Ever caught yourself thinking you know something for sure then finding out you’re entirely wrong about that thing? A perfect example of this was when I was a kid and heard on the evening news that “Guerrilla Attacks Leave 7 Dead in Western Overthereia.” I'm totally not kidding you when I tell you I imagined a Planet of the Apes-style attack on humans in some far off and very dangerous country. I’m not sure why I imagined Planet of Apes instead of King Kong. Maybe because the King Kong scenario just didn’t make sense. Like the Planet of the Apes scenario did? Anyway, it was a while before I realized “guerrillas” were not “gorillas” and I had to rethink everything I thought I knew about Overthereia. Shit just keeps happening to me.
I thought buddhist monks did those sand mandalas freehand. I’m not sure why I thought this, I just did. Monks are very spiritual, I suppose, and it would be very spiritual if the monks made the mandalas freehand. That would be almost magical surpassing spiritual when I really think about it. It would be totally magical if they took two handfuls of multi-colored sand and gave it a little toss into the air over a light colored marble floor and all the sand falls into place forming an intricate mandala - magic. In my mind, it is (was) a sign of advanced spirituality that the monks make these elaborate, detailed, multi-colored mandalas grain by grain from colored sand freehand. That takes some deep spirituality just one step shy of magic. (If you don’t know what a mandala is, go rewatch Episode 7, Season 3 of House of Cards. If you haven’t watched House of Cards, I’m not really sure I even want you reading my blog to be perfectly honest.)
A truly enlightened monk could make a mandala from memory with lines straight as the dharma and right angles as true as truth itself - freehand.
Imagine my surprise as I watched a video recently of monks making a mandala, and they were using rulers and tape to mark out the design. Whaw, whaw, whawww. Total disappointment. Okay, it’s still spiritual, but I really thought they just sat down and made the mandalas without any mechanical aids. I admit I’m sloppy sometimes when it comes to thinking things all the way thru.
I also thought the metal pen-type instruments the monks work with were some kind of file that wore the sand off a block grain by grain and it fell perfectly into their freehand mandalas. Sloppy thinking on my part again. The pen-type things are pre-filled with grains of colored sand and the rubbing of the ridge does not create the sand particles but just shakes them enough so they slide down the pen to fill in the place they are supposed to be. It’s really just paint-by-numbers. Still spiritual I suppose but not as spiritual as rubbing a colored rock over a blank surface and ending up with a mandala. Half gallon tubs of colored sand occupied the outside ring of the workspace in the video.
Some of the monks in the video wore surgical masks I guessed to keep them from breathing on the sand and blowing it all over the place. They did not all have them. The heavier mouth breathers are probably much less spiritual than the monks that don’t need a mask. Some of the monks are probably so spiritual they simply absorb the life force thru their skin without breathing at all. Or maybe, they have such control over their bodily systems that they down regulate to 2 breaths a minute or something nearly as magical. I wonder which kind I would be? Would I need a mask as a heavy mouth breather or not? What’s with the comparing? Would I need a mask? Would I not need a mask? I bet I could do only 1 respiration per minute! Would I be a better than monk than Billy? Or Tracy? It probably depends on the day. (I will ignore the comment of my friend who suggested at coffee this morning that the dyes that make the sand a certain color are probably toxic so the monks are just trying to protect themselves from toxic chemicals by wearing the masks. This could be true I suppose if one ignores that fact that monks have super spiritual immune systems that defy the laws of chemistry and biology allowing them not to get sick from breathing in toxic chemicals. I swear, I don’t know where some people get their information about monks to remain perfectly honest with you.)
Some days I am much more spiritual than others. Some days I could use my own eyelash to paint a watercolor whooping crane with my rainbow tinted tears. Other days, I couldn’t even make a mess by slinging my own poo against the bathroom mirror. I’m inconsistent you see. Are you inconsistent? Please tell me you are inconsistent.
I compare. Just as I assume the monks draw mandalas freehand with freshly ground sand without blowing it away due to their perfectly controlled breath, I assume you are always in a much better state of mental fitness than I am. I assume I have fallen behind or I will never catch up or I got a bad hard drive at the factory or I had a dizzy spell last night. I stubbornly believe these comparisons to my detriment.
When I compare my insides to your outsides, your outsides usually win even if you have dirty toenails. Why is that? I don’t know. Do you do that to yourself? If you do, please stop. You’re insides are fine I’m sure. Especially if you’re vegan. The insides of vegans are certainly better than my insides. Full disclosure - I ate some hamburger last week. Please don’t judge. I’m hard enough on myself without you piling on.
Why all this comparing? Oh, I don’t know, maybe because it’s what I’ve seen done and have done to myself since birth. I weighed 27 pounds at birth putting me in the 99.9th percentile. I was special from the start. I walked at 5 weeks, again by comparison against less mobile cohorts, placing me very high on the mobility scale. Always worrying about my place on the scale. How about a scale that just says one thing. How about a scale that always reads “just right.”
“How are you today?”
“I’m just right.”
“How tall are you? How smart are you? How do you feel? How’s your cold? How’s school? How’s work? How’s that thing? How’s you’re wife/husband/partner/SO/boyfriend/girlfriend/special friend/friend with benefits? How’s the weather?”
Will this disallow some relief from what I’ve been told is the lowest form of gratitude but still gratitude nonetheless? I’m speaking of the gratitude that comes in meeting or hearing about someone who’s worse off than you. You stubbed your toe? Get over it ! I know a guy with only 9 toes because he cut one off with a lawnmower. You should be glad you’re not that guy. I guess I’m glad I’m not that guy but do I really need that comparison to feel okay with my current state of being. Is the 9 toed guy more or less spiritual than me? More or less spiritual than the mouth-breathing monks? It is a race right? There are winners and losers right? The winners get warm fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and the losers get raisins. (I do now consider raisins a viable snack option but c’mon they are not even in the same galaxy as chocolate chip cookies.)
I’m also in the 99.9 th percentile when it comes to overthinking and possibly oversharing, but there you go. It’s okay to go to the zoo, because guerrillas are not killing people there. The monks disappointed me, but I guess they are still just right. Don’t let my outsides fool you, and please, let’s stop comparing. Let’s all just be just right. I’ll bet I’ll be one of the best at not comparing. Probably in the 99.9 percentile of non-comparers.