(in which Dave attempts to psychoanalyze and counsel himself, as part of a practice of learning to be present)
As the new year begins, the old me begins yet another evolution. I am in BC, searching for my new ‘summer home’ here. My intention is to live here May-October each year, and in Australia or New Zealand December-March each year, spending April and November as a nomad, visiting friends and loved ones by train across North America. I hope to report on progress on the home search soon.
As in recent years, I have no New Year’s Resolutions, but rather New Year’s Intentions, which I published last fall and reproduce below:
|Long-Term Intention||Long-Term Practices||Short-Term Intentions (Exercises & Projects)||Hrs/day
|Reconnecting with All Life on
Earth, Instincts & Emotions
Presence/Paying Attention (2)
Heart-Opening/Letting Go (3)
|10am to 1pm: personal/group
– Forest/ocean walks
– Presencing exercises
– Gratitude exercises
– ‘Breathing through’ meditation
|Increasing Capacity & Competency
(Personal and Collective)
|Understanding How the World Works (4)
– presentation/conversation skills
– demonstration skills
– creative writing exercises
– SSUQIOC exercises
– balance and empathy practices
|Dismantling Civilization||Activism (7)||2pm-6pm:
– Open Space: Stopping the Tar Sands
– Open Space: Ending Factory Farms
|Creating Models of a Better Way
to Live and Make a Living
– novel: The Only Life We Know
– film: Earth 2200: A Travelogue
– workbook: Finding Your Sweet Spot
– unschooling: personal practice guide
|Joy, Understanding||Self-Knowing (5)
Being Myself (9)
– reflection/questioning exercises
– play: drawing, photography, with animals (original play)
|(activities not directly related to
any of my intentions)
– self-care (sleep, exercise etc.)
– networking; serendipitous reading
– self-management (gardening etc.)
This evening, as others seek to escape reality at hopeful and inebriated ‘celebrations’, I am comfortably ensconced in a delightful and quiet Vancouver suite, engaged in introspection and self-assessment. I am in the process of reading two books, Jim Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren, where he once again states the urgency and utter necessity of a global, immediate, rising tax on all carbon at source of extraction, and a ban on tar sands and shale development, and Karen Wegela’s The Courage to be Present, which applies Bodhisattva Buddhist principles to self-awareness, meditation, and psychological counseling. I am using the latter as part of my Presencing/Paying Attention practices (#2 in the chart above), and the former as part of my Understanding How the World Really Works practices (#4 in the chart above).
I am thinking about how little real attention I pay to what I am feeling, and how little I understand why I feel what I do. Being present, I think, is going beyond just noticing the world around you and being aware of your thoughts and reactions to it, to achieve an awareness of what you really feel and an appreciation for why you feel that way. I think at the moment there are several things I am feeling:
- With the thought and growing experience of living alone (for the first time in nearly 30 years) I am feeling: an ambiguous mix of freedom/exhilaration and anxiety/trepidation/loneliness. I love being alone, but I also love companionship, stimulation and direct exchange that only comes with being with others — as soon as I’ve been alone more than a few hours I crave company, and vice versa. And, I’m often told, “people who live alone are weird”.
- I’m feeling delighted at moving to a place that meets all my aesthetic and emotional criteria for “home” (a place of great beauty, warmth, wildness, comfort, connectivity and progressive thinking).
- I’m feeling a bit guilty that I have so many opportunities to do what I want, while others are trapped in slavery, oppression, thankless responsibility and suffering of one kind or another.
- I’m concerned and a bit uncomfortable that with retirement, some of my tendencies for depression and procrastination will re-emerge — I love the idea of having “nothing to do, nowhere to go” but when it actually happens (which is rarely) I do tend to do nothing (sometimes not even write, though here I am writing right now) and to go nowhere. I often describe myself as lazy, though this word dates back only to the start of wage slavery in the industrial revolution, so perhaps a more precise term would be unindustrious, self-indulgent or subsistent — I could quite easily be enticed into spending all day eating (organic vegan), sleeping and making love, and would be somewhat unapologetic about it (such actions, after all, do not produce a large ecological footprint). Nevertheless, I’m concerned about it — if I get into this somewhat antisocial pattern I’ll feel guilty and then depressed for not achieving the intentions I’ve laid out in the chart above.
- I’m annoyed at myself that I can’t shake the adolescent fantasy of having a ‘play-mate’ — someone living with me in a relationship of convenience i.e. frequent sex just for mutual fun, she gets to do her art/music without having to worry about paying the rent, no commitment on either side. I appreciate that relationships are complex, and that the relationship(s) in this fantasy are unrealistic, shallow and unsustainable, but still, part of me keeps asking why not?
- I’m confused about the fact that, while I will be closer to the people I love with this move, and while I am comfortable with being poly and loving people who are also poly, I am still quite deliberately moving to a place that is quite a long distance from anyone I love. And at the same time, this is a place where I envision house-mates who I don’t necessarily love — beyond my absurd fantasy above, I like the idea of my new home being a beautiful place where friends can stay for a while, or a while longer, on their way to finding their own place. I like the idea of having company around without commitment, of having people I can share ideas with, perhaps mentor, and then send happily on their way.
As I’ve been told to do, I’m sitting with these feelings, trying not to judge, discount or rationalize them. I intend to become more sensitive and empathetic to the emotions of others, and to do that I need first to really understand my own. Using Richard Moss’ approach, I’m trying to understand the myths, the false but reinforced stories (about ourselves and the world, about the past and about the future) that underlie the ‘negative’ emotions above.
Underlying the anxiety, the trepidation and loneliness of living alone, I think, is this story: Alone, I’m lost, incomplete, useless, incompetent, nothing. Perhaps even a little crazy, dangerous, unpredictable, vulnerable. Where does this story come from? Times when I’ve been alone and seriously depressed, or lost somewhere and frightened, or just disconnected, that feeling of not being here or real that you sometimes get when you lose yourself in a novel or in a solo creative project and you come up for air and everything is suddenly very loud and you ask yourself: Where was I? Another factor underlying this story, I think, is my lack of survival skills — fixing things, swimming, anything requiring coordination. And, from painful experiences in my youth, remembrances of poor social skills — inability to dance, to converse with strangers, to be comfortable at parties or in crowds.
Underlying the guilt and concern about my extraordinarily good fortune and my self-indulgence, I think, is this story: You’re lazy and shirking responsibility when the world is full of suffering and poised to collapse, and you’re doing nothing for others. Where does this story come from? My underlying and unbearable grief for Gaia, and my absolute conviction that our civilization will collapse in the latter part of this century. How can I be so selfish as to think of retiring and focusing on my own wants and needs? And is my whole belief (inspired by John Gray’s Straw Dogs) that there is really nothing we can do about the coming extinction just a salve, a cop-out, an excuse for this inexcusable behaviour? The explanation in The Courage to be Present of the Bodhisattva way is “dedicating your life to the benefit of all other beings”. Why does this feel like salt being rubbed into my wounds?
Underlying the annoyance and confusion about my immaturity and nonsensical choice of housemates is, I think, this story: I’m afraid of commitment, and lack the emotional intelligence to cope with real, mature relationships. Where does this story come from? A long history of people saying I have disappointed them, let them down. Of what I perceive as others’ unreasonable expectations of me (“you should be able to do this”; “why can’t/didn’t you just…”) and unreasonable behaviour towards me. This pushes all my buttons, and drives me crazy. It’s so effective in the workforce, with so many people, that bosses now routinely damn employees with “I was disappointed that you…” instead of “you fucked up”. Not only did you do something wrong or fail to do something right, you caused pain and suffering. Damn you.
Some Buddhist and other teachings would have you “out” these stories for what they are, fictions, inventions, tricks used to convert pain to “tamed” suffering because that’s easier than either facing the real pain or acting on it. I’m wary of some facets of Buddhism that encourage you to distance yourself from what’s grieving you, because I think disconnection can be really dangerous, an escape no different than a drug. But I’m impressed by Wegela’s take, which stresses that pain is not the same as suffering (suffering is the consequence of pain, how we deal with it, and pain cannot be diminished or alleviated but suffering can). Pain is real, suffering is invented. You turn towards and understand your pain in order to address your suffering.
The three italicized stories above, that I have been telling myself for so long, are not true, or at least they are not true right now, and now is the only time that matters, that exists. When we see ourselves as ephemeral, as figments of reality, as a part of all-life-on-Earth, these stories dissolve, they have no meaning. When we see this, we can let go of them.
My “Alone, I’m lost, incomplete, useless, incompetent, nothing.” story and my “You’re lazy and shirking responsibility when the world is full of suffering and poised to collapse, and you’re doing nothing for others.” story are stories about me and about my past, or invented ones about my future. Right here, right now, they do not exist, they have no power. I can let go of them, knowing that.
My “I’m afraid of commitment, and lack the emotional intelligence to cope with real, mature relationships.” story is a story about me that I’ve told myself, and others have told me. It too does not exist, right here, right now. I can let go of it, knowing that.
More importantly, none of these stories has any power or meaning unless I choose to believe them, to give them that power. The story that other people, including people I care about, often feel I have “let them down” is my own invention. What is really behind this story is that I believe I have let myself down by not doing what they said they expected or wanted of me. This is what the Buddhists call self-aggression. It is my expectations driving all these negative emotions, not theirs. It is my expectations of myself I must let go of.
And the story that, alone, I cannot cope, is also my own invention. What is really behind this story is that I believe I am afraid to really find out the truth about who I am, to let my heart be broken and to really connect with my emotions. It is my fear of this essential journey back to being truly “nobody-but-myself” that I must let go of.
And if I can find the courage to be present with that realization, and to let go of the self-expectation and the self-fear, who knows what I might discover?
Happy New Year, everyone.