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When Shite is Right

It's funny, just after I posted my last blog, a big and sentimental kiss to a lovely moment of teaching, I proceeded, possibly even that very afternoon, to have what would bar none be the worst working day of what has, with the passing of my mother, been a pretty shite year so far. 

After posting, and then making a show of the fact I posted -- desperately trying for eyes to read what I'd written, troubling people's Facebook and twitter newsfeeds by a not famous person's not very original blog post, no less -- I felt a fraud. Not that what I'd written wasn't true. It was. Just that, too often in this life, our moods are so susceptible to the particularity of a given day, it's weather, our hormones, the most difficult of our neediest or even nastiest students, the moods (and executive orders!) of the moody American president...

I've been trying to meditate for a few months now. Trying. I don't know that I can sustain ten minutes of undistracted (read: nodding off) attention. But I've been going to a Buddhist temple downtown. I don't much care how the mostly conservative Jewish women (and three men) at my mother's book club would respond to the Jew-Buddhist I am becoming (they'd tease, and tease mercilessly). I'm as skeptical of reincarnation as the next Jewish book club attendee, but then I'm equally suspicious of so much preached at your average rabbi's Shabbas sermon. Still, in some meek and cheap attempt to emulate the coolest Jew who ever lived in Montreal, I dig much of what Buddhism has to offer, even if I'll never manage a pin-striped suit mid week never mind becoming an actual monk, as Leonard Cohen did for a time. 

Kiyoshi Kojin at dusk.jpg

Part of what I'm drawn to is the anti-happiness stuff. The 'life is suffering' stuff. 

When I lived in Japan I got in the habit a couple times a month of going up at dusk to visit the hill-top Buddhist temple of the first suburban neighbourhood I lived in in Osaka. In truth it was the forest, the trees, and the outdoors-ness of the temple that attracted me as much as anything else. But I was also genuinely attracted enough by the essence and fundamentals of the religion that like too many other twenty somethings, I found myself reading Dalai Lama books by the ... well, handful. My mother was the person I most often went to to share what I was reading, watching, etc. Even when she wasn't someone's mother, my mom was a world-class listener. And so I went on during long long-distance phone calls about Buddhism and all it had to offer. And while even when she wasn't as open as she so tried to be, she did try, with this topic she struggled to even pretend. She couldn't help but feel that a religion that made you look at life as suffering wasn't a bit ... well, of a bummer. I struggled to argue that one. If life is suffering, and we're to give up all our earthly attachments ... well where is the fun in that? 

Beats me.

One thing I am loving about this very indoor and not Japanese Buddhist temple I've visited recently is how radically it reminds me how very low and unimportant I am in the world. It brings my too often outsized ego down to size. Especially in the spiritual realm, where I am, to be sure, a lowly creature indeed. Snickers Bites (those bite-size treats!) and french fries and television watching and intoxicants indulging ...  so many dastardly pleasure that I'm sure the Buddha would non-judgmentally shake his finger at. I'm still well and truly attached. I still enjoy the earthly pleasures. But I also want to admit...

It is in my nature to question the herd. The perennial outsider, it's what keeps me from getting in, or so I like to think. In the age of self-help and happy-making books, I find myself drawn to the very latest socio-emotional books mentioned in the NY Times, by writers more well-read than I, who, being outsiders themselves, question all this. In other words, the very latest books to help self are actually questioning how much we should try to make ourselves happy in the first place. That maybe we're going about this all wrong. Instead of changing what we don't like about ourselves, as one book was recently summarized as suggesting we do, why not accept what it is that's not so great about us. Which is where Buddhism fits in. 

Life can be shitty. It often is. And sometimes, there is something so comforting in being okay with that. For otherwise, how are we to deal with the sling and arrows of outrageous fortune that come mine and yours and everyone else's way. 

I remember a cousin I grew up with and I talking as we turned thirty. With age you see so much more clearly how with each stage and age there are markers and that we all have to go through them to some degree. My snowflake, it turned out, wasn't so different from my cousin, Greg's, snowflake (even if his snowflake would always run and jump and just generally do all sports faster and better than mine). We were both going through that very modern rite of passage known to most who've finished being twenty-something: that you aren't nearly as famous, rich, accomplished or even settled as you thought you'd be. And we laughed about it, my cousin and I, revelling in the pleasure of it: that we weren't such big shots (though at least one of us was secretly harbouring the hopes that HIS big-shottedness was yet to come; oh Buddha!). 

Today it rained all morning and all afternoon and I had the music to match. What a sincere and genuine pleasure, to accept the grim wet reality of a given day. Not to fight it. 

So I felt the need to balance out my last post with the honesty of what followed. To write so many words all really to say: teaching is wonderful and life-giving and all the rest, but I'm fucking exhausted and could go six months without seeing the inside of a classroom. Now THAT would be a thrill.  

Jon Mendelsohn