Sunday, November 30, 2014

Is that all there is?

A long time ago my mom told me that she found herself asking this question all the time, in a state of perpetual discontent. It's a line from a Peggy Lee song, released in 1969. Seriously, if anyone was asking, "Is that all there is?" in 1969 then we stand nary a chance in 2014....age of restriction, political correctness and consuming tolerance.

This is absolutely 100% correct.

Of course we have incredible freedoms these days, should we desire to avail ourselves of them, and we don't have to conform to every single social or cultural constraint every single day. This past weekend saw Thanksgiving in the United States. It's a holiday that can be fraught with historical reflection if we want to be honest about what the Puritans did when they came here, or it can be a day of gluttonous appetite, or it can be a day of consumerism run amok. I guess, for some, it can be an ordinary day - if you're a toll taker, gas station operator, retail employee, healthcare or law enforcement worker..... For me, it was the day of family togetherness and I had a few days off work afterwards. So I've had some time to think.

A few times I've found myself thinking, "Is this all there is?" Sometimes it makes me laugh because it's a tongue-in-cheek homage to my dearly departed mom. Other times it makes me wish Big Pharma would pull right up to my front door and deliver a fistful of time-released all-day happiness in capsule form. More often than not it smacks me into looking to my man Buddha...because if that fat, golden boy addresses anything, it's being happy right where you are. 

An incredibly gentle and wise leader in the world has suffered a massive brain hemorrhage. His name is Thich Nhat Hanh and he is a really remarkable teacher if you want to know how to be present in every moment. In today's update on his health, after suffering what is presumably an aneurysm, his attendants report:
Thay continues to rest peacefully with the ticking clock on his pillow, and we sense that he is relying on his deep awareness of breathing, rooted in Store Consciousness, to guide his healing process. Even the doctors have been surprised at the consistent level of oxygen in his blood. Thay is truly is the best breather in the world, inspiring us to deepen our full awareness of the breath. Thay continues to remind us that each day we are alive is a miracle, and that simply to breathe is a gift.


How can I ask, "Is this all there is?" What a stupid question. Of course this is all there is! THIS is living! THIS is life....it's messy and sad and wonderful and perfect and heartbreaking and defeating and uplifting. It's all of it all the time. And all I need for entrance to this incredible show is breath! I should be so bold as to ask if there is more.

Not just around holidays, but everyday, it's kind of important that we stop, remember to breathe, remember that our breath is our life and that this life really IS all there is. I forget ALL THE TIME. I forget probably 20,000 times a day. But I also remember 20,000 times a day. I remembered today when I caught up with an article in The New Yorker from November 26, 2014. In it, Leslie Jamison interviews Charles D’Ambrosio, and what he said that brought me back to my breath and back to my gratitude for daily living in all of it's messiness (and my inane desire to tell you all about it) was this:

What might seem “confessional” from the outside is just an arrangement of facts, the facts of my life, no different, to me, than admitting that I’m right handed. When I’m putting words on paper, the self is more like a perspective, an angle of vision, a complicating factor, a questioning presence. If things are going really well, I forget myself completely, which is a relief, and in a way the forgetting, that loss of self, is a fairly good gauge of how involved I am in the work. I use the “I,” of course, and that slender pronoun offers an intimate register of feelings, thoughts, tones, but I’m so focussed on getting things right that even that “I” becomes impersonal.
The personal isn’t by definition false, nor is confession, but in writing both have to meet this other demand, the demands of language. As a Catholic, I go to regular confession, and to date I’ve spent about nine million dollars on therapy, so I know what goes on in those spaces—and what goes on when I’m writing is very different. That dual allegiance, to the truth of the thing and to the truth of writing, inevitably takes you away from the merely heartfelt, it seems to me. In a way, writing maps a path out of the self. Instead of sobbing, you write sentences.
Thanks Charles.....because now I'm breathing again. And this is all there is.



Sunday, November 2, 2014

Waking up to the Dark

In my part of the world we fell back last night. It was the end of daylight savings and we lost an hour in an arbitrary resetting of our clocks. It will now be darker for longer in the morning and get darker earlier...and I'm so incredibly contented by that.

For someone like me: prone to depressive episodes and random, sometimes crippling, anxiety, you'd think the return of dark would be horrifying. But it's not. I love the dark days and the quiet of the cold. I find the activity of summer and spring to be overwhelming, and it feels like I never quite measure up to all the fun I'm supposed to be having, all the things I'm supposed to be accomplishing and all the interaction that drains me till I could crumble and blow away.

The return of fall and then of winter signals a time when everyone around me softens and relaxes. Society at large slows down, calms down, takes more time and has fewer demands. And I feel myself waking up in the waning daylight. What's better than a crisp, cold night after the snow has fallen?

Today I found a place where a man creates every word that doesn't exist to describe me, and a few other people I know. It's here: The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. And the reason I love the dark and quiet and the cold is summed up by his most amazing word: SONDER.



In the stillness of winter, I am the backdrop for fewer people and there are fewer extras in my own
movie. The credits roll slowly by, each name getting more time to spend on screen, and each character becoming a player instead of a shadow. 

Sure, when the clock rolls back we know the chill is coming...but so is the fire. 



Photo Credit: Brett Plank via Compfight cc