Last Saturday, I tested for my black belt. On Saturday morning, before the test, I was undoubtedly cranky. The anxiety of the upcoming test, plus an especially harsh dose of PMS this month had me on edge. I snapped at Adam in a relatively mild way, but in a way that is much harsher than anything Iíve said or done within the past few years, and certainly much worse than anything heíd seen before.

I did not want any conflict. I had a lot of excess anger and adrenaline fighting its way out of me and thatís how it chose to express itself. He stood looking at me for about two seconds. I was expecting a negative response. He said nothing, and I continued getting ready for my test.

Normally, I have absolutely no talent for hiding my emotions. Every thought in my head crosses my face as I have it. There is an exception, though. I can hide my emotions from myself. I knew that inside, I was a quivering mass of fear and anxiety, but I was not going to let myself feel it.

Then he started talking about something else and it was totally pleasant. No backlash, no resentment. I took the opportunity to relax.

After my test, and my anxiety released itís stranglehold on my spleen, I apologized for what I had said earlier. He said to me, ďIt really means a lot to me that you would bring that up. I would have said something this morning, but I really wanted you to have a good day.Ē

Yes, a human being actually said that; a male one, too, without any prompting.

How many people can take a slap in the face and decide not to react because he wants the person who just slapped him to have a good day?

Compared to most, heís a heavily analytical guy, but I believe that in the realm of logic and analysis, I totally blow him away. Last week, I realized that his emotional intelligence is actually much higher than my own.

I say this because I struggle with my reactions. Itís true that in most situations, I know the most correct response. The problem is that my initial reaction is rarely that correct response. Iíve improved immensely, through training, but the correct response was never my natural reaction before going through the effort to make it that way.

Even now, if it werenít through my own efforts to increase the flexibility of my own thinking, I would not be able to look at someone else and recognize that I can learn something here. Iíve cried in gratitude over this.

Letís all take a deep breath. The black belt test is done. The best part of this whole thing is that I wonít have to test again for at least another two years.

Release that breath, if you havenít, yet.

Secondly, in this episode of ďLetís Appreciate Adam,Ē he came to my karate test. I honestly canít remember there ever being a time when someone else in this world cared about something that was mine. The concept was so foreign to me, that I didnít even expect or understand it.

A few weeks ago, I went to the gallery where a couple of my drawings are hanging - to take pictures because, you know, oh-my-GOD-my-drawings-are-hanging-in-a-freakiní-gallery, and the gallery owner asked me if I was taking the pictures to send to my parents. I laughed and shook my head, ďOh, no, no, no! My parents donít care!Ē

In her, I felt the awkwardness that people feel when you tell them something strange about yourself, but in myself, I was happy that I no longer bothered to lie or rationalize for my parents. I continued with my picture taking, because really, what else is there to say about that?

Not only did Adam attend my karate test, but he was attentive, and he took pictures. When I went to his birthday party on Thursday, every one of his friends asked me about my karate test. Whether they knew me or not, they knew who I was, and liked me. Heís been like a proud parent, telling everyone and anyone about my accomplishments.

They also tell me how he can be overly paternal. Itís true, he is more paternal than most, but rather than feeling stifled, I indulge in it.

Maybe someday Iíll hate it, but that day is far, far into the future. Iím like a little adoptee from a third world country that hoards food after moving to the US, even though there is plenty around. I hope to always be that way, too. I never, ever want to stop appreciating the people in my life who care.

As for other stuff, I am taking precept training in August. This requires me to step up my Buddhist practice. Adam went climbing today, so I went to meditation alone this morning. His absence helped me focus a little bit better.

A few years ago, when I started taking meditation more seriously, I reached some sort of point where I managed to disentangle myself from the mess that keeps me down, or the pervasive emptiness that haunts us all, or whatever you want to call it. In other words, I felt really, really good.

I wanted to take those good feelings and turn them into good feelings for other people.

I really fully appreciate the beauty of self-sacrifice. I briefly heard something on NPR, a week or so ago, from an expert in evolution, that talked about how human beings are different from other animals because of our capacity for long-term planning.

This leads to all sorts of positive and negative things. Long term planning is great when it prompts you to start a 401K, but itís not so great when you make sacrifices in hopes of receiving reciprocation.

In Buddhism, weíre often reminded that lotus flowers grow out of mud. This is used as a metaphor for lots of things. Generally speaking, the pretty stuff in the world and the ugly stuff in the world have a symbiotic relationship. Any refusal to accept the ugly stuff just results in self-torture because itís always been here and itís always going to be here. Fighting it is considered to be both a losing battle and a rejection of what is beautiful. If there is no mud, there is no lotus flower.

Self-sacrifice also has this dualistic quality. Thereís the muddy side, where a person continually sacrifices, in hopes of receiving some sort of reward. This is rooted in the sense-of-self; that voice that keeps screaming over and over, ďWhat about me?! I deserve more than this!Ē Itís torture. It is torture to believe that you deserve more than what youíre getting. The sense of injustice is insurmountable.

A lot of times it isnít even related to other people. We donít get what we want, so we blame God, universe, society or (worst of all) ourselves.

I know because Iíve experienced it time and time again. Iíve kept mental lists of the hundreds of times Iíve given or sacrificed, and noted the empty space in the ďwhat I got backĒ column. A few years ago, I started sacrificing with the purest intentions, but it started dragging me down because my human nature started making mud out of my sacrifice.

Conversely, sacrifice can spring up into a lotus flower. This happens when a person realizes that the imagined stuff she deserves is empty.

Sheís already receiving it. When she is serving others, she is serving herself. We are all the same creature. Itís only pure chance that you are in your body and someone else is in hers. Her unique set of brain chemicals and experiences made her what she is, and your unique set of brain chemicals and experiences made you what you are, but there is no difference in value.

If your consciousness were in that body, with that brain, having had those experiences, you would say and do the exact same things, and you would still be just as valuable as you are now. You are no different.

If itís possible to full realize that, then itís possible to actually feel that when you are serving another person, you are serving yourself. At which point, it is no longer a sacrifice, but it is an indulgence. The mud has become a blossom.

We are all suffering, and some of us are more skilled at dealing with the pain than others. With most people, it often ends with dealing with their own pain. The next step is to help others deal with theirs. Hatred and disgust at othersí lack of skill is just more mud. Compassion and understanding turn that mud into a blossom.

Itís hard. As long as I am part of a society that is constantly screaming, ďWhat about ME?!Ē itís incredibly tempting to add my voice to the noise. I never really say so outside of my own head, but thatís the place where it matters.

Anyway, thatís what I was thinking about off and on during morning services. I thought about how nice it would be to become a monk, but I donít think Iím destined for that kind of life. I may be destined to always live on the line, traveling back and forth between clarity and blindness, happiness and pain, the mud and the flower.

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Sunday, May. 11, 2008 at 6:09 PM