July 16, 2013 § 20 Comments
I have often disappeared from this writing, only to resurface a week, or even a month, later with a story about my unsteadiness, or my trance-like existence, my failure to live the truths I know. I accept the kind words of those who stuck with me. And I resume my writing.
But I now understand that those stories have a mythological quality. It just isn’t true that all that time when I wasn’t here I was adrift and emotionally absent. I spent a good portion of those times with family and friends, reading, swimming, traveling, just sitting and being. Times of struggle, times of absence from those I love, sure, but also times of presence and joy.
So why do I create these mythologies? Why do I feel the need to distort the past in this way?
These stories, I now understand, serve a purpose. They become a way of expressing a lacerating self-judgment, the vehicle for a profession of my unworthiness. A way of expiating some pointless guilt I have about not writing.
I need to be here when it feels right and to be elsewhere when that feels right. I need to be as consistently present for others as I can be. But as I move from here to there and back, and as I falter inevitably in my effort to be present consistently in the lives of those I care about, I must lose the idea that this movement and this faltering are somehow a badge of my unworthiness.
This bad history- and its judgmental baggage- have got to go.
Breaking the Trance
July 9, 2013 § 32 Comments
If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
Tao te Ching
I have spent myself in the pursuit of perfection. Trying to think my way to the perfect choice, trying to maneuver myself to the perfect outcome. And beating myself up when I inevitably fall short.
And so because I cannot find the perfect words, I disappear from my writing. Because I cannot construct the perfect relationship, I disappear from those around me- until all that’s left is my solitary sense of inadequacy.
I say, “I’ve been away.” But I’m not away, literally. I’m here- and not here. Like so many people, I often exist in a trance- speaking, acting, doing and yet absent.
Right now, I feel myself drawing strength from the certain knowledge that my life begins again in each moment. Each moment I can choose. I can return to myself. Be present and strong.
Moment by moment. Again and again.
A Year of Living
December 30, 2012 § 36 Comments
A year of putting aside the pointless pursuit of the targets of my ambition. Giving up the enticing numbness of repression and drift. Not stepping away when it feels too real.
Shutting down my busy mind. Switching off that self-lacerating judgment.
Holding a vision of that pure way of being- strong, centered, and present. A way beyond ambition or judgment- the place of gratitude, forgiveness, and acceptance.
Being with those I love. Seeking what’s real and intimate, not contrived and hedged.
And all these new and wondrous connections- the writers, poets, and artists, the depressed and joyful ones. These kind and generous beings, each one so precious to me.
Recalling also those moments of sublime experience- moments in the woods, at the sea, or simply sitting at this seat in my kitchen. Moments of communion with all that is and all that I am. Just the memory of them catches my breath.
But this year has also brought great pain and struggle. More than ever before. At times nearly unbearable.
Still, not going back to that other way. Having lived the truth, can’t ever go back to the lie.
Seeking now to embrace the pain- and the joy- that comes with awareness. Wide open, ready for what is to come.
I feel a stirring, a shift. I feel the New Year coming.
October 23, 2012 § 33 Comments
I feel the horrific rush of self-judgment. You dropped the ball again and now look where you are? Buried and lost.
And then I think- No, this is all wrong. Don’t look back. That’s done and gone. I take a breath. I feel the calm. It’s okay now, all okay.
But soon the dark feelings return. So again, I breathe. I repeat the mantra- nothing but here and now, no looking back, no judgment. Calm returns.
This pattern repeats- distress, then calm- over and over. An endless, soul-crushing loop.
The truth is that we never beat back our demons. So long as we consciously resist the negative feelings, we will never find real and enduring peace.
I cannot think my way out of my unsteadiness and self-loathing. Nor is it simply a matter of belief in some external set of principles. I could read the Tao each moment for the rest of my life and still not escape this terrible loop.
I must return to the place where I belong. I will not get there armed with a club and a conscious striving. I will not get there at all. It is not a destination or an achievement. I will just be there. I will just become who I am.
Resistance is never the way. Simply to live acceptance, love, and forgiveness is the path- the only way home.
August 20, 2012 § 46 Comments
I have only hazy memories of my paternal grandfather. Grey hair, angular face. A serious man. He sent his son to a military boarding school- to toughen the boy up, I imagine.
I have vivid memories of my father. Cropped salt and pepper hair, dark eyes. Whip smart, a great writer, socially graceful, desperately in love with my mother.
My father taught me many things- how to play tennis, how to catch and eat blue crabs, how to take care of dress shoes. But amidst all the great and wonderful things, he taught me something else- something wrong and terrible.
In our house there was a right way and a wrong way to do everything- mow the grass, get a haircut, drive the car, park the car, pack the car- you name it. I knew that because of my father’s appraising, critical, and relentless gaze.
When something wasn’t done the right way, I received that lacerating look, sometimes joined with a few short brutal words, but mostly just the look. More than enough.
I learned the lesson. For most of my life, I was ruthless in my self-appraisal. Each moment, each choice, each thing. Right way, wrong way. Judging, judging, judging.
I turned it outward too. Judging everyone and everything around me. A ferocious critic of all I surveyed.
The worst thing, the most terrible thing, was to see the reflection of my critical gaze in the people I love the most- to understand how I had fed their self doubt all those years. How I had harmed those I loved so deeply.
Father to son, father to son, on and on. Our affliction.
Now I know. No right way/wrong way, no judging, no look. Just to love and to be.
July 16, 2012 § 6 Comments
I am feeling shaky, a bit unsteady, these days. My busy mind beckons. Come join me, it says, in the brilliant analysis of your own failings. Why didn’t you do X? Why can’t you do Y? Overwhelmed. Undeserving. Alone. Falling.
In my struggles, I returned, as I often do, to this passage from Suzuki’s great work, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.
One of my students wrote to me saying, “You sent me a calendar, and I am trying to follow the good mottoes which appear on each page. But the year has hardly begun, and already I have failed!” Dogen-zenji [a great 13th century Zen master] said, “Shoshaku jushaku.” Shaku generally means “mistake” or “wrong.” Shoshaku jushaku means “to succeed wrong with wrong,” or one continuous mistake. According to Dogen, one continuous mistake can also be Zen. A Zen master’s life could be said to be so many years of shoshaku jushaku. This means so many years of one single-minded effort.
A single-minded effort in each moment. That’s all. It sounds so small but within this conception a world of great wonder and possibility resides. Within this conception, each moment becomes a fresh start.
It is a ladder out of the pit of corrosive self-judgment.
Forgive, forgive, and forgive
May 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
Forgiveness is a powerful force, second only to love, with which it is intertwined. It is a source of strength, hope, and peace.
Many believe that forgiveness is a gesture, a gift we give to others. But it is more than that. Through forgiveness, we save ourselves.
As the Tao teaches, until we understand and live forgiveness, we are lost. Lost in anger, resentment, and self-loathing. Lost in a vortex of negative thought that cripples us.
Some foolishly think that to forgive is the weak move. But the forgiving person is strength incarnate. Positive energy flows like a river from such a person.
As always, the lesson is simple to state but harder to live. Just forgive, forgive, and forgive.