My photo

Friday, 10 January 2014

75. Living abroad and the eighty-fourth problem

Lately I’ve been reading this book about Buddhism. It’s not been going well; I don’t think I’m really cut out for Buddhism. I spent ages staring at this close-up-magic-eye-type picture in the book, trying to work out what it was. It was a cow’s face. Even when I knew I was looking for a cow (because I cheated and skipped ahead to the answer later in the book), it still took me forever to see it. ‘Come on,’ I’d will myself, ‘see the cow.’ I felt ridiculous. Also, every time I type the word ‘Buddhism’ in this post, I miss-spell it and have to be corrected.

But one bit in the book did resonate with me. It was about problems. According to the Buddha, everyone has 83 problems and there is nothing any of us can do about it. Even if you win the lottery, find love, live in a paradise location, enjoy rude health…doesn’t matter. You’re still going to have 83 problems – it’ll just be a different set of problems than you had before. You solve one problem, another takes its place.

The story goes that a farmer went to the Buddha seeking help. He said he liked farming, but worried about too-wet or too-dry seasons. He had a good wife, but she nagged him sometimes. He loved his sons, but felt they didn’t always show him proper respect. The Buddha said that he couldn’t help; everyone has their 83 problems and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

‘So, like, what good is all your wisdom then, if it can’t help?’ The farmer asked.
The Buddha replied, ‘Well, it can’t help with the 83 problems. But it can help you with the 84th problem.’
‘Oh yeah, what’s the 84th problem?’
‘You want to not have any problems.

Brilliant, no? To quote another spiritual guru, Ace Rimmer from Red Dwarf, ‘…sharper than a page of Oscar Wilde witticisms rolled into a point, dipped in lemon juice, and stabbed into somebody's eye.’

Anyway, it just really stuck with me. I’m always trying to steamroller my way through problems: I always thought it was one of my strengths.

I realise I’ve been feeling like the farmer lately. ‘Hey, Buddha,’ fictional me would say, ‘I’ve moved abroad, have no mortgage, and am doing a job (from home) that I tend to like. But, there’s always so much to do on the house, we’re still only scraping by with the language, and there’s hardly ever time for fun stuff. I want to travel more, Buddha, I want to see more of the strange and lovely place I’ve moved to. But there’s the house and work and cats, not to mention we don’t have enough savings. And don’t even get me started on my pension! Also, Buddha, while you’re at it, one of my cats died and it’s been really sad. Help me.’

I didn’t think moving abroad would guarantee a perfect life. I knew it’d be tough. (If I wanted an easy life, I would’ve picked a number of other places above Bulgaria.) Overall, it’s been great. If I had the chance to go back in time, I’d still do it all again. Rob and I agree that our two-and-a-half years here have been the best of our relationship so far. Also, honestly, they’ve been the hardest years. That’s the thing about moving abroad; everything gets kind of…amplified. The highs are brilliant, but the lows can be pretty fucking awful. Maybe it’s all part of being away from family and friends. There are fewer distractions here so, when something is wrong, there’s nowhere to hide from it.

Also, the thing about problems, is that they’re portable little beggars. If you’re a functioning alcoholic back home, or a workaholic, or terrible with money, you’re not going to magically shed that stuff at the border. If, like me, you’re prone to down periods and have a tendency to dwell on stuff, you’d better know that’s coming with you. But it’s okay because everyone has their problems and even as you solve one, another will crop up, right? (It’s a bit like popping zits in that sense.)

It’s pretty therapeutic, accepting the reality that life will never be problem free, no matter where you are. Rain will fall, weeds will grow, cats will get sick and die, that bit of plaster will keep
falling down. Sometimes things go wrong, that’s the way of life. At least I can cross that 84th problem off the list.

Right, enough with the Buddhism, here’s a picture of a cat really enjoying life.