Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Road Rage Teacher

After a year or so of driving to work in Chicago, my mild-mannered, Wisconsin driver persona dissolved into road rage. I raced to lights, swerved in and out of traffic, and cursed any driver who slowed me down. Once as I was pulling out of a gas station, another driver careened in, swopping in front of me so I had to slam on the breaks. It wasn't much of a slam as I was hardly moving, but I was pissed. So I flipped him the bird. The other driver put his car into reverse, floored his accelerator, and slammed into my car. He then raced off.

I never fixed the dent in my car door. Every time I got in, the dent reminded me not to escalate anger. The other driver was the one who took our exchange to violence, but I was the one who started it.

The dent also reminded me to practice. In fact, my first, regular spiritual practice was for city driving. After an initial angry reaction, I would stop, breathe, and do a chant wishing good for the other driver. Believe me, it was quite a regular, regular practice. But it slowly had an effect. I became calmer, happier and less easily angered

I long ago drove that car into the ground and sold the limping husk. So I guess, I needed another way to be reminded.

Being in a play is fraught with tension that finds outlet in all kinds of interpersonal dynamics. Partly it is the pressure of performing. But a counselor friend quotes research that acting is therapeutic, and many actors depend on that release to live with their unhealed trauma.

A miasma of backstage jealousies, shifting alliances, gossip, & awkward chitchat rises from underlying, deep anxiety. Does the audience like me? Is my part good? Did I get to shine onstage? Did another actor damage my performance? And these worries cover more important ones: Am I seen? Am I heard? Am I loved? Do I deserve to live?

Last weekend, another actor did something that hurt me - a little more than having to slam on my breaks when barely moving, but nothing serious - if I wasn't choked by an ego tangle of performance anxiety. I angrily told the other actor I didn't like what she did - a reaction that, while less than a bird flip, was an unjustifiable escalation. Before I knew it, the other actor was shouting personal threats of the "I'm going to take you down" variety.

And I remembered my car, the dent, and the gas station.

One of my favorite Gospel quotes is "No one is good but God alone" (Luke 18:19). Slant that with Douglas-Klotz's translation of the Aramaic word not as "good," but "ripe" or "mature," and the quote gets even better.

None of us are mature. We are all learners.
It is not our job to be perfect enough to never screw up. That is not even a worthy goal. Instead we are here to practice.

The rest of that performance, my inner landscape remained dark.
Evagrius said that it doesn't matter if the injury you received was real or imagined, it is your anger that hurts you. I could feel my anger hurting me. I didn't like it. I didn't want it. But I couldn't shake it. So in those periods during the show when I had nothing to do, I shut my eyes and asked for help.

The play ended, the audience emptied out, and suddenly I was suffused with a sweet calm and upwelling kindness. I turned and there was the other actor, kneeling alone with no one in ear shot. In that moment,
all I wanted was to share the sweetness and defuse the anger. I'd been offered the help I'd asked for. With complete sincerity, I could apologize for saying anything offensive. The other actor also apologized, seeming equally relieved to dispel our antagonism.

However, by the time I had driven home, anger had risen up and swamped me again. So I called my only friend who knows both theater and spiritual development. She was generous enough to listen as I talked myself into seeing my own responsibility. By the time I was ready for bed, my inner landscape had cleared.

Practice and spiritual friends. Mostly, that's all we have. But, oh, are these precious. For so often, they are enough.

* * * * * *

Monday, August 15, 2011

No Need to Fear Being Dead

I don't relish the pain of dying, but I don't fear being dead. Because I remember being dead. Well, only that first, exhilarating, upward rush of release - that feels like all the graduations, birthdays, and weddings rolled into a single microsecond burst of joy. After that, I get nothing - as if an impenetrable lead curtain lies between me and further knowledge.

It is enough.

The deaths I remember (and yes, there are several) were mostly violent, only I don't remember the trauma as traumatic, or any pain.

Each death carried important insight about life and the leaving of it.

Once I was burnt to death as I slept. A big bed, hangings, furniture, my body: all went up in a great whoosh of flame, smoke, and all-consuming joy.

What I learned? Wow, death feels good.

Another life ended with beheading by guillotine. Forget the French Revolution. This was the normal round of executions of petty criminals in some smallish town. I was a poor, nondescript woman. Stole a loaf of bread or something.

Not the first in line for the guillotine, I stood on a platform looking over the heads of spectators and the roofs of houses to the deep, deep sky. I breathed in the sense of life, becoming lighter and happier. Then it was my turn. I knelt, feeling the curved wood under my neck and looking into a basket placed to catch the heads. The basket was wet. Each flat, woven reed glistened. I heard a bit of drum roll as the blade was lifted and counted, breathing in life until I was as alive as it was possible to be. I realized I could live longer, but I could not live more. If I didn't die then, I would soon slip back into a physical and emotional roil that blanked out any sense of aliveness. So I would gain more days, but not more life. Better to live fully for a few seconds and welcome the death that followed. I felt so calm, so alive, so happy. On ten, a strange shlick! Then black.

I don't have any memory of that after-death.

What I learned? More time does not bring more life. Living fully is possible, but has nothing to do with resisting the passing of a particular body. In fact, just the opposite. The more a person is caught up in resisting and bemoaning death, the less alive she becomes.

I don't generally share these memories, but hey, with economic meltdown in the U.S.'s immediate future, how else live than by risk?

* * * * * * *

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Reflections on the Wisconsin Uprising

One of these days the people in the U.S. will rise up and toss down our presently growing corporate tyranny. It has happened before & will happen again. Just won't be so easy as a few rounds of voting. For one thing, the prevalence and ease of manipulating electronic voting machines (including visual scanners) makes it unlikely that votes for a sane state are counted
Yet, even if the vote doesn't bring real change, the organizing energy is precious. Rejection of our rising capitalist dictatorship can only come when enough of us are willing to loose everything, and even be shot at. That kind of desperate courage arises out of economic & social suffering - the kind some in the U.S. are already experiencing. The suffering will spread due to the economic collapse being ushered in by extremist Republicans & appeasing Republicrates (like Obama & Reid). As we discover that we do not suffer alone, more and more of us will join together to choose life over survival.

It will take time. The tools used to jolly populations along have always been so very effective at dividing & conquering: fascism built on fear & hate of trumped up social enemies, & keeping folks silent out of fear of homelessness, starvation, and reprisal - while they must work more & more for less & less.

BUT capitalist dictatorship, like any dictatorship, like monoculture, is inherently unstable. IT CAN NOT LAST. The structure of any controlled system IS the very source of its destruction. Nature abhors perfect forms. Inherent in biology is pressure for diversity and new growth in small, overlooked spaces.

We had a vote in Wisconsin. Two entrenched Republicans were turned out of historically Republican districts. That's amazing. But it is also a bare beginning.

So the question is: how do we keep our spirits up so we can engage and live and have full, compassionate hearts for the duration?

* * * * * *

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Necessity of Hunger

"The number one reason to fast is that food tastes better when you are hungry." Augustine said that (more or less - I paraphrase 'cause I can't seem to locate the source). Augustine's not a guy I quote often given that he invented the doctrine of original sin, and blamed male lust on the women men lusted after. But I like this.

And I find it comforting. Especially as a strange coterie of Republican extremists and center-right Republicrates (Obama, Harry Reid & like-minded congressional "Democrats") eagerly pass legislation guaranteed to take the present, U.S. economic recession-bordering-on-depression into a full-fledged, undeniable depression. (We can't have a "double-dip" recession if the recession that started under Bush never ended - CEO salaries, global corporation profits and stock prices notwithstanding.)

But what if, in the larger spiritual picture, the role of these insulated, corporate politicians actually is to explode the U.S. economy? Could that be a spiritual good in the largest, universal picture? A creative passage of fire, a dark road that many people of this nation need to walk? Yes, huge, visible suffering will be visited on masses of folks - I expect to be one of the suffering. But out of that ash land, what might we grow?

So many of us, myself included, have lived with such a surfeit of guaranteed comfort for so long that we have no idea what food tastes like, a dry bed feels like, or how water quenches thirst. We need to rediscover hunger. For our spirits' sake.

For ten years, I walked the terrible dark road of despair and grief and self-hate. Many don't make it to the end of that road. I came out the other side with help from those I met on the way. I wouldn't wish the same journey on anyone. Yet I am also immensely grateful I was forced to go there. The perspective, compassion, presence, and humility I learned were worth the price and the danger.

I've yet to meet anyone who choose such a path. We have to be driven. Our coping strategies and comfort blankets have to be forcibly stripped off.

If the impending economic depression is just such a forced stripping away, maybe our national journey into the dark could bear equally valuable fruit.

* * * * * * *

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Of what use pain?

My left hip is the most painful, and my right knee has hurt for the longest time. Yet in a recent Reiki session, those two places were completely open. Sometimes Reiki energy is sucked up by an off-kilter part of the body like dry earth thirsting for water. This was different. Energy flowed freely into my hip and knee - no obstruction at all - as if it was poured through empty space.

What if chronic pain is not just the unhappy indicator of a broken body? What if a body in pain is not even broken. What if pain is the side effect of the body serving a purpose - and doing this job well?

Yes, my sciatica results from decades of poor skeletal alignment. Yes, that skeletal misalignment was caused by muscles held tight all my life - with other muscles pulling improperly to compensate. Yes, those muscles first froze into a trauma response during childhood. And, yes, that scenario created an unbalanced whole whose misplaced wear ended up pinching and inflaming sensitive, sciatic nerves.

But what if, ultimately, pain serves another purpose than pointing up failed function of a purely physical machine? Perhaps an invitation to life-style change. Perhaps a call to heal buried trauma. Perhaps a loving-parent-push out of the comfort zone and onto the road of spiritual awakening.

Or perhaps a sign that the body is clearing and opening to receive greater energy.


* * * * * * * * * * *

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fallen Woman

I'm falling down a deep chasm, grabbing desperately at branches, only to have my hand slide down, stripping the leaves off, and go on falling. There's the constant niggling of home repair when I have little energy and no money, the anxiety of poorly-paid, part-time employment, the suffering of chronic pain with no access to health care, and the struggle to give good care to my uncle.

"Why not just fall free?" my friend asked.

What a relief. Desperation and the mad scrabble to hang on is so exhausting. How much sweeter just to let go and fall.

Yet I am poor, aging, in bad health, and overwhelmed by unfamiliar responsibility. My choices led to this life, one that society judges as failure. So I feel shame as well as fear for my future .

Spiritual teachers say to live in the present. Can't say I've managed that when I was often swamped by regret and what-ifs. But I've lived as if I had no fear for the future - abandoning social and financial security when I felt called (by my creative muse or by God - feel free to choose the label you prefer). Not that I didn't notice the fear, but I set it aside pretty easily as unimportant. Until recently, I had no dependents - which allowed me the freedom to do so.

"Maybe it was never so easy to make fearless choices," my friend said, "but you weren't present enough to feel your fear until now."

This is likely. So is my present work to be fearless while truly feeling the fear? Not distracting from, suppressing or denying fear, but feeling how strong it is, acknowledging it, and then setting it aside as a bad guide?

Every morning I practice being grateful before I get out of bed. I have never lacked for any necessity. I lack for nothing now. If anything, I have too much. Okay, I have physical and emotional toil, but those struggles aren't the problem. It is fear and shame that fill my inner space with grinding tension as if I chewed on greasy metal filings.

My choices led to a life that society judges as failure and left me open to certain material challenges. That doesn't mean the choices were wrong. Not if what matters is doing my divine work in the world.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chronic Pain and the Freedom of Constraint

Every North American I've met on the spiritual path (including myself) was forced onto it by chronic pain - physical, emotional, or relational. For me it was all three.

For 30-odd years, I suffered from depression and terrible insomnia. During the worst of it, I slept less than four hours a night and often not at all. Suicidally depressed, I dragged myself through an unending land of sodden ash--no color, not even grey.

In a desperate search for relief, I stumbled onto spiritual practices. Yet I never stopped crying for pain-free "normality," or railing against my unfair burden. It took a good long time to realize what a gift that pain had been. I had to uncover and heal my childhood wounds or die of suicide. I had to do spiritual practices or be consumed by a hell of regret, self-hate, and anger. Eventually I became grateful I was forced onto the dark road--despite the dangers. Because the dark journey bestows spiritual gifts of great value that can not be gained any other way.

Near two decades out of the dark, rigorous sleep hygiene still limits my life. More constraining is growing, chronic physical pain. Pain radiates from my back down my thighs and legs into my feet. Sometimes I gasp as a sharp pain shoots down a leg; more often it flows in a slow burn like lava. The first wisps appeared in my mid-forties. Now at 57, I'm never not hurting. At night, the low ferrous rumble of pain mutters in my dreams. No chair is comfortable, and I often can't stand for more than a few minutes. Occasionally my legs just melt away, as if they'd turned to mushy jello. To date, the last feeling comes and goes fast so I haven't fallen.

Yet, supported by a nightly 600 ml of ibuprofen, I'm in this play with duels (of which I have two) and a song & dance number. My part is minor, but I volunteered for a lot of crew (taking set pieces on and off). It feels better to move than to sit or stand still waiting (in a tiny theater where every backstage noise can be heard by the audience). Luckily nothing is heavy--even the swords are foam.

We are in tech week. The light crew is amazing--a smoothly-running team of mostly high-school-age kids who have been together through theater training. Watching them scale scaffolding to shift large light fixtures, I tell an equally young actor that at her age no one could have kept me off those scaffolds.

"You could still learn," she replies.

"Except that I now lack the physical ability," I say.

She commiserates, but I feel calm. Peaceful. No longing and no railing against an unfair universe.

"The thing is, if you turn your desire away from what you can no longer do, physical disability can open you to something you would never have found otherwise," I said, then stopped, astounded. The words came out of my mouth ringing with indisputable truth. Yet, I had no idea what they meant.

I once heard a calligrapher talk about the soaring creativity she experienced within the draconian constraints of her art. Strong limits gave her freedom to express herself. And energy, I imagine.

This was true in the monastery. I once spent so much energy deciding what to wear and when to wear it, what to eat and when to eat it, which entertainment to go out for or to stay home, running errands only to forget one thing and run out again--not to mention deciding when, how, and if to do my spiritual practices. All that energy was freed. All that mental space was freed. All the emotional space consumed by "should I or shouldn't I" was freed. I found myself in a huge space reverberating with energy, light, and creative possibility.

I no longer have the monastery's lovely schedule constraining my life by holding me in a rigid, outer carapace of no-choice.

But I do have chronic pain.

Perhaps when I learn to relax within my physical limits, and turn from mourning what I have lost, that same infinite inner space will open before me.

A little pain to live in such freedom? It is a worthwhile exchange.

* * * * * * * * * *

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Poverty of Mind

I'm in a play on the recent, Wisconsin political uproar. It has witty, fast-paced, fake-Shakespearean language. Duels. A song & dance number. A cast of thousands (Okay, 14 actors play 47 characters, but it feels like thousands).

I have a minor part. Occasionally I'm jealous of the rest of the cast with larger roles. Most of the time I'm grateful. I watch the other actors dance about the stage. Hugely talented, on the spur of the moment they toss off delicious physical comedy matched by high-flying, verbal acrobatics. If I committed all my physical and mental resources to the effort, I could force an approximation. These guys do all that, yet have energy to burn at the end of rehearsal.

I can't do what they are doing. A small part of me nostalgically longs for the days when I could. Most of me doesn't actually want to.

I'd rather be slow.

Not only was I a dancer, but a well-honed, mental athlete. With a very high IQ, I could leap, spin and dash intellectually without the least effort. I've long since lost my mental edge and stare stupidly at brain-teasers that were once obvious. A good bit was destroyed by sleep aids I downed without regard for safety through several decades of intense insomnia. The rest?

A friend said she noticed that meditation has a mental-slowing effect. In growing inner calm, she no longer longs for intellectual leaping about. Yet she also finds she simply can't do it.

It is another kind of poverty. And it also offers freedom.

* * * * *

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Choose Poverty

"Choose poverty in order to be present to the world." The sentence rose into my dreamy, mental drift during a guided meditation. Choose poverty to gain the freedom to be fully present.

On a Friday in early March, 2005, I turned my credit cards over to the monastery's Formation Mistress and closed my bank accounts - on Sunday I was entering the novitiate. As I left the bank, I felt an exhilarating rush of freedom. The freedom not to own. The freedom not to fear the loss of things.

Didn't last long. On Monday, I found that an old check hadn't cleared and I was suddenly in debt. But even that much taste of real freedom was illuminating.

Recently a fire wiped out a large, upscale apartment complex in my town. One young man lost everything, but when asked how this felt, said it felt like freedom. I knew this is what he was talking about.

Of course, it is a lot easier to live free of fear when your shelter, food, clothing, medical care, books, work, and anything else you might need were guaranteed by a well-off monastic community. Those sisters' homes might be owned by a non-profit corporation, but they had control as the corporation board. And that corporation owned some pretty cushy digs - better than I'd ever afforded on my own.

Sometimes I heard sisters boast of their feelings of freedom compared to ordinary folks in the world - who are so often eaten up by worry. The sisters think it is their superior lifestyle and practices. Perhaps. But I imagine their security is an important factor.

Still, so many spiritual teachers insist it is possible for anyone - in the world or within a well-off monastery - to give up the control and fear that comes with ownership. I hope some day soon I can be like the man who lost it all in a fire: let go and rediscover what real freedom tastes like.

* * * * * *

Monday, May 02, 2011

A Parkinson's Peak

"Read to me on evolution," my uncle said as I came in Saturday. "Give her the book so she can read to me," he told the caregiver, shaking a slim volume on evolution that came with our subscription to Scientific American. "Your Ph.D. was on evolution. You should like this," he continued.

After dinner I read to him from the book. Then he asked me to look him up on the computer. I did and found a lot of his old papers... And a newspaper with his name among other young men who had just been discharged after WWII. I showed him the newspaper on my laptop, and read out titles of his research. He talked about various co-authors: the crazy student who broke all the glassware in the lap, and the reliable student who died in China of kidney failure, the nasty lab head who purloined my uncle's postdoc work, and the kind lab head who encouraged a group of young researchers.

"It's good to know my work hasn't just disappeared," he said dropping into a moment of sadness.

"It hasn't. Your work is still out there. You're famous," I said.

"Tell them the famous biochemist has gone to bed," he said later, laughing as he clumped down the hall leaning on his walker, one foot dragging.

None of which sounds terribly earth shattering except I haven't heard that much energy, or intelligence, from my uncle in a long time.

We had a substitute caregiver that day. The man loved to talk, and knew how to draw my uncle out of the vague country his mind so often wandered. Our present regular caregiver is meticulous in his physical care, but never talks to my uncle except to give instructions as part of that physical care.

More importantly, Parkinson's can be an up and down disease. Facilities return that have been missing for awhile, and then disappear again. Today, my uncle was equally bright-eyed and awake. How long will this energetic, intelligent period last? There is no way to know.

* * * * * * *

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Demon is Winning

"Tell the Demon Should to can it," I exclaimed.

My friend wanted to spend a nice Sunday afternoon lounging on the deck, but didn't think she should - never mind that she had just come through an emotional & physical wringer. Anyway, why does anyone need justification to lounge?

"A voice that speaks in shoulds always takes you away from the divine," I continued. "Shoot, it takes years of practice to be able to relax into stillness, in nothing-to-do. Most people never manage. They're too addicted to action - needing busyness for distraction or to numb out or to cover the hole left by their missing self-esteem."

My friend agreed and prepared to lounge.

As I drove away, a tiny voice whispered,"Tell the Demon Should to can it," and I started to cry.

Not that I have trouble lounging. Just the opposite. Add together a contemplative spirit, a mind fascinated by watching, and a body used to the freezing habit learned during childhood trauma, and my problem is moving, not stillness. How often have I missed something I'd been looking forward to because I literally could not get my body to move? An hour before it was time to leave, I might start haranguing myself, "Get up. Move," only to stay frozen immobile as the time to leave came and went, as I became five minutes late, ten minutes late, half an hour late, too late to go at all.

In fact my talent and need for stillness was the real reason those constantly busy sisters kicked me out. The monastic schedule was a reliable goad so I was rarely late, and the easily accessible, divine energy was so enlivening I rarely froze. But on my designated "desert day," I wanted to lie on the earth and drink the sun washing over the grass - not get busy with house and yard work like the rest of the sisters. Before I entered, I was told the "desert day had no one's agenda but yours"... except the sister forbore to mention that your agenda had better be cleaning the garage and raking leaves.

No, the Demon Should can't get me over lounging, but does it ever wring my heart over my mistakes. I should have done this. I shouldn't have done that. An endless cacophony of angry accusation overwhelms my mind, leaving no room for human or divine relationships.

"Tell the Demon Should to can it," the tiny voice pleaded, tired and sad, "I don't know if I can go on this way much longer."

* * * * * * * *

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sailing in the Sea of the Most Evil Practice

"Why not embrace the decay, relax into it," a spiritual friend of mine asked as I winged on about the toll of home ownership. Suddenly I remembered, I like weathering: crumbling brick, rusting metal, rotted wood. Not just like, love. I take pictures, collect pieces, sit for hours contemplating sun/wind/rain/snow working their weathering wonders across exposed surfaces... And gaze when I can into hidden places where bacteria, fungi, plankton, plant roots, and the byssal threads of molluscs so diligently run the great recycling continuum of life.

What is it about ownership that changes all that? Is it the money I spent? The sum was so much more than I would normally see in a year. Is it the weight of responsibility? If anything goes it's my fault. So one cracking brick means I am too awful to live. (We are talking 2-year-old perceptions, here, since that is the age of my home ownership trauma. So my life is presently being run by a catastrophic-thinking 2-year-old.)

Or is this just the difficulty of material existence in a system of nothing-but-change - the "suffering of having" in Buddhist terminology.

In his Rule, Benedict called private ownership, "this most evil practice." Since the Rule is a guide for bringing people into union with God through life in community, "evil" means anything which places a barrier between God and people - as individuals or as a group. Private ownership is a most evil practice because it so effectively derails our ability to let go and be at one with the divine in and around ourselves, or perceive the divine in others.

So what are we to do - those of us who need to live in the world and for one reason or another can't shuck our possessions, much less be wandering monks in truth (versus in name only as I seem to have become)?

Listen to Syncletica, that generous pragmatist. She talks much about the nastiness of possessions. For example, "those who live without possessions [can't be] harmed, since the majority of our griefs and trials originate in the removal of possessions," and the need for possessions is insatiable since "one who has nothing desires little, and on acquiring this little reaches for more. One with a hundred gold coins longs for a thousand. Unable to establish their limit, they constantly lament their poverty." Yet she also often says that not everyone is cut out to be a monk, but all are called toward the divine, no matter their path. Besides, those tidily ensconced in a spiritual community may face the worst difficulty:

"We [hermit women] seem to be sailing in the calm part of the sea while secular people sail in the dangerous parts. We also sail during the day, navigating by the sun… while they sail by night, swept along by ignorance. It often happens, however, that the secular person has saved her ship in the midst of storm and darkness by crying out and staying awake; we, on the other hand, have drowned in calm waters through carelessness in letting go of the rudder.”

An odd sort of comfort, but I'll take what I can get.


* * * * * *

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Is it Enough to be Clean?

With my first caregiver, every day brought a new, urgent crisis. Most required shopping to fix - and I loath shopping. Though for the $150 home visit from a lock smith only my fingers had to shop... And wasn't I lucky to discover that the elusive gas smell in the garage was the caretaker running her car with the garage door closed before this amazing habit led to disaster. "It cold," she said complacently, unmoved by my concern.

That caregiver had an engaging, goofy presence with my uncle that he adored, but I had to let her go. After six weeks, I just couldn't take it anymore - what with her lack of English, talent at creating crises, and stubborn refusal to listen to any information I gave her about my uncle ("I have idea. You have idea," she finally explained, "My idea good. Your idea bad.")

So last week a new caregiver arrived. He is less engaging, but calmer, steadier, and more reliable. Yet... from the same country (Mongolia), and with some of the same issues. Since they are vastly more experienced caring for elderly folks, what could I possibly tell them about this man, even if I have lived close to him for years?

Both caregivers are early 50s, with grown children, and professional careers they left behind when they came to the US - the "evil empire" of their upbringing, BTW. Though they make 4 times my salary, and spend the bulk of their day watching TV, talking on the phone and playing computer games, they both regard me with barely disguised distain, as if I was the Ugly American personified.

No wonder I rarely sleep.

BUT: I haven't used since I moved into my new house. Mostly. Searching out library books for a new class, I stumbled on a mystery and... But just that once. Otherwise, I've been clean. I don't even have the desire to use - an unexpected side-effect my present situation shares with monastic life.

Another unexpected shared trait: all my demons are flocking for the kill, cawing their ascendancy as they dig talons into my flesh - eating my sleep and causing a constantly upwelling, childhood trauma state. At least now, I know more about the spiritual usefulness of trauma. Although my overriding desire is to GET OUT by any means, a part of me watches calmly saying, "Just stay in it. Let it process through. This will take you someplace you are going to appreciate. Minimally, an old wound will be healed." And so, with the help of friends, I stay in.

OTOH, there are some monastic traits that I'd relied on getting, but do not yet have: 1) a regular schedule, and 2) a regular spiritual practice within said schedule. Instead, I expend copious amounts of time driving and shopping - hated activities I was glad to do little of in the monastery.

Even now, without caregiver #1's endless needs, I can't seem to stop driving & shopping.

I suppose any new parent will understand my present inability to get on top of things. But some of you did eventually get the chaos under control... at least partially... Didn't you? (She asked, pleading.)

One would think all this would drive me right into my book addiction. Yet it hasn't. Maybe I'm too emotionally drained... Or too busy shopping to get to the library. ;-}

* * * * * * *

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Home In The Dark

Most of my life, I agreed with the proverb writer who said, "give me neither poverty nor riches, but just enough to satisfy my needs" (30:8). Too poor and one is overwhelmed by the body's needs, but too rich and one is obsessed with watching over possessions. Neither allow access to a sense of the divine.

Objects have one, very intense desire: to disintegrate and come to rest in complete disorder. That's why it takes such volumes of human energy just to keep them from falling apart. It is their nature to weather, compost, change, be recycled. I hate pouring my life into that loosing proposition. So why at 57 did I leap onto the American Dream of home ownership (in a still-rapidly-declining housing market, no less)? Why did I imagine I could do this?

The issue has never arisen before because I've never had sufficient income.

So here I am a first-time home owner at 57 - after an exhausting home search, and an even more exhausting remodel of a foreclosure - with some not-so-good results, and one, ten thousand dollar mistake. That mistake cost more than half my year's salary.

Whoa! you say. If you're in such a low income bracket, how can you get a house?

We-e-e-e-l-l-l-l... It's the reason I'm doing this in the first place. I didn't pay for most of it. My uncle did.

Ever since he moved to Wisconsin and into a retirement community to be near his younger brother (my dad), he's been asking if we could live together. "I don't have a house," I said, "And besides, you are better off here with all the activities and the friends you've made." And he was better off - first in an apartment, then in assisted living.

The nursing home was another story. Despite being one of the best in the area, it was... a nursing home. Skilled and caring as the staff were, they had lots of folks to look after, and there was just an institutional coldness to it all.

So I finally said, "Yes."

I'm no altruist. My uncle is one of the nicest people out there - even now with the creeping dementia and slow, physical, downward slide of Parkinson's. I wouldn't have done it if we didn't get along very, very well.

Yet I wake each morning crying, "I can't do this. Why did I think I could?"

But then I sit with my uncle, and he is so sweet and relaxed - not at all the guarded, lost person he was in the nursing home, and I think, "I've got to find a way."