Heartbreak | The Hermit’s Way

I recently have been attending a Buddhist dharma talk weekly session through a local Buddhist temple. One of the monks reached out to me to chat and get to know me better. She asked me about my difficult emotional states I’ve brought up when we’ve shared in class. I rattled off some straightforward description with some points about how I’ve been too attached to certain ideas of partnership and love and that I just need to reevaluate and come to terms with the possibility for a different narrative, understanding, and path for myself. I thought I would get some sort of agreement or pat on the back, but the actual reaction I got surprised me and made me understand my treatment of myself differently. Instead of just seconding such a tough approach to my situation, she paused and told me that it makes sense I would be grieving and struggling with all the transitions and restructuring I described. I realized in that moment that something some friends tell me is right: I don’t have a lot of compassion for myself. I strive and push myself hard to be better, to understand deeper, to stand taller, and to be stronger. When I fail, I tend to focus on how I didn’t do well enough and have to be better next time. As such, recent transitions have been tough. I tend to think of myself as weak or stupid rather than as working through legitimate issues. The fact that a monk who is well-versed in the phrasing and concepts I used basically indicated that I should pause and grieve with grace, accepting those feelings as legitimate, was quite the message to me.

Then, today happened. The last few weeks have been hard in general in that there’s flashbacks to a year ago and shared moments, as well as shared intentions and aspirations. We had talked at some point during that time about spending holidays with her family – helping her cook and enjoying the time. So, the loneliness of today, being alone, facing the existential shifts of looking at no partnership, no family, no fatherhood in the future as quite likely outcomes (No, I’m not being dramatic – it’s going to be difficult to find a match who is not settling for my sense of compatibility; such a person will be rare. That’s a statistical certainty.) has been incredibly painful, much more so than regular recently, and regular is wishing that my heart would stop, daily.

I’ve sat with all the feelings and tried to muster up the energy to just focus on other things that need done. That’s kind of my Zen of heartbreak: chop wood, carry water (as I’ve spoken of before). However, it was difficult, and I tried to focus on being patient with precisely that process.

One key focus for that was to go on a Jingle Bell Run – a family tradition of running in the Christmas Eve darkness with bells for the kiddos to hear. I didn’t have any bells though but took the idea up in spirit. I haven’t been able to run for months until recently, so doing this particular run was quite meaningful.

As I left, my heart continued to ache with all the feelings. I turned on a live album by my favorite band as the running vibe. The soft nuances and crushing crescendoes of electric energy really jogged my heart and my mind as my feet moved along as well.

Somewhere in the middle of the run, I realized – “Why am I so worried about these future concerns and the loss I feel from the recent past? So what if I won’t end up in a partnership, as a father, or with a family? I can take the extra time and independence to invest in myself, to become smarter, stronger, and deeper. I can mentor others in a variety of ways, find opportunities to be helpful, compassionate, and involved, and help children in other aspects, perhaps volunteering. I can dedicate the love I felt for another in new directions, expanding my heart to hold and help others in the various ways they cross my path. So what if relationships have never left me feeling seen or valued? I can value myself better than anyone else ever will be able to.”

In recent months, tarot and I Ching have time and again counseled me to find strength, insight, solace, and equanimity within myself. Find and strengthen my inner light of truth has been the counsel, and let it shine — the Hermit card.

I’ve tried, but I fall away from it time and time again, as I’ve wanted love. I’ve wanted partnership, but honestly, it’s time. It’s time to accept the path of solitude from a place of strength and empowerment.

I was challenged at one point that the feelings of connection I had with my person of heartbreak were all stories in my head. They weren’t. That’s not how I exist or engage with life. I don’t get lost in stories that I create. I push myself for insight, truth, authenticity – as said above, and sometimes, I’ll even sanity-check with other people just to make sure I’m not getting lost in a bias. They were intense experiences. I didn’t get lost in my head. I got lost in my heart. It may be the closest I ever get to unconditional love for a romantic partner. The best I can describe: I saw the other person fully, even with all their myriad flaws and darkness, yet accepted them and would have challenged them to grow and get stronger – as they did me. Seeing our future together brought images of two birds flying together to the treetops and beyond, soaring in accompaniment. It doesn’t matter that the other person didn’t feel the same. That doesn’t invalidate this as a true experience that I had, and I’m certain that evaluation of what we could have been is absolutely true, although it matters not. I was reminded of this again tonight, however, as the music at one point felt like it expressed that soaring, and fittingly enough, it’s a song called “Halcyon”.

To return to the events of tonight: I came home drenched. The rain tonight was steady and pretty hard. This too was somehow uplifting. In thinking of the Hermit’s Way, I remembered all the times I have had runs just like tonight: running through the wet and cold alone in the dark with so few people in life I could even describe such an experience to, nonetheless with whom I could share exactly what it feels like. I realized though that in some ways I always struggle with and resist this process but also always end up feeling enlivened and sometimes exhilarated by the sheer wildness of facing wind, rain, and cold for miles with nothing but resolve and a pair of shoes. Introversion and self-reliance have always been some of my greatest strengths. They’ve acted as an engine for many of my endeavors, even writing this blog right now, as well as learning many of the things that I reference in it all of the time.

In any case, I think it’s time to trust the process and move past the pain of struggling with being alone and the grief of losing a great love. It matters not that I’m pretty certain I won’t have anything like that again. It matters not that that certainty is bolstered by having looked through 100s of online dating profiles. I’ve played the field or cast my nets, and it was just what I expected. The path forward for me is one of investing in the Hermit’s Way, and I will do so with the strength and sure-footedness of someone with light feet. As I wrote in a creative project for school long ago:

12) Healing thyself.  As Nietzsche said: “Everything good is instinctive – and consequently light, necessary, free.  Effort is an objection, gods and heroes belong to different types (in my language: light feet are the first attribute of divinity)”.  Light feet as divinity – a revelation!  Feeling the weight of heaviness keeps us from running, dancing, flying…  We encounter the suffering of others all the time, but we are more than just vessels for suffering.  Staying healthy requires a lightness of foot, mind, and soul, rather than the heaviness of disease; it requires a quick, easy readiness to laugh!  Remember that to heal oneself is a dance with the abundant radiance that is in oneself, in the Other – “You”, and in the world.  Light feet… 

Writing mine. Quote from Nietzsche: Nietzsche, F. (2002).  Beyond Good and Evil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Honestly, that’s an aspiration that’s hard to live up to. I’m sure I will struggle with accepting this still, but I felt bolstered tonight with a lightness of foot that I haven’t felt in quite some time. Whatever the case, I will aim to take up my hermit’s lantern and shine.


May this help others find their own lightness of foot and inner truth as they struggle to grieve and grow.

Gassho!

Tarot – Understanding Yourself Through the Major Arcana: Moon

I’ve been meaning to write about the meaning of particular tarot cards and what they can say about the spiritual and existential journey of life since a deep dive into the classic Japanese RPG Persona 4 Golden last year. Since then, I’ve been reading the tarot off and on, more frequently recently, for guidance through some tough times in life.

I think it would be useful to write about my experience with Major Arcana cards that have shown up strongly and repeatedly in my readings – explaining what they mean/have meant to me as I try to traverse the challenges of my life.

This time, I’ll write about the Moon card which has been a repeat pull in many spreads in the last few months.

The simplest way to summarize the Moon card is that it is a stage of the path that is a journey through darkness. It often is represented as a traversal of water between two pillars which represent some gate to beyond on the other side. The moon hangs above it all as the light through the darkness.

Often when people speak of this card, they focus on dealing with illusions. Picture this: you travel through the darkness with poor lighting. What you experience is skewed from the darkness of the night air. This is where perception is distorted into illusion, where imagination can fill in the gaps of what’s really there.

However, this card represents more than that. It also represents intuition. When you are forced to follow your own path through the darkness without your standard senses as being trustworthy, you have to trust your inner light, your intuition, to guide you. In some senses, this matches up well with the Hermit card.

Finally, the aspect I see discussed least: there is a danger to this journey. Going through the dark is no small task. If there are challenges in walking a trail in daylight (which there are), these are compounded in the darkness, and there are varieties of night creatures who can see and prey on you in the dark.

Ultimately, we could summarize all of these aspects by describing this as a journey that engages with the unconscious terrains of your life (water and moon as symbols) that you generally have covered over or are unaware of: a journey into your internal shadow lands or “Shadow work” as some might call it. In a very real sense, it’s a long dark night of the soul (although I don’t believe in souls). There is a danger of failure, loss, confusion, or a certain kind of self-destruction in traversing the darkness, but there’s also great transformation and wisdom to be gained in the journey and getting to the other side (a gate and threshold to traverse).

I feel that this card has come up for me time and again personally as I’ve had a lot of feelings and experiences thrown into doubt in recent months, and I’m even left questioning my concepts of romantic love and partnership. It’s a deeply existential struggle to truly look at such things and question precisely what they are and how you’ve valued them, possibly reevaluating who you are and who you will be in the world in the process. If defining relationships become a place of doubt and possible illusion, then you’re left with deep questions of what is real and who you are within that reality.

Thinking about this for this post reminded me of a hypothetical scenario in Wittgenstein’s “On Certainty” in which he discusses doubt through a thought experiment where he talks about a simple statement of “I’m living in England” but then imagines a slew of people coming in, telling him he is wrong, and offering proofs that that is not the case (§419-421). If this were thorough enough, your ground conviction in believing something to be the case would fall apart. This is the kind of illusion and doubt that one faces in the trials of the Moon, in my experience: the feelings and perspectives you’ve taken for granted without much analysis suddenly come deeply into question, and you are pushed to explore shadowy, unexplored realms within yourself.

To put it the most dramatically in terms of relationships, I felt resonance with a chunk of dialogue in a favorite show earlier today:

Liv: Why are you doing this?

Major: Doing what?

Liv: Making me doubt the only thing in my life that I was sure was real.

iZombie, S2: E4

This is a stage of journey that takes more resolve and courage than most any other. One of the only other ones that pops to mind is the resolve of patience for the Hanged Man, but this card differs, in that it’s a resolve to keep stepping forward with conviction, courage, and the willingness to face self-destruction for deep truth, unlike the call to resolutely accept and surrender to process with the Hanged Man. Regarding this, I would like to link a post on resolve from my other blog about post-rock. It fits well with the consideration of walking resolutely through the darkness.

Even though everything I’ve said here might have a dour ambience, I find few cards as empowering as the Moon card. There’s the real opportunity here for the fundamental investigation and hero’s journey to come through to great insight and growth. Being called to connect with intuition, face doubts, and throw your self-concept into danger are not things to shy away from. They are some of the greatest opportunities on the spiritual path and represent the greatest courage there is. This is the true vulnerability of the Warrior.


May this help others find their way through their own personal dark times.

Gassho!

Tarot – Hopeful Guidance in Difficulty

Over the last few months, I’ve struggled a lot in keeping my spirits and resolve high while going through a lot of change and reconsidering my place in life and path forward, especially regarding romantic relationships. Tarot has been a way for me to pause and see myself and my circumstances differently.

I recently found one particular set of cards interesting in a way that I thought worth sharing, and their message was really succinct in a way that’s even more shareable. I was pulling in a spur of the moment, self-created spread — noodling, if you will. With this particular deck, it has worked well sometimes. Beyond that, I was drawing for insight on circumstances and movements above and beyond myself, yet in the midst of it, three cards came out together that were clearly meant as advice for me and how to sit within this greater set of events.

For framing, as said above, I’ve struggled reconsidering my place in life, particularly regarding romantic relationships, so much so that I’ve considered that I may need to give them up altogether and aim at being alone and strong in myself for good. Here is what the cards told me:

Choose love.

Don’t become disillusioned.

Don’t give up hope.

Given the context of the drawing, this advice is vague – not telling me to choose anything in particular or fight for anything. However, it felt like a balm for doubt and greater existential advice in general. It’s so easy to give up heart in the most unclear of personal times, but that’s precisely when it’s most important to recognize that the setbacks and pain of loss, regret, rejection, and failure are temporary and localized. I take it all as meaning the greater spiritual message of not giving up on putting your heart out there and trusting that compassion and kindness towards yourself and others germinates seeds of positive growth in the world, regardless of personal feelings about being jilted. In other words, this may be the greatest opportunity to work on seeing the value of being warm, positive support to others, the work of a bodhisattva, not worrying about the more personal, samsaric doubts and worries of my own personal narrative.

Then again, perhaps it is a more personal thing that will make more sense in months to come. I’m not sure — either way, setbacks shouldn’t stop one from having positive intention (hope not meant as pushing a particular outcome, rather as general positive belief rather than despair about meaninglessness). There is value in just acting warmly, choosing to love life, one’s fate, and those in our lives.

In any case, no matter what I make of it, I think this small, 3 part message is a great motto to keep in mind for anyone reading this.


May this bring you hope that engenders fearlessness.

Gassho!

Sacrifice and Change

As I left the house this evening to run to an esoteric shop, I thought briefly on tarot cards. With my last post being a discussion of transition, I flashed on the Death card—transition, change, the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. However, my mind soon shifted. I thought, “Right now, the Hanged Man is more important for me.” This card has come up for me in key positions in my self-readings of late.

I walked up the hill toward the shop and mulled this card over some more. The personal sacrifice of Arcana XII, the Hanged Man, comes before the great transition of XIII, Death. In the transitions I have been facing, I feel hanged, sacrificed, but not through my own choice. I too dangle by one foot, uncomfortably immobilized while the entire world seems upside down. If the sacrifice here is supposed to lead to spiritual salvation and transformation, some deeper realization or enlightenment, I have yet to see what exactly it is. I hang, watch, and wait—pending.

Hanging here through sacrifice, yet it is not in vain.

This all eases somehow into the transition ahead of me. Perhaps, in my case, one doesn’t so much follow the other as much as coincide with it. I, the fox, stand immobilized, hanging with the sacrifice of the stage before, at the river of change, Death, gathering my strength to learn from the patient sacrifice of my situation, and then, I cross, no longer impeded…

I got to the shop, and there was a Death card on the board by the register.

All things must end, and yet, “omnia mutantur nihil interit”.