Friday, January 25, 2008

A Treasure

by Peter Clothier
The Buddha Diaries
(Cardozo picked this one out for me, going through the Buddha Diaries archives... It was first posted February 20, 2007.)

I broke a treasure this morning. My daily routine is to come upstairs after my morning meditation (our bedroom, in this house, is on the lower level) and make a pot of tea to bring down for us both to enjoy in bed as we watch the morning news. This morning, in the process of assembling things on the tray, I reached for the sweetener and knocked its container off the shelf to the floor. The container in question was the smallest in a set of three ceramic "Made in Japan" cannisters--a gift, Ellie reminded me later--from a friend who had been a house guest in our home at a difficult moment in her life. We have a whole collection of these things, accumulated during our swap-meet days, but this one was of a particularly attractive, post-deco design and had been much used and loved.

I was feeling a bit sad and guilty, then, when I broke the news to Ellie. I could take the event, I suppose, as an object-lesson in non-attachment: no matter how much we treasure them, things come and go in our lives and it's best not to attach too much significance to their arrival--or their loss. This was a small thing, indeed. There are much bigger, much more important things we are called upon to relinquish--up to and including the very bodies in which we spend our lives!--so I can't feel too sorry for myself over the loss of what is clearly no more than a trinket, no matter how beautiful we thought it. It's important, though, to take note of that twinge of sadness and regret over something so small, and realize how easily we do become attached.

My choice, though, is to look at it also from another point of view. What caused the loss was a moment of inattention on my part--a lapse that only became significant when its result became apparent. There's something bigger at stake here. In the course of my morning sit, I had become more than usually aware of extra weight I carry around with me with a discomfort that I am normally able to ignore. I know that this, too, is just another result of inattention, the mindless consumption of unneeded food and drink for no better reason than emotional consolation. Since I have been thinking a good deal about karma these past few days, in both conscious and, I'm sure, unconscious ways, I began to see plausible connections between past actions and my present predicament.

The uncomfortable truth is that I do not need to explore my past lives--if such there were--to find examples of the kind of unskillful, harm-producing actions that could result in my need for emotional comfort today. No need, here, for personal confessions. The nature of those past actions matters less than the realization that they could have resulted in those things about myself that I find less than appealing today and would like to change. To wit, for one, that extra weight I carry around with me to my discomfort and to the detriment of my health.

The realization, of course, is a good deal easier than the choice to become more mindful, more attentive to what I put into my body. Wisdom is cheap. Those things I love, to which I have become attached--my extra glass of wine, my pre-dinner snacks, my post-dinner desserts--seem to mean more to me than health and balance in my life. The good news is that this is not one of those things that can't be changed, that can be addressed only with equanimity. But I guess that's the bad news, too, because it makes it my responsibility to change. It's not that I don't know what's good for me. No. It's that I persist in making choices for the bad. As countless others have discovered before me, there is no diet in the world that can adequately solve this dilemma for me. There are only quick, all-too-ephemeral fixes that create the illusion of a solution. It's the inner work that needs to be done, and that's the hard part.

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