Can one be “Sassenach” and Buddhist?

There is a treasure trove of stories to go under the Sassenach heading- funny things that happen when you are an “outlander with a sense of humour”  and the desire to find the best in most situations.  This also extends to the adventures of having au pairs and nannies so you can continue to pretend you still have a professional life as a single mom with a small child – but I digress.

This is a segment I hadn’t intended to write, but sometimes things hit you so hard that not paying attention isn’t an option.  Lifelong INFP adventure seekers get knocked about more than most because we are more open to the new – or we use our eyes and other senses in ways different than others.  For example, being a photographer really helps me to “see”.

About a year ago I started to get serious about meditation as an alternative to having the brain of a squirrel.  Not that there is anything inheretly wrong with the squirreley brain, but calming a brain down that has an overactive limbic system is essential for a multitude of things; including being able to filter out the “noise” in life to stay on track with what is meaningful.  Whatever meaningful is to you.  Yoga works very well for me, but given a Vedic predisposition to being able to delve into silence is something I really want to, well – delve into.  It’s part of the introvert framework.  We think inside.  We tend to feel fairly deeply.  It is beyond just being “quiet” – it is a processing of the world that is different than it is for someone else.  It is difficult for some people to understand.

Buddhist meditation seemed a logical place to seek this discipline. Being back in Scotland I signed up for a six-week course.  I go to yoga classes at the centre which has a pleasant calm about it – soothing to someone who easily goes into overload resulting in her inner squirrel brain kicking in and fritzing out.  Besides, the Dalai Lama has a wonderful sense of humour, and as I have matured his saying about “if you can’t do good, at least do no harm” has become a core value.  Ask anyone who has had a Midwestern USA upbringing.  Of all the qualities out there – “being useful” is right up there at the top.  Bless you Eleanor Roosevelt, for feeling the same.  She was a Sassenach, too.

I didn’t know what to expect. As more and more people entered the waiting area, the “I” in me began to want to get up and run out.  Like when you were little and you got to the birthday party a bit late, and all the other kids are already playing in assorted groups and you are going to have to figure out where/if  you might fit in – and you just want to turn around and go home.  (And you were always late to the parties because, well, punctuality wasn’t one of your mom’s priorities.)  And everyone else is talking, and you try to make chit chat but what you really think is that you are taking up valuable space on a couch while others are standing because, obviously, being an outlander you shouldn’t be taking up room.

The bell chimes and you are directed as to where to go, which at least gives you purpose. Entering the room you thankfully know which accoutrements to pick up, but the only place left to sit is rather behind the leader and to the side, so you won’t be able to really “see” – but rather than draw attention to yourself and get up and walk across the room and squeeze into a spot that doesn’t really exist, you stay where you are.  And there is some kind of a younger assistant, who also is rather in front of you, too. (Yes, I still want to leave.)

Introductions are made going around the room.  I am, obviously older than most.  The room is easily 75% female and 25% male.  Although a couple people announce their age as part of their intro – and someone tops it with being older – I really should just add an addendum that says “I am indeed older than all of you” but Introverted Sassenachs just make mental notes.  We all have our reasons for why we signed up for the course.

The teacher talks about some of the precepts of Buddhism.  The concept of “Sangha” – of community.  The community that one journeys with and the community that supports them, and whom they support, on their journey.  This is important because even a Sassenach/Outlander/Mleccha/Introvert would like this – 1. just a small one, 2. one or two at a time, and 3. preferably from their own homes.  But the “community” aspect is even more important to us than it is to many others because of how we process life.  “Small Batch” works well for coffee roasting; as well as S/O/M/I life support.

Breaking up into small groups to ask questions – or just to “share” again raises the adrenaline (wait!  What about meditation!).  I’m not ready to share.  I don’t even know these people.  And then in the small group, it hits me out of nowhere.  Our “leader” is the young chap.  The one who sat in front of me; who instead of even asking if I had put all my cushions in a good place to meditate (because I am right there and could have used some help) made his way over to the younger women on the opposite side of the room to assist them instead.  (I know…I am over 50 and female, therefore invisible. But I could have used a simple acknowledgement of existence – or cushion help.)  And when the question comes out from the loud male in our small group regarding if they have to be, well you know, celibate – the young man explains how “since he has become what he is now, he no longer looks at women like he used to”, he can look at them like – well – people.  In other words, like something he either wants to, or doesn’t want to fuck.  Which sounds rather hollow having observed him make certain he assisted the young women across the room and ignored who the one who was right next to him.

Being Sassenach means having the often unique ability to observe and record without reacting or needing to control a situation.  It is a survival skill.  Sensory overload is a real factor in our lives. Getting through what others perceive as “normal” situations sometimes means calling up reserves for those of us inclined to be more “I’s” than “E’s” as it is. But this dissonance hit me right at the Heart Chakra.  Because if there is anything that will make me overcome any desire to just “observe” as a defence mechanism, or whatever – it would be watching and hearing what would make a Mother Bear want to stare him down and stand my ground for what was just said because I am also the mom of a 17 year-old daughter.  The light of my life.  Who went through a drug date-rape experience a couple years ago which terrifically wounded her and terrified me.  And when I bought her the book I Didn’t Call it Rape on the suggestion of someone experienced in working with teenage girls, I started really thinking about how as women; whether we were extroverts, introverts, Sassenachs, Mlecchas, beautiful, plain, quiet – or the loudest at a party, we had grown up to think that comments like what this man had made about his pre-enlightened state, were acceptable.  The norm.  What men think/say/do.  And whether it was in the 1970’s or the 2010’s NOTHING had really changed except we now seem to have the right to be fucking pissed off about it.  And, I am. For my daughter, for her friends, for what I experienced and it didn’t have to even be in this context – it could be the bullying in the business world; the expectation that since you were invited to the party (to be in a business dominated by men) you should be damn happy about it and accept our comments and attitudes because – aw shucks – it’s just so nice to have diversity, and we pay you well. Darling.

It is said that during sex, a women’s limbic system engages more than a man’s and whether she thinks of it as just “hooking up” or not – the brain has its own method of recording events.  Which might mean that with the new relationship attitudes being even more fractured and temporary than they were in the 70’s, the end result could perhaps be just as, if not more emotionally devastating down the line  Because the dissonance is greater.  In other words, maybe you won’t really think about it until you’re in your 50’s – but by then you might be even more pissed off than I was that night.

I used to ignore so much of what my mom said.  “She’s just old and angry” I would tell myself.   I am older now than she was when she used to says things that annoyed me.  I now realise how she loved me, and didn’t want me to feel the kind of pain that she worried I might eventually feel.  Sooner or later.  Or, when you see your own child and her friends going through similar situations, and you love them so much that you would do anything to not have them feel that pain, that emptiness, that “not good enough” after-effect that lies there ready to rear its ugly head in your worst moments of doubt.   Or when you are sitting in what could be a class with people who might become your “Sangha” to begin a journey into the unknown, but instead you can’t believe the person who is supposed to be leading the group is feeding off the self-appointed Alpha male and cloaking it in some rubbish statement about his personal evolution.

Earlier in the evening the teacher had brought up how truth and honesty is important – but so is the timing of that honesty.  This wasn’t a good time.

So perhaps you are asking yourself what I did.  And I will be honest – it takes time for me to process.  So at that moment I didn’t have anything to share, and no one asked me to share, so I observed.  But I did “feel”.  And the feeling was that this is probably not a community that will be supportive.  That although I admire the gender equality of Buddhism, it wasn’t playing out well in this scenario.  And that one of the main components of beginning to study a different path, trust, would never be regained.

Perhaps I am old, pissed off; invisible and pissed off about being invisible – but one of the good things about reaching this age is not giving much energy to what some people think of you.  My values are intact by a decision to not return there.

I wonder if any of the other women had any thoughts.

Dear Daughter: I Love You.


Nuts go well with Champagne




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