Blogging on My Faults or Humility, Day #2

Fault #2: I AM REACTIVE!

I actually thought of writing this blog in all caps just to show how reactive I am, but the punctuation is harder, so I decided not to.  Plus, though I am REACTIVE, I am also sensitive enough to not want to hurt your ears, I mean eyes.

That’s a little metta, from me to you.

Yes, now you get it.  What kind of person writes a blog called Persecuted by Construction?  Someone who is REACTIVE.  Someone who has a problem with PERSONALIZING everything.  I mean, what do you think all this meditation is for?  I have way too many emotions, way too much of the time.  (Which is good for acting, but that’s about it.)  I have to learn how to handle them better, just to get a little peace.

Of course, I often don’t look like I have so many emotions, because I have a German mother.  I look calm and mature, and I can actually handle difficult situations fairly well.  I can be great in an emergency.  And then I come home and have A COMPLETE AND UTTER MELTDOWN.

There is this Pisces description I love to quote.  “A Pisces will walk a mile to get her feelings hurt and then remember it for the rest of her life.”  Of course, I am a Pisces.  And I don’t have to walk anywhere.  I can just roll over in bed and think of something someone did yesterday.  That’s pretty much all it takes.

What does being reactive look like, as far as faults go?  Well, it guarantees difficult communication, because my partner’s like, “What’s for dinner?”  And I’m like, “So I didn’t cook.  Shoot me.  I’m not a 50’s housewife, you know.”  (This is an exaggeration.  Remember though, in the meditation hall I was having relationships with refrigerators and chairs.  Or people moving them, which is the same thing.)

It also means, that if people are more than 20 minutes late to meet me, and they don’t call, I leave because otherwise I get fairly homicidal, fairly quickly.

Like, no one ever, and I mean EVER in my life has described me as the kind of person who waters just runs off her back.  When I was a teenager, and even in to my early 20’s, I was sometimes described as someone who just didn’t give a sh(t, but that was more about being a rebel with a cause (even if no one knew my cause but me).

So, I meditate.  I do yoga.  I am practicing the *(&KDL(##)*&&%^#@ communication model provided in couples therapy.  With my usual grace of spirit.  And honestly, it does help.  I don’t think I’ll ever really be chill, but the noticeable clamp I sometimes have to put on my reactivity with my partner might change into a deep breath or two.  (She’s about as reactive as me if not more so.  Life is never boring, but it does require couples therapy.  Urgh.)

The truth is, when I can say what I really feel–which is, often, much as I hate to admit it, hurt, the reactivity kind of fades into nothing.  It’s all that trying not to appear weak.  I mean, really, what a burden.  What a ridiculous effort, just not to be known for the softy I really am.

I did not say that.  You cannot quote me on that.  I take it back.

A messy human  life, any day you might pick.

A Week of Blogging about My Very Own Personal FAULTS

#1:  Self-torture.  As in, why am I spending a week writing about my faults?

Answer:  Because writing about my gifts and talents would be even more torturous and not very funny.

Oh, god.  Do I really have to talk about self-torture?

Of course I do.

Another word for this is perfectionism.  I once heard a man explain that perfectionism was the ultimate expression of shame.  I was like, please.  You are entirely correct, but can’t I please blame this one on my German mother?  I mean, she made me dust.  And I had to lift up all the knickknacks.  Because after I dusted, she lifted them up, and if I’d wiped around them, I had to do it again.  So it is all her fault.

Of course, she is not here, and I am.  And I am the one struggling with perfectionism–not in my dusting, which is as sloppy as could be, because my need to say f-you to people seems to last a lifetime.  I am perfectionistic about…well, art.  Writing.  Acting.  Social interactions. If I’ve said the right thing.  If I’ve been kind enough.

Okay, perfectionism isn’t really funny.  I mean, the behavior is absurd–like writing, thinking I’m a genius, but then checking for typos, going back, editing, worrying about it, waking up from a sound sleep, editing again.  I mean, you might find a blog entry you read a week ago is now really different.

But what is not funny is setting the bar so high you can never reach your own goals for moral and personal behavior.  The self-doubt really is torture.  I mean, my partner told me yesterday that yelling, “Leave me alone,” to a student who is stalking you and who owns a gun collection isn’t really a fault (see teacher blog), and you can’t even say that it was a mistake.  And I’m thinking, well, what about when I pushed my low level to learn more than they could?  That was definitely a mistake.

There are just those days, you know?  When you feel embarrassed by yourself, even though you didn’t do anything in particular wrong.  You DEFINITELY don’t want to go to a party on days like that.  You walk out the door saying, I am a social inept.  I can’t make small talk, and I get too personal, too fast, and I should just go live on a mountain, alone.

Then there are the days when I play cute to get my partner out of her bad mood, because I know she can’t resist me being cute even after 24 years.  And then I read something about listening and bearing witness to other people’s feelings, and I think that making puppets of my hands and imitating various celebrities doesn’t exactly count as bearing witness.  And I feel ashamed.  Of not being all that mature.  Or only intermittently mature.  Even though I sometimes say being mature is over-rated.

And, I mean, okay, I just can’t go that many days in a row, living in Boston, without wanting to kill the other drivers.  I stopped giving people the finger a few years ago, and now I try to be all Buddhist having compassion for all sentient beings instead of telling them that they really need to get a life, among other things.  I mean the level of insults I come up while driving are so much worse than anything I’ve ever said to anyone in my life.  I fantasize about having a super-bumper to use for driving into the people who cut me off for no reason.  I have also fantasized about having a signs that say things like, Put down the f-ing phone or You are not the queen of the world, or Delete the testosterone.  Of course, the things I’ve actually said, out loud, alone in the car, under my breath, cannot be repeated.

My perfectionism tells me that I must stop all of it–the teaching mistakes, the puppet games, the tickling games, the playing cute, the drive for meaningful conversations in light situations, the road rage.  I must be a saint, a paragon, an image, an elegant woman.

Luckily, I have that rebellious sloppy dusting side that says, f-that!

Of course, I am precise in my work, I hate my mistakes, and I can be demanding of others.  I like competence, intelligence, efficiency. Especially in myself.  I work on being accepting, on lowering expectations, of having a “B” be enough.

It never is.  I love excellence.

And all this aside, the truth about perfectionism is that it’s really global.  It’s a way of telling yourself that you’re not good enough.  All the time.  And love for excellence or no, that is self-torture.

I’ve been investigating the mind-body connection in my current yoga-meditation obsession.  There is a thing called mind-body syndrome; it causes fibromyalgia, back pain, digestive problems, joint problems.  Basically, people with this syndrome can’t relax.  They carry tension in their muscles.  This forces the body out of alignment and irritates the nerve endings.  People with this syndrome are perfectionistic, they take on responsibility that doesn’t belong to them, they have trouble sleeping, they have TMJ, constant fatigue, carpal tunnel.  The pain is real and physical, but the cause is partly how we treat ourselves.

Self-torture, anyone?

I have insomnia and muscular tension, back pain and sometimes TMJ, I have had chronic fatigue and digestive problems.

The quest for self-love isn’t about climbing mountains.  It’s about letting go.  It’s about being.  It’s about dropping the achievement, the having-to, the right way, the rule book.  If I believe I am good at heart, I have nothing to prove, only something to live and express, a connection that comes from that goodness, a desire to know, be known, breathe, listen.

My own journey seems to be a ping-ponging back and forth between these two states of being.  And I’ll think I’ve got it, I’m living, being present, seeing the brightly painted turtle I bought in Mexico with its movable head, seeing the mess on my desk, the Snoopy typing, the duplicate yoga tapes I bought, just noticing that this is my world.  And then suddenly I’m making a list in my head of everything I have to get done before I can rest.

It sneaks up on me.

On my bookshelf is a glass statue of a winged woman, on one leg, her arms uplifted.  The glass bird that goes on her hands needs to be glued back on, so she can be, again, the wildly vulnerable creature offering her soul to the world with abandon and trust.

So she can be me, on my best days, when I know my messy, flawed, human spirit can fly up without question of enough.  Without any question of whether I will be found worthy.

I mean, really.  I just can’t say affirmations like I am enough, because I’m way too cool for that.

Maybe my next fault will be being cool.  If that’s a fault.  Since I’m now a self-confessed perfectionist, who knows if I even know what my faults are.

Metta, metta, for all sentient beings.  Including myself.

Eating My Words and Then Some….or, Sex, AGAIN

So, after saying that I had found no writing on sex from a Buddhist perspective, I continued on in After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, to find a chapter entitled, THIS VERY BODY.

I have been looking for this chapter.  That’s why I was sounding off.  I wanted to have some teachings to test against my experience.

The chapter is fantastic.  In it Jack Kornfield quotes Jung:

The erotic instinct is something questionable and will always be so whatever laws have to say on the matter.  It belongs, on the one hand, to the original nature of man, which will exist as long as man has an animal body.  On the other hand, it is connected with the highest forms of the spirit.  But it blooms only when spirit and instinct are in true harmony.  If one or the other aspect is missing, then an injury occurs, there is a one-sided lack of balance which easily slips into the pathological.  Too much of the animal disfigures the civilized human being, too much culture makes for a sick animal.

That’s it.  I officially forgive Carl Jung for being part of the psychotherapeutic world.  His theory of the collective unconscious is kind of Buddhist anyhow, plus the whole archetypal thing…I mean, I will even go so far as to admit I’ve always loved his work and don’t find it as anti-artistic as say, Freud.

The animal body.  The spirit.  Jack Kornfield also quotes Galway Kinnell, my favorite poet.  …Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness, to put a hand on the brow of the flower and retell it in words and in touch it is lovely….

My own body carries a lot of pain.  My back hurts–twinges, stabs, aches.  I am taking my back as my teacher right now, and I am experimenting not only with the alignment of Iyengar yoga, but with the full relaxation of restorative yoga (also developed by Iyengar).  I lie with my legs on a chair, or up a wall, and I breathe.  I feel the tension run out of my muscles like water, and I feel the animal that is my body fall into the earth, knowing the earth is what it wanted (that’s sort of a half bastardized quote by Mary Oliver).  It is terrifying to find how much tension exists in my muscles on a day that isn’t particularly stressful (well, except for the existence of couples therapy in my life).  I am giving my body what it wants, I am listening not only for the liminal, but for the right here, right now, life of the body.  My body.  This one.  Aging and beautiful and full of stories I don’t seem to have heard yet.

I have found that when I do yoga, breathe, sing, dance–which I do whenever I have a lead in a play–that I feel sensual all the time.  I feel like a cat.  Movement, breathing, the sinuous play of muscle and bone and flesh…it’s not anything like being “hot” or “sexy.”  It’s life, spilling out and over everything.

In Kornfield’s book, there’s a quote from one of Thomas Merton’s students, saying he was the sexiest man the student had ever known.  I had a friend in grad school who said the same of Judy Dench.  Basically, that Judy Dench was so alive, she was sexy at 60, 70, however old she was.

And I’ve seen it.  At the topless beach in Nice, when I was twenty-four, I saw these French women wearing tiny bikini bottoms and nothing else.  They had to be at least 60.  They had round tanned bellies, big tanned breasts, cellulite; they laughed, throwing their heads back.  The ease, the comfort, with which they walked the beach impressed me.  American in ways I never wanted to admit, I was turned off by the extra flesh, all the while admiring their complete embodiment.  When I walked across the beach, my complete self-consciousness made my posture sway-backed.  I was tense, though I didn’t want to be.

I worry about the anti-body teachings of Catholicism, the church of my childhood.  I wonder about walking across a beach with that comfort, and if it is something I can ever know.  I worry about my tendency to be idealistic, and how saying that sex is spiritual can deny that it is also animal.

In this country, too animal.  And, paradoxically, full of shame and objectification.

I have this moment, in which I am doing restorative yoga, in which I am breathing, in which I will meditate.  I don’t have to answer the questions right now.  I can just wait for the answers to come, not from these words, but from my bones falling out of the cage of tension into something else that I don’t yet know, but might be water, might be earth, might be air or fire or everything.

I am in love with Jack Kornfield.  He’s doing a workshop at Kripalu in the winter, and I might just have to go.  I mean, anyone who quotes Galway Kinnell (he also quoted Mary Oliver), can’t be all bad.

I will not go wanting him to re-teach me my own loveliness.  I am doing that, right here, right now.  It is painful, wonderful, difficult, amazing.  It is the secret unveiled, the silent loving heart, the wish to hold everyone who has ever been hurt, the dream of flight.

Let me be teachable, in this one thing if in no other.

The Teacher or At What Cost Humility

I have been finishing Jack Kornfield’s book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.  And crying.  Perhaps because in all the other reading, I found such a focus on Buddhism, on meditation, on one single path, and while it’s all been interesting and invigorating (I come alive when I’m learning something new that really captures me, intellect, heart and soul), it’s also been a little bit frustrating.  Because I’m not new to spirituality or contemplation or solitude.  Or mysticism.  Or the examination of my own inner life.

Jack Kornfield has now encompassed most of the exploration I’ve done.  He talks about Christ, about King Arthur and the Holy Grail, about the hero’s journey, about battling the poisons of our life, only to find out that they are our greatest teachers.  How the wise heart knows such paradoxes, how the anger and confusion of the struggle open into compassion for all things (okay, except therapists…in my case).  I never expected to find my own archetypes in a book about Buddhism.  I mean, I thought Buddhists didn’t use archetypes.

Or maybe I cry because at the we-know-we’re-all-crazy-including-me week I did in Arizona, I had to examine who my father was in his life and in mine, and I had to let go of the idea that he loved me enough to be responsible for my strengths.  Which leaves me with the task of taking credit for the good in my life.  In my spiritual practice, the one before Buddhism, I might attribute that to some spiritual force, some greater light, that moved through my life, or that I was lucky, blessed, gifted.  But in the way I’m understanding this now, the good and flawed person I have become, that I was becoming in childhood, in adolescence, in my wild early twenties, is my own creation as well.

Or primarily.

Sometimes stating the obvious can be incredibly difficult.  And I think what reveals itself is that I not only have to take responsibility for my mistakes (something that I know how to do, since I examine my life a lot), I also have to take responsibility for my goodness, my truest contributions.

And so I come to teaching.  I’m reading Jack Kornfield’s book, that speaks eloquently to the pitfalls of leadership for spiritual teachers.  And I think, “I’m just an acting teacher.”  But I think that with a sense of worry.

In Japan, where my academic teaching career began, I taught the 18 year old students whose test scores had not been high enough to get them into a Japanese university, not even one without significant prestige.  This meant, and they knew this meant, that their futures were sealed.  In the very hierarchical corporate culture in Japan, they would come in at the same level as their peers with degrees from Tokyo University, but no matter their performance, they would never rise as high.  The ceiling was set.

I taught English as a Second Language in Semmon Gakko, the rough equivalent of an American community college.  I was just an ESL teacher.  But my students came to me with a sense of discouragement, with a feeling of less than, with worries about their futures, with a desire to escape a trap.  I was informed of this in my first weeks, and I felt then, and still feel now, that where I could open a door, I should.

All teachers have the capacity to change lives so irrevocably that their responsibility is immense.  The word in Japanese is sensei, and it carries heft, it is a position of extreme privilege in that country.  My students called me that:  “Sensei, sensei!  Come and look, sensei.”  A colleague said when they did that it was like the parting of the waters.

I was 26 years old when I taught in Japan.  I know I opened doors.  I worked very hard, and I connected with my students, I made time for them, I listened, I challenged them in the classroom to think and care about the world.  And, as would be true in my long career in teaching, I made mistakes.  The worst was with a young man who had a crush on me.  My supervisor (an idiot) was egging him on to pursue me romantically, and I felt two things–one, I was closeted and involved with a woman and two, I felt, even at 26, with a 22 year old student, that I shouldn’t date my students.  Not during the time that I taught them, and not after.  I told him no.  I told my supervisor no.  I argued with my student about whether a teacher should date anyone she teaches.  And I said no again.

The young man showed up at the airport as I was leaving Japan to come home for good.  I think he wanted to come with me.  I was saying good-bye to friends, I was angry he was there staking a claim on me I hadn’t given him, I felt stalked, and I was unkind.  I told him to leave me alone and I walked away.  I was shaking, I was so angry, and that felt terrible.

Throughout the time I taught him, I sought to open a door for him.  He didn’t understand that it wasn’t personal for me, that caring about my students couldn’t be personal, couldn’t be selfish, that I couldn’t seek to meet my own relational needs and be in integrity.  He didn’t understand that he didn’t know me.

Also, when he showed me photos of his gun collection, I was a little freaked out.

Students of mine from Japan learned enough English to come and get degrees at good American universities.  I had told them how to do this, I had pointed them toward the right resources.  So they wrote.  They came to my house.  I have told stories about my “To Sir with Love” teaching moments in Japan ever since, but I don’t think I’ve admitted to myself how wonderful it is to change someone’s life.  And how frightening.  Like, what if you get it wrong?  What if you get angry like I did in Narita Airport?  What if you get scared when a student won’t accept no?

I’m just a teacher.

I ran my own business teaching Creative Writing in Portsmouth, NH from 1990 through 2000, when I switched to theatre more or less permanently.  I started out in 1990 teaching classes for women and my specialty was freeing creativity, working through writer’s block.  I taught women from 20-80 years of age, but it is the older women I remember best, because some of them had wanted to write their whole lives, and what emerged, as I gently and sometimes not so gently encouraged them, were their own unique voices.  I taught women to have a voice.  That just seems like such an unbelievable privilege.  I see their faces, in this one class at the University of New Hampshire, looking down at their papers after the completion of a writing exercise.  One woman said, “I didn’t know I thought this.”  I felt…so humbled.  Not really unworthy, but lucky to be in that moment with her.

I also had a man come to my beginning fiction workshop who had a non-terminal version of Lou Gehrig’s disease.  He had already lost so much physical functioning that walking was extremely difficult.  He wrote about his fears of becoming less than human.  I was, then, 32.  When he became too ill to attend classes, he wrote to me and told me that in this part of his life, writing, and my classes, had given him sense of meaning and purpose and satisfaction he hadn’t expected. He thanked me.

Everyone comes in the door with a context.  If you teach, you have to work with that context with sensitivity and integrity.  The man I’m referring to had a lot of pride.  So I tried to only accommodate him where he could bear it.  I opened the door early and let him struggle up the stairs without help.  I wanted to help.  But I was trying to figure out how to keep from impeding on his sense of dignity.  I hoped I chose correctly.  I think I did.

It is just hard to know, sometimes.

For most of my life, I’ve taught other adults, and every year, or every semester, there is one student who wants a personal relationship with me outside of class.  Sometimes it’s other lesbians, sometimes it’s mothers who have lost their daughters, sometimes it’s just a person I really like, someone I might want to be friends with in a different context.  But every time, I doubt–should I?  I usually feel as I did in Japan…that I can’t be a teacher and a friend at the same time.  I can be friendly, but I can’t get close to people, I certainly can’t ask for support (a part of friendship) until they’re out of classes for at least a year.  At least.  Five years is probably more realistic.

Of course, there are exceptions, when it’s easy.  Which just makes everything more confusing.

The worst mistakes I make are in trying to handle this particular boundary.  Because other adults don’t understand.  They think they see me for who I am, that there is no transference, no idealization.  Then I wonder if I am authentic enough in classes, because I know that I’m a ton more messy in my personal life.  But I think it’s absolutely unethical to bring my own unprocessed struggles into class.  The students do that.  The teacher holds the space.  If you’re going to err, err on the side of more boundaries, not less.

I think my students assign to me the responsibility for their awakening or growth, the same way I assigned it to…well, my teachers.  It is very, very difficult to have gratitude to someone and to still know that the gift, the strength, the goodness is in you.  The teacher opens the door.  Yes, a teacher must have knowledge, and sensitivity, and boundaries, and skill.  But the courage, the decision to walk through, belongs to the student.

The truth, for me, is that I can tell when I’m not ready to know my students outside of class because I get really unhappy.  I can’t act in plays or movies with them if it’s too soon without feeling miserable.  I’m teaching them in my head.  I’m aware of the dynamic.  I can also tell when it’s okay, when enough time has passed…because there’s a feeling of ease.

And let’s face it, as an acting teacher, my job is to observe and comment on the creative instrument of artists who use their bodies, voices, spirits, personal histories and emotions in fully living out the stories they tell.  It’s intimate.  There has to be trust.  I am telling people I don’t know that I see tension in their bodies, that I see inhibitions, that I see moments of passion and truth. I do feel humility as I do this, as they ask me to, as they let me.  I feel humility as people open up, and joy, and satisfaction, and gratitude that I know how to do this thing, and am good at it.  And frankly, it feels good when my students love and enjoy me and my teaching.  I even feel good that I’m always asking the questions of how to be in right relationship (very Buddhist) with my students.  That I’m aware they love me for my skills and talents and for the freedom they learn, not because I’m some kind of paragon.  I try to remind myself of that frequently.  Because I’m primarily self-employed, I don’t have someone observing me who can tell me what they think, who can keep me right-sized.  I do seek outside accountability, but the trick is that I don’t have to.  I see, in other teachers who work outside traditional settings, the tendency to make their own rules.  This can create exciting and innovative education.  It can also make classes that are like really bad and dangerous therapy groups.

The problem, for me, always comes when I doubt the response of my own body.  When I act like I don’t know what I know.  Or, when a student says, “I’m an adult, I can handle being friends with my teacher,” and my body feels…sinking in my stomach.  Or I have this uneasiness, an aversion I should listen to, Buddhism or no.  I have never known how to articulate this, and more than once I’ve talked myself, or allowed myself, to be talked out of it when it was actually coming in loud and clear.  Though, to give credit, I’ve also more than once held the line when it made someone angry.

It’s been very confusing.

But right now, reading Kornfield’s book, and having made this mistake more than once, more than twice, sometimes it seeming to be okay, sometimes seeing I caused pain and experienced pain…seeing that I can’t easily be myself with my students, I stay in role…seeing the expectations of the student are so far above what I can reach as a person (but not as a teacher in a classroom), I know, I don’t have to make this mistake.  I can stop questioning myself and just choose.  To not take this particular risk.  To trust my body, always.  To trust I know what I know, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense.

What I loved this morning in reading Jack Kornfield was his acceptance of the inevitability of such mistakes…and their inevitable questions.  Freedom is in knowing we will do our best, we will try, doubt, question, fall down, get up, be determined, make headway, fall down again.  Oh, America.  How we ask each other to be so…image-based.  Successful, accomplished, interesting, pseudo-perfect.  It is so much more valuable to be honest.

What I know…not what I’m reading or thinking, but what I know, is simply this:  humility grows the best teaching.  It grows the best relationships.  It allows mistakes and giftedness to exist in the same room.  It makes me eager to grow, and unafraid to listen.  It loosens my defensiveness and my dislike of criticism.

Humility is the wonder of my own gifts, the grace of getting to use them, without pride, without ego…and, paradoxically, acknowledging my own need for limits, whether I can explain those limits or not.

I used to say that pantheism meant that life was a spiritual practice.

I am sure I will leave this place of humility and forget, periodically, what I so deeply know.  But for this moment, I am grateful to Jack Kornfield, and for recognizing that the work of my life counts, as do the pain, the mistakes, the times of looking at all of it and saying, okay.  I am.  Alive.  In the storm and the eye of the storm.  Imperfectly.

Peace is unconditional.  In whatever storm there is, I can drop into it, because it is always there.


So far, in, I don’t know, 7-10 books on Buddhism, the only time sex is mentioned is in the precepts.  As in, don’t use your sexuality to hurt people.

Do Buddhists have sex?

Oops, have to take back that first paragraph.  Jack Kornfield talks about Krishnamurti’s womanizing in After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.  He talks about how charismatic leaders can lose their shit and start abusing their power.  In Buddhism as everywhere else.

Did the Buddha have sex after he awakened?

Christ, apparently, had some 6 or 7 children.  According to the Unitarians.  So he definitely had sex.  And the Buddha had a wife who joined the monastic life after he awakened.  So we know about the pre-awakening.  Definitely sex.

As for the current pop psychology wisdom, in the book Intimacy and Desire by David Schnarch, sex is best in mid life when you’ve figured out how to both hold onto who you are and take the risk of telling your partner who you are–including who you are sexually, what you like, what you feel, what you long for, what you don’t like, all of which is so close to our deepest shame that the risk is paramount to…well, let’s say running with the bulls.  (Because I am linking my blog together and because I’m still playing with unlike things that may not be that unlike.)

Now I must confess that after so many people read my last blog with the word therapy in the title, I just had to try putting the word sex in the title to see what would happen. Only now I feel obligated to talk about it.  OMG!

Well, here goes.  I’m queer.  And therefore there’s this extra burden to be sexually enlightened, along with the necessity of paying attention to what my experiences with homophobia have done to me…do I bring the prejudice I’ve experienced into the bedroom?  I think all gay people need to ask themselves about that…about the internalization of shame.

Then, I’m a woman.  And along with homophobia, there’s objectification, and how looks can work for you, and how you use them without even thinking about it.  There’s also exploitation and violence against women.

In other words, it’s never just sex.

In my plays, I write about sexuality as a sacrament.  When my characters become sexual, they are always reaching to God, reaching for meaning.  But often the reason sexuality has become so meaningful is because they’ve been hurt, because letting another person so close is not just intrinsically meaningful, it’s intrinsically terrifying.  The potential for being hurt is so great.

For seven years I worked with a man who was writing a memoir about his four marriages.  His first wife rejected him sexually, and this cut through him, really destroyed him in some fundamental way.  He wrote about it in terms of the myth of Inanna, who is skinned alive in the underworld, then put back together.  His third wife was a cancer survivor…sexually adventurous, sexually accepting, sexually challenging.  In his writing and in the conversations we had about it, it was clear that in some way she healed him before she died.

I learned so much from mentoring that man…probably 30-40 years my senior.  I learn how much we can both give and take away from each other when we become intimate.

I’m a woman, and I was raised Catholic, so I don’t particularly want to talk about my own sexual history.  I can say this–I came of age in the late 70’s, and I believed I could be sexual the way men were, that free sexuality and adventurousness were open to women as part of women’s liberation.  Which was, of course, followed by the advent of AIDS and watching nearly every gay man I knew die of it.  Not to mention getting tested myself.

I am a woman.  So sex and intimacy are irrevocably tied for me.  Think of that absolutely beautiful scene on Glee when Curt’s father tells him to treat himself as valuable, not to give his body unless he’s given his heart.

But I am experienced, and I know these things–if you have sex too early in a relationship, you create unbelievable drama, because your emotional system can’t handle it.  If you avoid talking about sexual problems, the space between you and your partner will become charged with tension and anger.  If you have sexual pain, your partner will feel it one way or another.  If you use sexuality to numb yourself, to avoid knowing who you are, or to unconsciously express shame, you are committing spiritual suicide.  And you are harming anyone you touch.

I learned from David Schnarch that sexual problems in long term relationships are common.  That there is always a high desire partner and low desire partner and that their feelings and dynamics are predictable.  That variety comes from intimacy, honesty and risk, not from tantra or kink.  That monogamy creates a crucible in which who we are is always known–that when we hurt our partner we know exactly what we’re doing, that when our partner isn’t satisfied or happy, we know it, just as we know exactly how to please our partner because inevitably SHE HAS TOLD US.  Often without words, but we have been notified nonetheless.

Father Paul Bresnahan and I had a conversation about homophobia and sexuality, in which we congratulated ourselves on agreeing that sexuality and spirituality are tied together, are in fact one thing, and that to strike at a person’s sexuality or sexual preference is to strike at his or her soul.

I will say this personal thing.  I come to sexuality with such a deep hope of acceptance, of being seen as precious and worthy and beautiful.  Those needs are so tender, they make me so vulnerable, that I don’t want just anyone to see them.  And to reveal oneself so deeply is spiritual.  To witness such revelation is spiritual.  It requires strength, and love, and honesty and care…the best of who we are.  So often there are hidden resentments and conflicts of needs.  We forget.

I would like to remember.  Sex is not meditation.  But it requires metta and the deep connection with metta for your partner.

Because face it, our partners drive us crazy, and most of the time that includes the bedroom.

Okay, So I Will Talk about Therapy. Yuck.

We went to see a new couples therapist yesterday.  And:  her office smelled like dog.

And no, I am not going to write the intimate details of the content of such sessions because the point of couples therapy is not to piss your partner off by blogging about her private life.

I can, however, and hopefully with impunity, talk about therapy itself.  Because one might notice that I have a SLIGHT (as in deep and passionate) prejudice against that form of healing.

Once, I was interested in psychology.  In high school I even read books on parenting and learned how to use “I” statements so I could be a surrogate mom to my youngest sister, who is 16 years my junior.  I pretty much would have done anything for my sister, including, obviously, reading therapeutic texts intended for people over the age of 18.

And, I took psychology in college.  As a major.  I think I lasted for a couple semesters in that major before I switched to Creative Writing.  I had begun to realize that psychology is in the business of generalizations and that generalizations kill art.  So my first objection to psychology was intellectual.  I realized quickly that writers and philosophers, who had once defined the world and conceptualized about meaning with some clout, had been replaced by, well, you know.  Freud (I could do a whole blog on why I hate Freud).  Or even John Bradshaw.  And while John Bradshaw and Fritz Perls and Carl Jung (much more a philosopher!) have much of value to say, they divide human experience into catagories of pathology in order to treat it.  Whereas art delves into the idiosyncratic and personal characteristics of experience, defying any set concept to create meaning.

Still, I tried therapy.  And, of course, the idiosyncratic and personal was pretty hard to ignore.  My first therapist fired me because she said I had no problems…except for my parents and she couldn’t fix them if they wouldn’t come to a session (I was 17).  My second therapist fell asleep (she woke up only at the end of the 3rd session to schedule another try, pretending she’d been awake…I was 21).  My third therapist’s brother committed suicide the week before I started seeing her (I didn’t find that out until months later.)  I mean, really.  You just can’t get away from the idiosyncratic.  And, clearly, I wasn’t exactly meant to go to therapy.  Because the comedy of errors continued (number four told me I was sexy…more than once.  More than twice.).  And really, I’m not that sexy.  Even at 27 I wasn’t that sexy.

I am falling in love with Buddhism because it does not promise that it will alleviate my suffering or cure me of being human.  I mean, yes, we go to therapy.  We long to heal, to be better, happier, more loving, to like ourselves more, to be more capable of joy.  We have difficult childhoods.  We have deaths, betrayals, losses.  We go to war.  We experience prejudice.  And we try to understand why.  We hope therapy will help us to resolve it, to remove the pain, to make us less haunted by whatever human experience it is that haunts us.

You know, I don’t think, in the end, that it really does.  Therapy can help.  But we can’t be cured of the truths that Buddhism (the bummer religion) states so baldly:  suffering is, everything changes, we have cravings and aversions and we are all capable of enlightenment.  I like to think of enlightenment as lightening up.  Becoming lighter.  Even becoming more like light itself, to have those qualities.

The moments when I know I’m really here, in touch, I feel everything.  The faintest touch of the breeze, the pain of what my country is doing in the Middle East and to people of Middle Eastern descent right here, the pinch in my right hip, the wild openness of loving so many people, the grief of the girl whose mother died last year, last week, last night.  Sometimes my own sadness is what connects me to everything else….there’s an old Ladino saying I read once:  I want the sky for paper, I want the sea for ink, the trees I want for pens to write my tears.  And sometimes it is an uplifting joy that expands and won’t stop expanding and I can almost feel the boundaries of who I am break and disappear (if I really go Buddhist apparently they will break), there’s just possibility and beauty, everywhere.

I am, right now, grounding down into myself, sensing, sensing for the intuition that tells me where to turn next.  Not therapy, clearly, beyond the couples thing, which I do out of love.  (And because though the office smelled of dog, the therapist seemed awfully grounded and definitely gender queer, which my partner will be singing about in one way or another.)  (I’m the one who makes up songs, but my partner will be…you know, even more ridiculously happy about her garden because she likes the couples therapist and they are of the same gender non-conforming tribe.)  (I’m just non-conforming.  And have been told that I’m femme in boxer shorts by guess who, so go figure.)

I don’t think there’s any replacement for the call of your own voice.  In any endeavor, at any time.  No one else, no matter how you love them, can call to you in the same way.  So I am listening.  I want to hear.  I am Irish, so I am sending tendrils of consciousness into the liminal, into what I don’t understand, into what I can’t see or taste or touch.  But I can feel it, and I can hear the singing.  It’s not a call into a release from pain.  It’s a call to be awake and connected.  And it comes.  And then it goes.

Impermanence.  You can count on it.

PS-Except maybe not in therapy.  I have found therapy to be relatively predictable.  But now that I am being a saint and enduring therapy for the sake of love, things may change.

PPS-Feel free to identify which parts of the above paragraph are utter and complete bullshit.

Running with the Bulls…or Pema Chodron, AGAIN

I will get to the subject, but first I would like to share the history of combining unlike things…in other words, just watch me make sense of that title.

In studying for my undergraduate degree at the University of Arizona, I was required to take literary criticism classes.  Like, two a semester.  My first papers, which were, according to the teachers, well-constructed and thorough, discussed Robert Frost and T. S. Eliot because I LOVED those two poets.  I wrote about the meaning of their work through the lens of my life, from my need to understand the temporal nature of, well, everything (T.S. could have been a Buddhist if he wasn’t such a fanatical Christian.).  And with Frost, I contemplated the nature of non-conformity or whether in fact there was such a thing.

I got D’s.

I don’t like D’s.  I learned from those two papers that teachers weren’t looking for a 20something’s real interest in poetry and its relevance to her life.  They wanted Literary Criticism.  They wanted esoteric analysis.  I understood that applying, for example, Freudian theory to Beowulf would probably get me an A, even though such an application is %#25398  ridiculous.

But, I have a sense of humor.  And making fun of Literary Criticism while giving these people what they seemed to want appealed to me.  I wrote a paper comparing the women in William Congreve’s The Way of the World with the houyhnhnms (yes, I did have to look up how to spell that and they are super intelligent HORSES) in Gulliver’s Travels.  It was the most ridiculous comparison I could make, but it was, at least, feminist in outlook.  I got a B+.  And after that, only A’s.  It was fun to write tongue-in-cheek papers with complete seriousness.  My friends in the Comparative Literature MA program said that the teachers were so bored reading undergrad essays that anything unusual would score high.  My GPA skyrocketed.

So, unlike things.  Or, back to Pema Chodron.  AND Running with the Bulls.  You never know which way I’ll go with this one, because I don’t know which way I’m going to go either.

This weekend I had no plans so I signed up for a 3 day meditation retreat at the Shambala Center.  I also felt pretty unbalanced after Arizona and figured meditating for hours on end had to re-establish SOMETHING.

Shambala is Pema Chodron’s tradition.  Had I known that I might have run screaming the other way.  But it was only $100 and near my house, so I didn’t really do much research.

Shambala, which was developed by Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan monk who became a householder and is a secular form of Buddhism associated with the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages, though really the books seem to all be by…Chogyam Trungpa.  Who, two women in the retreat told me, sadly died an alcoholic.  (BTW, I don’t really know much about these lineages or the lineages of Buddhism overall, but in case you do, well, I’ve impressed you.  Sort of.  In other words, there we go.)

And while I hesitate to show off my judgmental mind by telling the truth about what I thought, here this goes.  I DON’T GET SHAMBALA!  How is it even Buddhist?  I think the Buddha was mentioned once all weekend.  The talks were pop psychology and I know Western Buddhism is anti-intellectual, but REALLY.  We all possess basic goodness, which comes in moments of being who we really are?  Well, that’s a relief since I’ve been bending my mind around this whole concept of NO SELF since March, screaming silently the entire time trying to surrender Western prejudices.  So in Shambala, we do have a self?  We actually exist?

Then, I went to a women’s sangha with my partner to try and facilitate harmony following what has got to have been the least harmonious six months of the last ten years of our very long marriage.  I listened to a talk by Pema Chodron on line with the sangha.  She was talking about fear and being our own best friend.  And is this rocket science?  Save me from Buddhist pop psychology.  I mean, PLEASE.

I’m going back to no self.  Or perhaps to running with the bulls.  (See, I’m getting to it.)  Because I had an actual revelation when I ran with the bulls.  I’ll tell you about it, but I think you need the whole story.

I was twenty-four and in love with Ernest Hemingway.  Really, I was just in love with Spain, where I’d been living for the last year, and since Hemingway wrote about it and his prose was only about 1000000000000% better than Michener’s, I fell in love with Hemingway by association.  (Hemingway, though insane, knew better than to run with the bulls.  Michener was probably sane, but he did run.)

I’d learned to dance Sevillana, I’d lived with a Spanish family, and for the first time in my life I felt at home.  First of all, my unbridled passions, which in this country qualify me for intense psychotherapy, made me NORMAL in Spain.  I mean, squealing when you’re happy and raising your voice when you’re angry and singing just because you feel like it are actually part of life in that country.  At least in the South.  At least in Sevilla.  I heard people singing outside my window in Los Remedios, their voice lifted on the humid air, the night cresting in through the window, warm, heavy, laying over my body…it was magic.

Plus, if you’re a foreigner, any weird thing you do is attributed to the fact that you come from a different culture.  (The fact that I was weird in that culture never occurred to anyone.  My Spanish surrogate mother, Maria Dolores Garcia Fraile, rejoiced in every non-conformist thing I did.)

I wanted to BE Spanish.  I wanted to dive into the culture and be coated with the smells and songs and colors.  If it is possible to love a place more than I loved Spain, I can’t imagine it.  The gypsies begging, the women in their mantillas, the courtyards with the smell of orange trees, the white villages, the language, the language, the language…the rats outside in the alley, so big, so frightening, the women who pulled me to my feet and danced Sevillana, looking into my eyes, the cries between the plucking of guitar strings in bars with sawdust on the floor, the bars, the bars, the disco dancing, the piropos called to women in the street, which I hated…I loved everything, though, even the poverty, even the heat, even the dirt.  Even the sexist catcalls.

So of course I wanted to run with the bulls.  I wanted to run as if I were a Spanish man, proving his courage.  I went to San Sebastian, because there was no room in Pamplona, and I stayed at the youth hostel.  Women lent me the white pants, white button down shirt, and I bought my own red satin sash and bandana.  I drove to Pamplona with four Spanish men, and we partied all night, and they swore they wouldn’t let me run.  The bulls were released at 8am to run through the streets.  At 7:30am I said I had to go to the bathroom, and I walked out the back door of the bar onto the cobblestone streets, I walked past college students puking, past men asleep on the sidewalk.  (There is no good behavior in Pamplona during Los San Fermines.)  I climbed between the slats of the wood fence that barriered the street where the bulls would run, went down near the gates, and sat against a building with some Spanish men, trying not to be noticed.

Ten minutes later, the most handsome of the men I’d come with found me hugging my knees to my chest.  He sat down beside me.  “You’re determined?” he said in Spanish (that was all we spoke).  I nodded.  He sighed.  “Don’t run,” he said.  “The greatest danger is getting trampled.  Just stay on your feet on the right.  The bulls will run to the left.  If they are in a pack you are safe.  But if one is wandering, get to the fence and climb under right away.  People are gored by the bulls that wander.”

“Gracias,” I told him.

He left me, the bell rang, and I moved toward the gates with the Spanish men (most Americans ran further up the street near the bullring…the bulls pass everyone, because they are FAST.).  Then the bulls were released and we all turned the other way and sort of ran.  Mostly, the men behind me, pushing my back, hard, harder, yelling, “Corre, corre, corre.”  (Run, run, run.)  Keeping on my feet, trying not to slip, the pushing non-stop, hands, push, hands, are the bulls here, and then they were.  Two were white, I seem to remember.  On the left, as he had told me.  And here is my real revelation:


Of course, I lived to tell about it…which of course I will continue to do for as long as I live.

And, it may not seem like rocket science to you, but for me, idealistic, passionate, so very, very young, wanting everything, wanting life, more life, all the time, realizing that I was so small…was very important.  It was the first time since I’d hit puberty that I realized there were things I couldn’t conquer.  The idea that I didn’t stand a chance was new.  I did not want limits…what twenty-four year old does?

Now I look back at that girl, and I think, oh, no wonder.  In battle since the day I was born for my own soul, and here I was, in the midst of one of my life dreams, one I hadn’t known how to get to, and then a scholarship to college, some grants, and I could pay for it, I could go, I could HOPE.  I might not have stood a chance with the things I was up against in my life, I might have, at one time, before puberty, despaired, but at twenty-four, I was winning, and I knew it.

I know running with the bulls probably doesn’t qualify me for being my own best friend.  And I know that we all have work to do in that arena.  But really, basic goodness?  It may be hard to sit with our low self-esteem and contemplate accepting that what we feel about ourselves is dead wrong.  But I’d rather do Vipassana and lay my awareness on my low self-esteem (or my high self-esteem, or my mid self-esteem or my inflated self concept, or pretty much whatever) and investigate it.  I’d rather learn about the Buddha and the outer edges of his thought than listen to pop psychology ANY DAY.  (And I am an intellectual.  Sort of.  Minus literary criticism.  So shoot me.)

Maybe it’s just that I hate therapy with every bit as much passion as I loved Spain.  I don’t want to analyze, pop psychologize, therapize, or pathologize anything.  I want to dive in, be, sit in silence, feel the boundaries of my wild unruly mind and my very uncomfortable body dissolve.  I LOVE Vipassana meditation.  I love how hard it is, and how peaceful, and how troubling, and how full of kindness.  I love that it’s an adventure, every time.

I don’t have to run with the bulls.  I can just close my eyes and be with what is.  And while the patterns of my craziness sometimes become recognizable, I am an endlessly creative human being and I am sure I can amuse myself into eternity with my suffering, my humor, my longing, my joy, my beauty, my darkness and ugliness.

In Shambala, you keep your eyes open and concentrate furiously (well, probably not furiously) on the out breath.  I’ll try it again, but.  Well, you know. I will continue being the only woman I know who doesn’t feel Pema Chodron or even refer to her by her first name as if she were my best friend.

So far, when it comes to teachers, I like Jesse Frey-Vega.  He’s an approximately 35 year old multicultural activist meditation teacher who uses the word dude when he talks.  He even swears as he’s teaching about being with what is.  I don’t think my liking him should surprise anyone.  (He was my teacher in June.  And, I think he might be Jesus reincarnated, since he exudes love more than any human being I have ever met.  Look at that!  I can happily merge my Jesus-dominated unconscious with Buddhism, making this whole blog just wonderfully absurd in terms of bringing unlike things together!)

May all beings be free from suffering.

Except therapists.

I’m just not enlightened enough to include them.