A Year of Living

December 30, 2012 § 36 Comments

This year.

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.


The Weight

December 8, 2012 § 48 Comments

Sitting on the back porch, feeling the warm sun filtered through the pines.  I am a stroll away from that great source of peace, the ocean.  My precious dog, Sammie, is dozing at my feet.  I know I’m blessed.  And still.

It’s hard to describe.  This feeling that keeps me away.  Like a drug that leaves me numb and stalled and lost.

These past weeks I could not bear to look at the blog.  Thinking of those with whom I felt a connection here, I imagined that they had left me- or worse yet, that they had come by and in my silence I had let them down.  So I just stayed away.

But today, awash in the terrible sadness that I just can’t shake, I decided to stop waiting for the strength to return.  To stop waiting for that moment when I might again write of peace and gratitude.  Just come back in all your shakiness and doubt and then go from there, I thought.

So here I am.

Not Stepping Away

October 10, 2012 § 32 Comments

Away, away, away.

When I felt the closeness growing, I pulled away from her.

When the big book opportunity came, I slowly drifted off.

When this work- right here- began to feel big and meaningful, I retreated into my busy schedule- stopped writing.  Not enough time, I said.  I’ll get back to it- later- when I have the time.

What is this?  Why do I step away from what feels good and right?

I know the pattern.  Always asking myself- what’s the point?  Be with her, write the book, stay with this blog- or not- what’s the difference?  Nothing will really change.

But I never ask this of the less important pieces of my life.  Only when I’m standing at the threshold of something real and authentic and true, do I trigger this cascading, self-crushing analysis.  And the answer is always the same.  No point.  No difference.

What lies beneath this terrible and self-destructive way of living?  I sense fear and doubt, feel the weariness.  But when I really sit with this, I know the source- my oldest and most constant demon.  He whispers- who are you to aspire to an authentic life?  You lack the heart for it.  You’ll always back away because you know it’s not for you.  Not you.  Unworthy.

But no more.

This is my life.  Each moment a chance to live- truly and forcibly.  With great heart and presence.

So I’m throwing myself into what I know is good and right for me.  Embracing what comes.  And saying this here and now- to myself and to you- this is who I am.

Not stepping away.  Not ever again.

Not Done

September 23, 2012 § 54 Comments

I have been away.  Not in the ordinary sense.  Away as in disconnected from my sense of self.  Lost.

Last night was the worst.  I awoke in the dark with a rock sure sense of my unworthiness.  This blog, this book idea, this whole thing- all a big hoax.  I had nothing to say, really.  What was the point of it all? I composed in my head the final post, called it “Done.”   Thinking the pain would subside once I embraced my unworthiness.

Somehow I returned to sleep and awoke this morning feeling different.  Like a fever had broken.  The doubt and fear weren’t washed away but I thought- when the darkness has run its course, it will go.  You will find the strength again and carry on.

Struggle, I now understand, comes to me in two ways.  When great loss comes, or when my busy lethal mind beckons, I feel the battle rise.  But I am aware and ready.  I know that I will falter.  But I also know who I am.  This is good struggle.

But when I lose my sense of self, it’s different.  Nothing but the demons of anxiety and self-loathing battling against my blunt desire to be free of those horrors, a desire for relief in any form, at any cost.  In this battle, no peace can exist for me- only numbness.

Before the fever broke this morning, I was in the pit of bad struggle.  Fighting a battle that I could never win as I wasn’t really there.

Good struggle, even in its most daunting moments, is a great blessing.  A reminder that we are here- fully conscious of our self- seeking that way of being that is the great treasure.  A struggle that never ends and never should.


September 13, 2012 § 40 Comments

I sometimes feel like a fraud in this work.  Peace, strength, presence.  Who am I to speak of such things?

These past few days have been like that.

I’m going through a period of what I call feeing “unsteady.”  Like walking across an icy sidewalk in dress shoes.  Having to consciously hold on to my balance.

The thing about feeling unsteady is not so much the risk of falling.  Nor is the pain really in the fall itself.  The great cost of the feeling is that so long as I am feeling unsteady, I cannot be at peace.

I say to myself- you’re okay, just breath.  And I pretend that the calm this induces is peace.

There are long stretches where I’m not consciously anxious or bereft, where I’m holding myself together.  And I think that in this effort I have found peace.

But all that time where I am watching where I step, where I project calm and composure, where from the outside all looks well, I am not well, really.  All that conscious effort blocks any hope of real peace.

And so as these unsteady days roll on, I sometimes wonder what I am doing writing about peace and strength.  Someone who lives the lessons with such inconsistency.

I have no pat answer to this.  But I do believe that anyone who seeks self-awareness and to live an authentic life will struggle.  And I know that among my great teachers have been those who struggle, who battle their demons with awareness and honesty.

So I’ll just have to feel unsteady until it passes.  Then I’ll regain peace, the true peace that is natural and effortless, not falsely manufactured, just lived.

Struggle, peace, struggle, peace   My life from here forward, I imagine.  But a real life, not a fraudulent one.

A Hard Peace

August 23, 2012 § 53 Comments

I often refer to “peace.”  I say that peace is “always there.”

Sounds good and works so seamlessly when life’s ordinary ups and downs knock you sideways.  Stuck in traffic and late for an appointment?  No problem.  Just take a breath and feel the peace of acceptance.

But when you confront real loss, the kind that takes your breath away- a child dies, a parent disappears into dementia, a marriage unravels- what does it mean to say that you should seek the “peace that is always there”?  How exactly does that work?  What possible consolation could exist for such loss?

I don’t know the answer.  But this I believe.

If I can spread my arms wide and hold that terrible loss in my embrace, if I can stop all the avoiding, all the thinking, and just let that howling grief come in, I will feel for a moment nearly undone.  Standing on the edge of a terrible precipice.

But it will be there- in that horrific and unfiltered embrace of loss- that acceptance will come.  Not made up acceptance.  Not “all things work out for the best” kind of acceptance.  Not happiness, not even contentment.  And certainly not free of the loss and pain.  But free of all the resistance and all the pretend consolations.  Free to find and hold my strength again.   Free to go on.

It’s a hard kind of peace.  But when unspeakable loss comes crashing in, it’s the only kind I know.


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.

I’m trying.

Gone But Not Gone

August 15, 2012 § 55 Comments

“You may think that when you die, you disappear, you no longer exist.  But even though you vanish, something which is existent cannot be non-existent.  That is the magic.”

Shunryu Suzuki

My mother does not know who I am.  She lives in a locked down wing of a facility that she will never leave.  She cannot hold anything in her mind for more than a few seconds.   She will die there.  I often hope it’s soon.

My mother is gone.

Before she was gone, my mother would often say to me, “You’re such a good writer.”  She meant it as a compliment I know but there was something else.  It was as though she thought that I didn’t understand, or wasn’t using, my talent.

But all those years my mother kept saying this to me, I was writing.  Along the way I published dozens of articles, several book chapters, even a book.  And still, I would hear from my mother that same admonishing compliment- “You’re such a good writer.”

What I now understand is that amidst all those pages of published work was hardly a single page that really meant something to me.   Mostly cold, academic stuff.   Hundreds of pages where I was not to be found.

That’s changed.  Now I write what I feel- not what’s expected, not out of any ambition.  Writing now because I can’t see any other choice.  Drawn to the work with all my heart.

My mother patiently waited all those years for me to believe in myself.   By the time I did, it was too late for her.  Now she’ll never read anything I write- ever again.

But she’s here, right now, in my work.

Gone- but not gone.  Never gone.

Be There

August 13, 2012 § 45 Comments

The first mile of my run is always the hardest.  Before I find my rhythm, before my mind clears.  Painful, labored, difficult.

But soon I’m just running.  I am aware of my surroundings- I hear the birds, feel my foot strike the ground- but I’ve shed the dualistic and busy way of thinking of the first mile.  No me and the birds, or me and the ground- just me, running.  Feeling strong and sure.

I am drawn to simple, elemental sports.  Running is the paradigm.  But also snowboarding- a board, the mountain, and gravity.  And surfing- a board, the ocean, and waves.  To be just running, just boarding, just surfing is to be in that transcendent place where you are fully engaged physically but somehow utterly at peace.

You do not have to be on a wooded trail or a mountain to find this feeling.  It does not come from the place or the nature of the activity.  It is available to each of us in each moment, wherever we are, whatever we are doing.

When we lose the dualistic way of thinking, our mind clears and we settle into whatever we are doing.  Just reading, just cooking, just being with the other person.  The peace comes upon us.

So wherever you are, whatever you are doing, just be there.

Bone Deep Weary

July 30, 2012 § 56 Comments

Early this morning I stood in a clearing in the woods behind my house.  The morning sun carved channels through the mist.  The air was crisp and cool.  Idyllic.

And yet while standing in that palace of nature, my tortured mind wouldn’t stop.  Too much to do.  Too little time.  Too many failings.  Negative thoughts tumbling through my head.  There, in that perfect setting, I was coming undone.

I know what I believe.  I know that peace is always right there for me.  But knowing the way and being the way are two different things.

Sometimes I think I should just give up.  Go back to living in my head.  Embrace repression.  Set aside this wearying quest for self-awareness.  Or maybe just take a break.  Just rest for a bit, I think.

I can’t know what’s ahead.  So maybe I will someday give up on this.  But not today.  Or at least not in this moment.

This bone deep weariness that comes upon me is something I must just accept.  Let it come.  And after it passes, start again.  That’s what I’ll do.

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