Sunday, July 26, 2009

All I want for Christmas...

"It is not by appearances that you are fettered but by craving." ~Tilopa, instructing his student, Naropa (both are historic figures in Buddhist texts)

There was a time when, because of my appearance, I was quite reluctant to go out in public; even confrontation with someone friendly was enough to make me want to cover my mouth and leave without saying a word. Not because of anything they'd said or done, mind you, but because my teeth are a mess. They always have been, but because I've been to SO many dentists to [attempt to] fix the problems that started when I was a wee young thing, I'm mortally terrified of dentists and I'm done going. Unless it's a dire emergency, like the time I had to dig out a permanent filling by myself with a needle after the dentist completed work on a tooth. It was either that or find a gun and a bullet. Luckily, I got the filling out, the pressure was released, and I never went back to that dentist (but I never got my $750 back, either). I do not have success with anyone in any dental office. I know they can smell my fear; it's hard to miss when it's a thick, heavy fog of pokey tools, atrocious odors, and sounds of mechanical devices so torturous that I can't even begin to describe them (and my stomach is churning, just typing this).

Because I've spent thousands of dollars on teeth I no longer have (pulled weeks after a root canal because it didn't take, etc.), I'm not comfortable with my appearance. And who would be? What are two top features others notice first about people? What do they find attractive? Their eyes and their smile. I'm often told I have nice this because people are too embarrassed for me to comment to the negative on my mouth? "Dude...what happened to your teeth? Meth?" I don't think I look the meth addict, but I do know they often have very bad teeth, as well. Mayhaps it would be better if someone were to be that direct. At least then, I'd have the opportunity to explain that, through no action or fault of my own or any other, my teeth are mine to accept. Whether or not anyone else can isn't and shouldn't be of any concern to me.

So, what do my teeth (or the lack thereof; I can't wear dentures) have to do with Tilopa's lesson? In the past, because I didn't look "acceptable" by having a nice, shiny, straight, white smile like the majority, I was ashamed to meet anyone. I craved this appearance so badly, thinking it just wasn't fair for so many others to have it when I never would. I'm a 46-year-old woman, and I've never once in my life worn lipstick because I don't want to draw attention to my mouth, where my teeth live. In the past, I didn't go out of my way to meet and talk with new people. I wanted so badly to look differently, but because I didn't, I let it affect my life. I hermited myself away, with precious little contact with anyone but my immediate family and one friend. My craving for a better appearance kept me hidden, not my appearance itself.

One of the first lessons I learned in Buddhism (I'm teaching myself since I'm not close to a dharma hall; a text here, a video there, etc.) is acceptance. Acceptance is liberation. Acceptance of situations you can't change. Things you can't have. Stuff you don't want. Things you're afraid of. To be able to accept those facts (except, it seems, dentists) and be happy...or at least content and unruffled about it...well, that was life-altering in a quite surprising and fortuitous way. For example, I have pain in my bones from too many surgeries and in my organs from more surgeries and a disease that has not been kind to them. Accepting that once, over two years ago, didn't make it a magic cure-all, however. Acceptance must happen repeatedly, in every moment. I take a step, I notice the pain, I accept it as being something I can't change, release any attachment to it, and move on to the next step. I look in the mirror, don't like what I see, then acknowledge that this is my lot in life, with no bias or contempt (and surprisingly, sometimes with compassion and love) to affect my reflection. My appearance isn't pleasant, I know this, but I'm not my appearance any more than I am my unsteady gait. Because I no longer crave better leg bones or healthy teeth, my life has a lot more room for bliss. And joy. And talking with people. Making friends. And riding a bicycle. Even singing karaoke with a friend in front of a much larger crowd in which I'm usually much less comfortable, with people taking pictures, no less.

The craving for a pretty appearance used to keep me from making friends or talking to strangers. The fact that I can go out now with the same appearance as before and talk to people is a taste of freedom. It's like my report card, grading my progress on how far down my chosen path I've come. Sure, it would be nice, I imagine, to have a winning smile, but I believe my happy spirit is a more than adequate trade.

Another Buddhist lesson I learned early on is that our bodies are merely our vehicles. I drive a lemon. I'm okay with that...are you?

"There's a common misunderstanding that the best way to live is to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable." ~Pema Chodron

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Feeling of Words

Like most establishments, Goodwill Thrift Stores play music over its loudspeakers to keep its shoppers happy and boppin' down the aisles, looking for vintage textiles, retro styles, and ankle weights and garden sprinklers (okay, maybe that last one is just me). My estranged husband and I were there browsing (you can't go in a place like that and not look at a bit of everything). We were both enjoying the music (and indeed, he was whistling along, something I can't do) but long after it had been played, we still couldn't remember who sang, "Take on Me". The only thing that kept coming back to me was "Wham!" but I knew that was wrong, even if it "felt" right.

I liken this phenomenon, this feeling of words that are similar in meaning or action, to synesthesia, which is "a neurologically based phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway", according to Wikipedia. Some synesthites taste various flavors when hearing certain sounds. Others see words as having different colors and shapes. I can't always describe the almost physical sensation I get when something like this happens (it happens a lot) but I use the "ability" for lots of things. To visualize in my mind the size or weight of something...some words just weigh heavier and look bigger than others. Or appear more bold or dainty. I can often also recall words that won't come to me because a particular letter will stand out; if I'm with someone and we're both in this predicament (like trying to remember who sang "Take on Me"), I'll let them know clues I'm getting. "I see a prominent R", because I will, almost as sure as if it had stepped forward from a line-up, put its knuckles on its hips, puffed out its chest and announced, "I am Here." And often, the word will put itself together that way until I can see it and exclaim, "a-ha!", as I did when I called my estranged husband this morning. No, really..."a-ha" is the name of the band who sand the song "Take on Me". If I say "Wham!" and "a-ha" even now, I get the strong sense of the short burst of power behind it more than I do the word, which is what I was experiencing yesterday.

Photobucket've told people for years that I'm wired funny. Add this phenomenon to the physical body of someone who is a supertaster, someone who refuses to let most foods mix because the flavors (or colors, textures, etc.) simply aren't compatible. Sweet AND sour together? *retch* And when you offer me your "little bit spicy" hotsauce, don't be surprised when I turn it down as the fire-starter that it is for me. When everything I experience is rolled into a ball and displayed, it amounts to creating a fairly flaky individual, eccentric, exact in her tastes and dislikes, with a goofy, exuberant enthusiasm for her pet causes. Because I am compelled not only by words, but by the sensations these words present, I'm more likely to see the deeper meaning in things. Music just might be bigger to least certain types. I hear the most blissful piece of music ever performed, in my opinion, "Oraanu Pi" by E.S. Posthumus, and see and feel and can almost touch the flights of fancy, glimmers of light and flashes of glitter, swimming around and dive-bombing me. This is just an peek into my world, how I see the living of reality will vary so differently than yours that, by now, you're probably shaking your head and thinking, "What a fruitcake".

Is synesthesia present in everyone, but laten in most, unfortunately? I say unfortunately because once I embraced and decided to actually see these bouncing letters, beams of dancing, colored lights, and weighted words, my life bloomed like a tropical garden, full and lush and alive with scent, movement, color, light...Life. Ya know, I don't think five or six senses are enough. Grow your own if you can. I did.

Is it just a coincidence that "Take on Me" brings a character caught in a 2D world to life in our dimension? Eh...I'm not going to make the connection. Just shut up and enjoy the videos.

Ah Ha - Take On Me

And, for future reference, will you guys please remember that, when my time comes, I want my ashes to be scattered somewhere around Mt. Baker while "Oraanu Pi" is playing. Loudly. And blissfully. Namaste'.