I have the idea that it’s good to do things on New Year’s Day that symbolize what you’d like your year to be full of. If that’s true, this is going to be a splendid year, but in any event, it was a great day from beginning to end. I got up at 6:30 and did some writing and put up a post here, meditated, had breakfast, did my physical therapy exercises and had an excellent chat on the phone with David and Lisa for an hour.
Then I went for a walk with the friend I walk with from time to time. For about two and a half hours, we wended our way through the Mission and down Market St., coming back via Folsom, talking all the while. We ran into a fellow, known to my friend, who told us about the place where he lives. It was brand-new when he moved in, so no one had lived there before him, and he has his own kitchen and bathroom, and a two-burner stove, and free wi-fi. It costs one third of his monthly “income”—his General Assistance check. That comes to about $265. I was delighted for him. It sounds truly perfect. I wish every homeless person could have the same.
I had two writing assignments due for my chaplaincy class the following week and was starting to be worried about having enough time to get them done, but after I got back from walking and after I had lunch, there was enough time to do a good solid draft of both assignments, and they both ended up being done on time.
Then, on New Year’s Day, it occurred to me I hadn’t talked to Margaux in a while, so I gave her a call and we had a really nice talk, for perhaps an hour. She is a strongly faithful Christian, and I had never understood how that happened, since when we met, at 13, she was a nice little Jewish girl, so I asked about it and she explained the whole thing. It’s entirely due to my chaplaincy class that I was interested in learning about this. It turns out that Margaux was already a stealth Christian when we met. Amazing that it took 40 years to actually have a conversation about it. One aspect of her faith is a very strong commitment to service. Whatever job she has is always well aligned with her desire to serve others, plus she does a good deal of volunteering. She says if things are going well in your life, you should be giving back constantly, giving all you can. That is inspiring, and getting caught up with Margaux was a lovely way to end a very perfect day.
A few days later, I went to volunteer at Laguna Honda. During one of my visits in December, Bob had conversed with a resident solely in Spanish after apologizing for having a rather rudimentary capability (“Tengo pocas palabras” — “I have few words”). When we left the person’s room, he asked me, “Do you think you could do that?”
On my first visit early in the new year, I ran into that same resident in the hallway and did indeed converse with him entirely in Spanish. I’d prepared a cheat sheet that included several of the things Bob had said in his simple conversation. I didn’t have to look at it, but it was helpful as a mental reference, and the resident had to say only one word in English for me. I’m excited about this opportunity to improve my conversational skills.
After I got back from Laguna Honda, Carol Joy came to visit. We went to the Mission Creek Café and played two games of Sneaky Pete, the rummy-type game we often play. We were literally the only people speaking in the café. There were 10 or 15 other people in there, but every last one of them was staring at a laptop. Kind of creepy, like being the only living people in a morgue, until the end of the afternoon, when a man with beautiful long blond hair sat down next to us and asked what we were playing and was generally very friendly. We gave him the printed instructions for the game when we left. Carol Joy always brings them along, because I always have to reread them before we play.
Then we walked over to Hecho, on Market St., a restaurant co-owned by Carol Joy’s next door neighbor in Novato. It was quite loud and, for $24, I got enough food to constitute dinner only because I ate 99 percent of two bowls of complimentary tortilla chips and salsa. In addition, they like to bring dishes out of the kitchen in a large, dramatic cloud of choking chile smoke. The next day, my glasses were coated with a sticky film that had to be removed using soap and water. That’s fine, since I was in there for only an hour, but isn’t everyone who works there going to end up with a horrible respiratory illness? That is to say, I won’t be returning, but what we had (fish tacos and fried avocado tacos) was delicious (if tiny), and I could certainly recommend trying the place once. Maybe bring a discreet gas mask.
I am rereading I Am That, a collection of interviews conducted by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, and came upon his advice to let one’s entire personal life sink below the threshold of consciousness, a rather thrilling idea. He says that we don’t have to think about how to breathe or how to digest food, and that we don’t have to think about a lot of other stuff, either. He doesn’t mean that we would be unaware that we are making a phone call or walking down the street, but that we can let go of the story that generally accompanies our every move. Things will happen without our doing so much conscious management.
Yvonne Ginsberg said something similar the first Tuesday evening in January, when she was filling in for Howie. She talked about noticing thoughts as they arise and not following them to their oft-repeated ends, which simply digs the grooves in our brains that much deeper. When we can notice a thought and let it go (probably most easily accomplished by putting our attention on some aspect of our physical experience, or by just noticing that we’re thinking), we have a chance for a fresh, unconditioned encounter with the world.
She said the best that can happen in any situation will arise from the intention to pay attention. Our very best move is to notice this moment, and this one, and this one. “Let’s see how much well-being we can tolerate before we make trouble for ourselves,” she advised. She also pointed out that we Bay Area meditators are living indulged, luxurious, wonderful lives, which could not be more true.