Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Dharma of Gardens and Lo-Fi Music

I should be working now.  I'm sitting at my desk on a Friday afternoon with several hours left before I can leave the office without someone giving me a dirty look.  

But there's not much that needs doing, so I'm writing this essay in a "hail Mary" attempt to look busy.  Busyness is next to Godliness in the corporate world.  

We're all cogs in a machine and being busy is how we prove our worth to the machine operators in upper management.

I like my job or I don't hate it at the very least.  I'm a business analyst.  People always get confused when I explain what my job entails.  But in the simplest terms, salespeople don't like talking to software developers and vice versa.  So, I act as a go-between; brokering peace between the rival factions and ensuring that we're all the appropriate amount of busy.

If the salespeople want changes made to our mobile application, they talk to me.  I turn their "gut feelings" and customer complaints into a technical document that gets delivered to our technology team.  

If they think the project isn't feasible, they voice their concerns in an honest, open manner.  Then I take their angry emails and Slack messages, remove all the swear words, and deliver the bad news to the sales team.  Wash, rinse, and repeat until we land on something that both parties can agree on.

It's not a hard job, but it requires finesse and attention to detail.  I need to know enough about software that the developers will take me seriously, but not so much that they feel threatened.  I have to be strict enough with business processes that the sales team respects me, but not so much that they think I'm hard to work with.

I should be working now.  But instead, I'm sitting at my desk, listening to lo-fi music in my headphones.  I discovered the lo-fi genre about a year ago when it showed up in my YouTube recommendations.  

The sound quality on lo-fi tracks is purposefully downgraded to give the impression that we're listening to a cassette tape or a record.  The vocals are minimal, the beats are steady, and the overall mood is wistful melancholy.

Lofi music is the feeling I get when I'm riding the train and my mind wanders to the kids I used to play kickball with at recess.  I can't remember their names and I don't feel a need to track them down.  But I smile each time I think about them.  There's no point to the memory other than it's a pleasant way to pass the time.

Similarly, there's no point to lo-fi music tracks.  There are no lyrics for us to tear apart in search of deeper meaning.  There are no guitar solos to drool over and no celebrity musicians to idolize.  Like a pleasant memory, lo-fi has no purpose beyond its own presence.  It fills a hole in our day, protecting us from existential angst.

I should be working now.  Instead, I'm staring at the houseplants that cover my desk.  I used to live and work on organic farms; pulling weeds, planting trees, and building cool things every day.  When life events forced me to come back to the city, I had a hard time adjusting.  I didn't miss farming, per se.  But I did miss being in nature.

I missed going to sleep; listening to the frogs at night.  I missed waking up to a cacophony of birdsong each morning.  And I missed the aliveness that comes from breathing air that's not poisoned by car fumes.

I've tried to assuage this feeling by surrounding myself with houseplants.  I have three gardens that I'm cultivating; one in my bedroom, one in my bathroom, and one on my desk at work.  Thus, I'm surrounded by plants every time I sleep, poop, or sit down in my cubicle.

Presently, my desk garden consists of six plants.  I have four spider plants that inch closer to the grow lamp I placed above them every day.  Their striped green leaves shoot off in every direction like their namesake, and their spider babies hang from their pots; making a beeline towards the floor.  

I have a peace lily that graces me with dark green leaves and cheerful white blooms.  Peace lilies are easy to care for.  They prefer low-light conditions, so they do well in offices.  And they tell us when they need water by letting their leaves droop.  I wish people communicated that clearly.

Finally, I have a money tree.  Don't tell the others, but the money tree is my favorite.  He was the first plant I bought when I came back from the farm.  He's survived several attempted murders by my cat, Enso.  And he's traveled with me between countless apartments and jobs.  I named him Sifu, which is Chinese for "teacher".

Sifu was barely six inches tall when I got him.  Now he's the size of a toddler.  He towers over my desk, providing privacy from nosy coworkers and shading me from the fluorescent lights in the ceiling.  There's something special about sitting beneath a tree that you nourished and watched grow.  There's a rightness to it; like I put something good into the universe, and it gave me something back.

The one thing I truly love about my plants is their peacefulness.  They want water, they want light, and they want to be left alone.  That's it.  They don't compete to see who's the tallest or the prettiest.  They feel no need to be something that they're not.  My peace lily doesn't want to be a spider plant.  And my spider plants behave like my money tree doesn't exist.

They're all laser-focused on living their best life without pretense or prejudice.  They have nothing to prove, and nothing to hope for; busyness be damned.

I should be working now.  But it's okay that I'm not.  Because my plants and my music remind me that I don't need to justify my existence.  I don't need to provide a reason for my being here; the act of being is enough.  

And as I sit here on a Friday afternoon, reveling in the simple pleasure of listening to music and staring at plants, I find a few moments of peace.

Namu Amida Butsu

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The Dharma of Gardens and Lo-Fi Music