Anything but peace? No, thank you.

Dr. Wayne Dyer: 
“I can choose peace rather than this.”

Good for him.







Part 1

Los Angeles. Early morning, late spring. Twelve years ago.


I pick Nagy up from the porch of his Mid-Wilshire home.

He is waiting patiently, wearing saffron robes, perennially jolly, just like one expects Buddhist monks to be.

We exit the 110 freeway and wind through to the Lincoln Heights school where it’s my third year teaching.

At the base of the hill upon which the L.A. Leadership Academy sits—the corner of E. Avenue 33 and Griffin Street—I buy “dos puerco y dos pollo”—two pork and two chicken tamales from Hector, who pulls the corn-husked Guatemalan-style masa treats from a blue igloo cooler. Nagy and I will eat these on a break from our schtick, when the kids are at lunch.

The bell rings.

I electronically submit the attendance to the office, introduce Nagy, and launch straight into the routine we developed during last year’s clergy dog and pony show.

I attack: “So, Nagy, they just heard me tell them you are a Buddhist monk, but let’s not kid anyone, you’re not a real Buddhist. You’re a white guy playing dress up.”

“Oh, is that so?” he counters and laughs.

(Sometimes, I fantasize that some Jewish organization will honor me for the favorable image of Jews I have provided to thousands of inner-city Los Angeles and Portland families.)

I continue my attack by mocking his words: “Is that so? That’s your defense? Is that so? Really? You are a pasty old white guy from the Midwest. You’re not a real Buddhist. Your name is Daniel.”

15-year old Diana Montes taps the tips of her tiny, delicate fingernails like anticipatory applause. She squeals, “Oh, Mister Rabbi, I can’t believe you just said all that to that nice man.”

“Well, Rabbi,” Nagy responds with a chuckle emphasizing the second syllable, rah-bye, “I don’t need to accept your gift.”

“I don’t understand your riddle. What are you saying?” I say on behalf of the group.

“So, imagine,” Nagy sing-songs, pausing and continuing, “Imagine I blow my nose in a tissue and then try to hand it to you. What would you say?”

As he pantomimes doing so, I raise my hands and say with a mix of disgust and surprise, “No, thank you.”

“Exactly,” Nagy responds. “You don’t have to take my gift—of the soiled tissue. And I don’t have to take the gift of your insults.”

I play the straight man for all five of our 45-minute shows.


Nagy tells a story:

A woman screams at the Buddha “You are a horrible man. My son has given up his material possessions and now does nothing but fast and repeat the sutras you teach him.”

The Buddha’s students watch in amazement as she spits in his face and he refrains from reacting.

After she leaves, they ask him “Why did you not correct her? Why did you not defend yourself? Why did you just listen as she screamed at you?”

His response, “I need not take her gifts.”


I summarize: “If someone tries to give you something you don’t want—a dirty tissue or some shade—you can always say, No, thank you.” 







Part 2

Portland. Mid summer. A few days ago.


I can’t find the keys or the Subaru that I’m supposed to take to the shop to get the a/c fixed.


Why can’t I find either? Because my beloved took both when she left the house.


She did so even after I had specified—and she acknowledged—that today she would take the minivan.


But she didn’t. And she’s not answering the phone.




How annoying.


As I look on my phone for the repair shop’s number to reschedule, I simultaneously assemble a full serving of lambaste-resentment stew—seasoned with a generous portion of not fair and a heaping amount of shame.


I taste the deliciousness as I imagine serving it to Jane. 


But a miracle happens.


I think, “I need not take the gifts.” 


Certainly, plans didn’t work out as I had envisioned them, but that doesn’t mean I need to lose my serenity.


It’s my serenity, after all. 



Let me summarize: “If someone—or the universe!—tries to give you something you don’t want—a dirty tissue, some shade, or an inconvenience—you can always say, No, thank you.”







Part 3

<your current location>, <current season>, <the time right now>.


I have arranged a spiritualigious workout session for you—something in the next two to five hours is not going to go according to your desires.

Practice retaining your serenity when you get something you don’t want with an attitude of “No, thank you.”


In summary: “The more able you are to have dispassionate/not-heated responses to things going awry, the better.”



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