Already we’re on day 5 of another 30 sits in 30 days. I haven’t sat yet today. I’m not following Soyen Shaku’s first rule: “In the morning before dressing, light incense and meditate.” My own rhythm is more like this: “In the morning before dressing, make tea, pick up notebook and fountain pen, write something. In the evening before dinner, meditate.”
It doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes I find time in the morning; sometimes it’s before bed. Last night I sat with a group of students at the JCC.
On Sunday, Day 3, I sat on the beach at the edge of the ocean around 1:00. The beach was so crowded it was hard to find an unpopulated spot. I must have walked a mile – great preparation for zazen. The waves were five to six feet high and loud. The crashing roar was exactly what I needed to help quiet the noise in my head.
It was day 49 of what was supposed to be a 35-day apartment renovation. We were living in the Bronx in a neighbor’s daughter’s apartment. A few weeks before we moved, while preparing our apartment – basically moving everything out, choosing paint colors, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, tile, and a million other little things – I got fired from a consulting job I loved (more on that later). My husband, M, was on a two month medical leave from work and unable to help much (our timing could have been better but the plan was in place long before these crisis, so we kept moving forward). The whole process began to take on its own momentum.
Then, on day nine of our relocation, a close family member was admitted to a psych ward of a treatment center after suffering a long bout of depression and anxiety. Needless to say, I had stress galore.
On Sunday, day three of 30 days of sitting, and day 49 of our seemingly endless renovation, my head was bustling with commotion.
Just the day before I had discovered that the new flooring for my home office had been delivered, received by the contractor and installed. One problem. It wasn’t what I had ordered. I hadn’t even planned on replacing the floor – I loved the floor that was there, old wood parquet – but it was too thin to sand once more and in worse shape than I realized.
The built-in desk had to be removed to lay the new floor, and by Saturday it had been re-installed, along with new moldings around the room.
Another problem. The floor was laid in a direction opposite what I thought it should be. I hadn’t specified. It was one detail too many at that point in the chaos. It had never even occurred to me; and the contractor never asked. Plus, that week, after sitting in a box in the basement for weeks, the bathroom sink was finally in place. But it too was not what I had ordered.
I was pissed at everyone for not paying close enough attention to the details: my contractor, the flooring company, the driver of the truck that delivered the wrong wood, the design consultant at the showroom where we bought our sink, the sink company, my husband, myself – everyone.
My head was spinning. Should I have the floor ripped up and redone to what I wanted? Should I exchange the sink for the one I wanted? M was fine leaving everything as it was; in fact, he preferred the “wrong” sink. And it wasn’t his office. He just wanted to be back in our own home.
Changing everything would cost more money, money that I wasn’t making, money that had been put aside for the renovation but was turning out to be not enough, money that I was beginning to think I’d never make again. (The company that fired me owed me money and they were being very nasty about it. I wasn’t sure I’d ever see it.)
And time. It would take another week or two (who knew?) to correct things and get what I wanted.
My brain was screaming. After all I’d been through I deserved to have what I wanted, didn’t I? How could this happen? Why doesn’t M support what I want? I wanted to get home too, but what’s more important here? After all, I did most of the work, didn’t I?
I love the beach. It was a glorious day on Sunday – one of those perfect east coast summer days – hot but breezy enough to make it comfortable and not blow down your umbrella. The sea was blue. A few clouds decorated the sky without threat. But I wasn’t sure I could relax enough to enjoy it.
After a couple hours of lazing and reading, I took my walk to find a quiet spot for meditation. We had plans that evening so I knew it would be hard to find time to sit later and I had to sit. I was committed to that. My Sangha was in the background encouraging me, supporting me.
I found my seat. I focused on my breath. The thundering ocean in front of me. I don’t know how long I sat; 20, 30 minutes maybe. But when I got up and started walking back, everything was quieter. The noise in my head, the lapping waves, the screeching children playing on the shoreline. And now, two days later, even the incessant noise of the jackhammer outside my window is not so nerve wracking.
By Monday afternoon when I met with my contractor, I wasn’t even angry. I had sent him an email on Saturday simply stating the problem and I think he was worried about what I might ask him to do. I realized that I had left on the beach my need to have what I thought I wanted. My stubborn insistence to have it my way had dissipated. I didn’t even ask him to uncover the floor so I could look at it one more time just to be sure.
I knew it would be fine. I knew I would like it. I knew I wasn’t just settling. And I actually made room for the possibility that maybe the “mistake” would turn out to be better than the original “plan.” Same with the sink. And the bonus is that instead of spending more money and time, both the floor and sink companies are issuing some credit for their errors.
I am at peace today. Four more days till we’re back in our apartment. That’s the plan right now. One day, one sit at a time we’ll get there, to face whatever chaos moving back involves.
I look forward to it, to whatever life brings. One thing’s for sure, I’m definitely not ready for the alternative.