Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Zen of Whining

I feel like sitting here and filling my empty coffee cup with tears; tears of frustration and self-pity.  Some Saturday mornings are like that – full of frustration and self pity accompanied by the smell of  On What Grounds coffee, the clank, huff, and whistle of the espresso machine, the tramp of feet past my wrought iron perch, and a funky New Orlean’s style version of “You Can’t Take That Away From Me.”


I feel as if everything has already gone – nothing left to take except the wanting.  The small hoped for things that aren’t really things but hang in the air like silver spoon wind chimes constantly tinkling in the wind reminding me over and over of the song I want to sing.  Not that I’m a singer, it’s some kind of Zen reference to finding your own note, your own unique note in the Universe and sounding it.


Sometimes I just want to smack those Zen things but there’s nothing tangible there, nothing that will sound with a solid thwack.  They just hang around, sometimes in my peripheral vision and sometimes square center in the core of my being.  Some of the time they give me a little more endurance to keep on hanging in with the wanting and the living life on life’s terms. 


There’s a story that keeps regurgitating itself into my memory.  It’s the story about the artist student going to the Zen master who has her paint a blue check mark day after day, week after week, month after month until she finally complains more loudly and vehemently than usual.   So the Zen master takes her latest effort of a blue check mark painting away.  He comes back a little while later and beckons her to go with him.  Now, this is the point where violins should start shrieking in the background; it is not a Hallmark moment about to happen.  The student has to make a choice whether to follow and receive the inevitable Zen slap upside the head or just walk away.


Of course it wouldn’t be a story if, despite the wailing violins and the inevitability of pain, the student victim didn’t walk into whole point of the story willing to be impaled on the whole Zenness of it all.   She follows the master into a room full of paintings of blue check marks.

            “Which one is yours?” 

On Saturday mornings like this one, I see the Zen master as just being too smug for Zen at this point.  I know he is full of compassionate light and all that happy love stuff but after months of painting blue check marks, if I was the artist student, I know exactly where I would want to be putting my next blue check mark.


Unable to discern her own unique check mark, the artist student is humbled, if not humiliated, and returns, full of insight and empty of complaint, to the process of bringing herself, her full self, out onto the canvas via a blue check mark.  What if all the check marks were hers?  If we are all One, wouldn’t all the check marks be hers?


I’m sure there’s a Zen sequel to this facetious response but I haven’t yet come across it.


Some days you just have to be allowed to snivel into your empty coffee cup and act as if the Zen masters of the world are in fact recalcitrant sadists with severe detachment disorders.


So, back to my self-pity and it’s current resistance to Zen.  Just what do I have to be sorry about?  Let’s start with the fact that it’s Saturday and it’s raining.  All week the weather has been close to perfect, warm sunny days perched on cool morning air.  These are the days where I am shut into the dark prison of my job.  I am grateful that I have a job; I am not obsessively ungrateful, my whining has its limits. Each morning I enter the lower level of the school where I work at my desk, at my computer, in my windowless classroom.  It feels like a prison where the guards come by every now and again to run their nightsticks across the bars and yell and holler their frustration at me. 


When you’re the low person on the totem pole, the yelling and hollering all ends up like so many sharp pointy barbs hanging out of your flesh.  This is the place where there is a need for a Zen shield, some kind of protective device that bounces all the sharp pointy barbs off into the stratosphere.  Maybe it needs a blue check mark, a very definitive blue check mark painted on it for it to work.


Someone told me this week that my students were fortunate to have me in their lives, that I made a difference.  That day I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself.  I laughed and told them I would inform my students of their good fortune.  I didn’t of course.  Maybe that was the point where I allowed the sharp pointy things to enter my flesh, to feel the barbs tearing away at the places that are vulnerable. 


No matter how confidently I enter my prison, no matter how Zen like I am about embracing freedom as an inside job, no matter how many prayers of gratitude I send into the stratosphere, I usually crawl from my day broken and dispirited, exhausted and bleeding, with more left undone than completed.


It’s been this way for a while, a long while.  I want to be able to crawl home to a home that feels like my blue check mark home.  I have found it, close by and in a community where I would feel comfortable.  This week I put in yet another bid on yet another townhouse that I just love.  I have to sell my house, my old falling down house, to make the whole thing happen. 


The last people who looked at my house said they were “in awe of the beauty and care” on the inside of my house.  They haven’t made an offer.  They haven’t come back.  I called my realtor this rainy Saturday morning hoping he would lasso them into some kind of deal – any kind of deal.  This crazy “I want, I want, I think it’s happening, the door is open, oh no  - it closed again, I can’t have” journey has been going on for more than a year.


The "now you see it, now you don’t" peek-a-boo game of serendipity gone awry challenges all my levels of acceptance and humor.  It slashes through the flesh of the psyche with razor sharp precision.  It exposes all my vulnerable places and I end up in sitting in On What Grounds on a rainy Saturday morning oozing into my empty coffee cup, not the ceramic coffee cup that Lori forgot to give me this morning, but a paper cup.  She said she was sorry; it didn’t make me feel any better.


I will have to endure this rainy Saturday, this frustration with my current life events, my falling down house, the ingratitude of my job.  But, because it’s Saturday, I can choose whether or not to be happy about it.



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