Notes on a Buddhist path


December 9, 2012 By | 6 Comments

 “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” ~ Dalai Lama

Today I lost my wallet, again. Stepping out into this bleak near winter day with its gentle rain and flannel skies, I had the most modest of plans. A stop for tea, mailing off a package, a bit of grocery shopping then on to the Christmas market. I was there just about half an hour and found the perfect gifts for a niece and nephew and a birthday present for their Mom. All was well.

Until I arrived home and discovered my wallet was missing. I searched my bags and kept my focus, remembering where I’d made my last purchase and trusting it would still be there, waiting for me with gentle calm and my cash and credit cards intact. As my feet hurried along the street my mind skipped with ardent attention to the time before when I did get my wallet back. I recounted the lessons its loss had shown me about my identity and the profound equanimity I found in its passing away and its return. Today I skittered like a pinpall, bounding from mindful presence of each footstep on the glistening wet sidewalk to wondering how I would get a new bus pass for the morning ride to work.

Bounding up to the stairs to the marketplace I held the assurance of my loss on a pinpoint precipice and checked in with how I would lean into that verity.  I hurriedly asked the lovely woman who had sold me my last gift if I had left my wallet there. She smiled with a gracious joy, telling me she had looked around the market for me and then had given my wallet to the market staff just across the aisle. An exhale of gratitude quieted the tempest of my “what if” mind and I thanked her with a calm ripple of “but of course”. Of course there are honest people, of course she would search for me, of course it would be held safe, waiting for me to find it yet again. I reclaimed the missing essence of me held in a folded and worn silver silk pocketbook. I thanked the women who held it in good keeping that brief snippet of time and wished them a most Merry Christmas, a warmth of joy blanketing my heart.

If is a funny little word. It’s not much in size, yet just the whisper of it can conjure up great upheavals of time and space through our future schemes or lay waste to our reflections on past actions, both those taken and those we wished we had followed. It can spin the ego into a mammoth specimen of cunning entitlement. Or it can be like a wind, guiding us to see potentials and possibilities to right our course in this very instant.

These past weeks a sadness still sometimes visits me, remembering my cat, Jack, and all the ifs that seem conjoined to that sadness.  If only he was still here, if only I had taken him to the vet sooner, if only I hadn’t taken him at all. Yet there are also the ifs of a life unfolding. Last week I was getting ready to head out the door for a walk when a friend called and asked to stop by to pick up some things I was giving away. We had a short, but lovely visit and after she left I did take that walk. A heavy sky of steely gray glowered overhead, and as I neared the ocean an expanse of sun and creamy clouds shimmered on the southern horizon as if the closed eye of the heavens had opened, and smiled. Turquoise and aqua melted with the apricot hues of the sun’s visit to the day and in that instant I felt the purest rapture. What if my friend hadn’t called? What if I had left for my walk earlier or not at all? I would have missed this certain perfection of the day.

If doesn’t live in present time. It visits the now only with vestiges of the past and dreams of a future tugging at us all the while. Losing myself in the what ifs with Jack or with anything that came before pulls me into a spiral of doubt and regret that serves only to pull me from any sense of presence. Conjuring up a future of ifs holds no more weight than a glass brimming over with air. The real gift of if is in examining our past with a keen eye to all the good we have done and that has been done to us, as well as our errors along the way.  If we’ve experienced joy or shame, anger or calm, we can see that instance as a marker for how to press our intention into our future encounters. If I have that conversation with my friend again, I would do it this way. If I can offer loving kindness to myself when I feel anger towards another, I can see a way to compassion for us both.

Engaging with “if” as a way of learning a new way to be with ourselves can be an immeasurable gift. A gift of intention offered to the future and a way to bring those lessons into our present. The key is in not holding on to any of it; not the revisionist conversations with your teenager or your plans to go on retreat for six months. As with anything our attachment to outcomes can be like that buzzing mosquito, wishing it away or listening for it when the silence of the night becomes our deafening accomplice. It’s only in embracing if in this moment then releasing it that we can find true solace, and true radiance.

Hymn to the Nameless One

By Dorothy Walters

Now as the year swings down,
and the darkness encloses
even the smallest bird,
the largest animal,
and we too enter the hour
when everything is falling once more
into the twilight
of not knowing,
what we ask is that
you be with us,
not as a pillar of fire
nor a blaze across
the heavens,
but like water
at rest in a pitcher
which catches the morning light
and is filled
with its own radiance.

“Hymn to the Nameless One” from The Ley Lines of the Soul: Poems of Ecstasy and Ascension, by Dorothy Walters, published by Xlibris Corporation, copyright 2012

Image credit: Ocean sky via morgueFile


  1. What a perfect way to end my Sunday. As always, dear one, I cherish your eloquence, and delight in the no “if” of our friendship.

    • And you have ended my Sunday most well. Thank you, dear one, for our lasting and grace-filled friendship. With gratitude, and no ifs.

  2. As ever Tess, a beautiful flow to your writing with a razor-sharp insight. Glad you found your wallet.:)

  3. I simply love how you use words. Every time I read your blogs I become so aware of my broken English:) So glad you have found your wallet 🙂

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