Archive for the ‘When Things Fall Apart’ tag
Personal demons, we all have them. Almost a full year ago, there was a jail break in which many of my personal demons somehow found a way to erupt into my daily life. I brooded, I withdrew into silence, I had little patience for my students, my colleagues and my friends. My life partner was left wondering “who is this stranger?” With the barriers between inner and outer world disintegrating, I had to choose between engaging these demons or retreating even more from life. For those who have been following here, you know that I chose to engage these demons. My latest effort, the walk along the Grande Randonnée 65, has been the most intense of these efforts. I say “most intense” as it was an attempt to engage these demons without the guidance of an analyst, without the support of the significant people in my life, without the safety net of community and home. I went to France to be alone with myself, to force myself to be present fully on both inner and outer dimensions without the distractions of others and places which had enabled me to “avoid” this needed confrontation.
“Our personal demons come in many guises. We experience them as shame, as jealousy, as abandonment, as rage. They are anything that makes us so uncomfortable that we continually run away.” (Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, p.29)
Ouch! Double ouch! That is likely the best description of how I have been dealing with my personal demons for a long time, continually running away; running, running, running.
“We do the big escape: we act out, say something, slam a door, hit someone, or throw a pot as a way of not facing what’s happening in our hearts. Or we shove the feelings under and somehow deaden the pain. We can spend our whole lives escaping from the monsters of our minds.
All over the world, people are so caught up in running that they forget to take advantage of the beauty around them. We become so accustomed to speeding ahead that we rob ourselves of joy.” (pp 29-30)
Guilty! Cuba, Mexico, Costa Rica, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Philippines, China, Canada! And this is just the running during the last eight years. It was only in France that I came, somehow, to “wake up” and stop running. And even then, it took about a hundred miles before I became aware of the fact that I had been running. Yes, I had literally been running at times on the GR 65. It took a lot to have me wake up. It took intense body pain and a literal confrontation with one of my ghosts to accomplish what meditation and psychoanalysis hadn’t been able to accomplish.
I am not fully there yet, but I am on the right path, my path. And, I am taking it slowly (doucement, aller doucement), one day at a time.
Another day and another hike in the Canmore area was rewarded with another sighting of elk. I wasn’t able to get as close as I wanted as the river stood between us. I continue to be amazed at how lucky I am to see so many wild animals in so many places. I just happen to be in the right place at the right time, each time. Thinking more about this idea of being in the right place at the right time, I began to think again of my time along the Grande Randonnée 65 in southern France. And, these thoughts turned to the morning I woke in Le Puy en Velay, in the pre-dawn darkness before it was time to head to the Cathedral for the Pilgrim’s Blessing by the Bishop of Le Puy:
~ ~ ~ ~
I lay there in the dark knowing I couldn’t fall back asleep no matter how hard I tried. It was a perfect time to meditate. It’s strange how meditation became such an important part of my life. Of course there are all the benefits for the body, but it was the benefit to my inner self that drew me to meditation and held me there. It was one of the few times that I achieved anything that resembled being at peace with myself and the world. The outer world was more about chaos for me than it was about peace. At this point in my life, I didn’t know how to handle the unknown, the chaos and the uncertainty of anything and everything. Meditation helped me achieve some needed balance and it was teaching me the skills I needed to mentally survive in the chaos of my life.
“Life is a good teacher and a good friend. Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it. Nothing ever sums itself up in the way that we like to dream about. The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit.”
Wise words from Pema Chödrön; but for me, life hasn’t been much of a friend. I know that life is life, neither good nor bad, but still my mind remembers so much that I felt as “bad” as a youth. I still get caught off-centre and off-guard as the scenes replay themselves in my mind over and over again. As I continue meditating, I return again to these words and begin to allow the contrasting negative thoughts break apart and dissipate.
“Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic–this is the spiritual path.” (p. 10)
Eventually I stop thinking and I begin to relax with a shift of focus back to my breath.
I am continuing on with an idea that was presented in my last post, the idea of finding oneself unable to maintain control. About an hour after publishing the last post, while writing out the story of my pilgrimage in Southern France, I turned to Pema Chodron’s book, When Things Fall Apart. I had taken the book with me on the pilgrimage and had taken opportunities to read little bits of it when I took rests along the trails I travelled. When I found the words I had underlined more than a month ago, I realised that the words belonged here as well for they spoke of the feeling and the state of being that had been uncovered.
“Each day we’re given many opportunities to open up or shut down. The most precious opportunity presents itself when we come to the place where we think we cant handle whatever is happening, It’s too much. It’s gone too far. We feel bad about ourselves. There’s no way we can manipulate the situation to make ourselves come out looking good. No matter how hard we try, it just won’t work. Basically, life has just nailed us.” (Chodron, When Things Fall Apart, p. 13)
‘Life has just nailed us’ is a good way to put it. Life has hit us on the head and pointed us to the ultimate truths about ourselves and the illusion of our being able to control our own shadow to the point of denying its existence. As I found out, and as others continue find out, the shadow has a way of eluding our control.
It’s all about control, the illusion that one can control not only oneself, but also others and nature. Parents attempt to control adult children when they haven’t mastered how to control themselves. Husbands and wives try to control, mould their partners into some vague inner model which can’t be explained or held constant. Any slippage in one’s personal control is blamed on others or some undefined vagary of life in general. At all costs, the fault has to lie outside of oneself. To be caught in this illusion leaves one a bitter, angry and frustrated person. It is only when life nails us to our own cross that we can find an opening out of the illusion so that we can enter into reality. Sadly, not many will walk through that opening, choosing instead to deny, deny, deny.
Three times I had taken the wrong path, the path marked with crosses that indicated I was not to follow this path if I was to stay on the true path. Three times I walked until someone stopped me to tell me that I had erred. Thankfully, I listened and retraced my steps. I guess I was ripe to listen, to accept that I was fallible and lost. After the third time, it was my turn to open myself to listening to the inner voices that I had long denied, voices that tried to tell me that all that I had buried in the darkness and shadows.
It was time for me to accept all the shadows that helped define the reality of who I was. I thank the universe, life, for nailing me to my own cross where I could be held still long enough for the truth of who I was emerge.
With just over a week remaining until my departure for Europe, I find myself doing a lot of thinking about too many things. In an effort to still the thinking I have resorted to finding all sorts of things to do such as digging out old berry bush roots, trimming hedges, and sorting through things that have been sorted too many times already; all without achieving much success at keeping the thinking at bay. Even my meditation sessions have been getting noisy. I guess it is to be expected as a journey into the unknown (spiritually and psychologically) will become an active, day-to-day process.
I have packed my travel items into the backpack and weighed it a number of times. I have about 15 pounds (7 kilograms) including the backpack as my target weight. So far, I have remained under that weight. I take out each piece to reconsider its necessity for the journey. Likely I am still packing too much even though I have room and weight to spare. And this focus on my backpack still doesn’t silence those voices beneath the layer of consciousness. Something else is stirring that wants to be heard.
Pretending I don’t hear, I turn to blog sites about the Camino or to the discussion forum for experience pilgrims and pilgrim wannabes. Then this morning, I picked up a book started long ago which has been lying on my shelves ignored. Why? I don’t ask why when I am drawn to a book. Rather, I just listen to what emerges.
”Death and hopelessness provide proper motivation – proper motivation for living an insightful, compassionate life.
When we talk about hopelessness and death, we’re talking about facing the facts. No escapism.
Giving up hope is encouragement to stick with yourself, to make friends with yourself, to not run away from yourself, to return to the bare bones, no matter what is going on. Fear of death is the background of the whole thing. It’s why we feel restless, why we panic, why there’s anxiety. But if we totally experience hopelessness, giving up all hope of alternatives to the present moment, we can have a joyful relationship with our lives, an honest, direct relationship, one that no longer ignores the reality of impermanence and death.” (Chodron, When Things Fall Apart, pp 44-45)
This is why I am embarking on a pilgrimage. I am giving up on expecting others, things, and activities to rescue me from myself. I am daring myself to face my ghosts, my dark holes, my shadows and perhaps learn to accept them and accept myself as I really am. No more chasing phantoms, no more quest for some sort of fame that would define me in acceptable ways. And to do this, I need to put myself in a place where I am alone and dependent upon my body, my spirit, my psyche and all of my warts.
I was fortunate to get this photo from the ground as the nest was set quite high on a pole found on the cutline south of Canmore. I walked far enough away up hill in order to attempt to get more than a bit of the osprey’s head in the image. For those interested in learning more about osprey birds, check out the wikipedia entry here.
Being a parent is a great experience and I treasure all the moments of fathering and parenting two daughters and one son. They have grown up and are now experiencing the role of parent as well. As with the baby birds in this nest, the children grow up and leave “home” to make their way in the larger world. For a parent it is as if things have fallen apart, as if one’s world has been broken. As I get older, I am finding more and more that things are falling apart. But what is important for me to understand is that in falling apart, things transform. Life presents me with an opportunity to be a new and improved version of myself.
Things fell apart for me in a significant way during the past winter as many of my readers know. I have finally reached the point where I am somewhat thankful for this. Without the falling apart, I would have delayed even longer the healing that was waiting deep within. Perhaps I would have waited too long, never getting the opportunity to put things right for my soul, my heart.
“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. (Chodron, When Things Fall Apart, p. 8)