“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Monday, March 19, 2012

Day 103: A Tale of Two Mondays

Part I      The Monday before Spring Break:  Putting Mindfulness to the Test

So I've been trying to be totally here now, and that means focusing my attention not just on the obvious things that require complete concentration, like driving and writing, but mundane tasks where it is easy to drift off: washing the dishes, chopping carrots, doing laundry, getting mail at the post office, that sort of thing.

Early on I wrote a post, which you can find here, a taking-out-the-trash meditation, courtesy of Thich Nhat Hanh from You are Here.  I try to employ this helpful mantra on garbage day:

"Flowers and garbage are both organic in nature.  So looking deeply into the nature of a flower, you can see the presence of the compost and the garbage.  The flower is also going to turn into garbage, but don't be afraid!  You are a gardener, and you have in your hands the power to transform garbage into flowers, into fruit, into vegetables.  You don't throw anything away, because you are not afraid of garbage.  Your hands are capable of transforming it into flowers, or lettuce, or cucumbers.

"The same is true of your happiness and your sorrow.  Sorrow, fear, and depression are all a kind of garbage.  These bits of garbage are part of real life, and we must look deeply into their nature.  You can practice in order to turn these bits of garbage into flowers.  It is not only your love that is organic; your hate is, too.  So you should not throw anything out.  All you have to do is learn how to transform your garbage into flowers."
But what would Thich Nhat Hanh say about our problem with our neighbors, who give us their garbage?  Zen task of the morning: How to bring mindfulness to the dirty ugly truth that someone is putting trash in our bin and expecting us to take care of it?

We live on a busy road in a small village and over the years we've had to contend with the spectacle of all kinds of nasty stuff tossed onto our lawn: McDonald's cups, coke bottles, empty cigarette cartons.  And then there was the notorious drive-by diapering.  Don't ask.

But now we have a new problem, as of 2012.  We have "neighbors"--I use this term loosely because I know our neighbors across the street and next door, and they are all courteous, rules-playing, generous people who are quite clearly not the culprits here--who leave trash in our bins and expect us to not only pay for it, but bag it for them.

Well, the first time it was in a bag--one of the black bags that had just been outlawed by New York State.  We had just bought clear bags for our garbage, and our garbage-donors hadn't.  So I transferred the contents of their very large, heavy black bag into one of our new clear ones, and then, of course, because it was as tall as I am, and maybe also because I wasn't being mindful enough, it broke, and their garbage and I bonded in a very intimate way.  On my hands, down my legs, were spilled sodas, cigarette butts, and something viscous and sweet-smelling like pudding or melted ice cream.

Lately the trash just comes in loose shopping bags from the Price Chopper.

"Maybe if you pay close attention, you'll find a bill or something, that has their address," my husband told me.  He had seen the garbage earlier and planned to deal with it after the dog walk without telling me, but then his car died and I had to go fetch Zoe and hand him his wallet while he called AAA.

So here is my test.  Or course I'm pissed off, but I also don't want to let it wreck my morning.  I have work to do.  So I behold the bags.  Why does this garbage donation feel particularly hostile?  Inside the top bag is a big wad of human hair.  Long and black.  And some bloodied Q-tips.  Where have those Q-tips been?

I think, well, this is organic material.  It belonged to a living human being with real life human problems, including economic ones.  I certainly can relate to that one.  And I believe garbage removal should be paid for by our taxes.  I don't think it should be a luxury.  So since I'm more well off in my current life than my neighbor, I can be his or her benefactor this one time.

I think about Thich Nhat Hanh, and how the flowers become garbage, and the lettuce and cucumbers were in the compost.  But the rest of the bag contains a giant soda bottle that needs to go to recyclables (my donor expects me to sort his trash too, you see), and junk food detritus: the styrofoam Chinese to-go box, the Lucky Charms box (which should also be sorted into the paper bag, but I'm cheating now), the pizza box (that too?  I've never been sure about pizza boxes if they have pizza on them), and juice boxes.

The detritus of my neighbors' weekend is in my hands.  I'm not wearing gloves, so this feels all the more intimate.

I inhale and I exhale.  I observe all kinds of snarky class judgments rising to the surface without judging them.  Thoughts like, You could save money by cooking real food, and maybe you could afford garbage bags.  I would be happy to help you out here if I didn't have to bag your trash for you, Mr. or Ms. Long Black Hair Lucky Charms.  Maybe you would feel better, and have the energy to be doing this job yourself, if you didn't eat gross stuff all the time.
There it is out on the road, a temptation to those in need.  Wheel it in, Nat!

I was raised by a Welfare mom, but there was a garbage service in our building and we didn't have to pay for it. Would my mother have slipped out under cover of night and put our trash into other people's bins if we didn't have this service?  You bet.  We do what we do to survive.

I inhale and exhale.  Then I decide to mix my donor's trash with ours into a single bag so as to save not only on our bill but on the plastic that goes into the landfill.  That is the ultimate fusing.  Lucky Charms falls next to the empty bag of Zoe's food.  She needs all the luck she can get, so I'll take it where I can.

But now I'm onto the next stage of mindfulness.  To remember to wheel in our garbage bin, after the collectors have come for it, so that we don't have to go through this exercise every single week.

My view every morning as I wrote last week
Namaste, my friends.

Sweet Interlude on the Beach:

Part II    Putting Mindfulness to the Test, Two Mondays Later

We drove home from North Carolina to progressively warmer weather.  It was 65 when we took our last beach walk, and we returned to 77 degrees.

While we were gone, someone came and stole winter from us.  There is no snow anywhere to be found.

The dog runs through the yard looking for it.

The house is clean, and since we made no garbage this week, we have nothing to wheel out, and nothing to tempt the local garbage donors.

I wake Monday at 6 to walk to the studio for meditation and writing, with nothing to try not to grumble over, nothing to rise above, nothing to transcend.  Just a morning like any other: pink sky, still wind, and the river, my old friend, flowing past the house in no hurry to go anywhere or be anything other than what it is.


  1. I love how you 'tied' the weeks together, I've never seen this on a blog before! Also, thanks for being real on all fronts about the garbage: Perturbed, empathetic, smart.Nothing is black or white. And welcome back! Day 103, what a nice ride we've all been on with you.

  2. Thank you so much, Sara. Your thoughtful reading is the real gift on this Monday morning.

  3. When I first saw the headline I thought it read "A Tale of Two Monkeys." Oh, good, I thought, I love Monkeys!
    But this was just as good; for some reason garbage is the one chore that really mocks me. It's the only time I wish I had a partner, just to foist off the garbage chore!

  4. Now I have an assignment: A Tale of Two Monkeys. I love a writing challenge! In the car we listened to a hilarious Stephanie Plum novel where monkeys stole the show.

    I loved reading about your dinner party, Brenda. And thanks for the recipe!

    Happy Tuesday.