Tag Archives: sadness

hot dog performance art

the last installment. part v of why meditate, thoughts on my two 1-week back-to-back meditation retreats: part i, part ii, part iii, part iv, & part v. An abridged version for moderns exists at Shambhala New York.

And that was it. After lunch there was a banquet to close the week, and a bit of a talent show with poetry, songs, skits, and the like performed after the meal. As I enjoyed my desserts, Seth asked (snarkily) when I was on. “I thought you were going to share something with us.”

“Hmmm? What do you mean. I already did. You missed it?” I snarked back.


“Oh, you mean at lunch? The bawling over your hot dog?” As if his words weren’t enough, he brought his hands to his mouth, grasping an imaginary whole foods organic hot dog with caramelized onions and nori, rounded his shoulders, closed his eyes, pulled down the corners of his mouth, and snapped his diaphragm up (he’s obviously done some yoga) which bobbed his torso and head a bit to mimic that ungodly heaving that accompanies a big cry.

My gawd.

It was pretty funny.

We laughed. I’d never met Seth before but, as always happens on retreat, by the end of a week I felt like I’d known the people around me forever, even though we’d never spoken. I was thinking about this on the first day, when everyone felt so strange to me, which I wasn’t used to at Shambhala. I was used to knowing people. But it had been a while. I wondered then how these strangers would quickly unfold as we sat together in silence. And they did. It is like magic.

NewYork_2012-06_SummerNY-38When the festivities and the retreat were over, I went home and emailed Zka, telling her more or less what I’ve told you. I cleared my schedule completely for the next days, and we had dinners, coffees, drinks, and walks over three boroughs in her last days in NYC. I took her to JFK and we sat quite near a NEW YORK HOT DOG stand while we chatted before her flight. I didn’t cry.

A few times I’ve had to explain to people that because I felt sad about Zka’s leaving does not mean I’m defined by it, or that I’m depressed. As a culture we are so against sad that we’ve forgotten that to feel sadness and let it pass is a fine, healthy thing to do.

It is almost fall now, and I’m more able to stay inside and get things done. I still angle for the sunny spots on the sidewalk because the sun feels so good, but a part of me is relieved by the cooler air and the softer light. See? Even summer girls can adapt.

So, that’s why I meditate. It’s one thing to get it intellectually. And it’s another thing to sit. You really, really have to sit. There’s a great story about the Venerables Mahakasyapa and Ananda, about why the Buddha chose Mahakasyapa to succeed him rather than his cousin Ananda. (Ananda didn’t practice!) Yes, this is a myth. There’s some argument over who succeeded the Buddha, and this story seems more popular in Zen traditions. That’s not the point though. The point is, you have to practice.

The story is pp 123-125.

why meditate, thoughts on my two 1-week back-to-back meditation retreats.
part i, part ii, part iii, part iv.

the kindness of new yorkers

Last Monday morning at 5:43am, I had a few minutes spare before leaving for yoga. I didn’t intend to read the email that had arrived the night before. I’d planned to wait until I was fully awake, in the bright of day, and perfectly able to take in whatever came next. I would not chance any of the sorrows that so easily take over in the quiet hours of the day. But the sun was up, and I rashly decided I was being silly. Why not? So I read.

Previous caution aside, I didn’t fully expect what I read or the affect it would have on me. I teared. I looked at the time. I collected my stuff and myself and I left.

A friend of mine once said, after her father died, that you can’t schedule grief. You can’t plan it, you just have to take it when it comes. This has been my experience precisely. While anger is fairly accessible to me, sadness tends to hide itself, even when I know it should be there, and feel that it is, somewhere, there. Because it is difficult for me to reach, I try to respect it when it comes.

In the elevator down, the tears started rolling. I walked out of my building and up the street, feeling bittersweet memories and the sheer sadness of an ending, and crying harder. I’ve learned in the past that silent tears often go unnoticed, and New York is mostly asleep before six in the morning, so I didn’t care too much about my public display. When I was midway down the steps to the subway, an MTA guy headed up them looked at me with concern. I recognized him as a night-shift elevator operator, and remembered saying ‘Hi’ to him when I came home the night before, just after 10. He said something. I pulled out an earbud.


He asked, again, with kind eyes, “Are you okay? Is everything okay?”

“Yes, oh yes,” I answered, and he nodded. We kept going. The tears came a little harder, marveling at the beauty of New Yorkers. Marveling that someone who’d spent the last eight graveyard hours in an underground MTA elevator still has the capacity to be genuinely concerned about a stranger passing by.

A few nights before, I talked to a guy at in a club who claimed that Londoners are much more open and kind then New Yorkers. He complained that New Yorkers are entirely self-absorbed and unhelpful.

“Really? You think so?” I answered, amazed. I understand this might be true as far as superficial concerns go, but never have I found a New Yorker to turn on someone in real pain or need. Yes, there is a certain amount of numbing oneself to others’ pain that goes on here, to get through the daily realities of so many in such a small space. But if someone is truly out or ill or in need, someone steps up. No, not everyone, but someone. You know when it’s your turn. That’s how we work.

Last year, just after Andrea moved back to Australia, I was headed downtown on the train during rush hour to meet a friend for dinner. It was packed, and I was standing by a pole between the end seat and the doors. A particular song came on my player and all of the sudden I burst into tears. I’d kept sunglasses on, so I didn’t think it was terribly noticeable. I was silent. My eyes closed in search of privacy, pretending that anyone I could not see could not see me. Because rush hour on the train is so in-your-face, and I respect the right of New Yorkers to have as much space as possible on our confined and difficult commutes (i.e. no one needs extra drama two inches away after a long day’s work), I tried to dam the tears. Just when I thought I’d stifled them, someone tugged on my arm.

“Sit, sit, please sit,” said the man sitting in front of me.

Oh no.

Stubborn, I refused. “No. No thank you.” I shook my head, as accepting meant I acknowledged he was there. That anyone was there. That I was making a scene. His kindness toppled the dam and I cried harder, gulping for air as I tried to regain composure. The train stopped. The man got up. He looked and sounded Middle Eastern. “Sit!” he cried, as he grabbed my arm and forced me down in his seat, seemingly anguished by my pain, and then bolted from the car. The blond woman next to me turned and asked if I was okay.

“Yes, yes,” I answered, humbled by their kindness and totally unable to stop the flow of tears. I refused to make eye contact with anyone else in the crowded car, and refused to acknowledge how many might be taking me in. Finally, by 14th Street, I pulled it together, wiped my face, and prepared to get off the train. It was done. By the time I reached the restaurant, no one suspected a thing.

A friend of mine recently said that NYC is a refugee camp. It takes in everyone who, for whatever reason, can’t or doesn’t want to be where he began (and if not him, it took in his mother or grandmother, and he knows what that means). Given the number of cultural strangers here, it’s a miracle that so little violence takes place, especially considering the behavior and antics of many space-rich middle Americans.

In our own way, we take care of each other. No, we aren’t bubbly or disingenuous. We also know how to stay out of each other’s way, which can be seen by outsiders as rudeness. But on this tiny island of millions, that, too, is an act of kindness.