Tag Archive | Adulthood

Stillness and Stagnancy

I have always been fascinated with stillness and silence. I feel like I am losing my interest in stillness because I have had so much of it lately.

I laugh at myself now for having wanted to be a nun at an earlier developmental stage of my life. I admire the simplicity and silence. I knew I could handle the celibacy. I longed to develop spiritually and make a statement regarding our over-consuming, stupidly busy, and noisy culture. I now realize that at least some of my longing was nothing more than not wanting to deal with the real world, which I knew I was woefully unprepared for. Thomas Merton saw his shortcomings after many years of the cloistered life. He eventually took a lover in “M”. He said in a journal (quoted in Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness, where all these quotes come from), “I have surrendered again to a kind of inimical womanly wisdom in M. which instinctively seeks out the wound in me that most needs her sweetness and lavishes all her love upon me there. Instead of feeling impure, I feel purified (which is in fact what I myself wrote the other day in the “Seven Words” for Ned O’Gorman. I feel that somehow my sexuality has been made real and decent again after years of rather frantic suppression (for though I thought I had it all truly controlled, this was an illusion).” The hilarious irony of it all is that I now live a life of relative poverty and celibacy. I come close to living a nun’s life now. I am almost monastic now, and not by choice!

Merton recognized his own immaturity, something many never do. I am so glad I never had the opportunity to be a nun, not that I could have handled the obedience part of it. Obedience is a fine value—for a six-year-old. It is not an adult value and it is mutually exclusive to independent thought, meaning that the more you do of one, the less you do of the other. I have chatted with nuns and found them to be weirdly innocent. Their innocence is genuine, and entirely age-inappropriate. Imagine knowing you would always have your basic needs taken care of. They are girls dressed up in women’s apparel. Not having to deal with the real world makes emotional maturity completely superfluous and threatening.

Yet, I still kept seeking stillness and silence, even in a Buddhist context. Our culture is still obsessed with consumption, speed, and noise. The real world is truly insane at times. We all need an escape, a vacation.

What I understand now is that there needs to be a balance of activity and stillness. Stillness is like an island in a turbulent ocean, or, as Iyer states, a way station. “Indeed, Nowhere can itself become a routine, a treadmill, the opposite of something living, if you don’t see it as a way station: sometimes during his days on Mount Baldy, Leonard Cohen would get into his car, drive down from the mountain, and stop off for a Filet-O-Fish at McDonald’s. Then, suitably fortified, he’d go back to his house in one of the more forgotten parts of central Los Angeles and stretch out in front of The Jerry Springer Show on TV.” For years, I went to school and tried to work. Graduation was such a relief. I really needed a break. It’s been a couple years now since I’ve been in classes. Not doing anything meaningful, with a sick husband, in a house I can’t take care of, in a state lacking decent jobs, creates stagnancy. This is the ugly side of stillness. This is stillness gone wrong. The break was nice, at first. Now, it’s just meaninglessness writ large. It’s time to swim away from the island back into the turbulent waters, get back on the horse of life, however you want to put it. It’s time to move.

Honesty in Life and Death

The latest issue of Shambhala Sun has an interesting article by Rachel Neumann about a woman getting married. It was her husband’s idea. Her father even asked if he could use the word “marriage.” The couple grudgingly, but only at the end of the ceremony. The couple made no promises and then ran into the Pacific Ocean—“taking the plunge after taking the plunge.” The author/bride wanted the ceremony to acknowledge the impermanence of everything. “Marriage, from the little I’d seen, seemed a strange and false ritual: a public display of certainty about something that was by its nature private and transitory.” (p. 27, March 2015) Amen, sister.

This may sound stupid, but I’ll say it anyway. I am struggling with two things right now: life and death. Can anyone say, “Duuuuuuuh”? These are the universal concerns of all humanity. And I am struggling in particular with people’s/society’s total denial regarding them both.

For example, I need to call the long-term-care insurance people to see what I can get in terms of respite care. I want to work (or at least get out of the house) regularly during the week and I am not comfortable leaving Barry alone for extended regular periods of time. This is due to the fact that, first, he had cancer and was terminally ill and that, second, he lived through all of that and is still here. He will not be happy with me being gone, but I have put my life on hold for years now and I am getting beyond stir crazy.

Another example. I have a god sister that is turning sixty this year and is going back to school. So far, so good, right?  Not so fast. When I mentioned that she might be working for the next umpteen years, she kid of chuckled like, “Uh. I don’t think so.” She has no husband, children, or pension. Social Security was never designed to be an elderly person’s sole income, let alone help that person pay off their mortgage. When it was invented, during the depression, many assumptions were in place. The elderly were expected to live with their children, men were assumed to have pensions, women were assumed to have husbands, and the property of the elderly was supposed to have been paid off, providing the receiving family of the elderly parents with some financial assistance to help take care of mom and dad. Veronica violates every single assumption. Will Social Security be sufficient for her to pay her mortgage, keep up with utilities, and feed her? I certainly do not assume so—but she clearly does. She needs to go to the Social Security Administration office and find out exactly what she will receive, not just assume that everything will be fine. It will break my heart if I find out, years from now after I have left Michigan, that she ended up homeless. Needless to say, she hasn’t purchased a cemetery plot for herself or anything like that. She is prepared for neither death nor life.

Rachel Neumann is wise. She understands the transitoriness of everything. She is also not 21 years old. She has already spent many years with the “man on the bus” that she recently married. She is honest with herself. Compare that with, say, myself. I was clueless in my early twenties, not to mention in a great deal of self-deception. I had no idea what I wanted, needed, or felt. I am only discovering these things now. What I do know is that if I had had even a shred of self-confidence back then, there is zero possibility I would have gotten married back then.

I think many young women (but not as many) today feel their options constrained today for similar reasons. Also, I believe that raging hormones encourage us to make commitments that we have no genuine way of knowing if they are even worth keeping. And then internalized religious/social oppression keeps us in these relationships (again, not as frequently as in the past). When cooler bodies prevail, fewer commitments are made, oddly enough.

Being honest with oneself is tough. Many people never are. I am still struggling to deal with the consequences of choices I made twenty-some years ago. I am in the process of purchasing my own (and Barry’s) grave marker. I am way more prepared for death than for life. Am I alone or in good company? I may never know.

Missing Rituals, Healing, and Religion

Lately, I’ve been watching “19 Kids and Counting” and it has made me wistful. Normally, I think of the Duggars as freaks, bizarrely conservative and spreading the kind of religion I have barely escaped from. But Jill’s wedding got me thinking of what I have missed.
I remember being in my early twenties. I felt like I was thrown into the deep of a changing economy and expected to sink or swim. I almost didn’t invite my parents to my wedding because I was having issues with my dad. It was a civil ceremony. I cannot imagine my dad “giving me away.” I wasn’t his property to give away or withhold from anyone.
When asked at Jill’s wedding, “Who gives this woman away?” Jim Bob pipes up and says, “I do. Her mother and I do.” While sounding a tad medieval, it also symbolizes a release of his parental control. The torch is being consciously passed to the new generation.
Jill is not left wondering if she is an adult. She leaves the church a married woman and the entire church community acknowledges this new phase of her life.
My dad asked me after I got married, “How’s married life treating you?” My response? “Pretty much like ‘living-together life’.” I wasn’t trying to be snide; I just didn’t know what he was talking about. Was there supposed to be some sort of magical transformation?
Well, yeah, but I didn’t know that back then and would have had no idea of what it should have been or look like.
I was talking to my best friend the other day and told her that I suspected part of my wanting to move to Charlottesville, Virginia was because it is Virginia’s version of Ann Arbor: a college town filled with youthful, energetic people seeking new ideas and creative outlets (but not snow-bound!). I never lived on any campus while going to school. I was busy being married and a weekend stepmom, and trying to survive. I feel like I missed some stages of adulthood.
Can there be rites of passage without the inherently dysfunctional patriarchy and brain-sacrificing belief system? There need to be. I am understanding feminine spirituality more now, but find that some of it is just a reaction to the overly masculine spirituality so common in Christianity. It looks like the mirror-image of the problem, not a solution.
I am learning that participation makes things more real emotionally. I spent a few hours yesterday helping the Democrats. It felt so good to be helpful and contribute my time to being part of the solution instead of the problem. Most of our candidates didn’t win, but nothing substitutes for feeling like being a part of something positive bigger than oneself. I met a wide variety of fascinating people. I want this to continue.
All this makes me wonder how many problems people have are simply incomplete experiences. No one ever explains to the father of a new bride that his daughter will now start a new life outside of his control. A woman never grieves her sudden multiple losses and becomes a hoarder. A mother never gives up control of her son and becomes a meddling mother-in-law. These are simply a refusal to acknowledge that life has moved on, with or without us.
Problems do not get addressed and traumata accumulate.
I see our society spinning out of control. It has lost its spiritual rudder and it has not yet found a new, better way of handling the tough issues. Letting go of something dysfunctional is good, but not enough. We need alternatives. Going backwards is not an option. There is no putting the toothpaste back in the tube.
And I want to be part of the solution.

Approval and Adulthood

“Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner. Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.” Tao Te Ching, Chapter 9, Stephen Mitchell translation

These are words to live by, but I still needed other people’s approval until just recently. As a female, I was not raised to be emotionally independent. My mother couldn’t give me what she didn’t have.

I could have saved myself years of church attendance and emotional manipulation had I not been so willing to be someone’s prisoner. There is always the seductive lie: “Obey me and I will take care of you.” The truth is much simpler: “Obey me and waste years of your life and keep our dysfunctional system going. Oh, by the way, we never intended to take care of you; you were always on your own. Your needs didn’t get met? That’s your own fault (for being stupid enough to believe the lie in the first place).”

I’m a little bitter, but mostly I just feel duped. My emotional needs advertised themselves to authority figures and made me an easy target. Christians refer to my upbringing as “training,” as in “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Buddhists refer to this emotional hell as “conditioned existence,” the source of much suffering and precisely what we are to depart from to achieve emotional freedom and adulthood. One philosophy encourages perpetual childhood; the other promotes maturity. I so lost myself in Christianity; I only hope I can find myself before I die.

Attention and Adulthood

“It is said in zen that you must keep your attention even if you are alone in a dark room when nobody can see you, because you can see you. That is the most important one. It really doesn’t matter what your teacher thinks of you or your friends think of you. It’s nice if they think well of you, but is not the crucial thing. The crucial thing is to go into your own heart and make the practice truly and deeply and utterly your own.”

Golden Wind Teisho, John Tarrant

The more I learn about metaphysics, the more I realize that attention is the key to what we experience. It is not about other people’s opinions but about what you yourself have verified. When you know what you have experienced, disagreement is irrelevant and even funny. After all, what is this need of this other person to convince you that you haven’t really experienced something? They don’t just want to control what you think, but also your most personal, indisputable experiences. That’s just sad.

Part of having integrity, in my opinion, is to stand by one’s experiences, not allowing oneself to be dissuaded from what one has seen, felt, or heard for oneself. No one else has to agree. We are all on a journey and everyone is at a different spot.

I have no interest in persuading anyone of anything. That is part of what makes me an adult: I can have my opinions and stand alone when need be. Children need the agreement of authority figures.