Stay

Oh god, I want out so badly. There’s a person I can’t stop thinking about, and ice on the ground, and my relationship with my dad is difficult, and I feel impotent and alone, and I want out. I wrote an email to the guy telling him in detail how I was never going to speak to him again – it was full of power and hope and blame; it was full of drama. I have spent the last two days mostly in bed, shivering with the cold, dwelling on self-blame, and now I have the will to cut somebody out of my life, forever, in order to feel powerful again. In order to gain something that feels like control.

I’m going to throw myself into my practice, and give up on the whole idea of being in love. I will shroud myself in the robes of an urban monk and meditate two hours a day and spent all my free time at the local meditation center, and I will be free again.

But it’s just more drama. So, I can cut myself off from a friend and a whole group of friends, and can I feel powerful; but for how long? How long before I find some new shiny person? How long before a life thrown into practice becomes boring; how long before spending my free time volunteering becomes tedious? How long before I act out from my loneliness and rage at the person I am rejecting today?

So my finger is hovering over the “send” button on that email as I wonder whether it’s all really necessary.

When I learned about meditation, and started studying the qualities of existence, I had a moment when I realized that Buddhism is something I can fail at – again and again – and still keep coming back. Just like meditation, whenever I find myself in never-never land, I can simply come back when I am ready to do so. And there’s no blame, no accusations of back-sliding, no threat of damnation. I don’t have to know stuff; I can be completely wrong and do everything completely ass-backwards, and it will work out.

But that doesn’t mean I should give in to every impulse to run away. Maybe instead of having to come back I can stay. Maybe just for this moment, I can hold back on the email telling off yet another person who seems to have abandoned me. Maybe just this moment, even as I’m forgiving my friend who I feel so much hurt towards, I can even hold off on the text message forgiving him for what he hasn’t even done.

Maybe I can live with my inability to traverse the ice today, and find some way to be with myself simply and endure the discomfort of not knowing whether I’m any good. Maybe I can endure the inner voices that continually tell me I’m of no use to anyone.

It feels like a retreat I did recently. I was in a beautiful place, surrounded by supportive people, but I had a very bad sunburn. I was in agony, and it looked like I was going to be stuck in my tent for the duration. And I was uncomfortable with the idea of spending the next week stuck in my tent with sunburn. So I left. One of the counselors tried to encourage me to stay, but I could not endure the moment of not knowing what it would be like to stay there for another week. So I booked it. Even though I had every reason to go, it’s a decision I will always regret. I will have to go back and do that retreat again, and I will miss out on some activities for the next two years because I left, but that’s just not important now. The only thing that’s important is that this retreat is just one more thing I didn’t complete.

I don’t need to blame myself for the past, but today, right now, I can tolerate this moment. I can refuse to wage war on my friend and on myself. I can sit.

David Bowie

David Bowie was dying. I don’t know how many knew it; I certainly did not know it. But he had one more album to share with us. So as he was dying of cancer, he worked to complete it, and it released just days before he died. He had no way to know how it would affect us, his fans, the whole world. If he was like most of us, he didn’t completely believe how much we loved him. How hard would it be to believe that most of the modern Western world actually loves you? But then again, how much of him did we really see? How much do we see of one another?

We are, ultimately, a mystery to each other. And one day, we will each, in our turn, leave everybody behind. And we will never really be able to know our legacy. But, we all have a chance to do something we love, whether we get paid for it, and whether or not we think anybody actually sees it. We all have a chance to love someone, and something. To put it more simply: we all have the chance to love.

David Bowie was a god to me in my teen years. His daring inspired me to be myself just a little more. He informed much of my awakening sense of gender and style. I was thrilled that someone could dress like him, be like him, and be so striking and just completely accepted on a broad scale. He made edginess attractive. I can’t even say his name without saying the whole thing: David Bowie.

So, learning about David Bowie’s death knocked me completely sideways as I sat down to breakfast and checked up on the social media. Gravitational forces misaligned in the wake of one of the biggest planets in the cosmos. I finished breakfast, and tried to meditate. But I couldn’t make myself rouse the courage to commit myself to another day. Everything suddenly seemed like a needless, painful, hassle. Suddenly the idea of giving myself to the world just seemed pointless. I found myself comparing myself to this fabulous space-man and wondering: What possible good can I ever do in the world? So I went back to bed.

When I got up again twenty minutes later, I found a lot of noise on the social media about Lazarus; which was apparently David Bowie’s last music video. I was inspired by the realization was still working up to his last moments, as I think the video makes clear. He was doing what he loved, even though he would never know how it was received. But the reception wasn’t the point. The point was to give what he had to give.

I will never really know the effect of my attitudes and actions. I can choose to commit myself to the basic goodness in all beings, or I can choose not to do so. The choice presents itself every moment, especially in the morning when I sit down to practice. But the choice is just a choice, and having made my choice I won’t get brownie points; I won’t see the effect of that choice. All I have is the choice. So what do I want? Do I want to love, do I want to give of myself, or don’t I? My last song could be this one right now; what do I want to leave behind?

I love David Bowie. He is gone, and I love him. I am inspired by his life, his daring, his legacy. And I won’t let his passing and the pain of knowing our vulnerability be an excuse to stop loving him, or us.

*****

On a more zany note, apparently David Bowie had a spider named after him. I give you, the heteropoda davidbowie. Isn’t it cute?

Photo by Seshadri.K.S., uploaded from Wikipedia

 

Shadow

My shadow follows me around everywhere like a little sister, like a sorrowful child. My shadow tags along everywhere, getting in the way when I want to be with my friends. She doesn’t understand the things I am doing; she cannot help me with my work or with relationships. She doesn’t understand; perhaps she doesn’t want to understand, that we are not the only ones here. If she decides she likes you, she will want all of your attention; I cannot break her of this habit of latching on to unwilling parental figures. When she finds someone she loves this way, she will smile and laugh, and the sorrow will recede for a while. She will let me work, let me write, let me care for us two. But eventually she will tap the vein of impatience in her current target, and, feeling abandoned, she will drown me in her tears. For days, perhaps weeks, she will refuse to move, chaining me to my home. She will swear hatred for her recent love, and hatred for herself, and in the next breath she will swear love, trying vainly to charm things back to the way they were. After a time, exhausted, she will sleep, and wrap me around her like a blanket. Winter will come and I will forget, we will forget, what we wanted, if we ever really knew.

My shadow, my sister, follows me around everywhere. I am trying to get to know her better. The last love of her life has grown impatient, and I am trying to keep the two of us awake. Her declarations of hatred are less pronounced than before; whenever she starts to curl into herself with hatred, I remind her that there is nothing for her to hate and nothing to gain with declarations of love. I sit with her tears, but I refuse to let her make up stories. I try to be patient with her; she’s just a child, and we are still learning what it takes people years to learn about how to love ourself and how to accept and give love.

Today I was listening to a song. Nancy O was singing about her Little Shadow, “to the night will you follow me.” I realized in that moment that my shadow is a shadow. Though I have been taught about ego, I did not really know until then what this child is that follows me around. And now I know that she is a shadow and that one day, when I have died, she will die. All that will be left is the darkness, or perhaps the light, or perhaps something that transcends light and darkness; for a spiritual seeker and practitioner that is enough. But all my shadow knows is that she will die. She will dissolve, like all stories do. And she is afraid.

And though I know she is a shadow, just a story, I feel compassion for her. And, I cannot help but love her.

This Moment With Mouse

It’s been cold lately and my elder kitty is becoming needy. At nearly twenty years old she has started to decline. A recent illness left her thinner than before. Though her fur is still shiny she is skin and bones and her voice, once annoyingly loud and piercing, is hoarse. She has a tendency to space out, as if she gets where she wanted to go but then loses the reason for her arrival. She sleeps a lot more and eats tiny meals. But thankfully, she is still demanding food, and I can get her to eat more if I bring her food to the bed, my bed, where she insists on sleeping most of the time now.

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She spends most of her day like this. When she’s not crying for me to come to bed or feed her.
She was my baby and now she is an old lady. But, laying in bed with her this morning, stroking her head, I realized: this moment is all she knows. She doesn’t have the nostalgia for being a kitten. That’s an emotion we humans invented. All she knows is this moment, the cold, and the promise of a warm human to sleep on.

Our large brains noticed a long time ago that there is a past and future; this knowledge was useful for our survival as a species. Knowing where we put things, remembering the seasons, making a plan for the future: these are what we do well. Somewhere in the process of gaining power over past and future, we lost the present. We tend to always be planning for what comes next or worrying about what happened already.

Or perhaps we are enjoying memories of what happened already. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, as long as we don’t let our memories of what came before ruin our experience of what is happening right now. And that happens so often for me. I remember how strong I was in the past, and how young I was, and I get stuck on how many years have gone by. How much time I’ve lost! And how much youth was wasted on being sick! I can easily get caught up in feelings of remorse and loss for who I was, who I might have been.

Looking at my kitty, old and in pain today, I was brought up short against the fact that all of her past, for her, is gone. She doesn’t remember who she was, perhaps a little, but only a dim dream of behaviors she might think she can do now that she can’t anymore. But she doesn’t worry about her lost youth, or the body she once had when she was younger. She is free from that struggle. All she knows is the comfort of my hand or the warmth of my body on this cold morning. So she can enjoy these things unhindered by regret. Perhaps, for a few moments, I can take solace in that fact on her behalf.

And perhaps, less hindered by regrets, I can enjoy my own life for what it is right now: a life that, far from wasted, is rich with experience and wisdom. Maybe I can enjoy my senses, my emotions, and my thoughts right here and now without all the baggage of past and future. The past is over; I can let the future care for itself.

Just to be clear: I’m not advocating that we become amnesiacs or stop planning for the future. But I don’t think we will stop remembering or planning anyway. It’s what we have evolved to do. But maybe we can let go just a bit. Let’s take a moment to actually be here, now, where things are actually happening.

Changing the Story

Perhaps this entry will be a bit earthy at first…

Some of my readers know that I have a history of sexual abuse. I’m pretty open about it; I don’t see a particular reason to hide it, nor a particular reason to bring it out in the open unnecessarily. But I struggle with my sexual fantasies; they tend to be formed by past experience, and most of what happens in them is nothing I would want to happen in real life.

So, as is habitual, I get the notion that I might masturbate before going to bed. I like orgasms; they’re nice, soothing, and a good way to get ready to sleep. But much as I like them, I find myself this evening kinda not wanting to go through what I usually do to achieve them; I don’t want to watch porn this evening. It seems like such a hassle, looking for something that works. And I know I can get off without it, but it takes longer, and anyway the fantasies I habitually use are no more self-affirming than the porn.

So I start thinking: instead of what turns me on, what (or rather “who”) do I want to be turned on by? And that leads me to a fantasy about a rugged woman knight, a knight templar, only Buddhist. She looks like the knight lady in Game of Thrones, but she’s dressed more practically in a dark woolen kilt and simple breastplate, arm guards, shin guards, boiled leather helmet. She’s dressed for battle. But she’s a warrior of peace, a general who listens to the wise women; she parlays before striking. She’s a student of the writings of Sun Tzu, and a meditator.

Then I bring her into the modern era: she is a practitioner, and a warrior, a soldier. I see her wearing the banner of my family. Away from the field, she meets me dressed in dark slacks and a turquoise shirt. So I know already that she manifests Vajra (precise) and Karma (active) energy. She is a scholar and a soldier. She has dark short hair, and brown eyes. She searches my eyes, and we gaze at one another closely for a moment, and then I realize that this is just fantasy. She isn’t here yet.

But I know she’s out there, and I make a place in my heart for her. And I shed a few tears; poignant joy for who she is, and for the opening of my own heart. And then I let her go.

Suddenly I feel a deep loneliness. My heart aches. For a partner? I’m not sure it’s really about that. I think it’s just the momentary awareness of the vacuum that exists within me. I know that nobody can fill this empty place, not even a soulmate, if such a person exists. But feeling this sorrow, even sobbing a few times, I find I also have a sense of joy in that moment. My heart is open.

My heart is open.

(Not) Getting it Done

Holy crap and other expletives!

I’m not writing, and I.. cannot.. deal. I thought I was ok a couple hours ago when I was organizing my desk, doing my usual bower-bird routine of making sure everything was exactly where I want it, which will of course change tomorrow. I thought I was ok several hours ago when I woke and meditated over coffee, and I thought I was ok an hour ago when I poured myself the second cup of coffee for the day, what I hoped would be the last moment of prep before the writing commenced, and I thought I was ok when coffee became a bag of blueberries and some pecans from my desk drawer. Then I thought I was ok while I was on Facebook looking through my notifications, responding to stuff. But I could feel the tension building and now I am most… definitely… not ok.

blankscreen
the blank screen of death

And now I am staring at the screen at the seven draft posts that have accrued over the last week, and I cannot figure out how to continue any of them. My shoulders and neck are tense, and I am moving around a lot, scratching my hands, cracking my neck, etcetera. But, other than the usual gestures of tension, I am paralyzed.

I think I am calmer about this than I used to be; after all I am actually sitting here writing to all of you about it instead of crying to my life coach via endless text messages. If I can claim any sense of calm in this moment, it is certainly the fruit of the time I have spent with myself – time I have spent with my heart, making a point of loving myself. And yet, right now I continue to avoid myself. The habitual tendency to push forward with a plan despite the reality that’s staring me in the face: I am not present.

When my plan stops working, I tend to blame myself. But the plan itself sets me up for the inevitable distraction. I get this idea of what I’m supposed to do, and then I am not present anymore. I become fixated on getting it done, whatever it is. I get stuck on writing a decent blog post, instead of just opening up and communicating what comes to me in the moment. I want to be sure that what I write is understandable and accurate, but while I’m worrying about what I should write, I don’t actually get any writing done at all. And while I’m stuck on some idea of how things should be, that is that I should write a post, and it should be this way or that way, and I should churn out a a post today or tomorrow, I am completely at the mercy of whatever distraction happens to come along. And my brain can come up with lots of distractions.

Let’s be fair, ok? My brain is trying to be helpful. I have this idea of what should happen and my brain is trying to help me come up with ways to make that happen. Meanwhile, it’s also trying to come up with ways to manage the stress that I am having because of the thing that isn’t actually happening. But the brain can only suggest things it already knows. It can’t come up with new ideas. Insights, creativity, come from a deeper well within the heart. Opening the heart is the key to communication; it’s the key to creativity. And also, while the brain is trying to come up with ways to deal with the situation, including the stress, the brain is also ironically putting more stress on the system. The brain’s response system evolved as a way to deal with dangerous situations, like a saber-tooth tiger or something in the jungle. My blog is not the jungle, and you, lovely readers, last I checked, are not tigers ready to devour me for using the wrong adjective.

So, yeah, things have to get done, right? But does creative work happen while I’m tensed up trying to make it happen? Does it happen while I am stuck on what it should be like, or when it should happen? No. I have to stop, and I have to take a moment to be with myself. I have to take the time to open my heart.

***

I’m back from retreat! I actually had fun. It was wonderful to have so much space and time to practice, and it was sometimes challenging to have so much space and time. It was certainly challenging to be without my usual distractions – Facebook, iPhone, etcetera. Anyway, all in all, it was an experience I highly recommend. Spending so much time in practice really deepened the understanding I have of why spiritual practice is so important, and of how helpful it can be. Now that I am back, I feel a renewed motivation to put meditation first in my life simply because the influence it has on the rest of my life is transformative.