While my partner and I were in San Francisco, we did a day of let’s just see what happens. It was my day to pick what we did, and I decided I didn’t want to plan.
Mind you, I spent 10 years (17-27) traveling the world, and long before I had heard about the concept of being present I knew that the essence of traveling was to forego plans and let experience yield what it would. I always say I’m a snob world traveler, because I do look down on itineraries, and, until the last five years, vacation spots. (I now know what it’s like to be exhausted enough to just want to lie in the sun and have people bring me things…plus, as I said in my last blog, I am a pseudo-Buddhist-eclectically spiritual etc. princess.) Anyhow, for the above-mentioned 10 years, I was in love with traveling for the experience of being present and open. I didn’t know that–I thought the remarkable experiences and connection were what I wanted. I didn’t know they came from letting go and opening.
So anyhow, my partner and I got on the road–I was driving, and I thought we were heading to Sausalito when suddenly we realize we’re in Marin County and the next thing we see is a sign that says, “Spirit Rock 500 Yards.” Spirit Rock is the sister insight meditation retreat site to IMS here in Massachusetts. I’ve felt drawn there, powerfully drawn, and then suddenly there it was.
And here’s the thing–I have truly learned that in life wherever you go, there you are. In other words, I stopped traveling as a life plan when traveling stopped working for me, when I ended up face to face with myself and in trouble in Tokyo, Japan, not really understanding what the trouble was except that I was lonely and frightened of my own darkness. So I didn’t expect San Francisco to alleviate my current state of grief and loss, and I was worried about my partner’s expectations of our anniversary celebration. Until Spirit Rock, I’d been up and down–sometimes really having fun, but some mornings waking up crying. (Which, since she didn’t go to work, she got to see.)
Of course, we pulled into the long driveway of Spirit Rock, met a couple in the parking lot who talked to us about the place, then walked inside the community center. We found the bookstore and the day retreat meditation hall. I said to my partner, “I just really need to go meditate.” And I did. For a long time. Ending, as meditation often does, with an experience of varying mind states, including, but not exclusive to, grief. Only, unlike long meditations I’ve done before where emotions and mind states pass like weather in New England, the grief took hold for a pretty long time. I did some restorative yoga, cried for a while, then did some other poses, and ended up utterly grounded and present.
My partner and I went on a wonder hike–meaning, with the inner experience of being grounded and present we hiked up into the hills behind Spirit Rock. It was by far the best time of the trip. I was in love with everything–myself, my partner, the light, the woods, the rise and fall of the land, the wind. An easy kind of being in love, an opening, an acceptance, the world as miracle.
Before we left, I picked up some brochures and memorized some titles in the bookstore, because, face it, I write this blog as part of a quest, a need for a do-over. I write, as I have all my life, to understand what I’m not yet seeing. That I make fun of everything along the way is just a bonus.
So, last night I downloaded two of the books onto my Kindle and of course they are about Buddhist precepts because Spirit Rock IS a Buddhist place, so what else? And with Buddhism, you always get the life-is-suffering-everything-changes-there’s-nothing-you-can-do-about-it-and-your-mind-states-are-wreaking-havoc-in-your-life optimism that I entirely love. No. Really. I mean, I live in America, where we’re all frantically consuming and pretending it makes us happy, so listening to these people say we all suffer, shit happens, it will keep happening and we’re all crazy is just a great relief to me.
Buddhism doesn’t stop there, of course. After you accept that life is suffering and suffering is caused by craving and aversion and that suffering can end if you follow the 8-fold path, you kind of have to look at the 8-fold path. And you know what? Right Intention is one of the 8 folds. On the path.
I’ve never read about Right Intention in depth before reading book #1 by Phillip Moffit. I always thought of it as addressing motivation, making sure your motivations weren’t malevolent, evil or unreasonably selfish. I’m a moralist, so I thought about Right Intention as moral in a Catholic religion sort of way. But this morning, reading the book, I started to understand that setting intentions is about how we care for ourselves (and others). Right Intention is truly a building block for peace of mind.
So, I’ve been thinking about Right Intention, and setting mine. This may come as a surprise to those who expect only self-deprecating humor from me and this blog, but I actually think I’m not terribly far away from Right Intention. I’m probably not terribly far away from anything on the 8-fold path. You know. It’s just a jump to the left. And then a pelvic thrust. Let’s do the time warp again.
Seriously, I have great values. I like my values. But I don’t always know what to do with my intentions. So let me say here that ahimsa, or non-violence, is number one for me. I want to practice kindness, honesty, beauty, integrity, compassion and peaceful understanding, I want to be in center and presence and utter self-acceptance. To start.
I think about the play production we just did, and how I didn’t know how to be kind or compassionate when I was so frustrated with some of the people with whom I worked, and I was playing a character who gave a sermon about the nature of humanity and how we are all broken and redeemed, and that kept me thinking about when to be honest, when to stay silent, the absolute need for center and presence when you’re stepping on stage in 5 minutes or half an hour.
I told my partner, before we went to San Francisco, that the likelihood of my grief remaining in Boston was about nil. Then, I told her what I’d felt and/or thought when I cried or got quiet for a while. It is so easy to feel love when you do that. It’s so easy to like yourself, even in a hard moment.
I don’t think I’m far from Right Intention. I think it’s simply terrifying to be honest and kind. To say, “I’m frustrated, because sometimes you do a great job and sometimes you don’t, and I’m worried about talking because I might lose all the work I did to prepare for going on stage, and I don’t know what to do to make things change or even if I can.”
I mean, let people really and truly know what’s going on? I mean, that’s intimate. That’s really HARD. Especially if you’re feeling angry or frustrated and you have a role, like being an actor, that requires utter vulnerability and openness and all your emotional energy. But I wish I’d said what was going on. Or maybe I did, at least some of the time, and what I needed to do was accept that it didn’t make a difference.
Like, last night my partner was incessantly playing with her new companion, Siri. I have made cracks like, “I’d like to get polyamorous with Siri,” or, “Is this Siri’s anniversary trip?” My partner is a GEEK, and she loves techno toys. I am an anti-materialist and would love to end my Facebook account. You know. We’re married.
But the point is, last night I actually said, “I don’t want to want you more than you want me, and I don’t want to pursue you or ask for more time because I feel needy when I do and that feels humiliating and awful to me.”
I don’t remember what she said, only that she understood. She’d put down Siri temporarily, anyhow. But then, 10 minutes later, when I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth, she came up behind me and hugged me, saying, “I need you, too.”
Of course, the beauty of Right Intention is that once I’d said that terribly intimate and run-on sentence, I was completely freed of the feelings I’d described. So I was like, “Okay, but I’m brushing my teeth here.”
I’m not sure that fulfilled my kindness Right Intention, but it certainly hit the honesty one.
And I’m since self-acceptance is on my list of Right Intention things to live by I can say that I accept that I am inappropriately funny on purpose because it’s really fun.
It’s Buddhism. They say, in Buddhism, to give the practices a test drive.
Right here, right now, testing, 1, 2, 3….