This morning I found myself in my Morning Pages describing the place that I go when I meditate.   Later in the morning I tried to describe it to John, and discovered that it’s such a personal thing that you cannot hope for anyone to understand it unless they’ve been there themselves.  We humans communicate to each other in inaccuracies.  We can only express coarse approximations of ideas, thoughts and feelings.  So I would never expect anyone who reads this to understand unless they themselves have experienced it.  And yet it’s profound enough that it deserves mention as a fundamental part of my journey to strip the roadblocks away and find the creative part of myself.

I’ve been meditating off and on for 7 years now.  Mostly off.  When I was going through cancer treatments in 2001, I attended meditation classes through a group called Rigpa, taught by a Tibetan Buddhist teacher named Sogyal Rinpoche.  I was introduced to the group through his book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying which I found amazingly comforting during a period where I was forced to confront the very real possibility of dying for the first time in my life.

I attended the classes for about 6 months even though I only meditated on days when I felt a desperate need for comfort and release from all of the various stresses that cancer and its treatments bring.

It seems that, regardless of how casual you have been about meditating, every time you sit, it generates some sort of tiny piece of memory that stays in your brain.  I’ve been sitting daily for the past 4 months or so now.  I started off with once a day, and then increased to twice a day when I began doing my Morning Pages about 3 or 4 weeks ago, usually 10-15 minutes in the morning, and about 20 minutes in the evening, nothing seriously hardcore.  Now, after 7 years of off-and-on meditating where it has been mostly off, I’ve finally reached a point where I’m beginning to understand some things.

Nobody can actually teach you how to meditate since each of us is a unique individual.  The classes give you tools and guidance, but then it’s up to you to sit every single day and study your mind and figure out how to use the tools to clear your mind of the thoughts and emotional manipulations that seem to consume our very beings day in and day out.  The tools include things such as sacred spaces, candles, verbal guided meditations, mantras, a group of people to meditate with, etc. etc.  The real learning is that which you do on your own.  You take the tools in the toolkit and take yourself into the real learning space where you are both teacher and student.

Rinpoche used to say a phrase over and over and over:  “Form is Emptiness; Emptiness is Form”.  It’s something that in his classes you hear so much you have it etched into your brain, even though you may be otherwise clueless as to what it means.

This place of meditation is a place of nothingness.  It’s a place that has no beginning and no end, no up nor down, no past nor present.  I have no body and no mind there.  There are no other things or beings or thoughts in this place, because there’s a sort of a filter that keeps all that out.  It’s almost like it’s a separate dimension that is completely devoid of anything perceptible of this world.  It’s not a high, it’s not a scrunch-the-eyes and imagine sort of place.  It’s a place of infinite space and yet nothingness.

If you strip away all, and you’re left with this infinity of nothingness, what you have left is complete and utter peace.

Form is Emptiness; Emptiness is Form.

Paying Attention

February 7, 2008

Last night it was late by the time I was done with my chores and eating dinner and evening meditation.  I sat down and felt like I should be writing, but not really having anything creative to write about.   I sometimes feel hopelessly clueless on where I should even begin my writing.  Everything feels stilted, and forced.  Like I’m TRYING too hard and it’s not coming out right.

I picked up one of the writing books that I’m reading,  Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life  by Anne Lamott. I read a chapter about listening to the world around you.  Paying attention.  Trying to reproduce conversations that you overhear that are interesting — facial expressions, voice inflections, accents, mood, tone.

I realized that I come to work every day and I’m around tremendously interesting and unique people (euphemism for nerds :)).  The guy in the cube next to me is from the Netherlands, and I’m regularly listening to him in conference calls saying things like, “Hey hey, guys?  Guys!   We been sittin’ here discussin’ this same shit for, like, 15 minutes, ya know?  I mean, gettin’ nowhere, ya know?.  Like, I have a lota work t’do, and dis, dis is just wasting’ my time, ya know?  I mean, dood, the SAR wasn’t equal to da VTR and you know it couldn’t have been the FCT, you assumed dat…  dat you were right and everyone else is wrong and….  and just what were you thinking, man?” He makes me smile (when I’m not busy and don’t have my earplugs in).  For all I know he’s sitting in some high level executive meeting saying these things. 

I call my mother-in-law every day.  She is jam pack full of life stories that she repeats over and over and over, with every phone call.  Every story she tell me, she tells as though she’s never told it to me before.  I’ve heard it hundreds of times.  Yet, as a writer-wannabe, I cannot reproduce a single story.

 I call my mother every day.  She’s a funny person in that she has her own completely distorted view of how the world works.  Since her brain tumor 5 years ago she’s even more childlike and innocent than she was before that, which was still pretty sheltered and unworldly.

I spend so much of my day intent on getting my work done so I can get on with the “REALLY interesting business of writing”, and then I feel that I have nothing to write about.  I miss the fact that the entire world is dancing before me doing flips and waggling its tongue trying to get my attention all day.

I have things all around me that I can write about if I just can learn to open my eyes and ears and pay attention.  My goal for today is to pay attention.

Writing About the Journey

February 6, 2008

On the morning that I wrote about my 5-year adolescent period, I had a dream.  In this dream I was talking to my mother.  After talking to her, I went into the bathroom and stood over the bathtub.  I had a blackhead on my chest.  I squeezed the blackhead into the tub, and it oozed out and into the tub in one long string of sebum.  I looked at it with the mild sense of satisfaction that you get when you squeeze a great blackhead.

As I watched it, though, I saw it develop legs and begin crawling.  I saw it crawl up the bathtub wall.  It was about a foot long, and a disgusting worm-looking thing with caterpillar-like legs.  I realized that my body probably had millions of these creatures crawling around inside.  I began screaming “Mommy!!!!  Mooommmmyyy!!!!  MMMOOOOOMMMYYYY!!!!!!” and screaming and screaming.  I woke myself up screaming.

I expected that this journey to discover my creative side would be about learning how to write about the snowflakes falling and caking my eyelashes and the two decrepit old women who walked into Dunkin Donuts and huddled over jelly donuts, smiling, nodding, and whispering to each other.  I understood that I would probably need to confront the darker side of myself, sure.  But I’m discovering that this beginning of the journay  has been more like my dream:  squeezing out huge blackhead worms which are crawling around the inside of my body — ugly, disgusting, and making me want to scream.

I thought I’d already uncovered the spiders from my past before all this, and I probably had.  But maybe the lesson to me is, yes, possibly someday the snowflakes and the little old ladies and fairies and gnomes and magical rocks can be written about.  But right now, and perhaps forever, the ugly blackhead worms and the spiders will need to be included. 

This blog is about sharing my ongoing discovery about myself as I try to find the creative part of me.  So I expose this deepest darkest part of myself and pose my questions and conjectures hoping that as I continue my travel I will be able to answer them.  Because I realize that I’m the only person in the entire world that can.

When I meditate, sometimes John is watching TV in the other room.  The woofer on the sound system sounds like a sonic boom going through the house.

If I get annoyed at the sound making my head vibrate I lose my ability to calm my mind.  I find myself getting stressed out.

I discovered that if I allow the sounds of the TV to enter my mind and take them with an attitude of “John is doing something he enjoys.  The house has life in it.  Sid my terrier is probably cuddling with him”, then I can dissipate any emotions that I attach to it, and before I know it I’m meditating and completely unaware of the shaking of the house.

I was thinking about this this morning as I reflected on my past.  I was wondering where to go with what I’ve written — things about my father, my time in Florida, my suicide attempts.  What do I do with this information now that it’s surfaced into my consciousness and has become part of my superficial existence?

And then I wondered if this is similar to the TV and the meditating.  Take it, be with it, allow it.  Don’t struggle to suppress it or deny it.  Incorporate it.  Embrace it so completely that it becomes a part of my structure.  And make sure the rest of my being is strong enough that this knowledge doesn’t become the totality of who I am, but just another jigsaw in the entire picture of me.

Suicide

February 3, 2008

I want to write happy things in this blog.  I want to write about how every day I learned some new creative thing and how I pasted pink and orange flowers on my walls and wrote about fairies and gnomes and magical rocks that shook the earth.  But when I try to write the fantasy story my hand sits still on the paper.  When I open my heart and soul, this is the story that comes out.  So I will allow my pen to define how this journey through discovering my creative self will look.

This is a story about suicide.  I’m not talking about political, religious, or ideological suicide.  I know nothing about them.  I’m talking about suicide resulting from a feeling of despair when a person feels that living is no longer an option.

When I was a teenager, I didn’t know what purpose my life had.  It had no meaning – no up, no down, no forward or backward.  It was nothing.  It was as though I was standing in some foreign world, spinning around looking and asking, “Huh?  Where am I?”.  I read Carlos Castaneda, and books on witchcraft.  I thought over and over about how much I wanted to die, so that I could somehow find my way back to where I was supposed to be.  Eventually I ended up at the base chaplain’s door.  I had myself baptized.  The God/Jesus thing made me feel as though there might be hope.  If this was the REAL God, then the answer was simple.  All I needed to do was trust that He would guide me.  This sounded reasonable.

In college I became heavily involved with the various campus Christian groups.  I surrounded myself with my new Christian friends.  I prayed fervently day and night. 

College was extremely difficult for me academically.  My high school education was mediocre at its very best.  I chose Purdue University for college because it was far from home.  My major was chemical engineering.  The chemical engineering major was purely out of not knowing what else to major in.  The first time I’d ever touched a slide rule was a week before I left home.  I don’t think I’d ever seen a chemical equation in my life before college. 

I sat in exams staring at my slide rule, barely knowing which way was up and which was down.  My first roommate was someone who, unfortunately for me, turned out to be the hall’s antisocial over-achiever.  She faulted me for coming into the room late after studying.  She faulted me to having the light on when I studied in the room.  She faulted me for the very act of living within her personal sphere of existence.  She went to the dorm administrative offices and demanded that “that girl”, I, be moved.  Eventually the dorm moved me next door, into the room which had been left vacant after one of the girls who lived there was killed in a car accident.

My second year at college I moved into a small efficiency apartment a block off of campus.  I loved that apartment, and bought myself a guitar and learned how to play it.  I spent many hours by myself playing and singing Christian songs that my church youth group sang.

The Christian group that I was most associated with had the concept of “spiritual leaders”, and I was assigned a spiritual leader.  Spiritual leaders represented the voice of God, so to speak.  If your spiritual leader told you to do something, that was really God speaking to you.  It was usually not optional, unless you were willing to risk going against God’s will.

Well, my spiritual leader told me that it would be better for me to move out of my cute, cozy, wonderful apartment and into a two-bedroom apartment with three other girls so I could have more fellowship.  That’s what I did on my third year of college.

I was getting C’s and D’s in my classes.  Week after week and hour after hour I stared at organic chemistry, physical chemistry, physics, and engineering books, not knowing how to even begin.  I retook the classes that I failed and the second time would feel much more confident in what I’d learned.  I still would scrape by with no higher than a C.  It should have been a clue to me that in high school I would sit in front of my math books and pull my hair out crying, frustrated with myself at not being able to understand some concept.  But, to speak on my own behalf, I really had had nowhere to turn for guidance.  I had no idea what college major to pick that would both meet with my father’s approval and yet be something that I would have a prayer of achieving.

When I moved in with the three Christian girls, I lost the solitude and independence that I now realize are a fundamental part of who I am.  I was pushed over the edge emotionally, and began resenting a religion that would mandate a completely homogeneous society of happy people, all praying in fellowship and trusting God for their every need. There was no room for people to be different, and that left me out in the cold.  There was no place that I could go for help with my frustrations.  There was no one I could tell “I’ve been doing a shitload of trusting, and Jesus isn’t helping me with my issues”.

I began to spend nights away from the apartment so I could be away from my happy, bouncy roommates.  I didn’t believe any one of them had a clue what it was like to live a life of sustained death wishes.

I lost my virginity at this time.  I picked up men that I met in the campus coffee shop where I studied.  It was to one of these men, someone who was visiting the campus for a conference, that I fled from school.  I packed a small suitcase and took a Greyhound bus to where this man lived in a small town in southern Indiana, believing that his “I love you” in the heat of the moment was sincere.  No one had ever said that to me.

A few days later, while staying with this man, I took an overdose of pills.  I told him about it, and he drove me to the emergency room.

“Why would you do such a stupid thing?  Do you have any idea how irresponsible it is to try to kill yourself?”  The ER nurse’s voice was cold and accusatory as she berated me.  I felt alone.

A day or so after I overdosed, the man I was staying with dropped me off at the Greyhound station and drove away.  There was nothing said and no reason to turn around after walking away from each other.

I took a Greyhound bound for Daytona Beach, Florida where my older brother lived.  In Daytona Beach I worked first as a waitress, and then became a factory worker.  My first job was at a Chinese restaurant.  I lived in a boarding house.  When I flipped on the light switch at night, thousands of cockroaches scurried from the floor, walls, and ceiling.  Cockroaches slept with me.  Cockroaches fell from the ceiling into my food.  Cockroaches crawled up my legs in the bathroom.  One of the men that I shared the house with peeked in the bathroom keyhole whenever I went to the bathroom.  Another old man who lived in the house next door sat in front of his window which was about a foot away from my window and watched me.  I always had to make sure the flimsy plastic curtains were positioned so that he couldn’t see me.

I went to disco clubs and biker bars and learned to drink and pick up men.  I read an ad about free kittens and got a kitten.  The partying made me forget I owned a kitten.  One day I walked in from spending a couple of nights away and discovered that this tiny kitten had gone feral, no doubt having subsisted for days on just cockroaches.  I put him in a box and took him back to the woman who gave him to me.

Someone introduced me to marijuana at this time.  It was the best stuff ever.  I learned to roll my own joints.  I even sprayed my joints with Raid a couple of times, as I had heard from someone that Raid gave you a better high (For anyone reading this who is wondering, don’t do this.  No, Raid does not give you a better high and smoking it will NOT do good things for you!).  Pills were great.  I took whatever pills anyone had to give me.  I even walked the streets asking people if they had any pills to sell — of any type.  I inhaled bottles of amyl nitrite, a heart medication.  It caused my mind to instantly spin out of control into the ozone.  I would have graduated to heroin except I only knew one heroin addict well.  He was pathetic even by my standards.  What few teeth he had were half rotted and discolored.  He was skinny as a rail, never bathed, didn’t have a job, and spent his days sitting on a filthy couch in his living room, smiling and barely coherent.  He was my best friend’s brother.  This was the same best friend who once wondered whether she should let her boyfriend “break in” her daughter.  These were the people I partied with daily.  They were, in their way, good people.  They were part of a subculture which existed under society’s radar.

I eventually set up house with a man (I was 20, and he was 31.) who was a carpet layer by profession.  He had never learned the art of temper control.  He would punch dents in his car if he was angered by something.  He would accidentally hammer his thumb and respond by punching a hole in the wall or in a door.  It could be a very small thing, but he would scream “Motherfuckin’ cocksucker!!  Fuckin’ goddamn cocksucker!!” and in the next instant something would be smashed, damaged or completely destroyed.

Our primary form of entertainment was going to the strip clubs on Main Street and drinking and watching the strippers.  The strip club crowd regulars drank and partied together.  Most of them had nicknames such as “Big Bill” or “Iron Mike”.

The two of us had frequent arguments that were often screaming matches.  I thought nothing of standing in the middle of the street screaming my lungs out at him.

One day, a little while after an especially bad fight where he had used my face as a punching bag and broken one of my fingers, I swallowed a bottle of pills.  I was alone in the small 1-bedroom house we were renting.  Just to make sure the pills “took” this time, I chased them with as much as I could drink of a jug of wine.  What a great, peaceful, settled feeling I had.  I didn’t have to live any more.  Could anything be sweeter.

I woke up sometime later in an ambulance in between convulsions.

Something in me realized after this that since I was at rock bottom I may as well take a chance on myself and try to do something useful with my life.  Lucky for me, this was the beginning of my climb out of a life spiralling out of control. 

Until this writing, this part of my life has only existed as a nonchalant comment dropped here and there.  Now, looking back on it through this story, I can see so clearly that this period of about 5 years has established the basis for every subsequent belief in my life, both spiritually, as well as philosphically and politically.

I periodically hear or read people describing suicide as “the most cowardly act a person can possibly do”.  The next time you hear this, or you feel compelled to say it or even think it, I want you to ask yourself something.  Who is the greater coward?  Is it the person who wants to die?  Or could it be the person or people who have contributed in creating a picture of life for an individual that is so consumed with bleakness and despair that the individual feels that his or her only thread of hope is through the void and darkness of death?

I had to laugh at myself last night.  Our homework was to write 100 words about three people (using the various incantations of pronouns that we’d learned in the lesson).  They had an example story.  I read the story and the very first reaction I had was “goddammit, they took the only idea left on earth, now what am I supposed to use!”.

I thought about it and came up with an idea or two, and then woke up this morning with two more ideas, and then finally settled in on a story about two students fussing about doing this very assignment and their teacher.

Serendipity is the writer’s friend 🙂