It is a mantra chanted by Nichiren Buddhists and it is a philosophy I’ve embraced as my own. On May 5th, after one year of practicing alone, I joined the Soka Gakkai International which is a lay Buddhist organization linking all practitioners around the globe. That day I received my Gohonzon: a scroll inscribed with Chinese and Sanskrit characters, in the form of a mandala, depicting the eternal and intrinsic law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and seen as an embodiment of the Buddha state that exists within every one of us. Nichiren Buddhists believe the day you receive the Gohonzon becomes your second birthday. It was Cinco de Mayo and I had twice the reason to celebrate. After enshrining the scroll, I celebrated with friends by making margaritas and baking a cake. A very merry unbirthday to me, to who, to me!
No sooner did the thermostat hit a perfect 78 degrees that our shorts-clad legs found their way to Central Park. We laid out a blanket, ate mangos, and basked in the sun. It had been a long winter. After doing cartwheels with a Mikhail Baryshnikov look-alike, who quickly became our best friend when he revealed he danced for the New York City Ballet and could get us tickets, we headed back to Brooklyn for a college friend’s welcoming party. I was under the impression my crush, let’s call him Peter Pan, would be making an appearance but after learning that he indeed wasn’t coming I moved on to the next best thing- jello shots. The next day I woke up hungrier and thirstier than a wannabe rapper. An all-nighter of blue gelatin and “twerking” will do that to a gal. By Monday I’d shed my party girl alter ego for a much more fitting persona, the pseudo intellectual theater-goer. I met up with a girlfriend to watch INTAR’s “Pinkolandia” and although it’s pointless to review it now since it’s already closed, if you ever get the chance to read it or see it I highly recommend you do. The relationship between the two sisters had me blubbering in my seat, like every single sibling story always manages to. Later that week when my sister Beli picked me up from the airport I told her about the embarrassing little episode and she said she does the same thing. We are two sentimental saps!
I was in Miami for just the weekend but the schedule was jam-packed. I hosted a dinner party on Friday and nothing made me happier than seeing my friends and family break bread at the same table. Saturday night Beli and I took Mom out for drinks, dancing, and a surprise trip to Showgirls. Nothing screams “Happy Mother’s Day” louder than Candy’s pink platforms wrapped around your progenitor’s neck. In true Cuban tradition the after-party always continues the day after, so we chased the sun down the seven mile bridge to Islamorada. We sipped our piña coladas by the Tiki Bar and stared out at the sea. I returned to the counter for a slice of pizza. If I’ve learned anything in my 27 years is that drinking on an empty stomach is made for people with stronger constitutions than mine. As I’m signing the receipt I see him walk in: fedora hat, salmon-colored shorts and a predator’s swag. He saunters up beside me and before I know it I’m being handed a business card. Clearly it wasn’t this cowboy’s first time at the rodeo but it was definitely the first time I was being so unabashedly picked up. So naturally I respond like any extremely sophisticated woman in my position would, I fluster my way through a “Nice to meet you” and awkwardly leave the bar. In my 27 years I’ve also learned that the “game” is better left to players more skilled than me. Ladies, if a man tells you twice how sexy you are in the same time span it takes to reheat some dough, run. Run faster than LeBron at an NBA Finals! Also, note to self, never trust a man in salmon-colored shorts.
On the flight back, rummaging through my agenda getting ready for the week ahead, I looked down and there they were: the six auditions I’d skipped out on because they’d taken a back seat to my busy social calendar. Between the late nights and weekly outings I now had six reasons to feel like a failure. I let my perfectionist side bully me with guilt all the way to La Guardia. Three hours and a Diet Coke later, however, I was already fed up- apparently I have a low threshold for remorse which might also be the reason why I’ve never found Catholicism too appealing. Besides, my hedonistic side had much more convincing argument. I didn’t need self-flagellation, I needed a distraction. During rehearsals and performances for “Lucy Loves Me” theatre was all I cared to breathe but now here I was with all this free time. That same day I reactivated my OKCupid account. Since I didn’t have a character to love I might as well settle for a date. The prospects, though, were bleak. I decided to hold off on those interminable first meals and rather spend time with the people I already knew and adored- my friends. We celebrated Doug’s birthday with liquor, board games, and more liquor. What can I say, sometimes you choose your friends but sometimes they choose you. They’re the only ones who will put up with your 45 minute rant about lack of manners and still want to hold your hand at the movies when you’re sad that Jay Gatsby has to die. They’re the ones who will plan a spontaneous day trip to Philadelphia for Memorial Day weekend. Two back-to-back Philly cheesesteaks on a wooden bench beats pretending to love salad at a trendy restaurant any day of the week.
Tuesday afternoons I volunteered with the Page Turners, an after-school program to help kids with homework. On the way there, feeling mighty altruistic and marveling in my own Buddhahood, I walked to the subway like I always do, engrossed in my iPhone. Not bothering to look up I didn’t see the light had changed and I nearly got hit by a bike. As he zoomed by the cyclist yelled “Wake up!” He could have picked any other choice of words, a few juicy insults come to mind, but instead he said “Wake up!” I took out my earphones and continued walking. The Universe has different ways of delivering its message. A week before, while walking in Chinatown, I’d stumbled upon a Buddhist temple. After lighting some incense I picked up a small piece of paper with my fortune. It read “Work for Bodhi, e’en if it takes an eternity.” Bodhi is the understanding possessed by a Buddha regarding the nature of things. It literally means awakened. I liked this fortune. To me awakened means seeing the here and now as the only promise we have. There will always be other auditions but there will never again be another today. Awakened is enjoying the light in a child’s eyes when they correctly solve a math problem they deemed impossible. Awakened means opening up your heart to forgive others for being human and in doing so a chapter you once thought was closed can again be opened and hopefully re-written. And sometimes all it takes is a year-long, overdue email. I read somewhere that “Patience from a Buddhist perspective is not a ‘wait and see’ attitude, but rather one of ‘just be there’... Patience can also be based on not expecting anything. Think of patience as an act of being open to whatever comes your way.” The best we can do is breathe in, breathe out, and work for Bodhi.