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.


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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."