Saturday, March 7, 2009

Begging Bowl - Asking for what I want

My private reflections this Lent have bounced around a lot, but they seem to revolve sort of loosely around my Begging Bowl.  

I received it as a gift from a friend in 1996.  She got it from someone who knew someone who knew someone who was a Buddhist monk in Thailand.  It came packaged in a net bag that was made to sling over one's shoulder, in order to carry the bowl on one's back.  The bowl is made of some kind of rough metal, painted black.  It sits on a circular ring, like the base of a wok, so it won't tip over.  It came with a metal plate that served as a lid, along with a metal cup, a spoon, a fork, a knife and a straight razor. I have no idea what ever happened to the bag, the plate, the cup, the eating utensils or the razor.  I could kick myself every time I think of the holy treasures I somehow lost.  At least, I still have the bowl and its base. 

From the first moment he saw it my husband said he thought the bowl was the most hideously ugly thing he'd ever seen, so I never put it out where it could be seen at home.  I kept it in a special place inside my closet. Occasionally,  I took it out to cherish and honor it, but I kept it hidden away.  

A few years ago, my job became crazy.  I was working sixty or more hours a week, and trying to maintain some pretence of balance in my life.  One day I took my Begging Bowl to the office.  At first I put it in a spot where I could see it, but it wasn't immediately visible to others who came into my office.  When I moved into my current office, I put it in a very prominent place, beside the photos of my family.  

Several people have commented to me about how beautiful they think it is. Somehow in the years I have cherished and loved it, it has become beautiful to me.  I suppose objectively it is still a  rough metal bowl, painted black.  It probably is ugly.  I love it, so I think it is beautiful, and I sort of fall in love with people who tell me they like it, too.  

The lesson of the Begging Bowl is supposed to be that the monk who owns it is supposed to be grateful for whatever anyone puts into it.  I keep my bowl in my office as a reminder to be grateful for my job and all the other blessings of my life.  I've spent a dozen years contemplating gratitude.  I have become grateful to the core of my being, not for any one particular thing but for Creation in general and my life in particular. 

In revisiting the meaning of the Begging Bowl at a time when I am in need of reflecting on various other facets of my spiritual life, I have discovered that my Bowl has more to teach me than gratitude. It sings a lot of songs. In previous years, I have tuned them all out except the one about gratitude.  This Lent, I'm trying to train myself to listen to other songs emanating from my Bowl.

One of its songs has to do with the importance of asking for what I want/need. This is a seriously old and sticky issue for me.  Asking for help involves admitting that I can't do everything by myself. That involves accepting the fact that I am not perfect. Lord God, is that ever a hard thing to do for a good little Catholic girl who got practically straight A's all the way through school (including college) and who ever since has prided myself in working harder, smarter and doing a better job than anyone around me!?  

What do you mean not perfect? Yikes!! Well, maybe if I tried harder, worked longer, got up earlier... 

Asking for what I want/need is undignified.  I see it as "begging", and I will absolutely not stoop to that.  

Hello??!! This from a person whose most cherished possession is a freaking Begging Bowl.  Hmmmm. We have work to do here!

Asking for what I want/need is unladylike.  Ladies aren't supposed to put themselves forward or call attention to themselves.  I was raised in the last generation of girls whose mothers stressed being a "lady" in the old-fashioned sense.  Getting out of that box is something I have never been able to do. Ladies give to others. They don't ask for things for themselves.

Asking for what I want/need is potentially a setup for rejection.  That, of course, is to be avoided at all costs.

I've used the Begging Bowl as a symbol of the importance of being grateful for whatever people dish out to me. I have learned that lesson well.

Now I need is to learn to beg.

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