Paradoxically, without the experience of having been safely held and soothed, we cannot grow up enough to make the soother our adversary. We need the worthy opponent. We need to feel the effects of our own power in the world and to experience our own mastery. To acknowledge, experience, and bear reality — and finally, to bring it into perspective.
– Stephen Cope, Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, p. 288.
If we allow ourselves to be ravished by the irrational we are compelled to face our own evil. Trust takes on a new dimension. In knowing our own darkness, we know what another’s darkness can release. We learn to forgive and love. Then, we don’t know from moment to moment what will happen next. As [the] Pashupats clearly understood — this is God’s country, not ours.
Whoever you are, where ever you are, i love you sugar.
From her most recent column, to a woman whose lover refuses to come out to her parents:
Doing so is indeed an ultimatum, but it’s the best sort of ultimatum—one that has everything to do with a positive change in your own life, rather than your wish to control another. It’s an ultimatum that honors a boundary that’s key to your happiness, your psychological well-being, and your integrity. You won’t stop loving your partner if she chooses to stay in the closet. You won’t stop cherishing the wonderful person she is and treasuring the times you’ve shared. You may not even stop being her lover.
But you will profoundly revise the terms of your relationship. You will stop building a long-term romantic partnership with her under conditions that are patently untenable to you. You will stop having a stake in her lie.
This is the hard part, of course. The part where you don’t get to simply float along in the la-la land of your true love while hoping what’s really not good at all will get magically better. This is the part that numerous others have confronted with their own beloved partners who must change in order for their relationships to survive—people who have said you must stop abusing alcohol to be with me, or you must stop snorting cocaine, or you must learn to manage your anger, or you must not belittle my ambitions, or you must be honest or this just isn’t going to work.
These ultimatums require us to ask for something we need from another, yes, but ultimately they demand the most from us. They require us to acknowledge that the worse case scenario—the end of a cherished relationship—is better than the alternative—a lifetime of living with sorrow and humiliation and rage. It demands that we look ourselves squarely and hard in the eye and ask: What do I want? What do I deserve? What will I sacrifice to get it? And then it requires that we do it. In fear and in pain and in faith, we swim there, to wherever that is, in the direction of real life.
This is the view from my back porch this morning, as I contemplated the conversion from summer to fall. The tomatoes are still green, but they are no longer producing new fruit, and what was left on the vines was so damaged by a recent hailstorm that it won’t be edible.
After mixing seedmeal, bonemeal, dolomitic lime, compost and manure to amend the soil, I tackled each bed, ripping out the dying plants and planting new seed for greens, onion and garlic. The tomato bed was especially difficult to uproot – not physically, of course, but emotionally. It doesn’t feel so long ago that it was February, and I was building that bed out of scrap wood: turning the clay earth and adding topsoil to break it up, and sweating in my hat, sweater and jeans. It wouldn’t be right to wait until the plants were dead before turning over the bed, though: by then the days would be so short, and the soil so cool that the seeds for the spinach and kale I’d wanted to plant might not germinate.
After about 4 hours of hard work, voila!
Out back, I trimmed the turnip greens still thriving, and gave them and the baby onions (recovering nicely after withering in the August heat) a good layer of nutritious soil. Beyond the fence, in the terrace beds, I planted two kinds of headed lettuce: buttercrunch and jericho. I left the georgia streak and cherokee purple tomato plants where they were (I couldn’t tear up all my tomato plants, now could I?!) and left the pepper plants where they were. They looked far too healthy to destroy!
My garden had two lovely surprises waiting for me in the terrace beds: the artichoke I feared dead and gone this Spring has come back to life, and the tomatillos I’d given up on are experiencing quite the renaissance.
(At least, that’s what I think these are. I don’t remember planting any ground cherries, which look similar.)
The really nice thing about moving to raised beds and out of containers is that Fall can be as fun as Spring for the all-year gardener.
You go along, thinking hey, look at me, I got that whole depression thing kicked and figuring things would have to be bad indeed to slide back into those old patterns, eh?
Not necessarily so.
Sometimes it’s the gong of the meditation bell that wakes you up, and sometimes it’s the smack of running headlong into yourself. Backsliding can be a way of maintaining your compassion for others, and for learning once again to be kind to yourself. I have better tools for dealing with the thoughts that seized me this morning at 3am, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t affect me. Each of the stories they told hit me in different ways, but they all boiled down to a grasping for control, and a fear of being found wanting. There are still ugly things I’m hiding from myself, and therefore have the power to frighten me.
Like, why was I embarrassed to be interested in reading this? Online I trumpet my devotion to Harriet J. at Fugitivus every chance I can get, but in a comic book store I suddenly feel vulnerable for looking at a work with a similar theme?
And why is it that, after years of independence, abandonment anxiety is still *right there* waiting in the wings?
This made a difference for me today (link to mp3 of a talk by Tara Brach).
So that last post was pretty angry, eh? Well, I hate Mother’s Day. I like the idea of taking time for the people you love, of course, and letting them know what they mean to you. But I despise holidays of guilt and necessity: not every family is loving and functional, and sometimes the healthiest thing you can do is distance yourself from the person who brought you into this world. Making the decision to protect yourself is hard enough; facing our culture’s narratives about who you *should* be and what you *should* do is downright wretched.
One of the first things you are instructed to do while meditating is label your thoughts. If, as you are watching your breath, a story/idea/memory intrudes, you are to label it as ‘a thought’ – to distance yourself from its contents. This is also true for emotions: rather than getting swept away by sadness or anger or irritation, you simply identify the emotion. I have certainly tried to do so, but I’ll admit it has not been easy.
In his essay, “Detours from Reality” Ezra Bayda takes the concept of ‘thought’ and breaks it down into three habitual grooves: analyzing, blaming and fixing. He argues that most of our mental energy is spent in these three activities, and that labeling not just the thoughts, but the direction of those thoughts can help us quiet the mind. It is such a relief to be able to spot these mental grooves; to be able to move beyond “I have to worry about this because I truly screwed up/need extra help/must examine this” to realizing “This is a waste of my energy and I don’t have to pursue this line of thought.”
Analyzing difficult situations makes us feel like we can have control over them, if only we can understand them better:
We think that through analysis we can uncover why we think the way we do, why others are doing what they’re doing, or why something happened the way it did. We think this mental understanding is necessary for our comfort.
But in the end, Bayda rightly points out, these questions usually lead us in circles, pulling us back into emotional states that only lead to more suffering.
Struggling to maintain my equanimity – long work weeks and lack of sleep have me feeling worn down. I feel sloppy, as if the words tumbling out of my mouth haven’t been properly vetted, filtered, monitored. I go home feeling like I’ve screwed up even though I can’t point to any concrete mistake I’ve made.
I spent a lot of time at a work function this past week (hence that last grumpy post) and messages of thanks and admiration have been showing up in my inbox. I read them and feel my inadequacy even more acutely. It’s like these people are just being nice, taking pity on my attempt to be accepted as one of them. Of course I tell that voice in my head to just shut up already but it’s wearing me down. And, blast it all, pictures from the event are starting to circulate. Ugh.
Saw a fantastic show last night, but ruined much of it for myself by wallowing in envy of the performer. She’s so skinny, so stylish, so talented, so beautiful…you know the story. Woke up this morning and decided to revisit one of my favorite posts at Shapely Prose. I needed to read this again.
I’ve been trained to view beauty as a rule that excludes me, a weapon that anyone could use against me: we all have. But when we try to think generously about beauty, to look for it with pleasure instead of with envy, it only expands. Beauty is not a finite quantity. It has room for you. It has room even for me.
Go read the whole thing. And, as for the performer, I went back and read some of her lyrics more closely as I had breakfast, and you know what? She’s a person, with hurts and fears and joys and loves all her own, not some pristine doll enshrined in my imagination. It’s an obvious point, but one I apparently need to learn over and over again.