Monday, March 26, 2012

Experiments with Joy

The sun is shining in penetrating rays.  I’m back, she says.  The wind is whipping through the tiny new leaves, a soft rustling, and then a loud hush. Spring. Spring. Spring!

I just got home from a weekend away visiting my friend Kristin in Raleigh.  I left at 3:30 am from her house, and came up to my house, eight hours of car, train, metro, bus and walking later, and saw the cherry blossoms fallen on my lawn.  I nearly cried with delight.  I laid down and attempted a cherry blossom angel, my heart melting into the earth.

Travel for me is not a struggle. Well, I take that back. Solo travel is not a struggle. Travel with three toddlers is another story. But I love travelling alone. And this trip was a great gift from Kristin. I wrote and read and chatted with my seatmates. I’m afraid my elderly friend and I may have woken a great many people this morning as we chatted in the dark. I was tired, but I love to hear people’s stories. I love to know where they’re going, what brought them there. I love getting to peek inside through that little crack of conversation. She was a teacher for 26 years and then left, all of a sudden, to work “in industry.” This eighty year old black woman from South Carolina told me about losing her husband when her daughter was eleven, about finishing her Masters Degree, about just up and changing things when she wanted to.  Now she runs a trailer park, but she’s done with that now too.  I loved this woman, even with all her throat clearing.  Her existence, so very different from my own, seemed entirely knowable, our similarities revealing themselves the more we talked.

All that I continue to read in my religious studies, continues to point in the same direction.

1. There is a truth greater than you. (God, Allah, Goodness, Universe, Energy)
2. That great truth is the grace, love, peace and joy that resides within us.
3. The only way to know it is through suffering.

This weekend I wrote, working on my book, and read portions to Kristin.  It helped to read it aloud, to be more conscious of someone else’s interpretation, to hear her questions.  It helped to break through the wall of self-consciousness, to allow it to be the “shitty rough draft” that it is, to know it needs to be a process and not perfection.  It felt good to witness her reactions of surprise at things I thought seemed alarming from my childhood.  But it also felt good to let go of trying to make the story more than it is.  I’ve had this self-consciousness, especially when I tell people that I’m writing a memoir, that my suffering has not been so great, that my story won’t be very compelling, that people will say, “so what” when they hear my journey and what I’ve learned.  They might.  Some will not connect with it.  

Kurt Vonnegut said, “Write to please just one person.  If you open a window to make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

The truth is that I fear two things.

1.  That my suffering has not yet been great enough.  
2.  That I’m going to have to forgive the assholes.

Every religious tradition is about coming to terms with why we suffer, and, so far from what I’ve learned, each comes back to the fact that the suffering is what burns up our ego and causes us to finally rest in the arms of the sacred.  

But we really have to feel it, to experience it, to ache in the cold darkness of our pain and stay there.  And then joy comes.

I’ve been so locked in my head, consumed with mindfulness, attempting to whip myself into shape, a drill sergeant of the soul.  I’ve been missing the joy.  And part of me fears that, as I open up my arms to the universe and invite in the pain and suffering and what it takes to burn off my selfishness and ego and duality, I’m just asking for trouble.  I know I am.  Truly, my pain has not been so great, I am terrified of what it will take to empty my bowl for refilling.

And I’m afraid that if I sit with the pain I’ve got, I’m going to come to a place of having to let go of my bitterness.  If I truly see all the suffering and joy coming from the same source, as it seems to, from “The Light” or God or just the powerful goodness of existence, then those people that really fucked me up, were somehow part of the process, were brought to me.  I’m not there yet.  I still hate them.  I still see their place in my life as just being total assholes.  I am not ready to get beyond that.  I’m not ready to forgive.  I don’t want to see their humanity or think that they’ve come to me, perhaps as friends from another life, as troublemakers to spur my growth.  I don’t want to get beyond hating them.  I want them to suffer.  I’m still too afraid of letting go of that, even though I know, for sure, that the anger is hurting me and not them.

I’ve got longer to sit with it. I’ve got more suffering, to be sure.  

But this weekend, I was certainly surprised by joy.  Between being caught in the rain and attached by inchworms dangling from trees, there was laughter.  When my elderly friend made me laugh, out loud, in the early morning dark about Rick Santorum, I felt sweet relief. And now, as Anne Lamott says, “God is showing off.”  We’re at just the right point in space, leaning just right toward the sun, positioned just so in our rotation, that the sun is shining in through the cracks in my soul.

In a little while I’ll drive out to pick up the kids and go back to the intensely sweet and brutal life I’ve got.  

So much is said of peace, but it’s joy that passes understanding for me.  It’s joy that gets me on my feet, hands raised in gratitude and praise of all the beauty.  I don’t want more suffering, to be sure, but I want more joy.  I want the experience of the sacred and not just the idea of it.  

And so I open my hands, reluctantly once again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Laura here...
I have lost almost every member of my family over the last 10 years. I witnessed their tremendous fear and agonizing suffering as they lived their final days. The details are too jarring to recount.
I cherish the pain that I feel from these losses. I will never let it go. It keeps me connected to the joy of having had them and shows me the joy of being. I've learned to put it away for safe keeping and not be overwhelmed by it unless I choose to be and sometimes I do. I gather it up when I need it and I do need it and always will.
All that being said when I see you write that your suffering has not been so great it knocks the wind out of me. I would not trade our experiences for the world. Although the analogy doesn’t seem to fit well I keep coming back to the old, “having loved and lost is better than never having loved at all”. The experience of childhood is in my mind the greatest and most important part of this life that we’ve been given. The thought of not having had my family with me every step of the way to guide me, to love me, and to hold me when I needed to cry brings me to my knees.
Heather, you are an old and wise soul. Some people have to make it through this life by never wondering why. You are far closer to the answer than most will ever be. The gravity of your awareness is the experience of the sacred.
This poem by Dabrowski is you.
"Be greeted psychoneurotics!

For you see sensitivity in the insensitivity of the world,
uncertainty among the world's certainties.

For you often feel others as you feel yourselves.

For you feel the anxiety of the world, and
its bottomless narrowness and self-assurance.

For your phobia of washing your hands from the dirt of the world,
for your fear of being locked in the world’s limitations.
for your fear of the absurdity of existence.

For your subtlety in not telling others what you see in them.

For your awkwardness in dealing with practical things, and
for your practicalness in dealing with unknown things,
for your transcendental realism and lack of everyday realism,
for your exclusiveness and fear of losing close friends,
for your creativity and ecstasy,
for your maladjustment to that "which is" and adjustment to that which "ought to be",
for your great but unutilized abilities.

For the belated appreciation of the real value of your greatness
which never allows the appreciation of the greatness
of those who will come after you.

For your being treated instead of treating others,
for your heavenly power being forever pushed down by brutal force;
for that which is prescient, unsaid, infinite in you.

For the loneliness and strangeness of your ways.

Be greeted!

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