Just a Day with My Partner, Who Shall Remain Anonymous


My partner is in her room on the unmade bed with all the laundry, doing the questions for the Brene Brown course we’re taking on line. I already finished mine. That’s how things go around here. I am the type A who gets it all done yesterday. But get this…usually I would write a novel in answer to said questions, and she would write, oh, maybe three phrases. But I snuck a look at her answers and there’s at least half a page full of her cramped lefty hand writing.

I’m having a little trouble breathing. I don’t know whether to feel completely mushy and grateful or totally threatened.

Hey, no one said we were sane.

Last weekend we were out with another couple who just passed their 10 year anniversary. They asked if it gets easier (we’re hitting year 29 in June). We kind of looked at each other, and then my partner said, “No, not really.”

I made a face. I could tell she started getting nervous we’d have a fight about it when we got home, because she backtracked like nobody’s business.

“I mean, it does, but then it doesn’t,” is how she started said backtracking.

I love being married.

Except when I don’t.

It’s complicated.

But right now I love it. We lie around comparing the effects of menopause. We talk about everything from politics to why she uses the word, “pumpy” as an endearment and what that’s supposed to mean. We go to yoga and we argue about movies.

She comes up behind me and kisses my head. I mean now. She did that right now. For no reason.

We even had our friggin’ torturous mammograms on the same day.

I said, “You are my twin.” She is. Except that we look nothing alike and I’m a femme tomboy and she’s gender non-conforming and she’s Jewish and I’m an ex-Catholic pseudo Buddhist and she’s a tech nerd and I’m an edgy artist and she’s all about the details and I’m all about the big picture concepts and we do everything exactly the opposite from each other.

Outside of that…

I guess it’s just love.cropped-25th-anniversary-crazy-people.jpg

 

How much is too much?


Today I wanted to write about my partner, but what calls to me as a subject is grief.  I have always hated the expression, “You don’t get more than you can handle.”  I’m all for being positive, or at least balanced and at peace, but seriously?  I have 3 cousins who committed suicide.  I imagine their ghosts laughing their asses off at that one.  I think they would say, “Dude, look, it’s patently untrue.”

Growing up, I had a super American attitude.  Up for any challenge, ready to fight the good fight, thinking I could make it happen, go for it, be a go-getter.  Developmental, to a certain extent, that attitude.  Teenagers don’t know what they can’t do, and I remained a teenager into my forties.  I say this now, knowing full well that I’ve had a life that contained more than I could handle.  More deaths, more losses, more difficulties, more people with problems, including myself and everyone in my immediate and extended family.

I don’t have an answer for the losses that come one after another, without reason, as if we’re all standing at a huge craps table, and some people have dice weighted toward tragedy.  I’ve experienced this, and I’ve watched it–my partner’s cousin lost her husband, her daughter and her mother all in the same year.  I saw her rarely, but I was always studying her to see how she was making it through the days.  I noticed how openly she spoke about the losses, how honestly she answered if you asked how she was doing.  That seemed to be how she was getting through, and I admired and admire her greatly.

I know people going through this right now, and I suppose I’m writing this for them, or maybe just to say what I know, which is what it’s like to stand, bewildered by loss, unable to understand what it means, needing to find meaning, needing to lift the heaviness, if only for a moment.

The first 10 day silent meditation retreat I attended had, as they all do, dharma talks.  They talked about how Buddhism was the bummer religion, starting with the first of the 4 Noble Truths:  Dukkha is.  Suffering is.  I can’t tell you how psyched I was when they spoke about it.  Because here is the down side of our American way–when you can’t make it happen, when it’s too much, when you don’t meet the challenge as you’d hoped, when the most recent loss brings all the others back tenfold, you feel like a loser, like everyone else is happy, pursuing happiness and getting it, while you flounder around looking for a tether.

My dead cousins are like, “Dude, not true.  The ones who think they’re tethered are clueless.”

I think we fight the randomness of tragedy, because it strikes at our powerlessness.  Of course the American way is to get up, fight through, not let it get you down.  But it DOES get you down, sometimes.  And it is worth it to admit, to surrender, to say, yes, too much for me.  It’s nice to have something to believe in, at those times.  Or at least to be at a silent retreat where the talking people are saying that we’re all in the same damn boat, and suffering is completely ubiquitous.  Pick your poison.  Or more accurately, it will pick you.

I have been trying to lean into my losses for years.  I lean in, and then I go watch some more Internet tv.  Because the pain hurts, and you know, I’m not so enlightened that I can sit with it for all that long.  But I do go back–there’s that American thing–and I lean in again.  And I find it’s true what they say–when you lean in, when you surrender, it starts to let go.  It’s there, maybe, but a little smaller, and not a pall that lies over every moment, but a place you can visit and leave.

I want to be free.  I want to honor my dead.  I want to be a good and decent human.  I want to create beauty and bring out what is inside me.  I want to live from a place of peace.  Those are my life goals, and I’m happy with them.  Only, you know, easier said than done.

I now say lovingkindness every day, and today I say it for our losses, for all of us who are carrying more than we can bear, and struggling to bear it anyhow.

May we be well.

May we be free from suffering.

May we be safe and protected.

May we live with ease.

Or, as they used to say in the church of my childhood, Peace be with us all.

 

PS–Oh, and about my partner.  She makes me believe in love.  Need I say more?

What Is the Price of Forgiveness?


I have been thinking about this question for, well, my entire life.

But I just finished my last blog, and I was reminded of the Amnesty Trials in South Africa, presided over by Desmond Tutu (who is my hero, as in HERO).  Anyone who had committed crimes against humanity would be granted amnesty if they confessed publicly.  When the confessions of torture and murder got too much for the listeners to bear, Desmond Tutu stopped the proceedings and had them sing.  One of the songs they sang, loosely translated, is this:  Whatever God has made nothing can destroy.

I always thought that those trials stand out in human history as a miracle and the most brutal of healings.  I have also wondered about the lack of punishment.  They had no choice–if they had punished the white offenders, the whites in South Africa would never have let Mandela’s South Africa come into being.  But I have always wondered–the miracle or the compromise with justice?

Today I have been writing and thinking about Woody Allen and other child abusers, which leads me to the question of human evil.  So, I think about South Africa as I ask myself how do we approach evil in ourselves and each other?  How do we think about it?  Explain it?

  1. In Internal Family Systems, Dick Schwartz proposes that the part of any of us who acts in harmful ways against others, including children, believes it acts for our own protection.  This kind of self-protection is well-intentioned for this part (subself) who works only toward a single goal–keeping us alive and away from dangerous emotions.  We must appreciate the part’s intention, Schwartz says, in order to heal ourselves.
  2. In addiction theory, evil comes from disease.  The entire personality becomes warped in the service of getting the next drink, drug, sexual hit, whatever.  But addicts who get sober are redeemable.  They can heal.  Then they must take responsibility for their actions.
  3. With current theories of mental illness, you just better take your meds.
  4. In religion, you’re going to hell.  Unless you’re Catholic, and confess, and then you’re forgiven.
  5. Or, if Christ died for all our sins, we’re forgiven ahead of time.
  6. Or, in the Old Testament, you might get struck by lightening.  You’re definitely NOT forgiven, and punishment should be meted out equally (eye for an eye).
  7. Then there’s Buddhism.  The way I understand it, meditation leads to the kind of enlightenment in which you can pray as much for the criminal as for the victim, and share your compassion equally between them.  The ability to meet violence with equanimity equals a high level of enlightenment.

Everyone’s struggling to understand evil, and how to deal with it, how to heal it, how to forgive, when to condemn, when to punish…all the age old questions.

I really want to know the price of forgiveness.  Because I can tell you that meditating with difficult emotions as my meditation object is friggin’ brutal.  And trying to say metta for people who have hurt me is just as bad.  So is the price the suffering of letting go?  Of giving up your own righteousness?  Do I have to see myself in the people I don’t ever want to be?

But, on the other side, is the price of forgiveness the continued bad acts of people you’ve chosen to forgive?  I know people who forgive those who show no remorse.  Like the Buddhists who share compassion equally between the victim and the offender.  And man, I am just not that enlightened.  I’m with the victim.  I can understand the offender, but mostly I just want them stopped.  Period.  End of every sentence everywhere.

I want to know what forgiveness costs.  I mean, literally.  I guess that means I need to keep thinking about this one.

As if 50+ years isn’t enough.

But what I really want is to be free of the past–the pain of having been hurt, the pain of having hurt people.  Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.  Not an original statement, but a true one.  And it’s not like it’s a decision.  I once found a card about the astrological sign Pisces.  It said, “A pisces will walk a mile to get her feelings hurt and then remember it for the rest of her life.”

I was like, SOMEONE GETS ME!

Seriously, I think about forgiveness because I don’t really understand it.  I mean, I can forgive my partner, who loves me, and who hates hurting me, and who tries, really tries, to change the things about her that cause me pain.  Not who she is, but habits, faults, etc.  In the many years we’ve been together, I’ve come, slowly, to be capable of giving her get-out-of-jail free cards, sometimes even when I know she’ll do the same f-ing thing again.  I’ll even say, “I’m going to let you off the hook, and say it was just a mistake, even though you’ll probably do the same thing next week.”  She’s always like, “Thanks.”  (Give me a break, she knows me, and she’s just glad I won’t be trying every trick in the book to get her to say she’s sorry 50 million times.)  And then I’m like, “But you better watch it the next time.”  And she’s like, “Don’t ruin it.”  (We’re just like this.)  Or sometimes she’s like, “I know already.”

But how do I forgive people who hurt me on purpose, or who don’t care?

And how do I forgive myself?

I ask people about this, and they’re like, “You just decide to.”

Or they’re like, “You have to grieve it, and acknowledge the hopes betrayed.”

Or they’re like, “Too bad you don’t gamble, drink, smoke, eat sugar or whatever.  Because that would at least help you forget, you friggin’ health freak from hell.”

Or they’re like, “Maybe you need to meditate more.”

Or they’re like, “Just keep asking the questions, Lyralen.”

I worry that the price of forgiveness is justice.  Giving up the hope of it.  And my whole life has been the pursuit of justice and equality, so really, if that’s what forgiveness requires, I don’t think I can do it.

And that worries me.  Because I would like to be enlightened and free.  I would like to be light and at peace.

I guess I’ll meditate more.  And keep asking the question.

Excerpt from Saint John the Divine in Iowa


Image

I was telling someone that the piece of writing of my own that I love the most is a sermon that’s part of a play & screenplay.  The character is Reverend Alex, and I got to play her.  I was saying that while I LOVE acting, like big passionate love, often, in performance, it ends up a little disappointing–like I’m not ultimately present, or I’m not connecting as well as I’d hoped with my scene partner, or the laughs don’t come the way they did the night before.  Of course you roll with that, but when it comes to this monologue, it was different.  Just getting up and saying these lines, that are my manifesto,  to say them as a woman committed to a spiritual life in community, to a life of integrity and love, so that the words became bigger than me or my life, meant more to me than any other artistic moment I have ever experienced.  I got to do it 14 times.  Here are the words.

(Frances exits.  Reverend Alex walks forward and addresses the congregation.)

 

Reverend Alex

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world:

Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world:

Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world:

Grant us peace.

Reverend Alex

In the Gnostic Gospels Jesus says, “If you bring forth what is inside you, it will save you.  If you don’t bring forth what inside you, it will destroy you.”

Most of the time, when we think of bringing forth what is inside us, we think of the gift of who we are that comes from God. Our ability to love, the truth of our self-expression, the naming of what we want in life, the claiming of our own strength.

But sometimes what is in our hearts is dark. Sometimes we find fear, or jealousy, or weakness, our deepest flaws, the ones that hurt the people we love. Jesus knew about this. In the garden of Gethsemane, he said, “Father, let this cup pass away from me.” He knew what it was to be faced with something he might not be strong enough to accomplish.

I imagine Him alone in that garden, with darkness falling, with the soldiers on their way, and I think of what He did not tell his disciples, of what He must have felt He had to suffer alone. I think of His return from that death, when He could finally say, this is what I understand to be my Father’s will, this is what I have seen that I can now share with you.

Be part of me. Touch my hurt. See how I am wounded and redeemed at the same time.

Jesus knew about wanting the cup to pass and having to drink anyhow. We can turn to Him for this. But we do not have to be alone in Gethsemane. We can learn to turn to each other. When we bring out the dark side of our own hearts, we say, “I am weak here. Help me with this.” We heal in the humility of acknowledging the human condition we all share. We confess our weaknesses, knowing we are already forgiven. We are all, one way or another, in need of the Light that comes when we bring forth what is inside us.

(Slowly, the light fades on Reverend Alex.  As it does, Jesus appears, the lights shift. 

They look at each other, and this time, she does see Him.)

 

Reverend Alex

Everyone wants to be known.  Everyone.

 

Jesus

(Softly.)

Thank you.

(Lights go to black.  End of scene.)

Part 3: Ayn Rand & Octavia Butler…Comparing Unlike Authors


You know that book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?  I would add this:  All I Needed to Know about Human Beings I Learned from Science Fiction.

Of course, the subject matter–human beings, the nature of being human–is fundamentally disturbing.  In the early 1990’s, when I read Dawn by Octavia Butler, I hadn’t really faced up to how disturbing, so her book really freaked me out.  In it, humans have destroyed most of the Earth and each other, and an alien race comes to rehabilitate the Earth and save what humans they can.  But they discover that human beings are inherently hierarchical and competitive, incapable of peace (as history also reveals), so they imprison them with love–they bond so that their humans experience intolerable pain if they stray too far away from physical proximity.  They can also enter the minds of their humans.

What freaked me out was the idea that we are incapable, as a race, of living in peace.  That our natures, our unevolved brains, were leading us to destroy ourselves and our planet.  And excuse me for being Ms. Doomsday, but, uh, anyone notice anything happening on the planet that might fit the description?

I think I threw the Octavia Butler book down on the thick golden sand of Herring Cove beach, said some f-this and f-that and dove into the ocean.  Then I probably came back and ate too many chips and hummus combination thingeys.

But here’s the point.  Ayn Rand, the survivor of a totalitarian state, of oppression and terror, had to know what Stanley Kunitz (I think it was him) said.  “There is nothing we won’t do to each other; and no words we won’t use to deny it.”  If you know that, up close and personal, how do you live?  How do you develop faith in yourself and other people?

The answer is simple.  You tell yourself that not everyone is like that…not everyone is hierarchical, not everyone is competitive, not everyone evolved in some Darwinian fashion; there are exceptions, you tell yourself, and me and mine are among them.  Then you go about defining me and mine.  For Ayn Rand, talent, intelligence, non-conformity, innovation, strength, independence, were the me and mine.  For Democrats, compassion and help for the poor and suffering, social justice (to some extent or another, and not enough for me), equality, are the me and mine.  For Catholics, sinners, heterosexuals, believers, are the me and mine.  But it doesn’t really matter, does it?  In each case, for each group, we are attempting to stave off the idea that being human means, among other things, being hierarchical and competitive, needing to dominate, and destroy through that or because of that.

What about Mother Theresa?  Gandhi?  Jesus?  The Buddha?  What about Barack Obama, for that matter?

Yes, yes, human beings do remarkably generous things, even to the extent of giving up their lives.  In the Holocaust, one of the worst atrocities in history, we saw incredible destruction; and we saw heroism, especially in the Resistance and the camps themselves, where people helped each other.  Of course, as Sophie’s Choice reminds us, some people did terrible things to survive, and we don’t talk about that.  They were victims, and targeted, and they became what their perpetrators made them become.   We forgive them for that, even as we cringe.

The question, though, isn’t whether we possess goodness, kindness, generosity, courage, soul.  The question is whether, as an entirety, the human race can overcome its inherently competitive and hierarchical nature.

Ayn Rand’s characters were intransigent in their belief in freedom, they were extreme in following their talent and nothing else; she lacked an understanding of psychology that would have allowed them a fuller complexity.  I think of the driving need to think you can be other than the ones who made you suffer, that you can be utterly distinct–perhaps that’s why it’s most commonly younger people who love her work.  There’s a time in life when you want to be utterly distinct from your parents, if you didn’t admire them, which, get real, many of us didn’t and don’t.

There is nothing we won’t do to each other; and no words we won’t use to deny it.

Oh, how we long to escape that sentence, to say that it is true of everyone but me, everyone but mine.  How we long to have faith in our humanity, to define humanity as only the good.

I am interested in reality.  I am interested in what would happen if we quit defining the world in terms of us and them.  I am interested in holding all of who we are, of what we are capable, the degraded and the sublime, the divinity and the destruction.

Octavia Butler’s vision in the book Dawn is utterly bleak.  In her vision, human beings don’t deserve freedom, because once they have it, they begin to destroy.  At the same time, the experience of their slavery is intolerable.  She leaves the reader with no answer, with only the double bind.

Which is how I leave you, today.  But not without hope.  I hope for one moment, I hope to know peace again, in the next moment, and the next.  I hope to hold us all in my consciousness, with love, knowing that tonight or tomorrow or next week I will be selfish with my partner, or manipulative, or even angry and unskillful in my anger, knowing that I will judge another human being, even if it’s only for cutting me off in traffic.  And then I will bend down, brush the hair off my beloved’s forehead, and tell her this, I see you, all of you, and you are yours, and that is enough for me.

Then I’ll wake up the next day, complaining, asking her to change.

We are all everything, all the time.

May we be at peace with what is.

And may our brains evolve, as they so need to do.

Samskara: Round and Round and Round We Go


You can’t cure the mind with the mind.

In other words, thinking is useless.

Okay, it’s not useless.  You need it to bake bread, till the earth, work at the corporation.

But here I am, back investigating the nature of the world ala Buddhism.

So…you can’t think your way out of a paper bag.  Or a pattern of bad relationships.  Or an inability to tolerate ticking clocks (yes, of course that one is me!).

I am enraptured by thinking about samskara, knowing it won’t do any good.  But still, I have to find some way to spend my time.

Seriously, we’re all in the business of repeating–in relationships, in work, in decisions.  Somehow, we make the same mistakes again and again.  Somehow, we keep walking down the same street.  The utter powerlessness and frustration, the inability to change at will, the way the flaws in our own characters persist and persist.

When I stop fighting it, it’s just samskara.   The Jungian complex.  The human condition.  The very thing that puts money in therapists pockets.

I like to image it like wood-burning kits you get when you’re a kid.  A metaphor:  etching lines into the wood, making patterns, labyrinths.  You can’t erase them.  Life burns them into your brain–what they call neural pathways–and they become your fate as much as anything else.  The first relationships, the first losses, the way we say, “Never again,” and yet when relationships and losses come, they are eerily similar, always.

Why, you might ask, would anyone be enjoying thinking about such things?  Maybe because I’m starting to see that there is only surrender, and surrender is such a relief.  All my life, I keep trying to wrestle my samskara to the earth with will and force, with the hatred of the repetition, and now I’ve just let go and it’s suddenly okay.  I’ll relive it or I won’t.  I don’t have to know how it’s going to turn out.  I can just wait and see, and trust that in the moment, I will know.

Of course, there must be effort, at times.  There must be an attempt at something.  But if I wait until I know, then perhaps that will be right effort.

There may be such a thing as right effort, instead of effort flung around at everything, diligently working every moment, trying, trying to get it right, make it right, prove some thing that no one wants you to prove anyhow.

This is my brain on meditation.

This is my remembering Don, and his last two phone calls to me, and the feel of his hand, swollen, as he lay in his hospital bed.  This is my gratitude for no samskara with Don, for the newness of knowing him, for how honest we both were.

The terrible letting go of loss, the necessity, the continuing to love.

The letting go of who we once were, not knowing who we will be.  The enough of that, the relief, the moment rising up and filling everything.

Good-bye Don, again and again.  May you be free from all samskara, well-loved and loving.  May you be free.  May you be welcoming, as I am, the unknown into your heart, curious, if nothing else, at how it might change your fate.

Post-Cleanse, Day 2


It’s over, it’s over, lalala, it’s over, it’s over, it’s over, lalalalalalalalalaa!

I just ate a cheese sandwich.

That would be half a rice tortilla, about 1 oz. of almond cheese and 1/2 teaspoon of earth balance.

Compare it to…Beef Wellington, say, or Filet Mignon with Hollandaise, both of which would probably kill me.  But on this diet, ambrosia.

Today I also ate 2 eggs and 1/2 a cup of goat yogurt.

My partner drank water from rice that had been boiled for a long time.

I hope to be able to do yoga without falling over tomorrow.  It’s a big wish, I know, but I have hope.

I hope to drive up to Endicott without spending an extra half hour in traffic on Wed.  We’re at blocking-and-rehearsing-and-hoping-we -can-get-it-all-in-and-make-it-great time.

I will meditate tomorrow.  Maybe all day.

Obviously my brain has been destroyed by kichari and ayurvedic herbs.  I suppose a cleanse lobotomy could be a reason for nothing every bothering me again.

We’ll see.  How long it takes to find another rant.  There’s always Mitt Romney, but really, why bother?  He’s doing a good job of destroying himself without my attention.  I think I’ll leave him to it.

Good night, one and all.  Much metta.  Or something.  I have forgotten the meanings of many words on this lobotomy, so perhaps something makes sense somewhere on some planet in some language.  Perhaps.  Spahrep?