This is a picture of a street in our neighborhood. It is a beautiful neighborhood that, honestly, I take for granted.
Yesterday I received a postcard from myself. I’d written it on December 13th, 2018, inspired by something I picked up at a Tricycle Magazine event (the Buddhist Review). The title of the project was “Another way of being in the world.” We were prompted to engage in ways we hadn’t done before. Here’s what I promised myself:
First of all, I forgot all about the whole thing. This postcard arrived, and I don’t even remember the event at which I wrote this postcard. (Got mindfulness?)
Second, I notice that I did bring to fruition the first intention. I created a blog, and it does, more or less, explore ways of being a Buddhist in the world that don’t involve meditation. But I forgot all about the city council meeting.
This means I managed to find a way to talk about the Buddhism thing (the blog) without actually doing it (the city council meeting).
I’m not judging myself over it. I’m just witnessing. I’m seeing the power of ego, and the unconscious addiction to keeping it fed and happy. I’m feeling how hard it is to push back, to spend time in matters that affect the community, to give my time to the good of many rather than the gratification of one.
So, fresh with the remembered commitment, I set about making that appointment. I got on my phone and started searching. “When is the next city council meeting for Floral Park, NY?”
It soon became clear I’m going to have to visit the Nassau County Courthouse in person to find out where the hell I actually live! In my research online, I discovered that there is a Floral Park Village, but my address isn’t there. It’s south and west of that. I checked out Elmont, but we’re east of Elmont by a few streets. And NOWHERE does “Floral Park,” just Floral Park, appear on any map. So that’s first on my list of questions.
Next is: who are my city council members? The disregard I feel in response to this question is astonishing. When I sit with it, here are some of the things that come up: “It doesn’t really matter.” or “There’s probably no point anyway because politics is so broken.” or “That’s over there in that world. None of it really affects me, here in my world.”
Wait, what? Of course it matters. Of course it affects me. I’m shocked. I’m curious. Now I really want to know. What goes on in those meetings? What kinds of things are they deciding? Who’s running for what positions next? How might I get to know their priorities so that the next time I vote, I’m actually making an informed decision?
I know, I know. Who has time for this? I just spent two weeks with my daughter and her new baby. She barely has time to get food into her own mouth before falling into bed exhausted. She can’t be expected to know all this stuff.
But some of us can. I can, for instance. I suspect there are a lot of us who dohave the time (if we’re really being honest) to investigate. It just doesn’t rise to the top of our list.
Truth is, it will never rise to the top by itself. We have to put it there.
We have the capacity to recognize when individual desire must surrender to the greater good. But this is not our default behavior, so we must practice. We have to make the effort to look beyond ourselves, or we’re going down. Other species in the animal world have already mastered this. Check out the civic engagement practiced by birds, fish, and ants, to name only a few.
The way I see it, attending a city council meeting could be a covert way of practicing Buddhism. A secret sadhana. And it would be a way of honoring the neighborhood I’ve taken for granted all these years. It’s only there because countless unnamed people showed up to make sure sidewalks got built, and traffic lights were installed and maintained, and parks were planned and planted, and rules got voted on to keep people safe…These things need to be acknowledged and nurtured.
The words “May all beings benefit,” repeated with in every morning prayer I utter — these words are also at the root of what city council meetings can do. Benefit all beings. It might sound awkward or silly to juxtapose a city council meeting with a monastery. But maybe we would do well to begin thinking in this direction. Just as an experiment.
Tina Lear is a writer and mother of three really interesting humans. She founded the Long Island Dharmata Sangha and is currently navigating the liminal world between her past and her future. Doing her best to be in the present. She lives in Floral Park with her beloved wife.
This is Day 4 of the Ninja Writers 31-Day Challenge. To read Days 1-3, you can visit my page at medium.com