When I was younger, I recall my Dad loosely quoting Benjamin Franklin, There are two things you can count on in life: death and taxes. This was expressed with a sense of resignation and discomfort, as if these things would be better avoided, but that eventually they would get the better of us all.
Fast-forward about 3 decades and I find myself regularly repeating my father’s words. So much of what I’m learning about Buddhism is about how to face the inevitable. About growing up and dealing with the facts of life. And yet I notice how much of my day-to-day thoughts and actions seem to run counter to this. How I avoid dealing with the fact that eventually – and likely far too soon – I will age, get sick, and die.
Ironically, right now I’d much rather think about death than taxes. This year, I decided to do them myself, to save a little money, to find as many deductions as humanly possible, and prepare myself for a nice fat refund. This is not how it went down.
I completely botched my taxes and realized this only after I submitted them. I omitted several important forms, failed to report some dividend income, and wound up owing much more than I anticipated. Worse than this, I realized my error in the presence of someone else, someone I admire.
What I felt was a combination of stupid and screwed, something I would much rather experience in private. Sort of like going #2. And to have my stupidity and screwed-ness revealed in front of another was like having someone walk in on me in a public bathroom.
Interestingly I had also just read a recent article in Shambhala Sun magazine entitled Life Is Tough: Six Ways to Deal With It, in which Norman Fischer highlights six of the lojong mind-training slogans that are particularly useful in dealing with life’s difficulties.
The first of the slogans jumped off the page at me: Turn all mishaps into the path. Fischer highlights the tendency to practice happily when things go smoothly but how quickly we fall apart when life takes a turn for the worse. When I realized I was feeling stupid and screwed, and that someone else had witnessed this, I acted as if a bee had flown into my blouse. I wanted it gone! I was physically and emotionally uncomfortable, wanting nothing more than to rid myself of the discomfort, anxiety, and negativity.
In order to turn all mishaps into the path, Fischer suggests practicing patience:
“…Patience is the capacity to welcome difficulty when it comes, with a spirit of strength, endurance, forbearance, and dignity rather than fear, anxiety, and avoidance. None of us likes to be oppressed or defeated, yet if we can endure oppression and defeat with strength, without whining, we are ennobled by it. Patience makes this possible. In our culture, we think of patience as passive and unglamorous; other qualities like love or compassion or insight are much more popular. But when tough times cause our love to fray into annoyance, our compassion to be overwhelmed by our fear, and our insight to evaporate, then patience begins to make sense. To me it is the most substantial, most serviceable, and most reliable of all spiritual qualities. Without it, all other qualities are shaky.”
With this in mind, I tried to practice patience. I watched my feelings and behavior. I forgave myself for having Swiss cheese capabilities, in which taxes happen to fall in one of the holes. I allowed myself to recognize that taxes (and money in general) are a source of anxiety and avoidance for many people and that I was not alone in this. At one point I found myself crying to my dad while shoving a turkey sandwich into my mouth, but eventually I came back to practicing patience.
When I file my amended tax return, it will be with a sense of humility, dignity, and forgiveness of my imperfections. And the resolution to use an accountant next year.