The chronology of nonexistent time

From the Dr. Ajari files…

A chronology of Dr. Ajari’s life has eluded me for some time. No one seems to know exactly when he did anything, just that he did a lot: was detained in Dachau, subsequently went to Japan to study Shugendo and complete a three-year retreat, jumped out of airplanes in West Africa, accompanied the Dalai Lama out of Tibet, served as a field surgeon in the Korean War. And this is all before arriving in San Francisco. Somewhere in there, pre-SF, he also earned a medical degree, a PhD, and a doctor of theology degree (Dr. Ajari was apparently a triple threat).

Dr. Ajari was born in 1932, which means he would have been a teenager in Dachau, and probably Japan, too, in the late 1940s. If he was in Korea for part of the ’50s, and helped the Dalai Lama flee Tibet in 1959, then…

Okay, help me with the math here — when did he have time to become a doctor three times over? In fact, when did he earn his bachelor’s degree?

And when did he jump out of airplanes in West Africa? And why?

I’m completely confounded, but this is why I want to write his story. The tale of Dr. Ajari is the stuff of myth and legend. One of his students in the 1980s was so fed up with his tall tales that she hired a private investigator to upend his wild stories. But as far as I know, the only thing this revealed was that he’d been excommunicated from one church, and that wasn’t a factoid he was hiding, anyway.

Dzogchen texts suggest that by checking our watches and keeping a calendar, we’re missing the point — time doesn’t exist. In trying to understand the chronology of Dr. Ajari’s life, I sometimes feel that is the only explanation. He must have been living outside of anything resembling a linear space-time continuum.

Or he had a gift for exaggeration.

Soft Girls

While having dinner with a typically outdoorsy Colorado friend the other night, she mentioned that her co-workers don’t climb or ski or cycle on weekends. They bake, she said. And watch the occasional game on TV. And bake.

“You know,” she said. “They’re soft girls.”

I did know. I used to be a prolific judge of soft girls. When I worked with a bunch of guys at an outdoor gear shop in St. Louis, there was a soft girl who worked for the buyers. She was marrying a well-known local mountain biker (much to my amazement), and she liked to look at bride magazines and talk about weddings and flowers and other soft things. I inadvertently ended up eating lunch in the break room at the same time as the soft girl most days, and I’ll never forget the day she went on and on about some intricately-iced cookies in a Martha Stewart magazine.

“I could stay home and bake pretty cookies all day,” she gushed in her whiny voice.

I held back from tossing my not-so pretty cookies. I did not like this particular soft girl, nor did I understand her pretty-cookie lifestyle. I vowed to never become a soft girl.

This vow turned into a virtual wedding vow. I started dating my husband right around that time, and pretty cookies became our little joke. Do you want to go mountain biking? No, I want to stay home and bake pretty cookies all day. Try to climb my first 5.11, or try to bake pretty cookies? A tough choice indeed. If I climb, my forearms will be too pumped to knead pretty cookie dough later.

I was so disgusted with the soft girl and her pretty cookies and her hopeless exercise-free wedding diet (“I don’t want my arms to get all muscular,” she whined with a grimace. No danger of that happening, I thought.) that I vowed only to make gnarly, misshapen cookies for my husband. With fat-free, whole-grain ingredients. And not very often.

So there, soft girl. I will break up your pretty cookies with my muscular arms. I will mix them into my granola. And I will never be a soft girl like you.

But sometimes, life throws you cookies, and you have to make them pretty. Or at least edible.

I went to grad school, and I figured out that the best (if not only) way for me to survive grad school was to become a better student of Buddhism. Unfortunately, compassion and equanimity are central principles in Buddhist thought.

Compassion is one thing. Poor soft girls, look how mushy they are. But equanimity? I had to come to grips with being the equal of a soft girl?

Am I the same as that dreaded mushy girl and her stupid pretty cookies?

This proves a point I’ve made many times to friends who’ve heard about the happy, smiling Dalai Lama: Buddhism is much easier to stomach in theory than in reality.

In the meantime, while trying to cope with my soft-girl sameness, my cookie suchness, my four-pack (never had all six) disappeared under a layer of lattes, coffee-house scones and late-night reading and writing. My back ached. I slept little and exercised even less.

I got soft.

There’s no better (or harder) way to learn equanimity than to become that which you despise. Granted, I didn’t become a completely soft girl, just softer. I’ve still never baked a pretty cookie. I’d rather gush over an ugly vegan cookie I didn’t bake.

I might have this all wrong, but I think the point of equanimity is to understand that our personalities are like our favorite cookies. We ice them in pretty, perfect ways to cover their flaws. Or we add whole oats and raisins to make them gnarly so they seem tougher.

But all cookies are good. My favorites are kitchen sink cookies — throw in everything but the kitchen sink. They’re misshapen and lumpy, and they’re best slightly undercooked.