Tuesday, January 30, 2007
The StillnessA good friend of mine is dying. I'll tell you who it is in a moment.
There are all sorts of ways to approach the end of our time on the planet. In some ways this friend of mine has been granted a new perspective on life, because she has a sense of how it's going to happen and when. She is granted a different sense of the big picture becuase, tragically, it's not that big anymore.
Now just being able to see how long you have to live is not in itself a happy thought. What I'm talking about is more about the consciousness that comes with a pure concentration of life. This is the frozen OJ right out of the can. The need and desire to dilute, to save it for later, is removed.
We were talking the other day and I came up with some thoughts about how to create an exit strategy that's meaningful. I certainly don't have it all together yet, but here is some of what I wanted to say to her as we wrestled with this issue:
It may be time to face the beast.
Whatever it is that you've been avoiding your whole life, now's the time to quit avoiding it. Whether it's bad relationships or a sense of self worth or getting in touch with the cosmic life force -- putting off that reconciliation a whole lot longer means you might just miss it. You may just die without having a sense of profound peace within your body, or connection with the cosmos or knowing how much you are truly loved.
What if you've been wrong?
What if avoiding turns out to have been more difficult than dealing directly? Wouldn't that be a bummer.
As hard as it may feel to turn and face the beast of your demons... you've done the avoidance thing for the vast majority of your life and it's probably not worked all that well. What's the harm in trying another approach?
I mean, the downside is going to happen anyway, right? You're dying. So... try doing the hard stuff and maybe you'll find out that it's easier than you thought. Maybe you'll find out that it's easier than not doing the hard stuff.
If you don't, you risk that moment on the last day where you wonder whether all that shucking and jiving away from your problems was really worth the hassle.
And if you do... who knows? Maybe your body will hurt less, maybe it will relax a bit more, maybe all the effort of avoiding can now go into the effort of healing.
Try to be silent.
I realized something so ridiculously profound tonight that it may be just obvious to everyone on the planet:
It's really deep in our human nature to keep the noise level up.
As any of you who've done any meditation know, it's nearly impossible to shut the brain up for more than a few glorious, freeing, lighter-than-air moments. Our brains hate to shut up. Our brains long for supremacy in their chatter. Our brains are terrified of silence. And they will support an infinite variety of co-conspirators in their campaign to keep the distractions up to a maximum.
Look at television. And advertisements. Radio. Music. Movies. iPods. PSPs. Nintendo DSs. Video games. Online computer games. DVD players in cars. Cell phones that play music and games and ring tones and take pictures.
I could fill pages with this stuff. But you get the point: with the exception of the yoga industry, and maybe the national park service, our society is entirely founded on the need and love of luring ourselves away from silence.
We love and need and insist on distracting ourselves.
I promised I would tell you who was dying, so I will.
It's us. It's you. And it's me. And it's my friend who has cancer. And my other friend who has cancer. And your friend who has cancer.
It's my dog who is licking my foot at the moment.
And it's our children.
It's unbearable. Every bit of it is too painful to comprehend. Distractions such as poetry and running mountain water and occasional trips to Paris provide much-needed balm for the soul. We all need to buffer some of it or we'd go mad.
So the distractions help, until they overwhelm.
But gratitude helps infinitely more.
And silence to sort it all out is not only precious but essential.
We are all dying. So maybe let's go a bit more about our business knowing that each slice of our life is precious and delectable, craving to be savored with mindfulness and gratitude.
We don't need to get morbid, we don't need to get more sad than necessary, but maybe we can use this consciousness as an excuse to turn off the chatter and listen to the songs of the stars for a few moments. Since we're all going to stamp our passports with the Infinite as our next port of call, maybe we can shut up the noise long enough to get an inkling of what's going on out there.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 9:29 PM 1 comments
Monday, January 15, 2007
The LongingI recently had a very unnerving realization about myself. It's a habit I have that is so natural to me that I've never thought to even think about it. But when I did start thinking about it, it revealed something pretty significant about how I go through life.
When I go to sleep I usually indulge myself in some good old fashioned yearning... usually (but not always) something to do with the comfort of having a warm body beside me. It's not usually sexual. It's more about wrapping myself up in a sense of security. Like cuddling up with a stuffed animal in order to settle myself into slipping off into sleep.
Which is odd, since I'm really yearning for something I don't have and finding solace in the yearning, rather than finding comfort in the things I do have... but I'll get to that part later.
I guess it's kind of a girly thing. And it's steeped in cultural icon. It's very much "Someday my prince will come" stuff. And I've never seen any harm in it whatsoever. I comfort myself with dreaming about things that might be, people I may be with, places I may go. Someday my prince will come... and I'll be sleeping in a villa in Tuscany... and I'll have lots of money... and pretty soon I'll have yearned myself to sleep.
OK. Hold that one aside. Because I have another confession to make before I get to my point.
I recently spent a very pleasant afternoon with a friend in front of Buster's, in South Pasadena. We were comparing notes on mutual friends and places we'd been. We both love Paris, although he's been graced with far more time there than I have.
It was a winter afternoon and as we talked, the light went from the warmth of the late afternoon to the cooler tones of early evening. The amber lights of the store windows across the street came on, as did the Christmas lights on the awnings and trees. Periodically as we spoke a Metro train would roll through the Mission station.
At one point in the middle of the conversation, my friend looked around and said "You know, this could be Paris." I stared at him, my mouth slack with disbelief. South Pasadena? Paris?
I said something to that effect. And then for a few seconds we looked around: the cafe on the street, the little stores, the sense of a little community intersection huddled in amongst the larger metroplex. The colors of the stores, the clarity of the light, the intermittant sound of the semaphore bells as the trains came and went... yes, I finally saw for a transformative two seconds: it could be Paris.
That few seconds of looking at my world a different way lodged inside me in a way that I have found hard to shake.
It happened again the other day when I was walking my dog on the pallisades above Santa Monica. It was another beautiful winter's afternoon but this time I didn't have a tour guide to point out the highlights. Nor did I have to lapse into metaphor. I was simply walking along and noticing the people I was passing, the glory of the Pacific stretching out with its aching blueness to my right, the PCH below me flowing up towards Malibu -- symbol of all things Beach Boys and California Dream.
And then I had transformative thought #2: God, I love this town.
I nearly stopped walking, the idea was so radical. What? I yelled to myself internally. You love this town? Like love love?
And the answer came: Yeah. Sometimes I do. Like right now.
Driving home through downtown I was still kind of shaken to the core by the enormity of that thought, when I realized what was going on: I've lived most of my life in a town that I don't love, and longing for another place is as normal to me as breathing invisible air. It is just how I walk through the days, wishing I were somewhere else.
And then I started putting it together. By day, I long deep in my soul to be somewhere else. By night, I long deep in my soul to be transported into a life free of care. What else do I long for? And the answer came: just about everything.
I long for more time. I long for more ease about money. I long for a better body with which to do yoga. I long for better words to come out of my fingers. I long for a more challenging job. I long to be able to play bass better (that's a whole other blog). I long to do martial arts again. I long for all the people who are no longer in my life. I long for people whom I've never met. I long to be nicer to my children. I long for more quality time with my dog.
Oh my GOD. I am a bottomless well of longing. It is so part of me to long for things that I don't even know what it would be like not to.
Is this really true? I don't think of myself as a greedy person, a person who wants stuff. I really don't. I actually long (there we go again) for less stuff. So it's not a greed thing, or an acquisition thing, it's more a sense of having this yearning, this ache inside my heart for something more.
And I don't think it means I'm unhappy or discontented. I have an equally long list of things I am deeply and passionately grateful for in my life. When I say I'm happiest right here, right now, I really mean it. I do love my life and my kids and my friends and my dog. I love all of it and I long to embrace it more.
So what kind of person am I here then? Can I get out of this by saying I long but I don't want? I long but I'm happy where I am?
Sadly, the writer in my knows that that's splitting hairs. Longing and wanting are certainly in the same family. And being in a state of longing is really not all that far from being just a garden variety malcontent who is cranky about the state of her life.
It's not really a pretty confession, is it?
It makes me feel unbelievably graceless and clumsy. And pedestrian. And unevolved.
But with this revelation comes some indicators of how I can fix it. First of all, instead of going to sleep at night longing for something or someone I don't have, I have started listing off people and joys I do have. That's actually a much better bedtime story to tell myself, now that I've done it for a few nights. Instead of a fantasy, it's real. It's like soothing yourself with a documentary of all the good things that are really going on, instead of going to sleep with an ache because you don't know if the fairy tale will ever have a happy ending.
And when I wake up, instead of listing the things I want to do with the day, I try to start off with the same exercise. It doesn't work as well actually (because I am a huge lister of things to do with the day), but it does carry on through into my productive hours. I've found myself noticing things and mentally saying "thanks" for them.
I'm not sure but maybe my restless soul is finding this soothing. Without a doubt, it feels better (even though I feel like I'm in some kind of remedial AA "Attitude of Gratitude" bumper sticker land).
Mainly what I've realized is that all this longing is really a serenity-buster. You can't really shoot for full-on (or even half-on) serenity, when most of your life you are thinking that life is OK here but boy wouldn't it be more OK somewhere else? You can't really settle into being here now, when deep in side... you'd rather be in San Francisco, or Paris, or New York.
All the longing does is put a kind of huge disclaimer on everything in my life. And it's so big it's almost invisible. Oh yes, I'm very content (except that I don't like my hometown.) Oh yes, I'm happy with where I'm at (except if I had a really terrific boyfriend I'd be that much happier.)
It's not to say that I need to be complacent and cease striving for better things. It means that the longing for things I don't have becomes an underlying minor chord that subtly diminishes everything I do have. Instead of filling out the song, it detracts from it -- causing me to listen only partially rather than opening up all senses to the full beauty of the moment.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 7:27 AM 3 comments
Monday, January 01, 2007
The SerenityI wrote a letter to God (or the Universe, or the Powers that Be... you know who or what I mean) last night.
I usually have a new year's motto but it ends up getting wierdly twisted (like last year when my goal was to get more space in my life for new things and I got burglarized three days later). So my first comment to the universe was a request that we not do this like opposing attorneys but rather work on the same side. You know, cooperate with the intent of the request and not find all the loopholes.
The idea for the letter came from this great book I am reading called "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. She writes a letter to God, even though she feels stupid for doing so and selfish for bothering the Universe with her own trivial concerns. I totally get that. But she got around that and so, as it turns out, did I.
I figure the powers that be are, well, pretty powerful. They don't have schedules and bandwidth problems like the rest of us. And... as she pointed out... if one person's anger and fuckedupness can affect the planet, so can one person's happiness and well-being. So in that sense it's OK to ask to be happy. It's selfish but it's not merely selfish. It's good for me, and it's also good for my kids. And my co-workers. And my dog. And, by extension, the planet.
So here's what I asked for... and by extension I'm asking it for you.
I want the serenity this year, and not the hit. This is a phrase coined by Annie LaMott, a writer whom I revere for her humor, honesty and courage. I forget what book it's in of hers, but it's the old addict's dilemma: do you want the serenity or the hit?
I think most of us, if we thought about it with brutal honesty, would admit to wanting the hit. The punchy high of a great creative success, the drug love of a passionate (if not completely healthy) relationship, the giddy manic swings of rock and rolling through life.
I certainly love those moments. But as I age and learn more about myself I also know that these swings carry with them a sometimes wicked backlash. And dealing with the backlash takes energy. And time. And it's a bummer. When all is said and done, the hit stuff is equal parts fun and funky... hence a wash... and kind of a waste of time.
So I'm consciously going for the serenity this year -- specifically in my next relationship, wherever it may be lurking. Part of the letter included my stating that I actually do deserve a good relationship and, actually, I really want it and am expecting it sooner rather than later.
It's not impossible, I point out to the gods. It actually isn't impossible for me, Kathy, to have a good relationship. So let's get on that, shall we?, I nudge with friendly cameraderie. And while we're at it, I'm going to make some changes in how I go about doing things. Starting with this serenity thing.
Well, my inner drama queen despairs at all of this. She whispers in my ear: what are you doing? You know how fun it is to have some huge issue to work through. You know how much you love the unavailable, the inaccessible, the inappropriate and, let's face it, the slightly insane. What are you going to do without those things? You're going to settle for a really boring boyfriend? just so you don't have too much, you know, fun?
And some other part of me tries to answer -- because it is a compelling argument: but maybe I can be happy without all the drama. Maybe it's possible. Maybe I can have a little insane and be serene. Maybe it can work out and be fun and be sexy and be solid.
I can't really definitively say this for sure, because I've never really experienced it. But I have to believe that love can be serene and not boring. I have to believe it.
So I'm asking for serenity. Not just in my relationships, but in everything. And not just for me, but for the planet.
Maybe we can be better without the drama. Maybe we can find love and fulfillment without the chaos.
Maybe in that state we can actually move forward in our lives, with it as our strength and our solace. Maybe our lives don't have to be so filled with hills and valleys that we spend all our time just trying to refind our balance.
I asked for other things too... like the freedom an ability to write good words, to be more of what I'm supposed to be in this life, to more fully and perfectly fulfill my contract as I move through time.
But it's all kind of wrapped up in this serenity package. If I can make those choices consistently, and if it ripples out in some indefinable way to others, my hope is that this whole mess will settle down a bit. We can be more calm. The world can perhaps begin to breathe again.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 11:05 AM 0 comments