• allisontgruber

Medication, Meditation


Empty. Light. Faith. Empty. Light. Faith.

The original, 1970s-flavor, of Star Wars is just Buddhism in space. Star Wars, the original (I have not seen any beyond Return of the Jedi, and I don’t know if I care to), has long been a personal favorite of mine. I remember in the 1980s they would sometimes run it on television, and those nights were always special. Watching a movie! At home! So novel! I am old enough to remember when this was so novel, and for this reason I have never lost my appreciation for streaming services.

Star Wars has been special to me for reasons largely nostalgic, though as I lean further into my Buddhist practice, I find a new “specialness” in my down-to-the-word recollection of that old film. “You are a young Jedi,” I tell myself when I meditate and fail to keep my monkey mind still for more than three minutes at a go. Seriously, that’s where I’m at in my meditation practice. Most mornings, I can get a solid three minutes of nothing, of no thing, of empty. This is why Buddhism is often called a “practice” because you have to practice to fully reap Buddhism’s infinite benefits.

Never wanted to take psych meds. Resisted until I was well into my early forties. Worried they would make me less me. Know better now. In the past few weeks, medication plus meditation has saved my life. The meditation alone would not have evened me out because I am not yet well-practiced in the ways of Buddhism and meditation. My struggle, this past year, with mental health is situational, is clinical, is sometimes self-induced by a mind that is like a spastic child, which is probably exactly who I was when I started my life. A spastic child.

I remember having a close connection to God when I was young. And when I was rolling with the American Ascetics*, someone said something that changed my perspective entirely on the matter of God or more specifically the Primordial Connective Tissue, as I’ve been calling it, that exists all throughout the universe, that we cannot extrapolate ourselves from. I used to believe that the Primordial Connective Tissue was only there when I was happy, and then I had a very narrow understanding of “happiness” that was constricted by American Whiteness, Capitalism, Christianity, and the just plain-ol-cruelty of our fellow humans. And then an American Ascetics told me Do you remember having a relationship with God when you were very young? And of course I said, Yes. And then she replied, God is still there. Then I went out every day and prayed to a prickly pear that was my “Higher Power” for a little while until – duh! - I was reminded of Buddhism which, oddly enough, has been a part of my life for much longer than I have been trying to practice it.

*I may have misspelled “Ascetic” in previous posts referring to the American Ascetics. I do know the difference between aesthetic and ascetic. My eyes are so bad these days, I just miss “little details” like SPELLING and MEANING.

Tried the ways I was taught, and they didn’t work. Now I try something new, and the great thing about having a solid spiritual practice is you cannot fuck it up if you’re coming to the practice for the right reasons. And there is only one reason, as far as I’m concerned, to practice Buddhism: compassion. I want to live in compassion, and to receive compassion, and give compassion.

Compassion was a huge part of what tied me to teaching on The Mountain. I fell hard in love with my job on The Mountain. This was partly a blessing and partly a curse. On one hand, I was so blinded by love for my school that i could not see how little love was being produced in my home with my ex. Being engrossed in work allowed my mind to train itself away from deep red-flags-in-neon that were flying daily in my home. So I stayed in a situation that, had I been working at, say, Home Depot, would have been utterly unacceptable to me.

And I’ve thought of this a lot lately. Did The School on The Mountain simply protract my suffering by keeping me in an abusive marriage in an American place where there was no reliable healthcare?

This morning, having done my meditations, revisited the subject, I feel differently.

Life is suffering. I used to think this basic tenet of Buddhism was grim. I could not accept this because I believed, as a delusional lunatic might, that there was a Perfect Happiness I could buy or charm my way into. There is not.

Happiness is free, and comes from the well within. I’m pretty convinced many Americans, particularly the wealthy White sort, are walking around like zombies with dry wells, brainlessly moaning, “Money . . .”

The School on The Mountain did not protract my suffering. Life is suffering, and I did not suffer teaching at The School. Sure, I suffered the petty bureaucracies of public education in America, but my classroom, my students, my colleagues were Love. And I learned that I had a magnificent capacity to give and receive Love – how else, where else, and by what other means would I ever have learned this critical lesson?

I write you today from Three Months into my Divorce Proceedings. My physical health is surprisingly good for being on day 17 of an Ibrance cycle. My mental health, treated properly with medication and meditation, also feels clear and sharp and strong. At times, happy.

When I lived in Tucson, and was newly done drinking, and still in the trenches with the American Ascetics, my Favorite Former Nadia and I happened upon a little Buddhist monastery there in the desert. It was High Pandemic Season, and the monastery was closed to visitors though signs welcomed guests to roam the garden and leave alms on a table near the front door.

As we were walking the grounds, a monk emerged from a car. He was wearing orange robes, masked. His eyes smiled as soon as they met mine.

I approached him, Excuse me, I said. Are you allowing any visitors into the monastery today?

He looked me over, looked at Nadia. Are you tourists or followers of Buddha?

I glanced at Nadia, didn’t want to speak for her, and just answered what was in my heart, I am a follower.

He brought us into the monastery’s Buddha Room. I will never forget the feeling I felt when I walked into that room. The energy shifted dramatically. Something rushed upon and into me. “Woosh,” I often say when I tell this story. “Just a giant woosh.” Like when you are cold and you step into a hot shower. Shocking, but so good.

And he spoke with me, eyes locked, for over an hour. Poor Nadia had to sit in a sarong staring at the Golden Buddha. I don’t think she minded. And at the end of our conversation, the monk leaned forward a little, said to me, “Buddha wants for me - happiness. Buddha wants for her,” gesturing toward Nadia, “Happiness. Buddha wants for you - happiness.”

And I floated out of that monastery. My ex never understood when I tried to explain what had happened. She was cruel about the Buddhists. Defensive. Took a classic White American Christian stance on the belief systems of others who were not White or Christian. And there I was, her spouse, no longer Christian. I had hoped, as we had actually discussed, we could live well in a mixed-faith marriage. This concept never bothered me. I can still love those who are different from me. Within reason. When Master Hanh died earlier this year, I read my ex a piece of his writing that connected deeply with me. When I read it to her, I became tearful because it was so beautiful. When I was done reading, her face was unexpressive, she was nodding, she said, “Huh.”

I looked for the passage while writing this entry, and could not find it. Frankly, damn near anything Master Hanh said or wrote was helpful to me. I was just getting into his work when he passed away, and I remember feeling sad to hear the news, but only briefly, and only because his presence was so necessary on this planet. But people like Hanh leave such a footprint, they never really leave this life – not entirely. The person-form is gone, but the good ideas remain. Such is the virtue of good ideas, I suppose.

Today’s video tells the story of the time lightning struck my classroom:

Be good, hooligans.

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