There is nothing I cannot afford

December 20th, 2016

Iimages 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.

Swimming with crocodiles

December 15th, 2016

img_20161212_105438Machito, a local fisherman, met me at the little thatch-roofed visitors hut in San Crisanto – a ramshackle itty bitty village on the long sandspit between the lagoon and the wide Gulf of Mexico. He rolled up on his bike, with a second bike in tow for me. I droppedmy beach bag and water bottle into his basket and we bounced down the sandy path to the boat launch, followed by two mexican women in a car who were also along for the 50-peso tour of los manglares.

Machito ferried us through the mangrove forest’s clear streams, pointing out trees and termite nests and giant ferns and fishes. After a dreamy half hour we docked at the cenote and I climbed down into the cool clear water, to swim with the giant tarpon fish that washed into the cenote during the hurricane of 2004, and got trapped there and bred. I asked Machito if it was OK to swim into the mangrove stream and he said sure, just try not to touch bottom and stir up the silt. I drifted through the clear shallow stream through schools of pretty little fish. No hay cocodrillos? I called. He laughed. Read the rest of this entry »

In the chair with Dr. Jesus

December 10th, 2016

img_20161206_161728I did two hours in the chair today w Dr Jesus. Dr. J and his dental tag team: wife Claudia, Gina, and the lovely Mar, whose Mayan eyes I have fallen in love with over her green paper mask. That was session number 4, with two or three more still to come. I recline in the chair to a wash of Mozart, Phil Collins videos, and easy Spanish banter. No pain, no heavy drugs.  Team Jesus are total pros.

I am a dental tourist. This is the main reason for my 3-week residency in Mérida, in the Mexican Yucatan. I am here, like lots of gringos, to get my teeth fixed for a smidgen of what i’d pay at home as an outside-the-box Canadian. I have standard MSP of course, but dental’s not included – I guess because, as my friend Chris says, a holdover from the day when teeth were a luxury. Read the rest of this entry »

Bici en Merida

December 5th, 2016

img_20161204_112908I am trudging down a back street in Merida, Yucatan, sucking a lime popsicle and dribbling sweat. I spot a handmade sign out front of a mom’pop storefront: Rentas Bicicletas. In the cool shade of the shop a family is stringing Christmas lights. I spy a sweet little wine-purple step-thru cruiser.  Papa Alejandro cranks the seat up a bit higher for me and I am sold. I rumble off down the cobblestones, cool breeze lifting the sweat from my skin. As if it could be any other way.

But in fact, I had actually almost resigned myself to navigating Merida on foot. Cycling in Merida looked terrifying. Buses and mini-buses, diesel-spewing trucks, cars, motorcycles, horsecarts, all crammed into the teeming downtown streets. Hibbledy-jibbledy pavement, potholes, cobblestones, random piles of trash. High curbs with no curb-cuts to the sidewalk, and treacherous foot-wide gutters alongside. Careening in and out between the buses and horse carts: bicycle cowboys on bmx’s and clunky mountainbikes, plus cargo-trike vendors loaded down with water jugs, baskets of fresh bread, loads of tomatoes and pineapples. Basically, chaos – in an unknown city, in a language i barely understand. Read the rest of this entry »

Dreaming of a small world

November 7th, 2016

I dream of a world where people live small. It’s happening. It’s a meme.ben-chuns-friends-tiny-house

Small houses, small gardens, small vehicles, small pleasures. Small incomes. Small needs.

My path is to live and to model that life. Enrich my networks. Take care of what I have and get rid of what I don’t need. Place myself in situations of humility and of trust: monasteries, communities, neighbourhoods, islands. You can’t be small in isolation. Living small means asking for help, accepting it, giving it back.

My caution is to resist letting my needs mushroom mindlessly. The goal is to simply stay small.


My dental vacation

October 11th, 2016

angrymolarThe angry molar is gone. In its place is a stitched excavation bleeding into a wad of gauze. Before Dr. Loo yanked it out I ran my tongue over its pitted surface one last time and thanked it kindly for almost five decades of loyal service, but when he asked me if i wanted to keep it for a souvenir, i declined. It was a good long run but it’s over.

I could rant on about the scam that is the dental industry but I won’t. Well actually i will. It pisses me off that the only people who get all their dental bills paid for them are the ones who can easily afford to have their own teeth fixed. If you work for a corporation or institution you make a fat wage, plus get your teeth fixed and your glasses bought and a year off to tend to your babies. Self-employed people, or part-timers or wage slaves, have to foot their own bills and those bills are high. I’m not talking about cosmetic dentistry, I’m talking about the care we need to maintain our health and our livelihoods. It’s not easy getting a job, let alone a date, with no front teeth. But Canadian medicare covers none of it. Why? Who knows? Read the rest of this entry »

The monkish (married?) life

September 4th, 2016

buslife2I’m living the monk’s life in my green turtle bus, up on the bluff over the lagoon.

Wake up, chop wood and carry water, wash my panties in a pail and hang them to dry in the sun. Sit a bit, stretch a bit, watch the tides roll out and in. Out, and in. Soak some beans, then boil them slowly on the two-burner hotplate, seasoned with garden tomatoes, zucchini and herbs. Eat. Wash. Empty toilet bucket into pit. Sleep. Start again.

I wonder how my monk life will mesh with my married life … I wonder, but can’t know. The beauty is, we are grownups. We make up the rules.  It is my life, it is our life, it is art: all one grand experiment.

Carmen getting hitched

August 10th, 2016

dc-collage-signed-smDig this: Carmen is getting married. Yes you heard that right: CARMEN is getting MARRIED.

I’ve been super skittish about outing myself on this because frankly, it is about the scariest thing i’ve ever done in my life (and i’ve done some pretty scary things).

What is most scary about it I realize – what is actually flipping my stomach over and keeping me awake nights – is not that i don’t want to do it, or that i think it is a bad idea. I’m into it. What is scaring the living shit out of me is that getting married totally messes with the carefully constructed edifice of identity that i have spent 53 years building up. I swore I would never do this, and ha ha, the gods laughed. (The gods on their mountain snicker into their sleeves when they hear the words ‘never’ and ‘forever’.) Read the rest of this entry »

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