As this year has shown me, it is easy to get carried away with work deadlines, meeting quotas, and answering a dozen e-mails a day. Before you know it, the temperature drops, the leaves change color, and the Salvation Army bell ringer appears at the entrance of your favorite grocery stop, interrupting your inner dialogue about whether you really want to get involved with a Halloween-themed dinner party. (Because if you half-ass it, you end up with witch finger cookies served beside spaghetti and “eyeballs.”)
As I prepare for one last hell week (I think) before I can officially start to relax, I remember where I was this time last year. I wonder if the same things are as important to me as they were back then. I start to tug at the old strings attached to the me that was me before the workaholic me took over. I still know who I am – she is in there, wondering when I will notice that she’s been hiding from my demanding schedule. She wants me to remember that I can still go home and be the little girl from the Shire if I want to.
My days have gone from working alone in the wilderness, the occasional helicopter ride, close encounters with wildlife, and identifying mosquito species in a very cold lab – to conversations with long-winded elderly people, discussing the perfect venipuncture technique, centrifuging, aliquoting, matching medications to conditions, and putting out one IRB fire after another.
The more responsibility I take on, the more I fear I will lose myself.
I’ve noticed that people usually go back to their roots or try to get all spiritual when bad things happen, when life starts to move too fast, when reality is too real. The challenge is being mindful all of the time. Mom still reminds me to say my prayers every night and recognize the holy days with incense and offerings. I celebrated Lao new year and Vesak Day this year like I always do, among the other auspicious holidays. But when those 12-hour shifts end, I come home with barely enough energy to eat (or shower), still preoccupied with what I’ve experienced at the office that day…and I am asleep almost before my head hits the pillow.
Prayers are left unsaid. I barely dream anymore. I am thinking of how to attack the day’s work load before the alarm goes off.
I tell the old me, I want to be spiritual but I have no time!
And old me quietly asks, Do you really want to be that person?
The most time-consuming part about being Buddhist is remembering to slow down…to experience the world but then return to that quiet place inside where you view yourself in relation to everyone, everything around you.
I seek out those quiet moments. I ask for patience to smile and politely say “No, thanks” to the old guy who wants me to go to church, who is probably praying for my soul right now… and I tell myself that I will look forward to his follow up visit, when I will politely tell him that I am Buddhist and assure him that it’s okay for people to be just fine with who and what they are; that this doesn’t make them rude or close-minded or heathens needing salvation. I think that’s a better answer than just the standard, predictable “I’m busy.” And then I’ll thank this old guy for reminding me of who I am and allowing me this opportunity to practice patience and understanding.