New Age. What?


Okay, that’s it.

Yesterday I picked my partner up from one of her personal growth experiences.  She was upset because the person supposedly helping her said, “Well, why can’t you just be mindful when that happens?”

My partner has lovely rants.  This one was something like, If I could do that, I wouldn’t need you.  I would be fixed.  Cured.  I would be the friggin’ Buddha.  But I’m not and I can’t and f*(& you and the train you rode in on.

Lovely.

Then, today, instead of taking my nap, which I swear I WILL do, I listened to the Oprah/Chopra meditation on how we create our own reality.  OH MY GOD!  It made me HOMICIDAL!  There were even exercises to find out where you were stuck in the past so you can just inhabit the present moment as if the past didn’t ever exist.  OH MY GOD!  TRIPLE HOMICIDAL!  (And seriously, I want to remember the crap I learned in case that helps me not to do it again.)

Mind you, I’m all in favor of the present moment.  But I don’t want meditations that make me feel crappy for not being over everything already.  I mean, seriously.  We develop neural pathways from our experiences.  Developing new ones, creating links between the old and new, calming the nervous system…this is the work of a lifetime.  And that’s if you’re lucky enough to not be worried about where the next meal is coming from or which kid has a play date or how you need to fight against oppression today.

I haven’t learned everything I know from being married to my partner.  Just most of it.  And the main thing I learned is that the more we give each other permission to be crazy, neurotic, imperfect, likely to make mistakes…the more love there is.  The more get-out-of-jail-free cards we hand each other, out of compassion for each other’s fucked up humanness, the more we truly grow into open-hearted closeness.

Yoga, meditation, Buddhism, religion, New Age philosophies, positivity…I can’t live up to it all, and WHO WOULD WANT TO?  Sometimes, it’s nice to lie around, eat pizza, fart, and laugh at each other.

Gratitude and Grace.  Touch me.  But not as much as being stupid with the person I love.  Who doesn’t ask me to do the impossible.  (Except when she’s triggered.  But I won’t go into that.)

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The Anniversary Approaches


About 20 years ago I had a friend who told me that if I stayed with my partner we’d have to go to couples therapy for the rest of our lives.

She wasn’t exactly a big fan of the relationship.

So as our 26th anniversary approaches, and I revisit, well, everything because the over-examined life is…well, worth living though it could be suggested that I might give myself a break once in a while (note to self:  get off my back!), I remember what she said and the extreme emphasis she put on every syllable.

Now anyone who has read this blog knows that my partner and I go through couples therapists like toilet paper (sorry, couldn’t think of a better comparison).  In fact, we have just fired The Stork for the 2nd time.  We don’t exactly like couples therapy.  My partner even begged me to not even look for a new therapist for a while.  (This is new, since I’m usually the anti-therapy advocate.)

So, we can’t be in couples therapy for the rest of our lives.

Nor can we be like that ad for E-Harmony saying, “My wife is a blessing to me,” or “I finally found a man of quality.”  We more closely resemble Ben Affleck’s Oscar remarks to Jennifer Garner.  “We’ve worked really hard on this marriage and marriage is hard, and it’s the best work there is.  Thank you for working with me.”

Add to the above statement the following:  “Because I know I am an unbelievable pain in the ass and completely whacked out.”  (Me.)  “Because I know I am an unbelievable pain in the ass and that my neurotic monologues about details drive you crazy.”  (Her.)

So, to get to my point.  Closeness is hard!  I mean, yes, of course, it feels good, maybe better than just about anything else, but then you get really scared and you start to freak out, so you have to distance a little (or a lot) just to not freak out in super unskillful ways and then your partner senses you distancing and starts to freak out and gets all clingy, and then you freak out that she’s getting all clingy just when you need space and then you have a massive fight and have to work on admitting all your own bullshit so you don’t get a divorce.

I exaggerate.  But only slightly.

26 years.  That means we’ve known each other for 30.  The other day I woke up and said, “How come I married such a goofball?”  And she said, “I don’t know.  Why do you think?”  And I said, “I guess I couldn’t find anyone better.”  And she said, “I’m taking that as a compliment.”  And then she hugged me for a really long time as if I’d said the best thing ever.

The truth is, I’ve never found anyone I liked more even if she is incredibly neurotic and can’t make a decision to save her life and buys every pair of pants in her size on her Gap credit card and then brings it all home so she’s have MORE time to decide and then loses the receipt and has to keep 12 pairs of pants from the Gap.

However, right now, this week, I bought her two pieces of furniture for her birthday, because believe it or not, that’s what she likes, but the colors were just a shade off and she’s like, “I want to do something small for my birthday so we can save our money and you can go to New York and be an actor.”

Like I said, I couldn’t find anyone better.

Of course, three weeks ago she yelled at me and I felt really hurt and she was appalled at herself, and I had to admit I’d raised my voice first….it was an exception to our usual, but there have been years where that kind of fighting was our usual, though thank whatever/whoever it is now some 15 years in the past (1998 was a suck year in this marriage).

Anyhow.  It upsets me that romance is idealized so much, because wanting the fairy tale, believing it’s the thing, led me to stay in my first real relationship, which was romantic, and passionate, and eventually destructive.  It upsets me that we understand so little about intimacy.  How much forgiveness it requires, how much being in reality.  I can only know my partner if I am willing to see her, as she is, and I can only see her as she is if I set aside illusions about what it means to be human, as well as all my illusions of how love will save me.  Then I can know the sum of her.

My partner is incredibly unbelievably loving, and she loves to take care of me, and she can be generous, and connected, and grounded and so inside her own goodness…and she can be mean, and passive aggressive and wanting her own way no matter what, and sometimes she tries to change me and sometimes she’s just plain grouchy.  Besides the daily neurosis which is alternately my entertainment and my frustration.  Is she a blessing, a moment of grace?  Yes.  But sometimes grace is kicking me to change where I really don’t want to, and sometimes grace is turning and telling her (or her telling me) that I’m me, and this thing that bothers her isn’t changing because I don’t want it to.

What I love about marriage is the attention.  Both the attention she gives me and the attention I get to pay, the way my consciousness rests and wrestles and battles its way to more light, all the time, as I fall into shadow with my partner, as I work my way out, or as we do it together.  There may be periods of pure light, but the shadows will fall, again and again, because that’s what marriage is…continuing to pull yourself, each other, the coupleship, into growth, into closeness, into the kind of knowing that comes from admitting all of who you are–insecure, gifted, warm, distracted, loving, passionate, moral, broken.

I have never known anyone as well as I know my partner, and so I have never loved anyone as much.  I am humbled by knowing my partner, and frustrated, and enlightened, and brought down into my own failings and then made better by how much I love her, which causes me to work on those very failings, or at least on more honesty, all the time.

It’s not ideal.  Or maybe it is.  Maybe this private, wonderful, irritating life is the ideal.  Only Jesus, can someone besides Ben Affleck admit how irritating it is?  How difficult?  He had it right.  It’s such hard work.  And the best work there is.  Marriage is a human making experience.  I am made human by the struggle, by the forgiveness, by the sheer fun and ridiculousness, by seeing how I want to get even when I’m hurt, by seeing how hard I’ll try to stop hurting the person I love most.

26 years.  My narcoleptic genius of the mundane will read this on her Facebook page and then she’ll say, “How about a little more on your faults?”

 

PS–I could have written more about marriage equality.  Metta for the Supreme Court.  May they have the sanity to know that making second class citizens hurts all of us.

 

A Little Self-Aggrandizement…Or NOT


The best thing about me is that I truly know how full of shit I am.

No, really.

Having spent last week in the company of so many therapists, I realized that the deepest danger is in believing your own bullshit.  In other words, believing that you are somehow better and more enlightened than other people.

Of course, I often believe this.  But, back to the first sentence, all the meditating has taught me just what a load of crap that belief ALWAYS is.  And when you face that belief in people who invest in it, who live from it, well, it is definitely cringe-worthy.  As in, “I can’t believe I act like that sometimes.”

The enlightenment of the cringe and identification can only resonate if you recognize that you probably act like that a whole lot more often than you realize in the present moment.  Then you can descend/ascend (it’s not clear) to new levels of humility, making you much more bearable to live with.

Of course, this is me we’re talking about.  And therapists.  So I’m like, “Thank whatever/whoever I’m not as stupid as you a*(hol$#S.”  I mean, give me a break.  Do I really have to practice enlightenment with therapists?

It seems I do.  Though since my partner and I have gone through 6 couples therapists since last September (okay, 3 of them we only saw for one-two sessions, and we only saw FUH for 3 sessions), with the Stork-man the hands-down favorite (we lost count of how many session with him, but it’s probably more than 15), I still have to be grateful to the grief counselor with her animal-patterned socks and keep myself from yelling at the new IFS therapist who dresses like an interpretative dancer and continually explains things to me that I ALREADY KNOW.

From the point-of-view of Hindu philosophy, I am obviously exploring my samskara truly, madly and deeply.  (Samskara are life patterns, complexes, re-enactments of old issues that re-occur forever or at least until you reach enlightenment.)  I would like to say, for the record, that I hate it when people don’t seem to recognize how smart I am (telling me things I already know) and when they limit what I want to explore.

I don’t know how to have humility about how smart I am.  I’m really smart.  Maybe I could practice thinking that intelligence is a gift I didn’t earn, awarded at birth through some accident of genetics.

Naw.  I’m just really smart.

But not better than other people.

Oh, comparison.  The truth is that therapists go around thinking that they’re better because the human condition is truly overwhelming and we really have no idea what we’re doing, though we keep telling ourselves that we do.  Just getting up and facing how little we truly know is an act of courage.  I’d much rather criticize the therapeutic profession than admit that I’m terrified I’m going to miss the boat entirely, off on some samskara or another.  Smart–yes, but that can be just another way to create some super-intellectual bullshit that has no relevance to how to live a life well, in search of enlightenment, grounded in peace.

When I know how full of shit I really am, when I fully admit how little I know, there is only surrender, which is unconditional and exists as a possibility in every moment.  In other words, I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t have to.  I ground into the moment, and I trust in some source of Light or goodness that will open up a way I can’t see yet, and that it will be hard, wonderful, right.

That may just be another story, but it’s the one I’m going with for now.  Because guess what?  Samskara often falls away in the light of surrender.  I don’t know why, but it truly does.

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, Back to Therapy We Go


Tuesday night my partner came to the theater from her meditation class to nab a ride with me.  I asked her to drive and then went off on a rant, so I’m sure she wished she had waited for the T instead.

The precursor to the rant happened on Monday, as we ventured back into couples therapy with a therapist I have now named F$#^ing Ugly Head.  But I was not content to go off on only Monday night’s ridiculous couples session.  I had to include the fact, which I will now confess, that after Don’s death and the end of the theatre production, I went back to individual therapy as well, to see a grief counselor (more on this later).  And then I decided to try my partner’s new love, Internal Family Systems, so somehow I ended up with two therapists, which, considering how much I truly, and I do mean TRULY hate therapy, is beyond ironic.

Anyhow, we’re driving down Longwood, past the hospitals and the library where my partner works, the streets empty with those circles of light falling on the pavement, with the buildings in shadow, only the occasional doctor or nurse in green scrubs scurrying across the street.  I was like, “OH MY GOD, can you believe last night?”  My partner’s like, “I know.”

And that was all the permission I needed.  The rant went something like this:  “What is with her hair?  I mean, it doesn’t even have a part.  And that shirt.  I mean, it squashed her boobs, and frankly, I don’t want to see my couples therapist’s cleavage under any circumstances.  And if she asks one of those questions like “How does it feel to be seen by me and your partner?” again, I am going to scream, puke, and then walk out the door.  I mean, I don’t even know her.  I don’t f*&%ing care what she sees or doesn’t see!  Just get a new wardrobe, for Christsakes!  What is with these people?  I mean, the IFS one looks like she’s ready to burst into an interpretative dance at any moment and the grief counselor has little animals on her socks!”

My partner couldn’t stop laughing.  Then she’s like, “Wow, I don’t think this couples therapist is going to last long.  I mean, ‘F$%^ing Ugly Head?’ You must hate her a lot.”

Duh.

Then I made the mistake of asking her this:  “What do you think about my problem with the Interpretative Dancer’s tendency to diagnose and use labels from the DSM whatever?”

She said, “I think you have a point, but it’s also a really good trailhead for something big underneath.”

Trailhead is an IFS term for any event that leads to pain from the past.  I’d much prefer my partner had been referring to the South Kaibab Trail or Bright Angel, both paths at the Grand Canyon, where we met.  No such luck.

It took me a couple days to find the rant on that trailhead, which was not funny and was all about having my humanity diminished twice, the first time by people who hurt me enough to send me to therapy, and the second by the therapists, who reframe my experience, label me, analyze me, tell me who I am, and/or seem to get into how sexy, interesting and compelling I am, either hitting on me or telling me they wish they could be my friend/mother/student, etc.  I was crying during this rant, and fashion problems were not mentioned.

I do truly hate therapy.  And here’s the funny thing–the grief counselor, who I actually like, and, in spite of the animals on her socks, is often wise in how she handles me, is the one I seem least interested in working with.  I mean, she let me come in and talk and cry about Don for two months, barely saying a word (which, frankly, I think all therapists should learn to do–KEEP THEIR MOUTHS SHUT).  It’s clear she’s not diagnosing in an extreme way.  She’s irritating, occasionally, but she’s kind, and she’s just really good at seeing and witnessing instead of asking, “How do you feel about being seen by me?”  (To which, BTW, I responded, on Monday, with, “I don’t feel seen in couples therapy,” thereby confounding expectations and pissing FUH (acronym for F$$^ing Ugly Head) off enough for her to add, rather aggressively, “Do you want to be seen?”  I did not say, “Absolutely.  I’m going to start a new trend in streaking any moment now.  I hope your neighbors don’t mind.” <She sees people in her house.>)

Anyhow, the grief seems to have gotten better, and I’m no longer blaming myself for how powerless I was to save Don and get him better medical treatment, so therapy with the Grief Counselor has gotten kind of boring.  I’ve stopped going, at least for the next month, which is incredibly busy with work and yoga teacher training.

But couples therapy–my partner and I have gotten really happy and sweet again, which I attribute to having a butt for my jokes who is not her, and aligning ourselves against the common enemy: the couples therapist.

So while I think that FUH isn’t long for our world, I might as well milk her stupid questions for all they’re worth and just let myself behave miserably while I can.  I am so sick of being Buddhist and skillful with these people.  I am planning on going in to the Interpretative Dancer and saying, “So I suppose you have a thing for Isadora Duncan?”  I am planning on saying to FUH, “Have you read my blog on new fashions for therapists and wearing clothes that are not a size too small?”

I mean, would anyone die?

Of course, my partner reads this blog, so she’ll probably talk me out of the FUH idea, and I’ll have to be all skillful and say, “Let’s get real.  If this is going to work, you can’t ask me those therapist questions.  And, by the way, the next time I’m all vulnerable and telling my partner that she hurt my feelings, which is not easy for me, I’d suggest you not change the F$%^ING SUBJECT!”

Really.  What is WITH these people?

The Truth about So Many Things


First of all, I am interested in healing.  Why else would I rant on and on about psychotherapy and its ineffectiveness as a model?  I mean, outside of the fact that I’m a writer, and I object to famous psychotherapists co-opting the human search for meaning.

The truth: we are all, perhaps, interested in the search for meaning.  Or if we’re not, we certainly get interested at 40 or 50, as death becomes more and more a fact, as in: this will happen to me.  The interest in healing, though…well, that increases exponentially in direct proportion to how badly you’ve been hurt in your life.

I’ve been hurt.  Enough to want to change, enough to try, to search, to think, to reach out.  Enough to go to f*&^ing psychotherapy.  Enough to travel, to read, to try out Buddhism, mindfulness, enough to want to fly, to expand, to fill my body and spirit with light.

Truth: I am of this culture.  The culture of here, just take this pill.  The culture of feel better, look good, this anti-aging cream, this outfit, this car, this lifestyle, this income, this anything outside yourself that will make you feel better.  The culture of all better.  America offers this dream–anything is possible.  You can do anything you want.  You can better yourself, change your life, be as rich as, be as successful as, and if and when you are those things, you will be happy and your life will have meaning.

I am of this culture.  I have wanted to be rich and famous.  I have searched for all better.  I have dyed my hair and I still use anti-aging face cream.  But since 2006, and, well, even before, in glimpses, I started to think about, to wonder…what is good enough?  Not all better.  Just a daily life.

I have had two very close friends with major mental illness diagnoses–one with clinical depression, the other manic depressive.  I listened to their struggles to find the right medications and the right doses, their fears of another major episode, their commitment to life, their worries about having children, about passing on a legacy of depression.  They were my teachers about living with an incontrovertible, rather than seeking an all better.  Their illness required lifelong attention, a commitment to stay out of denial and on their meds.

Here’s the thing: I believe in healing and second order change because I have experienced them.  But I don’t believe in all better.  I don’t believe that anyone can do anything.  I think limits exist, and the refusal to recognize this will make you miserable.  It made me miserable, for a very long time.  Sometimes, it still does.

This morning my partner is at her ongoing training in Internal Family Systems.  She has already had an experience of starting to meet outside the training with some of the therapists.  At this informal meeting, one of the therapists kicked her out because she wanted a therapist-only group (and the other therapists let her, at least at first)–they did this right in front of my partner, the only gay person, the only non-therapist, and, incidentally, the only person fully trained as a peer counselor in IFS (the rest of them have no training in the model).  Before this, my partner was starting to talk about getting an MSW and I was talking about shooting myself (the idea of being married to a therapist does this to me).  But now my partner is talking about making therapy obsolete, about training people to do peer counseling.  Which makes me cheer.

In my long search for both meaning and healing, I have learned that there truly is something wrong with the Western medical and psychological establishments.  Both are affected by insurance corporations if not fully corrupted by them.  Western medicine is great for catastrophic illness and injury, but doesn’t work for wellness and the support of the immune system the way alternative medicine does.  And psychotherapy–psychotherapy is about diagnoses and fixes, including and especially psychotropic meds, because meds are cheaper for the insurance companies and get people functioning so they can, guess what?  Get back to doing their jobs and feeding our consumer society.  And talk therapy–well, beyond the fact that statistics show that talk therapy makes people feel better, but doesn’t necessarily change them–my experience has been that the therapist wants to keep you at it, focused on what’s wrong, rooting it out.  That is, at the very least, the danger.  The constant need to fix yourself, to work hard at it…which implies you’re never okay as you are.  And certainly, for everyone, there are always ways to improve.

But what alternatives are there?  If you want to heal, if you want to have meaning, purpose, if you want to change yourself, or the world.  You go to the mat, to the meeting, to the demonstration, to the church, to the couch, to the ashram, to nature.  You go in search of.

Truth.  I know this, very simply: it is impossible to heal alone.  You must love and be loved.  You must be a part of something bigger than yourself…a community, ideally.  Hurt, wounding, violence, trauma…all these things must be brought back to the human connection, must be spoken, seen, witnessed, heard, must be accepted in the starkness of truth…and then there must be comfort, love, welcome.  I know this because I have been comforted, loved and welcomed…and more, I have had people fight for me, advocate for me as an artist and a human being, and this has anchored me to goodness and hope in a way nothing else ever could.

I also know that both healing and the inner life require that I sit with myself, in silence.  That I learn what is inside me, all the storms and neuroses, all the courage and faith, all the humor and suffering, and that in this silence I grow bigger than these things, and I hold them.  And from that holding, I offer to the world that peace, that silence, and whatever wisdom I can gain, and certainly the compassion that comes from suffering.

Finally, there is grief.  It is the challenge of life to grow bigger than your own grief, especially when the loss is close, when it cuts deep.  This is the second time in my life when the waves of grief have kept knocking me off my feet every time I seemed to be able to stand, and now, now that it’s easing, I can see that the standing up, over and over again, has created something new.  A tearing away of the wall around my heart, perhaps.  This couldn’t happen while I was working on the play production–it could only happen when I let it, when I stopped moving, and allowed the struggle and the storm to have their way, when I surrendered to what was already true–this storm, this sadness, this never again.

So if I know these things, what then?

I am beginning to fantasize about working with my partner to teach communities to do their own healing.  In Buddhist psychology, the institution of practices to cope with life and our own reactions replaces endless digging into painful experiences looking for an all better.  It’s not that you don’t look, and it’s not that you don’t heal so some of those experiences no longer hold power.  It’s that you approach life knowing that hurtful experiences will come, sometimes.  And you have a way of being in the world that allows them to come, and a practice for holding onto your own spiritual center when they do.

I want to help people tell their own stories, because I am still an acting and writing teacher.  My partner wants to help them investigate their hidden selves with each other.  We both want to offer a way to ground down into peace, the peace that Buddhism teaches, and that no one can take away.

I am an artist, so I am allowed to fantasize all I want.  And in my pseudo-Buddhism, I then go meditate to slow down my all-too-American compulsion to start working on it yesterday.

But I’m intrigued.  By the truth.  By silence.  By my partner, whose kindness and craziness have recently moved me so much (and again, as so many times before, in the endless ebb and flow she teaches me).  (Which is good, since we are now 1 week from our 25th anniversary, and being moved, and remembering we used to be a lot crazier than we are can only be a good thing.)

Metta for everyone who seeks meaning, and truth, and beauty.  Which would be all of us, I think.  May I be a part of helping it to grow, in whatever way opens, slowly.

Practice, Practice, In Search of a Practice….or, Changing Whose Life?


Yesterday I put myself on retreat for the day.  Why?  Well, I really wanted to go to the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center and meditate for 3 hours, but I knew I had to do the mindbody work, so I figured I’d do all my practices and some creative stuff in my own way.

So.

I meditated for 45 minutes.

Then I went on email (compulsively, of course, but only for 10 minutes.)

Then I laid down.

Then I got up and did 45 minutes of reading, writing and crying about mindbody issues.

Then I ate lunch.

Then I wrote some more on the play version of Saint John the Divine in Iowa.

Then I took a nap.

Then I got up and answered a phone call from a friend.

Then I did an hour of yoga.

OMG!  I AM A LOT OF WORK!

The problem, of course, is that the back pain has reappeared.  Here is the process–I went to the lovely Dr. Martinez, did my usual yoga/relaxation thing, started the mindbody work and PRESTO-CHANGO: 97% of the pain was gone.  It stayed gone at that level for at least ten days, though the emotional reality got a bit out of control (meaning painful and not enjoyable in the least).  Then, I got a really bad cold that laid me flat.  I suspected that the cold was a direct rebellion of my mind to the assault on its mindbody distractions.  The cold ended (I kept up the mindbody work all through it because no f-ing way I was giving in if my mind was trying to assert its right to keep back pain alive).  Of course, I was really kind of miserable, feeling I was in a pitched battle with my own mind and not liking myself so much.  (Sarno would say the battle had just become conscious.)  Then the pain started inching its way back in.  I had huge resistance to doing the writing/reading.  When I did the pain went away.  Then, I had 24 hours of it after I saw a picture of someone who, well, did me wrong in the past.  Then that went away.  And two days ago the pain came back.  Fully.  So I redoubled the mindbody efforts, but there’s still pain.

I AM TOO MUCH WORK!

This morning I did the mindbody reading and I started wondering if I’d misunderstood some vital components of the program.  Somehow, I’d decided I had to grieve all my losses in order to keep my mind from doing its distraction trick.  And that is, well, impossible.

Also, I had stopped doing some back care yoga that I really love–not for what it does for my back alone, but because at the end of the routine I feel relaxation and peace.

Also, meditation and yoga, which are main components of my ongoing practice, facilitate being in touch with what is and being in touch with my body in a spiritual way.  They’re about reality and peace and acceptance.  Mindbody work is about facing the truth as well, but difficult truths about emotions and how we’re programmed to avoid them.  It’s just…not very peaceful.

Today I re-read the mindbody books, and I found these assertions:

  1. Mindbody disorders are an epidemic, caused by the current evolution of the brain.  Everybody has at least a little of this going on.
  2. Inner conflict between the adult self who wants to be responsible, successful and powerful and the child self who still wants to be nurtured and taken care of is universal and part of the human condition.
  3. The feelings of insecurity that give rise to perfectionism and people-pleasing are also universal.

Basically, we’re all f-ing nuts.

I also found these questions:

  1. What is in me that lets my problems create such pain?  (Answer:  I’m f-ing crazy.)
  2. What is in me that needs distraction?  (Answer: I have f-ing feelings.)
  3. What permits pain to develop and persist?  (Answer:  I’m f-ing f-ed up.)

Honestly, I did come up with much more elaborate answers.  Some of them were about being feeling-avoidant, some were about these unbelievable (read: crazy) unconscious beliefs I have and some were about inner conflict–like ambition vs. fear of exposure and perfectionism vs. the desire to piss off the status quo.

I decided two things: (can’t you tell I’m having a field day with numbered lists today?)

  1. I don’t have to heal every loss in order to heal mindbody syndrome.
  2. I might have to change my life to deal with some of these ridiculous inner conflicts.

Obviously, stepping down as Artistic Director of a company I started is, well, a change.  And so is meditating for 10 days straight and then continuing to practice every day.  And so is going to couples therapy, however reluctantly, and telling the truth in between making jokes.

I grew up in a family that looked perfect.  I grew up in the bourgeoisie, in suburbia, in the land of keeping up with the Joneses.  Because I’m queer, an artist, and not stupid, I questioned the values I saw, the emphasis on the material, the inappropriate flirtations among my father’s church singing group, the ass-pinching, the drinking, the competition.  I thought, as teenagers do, “Is this all there is?”  And I have kept asking that question.  I have wanted to learn the true nature of happiness.  Dukkha is.  Suffering is, the Buddha tells us.  We don’t meditate to avoid feelings, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg tell us.  We find the truth of what is, we feel the feelings, we investigate them, we eventually liberate our minds, we find the feelings are not necessarily the truth.

In my mindbody search for unconscious emotions and internal conflict, I find that, of course, I have absorbed the ambitions I grew up with.  I am frustrated by not having as much success as I want, I am frustrated by the fear that keeps me from trying to publish my memoir, which I actually think is very good.  I keep thinking I’ll be happier when this happens, or this, or this.  More money, more success, more money, more success.

I also know that this is complete bullshit, but it doesn’t let go easily, does it?  Everywhere I look I find America.

Everywhere I look I find myself.

Acceptance, acceptance of what is.  Happiness is not back pain.  Nor is it the battle to dominate the back pain, to dredge up every unresolved loss in the hope of curing it all, in one fell swoop, so I can be perfectly healed.  Perfectionism, again.

Everywhere I look I find myself.

So, in search of a practice, I go to the mat, to the cushion, to the chair on the back porch, to the notebook, to the computer, to the theatre, to the making of film.

Funny, I love each one of those things.  If they’re not work, if they’re not shoulds, they become joy.

It’s not the what.  It’s the how.  If I can let myself love all of it, if I can trust that the pain will go away again, that I will find the right path into freedom…or not, and have to accept that, there is peace.

I’m already on the path.  I already know the answer.

There is this one moment.  In which to be alive.

Let everything fall away.

And the singing of what is…makes its song.

The Sad News Is…Grief.


Okay, so, the back pain started to return.

Now, I’ve been having major resistance to reading Sarno’s book, then writing about rage, and writing about rage and writing about rage.  I mean, it’s not exactly a happiness-inducing activity.  Sarno also suggests that when the pain twinges, you can yell at it and tell it you’re not fooled; you know it’s really emotion being covered up.  But that just made me feel like I was verbally abusing myself.

Frankly, I’ve been a bit grateful to my mind for protecting me from all this information.  I mean, it keeps coming.  Yesterday I realized that while there are solid intellectual reasons for not believing in God, my intense rage at the Catholic Church for its anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-body, original-sin-born-bad, shaming, guilt-inducing dogma probably had a role.

This is not rocket science.  But, since a nun saved my life, it does create internal conflict, and according to Sarno, that creates back pain.

But, but, but.  I don’t want the back pain to return!  And I do know that I always, always, always need to find my own way, even when a theory is fundamentally sound.

So, last night and this morning, I picked up When Children Grieve.  And immediately started to cry.  Both times.

I’ve written a lot about being reactive, but the most embarrassing fact is that therapy or no therapy (and there has been therapy, however unhelpful or mostly unhelpful), I have trouble moving on emotionally from the losses in my life.  Or maybe I just can’t keep up with them.  I’ve said that I’ve entered the unknown, and it was grief that always propelled me into that darkness.  But there are these sorrows, these losses, that, ten and twenty years later, still lance me when I talk about them, still make me cry.

I quoted When Children Grieve before, about the myths of healing from loss.  But this morning I read the chapters on grieving alone, being told not to feel bad, and having to be strong for others.  I read this:  “In all our years of working with grieving people, one of the most common and difficult-to-overcome problems is the child who was cast in or adopted the role of taking care of everyone else.”

I am the oldest of six children.  Case in point.

Oldest children are pains in the ass.  We think we’re right, we try to do everything ourselves, we are perfectionists, we take responsibility for things that we shouldn’t, we enable, we undermine, we try to control.  We want to be one-up, because our real needs have always been the least important, including to ourselves, and feeling more important in our opinions or in having control, will, we think, help compensate for the loneliness.  We have no idea how to grieve–not that many people do–how to stop, how to listen to our vulnerable, troubled hearts.

I wonder if we go to therapy to learn how to grieve.  I’m reading this book, about how children are told “don’t feel bad” or “it will get better” or even “if you have to cry, go to your room.”  I’m reading about hiding when we are sad, because being sad has been seen as embarrassing.  I’m reading that we isolate when we’re upset because we’re terrified of being judged or criticized for our feelings, for how things get to us.

It sort of brings everything together.  We go to therapy because it’s supposed to be a place where people are allowed to be upset.  We want to be rid of our painful feelings so we can be happy again, but we also want someone, anyone, to take us in when we’re not strong, or happy, or responsible.  We want a place in which to be fully human.  Only of course, paying an individual for permission to be human isn’t the same as allowing yourself to be human, all the time, and having people love you for it.

In the Meisner acting technique I teach, actors are taught to respond spontaneously to each other.  They give up the control of their emotions and let the other actor affect them as deeply as possible.  They drop the socially acceptable; they drop the mask of “I’m okay.”  And the connective energy grows so intense–the kind of intensity you can’t look away from on stage or screen.  But for the actor–and I know since I trained in this technique before I started to teach it–it is an education in opening to everything you didn’t know you felt, or exposing what you knew you might feel but would never show.  And most people LOVE it.  The only way to make a mistake is to hide who you are or to pretend you feel something you don’t.  So suddenly, in an acting class, it’s okay to be who you are and to create from that.  I fell in love with Fred Kareman the first time I understood that this was what he was teaching me.

How we need a place of freedom.  Meisner actors say terrible things to each other, things that in life would be a reason to end a relationship, but since the words don’t matter, since only the co-creative sharing of energy, of relating physically, emotionally, spiritually is the focus, since everyone agrees ahead of time not to take things personally, it becomes…the most connected experience some of us ever have.  We stop pretending that we don’t get angry, that we don’t hurt, that we aren’t attracted to each other (even though we’re married to other people)…and we can be this honest because we agree not to act out our feelings, only to use them in the creation of art, and as a secondary consequence of commitment to story.

I have never been taught how to grieve.  I stumbled into it and found my way out, but since I can’t quite articulate what happened both the times I went to that place, I struggle to say why I let go.  Was it because I was loved?  Was it because I faced everything about the relationship?  Was it because I found people who could listen?  Was it because I didn’t stop the emotions as they came?  Because I stopped pretending?

My partner read one of last week’s blogs and said to me, “It’s so sad.  That you must have wanted therapy to work so badly, and it just didn’t.”

So, yes, when I was in my early twenties, confused about why I felt the way I felt about…my family, certainly, but also pretty much everything except travel and writing, I had a deep hope that there was an easy way to get clear.  And I still grieve for who I was, and how hard the road became as the therapists…well, you know.  Fell asleep, fired me for being too healthy, or told me I was so attractive.

I still grieve for moves my family made when I was in grade school, one school to the other, leaving behind the school where I’d been able to overcome being bullied to one where I might face those same issues again.

I grieve for Rick, who wanted one more summer, who wanted to be loved by a man who would see his gentleness and longing, his appreciation of beauty, and who died, as so many men in the 80’s and 90’s did, worn down to bones covered by skin and not much else.

I grieve for the funerals I was not allowed to attend, for the explanations I wasn’t given when my grandfather had a heart attack at our house, for the cousin I loved who disappeared.  And all the others.  I grieve.  I am not, at this moment, trying to be strong for anyone.

And so there is hope.

Because I know, absolutely, that each person I meet has his or her own list. That underneath whatever is being shown, is hurt, pain, hope, courage, truth.

I hope because as I write this the twinges of back pain start to disappear.

It’s not just rage that morphs into physical pain.  It is the emotional reality of my life.  And while just naming it, writing about it, helps but leaves me too raw, there are steps to grieving.  Learnable, requiring nothing but courage and honesty to attempt, these steps create the possibility of not just a pain free back, but of emotional resolution where it is most needed.

I must review what is unfinished.  I must look.  That is my first step.

I believe in healing.  I believe I must find my own way.  I believe I must not do it alone.

I believe this goes for all of us.

So.  Metta for all sentient beings, that we may be free from suffering, that we may find peace with what is, including all the losses we have known.

PS–Of course I’ll include quotes on the other steps to grief resolution once I review them all and decide I agree!  Once I try them and see if they all work as well as I think.  I’m just at the beginning!