I’m more of a lazy Protestant, Hindu, Jew, Taoist, Muslim or Catholic. It just depends on how I’m feeling. I like to go with the spiritual flow, if you know what I mean.

How can I be all of those things? Well, it’s kinda like this;  I really struggle to wear the uniform of any single religion. I’m spiritual, and have found a home in my Buddhist practice. It  brought me to a much deeper understanding of my Protestant roots, and my academic study of religion.

But I’m lazy about it.

Today I put off a full day of meditation because I woke up with the same headache and sniffly nose that I went to bed with last night.

Mind you, I could have taken a seat in the meditation hall full of decongestants with a side of tissues, but it was so very much easier to stay in bed and cuddle with my 1500 count, aubergine-coloured sheets.

Granted the other folks attending today’s retreat are thankful that I didn’t come and clutter up their atmosphere with sniffles, bacteria, and a high level of shifting on my organic buckwheat hull-filled cushion, I could have gone.

Instead, I got up, had a glass of water and went back to bed, where, my body and mind rested for 5 more hours.

As usual, I made my way to my preferred coffee shop, sat back, and read the news. The piece that caught my ever-distracted eye was in the Focus section of the Globe and Mail. Crushed, by Erin Anderssen was a bell back to some thought about my own practice, and how, when I need it the most, I abandon it like a kitten distracted by an ant.

I have been worrying a lot lately. A lot. Worry is something that used to drive me toward my goals and accomplishments. Now it just drives me to bourbon, quick fixes and eventually, back to my breath.

Friendships wax and wane. Everyone has their own problems, and let’s face it, even though you may ask for someone to share their perspective, decisions have to be made with your very own unique concoction of rational thought and intuition. I tend to go heavy on the rational thought, and overboard on the intuition.

In the past, decisions that I’ve made from a place of fear or worry have been quick fixes that offered only temporary satisfaction.

For a week I’ve been stewing over something pretty hard. A simple ten minute session on my cushion mid-week, just before bedtime,  offered some release, and the most solid night of sleep I’ve had in months. I woke up with a new perspective.

So today I missed a great opportunity to share sacred, even holy, space with other people who know the power of practice within the safe space of a sangha. Instead, I chose to rest my own body and mind.

I felt guilty about not going, but then I decided to be at peace with peace. Both at letting myself get some solid rest, and for making a decision that wavered contrary to popular opinion. Just to be sure, I did some math, and realized that both my intuition and rational thought process were right on the money.

This week I had expressed my fears, hopes and thoughts to my friends, soliciting their perspectives and advice. They offered support  when I had come to a conclusion, and confided that with regard to this matter that was on my mind, I had made a poor decision before. I had to agree, and then, after calming my mind, I had to disagree.

This is life. Lived uniquely on our own, despite being surrounded by people; some caring, some sent teachers, and some we will never know.

Am I a lazy Buddhist, or am I just one who, working intensely with human loss each and every day, needed some space?

Breathing room and solitude are often mistaken for sloth. Don’t let anyone else’s ideas fool you.

When in doubt, hit the floor and give yourself ten for  zen. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.


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When Everyone Else is a Jackass

OK, let me drive...
OK, let me drive… (Photo credit: F H Mira)

“You can discover a lot about your practice while you’re driving.” That’s one of the greatest pieces of advice that I received studying the Dharma at my local temple.

One of my English Dharma teachers, a tall, strapping man, added this wisdom to one of our discussions on the meditation hall floor, and then smiled in his gentle way giving a little chuckle.

Every time I mutter, “You jackass,” under my breath while I’m behind the wheel, I think of what he told me, and am reminded that practice is never-ending. Opportunity exists in every moment. I am reminded that I need to keep being present, aware, and, during those days when practice is outweighed by frustration, out of reach of a firearm.

Jackasses! “I found myself muttering to myself on my way to the office this morning. Ah yes, there it is, my practice failing. I can see the vapours of it twisting and turning and disappearing into thin air with the breath from my angry,less than sublime rush-hour, mumbling.

I have come to realize that the more ‘jackasses’ there are on the road, the more I need to sit and breathe and meditate . Perhaps even take a mini-holiday with a gin and tonic on the rocks.

But I’ve always been a believer in the idea that you can’t really practice if you aren’t really living, and living means interacting with other people on the planet who have their own ideas, agendas and values. That really sucks doesn’t it?

That means that I can’t sit in the peace of my little green space, wrapped in a wispy slip of thin cotton, sipping tea all day and rambling around in my own mind with my own ideas thinking that I’m doing wonderfully well, and nearly achieving sainthood.

Crap, it always looks so darn easy on the pamphlet!!!

So, although my nature is to withdraw when I’m tired, and rest is highly undervalued in our society, I do know that there is a priceless alchemy between friends. It is that magical exchange that can rejuvenate faster than any tonic, ten-day retreat, or gin on the rocks with a juicy wedge of lime.

Today I had the good fortune of sharing the company of a friend I haven’t seen in over a year. Despite a year passing, it feels like I just saw him yesterday. Our friendship holds no obligation.

We discussed personal leadership, professional impotence, service, poetry, writing and being responsible for our own success or failure. It was a breath of intellectual and friendly fresh air that I am deeply grateful for.

Believe it or not, there wasn’t a single jackass on the road during my drive home. Hmm?

When everyone else is a jackass, perhaps it’s because I have my jackass sighting eyes turned on. Perhaps it just takes someone you trust enough to help you choose another view, through different eyes, so you witness the world with gratitude again;the gift of presence, the value of creating, and power of choice.

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Teaching a Pig to Sing

“Never try to teach a pig to sing. It’s a waste of time and besides, it annoys the pig” ~ Robert Heinlein~

I wish someone would have pulled me aside when I started attending Dharma classes at my local Buddhist temple and told me that I was at risk of losing the smart mouth I’m so well known for. I wish they would have told me that eventually, I would no longer feel it necessary to give a verbal firestorm to people who irritated me.

If someone would have told me that, I may have reconsidered my desire to become a better person right there on the spot. After all, I had a reputation to keep up. Had I known about the possible side-effects of ‘practice’, I may have shook my Sifu’s hand, bowed awkwardly, pushed wide the heavy wooden doors,marched off into the Saturday morning sunshine, and given the world the finger.

Instead I was welcomed and tutored in temple etiquette, meditation,Buddhist theory and history. At the same time, as I was being tutored by my brown robed, and bald-headed smiling Sifu, I also had a bad relationship for a teacher.

 Constantly fighting and feeling exhausted, I was distressed at how this person brought out the very worst in me. I used to come to the temple on Saturday mornings, quite often upset from something he said or did, and one of my classmates would ask in the cute way that we all did, “How is your practice?”For someone with beginner’s mind, it’s akin to asking a golfer about their swing after they just shot 10 over par. My response was almost always the same, I would shrug and say, “It’s coming along”, feeling terrible about myself and how I was handling the relationship.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t sit at home, legs crossed, ommmming myself into some state of entitled bliss. Subtlety is not my strength, nor do I desire it to be. I am straightforward. I have contemplated the person I was in relationship with. He was an unhappy man and not a good match for me. He had some good qualities – he was intelligent, and he was a great cook. He’s not a terrible person. He was just terrible to me. Life goes on.

Years ago my friend gave me a card with a funny photo of a pig on it. Underneath the photo, the text read, ” Never try to teach a pig to sing. It frustrates you and annoys the pig.” ~Anon.~. She said that it sounded like advice I would give. To the point, a bit comical and true. I was flattered.

I thought of that card yesterday.  You see, yesterday while cleaning strawberries and listening to Bob Dylan tunes, I had the unpleasant surprise of a phone call from a woman who truly is a blessing. You see, Buddhists believe that the people we struggle to relate to in a positive way are our greatest blessings – teachers in disguise.

Just flipping fabutastic! I thought, slicing the green tops off the red, ripe flesh of the berries. I cradled the phone against my shoulder and continued my work as this woman (and I use that term loosely, because I really want to refer to her as an orifice, but that would be insulting to the orifice) ranted for over an hour. An hour. An hour of my life. An hour of my life I will never get back. An hour of my life devoted to her own selfish, manipulative and mean ways. An hour when I was acutely aware of my practice.

I calmly continued cleaning my berries, occasionally popping one in my mouth, giving the odd, “Uh-huh.” or “I see” as she continued to rape my ear. If you put your ear to a garbage chute for an hour you I’m convinced you wouldn’t hear as much trash.

Anyway, my point is this; without continuing to try to be a more gentle, kind and strong person through my practice, my reading and my relationships, I would have reacted in an entirely different way. I would likely have come out with something like, ” Oh yah? Well you’re a manipulative, mean, f-ed up old sack of crap. And you know what else?! Nobody gives a rat’s hairy rump about your cock-eyed sense of reality and psychotic sense of entitlement…..(and then the classic, when you just can’t possibly come up with any more insults)…Who the heck do you think you are anyway?!”

“BREATHE”…..I told myself when she told me her reason for calling, “You are your thoughts”. I went back to these thoughts as I continued to clean the berries. What on earth I was going to do with her madness??? Then, out of nowhere, quietly stumbling into my consciousness and climbing peacefully onto my shoulder was a little, brown cloaked, smiling Sifu. She scared the hell out of the menopausal devil woman sitting on the opposite shoulder. I decided I liked the little brown smiling one, so I  listened to her.

“You don’t have to do anything. This is not your trash.  It’sher trash.” The little rolly monk reminded me. 

 This anger belonged to the raging mad woman on the other end of the phone.  Her crapstorm of garbage blew by like the wind, and was gone. “Thank you Sifu,” I said, and fed her a tiny bit of the strawberry I was cleaning. We bowed to one another and she disappeared.

By listening without reacting, I had done two things. I had not betrayed my own sense of self, and I had not done any further damage to her than she had done on her own.

I will have to address some of the things that she said, because I believe she is hurting a dear friend of mine. To not discuss it would be unkind.

I have to admit, using the f-word, raging a bit and letting someone have a taste of their own medicine is often very satisfying. But I don’t want a bad taste left in my mouth any more. Yesterday, despite my unpleasant interruption, I enjoyed every sweet drop of fresh strawberry flesh, and I was happy.