Friday, October 22, 2010

No Resolution from the Outside

I have been sitting with longing this morning. It's been interesting to watch it shift and change over the past hour. A few minutes of irritation. Followed by a curious uproar of suspicion towards the strangers sitting next to me, which then morphed into a desire to be invisible, and then some bone deep sadness, and finally these words running through my mind "There is no resolution from the outside."

This week has been filled with unfinished conversations. Phone calls missed. E-mails coming and going with questions not answered, or perhaps answered by not answering. I have been on both ends - not responding to a few people, and also not being responded to by a few others. It's gotten me noticing how attached I can get to having human contact, and specifically, to being loved and appreciated by others. There is nothing unique in this. I don't know a person on the planet who doesn't, at some level, long for love and appreciation (even if in sometimes very warped ways). But when you start to pay attention to this longing closely, you'll notice something interesting about it - nothing is ever enough to fulfill it.

When I was younger, I believe I tied my entire "self-worth" or sense of how I was in the world to how others viewed me. Again, this is probably pretty commonplace, but I'm starting to think most of us lie to ourselves as "mature adults" by saying that we outgrew that phase in our lives. Have you? Are you sure?

During our class at the zen center Wednesday evening, a fellow student talked about her excessive checking of e-mail during the day. For her, it was about distracting herself from some larger project or commitment, a way to check out of being present with what was currently on her plate. I also check my e-mail too often, and when I am at home, I also find myself checking the phone for messages, or listening for a ring a bit too often. And sitting here now, I can see that it's all about trying to fill that longing which cannot be filled in such a way.

There is no resolution from the outside. Having a lot of time on your hands, without many obligations, allows for interesting things to happen. Some days, I have found myself cycling through all kinds of energy - from painful loneliness to an amazing sense of connected - all in a matter of hours. It's funny. I can almost see my father now (who is a regular reader), writing me to say he's sorry I'm feeling down. But what I've been experiencing lately is too fluid to label in that way. When I started writing this post, I did feel down. Now, I don't at all. Yesterday evening, I felt discouraged by how many unfinished are alive in my life right now, and then stepped out of my apartment, saw a gorgeous sunset, and all of that disappeared.

Living is an unfinished story. This is something else I'm seeing more and more. An old girlfriend, who lives a block away from me, but who slowly backed out of my life over a period of six month three years ago, suddenly reappeared for a few days in my e-mail in-box. I had figured our particular story was closed at "and now she lives down the street from me in silence." But that didn't turn out to be the case, and even if I now never hear from her again, which is fairly possible, what I thought was an ending turned out not to be.

Past lives. It seems to me that anything past is a past life. And yet, even those who have definitely gone from my life, like the dead, aren't completely past. Yesterday, my father sent me a quote from my grandfather, joking that it would make a good t-shirt slogan. Grandpa used to say "Life's great if you don't weaken!" Given how he went, several years of disappearing from the world through Alzheimers, his words seem pretty damned true. And this little fragment, among others, is still with me as I write this now. He's gone, but also not.

That longing to love and be appreciated also is a longing to love and appreciate others. To be able to. And to keep being able to. When I'm thinking about an old girlfriend, or my dead grandfathers, or a handful of old friends I never see anymore, it seems that more than anything else, I want that mirrored effect to come through us again. To have that person love me and appreciate me in person. Right now. And to be able to love and appreciate them in person. Right now.

Yet, that is living your life from the outside of a locked window. You keep thinking if only such and such happens, if only so and so were here, you would get inside. But it doesn't work. This longing is deeper than anything, or anyone, you can find to try and feed it with. So, stop trying to feed it. Enjoy your friends. Family. Lover. Job. Whatever. But stop believing that any of it will be enough to fill that hole.

I'm saying this to myself, right now, but also to anyone who is interested. Perhaps it sounds a bit depressing, that we all have some hole you might call longing that can't be filled. But I think it sounds depressing because few of us have bothered to study it, to really pay attention to it, and maybe come to some understanding. If you're like I have been much of my life, you hear about a longing that can't be fulfilled, and you run. Or start throwing things in the hole. Anything but stay with it, and see how it shifts all the time.


Richard Harrold said...

This post touched me in a lot of ways. Particularly with the idea of how you judge yourself based on how you think others perceive you. That was and continues to be a huge issue for me. It's a mixed bag as to why. I have always had a strong skill at reading people and communicating with them on an emotional level. This helped me as a journalist, particularly when interviewing people who had suffered a loss. It also helped me for the times when public officials were bullshitting me.

But the drawback to having this skill is I am hypersensitive to body language and other nuances, so when I am in a casual conversation with a friend, my mind can suddenly take off on a wild tangent about them not liking me, or being angry with me or disappointed or whatever. I get worried, and I obsess about it.

This is why I am so insecure in any job I have, always worried that I am about to get fired.

And it's just my monkey mind. It's a damned thing to have.

And the photo with the post. It really grabbed me. It evoked melancholy and fear and distance and powerlessness.

Dean Crabb said...

Nathan, freaky, we are SO on the same wavelength!! Just yesterday I started contemplating and meditating on this same idea, based on some conversations I'd recently had with people. Just before I went to bed I saved a draft post called "The Question We Don't Ask Ourselves". I'll try and finish it today. Anyway, really nice. I love your style of writing and thinking. Really glad I found your blog. It's one of my favs. Now don't take that and try to fill that hole ;-)

Richard, really relate to your comments. When I was young I was really, really sensitive to people's body language. I still am, actually probably even more so now. What I discovered over the years is that it was because I had a very heightened consciousness although I didn't realise this at first. But the downside is you are impacted and moved by every little thing that happens. We are like a candle flickering to every small breeze. Meditation was the key for me with this. I had to learn how to train the mind not to waver, to be still and silent in the midst of all the movement. What was interesting is that when I started meditation I advanced incredibly quickly (not trying to big note myself) but I think this heightened consciousness was related to that. I had two meditation teachers comment on that aspect to my nature. Since then I've watched other people and I've seen lots of people who have heightened and very sensitive consciousnesses who have struggled through life and have not known this was the problem. So good that you recognise that in yourself. Keep meditating, it's worth it.


Nathan said...

Hey Richard and Dean,

Thanks for the comments. Body language awareness, and seeing the subtle shifts that go on, or feeling shifts in the energy of a situation are definitely both gifts and challenges. One of the main things is developing the ability to see that it's "not about you," or "not personal." This comes easier to me now, but I still struggle at times, especially with people who are close to me.

I also think that meditation, chanting, bowing, and the other practices Buddhists do fine tune that sensitivity in both directions, but not always at the same pace. After a few years of practice, I noticed myself aware of more around me, and cluing into the undercurrents even more so than before. But I hadn't yet developed the other sensitivity - that of experiencing things as larger than "me" and not "about me," so I found myself acting out a lot, getting pissed and worried about things others didn't even see. Part of what's been happening lately it seems is a bit of sensitivity catching up, for which I'm grateful.


Dean Crabb said...

Hi Nathan,

I finished that article today on my blog around this same topic. Hope you like it. I welcome any feedback or comments.