Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fractured Healing

Once upon a time, it seemed logical and self-evident that a "broken" heart (stumbling in grief and anger, incapable of keeping a decent rhythm) should never answer The Door until it wiped its nose, put on a game face and somehow pulled itself together...maybe became purer, more bloodless.

Much as I'd like to claim nice manners passed on down through Boston relatives and such, hammered in by parents and Catholic school, this was never the real reason I avoided "spiritual" contact in the midst of existential pain and freakishness. Truth is, I couldn't hear God, opportunity, guides or omens over the screaming, howling, motion-sickness of my own thoughts. If I did--if I caught a tiny whisper of that still, small voice--I ignored it, because I expected it to be someone or something else. And, I was afraid. To look. To open the door, and face what I thought was Other. For a long time, I was like the women at church when I was a very small girl, heads veiled and bowed, so that the beauty of tresses lit by stained glass, and the violence, despair, sensuality and questions stayed secret. (For God's sake.)

It isn't just we ex-schoolgirls feeling rejected and dismissed, dwarfed by the great cycle of life/death, overwhelmingly powerless and ashamed when unable to access some strong, stable, acceptable persona of last week, month or decade. Everyone human, when "our" person, place or thing goes missing, experiences the vulnerability of seeming incompleteness. It's part of the story.

In all my terrible moments of fear or anguish (except once or twice, when I became literally unconscious), there was still a level of psyche that knew a kind of wholeness, even while things were flying apart--the level that glanced at The Door. It heard the thoughts that said things like, "Man, when I calm down, I really need to meditate--get to the bottom of this--surrender. Not right now. Spirit won't like me. I'm a mess. Cover your head, Woman! Sheesh." It paid no heed, blissfully impartial to all the voice-pitching.

During the latest adventures, by grace, exhaustion or both/neither, that level expanded to include more and more of my odd strata and disparate, naked parts. It happened that I went deep, deep into the incredibly painful moments, inept and embarrassed. I heard this knocking, and something "became" each element of my encounter with Itself...maybe a sobbing breath, a tightening of the chest and fists, thoughts racing through in full battle gear. There was a story of a crazy woman trying to shovel away an avalanche of shit with a teaspoon, looking around for a cosmic piece of heavy equipment to get the job actually done. Naturally, a story of a two-dimensional victim with a cartoon utensil ends pretty badly...so she seeks a different scene, stage, page. Something noticed this. 


Deep in pain, not a thing is "wrong". Loss and longing well up like lava, outline becoming inline, full, not a speck out of place. My chest tightens and releases, heart bear-hugged, tears spilling. My hands reach for themselves. Each action is whole and complete, in Itself-which-is-myself. Thoughts are sharp and jagged as obsidian, with opaline poetry in their depths, not looking for anything but what they are. There is no "I" while this is going on, no person to collect all these wildly improper pieces of life and glue them into a coherent, cohesive "Maria". There is no controlling the spasm, or even any desire to end it.

End, it does--a minute or an hour, exactly so.

The welling and flushing, from start to finish, is absolute--a total playing-out of elements, fractalling throughout this body to the sky, through the earth, into the multiverses. My attention is unbroken everywhere it is, because Awareness cannot be taken apart, and is indeed brought alive by the fact that it continually points here. 

I can no longer pretend that it's an aspiration. It's all over me--I'm swimming in it, and getting out of it is hopeless. A melding has happened, or some kind of dissolution--a healing.

It is not polite, sterile or pretty. It is not politically, morally or socially correct. It may wait for an answer to its pounding on one's fortifications, but may also knock down the walls, disguised as tides of offal, granting the dreaded burying--the better to get one "stuck", stranded in a darkness so heavy that even the imagination is stopped up tight. No. Way. Out. This is it. In that acceptance of my entire partiality, the many degrees of shattering throughout the eruption of my life--the intimate wholeness became so much more than another "experience" in a pile of them. It was revealed, not just as the context for a life-story, but as that which has the capacity to unclench a fist and hold the black opal up to the light, wordlessly blessing itself in the colors blowing out like nebulae in deep space...so much loving, deep space, I have never seen!

From here, at the keyboard, I can speak trite things...hindsight is 20/20. I was never broken, never incomplete. I should have answered the damn door long ago. An angel may have been there, instead. Whatever. Admitting the ugly, reclaiming the divorced fragments of soul, slowing down the explosion so that the gorgeous death of one into many can be really witnessed--that is also the point. From here, I can see that I didn't need to repair my face, my marriage, my life. In the moment, out of the story, each piece is a piece of beauty, perfectly whole. Nothing needs restoring. The door answers itself, in good time, and wholeness stands in the very midst of the mess...whereupon She disarms, pulls off the veil, offers her sleeve for your nose, sips your tears. The roar becomes a song, a lullaby, a new landscape.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Pointless Word Power

I really love words and the concepts that can be constructed with them. Words and their feelings create worlds, cultures, societies and stories, both lovely and horrific. My favorite words are those used to make art, to communicate sensation like ocean waves, and to give thanks. My least favorite words are those used to attack or defend. Not that these aren't art forms in their own right...just that I prefer to use words in other ways.

We can grant words both "positive" and "negative" creative power. We spin them one way or another. We give them impact, or not. Long ago, I was given an opportunity to see the world without names. Without descriptive words in my head when I look at the world, there is a raw kind of seeing, an original feeling. There is no date, time or world removed from this one. I remember wanting to live there...which sprung from my belief that I was somehow apart from this place. Alas/thankfully...I am a character in a story, here, with a map agreed upon by this culture, in which I participate, most of the time.

Sometimes I think I like to paint, to be an "artist", because it gives me sanctioned time in the wordless world. Meditation does the same. Anything requiring a degree of concentration will turn down or off the chatter inside. Most of us, though, don't notice. And over a period of many years, certain word-patterns--thoughts--become habitual and hypnotic. We believe fully in their power and act accordingly.

If I boiled down the negative messages I was fed and began to believe as a child, the concentrated stuff at the bottom would look like crap and sound something like, "I'm not good enough." I used this sticky belief to flavor lots and lots of storylines (all of them had sad endings). I used it as a cave. I used it to attack, and I used it to defend...and to grieve, and to need. I used it without knowing that I carried it like some powerful totem.

In spite of this unconscious stuff, there were still those times I would fall silent and pristine.  I contrasted these two feelings--caramelized crud with open spaciousness--and concluded that I was crud, trying to be spacious more often. I understood the openness as a part of myself, and loved the good feeling of relief it gave me, but the density always returned.

Paying attention really paid off in identifying those "core beliefs", as a psychologist might say. I realized that when things happened (or didn't), it was always due to the fact that I wasn't good enough. Someone looked at me and said, "I want a divorce." Obviously, I wasn't good enough. I wanted to travel, and lacked the funds, because I wasn't good enough at fund raising. I wanted more peace, but wasn't good enough to deserve it. I wasn't good at saying "no" when I needed to, or making friends when I needed them. Seeing this one-size-fits-all ingredient was highly agitating, at first, and somehow a threat. I, I, I.

Eventually, I found myself wanting to "sit" with this agitation, trying to trust where it would lead, what I may uncover...I just looked at it, looked at the words and their effect on my heart and body, the memories they stirred up, the hopelessness and helplessness engendered again and again. In the midst of this "being with" agitation and anxiety, one day, I found the silent clearness welling up, and just looked.

Here it is...the wordless. I am. This is it. Too much, too much.

That's all I could say, smiling in the rush of love, in the sweetness and safety. Some time passed, and I found itself almost afraid, suddenly, to breathe--because I didn't want to disturb this peace with thinking, with grasping, with despair or grief or longing. This peace was fragile, too beautiful, and I was...not good enough to keep it! Somehow, though, I had leaned back into this trust. Thoughts fell into it like pebbles. Ripples happened, and the "water" remained, just as it was.

I have no effect on What Is...whew. Further, that "I" is just an effect. Words like these are puppies biting their own tails, always pointing to the circularity of reasoning. This is why I can no longer believe in what I think, and tend to think mostly for fun. Thinking is useless for solving philosophical problems...only because there really are none! On the other hand, all my thinking, all my problems, had to be exactly as they were/are.

I have to tell you that believing my own stories--from the perspective of "the world"-- is habitual, ingrained, and sometimes painful. Realizing that the "I"-creature is another story on a profoundly visceral level makes the whole experience Being much less painful. This is fabulous, and very freeing. I am free to love or dislike myself, or just not have a self.

Under all that, there is nothing to be understood. "I" can't possibly understand anything but a product of itself, which is incredibly useful in daily life, and psychologically speaking, a dead end. Inevitably, one comes to a place where the tail-chasing is not so important. The puppy sits down, falls over into a boneless, natural puddle of trust. 

Ahhhh. :)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Poetry of Intimate Abandoning

Since I gave up the futile quest for absolute truth, writing has become fun, therapy, a form of companionship, a dialogue with peace, and an exploration of rhythm, among other things. I often use a journal, longhand, because the thought/hand/pen/paper/eye is delightful, like buttery oil paint on canvas, or immersion in very warm, scented water. If I turn myself inside-out, it expands my universe. :)

There are some major new developments in the story threading through my journals, which I can partially summarize here. On the outside, they look like...absolutely nothing. World falls apart, literally, figuratively. Death/birth, death/birth. And so on. Might as well call it nothing/something, or cynicism/optimism, or earthquake/stability. In this mental narrative, it has often been abandonment/intimacy...a common plot.

What has made it so complicated is the lost little persona in the wings, aghast at this cycle--the depth of it, the persistence, the core-like pain felt around it. I could use popular tradition and call this confused reaction a "child"...appropriate, I guess, since childhood is when most of this misery is adopted as "truth". Physical and emotional lack of safety during those formative years pretty much defined what I thought myself to be, what I believed my relationships were, and all the major decisions and actions in life. Abandonment has been a dirty word, since then.

On the other hand, I've had intense and very nurturing experiences of intimacy--occasionally with other people, but mostly in the form of samadhi-type glimpses of profound "beingness". To my dismay, they always left me, too soon, with a lingering lust for the honeyed sweetness of resting in the arms of the Absolute. In a sense, the way I perceived these events reinforced my feelings of separation and anxiety. I got angry at myself for falling into such love in the first place, for trying to keep it, for mourning it when it appeared to vanish, and for the inability to forget it. Of course, this deep pattern played itself out all the way to the shallows (in which marriage, career and other interesting creatures lived).

There are many ways to soothe the agony of such conflict. Complete denial never worked for me--perhaps because I am blessed/cursed with abundant curiosity. An active intellect, though, can wear many cloaks. A sensitive field can choose from a variety of events to get lost in. A developed spirit can distract itself with frighteningly beautiful, reality-shattering experiences. All of these things help, for a time...and meanwhile, the incredibly simple heart of the matter is played out daily in the family, in the marriage/divorce, in the loneliness and overcrowding. Unseen answers were literally in my face, every moment. I kept asking questions (to stay dark as possible?), believing there must be a Major Conclusion to all of this. As if, one day, words were going to appear on the page to explain the story, wrap it up nicely, happily ever after. Poof! Enlightenment. The Answer.

I can't pinpoint any moment of insight, this time. It may be just multiple losses all at once, an utter vanishing of perceived control, a distinct "stepping back" from the mechanical actions of the persona...it feels like this is the case, among other things. Exhaustion, too--I have been too tired to be mad, too weary to care. I did the unthinkable. I abandoned myself.

It sounds dramatic, but it wasn't. I simply recognized the utter pointlessness of pursuing various ways out of my situation(s), back into some false sense of ease. There was just no way of making these latest tragedies into anything, or of getting away from them, or of using them as a stepping-stone to a better experience. The usual thoughts would come barging over my threshold, and I was not in the mood to be stoic, polite, or argumentative. Inwardly, I just walked away from the door. Whatever. So what. Good luck with that...nobody home.

Grief came, and despondency, and depression, and apathy. Balloons and flowers, also, in brief bursts of distraction. Plans and schemes tried to stage a comeback, and I actually laughed. Sometimes I woke up in that strong, intimate, boundary-free zone. The old reaction would have been--well--to react. I found that I witnessed this state, not with relief or skepticism, but with the same "whateverness" I felt when anything else penetrated my apparent consciousness.

I noticed that I was no longer angry. Sometimes anger would flash through, and I didn't struggle with it. Several times I "watched" myself being various ages, various patterns, and I felt...affection. Of course I would act/think/be like that, said a very kind voice. Really, it could be no other way. I can't explain how new and strange this self-kindness felt. It was far more genuine and deep than any kindness I had experienced or expressed in recent life. I heard a song about forgiveness the other day, and thought that the concept was a pale sketch of the actual thing-in-action. I realized that genuineness has to happen in its own time, in its own way, and that I have nothing to do with it. I have, in fact, nothing to do with anything.

I have been told that I must take care of myself in a certain wary way, that I must be vigilant. Early life seemed to bear this out, and I took it to heart. Fear said that this strange self-abandonment would lead to nothing but trouble...apathy, at the very least. I heard this latest propaganda echo through my new un-home, and felt quite neutral. There was no reason to argue with this ancient tradition. There was nothing to defend, and no position to take. I just knew that it wasn't true. Paradoxically, I'm more relaxed, more trusting of experience, as it is much less clouded with fortification activity. Funny, huh?

It feels like that heart-bursting intimacy is somehow crossing over into "ordinary life". With nothing to hold up and no opinion about the direction my thoughts take today, almost everything happening in the field is admitted and released with no sense of struggle. It seems that every situation (even the bad ones) can not only be tolerated or respected, but even enjoyed in the completeness of what it is, and simultaneously what I am. As they say, redundantly--I am that.


Going to my ex-husband's house to deal with finances, last month, was a tension-filled experience. I felt uncomfortable in his presence, because I was fighting all the emotion trying to pass through, judging him and myself, agitated, wounded, attempting to be friendly. This time, I drove through the greening countryside and scattered showers with the radio on, singing a line here and there. I saw my hands on the steering wheel as if I'd never seen them before...the way they moved to the bottom during the easy, straight stretches, and the way the patches of light hit them when I returned them to 10 and 2. I listened to my thinking, to my wondering about how he felt, if he cared at all, anymore...I listened to this inner question being posed, and felt a wave of love for the girl who asked. The landscape poured into me, unchecked. The road, the cars, the town...

I had dinner with the man and heard the sadness he expressed about an increasing loss of memory. I watched his eyes while he talked about being unable to recall certain things(!)...I clearly saw the avoidance, the fear, and a soft sort of acceptance. I noted (for the thousandth time?) that those eyes are the color of agates. I watched my hands hold the teacup and heard myself tell him to call if he needed any kind of help...I felt the absolute sincerity, the complete lack of agenda. He was a presence like the landscape had been, like a beloved bend in a river now hidden, now exposed. On the way back to his house, I watched his habitual behavior with a complete absence of distress. My mind was silent. On the return drive to my house, I knew exactly what to do, exactly how to feel, even though...even though anything. 

I find myself surprised that everything happens appropriately, that I still do my job and have the desire to make contact with various forms of world. I am amazed that I am not "dead"...that I can live without a shield, that a "sense of self in response to data" is optional. How is it that I can be so many things at the same time--so much so, that I no longer have to be anything? I don't know. How can I have all this responsibility, and not be anxiety-laden? Perhaps because the responsibility, like everything else, is only apparent. I don't really know. Why did the dire predictions of my own fear not happen? I can't even pretend to get away from my life, and it tickles when I think about it. I sometimes feel irritation, but I can release the idea. I mostly feel an open curiosity, a kind of stable happiness that is very unlike the former state of being I called "happy".

Other than the things that present themselves to be done, I have no clue what I might be doing or where I may be located tomorrow, next week, next decade. One thing is absolutely clear, and that is this, here, now, and that thisherenow is an ever-present, totally open situation over which no real "I" stands in control. There is no replacement for the self left behind...I am very, very grateful for this fact. It seems I am a walking contradiction of terms, a cosmic storm happening in a vacuum, an intimate abandonment.

There are around seven billion ways to view the human condition. There are at least as many ways to arrive at the heart of the matter...whatever that means.

Peace to you. :)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Damage Report

Last year, it became obvious to me that my mother was struggling with more than arthritis pain and memory impairment. I moved her into my house (she lived right down the street), set up some doctor visits and an MRI, and had my suspicions confirmed. Images showed atrophy of the brain, consistent with Alzheimer's or "senile dementia", as the condition is generically known. My last post was a heartfelt page out of my journal around this situation.

My friend Christine asked two questions (in essence) through her comments on the post, which I will try to address here--and expand a bit upon, as well. Some background story may be helpful.

I used to work in an Alzheimer's unit in a large, prosperous assisted-living facility, attached to a retirement community. I was the unit's recreation coordinator--that is, the person who tries to bring "quality of life" to terminally ill people through activities of varying kinds. It was a challenging job, to say the least; I learned about death, about the politics of family and employees in a healthcare facility, and something called the "Best Friends" approach to dementia patients. It was an eminently sensible and humane philosophy of care, based on the intuitive solution to the problem of trying to adjust a brain-damaged person to "reality"--other than attempts to ensure safety and cleanliness, it can't be done. Not with a retreating, "unlearning" mind.

Rather than trying to bully a "malfunctioning" human perception into alignment with a caregiver's version of what was true, the idea was to compassionately conform to whatever was happening in the moment, as far as was possible in a "lockdown" facility (a gilded cage, to be sure). So if patient Emily thought that her long-dead husband was coming this afternoon to fetch her from this place--"school", in her mind--there was only one (drug-free) way to keep her relatively calm. I would make sure she was ready to greet the man still living in her heart--nails just so, lipstick, tea, perhaps a little nap before he came, so that she could be really fresh for his arrival.

If I presented my version of reality, so obvious in the consensus world: "Your husband has been dead for twenty years, Sweetheart," she would react with shock and grief, with as great a sense of loss as the first time she heard that news. Instead, after the nap or some other distraction, all she could think about was dinner. The memory and expectation, I discovered, quite easily faded.

The work was a perfect opportunity to learn, and I am extremely grateful in my present circumstance with my mother to have been so immersed and thus, so prepared. The abiding lesson in the relativity of "truth" has immense practical application in my relationship with her (and the rest of myself).

I found I had a pretty good knack for "redirecting" and coming up with things to do and say. No wonder...my twenty-five-year-old son is "developmentally disabled" with an autism spectrum disorder, and is still under my care. My own childhood story was punctuated with the effects of "manic depression" (now called bipolar disorder) in another member of my family. Two marriages foundered on the reefs of PTSD and all the related trauma (mine, his, ours). When I look at the standout times in my own memory, it sometimes seems as though my life has been  an ongoing fight to understand all kinds of "brokenness" in my personal experience, as well as the bright goodness on the other end of the scale.

On to the questions and their "spiritual" implications. My friend said:

"I am particularly interested in whether someone loses a sense of personal self in this process. And if one loses a sense of 'Awareness' of 'Presence' as well..." 

An answer depends upon the level of the question. Ultimately, we "lose" everything, maybe even before death. 

On the surface, all I really "know" is my own experience and incomplete understanding. In my role as a caregiver, I have observed the emergence of long-suppressed or latent personality tendencies in dementia patients ("Jim never used to dance!"), as well as a habitual clinging to old reference points (the sense of personal self), even as they collapse.

In the beginning, the failure of memory and normal functionality often brings a sense of denial, shame and sadness. Thereafter, a regression through the phases of conditioning appears to occur...an almost teenage level of stubbornness, anger, grief...then a more childlike freedom from concern, spontaneous feeling, noticing things for the first time over and over. At that point, the "sense of self" seems very immature. Only the most hard-core conditioning remains. In time, there is a tendency to forget that one forgets, and there is less and less emotional pain.

I had the privilege of befriending a man in our unit who had been very "presence-aware", according to his spouse. He was previously a voracious reader of various philosophies (Eastern and Western), a meditation practitioner and lover of the sea. She told me that he had always been gentle by nature, and that his current mental state reminded her of an innocent little boy. Their love was obvious and inspiring--they were married 62 years. He always seemed concerned that she would leave him, though, and needed reassurance that she would be there. I gathered from this individual's history that he had strong "spiritual experience". However, the "evidence" of such an understanding--groundedness, peace, etc., was generally not apparent in his behavior.

My observation is that our physical/mental/emotional body--the persona--is "formed", like a tree, by the weather, social contact and context, gravity, nourishment or lack thereof--in fact, everything and anything. It's a whirlpool with a particular momentum, and self-awareness doesn't prevent the playing-out of reality, any more than a tree can stop a chainsaw. If a human tends to worry, that's what he does, on some level and in some degree until he "dies". If she is generally full of gratitude, that's how she is, for the most part, until the end. It just ceases to be an issue in the awakened person.

We tend to like small children, animals and trees because of the purity of their Being...that is, the fact that they can be none other than what they are. They can't pretend to be wise, aware, or somehow "better" than this moment in which they are enfolded and expressed. They are perfectly aware, but not self-conscious--not ashamed of who they are, or filled with hate over their imagined inadequacy, or pride in their lineage. They just are, in their own uniqueness, without the ability to second-guess themselves, this moment, or us. As we age, we are taught to fear, hate and defend ourselves, and thus the world. "Relief" from this suffering comes when we are able to drop the idea that we should be somehow different than This. We might just put it down, or dying can take it away, or not. In the context of loving someone with dementia, there is a certain relief when the "childlike" nature returns, and there is no more shame in the process of change. Things can finally be just as they are, without the shadow of how it "should" or "used to" be.


I can't speak for anyone else, because at the "bottom" of this sea, there is no one. I can, however, tell a story about a sweet old man and my impressions at the time. I can say that worrying, falling apart, cruel diseases, family loves and hates, corporate politics in healthcare, the whole ball of wax, in fact, is part and parcel of Intelligence. I can say that I have found myself as a whole that carries no memory and doesn't leave a trace, even while looking upon the apparent cycling of life and death. Everything is no-thing, and so an attempt to judge a mind as "broken" or "healthy", sane or insane, carries the same weight as the fall of an aspen leaf. How important! How unimportant. 

In order to drop into the heart of this, I might ask whether such a sense--that is, Awareness of Presence--can really be lost, once uncovered. I suspect not, because the deepest possible awareness includes each and every state and its opposite. "Enlightenment" is the simultaneous realization that everything is enlightened and its suffering is real. Awareness is or isn't, like grass or snow, like thoughts and pain and bliss without a struggle.

Those of us who feel a desire to investigate the investigator, here, eventually find that fearing or fighting a personality and its conditioning (embodied here or in another), composed of seemingly objective "truths" that must be maintained at all cost, is simply too hard, after a while. Funny, even, because it is clear that everything still happens, even without this kind of armor...which dissolves, anyway, in its own time, by itself. My mother is only failing when I compare what I see now with a memory-story of a different woman. She is unconcerned about how I see her, and she does not seek my approval, any more than I can seek hers. In this way, our relationship has never been more real. 

Although it is likely I will witness Mom falling into the ultimate, and that sadness and a sense of loss will perhaps make an appearance, I am aware that we are already there, and that she is doing this very well, perfectly, full of the grace of what is. Love and habits, love and anxiety, love and all of us...