You’re awesome. You have the power to make all of your dreams come true. That is all.
You’re awesome. You have the power to make all of your dreams come true. That is all.
New Year’s resolutions are flawed. If you make a New Year Resolution, you’ll fail. Instead, recognize that every day, not just January 1st, is a day for change, growth, and reflection. It doesn’t matter if you ran last Tuesday. It doesn’t matter what you had at your last meal. It doesn’t matter what you’ll do tomorrow. Today, right now, is the only thing you can influence. Choose wisely.
Second, resolutions take resolve. Resolve is bullshit. Instead, make a choice. Decide to be someone different. Decide to be your truest self. Anything less is a lie.
Resolutions make me raise my eyebrows. I’d never want to be part of the 99% who’s resolve seems to somehow fizzle out by the middle of February. I’ve never before made a New Year’s resolution– but I am the kind of person who tends to attack life-changes with an almost predatory viciousness. I became a vegetarian in the middle of a meal and never looked back. I became a runner less than a week after having my second eye surgically removed, and I ran two miles on day one. When I do something, I’m all in. Period. I never give less than my best. Which is why the last year’s been especially difficult for me.
I began having bizarre symptoms of an unknown medical disorder starting in the middle of December 2013. I would become extremely disoriented, I’d begin speaking another language without realizing it (which is weirder by virtue of my not knowing it than by my doing it at all; I study languages in school,) and I was losing several seconds of time many times a day. By May it was so bad that I woke up passed out in the middle of an intersection. That’s when I knew it was time to go to a hospital.
Over the next few months I heard that it was a sinus infection, a week later it was a viral infection, then it was an unknown form of diabetes, then it was pancreatic cancer, then it was back to being diabetes. There was one point where I was on 19 medicines– more than half of which were designed to treat the side affects from the others. And every time I was given new meds or a new diet, my blood-sugar climbed higher, and higher, and higher. But what was interesting was that when I was between old and new meds or when I ate like a normal healthy person (which is my custom) my sugar would plummet to about 125. A lot better than 490. And I had literally no symptoms of diabetes. I subsisted primarily off of vegetables and nuts. I wasn’t in the habit of eating pizza and cake how most vegetarians would. But I did have an excess of desserts between May and October. I had basically given up on eating right and focused exclusively on not dying. I was awake so rarely while on diabetes meds that I wanted as many calories as I could get and as fast as possible. I practically lived on desserts and junk food. Still, even at my unhealthiest, I was easily five times healthier than any other American I know. That tells you something about how I was eating pre-diabetes diagnosis.
Anyway, the long story long is that the diabetes piece ended up being figured out by complete accident. Someone at Temple, actually, was watching me eat and asked if I was diabetic. The conversation continued, she mentioned a super rare form of diabetes, I took it to my doctors, and bam. Ten months of suffering was over in a flash.
I began reintroducing sugar to my diet and moving more. I gained a full ten pounds while incapacitated; now I have to get back into the healthy patterns of running, rowing, and weightlifting. My muscles have deflated. My stomach’s bigger than it’s ever been. I can hardly move I’m so lazy and lethargic. I have as many psychological barriers to learning to move again as I do genuine physical ones.
But I also have a fierce determination. One of our priests said last week, “We all shake our heads in amused wonder as we watch your boundless enthusiasm for slaying any obstacles foolish enough to stand in your way.” I was touched. That reminded me that although I’ve been sick, although there have been times when I had no idea how much more I could take, I took more. I cut back where I needed to. I did my own impossible. And I’ll do it again.
A while ago I signed a contract with a personal trainer to work with me every day for twelve months. It’s a large financial burden. It’ll be an even larger time-commitment. Half of our time will be spent on diet and nutrition, half of our time will be spent on building muscle and shaving off my ten or fifteen pounds of fat. All of our time will be spent getting me back to a place of health and wellness. I’ve already signed the contract. There’s no going back. And I can’t wait.
I’ve also decided to cut desserts out of my life. Just like I cut out meat all those years ago, it’s nothing for me to do the same thing with sugary cakes, cookies, pies, breads, muffins, and even alcohol or coffee drinks. I have those things so rarely as it is that it won’t make a big difference. But I’ll feel better. And that’s what counts.
My rule for the last while has been that I won’t have dessert unless it’s made by granny. This rule also encompasses the Aunties, who, not unlike the harpies from folklore, will flap around my head and badger me with deliciously tempting, home-made, sinfully tasty treats whenever we see each other. Then granny has to send us home with boxes and boxes and boxes of the things like we were going to a warzone and broccoli was the enemy. It’s a family that shows their love with food. What can I say?
But it doesn’t hurt anyone for me to just say no thank you. Granny and the Aunties will still love me, my boyfriend can still gorge himself on all the sweets he wants (without gaining an ounce. Skank.) and the world will be good. They all know I’m diabetic. Their treats are even becoming sugar-free and progressively tinier. So it won’t be a bumpy transition for me to simply avoid the sweets and keep near the fruit, instead. I’ll still have something sugary, they’ll have shown me their love, I won’t get sick, and everything will work out for the best. I’m already considered a health-nut. This really won’t change things.
So, my New Year decisions, not resolutions, are to work with a personal trainer 6 days a week and check in with them on the 7th; to no longer have dessert, even when it’s made with love; and to just find something to smile about every day. Even bad days can have good moments.
What about you? What are your decisions?
1. Fuck is a Four-Letter Word
Believe it or not, “fuck” is one of the most commonly heard English words in our temple.
Newcomers are often surprised at the seemingly casual irreverence displayed in our speech. They expect to hear oming or chanting, and instead they hear swearing and laughing. Fuck, damn, and poop are rarely off-limits. And come on, people. You don’t have to be a seven-year-old boy to think poop jokes are funny.
2. Jeans are for Heathens
People are also often surprised that monks and priests aren’t always in long black robes with gentile smiles and knowing glints in their eyes. On the contrary, you usually couldn’t tell us apart from anyone else.
I’d say that we do tend toward modesty, and traditional clothes are required for specific religious practices, but we don’t walk around in our robes all the time, and we almost never go to work or school in our robes. Have you ever tried to clean a toilet in your bathrobe? It’s just not practical.
3. Temple Life is the Only Life
A Buddhist monk isn’t something you see every day. On the other hand, most Buddhist monks don’t look different than anyone else, so how would you know if you saw one?
The reality is that we don’t spend all of our time held up in temples staring at walls. Sure, that’s a huge part of our day, but it’s not everything. Soto-Zen emphasizes compassion and engagement in such a way as to strongly encourage having some sort of life outside the temple. Many of us have jobs, all of us have family and friends. Our role is to engage with the community. We couldn’t exactly do that if we disconnected from the world around us.
4. Buddhists Are Trying to Convert You!
Buddhists are really, really, really not trying to convince you of anything. That’s the complete opposite of what we’re interested in. Soto-Zen Buddhists, at least, believe that you shouldn’t believe much of anything. We generally see the world as too complicated and too dramatic as it is. We wouldn’t suggest that you should add complication or drama to your life by doing something you’re against. We’re also not about taking choices away from you. If you have to be convinced of something’s importance, it’s probably not all that important to you. And we’re okay with that. Two common phrases in our practice are, “Don’t do anything you don’t have to,” and, “Life’s a practice, not a performance.”
5. Meat-Eaters are Monsters
There’s a commonly held assumption that Buddhists are vegetarians. Some are, but it usually has more to do with morals or allergies than the Buddhist teachings. I’m a vegetarian because I have an intolerance to a meat-enzyme. I love turkey! Don’t even get me started on Salami! But the fact is, I prefer eating vegetables to being in horrible physical pain while my food digests. Believe me, Thanksgiving turkey makes my mouth water just thinking about it. It’s already dead, it’s already on the table, I’m not supporting animal rights by not eating it, I’m not honoring the bird by ignoring its sacrifice. It would be delicious. But it wouldn’t be worth it. And it’s definitely not a matter of Buddha’s opinion one way or the other on what I should be eating. Because sorry Buddha, but you never had my father’s slow-roasted organic turkey with stuffing and gravy. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm.
6. Monks Can’t Have Sex
This one makes me laugh. It’s true that in some forms of Buddhism, taking vows includes taking a vow of chastity. In Soto-Zen, however, sex is as welcome as Thanksgiving turkey. And who knows? Maybe Soto-Zen sex is the best kind of sex. It is a religion of giving, after all…
7. Women have to Shave Their Heads
Men Soto-Zen priests are generally required to shave their heads. It’s a reminder of simplicity and awareness in every day life. Women, on the other hand, are generally advised against shaving their heads. Soto-Zen is a support for being connected with people exactly as they are. One feature of that is the expectation for women to have hair. Women without hair are considered distracting or maybe even concerning. Is she sick? Is she making a statement? And on and on and on. Rather than encourage that train of thought, we usually require female priests to keep one small lock of hair trimmed shorter than the rest. It’s a reminder to the woman and not a point of distraction for the people in her life. Instead of spending time wondering about her shaven head, people she encounters can focus on the interaction and their mutual contribution to one another.
8. Buddhists are Calm, Robotic People
A major pet-peeve of mine is something I call “the Buddhist monotone.” We’ve all met these people or seen them on television. They speak slowly, flatly, and with a smile. They might be called things like Starshine or Rainflower. They always want to hug you or do yoga. They might wear patchoulie. They have hard opinions on not having hard opinions. They have an insubstantial or maybe a condescending/self-righteous way about them. And they seem to always, always, always speak with an airy monotone– especially when being condescending or self-righteous. AND THEY MAKE ME CRAZY!
If you have to speak with an airy monotone to remind yourself not to scream, or if you have to cover up your desire to punch things with the habit of hugging things, you’re probably not Buddhist. You might even be lying to yourself. Buddhism is about being aware. Not about being nice. So please, for the love of all things holy, scream your fool head off and punch an old lady in the face. Just be genuine. Because being a robot isn’t going to make you any healthier or me any happier. Just. Be. Genuine.
Hopefully this was useful to someone, somewhere. Feel free to ask questions or add your own thoughts in the comment section below. I’m always looking for new blog post suggestions, too.
PS– No old ladies were harmed in the writing of this article. (I can’t be held responsible for whatever comes as a result.)
I’m no longer interested in thinking weeks or months ahead in order to try and sort out how it is that I’ll lose twenty pounds between now and the end of the world. I’m focusing on today. Right now. What can I do in this moment, with this meal, to be a happier, healthier me?
I’m not fat. I’m skinny-fat; that peradoxical boarderland between committally healthy and a food-loving fatty. I love to hate to run. I do half-assed body-weight exercises on my living-room floor in a sad attempt at building muscle. I’ve read dozens, maybe hundreds of books on health and wellness. I know what to do. But I’m somehow unmotivated to do it.
That’s been changing lately. I’ve found myself eating right and exercising more. I’m not sure if the scale’s dropping quite yet, but I feel better and, maybe it’s just my imagination, but my clothes seem a heck of a lot more comfortable.
I’m a blind, gay, health-loving Buddhist. I have no idea what all I’ll write about on this blog. I might just use it to post once a month about my cats (Poptart and Toaster,) or about my sardonic whimsicality. We’ll see.
But one thing I do know I’ll write about is my weight-loss journey. I’m sick of feeling inferior. I’m sick of feeling like I’m not doing my best.
I’m going to lose twenty pounds. I’m going to do my own impossible. And along the way, who knows? Maybe you’ll see some funny stories about me and my crazy life. Stay tuned.