Your 84th problem

A farmer once came to see the Buddha, to seek advice, to get help with his problems.  The farmer had many problems and he told the Buddha, in great detail, all about how they made his life very difficult.
The weather never cooperated the way that he wanted. It was either too wet or too dry, so his crops often failed.
His wife, although a good woman, was far too critical of him.
Lately his children showed little respect for anything that he did.
His neighbors were nosey, always interfering in his affairs by spreading gossip. This farmer’s list continued long into the afternoon.  And, after each complaint, the Buddha replied simply: “I cannot help you get rid of that problem.”
The man, now exasperated, asked the Buddha: “What kind of teacher are you?  And if you are so enlightened, what can you help me get rid of?”
The Buddha replied: “I can help you get rid of your 84th problem.”
“And what is my 84th problem?”
“Your 84th problem is that you assume your life will be better if you get rid of your other 83 problems.”

Take your pick; problem, conundrum, setback or hindrance. They can darken our days, consume our mental energy and feed us the narrative that real life is still pending.

I used to watch my dog reflexively snap at flies and mosquitoes (with no luck), jumpy and agitated. It was entertaining to watch, but I wondered why he didn’t just get up and move. Now I know. Whenever I turn on the news (glance at my iPhone), I must appear to anyone watching, that I have a type of Tourette’s, jittery and now consumed.
The 83 (and more) now own me.
Maybe there’s the connection. When the world around me is by all accounts steeped in chaos and uncertainty, my daily inconveniences (my 83), appear larger-than-life.

I am on Manasota Key, Florida, south of Sarasota. My vacation week. I sit and read. I walk. I collect shark’s teeth. I sit again and read. I enjoy really cold beer. I use a lot of sunscreen. I sit again and read. I watch the schools of mullet churn; skittish or perhaps a kind of synchronized swimming without the benefit of choreography. And dolphin fins surface, eager for their morning nosh, having somehow negotiated rights from the pelicans.

When the news overwhelms and my world tilts, I turn to poet Mary Oliver and warm to the invitation to embrace “our wild and precious life.”
I like the idea of a wild and precious life;
to give no heed to public opinion,
to walk on the edge,
to dance as if no one is watching,
to give the child in me a wide sky,
and to love as if I’ve never been hurt.
(Thank you Mary Anne Radmacher)

But if I’m honest, deep down I’m a lot like the farmer.  It’s easy for my life to feel wild, just not precious.  You know, those days (or weeks) when life doesn’t quite pan out like we plan. And a sense of shame looms.  And we want someone to fix it.
I’m not saying that the problems are not real. Most are, and some even detrimental. The sticky wicket is our assumption that “real life” is happening someplace other than where we are right now.  You know, all those sentences in our head, which begin, “if only and when” the 83 are solved.

Unfortunately, workshops and seminars (too many church sponsored) lend themselves to our hankering for information and data. Armed with the right information, we can perfect a technique that eliminates disquiet. And with the right technique (or program or list), real life can begin and we can live, or risk, or endeavor, or go all-out.
Perhaps it’s not information that we seek at all, but (just like the farmer) reprieve from those things that in our mind prevent us embracing our precious life.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel reminds us that we teach our children how to “weigh and measure.”  And perhaps we should be teaching “awe and wonder.”
And that’s where my Sabbath Moment should end.  Because I don’t have a “how to” list to accomplish this. Which is the heart of the Buddha story: it is not the solving of our problems that lightens our load, but the freedom that comes from knowing that our wild and precious life is alive and well in the very midst of whatever our problems may be. No wonder Jesus baffled people with his affirmation that the kingdom of heaven isn’t in the by and by; it is now. 

“Life is difficult,” Scott Peck’s Road Less Traveled begins. Like it or not, our lives can be a litany of problems. And even when we’ve finally gotten our “act together,” or risk love or passion or delight, we break or fracture in the hidden places of our heart.
Here’s the conundrum, and the invitation. Once I step into the tangle of this life—the sacrament of this sacred moment—I own my capacity to be present, to be a voice for humane encounters and dignity, a fortress against intolerance and despair. 

What do we do?
I needed this story last year. I need it again now. Henri Nouwen tells it about his community at L’Arche.
There is one of my friends who is quite handicapped but a wonderful, wonderful lady.
She said to me, “Henri, can you bless me?”
I remember walking up to her and giving her a little cross on her forehead.
She said, “Henri, it doesn’t work. No, that is not what I mean.”
I was embarrassed and said, “I gave you a blessing.”
She said, “No, I want to be blessed.”
I kept thinking, “What does she mean?”
We had a little service and all these people were sitting there. After the service I said, “Janet wants a blessing.” I had an alb on and a long robe with long sleeves.
Janet walked up to me and said, “I want to be blessed.” She put her head against my chest and I spontaneously put my arms around her, held her, and looked right into her eyes and said, “Blessed are you, Janet. You know how much we love you. You know how important you are. You know what a good woman you are.”
She looked at me and said, “Yes, yes, yes, I know.” I suddenly saw all sorts of energy coming back to her. She seemed to be relieved from the feeling of depression because suddenly she realized again that she was blessed. She went back to her place and immediately other people said, “I want that kind of blessing, too.”  

I want that kind of blessing too.
So, here’s the deal: This blessing is not apart from our broken and troubled lives.  And we pass this blessing on to one another, even from our splintered and imperfect selves.  No, I can’t tell someone what to do about his or her 83 problems, but maybe I can give a hug.  And in that hug, there is a blessing.  (It makes sense to me that the word salvation, from the Latin “salve,” means a balm, or ointment to heal.) And in that salve, that touch, we empower one another to draw from an internal reservoir of their one wild and precious life. No one of us is on this journey alone. Let us not forget that.

Church this morning, on this first Sunday of Advent, was spent meandering the sand bar at Kent Alan’s Bank, Stump Pass, Lemon Bay. On the way, our boat was escorted in turn, by dolphins and cormorants.
Tonight, a super moon. Did you see it? Mercy. And I remember a scene from Cold Mountain. When Inman and Ada meet, he wonders aloud, “If it were enough just to stand without the words.” “It is,” she tells him. “It is.”

Quote for your week…
I think it is very important that when we are in touch with our blessedness, that we can then bless other people.  Henri Nouwen


Normal day,
let me be aware of the treasure you are.
Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart.
Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so.
One day I shall dig my nails into the earth,
or bury my face in the pillow,
or stretch myself taut,
or raise my hands to the sky and want,
more than all the world, your return.
Mary Jean Iron

I Got Kin
So that your own heart
Will grow.
So God will think,
I got kin in that body!
I should start inviting that soul over
For coffee and
Because this is a food
Our starving world
Because that is the purest





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