Dreaming Buddhism

What a strange dream I had last night. First, some background: until just four years ago, my occupation was journalism, and only journalism, from the time I was 12 years old with a newspaper route in New York. I loved the fragrance of that fresh newspaper print. It’s the only work I ever wanted to do. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else for a living.

But journalism has changed. Gone is the intrepid, investigative reporting of Woodward and Bernstein, when the press held government and other authorities accountable. Today, journalism has been bought by corporate interests: there is no rocking the boat, advertisers dictate content, and the Internet has made reporters lazy and disconnected from their beats.

When I married and moved to this part of New England, the first local job I landed was as a beat reporter for a city newspaper. I lasted one day. After talking with my managing editor, being given a tour of my coverage area, and being introduced to the mayor, chief of police, and town officials, I went back to the newsroom and resigned. It was clear that the industry no longer held any attraction for me, and no amount of fantasizing about the days of old was going to change that. I didn’t belong there anymore.

In last night’s dream, it was my first day as a court reporter at a large city paper in San Francisco. The building was huge, and beautiful – like the few mid-20th-century city newspaper buildings that are still standing but quickly disappearing. The interior was all old, burnished wood (a nod to the newsrooms of the past), with desks occupied by busy reporters hammering away on their computers (modern technology). There was incessant chatter. I could smell coffee brewing. The energy was high. Stories were developing. My adrenaline was pumping. Journalism was still alive and well in San Francisco? Why didn’t anyone tell me? I would have been here years ago. I felt alive again. I was home.

Then I did what every journalist does the first day on the job: I grabbed a copy of the morning paper. But to my despair, for all the great vibes in this magnificent, bustling, multi-story newsroom, the paper was as weak and watered down and bereft of content, as all newspapers are now.

Full-page retail ads dominated. Press releases had been turned into ‘news’ copy. Photos of local children’s unexceptional accomplishments (Eagle Scout, honor rolls, school fundraisers, lemonade stands) crowded the soft news pages. The editorial page was filled with readers’ petty complaints about litter at the town park and teenagers driving too fast. The lead news content was clearly corporate dictated. The paper took no risks. It relied on young computer geeks with no interest in journalism to inject distracting graphics where news should have been.

The wind drained right out of my sails. I thought I’d found paradise; a post at a big city paper where news, written accurately and fairly, prevailed, where the public interest was served, and where spirited reporters and editors competed with other news outlets for the scoop on hot stories.

One of my favorite films of all time is ‘His Girl Friday’, a hilarious newspaper comedy starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, set in a New York City newsroom in 1940. This movie got it right: the booming energy of the newsroom; the tenacity of its journalists; the conflict and confrontation, and the thrill of being the first to break a big story. I’ve watched this film a hundred times.

I thought I’d found the magic again in San Francisco, in my dream. It was tough to be standing there, in this beautiful building in this beautiful city, and in what appeared to be an effervescent newsroom, and realize that I wasn’t.

So, what was the subconscious mind exploring in this at first thrilling, then painfully sad dream? Maybe it was a reminder of one of the most difficult Buddhist concepts to master and accept – impermanence.

Everything changes, moment by moment, all the time. When we become attached to something – like the romance of the newsrooms of old – we bring suffering into our lives. When we stubbornly cling to something or someone, we’re not making peace with the inevitable – that one day, we will have to let go.

In order to be the best Buddhists we can be, we must gracefully release attachments, not struggle to hold on, not become angry because the world and our lives continually change, and not avoid saying goodbye because it hurts too much.

Someone close to me is dying. I’m learning again to let go. I’ve had to release so many things in life, and I’m not going to lie: it doesn’t get easier each time. My job now is to administer compassion and comfort, and then bless and release this person to the Pure Lands. I can’t make this person not die. But by not clinging, I’m not trying in vain to change the reality of impermanence. I’m embracing change, which is the true nature of everything that exists in this amazing world. And so we flow.

Live in peace.

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