Monday, August 2, 2010

Making Peace With Instability

The Right Rev. Danny Fisher (lol, I love playing with titles) has an excellent post on practicing with a broken heart that, in my opinion, is a must read. Over the past month, I have had my own experiences with all of this, as a relationship went from daily discussions of buying a house together and perhaps opening a business together, to a land of great uncertainty about the whole thing at best. It may be over. It may be on hold. I honestly don't know.

Danny writes about a relationship that ended two years ago, and it's lasting effects on him.

I may be a peace-loving Buddhist, but clearly I’m still as big and as vain a moron as any other guy. Yes, she was knowingly careless with my love; indeed, she rode roughshod over this heart that was never as happy as it was in the short time it belonged to her. But I also know that life has not always been kind to her. Actually, I would say that it has often been aggressively the opposite of kind: no one should have to go through any of things that she has had to endure. I’m not sure that this necessarily means she should get a pass on everything vis-à-vis me, but it does put things into some kind of perspective; it engenders some important measures of compassion in a situation that is otherwise charged with strong emotions.

“Matters of the heart are the hardest,” as the old platitude goes. It’s hard to sit with all these feelings and act skillfully: I adored her like no other and was completely devastated when she ended the relationship. It’s hard to come to the realization that much of my suffering could have been avoided had I paid attention to what was actually happening and not let myself get carried away by my hopes for and fears about that relationship. It’s hard to see that the outcome would have been the same no matter what I did or didn’t do. What she really wanted was just to not be alone—and who could blame anyone for that?—but I wouldn’t see the truth. I simply saw the green light, inviting me to at last let out all the love for her that was in my heart.

I have certainly experienced my share of getting carried away with hopes and fears, not only this time around, but every time around. I can also see how this is true of anything I love, or have loved, in my life. Hopes and fears around career. Hopes and fears around friendships. Hopes and fears around family. Hopes and fears around Buddhist practice. Hopes and fears around living and dying itself.

These hopes and fears are all opportunities to come face to face with yourself, to become a liberating agent. They also are vast caverns we can loose our lives to, winding our way along the ragged edges, trying to force the map to conform to our desires. It's very much like those old European cartographers, who drew beautiful maps of worlds that never existed, and then handed them to explorers, who landed in places they thought were somewhere else entirely.

When I hear “you’re a failure,” that’s my ego talking. It’s a cop-out—a way I try to let myself off the hook in terms of the hard work of being a Buddhist practitioner. The tradition expects me to show up in all circumstances and learn from my mistakes, otherwise there’s no waking up. I must recognize the opportunities here. This situation and my increasing awareness of the places where I am still very stuck, like anything else—like everything else—are opportunities, invitations, to go deeper in my practice.

As I strive to remember this, the words of one of my teachers, Frank Berliner, come back to me again and again: “It’s called the noble truth of suffering, not the shitty truth of suffering.” In other words, as long as I insist on shrinking from suffering—instead of recognizing it as something that might teach me if I’m brave enough to look at it—progress on the path simply isn’t possible. Difficult as it can be, letting the world “tickle my heart,” as Frank’s teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche would say, is imperative to real spiritual development. If I can really experience suffering, let my heart be tickled, I can understand—I can grow.

I think part of our problem as modern people is that we believe that everything in the world is completely understandable, explainable, reduce-able to human-sized bites. The "noble" truth of suffering reminds us both that we can discover the roots of our misery and work to liberate ourselves, but also that the world's functioning is pretty mysterious still, despite all the inroads we have made as a species. The Buddha's first words in the Bringer of Light Sutra are:

"I considered: ‘This Dhamma that I have attained is profound, hard to see and hard to understand, peaceful and sublime, unattainable by mere reasoning, subtle, to be experienced by the wise.

We 21st century digital boys and girls could use a little less confidence in our basic understanding of how the world works and a little more bowing to mystery. Maybe mystery isn't the perfect word here, but I'm sticking with it none the less. Why do things happen exactly the way they do? What makes you think that you can know for sure? Or even that good, old Shakyamuni was so clairvoyant that he could see and understand everything that occurred in the world?

Romantic relationships, with all their intensity, twists and turns, really defy explanations most of the time. And if they last awhile, they are bound to stir up a lot of shit, and create sometimes profound levels of instability. I'm not talking about psychological disorders (although this can happen too), when I say instability I mean a shaking, sometimes to the core, of what one's identity is. All the attachments to a certain image of one's self come to the forefront, get poked at, and/or directly challenged. This is part of the reason why humans struggle so much with these kind of relationships.

Humans don't like instability, even though it's really what the relative world is all about.

Making peace with instability itself seems like a path worth walking.

Danny's trying, I'm trying, we all are in our own ways, trying to make peace with instability. How it happens exactly, though, I really don't know.


Was Once said...

Perhaps it happens when you surrender and let go, enjoying what you have when you have it. Better understood in daily meditation when you can examine why you held on, when all the signs of it cracking were there. Many times we have an ideal in our heads, a sort of fantasy of what we want. I am finding the need for 5 precepts so I can see clearly, becoming more obvious to live a awakened life, yet I do not live in complete avoidance of the truth.

Anonymous said...


I think this post would cut closer to some satisfying bone for me if i didn't have to keep sorting out POVs who is the author speaking the drama:
-Danny the one suffering in a vicious cycle
-Nathan the one suffering in a vicious cycle
-Nathan the plural, the universal teacher-observer who opines about the shortcomings of the 20th or is it 21st century.

When you write about Danny, I'm thinking you are headed for some compelling insight about his struggles; when you write about yourself, I'm thinking oh N has gotten to some pile of sludge and is going to share some small perl; in the third the distant view is no longer intimate and is disconcerting like an advert from "We the preacher man" delivering 101 sociology. [sorry]

Clearly some author has something to say worth listening to; wishing for less channel clicking.
Is it about
HimHimHimHim or
MeMeMeMeMeMe or

If the last I think I disagree with the text

Nathan said...

This "I" contains many voices. Sometimes, the meshing works, sometimes it fails.

I find I'm not terribly good at satisfying folks these days. Probably a good place to learn from.

Anonymous said...

you remind me how, I spent the entire decade of my 30s trying to convince myself and others that the guy out in front of the curtain -each with a different hat fun, family work, teaching was separate and different from the guy behind the curtain

A guy in Minneapolis taught me something different and get everything flat inside my skin
Earnie used to say:
-what you live with you learn; and what you learn has consequences
-where ever you go, there you are
-if nothing changes, nothing changes so start with your own goodheartedness, not the pickle

OTOH c'est moi not you.

Pima Chodron and Sharon Saltzburg and Katagiri Roshi helped get rid of the splits too between being in the world, doing in the world, realizing something of the world.

Anonymous said...

Thinking of you and holding you in my practice as you learn to make peace with instability too. _/|\_ DCF

Algernon said...

Nice post, and a reminder I should visit Danny's "room" once in a while.

Wild and unpredictable things often appear in romantic passion. The fire metaphor may sound cliche but it remains apt -- because even a small fire can be unpredictable.

Your anonymous critic is holding you to a high standard: these are criticisms you would need to work with if you were writing a book and had anonymous as an editor. For a blog, most of us will accept a little roughness.

Nathan said...

Bows Danny - thinking of you in my practice too.

Anon - "you remind me how, I spent the entire decade of my 30s trying to convince myself and others that the guy out in front of the curtain -each with a different hat fun, family work, teaching was separate and different from the guy behind the curtain"

This is an interesting observation about your life. Thanks for sharing.

A Green Spell said...

Wow. This is just what I needed today. What an amazing post. Thanks for sharing this - it was extremely inspiring and insightful.

Unknown said...

Nathan, I just want to say how much I appreciate your tender hearted words here. I think you have a wonderful, articulate way of expressing things which are often really inexpressible. I love your tenacity and your bravery when you write what you write. There is no doubt to me that you write directly from the heart to the page and that is often a rare thing.
So mainly I want to say thankyou for sharing this vulnerability. I really like your blog because it shows a great mix of heart and brains.
that line "making peace with instability" has a lot of resonance today for me. I think I might ponder that throughout my day today.

With metta,