Friday, September 17, 2010

Just Die Completely

I was digging through the archive of the Buddhist Geeks magazine, and came upon this post by vipassana practitioner Joel Groover. Great title! "Relax, You're Already Home." Yeah, that's an easy thing to forget, isn't it?

I can understand why masters like Linji felt a need to whack their students over the head—literally—with such messages. If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I repeatedly forget to relax and just be during the mundane activities of daily life. In part, this is because I have reserved paying full attention for some future moment when I am back on the cushion. Likewise, I repeatedly fall into the trap of becoming fixated on transcendent states or attainments that I have heard or read about. This imagined future takes me away from the actual present, as does the frenetic pace of our materialistic and technology-obsessed culture, which puts a premium on speed and seems to actively encourage distraction.

Right now, I feel dull, a little cloudy-headed, and congested. Almost no motivation to do anything. In fact, writing this is mostly about giving some effort when I'd rather not. I don't usually feel like this about blogging, but this is where I am in life right now - slowly groping along in the dark, swallowing the end of certain parts of my past, and not knowing what's coming next.

During a similar period in her life, Reb Anderson told our teacher at the zen center to "just die completely" or something along those lies. Let go of identities. Old habit patterns that don't serve you. Repeated emotional states. Let it all drop off.

I've been noticing how, during meditation practice, I tend to try and control the breath - at least for awhile. Eventually, that drops away and there is just breathing, but it sometimes takes good, long while. It seems to relate to how I have handled the last few months of my life.

Having no trouble letting go of some of the past, especially related to my old job, and feeling grateful for the ease of that. But also trying to hold on to what I think I want to keep, or not lose, from the same past. Worrying that letting go of it all means I lose everything somehow.

I wonder what "loss" really means to me. Not the textbook absolute "there is no loss" definition, nor the textbook relative world definition of loosing either. What does loss mean to me and how is that functioning in my life?

I'm starting to think that a lot of thinking about the future is really an attempt to protect one's self from some kind of loss experience. Not basic planning or creative envisioning mind you. But much of the rest of it. Instead of accepting how mysterious the future really is, you try to coddle yourself with full throttle hopes, wild minded fears, or simply long winded idle fantasies.

Perhaps this is the source of a lot of conflicts. Bumping up against each others' disparate futurizings, we feel like our whole lives are threatened, and so we go to work dong anything we can to protect the vision that we have, even if it's a nightmare vision.

Being in this bardo period if you will, I can feel how much part of me wants to react, to create some sort of narrative to live in. My body feels worn down; my mind kind of tired and jumpy. But it's workable. I can hang with this too. Just like the breath in zazen, whatever is holding on will let go eventually if I just stick with it long enough.


kevin said...

"I feel dull, a little cloudy-headed, and congested. Almost no motivation to do anything. In fact, writing this is mostly about giving some effort when I'd rather not. I don't usually feel like this about blogging, but this is where I am in life right now"

I know that feeling and my heart goes out to you. It was labeled as depression for me. I'm not sure if that's an appropriate label so don't think of this as some sappy intervention-like "hold in there buddy"

But I'm grateful for the generalized experiences of your life that you've shared here on your blog. When I went through times like that I didn't have my practice to use as a lens to view those events.

I'd intended to write a post myself about this, and may still, but I'd like to share it with you here.

When I was a junior in high school, I found out my senior year would be spent living a new life in a far away city due to the breadwinner's job relocation.

This was a huge shock and in context, my life was over. My future was gone. My past had been all leading up to that future so it too was gone. I would no longer be able to attend the university I had wanted to for years. I'd put off dating until I could drive myself to avoid that awkward parent chaperon. With just one year left in town, what would be the point now? The friends I had I'd known since kindergarten.

I had no idea how to respond. There was no anger or real sadness, no existential crisis. Just that dull numbness.

It's been almost 15 years and my dad still tells me about how guilty he feels about the whole thing, but for years I've let him know that I wouldn't be the person I am today if that change had never happened.

I let that old self die completely. It doesn't happen instantly. The changes in your life are not violent so how could you expect that? Instead it will be a slow gradual death that you may be tempted to medicate in some way.

I haven't made my way through the entire Bardo, but I think that reference is appropriate.

So I guess, yeah, this does boil down to "hang in there buddy." "Be grateful for what you have" and all that. Utilize your practice, that's what it's there for.

Nathan said...

Thanks Kevin. I appreciate your sharing too. I'm fortunate to go through this with the insights of the practice, and with good friends and family available for support.

There is some depression; I can feel it. However, it doesn't control me like when I was younger.

Today is dull and heavy. Yesterday, kind of sad and mopey. The day before I felt pretty happy and energetic.

Part of my blogging is about presenting where I am at as authentically as possible, and to work with dharma teachings that might apply to where I'm at.

It's not always easy to write what is as best I can - but it's been a great practice for me.

I'm glad some of it has been of some benefit to you as well.

Brikoleur said...

For the handful of gibbon droppings that it's worth, from where I'm at it sounds like you're doing fine.

In your shoes, I do exactly what you're doing—reflect on it, verbalize it, express it, which makes it possible to let go of it. It's worked for me in the past. I'm sure that had I had zazen to turn to then, that would have helped too.

I won't annoy you with homilies. Just… best wishes. I mean it.

Chong Go Sunim said...

I hope you're feeling better soon. I think the other commentors(?) expressed my thoughts better than I could. (I've feeling a bit like you, lately)

Like the title of the post, the only way I really know how to respond is to completely go forward with empty hands. And somewhere along the line, I also start letting go of my thoughts about how I'm feeling.