spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily
PictureFoxiebeau on the floor at Starbucks
​Sometime between 5 and 6 in the morning, I hear the clink clank of my harness and leash, and then my one and only asks me if I want to go to Starbucks. This is never a real question. If I answer by crawling back into my crate, she tips it and I tumble out. Sometimes we are the first ones at the store even if we walk the long way around the back of the building. Other times men or women, mostly men, are already sleeping inside or sprawled outside near the door. When my one and only sees this, she tightens her grip on my leash, aware that my past has conditioned me to lunge at pant legs.

On this particular morning, two men are lounging near the entry. We push past them into the store. The coffee people don’t seem too interested in the pair outside, but my one and only says, uncharacteristically, “You have two crooks outside.” She usually isn’t judgmental. At least not outloud. But this day she must have a feeling because while waiting for her coffee, she turns toward the window and sees one of the men approach two bicycles with what looks like a red handled bolt cutter. He is bending over the bicycles. Alarmed, my one and only says “The man is stealing a bike!” Two big coffee workers run outside and stop the theft. Then one of the workers wheels a bike into the back of the store. He thanks my one and only for saving his bike. And the next morning when we went into the store, he thanked her again.

A few mornings after that, a different coffee worker was smoking a cigarette outside before starting her work day, and when we came out she asked my one and only if we weren’t scared to walk around the block in the dark. My one and only said she didn’t think she was scared. (I like to think I am protecting her.) The young woman said that she was always being approached and asked for cigarettes. We don’t smoke, so no one would stop us for that. The young woman went on to say people are crazy. As proof of this madness, she mentioned an almost bike heist right outside the store.

She didn’t seem to know she was speaking to the real hero of that thwarted theft. My one and only filled her in on what happened, not omitting who deserved the credit. She didn’t explain it exactly that way, but I think that was the gist of it. The young woman stubbed out her cigarette in a planter box and went inside to go to work. My one and only and I continued our daily walk around the block. She held her double short one Splenda latte in one hand and my leash in the other. We kept alert for crimes we could prevent, confident our crime-fighting reputation would keep us safe. We also greeted other early morning risers who crossed our path.

National Dog Day


PictureAsleep and it's National Dog Day! A.Rittger
National Dog Day almost came and went without me. We were just not tuned in. But when my one and only read an email from Roverdotcom, I heard her exclaim, "OMD!" and then she leashed me and we took  a walk to celebrate. We even lingered a little longer than usual at a favorite tree. She hinted that we might spend that National Dog Day afternoon streaming dog movies on Netflix. I was willing, but voted no on Lassie. That dog set the bar too high on heroics. Small dogs (like me) especially rescued dogs (like me) often do more cowering than towering acts of bravery. Lassie isn't even aggressive like small rescued dogs.

After mulling over the 12 possible films we could have streamed, we did not watch any movies. In fact, I spent part of the day crated and alone. Don't read this as a complaint. Those who matter most to us need some time apart from us. I have noticed that when my one and only comes back from wherever she's gone, she is totally appreciative of my single-minded attention. Clearly, she doesn't get that from the two-leggeds she spends time with. Except perhaps from her therapist which is only once a week. I have visited this therapist, but never had my trauma treated directly. In a veterinary hospital, I had  hernia surgery. Also the doctor snipped me so I could be adopted. I don't remember this, but I heard talk at Animal Control and guessed it was about me.

I am not the first animal in the family to have been rescued. My one and only's oldest son took in two pit bulls, Leeloo and Otto. Leeloo came from the San Francisco SPCA. Otto was taken off the streets in Oakland and passed around until the news of his needing a home reached that son and his wife via company email. They took Leeloo to meet Otto and nobody bit anybody, so Otto got to go home with them. My one and only's youngest son rescued quite a few animals himself, even when he was growing up and living with my one and only, long before I came on the scene. I have heard stories of him bringing home animals he met while skateboarding as if it he were certain they could move in. I believe several of those dogs were very big. One had seven puppies that chewed through cushions in a room where they were being kept. I would not do that. But I did eat through my duck toy and it had to be restuffed and sewed up several times. The son in the Philippines has a pit bull too, although I am not sure if he was rescued. That son also has a cat. I have met the son but not his animals, although he showed me pictures.

To tell the truth, I have used the fact of my rescue as an excuse for being aggressive. But I sense change is in the air because we watched a rerun of The Dog Whisperer, and my one and only perked up. The dog was a chihuahua with bad biting behavior, sort of like the way I am with other animals, pant cuffs, men moving fast minding their own business. Almost anything launches me.  I am small but untrustworthy. Until Cesar Millan showed up on late night TV, I had no incentive to be any different. If my one and only allows me to be leader of the pack and substitutes affection for discipline, who am I to object? Will she change just because Cesar says my behavior is her fault? What about setting the pace? Going in and out of doors first? Will I not get to stop at every tree and hydrant on our morning walk? What about pulling on the leash to show her where I want to go? Will I have to wait to be invited to sit on her lap?  What will happen next? 

PictureLooking out below! A.Rittger
If I wanted to chronicle my life, I would need to dictate. An iPad is not an iPaw. My life will be in the hands of my one-and-only, and she likes long sentences. I will have to retrain her to honor my short attention span with shorter sentences. Nor should she add or pad with conjecture or interpretation. A dog’s mind is mostly subject/verb.  At least mine is.

I recall in a my last post alluding to loud and sudden sounds like firecrackers or the firing of Smith & Wesson 38 Specials and the terrible effect on my nervous system. And I believe I may have mentioned the sheer joy of a ringing phone. It often means friends are on their way up, or if my one-and-only grabs the leash, we are going downstairs to greet someone in the lobby. Clearly then, booms equals disaster and ring mean camaraderie. That’s just the way it is. No need to go deeper.

When at home, either alone or with my darling, I rarely watch TV. On my own, I would not have the skill to find Animal Planet. I have noticed that when we do turn on daytime TV, Law and Order SVU marathons are our go-to viewing. It did bother me that when my one and only offered me string cheese, she held it out and said in a creepy voice, “Is this the way you like it?” I felt my pelt crawl. But then she laughed. It only happened once.

I have learned to climb from the couch to a tabletop close to the window. From there I can look down on Grand Ave or at Webster and spy other dogs strolling. Low in my throat, I growl. Shushes or commands like “No! Foxie! No!” have no affect on this part of my nervous system. Food, of course, can redirect me, but then I hop back up and recommence my deep-throated growling. I absolutely could benefit from training, but we seem to have given up on that option. In fact, I have not worn nor seen my muzzle in months.

Yesterday I did launch myself at a fuzzy sort of something on a leash. I expected the muzzle to be rediscovered. Muzzle. Oh why do I even mention it here?  The mere memory undoes me. When I’m forced into it, my ears droop. My tail, likewise. I can only hope no other creature sees me thus shamed. It's important to remember that I can “cute” my way out of wearing it. My eyes go soft, and I position my small brown self to highlight my vulnerability. Overcome by my cuteness, my one and only sighs and relents. We go out. Too bad the next dog I see will trigger me once again. Without a dog whisperer, I doubt I’ll ever learn. While Animal Control wasn't terrible, being rescued gives me so much more material for The Life and Times of Foxiebeau le Chien

Have to stop! My body clock is telling me it is time to jump around, to signal a walk or a treat or, best of all, both.

A Foxiebeau Update


PictureFoxiebeau's favorite mural. /A.Rittger
No one asks me about my life what with all the moving we’ve been doing. While it’s hard to account for any particular day in the last several months, we did depart the small slow elevator with all the walkers and canes crowding me and move to a big building with three speedy talking elevators, usually empty when we take them for morning walks or afternoon outings. Lots more people of all ages are here and dogs – more than I like!

Highlights first: Car rides on Grand Ave to Safeway and the walks up Jean Street to the Morcom Rose Garden. Dogs can’t go in the park, so we follow the rules, but we do get to walk past the Ace nursery on our way. We pause at the park opening to read the inscription about red roses and blooddrops. Other times we walk toward Lake Merritt down a side street with lots of murals. The picture on this blog shows my favorite. At home, I like it when my one-and-only tosses treats to me.  I’m never sure where on the rug they’ll land. And it is fun to tear up toys. My new toy is a duck and has one quack in its butt.

When the ladies come for meditation, I do not play with squeaky toys. I leap on each of them while they sit their half-hour, but they don’t seem to mind. Then I lie in the center of the rug and chew on a blue toy that’s supposed to be good for my teeth and breath. I like how my one-and-only takes me downstairs to wait for them to arrive. It is fun to have friends!

Lowlights: All the celebrations! When the Warriors won the playoffs, fireworks, more like bombs I thought, went off for hours and I cowered in corners, shaking like crazy. Not my fault! Then the parade. It came right down the street where I live! More noise and bombs bursting in air. Then it was Fourth of July and the noisy fireworks. By that time, I was on medication. Sedatives they’re called. Finally I was fitted for a Thunder Shirt, which we are trying out. It seems complicated. But if it calms me, it will be worth being tossed around while my one-and-only sorts out the multiple lengths of Velcro straps.

Recently, a friend sent an email describing a circus-like training for dogs so they can do tricks. There’s even one for small dogs like me. I weigh just about 12 lbs. Unfortunately, I am unfriendly to other animals and to pant legs, particularly if they are going by fast. But even slower pant legs are not necessarily safe from my aggressive behavior. I'm lucky that my one-and-only laughs as she picks me up and hides my eyes so I won’t notice another dog. She stays cheerful as I struggle to attack, and she smiles while apologizing to the people at the end of their leashes. We never ride up in an elevator if another dog is in it or near it, even. Sometimes I wish I had a different disposition. I know I am like this from causes and conditions not my fault.

If dogs could meditate, would they tap into canine equanimity? My one-and-only could toss the sedatives, take back the Thunder Shirt for a refund, and buy another squeaky toy. Once I could abide other animals, we might join the circus and learn to jump through flaming hoops. Until then, it's the status quo for us.   

PictureGo Warriors
I’m a happy Golden State Warrior’s fan, one who loved reading the sports page throughout the team’s campaign to take the Western Division. I delighted in rereading the wins and hearing the losses explained. But most of all I liked stories about the players themselves. For instance, sportswriter Rusty Simmons wrote how David Lee, once a starter, pulled a hamstring muscle and by the time he healed had been relegated to coming off the bench. He’d lost his starting power forward position to Draymond Green. I imagined that Lee, a strong player before being traded from the Knicks, couldn’t like not starting. But when interviewed by Simmons, Lee talked about what an unbelievably good job Green was doing. He said, “When you’ve got a full team of guys who want to see the guy next to him succeed, it makes the game a lot easier.”

If David Lee felt envy, and in his heart of hearts hoped that Draymond Green might not play quite so well, that wouldn’t be odd. After all sports is about winning and losing, and we live in a society that believes in winners and losers. Often, we compare our own successes with those of our peers. If Lee viewed Green’s gain as is his loss, he’d be right in step. But no, Lee praises his teammate’s good play and sense of accomplishment.

Wanting to see the guy next to you succeed and feeling happy for his success is mudita in action. As I was following Warrior action, I was also being with this one of the four brahma viharas as part of my practice. Reading about David Lee fit in with my thoughts about this different kind of joy, this way of being that responds to others’ successes not with withdrawal or envy, but with active delight. In Pali, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism, mudita means sympathetic or appreciative joy. It is one of the four brahma viharas, or Divine Emotions, which means these four conditions of the heart are good to cultivate – good for you and good for everyone else. The other three brahma viharas are loving kindness or metta; compassion called karuna, and equanimity, upekka.

I have long suspected mudita was not my strong suit and if I hoped to cultivate it, I would have to come to terms with envy, curtail judging, and cut down comparing. Even as recently as my short stay at Hotel Lake Merritt, the place for independent senior living, I would have loved to be wholeheartedly happy for those residents whose adult children came often to visit. But no. Where were my adult children? Didn’t they think I might appreciate a visit?

Several years ago when I was Corky’s girlfriend, I envied her her eight grandchildren, for having been present at the birth of each one. However, I chose to discount the pleasure this gave her by thinking of those eight as eight more excuses for her to go out and spend money. I did not appreciate the joy shopping afforded her. Rather, I awarded myself a one-up star. Good for me, I am not acquisitive. I discounted Corky’s pleasure because it came from an activity or lifestyle choice that was not my preference. Now I am asking myself, “Did her choices really threaten the validity of my own?”

I get to experience appreciative joy during Small Group Ministry meetings at the Unitarian Universalist church when during our gatherings, group members speak about being deeply happy or feeling lucky. And believe me I am grateful for this recent ability because, as I said, accessing mudita hasn’t been easy. I’ve read that it is the most difficult of the brahma viharas to cultivate. Clearly, that’s true for me.  

Not to cultivate appreciative joy goes directly against the UU seventh principle: our interdependence with the world around us. Clearly, another person’s joy does not diminish the supply of joy in the world; another person’s joy contributes to the joy available to all of us. And just maybe, our own joy in response creates even more.

Go Warriors. Sorry, Corky. And thank you, members of Small Group Ministry.


PictureUU Chalice clip art
Posted a few paragraphs below is the Reflection I gave at the First Unitarian Universalist Society worship service Sunday, April 19 with the Reverend Mary Ganz preaching. I liked being on the chancel and part of the service. Even before the flute soloist tootled the prelude, I felt useful. Rev. Ganz needed a platform at the pulpit because she is short. I helped that happen. When the Reverend mentioned having allergies, I had the  lilies close to minister's chair taken away. I was so into caring for her, I would have turned the pages of her sermon except she could do it herself and it would be inappropriate. Admittedly, the best part of the service, besides the sermon itself, were those moments behind the lectern when standing on tiptoe to ease my nervousness, I shared approximately 387 words. 

For a while, the ministers did not want worship associates personal on the chancel; I was disappointed, felt shut out and felt compelled to craft a website to post my experiences. I needed to feel connected through stories to myself and to others. At last, First UU worship services again want lay people to tell their stories as worship associates; we're listed in the order of service as "Reflections."  Again I'm on the chancel and grateful for the chance to share insights.  I also appreciate this spot in cyberspace. Thank you if you are a reader.
Reflection: When I started to blog at Spiritflowsthru.com in October of 2011, I thought to write about living each day and being “actively engaged in finding meaning in the menial.” And I invited readers to join me in the “search for the holy in the daily.”

But it’s 2015 and I’ve changed what I’m looking for. No doubt sitting in stillness has influenced me to see the daily as the holy, and to look instead for ways to repay daily life for its abundance by contributing the energy of my true presence. Perhaps this way I could uncover a certain poverty of awareness on my part. Curious about my daily impact, I paid attention to leaving a room mindfully and not letting the door slam after me. I tried to note when I was truly present with those who spoke to me. Did I talk more than I listened? I wanted to be mindful of my ego when in the grip of “What about me?” because it is curiosity I want at the forefront asking, “Who are you?” “What is this?”

Daily, we learn of injustices we can’t remedy, so it is skillful to ask what good it can do to shift one’s perspective in the face of so much suffering and delusion?” I found answers to that question in Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Five Wonderful Precepts.” In the fourth precept are these guidelines and a beneficial outcome of wise speech.

“Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.”

Influenced by such a precept, I vow to continue to look at daily life as sacred-ground, to measure the wealth and poverty of experience by how close to keeping my vows of nonharming I can come, and when I post my blogs, may spirit flow thru. 

End of Reflection and final thought: May we remember to bring the gift of full presence to all the moments of each day. 



The Big UhOh


PictureA Volvo that looks worse than my car.
I dropped by Quality Body and Fender to look in on my little Scion IQ, which couldn’t be driven until a new bumper came from Southern California and could be painted the requisite orange and reattached. The old bumper did not just fall off. I had to try to turn left from the right lane and bump another car for it to dangle unsafely and be beyond repair.

Having done wrong by sideswiping another vehicle, I did try to do right by continuing through an intersection and stopping at the curb to locate the distraught other to whom I owed an apology and my insurance assurances. But no one was anywhere. No damaged car knocked sideways by the impact. It seemed impossible but that was it: no one, nothing.

To understand why I risked turning right from the left lane, we have to go back a couple of hours to the moment I noticed the small lit upturned bowl with the exclamation mark on the dashboard glowing its warning about tire trouble. I had seen that indicator lit many times when I lived on Gough in San Francisco and it hadn’t alarmed me like it should. So when I did pull up to an air hose in a filling station near the location of my therapy appointment in Berkeley and saw the nail in the left rear tire and gauged how flat the tire was, I knew this time I was in real trouble. Air was escaping about as fast as I could pump in 40 lbs. of new air.

That excess air was part of my plan, which did not include panicking or canceling my weekly meeting with my beloved therapist. I assured myself I could stop at multiple air hoses until I was out of quarters and still get to a Big O in Berkeley in time to repair the tire without sacrificing the hour of trauma therapy I was now in desperate need of.

However, the false confidence fueling my behavior did not serve me well. With the tire flattening even as I sat in the orange chair I favor, I fiercely defended my thought process when my therapist hazarded the opinion that I might feel better canceling our morning meeting to deal with the tire. Oh the angry reaction. “I’ve thought this through!” I snapped, defending my territory, my right to be stupid, as it turned out.

And so it was that panic to replace the once-again flattened tire had me veering recklessly from the left lane to turn right onto San Pablo in Berkeley where I expected to find the Big O tire store. By this time though I couldn’t remember its location nor mine either.

And so with a damaged front bumper and a really flat tire, I pulled an illegal U turn and stopped near a small shop that did repairs. While it didn’t stock bumpers or replace tires, Andy who worked there drove the car in, jacked it up, removed the tire, patched it, filled it with the correct amount of air as well as checked the other three tires, and refused payment for his kindness.

He told me I could make it safely now to wherever the bumper could be repaired or replaced. With that assurance, I checked on Foxie, the dog, who was crated in the back of the car and drove away in search of Automobile Row/Broadway, making many wrong turns and seeming to choose only streets with speed bumps over which I would travel very slowly.

Eventually, I arrived at the Toyota sales and service but they did not do collision repairs. I was wearing as thin as that sad left rear tire and was close to dangling as loosely as the bumper, when the manager said Quality Body and Fender representatives were on their way to deliver a repaired Subaru and they would take the car. When the man from Quality arrived, I handed him the keys and let the dealership’s shuttle driver take Foxie and me home to 100 Grand Ave.

By the time of this posting, the car has been repaired and returned. And I found a prism of wisdom through which to look at this experience in chapter five of Pema Chodron’s book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. Here’s my paraphrase: Experiences have “delightful” and “difficult” parts.  Here’s Pema: “Embracing the totality of your experience is one definition of having loving-kindness for yourself.”

My last word: I had been foolish and careless, yet all around me had been kindness.

PicturePumpkin chili ala Alison
At my new space, 100 Grand Ave., a restaurant isn't one of the perks. This is good because I am under some filial pressure to take responsibility for what I eat. It helps to have a kitchen bigger and better equipped than the miniature at Hotel Lake Merritt. Having kitchen amenities didn't matter there as most residents are relieved to be off kitchen duty. Here, my kitchen is conducive to staying involved in self-care. It has a washer-dryer, microwave, stove, refrigerator, garbage disposal. Few excuses for falling down on the job.

 Moreover, being successful in the kitchen has become kind of a big deal for me, particularly as it involves delving into Thug Kitchen, a vegan cookbook, gifted to me by my first born son. I am one among many whom it is his mission to convert to a vegan diet. (Parenthetically, I take some credit for the passion this son and the younger two bring to feeding themselves and those they care about. As a parent, I proved a kitchen disappointment, setting such an egregious example that over the years all three were driven to excellence as payback.) And my oldest son was married for a time to a culinary school graduate. Clearly the skill and passion for all things kitchen rubbed off.

Fed by his love for animals, he seriously converted to vegan cooking quite a while ago. I could follow his exploits as he posted them with pictures on Facebook. Maybe he feels really comfortable in Thug Kitchen because he is profanity-compatible. And scarcely an instruction in the book, from the first page to the last, lacks a !#^%%#^ing descriptor. Even the front cover advises readers to “eat like you give a $&^%@*!”

My first foray into Thug Kitchen was page 97, Pumpkin Chili. To organize myself, I used the camera on my phone to capture the ingredients. Leaving myself lots of time and going to a Trader Joe in Berkeley less congested than the tiny jammed TJ on Lakeshore in Oakland, I could consult the picture of listed ingredients as I searched out garlic, a kind of onion but smaller that you have to mince yourself. I skipped the jalapenos as I don’t really know what they look like. I forgot the *$@$#%@#! cumin, which was a required ingredient. And because pumpkin puree is seasonal, I settled for pumpkin soup, planning to add it without additional broth or water. Once I began to make the recipe, careful not to skip a #^$%#@^-ing step, I saw I was short on chili powder and had to substitute chipotle chili. I realized this made me a total *$@#$!@$, but so be it.

To shorten a long string of expletives, I succeeded in creating a Pumpkin Chili to be proud of, and it was a cause of mutual rejoicing when I texted my vegan son with the good news. He was proud of me, texting back: “Keep up the good work, holmes, and be sure to post to Facebook.”  What the $@%!, I don’t plan to do that.

PictureFoxie rug rolls in our new small space.
Where have I been these last three months? In a muddle of moving. In early February I see I posted about going to a lecture at East Bay Meditation Center. Rereading that blog, I also see that I was not wholehearted about it. Indeed, being less than wholehearted hovered over almost everything associated with moving to a studio apartment in senior independent living. It didn’t take long to realize it was too soon to succumb to old(er) age. I was beginning to feel even more depleted than when I felt at odds with noise and grime and made the move in the first place. 

So once again I set about moving, not back to San Francisco, but a few blocks uptown. (Uptown is a term that gets a big play in Oakland.) Not knowing the East Bay at all, I only know there are a lot of Kaiser Permanentes in the vicinity and a very big Pandora building less than two blocks from here. Happily, Lake Merritt is but one city block from this location, so Foxie and I still have the option of visiting the birds.

In this new residence, a city-block sized apartment building in the neighborhood of other large building and some small and yummy eateries, anyone of any age with the proper paperwork and enough money can rent a one or two bedroom or studio apartment. This studio where Foxie and I live is on the 14th floor. It faces west and we can see the mountains of Marin and the San Francisco skyline, the Bay Bridge, and freeway traffic. Reflected in a black building on Webster directly in view of my one big window, virtual traffic heads up Grand. At the same time I see the actual traffic driving down Grand. Of course, the streets are under construction, although the noise is less than it was when Gough Street was being torn up. Here, when the sun sets, I must close the white sliding blinds or be blinded.

Because it is March, I have been watching much madness on my TV, which seems to loom over the wee space I have cordoned off as the living room in case guests come. I think I can accommodate four guests in the space, about as many as I ever accommodated in my last small space.

As for Foxie, he likes this location very much. He can go under the bed when he fears I am leaving. He has the couch to snuggle on, the rugs to rub on and the new bathroom mat as an emergency pee place. Right now, I blog to the rhythm of the washer undoing Foxie’s most recent yellowy blot on a new blue and gray striped bathmat.

For my wee fierce one, I felt compelled to buy a muzzle just in case of leaps and snarls in crowded elevators. Although I purchased renter’s insurance, I doubt it covers neighbor’s torn pant cuffs or visits to the vet for other wee canines headed out for their morning strolls. Wearing his muzzle, Foxie experiences total humiliation. His tail droops, his ears droop, his head drops and to endure this sight, I muster up as much of my adult as I can. We must be good neighbors. We cannot lunge at others. We cannot bark whenever one of the heavy fire doors on the nearby apartments open or close. We cannot bark at children running in the halls. The folks in this building are not hard of hearing as were most of our former neighbors in Hotel Lake Merritt. Once we are friendly on the 14th floor, we can joke about Foxie’s propensity to match every sound with his own.

Here on Grand Ave. we are closer to BART than before, we have the 12 bus running in both directions, going uptown or downtown as far as the Landmark Theater on Shattuck in Berkeley. Possibly, I will even take Foxie on public transportation, but not unmuzzled. We could try taking the free shuttle from here to Jack London Square. Weekends, I drive to keep my San Francisco commitments, but on weekdays a trip to the city means BART. It runs multiple morning trains and because I have aged (even more in these last three months) someone has to let me sit. Indeed, this is the good life!

PictureFrom March Shambala Sun. Ray Fenwick. Photo A.Rittger
This week I began a four-week Wednesday night class at East Bay Meditation Center on Siddhartha Guatama’s “Four Noble Truths.” Mushim, the teacher, calls the class “The Buddha’s 4 Big Truths.” This avoids explaining why the truths are noble; in as much as the truths are actually ennobling and meant for noble people, which means all of us.

It seemed like quite a few in the class of more than 100 learners were new to the subject matter. I was not, and at first I thought this was okay. I expected to battle through my end-of-the day weariness and not to mind if the dharma talk I anticipated got dumbed down. But I was wrong. If this had been my first class on the 4 big truths, I'm sure I would have appreciated Mushim’s friendly, easy-on-the-understanding teaching more than I actually did. During this first class, I was amused sometimes; but not like the real new learners, who laughed aloud at “dukkha”: the Pali word for suffering. Without realizing it, I had overestimated my equanimity and underestimated my capacity for dukkha.

I registered for the class because I have a three-block walk to EBMC, and in the past I had liked Mushim’s dharma talks. Moreover, I love the idea of EBMC – its diversity and generosity-based pay plan that excludes no one for lack of money.

That evening, because I have been taught to look at every aspect of my life as “the Path,” I took an interest in my restlessness: the shifts, twitches and yawns. I was aware that the room was dark, and air purifiers hummed in the background. As Mushim talked, I recited silently a three-part Pali chant I had learned in another EBMC workshop in December. I noticed how as the words became foreground I could hear her and the other students at the back of my attention.  This way, being judgmental was almost impossible as I didn't have enough left-over mental activity for judgments. 

Despite my disappointment and general twitchiness, I did learn a few things. By tuning out because I thought I knew it all, I disregarded a lot I didn't know. I didn’t know Mushim had prepared a power-point presentation for this class; and Mahogany, the event manager, told her the class was too large for her to show it as everyone would have had to shift around. Surely that disappointment meant dukkha for Mushim and maybe for Mahogany too. And I learned Mushim's cat had died.

Walking home from that first class meeting, I remembered Mushim saying how the Buddha tells us to turn to our own experience. Ehipassiko which is Sanskrit and means "Come and see for yourself.So here is what I came to see for myself after that class: There is more than one thing and its opposite. So don't construct too narrow a category of what I think I need to learn. Leave room for the universe.