Bob Dylan: DesireSo, here’s something: When is it better to give up on something you’re pretty sure you’d like in life than to continue the crazymaking pursuit of it? By now I understand that true and lasting happiness is a state of mind, that it doesn’t come from anything external. Still, I do feel happy and at peace when I’m able to arrange my life in a certain way, when I’ve got all the pieces lined up pretty nicely—not perfectly, that would be impossible. Not permanently, everything ends.

I’ve never considered myself one of those people who can never be happy. The more you have, the more you want, they say. One can never be satisfied. I disagree. I actually think it is possible to be happy, at peace, satisfied—mentally, yes, but even in the material sense—that there’s such a thing as enough. In most areas of my life, I am content. I realize how very lucky I am to be able to say that.

The one area where I struggle most is love. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m loved. I love my friends and my family and my cat and my life; I even love myself, at least sometimes. You know what I mean: I want a boyfriend.

There, I’ve said it.

Was that hard to say? In a way, yes. I have a hard time asking for what I want. For one thing, I see it as a failure to be happy not wanting. And, while I’m learning to be unattached to my desires, I still don’t like to fail at my goals. (At least I didn’t say I need a boyfriend!)

I know I’ve written about learning to be fine with being single. It took me a lot of work over the past few years to get to that point, and to be completely honest, I cheated. I had a crutch, a pretty special man who loved me for much of that time. We weren’t boyfriends. We didn’t see each other all that often, and we saw other people. We both hovered between “single” and “it’s complicated.” He came to my Singles Awesomeness Day party, at which we all celebrated our singledom, and stayed over. I know, right?

You are the love of your life...yes youSo, basically, my being fine with being single was…I wouldn’t say a lie, just not really being put to the test. I wasn’t quite single, not all the way. It was more that I was fine with not having a traditional relationship. And even that’s not entirely true. I wanted more from him and felt like I couldn’t get it (for lots of reasons I won’t get into here), so I adapted. As wonderful as our times together were, that part of it made me sad. I felt like I lost something of myself in the adapting. And I lost him anyway.

When I think about the sadness I experience chasing not only love, but any kind of desire, I have to wonder when it’s worth it. Over the past few years, I’ve been learning to give up attachment to finding happiness outside myself, learning to love purely by not wanting to get something from others, breaking my pattern of grasping after love, abandoning jealousy, embracing impermanence and emptiness…so, in many ways, this boy was a great teacher. I mean that sincerely. He came into my life at the perfect time. And I have to believe he left it at the perfect time.

I am not at all sure I’ll ever find another guy like him, a kind, super-sexy man who made me feel loved and held, understood and accepted so fully. People keep telling me the Universe (they say it like it should be capitalized) will provide for me; they are convinced I will find the perfect man. I hope to, but I can’t count on it. That’s just reality. I’ve set the bar really high. It is one of life’s cruel ironies that by the time one learns how to truly love (and how to screen potential dates really well), the possibilities narrow for lots of logical reasons. I’m not a pessimist, yet I know, just as I know I’ll never make the Olympic gymnastics team, I may have reached “peak dating,” “peak sex,” and “peak boyfriend” in my life. Or not.

Dave X Robb lying on the sand in CarmelBeing with someone unboyfriendable, I’d half-convinced myself I didn’t care if I had a real boyfriend. But I do. I mean it when I say I’ll be fine (more than fine) if it doesn’t happen, but it would sure be nice. That’s my desire.

Some people mistakenly think Buddhism teaches desire is bad. I used to think that. Desire is not a problem; uncontrolled desire is. Is it possible to have desire without attachment? I think so. As long as I can hold my wish without getting all crazy around it, I should be fine. Yeah, so easy-peasy.




Cosmology painting, Thimphu Dzong, BhutanHappy Lunar New Year! I know it was a couple days ago. As I’m fond of saying, any day is a good day to start again…assuming you want to start again. Which reminds me, Lent  began Wednesday. If you missed it and ate a big bag of M&Ms that day like I did, just start now.

And then there’s Valentine’s Day. That was a week ago. I keep missing blog-post opportunities in my head; but then, nothing is ever wasted. I got one of those year-in-review things in the mail today from a friend, and it included the 2013 year in review too. See? It’s never too late.

I went to a wonderful, funny, warm, wise talk on Valentine’s Day called Healing the Heart through Love. You didn’t have to have a broken heart to get something out of it, lucky for me, since my heart is in pretty good shape these days.

What stood out most was not the number of times the speaker, Gen Kelsang Chokyi, used the word “panacea”—although it was high; I think she said it something like 6 times—but the way she used it. Have you ever heard “panacea” used without the words “not a”? Have you ever heard someone say “such-and-such is a panacea”?

Angkor, CambodiaChokyi did. Six times. She said love is a panacea. It will heal whatever ails you. And you know what? She’s right.

Before you jump all over me and say love is to blame for the most painful heartbreak you’ve ever been through, hang on. Define “love.” Here’s how I define it: Love is wanting someone else to be happy. (Remember that from 2012?) The pain we commonly associate with love, that other thing that breaks your heart, hurts, stinks, is so confusing, is a battlefield? That’s attachment: wanting something from the other person.

Now that we’ve got that straight, let’s see if love really is a panacea. Well, where do our problems and suffering come from? Our problems don’t come from outside. They come from our self-grasping and self-cherishing mind, wishing ourself to be happy, usually while neglecting others, except maybe a few choice others whom we like because they make us happy.

Here’s a quote I love from 8th-century Buddhist scholar Shantideva:

All the happiness there is in this world
Arises from wishing others to be happy,
And all the suffering there is in this world
Arises from wishing ourself to be happy

We suffer because we are self-absorbed. Sorry to break it to you. But actually, that’s good news. It means we can do something about it. Shantideva also famously said, and I paraphrase, we can try to cover the whole world in leather or we can put on a pair of shoes. We don’t have to change the whole world in order to be happy; we just change ourself. Direct your attention to wanting others to be happy—to love—and see what happens.


When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.

—Lao Tzu

I HEARD THIS QUOTE the other day, and it reminded me of a feeling that keeps coming back to me these days: that I am lacking nothing. I have health, happiness, peace of mind, and love. I have wonderful living conditions. I have a lot of things I don’t need, but that I like. I have enough.

My life is so good. I realize that might seem boring. So much of life for many of us is wrapped up in the pursuit of things—things to acquire, to accomplish, to see and do. What if we decided we’ve got all we need and we are doing enough? It could be an uncomfortable thought. A lot of people seem to thrive on striving for more.

bucket_list_antarcticaI could, if I had to, try writing a bucket list of things I’d like to do, experiences I haven’t had, places I’ve never been, things I want that I don’t have…but I am long past thinking I can find real happiness externally. Moments of it, sure. I like to travel and experience new things as much as the next guy. But I don’t require such things to be happy or to feel my life is complete.

There is a manic, YOLO quality to some of these bucket lists. You may (or may not) only live once, and you’re smart to not want to waste your human life. But does that mean we need to rush through life chasing after everything that grabs our attention?

A part of the thrill seems to come from checking things off the bucket list. There’s a little endorphin rush. I get it. But are we valuing the destination over the journey? (I just discovered a wonderful New Yorker article on bucket lists, inspired by President Obama’s stop at Stonehenge, that asks similar questions.)

I wonder if anybody has ever completed everything on their bucket list. Then what? Does completion bring fulfillment? Or depression? It seems to be in the nature of these lists to be never-completed. Our desires cannot be sated by accumulating experiences, so we keep adding more.

Fuck itThere is something a little sad about all this. Bucket lists say “This will make me happy.” If you ever take the time to read many of them (there are websites and apps where you can do that), you might be struck by how many list the same predictable things: skydiving, mountain climbing, visiting every continent. Usually things that cost money.

It’s nice to have goals and make plans. I’m glad people are thinking about what will give their life meaning. But that’s the thing—often with these lists, nothing seems very meaningful. It’s all very self-centered. Where are the bucket lists about healing the world or helping to improve the lives of others?

There seems to be an implied presumption on the part of bucket-listers that they (a) are entitled to do or achieve or experience anything they can dream up and (b) will live long enough to accomplish it all (or die trying). Sounds to me like a recipe for extreme frustration.

tikkerNone of us knows how much time we have left. People die unexpectedly all the time. Taking that quiz on Facebook that tells you at what age you’ll die won’t save you (and, sorry to break it to you, but it tells everyone they’ll live to be over 110); nor will the watch that purports to count down how much time you have left. (The person who steps in front of a bus because they’re checking how much time they have left will be very disappointed!)

There are things I would like to do before I die, but nothing I can’t live without doing. There are things I might like to have, but there is nothing more I need. I would like to live a long life—by some standards, I already have—but I know I might not. That’s life.


Shelter from the Storm

Barbra Streisand: PeopleWHERE DO WE GO for refuge? There is a Buddhist answer to that question, and it’s a good one—the three jewels: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha—and though that ought to be enough for me, I find that I still rely on another source of refuge in my life.


What do I mean by refuge? For me, it’s about finding a place where I can feel supported, especially when I am not strong enough on my own. It’s a place where I can let my guard down, be exposed and vulnerable, and know I will be loved. Shelter from the storm: we all need that. I hope I can provide it for others, too.

This idea became clear to me recently when the three people in my life who I consider most important to my feeling grounded and loved happened to be, all at the same time, away or otherwise unavailable for a spell. Lucky for me, I have a lot of wonderful friends who contribute to making me happy, so I was not alone. I am also a whole lot better than I used to be at being on my own and knowing that I am always connected, so there was that, too. It was not a crisis, in other words.

But it was interesting. It was really striking to have that small support network of mine temporarily unavailable. It made me realize how much I rely on them, and how lucky I am. I wish everyone could be so lucky.

People want to be supported unconditionally. I guess that is one of the big attractions of marriage. I am skeptical of the notion that we can find one person to provide all that we need, forever. I’m not even sold on Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracksthe idea that we need anything from anyone—ideally, we wouldn’t, and I’d like to get to the point of experiencing the truth of that. But until I reach such an enlightened state, I am glad for my support system. It’s nice.

So many people in our culture make a fuss about finding that special one, what we used to call a “soulmate.” (Does anyone still use that word, or have they all been laughed off the dating websites?) One is the loneliest number. Who decided that one is enough? And does anyone honestly believe that there is only one person in the universe we are destined to find and stick with for life? Dating is challenging enough without the pressure to find the supposed one in 7,236,660,000 you could be happy with.

I was reading something recently about arranged marriages in India. I don’t claim to be an expert on the topic, not by a long shot, and I know these things are fraught with problems—gender and economic inequities and so forth. Despite that, it got me thinking. We modern Americans tend to look down on the idea as limiting individual freedom (Gasp! The horror!), but looked at a certain way (theoretically, at least), there could also be a very nice element to arranged marriage: an attempt by society to match people up, to be sure no one ends up onKurt Vonnegut: Slapstick their own (unless they want to be). Yes, I know that’s not how it always works in practice. That said, I’ve read studies showing people in arranged marriages generally tend to be happier and are more likely to stay together. I’ll bet the lack of unreal expectations is a factor. Love the one you’re with.

So, maybe not marriage, but wouldn’t it be nice if everybody could count on having someone they could count on? It seems like human nature to seek refuge in each other. I remember long ago reading something along those lines by Kurt Vonnegut, some kind of scheme to match people up. Lonesome no more! And so it goes.



flowers_sTEN DAYS ON, AND I am feeling good. It started with my decision to start writing on here again on a schedule; my blocking out on the calendar a full day a month to write—yes, a writing retreat; getting all my materials from last year’s online writing classes together; and recommitting to writing, at least some, daily.

I also have been going to yoga and meditating regularly again; and working in the yard, going to the movies, and playing again. I’m reading more. I’m doing nice things for myself. Even work is sort of better. Basically, I have gone back to applying some effort toward being mindful of how I spend my time. Life. It’s an unfinished project, but I am getting better at it.

Since my last post, I met with my biggest writer-cheerleader friend and was greatly encouraged. I got a facial. I met with my new writing group and was encouraged even more. I worked in the yard. I did fun things with friends. I had my writing retreat! I’ve kept busy (but not lazy busy) and haven’t been able to do everything I’d like to—that would be impossible—but it’s a nice feeling to know that my time is being well spent.

What works best for me when I feel like I can’t get a good grip on my time is to make a list. I write down those things I want to get done that day or that weekend or that week or that month (it can be good to have a few lists going for the different time frames). Then I prioritize the list, roughly.

There’s always more on it than can possibly be done, but that’s actually a good thing. Why? Because that gives me ideas of things to do—and permission to do them—if I don’t feel like doing the other thing on the list that I thought I should be doing. As I see it, as long as it’s on the list, I can do it and feel like I’m spending my time well. If it’s not on the list, I don’t do it; either that or I realize it should have been on the list and I just forgot or changed my mind.

Dave X Robb in Munich AirportFor me, there’s this delicate balance between structure and fluidity. I want to put some effort into life, using my time wisely; but I also want to be supple in the way I go about it, feeling free to change course, to have options, to follow my mood if it changes, as it inevitably does.

And I don’t want to do too much. I want to feel good about being productive, but I also want to feel good about everything, including those times when I’m needing a break from getting so much done. That happened to me last weekend after I got home from class late Sunday. I’d had two busy, productive, and immensely fulfilling (not to mention sunny) days in a row, with back-to-back trips to Oakland and lots of emotion (mostly happy, some sad) and crushing on guys and overlapping appointments and all whatnot, and when I finally landed at home on the couch, I crashed.

With ice cream. And backgammon. And it was good.

New Year’s meditation

Dave X Robb and MonaIT’S NOT LIKE ME, I’m sure my friends would say, to be welcoming the new year quietly at home, just me and the cats. (First he skips the Folsom Fair! And now this!!) But it’s been a full day and, as I just got through saying, tomorrow’s another one. Unlike me, I guess, because I’m usually so interested in marking these milestones. But for some reason, I’m content to let this one just wash over me.

Similarly, I’m taking a casual approach to resolutions this year. I just came from a wonderful talk at the Buddhist center I go to, where we were encouraged to go easy on ourselves. So often, the best-intentioned resolutions can leave us feeling bad, like there’s something wrong with us that needs changing.

That isn’t to say we should just give up trying, learning, improving. But it would be nice to approach it all from the perspective that we are pretty amazing to begin with. We all have pure goodness within us. Whatever you do, don’t take the view that you can’t be happy until you’ve changed. Be happy now. And change little things if you want to. Or don’t. I like you just fine.

I’m not content to stay the same. I’d like to make some small changes in my life in the new year. But I’ve always felt resolutions should be about making the changes you’d enjoy working toward, not about depriving or flagellating yourself (unless you’re into that kind of thing). I’m going to work in the yard more, I want to do more yoga, and I want to get back to swimming.

Mona and EmmaIt occurs to me those are all forms of meditation for me. The other day, I was at home ironing shirts—one of my favorite ways to meditate—and listening to Xmas music, and I was overcome with a sense of extreme calm and peace and gratitude. Hard to explain, but it felt pretty special. (When I posted about it on Facebook, nobody said anything. I guess you had to be there.)

Maybe my resolution should be to learn to recognize and cultivate meditation in all of its forms. Maybe that’s why I’m at home writing this at midnight. Happy New Year!

Dining at the buffet of life

Dave and Murai, SAD party 2012IT HAS BEEN AN unusual last couple of months, in mostly good ways having to do with travel and holidays and relaxation, but a little unsettling in that I’ve gotten away from some things that I love doing and know are good for me, not the least of which is writing…on here, for example.

I won’t bother you with the details, but mention it because it has been on my mind, especially as I’ve begun to reflect on the past year and think ahead to my hopes and dreams for 2014. How do I want to fill the 8,760 hours we all get in a year (give or take, depending on whether we end it alive and in the time zone we started in)?

This was another very good year despite the sadness of losing some good people, most notably Murai. She was a dear friend and a role model who knew how to live, full of creativity, adventure, love, and kindness. I dedicate this post to her memory. For years, Murai hosted salons where friends could sing, dance, read, or otherwise perform in a safe, supportive space. It’s a model my roommate and I loved so much, we have taken it up. This was the year I learned to love reading out loud.

On a happy note, a couple of people who had been out of my life—but not my heart—for years came back into it in 2013. I also made some wonderful new friends, including writing and Sangha and other buddies, and strengthened some existing bonds. I saw and fell in love with new places I want to go back to. I’ve read good books. And the world keeps on turning.

The big story this year was making space in my life for the things most important to me: creativity, health, love, and spirit. (It’s nice to be able to fit it all on such a short list, a list that doesn’t change much from year to year; but don’t be fooled—each of those 4 things has about 75 subheadings.) As I’ve written about recently, it all came together toward the last part of 2012, as I became more serious about both my writing and my spiritual practice and negotiated to reduce my formal work schedule in order to make time for it all.

Buddha_altarThings kicked into high gear come January 1, with The Artist’s Way setting the tone for a year dedicated to fostering creativity and treating myself well. It’s still a struggle to find the perfect balance between learning, growing, pushing myself, and producing on the one hand and, on the other, relaxing and feeling like I’m doing enough. I said the same thing a year ago and the same thing the year before that. Hmm. I think I’m getting better at it, but there’s some tinkering still to be done.

It has been a lifelong theme with me: hyperawareness of what a precious thing I’ve got here. I’m referring to the fact of my very existence as a human being in this time and place on what is a very nice planet. I don’t want to waste it.

I’m reminded that I was always taught not to waste food. “It’s a sin,” my mother told us kids, back when we still believed in such things. I have to agree. But it wasn’t until many years later that I realized if you’re full and you keep on eating, you’re wasting food. Better to take the leftovers home in a box.

That’s kind of how I feel about life. Life is like a giant all-you-can-eat buffet. Trying to do too much is like eating when you’re full. To beat the simile to death, I’m trying to scout things out before loading up my plate, make good choices, and go for balance. You can’t do it all, and who would want to? Tomorrow is another day.