Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

“Excuse me for living!” Remember when this was a common rebuke? Variations included “Pardon me for living” or “Excuse me for breathing.” I used to say this when someone took issue with something I did or said, as a somewhat overdramatized apology for being however I was being, said with an air of exasperation. But I often did feel the need to apologize for being who and how I was. Often still do. In a way, it is out of a misguided kindness for others that I apologize for myself, so as not to inconvenience them, make them uncomfortable, but an unintended side effect is that I am not being genuinely me.

Part of Buddhism’s appeal and relevance is the teaching that I am good enough right now, inherently and basically good, and don’t have to apologize. Still, that impulse to excuse myself remains in subtle ways.

Toward the end of a recent weekend meditation retreat, I sat in a group and listened to our teacher discuss the meaning of awakened heart, how it involved existing in the world with dignity. One woman raised her hand from the back of the room and said something we could all relate to: “Sometimes I just don’t feel so dignified.” We all laughed a little at the uncomfortable truth pouring out of her, at how messy our lives often feel, how we all have our unsavory bits that we hope only reveal themselves when no one else is looking. As part of the response to her question/comment, another participant offered her perspective on dignity, that it could be viewed as not being embarrassed by who you are, by allowing your true self – with all its associated imperfections – to exist in the world without apology.

A similar theme arose in the movie Crazy Wisdom, a film about the life and times of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. At one point in the film, some of interviewees wept at the loss of their friend and teacher who had given them the unparalleled gift of being completely and unapologetically himself. And in doing so, how he helped them to see their inherent brilliance, wisdom, goodness, and perfect imperfection.

In Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chogyam Trungpa writes:

The discovery of basic goodness is not a religious experience, particularly. Rather it is the realization that we can directly experience and work with reality, the real world that we are in. Experiencing the basic goodness of our lives makes us feel that we are intelligent and decent people and that the world is not a threat. When we feel that our lives are genuine and good, we do not have to deceive ourselves or other people. We can see our shortcomings without feeling guilty or inadequate, and at the same time, we can see our potential for extending goodness to others. We can tell the truth straightforwardly and be absolutely open, but steadfast at the same time.

This concept of being unapologetically authentic has stayed with me for weeks now. What would it mean if I dropped all of my embarrassment at who I am? How would it feel? What might my mind be capable of if not weighed down by that anxiety and restriction? In addition to the kindness I could extend to myself by living with dignity and without embarrassment, it might also be the most generous and loving thing I could do for others.


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I always feel grateful for rain. As a child, I was happy to stay indoors reading or watching movies on beautiful, sunny days. My mother would coax me outside, shaming me not to waste a glorious day. Rainy days let me off the hook.

Even as an adult, waking up to rain gives me a singular sense of pleasure and comfort. If I’m lucky, I will have planned to work from home the entire day. To stay in my pajamas, cook pastina for lunch, shuffle from one room to the next between projects.

Usually, though, some commitment draws me out of the apartment. I contemplate calling and canceling plans, rescheduling appointments. I run the lines in my head first to see if I can pull it off convincingly, but give up when I remember that I am an abysmal liar. I then commence with the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth, perseverating over what to wear, what shoes to sacrifice, what anti-frizz strategy to employ.

Once outside, I can feel my body clenched and my brow furrowed, as I tip toe through puddles, hike up my pant legs, and clutch my purse to my chest beneath my umbrella. I walk as swiftly and efficiently as I can to ward off unnecessary wetness, and try to avoid becoming a casualty of speeding cars and busses that hug the curb too tightly.

The only problem is, I am not the only one in this predicament. As I battle for real estate on the sidewalks, begrudgingly raising my umbrella to accommodate others, and aggressively inserting myself into busy intersections to ward off turning vehicles because I (CAPITAL, BOLDFACED, ITALICIZED ‘I’) have the right of way, I sing a little song that goes: ME, ME, ME, ME, GET OUT OF MY WAY!

Finally I reach a point at which I resign myself to the rain. I give up my fight, release the tension from my muscles, unfurrow my brow, and give myself over to the dragging pants, the shoes sloshing, the hair growing larger by the minute.

It is only at that point that I can look up and see something other than myself. To view the people around me, not as obstacles standing in my way, but as other beings probably feeling similar feelings, wishing to be safe and warm and dry at home. I notice their clenched faces, hasty movements, and self-righteous irritation. Harried drivers and weary pedestrians all. And my compassion for them (and myself) grows. Suddenly my sodden walk becomes very interesting indeed. Sometimes I even take the long way home.

Not that I remember this when the next rainy day comes along but I’m trying to pay closer attention. I realize it’s easy to smile at strangers when it’s sunny and beautiful, but less so when we’re all soaked and annoyed. That it’s easy to be kind when I’m comfortable and more challenging when I’m cold and wet. Although initially I resist the discomfort, at a certain point I renounce that resistance, and my own selfishness, for a little while. And I get a glimpse of what Chogyam Trungpa writes about in Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior:

What the warrior renounces is anything in his experience that is a barrier between himself and others. In other words, renunciation is making yourself more available, more gentle and open to others.


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I will set my alarm each morning to awaken me with this:

I will leave no trick un-exploited in my efforts to finish this book

  • I will use the laundry trick (that’s 34 minutes to wash-write, and 28 minutes to dry-write)
  • The captive audience trick (any time I’m in a waiting room; why else do I have a MacBook Air?)
  • The just-5-minutes trick (what do I have to lose?)
  • The muted Law & Order trick (I know I’ll turn it off to concentrate)
  • The change of scenery trick again and again and again (the living room, the dining room, the guest room, the bedroom, the courtyard, the Starbucks, the other Starbucks)

I will resist watching this:

And this:

And especially this:


Every time I hear myself say any of the following:

You’re not a writer, you know

That sentence totally sucks

Um, wait, I think you missed a chance to gaze at your navel

No one wants to read this shizzle but your mom

I will drop and give myself 20



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Last week I had lunch with a new friend. It was a raw, honest conversation that bolstered our new bond. It also made me acutely aware of the ways we all suffer, how much we need one another, and how we can want that least when we need it most. He had to get back to work but as I left the restaurant and walked down the block, we were already texting one another, him to apologize for running off, me to chide him for not telling me I had flax seeds in my teeth.

I had just hit ‘send’ when I heard the screech of a set of tires. I looked up to see a jeep mid-intersection, mid-right-turn, about 6 inches from a crossing pedestrian. And as I (and everyone in a half-block radius) registered what had just happened, the jeep remained motionless while the pedestrian, a woman frozen in place, broke down. I walked into the intersection, took her by the arm and led her, sobbing by now, to the sidewalk where she leaned against a lamppost.

The jeep pulled over and just sat for a few minutes while the woman and I stood there, sort of holding one another up, breathing deeply, and fully realizing what could have just happened. This would only happen to me, she said, I’ve just come from radiation. And my own eyes welled in response to her thinking she could be responsible for this near-miss. And maybe even her cancer?

Then the driver got out and came over, visibly shaken himself, and said, I am so sorry, I can’t believe this just happened, I didn’t even see you. To which she responded without a hint of anger or self-righteousness, It’s alright, nobody got hurt. The three of us just stood there, a little triangle of basic goodness, feeling our own pain and that of the two other people in front of us. Raw and honest.

Had this unfolded slightly differently (and no one in New York City would be particularly surprised if it had), the same near-miss might have led to a screaming match about who was right and who was wrong between two people (and any number of onlookers) who felt vulnerable, fearful, and painfully aware of the difference a half a second or a half a foot can make. And the opportunity to allow those feelings and that awareness, and the choice to be kind to one another, would have been lost.

In those few moments, three people – three strangers – were there with one another. To hold that discomfort. And after those moments passed, we went off in our separate directions.

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Like a lot of people, I am having a hard time making sense of what happened yesterday. Though I grew up in New York, I was living in Boston at the time of the 9/11 attacks. I sat in my office looking out the window at the planes leaving Logan airport, until they stopped. Boston was my home for 14 years, specifically the Back Bay area, where the marathon comes to a finish.

Now that I’m living in New York again, it’s difficult to comprehend the terror and melee that occurred yesterday in my former home town. It’s difficult to understand what was going on in the minds of the people who likely started planning this atrocity at about the same time thousands of others started establishing training goals, buying new sneakers, and setting their sites on April 15, 2013.

I know this happens every day and has been seemingly forever. I know that beautiful, innocent 8-year-olds like Martin Richard of Dorchester, who was with his mom and two siblings watching his father finish the race, are lost every day. I am saddened by my own inability to feel the loss that happens in faraway locations as deeply and those closer to me. Not unlike a conservative senator who can only support marriage equality when he makes the connection with his own gay son, sometimes this is what is necessary to open our eyes:

I’m finding some comfort in the following and thought you might too:

A response from the Dalai Lama:

I’m not yet ready to comment on the tragedy of this day.

I think there will be many comments, perhaps too many…the ‘How could this happen’s’ and ‘What kind of monster could do just this’s”—though that dialogue may become an integral part of our healing, I pray that as these hours unfold, we will all move forward towards a true and compassionate understanding.

But for now, I—and I believe I speak for everyone else here at elephant journal—send out all of our collective love, and best energy…to heal the hearts of those who need it most.

And, may these hearts not ever lose hope.

To all the beautiful souls needing love tonight—you have mine…and most unconditionally.


This Facebook status update from a friend:

My response to evil, tragedy & wrongdoing, as it has always been, is to go out into the world & spread even more happiness & compassion than the day before.

And the growing number of stories of the helpers, the people who ran toward the wreckage instead of away, the people who offered homes, help, and kindness.

I send my love and compassion to the Richard family and all of those affected by yesterday’s tragedy. As I try to make sense of this all, I will continually try to open rather than shut down.

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