Trying to Get Things Done in a Zen Way

Trying to do things in a Zen way

I’m not sure how to do things in a Zen way. To me, Zen is about being selfless and doing things in a natural, uncontrived manner. I’m not sure I have that freedom right now.

I have to function for two, myself and my husband. I read Zen books and magazines and they talk about the virtues of silence and solitude. I read them and think, “That would be nice!” There is nothing silent about calling people to fix the various parts of the house that are breaking down. I have to let go of the money involved in a non-dramatic way. There is no solitude when Barry spazzes out about the window fracturing into pieces from the pressure of pushing it upward to put in the air conditioner.

What I have always loved about Buddhism has been how reality-based it is in terms of psychology. It understands how the mind works. However, much of it is Asian-descended and patriarchal (read: irrelevant) to me, married to a husband capable of taking responsibility for nothing. My philosophy at this point is basic: If you’re not going to help, you don’t get a vote.

I try to live a simple life, eschewing non-necessities. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize just how little one needs to live: shelter, clothes, food, and meaningful activities. Everything else is optional. Needing to function for two has forced me to put my physical and emotional health as a top priority. I just got my first mammogram in over a decade. I want to leave Michigan knowing my health status. I explained to Barry, when I saw the hole in my window so close to my head, about how to get things done if I should die. If there is no Cindy, his options get real limited, real fast. I can only “dumb down” things to a point. Beyond that, he’s on his own.

I am reaching my limits, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. There seems to be some understanding of human limitations in Zen. I cannot find solitude or silence at this point in my life. Anyone or anything that does not understand the slamming of a person against their limits is out of my life. It’s not just about other people’s suffering anymore; it’s about my own. I don’t have the time or energy to pretend otherwise anymore.

Life Making My Point for Me

Life is making my point for me. Words do not (and have never) cut it.

Yesterday, I was having a guy put in the air conditioners because it is getting to be that time of year. One of the windows has that BB hole in it. When the guy raised the window, the little hole cracked into various directions. Barry saw this and was dismayed. To me, it was just so sad/comical. I looked at Barry and said, “Do you get it now? Do you see why we need to not own a house?” Replacing the window went from “eventually” to “get it done before next winter.” No amount of convincing could ever have the impact of watching the house fall apart before our very eyes.

Now that I am clear about what I need (to get rid of the house), I have been looking for help. All those people that have been telling me, “If you ever need anything, feel free to call me. I’ll help,” now I’m calling them to take them up on their “offer.” I’m finding out fast who was sincere versus who just wanted to be polite and get out of a difficult conversation as quickly as possible. I will never forget who was there for me—and who wasn’t.

Soothing words are the problem, not the solution.

I am in the process of shedding everything and everyone that does not help me get to the next stage of my life. Life demands flexibility. That’s why we are to not get attached to things. Life makes demands and the only way to be able to move forward is to not cling to anything. Anything you own, owns you right back. You look at something and say, “I own you now.” Its response? “Back at you.”

Thank You, I Think

People have expressed admiration to me lately for my getting rid of things. “Oh, I need to get rid of more stuff.” “I need to get more organized like you.” That kind of thing. Their compliments have struck me oddly and I just figured out why: they are congratulating me on side-effects of what I am doing, which is preparing for the next phase of my life.

Imagine congratulating an Olympic athlete on the musculature of his thighs or a competitive pianist on the dexterity of their fingers. What is the proper response? “Uhhhh….Thank you?” The point of what they are doing is time-bound and competitive. They are training for a purpose.

What I am doing is preparing to leave Michigan. I am not de-cluttering, let alone organizing. Don’t get me wrong. I am way more organized than I have ever been. When a snake sheds its skin, it does not collect a pile of former skins and organize them according to size, thickness, or color. (Organizing is always according to some principle: date, alphabetically, etc., to take the randomness out of the situation.) No. It leaves them all behind. It moves forward without them.

Are people really missing the point regarding what I am doing that badly? Am I miscommunicating my intentions? Will these same folks be mystified when the “for sale” sign is planted in my yard? We’ll see, I guess.

Clarity’s Cost: Comfort

My life is taking a different direction now than I thought it might. For the first time, I have a sense of clarity about what to do and why. I am being driven by necessity and safety.

There is a hole in my living room window. I don’t feel safe sitting in my chair at the window as I have for years. (Turns out it was a BB, but a BB to the brain would still have been problematic.) So I had my chair removed. I had been planning on getting rid of my chair when Barry passed anyway and the chair is in sad shape, so I moved up the date for chair removal from “someday” to “now.” There is now more space in my living room. I feel like various problems (safety, space, etc.) all got solved at once.

And so now I have nowhere truly comfortable place to sit in my own living room. I don’t plan on fixing that issue. This is the best way to not sit and watch TV and waste my life I can think of.

I know I have to get rid of the vast majority of Barry’s modelling stuff. And I do a little every day. Progress is being made.

Monday, I got the gutters cleaned. Things are getting done. Perhaps I have had a spiritual breakthrough.

I’ve never had this degree of clarity. I have spent my life being continually overwhelmed. I still feel a little of that, but not like before. I feel like I have my marching orders for who-knows-how-long. Others can approve, disapprove, or whatever, but people not supportive will play no role in my future.

Do I know what I am doing? Not in the slightest, but I’m learning as I go. The fastest way to destroy any positive momentum would be to go to the furniture store and purchase another recliner. I could sit back, relax, take a nap….Wait a minute. Where did 2015 go?

No, that is not a valid option. Pick again.

Under Seige and Walking Away

I am pushing in different directions now.

I am in the process of getting rid of Barry’s modeling stuff, about three trash bags a week. I’m not touching the kits because my friend Tamara is going to take some kits and books off my hands. I’m talking about the random supplies that go into making models, frou-frou accessories. I simply cannot move forward with this quantity of material. Letting go is not optional; what’s worse is that Barry hasn’t touched these things in probably five or even seven years, making holding onto them pointless.

Speaking of letting go, I saw my best friend of twenty-some years Friday at the grocery store. I told her about the something/someone shooting some projectile through my living room window within six inches of my head. I said, “This thing is evil.” Her response? “It’s not evil.” When your best friend tells you that something shot at her head, the proper response is, “Omigod. Are you okay?” not “It’s not evil.” I am letting go of her and our friendship. I need friends that take me seriously, not dismiss threats to my very life. I simply don’t have the time and energy to fight whatever-the-hell-this-is and maintain a relationship with her. She has the one with the multiple traumatic brain injuries. She expects me to call her and remind her to do this and that, basically maintaining the relationship. She threw the relationship ball into my court, expecting me to call her to set up a time to see each other. I am dropping the ball and walking away permanently, or at least until I am completely satisfied that she takes the threat to my life seriously. Goodbye, Sherri.

Earlier that day, I went to the cemetery and made an extra payment on our grave marker and services. It is very creepy to stand on your own future grave. It puts every imaginable issue into perspective. How can you ever take prestige seriously again once you know where your body will be interred forever? Life is short. I’m dealing with real issues, doing the best I can with what I have. A little help would be greatly appreciated right about now.

Spiritual Warfare and Non-attachment

So much can (or not) happen in such a short period of time.

I’ve been talking about something spiritual (demon? entity?) stopping me from making even the most basic of progress in terms of moving. The realtor doesn’t get back with me. The plumber doesn’t arrive or call. The lawn people do not take the fallen branches from my back yard despite numerous requests to do so.

Also, I had to explain to the student loan people that my general, durable power of attorney (DPOA) did not (and never will) expire simply because the notary’s commission expired in 2013. They wanted Barry’s signature, something tough for him to do, so I mailed them a copy of the DPOA, which they then did not recognize as valid. I thought I would have to go get another one until a friend explained the concept of “durable.” The next day, I called them back and said I would not get another one because that would be conceding that the one I sent them was not valid, and I am unwilling to concede that on any level. They acted like it was just a big misunderstanding. No. This is serious legal ignorance and incompetence on their part only. My comprehension of the situation is 100% accurate and sound.

Now something else has happened. This past weekend, Barry and I were watching TV and suddenly heard a very loud “ting” sound. We had no idea what it was and didn’t give it another thought. A couple days ago, I looked at my living room window and saw this perfectly circular, tiny hole. I described it to a friend. I answered a few questions about it and she said, “Yeah. That sounds like a .22.” I looked again at the hole and saw just how close it came to where my head is while watching TV. Whatever the hell this is, I now know that it wants me dead.

Monday, before I noticed the hole in my window, I went to the blessing and saw some of my new-agey friends. I told them about some of the happenings. One nice lady said, “Have you thought about surrendering to the situation?” I said, “No. Capital n, capital o, all bolded, all italicized. Absolutely not. That’s the best definition of ‘good little victim’ I can think of. I’m fighting spiritual warfare and your suggestion is to capitulate. Are you kidding?”

I’m between different worlds. I have known Protestants that blame everything on demons and see them around every corner. They seldom take any personal responsibility for their contribution to a given situation. I’m talking about the type of people that pray against diabetes while eating a Hershey bar. The opposite world is the rose-colored-glasses new-agey world that sees the spiritual world as all sweetness and light. Both are ridiculous. I’m not saying there aren’t angels; I am only saying that there aren’t only angels.  The spiritual realm has a dark side, as well.

There’s an article in the May Shambhala Sun, The Problem of Evil, by Zoketsu Norman Fischer. He tries to bring some sanity to the discussion. “The great death, oneness, enlightenment, total acceptance of reality beyond good and evil–this is a necessary step in Zen or any other profound spiritual practice. But although this may be ultimate, it is only a step. Zen calls it ‘the great death’ for a good reason. It is a kind of ‘death.’ It requires a complete letting go, a complete relinquishment, in trust, of everything that one has identified as one’s life. To be truly alive, as Zen practice sees it, one has to die–to let go of life. But until we are physically dead, we can’t remain dead. We have to be alive. We can’t remain in the darkness and purity of beyond-good-and-evil. We have to arrive in the daylight of this physical, limited world of distinctions and moral choices. Difficult though it may be, there is no escape and no alternative.” Until we are dead, we live in the relative reality of good and evil. Period. Declaring non-duality prematurely is delusional and plays into the hand of the dark side.

I believe I stirred these spiritual energies up when I started getting rid of Barry’s stuff. I believe this is why Buddhism and other religions are clear on the necessity of not getting attached to things. What is attached to your stuff? Do you even know? It may not be benign or friendly.

Letting Go Every Day

“In the practice of the Tao, every day something is dropped. Less and less do you need to force things, until finally you arrive at non-action. When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.” Tao Te Ching, chapter 28, Stephen Mitchell translation

This is what I’ve been living lately: dropping something every day. It sounds so easy, so deceptively easy.

I’m still fighting the weird spiritual battle of putting forth a herculean effort and not getting much accomplished, at least on the surface. I’ve been making appointments to get things done to the house to prepare it for sale—and I somehow always get canceled on. It is as if I am surrounded by a big spiritual black hole where time, effort, and energy go in and zilch comes out.

My solution? Do what I can. Every single day. I’ve been rooting around and looking for things to get rid of or organize. For example, I just cleaned out my car’s trunk, getting rid of the remnant of a bag of salt, pitching a few items, and dust-busting. Also, tomorrow the trash gets hauled away, so tonight I am looking for enough crap to fill the Granger container, given that we use less than one entire bag of trash per week.

“So what?” You may ask. By doing these “little” things, I am making my life easier for when, probably quite suddenly, things speed up for me and the timing of events is completely taken from my hands. If things are going to move excruciatingly slowly for the time being, I shall use that to my advantage as much as possible.

“Less and less do you need to force things, until finally you arrive at non-action.” To me, this sounds deceptive, as if you might finally get things the way you like them and can relax at last. That impression is the exact opposite of reality. Reality is change; change is reality. Anyone unwilling to deal with change is refusing to deal with reality. I am not talking about forcing things to happen because I am unsure if that is even possible. I am talking about accepting changes and not resisting them, riding on the wings of change, if you will.

I cannot force things to happen, but I can gradually eliminate all obstacles and sharpen my mind for the next phase of my life. I can just see it. When the next phase starts, people are going to say I am so lucky to be so ready. My attitude will undoubtedly be along the lines of, “Seriously? Lucky?” I’ll just laugh, remembering the truth of 2013-2015.

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