Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Treasure

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 ius 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.


carly said...

P: I think it's a bit funny to meditate in the morning and then undo it by watching the news. Perhaps you should reverse the order, get agitated before you meditate.

I too suffer guilt about materialistic things. Something happened years ago though which made me amend that. Greed and hoarding for the sake of it is immoral, or for the fear of want is insecure, but sometimes an object of sentimentality is a good thing, a talisman, a record of things we might forget. At a very despondent period of my life, I realized my antique car connected me to my childhood. It actually eased my pain. An object, when considered properly, can be a touchstone and a tool for contemplation. Therefore, one should cherish it in a modest way.

Gluttony: Those of us who love and prefer the tastes of all the vegetables are lucky. The myriad of ways to cook them is a delight. The wok is my favorite method. It allows for a nip of desert later.
Much more important, for me, is that I want to live longer than average, and not become sick and live, because I have a strong goal, completion of my art. All people I have known who don't moderate, don't value living enough to do so. One actually told me, "it's too late to start eating right".

My next door neighbor just died at sixty-four of excess and smoking. I'm reminded of what Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, "the only true suicides are the ones who smoke Pall Malls".

David said...

Peter, I wonder if the destruction of the sweetener container was your unconscious mind helping you with your diet :)

So, what did Ellie say when you told her?

PK said...

I found that pulling off the weight was easy for me. I got rid of sugar, flour, booze, soda's, and any junk food. I don't eat bread, pancakes, waffles, french toast, etc...., and you can drop weight getting rid of the rest of the goo you put in. Eat right, you won't have all the excess:). And you would be surprised how you can loose weight getting rid of the alcohol... Oh, and I don't eat red meat either, nor do I drink coffee anymore. When I gave up the coffee it calmed me down, so I can now meditate:). Only suggestions... I have finally gotten to a point where all of my lovelies are usable, but not treasures anymore as they once were. I enjoy them, but don't place them in such adoration that I'm caused to feel bad over them breaking or being gone. It's taken a long time to do this, and every once and a while I'll get a tinge, but I remember to stay focused. Someone told me once that my body was a temple, I just looked at them:). Now I know what they meant... you will too eventually... Sleep well Peter...