Tag Archive | Authenticity

A Living Death

After my difficult conversation with Barry last week, I told a friend about it. Mistake. Of course, like most people (and even myself to some degree), she disapproves. There’s the part of me that agrees with her and the part of me that has simply stopped caring. Whatever.

About a week ago, I saw an episode of The Dead Files, a show about hauntings and the paranormal. There were some unhappy ghosts on a property being investigated. It turns out that there was this old man who had dementia. His wife took care of him until she died. Then his daughter took care of him until she killed herself. Not a joke. He outlived his caretakers. (This turns out to be far less rare than I ever imagined.) These were some miserable ghosts, creating trouble for the current living residents.

I don’t want to be an unhappy ghost.

I’ve been praying for over a year that one of us would die so this phase of my life would be over. I am so tired emotionally and physically. Am I just waiting for Barry to die? Well…I am just waiting for either one of us to die. I am simply being honest with myself. I would prefer that Barry would go first, but I am willing to do so, given the opportunity. I fall asleep hoping not to wake up. I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed for an end to this, any end. Prayer is not impressive, results-wise. I also don’t want the negative karma that would ensue from me taking action against Barry. I don’t want another round of this.

What I am trying to do now, to some small degree, is to investigate ways of ditching the house. I am willing to take the hit to my credit. I would prefer not to destroy my credit, but I’ll see what’s out there, because the issue is trying to take care of Barry and the house. I am trying to find things to do to prepare myself for being single again someday. I don’t want to continue to wish I was dead.

I feel like I am fighting for authenticity in a culture that rewards subservient silence. Solution: Don’t be stupid enough to tell people how I really feel. Someday, I’ll learn. I have to be willing to walk away from everyone and everything that is not leaving Michigan with me. Learning how to live without people’s approval is hard. I’ve done it before and I can do it again. Only now, I have an education and have more confidence in my ability to support myself. I have less fear of ending up living under a bridge. I am coming around full-circle now to when I was in my early twenties, but with more skills.

Clarity is easy when you are honest with yourself. Confusion is inevitable when you pretend to feel things you don’t or pretend not to feel things you do. When part of me stopped caring, it was like the Red Sea parted. The clarity was simply there. That clarity is far more precious than life itself. Walking around confused and wishing I were dead is very close to zero quality of life. It is a living death, a zombie life. My inability to repress my feelings anymore is like the noon sun evaporating the morning fog. No effort is required. Things just are what they are, only now I can see them better.

 

 

Reasons for Meditation

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.

Needless Arguments

I had a big argument with Barry a couple nights ago. I was trying to get him to acknowledge that the cancer was back and that there was a tumor growing on his neck. I told him how frustrated I was that I had to deal with the outside real world by myself while he sat in his chair and pretended everything was fine.

Then Barry says, “Why are you continuing this useless argument?”

I agreed and said, “You’re right. There is no point trying to communicate with you. You win. Good night.” I went to bed, alone.

An argument is only useless if the person is not listening. By telling me that we were having a useless argument, he was admitting that he was not listening nor did he intend to at any point. No listening equals no communication. No communication equals no relationship. It really is that simple.

I want the world to understand this: an argument is an attempt to communicate. Maybe not the best or most mature, but an attempt nonetheless. If you are sitting at the kitchen table arguing with someone, in a twisted way, that is actually a good sign. That person sees themselves as having a relationship with you and is making the effort to communicate with you. When they quietly push their chair away from the table, get up, walk out the door, and lock it behind them, you are in deep trouble. Because they are done with you. The relationship is over. It is probably beyond repair.

Think of a business situation. The person the boss needs to worry about is not the one in his/her office screaming in his/her face. No. The person the boss needs to worry about is the person they blew off last week, refusing to talk to. When the good employee suddenly gets reaaaaalllllll quiet, they have probably given up on you and your organization. Their resume is now likely on every job-hunting website they can find. They are done with you.

Silence is not agreement! That is a top-of-the-food-chain mistake to make. Only people with unearned privilege seriously believe that silence is assent. The rest of us know better.

I have almost nothing left to say to Barry. I’m sure he just thinks I have an attitude problem. I am forced to live in the real world and handle all the responsibilities. My confrontation was a last-ditch effort to get him on the same page as myself. You see, I do not have the option of living in his delusional world. I have to function. When I lose my mind and end up putting him in a nursing home, maybe, just maybe he will get it. Or maybe not. Either way, real communication with him is clearly a useless effort. He said so.

BuddhistAuthenticity

“Buddhism was a process; one did not need to delude oneself or pretend to be other than oneself, and one did not have to become completely passive in order to embrace the notion of peace.” Jan Willis, Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist, One Woman’s Spiritual Journey, p. 201

These are lessons she learned from experience. Having grown up Baptist, she enjoyed its fellowship and community, but it was always tinged with fear of the KKK. She held no illusions of her own safety. Spending time in India and Nepal showed her Buddhism in action and in exile.

Her remarks speak to the importance of authenticity. Willis understands the pain of rejection and fakery. Pretending to be other than oneself is exhausting. And an enormous waste of time and energy. The problem isn’t “What if they reject me?” No. The problem is “They love this person I am pretending to be. How much of my integrity am I willing to sacrifice to maintain their approval?”

I have felt compelled to leave various friendships and organizations over time. It is my firm conviction that you don’t know where the expectations/boundaries are until you violate them. Then, suddenly, people will come out of the woodwork to correct you and inform you of “your place.” Such organizations are seldom, if ever, worth the price of admission. To be rejected honestly is comparatively refreshing as opposed to having a manufactured persona accepted and admired. My needs and values of my twenties do not bear any resemblance to the ones I have today. Remaining true to the values of a Cindy who no longer exists is very empty.

Willis’ remarks also speak to having a “self.” What is this self? In Buddhism, it can be debated whether such a thing exists. But, being black, she can address this from the position of having her self reviled simply due to the color of her skin, an essentially meaningless, superficial feature. She is not arguing against its existence.

One problem Buddhism in America has is how it came from Asian masters directly into white middle- and upper-class America. Debating whether or not one has a self is a fine academic debate, devoid of meaning and real-life application. But violate those selfless expectations by advocating for a sangha community of color and watch how quickly people are put in their places. Also, I saw an article about “white trash Buddhists” in a Buddhist magazine. The author expressed some of the same frustrations I have: the cost and inconvenience of going on sesshins, dathuns, etc. Even poor whites have a rough time dealing with some of the unspoken expectations. You don’t know what the expectations are until you are incapable of or unwilling to live up to them.

I am uninterested in participating in relationships/organizations that require me to delude myself or be fake to ensure my continued acceptance. One thing this past year from hell has done for me is to simplify my life, involuntarily at times. I only have so much energy and I refuse to use what little I have to nurture connections that will be a never-ending drain on my psychic energy. I’m just too tired to pretend to be someone else.

Authentically Zombie

I have been wondering lately what an authentic life would look like. I feel like authenticity requires knowing oneself and one’s desires. I am not there.

I spent my twenties and thirties repressing my feelings out of necessity. I no longer can repress my feelings, but they are only now starting to rise to the surface. It may be years before I really get in touch with them fully, if I ever do.

Why wouldn’t I get in touch with my feelings? Because parts of me are dying. This past summer showed me how I am dying inside. What is dying? My hopes and dreams and the person I used to be.

What do you call someone whose soul is gone but their body is still animated? A zombie. I am not the person I used to be. I don’t know what I will be eventually, either. I have no idea what I am anymore, if anything. I am nowhere. I am stuck in that in-between state.

People tell me that this is a phase and that it will not last. Eventually, Barry will die and I will move on. This never-ending responsibility will end. I used to believe them. Then I got the questionable mammogram. The assumption had always been that I would outlive Barry. This summer, that assumption came to an abrupt end. I miss that assumption. It’s amazing the things we take for granted, such as existing.

I think about Barry’s Uncle Bob’s wife. I asked Barry what her name was and he cannot recall. I could just as easily die that anonymously. My only memory of her is of her sleeping on the couch, much like I do. She died and Uncle Bob lived another five or ten years. I’m sure people told her that it was just a phase. They never told her that it would be her last phase, ever. She didn’t take care of Uncle Bob until he died; she took care of him until she died. Death parted them and he was the last one standing.

It takes a lot of energy to build a new life. The bottom line is that I will never have that energy until Barry passes. As long as there is a one-way flow of energy out of me and into him, I will not have the energy needed to create a new life for myself or to deal with repressed feelings that may arise. I give and he receives. It really is that simple.

Trying to act authentically given these circumstances is hard. I know little about what is genuine or not. I have figured out a little bit, however. For example, I do not feel like a wife. I am a live-in caretaker. Period. The only thing I could think of doing to honestly express that is to take off my wedding band. Barry hasn’t noticed. Why would he? He is still being taken care of.

I am the one not being cared for. I have to take care of myself to a certain degree or I will not be functional at all, even physically. Then I would be truly dead, not even a zombie. Part of me wishes I cared about that. Is not caring part of being an authentic zombie?

Underlying Theme: Authenticity

I had an epiphany yesterday: My sense of surreality in dealing with some people and situations comes directly from feeling like they are responding to something other than the real me.

Have you ever read The Invisibile Man? It might be from Ralph Ellison. I read it at least a dozen years ago. I had previously attempted to read it about five or six years earlier, but found it annoying. It seemed disjointed to me. When I picked it up again, it dawned on me. That’s the point! The book goes from one weirdly unrelated scenario to another in the life of this black man. The way this man is treated has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with him. Rather, it is all about other people’s reactions to who they think he is or should be. People are not seeing him at all, only their own projections. The way they treated him was not personal, in the sense of good or bad being directed at him as a distinct individual. Once I got the point, the book was quite engaging.

That’s why I felt like the email from Barry’s sister was oddly inappropriate, but could not initially figure out why. Nothing she said was bad or wrong—just irrelevant to my concerns and urgent issues. It would be kind of like knowing that someone’s home was just destroyed by a fire or hurricane and then emailing them happy birthday wishes. The only response is, “Huh? Really?” I said a lot of emotionally-laden things this past summer and her response was, “Happy birthday!” She is not responding to the real me at all. Whatever relationship I have with her is not reality-based.

I can get along fabulously with people, if I just tell them what they want to hear. I concluded this summer that such relationships are generally not worth the time and effort required for their maintenance. I am at a point in my life where I would truly prefer for someone to get in my face and scream, “I hate you, you f*****g b***h! How dare you speak to me like that!” than to send me birthday wishes. Then I would at the very least feel heard, like my message had gotten through even if it were not well received.

This sense of surreality has presented itself forcefully. For example, a few weeks ago, I almost got run off the road. The person simply cut into my lane as if I did not exist. Later that day, a lady (I thought was looking directly at me) almost ran me over with a shopping cart in the parking lot of the grocery store. Nothing personal.

I also had the same issue at church—and it was part of why I left. The very first Holy Week Wednesday I attended, a couple of Greek teenagers stepped on my foot. They didn’t apologize because they did not notice me. I did not exist in their world. They literally did not see me. Later, the priest would treat me like crap, but I knew that, since he treated everyone like crap, it wasn’t personal.

That’s the point: sometimes, things need to be personal. Sometimes, when things are not personal, it gets difficult to imagine why I should continue maintaining a relationship with a person or organization. If my presence is not noticed, perhaps my absence won’t be, either.

Zen is part of how I try to ground myself in reality. I notice my breath, my feet, my heartbeat, etc. This is part of the antidote to living in my head, spinning around in my thoughts while being oblivious to the outside world. Zen is the fount of authenticity.

I confess that I have presented many masks to the world. Often, when people are not responding to the real me, it is because I have never shown it to them. I remember, in my early 20s, wondering if there even was such a thing as a “real me.” I acted one way at school, another at work, another with my husband, another with my friends, and a completely different way with my parents. I felt like I had multiple personality disorder. The concept of integrity was nonsensical at the time.

Back then, it was simply survival. I had to do whatever was necessary to get the rent paid, get good grades, get along with my dysfunctional family, get along with Barry’s dysfunctional family…I do not regret the many masks I wore back then because it was absolutely essential. Without any real social skills, pretense kept me fed and warm.

But now I am pushing fifty. The pretense was mandatory in the past, but just feels icky today. The repression of my feelings that was needed back then can only create unwanted physical and emotional symptoms now. I crave authenticity today. When I don’t get it, I feel it, and it feels deeply offensive.

Today, I went to a respite care place to find out about how to get help with Barry. I broke down and cried at just the prospect of getting some relief. It will likely cost a lot of money. But the alternative is for my life to not be worth living. Just to be seen and heard was huge. To have my needs acknowledged at all was profound.

What I got out of today was that I have to do whatever it takes to take care of myself, even if it costs a pretty penny and drains us of some of our savings.

I don’t know who or what I am, still. But I do know one thing for certain: I would rather have the real me rejected than to have the fake me praised or to just not be acknowledged as existing. Go ahead. Hate me. Just hate the real me.

Non-thinking and Letting Go

“In the text The Straight Path, Zen Master Anzan Hoshin quotes the following from Zen Master Dogen’s Fukanzazengi, or How Everyone Can Sit:

Think of not-thinking. How do you think of not-thinking? Be before thinking. These are the basics of zazen.

The Sensei unfolds the meaning of this passage in this way:

This means: No opposites. Zen is not a matter of thinking (shiryo) or of shutting out thought (fushiryo) but of being Before Thinking (hishiryo). Before Thinking means to be prior to experiences in the same way that a mirror is always prior to what it shows even at the moment of showing it. We cannot be anything that we are aware of. We are always the context of whatever content arises. When we release all of our states and our avoidance and identification then we are always right there at the very moment that the world arises, right at this pointless point. Bring together every aspect of mind, everything hidden and everything obvious, and allow each to resolve itself into the knowing of it. This is zazen, the shikantaza of all Awakened Ones.” http://wwzc.org/dharma-text/thinking-about-not-thinking

 

Compare with: “Once the mind knows the way to alleviate its inner pressure, like Pandora’s box, it begins to let all the garbage up, and up it came in profusion! Thoughts and feelings, which had hardly been noticed at the time of their occurrence, now returned. Life had been so busy that there had not been time to handle them. The decompression process began to unfold on its own.” David R. Hawkins, Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender, p. 303

Letting Go is all about letting go of resistance to feelings. I see the same concept in “non-thinking” and shikantaza.

The urge toward health is urgent and undeniable. And sometimes incredibly inconvenient and neither pretty nor socially acceptable. What do you do when a lifetime of resentments and pain come up? Hawkins acknowledges this reality when he mentions “that there had not been time to handle them.” Trauma and modern life will do that.

People tell me that they can’t meditate because they think too much. I know what they mean, but they’re missing the point. The point is that we use thoughts (and every imaginable diversion) to avoid our feelings. And not all Asian-born masters understand American neuroses. And our culture needs to learn how to deal honestly with feelings instead of rewarding their repression.

I am going to deal with this stuff. I don’t care how long it takes. Nothing is more important. I refuse to feel like this the rest of my life.

There is no putting the toothpaste back in that tube.

Stupid Spontaneity

I have been wrestling lately with “the present moment” versus planning for the future, or maybe it is “spontaneity” versus “discipline.”

My stumbling block is McMindfulness, where the focus is incessantly on the present and the pretense (perhaps “pretense” comes from the same root as “present”, just as “shrub” and “bush” and “brush” seem to have the same letters rearranged to give a final similar result) that this moment is all there really is. I understand that if you don’t use the present moment well, odds are that your future won’t be that great, either. I see that every day in the people I know. To some degree, the focus needs to be on what you can accomplish today with the resources currently at your disposal.

However, our sensory-overloaded culture keeps saying, “Relax. Enjoy the moment. What’s all the fuss about?” There is a word for that: ignorance. It is rightly called a “poison” by Buddhists everywhere.

Ironies abound here. I was looking at an article on Buddhism Now regarding the Dalai Lama focusing on the present moment, saying that there is no future or past without the present. It seems that the people pushing this “present moment living” are also the people who have consciously, deliberately developed vast reservoirs of spiritual discipline. Another example is the Taoists out there, memorizing vast quantities of their scriptures so that they can “spontaneously” respond to a given situation properly. That’s not “spontaneity.” That’s called “training.” Any HR manager will tell you that. All HR professionals know, through experience, that people do not rise to the level of expectations placed on them. Rather, people fall to the level of their training. Martial arts are also built upon the same unfathomable depths of discipline to enable their practitioners to respond properly in stressful situations. The only way to behave harmoniously in a variety of circumstances is to have already made a strong, conscious choice to behave according to previously-chosen principles. This is hardly my definition of “spontaneity.”

I have some of the same misgivings relating to spiritual experiences that people attribute to The Universe, God, or whatever. Let’s just be honest. Most spiritual environments are designed to invoke certain feelings, such as beauty, clarity, holiness, warmth, community, peace, etc. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Who wouldn’t rather be in a clean, beautiful, warm room/building/whatever (as opposed to a dirty, cold, ugly place)? I, for one, am always trying to declutter my house and clean it better to make it more inviting. I am only advocating truth-in-advertising. As an Orthodox Christian, I could look up whatever Sunday it was (such as the fourth Sunday of John, e.g.) and know precisely what scriptures would be read and what the hymns of the day would be. It was no secret, and there you go. However, in the Protestant world, there was a huge pretense of spontaneity and everything being a “move of God”—even as absolutely every detail was orchestrated and choreographed within an inch of its life. All details were manipulated and canned. The artificiality was palpable. I actually found the in-your-face predictability of orthodoxy refreshing and, uh, unpretentious.

My point is that I feel a certain confusion when I hear about how primary this moment is, as compared to all other moments, and then turn around to find my current choices being constrained by prior, poor choices I made years ago. My future choices are, likewise, being constrained by the quality of my current decisions. Maybe my issue is simply the fact that I am middle-aged now and routinely live with the good and bad consequences of previous choices. I want to take young people by the collars and try to communicate somehow to them that they will eventually have to live with the consequences of their choices from today. I have seen, personally, how a time comes to us all when we can no longer make choices. We have to accept the fallout or fruits of previous attitudes and actions. Our ability to make new choices has passed and we are left with what we did or didn’t do years ago.

There is a very steep price to be paid for stupid spontaneity. My friends and I are all paying it. This is the amount due for living a life with the attitude of Alfred E. Neumann: “What? Me worry?”

Pretending for a Different Purpose

If Barry knew what the appointment with our therapist is about, he would beg me to cancel. So I’m not telling him. And it’s harder than I thought it would be.
So I’m pretending things are normal, but for my benefit, not his as much. Unfortunately, I have a lot of experience doing one thing while feeling something completely different.
It’s one of the reasons I left church: I could no longer in good conscience go along with the church’s delusional financial and social structures. Life was forcing me to live in the present and the church was/is still stuck in the 1970s.
Here’s the rub. With Barry, and the church I went to, I wasn’t faking at first. I was trying my best to fit in and be supportive. When Barry was in better health, I really was comfortable and wanted him to be happy and comfortable. Likewise, when I became Orthodox (capital “O”), I was enthusiastic about its holistic vision. I was comfortable at first.
I changed. And I didn’t realize it. So I didn’t feel fake. The contradictions between my behavior and my changing feelings and beliefs were so subtle at first that I didn’t notice the increasing loss of integrity. The gap between my feelings and my behavior went from being a hair’s breadth to being the Grand Canyon. The misery factor increases exponentially at the slightest increase in distance. It’s logarithmic.
My love for Barry is real and unchanged. But I need real answers. I need to protect myself emotionally and legally. I refuse to continue bearing the emotional and legal burden of his unstated expectations. It’s not fair to me. I need a witness. The Huntington’s and potential cancer (or whatever unknown factor is causing the weight loss) have made dealing with these issues urgent.
Still, pretending, for any reason whatsoever, is hard. I want to be authentic. I’m even currently reading “The Authentic Life” by Ezra Bayda. As I get older, being congruent is increasingly important to me. The problem is that I change and don’t let anyone know sometimes, including myself.

Healing and Authenticity

“Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you—all of the expectations, all of the beliefs—and becoming who you are.” Rachel Naomi Remen, MD

Absolutely every form of suffering I can think of in my life has come from hanging onto something I ultimately was forced to let go of. People’s approval, straight As, church, lying friends, toxic jobs, and everything else that comes to mind, all of the pain has come from refusing to let go. Holding onto those dreams, childhood needs, and non-reciprocal relationships has almost killed me.

People will extol the virtues of holding on, regardless of the real-life consequences, even martyrdom. There is no inherent virtue in martyrdom. Martyrdom is the ultimate in winning the battle and losing the war. Look at the lives of the people “holding on” to whatever it may be (a dead relationship or church, an ideology, adolescent hopes and dreams, whatever): stuck in the past, unable to move forward (or maybe at all), imprisoned by their own hand.

People want my participation so they can point to me and say, “See! Cindy does it, too.” My approval-seeking actions have been used way too often to justify other people’s submission to oppressive systems.

I think it was Michelangelo who said that he created David by removing everything that wasn’t David. It is time to start chipping away.