Thursday, May 28, 2009

Buddhism on Trial 5/28/09

It’s a thin line between being a Buddhist and being a serial killer: that’s what I’ve learned this week, in my quest for that LA spiritual enlightenment that everyone is seeking here.

If in doubt, buy the book: that’s always been my motto. I’m not someone who buys the book, puts it on a shelf and forgets about the messages therein. I buy them, devour them, and put them into practice within the hour. Hence, I bought Alan Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Drinking, and stopped drinking. I bought Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat! which is about screenwriting, and came to Hollywood to put the tools into practice.

Okay, so I don’t do things by halves, but please keep me away from that section of the bookstore titled Bonsai for Beginners, as I really don’t want to spend the next 10 years fiddling about with small trees in my kitchen sink.

A mini personal crisis led me to believe that I needed to live a calmer life, so off I went to my local Borders bookstore this week in search of things that might help me. I drank my “Calming” Yogi tea beforehand, which stressed me out a bit, because no sooner had I set out on my walk than I needed a bathroom.

I had also taken my calming herbal Kava Kava pills, which have replaced two bottles of wine as a means of soothing my nerves, and although I could feel them regurgitating in my chest, thought about the good they were doing me and just breathed deeply: calm, calm.

Then I arrived at the store and wanted to knock the head off the small child who was screaming for sweets. Why do parents take small kids shopping when it is clear to anyone with half a brain (not to mention no kids) that they absolutely hate it and are always going to kick up a fuss about something?

But calm, calm, I said, as I headed towards the spiritual/new age religion section and chose about 20 books that were to be the foundation of creating the new me. I stocked up on some more movie books, too, and a few novels and travel books. I was feeling very good in my new skin.

Two hours later, I took them to the cash register, deposited them and told the assistant I was headed for the restroom (you see how American I have become? I no longer “go to the loo”; I am now “headed for the restroom”). He assured me that my books would be fine and that I could pay for them upon my return.

So, ablutions completed, I went back downstairs, only to discover that my two hours’ worth of research had all been put back on the shelves. “Where are my books?” I squealed. No, if I’m honest, I screamed. Louder than the child. “Oh for goodness sake you turn your back for one minute and your life’s ruined and if I wanted this kind of shit I’d have stayed in Britain and whatever happened to customer service and look at the time . . . “ Calm, calm.

Two hours more again, I had pretty much recouped my selection and re-grouped emotionally. I returned to my apartment, sweaty, with, I am sure, high blood pressure, and set about reading Buddhism for Dummies.

The little I knew about Buddhism, I had always liked, although, with my new 7 stone 7 lb frame (yes, more loss – and please stop e-mailing checking on whether I have anorexia; no, I don’t), the weight thing might be an issue. You know: did I have to turn into an overweight, squat person in order to practise Buddhism? I have always suspected that the reason the obese Buddha sat down, cross-legged, to meditate, was because he was too fat to stand, and I’d been down that path enough in life to know that it wasn’t where I wanted to return.

Some years ago, I learned Transcendental Meditation and adhered quite strictly to Ayurvedic principles (an Indian philosophy that really does reap physical, emotional and spiritual benefits in day to day life). I read books by Deepak Chopra, a well known proponent of Ayurveda, and it was through re-reading him that I had become interested in Buddhism again. I also bought Chopra’s novel, Buddha, but thought that Buddhism for Dummies might be an easier way in.

It was. As I made my way through Chapter 1, I instantly took to my new philosophical path. I liked the non-dogmatism and the easily applicable principles: creating the right kind of mental attitude in order to bring about a better quality of life. I was on the floor and crossing my legs before you could sing Karma Karma Karma Karma Karma Chameleon (I wonder if Boy George got the idea for that song by reading Buddhism for Dummies?).

By lunchtime, I had Buddhism sorted. So much so, that I booked Judaism for Dummies to consume with the next day’s breakfast. Off I went to the bank on Wilshire Boulevard, singing along to Mika, the happiest I had been in some weeks.

Now, despite the efficient service I have found everywhere in LA, the one thing my bank has difficulty with is the transfer of money in and out of Europe. The idea that Europe would be in anyone’s minds in the LA climate is something of an anathema to them here, and this transmutes into the bank staff’s lack of enthusiasm for dealing with another ontinent.

Had I asked my guy to pilot the next space shuttle, he could not have looked more terrified, nor been slower at working out what went where. Already late for an appointment, I wasn’t so much tapping my fingers as putting them through my pockets in search of a handy weapon that might speed things along a bit.

One of the fundamentals of Buddhism is that pain and suffering are caused through our attachment to permanence, which is, in reality, only an illusion; and that when we let go of that pursuit of permanence, we will be happier. Try telling that to a would-be convert when a bank clerk is permanently stuck on the $ to £ conversion key on his computer.

No longer able to stand it, I did what any self-respecting citizen would do and took action. By now, I am sure the LAPD will have got there to untie everyone in time for the weekend. Me, I’ll be reading The Krays' biography.

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