Today I woke up with some minor ambition to organize my books. Meaning, since there are books piled in corners of my bedroom, my office, the living room, on the living room table, etc, I thought I’d move them around some just to make myself feel better.
And, as usually happens, I decided to look at one of the ones I haven’t read, and then I sat down and started reading and interrupted the moving around of books and they are now only half in new piles in all the same rooms they were in originally and half sitting where I left them when I got absorbed in reading.
Did I mention I like to read? Along with my upcoming membership in the Just-Don’t-Produce-Theatre-One-Day-at-a-Time 12 step program, is another looming membership called Readers Anonymous. (To be really honest, Netflix Anonymous is probably first, because since the theatre production ended I have watched entire seasons of Downton Abbey , Breakout Kings, Luther (Season 1 is fab and I love the character Alice Morgan so deeply, deeply, deeply), Grey’s Anatomy and a bunch of stuff on Hulu. I mean, I am TIRED.)
Back to my subject. The book I decided to look at was The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, recommended by the Stork (our couples therapist) and lent to me by my student Katie after she read a blog making fun of the Stork and his book recommendations and a comment I made that my friend Don who died loved that book so I might have to read it after all.
So. I got kind of interested in the part about relationships, so I called my partner out onto the deck and we argued about the nature of evil for a couple hours. It was really an argument about nature vs. nurture or free will vs. determinism, but it wasn’t a couples fight. I sort of won the intellectual points, but then she sort of won the awareness of the emotional underpinnings of the intellectual points, so it was the usual draw with us both playing to our strengths.
Then the argument landed in a discussion about whether the saying, “My parents did the best they could with what they had,” is valid or just something people say to fake enlightenment and forgiveness. This discussion had its origin in the free will argument–in other words, did our parents’ social and familial conditioning, historical period (pre-feminism in their early adulthood), education, etc. make them such neurotic and psychotic messes or did they have a choice about it? I have often argued that conditioning outweighs everything else, but this morning I flip-flopped and argued that they had a choice. I said that just as we are all capable of the most profound evil, if any one of us is capable of redemption and enlightenment, then we all are. In other words, our parents have responsibility in being who they are or were. AND, more importantly, give me some credit here for not being as crazy as they were.
My partner started off talking about determinism (not the word, but the gist of the philosophy). She’s always been super-smart about social/political/cultural influences and now she’s talking about how one takes responsibility for having a dark side (which is a result, she says, of conditioning). She told me she learned the whole dark side thing from me. (I call this unfair fighting. I am allowed to disagree with my own ideas and prove myself newly right on the other side of the argument.)
We have, believe it or not, decided that since we’ve given up on the UU Church, we’re going to have these discussions regularly on Sunday mornings. We consider ourselves very spiritual when we’re arguing about whether our dark sides are our fault or our parents’.
Clearly there’s a reason we go to couples therapy, even if the therapy itself is completely ineffective. (It’s not ineffective when the Stork shuts up and lets us talk to each other. It’s just ineffective when he tries to tell us what to do.)
Anyhow, neither of us could take more than 5 pages of Mr. Tolle and his oversimplified explanation of how to avoid couples dysfunction. I’m beginning to consider developing our own couples therapy method. I mean, it can’t be any worse than the bullshit we find everywhere else. I was thinking it should contain chapters like, Find a Common Enemy–The Best Way to Be on Each Other’s Side and Light Matches in the Bathroom if Your Partner Is Taking a Shower when You Have to Go.
What do you think?
I just can’t seem to seriously stick to my subject about The Power of Now. That’s probably because of all the stuff about the pain-body (your emotional pain as described by Tolle). About 7 years ago a body worker told me to read this very book because I stupidly told her the truth about the large amount of loss in my life. She was basically like, go read this book so you won’t be in pain any more. And Tolle asserts that pain and suffering are optional, and that if you get into the now, the right here, and just pay attention, it will dissipate and you will be unattached, free, enlightened and without suffering.
I could see that. I mean, my suffering dissipates as I focus on wanting to kill him for his stupidity.
Truly, I have visited the NOW. I became an actor in order to find it. A Meisner actor at that, one who lives the story rather than performing it. And when I’ve been present, acting, I truly feel the grief, joy, rage, desire, lust, silliness, fear, etc of my character, while, at the same time, having a still place where I am me. I feel these things, but they don’t touch the essential intactness of my own self experience…while, paradoxically, expressing that experience.
I’m an artist. It’s just like this, all the time, making art.
But, when I wake up missing my friend, knowing I’ll never see him again, and I start to sob, I don’t have that detachment. It just hurts.
What I hate about ideas of enlightenment is the judgment implied–if only you were enlightened you wouldn’t grieve, you’d be a better human, you wouldn’t be creating the illusion that is your own pain.
Last year, when I meditated for 10 days straight, I found the way emotions begin, bloom, then fade and leave you at peace…until the next one comes. That is Buddhism…watching it, the peace in being able to watch it and do nothing but watch. But when it blooms, you have to be with it then…and when loss is fresh, or unhealed and unresolved, it comes back over and over again…or sometimes, it just takes up residence and peace is really hard to find.
I really do want to synchronize what I know about healing and spirituality, about the times when the Power of Now is not enough, when you need Joseph Campbell’s sense of meaning and narrative. The Power of Now and the Power of Myth. We do need some archetype, some language, as well as the mat, the cushion, the prayer beads.
I know that Eckart Tolle’s writing about dysfunction in relationships is fairly accurate, and his writing about the openness of love has value, too. But the way in…my partner and I have been doing this thing, not from couples therapy. I call it Eyes on the Prize, but it’s more like Eyes on the Truth. I can’t do the “I” statements and the communication method stuff without wanting to puke, but I can be honest. I can work to say more about what I feel, what’s happening in the soft underbelly I want to hide. It’s not about who says what to whom or who blames whom or who needs to learn what. It’s about the fear of being known and the longing for it. It’s about our deepest experience of being on this planet, it’s about looking and seeing and sitting in the fire of whatever that looking and seeing might be. Not this theory or that theory. Here you are. I’m terrified of you knowing me. And I’m going to let you. I’m terrified of knowing you and loving you. And I’m going to anyhow.
Volition. Free will. The moment of choice, in which you see clearly, for no reason you can possibly explain. There is a door. And the courage to walk through.
How beautiful, when she is walking toward you through the same door.