Saturday, August 09, 2014

A Sufficient Amount of Service

I’m now reading Sayadaw U Tejaniya’s second book, Awareness Alone Is Not Enough, and encountered something in it while in Michigan that was really helpful. I’d fallen again into trying to be aware of awareness directly, and had also decided that maybe I’m not advanced enough of a yogi to notice my mental attitude all the time or to actively investigate my experience via questions—maybe after 24 years I’m still at the stage where it would be most helpful to choose an object and notice it as often as possible (which, after all, as Eugene Cash says, will take you all the way to enlightenment). Awareness Alone Is Not Enough is a collection of brief dialogues between SUT and various students, illustrated with handsome black and white photos.

Here’s the particularly helpful exchange:

SUT: Put your hands together like this. Can you feel the sensations?

Student: Yes.

SUT:  Do you recognize that you know the sensations?

Student: Yes.

SUT: That’s awareness of awareness.

Oh! Very helpful reminder that, just as Steve Armstrong said at Spirit Rock in April, we can’t know awareness directly, but only in relationship to an object.

The book also includes this enticement to would-be lucid dreamers: “If you can be aware of every thought that comes into your mind, you will automatically be aware of your dreams too.”

On falling asleep at night: “Don’t ever think of wanting to go to sleep.” Instead, we can be aware of our mind and bodies until reactions in the mind cease and we naturally fall asleep. Or, if we don’t, we can have a nice night of mindfulness practice! Less than a week after I started taking this approach at bedtime, I had my first definitely lucid dream in about eight months, though quite often, I’m generally aware that I’m dreaming: I know I don’t have to worry about events that occur in many dreams, because I know it’s just a dream, but there’s not enough lucidity to allow choosing actions or making things appear.


A couple of Tuesday nights ago, as almost always, I went to Howie’s. Parting from Charlie outside afterward, I said, “Cycle safely,” and he assured me, “I’ve been psycho-ing safely for a long time.” 


Lately it was once again time to find someone to cut my hair. My most recent stylist, a young lady I liked a lot, got pregnant and thus had to leave the Bay Area. Living here on a hair stylist’s salary is challenging, I imagine, and having a family out of the question. Thanks, real estate speculators, and tech companies who don’t encourage workers to live near their jobs but instead offer San Francisco residency as a corporate perk, driving rents through the roof.

I went to see a stylist recommended by a friend and found her shop (which says “Full Service” on the front door) colorfully decorated, with a huge TV on at top volume, and quite dirty, with hair all over the floor and grubby implements of beauty strewn here and there. I decided that if I didn’t end up with an infection, at a very modest $25, I’d consider it a fair trade. I knocked on the door at 4:00 sharp, was let in at 4:01, waited until 4:03 for A. to get off her cell phone, and explained I wanted a trim—there was a language barrier that precluded anything more elaborate and also precluded nitpicking.

A. spritzed my hair with water—her long fingernails make shampooing difficult, so it’s discouraged via a $10 additional fee—made a few strategic strokes with her scissors and pronounced the job done. She said, “You have too much hair,” but added that its salt-and-pepper color is good. I prefer to think of it as burnished mahogany and platinum, but that was nice to hear. At 4:07, I retrieved cash from my backpack and thanked her, and at 4:08, I was back on the sidewalk, leaving plenty of time for a walk, and my hair looks perfectly fine. In fact, one of the guests at the soup kitchen said, “I like your hair,” so if I don’t actually get an infection, A. is my new stylist.

The guest was one who took an instant disliking to me on our first meeting several weeks ago. He gave me on that occasion a symbolic punch on the arm along with a discouraging look and word, so my hair must really look fantastic.

Also at the soup kitchen was one of my favorites, the fellow who was grooming his beard with the needle-nose pliers several weeks ago. He was carrying a bowl of chili, in the center of which was firmly planted a plastic cup half full of water, in which floated several lettuce leaves. A plastic bag was tied around one of his ankles and one eyepiece of his sunglasses had been replaced with a random piece of metal tubing. After being outside for what sounds like a long time, he is working on getting housing. He said he thinks his time is short and he doesn’t intend to die on the sidewalk. He told me he gets so tired that he passes out very suddenly, sometimes coming to with half a mouthful of unchewed food.

He had been nearly incommunicado for several weeks before this chat, but on this day he was back to his old self, and explained that someone had advised him that he’d have better luck with women if he talked less, so he’d been giving that a try.

I met another guest for the first time, someone I hadn’t spoken with before, an extraordinarily fast-acting and aggressive matchmaker. “Are you married, divorced or single? Single? That fellow over there is handsome, isn’t he? Do you like to go to Opera Plaza? Why go through life alone? What’s your phone number? I’m going to go tell Dennis you think he’s handsome and that you want him to have your phone number.” I had to leap up and scurry off before I found myself standing before a justice of the peace.

As it happens, the guest named Dennis is extremely handsome, and charming and affable. He also says all sorts of entertaining things. For instance, he thinks it would be good if the soup kitchen, along with offering showers, massages, basic first aid and other medical services, clean needles, clothing, and assistance with a large array of bureaucratic needs, could be a medical marijuana dispensary. He told the executive director that offering marijuana to guests would be a meaningful step toward “simplicity and peace.”

He’s also weirdly sweet and generous. The first time I spoke with him, he said, “For you?” and gave me a section of newspaper he was done with, and another week, he gave me a small pin featuring a sinister pair of eyes peering out of the blackness, which I affixed to the back of my hat.
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