January 10, 2013

Bitchsmacked by Buddha’s Hand.

My New Year’s resolution this year was to not have a New Year’s resolution.

It took me exactly five days to cave.

I found myself standing in an organic market filling my plastic basket with detox teas and produce, thinking now was the time to really commit to my health and spend way too much on groceries. It could have been the huge sign out front reminding shoppers to Start the New Year Out Fresh! It’s more likely, though, that it’s a result of never being able to stick to my damn resolutions.

Eight-five dollars later, I’m standing in my kitchen inhaling an entire tub of soy cookie dough ice cream right out of the container. I stare at the bounty I just purchased and realize that I have what amounts to no actual food. I have a variety of liquids, some swimming with what I’m told is good bacteria. I have nuts and an avocado and a dark chocolate bar that set me back six dollars. What I have is a high calorie snack at best.

The most ridiculous of these purchases sits on my cutting board where it will probably suffer a hairy, molding death over the next few weeks. I feel guilty even looking at it, given how expensive it was. I blame my boyfriend. I lost him in the produce section—a mistake I’ve learned to never make. When I found him he was leaning over a bin of strange fruit. Squeezing. Contemplating.

What the hell is that,I asked.

“It’s a Buddha’s Hand.”

“What’s it for?”

“I have no idea, he said. But I want it.”

I wanted it, too. Buddha’s hand fruit is a mutant of the natural world—the monster of the citrus bin. It has color and texture of a lemon, the body of a newborn squid. I can imagine little boys using it to attack LEGO pirate ships, or to suction to a friend’s face in a mock alien war. There seemed to be no culinary reason that I knew of for this creature.

“Aren’t these so cool,” the cashier said as she rang it up.

“It’s one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen,” I said.

I asked her what I was supposed to do with it, and she told me she wasn’t quite sure. That people usually used them for their smell (which is insanely good) or for ambitious vodka infusions.

It’s called a Buddha’s Hand,” I said. “I don’t really care what it’s for. I’m sold.”

I’ve made a lot of purchases using this logic. I’ve bought 20 dollar candles because the label said it would cleanse my chakras or strengthen my auric field. I’ve bought rocks, ordinary river rocks, purely because someone carved the word hope or Om into them. I bought a gong when I couldn’t even afford an apartment to bang it in, for Shiva’s sake.

I may have the heart of a pilgrim, but my impulse control is all-American.

photo by Sara Lovelace

So the browning Buddha’s hand on my cutting board begins to taunt me. On day one I was content to just look at it—to pick it up and put it to my nose for a few seconds. This brought me joy, briefly. But after a few days of it sitting there, useless, it began to remind me of all the things I’d stupidly purchased over the last 20 or so years. The rocks, the rock shows, the closet floor filled with heels I’ll never wear, the unframed and unhung paintings collecting dog hair on my bedroom floor.

This citrus was gaining symbolism by the minute. This citrus was pissing me off.

So I took to the internet, determined to find out what I could do with Buddha’s hand. Luckily, there were hundreds of websites with the very same question; most were created by people who also lack discipline, people who’d gone into the store for some eco-friendly cleaner, and walked out with something they were going to have to answer for when they overdrew their checking accounts.

But they just couldn’t help themselves. That’s what the various blogs admitted—that Buddha’s hand called to them and they were unable to resist. There were Instagram photos of the citron on people’s faces and dining room tables. There were pictures of Buddha’s hands on people’s altars and down people’s pants. It seems to inspire worship, drunkenness, pornography, hilarity and lots and lots of cookie recipes. Few fruits have such a lively subculture. It’s enough to make the plantain jealous.

There is some sketchy evidence that Buddhist monks brought the fruit from India to China, but there is just as much evidence that they didn’t. What is known is that it appears in Indian and Chinese art dating back thousands of years. It’s displayed as a gift to various Gods, and an offering to shy virgins. In the same way that thousands of iPhones are snapping pics in grocery stores, the ancients painted the Buddha’s hand on temple walls. Nobody, no matter the era, hasn’t found this fruit undeniably mysterious.

After reading about it for (I’m ashamed to admit) four or five hours, I moved my mini-gong to the side of my altar and replaced it with the Buddha’s hand. It was an offering—a prayer for all the sins and broken promises of 2012.

I then read that the fingers of the fruit must be closed if given to the gods. That the open fruit fingers could call forth bad mojo, something I spent the last year sage-spreading (which ain’t cheap) my house to avoid. I quickly removed the citron from my altar, dusted it off, said sorry to the angry angel who has tormented me for the last 365 days, and put it back on the cutting board to rot.

But that monster found a way into my meditation. No mantra or crystal gong CD could stop it, so I sat for 30 minutes with its tentacles swimming through my grey matter. There were none of my monkey mind go-to’s—no self-improvement hopes or worries about money or career fears. There was only the fruit, so vivid in my mind that I could smell and feel it without it actually being present.

This problem purchase had become a few precious moments of bliss. Though I meditate daily, I’ve almost never reached that state. Certainly not in the last year.

There have been so many things that I haven’t been able to make sense of.

I rattle them around my brain, I meditate, I talk to my therapist, I self-help myself to sleep, and I still can’t move past the break-ups, the mistakes, the unfulfilled dream. I tend to think of my past as being like one of those jumbled 3-D pictures where you stare and stare and, finally, a fully-formed image presents itself to you. That neurotic over-examination is some kind of alchemy that can transform a shitty circumstance into a golden opportunity.

I’ve offered my mistakes and regrets to the gods, but maybe I was grasping for salvation with my fingers open. Maybe I was asking for the wrong things, for the easy answers. Yoga may provide a map for enlightenment, but I’ll still have to fall in a ditch and break my ankle along the way. Yoga asks me to accept the broken ankle, to accept pain and suffering, and to move forward anyway. Sitting on my ass wondering why it’s broken doesn’t get me any further down the path.

During my Buddha’s hand meditation, I got a little bit closer to embracing this idea. After a week of looking for functionality, for meaning, I accepted it just was. It’s lovely and mysterious. It was, perhaps, an impulsive mistake. It will age and die and be thrown into a compost pile to become something else entirely. It is so like life. Namaste.

PS: Your mistakes may not make delicious cookies, but Buddha’s hand does. Do your yoga, meditate, and find one of the many online recipes for Buddha’s hand cookies!

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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger

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