Life is Like a Bowl of Cheerios, and More I Learned From Buddha
Buddha dumbs it down for Pen Name Jane's simple brain. But not enough.
When I was pregnant with my firstborn, my husband, my mother and I came to the decision that instead of the home birth that I desired, I would have the baby at a birth center. It was an agreeable compromise. They were both nervous about a home birth, and I was nervous about a hospital one.
My husband and I were not sure if our insurance company was going to pay for the birth center, even though it was about $6,000 less than an uncomplicated hospital birth. I procrastinated doing the paperwork because I didn’t want to find out that it wasn't covered. Instead, I preferred to have anxiety adrenaline pop my eyes open every morning at 5 a.m. worrying that we were going to have to come up with $4,000 on our own.
We got the news back from the insurance company. The birth was going to cost us $35. Finally I can rest easy, I thought.
The very next morning at 5 a.m. my eyes popped open and I thought, Oh no, what if I am unable to nurse my baby? My anxiety brain forcibly kicked the rest of me out of bed, and I sat slumped at my dining room table groggily shoving spoonfuls of Cheerios into my mouth.
Then as I loaded my spoon with O’s and pulled them up from the milk, Pop, a bunch more Cheerios filled the space in the bowl where the other ones had been. My mind exploded.
Apparently inebriated from the toxic mixture of adrenaline, hormones and exhaustion, I drunkenly gazed down at my cereal bowl and experienced multiple epiphanies (only a select few talented women can have them.)
The bowl appeared the size of a Ferris wheel in front of me announcing: This is your mind on anxiety. You get rid of one problem and — Pop! — another one eagerly takes its place.
In that moment I comprehended that I was addicted to anxiety. It wasn’t that I had an unusually bad life, although that year had been particularly stressful, but that worry was the state my brain felt comfortable in, like my brain was chewing its cud with my adrenaline:
Frontal Lobe: I’m bored, what should we do today?
Medulla Oblongata: Let’s jolt her awake at 5 a.m. with anxiety.
Cerebral Cortex: Pick something really extreme like the idea that food coloring will make her children so hyper they will spin around like the Tasmanian Devil until they spontaneously combust.
Hippocampus: Do none of you remember that we did that yesterday by making her think she had a brain tumor?
Amygdala (damaged): Let’s go BASE jumping!
Basal Ganglia: Ugg!
Secondly and a little quieter, I understood that anxiety was simply the desire to control future outcomes. And if anxiety is desire then I had to remove it.
A few years earlier I had learned my first lesson about desire. At the time my husband and I were living on Red Dog Beer and cheap cigarettes in a 150-year-old apartment in Savannah’s historic district. Every week we had to haul our clothes to a scary laundromat that I swore reused other people’s dirty water to “clean” our clothes, and I would dream, just dream of having my own washer and dryer. I promised every god in the universe that if I got them I would never ask for another thing ever again.
Finally we had the money to buy a washer and dryer. The week they were installed I was twinkling, light and airy, filled with glee, and smelling of Gain (Original Scent). I got what I wanted. I wanted. I got. I was satisfied.
And then it hit the very next week: I want bigger and better and more, more, more. It took seven days for me to decide that since we owned our own washer and dryer, we really needed our own house to put them in.
I was as desperate for a house as I was for a washer and dryer. Why? In that moment I had an ant’s comprehension of Buddha’s Noble Truth about Suffering: to end suffering, one must end desire. Not because desiring things are bad but because desire in itself is insatiable.
Desire is a bowl of Cheerios: If you remove one, another just pops up in its place.
Now how do I end desire?
I really want to end it. I do. I do. I really, really do.
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