“What does it mean to take responsibility? Responsibility is very empowering. Blaming takes away your power. And the value of blaming is very short-lived, because the pain persists, the fear persists, the anxiety persists. When we take responsibility, there is no denial, no blaming. There is just trusting. Trusting means giving yourself permission to be yourself. It means giving yourself permission to either fail or succeed….When a crisis appears, an opportunity appears-an opportunity to enter a new territory, to penetrate a barrier, to overcome a difficulty. If you fail to act when that opportunity presents itself, you miss something very special and important in your life. Many time we just let the crisis pass, instead of seeing it as a wonderful dharma meal with which to nourish ourselves. We shy away from it, hoping it will go away. And chances are, if you deny it long enough, it will somehow disappear into the cobwebs of your subconscious. It is still there and functioning, but we don’t have to deal with it. But it is always there.” The Stone Lion, John Daido Loori, Roshi, p. 14-15 of The Mountain Record, winter 2014-2015
This is exactly where I am. The crisis? Trying to clean my house in preparation for visit for the realtor. When I realized I could get no help from my husband (due to the Huntington’s), I felt (and to some degree still feel) extremely burdened. But at the same time, I can do it all at my own pace.
The reason this all is such a crisis is my lack of housecleaning expertise. I feel like I am learning things most normal housewives learn by their mid-twenties. I truly suck. I have “issues” with this apparently. These emotions are exhausting to deal with. But what really hurts is having to admit to myself that I am simply incapable of taking care of a house and Barry. What is worse than that is admitting that this situation can only get worse over time, because Barry will only get worse as time goes by. Putting off this process only makes all aspects of the situation more dire. My best is just not good enough. I realized that, even if I have to get a new furnace, then that is what I must do. Pretending that I could do everything and beating myself up for being lazy was delusional in a big way. My consistent effort of the past few weeks highlighted two things: I can make things better and, at the same time, the responsibilities of homeownership are greater than my abilities at this moment.
Anything you do not deal with just goes underground. Karma does not go away. Ever.
Many years ago, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche addressed the issue of “spiritual bypassing.” The concept is simple: using spirituality to avoid the hard work of growing up and dealing with our issues. I was so guilty of it and had no idea.
Now I try hard to avoid it and see it everywhere. One problem I see everywhere is the abuse of non-duality ideas to skip personal responsibility. Why apologize when we are all one? Another issue is the concept of “the eternal now.” American culture seems perpetually stranded in the present moment. The abuse becomes obvious with diabetics who don’t control their blood sugar levels and with people dealing with other quite obvious karmic come-uppance. What goes around, really does come back around. But keeping the focus on the present moment is a spiritual-looking way to not acknowledge karma.
I believe that life is often overwhelming–at least for me. And almost all the problems I am dealing with today come from my previous sense of overwhelm. I need to get my house ready to sell, and I don’t know crap about Homeownership 101. My inability and unwillingness to deal with the hard parts of life in the past are now biting me in the butt. I simply refuse to live my life like that anymore. I am dealing with issues now because not dealing with them is so problematic.
As I get older, I realize that there is no skipping steps–period. I have always been able to skip ahead because of my relative intelligence. Now I am 47 years old and playing catch-up. This is neither fun nor pretty.
“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….[B]ardo refers to that state in which we have lost our old reality and it is no longer available to us….[A]s soon as we see our life in terms of these successive deaths and rebirths, we dissolve the very idea of a solid self grasping onto an inherently real life.” Pema Khandro Rinpoche, Breaking Open, Spring 2015 Buddhadharma
This past week, I contacted a realtor. I intend to sell my house in Michigan. I have no idea how long it will take, but it is overwhelming to contemplate. Sometimes, the only thing worse than change is the prospect of no change.
It’s just weird to think that I really don’t know where I will live in a year. It’s fine and dandy to talk about having no security, but it is different to live it.
I want to grasp onto something, anything, desperately. I want a sense of continuity. I want to feel like I’m part of something larger than myself. Feeling lie a floating speck of dust is unnerving.
I have made a decision. It sounds real obvious, but I decided to only do things as long as I understand what I am doing and why I am doing it. I have given myself permission to do whatever I want—as long as I can say to myself, “I am doing X, for reason Y.” No mindlessness allowed.
Mindlessness is a variation of sleepwalking. If I wish to take a nap, I’ll do it consciously and deliberately. Just no numbing out. Staying awake is tough for me at times in this frozen tundra. Even the word “Buddha” means “awakened one,” which is a direct challenge to my hibernatory tendencies. Staying awake is a worthy goal that I am not always successful at.
My real target regarding consciousness is all those normal social conventions that I’ve never succeeded at and am now evaluating the worth of maintaining. When I was growing up, nobody ever had a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. If you weren’t full-blown autistic, you (I) could pass for normal. It has only been as an adult that I have met seriously Asperger-y people and done research on it. Looking at it, I realized, “Oh, my God. That’s me.” The shock of identification. When I thought of how I rock back and forth when stressed, it was like, “Wow. How autistic is that?”
I endlessly frustrated my poor mother. I continually retied my shoes to get my laces the exact same degree of tightness. I didn’t care how things looked, but they had to feel right. I am Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. A little less severe, but the same idea. I even admire Amy Farrah Fowler’s corduroy skirt collection. How wrong is that?
I have always felt like a freak, for good reason. I miss social cues. I have a really limited tolerance for physical touch and social contact. There is an episode of Big Bang Theory where Sheldon and Amy break up. Leonard asks Sheldon if he misses the social and physical contact with Amy. Sheldon’s response is perfect. “I’ve lived with you for seven years and can barely tolerate you.” That’s me.
My challenge is to figure out what social protocols I participate in that I can let go of. Just because I (or others) have always done something in no way implies that it is actually worth doing. I went to great lengths to get a degree so I can work anywhere and be at least semi-functional. This is the first time in my life I am seriously evaluating all the crap I have felt obligated to do. I have never felt comfortable with all the social etiquette, but I also never felt like I had a choice. I am giving myself that choice now. I am 47 years old and too old to be playing these games. There can be no new me without consciously letting go of those pieces of the old me that never fit in the first place. This in-between is a place of great pain, fear, and hope.
I have a strange “problem,” if that is actually what it is.
Many years ago, I realized that I jiggle my legs to keep myself awake. People thought I was nervous. So did I–until I tried to stop. When I stopped myself, I would find myself falling asleep. Many years later, I realized I was obsessing about things to achieve the same purpose, staying awake. I know this was the intention because, when I stopped, bam, I was asleep. Even currently, I consume caffeine to maintain awakeness. This habit is blatant and super-deliberate. There is no pretense of anything else.
Are these things real problems? They make zazen difficult for me. Perhaps that is a sufficient definition of “problem.” I have struggled my whole life with depression. For me, a big part of depression is the perpetual propensity to snooze in all conditions given half a chance. Right now, I am off any anti-depressants. My mood is fine. But I do want to nap. And the weather has been hibernation-inducing. Perhaps my propensity to snooze is normal in this frozen tundra. I wish I knew what normal was.
I want to be more Zen. I try to sit but then fall asleep. This is why I rebel at the idea of Mindful Based Stress Reduction. For me, it works. Too well. I feel like I am doing it wrong. I just suspect that my experience is not what the Buddha was trying to communicate.