Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Last week I read that the price of the two-bedroom condos being built at 19th St. and Valencia is from $1.75 million to $2.3 million apiece, and that all have already been bought, in cash. I know that everything changes all the time and that this neighborhood is particularly subject to that. The latest shift began a number of years ago, when the first BMW appeared near my front door. I know that everyone on earth spends much of her time wanting what she doesn’t have and not wanting what she does have—that everyone has sorrows and struggles, losses and regrets, including those amply supplied with money and power. I even know that feeling resentful and judgmental reliably punishes only one person: me.

But I’m still having trouble with the idea of lots of affluent neighbors and who is having to disappear to make room for them. Construction is underway at 20th and Valencia, as well, and that will probably be a similar thing (plus, those people will patronize my personal bike shop!). There is also an enormous lot being developed on Mission St. itself, between 21st and 22nd.

In the past year, I’ve been working with a metta, or lovingkindness, practice inspired by my meditation teacher, Howie, who in his early days in San Francisco would silently offer good wishes to the strangers he saw around him: “May you be happy,” or even, “I love you.”

The first couple of times I tried it, I found it hard to stick with when I didn’t feel the expected outpouring of love, but then I decided that if I did this practice during a 30-minute walk and there was even one moment when I felt friendlier than if I hadn’t been doing the practice, it was worth it, and it is definitely the case that there’s always at least one split second of feeling friendlier.

I also realized that, even if I didn’t feel noticeably friendlier, it was still worthwhile because when my mind is busy thinking “May you be happy,” it’s not lost in the past or future. I feel calmer using my mind in this directed way even if I don’t feel kinder. It’s another way of staying engaged in the present moment.

I learned that it’s crucial to get a brief glimpse of the face of each person I send good wishes to, that it is very difficult to have any sense of connection without that, and that sometimes just seeing all these faces in their various states of happiness, anxiety, or earnestness can open my heart.

When I come upon someone doing something that pushes my buttons, I don’t force myself to send that person good wishes but instead temporarily switch to bare attention and noting what I see. For instance, “There is a person in a green shirt riding his bicycle on the sidewalk.” I’m not sending this person good wishes, but at least I’m not thinking, “These sidewalk bicycle riders should be sent to San Quentin immediately! Why can’t everyone be as courteous as me?” Bare attention and noting can be applied to my new neighbors: there is a building filling up with people with a lot of money.

Now, these are rich people moving into the neighborhood, but what if they were the first black neighbors? What if I were that bigot saying, “Oh, no, there are going to be black people here!” Or, “Oh, no, gay people are going to get married, just like us!”

Someone might rightly want to say to me, “It’s not going to hurt you to have black neighbors. You might discover that you like them! But at the worst, you can still do exactly what you did before, and enjoy everything you enjoyed before,” ditto with gay marriage, and the same is true of me and my rich neighbors. Yet there is the gut reaction, so here’s another plan: to send metta to the person who is actually suffering right now: myself. When I start to think about my new neighbors, I can instead think, “May I be happy.” This probably isn’t going to suddenly change my feelings or opinions, but will at least interrupt the pernicious train of thought and maybe calm the mind.

Here’s another thing: Relative to some, I am rich. Someone without a job or working two minimum-wage jobs might regard me as privileged and oblivious and therefore as loathsome. What would I say to that? I would say, “I’m not loathsome! I’m a good person! I give to charity, and to people asking for money on the street. I think about other people. I try to be kind. I worry about the bad things happening in the world.” Well, that’s exactly what my new neighbors would also (probably) say. If having more money than another person doesn’t make you bad—and it can’t, because I have more money than some—then my soon-to-be neighbors aren’t bad. If being aware of others and trying to do what good you can makes you a good person, then they are good, because that is (probably) true of them.

The reason I have (at the moment) a steady and satisfactory paycheck is that I work for a large corporation and I’m delighted this is the case. It’s not my ultimate passion to sit in a cube staring at a computer, but I’m not brave enough to fling caution to the winds and follow my heart
’s desire. I need X amount of money not to feel insecure, and this is the most obvious way for me to get it. Probably my new neighbors feel that they need X amount of money in order not to feel insecure, and their X just happens to be way more than my X. One might say, “You don’t need that much money,” but fear doesn't often readily yield to an application of common sense. Selfishness, at its root, is fear.

If (and this is hypothetical) my new neighbors have 500 times more money than I do because they’re 500 times more scared than I am, then they deserve my sympathy (though—ahem—maybe not as much as the Latino families who are going—where? Where are they going?). Also, probably some of these people did become rich by flinging caution to the winds and following their hearts. Let's not forget that. No doubt many of them are fabulous, dear, adventurous people.

Lately El Tecolote has featured many stories about the eviction crisis and the political action and protests that are underway. I never seem to find out about a protest until after it’s already happened, but I’m going to call Charlie today and find out how you get advance notice of a protest so I can stand with my neighbors who aren’t rich, while also endeavoring not to dislike those who are.
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