Thursday, January 09, 2014

Avian Accuracy

Last Friday I went in a City CarShare car to pick up the little Ikea table I’d taken to be refinished at J & L. I was prepared to be disappointed and resolved not to get upset—$175 and it looks like that?!—but in fact it looks gorgeous. I will definitely have the other one done, and I have also emailed them a photo of my unfinished bookshelf to see how much that would cost, as well as the old wooden chair in my kitchen.

After work that day, Tom and I took a walk and then had dinner at Santaneca.

On Saturday, Charlie and I took a walk in the spring-like weather and had lunch, also at Santaneca. After that, I was going to drive Tom over to visit a friend in hospice at Kaiser, but he learned she had died the night before, after enduring four horrible, very painful years with cancer. She was 55, and leaves behind her husband and their eight-year-old son. So sad, and so much misery for just one person.

I treated Tom to dinner at We Be Sushi that night, and I sent the bereaved husband and son a card, and a heart carved from rose quartz apiece, a gift I appreciated when Carlos was dying. I dreamed that night of the woman who had died. I probably only was in her company about four times over about 15 years, but she and her husband are close friends of Tom
’s, so I’d heard regular updates on her awful ordeal. I told Tom to tell the husband that we’d be delighted to go with him and his little boy to the park or out to dinner or anything they’d like to do.

I’m about halfway through Joseph Goldstein’s book Mindfulness, and, along with noticing when there is ill will in the mind, I’m also trying to notice when there is desire / greed / grasping. (The Buddha said that the causes of suffering are grasping, aversion, and delusion; the exact terms can vary. It boils down to being confused about what’s going on and/or insisting that things be otherwise—wanting what we don’t have, not wanting what we do have.)

I was thinking that greed doesn’t play a big part in my day-to-day life, until I realized that impatience is a form of grasping, ditto looking ahead to the next activity: after I get done meditating, then I’m going to do this, that and the other. I am not resting fully in this moment’s experience. My mind has gone on to what I’ll do later, even if it’s just a couple of minutes later.

I was listening to KQED a week or so ago and noticed a knot arising in my stomach when I heard something irritating, which must happen very often, alternating with the pleasure of hearing good news: Those scoundrels! Awesome!
Those scoundrels! Awesome!
What is all this reactivity covering up? There’s probably much else (not necessarily anything really interesting, but still) that’s overlooked while I’m listening to the radio or to music. I decided to investigate, and also possibly give my nervous system a rest, by taking a month off listening to the radio or to music. The one exception will be talks by Buddhist teachers. I’ve decided to listen to one per week, but not as background noise.

In the past week or so, taking breaks from Joseph, I read Piper Kerman’s Orange Is the New Black, which I absolutely could not put down—it’s utterly riveting—and Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.’s My Stroke of Insight, which all public radio listeners have heard of and probably feel at least slightly guilty if they haven’t read. I don’t know if I can recommend it as a piece of writing, but it was really interesting to see how her explanations about the brain correspond with the body of knowledge that comes from mindfulness meditation (AKA insight meditation). Taylor’s prescription for accessing the peace and ease that she says is the natural province of the right brain is precisely what practitioners of mindfulness meditation learn to do: attend to some piece of sense data, which puts us in the present moment, and notice what’s happening in the mind. She also points out that both hemispheres of the brain go into creating every moment of perception, so the right brain, where it may seem all the goodies are, is always being developed. Of course, we need both halves working in order to function well.

Buddhism is entirely friendly to scientific findings. The Dalai Lama has said that if Buddhism and science were found to be in conflict, Buddhism, which values direct experience over theory, would have to change. Or, as someone or other said, “If the field guide and the bird don’t agree, believe the bird.”
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