The more I read about Buddhist-related concepts, the more I realize what a devil of a time I’ve had with anticipation. Not that I think that people are meant to not anticipate events and changes – I don’t think that’s possible – but I do think it’s instructive to reflect on how you perceive it and what role it may play in your temperament and approaches to situations.
When I was a youngster, my mother generally worked 3:00-11:00pm shifts as a nurse at a local nursing home, every other weekend. Compared to the full-time workweeks she and I both work these days, that does not feel like a large amount of time working outside of the home, you know? But at the time I did not like her working those shifts.
I can’t say exactly why – was I jealous that she was taking care of those non-family members instead of my brother and me? Was I frightened that some harm would come to her in the evening going to the parking lot alone? Was it simply that she was usually in the house when I went to bed, so the difference felt creepy and alien? We usually had fun with my Dad, he’d make sure there was something special like playing card games. It was more like I was akin to a herding dog – it just didn’t feel right until the whole family was gathered up.
But here’s the odd thing: I remember having a certain secret joy on the weekends she worked because I knew the NEXT weekend, she would be home. And yet the weekends she didn’t work, I felt somewhat mopey, because the following weekend: working again. It’s odd and twisted, thinking back on it. The anticipation colored each weekend, in a way – cheered up the work weekends, and rained on the home weekends.
The other thing I did was to force myself to stay awake until she arrived home around 11:15. Anticipated her arrival for hours. Keeping awake wasn’t overly difficult; all I needed to do was conjure up all of the terrible things I thought may happen to her while she was not with us, and I was wide awake.
I had a wonderful mini-meditation this morning. As I arrived at work, the song “Mercy Street” by Peter Gabriel came on the radio. Nice surprise; haven’t hear that one in ages, forgot how much I love it. I pulled into one of the few spots in the lot in a slice in sunshine. I positioned my head in a big swath of sunlight, turned up the radio, and closed my eyes. (I don’t much care if anyone sees me. They have a lot more to wonder about around here than some kooky colleague sitting and swaying in her car anyway.)
Before long, my mind’s eye watched an image of several giraffes happily running, as though seeing a documentary, and I felt grand. Mercy Street + much-needed sunshine is a combination that appears to smooth some rough edges. I’d really like to hold onto this feeling for a while today. I wish you lovely moments in your own day.
There is a Taoist story I heard a few years ago that resonates strongly with me.
The tale is of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.
As I think about how the last year or so has gone for my family and me, I’m feeling rather like the farmer. Depending on my state, I can frame each event in an extremely positive or extremely negative way.
- Preschool aged daughter gets lyme disease due to negligent caretakers. the -: she had to deal with blood draws, more doc apts, and 30 days of strong meds; we had to deal with being nervous wrecks and facing more angry feelings toward her former caretakers. the +: her sympton was very overt, we caught it early and there will be no longterm effects, and we saw some excellent specilists who took wonderful care of us. Most importantly: she’s not being cared for by them any longer!
- Careless old lady sideswipes the car, totaling it, and the $ we get wouldn’t cover the cost of a new one. Plus the lady tries to spin her report to deflect blame when she was fully at fault. the -: scared the little one and she still asks q’s about it months later; down to 1 car (convenience factors); some loss of independence; the hassle of dealing paperwork, phonecalls, the impound lot. the +: they were both ok, and we are not paying to insure, gas and maintain 2 cars; plus I hated that car.
- Dryer craps out. the -: spending $ on a new dryer. the +: it came with the house and lasted several years, which is longer than we thought it would.
- Choosing to take a second job (which will require getting up to speed on some new skills) at a time when the young one is starting a new school and the first job will be hectic. the -: increased stress and time commitment; having to figure out transportation logistics if we still have 1 car then and we’re both working days and I also work that night during the workweek and the little one goes to bed at 8:00; the +: more income, making a connection at a place which will hopefully utilize me each semester and that I’ll work for long-term; extra security in a shaky job market; meeting new people; learning new things; the chance to use a degree that took 5 looong yrs to earn; resume boost.
I don’t know if I’d say the glass has been half-full or half-empty; more like the glass keeps getting drained yet something or someone generally comes along to pour a refreshing glassful and help us along. Cheers.
Holy cow, how have I not read Pema Chodron before now? She is amazing, gave me so much to think about. I would love to visit her monastery, Gampo Abbey, in Canada – I think it’s in Nova Scotia. I plan to read a lot more of her work, luckily she’s quite prolific!