Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I finally called a realtor today. This was something I had been putting off under the guise of busy-ness, sickness, late nights and overtiredness, and all manner of ness that might make my feet-dragging seem justifiably plausible.

The truth, however, lies closer to my heart and has more to do with my emotional and physical attachments than anything else.

My grandmother had asked me, at one point, to keep her house "safe." It was a conversation from long ago during a time of greater lucidity than the drawn-out, lazy, spiral of her dying (which lasted several months and included long stretches of what might best be described as a sort of emptiness).

What she meant by safe was that she didn't want to see it sold to anyone. She wanted the home to stay in the family, and she wanted one of us to live in it - continuing a life and link to the place she had called home for over 80 years.

She was afraid it would become rental property, afraid someone might move in and change everything (which to her was another sort of death), afraid my mother might sell it immediately and never look back.

There was a certain desperation to her request, and I remember at the time being highly aware of my inability to make any such promise. And I still remember the look of sadness, panic, and fear on her face when it became clear her fervent hope might get crushed in the shuffle of her passing.

In part because of this conversation, and in part because it was the best thing for my new family (e.g., myself, my husband, and our intended daughter-to-be), as well as being helpful for my family as a whole, we moved into her home upon her death and began what soon felt like an impossible task: restoration and renovation with the focused task of bringing the home solidly back to an historic and beautiful single-family dwelling.

I'm not sure how successful we were, ultimately, in our task. So much remains undone on our wish list of projects and grand plans. But we did make some headway, and the home is undeniably special... particularly for the area within which it sits.

So here we are... nearly five years beyond her death and about to embark upon listing and selling the house because we cannot afford to hold onto it, and it does not make sense to do so given our goals, philosophies, and circumstances.

And I am feeling immense guilt. Heavy and pinching in my chest. Smashing my breath to the point of being noticeable but not unbearable. Racing through my head like a dog in the spring, crashing into things I thought safely sorted through and tucked away.

Which has led me to ponder the nature of guilt... and to consider what might be the Buddhist approach to such a feeling state. When I really think about it, it's clear I am holding onto something out of sync with the present—carrying something forward as a burden and taking its weight through my current moment.

I suspect it has to do with her disappointment at my initial response during that first conversation about the house long ago. I was not wholly honest; not in a way that was clear and unambiguous. I think I tried to straddle comforting and vague... which left us both feeling worse.

And so, if I am to examine the aspect of my action and its presence in my mind despite tangible absence, I must acknowledge and accept the mis-step of my ambiguity and cowardice. Right action might have been speaking the truth more clearly, or sharing greater insight as to why I could not make such a promise, or being brave enough to name and focus on the emotions I read so clearly in her face... instead of avoiding her palpable pain.

One of the most challenging aspects of Buddhist study, I think - or really any dedicated spiritual practice - is in learning to embrace one's mistakes without creating a pitfall within which to become paralyzed, or stuck, or hidden, or ignored.

Imperfections are a necessary and sometimes strikingly beautiful and important part of life, because they inspire our growth and refine our understanding of ourselves and others. Getting caught in guilt, regret, or any other form of self-denial prevents me from being fully present and focused in the now, which means I am at even greater risk of causing suffering or doing harm to others. And so the cycle continues.

I can no longer apologize to my grandmother, or choose a course of right action wherein I set aside all artifice and carefulness in order to speak plainly and from the heart. That moment has passed. This moment provides an opportunity to acknowledge and accept my actions, to dedicate thought and mindfulness to the situation in order to evolve my understanding, and to move forward with as much right action as possible... whatever that may be.

May you accept and own your imperfections to stand, unburdened, in the present moment. May you embrace all aspects of self to move forward in freedom and clarity.

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