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Meaning and Health in Life

Personal events in my life recently reminded me of how true it is that all composite things are impermanent. This is a famous phrase from Buddhism, and the unstated extension from science is that everything is composite — you, me, both as bodies and psycho-social-emotional identity constructs, even atoms: all of these are impermanent. I quote this line often as a piece of wisdom in relation to discussions with others, but it’s easy to overlook in one’s own life.

For Christmas, I went home to see my family. For those of you who have read my blog regularly for a long time, you may recall that my father died this year, and this was the first winter holiday season without him. In the time between, my grandmother has struggled with his death, and the loss has driven her into an assisted living home in her local hospital. I went to see her while I was home.

Let me take a brief aside to provide some personal background and a perspective on psychology and philosophy. A few years ago, I completed a masters in clinical psychology. The program I was in had an existential-phenomenological theoretical stance. This meant that we looked at human experience holistically with an emphasis on personal meaning and the flavor of experience, rather than reductive methods and techniques (nothing against those by any means). One of the first books we read in the program was Viktor Frankl’s famous work Man’s Search for Meaning.  This is a book by another Austrian psychotherapist who was a contemporary of Freud and Adler. In the book, he talks about his experience in surviving the concentration camps and what he saw in the psychology of himself and other survivors: he saw that these prisoners perceived a meaning in their lives, a goal to work towards that gave their horrors in the concentration camps a limitation, a transcendent reason of some sort. That may sound religious or profound, a “Meaning of Life”, but it doesn’t need be. For the author, his was that he was convinced that his family was alive, and he needed to live to see them again. Frankl references a line from Nietzsche from Twilight of the Idols:

“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”***

Viktor E. Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning (Kindle Locations 847-848). Kindle Edition.

The prisoners in the camps who lost this future goal, the simple purpose of seeing life holistically as some greater gestalt with projects above and beyond the life in the camps, were the ones who withered away and died or stopped trying to not be picked for activities that would lead to their deaths. In other words, existential despair of perceived meaninglessness in one’s own life can lead to a nihilistic idea that I may as well be dead. In fact, on a greater scale, this is precisely one of Nietzsche’s greatest concerns in modern culture as a whole — a loss of the values that have informed Western society till now could lead to a threat of a nihilistic willing of self-destruction. I’ve never seen it read this way, but we could easily read another famous quote by Nietzsche in just this manner:

“Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein. ” – Jenseits von Gut und Böse – retrieved at Nietzsche Source

“And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss looks back also into you.”
– my translation^^^

We could see this as the problem of an emptiness looking into us, becoming intimate with us, emptying us. The line before warns us that fighting monsters leads to becoming a monster, and apparently, we can surmise that staring at the yawning chasm of death that an abyss is leads to us being either more abyss-like or more tempted to jump in to our death: willing one’s own destruction in seeing oneself as an abyss.

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Maybe looking down doesn’t have to lead to anguish and despair

Returning to my story: I was concerned about my grandmother right away after my dad’s death. I called her not long after to make sure that someone was paying attention to her and giving her the room to express her own feelings about what had happened. We usually had fairly long phone calls and talked about books, the world, and the challenges I faced in growing into an adult, but this time, the call was brief, and my grandma said something along the line of not seeing much of a point anymore to things. My therapist senses tingled with concern — she had no meaning. She didn’t see any future to her world anymore.

I told my mom to make sure that my grandmother was OK, and it didn’t take long before she had to be taken to the assisted living facility. I knew all of this when I walked in to see her over the holidays, but I didn’t expect the dramatic change, the marching forward of impermanence in such a brief period. It had only been about 9 months since I had last seen her, but in that span of a baby’s gestation, she had aged seemingly 20 years. She’s lost 30 pounds and a lot of her faculties. I recalled an ex girlfriend telling me that when her dad fell off a horse (his passion) and broke his wrist, he aged years in the few months it took to fully heal. Clearly a trauma, physical or emotional, can really shake the stability of older people’s lives, and as Frankl noted, the loss of meaning can shake one’s life so critically that it begins to fully unwind.

I’m not sure I have a solid point or piece of wisdom to share in this post. I could counsel you to be aware of the meaning that you build in the narratives of your life and to be aware that the structures around which these are built will end, and the meanings you currently have will need to be amended. This is normal — you’ve likely changed course and built up new projects in the face of your own future and death several times, but it’s something else to realize that an intense personal trauma may wipe meaning off the table to the extent that you cannot readily amend your narrative and your meaning. Perhaps, the counsel is simply this: all of us, and all things we know will die. The mountains outside your window, the oceans you visit, the cities you grow up in — all of these are impermanent, having risen and fallen before, and they will do so again. This also applies to the people you know and yourself. Try to find your peace with that and be open to finding your way in the world without those people and places if they come to a sudden, unforeseen end, no matter how difficult it may be. I say this with no judgment for anyone — myself, my family, or anyone ever. This is perhaps the largest challenge one faces in life.

May this bring new meaning to all those who read it.


*** The original line in German is: “Hat man sein warum? des Lebens, so verträgt man sich fast mit jedem wie?” I would translate this more as: “One who has their own “Why?” for living bears almost any “How?”.” Humorously enough, Nietzsche ends the phrase with a joke that only the English strive for happiness, which leaves me with many questions about how Nietzsche read Aristotle.

^^^ Interestingly, Sartre also talks about the sensation of what is felt when standing at a ledge over a fall (I believe inspired by writings by Kierkegaard rather than Nietzsche, however). He describes the sense that you have the potential to jump, that you could choose to leap to your death, as anguish.

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Some Musings on Change

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about change — personal change, how one changes over time both by choice and by happenstance. Honestly, this has been something I’ve thought about off and on over the years, as I studied psychology in school, but it has come to the forefront of my mind more in recent years due to my interest in Buddhism and the claims I’ve heard others around me make about how certain activities have changed them.

Actually, the issue came to a head a few years ago when pondering some others’ justifications for travelling. They spoke highly of how it changes you, but I didn’t see anything dramatically different about them. I started thinking on my own travels and my own life experiences with change. After much consideration, I came to the conclusion that we don’t understand well how change comes to be in our lives, and perhaps, that has to do with misperceptions of ourselves and our lives.

Change isn’t something that someone just has thrust upon them in a moment. One doesn’t simply see something, and all is done. I’ve been thinking of a good metaphor for this, and ultimately, the passive infliction of change from without seems akin to a wound that heals into a scar — a mark that’s made from an external force that is more or less permanent.

However, no other changes in life happen like that. We’re not simply some sort of soul/identity that is stained from without. We are bodies, processes, unfoldings — a human becoming, a developing person. An example? My dad died this year. The initial shock of it was sudden, external, and permanent. Certainly, but the deeper change that it’s had in my life has been a process. My brain, heart, and daily life are still processes of adaptation. There are stages to grieving, to making sense of the world again after a huge initial alteration like that. The event itself may be epic, but the change, the real impact is something more gradual. Change is like that — it’s a rebuilding of life, brick by brick, day by day.

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This is how our very brains work. If we learn a new skill, it takes 1000s of hours (and apparently, it’s even more complicated than just sheer hours of time) of practice to master it. If one studies neuroplasticity even cursorily, it becomes clear that part of how we adapt as organisms is by building new synaptic connections when we encounter new challenges. These enhance our abilities, our understanding, our skill — but they take time, effort, material resources, and energy. Such is change: it is a new coming to be, a new formation of the universe. Another example? Our cat lost a leg this year due to cancer. We had to amputate it to avoid metastasis. At first, he could barely move and was awkward as hell. We had to bring food to him, but over time, he started meandering around and now is even almost as nimble as he once was. This is due to his brain taking time to rewire many of its sensorimotor connections to adapt to his new situation in life. Like my first example: the brute change is immediate, but the change in the day to day life, the new version of our beloved cat, is a more gradual process, one that he’s still undergoing.

I posit that all change in life, meaningful change that impacts one’s story, one’s existence, is like this. It’s a dynamic new entanglement with different circumstances. It can be one of mastery, where one takes repetitive engagement with something to build a new relationship with it and with life. My own experience with travel is like this: initial experiences impacted me. They expanded my perspectives, but the honing, the real meaning of it, came with living abroad, with spending hours and hours of time with people from other cultures, and with learning another language. Most of the initial experiences have fallen away as hazy memories, just like most others that have not stood the test of time, but the efforts to adapt and master have changed me forever.

Sometimes, the change is more passive. A new job or a new situation carries us along, against maybe our interest or affirmation, but in those cases, we still adapt — living through the banal grind, as it were — and that changes us as well over time. The numerous hours of going through the motions can kill our resolve, make us cynical, one way of thinking about how we change into old age.

“What about trauma?” — you might ask and rightfully so. The event of trauma has an impact, but the ongoing efforts of the mind are where the change of trauma happens: the rehashing of the events over and over in mind, in its particularly intense experience with details that blast beyond any standard memory, or our minds’ ongoing efforts of self-protection through continually pushing the traumatic events out of mind. These adaptive engagements change our relationships with the world, and they change the wiring in our brains. The initial event is only complete in its destruction through the adaptation over time of trying to understand it, to live through it, and to survive beyond it. It presents one of the biggest changes of all — rebuilding meaning and trust in existence after all meaning that we had previously known has been shattered.

My point? Change is always an ongoing dynamic with the lives we’re embedded in. Traveling is just one peak experience among many. We could point to others: music, art, drugs, literature, religious revelation. All of these have their value for opening our eyes to new possibilities, but it’s not the eye-opening that is change, it’s the ongoing investment in (or possibly running away from — ongoing denial) the newly seen alternatives that changes us. It’s the time spent, the long-term relationship with these newfound discoveries, and the growing intimacy with them that is change. Also, what of the open-mindedness we have that leads us to these experiences in the first place? Isn’t that just as important to seeing something as new and exciting as the experience itself? However, ultimately, the way things come to fruition is through that sustained engagement. I can think of many phases I went through in my younger years that didn’t leave much of an impact despite initial enthusiasm. I didn’t engage with them long enough to build that loving or cynical relationship that is change.

Let these words stand, lest we forget that we are organic systems of change. Let us not forget as well how hard change can become due to the strong entanglements in certain ways of being, the ingrained patterns and habits, that we have developed over time. So much of who we “are” are these patterns that have developed: the fruition of change, karma. These are the ties that bind us, not a soul — some inherent personality. The deeper situations we are in, the thoughts we cultivate, we change and solidify into those. Most importantly, let us not forget that we are engines of change — we are not set beings, rather becomings. Confusion on this is our greatest existential balm but also our greatest delusion.


Peak experiences cannot be maintained, and when they pass, the habituated patterns and the underlying sense of separation remain intact.
Peak experiences may open up new possibilities, but they cannot do what a consistent practice or discipline does–instill a deep understanding that expresses itself in life. No quick fix exists. Milarepa, a great Tibetan folk hero who lived in mountain retreats, used to say that to glimpse what is ultimately true is not difficult, but to stabilize that understanding takes years of effort.

— From Wake Up to Your Life by Ken McLeod

Today we understand from scientific research that the human body operates through chemical and molecular processes. By their very nature these processes are in a state of constant, even chaotic change at the cellular level. As mentioned earlier, millions of cells are born and die in each passing second. There’s no solidity at the core. But in our ignorance we live as if the body were solid and unchanging at its core.
The poet W. H. Auden has said, “Our claim to own our bodies and our world / is our catastrophe.” How can we claim ownership of something that’s constantly changing? What does it tell us about the nature of the claim? A deluded mind believes a manifestation to be a thing-in-itself, whereas Buddhist teachings point out that a manifestation is an event. A thing is perceived by the deluded mind to be solid and self-abiding; an event is seen by a mind informed by prajna as a resultant outcome of a certain process. To see oneself truly and authentically, as an event–an ever-changing process–rather than a thing-in-itself is the greatest act of re-imaging.

— From The Heart of the Universe: Exploring the Heart Sutra by Mu Soeng

Priest Daokai of Mount Furong said to the assembly, “The green mountains are always walking; a stone woman gives birth to a child at night.”

Mountains do not lack the characteristics of mountains. Therefore they always abide in ease and always walk. Examine in detail the characteristic of the mountains’ walking.
Mountains’ walking is just like human walking. Accordingly, do not doubt mountains’ walking even though it does not look the same as human walking. The buddha ancestor’s words point to walking. This is fundamental understanding. Penetrate these words.

— From Treasury of the True Dharma Eye by Eihei Dōgen (trans. Kazuaki Tanahashi)

 

Musings of an Aspiring Oneironaut: Emotions in Dreams

Intention:
Tonight, I will remember my dreams.
Tonight, I will have many dreams.
Tonight, I will have good dreams.
Tonight, I will wake up within my dreams.
— Modified from Holecek, Dream Yoga

A couple days ago, my dream ended in a way that left me feeling unsettled and oddly self-aware. A doctor opened a boil on my arm, in the dream. The needle she used to lance it almost broke–bending and straining to break through the skin. When it popped through, there was magically no blood, but she reacted with concern as she pulled out several gobs of hardened … something which was inside. I woke from this experience with a start, and I immediately began thinking about whether I actually had any blemishes on my skin which were potentially infected.

When our fears play out in dreams, it’s easy to find deeper meaning in them upon waking. Personally, when I have a rough dream like that–one that doesn’t reach the fully fantastical realm of the nightmarish but strays from the generally more erratic and nonsensical content and emotional tone of normal dreams–I tend to continue feeling that emotional dread of the dream for some time after: hours or maybe even most of the day. However, is there really any deeper meaning to these events? Let’s look at how they work out in dreams.

It’s interesting to see how much of our dream landscape is colored by the tone of emotions. Without all the details of normal waking life (for instance, in dreams, you can’t read, and smells and sound seem absent, assumed, or perhaps, rare at best), emotion has an even greater weight than it does in daily life, and the charge of emotion seems to spiral out of control in the narrative–growing stronger as the narrative loops itself around the feeling. For instance, in my dream above, speaking to the doctor created an initial emotional reaction of concern, and the narrative suddenly revealed a boil on my arm. The doctor started inspecting it, and my concern became fear as she used a needle to lance it and even more so when the needle started bending through the prodding. The fear was realized when a bizarre medical scenario came to be upon lancing the boil, and then, I woke with a start, a paranoid fear having come to full fruition in a few moments of dream, a fear that had grown to a point which then colored my waking reality and was hard to shake.

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Fear in dreams can quickly ramp up into horror story scenarios.

Another clear example is the standard dream scenario of realizing that you’re naked in public. Sudden concern and self-awareness becomes realized into full embarrassment and anxiety when a check reveals that you forgot your clothes at home. Another example are those dreams where you forgot about a test, paper, project at work, deadline, etc. In all of these, the initial concern is immediately fulfilled in the worst possible way, and the emotional tone ramps up, the whole story and sense of reality around it twisting in pace with the emotion.

Emotions play an interesting role in the landscape of dreams, and thinking on how they color our dreaming life offers an opportunity to see how our perspective, our perceived reality, can get pulled into an ever-growing and twisting spiral of reaction in our waking lives as well. Those walking the path would do well to ponder this.


May this bring you to a deeper engagement with your emotions in both your dreaming and your waking life.

Gassho!

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal–Final Entry: Letting Go of Letting Go

I’m closing out the year with this final entry in this series of posts that has both informed my spiritual development of this year and the course of this blog as well. I’m closing this narrative with a long set of connected thoughts about letting go–both my own and some quotes that have inspired me. This year is done, and this chapter in my story comes to a close as well. May this inspire those of you out there who have also gone through heartbreak.


What is the perfection of wisdom? Let’s look at some important elements that are the core of our practice as well as our lives. In face-to-face study, a student expresses agony over a relationship that ended two years ago and asks me how to let go. What is letting go?There is a little toy called a Chinese finger-trap. You put two fingers into it, then try to pull them out. But you can’t extricate your fingers from the trap by pulling: it’s only when you push your fingers further in that the trap releases them. Similarly, we think of letting go as doing something: throwing things away, ending a relationship, getting rid of whatever’s bothering us. But that works no better than pulling our fingers in order to extricate them from the trap. We let go by eliminating the separation between us and what we wish to let go of. We become it.

Do we let go of anger by saying good bye or going away? Of course not! That doesn’t work. The way to let go of anger is to enter the anger, become the anger rather than separate from it. If you even hold on to the notion of having to let go of it, you’re still stuck. In a famous koan, a monk went to Chao-chou Ts’ung-shen and asked, “What shall I do now that I’ve let go of everything?” Chao-chou said, “Let go of that!” The monk said, “What do you mean, let go of that? I’ve let go of everything.” Chao-chou answered, “Okay, then continue carrying it with you.” The monk failed to get the point. Holding on to letting go is not letting go.

We don’t get rid of anger by trying to get rid of it: the same applies to forgetting the self. To forget the self means to become what is, become what we are. How do we let go of a painful relationship? Become the person we wish to let go of, become the pain itself. We think we’re not the person, not the pain, but we are. Eliminate the gap between subject and object and there’s no anger, no loss of relationship, no sorrow, no suffering, no observer sitting back and crying, “Poor me!”

The Chinese finger-trap is solved by going further into the trap, and the same is true of letting go: Go into it. If you avoid the situation, it only gets worse. Totally be it; that’s letting go. Similarly, when we sit, it’s not a question of trying to do something. Don’t sit there saying, “I have to accomplish this. I have to attain that.” Just let go and be what you are, be this very moment. If you are breathing, just be breathing, and you will realize that you’re the whole universe, with nothing outside or external to you. The beautiful mountain–that’s you. Anger, lust, joy, frustration–they’re all you: none are outside. And because there’s no outside, there’s also no inside; altogether, this is you. This is the meaning of Shakyamuni Buddha’s “I alone am!”–Bernie Glass, from Infinite Circle

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I intended to write this post a couple months back around the time of my birthday, but I never got to it, and I can only believe that it wasn’t ripe. I was reading the book quoted above around the same time, but this quote means so much more to me reading it again now. This is my last Heartbreak Wisdom Journal entry. After all the steps in the spiritual path of heartbreak, I’ve finally reached the realization that continuing these narratives is not fully letting go. It’s time to let go of letting go. That’s the step forward on the path of the spiritual heart. That’s the tender vulnerability that was described in the first entry. We come full circle: nothing outside.

Let my birthday journal entry, Morning Pages from a couple months back, serve as an intention in this step forward:
“Well, 33! Made it!
I’ve been thinking of this particular one for a while. As a teenager, I loved the Smashing Pumpkins’ “33”. It is now my theme song for a year, I suppose. That’s odd, in a way, as it’s a romantic song about another person making existence beautiful:
– ” You could make it last, forever, you.”
Clearly, after the year I’ve had, I just don’t feel that way about anyone, and I wonder if I ever will again. In many ways, I totally don’t respect those concepts of romance, especially as a guiding light in the life of a person. Well, maybe I can transform that into something less deluded–transmutation.
That reminds me: I’ve been thinking a lot recently about just that. I want to handle my story around the heartbreak of the end of my relationship in a very particular way. I don’t want to cast her as a monster or villain. I don’t want to cast myself as hero or victim. It simply was. It was, however, not justified–another story that explains away–no matter what came after. Again, it simply was–the complicated interweaving of sharing life and love with other people. In the end, she simply decided that she wanted something different. That’s all.
In the end, this suffering has been, as is suffering in general, useless. That’s actually one of the best philosophical essays I have read: Levinas’ “Useless Suffering”. Explaining away my pain–to myself or the explanations of others–is ultimately an unwillingness to sit with, see, and genuinely feel the agony of a broken heart. Again, it simply is, and any meaning or story that makes it OK or gives it a telos covers it over and masks it. There is beauty in the rawness, and the only use is to sit with it and be inspired to compassion for others, to aim at liberating oneself and all sentient beings from such anguish.
So, no, I won’t cast stones. However, I will transmute–that earlier thread of connection–the love I reached for her into this compassion for all. I’ll blow the lid off of the Love of an Other that completes my Self and move to a warmth for all that exists. May I step forward on the path for the benefit of all sentient beings.”


Tonight–before writing any of this or reading these quotes again–I sat down and did a mantra meditation with mala in hand, counting–bead by bead.

Om mani padme hum.
Om mani padme hum.
Om mani padme hum.



108 times
.

I focused my attention on Kwan Yin/Avalokitesvara/Chenrezig/Kannon–the listener to the cries of the world, bodhisattva of compassion. As I repeated the words and contemplated Avalokitesvara with his hundred arms–reaching out to touch the lives of all sentient beings, I felt my own loving-kindness swell, and I flashed on those who have done me pain, who have stoked my anger or sadness… I realized, as separation of I/Them dropped away, that They are I and I am They. Her face flashed by amidst others, and I saw tears and felt her fear, her anxiety. I embraced her feelings with loving-kindness. Many others flashed by as well. Among them all, my own face flashed up, my angry, sad face, tormented by delusion, struggling with all the cares of being human. I compassionately embraced this too. As Glass Roshi said in the initial quote above: “Anger, lust joy, frustration–they’re all you: none are outside. And because there’s no outside, there’s also no inside: altogether this is you.” — For a brief moment, I sat in this compassion and wisdom, in this karuna and prajna

Then, like always, my mind flitted back to ordinary shenanigans–always room for more practice.


After meditating, I lay down and finished reading a graphic novel, weathering a slight stomachache. The closing words rang true and inspired me to sit down and write this entry. We shall close with them:

I can’t give you your hope. You have to grow your own and hold it through the seemingly endless darkness. The true task–to find joy in the small things we can count on.

When we stop taking pleasure in the basic experience of being alive, beat-by-beat, we lose everything that makes life worthwhile. We must relish in every sight, every touch…
… Every memory. My daughters playing in the garden. Johl kissing my neck. Marik’s elation at a new invention. These memories are enough to light my darkest hour. To face whatever awaits above. We all of us carry burdens that seem too heavy. … Losses we can’t conceivably move past. The things that once gave purpose to life. It is all too easy to give yourself over to the traumas of the past–allowing pain to define us. There is a medicine for that–hope and perseverance. Light brings light. And no matter what we face there is one thing we can control: our outlook. It’s not about ignoring the pain or mindlessly believing things will simply be better–it’s about finding the joy in participating. And when the weight of the past pulls us low we must find the strength to release it…
…and finally give ourselves permission to start over.
-Rick Remender, Low: Volume 2, closing passage

 

The character, Stel, finds the hope to start fresh, letting go of the past, but she doesn’t do this by running away from it–ignoring it–or by blindly believing that the future will make everything right again. She’s neither lost in the pain of the past nor in a dream of a hazy, euphoric future. She’s faced all of her ghosts by sitting with everything as it was and as it currently is. She’s fully taken on her pain, her burdens. She realizes that in becoming them, the weight of the past drops with the permission to start over. That permission is always at hand, right now. It merely takes the warrior’s courage to let go: to fully be here as we are. That’s what starting over is. This may begin with holding on to the wonders of golden experiences, but this sagely wisdom fully blossoms in participating joyously in every moment of life, even the most painful or burdensome. This is wrongly called “hope” because it’s not about that belief in a future deliverance; it’s actually “faith”–trust in and no separation from all that is. This is recognizing the basic goodness of existence, and it is a clear step forward to liberation: happiness that does not rely on the conditioned.

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May this light the path to letting go of heartbreak for those who need it.

Gassho!


Previous Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry– Entry 12: Heartmind’s Abundance

Experience in Meditation

What arises in this moment?
“Joy”?
“Agony”?
“Nostalgia”?

Can you openly be present to it?
Whatever it may be?
So many butterflies
And moths, flitting about…

Don’t react. Just feel–fully.
Just anger.
Just lust.
Just sadness.

No narrative yarns following these swarms.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
No attachment.

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May this inspire you to meditate.

Gassho!

Murderous Zeal – Letting Go

Disclaimer: This post is much more personally revealing than most posts I write. This will not be quite as didactic, rather processing with the intent of expressing what I need to express but cannot share with the person with whom I wish to express it. Some of you may know me enough to know who that is, and to those, I say that this is not meant to judge or cast aspersions to that person’s character, a person I love with all my heart. Instead, this is trying to put into words what I have experienced, the pure, raw pain of it, and the folly I see in what has happened. Disagreeing with another’s choices and trying to accurately describe them as they are, to call a spade a spade, so to speak, does not mean that you belittle them or that you necessarily even think poorly of them (judgment can mean both identification as well as moral judgment; judgment here is meant as the first of these two). Believe me, that’s part of the depth of my pain expressed here. So, those of you who know, either don’t read this, and let my expression be, or see what I have to say about what I’ve felt and how I’m moving forward. Expressing this here is therapeutic for me. This is not meant to cause any stir; that person will likely never see it, and I wouldn’t publish it here if I thought that that person would. So either let this be, or read it to share my expression without any more motive than that.


You took the ideology of relationships from a friend, a maxim we would have previously scoffed at, and you embraced it as creed and animating principle. “If we were together again, it would have to be completely different.” Thus armed, like one of the furies, you killed “us” with a murderous zeal that I’ve never previously seen — lashing out in fear and pain, you held dear the despairing mantra: “This must die.” Yet, must it have? You never stopped. You never questioned. You held on with certainty, out of pain, unwilling to see how things could already be different. You instead repeated fatalistic stories of how they could never change without this melodramatic action.

Stumbling forward, revising what you said from one conversation to the next, galvanizing your certainty as having been one clear idea that you held all along — not merely a reactive lash of pain which grew into a clearer purpose with time — you stand, superior, self-righteous, cold, and cruel. I’m cast as naive, weak, and pathetic, so worthy of the death you dole out. Yet, our conversations reveal that your position has not been clear throughout beyond the reaction of pain, and your words come again to stubborn, self-righteous contradictions, and after knowing you for years, it all shines as an inauthentic escape from that which you can’t face. The hardest has ultimately been the empty promise of friendship, the last thing to die after love and family: the third and final death. I’m no more than an acquaintance now. Best of luck with your coping with this pain, with your soothing escape from it. May your pain and resentment have been quenched. I fear deeply that you will feel them again in your next deeply intimate connection, as I am not the source of your emotional reactivity. My greatest hope is merely that you can be real about this at some point, for your own growth.

I’ve been working on letting go of my pain in regards to this for some time. It’s been hard. It’s been painful (ironically, letting go of pain is painful). I’ve lost more than I can put into words, and that clings to me like an old skin that I can’t slough off — so close to a fresh rebirth if I could only peel off an essential layer of who I have been. Strangely, a few sentences in a popular psychology magazine have helped me find acceptance in ways that so many wise words from friends have been unable to do (more due to my own difficulties than any ineffectiveness of theirs; sometimes, only the right words stick — one key opens a door): “To let go of a past injustice that preoccupies us, we must relinquish our natural burning hope for equity. or at least for exposing to the world the wrongdoer — your brother, your crooked business partner, your vicious former friend — for who and what he is. Dimming that eternal flame of rage is effortful. The bad guy won. It happens.” (Psychology Today, Jan. 5th 2015, p. 56)  Indeed, it does happen, and so many of the things we need to let go of are not done by “bad guys” at all, my case included. We are people. We make selfish, myopic, or childish choices sometimes. That’s how it goes, and perhaps, the first step to letting go in cases like mine is accepting that — accepting that someone you love deeply can throw you aside, can lose sight of you, but it’s not really about you. They’ve done something “bad”, but it’s not something you should take personally, no matter how deeply that cut may go into your heart. The Stoics would remind us that there are things that are up to us, and there are things that aren’t. Only the first deserve our concern, and the only part of this situation that is up to us is our reaction to it, so let’s not make the other person’s decision — that part of existence that is up to him or her — about us. It isn’t. It’s about them. Let it be, and wish them well from a place of strength and dignity, as hard as that might be, because it still hurts…

In line with what I just said, I’ve also been inspired by a book by Chögyam Trungpa entitled “Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior”. In one passage, he states:

As human beings, we are basically awake and we can understand reality. We are not enslaved by our lives; we are free. Being free, in this case, means simply that we have a body and a mind, and we can uplift ourselves in order to work with reality in a dignified and humorous way. If we begin to perk up, we will find that the whole universe — including the seasons, the snowfall, the ice,and the mud — is also powerfully working with us. Life is a humorous situation, but it is not mocking us. We find that, after all, we can handle our world; we can handle our universe properly and fully in an uplifted fashion. The discovery of basic goodness is not a religious experience, particularly. Rather, it is the realization that we can directly experience and work with reality, the real world that we are in. Experiencing the basic goodness of our lives makes us feel that we are intelligent and decent people and that the world is not a threat. When we feel that our lives are genuine and good, we do not have to deceive ourselves or other people. We can see our shortcomings without feeling guilty or inadequate, and at the same time, we can see our potential for extending goodness to others. We can tell the truth straightforwardly and be absolutely open, but steadfast at the same time. The essence of warriorship, or the essence of human bravery, is refusing to give up on anyone or anything. (pp. 16-17)

Here, warriorship is not meant in terms of violence and war, rather courageous action in life’s difficulties with wisdom and dignity. In letting go, I think there’s nothing greater to aspire to than the courageous realization of our freedom to be upright and dignified, to walk forward with intention of loving-kindness for the world, when every signal and resonant vibration of pain tells us to stop, turn back, give up, and be jaded. This simple way of seeing the world for the beauty that it is may just be the hardest thing to do, especially in times of severe pain, but this is precisely the choice that is up to us, and it is more important in these times than in any other. Has my pain fully subsided? Of course not. However, I can choose to see it, to embrace my situation with courage and dignity. Most importantly, I can choose to love myself in all of this. What better thing to share than that, and how better to share it than being a sacred warrior?

I hope that someone out there reads through this long post and finds some point of inspiration for his or her own journeys. If you make it to these words, know that you are not alone, dear friend.

Gassho.

Bad Faith

We are masters of our own deception.

Aware of what lies before us, we can so readily turn our eyes away, refusing to see it, refusing to take agency, while distracting ourselves from the fact that this is just what we are doing. This self-deception, self-distraction, can be done in so many ways. You see it in the dreamy confusion of “denial” – a psychological cocoon, insulating from the tragic situation the person wishes not to acknowledge. You see it in elaborate narratives, newly built, those which recast entire histories with the most radical revision of a revolutionary, changing ourselves into victims of horrible fate or victors over that same horrible fate, which was once perceived as anything but…

Be careful with the stories you tell yourself. Be courageous enough to show up and face your life just as it is.

Self-deception

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