Sunday, 4 November 2012

I Feel So Different

A feeling like flight and me wanting out. Out of this moment. Out of this body. Out of this life. The tension born of this want grabs at the throat, the chest, the belly, reducing my ability to speak and breathe and eat. Elsewhere I have described life as a dance; these last few days this life, my life, has felt more like something out of Fight Club - me struggling for mastery over a foe that cannot be defeated; this knowledge doing nothing at all to diminish my punitive efforts toward victory. 

The instruction, in theory at least, is simple: Relate to your life. Come into the body and experience what waits - the surges and sighs, pulses and waves. But what of those moments or hours or days in which this seems the one thing I cannot do?

I tried laying down earlier today. Feet planted, knees raised, hands folded over the chest I closed my eyes and willed myself to feel in very specific, particular ways. ‘There,’ I directed attention again and again. A was storm roiling around the diaphragm. Not an earthly storm, though, one more cosmic in scope. Clouds of stardust swirling about charged space. Energy building, collecting. ‘Go there,’ I tried to force myself. ‘Go there. Feel that.’ The effect was like trying to push opposing magnets into contact. Or, more vividly, like shoving a young dog’s face into the mess it’s left behind the couch. 

An image appears showing an anonymous adult encouraging two children toward one another. “There we go,” the grown up says. Her sing-song voice does nothing to disguise the ‘make nice’ fa├žade she is working to maintain. Her hands rest one on each boy, one on each shoulder. The force she is exerting, her insistent need, strains the air. “Now let’s all get along, can’t we?”

Even the most cursory glance at either kid’s face reveals the obvious: Right now, in this moment, these two hate each other. The adult’s effort to bring them together, to encourage them toward a reasonable reconciliation, is provoking nothing less fierce than cellular repulsion. 

Yet still she pushes. And as she does this her smile begins to crack. Forearms quiver. Eyebrows collide. It looks like the lower lip has been tucked between teeth; her jaw pulses at each point. Observing this, one can almost hear the thoughts, feel their bitter resentment, her fear: ‘Come on you little bastards, make the fuck up!’ 

After a while, I push up off the floor.

The instruction, in theory at least, is simple.

Ten minutes later lunch has been consumed: Three granola bars, six crackers, two pieces of bread, a bite of feta cheese, and two heaping handfuls of chocolate chips all inhaled with the desperation of a drowning non-swimmer. That I can recall this menu in such detail strikes me as impressive; at the time, I taste, am aware of exactly none of it. Only the uneasy feeling in my gut, the sugar rush assaulting my body tells me I have eaten anything at all.     

So what, then, of those moments in which relating with life seems impossible?

The line of awake that streams through Chogyam Trungpa has, among other things, been called the ‘Mishap Lineage’. There is permission in this designation. I hear songs of welcome and drum beats of empowerment in this. It reminds us that awake is everywhere, even in the so-called mishaps of our lives. Naropa gets hit in the face by a shoe and it’s a moment of enlightenment.

Put one way, this label affirms the fact we cannot wander away from our journey - it is always here, underfoot. Put another, it assures us we cannot fuck this up. No matter how stupid, worthless, degraded, depressed, hopeless, insane we might believe ourselves, the path is always right here. The Mishap Lineage, then, offers a curious gift: A reminder there are no mishaps; it is all the journey.

So what of that question? What of those moments in which relating with life seems the one thing I cannot do? Well, this is it. This is the path, this is the journey, this is the dream I have been waiting for. Life, right now, is revulsion screaming with all the wild rebellion of a child who wants nothing more than to murder the friend standing a few feet away. I want nothing to do with how I am feeling. I want nothing to do with this body, this life, this being. Relate with this.

I put on music to soften the enterprise. A distraction, maybe, but I am hoping it will lend me something essential. It is Sinead O’Connor’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. The first track opens with a haunting recitation of A.A.’s Serenity Prayer:

“God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.” 

O’Connor’s voice then retreats into a whisper. In this the Irish-born performer is at her most stunning: a singing whisper coiled tight with child-like vulnerability and a stinging, waiting rage: “I am not like I was before...”

Somewhere in these seven words floodgates open. Hardness washes from my musculature and in it’s place... For a long while I have no sense of what has come, what has lifted to the surface once resistance melts. I sob at our kitchen table, night surrounding me, quietly supportive. At a certain point, I become aware than my hands are overlapped, covering my mouth. My jaw strains against this. Lips fight to part. I am so angry. I want to scream.

Sinead keeps on singing: “I feel so different / I feel so different / I feel so different.” I am no longer paying attention. I do hear her voice but it is not these words I am aware of, it is those few that started us out: “I am not like I was before...” Anger feels poised, ready to strike. Needing. 

‘How much are you willing to believe this life is a gift?’ Sometimes I feel this is the only question I have come here to consider. Night wind rustles through dying leaves. The weight of sleep presses in from elsewhere, from the others in the building. Someone shouts out on the street below and I hear that query: ‘How much do you trust life’s generosity?’
I used to think I could find this in books - books with precious titles and calming cover art and authors who evidently knew something. That I treated these volumes with gentle care while depriving my own life of such cautious attentiveness now strikes me as tragic folly. Feeling like shit I would run to the bookshelf, gingerly remove a text, and run one finger through the index in search of an answer. ‘How do I deal with this?’ I‘d wonder. ‘What do I do?’ I do not recall ever guessing the answer was really not in there but almost always right here.

Welcome to the Mishap Lineage.

From the corner of one eye, I see a saucer shake loose and tumble toward the floor. It moves slowly, as if wanting to give me the chance to watch, to witness. Striking a hard, linoleum-covered surface, the porcelain shatters into countless pieces. The sound of impact cracks the air. In the same instant O’Connor’s words break into lines, a haiku: 

I am not
I was before    

I sit looking at this in my mind for several minutes. Another variation on that question arises: ‘How much do you trust?’ The intonation suggests inquiry, but I hear instruction. I’m being shown something. More accurately, offered something. How I know this is unclear; I just know. So I get out my meditation cushion and sit down.

My body feels exhausted now, drained. My mind feels similarly emptied, but clear and light. That haiku hangs in the midst of this. I place my attention on these three lines and begin to meditate. What the breath might be doing is not my concern. I am taking those words as my focus. Having done this, I wait for them to open and reveal.

Anger still fires throughout the body. Qualities gradually emerge from this. First there is heat, movement, a consuming intensity. After a while these resolve, refine into strength, clarity, and determination. I feel each coursing into my limbs. Simultaneously I scramble to find reasons for this experience. I want to locate my rage on this event, that person. Those seven words, however, keep resisting such impositions. They want to show more than my petty interpretations and soon they do - blanks appear in the first and third lines:

I am not _______
I was _______ before

That middle line, that single word ‘Like’, now seems to divide two distinct but related statements. “I am not _______.” “I was _______ before.” This allows each the space and the opportunity normally afforded a statement, a declaration. A voice, typing this, emphasizes “A proclamation.’

I wonder ‘What?’ and a parade of candidates marches by. ‘Hurt.’ ‘A victim.’ ‘Alone.’ These are all far too easy and obvious. They are lazy conclusions. Waves of anger pick up and wash each aside with a force that both impresses and intimidates. ‘I am not ______.’ ‘I am not _______.’ this practice repeats until, eventually, a word appears. 

This comes with the certainty of one who stands with two feet deep in the earth. It emerges from a darkness abundant with terrors and wounds. This is a darkness that holds all the others of this large, swelling tribe and pulses with a communal strength that will be neither denied nor defeated.

In the instant before the word becomes conscious I remember a message I was given many years ago: “Your challenge is to speak your truth. You have been killed for this in the past.” This memory shakes the land, but I do not move.

The word then becomes conscious, the statements whole:

I am not silent.

I was silent before.

The tribe now begins to emerge from darkness. These are my people - some reticent, some howling, many blood-covered and bruised - showing themselves one by one. Their masses slowly surround and, in doing so, muster support. A strength that will be neither denied nor defeated. 

When you look upon our dirtied faces, please do not feel sorry or sad. Do not lay such limited judgments upon this precious moment. There is joy and celebration in all of it. If you listen, you will hear drums off in the distance. People somewhere are dancing about firelight. Turning to find these, I see some of my group peeling off and joining in the wild movement. Features ignite at this and voices lift up free into the night.

Stirrings swell in my own throat.

‘One day,’ I understand. ‘Not now, but one day.’

The mind flickers with thought: ‘Where did this come from?’ A voice arises quick in reply. Insistent it says, “Do not make too much of your desire to know. It is distraction - attend and you miss much of great import.” Then this: “There are rivers of life which, if you think of them, disappear. Submerged to the neck, you believe yourself dry.”   

It has been hours since I started this work - years, perhaps - and I am so tired. But those figures, alternating flickers of shadow and light, moving and ecstatic for what this is, offer welcome reminder. ‘This life is good,’ their bodies insist. The fire cracks at this; sparks float into the sky and burn, for an instant, like red-hot stars. This life is good.