Reader M.C. Coolidge shares the story of a stolen Buddha statue.
This was not the awakening I had in mind
Until recently I had a Buddha statue that sat just outside the front door of my home. The Buddha was visible from inside the living room through a wide, floor-to-ceiling window. I would sit in front of this window to meditate, and the Buddha—frequently with a lizard atop his head—was the first thing I would see as I opened my eyes at the end of the meditation. On this morning, however, my eyes widened in heart-struck horror at the empty spot where my Buddha usually sat. Apparently, while I slept, a thief crept to my front door, hefted the large, concrete Buddha off his stone perch, and carried him away into the night.
The statue was precious to me—brought to my home over 15 years ago after I had extricated myself from an abusive relationship. Its solid presence imparted a much-needed sense of tranquility, and it also symbolized a concept I’ve struggled with accepting: that the only permanent condition of life is impermanence. I know this is true—my own life has certainly shown that. But since my divorce, I became attached to things that could be counted on to stick around—like my Buddha, which was so heavy he could not be moved. Or so I thought.
That morning, embracing impermanence was the last thing on my mind. I railed against the callousness of someone stealing a Buddha statue, of all things. I angrily fantasized about posting a huge sign in my front yard that read: “Hey, Buddha thief! Watch out—karma’s just around the corner!”
Eventually, I calmed down enough to make a police report. But the policeman’s comment, “The thief probably dumped it in an alley or smashed it up,” only made things worse. I thought about posting something on Facebook—to express my fury and to warn friends and neighbors of nighttime skullduggery. As I began writing, however, the words of outrage quickly petered out, and I found myself wondering, Beyond sharing my angst, what is my intention?
Sitting in front of the computer, fingers poised to type, I realized with surprise that with just a few moments of inquiry and stillness, the feelings of anxiety about what had happened to the Buddha were dissipating. My vengeful wish to exact justice on the thief was less intense than before.
Still, though, I could feel myself wanting to indulge in the seductive tug of emotional “upset.” Especially on social media, it’s so tempting to engage with others around the activity of being “upset” about something. Bad day at work? Vent with the hashtag #worstdayever, and feedback is swift and sympathetic: That’s awful! #cocktailtherapy! My day was a total loss too!
But something held me back from sharing the incident on Facebook or even with friends and family.
A few days later, I was walking and listening to Gary Zukav narrate his book The Heart of the Soul. “All that you encounter is the teacher and you are the student.” I immediately smiled at the idea, but then thought of my missing, possibly shattered Buddha and wondered, What could that horrible Buddha thief possibly teach me?
The following week, at my book club meeting, I decided I was ready to share the story of the stolen Buddha with my book-loving friends. They responded sympathetically, but one friend looked at me and said, “Maybe you’re supposed to learn something from this.” I knew she was right—and so was Zukav—and so was my heart.
Because even though a part of me wanted to focus on the drama of the theft, getting all riled up just didn’t hold the allure it once did.
What did hold allure were the quiet, steady nudges I was getting—the ones that kept steering me away from my initial inclination to feel violated by theft and hurt by loss. Nudges that were moving me instead to feel gratitude.
Yes. The thief had shone a light on the parts of me that still struggle in darkness. The parts of me that are still all too quick to become angry, or to believe that life is difficult, that people can’t be trusted, and nothing good lasts forever.
The theft also helped me see the enormous benefit of pausing before reacting. By not immediately sharing the incident with others, I created an influence-free space for the feelings of upset-ness to deflate. By pausing, I was reminded of what I had learned during my marriage but which, with time and comfort, I’d been less diligent about practicing: I can choose how I respond, and I choose to respond with compassion.
It’s been many weeks now since the Buddha went missing, and I no longer feel a flash of loss when I open my eyes after meditating. Gazing out the window, I no longer see emptiness; I see, instead, the lizards drawing warmth from the sun-heated stone where the Buddha used to sit. I see lush fig tree leaves dappling the space with spots of sun and shade. I see birds swooping through the yard and people walking their dogs on the street.
He was here and now he is gone. The world is unchanged even as it is changed.
The Buddha was taken, and something far lovelier was given.