Heartbreak Wisdom Journal — Entry 10: Echoes/Grief

Recent days have suddenly been emotionally difficult after relative equanimity for some time. It took some time to pin down precisely what has been bothering me, but eventually, I realized. It’s been a year. In a few weeks, it will have been a year since I got that cold, empty phone call after several days of emotionally distant standoffishness. It’s almost been a year since I was initially prepared for the death of partnership, family, and friendship (I don’t mean to be melodramatic with using the word “death”. That was the phrasing she used at the time–“This must die.”). This anniversary has particular weight not only because of the end of a relationship but also because of the unraveling of my life in general at that time. My job shifted dramatically around the same time, and I got notice that my landlady was also changing the terms of my lease–I got ousted in the process. Difficult changes and challenges have continued to mark the months and days since. It has been the hardest year of my life, even more so than the handful before which were no cakewalks.

It’s interesting looking back, as anxiety-provoking as it might be. It’s interesting because clearly time has passed. Much has happened. However, either due to some sort of experiential time warp or longing, it doesn’t feel that long. The events do not feel that separate from now. In fact, the last 2 or 3 months are the first time that they’ve felt separate at all. I think that’s why I can say it feels like a scar now in one of my recent writings.


Honestly, I started writing these words for this entry a few days ago and then put it aside. Some reading, writing, and meditation have brought me into this experience more–facing it rather than wriggling under the knife of emotional pain. Loving-kindness meditation has been extremely powerful in this brave, tender facing up to change. It involves wishing yourself, a close friend or loved one, a stranger, an enemy, and all sentient beings loving-kindness in gradual succession. This is the mantra to guide this visualization of loving-kindness (first said for yourself, than the friend, etc. while imagining pure positivity sent to each):

May I/you/all be happy
May I/you/all be healthy
May I/you/all be at peace
May I/you/all live with ease

I’ve found that offering such positive love out into the world, into everything, releases my focus from “me” and “my” pain. I can flow along with the world and the suffering of others, helping them find their own connection and loving-kindness as well.

I don’t say this to say that my feelings are unimportant or easily ignored. They’re there, and if I hadn’t been practicing hard for months now, I’m sure that I’d be utterly lost in them as I was for a few days about a week ago.

What are those feelings? I think that they’re my first real experience of grief. I lost an entire life in this transition–home, lover, family, and friends. My story had to be fundamentally altered, a process that I’m still working through.

What stands out to me as a symbol of this grief, nestled into the whole experience is the loss of my ex’s grandmother. She died only a few weeks after my ex dumped me. I saw her in person one last time. She was very ill. We talked for a while. She was clearly in a lot of pain and wasn’t fully in our conversation. As I got up to leave, she told me that I was “right up there” with her grandkids in terms of people in her life. She basically said that she cared about me almost as much as them. She died a few days later. Those were her last words to me.

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Grief

This might seem unimportant, but I have never had anyone I was really close to die before. My great-grandmothers died when I was in my youth, and a classmate died as a teen, but I wasn’t as close to any of them as I was to this woman. This was my first really personal experience of the loss of death other than a few pets dying while growing up. It’s a peculiar kind of loss, knowing that you cannot, will not, ever see this person again, a person who was a family member (as I was honorary grandson to her, I definitely considered her grandma as well). This kind of experience brings home the true depths of loss in the fullness of its meaning.

Alongside this was the loss of one of our cats too. He died in the same time period, and in many ways, he was the heart of our home. I still think of him and speak of him often…

So these echoes of grief, of loss, have a couple solid anchors in death. Not only was there the symbolic death of love, friendship, family, and home in breakup; there was the actual death of a couple key pieces of that structure.

Some might read my posts of the last several months and point at how much I have grown, but suffering, ultimately, cannot be rationalized or justified. We move to find some meaningful explanation of our troubles, to pin them down and make them “OK”. However, that’s the same drive that leads us to blame the victim–“They had it coming because…” All we can do is lay bare the root causes of our suffering or someone else’s and sit with those causes mindfully, accompanying them and that person through the mystery of being, rather than trying to explain it away.

With grief, I’ve had to face my attachment to the way I wish life were in the barest rawness of disappointment, despair, confusion, loneliness, and fear. It’s brought me into a deeper relationship with myself and Truth, but that does not mean it was justified or a “good” thing. Such experiences lie beyond any plan, rationalization, or telos. I would never wish such a thing on anyone or try to explain how it’s good for them. I will open my arms to accompany any I meet with grief and share loving-kindness with them in the abyss.


It seems like every return to this writing has changed it. It’s been an interesting process, and while the pain still resides, it doesn’t torture me as it did when I first was writing these words. It truly has been a hard year, but unlike the beginning of this post when I felt like I couldn’t survive another year like this, I’m now looking at this moment and the path that lies ahead with equanimity. In honor of the mix of feelings I’ve gone through and where this year really started, I’d like to add a song by Adele. For some time, I listened to her songs about heartbreak again and again, and I think that “Rolling in the Deep” will always remind me of this time. However, I’d like to share another one about moving on, burning the past, and heartbreak in all of its pain, confusion, longing, and forced violence to the attachments that were. It came up on the radio while at lunch the other day, and it immediately reminded me of all of this:

Here’s to setting fire to my own rain.


May this help those who endure heartbreak, grief, and the anniversaries of life-altering times feel accompanied and seen. May it help them find their own means to establishing equanimity within when it feels like the world is in turmoil.

Gassho!

Just This

Here’s one more set of Morning Pages that I wanted to share. The closing staccato of questions was inspired in part by having recently read Toni Packer’s “The Work of this Moment”, a beautiful book that I recommend to all.


Whatever arises. Whoever is here. Attend to them. You’re not in your past anymore. You’re not with future friends or later gatherings today, even. Be here. Now. This coffee shop. These people. They are but one small corner of the universe, and yet, they are the entire thing.

Beautiful and yet just a moment, one small distraction, can send the mind running away from this presence. I just was reminded of a case from yesterday, and my mind started cruising through reactive mode. I feel like there is a great lesson for practice in there for me today. I had anxious, restless, problem-solving dreams again last night.

Such reactivity is not the Way. Yet, I find my mind flying in such directions so readily. In meditation this morning, my mind did the same, and just now, I tumbled into an analysis of my ex’s “story” of what would happen to me in the future. How do we keep focused all the time–or for extended periods–without the constant screechings of monkey mind?

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Zen – Just This

Just this. That’s how. Right now, just writing. Just drinking coffee. This is the heart of mindfulness–just this.

With “just this“, I can be here now in this room full of people coming and going, aware of the fullness of this moment while still single-pointedly focusing on the tip of my pen moving across the paper.

Isn’t that somewhat of a miraculous sensation? I mean–feeling the pen slide across the paper in the grip of my hand? The edge of my hand also brushes along the paper as I glide through each word–one by one. This flows into this, one smooth unfolding of now… Of course, “now” turns this all into empty concept. Yet how do we express in language anything but these semantic boxes of use? There is no other way. Yet “now” is not now.

Perhaps, that is precisely why the teachings of the Dharma are a boat that is not to be held onto when the other side is reached. The teachings–the guiding concepts–would get in the way of actual presence–actual, live prajna–if you were to hold onto them as the key to insight once it has been achieved.

What is there to hold onto in being awake in this moment? Can I just show up to it without preconception of what it will be–something I’ve held onto from a past encounter? Will any words or concepts reveal this moment more to me, or will they all just try to capture it for expression? Can that be done, or is that just a picture of a rice cake (i.e. not the rice cake itself)? If I’m just here, is there anything left over to take on with me? Can I box up a piece of it and give it to someone else? Isn’t that just me creating a story to give to someone else to story–an ongoing story game of Telephone???


May this inspire you to do your own Zen work and be present to just this.

Gassho!

Story-ing

Here’s another excerpt from Morning Pages that got to the heart of my walk along the Path of late.

Edit (7/27/15): I’m adding the end of a second and a third set of Morning Pages (excerpts) separated by second and third horizontal lines. They are both closely related to this post and add to it, extending the depth of the questions and ideas presented here.


That reminds me of story-ing. I finished, “The World is Made of Stories” last night. This small book is truly a seminal philosophical work presented in a simple style. I’m pulled back into hermeneutic analysis again. It’s refreshing.

I’m realizing that some of the most sound advice I ever provided was when I told my ex to be careful with the stories she told herself. She had some intense storying and revising of history. That led her down the path she’s on now, and I’m not sure whether she realizes all of this.

I don’t say these things in judgment. It’s not that her story is the “wrong” story, rather a story. All of our understanding is an interpretation–a story, and as all stories are, it is one that interprets things in a particular way, thereby drawing particular consequences. There’s nothing wrong about this, but each interpretation casts things in a particular way.

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We all tell and re-write our stories about ourselves. There’s nothing inauthentic to that. It’s a coming to grips with our place in the universe–a making sense. However, we should be aware of how we are creating a “self” through story.

I’m starting to think of the stories I’ve told myself, and I think with time, I’m moving away from standard ones. I’m moving towards those of the bodhisattva instead of the individual trying to get conditions just right for happiness.

Does that make all of my reading and writing a sort of narrative therapy? Perhaps it does. I’ve been gaining particular story-telling skills, stylistic usages, archetypes, and genres to help me re-story my-“self”.

The interesting thing about this as pointed out in the book several times is that this story is about unstorying, not-storying, de-selfing. The Buddhist path is about finding the “no-thing-ness” at the heart of existence that is the formlessness behind form–emptiness. The emptiness is the Truth to our existence and cannot be storied. It defies the personal security of identity built up in stories.

How do we balance that with living a storied existence? I’m not completely sure. That’s where the path of study and discipline continues to lead. I look forward to discussing that with others who walk this challenging Way, who tell this unique and beautiful Story.


I suppose that you could argue that this (the previous part of this entry talks about just writing whatever comes to the pen in jotting down Morning Pages) clears the mind as well. “The Artist’s Way” described it as though that were the case. There’s something to be said for this–letting juices flow and getting them all on paper. However, I think that simple expression doesn’t always make idle thoughts/feelings go away/come out for good. If they’re part of a larger pattern, expressing them as important could reinforce them.

We are storied beings, and the stories we tell ourselves can get stronger and more nuanced with repetition. Individuation is pushed as a boon in this culture–our story. However, this leads to our feelings of separation and loneliness. It’s a never-ending game to assert “my” existence. Samsara spins here, round and round.

So, ultimately, although I’ve tried to write simply and without intention toward pre-thought ends, I have tried to avoid letting this just be a space to spill out all my “me” stories–letting it instead be a place to express the ideas and discoveries that blossom as words run across the pages. The stories we tell are the patterns that bind. I try to let this be a space that is free of those patterns, but of course, at times, I throw these thoughts/difficulties/stories that I’m dealing with on the page. Sometimes, there’s much more difficulty to write around them than to simply write them.

Can this be done from simple awareness? Can it be an identification of the thoughts and stories at play without continuing them? “Thinking”? Can one freshly see that these stories are arising without clinging further to reactions which spin the story onward? Can these simply be mere thoughts passing by without becoming sold as solid, enduring truths? Can we experience this moment without clinging to “my” story?


As I hear the music, I think of “stories” again. We truly write the narrative of our lives for better or worse, yet we can’t control all of the elements–born prince or pauper, in America or Africa, raised in a religious community or by a small family of atheists–we can only control how we write our reaction to these elements–how we weave them together into our story. However, we tend to either overemphasize “My” Story–the aspect of myself in it–or act as though my interpretation is not part of it at all, as though meaning were just cast upon me–pre-written. In other words, we often overlook this act of story-ing and how it works in our lives. We then overlook how our stories are intertwined with myriad others. The world, our lives, are made of them.


May this make you aware of the “story” of “your” life and the deeper aspect that cannot be storied.

Gassho!

This Moment–All Moments: Wonder

I’ve been reading too much recently to really write other than morning pages, but this (and a couple other entries to come) have been quite amazing and worthy of being shared.


I woke up in the middle of the night and was unable to go back to sleep. Oddly, I feel fine-ish. The fatigue is starting to creep in, but I have coffee at hand.

Man, it is easy to lose focus when tired. I’m realizing that now. Everything is pulling me away from writing this now. However, this is a moment to practice–as all moments are.

There is so much here–the entire universe–in this moment. Refrigeration systems click and whir behind me. The man across the table cuts into his pastry–the tines of the fork cut through and clink on the porcelain plate. Music jingles on the speaker above me. Others all sit at tables–looking at computers, reading newspapers, sipping coffee, or simply staring off into space. Baristas chatter about the day at the counter behind me. The front door opens with a brief whoosh of air, and another customer walks in. Cars zoom by in both direction out the window in front of me… I could go on.

Yet, it would be so easy for someone to say that this is boring here–that nothing is happening. What is boredom–looking for something else, something more interesting than now, here? What are we looking for? Can this fidgety desire be seen and questioned when it arises?

Really, all manner of things are happening in this moment. On a scientific level–molecules of gas are zipping around the room, gaining energy from the IR radiation–heat–streaming in through the glass door. Elsewhere in the room, air flutters and the gas loses that energy as cold air blows in from a vent in the ceiling–an AC unit working to keep the room cool despite that IR radiation streaming in–defiant for customers’ pleasure… At the same time, customers breathe in this gas, going through tubes, bronchioles, and the bloodstream. It is distributed throughout their bodies and fuels the chemical reactions that keep them alive. There’s a huge amount of complexity to this organic machine–churning though chemical reactions and physiological processes which take years for doctors to study and yet still holds many mysteries for the inquiring minds of science. Furthermore, this complex being is one that is billions of years in the making! Millions of years of evolution have brought rogue protein chains to this complex, self-aware animal writing these words today. Beyond that, there were billions of years involved in the formation of this planet, the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe. This moment is connected to all of history. It is an emanation of all–a manifestation of a complex web of karma, reaching all the way back to the Big Bang.

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Understandably, there may not be enough “going on” at the superficial level to hold our attention, but this moment is still a miracle, as all are.


May this inspire you to look at every moment with wonder.

Gassho!

Closing a Book

The following is my last entry from my first journal for morning pages. I felt like it spoke to many of the challenges and growing pains I have gone through in walking the Way in recent months and thereby thought it may be useful to others to share here.

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Well, this is it: the final entry. The last few months have been quite a journey. I’ve continued on the path of practice with all the challenges that arise in such an endeavor, the endeavor to wake up. Furthermore, I’ve endured heartbreak. Perhaps these two go hand in hand…

I just looked back at the first few entries of the journal to get a sense of who I was at the time. I was finishing the Heartbreak Wisdom bootcamp. I was finding my way to digest my pain of the last few months before and transform it into strength as a spiritual warrior.

In some ways, I’m still at these steps, but at the same time, my focus on the open-hearted way is intensifying. I less readily get emotionally reactive, and when I do, I can better stay present with it or subvert it instead of fully running with it.

I more readily see our ways of spinning stories and creating our own drama. I see this all the time in others, and the pell-mell run towards happiness and away from an underlying anxiety leaves a smile on my face. I smile compassionately, and when I’m very awake, I can see when I do these dramatic shifts myself and can center myself with compassion.

Something that has been very interesting for me in recent spiritual adventures is the call to the mystery of being. Getting past the ego’s focus on “me“, on certainty, on the undying (or rather, a yearning for it) opens a door to the profound enigma that is emergence. Each moment is truly a miracle. We fail to see it, so we experience it boxed and filtered through our own interpretation. We throw labels like good and bad, like and dislike, interesting and boring, on everything before we’re even experiencing it. The rawness of it generally eludes us, and it takes a “doing nothing”, a “just sitting”, to open to the miraculous that unfolds every moment in the universe universing itself. This doesn’t mean that our flitting thoughts are to be discarded. They are part of this unfolding miracle as well. However, we generally give them weight–grabbing onto them and holding them as more important than the puffs of breeze we feel softly moving across our skin–but are they really that different? Do they not pass by just as quickly if we don’t flow along with them? Do we try to hold onto the wind or to run alongside it? Wonder is right here to behold, just waiting for an open heart.

Spiritual Libertarianism

Here’s yet another set of pages from my Morning Pages. I started the practice just under 3 months ago, and I have almost filled the journal I bought. Amazingly, I’ve flipped through it recently and have found some very profound stuff. I don’t want to share much of it, but I’ll continue to share here when I think there’s something that fits well in this space.


I just floated away in thought. I was thinking about a video a friend sent me yesterday. It was a graduation speech by a famous comedian. My friend seemed inspired by it and wanted to know what I thought. It was… Well, I summed up his stance with what I have been thinking of as “spiritual libertarianism”. It’s kind of the norm in the New Age types with whom I used to spend time. Basically, it’s one that holds that the universe is here to provide whatever ask of it, and if I just ask hard enough, dream strongly enough, and believe, my wishes will be granted. The emphasis here is on myself above all else. The second but equally pronounced emphasis is on my desire.

Spiritual materialism in this instance has a brutally physical aspect. If I’m virtuous in the manner of asking right and showing up right, the universe will give me what I want. I suppose that there is a psychological materialism involved as well. “I’m successful because I dreamed big and have faith in the universe.”

Ironically, the comedian warns of the ego, when this entire line of reasoning is completely ego-driven. It’s all about how “I” can realize “my” dreams.

From such a stance, lip service is paid to others, but it seems to be passed over in a breath. I can do well by them by thriving, or I can thrive by giving them what they want. Either way, the emphasis is on I, and neither version is even close to the utter openness and connection of true giving. Separation is the modus operandi of spiritual libertarianism. Even in a community of such types, the emphasis is on how each person is an autonomous individual, and the group is a hodgepodge of these self-interested egos. A sangha, this is not.

Finally, he also spoke on love and fear as opposites. Hope and fear are opposites. You could broaden it and say desire and aversion are opposites, but those are both tied with the suffering of samsara. Choosing one over the other does not change that dynamic. Also, what is love here? Is it just a call to choose what I want rather than run away because I’m afraid of something? If that’s all, it’s not as profound as it first sounds. If it’s meant as choosing to do things for those I love or for the things I love, then it remains exclusive or self-interested. If that’s the case, it retains a dynamic of separation and seclusion and is not dramatically different than the dynamic at hand.


I actually just added the last couple sentences. Here’s what I would like to add further:

A spiritual belief system in which everyone is out for themselves, ultimately, is a pretty consumerist, materialistic, and empty cosmology. If the universe and my existence in it are all about me, then why are there billions of other people and countless other lifeforms, planets, and atoms out there that I have to live with? Is my good really the greatest good, and is a stance that promotes a certain “every man for himself” really a deep view of how everything is intertwined? There’s no intertwining evident here at all.

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Indra’s Net: All is intertwined interdependence

Ultimately there are many questions that aren’t even asked at all here. For instance, let’s start with: what is the self? Perhaps, that presumes too much. Asking the question in that way already presumes a certain form to the answer. Let’s go even more basic: is there a self? We have to ascertain some sort of answers to these two questions at the very least before we can say that the self’s gratification in desire, no matter how great the goals or dreams, is the path through life. Otherwise, such a stance is empty assertion, nothing more. As those questions were not even addressed, I find such a stance precisely that: empty, unanalysed assertion.

A Moment of Gratitude

My last post left some residual inspiration for gratitude, and I spontaneously wrote this opening to my Morning Pages this morning.


Thank you, journal, for all of these blank pages, and thank you for existing–thanks to all, from the person who made you, to the hundreds of years of history that brought about written language and the practice of journaling, to the millions of years of evolutions that brought about human beings with all of our wonders and curiosities, and to all of the myriad conditions of the universe that made these moments of writing open wide. I’m grateful for all of it, even the very painful moments that I write down at times. This moment is not those moments, but it would not have come to be without them.

May I continue to see all of these aspects of my journal with the diamond eye that really sees things as they are.

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May this inspire you in your own practice of gratitude.

A bow with hands together: gassho!

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