Last night, I talked to one of my New-Age-y friends. I was in sorry emotional shape.
She said, “You have to get the energy moving.” She suggested creating a dream board, coloring, randomly drawing, walking while I argue with God, anything it takes. She’s right, of course.
So I have some plans, including making a dream board. And I called my parents to help with getting the portable A/C to vent out the window. And then my mom floored me.
She said Dad has a lump on his neck and is getting it ultrasounded Thursday. I asked him about it today. I didn’t see it, but he says he can feel it from within. He says it is sore, which is actually a very good sign because it means the body recognizes it as its own tissue. It is when a lump is painless that the odds of it being cancer go way up, like with Barry. I asked if he wanted me to go with him and he said no.
I was just freaking out a little. Here I am, trying to be functional, while my dad could be in serious trouble.
I guess that’ll get the energy moving.
“To retrieve the soul is to regain consciousness. That is why it is called awakening. Awakening is not enlightenment, but it is a prerequisite. It is the breaking of the trance of blindly following conditioning. It is a coming into your own to find out who and what that might be. We have literally passed out (or never passed in) and become unconscious. Now we must pass in (get fully born) to reestablish consciousness in the body/mind.” Toward the Mystery by Stephen Levine, page 50
I might not get fully born. I have to be OK with that. My conditioning is deep. I may die with my music still inside me.
I was raised in a culture/family where women take care of men. Forsaking my conditioning at this point would be abandoning a sick spouse. To say it would be frowned upon is putting it mildly. Plus, I feel like I have paid my dues and am not going to walk away from the legal rewards for all the time/energy I have put in.
I understand now why so many of the great philosophers have been men: only men have had the luxury of leisure time to sit and ponder the great questions in general. What was Archimedes’ mom doing while he was sitting in the tub?
Sometimes, I identify with AIDS patients from the 80s. To know you will likely die before you have even figured out what you wanted in the first place.
Part of what is difficult for me is watching Barry watch TV, all day, every day, seemingly fine with the status quo, not looking depressed or anything, while my hopes, dreams,and goals slowly wither away. As if it were “all good.” Sometimes, while he sleeps in his chair, I look at him and think, “Really? Seriously?” And another day is gone.
There are a couple main reasons I meditate: to create less karma and to change my consciousness.
I believe there is a limit as to how much bad karma I can create while meditating. My only hazard is to meditate to escape reality, which is very easy to do, especially when I feel like my reality sucks. Meditating to escape reality only puts me in the same category as all those holy-roller type that go to church to escape from the drudgery of real life. Been there, done that. Not creating trouble is always a good idea, on the other hand.
And then there is the consciousness-changing aspect. I believe that consciousness is the interface between science and spirituality, the overlap of their respective circles in a Venn diagram. And I believe that our minds are ever-changing, going from and to various states. The ability to consciously determine which state I want to be in is a lofty goal. Also, I believe that two people in alpha or theta or whatever state have infinitely more in common than two people living under the same roof but in different brain states. I think one of the hazards of getting older is when one person in a relationship grows and the other does not. You can start out on the same page and end up in different libraries.
There is the Buddhist idea of annica, or so self. I still haven’t figured out if there actually is a real me or simply a conglomeration of temporary states and characteristics. I look forward to someday being able to find out, but that would require me to not have all of my needs drown out by care-taking responsibilities. Who am I when not the care-taking wife? I hope someday to find out who the real me is, if there is one.
“The field of boundless emptiness is what exists from the very beginning. You must purify, cure, grind down, or brush away all the tendencies you have fabricated into apparent habits. Then you can reside in the clear circle of brightness.” Hongzhi Zhengjue, https://buddhismnow.com/2016/05/10/field-of-boundless-emptiness-by-zen-master-hongzhi/#more-12178
I have been seeing a lot of overlap lately of Buddhism, New Age mysticism, and physics. Here are some labels for, what I suspect, may be the same thing: void, matrix, akasha, Tao, shunyata, field of boundless emptiness, etc. I’m sure you can think of more.
Enlightenment seems to be about getting in touch with it, whatever it is.
Here’s something else I have found in various New Age books and some Hinduism, I think: it is the source of everything and you can get whatever you want from it, provided you don’t want whatever-it-is too badly or for any ego gratification whatsoever. So…let me get this straight. I can get what I want as long as I don’t need really need it. Gee, thanks. Not. It is like someone saying to you, “If someone else gives you a mansion, I’ll offer you a one-bedroom apartment for free.” Meanwhile, you’re homeless.
In New Age circles, the result is people pretending that they don’t really have certain needs and desires. Pretense is the precursor to delusion. If you lie to yourself long enough, I believe, eventually even you will have no idea what reality is.
And yet, the concept of enlightenment intrigues me. I want more than anything to feel differently. But any delusion can accomplish that. I don’t need to pretend to be enlightened for that.
I want to know what would change if I became enlightened. “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” This clarifies nothing.
My issue is that I have seen so many people that live lives devoted to spirituality and have such low ethical standards or levels of maturity. Their spiritual development has zero impact on their real-life behavior. That’s why I appreciate Ken Wlber’s AQAL system. He at least acknowledges the parallel tracks of emotional and spiritual growth. And the concept of tracks (conveyor belts to Wilber) implies the process involved in said growth, and that there is limited value to instant anything. That makes sense to me.
One of my strategies has been to become somewhat of a minimalist. I believe that anything I own, owns me right back. If I can’t reasonably take care of it, why do I own it? Owning less simplifies my life by letting me be responsible for the upkeep of less stuff. Less stuff equals more time. I call it “the beauty of doing without.” Some things are not optional: food, clothing, and shelter. Most other stuff is highly optional. Wants are negotiable; needs, not so much.
While Barry is still alive and I am temporarily stuck in the caregiver role, I am going to go as deep as I can. This is because, once I have to support myself financially, I may never have the time again to truly pursue any of this. This may be my only opportunity to get in touch with the void, matrix, akasha, or whatever it may be called.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the disruption, or rupture, of Pema Khandro’s article.
We have all had it. That moment of losing one’s footing, of getting the rug pulled out from under us. It is disorienting, jarring.
Physical pain can cause it, as can emotional trauma. We have all been in that kind of pain. It stops you dead in your tracks. The world becomes very small very quickly. Time operates differently. There are no plans because the concept of a future becomes meaningless.
I spent most of last year in that state. I am looking for something a whole lot better than terminal trauma.
That sense of time standing still is a by-product of trauma. It is also the end of learning. Learning requires a sense of continuity, of cause-and-effect. I have known far too many people that live for the moment. They are, to put it nicely, not very bright, in general. Their living for the moment is based upon some very bad assumptions: the social safety net will be there for them in a time of need, their friends and family will be helpful when necessary, their incomes will continue regardless of their behavior, etc. Karma catches up with them and, oops, they are on the verge of homelessness.
Living solely for today is a recipe for disaster when tomorrow does come. For example, this past week, one of Barry’s sisters called us on the phone late at night and left drunken voicemail messages. Does she even remember what she did? This is why I don’t drink. I already have shame issues; I cannot imagine what I would feel if I recalled leaving drunken messages on my brother’s voicemail. Alcohol reduces people’s inhibitions and her behavior proved what I have always said: inhibitions are good and people desperately need them. Do what you want, but not much learning will likely occur if you are intoxicated when you do the questionable behavior. I firmly believe it is fine to make mistakes. Every human makes mistakes. The problem is when learning from those mistakes does not occur. I am not responding to the drunken messages because there would be no point in doing so. I just felt bad for her, sitting at home drinking alone and calling us in the middle of the night. It struck me as sad. I am not angry, but I am also not going to invite her to Barry’s funeral when that day comes. I don’t want drunk people there. I’ve been to funerals when drunken people show up. It is hard to watch. Tomorrow will come. The sun rises and the consequences for one’s behavior become all too real.
I have been looking for a different perspective, one less trauma-based and more fluid. Stephen Levine, of course, is helpful. Reading A Year to Live has been very interesting. I keep running into processes.Maybe this is what I am attuned to right now. Talking about a commitment to life, on page 40 he says, “We take responsibility for being alive, recognizing that responsibility is the ability to respond instead of the compulsion to react. We explore it all: that in us which at times wishes to be dead as well as that in us which never dies.” Then, on page 85, talking about a life review, he says:
“It takes a thousand moments of remembering for us to stay open long enough to relate wholeheartedly to our past instead of from it. And to recognize that what you imagined to be unworkable is already in process….When we sense there is something in us greater than even our sacred emptiness can describe, first our body, then our mind, and soon our heart, dissolve into a clarity and vastness for which the word God would be insufficient.”
Let’s look at the verbs: recognizing, remembering, sensing, dissolving. Even the word “process” is mentioned.
I read those things and had a Eureka! moment. That’s it. I need to focus on processes and which processes I want to be a part of. Processes include: doing dishes, yard work, learning Spanish, volunteering, meditating, emotional and spiritual transformation, etc. Movement is a sign of life. If something doesn’t move or respond, it is time to check it for a pulse. If I am going to live, I want to be careful about the processes I involve myself in.
“We are always experiencing successive births and deaths. We feel the death of loved ones most acutely—there is something radical about the change in our reality. We are not given options, there is no room for negotiation, and the situation cannot be rationalized away or covered up by pretense. There is a total rupture in our who-I-am-ness, and we are forced to undergo a great and difficult transformation.
In bereavement, we come to appreciate at the deepest, most felt level exactly what it means to die while we are still alive. The Tibetan term bardo, or “intermediate state,” is not just a reference to the afterlife. It also refers more generally to these moments when gaps appear, interrupting the continuity that we otherwise project onto our lives. In American culture, we sometimes refer to this as having the rug pulled out from under us, or feeling ungrounded. These interruptions in our normal sense of certainty are what is being referred to by the term bardo. But to be precise, bardo refers to that state in which we have lost our old reality and it is no longer available to us.
Anyone who has experienced this kind of loss knows what it means to be disrupted, to be entombed between death and rebirth. We often label that a state of shock. In those moments, we lose our grip on the old reality and yet have no sense what a new one might be like. There is no ground, no certainty, and no reference point—there is, in a sense, no rest. [italics mine] This has always been the entry point in our lives for religion, because in that radical state of unreality we need profound reasoning—not just logic, but something beyond logic, something that speaks to us in a timeless, nonconceptual way. Milarepa referred to this disruption as a great marvel, singing from his cave, ‘The precious pot containing my riches becomes my teacher in the very moment it breaks.’”PEMA KHANDRO RINPOCHE, http://www.lionsroar.com/four-points-for-letting-go-bardo/
How much time and energy do you spend trying to get comfortable?
For anyone who has ever tried meditating, it quickly becomes comical. Your scalp itches. You try not to scratch it. Then your nose itches. Then your left knee hurts and you just know you would feel so much better if you shifted it. To some degree, it does not matter whether you shift or scratch or whatever. The point is the noticing and the practice of non-response, learning how not to sub-consciously react to every little thing. Noticing your own suffering without automatically reacting, learning how to have discipline and compassion for yourself, and realizing the universality of your irritation/suffering.
This scenario is woefully inadequate because it doesn’t include those jarring experiences that pull the rug out from under us. Trauma. I am talking about those happenings that are so painful that life simply can never go back to what it was before, the kind of experiences that have a “before” and “after” that forever bifurcate your life, a personal 9/11. These are bardo.
I was going to school in 2008 when Barry first got stage four tonsil cancer. I prepared as best I could for him to die. I continued going to school. He did not die. But the Huntington’s took away his capacity to contribute to the house or our relationship in any meaningful way. Now it’s 2016 and I’m stuck with a house I can’t take care of by myself and a husband that chronically goes downhill. I do everything. I am exhausted. Nothing ever changes. That house is now the tomb of my hopes, dreams, and career.
So I know about shock and I know about being “in-between” stages of life.
What all of this has done for me is to make me rethink absolutely everything. People proceed forward in life based on assumptions they have no way of knowing whether or not they are true. I am no longer capable of that. Sometimes I envy their denial and other times, I think, “If only you knew…”
And I see how much of my life I have tried to get comfortable. If only I had this or that…And now I am pushing 50, no more comfortable than when I was 21. I have scratched, shifted, etc., a gazillion times and it just doesn’t help.
How do you become whole when your life is shattered? Perhaps that is not the goal at all. And can you increase your awareness without having your life rupture in some way? And once you increase your level of consciousness, so what? Then what? Nobody seems to know.
“But in the context of death and birth, shunyata refers to a direct experience of disruption felt at the core of our being, when there is no longer any use manufacturing artificial security.
We’re not talking about giving up our precious human life here, of course; we’re talking about giving up on this subtle game. We hold pictures of our ideal self in an ideal world. We imagine that if we could only manipulate our circumstances or other people enough, then that ideal self could be achieved, and in the meantime, we try to pretend to have it together. It’s the game we play all the time: we keep postponing our acceptance of this moment in order to pursue reality as we think it should be.
When we suffer disruption, we find we just can’t play that game anymore. The bardo teachings are really about recognizing the value of giving up the game, which we play without even giving it a second thought. But when we are severely ill or in hospice, and we have to cede control over our own bodily functions to strangers, holding it all together is not an option.” PEMA KHANDRO RINPOCHE, http://www.lionsroar.com/four-points-for-letting-go-bardo/
This article speaks to me in a way that is rare. It expresses exactly where I am.
I can’t hold it together. I can’t even pretend to hold it together. And I’m done playing the games. Love me, hate me, I just don’t care anymore.
I’m not saying that I accept this moment. Many times I don’t. All I have is the hope that eventually I can start my own life and not be an eternal caretaker anymore. Hope is not Buddhist. Perhaps this is a leftover from my Christian life.
I cannot manipulate anything or anyone. I wonder what it’s like to be a good manipulator, to have faith that one can get what they want from others when needed. Perhaps that kind of security is delusional. But it would still be nice to have.