The Buddha in My Bag

Dear Nona

I’m really glad you wrote me because in my computer meltdown i lost your e-mail address and have been continually forgetting to get it from Ethan.

I am very happy to be back – although last night my purse got stolen at a club called bar 13 – with it my wallet containing 13 dollars, credit cards, license, library card etc etc. More painful was that my visor and very favorite agnes b cardigan went with it. Most most painful are the vintage sunglasses i got for only $10 but look fabulous on me and i will never be able to find again because for some reason sunglasses always look stupid on me. Except, of course, for these.

Anyway – embarrassingly enough i have kind of started meditating and trying to follow the dharma (don’t laugh!) and oddly enough i was just at a section in my studying about how “owning” things is impossible and causes suffering. Really, i was listening to it *two hours* before i went out for the evening. Anyway i’m not imputing any higher meaning to the theft of my bag, but it is allowing me to try and put to use these new thoughts. I have to admit that i haven’t been too successful at it. I keep thinking of all the other things that i could have put in my bag last night, but didn’t, and being thankful that way. But that way is totally wrong.

Something else in the lecture was that one should act on every impulse to give. If you feel even the slightest pang to give something to someone, you should. I employed this on the train on the way back from picking up a copy of my house keys (which didn’t work, i’ll get to that in a minute) from my landlord. Oh, did i mention that the keys to my apartment were in the bag and the other sets of keys I have were as follows: 1 with colleen who is in Germany until the middle of next month, 2 with my subletters who are out of town for memorial day and whose phone number is in my visor which is with my keys and perfect sunglasses somewhere beyond my reach or, of course, in my house, 3 with my mother 3000 miles away in LA. So anyway I gave my second to last dollar of the 10 bucks I borrowed from Ethan to two Mexican guitarists on the train. They were good and I felt like I should and then I remembered that I had only two dollars, and a borrowed Harpers magazine in my borrowed tote bag so i really had no business giving things away. But if I was having so much trouble giving up the idea of possession of things, at least I could give in the spirit of the Buddha. And so I did.

I made my way back to my apartment with much apprehension because, after all, my keys were in the bag, and even though my address on my drivers license is my mom’s place in California, they could find the New York address in my visor and basically clean me out. And at this point in my “freelancing” career I’d be hard pressed to be able to replace much of anything I owned. Clearly these are not feelings of “non-attachment”, but I couldn’t help myself. I could only reassure myself by pointing out that at least I was aware of my poisonous thoughts instead of blindly being lost in them. There was maybe one moment of enlightened thought in this whole escapade. Or maybe it was a precursor to enlightened thought. It was that I was glad I didn’t have a cell phone because that would have been gone too. Strictly speaking I shouldn’t have been glad that I didn’t have a cell phone since enjoying it for whatever amount of time up until last night should have been fine in itself, right? But there is the problem with owning things; it is a constant struggle to keep on owning them. It’s not a closed loop. You show up faithfully to your office job, collect your paycheck, find the perfect pair of vintage sunglasses, buy them, even replace the lenses which were all scratched up, and done – the sunglasses are yours. Nope, the sunglasses are only yours by a vigilant process of personal diligence, and societal carrots and sticks.

So, well, I shouldn’t be happy that I never had a cell phone; what I should be happy about is that I enjoyed fabulous vintage sunglasses for a year and a half. Things come into your life and then they go out. Can I stop desiring, grasping? Ok, if you weren’t laughing before, I know you are now. What can I say? It’s impossible for me to escape this shit having grown up in LA and all. It all actually started when I was unpacking my books when I came back from Paris and I found a book called Insight Meditation, which I had bought when I was in 18, the summer after my freshman year of college. It seemed that everyone around me in Venice Beach at that time was a Buddhist and it just seemed like the thing to do. I’m rereading it now and I keep cringing at the places I underlined and the notes I made filled with teenage angst. I’d think it was cute if it weren’t me.

I’ve also been listening to a radio show out of LA by this guy Joe Frank, which has lots of segments by a Buddhism teacher who is actually a colleague (is that the right word?) of the guy who wrote the meditation book. I listened to the radio, streaming and taped, a lot when I was away and it was a really good way to feel connected to the States. If you have a fast connection in Jakarta I highly recommend it.

I also think it’s clear from your e-mail that you would rather go to the Congo in the fall than to Yale. Usually i don’t give straightforward advice to matters this weighty. I mean, I can barely answer them for myself, but in this case it just seems like this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting forever since I’ve known you. Also, you would be helping people, and I think Jack Kornfield is right and that we should follow every impulse we have towards giving. And for fucks sake, Yale is for the mediocre progeny of rich oilmen. Ok that’s not really fair or true, but I’m standing by my advice on this one. Go to Africa! And be really fucking careful!

[rest of letter truncated due to gossip]

best best best,

neille

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