Introduction: Toby and Angela

A few months after we finished the Vajradhatu seminary, in 2000, Toby, Angela, and I were standing on the sidewalk outside someone’s tenement apartment in the East Village one evening, wondering why so many of the older Vajrayana Buddhist practitioner’s that we knew were so crazy and/or nasty. I’d asked my friend Berkley about this earlier (she came up with that crowd), and she’d said two things: that Buddhism isn’t about getting nicer—it’s about becoming more who you are; and that if you see a sadhaka (such aforementioned advanced practitioner) behaving in such a way, you can bet that they don’t practice.

Anyway, Ang and Toby and I were a little worried about this—were we going to end up nasty? So we made a pact. We all promised that if any one of us started behaving badly, the others would use a codeword that meant, “Believe it: It’s happened to you.” That code word, we decided, was “crazy/nasty.”

The fact is, though, that ten-and-a-half years later, both Toby and Ang have become giant softies. Ang is finishing her chaplaincy residency at a Vets Hospital in Seattle, and will be going into a long retreat in the fall (if you want to donate to that, write me at deitch(at), and I’ll tell you how), and Toab has just set up shop doing brilliant acupuncture and herbs out on the edge of Chinatown here in New York.

When I get down about whole momentous endeavor, I think of them, and get my crazy/nasty ass back on the cushion.


Ten-second Rant: Slowing Down

Here’s my latest category, which I’m guessing I’ll be using a lot: It’s called Duh.

I’m thinking about why there’s so much to do, and not enough time to do it in. I liked it better when there was more free time—when you did your job, and then you had time for yourself and time for your friends and family. I understand that because I have less time left in this lifetime, the minutes seem to go by faster; the years do not seem go on forever, anymore, the way they did in the old days when I was younger and deadlines fewer and less pressing. But I don’t think relativity of time is it.

People are more anxious all around. They seem more desperate about what they need, and they all need it at least soon, and often now. Maybe that’s it: maybe I am pressuring myself to meet other people’s deadlines in a time frame that makes it impossible for me to have a more restful life (and, in turn, do better work).

Yeah, phew. I think that’s it. Maybe we all need to slow down. (Maybe if one of us starts, another of us will follow, and we can build what used to be a given—time to do nothing—back into our culture.) Maybe we need to make more realistic schedules for ourselves and others, and when we assign jobs (and take them), we could do it with the understanding that time and space are a necessary part of a happy life. This doesn’t mean, though, that we pay and get paid less.

I feel stupid saying this, so I’ll cover that over by saying duh.

The Gift

My friend Lowell Boyers, the painter, was named after the poet Robert Lowell. Painter-Lowell’s father edits Salmagundi, and lots of poets came through the Boyers’s place in Saratoga Springs in those days—late Sixties, early Seventies—probably still do. Little Lowell hadn’t met this particular poet though, so one night, when he was about five, he was summoned downstairs for an introduction. He was heading in his pajamas to the room where his parents were, when he found the poet Lowell standing in the dining room, smoking a cigarette in the dark.

You must be my namesake (or something), the poet said.

Yes (or something), Lowell replied, and stood there, not knowing what else to do.

I should have brought you something, the poet continued, but I didn’t. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change.

Lowell took it. I imagine him carrying it away in his cupped hands like a person carrying the last water, or maybe a goldfish destined for freedom, little-boy style.