Sunday, April 29, 2018

What Stops You in Your Tracks?

Mara here:

I was in Palm Springs a couple weeks ago. It was my first trip there and we only went because our daughter was at a music festival in the area. She and her friends stayed at a separate hotel close to where the festival was, and my husband Brad and I stayed about 20 minutes away in the center of Palm Springs—close but not too close.

Palm Springs was interesting. It wasn't at all what I expected. It was smaller and quieter than I had envisioned. For someone who had never thought very much about Palm Springs, I must have subconsciously had a definite idea of what it was like because I was surprised at how it wasn't at all what I didn't know I was expecting!

Anyway, one thing that did happen. When we were sitting at lunch one day, Brad said, "Oh look, there's a hummingbird." I immediately stopped chewing and started searching all around for it. I love hummingbirds. They seem magical.

I finally spotted it. It was just the shadow of the hummingbird reflected on the awning we were sitting under. But I watched as it flitted around, back and forth between flowers.

You would think from my reaction that I had never seen a hummingbird. But I actually see them regularly. There's a tree near our house that they love.

But still, without fail, if I happen to notice one, it stops me in my tracks. I watch it. I usually try to get a picture of it, but I have yet to get a good one. I just love watching them buzz around. Their wings beat so quickly, and they're so delicate—it seems impossible that they're real.

And again, they're a regular part of my life. It's not that I see them all the time, but I probably see one almost every week when it's warm and they always fill me with wonder. 

A few things like that in my life stop me when I see them; they catch my breath. Here are five things that still feel magical to me:

1. Hummingbirds
2. Rainbows
3. Lightning
4. Raindrops on flowers
5. The moment the sun dips down over the horizon and all the light in the clouds turn off

These are things that, when I see them, I feel as if I've experienced a moment of magic. It reminds me that the world is filled with wonders. And even though I understand logically how they exist, they still seem like illusions. Somehow these things take me out of the rhythm of my everyday existence and remind me that there's a whole universe of amazing things out there.

And because they have that effect on me, they remind me how lucky I am to be where I am. They give me a moment to feel gratitude for the nice life I have.

So I am always grateful when I have these moments in my life.

Toni here. Here are a few things on my list of life's magical displays:

1. Hummingbirds (Yup!)
2. In spring, the sight of tender leaf buds just beginning to sprout out of bare-branched trees
3. Recognizing a constellation in the night sky
4. The sound of a gentle wind rustling the leaves 
5. The delicate-looking hermit thrush who visits my yard
6. The moon at its fullest

Mara and I would love to know what makes you stop in your tracks!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Let The Berries Fall Where They May

Mara here:

We bought our house in 2004...

When we bought it, we a) didn't think we would live in the house for more than 5 years, and b) assumed we would fix it up.

Well, almost 14 years later, we have fixed some things, but there are a lot of things we never got around to changing. There were always other things to spend the money on, or we didn't have the time or desire to deal with finding people to do the work.

We love our house. It's been an amazing little house to raise our daughter. It's never leaked, it rarely loses power, and it feels like "home" whenever I return to it.

But twice a year, I am reminded about something that was definitely one of those things we always said "we'll fix" but just never happened.

That brings me to the berries.

This is different from the other weird berry tree that grew in our front yard. That was a mystery for many years but was finally identified as a Mulberry tree.

This is a different tree.

There is a tree directly in front of the house that spreads over our roof and our driveway. We love this tree because it provides some privacy, but more importantly it provides shade from the setting sun.

It's is some sort of berry tree (or maybe another kind of fruit). We've never bothered to figure out what type of tree it is. The berries are black, maybe dark blue, and they have a pit similar to a cherry. And twice a year, they fall all over our driveway.

It's a barrage of little berry bombs that splat all over our cars, all over our driveway and then get tracked into our house with its white tiles. They stick to the bottom of shoes and leave little poop-like berry skid marks all over.

And every time it happens, we all say, "Oh the berries are back." Then I spend a couple weeks sweeping and Swiffering the house like a crazy person. Because it honestly does look a bit like someone stepped in poop and just tracked it all over. So I sweep, and Swiffer and mop and scrub (the skins of the berries stick to the tiles like stickers) over and over and over.

And then one day the berries stop. They're just gone.

And then I forget about them—until they start falling again.

For several years, the dropping berries would make me very agitated. I felt burdened by the "berry situation." I would try to sweep the driveway every day, which requires scraping the dried pits and berry sludge off the cement. It's actually a lot of work.  I felt like I constantly needed to explain why our floors looked the way they did to everyone who entered. 

And I would complain about how we never get anything done and our house is a wreck...and the whole thing would spiral into a much bigger deal that it is. The berries became a reflection of the fact that we never built the driveway cover. No, we never remodeled the front of the house and uprooted the tree. No we don't trim the tree as often as we should to minimize the number of berries dropping.

But these past couple of times the berries have arrived, I realized I don't really care about them anymore. Yes, I notice them. Yes, I still complain. (We all complain.) Yes I still clean them up. But I'm not angry at them anymore. They used to feel like such an affront to me. How dare the berries exist and make things messy.

Maybe because I'm older and more tired and have other things that feel more worrisome, but the hassle of the berries feels less and less important. Instead of feeling like a big burden, they are just an annoyance.

At some point I just decided to let the berries fall where they may.

I can't control the berries, and the reality is that at this point we aren't going to make significant changes to the house. So I have come to a mental understanding with the berries. They exist and they will fall and I will deal with them when they do.

Now it's a familiar little quirk of the house. After we've moved out of our house, I will forever remember "the berries" and will probably think about them fondly and even miss them a little when I don't have them.

I wondered if there were things about my childhood house that drove my mom crazy when I was growing up:

Our Davis house definitely needed work done. You guys have done a lot to it since I moved away. Was there anything that always drove you crazy but that you never bothered to fix?

We have our version of your berry tree! It's some kind of plum tree (with fruit that I find inedible—it's the size of a large grape). It sits toward the bottom of one side of our driveway. The fruit falls all over the driveway, on any car that's parked in the driveway, and on the sidewalk in front of the house. The fruit gets squishy and then gets crushed underfoot and then dries very hard on whatever it touches (including the soles of your shoes). Every year, I try to grab them off the sidewalk and driveway before they get squishy but I can't keep up with the task. And so everyone who walks by in the summer months gets them on their shoes. I always think we're being rude to people in the neighborhood who walk on the sidewalk at that place.

Every once in a while, I have someone cut the tree back from the driveway and the sidewalk (it's too tall for me to prune) and that works for one season. I will not miss that tree when we no longer live here!

Then there are a few things we fixed that have never quite worked right, like our sprinkler system. We installed one underground and put an automatic timer inside the house so I can set it to water overnight at four different "stations" (which makes our house sound big...but it isn't). But...I can't get that automatic system to work even though I've replaced the device twice. Once I set it to automatic, on the nights it goes on, it stays on, recycling the stations over and over. I wake up in the morning with the front gutters flooded. I finally gave up and turned off the automatic setting. Now I run it once manually before I go to bed.

Your Dad and I are not the best house repairers or fixer-uppers. I think we're happier as tenants than as homeowners. But I love our little house. 

Is there anything that you did fix, that with hindsight you kind of miss?

I've had to think long and hard about this...and the answer is "no." I don't miss anything that's gone (like the ugly bathroom sink you always hated that was in the bathroom you and your brother shared). 

The big fix was when we put in central heat and air. Unfortunately for you and your brother, it was after you'd both moved out (which I'm sure you're well aware of and have never forgiven us for!). Before then our only cooling from the blazing Central Valley heat in summer was a pretty lame swamp cooler in the hallway. I remember how you used to sleep under it on the hottest nights. 

And so that's another thing I do not miss: that swamp cooler!

Berries on Mara's driveway

Sunday, April 15, 2018

How to Find the Right Balance in Life

Mara here:

My husband would describe me as "extreme."

I'm all or nothing.

It has taken me most of my life to realize there can be a middle ground and that sometimes how you feel about something can change.

I tend to get into ruts. Not just ruts like other people probably think of ruts. I will do things repeatedly for days, months, years, and then I'll stop cold turkey. I'll exercise rigorously or not exercise at all. My emotions and opinions can swing from one extreme to another.

When I was younger, things seemed so much simpler. Even when my behavior was extreme, I felt secure in my feelings about whether things were right or wrong. I loved things or I hated them. I always knew what I wanted. I always had a goal. And I felt confident in my opinions.

But as I've gotten older, everything has become more ambiguous. The lines between right and wrong, good and bad, have become blurry. It's almost to the point where I almost never feel strongly about anything.

In many ways, it has made life calmer. I am less volatile. I am less judgmental and more understanding and sympathetic about other people's lives. I guess that having more experience and more knowledge has made me more sympathetic.

There have been times when my daughter has gotten frustrated with me because, just like I felt when I was her age, she wants there to be answers about everything. She wants me to have a definite opinion about things.

But usually I don't. 

Don't get me wrong, I certainly have preferences. There are things I like more and things I like less, but I no longer feel as if there's an actual "right" or "wrong" when making most decisions. Because, as we've discussed in previous blogs, you can't always know how life will unfold. Things that seem "bad" might end up being positive. And something that, on the surface, felt amazing, might end up negatively as time passes.

It makes my daughter mad because she thinks I'm too passive. She thinks I just can't be bothered to care enough to have an opinion.

So I've been wondering, is she right? Have I gone too far the other way? Am I too passive?

I do think that being more flexible in my thinking is a good thing. But maybe I have mistaken not being opinionated for apathy. Maybe I purposely don't throw my hat in the ring because I don't want to have to have a stake in the game. It's been interesting to realize that what I assumed was a positive change in my behavior might not be as positive as I thought it was.

How do we find the right balance? 

I've been thinking these past years that I was being more reasonable because most of the time it's not good when I am passionate about something because it becomes all consuming. But maybe I'm still following my behavioral pattern of extremism because maybe I've simply replaced caring too much for not caring at all—about anything. 

It's obviously not that cut and dry. I clearly still care about things. But I do have trouble making decisions. I have trouble giving advice because my mind second guesses itself. After all, experience has shown that we do not know what the future holds. And just because I don't like something or someone, doesn't mean that other people should feel the same way.

Going along with the current makes things easier. It's certainly easier to let exterior events or people make choices for me. But I need to remember there has to be balance. Understanding how to find that balance will be more difficult. 

So I asked my mom about how she finds balance in her life.

1. Are there Buddhist teachings that help you find balance in your life?

Wow. There are so many. In fact, finding balance is one of my principal attractions to the Buddha's teaching. I'm not interested in "transcendent" states that people think of as nirvana. I'm interested in finding exactly what you write about: the right balance. This is because it's only when I'm balanced that I don't feel tossed about by what happens in life, like a ship on a stormy sea. Balance brings with it a sense of peace in my life.

I'll describe a few teachings...and then maybe mention others in my response to your other questions. 

The first teaching I rely on is the Buddha's four noble truths. I don't have time to discuss this in full. I can only refer people to my books for that. Basically, in the first noble truth, the Buddha set forth a list of the tough things we'll all encounter in life—from illness to aging, to not getting what we want to getting what we don't want, to losing what we cherish. It's a daunting list. 

If that list (in the new edition of How to Be Sick, I call it "The Buddha's List") were all he provided us with, we might fall into the unbalanced extreme of despair. In fact, some people say that Buddhism is pessimistic but that's because they don't understand that by providing us with this list, the Buddha was simply setting forth a realistic view of life, so that we'd know what to expect and won't be thrown to extremes when they happen. And, he doesn't just stop at that list. He goes on to help us learn how to keep balanced in the face of these tough life experiences.

There are many aspects to keeping balanced. The first is to acknowledge that life inevitably will be tough at times and to give up the fruitless—and often compulsive—desire to never encounter these unpleasant experiences. That desire serves only to make things worse for us since it's a desire that can never be fulfilled. So, acknowledging and accepting that unpleasant experiences are part of life helps me keep balanced because I don't expect things to be otherwise. This is not a passive stance. On the contrary, I think of it as engaging life as it truly is.

A second way I keep balanced is to remind myself that life is a mixture of joys and sorrows. The Buddha's List enumerates those sorrows, but there's joy too. In the subtitle to my second book, I refer to "navigating joys and sorrows." I touched above how to navigate sorrow, but why do we need to navigate joy? The answer is that we need to have a balanced attitude toward joy when it's present because it doesn't last forever. And so, if we cling to it, that's going to an extreme because we're setting ourselves up for a big fall when that joy passes. And so, for me, the key to finding balance in life is to embrace joy when we feel it but not cling to it and to not feel aversion when sorrow shows up (that list again), but to accept it as part of the human condition.

I am not saying that it is easy to do either of the things in that previous sentence but I've discovered that when I'm able to do them, equanimity arises (it being one of the "sublime states" in Buddhism). Equanimity is that calm and balanced state of mind that allows us to feel at peace with life. In my view, true equanimity is nirvana...and it's what I work on every day. 

For me, when I'm resting in equanimity, I know I've found the right balance in my life. It's not a passive state but one that engages life's joys and sorrows—it's up and downs—with wisdom and with compassion.

2. Are there times when you catch yourself being extreme in your behavior? How do you walk yourself back?

Good question. Depending on the situation, I'd say I do one of two things to walk myself back from extremes. 

First, I keep what Zen teacher Seung Sahn called a "Don't-Know Mind" (something I also write about in my books). I may feel 100% sure that my opinions are right or that such and such a person is right or wrong, but do I really know? Almost always the answer is "no." Thich Nhat Hanh had a different way of expressing this. He said we should ask ourselves "Am I Sure?" before speaking or acting. I have many examples of when that "Am I Sure?" kept me from going to extremes.

That said, there are a few things I am sure of based on my commitment not to speak or act in a way that will be unkind or harmful to myself or others. In Buddhist terms, we'd say that I'm checking to see if what I'm about to say or do will help alleviate suffering as opposed to intensifying it (which come under "wise speech" and "wise action" on the Buddha's Eightfold Path).

There are some opinions I am sure are right and so I don't keep a Don't-Know Mind about them. For example, one is in my unshakeable belief that racism is wrong. You could say that this means I am extreme in my view, but I see nothing but suffering coming out of holding racist views or speaking and acting based on those views.

A second way I walk myself back when I catch myself being extreme in my behavior is to go straight to self-compassion. These past 10 days have been terrible for me because our dog Scout did something that set off cramps and muscle spasms in her left leg. The vet could find nothing wrong, but the episodes were painful to watch and when she wasn't in a spasm, she lay on her bed and wouldn't get up. (We experimented with some medications, particularly an anti-spasm drug, and she's finally recovered). 

But for 10 days, we had no idea how to keep her from being in pain and we had no idea how long it would go on or whether we'd have to admit her to the vet hospital in town (she's horribly afraid of cages due to mistreatment as a puppy). 

As the week progressed, I became more and more "extreme" in my worrying and fretting. I spent hours and hours on the internet trying to figure out what was wrong. I couldn't sleep well because I knew she was on her bed next to mine and could cry out in pain any moment. 

The way I walked myself back from my extreme worry and stress was through self-compassion. Like equanimity, compassion is one of the "sublime states" in Buddhism (and is highly valued in most religious and humanitarian traditions). This is both compassion for others and compassion for ourselves. 

Here's how I evoked it when I felt overcome with extreme emotional distress over Scout. As I lay in bed, I'd stroke one arm with the hand of the other and silently speak soothing words to myself: "This is really stressful. No wonder you feel extra sick right now. This is hard, really hard. You're taking the best care of her you can." And that walked me back.

3. Do you find that because of your illness, since you have less exposure to life outside your house, your tendency to feel strongly about things has become more extreme or less extreme?

Well, the internet gives me almost as much exposure to life outside the house as I'd get if I were physically going out! And yet, being mostly housebound has helped me be less extreme. For one thing, emotions are felt in the body and my body needs as much quiet as it can get. So emotional extremes (which are anything but "quiet") are very hard on me physically, which is one reason I actively look for ways to avoid them—the ways I talked about above. Sometimes I'm more successful than other times...I didn't do so well with Scout this past week...but, hopefully, I learned from the experience and will do better when the next crisis arises.


Mara and I would love to know what your strategies are for finding the right balance in life.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

If I Had a Million Dollars...

Mara here:

"If I Had a Million Dollars" is the title of a song by a band called The Barenaked Ladies. It's one of Brad's favorite bands, or at least it was early on in our relationship, so I remembering repeatedly hearing the song. It's not a serious song. As I recall, it's sort of a love song about all the goofy things a guy would buy a girl he loved.

I've been thinking a lot about money lately. I think it's because my daughter is about to apply to colleges and, for a variety of reasons, we never set up a college fund for her. So we are now faced with trying to figure out how we are going to pay for college, which is daunting. 

It's been hard to have to tell our daughter that she can't necessarily go to whatever school she wants to because we simply can't afford to pay most private university tuition. And yes, I know that having your parents pay for college is a luxury. I know lots of kids pay their own way through school or go to community college. But both Brad and I had parents who paid for our college education, and we have always assumed we would do the same for our daughter. She has worked really hard to get good grades and has challenged herself with a difficult curriculum.

I hate that money might be the determining factor of what school she eventually ends up attending.

So we've had various conversations about money. We've had serious conversations about money—which are not fun. And we've had some less serious conversations about money—which can be entertaining. What would I do if I suddenly found myself with a huge sum of money? Of course, all the practical things immediately come to mind: set up a college fund (number one priority at this point), pay off our house, pay off our cars, give money to charity, etc.

If I really wanted to go crazy, if I somehow found myself multi-millions of dollars, here's, in order, what I would do:

1) Set up a charitable foundation. I'm not sure what type of foundation, but it would probably be something to do with education, or possibly providing housing to families. My number one dream is to have enough money to be able to give enough money away to someone that would actually be meaningful. Of course, I donate what I can now, but it's $25 here and $25 there. I know it adds up. I know it makes a difference. But I would love to be able to set up a foundation that would make a noticeable difference in the lives of the people it helped.

2) Set up a trust fund for our daughter, which would of course include paying for any college that she wanted to attend.

3) Pay off the mortgages of everyone in my family. I would love to be able to just allow everyone I love not to worry about paying their mortgages.

4) Set up education trust funds for nieces and nephews.

5) Randomly give out $100 bills to strangers on the street. (It's this weird fantasy I have.)

But let's get real. What's the likelihood that I will ever get my hands on that kind of money?

So then I thought, well what would I do with just a little bit more money? Let's say I was suddenly given $500 dollars a month that I could only spend on things for myself. (Because, let's be real, I'm a mom so if someone hands me money, 90% of the time I buy something for my daughter.) So, if someone said, here's a trust fund of $500 a month and you can only spend it on things for yourself, here are some things I would spend it on:

1) Books. I love books. I love reading books, and I love buying books. I like knowing I have them. But I have to stop myself from buying them because I can buy ten books without thinking about it, and it's money we need for other things. So books would definitely get purchased.

2) Theater tickets. I love live theater but it has gotten so expensive. Honestly, I don't know how people afford to go regularly. I know there are smaller venues and community shows, but my favorites are the big Broadway-style shows. Right now, it's just not what we spend our money on. So if I could, I would definitely see more theater.

3) Martial Arts. I've always regretted not getting my black belt when I was younger. I got about halfway and stopped. But if I had more money that I spent on myself, I would go back and get my black belt. Don't get me wrong; I could spend the money now to do this, but I don't. Somehow in the pecking order of what I spend money on, this just isn't high enough toward the top. But it's something I would definitely do if money wasn't an issue.

4) Sushi. I would eat more sushi.

5) Rescue pets. I would have more pets. I don't know if that would technically be spending money on myself, but I think it would qualify because I love animals. I want a petting zoo. I want goats and pigs and mini-horses and squirrels...and I want to rescue all the cats and dogs. But animals are expensive to maintain.

I'm sure money would get spent on other things such as gadgets, clothes, and food. But those aren't things I feel like I'm missing from my life. I have enough of those. In fact, I really have pretty much everything I need now.

When I wish for more money these days, it's usually because I wish that my daughter could have everything she wants. I spent many years feeling as if money would "fix" my problems. Of course, it doesn't. On a practical level you do have to have a certain amount of money to live comfortably, i.e. have a place to live, buy food to eat. But beyond the basics, money doesn't translate into happiness.

However, it does make things easier and it can make things nicer. But it took me 30 years to realize that having more money doesn't make you happy. Spending money doesn't actually fix anything. But my 17 year old daughter hasn't had that realization yet, and I can hardly expect her to understand. Some people never figure this out.

So I give her my spiel about how wanting more is endless and that you will never feel as if you have enough, blah blah blah. I am trying to teach her that appreciating what she has will ultimately provide her with more happiness than getting more will ever provide. I am trying to explain that the feeling of "wanting" never ends.

But the mom in me really wishes I could just give her everything she wants. The girl in me, who remembers wishing she had more, wants to be able to give her daughter everything.

But I can't. It is fun to sometimes fantasize about it though.

So what would you do if you had a million dollars?

Sunday, April 1, 2018

All in a Few Hours: The Best of Moments; The Worst of Moments

Mara here:

I was jogging last Friday, as I do every weekday morning, and I had a burst of...I don't know...inspiration. I'm not sure it was inspiration, but it was something.

I was going to get a tattoo.

In fact, I was going to get two tattoos.

The getting-the-tattoo part in and of itself is not particularly newsworthy. I have two already. My first is my husband's initials on my ankle. And the second is an angel that both my husband I got after Malia was born.

But that morning, while I was jogging along Riverside Drive in Los Angeles, I decided I was going to get a wedding ring tattoo—a tattoo that circles my ring finger. It's a tattoo I've been wanting for years. I've been envious of the few other people I've met who have them. The tattoos seem so romantic. And it's proof to myself that I believe in my marriage and the commitment and love I have for Brad.

It's also private. Once the tattoo heals, it will simply sit under my wedding rings so people won't see it.

But I'll know it's there.

And I'll know I was willing to get it.

Because the only thing that has stopped me all these years is the pain.

I'm going to be upfront and say that every tattoo I've gotten has been painful. People say they're not painful to get—but they are. Literally, a little clump of needles stabs you over and over. The best way for me to describe the feeling (most people probably don't experience it this way) is that someone starts stabbing me with something and then cuts through my skin with it. It's not a crazy-like screaming pain, but it's uncomfortable. As soon as it starts, I want it to stop.

It requires a lot of concentration to not jerk away.

And the fingers are one of the more sensitive areas of the body. The top of the fingers are bony, without a lot of fat. The underside is sensitive and there are a lot of nerves in the palm of the hand. Plus, it's awkward. They have to spread your fingers apart. I fortunately have relatively loose joints, so it didn't hurt, but it spreads the skin and makes it even more sensitive.

So this is why, for years, even though I really wanted this ring tattoo, I hadn't gotten it. I was simply avoiding pain.

But that Friday, during that jog, about eight hours before we were leaving on a trip to St. Louis, I decided I was going to get that tattoo.

The additional tattoo was a more recent idea. For Christmas, I had given my daughter a necklace with an infinity symbol because we have this inside saying that we love each other to infinity. I know a lot of people say it, so I'm not saying it's unique, but it's meaningful to us. 

So I wanted to get a tattoo of the infinity symbol and I knew just where to put it. I wanted it on my wrist, right where the ends of a fancy cuff bracelet met—a bracelet that Malia had given me for Christmas a few years earlier, so that every time I looked down, I would see the ends of the bracelet meeting the infinity symbol.

After my jog was done, I tried calling some tattoo places. Apparently tattooing is not a morning thing. None of the places were open until later that morning, which meant I was cutting the time available to get the tattoos significantly shorter since we were leaving for the airport in the afternoon.

I waited for the tattoo place I was familiar with to open, one that's near our home and where I had gotten my previous tattoos. I got there early and waited outside until it opened. But they didn't have any openings until much later. So I searched the internet and found another place that had lots of good reviews and called.

I was in luck. They weren't open for another hour, but they happened to have a guy there who was willing to see me early. I could drive right over.


About 12 minutes later I was walking through the heart of Hollywood, gingerly entering a tattoo shop. It looked much like you would expect a tattoo shop to look with lots of drawings all over the walls. There was a motorcycle and an odd assortment of tattoo artists milling around. We'd had an unusual amount of rain over the past few days, so they had come in early to clean up some water that had leaked in. That was the only reason they were there so early.

I waited nervously as they finished cleaning up. I had to explain what I wanted and fill out and sign several pieces of paper promising not to sue them or blame them for bodily harm.

Then the tattoo guy started prepping my hand. He wiped the areas with alcohol and then shaved the skin. Then he drew the tattoo onto my skin (or they can transfer it from special paper they can print onto—like the temporary tattoos you get at carnivals).

About 15 minutes later, he was done. I was shaky from the nerves and the pain. But I was elated. I felt excited. I was proud of myself. I had done something I had been wanting to do for a while. I had overcome my fear. I felt giddy.

I left the shop and headed back to my car and drove out of Hollywood, still in a bit of disbelief over what I had just done. My finger and my wrist were covered with bandages and they still stung, but I was proud of the pain. I'd been brave enough to do something I had been afraid of for so long, and the fear and the adrenaline from the pain had left me with a feeling of euphoria.

Then about halfway home, I realized I didn't know where my bracelet was.

THE BRACELET: the bracelet my daughter had given me. The bracelet that was more expensive than any bracelet I would ever buy for myself because I don't spend money on fancy jewelry. The bracelet that my daughter could only afford to give me because at the time she had been acting and had money to spend. The bracelet that had been part of the motivation for me to get one of my tattoos.

My euphoria turned to panic.

I was jerked out of my fog by a car honking at me because I was driving erratically as I frantically tried to search myself and my car for any sign of the bracelet.

It was nowhere on me.

I had taken it off in the tattoo shop. The tattoo guy had already swabbed down my hand was holding it tightly because he was drawing the ring design on my finger. He told me I needed to take off my bracelet. So with my free hand I pulled the bracelet off and slipped it into the pocket of my sweatpants.

Then he had me lie down on a massage type table as he did the tattoo so he could secure my had steadily.

Somehow, between lying down on that table and walking to my car a couple of blocks through Hollywood, my bracelet disappeared. Had it fallen out of my pocket? Had someone picked my pocket? I didn't know.

I frantically called the tattoo shop, but they didn't have it. I made an illegal U-turn on Cahuenga Boulevard and headed back into Hollywood. I retraced my steps, but the bracelet was nowhere. I went back into the tattoo shop and asked them to please look everywhere. Could they please check the paper that had been on the table that was now in the garbage?

We didn't find it.

It was gone.

I overheard a guy in another room scoff and say, "It's probably already in a pawn shop by now."

I was distraught. I felt completely crushed.

I walked back to my car. This time, instead of feeling giddy I was feeling despondent. I was desperately searching under cars, checking for any glint of metal.

It was nowhere.

My whole drive I home, I was wondering how I was going to tell my daughter I had lost the bracelet. And I glanced down at my wrist a few times, suddenly feeling pangs of pain as I looked at the bandage that was covering the infinity symbol that a few minutes ago I had been so happy about. This time the pain was not from the needles, but from the reality of not having the bracelet on my wrist.

I won't go through all the drama, but my daughter was upset—very upset. I was upset. And to top everything off, we all had to get on a plane together for a four hour flight to St. Louis.

Several days have passed now. And the pain of the tattoos and the pain of losing the bracelet are starting to become more distant. The pain of the loss of the bracelet, for me, was not the actual bracelet itself. It was just the memory of her giving it to me. It was knowing that she loved seeing it on me. And it was just missing the weight of it on my wrist. It was as if there were a piece of me missing because it had been like I was always carrying a little piece of her with me.

But my attachment to it was never about the actual bracelet. In fact, the bracelet took me a long time to get used to. It was bulky and often clanged into things. It wasn't my style. I don't wear a lot of jewelry. But I loved it because I loved my daughter.

Once the panic had subsided, I realized it was something I was just going to have to let go of. I was not going to ever get the bracelet back. I had even called the closest pawn shop on Hollywood Boulevard hoping someone had tried to sell it. But no one had.

So I don't have the bracelet, but I have the tattoos. I have permanent markings on my body that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. And the infinity symbol on my wrist will, in a strange way, keep that bracelet with me too. I will always see the bracelet as part of the tattoo because I had spent so many hours seeing it in my mind before I actually got the tattoo.

And it's just how life is. Things are rarely simply good or simply bad. There are few times things happen exactly the way we want them to.

I'm still sad. I still feel bad. I still wish I had taken that extra moment to make sure I had the bracelet back on before I left the tattoo shop.

But I didn't do that.

So I hope wherever the bracelet is, it is bringing happiness to someone. I hope a homeless guy was able to sell it to buy some food, or maybe someone took it and gave it to his girlfriend. I don't know.

What I do know is that in that flash of realizing that my bracelet was missing, I went from the best of moments to the worst of moments. I don't know that I've ever experienced that before, and I don't think that I want to again.

I asked my mom a couple of questions about this:

Have you ever had an experience like mine where your emotions switched so dramatically?

Yes, I've had that happen and all I can say is that it's wrenching. It sets off an adrenaline reaction that I can feel in my body. And, as part of that adrenaline wearing off, fatigue sets in over the whole event. I think that happens to everyone, whether they're chronically ill, like I am, or not.

I'm sorry you lost the bracelet but I'm glad you have the infinity tattoo as a way of always having Malia with you. And your wishes for the bracelet to be helping or bringing joy to someone else truly touches my heart.

For people who aren't able to let go of material loss, are there any Buddhist practices to help them let go of attachment?

In my experience, the best way to let go of attachment is to reflect on the impermanence of all things. There's a wonderful story that I tell in my first book about a Thai Buddhist monk named Ajahn Chah. A novice monk brought Ajahn Chah some tea and before he could take the cup from the monk's hand, the monk had let go of it and it fell to the ground a broke into dozens of pieces.

The monk was horrified, but Ajahn Chah told him that it was okay because the tea cup was already broken. This story has been tremendously helpful to me over the years. It helps me let loose of my attachment to material things. If I break something that I loved, I say to myself, "It's okay. It was already broken." 

The Buddha said that everything that arises passes away. It can be a hard lesson to live with. After all, it includes our loved ones. And it can also be hard in regard to material things if they're special to us for one reason or another, like that bracelet was to you. 

A few months ago, I dropped a beautiful glass animal I've had for years. To my pleasant surprise, after the initial shock, I felt okay about it. Impermanence impermanence impermanence. Learning to give gracefully with it is one of the keys to finding peace of mind in this life. 

My new tattoos right after they were completed, before they bandaged them. (Before I discovered my bracelet was missing.)