Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Hope is the thing with feathers

"We already have everything we need."--Pema Chodron

I find it easier to write on here if I have some of Pema's wisdom to contemplate. This is one nugget that is sticking in my teeth. She says, "There is no need for self-improvement. All these trips we lay on ourselves--the heavy-duty fearing that we're bad and hoping we're good, the identities we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds--never touch our basic wealth."

I'm finding myself resistant to this line of thinking. All these years I've heard everything from "Be yourself" to "Try harder and you'll be better." My identity is wrapped around self-improvement, and another Buddhist no-no--hope. My understanding is if you give up hope, you're probably depressed and should get on some meds, stat. Maybe I'm not understanding HOW to abandon all hope. I mean, I know why hope is problematic--it keeps us from focusing on what we have NOW, always looking ahead to the better job, house, car, hairstyle. That makes sense to me. But going cold turkey--I can't imagine my darkest, bluest days without hope bringing me back to life.

I mentioned before that I'm working on publicity for a book about shopping addiction. I'm a shopping addict in very minor ways--like the CVS habit, as well as dog-earing Garnet Hill catalogs with all the items on my wish lists, and signing up for sites like ShopittoMe.com
just to screen shop, of course.

But I can see why shopping addiction is so prevalent--it's such a great distraction. Last Sunday M. and my in-laws, T. and D. went to see M.'s Uncle Do in the hospital. Our uncle contracted Pneumonia and then a superbug from the hospital (another reason I hate hospitals--all those free-range germs). He looked like many sick people in hospitals do--their skin ashen, their appearance stark against the white sheet backdrop. They had removed his teeth, which made him appear older and more feeble then I had ever seen him. M told me that he fought in two world wars and was, at one time, a police officer, but at that moment I was having a hard time seeing this. M's aunt L. bantered with him, and for a minute I saw some sparkle come back into his eyes. It's sometimes hard to see the young person behind the lines on an older person's face, but having lived now 35 years, I know that the 20 year-old you and the 28 year-old you, and 30-year old you all still live within you, even at 82. That's what I hate about aging (well one of the things). It's like being mute--you can't fully express who you are inside. The things you once enjoyed go away, and aren't always replaced with new things. Your reward for all your hard work and efforts is a hospital bed with a feeding tube in your nose.

It was in this frame of mind that M and I left the hospital and went to Target. There's a running joke among M's family that I LOVE Target, and would give my right arm for just a couple of hours in there along with unlimited purchasing power. M. agreed we'd go there for a mattress cover (which is about as exciting a purchase as the garbage can we bought last weekend. But it's something we needed because the cat kept knocking over the cheap Rubbermaid can we were using). I had visions of cozy flannel sleeping pants, crafty stuff for my homemade gift projects, and maybe a cheap but trendy new purse. But once we got there, and I was wandering the wide aisles filled with stuff made in China, I felt depressed. Commerce usually makes me feel alive, vital, like I'm going to live forever in a state of new and everchanging bliss. But sometimes even a mild shopping addiction doesn't help you escape the fact that you too will be in that hospital bed one day.

The good news is that Uncle Do is out of the hospital and has been transferred to a posh rehab center owned by the Masons. Hopefully he'll get the corner room with the view again, with windows on two sides and no roommate. Maybe he'll be able to eat solid foods again, even if it's something junky like donuts. Donuts=hope. They might be all he needs to start feeling better.

1 comment:

Jason Miller, said...

Jenn if it makes you feel any better I have been a Buddhist for 12 years now, and I still have issues with some of the philosophy regarding Hope and enjoyment.

Tantra and Dzogchen suits me well because the focus is much more on Sukkha (bliss) than dukkha (suffering.)

Good posts. Very insightful.