Showing Up

I had an interesting experience today that felt quite meaningful.

With depression in recent months, I’ve felt absolutely worthless and meaningless much of the time. In the worst days, I feel like I don’t even deserve to live. It’s hard to find value in those moments, and the greatest self-care I’ve had is showing up to help others, especially those close to me.

I gave thorough directions for how to drive in the snow to a friend, so she could make it back from housesitting to her apartment, but today, when she started driving through the icy side streets of her neighborhood, she became overwhelmed by the uncleared ice and texted me that she couldn’t make it home.

I was sitting at home, feeling tired, drained, and more or less empty. I responded with a few questions and directions but quickly understood that she wasn’t going to be able to get past this herself, so I told her I would bundle up and come her way. I did a few Zen chants to prepare (a New Year’s resolution), put my coat and cowl on, and left. I showed up.

When I got there, I talked to her, grabbed a rock pick and my windshield scraper out of my car and jumped in her car with her. We drove up the hill, through her neighborhood, and we got to the roundabout where she got stuck. Someone had put up a “Street Closed” sign, and two little old ladies were trying to wave us down the hill in another direction. I looked at the icy street, told her I was pretty sure I could manage it, and convinced her to jump out and move the sign out of our way. The little old ladies yelled at her, but I drove through without any issue, cruising slowly up the hill.

I parked close to her apartment – just a downhill icy slope of about 30 yards between us and the driveway to her parking lot. I was pretty concerned about this last piece. There were cars on either side of the single lane street, and it was all pure ice. She was adamant that she wanted to get past this last bit, so I said I’d do it if I could break up the ice in the worst parts. I took out the rock pick and spent most of half an hour breaking up clear tire tracks in the part where the ice was surrounded by cars on both sides. She was impressed at how readily I was able to do this (I kind of was too, actually!).

At some point, I told her that honestly, I don’t have that much more snow-driving experience than her. Yes, I grew up in rural mountain snowy lands, but our roads were well plowed and treated to melt ice as well. Sure – I spent 20 years in snow and understand the physics of it on a fundamental, embodied level, but I haven’t actually driven much on icy roads that haven’t been plowed or salted.

Eventually, I felt confident enough that an accident was unlikely, and I got in her car with her and slowly, slowly, slowly drove down the hill and even more slowly into her parking lot (which was at the bottom of another hill).

She kept profusely saying that I was her hero and that I continue to show up and help her so much, including a huge amount of a recent move. She made it sound like she owed me her first-born.

However, here’s the thing – showing up like this is who I am. There’s little that’s more meaningful for me, and in many ways, I consider it the simplest version of acting out the compassion of a bodhisattva vow. I hadn’t thought about it much recently until that moment, and it made me realize I do have value. My presence and efforts are meaningful. It was a great beginning to a new year, and ultimately, it makes me feel like I need to work even harder on several other goals I have in terms of things to do and finish, including writing on this blog.

Let this be an opening to a new year.


May this post inspire others to show up for those in their lives whom they can help and who need help.

Gassho!

Heartbreak | New Resolutions

As I said in my last post, there’s going to be a struggle to feel empowered and on top of my path forward. At times, like in the last post, that will be the driving energy. At others, my long tail of pain and existential despair from this year will have the upper hand, and I’ll have to use that strength and courage to sit as calmly as I can in the darkness. The last week since that last post has felt much more the latter than the former.

I looked back through pictures today from this last year and realized that I spent pretty much the entire year sad, depressed, and heartbroken. The worst months have been not only that but riddled with thoughts of suicide, and the worst days in that have been battling against negative self-talk about how the world wouldn’t miss me in the slightest other than my mom and some close friends. I got a response to my last post that I am strong and brave and am beginning to tap into that, but that’s the thing – I’m not beginning. I’ve weathered so much pain and feelings that I’m meaningless and pointless because I’m so incredibly strong that even when I feel like I’m worth absolutely nothing, I still show up and try to do my best and be the kindest person I can be to those I encounter – most of whom have no idea how difficult of a time I’ve been going through.

I’ve talked about the why before – this all feels like a loss not only of a relationship but of love and partnership as meaningful pursuits in my life. I’ve spent the last few months seeing who’s out there, and ultimately, that doesn’t leave me feeling any better about the future. So, I’ve been letting go of the attachment to the idea of sharing my life with someone in the future. I don’t trust love anymore. I don’t trust that there’s a good match out there for me, and furthermore, I don’t trust myself. I seem to be attracted to those who don’t seem to see me or value me, so even if I did find someone who felt like a great match, I’d thoroughly doubt my evaluation.

So, here we are, at the cusp of a New Year, and I’ve decided that I’ll stop bringing up these bad feelings by looking through who’s out there on dating apps. I’ve only really been looking for friends or casual dating, but as I’ve scrolled through 100s of profiles, I can’t help but notice that none have sparked a deeper interest. I’ll leave my profile open so that others can perhaps find me, but I’ll stop with the effort on my end as the regular reminder seems to stir those feelings of apprehension about being alone.

I’ve struggled with this set of feelings for months now. At times, I’ve even thought of it in terms of Nietzsche saying that mankind would rather will nothingness than not will – his project’s concern regarding nihilism. I’ve worried that perhaps I have a nihilistic stance towards all of this at this point. In a way, I couldn’t blame myself. I feel like some big part of me is dead, and I need to amputate that to walk on with new invigoration. I do have some deep nihilism in my heart – I feel like something I had attached a lot of meaning to is gone, and as Frankl warns us, that sense of meaninglessness in one’s life is connected to a despair and surrender to death.

I can only hope for a Nietzschean great convalescence. At times, like in the last post, I feel on the cusp of it, and I think that willing something different is key, rather than willing the negation of all that hurts. As such, I will being a philosopher bachelor. I will that facing the absurd of meaninglessness pushes me towards greater wisdom about the interconnection of all and compassion for all other sentient beings. I will letting go of love, partnership, family, and fatherhood. If they find me in the future, great, but I will no longer worry about finding or building them myself.

I recently have been reading about Zen energetic practices which led me down a rabbit hole of the embodied energetics of chanting and the bodhisattva vow. Let’s take this vow up as the resolution for the new year:

Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them.
Desires are inexhaustible; I vow to put an end to them.
The dharmas are boundless; I vow to master them.
The Buddha’s Way is unsurpassable; I vow to attain it.

from Soto School Scriptures for Daily Service and Practice, as quoted in Living by Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts by Shohaku Okumura

May the impossible nature of the above aspiration inspire patience and compassion with myself as I continue to struggle with self-mastery and as I fall short of any intentions of doing right by those I encounter in my life.


May this post act as an inspiration or companionship to those out there who need it.

Gassho!

Heartbreak | Facing Death

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, and although the intensity of the thoughts and feelings have ebbed and flowed, I feel like it’s important to return to, even if it’s mostly to focus my own mind and practice in the writing. Beyond that, however, I hope these words help others. The words are dedicated to them, with that intention.


In my last post, I said: “I’m left feeling like, to steal a poetic line from said person, in experiencing life right now, I’m watching the death of my concept and experience of love as I watch the death of a relationship.”

Honestly, death is on my mind a lot these days. I find myself muttering to myself, “I hate my life. I wish I could die.” It’s so by rote that it almost feels like a script, but there is still weight behind the self-talk. Deepest samsara – when clinging and desires aren’t met – hurts greatly. That’s why so many coping mechanisms revolve around escape and altered states. It feels nearly impossible to just sit with the full intensity of these painful feelings.

I find it haunting and thought-provoking even after years, that Camus opens his classic work of philosophy, “The Myth of Sisyphus”, with “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” Ultimately, it’s true – each and every one of us stamps the meaning on our own lives and has the ultimate say on whether it is worth living or not. Our approach to our lives is ultimately one that leans into mortality and affirms life as worth living… Or doesn’t. The same problem resonates, albeit somewhat differently, with Viktor Frankl’s famous “Man’s Search for Meaning”. He emphasizes that the root idea of his approach of logotherapy is that “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how” (supposedly a quote from Nietzsche, although it seems more like a rewording). The need for meaning is crucial in these existential approaches to the human condition. They are the key agency we have in making sense of our mortal lives and making them shine in the dark horizon of death (riffing on Heidegger and Foucault’s ideas of finitude in “The Order of Things”).

To return to the pain of deepest samsara, the meanings and identities we cling to the most, for me a future of partnership and family, are those that make life feel meaningless when they’re shredded to pieces (I actually wrote a masters paper on precisely this topic – the problem of the loss of meaning and the world becoming senseless after trauma). How do we face such scenarios? With Frankl, the loss of such meaning was a key indicator that others would succumb to the concentration camps. To Camus, it would mean falling into an overwhelmed despair in the face of the absurd, and if he truly is a follower of Nietzsche, would lead to nihilism – willing nothingness: choosing suicide.

In my darkest moments, that’s precisely how I feel – a pointlessness to my life, a wish for it to end, an overwhelming feeling like both myself and everything else doesn’t matter. The person at the core of my heartbreak recently reached out and told me she hoped I was finding peace in the end of our time together. That hurt so deeply. I wanted to scream. The only peace I feel is the peace of death: the death of meaning, and as I’ve described here, that is not any kind of peace that the living thrive in, quite the opposite.

Overall, however, I have long-developed self-care routines and the desire to do well for all sentient beings. These keep my strength focused beyond my own story, and they lead me to lean into compassion. For instance, I am kind to others I encounter, trying to be present and warm to them as genuine encounter. A contact at my local grocery store befriended me online recently, and I found that she has been in prison for a car accident and is just making her way back out into the world. Moments like that make my heart break and bring perspective to how much kindness and warmth needs to be cultivated and shared in this world. She thanked me for always being kind to her and spoke to others in her other job being rude. We all go through so much poor treatment and bad circumstances, even some bad karma from our own poorly made and poorly informed choices. We all deserve compassion. For the most part, that’s my North Star, when I’m not overly wrapped in my own story to see it.

I’m inspired by the path and the direction of the bodhisattva, aiming at a deeper engagement with reality. The new desire: working for the enlightenment of all sentient beings – a heroic and impossible task, that of wisdom and compassion. May that be my concern rather than samsaric worries about my own future.

I’m closing this off with three quotes that I hope will develop and connect these existentialist and Mahayana Buddhist themes.

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Albert Camus – “The Myth of Sisyphus”, p. 123

When a Zen priest who has taken a sufferer under his care has reason to fear that he is not equal to his suffering, he will visit him repeatedly. Not with the intention of relieving him of distracting worries, but of reaching his inner self. He will try to make him face his suffering by bringing its full extent and magnitude to consciousness. He will help the sufferer to see that great suffering is not overcome by refusing to face it or by surrendering to it in despair. He will warn him of the danger of allowing himself to be solaced, and of waiting for time to heal. Salvation lies in giving full assent to his fate, serenely accepting what is laid upon him without asking why he should be singled out for so much suffering. Whoever is able to bear suffering in this way grows to the stature of his suffering, and he detaches himself from it by learning more and more to disregard the fact that it is his suffering.

This detachment paves the way to healing, and healing follows of itself the more sensitive one becomes to the suffering of others, and the more selflessly one shares their sufferings. This fellow suffering is quite different from the sentimental sympathy most of us indulge in, which, easily aroused and quickly dissipated, remains ineffective because it is not selfless enough. True compassion not bound to words forges the most intimate bond between human beings and all living creatures. The real meaning of suffering discloses itself only to him who has learned the art of compassion.

If the sufferer’s ears and eyes are opened by this clarification of his state of mind, he will mark that neither flight from reality nor denial of suffering can bring him detachment. And if, thrown back on himself, he shows that he is trying to become one with his fate, to assent to it so that it can fulfill its own law, then the priest will go on helping him. He will answer his questions, without offering anything more than suggestions and, of course, without preaching.

For there is something that seems to him very much more important than words. Gradually he will fall silent, and in the end will sit there wordless, for a long time, sunk deep in himself. And the strange thing is that this silence is not felt by the other person as indifference, as a desolate emptiness which disturbs rather than calms. It is as if this silence had more meaning than countless words could ever have. It is as if he were being drawn into a field of force from which fresh strength flows into him. He feels suffused with a strange confidence, even when his visitor has long since departed. And it may be that in these joyful hours, the resolve will be born to set out on the path that turns a wretched existence into a life of happiness.

Eugen Herrigel – “The Method of Zen”, pp. 124-125

We are reminded again of Dogen’s description of his own awakening: “I came to realize clearly that mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun, and the moon and the stars.” According to one Mahayana account, the Buddha was enlightened when he looked up from his meditations and saw the morning star (Venus), whereupon he declared: “I am awakened together with the whole of the great earth and all of its beings.” It’s not that every living being became enlightened in the same way that he did at that moment, but that his own personal awakening was an achievement of the whole. Awakening, then, involves realizing that “I” am not inside my body, looking out through my eyes at a world that is separate from me. Rather, “I” am what the whole universe is doing, right here and now.

David R. Loy – “A New Buddhist Path”, pp. 86-87

May this provide solace to those feeling the abyss looking back into them after staring into it. May you find that you take a leap and a net appears.

Gassho!

Story-ing

Here’s another excerpt from Morning Pages that got to the heart of my walk along the Path of late.

Edit (7/27/15): I’m adding the end of a second and a third set of Morning Pages (excerpts) separated by second and third horizontal lines. They are both closely related to this post and add to it, extending the depth of the questions and ideas presented here.


That reminds me of story-ing. I finished, “The World is Made of Stories” last night. This small book is truly a seminal philosophical work presented in a simple style. I’m pulled back into hermeneutic analysis again. It’s refreshing.

I’m realizing that some of the most sound advice I ever provided was when I told my ex to be careful with the stories she told herself. She had some intense storying and revising of history. That led her down the path she’s on now, and I’m not sure whether she realizes all of this.

I don’t say these things in judgment. It’s not that her story is the “wrong” story, rather a story. All of our understanding is an interpretation–a story, and as all stories are, it is one that interprets things in a particular way, thereby drawing particular consequences. There’s nothing wrong about this, but each interpretation casts things in a particular way.

file7391308350582

We all tell and re-write our stories about ourselves. There’s nothing inauthentic to that. It’s a coming to grips with our place in the universe–a making sense. However, we should be aware of how we are creating a “self” through story.

I’m starting to think of the stories I’ve told myself, and I think with time, I’m moving away from standard ones. I’m moving towards those of the bodhisattva instead of the individual trying to get conditions just right for happiness.

Does that make all of my reading and writing a sort of narrative therapy? Perhaps it does. I’ve been gaining particular story-telling skills, stylistic usages, archetypes, and genres to help me re-story my-“self”.

The interesting thing about this as pointed out in the book several times is that this story is about unstorying, not-storying, de-selfing. The Buddhist path is about finding the “no-thing-ness” at the heart of existence that is the formlessness behind form–emptiness. The emptiness is the Truth to our existence and cannot be storied. It defies the personal security of identity built up in stories.

How do we balance that with living a storied existence? I’m not completely sure. That’s where the path of study and discipline continues to lead. I look forward to discussing that with others who walk this challenging Way, who tell this unique and beautiful Story.


I suppose that you could argue that this (the previous part of this entry talks about just writing whatever comes to the pen in jotting down Morning Pages) clears the mind as well. “The Artist’s Way” described it as though that were the case. There’s something to be said for this–letting juices flow and getting them all on paper. However, I think that simple expression doesn’t always make idle thoughts/feelings go away/come out for good. If they’re part of a larger pattern, expressing them as important could reinforce them.

We are storied beings, and the stories we tell ourselves can get stronger and more nuanced with repetition. Individuation is pushed as a boon in this culture–our story. However, this leads to our feelings of separation and loneliness. It’s a never-ending game to assert “my” existence. Samsara spins here, round and round.

So, ultimately, although I’ve tried to write simply and without intention toward pre-thought ends, I have tried to avoid letting this just be a space to spill out all my “me” stories–letting it instead be a place to express the ideas and discoveries that blossom as words run across the pages. The stories we tell are the patterns that bind. I try to let this be a space that is free of those patterns, but of course, at times, I throw these thoughts/difficulties/stories that I’m dealing with on the page. Sometimes, there’s much more difficulty to write around them than to simply write them.

Can this be done from simple awareness? Can it be an identification of the thoughts and stories at play without continuing them? “Thinking”? Can one freshly see that these stories are arising without clinging further to reactions which spin the story onward? Can these simply be mere thoughts passing by without becoming sold as solid, enduring truths? Can we experience this moment without clinging to “my” story?


As I hear the music, I think of “stories” again. We truly write the narrative of our lives for better or worse, yet we can’t control all of the elements–born prince or pauper, in America or Africa, raised in a religious community or by a small family of atheists–we can only control how we write our reaction to these elements–how we weave them together into our story. However, we tend to either overemphasize “My” Story–the aspect of myself in it–or act as though my interpretation is not part of it at all, as though meaning were just cast upon me–pre-written. In other words, we often overlook this act of story-ing and how it works in our lives. We then overlook how our stories are intertwined with myriad others. The world, our lives, are made of them.


May this make you aware of the “story” of “your” life and the deeper aspect that cannot be storied.

Gassho!