I entered college a philosophy major. By the end of my first year, my existential sensibilities rendered philosophy pointless and before I knew it I was an English major.
Almost forty years later I find myself circling back to philosophy as I question my life’s meaning.
I’m not religious. My father a devout atheist raised in a kosher home, my mother a high holiday Jew. She tried infusing my sister and me with Judaism but without my father’s support, it didn’t take.
At the beginning of the end of my marriage, a friend gave me Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart, a primer on Buddhism as a way to deal with life’s challenges.
There seem to be many ways Buddhism and Western psychotherapy overlap. In Buddhism, you learn that though you can’t make shame or other negative feelings disappear, you can change your relationship with them, not letting them control you.
Recently, my therapist introduced me to Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, a Buddhist and practicing psychologist here in Washington, DC.
Like Ms. Chödrön’s book, Radical Acceptance addresses integrating Buddhism into western life. It goes a step further, including a section on different meditations to rewire how you react and respond to your emotions.
On Sunday, I attended a day-long workshop led by Ms. Brach.
I went by myself, which made me anxious.
I made lunch before hand, cold sesame noodles, and roasted, curried cauliflower. I bought a four-pack of plastic containers to bring my lunch. Then I decided to use heavy, glass containers, I already owned, fearing the plastic might be construed as “unenlightened” if I ate lunch communally. Ain’t anxiety grand?
An email said “Wear yoga-friendly clothes.” How can four words be so intimidating?
I couldn’t find any Thai Fisherman Pants on Amazon with same day delivery, so I just improvised.
The workshop was a mixed bag. There were probably 150 attendees. A few kids, lots of millennials and lots of midlifers like me.
Tara Brach was perfect, telling stories in the softest and gentlest of voices, leading meditations focused on a four-step process of dealing with emotions based on the acronym, “RAIN.” Recognize, Allow, Inspect, Nourish.
The workshop took place in a multi-denominational venue, initially built as a synagogue, now a space hosting both religious and cultural events. We were seated in pews.
Arriving a few minutes late, I sat in the last row. My location enabled me to get up with minimal disturbance and stand behind the pews while listening to Ms Brach, or sitting on the floor which other like-minded people did as well.
At lunch, ignoring my loaded backpack. I walked, ending up at one of the few authentic Chinese restaurants left in the Chinatown neighborhood.
The restaurant, Full Kee, has amazing shrimp dumpling soup. When first married Full Kee had been my ex-father-in-law’s favorite restaurant and a regular family dining spot.
Surprisingly, at that moment, by myself, I cherished the memories being there brought back. I didn’t mourn. I thought about my journey ahead, and the role Buddhism is playing.
Sitting there, I found peace in the knowledge that my view ahead, through the windshield, is expansive, replete with opportunities, while the rear-view mirror provides only a narrow perspective, and dangerous blind spots.
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PS There are Buddhists who think “The Dude” in The Big Lebowksi is a Zen master. That works for me.