The other great thing about waking up in your forties is being able to look around at all the great friends you’ve managed to attract. They are there for a reason. You are all old enough to know what you like and don’t and are less likely to take shit from just anyone. So, if you’re going to take shit from someone in your life, it’s going to be from people you like taking shit from. These are the really cool people you call your friends.
Take, for example, last night.
A new friend, a mom from school, a practicing Buddhist, invites me to a talk by her spiritual teacher, Lama Tsultrim. This female Lama is a stunningly beautiful woman in her sixties. You can imagine her being drop-dead gorgeous in her twenties and wonder how she could have ever survived being a spiritual teacher in the 1960s without dozens of men falling in love with her. Maybe that was the secret to her success in addition to her easy-going attitude and sense of humor.
Her rap on this particularly warm early March evening was on the history of Prajñāpāramitā, the nature of mind, and the co-arising of emptiness and appearance. She spoke about the history of the Prajñāpāramitā sutras also known as the “Perfection of Transcendent Wisdom.” Written around the 1st century BCE, the myth (though the Dalai Lama and others would scoff at this being called myth) is that Nagarjuna, the founder of Mahayana Buddhism and one of the most important Buddhist philosophers after the historical Buddha, was given the Prajñāpāramitā teachings by a water serpent who was guarding the bottom of a lake. I don’t know if it’s the high altitude or all the hours of emptying one’s mind during meditation, but the Buddhists have great imaginations from which arise these fantastically vivid and memorable stories. If you’re going to introduce one of the most pivotal teachings of Buddhist history, by all means, acquire it from the king of the water dragons!
I listened to this talk, smiling and sitting crossed legged on a zafu next to Anne who looked very tired. I felt relaxed and at ease. Having grown up sitting on cushions in front of spiritual teachers, being in rooms full of people thinking deep thoughts is like coming home. I can relax and let the wisdom bathe me a bit. I may not practice meditation, but I like the idea of practicing meditation, letting my mind view my mind, having “discursive thought,” as Lama Tsultrim described, dissipate into the emptiness that leads to gnosis, the sword which cuts through duality and allows you to see that emptiness and appearance are one and everything is possible. This experience of mind meeting mind is ineffable. The ability to conceptualize it and pin it in place impossible. How cool is that? It’s so like quantum physics.
By the end of the talk, I needed a drink. I had been coveting the Lama’s bubbly water with fresh squeezed lemon juice all evening. I called my friend Dee who was having a rough week to find out if she was off work yet. We met at the corner bar. I ordered a bubbly water and lemon. Together we ordered tequila, on ice, with a squeeze of lime and talked about her Buddhist boyfriend’s desire for her and his newly acquired housemate to get along. We talked about all the difficult situations we confront in our lives and how challenging it is to be vulnerable and not guarded.
Inspired by Lama Tsultrim’s talk and a second round of tequila, I proceeded to give Dee a Buddhism 101 lesson, which, summed up after five tequilas between us, as:
Don’t defend yourself
When all else fails, and you can’t find anything nice to say to someone, just say, “Bless your heart,” with all the sweet sincerity of a good Southerner
We all need tools to deal with life’s challenges. I have a sonic screwdriver. I like to dance, occasionally drink tequila, and use too much hot water taking long baths. Difficult situations require Upaya, the Buddhist word for “skillful means” or the most expedient way to reach your goals. Dee’s boyfriend would like her to use this discord with the housemate as a learning opportunity. I imagine Dee would like to tell him to shove his Buddhist good intentions up his ass and bitch slap the housemate (well, that’s what I imagine doing, but that’s another blog post). However, this would not be practicing Upaya. Or maybe it would be if her end goal was to be lonely or seen as a bad ass.
I looked up Upaya on Wikipedia on my iPhone 4 as I noshed on onion rings. As far as I could tell, the best way to approach the situation was for her to think about her own end goals and the “expedient means” by which she might reach them. More tequila, please!
Filled with a feast of fried foods and tequila, we found this moment together so full of possibility and humor that we posted it on Facebook, but we couldn’t get the wording right, so we kept posting it and deleting it, the ineffability of it making it impossible to be caught in a status update (or maybe I’d had too much tequila and couldn’t type for shit). We walked back to my house and rewrote the status update about Buddhism and tequila and vulnerability and compassion a couple more times, joking about how we were going to get home (which was funny only to us since we were already home).
Immediately, three friends commented on the final post, writing, “Don’t drive. I will come get you.” I laughed so hard rolling on the floor and pissing my pants. I was home, and I had friends, right at my fingertips, who would come running to me in their pajamas, no questions asked, to save me from myself.
I love my forties and the friends I’ve found in them.
(I don’t know how any of this relates to Prajñāpāramitā and whether I’ve managed to acquire any useful wisdom or have simply transcended it all together in fits of giggles. I’ll take the giggles for now.)