Monday, December 27, 2010
For various reasons, this time of year tends to bring out the worst in me. Or that which I don't want to look at, have avoided, am afraid of, etc. This year, it feels quite fierce, given where I am in my life.
After three months of not working, I'm getting a crash course in how difficult it is to let go of external identities and desired support from others, and just be yourself right now. Here is a short list of what's been coming up for me over the past few weeks:
1. Lots of questions about who I am and where I am going.
2. Lack of confidence.
3. Fear. Lots and lots of fear.
4. Avoiding. Lots of avoiding.
5. Frustration with an inability to articulate what's going on to others.
6. Irritation with unsolicited advice.
7. Guilt. I mean, after three months, why don't you have something figured out?
8. Surprise. Why has the harsh critical voice suddenly returned with full force?
9. Anger. A more recently returned guest.
10. The usual seasonal depression, that came later this year, and which I thought I had a decent handle on, but now am swamped in again.
When I left my job at the end of August, my intention was to take time and listen deeply for what it was that my life was really calling for me to do. I had grown tired of doing what a lot of people do - keeping a job that slowly kills them because they're totally afraid of the economic and/or social consequences of leaving it without the safety net of another job lined up.
The thing is, it was always more than about work for me. All signs in my life had pointed to it being time to figure out a way to synthesize what I love into how I live more fully, on a day to day basis. This kind of thinking tends to be dismissed by the conventional world as pipe dream bullshit, and it might turn out to be just that, but I don't want to be on my death bed thinking "Maybe I should have taken a risk to do X."
Anyway, when I left in August, I didn't expect the following to occur.
1. Most of my "in the flesh" friends either growing extremely busy, or simply vanishing from my life all together.
2. The flickering in and out of my life old romances that stirred up various unresolved issues/griefs connected to them.
3. Discussions about what it means to be a dedicated lay practitioner at my zen center, and subsequent requests by a few students in a group I am a part of for added practice requirements (more retreat time and responsibilities for upholding aspects of formal practice at the center).
4. Frequently interrupted sleep patterns and various minor illnesses over the past month.
All in all, I'm finding that other than my immediate family, many of the relationships in my life are either dormant, strained, or disappearing. And I'm seeing how this has sent me spinning more often than I'd care to admit. Even though I have had wonderful people supporting me throughout my life, and know that the universe itself is always supporting each of us in a myriad of ways, it's also true that I have had to do a lot of things on my own. That from an early age, I was called on to be a responsible person capable of taking care of his shit. And what this did to me was create a pattern where I feel I should be competent or better in what I'm doing most of the time, otherwise something is way wrong. Intellectually, I know this to be a story, but deep down somewhere, this story is still fighting for control of my life. And in this time of not knowing about so much, it's rearing its ugly head pretty frequently.
The other thing about this pattern, at least for me, is that I have quite weak skills in asking for help or support. Years and years of having to do it myself, or thinking I had to do it myself, have left me in a tough position now. When you're not good at reaching out in these ways in the first place, and then many of those who you have developed a sense of trust with are not available, you're left to face your rotten skills on your own. In fact, whereas when I'm doing fairly well, I have a good sense of what I need and can usually locate it, or figure out how to deal without it. But being in this place of such fierce not knowing about so much, I also don't know what it is I really need. So, not only am I not good at reaching out for support, but I often don't even know what I'd ask for right now.
In posting this, I am not desiring advice on "what to do." Nor am I fishing for sympathy. I've had darker periods in my life, where not having the tools and insights of a spiritual practice meant swirling around in endless rounds of self-criticism and anger at others for not "getting me." That was worse than what I am experiencing now, even though what I am experiencing now feels like it's going straight to the core of my life. Much more palpable and scary than what I went through when I was younger, but the ride is less maddening you might say.
It's also been interesting to watch momentary impulses to post some sad-sack headline on Facebook, or to write some crying in your beer type post on here. I've watched a few friends use Facebook like that over the past few years, and I don't want to join that crowd. Some blogs get like that as well, where post after post is about the latest misery a person is experiencing, or how decision X or experience Y is another example of how "bad" a Buddhist they are. This is mostly just hustling for a self-esteem boost, and that's pretty damned tawdry if you ask me.
One of the reasons I dedicated myself to both zen and yoga practice is that both emphasize total liberation. If you stick with it, experiment with what you learn, and trust the process, major shifts do happen in your life. And even though there's endless talk about dropping all "expectations for any fruition" - especially enlightenment - I think it's foolhardy to believe that you'll just reach a certain point where you'll have a relatively comfortable "external life" supported by your practice. Actually, I'd say this is exactly what happens to those who seek out practice as self-help, which isn't a terrible thing, but certainly is limited.
When I received my dharma name a few years ago, I found myself pondering "devotion." And one of the things I have realized is that even though on the outside, my "practice" sometimes looks a bit slack, I have always, since I was really, really young, had a fire for uncovering the truth. At five years old, I returned home one day from school and told my mother the kids in class were boring. Why? Because they were mostly interested in playing around and picking on each other. They were being kids in other words.
I played too. It wasn't that I was some learning robot, always focused on serious stuff. But that little boy carried an old man's voice in his head from the beginning I think. Which made me kind of different. And sometimes caused trouble. Like the time I took my sister down in the basement to show her the pile of presents, and tell her there was no Santa Claus. She wasn't even five years old yet.
So, the leap to leave my old workplace, and more importantly, to live in this not knowing place is all about that devotion to the truth. To awakening. To liberation.
And this post is part update about where I am at, and also mostly an attempt to say that I'm not finding it terribly easy right now. Here in Minnesota, we keep getting piled on by snowstorm and snowstorm. I feel like the ground, buried in snow. Except the ground just accepts it, whereas with each additional layer, I'm fighting it more than accepting it.
Perhaps this will all change very soon, or maybe not for awhile. I don't know. I'm doing my best to trust the process. Some days that's easier than others.