I sent out a dispatch to my Bicycle Buddha list. I wrote, “If you’re passing through the Bay Area, come visit me at the San Francisco Zen Center. Come sit zazen with me, then take me out for a fancy coffee—cuz I can’t afford lattes on monk’s wages.”
“Hi,” a friend shot back. “With an inheritance that allows you to travel to Mexico to get your teeth fixed and then fly kitty corner across a continent and then off to a zen centre for 4 months I truly think that you should give up this “cuz I sure can’t afford lattes on monk’s wages.”
Ouch! Called out, and deservedly.
“Can’t afford it” is actually one of my personal Banned Phrases, that slipped out in one small-minded moment. “Can’t afford it” – what bullshit! Of course I can “afford” a latte if I want one. I just need to make the decision to buy myself a caffeinated treat, and if the cash is in my pocket, then afforded it shall be. No cash, no worries—everyone takes debit. My San Francisco latte will come in a chic mason jar, with options of honey and cream. The price chalked on the board beside the precious daily blends will be my hourly wage at the bike store, but if I want it, I can have it. And I will even throw down an extra buck for soy milk, cuz it’s so much better that way.
In consideration of the steep US dollar exchange rate, I might choose to order the coffee and take a pass on the four-dollar pastry. Or I might decide that I would prefer to spend my stipend on a jar of peanut butter today, or on a new felt pen. Or I might decide to simply appreciate the delicious aroma wafting from the coffee shop, then redirect my energy and walk on. No matter what I do, I will do it by choice. I must resist the temptation to surrender my power to money. I must not indulge in woe-is-me whining, or allow myself to cower in poverty mentality. While i may or may not spend my monk’s pennies on fancy coffees, that choice belongs entirely to me. There are lots of things I won’t spend money on but there is nothing in this world I can’t afford. If I don’t choose to put monetary or other energy toward something, then clearly it is not something I really want. I can “afford” anything my heart recognises as valid.
For example, I was reluctant to spend most of my small inheritance on dental work. I might have said “I can’t afford it”, and continued to ignore the situation and wait for the next dental emergency to happen. However, my higher intelligence recognised that my long-term health is something I cannot afford to not afford, and I am proud to say I listened to that inner voice. I decided to make dental work a priority, researched my options, and finally flew to Mexico to visit Dr. Jesus. When I chose to direct my creative energy toward it, dental work became something I could afford.
Of course, as my friend pointed out, I cannot deny that I come from a place of privilege. I won the lottery merely by being born in Canada, to a relatively stable middle-class family. For this I am enormously grateful and I do not take my karmic fortune for granted. But I also believe that even the most challenged among us have the dignity of choice. Some people are born in the worst of circumstances and yet manage to live fully and joyfully, while others are born to wealth and position but live their lives as slaves. Our life path is not determined by income. Choice is a function of mind: we can always choose to choose.
When I sent out my message I received replies with offers of visits, coffees, and even a fancy brunch date. Some of my benefactors are old friends and some are folks I’ve never met in person, new windows and doors opening wide. Generosity flowing forth, spiced by friendly curiosity. Dana as energy to be invested and repaid, with interest.
I sit now at my cousin Bobby’s house in Cozumel. My shiny new teeth just spent the day clenched around a snorkel as I goggled at rainbow-coloured fish. Tomorrow I fly to Seattle, and then trickle south to San Francisco to study dharma ’til spring. I chose this, and I did not choose this. This is my life, and it is all i can afford.