How Drinking with the Buddha Helped Me Survive This Year’s Back-To-School Churn

Image based on Lodro Rinzler's book and designed by Daniel Urban Brown of Lithographs. Image based on Lodro Rinzler's book and designed by Daniel Urban Brown of Lithographs.

“Mom!!” rings from every corner of my small world. The couch, the top of the bunk bud, the bathroom, the kitchen table, and via Facetime and relentless texts.

The 10 year old: “We have two book reports. I thought we only had one book report, and I have only read fiction. I need to read a nonfiction. I like fiction. And my backpack is ripped. I found a new backpack on Amazon; would you look at it now?”

The 12 year old: “I don’t have to do the summer math assignments. I just don’t. My teacher told me we wouldn’t have a summer math homework. And that’s what I am going to tell my teacher when I start at the new school.”

The 19 year old, “Lehigh has frozen my account. I can’t change my classes. I don’t know what books to order. Mom! Classes start in 10 days and I CAN’T GET INTO MY ACCOUNT.”

The 22 year old: “I’m going to need a suit for internship interviews. What do you think?”

The husband: “We're out of A1. Add that to the list. And did the plumber show up to fix the cracked sewer pipe in the basement?”

The dog: "Can we go for a walk now? I smell rabbits! How about now?"

All this in the span of 30 minutes.

Last week, every time I tried to be still and in the moment, every time I tried to let-it-pass through me, every time I thought "I’ve got this," the image of me gripping the edge of a sailboat taking on dangerous volumes as it forged through swelling, brackish waters barreled into my mind. So much for the meditation practice. I’ve been sitting on that pillow, acknowledging my thoughts and going back to the breath for three months now, and August is still swallowing me up.

I am not alone. There are countless other moms (and dads and care givers!) around the globe in the midst of what I have experienced every summer since our oldest started preschool in 1997. The Back-To-School Churn. The specific problems are unique, but the underlying, twisting, pressure cooker isn't. Turn up the heat; this ain’t a July BBQ.

As I dropped my daughter Natalie off at the college bookstore (Oh, yes. I got the account unfrozen—all it took was some more money. I am not going there right now; let’s leave it at a tax return that never got filed.), a title on the “Buy Two, Get the Third Free” shelf caught my eye. The Buddha Walks Into a Bar. I smiled and turned the cover toward Natalie, “This one is for me.”

And no matter your particular faith, Lodro Rinzler explanation makes a whole lot of sense: “You may not have ultimate enlightenment as your goal right now. That’s cool. Really. However, if you want to open your heart more fully, learn to work with strong emotions that keeping coming up, or just cut down on stress, you can use shamatha as a tool to loosen the addiction to buying into the never-ending display of our mind.

“Here’s an illustration of how it works. If you’re at home, go fill up a glass of water. If you’re not, just use your imagination for a moment. That crystal clear water is akin to our natural state. It is brilliant and without a ripple on it.

“Now if you drop some dirt into your glass of water, things start to get messy. Particularly if you take a spoon and stir that dirt up. Try it!

“This dirt tornado is symbolic of how we treat our mind on a daily basis. When a strong thought or emotion comes up, we spit it out into a thousand different scenarios.”

I am in the swirling mass of clumps of dirt that my beloved offspring are not sure how to handle. The knee jerk response is to look at the mud that is clinging to them and scrape it off as quickly as possible and fling it at Mom because Mom has been there forever, making things okay. Handing them a goldfish cracker, wiping their noses, scrubbing the spitified mulch off their faces after epic face plants off the park swing. And here’s the deal: I have always wanted to be Mom. I knew I wanted children as a middle schooler, and I wouldn’t trade being a mom for anything. But that doesn’t mean that August can’t present some challenges sometimes.

I take an exercise class twice a week with a trainer who also happens to be trained in craniosacral massage, and she is totally awesome. I limped into class last week at the height of the August Churn with a pulled groin, determined to get out of the house. She took one look at me, laughed, and said, “How we doing?”

After class, Kerri kneaded lightly at my lactic acid–filled muscles, and I told myself firmly that sending a roundhouse to the side of her head so that the pain would stop would be counter productive. She then dug her elbow into the knotted pit just to the right of my navel. This is where your mother energy resides. “You are blocked.”

“No crap.”

And then the pit released just a bit.

After, I walked, limping a little less, to my car.

Like most humans on the planet, I am working at remaining centered, but sometimes the clumps of mud I generate and those generously shared with me stick. They won't last forever, and really, each is an opportunity to grab a stool next to the Buddha and say, “I’d like a glass of water, please. Still”

Rinzler, Lodro. The Buddha Walks Into A Bar…A Guide to Life For a New Generation. Shambhala Publishers, 2012.

Love the tee-shirt, you can get your own, here.


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