The second sit of the retreat was much more natural, starting off fresh Saturday morning rather than coming in off the stale breath of a Friday afternoon. I was awake and ready and relieved of the previous evening’s transgressions. Oh how very human of me, I thought. What great Buddhist lessons I have learned from causing and experiencing so much suffering. Maybe I should become a Buddhist nun. I mean, seriously, I love the clothes. I can totally see myself rocking those robes. The tumeric-yellow silk might be a bit off my palate, but the long saffron folds and the regal paprika layering appeal to my queenly nature as a 21st-century goddess and aged hippie. Reverie... I've always loved long, layery, wrappy things. Any occasion potentially warrants a mu-mu or kimono or long flowing dress of several layers: dinner, drinks, child labor, a cousin's graduation. I once showed up at the San Francisco law firm I worked for in a floor-length, off-the-shoulder velvet patchwork dress, army boots, and a wicked smelling hangover. I felt regal, like my short legs were taking super-model strides underneath that crazy-quilted mu-mu. I floated when I walked (though that might have been the whiskey vapors). Where is that fabulous garment now, I wonder? Where is that hardworking, carefree girl? Oh, yes, here she is. Wondering if she should don the robes of a nun. A logical progression. Those who know me are doing one or a combination of many possible things at that thought right now—
laughing so hard you're crying,
shaking your head,
clucking your tongue,
rolling your eyes,
peeing your pants (if so, you may be interested in my forthcoming blog post, "Peeing When I Sneeze"),
vomiting in your cocktail,
powering down this site.
Think and do what you will – I think I’d look great as a Buddhist nun! And, ah, to really be the person I want (others) to think I am. The close-cropped haircut worries me, but if I could work it into a subtle faux-hawk and complement it with really big coconut shell earrings, I think it’d be ok.
For those who still have their doubts, I’m telling you, I am serious. I even went so far as to Google the question, “Can married women be Buddhist nuns?” Huh? How do you like that for serious? The answer, by the way, seems to be yes, depending upon the sect. From atheist, to wife, to mother to Buddhist nun—it has been done! It is possible! Obviously, a family survey would have to be taken. I know what they'll say, "Where are you going to find the time to do that?!"
But I’ve wandered into delusion and taken you with me. Back to the retreat. The second day brought with it Ani Pema Chodron, the 78-year-old rock star of the Buddhist world. She was the reason I was “there.” She is the one true personal icon (besdies Scott Baio) that I can truly say has rocked my world in a game-changing way (ok, and maybe Norman Reedus). She is why, as my mom always said I would, I finally “got religion”—which really just means I’ve watched a bunch of Ani Pema's YouTube videos, read some of her books (and by “some,” I mean a portion of several books, not several whole books), and I like her smile. She’s also the resident and teacher at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, home to my own Scottish-Canadian roots, of the Fraser, McDonald, and McClaren clans. I just know there's got to be a connection between us! (I thought the same thing about Scott Baio, but he never returned my letters.) In any case, I believe in Ani Pema’s ability to inspire my life. Her spirituality is rooted in the life experience of being a wife, mother, and grandmother, and has grown into a decades-rich canopy of Buddhism. That draws me. If I’m going to relate to and learn from someone, it’s going to be a FUCKING KICK-ASS CHICK FULL OF WOMANLY WISDOM AND ETERNAL GODDAMN KINDNESS! She is the shit. So, I went to sit. And I listened.
She transmitted her teachings with her usual relatable, self-reflective, humorous, and inspiring self, laughing with the crowd, walking the same line of basic goodness she was talking, and inspiring awareness and acceptance of self. Themes included basic goodness, bravery, consciousness, and breaking habitual patterns (apparently, a brush with death or the threat of impending death is usually what it takes most seekers to free themselves from disserving patterns, which, Ani Pema points out, is ironic considering we are all already living with the threat of impending death). One definitely had the feeling you were there to “break through,” to poke at your own bubble of unconsciousness…. Well, duh. But it was not as trite as all that. Ani Pema’s charm lies in her ability to be profound while remaining firmly rooted in the earth as she sways in the wind, which is to her beauty. And hopefully someday to mine.
To that end, I listened and I learned. The Night Before became focused through the lens of what I had just received, and I felt better. It was what it was. No one was lesser for it. On the contrary, we were all more conscious because of it. Right? Or, is that just something we tell ourselves to relieve our immediate human suffering? Probably. But, isn’t that the point?