Friday, December 04, 2009

Holiday Miracle: Two Kvetchless Weeks

I found out two or three days ago that a very sweet co-worker of mine has cancer, and the very next day, I learned that another co-worker, Chuck, died last week of stomach cancer. He cannot have been more than 55 or so, was happily married, with children, and was an extraordinarily dear person, one of the first people I met when I began at this company eleven years ago.

I went through a phase of wearing a certain kind of permanent press men’s shirt and one day saw he was wearing the same thing. “Nice shirt!” I enthused, and it became a joke between us. Once or twice, years after we’d gone on to work in different groups, I got an email from him with that as the subject line.

I met him by chance on the street several months ago and was relieved and delighted to note how healthy he looked after having received treatment for cancer in recent years. He looked fit and energetic, entirely alive and well, so it was a shock to be forwarded an email about a memorial gathering for him next week.

While I was crying quietly in my cube over this untimely and awfully sad loss, I got a call from someone at my company who has made vast contributions in support of bicycle commuting, truly an outstanding leader in this area.

I have been working on a project to install secure bike parking at company locations, in conjunction, until recently, with two partners. We had secured funding for three sites, and racks have now been installed at two of them. Then both of those people lost their jobs due to a reorganization, and I was and am on my own, which means the project has ground nearly to a halt.

I met with the aforementioned dynamic leader several weeks ago and we agreed that once I was done with the third site, we would meet again to start to figure out how I can try to duplicate in San Francisco his amazing accomplishments in the Midwest. Turns out that fellow has now lost his job, too. Sigh.

My meditation group met this week on Tuesday evening. We formed via the San Francisco Zen Center’s Establishing the Path of Practice class, which lasted all year, though I didn’t join until May. Our last official class meeting will be in a week or so, but our little group has decided to continue to meet every two weeks. We normally meditate for about 15 minutes, and then each person gets five or six uninterrupted minutes to check in on an assigned topic, and then we just chat. Once we no longer have assigned topics, we’re going to take turns choosing things for the group to read and discuss.

I signed up for EPP primarily because of the small group aspect, and it has turned out to be exactly what I had hoped. I have dharma friends! On top of that, I now feel at home at the Zen Center, where I had never set foot before, and got to meet and learn from a handful of top-notch teachers, including Paul Haller, the co-abbot of SFZC, whose honesty and openness have touched me on several occasions. We were presented with lots of interesting material, and had homework between sessions—things to think about and notice and practice—and monthly writing assignments. During the sessions, we did all sorts of things, including partner exercises, which I'm fond of, and we were introduced to koan practice. The entire thing has wildly exceeded my expectations.

Our small group has been meeting at the Zen Center, but after the class ends, we’re going to meet in the conference room at the office where one of us works, so we did that for the first time this week. I knew I’d be running early and asked our host if he could recommend a cafĂ©. He directed me to La Boulange de Hayes, at Octavia and Hayes, a charming and tranquil spot.

I’m not a fan of hot chocolate, normally, but it was very chilly that evening, so I went ahead and ordered the traditional item, and of course got the large size, since it was only 40 cents more than the small and since more is by definition better than less, even if you don't like the thing to begin with.

One of our group happened to be there, and he, being a person of moderation, had gotten the small size, which came in a fairly diminutive teacup. Mine arrived in what J. later described to our group as a “tureen.” Oddly, it was about three times the size of the small, and it was also by far the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.

I also count as a benefit of the EPP class D. setting me back on the proper path in regard to remaining still while meditating. I think it’s been only a couple of weeks since I resolved to do that, but I can really feel the difference already, which I notice at work in particular. Suddenly it seems relatively easy to be patient, and I even realized I’d gone a couple of weeks without complaining to my team lead about anything whatsoever (until today, anyway, when I saw that the on-call list has shrunk to five people, obviously my cue to mention that we used to be on call every ten weeks).

It felt like I passed a test when I spoke recently to a person who thoroughly irritated me on a past occasion. Even this time I could feel impatience arising, but then, before it became particularly pronounced, it ebbed away. This fellow commented that the day beforehand, he had thought he understood the matter at hand, but then the next day, he suddenly wasn’t sure. “I know the feeling,” I said, and a feeling of friendliness, even tenderness, overtook me. I vowed to myself to explain the thing 50 times in a row if necessary. Soon enough, I could tell he understood, and I hung up feeling good instead of guilty.
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