Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Elderly and Beautiful

On Mother’s Day, I got on the blower to my forebear: “Sir! Thank you for giving birth to me and for other mother-related amenities. Is [my sibling who lives nearby] coming over to wash your feet?” There had been no mention of that.

That evening, I watched Valkyrie, which was excellent. I love Tom Cruise and don’t mind who knows it, and this movie, based on the true story of the final failed plot to assassinate Hitler, was very well written and executed. The idea was to get rid of Hitler (did you know he ended up committing suicide? News to me) and then compromise with the Allied forces to end the war. During the period of dithering about the exact plan, Bill Nighy says something like, “I think the Allies might be more amenable to a truce if we offer it to them before they reach Berlin!”

On last Wednesday’s ride to the beach, I found the bike lane in the park completely blocked at five different points by dumpsters or large recycling bins, while another stretch involved riding through water sprinklers. It’s nerve-wracking wondering when someone is going to step from a car right into the bike lane, as well. When people get out of their cars, the vast majority of the time they’re heading for the lawn extension, and this is still the case, but now getting there requires them to clomp across the bike lane.

I was glad to see several giant signs posted explaining the new arrangement, because that means so many people are confused and unhappy that the whole thing should be disappearing soon.

Last Saturday, I went via City CarShare car to visit Carol Joy in Novato. We had lunch at Toast, saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (for the elderly and beautiful), and took a walk near College of Marin, possibly. We definitely took a walk, and I think that’s the school it was near. It was a hot, lovely day. Sunday was allocated to Rainbow and cooking.

On Tuesday C. and I took the bus downtown to do errands. We went to the office of my eye doctor, and to Patrick & Co. on Market St. for C. to get a notebook, and to the Patrick & Co. on Mission St. near New Montgomery so I could introduce him to Shirley Edelson, sprightly spirit extraordinaire, still happily working at 84 or so. Back in our neighborhood, we had lunch at an Asian place on Mission St. near 18th.

When I arrived at Howie’s Tuesday evening—besides being the greeter, I almost always get there an hour early to set up the chairs, which I rather enjoy—Howie asked if I had a topic suggestion. I asked how we can best practice when in the presence of others. You know, not for any particular reason or anything.

Here’s what he said, insofar as it was preserved in my notes: We should seek to feel our own feelings—our own pain and distress—rather than focusing on the other person. We would do well to pause before speaking and notice what our intentions are. Do I want to share information? To try to get you to do what I want so that I don’t have to feel unpleasant feelings? To impress you? To let you know you are loved and seen? To hurt your feelings because you hurt mine?

Those examples are mine, but Howie said that if we gain clarity about our intentions before opening our mouths, we might decide not to speak at all. I suppose we might also decide to say a different thing.

Here’s the kicker! I thought he might say we should try to keep, say, five percent of our attention on our own body even while talking to another, but he recommended keeping eighty percent of our attention there, as possible. That absolutely surprised me. He said that when he’s able to do this, paradoxically, he finds that he is able to attend to the other person more closely than when he doesn’t.

He said that if our speech is motivated by grasping or aversion/hatred, the results will be bad. Suffering will be increased, not alleviated. He said that if we feel uncomfortable, it’s because we’re no longer in harmony with reality, but superimposing some idea or story on top it. When we are mindful, all desires are fulfilled—that is, nothing can be discovered to be lacking. We can only be “hungry ghosts” in the domain of ideas. (A hungry ghost, in Buddhism, is a creature with a tiny mouth and neck and a huge stomach, who hungers endlessly but can never be satisfied.)

If I’m consciously present in my body, I don’t need you to fill the hole in my heart, because there isn’t one.

I tried the eighty percent thing when I talked to C. on the phone the next morning, and sure enough, I did take in more of what he was saying, I felt considerably calmer, and it was surprisingly easy. However, since then, I’ve found it difficult to remember to do, which is often the big problem.
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