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Lions Roar : January 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2012 60 of negativity slowly but surely poisoning my (potentially) bright future—and I aimed to flippin’ do something about it. For the last twenty-five years, I’ve made my living as a humor columnist, hired to rant wildly about fat-ass southerners, rabid vegans, sell-out politicos, and closeted Christian fundamen- talists. Despite being labeled an “over-caffeinated sex pundit,” I genuinely tried to be a conscientious, thoughtful, rational, sometimes sardonic but generally pleasant human being. Not- withstanding this upbeat self-perception, the smart-alecky satire was starting to creep into my personal life, as I recently heard the following words come out of my mouth: “Did you see Tommy last night? Guy was hammered! Though I’d drink heavily if I was married to Sandy, that’s for damn sure. I can’t believe their marriage lasted longer than mine! Did you check her out? She’s lookin’ like a combo of William Shatner and Chaz Bono on steroids.” As my pal silently picked at his blackened salmon Caesar, dumb- founded and losing his appetite for my company, it became clear that an internal intervention was needed. I’d become a poor-man’s Don Rickles, but more vicious. Queen of Mean Lisa Lampanelli had nuthin’ on me—at least she picks on public figures like the Kar- dashian sisters and Trump. I was tearing apart my own loved ones. In an effort to reprogram my brain toward a less foul-mouthed future, I decided to take the radical step of removing all trash- talk, mud-slinging and taunting tweets from my everyday exis- tence for an entire month. There’d be no more sarcastic smack talk, gossip, pissy texting, or foul language of any kind. In my case, simply embracing the notion that it’s “better to light a candle than curse the darkness” wouldn’t fly—I was too far gone; it would be like letting Charlie Sheen do in-house rehab. (Wait...) This was serious business and would require a Seal Team 6 approach: tactical advisers, military discipline, and, with any luck, one of those really cool invisible helicopters. Week 1 For the first few days I shied away from conversations, not wanting to launch into my customary overly reactive hyperbole on any one of a thousand subjects and blow the whole gig right off the bat. Pleasant- ries with baristas are easy enough, until someone approaches with a chance for hate speak: “Did you hear what Sarah Palin said last night about teachers’ unions?” I bit my tongue. Literally. The concept “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” is a helluva lot easier said than done. For one thing, it means you have a lot less to say. My sister called and wanted to know if I’d had any interactions with my soon-to-be-ex wife. “No,” I lied, “Vanessa and I are each working on our own stuff and giv- ing each other the space we need right now.” Truth was over the last few months we’d had several screaming powwows including a Please Take Me Back session, followed by a My Therapist Says It Must Have Been Over Before the Affair discussion, and the ulti- mate I’m Struggling With My Feelings conversation. The chances of us getting back together were already slim to none (let’s just say forgiveness isn’t in my Top 10 qualities). Given that my previous efforts at major life changes—losing twenty pounds, quitting weed, laying off the West Wing DVDs— had failed miserably, I knew I’d need an experienced sponsor to keep me on task: someone like Dr. Drew, only less egotistical and incompetent. So I called on the most dedicated and fierce influ- ence in my life: my yoga teacher. If the Dalai Lama and J-Lo had a love child, it would be Dawn Jansen. For fourteen years now, this gorgeous and brilliant yoga instructor has twisted me into a pretzel, cured my sciatica, and gently placed positive mantras into my thick skull. Hearing about my grand experiment (and knowing my extensive weaknesses), Dawn understood the need for a game plan; going in cold turkey wouldn’t cut it—the epic charge was too general, too abstract. She arrived at my house with no fewer than a dozen books intended to impart some structure and words of wisdom. “You’re not going to be perfect in your practice,” Dawn noted in her non- judgmental yet powerful way, “but if you ritualize the way you go about it, and proceed with compassion, you should be all right.” As we reviewed the various scriptures and guidelines, the Buddhist concept of “right speech” came into focus. “The first ele- ment is abstaining from false speech—basically lies and deceit,” Dawn noted. I don’t do a whole lot of lying (anymore), so I thought avoiding flat-out fibs for the month shouldn’t be a problem. “The second notion is abstaining from hateful or slanderous speech.” Hmmm. Slander: making false and malicious statements about oth- ers. Okay—I can stay away from that. “Third element is avoiding harsh words that hurt or offend other people,” she continued. I must have looked dumbfounded. “It’s not like you can’t say anything negative,” Dawn explained. “There’s room for straight- shooting, so long as it’s truthful. At the monastery the Buddhist nuns would say ‘You look sick, today. Face is all red!’ or ‘You seem puffy. Don’t get any fatter!’ So you can point things out, but not if the intention is to hurt someone.” Sounded good to me (I was looking for breathing room or a gray area). “And finally, there’s abstaining from idle chatter.” Idle chatter? But idle chatter’s my specialty! “You just don’t want to get involved in conversations that have no purpose or depth,” she clarified. “So, no bullshitting?” I clarified. “Is that necessary?” she replied. So much for small talk... My sixteen-year-old son is a kid of few words and a good example to learn from. Full of “thank you’s,” “please’s,” and “may I’s,” he’s shy around adults, but always pleasant and speaks when spoken to. After my wife moved out (she took Riles with her), he and I started spending more “quality time” together—by that I mean less of me yelling at him to pick up the towels on the floor or turn off the X-Box, and more shopping at UpperPlayground. Today he was particularly quiet and I felt the need to check in,