A note from Erin:
We are sending you Happy New Year wishes from Thailand!
I hear there’s a lot of snow back home, and here I sit in a warm, humid hotel room, listening to my son and others splash around in the pool 5 floors below as I type on my laptop. We are on vacation! Last year, our dear boy, who has accompanied us to various retreats and trainings we attend or teach many times a year, from Costa Rica to California and more, said to me, “Mama, why don’t we ever just go on a vacation?”
We do go camping whenever we can squeeze it in on weather-appropriate weekends, and we do visit friends and family, but he was right – it’s rare for us to simply lounge or adventure and not actively learn or teach. One of my brothers and his family live in Laos and we decided to head to SouthEast Asia to visit family, to explore, to relax, to simply be. We’re also highly motivated to escape Salt Lake’s terrible winter air pollution. It’s been lovely here, especially because we happen to be blessed with a kid who is the most amazing traveler I’ve ever met. Waking at 4am? No problem, he’s thrilled to head to the airport. A dark drive to a hotel in Bangkok? He’s enchanted by the “Bangkok speed limits!” (that feel much like the speed limits back home to me, but hey, why should I argue?) He’s in love with every simple little thing he sees, from street signs in Thai to the 3-legged dog to all the people speaking foreign languages. The fact that our bags still have not showed up, considering we left on the morning of the 1st? Well, I was staying cheerful about it for the first day or two and then sank into feeling despondent – especially as we are having a hard time finding anyone who speaks clear English to help us track them down after they landed in Shanghai a few days ago, and I can’t tell if the local people who keep saying “They’ll be here by 2pm tomorrow” every day are sharing any legitimate information or if it’s a cultural wish to not have to bear bad news and say “no” and to be “nice” to us… but the kiddo? He’s content, even wearing for the past many days the same new elephant-fabric Thai pants and t-shirt I bought him on the street. He loves his cheap flip flops. He’s thrilled we haven’t been able to brush his hair, because we have no brush. He loves eating watermelon for breakfast in the middle of our winter. It’s so interesting to watch my own mind, vacillating between being friendly with the situation and determined to make the best of it, and then watching my mind clamping down and wanting to open up a can of genuine American whoop-ass on someone to demand our bags come! But who could I do that with, the friendly Thai people at our hotel who have nothing to do with our troubles? Nah. The recording of a human voice at Delta where I wait on hold for minutes on end and never get a human? Doesn’t work. I keep thinking of a teaching from the Buddha, “The cure for all suffering is presence.” It seems to be true. When I am really simply here, even in the same clothes I’ve been wearing for days, it is good. We are healthy, uninjured, and gratefully have money enough to buy cheap flip flops and sunscreen and a few pieces of clothing to tide us over until our bags arrive, hopefully soon. I’m well aware that I’m experiencing what one Buddhist teacher teasingly calls “bourgeois suffering.” I don’t have my conditioner! Or a brush. Or underwear. Or products to wash and moisturize my face, let alone have a change or two of my own clothes. I had to buy a swimsuit for each of us from a street vendor – life is really rough, eh? So I watch my mind being spacious and content and profoundly happy to be here, and then contracting around some serious wanting I’m experiencing. I haven’t brushed my hair in 5 days. I can offer empathy to the part of me that’s wanting. And I notice that it’s true – the cure for suffering is presence. When I’m just here, it’s beautiful. I’m fine. Even with unbrushed hair and hairy legs and no underwear and no idea when and if our bags will ever show up. Then there’s the other layer – it is also helpful, whether content or frustrated, to keep calling the airlines, to keep staying engaged with the relative reality as well as doing my best to enjoy it as it is.
Part of me wants to be writing about something more profound than my bourgeois suffering this morning – offering New Years questions to contemplate, writing about some way to relate to the strangeness of the current reality in the world, wanting to reflect on some inspiring poem. But there’s just this: Beauty and gorgeousness and wanting and suffering and seeing that presence really is such a profound choice. No matter how it is, I can find beauty if I try. I can also bless my suffering, bougesois as it may be.
Here’s the poem that I want to share with you this morning.
Perhaps it’s actually a perfect one as an entry to 2017.
How can we bless our lives, imperfect and perfect as they are?
Perhaps that’s a gorgeous and authentic way to pray. (Special thanks to my friend Laurie Wagner who first shared this poem with me a few years ago.)
by Annelyse Gelman
HOW TO PRAY
Bless the unglamorous panties
crusted with blood, the smear
of lotion around the bottle’s cap.
Bless the discount bubble bath
and the unrinsed robe
of dead skin, House of Leaves
back-to-back with Calvin & Hobbes
with Anne Frank’s diary with 101
Wacky Camping Jokes, glasses
smudged, pens uncapped. Bless
the expired, unfinished to-do list.
The crooked painting. Flecksof spit on the bathroom mirror.
Bless the ugly, the uncinematic.
Let this be the year of the rough
draft, of waking up with morning
breath and no makeup, of calling
our moms. Bless the razor
I’ve used to shave my armpits
for three weeks straight. The greasy
stain on my winter coat. Bless
the winter coat and its broken
zipper and weird pointy hood, bless
the actual slug that once crawled
from my bike helmet to my face
in the pasta aisle, bless that face
then and now, your face, pimples and sweat
and regrettable facial hair,
the cheap pink plastic flower-shaped
lamp salvaged from the dumpster
and nailed to the wall
Nonetheless glowing, isn’t it true?
Bless us all.
Thank you for reading!! We are so grateful for you.