choices

A friend of mine often says, “I understand that bad things happen to good people.  I just can’t understand how good things happen to bad people.  What happened to karma!?”    We’d go round that one for most of an evening until finally we’d have to admit that it’s our perception of “good” and “bad” that is the problem.  Once we’ve built the categories, everything else becomes a logic locomotive.  We start generating if-then sequences and ideas of justice and entitlements, forgetting that karma has nothing to do with a Last (or Lasting) Judgement.

To paraphrase Sylvia Boorstein, we get what we get.  My nemeses get what they get.  My friends get what they get.  The fact that I choose to label them as Adversaries or Dear Ones is what gives their successes such power over me.  More to the point, when I’m caught in concepts of deservingness, I miss the generosity of people around me.

A few years ago a colleague was diagnosed with cancer.  He worked two doors down from me and I had heard about it but hadn’t seen him.  Coming out of my office one day, I was greeted by this familiar person in my waiting room – a cartoonish sketch of someone I knew.  It was my friend, physically dramatically changed from the cancer treatments.  But I would have recognized those sparkling eyes anywhere!  We went into my office and his first words were, “How is Frank?  I heard about his surgery!”  I was amazed and confused.  Why was he concerned about Frank who was fine and recovering?   How could he be so thrilled about Frank’s positive prognosis when he was on his way to a last-ditch effort at a treatment?

He seemed content.  His life was a series of unending gifts – the medical students he had taught and mentored, the family who grew with grace and fortitude, friends who had walked with him in laughter and tears.  He joined us in celebrating Frank’s “all clear,” embraced us, and said his final treatment has failed; he died three weeks later.  It seemed he was so full of joy that he was giving it all away before he left us.  This was a profound lesson for me in Resonant Joy.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to have attained my friend’s level of unconditioned love.  But it might start in a little way with kindness.  Self-kindness and gentleness.  With saying “thank you” and “wonderful!”  Saying “It’s OK” and “I understand.”  With refusing to turn away from the momentary hurt.  Refusing to allow that internal gossip mill to grind down the heart.

It’s a start.

It’s a choice to start.

the small of fear

One of the gifts of resentment is how it opens us to our fearfulness, our turning away time and again from what will enlarge our heart.   We can see how it weakens us so we can only cling to what keeps us small.

One of my longtime friends suggested that guilt and resentment are opposite sides of the same coin.  I added that guilt is the difference we project between our ideal and real selves.  It’s another measure of how I don’t measure up.  In situation A, I wanted to respond “this” way yet I responded “that” way!  Fear, shame, and blame arise as a consequence of that mismeasure of my worth.  Of course, it’s not always about flagellation over my mis-steps.  As I get older, I also begin to reflect on my life and how I’ve filled it and it’s a tricky balance between reflection and recrimination.

Luckily, I remember being 56 years old as if it was just a few days ago; it was a day of sati – re-collecting all the ways I create meaning.  And spiritual practice is a container in which I cultivate meaning.  As a gift to myself and encouraged by my blogger pal, Luke, to do what scares me, I went ahead with an application to a 7-day retreat at a center on the East Coast.  The application form was one of those “fill in the essay blocks with all you’ve done as a meditator.”  What a koan!  How to sell myself to get into a a container to be with no-self?  I did my best and a few days later  I got an email reply.  I had been assessed as lacking in sufficient meditation training.

I was crushed.  The if-onlies kicked in: if only I had spun my experience, if-only I had expressed my undying wish to be enlightened.  Then the what-if’s entered stage left: what-if I really don’t have any recognizable training as a meditator; what-if I’ve been a fake all this time.  The shoulda’s syncophated: I shoulda started earlier in my life; I shoulda spent less time in a wasted youth; I shoulda published that novel – It woulda been a Winner!

And then resentment kicked the doors down: what the heck do they know!  Elitist Buddhism!  Time to join the Secular Buddhist!  Seriously though, I noticed the edge of resentment.  Just a little bubble.  I asked myself, Perhaps it’s OK for you to feel rejected?  Perhaps something in this is true?  Not about your lack – or theirs – but about differences in perspective.

No one likes to be told they don’t measure up.  (To give the organization credit, they did tell my how I could meet their standards; unfortunately I don’t have the years to do it in – just yet.)  So I asked myself another life-turning question: What might happen if I treat the resentment as a bell that calls me to awareness of fear?  I noticed a few things in the days that followed.  Things I don’t do because I don’t want to risk rejection.  Things I don’t ask for because I may not get what I want.  Times I draw the shadows around me because it’s just safer than speaking my truth.  Places, people, and opportunities I avoid because I don’t know what will unfold.

Life can get very small when we live this way.

What might happen if we turn away from this smallness to the possibility of something different?

What might happen if I come to the edge between safe and sorry, an edge that vibrates with fear yet filled with possibility?