Tuesday, June 24, 2014

walt whitman's corpses

Today was the end of another part of my life. A piece of my ego that really wanted to believe a certain story about myself went out in a ball of flames. Very dramatic, painful, and, clearly, necessary.

I had believed for years that I was somehow more skillful ethically than many people, that I protected people and really thought of others first. That the traumas I had survived had taught me to not do anything similar to anyone else. That I was always so careful to not cause harm that somehow I was above the fray in that way. That I would never cause someone else undue worry.

So this weekend a situation arose in which my ego latched on to one of my deepest desires and shaped it into an attachment to a certain outcome that would support its concept of reality. A reality in which if the ego wants something in particular, and I am a 'good person,' then I should get the preferred outcome, or at least a gentle lesson and a promise that it might be fulfilled in the future.

But instead, at a certain point my heart and my brain stopped talking to each other, I forgot my true nature and even the other person involved for a short time, because I was amazed that a particular outcome seemed to be happening. I let myself stare into the thrall of the ego. The story became my single pointed focus. And when, a few minutes too late, my brain woke up and paused the drama going on to reassess the reality of the game being played, everything came crashing to a halt.

So, no, I am obviously not above making disastrous mistakes. No, I am not different than any other human. Yes, I can act so unskillfully that I create suffering for myself and possibly for others- depending on what story they believe about it. Yes, I still have voids in my system that my ego tries to fill by looking outside myself for validation, love, interest and approval. And no, I don't have a handle on my emotional reactions yet and tend to be so hard on myself that I make myself physically ill.

The end of illusions is cause for celebration. When shit hits the fan, those who intend to love you will try to figure out what to do next rather than bailing entirely. Your friends that truly know you will remind you who you are and forgive you if you can't forgive yourself yet, because they know who you are better than you do sometimes. To be truly compassionate to others, first you have to look inside yourself at your worst horrific parts, the things you never thought you'd forget to do, the things you never imagined would happen because of something you did, and the most terrifying things that you did imagine that finally did come true, and caused your world to end one more shattering time.

My good friend Drew reminded me of the poem below this weekend, which seems to articulate this trip's effect on me so far. Peeling away fears, anger, sadness and despair, all the stories I wish were true about myself, others, the world, all of the concepts I hold onto and the characters I have played and still want to play. Everything is falling away, or being ripped away... or I am lighting it on fire unintentionally after soaking it with gasoline... Letting go is so painful sometimes, and seeing my own fallibility mirrored back through someone I love's dark gaze of anger and disgust is mortifying.

I bid you welcome, my worst case scenario. This ego is yours to destroy, devour, disembowel.

But truly, this is my practice too. Seeing the truth of things, of people, of my small self. Watching the cycle of birth and death, even of concepts and dreams. Learning to act from my core and true Self, but still getting caught up in ego and attachment pathways instead. This is how we all create suffering. If I can't tolerate it in myself and learn from my own wrecked life, how can I understand others, and how can I pretend to practice compassion and more skillful behaviors?

It's time to see my stories for what they are. To see my expectations and the reactions and attachments that are fueling them. To watch my dreams, and my ego, and every character it comes up with, die.

O LIVING always—always dying!
O the burials of me, past and present!

O me, while I stride ahead, material, visible, imperious as ever!

O me, what I was for years, now dead, (I lament not—I am content;)

O to disengage myself from those corpses of me, which I turn and look at, where I cast them!
To pass on, (O living! always living!) and leave the corpses behind!

-walt whitman

Monday, June 16, 2014

pet dragons

I tend to enjoy thinking of my wilder emotional tendencies as dragons. They are like unruly pets that so far have been trained badly by my own interactions with them. They are the wildest kind of animal, but they use rationalized thought as a weapon, and if not understood might be allowed to destroy more than would allow for my most efficient growth. They are part of me, so hate or any kind of resistance isn't the best option for long-term friendliness to myself... So, because the idea makes sense to me, Dragons they are. Fear, Anger, Despair. Old friends.

Yesterday, in the desert, my fear dragon sat in the car seat next to me, closer than it usually gets. It was nervously breathing smoke and clouding my view. At one point its claws were digging into my shoulders and my heart beat loudly in my ears for a while.

These are the things it told me, and with each fearful assessment, what actually happened in each situation:

1. That cloud is dark and huge, I bet it might rain. Why did you decide to turn into this wash? If it floods you will be drowned, you should turn around now. This is a terrible idea, why didn't you buy a bigger car before we left? No! Don't drive up farther into the park! It looks like rain! No! Imagine the flood and the mud and what it would do to your car! You're feeling sick now aren't you, there's nowhere to go now, see, I was right all along, and it's all your fault.

**actual event: There was a cloud over a national park. There was blue sky over the other half. All gates were open, even to the washes. No rain storms were predicted for the day. A few other cars were around including some small passenger vehicles like mine. I drove the 10 mile stretch out and back and as I got back to the campground it was fully sunny with few clouds left in the sky.

2. Oh gosh that looks like it might be a storm cloud again, still to the south, I bet it's a front. I bet it will be lots of rain. I bet this happens all the time here, I wonder if these un-elevated highways are safe? I wonder if the whole thing gets slippery or washed out? Wait, why are you turning off the highway? No! Ok, fine, let's keep track of how long this drive to the park takes so we know how fast we have to go to leave fast if it starts to rain because the bigger road is probably a little safer with more people. Or should we just stay in the park if it rains? Oh gosh what if it floods too? And we don't have any food!! Oh gosh it's so windy that must be the storm coming!! Why are we HERE??

**actual event: There was a high cloud far to the south. Since it's high desert, even when it does rain it's usually dry almost as it hits the ground. There are plants all along the highways that have clearly not washed away any time recently, and most are slow growing. The flat land makes it really hard to tell how close something is and even if it's moving away or not. It was a beautiful day.

3. There's been no cell service. For hours. No other drivers to speak of. No one really knows where we are... Was that a sign that said no services for 75 miles? WHY didn't you get gas?? There is only a quarter tank left! You know the last quarter always surprises you and goes down fast! How will you even call for help? Let's stare at the odometer and see how many miles elapse before another bar drops. Keep watching it. What if something else happens? Ohmygosh why are we doing this?

**actual event: There were drivers occasionally, the sunset was beautiful, and I arrived at my hotel just fine and had enough gas to drive around for a half hour checking out the town, and got gas in the morning when the engine was cool.

I compare these with today, when, driving a steep downhill grade out of a tunnel, with barely any shoulder, my rear left tire blew. A number of things could have happened, and there are infinite ways it could have been worse. But as it was, I received immediate help, I was very lucky, and felt as if I had been protected from every worst case scenario there could have been in that situation. And although my fear dragon was there, the only time I felt it was when I thought I had to make a decision about how to react, but in reality, the people who rescued me made the best decisions and I let them, and I was safe.

There is such a chasm of difference between fear and real danger. Fear is about what might occur, whereas danger actually occurs in the present moment. Fear requires time to think and belief that somehow one can take charge of the moment by predicting its possible immediate outcomes. So, now, instead of trying to train the fear dragon, I train myself to respond differently. It seems to be able to learn- to ease its grip, to quiet its screaming- by me changing how I relate to it. By listening to it earlier, I learn to respond in positive ways to its warnings so I can be better prepared for situations, and perhaps save myself trouble. And then, if I haven't planned well, or prepared as adequately as my fear would like me to believe I need to, I listen to it, discern whether there is real danger, and if not, I practice letting go and gently say no to its tantrums.

Because I can never know what will happen, but rather, if I trust that I am protected and that whatever occurs is for my best growth, this is easier in the end than fighting a dragon that is much more skillful at combat than I. Practicing peaceful understanding of my own fear seems to be getting me farther than resisting it, shaming it, or denying its existence ever did.

Long live the dragon of my fear, one of my best and oldest teachers.
I thank you. I invite you to stay as long as I need you to train me.