Open Wide the Windows, Open Wide the Doors.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.–Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

cabin-in-the-woods

My Dream Guest House. 

Last night it poured. Rain punched a hole through the sky and came in a torrent, upsetting the fat mother spider on my porch, interrupting her dinner of a stink bug I had caught and placed in her web earlier that day. The plants outside became floral fois gras, swollen through the roots by the early fall monsoon, and I worried for them, wondering if I should move them inside–they’d had enough water for two weeks! Surely this will kill the poor things! And then I thought, “Ah, fuck it. Let it pour, come what will come.”

barn-spider

I opened the door to the porch, and was greeted by a thunder clap. I watched mama giant spider ride her web through the storm, bending, moving, dancing between drops, in accord with nature. She accepted what was and went with it, on some level of consciousness. I allowed the two slugs to crawl inside on my carpet and gently wrapped them in a paper towel and pitched them over the rail. I let the moth that floated in like a wayward drunk stay inside so he could dry off on my table lamp. I stuck my feet outside and let the rain wash them, in a sacred ceremony for a weary traveler seeking respite on his journey. I let it all pass through…it’s only rain, bugs, and slugs after all.

One of the gifts of my current unemployment has been discernment–a strengthening in my ability to choose the things I want to attach to, wrestle with, stroke, pet, soothe, worry over, and ponder. I have time. Lots of it. This is both a blessing and a curse.

I am an Olympic Gold Medalist in the Obsession and Worry biathlon. I’ve been training since I was a child, spending hours in my mental gym not only lifting the heavy weights, but walking around still carrying them with me. I got strong in my ability to hang on to weight I should never have picked up to begin with…50 lbs. of depression in one hand, 50 lbs. of anxiety in the other.

My current remedy in the midst of the change I’m navigating–job loss, uncertainty, a sweeping lack of kindness and compassion from a couple of previous co-workers, thinly veiled accusations that I shall never full know, understand, or be allowed to address or defend myself against, and a deep abiding sense of loss and sadness that my tenure could be swept out the door so very quickly, so very unceremoniously–my remedy is to simply not carry it. Set it down. Become softer, not harder. Surrender. Every day, every hour, every minute. What I resist, persists. What I cling to may just suck me dry like a leech. What has happened is beyond my control, therefore, why attempt to control it? Not my circus, not my monkeys.

And so it rains. Rain passes through, soaks in, washes away, and nourishes. It provides growth, transformation, and sometimes has the fierce power to wipe the slate clean. And though a clean slate can be a terrifying thing to view, it reminds me that nothing is permanent.

Nothing. Is. Permanent.

If I allow it in, whatever it is, it will eventually pass through–as long as I open a window or a door so it can move on. Either just a crack, or by flinging wide the drapes and throwing back the hinges…if I allow space for things to move, they don’t get stuck or fester quite so easily, for quite so long.

So my lesson, friends, is this with everything in my life: Allow my career, my job, my social standing, my economic worth, my health, my lover, my friends, my enemies, my ecstasy, my passion, my fears, my anger, my past, present, and future disappointments, guilt, shame, joy, education, wonder…all of it…space to move through, and move on, change, grow, and transform. There is great power in this, and there is great risk in this practice.

For the greatest secret of all is in the knowledge that nothing is permanent, it only comes to visit. I own nothing, I welcome everything. At most, I rent this physical space on Earth, this body, this ever shifting impermanence. The only thing that is permanent is Spirit, which is also an ever changing, evolving, revolving tumble of God-ness beyond my understanding. It is sacred. It is a mystery.

What I am inviting all of you to do, myself included, is to understand that while the concept of “Let it go” and “just move on” may be harsh, difficult to accept and even more difficult to practice, the idea of “leave your windows cracked, your door ajar, and your heart unlocked for every guest–front door to back door–so nothing gets trapped, and everything moves through” is a gentler way of traveling a bit lighter through all of it.

img_3035

Namaste.

 

Advertisements

Hello. It’s me.

I have a dear friend, my first partner…the first man I was ever blessed to be in love with, and the first man I ever hurt to his core. We have, together, over the years been able to salvage from the wreckage and repair our relationship to where now it is strong, and solid, and with mutual respect and admiration. We have healed.

He is in need of great healing now, and is surrounded by an outpouring of love from family and friends as he battles a very aggressive, ugly, and scary brain cancer called glioblastoma.

quotes-hope-dawn-anne-lamott-480x480In my journey of shaking hands with my shadow self, and becoming acquainted with my faults, my sadness, my self-loathing, my smallness, and then forgiving and healing that shadow self to become a man of integrity and compassion, I’ve committed to the Buddhist practice called “tonglen”.

Tonglen, as defined by Pema Chodron is “…a method for connecting with suffering-our own and that which is all around us, everywhere we go. It is a method for overcoming our fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our hearts. Primarily it is a method for awakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us, no matter how cruel or cold we might seem to be. We begin the practice by taking on the suffering of a person whom we know to be hurting and wish to help. For instance, if we know of a child who is being hurt, we breathe in with the wish to take away all of that child’s pain and fear. Then, as we breathe out, we send happiness, joy, or whatever would relieve the child. This is the core of the practice: breathing in others’ pain so they can be well and have more space to relax and open-breathing out, sending them relaxation or whatever we feel would bring them relief and happiness.”

I wrote to my friend yesterday. I’ve committed to sending him an email everyday as he recovers. He lives in France, and my Seester and I will visit him when the time is right to do so. This is what I sent him, and I’m sharing it here as part of tonglen, with the hope that this practice may benefit others who are going through pain and suffering, too. *Which means all of us.

Dear David,

Hello. It’s me. I’ve been thinking about change, healing, transformation and other stuff, and I want to share something that I’ve learned.
It’s important to just show up. When I meditate, I don’t prepare myself ahead of time. I don’t have the zazen cushion, the bell, the altar. I don’t have my lotus position perfected and my hand mudras facing exactly 45 degrees toward Summer and Winter…in fact, most of the time when I meditate, I’m a hot mess…or I’m in a state of “Meh”…which means, “Okay, I’d reeeeeely rather not be doing this right now, and it’s DEFINITELY going to suck, and “motivation and mindfulness”–well, you can both kiss my ass because I have one cheek for each of you,” and I do it anyway.
It sucks at first, and yet, I still do it. I show up.
The best counseling sessions I’ve had with my clients are when I have no script to follow, no clear cut action plan, and certainly no net.
The best times I have with friends are when our regularly scheduled plans get derailed.
The times that are the most ugly and frightening for me are also the times when I learn the most, and have the best chance for survival…and for growth.
But it requires that I show up, face it, and say, “Okay, so now what?”
Pema Chodron is a Buddhist nun I follow, and read/listen to fairly often. She talks about this idea of “Positive Groundlessness“. It’s that moment when you’re kicked out of orbit, or the rug is pulled from underneath you and you land on your bony tuchus. Positive groundlessness is what happens in the moments that follow. It goes like this: You have an awareness that you are in uncharted waters…that this moment is foreign…that this is dark and scary and there are wolves…and rather than the fight/flee/freeze option we usually choose, i.e. doing what we always do in situations like this to avoid pain and feel good again, we show up fully instead. We turn and face it. We look in the mirror.
In doing so, we are invited to become curious about this fear, the sadness, the unknown, the bad news, the diagnosis, the pain, etc. In doing so, we breathe. We show up and see that there are other things happening around us that are magnificent, beautiful, and in motion. And perhaps in doing so, we provide ourselves a fresh alternative, or a soft place to land, and we choose to respond differently in the face of pain, fear, and suffering than we have done in the past.
I never shared this with you, but it’s an example of the Positive Groundlessness I’m talking about. On 9/11/2001, when I was alone and walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, covered in ashes from the towers after seeing them fall with so many thousands of others, I felt something hit my pant leg. It was a pink post-it note…one of those “While You Were Out” notes with the space for a message and a phone number. It was blank. I knew it must have come from one of the fallen towers, blown across the river from lower Manhattan and come to rest, like some sort of butterfly on my pant leg.
I keep it in my Box of Special Things, along with all your letters and poems. That piece of pink paper is my reminder of Positive Groundlessness. The phrase “While You Were Out” has a different meaning. It reminds me to stay present…not to check out…not to go AWOL…not to flee…but instead to simply show up, fully, even if I’m a hot mess, and receive the moment. I encourage you to do the same, no matter what.
With so much love,
Kevin
Kevin Redwoods

You’ve Changed. Again.

This July 4th weekend, I was both t-boned and rear-ended by, well, me. In a valiant struggle to transform from who I was/am into who I am becoming/will be, the Universe tends to notice this and becomes a kind of life coach who is into water-boarding and electroshock as a training method. It’s like He/She wants to see just how serious I am about shedding those unwanted pounds and firming up my core.

Kind of like the fucked up love child of Jillian Michaels and Samuel L. Jackson. Not a pretty baby.

I’ll go into depth about what happened this weekend, and what lead up to the ten car pile-up on my personal, spiritual interstate in subsequent blogs, I promise. (Pinky swear). Right now, it’s still too close to write about with clarity, and without bursting into gut-wrenching sobs punctuated by moments of “they’re coming to take me away, ha-ha, ho-ho, he-he” laughter.

For now, let’s play in a safe sandbox that we’re pretty sure hasn’t been peed in, shall we?

iyanla vanzant quoteIn recent talks with friends, change has been a theme. When I spoke with “My Two Todds”–yes, I have TWO, and you don’t–Todd H. mentioned how we often project onto other people what we ought to see in ourselves, or what we don’t want to admit about who we are, in an effort to safely look at our shit with some distance. The problem with this is that we’re flinging our ancient poo onto someone else and blaming them for being covered with it. Because we detest and judge in others what we don’t want to accept about ourselves, we turn away from the mirror the other person is holding up to us, and we miss an opportunity to transform. Instead of turning toward the mirror, our knee-jerk reaction is one of (for example) “This guy has shared with me that he has cheated and been unfaithful in the past. I cannot trust him because I am not around him 24/7 to see what he’s doing when I’m not around. I’ve been cheated on before, and I’ve learned not to trust anyone. Therefore, I shall not trust him, even though he has told me he has a desire to be faithful to me, and is willing to show by his actions–not just his words–that he is a man of integrity. Trust is too big a risk for me to take because it requires transformation and letting go of a limiting belief.”

Instead, we could look at ourselves. “I know that trusting other people is hard. I was taught that others cannot be trusted, will disappoint me and lie to me. I have no control over the actions of others. I can, however, learn how to trust myself, and have personal integrity. I can be open to meeting others who are on the same path, and give a guy a chance when he tells me he’s made mistakes in the past, and has learned from those, and is willing to continue the work of trusting himself, just as I am doing. It’s a risk, but it helps me to grow and transform, and may help this wonderful, new guy to grow and transform as well.”

In other words–every relationship we enter based on mistrust will end in more mistrust. The Universe will continue to give us what we want, and affirm what we believe, until we interrupt the pattern and choose a fresh alternative. It’s having the awareness of, “Oh wow. I have trust issues because I don’t trust myself, not because I don’t trust anyone else. I’ve been taught not to trust others, and learned as a child that I cannot be trusted, and that’s a limiting belief. The person I need to learn to trust–in fact, the only person whose trust I can foster, is me.”

I view change and transformation like a hipster dad with a flat for the first time on the side of the highway with two screaming kids in the backseat. The journey has been interrupted and the kids are hungry and cranky and Dad is still a good thirty miles from home. Dad hasn’t got AAA, Dad’s run out of Goldfish and water for the kids, and Dad’s never changed a tire before. He saw his Dad do it once, but he never really paid attention because he was hungry and cranky and five years old at the time. What should hipster Dad do? No snacks, no roadside assistance, and no instructions on how to change the tire…and too scared and proud to pick up the cell phone and call his Dad to ask for help because looking like a suck-ass father who’s doing it wrong is getting in the way of risking failure and doing it at all. Meanwhile the kids are screaming louder, it’s rush hour, it’s getting dark…

You have a cell phone. You have a Dad who’s done it before. You have a spare tire and a tire iron. Suck it up, buttercup. Make the call.

My second friend Todd sees change as nonlinear. Todd K. says the Taoist perspective on transformation is more about orbits, seasons, and slight shifts in our orbits while we continue to circle around the Sun. Sometimes a life event–addiction, terminal illness, loss of any sort, trauma–smacks us like a meteor and sails us out of our comfy orbit, knocking us sideways into a new one. *Those are best avoided when possible. It’s not doctor recommended to hit rock bottom AND THEN begin transformation, although, that’s what some of us…like myself…do.

IMG_3171Or another portion of us stay stuck in the same boring, limiting, painful orbit going around the Sun our whole lives, bemoaning the fact that nothing changes, same shit different year, wouldn’t it be great to change my job, go back to school, make more money, leave my deadbeat boyfriend, quit smoking, lose 30 pounds…and do jack shit about it other than seek distractions in a series of shiny objects and halfhearted attempts at commitment.

To shift our orbit slightly means that while we are cycling through seasons, we begin to expand or contract our orbit just a couple of degrees per month, per year…and make our way into a new orbit in a mindful, and certainly less shocking way. Let me end this post about how change and transformation work with a bullet point summary for those of you who are more linear, and less orbital. To conclude (clearing throat, grabbing the pointer):

  • Change is the only constant. This is not meant by the Universe to be ironic. And yet, isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? Black fly in your Chardonnay? Anyone? Bueller…Bueller?
  • The Human is the only species on the planet who rails against change, avoids it, fears it and also reeeeeeelly wants it at the same time, then tries to deflect it or flee from it, denies it, causes wars to bring it on or end it, and suffers as a result of having difficulty  in general…with change. Go ahead, try to refute that.
  • Failure to accept change always leads to suffering. Always.
  • Change is different from transformation, insofar as how we define each. To change something may be temporary, like our hair color, our underwear, or our boyfriend. To transform involves alchemy–once something is transformed, there’s no going back to what once was.
  • Once you accept change as a Universal constant, and also accept the alchemy of transformation, with this awakening, a host of other possibilities and moments of “oh shit!” are delivered to you on a semi-regular basis. This often sucks, and is occasionally fabulous.
  • The moments of “oh shit” and hosts of other possibilities were always there, but you weren’t tuned into them because you were sleepwalking through life and checking Facebook instead of being fully present in the moment.
  • Now that you’re awake, you’re more aware. It’s like tuning in to the constancy of the waves hitting the beach instead of thinking of them as background noise.
  • Sometimes, it takes a profound event–a tragedy, an illness, a death, a loss, or something perceived as truly awful (i.e. suffering is most often brought about by not accepting change and not paying attention)–to cause us to wake up, tune in to the present moment, and accept what we cannot change, gain courage to change the things we can, and cultivate the wisdom to know the difference.
  • That being said, it’s ALWAYS better to recognize you’re sitting in poo and have been sleepwalking through life wearing a dirty diaper BEFORE the shit you’ve been sitting in magically escapes your diaper and hits the fan. *Avoiding rock bottom is preferred.
  • Lastly, change doesn’t care how you feel about it, is neither good nor bad, and is not subject to the ego. Change just is.

I’ve heard it said we truly let go of something when we no longer think about it. Perhaps that’s related to the whole “forgive and forget” idea and the huge expanse between those two words.

Accepting change and fostering transformation come at the cost of letting go of things that no longer serve us in favor of new things that serve us better, and that means letting go, receiving, forgiving, and unlearning some pesky, bad behaviors.

If we accept that change is the only constant, would it not be better to accept each relationship with our bodies, our health, and with those we love as an opportunity to also evolve, cultivate, and transform on a daily basis? It seems selfish and narcissistic to want to keep our bodies and our lovers in stasis, just as we were when we were young and healthy, just as our lover was when we first loved them.

The phrase is “This too shall pass” not “This too shall stay.”

When we begin to accept change, each day brings with it a sense of curiosity. Each day becomes an opportunity to check in with our bodies, with our lover and our friends and family, and see how the terrain has changed for them in a twenty-four hour period. Acceptance of change means acceptance of what is, and a commitment to pay attention to changes as they come. It means our relationship with ourselves, with our partner, our friends, and with everyone crossing our path is in motion, intentional, fully present, and never taken for granted.

The Black Dog

039I can tell when he’s about to visit. I get away from daily meditating, writing, and working out with a sense of discipline. I always seem to falter and recede into a sadder, darker, and cynical place.

What’s different this time is that I’m not staying in this place–the bottom of the well–for as long before recognition alerts me where I am, and I begin to gather up my things, wipe off the dirt and the shit, and slowly climb out.

Have you ever met someone who was truly happy? Not “Seems Pretty Happy Most of the Time”, but someone who, in spite of Life taking a well-leveled punch at them from time to time, they remain firmly committed to happiness as their set-point? I suppose I have. I have evidence these people exist. I have evidence that it’s possible to be one of those people. What I’m learning to ask in honesty is not so much “Can I become someone who is genuinely happy and content?” but, “Do I really want to?”

When I’m honest with myself, sometimes I actually like being sad, down, and with moments of lean, hardened, cynical negativity.  I think it fuels me, even though it’s heavy, slow to burn off, and smells rotten, like sulfur. These moments balance me. They are reminders of who I was a lot of the time before I became awake and aware, and reminders of who I do not want to be again. They stop me, and warn me that I need to check myself before I wreck myself. Eventually, I become so disgusted by my inertia that I start writing, meditating, and working out again because I’ve become thoroughly disgusted with myself.

I think it’s time I come out of this final closet. The Depression Closet…or, as I mentioned, more like a deep well with a cushion and a fire pit at its bottom. Oh–and a rope ladder, somewhere. I always remember where I stashed the ladder…eventually. My depression has been my shameful secret lover since I was a teenager. It’s lead me to make some choices that have had some fucked up consequences, and it has helped me produce some of my finest writing, creativity, and original thoughts. Depression has made me a kinder person, a more discerning person, and I can speak its complex language with others and their dialects, though their experiences with it are as vastly different as snowflakes.

My depression is a Black Dog, old, with a gray muzzle, red-rimmed eyes, and wet fur. He shows up at my doorstep a couple of times a year, comes inside, and lies down at my feet–or on them. He follows me everywhere. Though he is usually quiet, he demands food and water. His food is my motivation, my creativity, and my giving a fuck, and if he’s really hungry, his favorite meal is my self-worth. He takes my tears for water, so I cannot cry, cannot have that sweet, wet release that helps me let go and let God. He parches me and keeps me from it. He is my familiar, my loyal companion, and he has never let me down.

Black-lab-292-MBryant

In the past, when I would feel him approaching (I always know he’s on his way days before his arrival) I would bar the door and windows, ignore his presence, do anything possible–alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, sex, food, porn, television, cigarettes, and more sex–to defend against him. It always made it worse. He wasn’t quiet during those days. He would snarl and bark, hurling himself at the door, knocking it in with a huff and a puff, climb on top of my chest, and pin me to the bed with all of his weight until I acknowledged him. Then he would bite my heart and feed on me with a vengeance.

The Black Dog has helped me learn that my enemy is my greatest teacher; that not accepting “what is” only leads to greater, and sometimes chronic, suffering. The Black Dog has taught me that my fear of him makes him stronger, wild and vicious, and my curiosity to know him better makes him tamer.

Perhaps the Black Dog was sent to help me, not hurt me. Perhaps he shows me how I might bring this openness and this perspective to another person who is fighting a losing battle with their own form of depression. I stopped resisting mine. I opened my door. “Oh. You again,” I said, and with a sigh, “Come on in.” Only this time I added, “You can stay. Just not as long, okay? I’ve got some shit to do.” He grumbled a little but he acquiesced. I think the Black Dog respects me now, and I’ve learned to respect him, too.

The Beautiful Sadness.

072Christmas Eve morning, I turned on Pandora. I’d heard there was a new Taylor Swift Holiday station from someone, I don’t remember who. So, I figured I’d give it a try. I listened to exactly one line of Taylor’s cover of “Santa Baby” before I said aloud, “No!” and opted for Mary Chapin Carpenter Holiday instead.  Her holiday album “Come Darkness, Come Light” is more my speed. Melancholy, hopeful, full, empty, beautiful and sad.

 

My Christmas December New Year Playlist looks something like this:
White Horse–Over the Rhine
Love Is Christmas–Sara Bareilles
Auld Lang Syne–James Taylor
Coat of Many Colors–Dolly Parton
Elevate–St. Lucia
Maybe This Christmas–Tracey Thorn
Thank You–Alanis Morrisette
Coventry Carol–Traditional
Still, Still, Still–Mary Chapin Carpenter
Same Old Auld Lang Syne–Dan Fogelberg
Ordinary World–Duran Duran
Another Round of Blues–Shawn Colvin
River–Joni Mitchell
O Come O Come, Emmanuel–Traditional
Gloria In Excelsis Deo–Traditional
The Wassail Song–Traditional
Angel From Montgomery–Lucinda Williams
The Christmas Song–Nat King Cole
Merry Christmas, Darling–Karen Carpenter
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas–Judy Garland
Agnus Dei–Amy Grant

The list goes on, but you get the idea…some would say not too cheerful. Where’s Santa Claus? Mildly represented, at best. My Christmas may seem somber to some, but to me it’s more full than any loaded-baked-potato Christmas tree could ever be. The ornaments and presents aren’t under a tree…they are found within. They appear at the oddest moments as I welcome back the light after the longest night of the year, and they continue long after the official Advent Season has past. I celebrate the beautiful sadness well past my birthday on January 13.

The gifts are different each year. This year, they include a conversation with Andy (you remember him from the previous post several months ago of the same name) where we sat on the couch at The House (as I call it here), coloring in adult coloring books together and talking about the difference between the biological family and the logical family as it pertains to the holiday. It includes the circular halo of branches made manifest by the perfect combination of rain and moonlight through the trees on Christmas Eve. It’s the awareness that loneliness is rich with appreciation for the presence of love in my life, though the ones who give that love freely are absent. It’s the absence of longing. It’s the sound of my breath as it leaves my body, taking old stuff with it, making room for new. Out with the old, in with the new, every minute, every day, every year. The gifts keep coming, like waves hitting the beach, I just have to show up and walk the shore. They’re always there, beautiful and sad, glorious and full of mystery, unnamed, unkempt, unruly, and untamed.

I got lost in the fog at the top of a mountain two nights ago. I couldn’t find the road that lead to the After-Christmas party I’d been invited to by friends I’d not seen in years. I was over an hour late, driving ten miles an hour with ten feet of visibility before me. Back and forth, searching for an unmarked road. “You’ll pass the stone church on the left, and the old Dutch cabin on your right as landmarks. There’s a big pine tree by the wide road where you’ll turn right, and that takes you directly to our place.” Those were my instructions. I could not find any landmarks. I had no guidance. Damned and determined to find it without help, I wanted to show up perfect, all smiles, complete and ready to participate, on time. I had attached to the outcome of Things Going As Planned.

I gave up on that after an hour. I stopped at a stranger’s house. The house looked cozy and warm, brick porch, brick chimney, warm inside with people safe from the dense, uncertain fog just beyond that arched front door. The man was kind. I was careful to present myself as legitimate, not a threat, hopelessly lost, looking for help and guidance. He showed me the way, let me borrow his phone to call my friends, who promised to meet me at the head of the unmarked road and guide me to the party, which had started without me. “But it doesn’t matter,” my friend assured me, “There’s plenty of food yet. We’re just glad you’re here, safe. That’s what matters most.”

Yes, I guess that’s what matters most. Headed back up the mountain to where my friend waited on me, I stopped abruptly as two young does stumbled across the road, inches from my car, inches from the driver’s side door. One of them, dazed and terrified, avoided smacking into my grill by mere moments. The deer and I could have had a different night, a tragic night. But I was aware, I had some clue where I was going now, and had someone waiting on me.

All of us, lost and scared, stumbling through the dark, confused. We missed slamming into each other by seconds, and by my slow, deliberate driving. We were blind leading blind, through the fog, looking for safety and warmth, and I managed to shine a small light in the darkness. Maybe the deer had someone waiting on them, too.

Beautiful young deer, Sad they were almost hit by my car. Beautiful that we all made our way through the fog to a safer place, unharmed. Beautiful, and sad. That’s where blessings are born, out of that rich, complex, and loamy soil.

I count my blessings. Happy New Year everyone. Honor the beautiful and the sad with equal weight, water each moment in the fertile soil, with gratitude for all of it–and I do mean all of it— and the year will balance out.

 

 

Will You Still Be There? …An Open Letter To Myself.

195

Do you remember when we first met? When we first became aware? When You and Me became We?

We could do anything we wanted. Go anywhere. Be anyone, be the best version of ourselves, for each other. We dedicated ourselves to that dream, in that moment, looking into each others’ eyes without blinking.

Do you remember?

Do you remember what happened next? When it all came crashing down amidst the distractions, the broken promises, the temptations of pleasure seeking, the struggle to avoid the pain and suffering of being alive? Do you remember the promises we broke to ourselves? Do you remember when the fire, once burning with the fury of transformation, became a tiny ember we forgot to feed with the oxygen of our awareness, our intention, our Will to Love? We expected to be the ones who got fed, instead. “Tending fires–that’s someone else’s job. Not my scope of work. I don’t tend fires…I only start them.”

We became consumers as we got colder. “Feed me!” We screamed at each other. “It’s all your fault!” We blamed each other. “I will leave you!” We threatened each other. The fire withered, choking, reaching…finding no fuel.

And the fire went out. The night grew cold and we settled for what warmth we could find. Space heaters kept us apart. We gave up on Our Dream, hunkered down, and got cozy. We forgot who we were at the beginning and searched for comfort, laughed at others’ lives on TV, and stopped laughing at ourselves. We lost the map (we’d thrown it in the fire long ago), and doing so, we lost The Path toward our best selves…The Path to the place we’d promised to go together.

Do you remember?

We got scorched by the fire of possibility and the passion of promises. We were seduced by the future–by other, bigger fires, other pretty paths. We were distracted by pleasures, wounded by pain and suffering, burned by fear, regret, and by holding on to How It Should Be rather than accepting How It Is.

I want to rise from the ashes with you. We’ve seen our fall, now witness our rising. Wait no longer. No excuses. No “Yes, buts”. No bullshit left to shovel. Let’s rekindle.

Let me ask you these questions and hear your answers. Are you ready? (That was question one.)

Will you love me again like you did that first day, first hour, first minute we met?
Will you love me with the fierceness of a warrior, the wisdom of a master, and the compassion of a new mother?
Will you love me without fear of loss, hope of gain, without regret or fear of pain?
Will you love me in spite of knowing I will fall short, let you down, disappoint you, lie to you, and hurt you?
Will you love me from your will and your will alone, and not from the promise of my love in return?
Will you love me without attachment to any outcome? Without hope for a future we can never predict?
Will you love me, fully and completely, knowing that one day you will leave me, knowing that one day I will leave you?
Will you love me in sickness, in health, when I’m at my most awful, when I’m knocking it out of the park, when I am big and strong, when I am small and mean, , when I am vulnerable, weak, malnourished, addicted, distracted, confused, wet, shivering, cold, angry and morally bankrupt? Will you love me even then?

Will you love me even more then?

Will you love me the most then?

Will you still be there when the night comes? When the glorious summer is over, and the chill descends upon the ashes of the fire that was, will you tend the fire with me and stoke it, breathe it to life, using your Will to Love, even if it is the tiniest twig?

If you’ve said yes to all this, you’re not quite through…

Now, look in the mirror, and ask the same of you.

Will You Still Be There? Howard Jones

one-to-one-559b185a8fb2e

 

 

The Reflex Is A Lonely Child.

Kevin mugshotAh, to be reflective instead of reflexive. To be less affected and more effective. To be mindful that I have a limited amount of fucks to give, and to make sure that the fucks I do give are really, really good ones…

Being reflexive is a knee-jerk reaction. It’s the “pinch, ouch, pinch back” response. Or, in my case, the “Slap! OUCH, FUCK YOU! and I SHALL DESTROY YOU with my arsenal of words until you’re a shuddering, naked and wounded small, tiny animal” response.

But it doesn’t stop there. I withdraw, get cold and calculating and spend my mental free time securing the perimeter, erecting more battlements, filling the moat and pulling up the drawbridge to the fortress around my heart (I know, I know–I warned you of my penchant for using 80’s song lyrics in my posts.) And then, I start looking with my spyglass for a reflexive remedy. Someone, or something else that:

  1. Provides distraction
  2. Is shiny and new and with no visible flaws
  3. Is immediate and pret-a-manger
  4. Numbs the pain! Now! NOW, DAMMIT!!
  5. Feels really super-duper good for _________amount of time
  6. I can use, discard, and go about my day until the pain resurfaces, then, repeat. I become a consumer. A user. Yuck.

I hope all of this rings a bell. I’m grasping here, folks–anyone? Anyone else do this? Yes? Bueller?

Let me ‘splain. I attended a workshop in June called “Awakening Your Inner Healer” with a fantastic mindfulness and meditation instructor named David Ji. (Check him out: http://davidji.com/davidji-blog/  He’s got some really good stuff there.) It was WONDERFUL. Four days of meditation at sunrise on the beach and yoga, twice daily, and plenty of dharma talks on how to heal from the inside out, as well as from the outside in. Not only good work for the clients I serve who are living with HIV and mental illness, but a wonderful experience for my healing. It was beyond valuable. It was like going into the wardrobe and visiting Narnia for four days, which ended up feeling timeless, like I’d always been there, in this centered, loving place. In fact, David Ji sorta kinda reminds me of Aslan…or a hippie-Santa-Jesus…with a dash of snark.

Then it was back to the “real world”, tumbling catty-wompuss out of the wardrobe, past the fur coats and back into the crap that is this thing called “life”…electric word life that means forever, and that’s a mighty long time…(okay, okay, I will stop.) Here’s how it unfolded:

I recommitted to working on strengthening my relationship with my partner. No more needless arguments, only compassionate listening, negotiation, understanding, and living together with an open heart. I recommitted to understanding which crap is mine to deal with and which crap is his to deal with, and focusing solely on mine, and being supportive of him addressing his. I recommitted myself to my job and all its challenges and rewards, feeling less burned out by it, strengthened in my commitment to serve and facilitate healing and thriving for those in my community living with HIV. I committed myself to twice daily meditation, and the continued practice of writing in my journal and blogging here.

The first week was awesome. Crushed it.

Well, screw me for getting an A. Life was like, “Oh, yeah? Feeling cocky? Nice. Here, for your next assignment…”

And in the span of two weeks, I was tempted by the possibility of a major career advancement opportunity, sent in a great resume and cover letter, felt really good about the chance for (at the very least) an interview, and was greeted by…silence; the Ogre of Relationship Strife awoke very hungry and proceeded to pummel (again) what my partner and I are trying to rebuild; a major restructuring of funds in my department occurred which requires me to seriously rethink the counseling strategies and prevention focus I’m doing (and they are working REALLY WELL! WHY??? WHY can’t I have nice things???); a friend attempted suicide and I helped to keep the friend on the phone and talking to me until (thank GOD) help arrived to save his life; my dear sweet cat went in for a regular checkup and came home with the news that he has a “persistent and strongly irregular heart murmur”…

And now, the pain of all that is hitting me today. The last thing I want to do is just sit with it because, well, DUH…who in their right mind would WANT to do that, right? Avoid! Avoid! Exterminate! Run away! Fight or flight!

Anne Lamott

 

But, that’s not being “right minded”. When we avoid that “crap”, and when we become “reflexive” instead of “reflective”, we miss the heart of what is happening. We miss an opportunity to notice that we have become hooked, triggered, sucked in. When we reflexively avoid the pain, and we react in the way we always have in the past, we pass on the freedom to choose a different path. When we turn instead to seeking pleasure in order to avoid pain, we think it’s the “right minded thing” to do.

It isn’t. I promise. Here’s what I posted to the group Facebook page from the meditation weekend retreat I went to in June:

“Just logged 32 days of meditating, twice daily. The one thing that is “better” is that I’m not reacting to crap as frequently…I’m being just a teensy weensy bit more reflective instead. But the other thing I’ve noticed is that since I’ve been meditating, the dragon has awakened and he’s like, “oh yeah? oh YEAH? You’re meditating? You’re living more in the moment, eh? Enjoying yourself? Well, not so fast! Let’s throw THIS at you, and THIS! and a little of THAT!”

And I’m trying not to take that personally, just notice, just root myself in the present moment and perform right action from there. And also just notice how difficult it is to just…do…that…and then…just…do…the next thing….and remember it’s all just stuff, not real, not even “reality” per se.

And it’s damned hard. But screw it. I’m doing this mindfulness stuff anyway because I have the freedom to choose something different.”

And because we are not alone, and because no one is immune to crap, a member of the group responded with this wisdom:

“So here’s a tidbit that I shared with DavidJi…When I came back from doing my teacher training last Sept with (David Ji)…I felt so well. Mentally, emotionally and physically. Grounded and solid. Had the tools, had the support and was really clear.

Then…

Reality hits again. Life happens. It happened hard. Our toddler almost died from a once-off low blood sugar episode that had never happened before nor has happened again. Being an ICU nurse (and the one who found her unresponsive…and being a Vata) it threw me over the edge. Chaos. Throw in the regular “life stuff” of having a marriage, 2 other kids and a job. I derailed.

And I told David Ji my theory: Get us all nice and Zen’d out then send us back home and watch us explode. Like a test. Like “Meditation Survivor.” And, although I said it jokingly to him, there’s a lot of truth and pain behind jokes sometimes. I felt like I was failing.

Kevin…you’re hitting home with every word. It’s the awareness. *Whereas before we may have lived a more “dulled” existence, when you sharpen everything up by being quiet, the clarity often comes at lightning speed. It was happening before too, we just may not have noticed it.

My coping strategy is to “stay in it”. Don’t resist. Because all I’ve ever done is resist. Get me the heck out of here was my mantra. Make it stop. It’s not going to stop. Ever. But it’s to know it WILL not last and there are “gaps” in the crap. And they are so beautiful.

It’s the ebb and flow. And it’s not to get attached to the “crap” or to the “beautiful” but to try to hang in between…as peacefully as possible. (*in bold to emphasize the point here, folks).

Sharing like this is one of the most powerful tools. We are ALL the same. Different details. We are all dealing with it and it is crucial to know we are NEVER alone.

So much love to every one of you!!”

And another member responded with this link to her beautiful, wise blog post on the topic:

https://www.facebook.com/stridestoserenityco/photos/a.600201226729755.1073741828.600150323401512/849419845141224/?type=1

Meditation helps me. Instead of running away from the crap, both literally and figuratively, I sit with it. I don’t sit IN IT, mind you. There’s a difference. I set my timer for fifteen minutes, close my eyes, and allow my mind to rant and rave, fantasize about all manner of possibilities and outcomes, plan and destroy, then go back to my mantra, back to breath, back to this moment…until the mind starts up again with the next onslaught of chatter, and then back to my mantra, back to breath, back to this moment of stillness…and again, and again until the bell rings signaling the end of the meditation.

Somehow in the midst of this mental dance, I become aware that I am dancing. I become aware that I am not the follower of my mind in the dance, but the leader. I am no longer passive. I am active. I can choose to stop dancing and be still, observe, detach and awaken. I become aware that there are “gaps in the crap” as my friend so wisely said above.

It’s in those gaps where I find myself again. I have the freedom to reflect on what is going on, weigh it, measure it, and decide what, if anything, I need to do about it. The Buddhists call it “rooting oneself in the present moment, and then performing the next right action”.

So, I mourn that I didn’t get the interview. I am sad that relationships are often really fucking hard and require a lot of work. I am compassionate toward the part of me who wants to run away, self-medicate, and hide in a fortress. I accept that change and innovation are necessary parts of working in non-profit. I accept that change is the only constant in life, and I accept that change will always suck, always. I am grateful my friend is still here, now surrounded by love and support and healing. I hope he continues to walk with confident steps out of his darkness and towards a lightness. I am grateful that I got hooked, and that I recognized the hooking quicker this time. I forgive myself for acting reflexively to all of this crap, and am grateful that because of meditation, I was able to realize it’s not too late to reflect and sit with crap instead. Most of all, I am grateful for evidence of presence in this life: my loving partner, my awesome job, my dear friends and family–especially my wise Seester, and my dear, sweet and loving Buddha Kitteh Mister Crab, who I hold a little tighter and kiss a little more until he is feeling better. Then, rinse, repeat and start that gratitude list all over again…and above all…breathe.

Then, I come here and write about the crap, and you read it and give me feedback. Which is cool.

It doesn’t fix anything. But, it does make it easier to sift through, and choose what’s really mine to fix and what’s too difficult to handle today. And that makes everything a bit lighter.