Tag Archives: Meals on Wheels

winter

Although it’s not Winter Solstice for a few days, you could fool me. I was as excited as a kid to wake up and see the snow. Where I live there are lots of trees. There is a woods behind me and several trees on two sides. Only from the front window do I see a road and a neighbor’s house. The branches on these trees look glorious. That’s a word I don’t use too often. An online dictionary tells me glorious means “characterized by great beauty and splendor.” Yes.

I am not quite a monk but almost. The writing class I was taking and the one I was teaching are over now. All week I have gone out only twice — once to deliver meals and once to get dog bones and wrapping paper. Most of my days consisted of reading, writing, meditation, and keeping up with the outside world through my laptop. It’s hard to be in silence when you live with three dogs. They are spoiled Western dogs but you’d think they were starving on the street the way they act sometimes. Still, they calm down eventually and sometimes I do, too, enough to chant OOOOOOOMMMMMMMM. I like it especially when I awake before it’s light outside. Granted, sometimes I carry my first cup of coffee into my Meditation Room.

I have come to the conclusion lately that I’ve been too hard on myself. If I don’t leap out of bed, eager for an early morning meditation, I’ve failed. I set near impossible standards for myself. I also realize how much I worry about . . . well, lots: money, the future. I find it hard to stay in the present although being retired, I “have” more time to try. I worry about Mr. G with his bladder cancer; he has moved to Pennsylvania in a retirement village close to his son. At 88, he will have to decide whether to risk bladder surgery or “just” do the radiation and chemotherapy. I call him every Friday when I deliver meals and he’s not there. I am a codependent bodhisattva — yet isn’t codependence part of the personality trait of someone who vows to save the world?

I’ve become excruciatingly aware of my Witness and my ego/self. Guess it’s a natural evolution of my life right now. I’ll just keep watching and listening and occasionally I’ll share some of my life here.

The Geography of Bliss

I recently finished reading Eric Weiner’s book The Geography of Bliss. The subtitle explains more: “One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World.” Of course, the word ‘bliss’ caught my attention right away. His idea of traveling the world to discern what differences culture, religion, and expectations make intrigued me. After all, this NPR Correspondent would pay the plane fare and do the traveling for us!

He discovered geography does make a difference. Moldova and Qatar I couldn’t wait to get out of (those chapters, that is). Moldovans were, according to the World Database of Happiness, the unhappiest on the planet [yes, there really is such a database: Ruut Veenhoven in The Netherlands]. The people Weiner talked to in this former Soviet Republic claimed it was lack of money that made them unhappy. I couldn’t wait to get through reading that chapter, it brought me down so much. Money wasn’t the main factor at all: the Persian Gulf’s Qatar, where most are rich because their country sits on the world’s third largest reserve of natural gas, disproved that myth about money. Qataris, the author maintains, “possess a strange mix of arrogance and insecurity. What they crave, most of all, is validation.” Their position within the tribe matters more than money or education. Although tribes can be nurturing, it seemed in this “gilded sandbox” that in spite of all their money, Qataris were not happy.

Although I enjoyed being transported back to India (“where happiness and misery live side-by-side”), my favorite learnings were from Bhutan and Thailand. Weiner’s lesson from Thailand was mai pen lai which translates to “never mind.” This lighthearted “don’t worry be happy” encourages one to just let go rather than go insane holding on to an impossible situation. Bhutan’s culture of crazy wisdom, he says, made him lose his bearings “and when that happens a crack forms in your armor. A crack large enough, if you’re lucky, to let in a few shafts of light.” The author meets with a Buddhist Rinpoche who tells him we must be ready for the moment we “cease to exist.” Compassion is what really matters. After all, as the Rinpoche tells him, “You see, everything is a dream. Nothing is real. You will realize that one day.” Then the Rinpoche laughed and returned to his chanting. Weiner’s summary on Bhutan? “In America, few people are happy, but everyone talks about happiness constantly. In Bhutan, most people are happy, but no one talks about it.”

Back in 1973, Bhutan’s King Wangchuk created for his nation the concept of Gross National Happiness. A Bhutanese hotel owner described it this way: GNH means “knowing your limitations; knowing how much is enough.” With Gross National Happiness the official policy of the government of Bhutan, “every decision . . . is viewed through this prism. Will this action we’re about to take increase or decrease the overall happiness of the people?” The U.S. has its Gross Domestic Product, the sum of all goods and services a nation produces. Weiner wisely perceives that our GDP measures oil spills, prison population, the sale of assault rifles and prescription drugs — all these contribute to The Count regardless of merit. He quotes Robert Kennedy as acknowledging that the GDP doesn’t take into account “the beauty of our poetry . . . ,” measuring everything “except that which makes life worthwhile.”

This book makes you think — deeply. Weeks later, I apply it to my life:

* Paying a mortgage by myself makes me unhappy. But when T lived here and shared the bills (this woman I supposedly loved), I wasn’t happy.
* I tire of driving a half hour each way to the east side of town. Lately, I fantasize about moving. But would my small scale change of geography make me happy?
* “Making” is not a part of happiness. It has to do with allowing, letting in, openness. No matter where I live.
* My delivering Meals on Wheels gives me perspective and a chance to practice compassion. Applied compassion. Although some mornings I grumble about leaving my house to deliver those meals, “my people” always give back more. Something less tangible than a bag of food. Appreciation, sincerity, love.
* Sporadically, I suffer from exhaustion. I literally wear myself out. What a sad phrase that is! Do I forget that “doing” never trumps “being”? One of the main lessons of Landmark Education’s intensive workshop, The Landmark Forum, I learn this over and over again. I am still learning.

It seems that bliss can capture you anywhere: you only need to be awake enough to notice, still enough to be aware, and wise enough to follow it.

conversation with an 87 year old / poem 107

I saved Mr. G. for last today. Most Fridays I deliver meals to some elderly people in my neighborhood. Today I would have a chance to visit with Mr. G. since he got out of the hospital.

I had taken him for a same day cystoscopy procedure on Monday. Because of the anesthesia, his doctor required him to stay overnight in a hospital since he lived alone and wouldn’t have anyone to watch him. Because his tumor was causing bleeding, they were waiting for the blood to lessen in his catheter before releasing him.

We drank some coffee together at his kitchen table. After delivering meals to him for nearly two years, we’d come to this neighborly habit most Fridays. He showed me the papers from the hospital. A librarian there had printed out information about his illness and the medication. I was impressed. “See,” I said, “This is the kind of information you can find on a computer. You are such a reader and so inquisitive, I bet you’d like getting online.” In response, he showed me a few magazines he subscribed to and asked if I’d like them after he was done reading them. I told him I hoped I’d be so mentally sharp when I’m his age — if I make it to his age.

how long do I have?

This is a useless question but one I sometimes wonder.
All my zen practice disappears in the dust
when the 59 year old faces the future.

Delivering Meals & 108 Poems, #2

Once a week I deliver meals in my neighborhood. It’s not officially Meals on Wheels but a similar program coordinated by the Council on Aging with food distributed by various community centers.

I have my favorites, just as a teacher to her students: Mr. G, Rose, and Mrs. R. I look forward to chatting with them and sometimes having a sip of coffee. It’s almost a cliche now but ‘I get more from them.’ Yes, Rose has given me homemade loaves of bread and Mr. G. shows me items cleaned out from the closet before he calls the Veterans’ organization for pick up. But I’m talking about something intangible. It’s corny but true: they awaken my compassion to greater depths. They make me smile, feel appreciated, and give me gratitude. With affection, I call them ‘my people.’

So it seems only appropriate that Mala Poem #2 be dedicated to them. Here goes:

108 Poems, #2

I hand them a bag of meals.
All smile and tell me thanks; but those
who share their stories get my thanks.