Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why I Chant

I lost my sunglasses on a Tuesday morning.

I remember the day because I’d been invited to chant that morning even though the group I chant with usually meets on Wednesdays and Fridays.  But this week they changed the schedule because Wednesday was Independence Day.

It was only two of us that Tuesday morning, and if I’d known that in advance, I’d probably not have gone in the first place.  I’m new to chanting and I feel very self-conscious without the usually substantial number of chanters to carry me along.

The day was overcast and I took my sunglasses off as I walked up to the house where we chant.  I remember sticking the glasses into a shallow pocket inside my purse, noticing that they didn’t really fit well in the space but leaving them there because my host was on her porch watering her impatiens and once we started talking I just couldn’t be bothered moving them into their proper case. 

After the two of us chanted, she offered me a bouquet of white Hydrangeas – maddeningly big ones – and also a piece of her homemade mixed berry tart that was red, white and blue for July 4th.  I slung my purse onto my shoulder, grabbed my goodies, walked to my car, loaded everything onto the passenger seat and then drove the two minutes home. 

I realized my sunglasses were missing before I walked through my own front door.  I went back to the car to see if they’d dropped on the floor (they hadn’t) and then called my host to see if they’d fallen out when I’d scooped up the flowers and dessert.  She couldn’t find them in the house and even went out to the sidewalk to look for them.  “I don’t see them anywhere,” she said.

So I looked around my own house again, looked in the car more thoroughly, sat down and concentrated very hard on whether I really did have them with me that morning or whether I just imagined it, and, finally, decided to shelve the whole thing for a while, go for my daily walk and clear my head.  I loved my sunglasses and would typically wear them to walk, even on a cloudy day like this.  I missed them already. 

The chanting I do is a Buddhist prayer ritual that I’ve been doing for a few months and about which I know very little.  Out of the blue, a friend called and invited me to a meeting and it was one of those odd moments where I happened to say yes to something I would typically say no to.  Two days later, I found myself in a stranger’s living room, sitting before an altar, attempting to recite the Lotus Sutra, which is written in some foreign tongue and broken down for English speakers into a series of syllables and punctuation marks. Thirty-two pages of syllables and punctuation marks, few of which I could wrap my tongue around, that left me feeling very incompetent and about as far away from enlightened as a soul could possibly be. 

My husband has been studying Buddhism for a few years now as part of his yoga practice.  What I know from him is that Buddhism is based on the laws of cause and effect.  Some people refer to this as Karma, and it appears pretty simple: whatever you put out into the world is what you’ll get back.  Many teachers regard this phenomenon almost literally.  They say, if you want good health, spend your time ministering to sick people.  If you want wealth, give your money away to people who need it.  It’s never made the least bit of sense to me, but my husband insists this is how the world works.

Perhaps it was for that reason that I found myself a little mystified by my missing sunglasses.  Just days before, I’d been at the beach, walking along the shoreline, when I saw a pair of black sunglasses bobbing up and down in the surf.  I walked out into the water and snatched them up.  They were big, stylish, Audrey Hepburn sunglasses and I imagined how happy their owner might be to get them back.  So I took them to the lifeguard and he hung them on his stand.  “It’s a long shot, but maybe someone will claim them,” he said.

According to the laws of cause and effect, I figured that act alone should be enough to get me my sunglasses back.  But even as I paced my kitchen again, they were not materializing. 

Finally, I got in the car and drove back to the chanting house. 

Because of my beach experience, I wasn’t surprised to find my sunglasses lying in the street right next to my car. But when I picked them up, I was confounded; they’d been run over and mangled.  As I turned them over in my hand and assessed the damage, I cursed the thoughtless driver who ran them over and I decided unequivocally that the whole Cause and Effect thing was bullshit. 

However, unlike all my many calamities that have come before, I did not spend even two minutes feeling sorry for myself about this loss.  Nor did I ruminate about how I might get the sunglasses fixed for free – my typical mental calisthenics on how to cash in on what the world surely owes me.

Instead, I drove directly to Sunglass Hut, bought a new pair of the exact same glasses and felt instantly happy that I didn’t waste any time stewing about my sad misfortune. 

Later, much later, I felt grateful for the opportunity to see clearly that this was a little problem with an easy solution.  And even later still, it occurred to me that I may have been the one to run the sunglasses over in the first place. 

I had expected my chanting to provide me with my sunglasses back, like magic.  But instead, what I got was an inexplicable will and desire to move quickly from sadness to joy, rather than to sit in sadness indefinitely – a desire I hope emerges again in the face of events much more important than broken sunglasses. 

The mangled glasses now sit in a drawer in the kitchen where I keep my car keys.  I can’t bear to throw them away, even though they are completely unwearable.  My yogi husband says I’m still missing the real essence of karma: Letting go of what’s broken and moving on.  Obviously, I’m not there yet.  In the meantime, I chant.

1 comment:

  1. Frame the mangled sunglasses and hang them on the wall as a work of art. You will receive endless pleasure from seeing them there and have a story to tell three or four times a year.