Thinking about when it first occurred to me to look inward, I realize it was about 15 years ago. I was 30. I went to my brother for some kind of guidance. He sent me a book called Living Zen, by Charlotte “Joko” Beck. This was just a few months after the birth of my first child, during the marriage to my first husband. The book made my hair hurt, but I stayed with it because my brother gave it to me. I wanted to get it.
Beck was hard. I got stuck—a lot. I had to call my brother and ask him what the fuck was she talking about. Sometimes he said, “I don’t know” which really confused me, yet at the same time, filled me with curiosity. I read certain passages over and over again. Some stuff clicked, but what I vividly recall about that book is that she kept hammering home the idea that “practice” was really, really hard. I don’t remember that she defined the term. I just remember feeling worse after finishing the book, yet somehow better at the same time. There was something out there, but it would be a lot of work getting to it. I felt like I knew that to be true—I mean the former—that there was definitely something more to achieve than believing the nonsense that was occupying my life at the time. What it came down to was this: enough of what Beck said made enough sense to me that I kept thinking about her, the ideas she suggested.
Then, I got very busy for several years being so far out of the moment, I was in it, and very unhappy. But I didn’t forget. Sometimes I wonder if Beck made it harder for me to put up with the nonsense. Obviously, she didn’t do any of this. I had signaled the universe that I was hungry to make sense of life, especially my life.
When I got my bearings and the dust of my divorce settled, I started exploring some of the residual feelings left over from that initial experience with Eastern ways of looking at life that I had been exposed to five or so years before. I kept reading, eventually finding authors at the shallow end of the Zen meditation, Eastern philosophy pool. Not that the writing was shallow, just personally more accessible.
Fast forward to my current life. Second husband. Two stepchildren. Ten thousand more stressors, yet I’m awash in the warmth of love, even those days when I want to strangle every third person who crosses my path. Being settled into a life that I embrace, not just endure, has opened the door a bit more. It’s called truth. Turns out, Gloria Steinem was correct: “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”
My therapist gave me a copy of a Metta meditation the other day. I could apply it specifically toward those in my life who trigger deep-seated anxieties, she said. I read it, and liked it, but then, while trying to find it on the Internet so that I could print a cleaner copy, I ran across a different version, one containing a keyword, derived from a specific feeling that seems to appear as if on cue at certain moments in my life: annoyed. Make that, super annoyed.
FROM THE ANGUTTARA NIKAYA, 5:161
(SPOKEN BY THE BUDDHA)
Bhikkhus, there are these five ways of removing annoyance, by which annoyance can be entirely removed by a bhikkhu when it arises in him. What are the five?
Loving-kindness can be maintained in being towards a person with whom you are annoyed: this is how annoyance with him can be removed.
Compassion can be maintained in being towards a person with whom you are annoyed; this too is how annoyance with him can be removed.
Onlooking equanimity can be maintained in being towards a person with whom you are annoyed; this too is how annoyance with him can be removed.
The forgetting and ignoring of a person with whom you are annoyed can be practiced; this too is how annoyance with him can be removed. Ownership of deeds in a person with whom you are annoyed can be concentrated upon thus: “This good person is owner of his deeds, heir to his deeds, his deeds are the womb from which he is born, his deeds are his kin for whom he is responsible, his deeds are his refuge, he is heir to his deeds, be they good or bad.” This too is how annoyance with him can be removed.
These are the five ways of removing annoyance, by which annoyance can be entirely removed in a bhikkhu when it arises in him.