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Bricks

I have been feeling really cruddy the past few weeks (months/decades) and have been woe-is-me-ing a lot.  Which I really hate.  Most of the time I am a get-on-with-it kind of person.  Sure I have my crappy days but then who doesn’t?  Lately it’s been worse – whether that’s due to me coming off all my medications (duh – whose idea was that?  Oh wait, it was mine…double duh) or just life being slightly more annoying than normal.  I mean, I know I have depression, and that isn’t going to go away any time soon, but it is  sometimes harder to deal with and I get bogged down in wallowing and feeling shitty (sorry, lots of swearing today – feel free to censor).

A lot of my depression and general unease is due to anxiety – it is the root of all evil for me.  I know this, and yet I am not very good at doing anything about it.  I try not to worry, I try not to stress, I try not to absorb other people’s problems as my own.  I have conversations with myself about letting stuff go and not letting things get to me, not worrying about things that I can’t change.  But I am rubbish at not only listening to myself, but taking other people’s advice about de-stressing.

I’m also my own worst critic.  I think I suck, basically.  I compare myself to everyone else and beat myself up for “failing”.  Which is quite often NOT “failing” but just doing things differently.  I KNOW this – but still I feel bad and a bit useless.  Good enough isn’t good enough even though I think it is for everybody else.  I don’t treat anyone the way I treat myself.  If I was my own best friend, I would dump me.  I’m not very nice (to myself).

I’m going to try and sort that out this year.  I am.  I’m going to try very hard to be kinder to myself and accept me for me.  Which will be difficult.  It’s hard to see mistakes as lessons and “flaws” as individuality.  More than anything, I just want to be able to walk in a room and not feel like everyone is looking at me, thinking “Who’s this weirdo?”

The below extract was sent around our office by a colleague.  It’s from the book  Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung? by Ajahn Brahm, a Theravada Buddhist monk (he’s the Abott at the Monastery near my hometown…I think I may have met him once when he came in to my library a million years ago) who has written lots of books, supported the ordination of female monks, and basically been an all-round awesome guy.  He’s won the John Curtin Medal for his vision, leadership and service to the Australian community, and compiled an English-language guide to the Buddhist monastic code – the vinaya- which later became the basis for monastic discipline in many Theravadan monasteries in Western countries.  He’s a bit of an over-achiever really.  What a show off! 🙂

Anyway, the following excerpt is worth reading.  It makes you think about what “perfection” is (or isn’t) and how little negatives shouldn’t undermine the overwhelming, big positives.  I’m going to try and remember this, from now on : that I’m not perfect,
but that those little imperfections actually make me “me” and add up to the whole, not detract from it.  Wish me luck – I’m gonna need all the help I can get with this one.

Two Bad Bricks by Ajahn Brahm

“After we purchased the land for our monastery in 1983 we were broke. We were in debt. There were no buildings on the land, not even a shed. Those first few weeks we slept not on beds but on old doors we had bought cheaply from the salvage yard; we raised them on bricks at each corner to lift them off the ground. (There were no mattresses, of course — we were forest monks.)

The abbot had the best door, the flat one. My door was ribbed with a sizeable hole in the center where the doorknob would have been. I joked that now I wouldn’t need to get out of bed to go to the toilet! The cold truth was, however, that the wind would come up through that hole. I didn’t sleep much those nights.

We were poor monks who needed buildings. We couldn’t afford to employ a builder — the materials were expensive enough. So I had to learn how to build: how to prepare the foundations, lay concrete and bricks, erect the roof, put in the plumbing — the whole lot. I had been a theoretical physicist and high-school teacher in lay life, not used to working with my hands. After a few years, I became quite skilled at building, even calling my crew the BBC (“Buddhist Building Company”). But when I started it was very difficult.

It may look easy to lay a brick: a dollop of mortar underneath, a little tap here, a little tap there. But when I began laying bricks, I’d tap one corner down to make it level and another corner would go up. So I’d tap that corner down then the brick would move out of line. After I’d nudged it back into line, the first corner would be too high again. Hey, you try it!

Being a monk, I had patience and as much time as I needed. I made sure every single brick was perfect, no matter how long it took. Eventually, I completed my first brick wall and stood back to admire it. It was only then that I noticed— oh no! — I’d missed two bricks. All the other bricks were nicely in line, but these two were inclined at an angle. They looked terrible. They spoiled the whole wall. They ruined it.

By then, the cement mortar was too hard for the bricks to be taken out, so I asked the abbot if I could knock the wall down and start over again — or, even better, perhaps blow it up. I’d made a mess of it and I was very embarrassed. The abbot said no, the wall had to stay.

When I showed our first visitors around our fledgling monastery, I always tried to avoid taking them past my brick wall. I hated anyone seeing it. Then one day, some three or four months after I finished it, I was walking with a visitor and he saw the wall.

‘That’s a nice wall,’ he casually remarked. ‘Sir,’ I replied in surprise, ‘have you left your glasses in your car? Are you visually impaired? Can’t you see those two bad bricks which spoil the whole wall?’

What he said next changed my whole view of that wall, of myself, and of many other aspects of life. He said, “Yes. I can see those two bad bricks. But I can see the 998 good bricks as well.’

I was stunned. For the first time in over three months, I could see other bricks in that wall apart from the two mistakes. Above, below, to the left and to the right of the bad bricks were good bricks, perfect bricks. Moreover, the perfect bricks were many, many more than the two bad bricks. Before, my eyes would focus exclusively on my two mistakes; I was blind to everything else. That was why I couldn’t bear looking at that wall, or having others see it. That was why I wanted to destroy it. Now that I could see the good bricks, the wall didn’t look so bad after all. It was, as the visitor had said, ‘a nice brick wall.’ It’s still there now, twenty years later, but I’ve forgotten exactly where those bad bricks are. I literally cannot see those mistakes any more.

How many people end a relationship or get divorced because all they can see in their partner are ‘two bad bricks’? How many of us become depressed or even contemplate suicide, because all we can see in ourselves are ‘two bad bricks.’ In truth, there are many, many more good bricks, perfect bricks — above, below, to the left and to the right of the faults — but at times we just can’t see them. Instead, every time we look our eyes focus exclusively on the mistakes. The mistakes are all we see, they’re all we think are there and so we want to destroy them. And sometimes, sadly, we do destroy a ‘very nice wall.’

We’ve all got our two bad bricks, but the perfect bricks in each one of us are much, much more than the mistakes. Once we see this, things aren’t so bad. Not only can we live at peace with ourselves, inclusive of our faults, but we can also enjoy living with a partner. This is bad news for divorce lawyers, but good news for you.

I have told this anecdote many times. After one occasion, a builder came up to me and told me a professional secret. ‘We builders always make mistakes,’ he said, ‘But we tell our clients that it is “an original feature” with no other house in the neighbourhood like it. And then we charge them a couple of thousand dollars extra!’

So the ‘unique features’ in your house probably started out as mistakes. In the same way, what you might take to be mistakes in yourself, in your partner, or in general, can become ‘unique features,’ enriching your time here — once you stop focusing on them exclusively.”

You can read more about Ajahn Brahm HERE.

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4 thoughts on “Bricks

  1. Well you just hang in there. You have something to offer and you have proven that by sharing a story. Do you know Leonard Cohen’s famous lyrics ‘ forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’ There is lots of good in you. I try to surround myself by people and things that bring me joy. Day by day is all we have. Hope today has parts that are good for you.

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