Thursday, January 03, 2008

Accidental Dharma - The Gift Wrapped in Shit

Peter at The Buddha Diaries has started a new blog, Accidental Dharma: The Gift Wrapped in Shit. I think this is a great idea for a blog. How many of us get our deepest lessons while sitting in meditation? Most of the really juicy lessons come as a shock, through the trials of our daily lives. Sharing these experiences is a great way to realize just how varied and important such experiences can be.

We all get them, these gifts wrapped in shit. They arrive when we least expect them, and certainly didn't want them. But if we unwrap them carefully, we find that they invariably have a heart of gold. Think of Al Gore. He was screwed out of the presidency and ended up with an Oscar and a Nobel Prize.

That's actually a bad example, because the gift is not about prizes and awards. It's about the inner teaching such gifts bring with them, and we'd have to find out from Al himself just exactly what the gift was.

Accidental Dharma
seeks submissions of growth experiences, soul lessons if you will, that arose out of challenging situations. Check it out -- there are already many good posts, such as this one:

The weekend we found out I was expecting we were at our friend's annual camp party. It's a 3 day party taking place on an island, typically characterized by a lot of drinking, a lot of dancing, and a lot of music. I had been looking forward to the party for weeks, as this was just the sort of thing that was right up my alley. However, the morning we were to head out rolled around, and I just couldn't get into it. We loaded the car with our camping gear and our dogs, and headed out to the island. I should have suspected something was amiss when I declined the offer to stop at the liquor store - the idea of any sort of alcohol was absolutely abhorrent to me. I spent the entirety of our first day and evening there just sitting near the camp fire with my dogs, reflecting. I wasn't interested in dancing or partying or revelling with my friends - I wanted solitude. Around midnight I put the dogs to bed and headed into the tent to try to sleep. That whole night I just felt wrong - wrong that this was how I was spending my time, wrong that these were the choices I was making. The next day I was so repulsed by the entire scene that I made my husband pack up and head back into town. On the way into town I suggested that we get a pregnancy test. I don't know what made me think that that might be the source of my feeling 'off', but as soon as I took the test I knew what it would say. Several other follow-up tests confirmed.

From the moment the test showed two little pink lines I realised that I had been asleep. I hadn't been living my life, I had been clouding my mind in an effort to get from moment to moment, with the focus always on the future. I was always looking forward to what I COULD do, not what I WAS doing. At that moment I realised how wrong this was - that I needed to be here, in this moment, and experience this moment. I would never again be pregnant for the first time. I would never again experience THIS moment. I didn't want to miss any of these moments with my child - I wanted to remember and live and experience the entire process.

I'm not sure what it was that made me realise the error of the lifestyle I had been living. This shift started even before I knew I was with child. But it was profound and it caused some very difficult times between myself and my new husband. He wasn't interested in partaking of my new desire to live mindfully in the moment - he liked our old life. While I was brutally aware of every action I engaged in, every moment of every day, he wasn't interested in such things. Our relationship eventually mended itself over time, as he too gradually made these connections. Whether this process is something that would have happened to us both independently anyway, or whether it is a direct result of growing into our new roles as parents, I don't know. I suspect that it's a combination of the two, since I know many people whose experience of parenthood did not result in such radical shifts in the way they view the world.

The second milestone that occurred during my pregnancy happened in October. I was working as a bar manager at the local university pub. For a while I had been having problems with my job (selling liquor to students does not really fall under the 'right vocation' category). But I had always grown up with the idea that your career was important - that you would find meaning in the job that you do. So, although I wasn't finding anything other than negativity from this job, I continued to work hard at it, hoping that I would find some sort of fulfillment. After a particularly stressful few days at work (a lesson in 'accidental dharma' in and of itself) I began to have contractions. Being only 25 weeks along in my pregnancy, having my child at this point would have been devastating. My midwife quickly ordered me to leave work and spend my days at home, resting and avoiding stress. This might sound great to most people, but to someone who has, for her entire life, scheduled every last second of every day to insure as many activities as possible get done, this was catastrophic. I had been working fulltime since I was 16. Up until 2 years ago I had also been attending school. My days were used to being crammed - I now had no schedule, no where to go, and nothing to do. For the first time I was FORCED to slow down.

Since October I have gradually become more and more grateful for this time. Living in the Western world we're taught that everything needs to be done quickly, on a schedule, efficiently and that free time is a luxury. We are taught to work hard and make lots of money and buy many things; that we can judge our progress in life and how 'successful' we are by these yardsticks. It's taken me many months to be ok with saying 'I don't work.' I've struggled to be ok with the fact that I have friends who I went to college with moving up the corporate ladder, earning 3 or 4 times what our household income is. I've struggled to be ok with the fact that I live in a space that is about 300 square feet. I have struggled with these things because for so many years I was taught that the measure of my success as a person was not how happy I was or what I was contributing to humanity as a whole, but how much prestige I could earn. Being forced into unemployment, I now realise how ridiculous this concept is.

For the first time in my life, I am truly and completely happy. For the first time I'm not struggling with depression and anxiety. Sure, I have a very basic existence, I don't have fancy clothes or a big house. But I'm spending my days and nights doing things that I LOVE and things that are helpful and productive. My days are spent in meditation and reflection, reading, learning and writing. After my child is born I intend to raise her with this lifestyle. I can imagine no better contribution to society than to raise a child who is happy and mindful and caring and gentle. The act of becoming a mother has forced me see the world differently. I no longer look for fulfillment from external sources, I don't look to the future for ways to be happy. I am truly and completely happy in this moment. It doesn't matter what tomorrow brings, because in this moment, right now, I have all that I need.

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