“If change and growth are not programmed into [emphasis in original] your spirituality, if there are not serious warnings about the blinding nature of fear and fanaticism, your religion will always [emphasis in original] end up worshipping the status quo and protecting your present ego position and personal advantage—as if it were God!…All we can conclude is that much of organized religion is itself living inside of first-half-of-life issues, which usually coincides with where most people are in any culture.” Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, by Richard Rohr, p. 11
Rohr talks about security, success, and containment as being the primary tasks of the first half of life. On many levels, I have failed in these essentials. I am only now coming to terms with how far behind I am. I am not a great housekeeper, but somehow I became the solely responsible home-owner for everything. I never got a career up and running, but somehow I am living the life of a retiree!
I feel as if I have been airlifted out of the first half of life and placed unceremoniously in the middle of the second half—without any resources, guidance, or even acknowledgment that this new territory is real! It is disorienting. I live in a realm of wills, advance directives, funeral preparations, pensions, Social Security, blood work, routine physicals, etc.
So..what the heck was I doing for the first half? I was trying to avoid the mistakes of my brothers and peers. (“Stay out of my car with your joints and pot seeds.” “I think I will use birth control.” “I have to get an education because my husband is 16 years older than I am and Michigan’s economy is changing, and not for the better.”) I didn’t know what I wanted, but I did know that I had no desire to deal with the consequences they were dealing with. I was trying to prevent chaos. I was seeking sanity through every available means, including religion.
To say that my seeking sanity through religion was a failure would be an understatement of ginormous proportions. I would get along famously with church leaders, until I started to question their highly questionable judgment. I refused to honor the status quo because it seldom meant anything to me and never delivered on its promises to me. The status quo had to go. That attitude made me unfit for organized religion on every level. People had made tremendous sacrifices to create a status quo that worked for them and I basically defecated on it. The status quo had never worked for me and I refused to support it financially, emotionally, or socially. It was high school all over again: sacrifice every shred of self-respect and maybe, just maybe, we will accept you and love you. Talk about an offer I could refuse! The emotional manipulation was greatly resented.
But needs do not go away. I discovered that I could even use Zen (!) as an escape. I was trying to avoid the emotional hype of Christianity, only to find myself using Zen in the same emotionally escapist manner I was trying to avoid in church. There is not much difference in result if the intent is the same. I was finding the same relief in meditation that I saw on the faces of Pentecostals with their hypnotic hand-clapping and swaying. The tendency for self-deception is universal, regardless of religion.
So now I am in the second half of life, trying to figure out who I am and what I want. I didn’t finish the first half! And now I have to get help and advice from people that did successfully complete the first half. Who wants to listen to a failure? I am so lost.
The latest issue of Tricycle has an article called “We are not One” about interconnections, nonduality, and karma. It is thought provoking. It talks about how the “need to feed” is a sign that we are truly separate, how we must all feed on one another. What makes us one is what we do, not our essence.
I have to agree with the article regarding many things. If we were truly one, then your eating dinner would fill my stomach. Compassion would be unnecessary because my getting a good night’s sleep would leave you well-rested. Your traveling would open my eyes. Sometimes, especially economically, life truly is a zero-sum game. The delusion of uncontrolled capitalism is that of infinite resources and markets. The concept of karma would be rendered meaningless if my wearing heavy clothes kept you warm. The article talks about how some people use nonduality as a way of rationalizing their lack of positive actions. I agree. Nonduality can be a warm, fuzzy concept that gives people false reassurance of the benevolence of their selfishness. I’ve seen it used that way. Karma means “action” and not just sending pleasant thoughts to others.
The flip side that the article did not go into is the invisible interconnections we all share and are unaware of. I have always been a systems thinker and found invisible interconnections fascinating. You press a button here and something pops up somewhere else. You don’t see the result and the person elsewhere sees the event happening in front of them as completely random.
I believe we are on the leading edge of just beginning to understand some of the more interesting aspects of the web we live in. I believe that some people actually do have psychic powers. I don’t seem to be one of them, but I have friends that are very in-tune with the spiritual realm and information that the rest of us do not have immediate access to. This is why I am more agnostic than atheist: Just because I cannot see something doesn’t make it unreal. People I know are frustrated at our government’s ability to access our personal data. Take that concern and add in the psychics. How can you have anything resembling privacy when there are people that can seriously read your mind?! We don’t generally see the interconnections, but that doesn’t mean that others are incapable of doing so.
The foundation of some the weirder aspects of interconnectedness is quantum entanglement. Given that our molecules are continually being recycled, we are literally connected to everything. We are made of star stuff.
Right now, my life is very limited, with taking care of Barry and the house. I wish I could be refreshed by someone else resting. I wish I could use my skills by someone else holding down a job. My life doesn’t feel worth living sometimes and there is no light at the end of the tunnel most of the time. I try to convince myself otherwise, of course, but with only limited success. No one can give me my life back. No one can do my work for me. There are simply things others cannot do for me. The social isolation is real. I am truly not “one” with others in any meaningful way. I wish.
This issue of Tricycle has a fabulous article called The Dharma of Snow by Ayya Medhanandi Bhikkhuni. It talks about how meditation can be like melting snow: absolutely no progress may seem to be being made, and then suddenly there is a breakthrough and the snow has vanished.
Being from Michigan, this is the perfect article. I feel like today we turned a corner this winter. I don’t believe we will have any more days below twenty. All the forecasted temps are thirty and above. We will likely have one or two more days in the twenties, but the worst is likely over. We will, of course, get more snow, but it likely will not stick around more than 24 or 48 hours.
I feel like I am in the process of “thawing” on many levels. Last year, I lost the ability to repress anything, even things I think might have been better left repressed for the time being. Needless to say, there is no need to repress the wonderful and joyful. Things get repressed for very good and solid reasons. What gets repressed? Unexpressed rage and frustration. The knowledge that I can simply never be who I am around certain people and that it is worthless to try. It has all come up and it is not pretty. Ugh.
And there is also the biological aspect. I believe that whatever we are experiencing emotionally and whatever toxins we are ingesting when we gain weight get “frozen” into the fat. It’s kind of like the PBB poisoning of fish in the Great Lakes when I was a kid. We were told not to eat the fish because PBB is fat-soluble and eating the fish would transfer the toxin to us and our fat. Well…Think about it. Emotional or toxic crud gets solidified into our fat and then, ask yourself, what happens if and when you ever lose weight and that particular fat? I believe that whatever is in the fat (emotional and/or environmental toxins) gets released. Many times, people lose weight and feel like crap. I believe this is a big part of feeling yucky while losing weight.
It is similar to glaciers melting. Nobody ever talks about this. Everyone talks about rising water levels, which is a real problem. Don’t get me wrong. But it’s not the only problem. Imagine a woolly mammoth with a strange disease dying in northern Canada or Greenland. It freezes in place. It is in the next ice age, frozen and stationary. Then it thaws. What happens if we have no immunity to the bizarre mammoth disease it suffered from? What are these melting glaciers releasing into the water and air?
As anyone living in a northern climate knows, when the snow finally does melt, it is an ugly sight. All the crap getting shoveled along with the snow is now revealed on the pavement and your lawn. Ick. It is extremely unappealing.
Emotionally, we live in a culture where our real, lived lives are not acceptable to the average onlooker, let alone boss. We repress our feelings for emotional and financial survival. There is no shame in that. Or integrity.
And then there is the suddenness of the snow being gone when it has been there for days, months, or centuries. David R. Hawkins talks in many of his books about the potential of abrupt progress coming out of seemingly nowhere. The book Letting Go talks of it. Meditation also goes there, so to speak. Change is occurring continually and no visible progress is being made—then bam! You are at an advanced position, in new territory, now.
What can be done when repression is no longer an option? I am living that question. And I am losing weight. The emotional impacts are not pretty.
This is why I have such respect for the gays that come out of the closet and accept the rejection of family, friends, and religious organizations. To be who you are is courageous and potentially costly.
But Buddhism says that I have no real self or soul. If I rake up the emotional crud from my psychic lawn, is there anything left? Am I the lawn? I have been reading A Hidden Wholeness A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer. Palmer’s opinion is that, yes, absolutely, we have souls that are seeking expression. I am not sure of it. But then again, I am only now looking at the detritus of almost fifty years of emotional crud. And I have only just begun to rake.
I am somehow panicked and bored and frustrated at the same time. Things must be happening right on time.
Change is always too fast or too slow by human standards.
I decided to make the most of this point in my life by volunteering at a women’s center. It has been fulfilling and very meaningful. I can continue to use my skills for the greater good while I am stuck here.
Part of the feeling stuck is the weather, which is cold, windy, and miserable. Good for being indoors and drinking hot chocolate.
Today, Barry and I went to DeLuca’s for pizza. Best pizza in town, hands’ down. Sitting directly across from him (as opposed to home, where I sit more to his side), I could see the lump growing under his right eye so clearly it amazed me. I noticed it about a month ago and it seemed to shrink and morph slightly. But today, I had a hard time not staring.
He hasn’t mentioned it and I won’t because, to some degree, we’ve already had these conversations. We’ve already done the Advance Directive, the will, etc. I even have our plots and most funeral arrangements paid for. He has a palliative care plan in place by the physician’s assistant. The only immediate issue is pain. Unless the lump hurts, I don’t want anything done to it. If we went to the doctor, what would they want to do? Take a biopsy or sample of some kind, which would be traumatic and painful. And pointless, given that he has expressed an unwillingness to treat.
So I watch and say nothing. But now I have a twinge of panic. It’s not the prospect of change that scares me; it’s the involuntariness of it, not having a choice.
My life reminds me of a medical school student’s. I study and study. I do better on some tests than others. Sometimes I feel downright behind compared to my peers. Then I go home for Christmas vacation and talk to people that I haven’t seen in years. And it is weird as hell because they haven’t changed at all. Time has moved on without them. I didn’t see or feel myself growing or changing because I was surrounded by others on the same journey, in the same boat.
Things are a’changin’. Right on time, I suppose.
I feel like running outside, screaming, “Impermanence is real! Get your affairs in order!” All I can do is to take my own advice.
Last week, I went to a wedding, of my oldest brother’s youngest daughter. It was extremely interesting.
This is Michigan. In February. The weather was wretched, snowing and windy, biting cold. It was unpleasant, to put it nicely. Just like that brother’s wedding about 38 years ago, when I was ten. Déjà vu.
I am sitting in the church during the ceremony. The bridesmaids all come in—dressed in black. Huh? I am no fashionista, but I do know that black is the universal color of mourning, loss, death, grief, and sadness. I know I cannot be the only person noticing this. The context might explain some of this: the bride is pregnant. I believe that whomever chose the décor was making a statement, conscious or not. “I am not happy about this wedding.” The statement came across loud and clear, regardless of whether or not it was deliberate.
At the reception, I am seated with a friend of my sister-in-law. This person and her husband know my brother, his wife, and all their children (living and deceased) from almost forty years ago. Wow. There are not a lot of people that share memories from that far back. We had a fascinating conversation. She mentioned that my brother and his wife still treat them the same way they did thirty years ago, as if nothing had changed. I mentioned the promise my sister-in-law had extracted from me umpteen years ago and that I was glad that time had passed and how I no longer intended to keep it all these years later. She responded like, “Yeah. That’s the way they are.”
I was somehow dumbfounded and not surprised, all at once. The casual acceptance of radical dysfunction profoundly disturbed me. It also confirmed my choice to exit the family for all intents and purposes a couple decades ago. I felt validated. I am very proud of the courage and integrity I possessed even back then. The idea that I would probably be getting treated the same way today tells me that my perceptions have been spot on: they live in the past. Growth and maturation are not acceptable. I would still be tiptoeing around every imaginable topic of conversation even today. Speaking of conversational topics…
Then my sister-in-law comes and sits next to me. I mention that this reminded me of her wedding during a blizzard, when I was ten. She had to think about it for a moment and said, “I hadn’t thought of that.” I didn’t think I was presenting a revelation; my comment was meant to be innocuous and about the weather. Even those dots had not yet been connected. Wow.
My problem is that I notice things. I connect dots. I see patterns. Those patterns enable me to make predictions that convinced my mother many yeas ago that I am psychic. Hilarious. The idea that I could simply understand more than her did not exist in her mind. My power must be supernatural. I learned long ago that most people do not notice everything I notice. But most people notice more than my immediate family does. The world I live in is full of relatively conscious people: New Agers, Buddhist converts, radical feminists, public school employees, racially-mixed neighbors, etc. I am used to being around people that question everything. Then I see my family, who questions nothing. Their level of blind obedience frightens me to my very core. Sieg heil!
I definitely don’t enjoy having no relationship with my siblings, but sometimes nothing is way better than something as violating as what I had before. The terms of having a relationship with my brother and his wife are forever unacceptable. I cannot be who I am with them. My integrity is worth infinitely more than their superficial version of “love.”
I sometimes envy people that can simply not notice much of anything. I would love the ability to not notice people’s words and behavior. Denial is not always such a horrible thing.
Then I get around such people and see how they actually live and think.
Spending years praying and meditating has upped my consciousness level. There is no going back. These things don’t make me a nice person, just an awake one. Consciousness is not always fun, but it is generally enlightening.
Awareness sometimes sucks, but it is always superior in every way to sleepwalking through life and having everything (even the most ridiculously predictable events) come as a total surprise. Woo hoo!?!