six months

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Jun 292012

So, it’s been six months. Fitting time to look at me and my life, and see what has changed, what is evolving, what I’m learning. A lot is shifting in me.

  • I am wrestling with living alone…it hasn’t been easy to get used to solitude.
  • I miss the hell out of my wife, and still cry nearly every day.
  • I don’t miss the hard parts of our relationship, in fact, the bitter truth is I’m kind of relieved.
  • I love (and am a little frightened by) my new life.
  • My grief has opened me to new levels of awareness, inner strength, and an ability to “be present”.
  • I’m preparing to enter a deeper spiritual practice.
  • I am no longer afraid of dying. I know there is something profound on the other side.
  • I am dating a woman who is kind, loving, independent, and not looking to define us, or to create premature commitment.

I’ve been attending classes at Sukhasiddhi for about four years, off and on, and through some mystical process, I seem to be getting inevitably deeper in my studies. First, the sangha had to leave their location in San Rafael, and after floating around for a year, ended up moving into a space in Fairfax, walking distance from my home. Then there was all the astounding contact with Nancy after she passed away, opening my faith to a deeper level I could never have imagined a year ago. A couple of months ago, I joined the board of directors of the sangha. And now they are offering a two-year program, the beginning of six-years of daily practice similar to what a lama undergoes during their training.

I’m finding this almost irresistible. Living alone, I have the opportunity to shift my schedule to take on the daily meditation and chanting and other practices that this training requires. The first two years apparently will require the most devotion and effort.

So I had a meeting with Lama Palden a few days ago. As far as the training is concerned, it seems that it’s pretty much up to me. If I can take on the practice, I can achieve ‘realization’, perhaps of my deepest purpose and desire. The program that is ahead of me seems to be just what I want to bring into my life at this time.

I’m wondering what happened to free will. My existence seems to have taken on a life of it’s own, where mentoring and kindness and reflection are appearing in just the manner, in just the perfect timing, to support and solidify me as I move into a new life. When the universe offers gifts, one can only bow and accept and feel grateful.

joy and despair and balance

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Jun 252012

I had the privilege of attending a friend’s wedding this weekend, and had a wonderful time connecting, meeting new friends, having big deep discussions, and enjoying the food and wine and merriment and music and dancing. A wedding is a joyous thing, to see vows set in motion, two people initiate themselves into a new life together through their commitment. You can see it all over the faces of the bride and bridesmaids. Where else would they wear fabulous shoes like this?

The following day was a completely different experience, both related and illuminating. I am facilitating an ongoing, year-long couples’ workshop for my dear friend Tina Benson, who is conducting it with grace and depth. Tina took the group through a powerful and vulnerable exercise, after doing a demonstration with me as the subject. The details aren’t important, but during the demo session, I fell deeply into my grief, and sobbing as hard as I’ve done in a couple of months. Then, moving through this gateway of despair, I felt myself open to an incredible sense of peace, quiet, stillness and receptivity. Distant bird calls in the forest were the only sound…everyone in the room seemed to stop breathing. I felt a soft joyousness and profound connection that was quite different from the celebration of the wedding.

I’ve been wondering what is so different between the joy of celebration, and the joy of inner peace and stillness. It’s quite hard to articulate, but I can say that in celebration, I’m scarcely connected to myself, I’m immersed in something else. It’s all about the others around me; the celebration and joy happen in the interaction with others. (Of course some of this was the wine I was drinking!) The second experience was intensely personal, I was completely aware of my body and sensation, and very aware of everyone in the room as if I were deep in meditation. For me, celebratory joy requires others, while internal stillness and joy is something I can create for myself.

These extremes are good for me, they stretch me, help me know myself better. How could I have found such lovely inner peace without feeling despair so fully? One becomes the gateway for the other. Somehow, I feel more whole today, having swung through all these feelings over the last few days. I remember the celebration, and smile. I remember that transcendent state of inner joy, and smile again, perhaps touching into the sensation just a bit, bringing my awareness to my body and my feelings. These explorations carve deeper channels for my feelings. Full sorrow makes full joy more available.

Maybe we can only know the fullness of joy by feeling those places we do not want to go, try so hard to avoid. I believe this is why my grief is a good thing, it’s bending me and opening me to love and compassion I didn’t even know could exist. I do know that the months of grief give me a much sharper appreciation for the present, a feeling of happiness with the most simple things.

It’s almost as though an inner marriage is happening Perhaps that’s why I loved this wedding celebration so much.

the next wave

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Jun 192012

One of the reasons I write is…friends have asked me to keep going. It’s helping me to track myself, and I learn more about what I feel. Another reason is that I haven’t found any good written material about what it’s really like to go through this kind of loss. I’ve gotten practiced at tracking my feelings, and writing about them. I hope that this blog will be useful someday to someone who loses their spouse, or a child. So many of us seemed ashamed or embarrassed by grief. I am not; this is the most human experience I’ve ever had. I hope that these writings will help others see the power and beauty and divine gift that is available when we embrace our loss, and let it rip through us.

Which is happening for me again now. Thursday night, the summer solstice, is the six month anniversary of Nancy’s passing.

Gee, I wonder why I was feeling a lot of anxiety last week? I was scarcely aware, but some part of me knew. I remember her last night with crystal clarity, the discussions, the decisions, her anger, the support of family and friends, hours of watching her heart stop and then restart, over and over. Someday I’ll share more about that, and the first day afterwards.

Six months. It could be six days, or six decades, so much has happened, and yet so much is the same. Six is “The Lovers” in most Tarot decks, and I still feel the power of that force between us.

So I am here yet again with my grief. This is so familiar now, like coming about in a sailboat and feeling the boat surge under your feet as the wind takes her. Thursday is going to be tough, and Friday probably worse. I haven’t really cried fully for a month, and found myself with tears running down my face while motorcycling home tonight. This is not a good thing, there is no way to wipe tears away at freeway speeds on a bike!

And this is also about a new kind of support, another change in my life this week. I entered into formal ritual and vows last night, Taking Refuge, at Sukhasiddhi, my Tibetan buddhist community. The core vow is

Until enlightenment, I take refuge
in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
Through the accumulation of merit and wisdom,
may I awaken for the benefit of all beings.

This vow runs deep, it may take a few or many incarnations to achieve. What this really means is that I’m preparing to take on my buddhist practices more seriously and deeply. They have held me well, and I can only respond by holding them well.

Oh buddhas and boddhisattvas and teachers through the millennia, I hear and honor your calling. Please hold me as I cry.

sitting with gifts

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Jun 152012

This entry will be rambling, over several days, as I am sitting in my family cabin up near Mount Lassen, in northern California, and I have only slight internet connection, through a tenuous cell phone network. I just landed tonight about an hour ago, opened the cabin, and am relaxing into a solitary weekend. (Some of you know what “opening the cabin” could mean, but it was easy, I was here a few weeks ago and did all the chores 🙂

Five days ago, I was not looking forward to coming up here, even though I knew I need to make the trip. I love this place, and am feeling a little burned out after a couple of months of intense activity at work. But the prospect of a couple of days of isolation was creating anxiety, which I’ve been opening to, meditating on, and holding in my body as consciously as possible. What was the anxiety about being alone? I still don’t fully know, but I know after last night’s sleep and dreams, I woke up this morning looking forward to the trip. Sometimes change is like this, where the reorganization of our consciousness happens at some deep, inaccessible level, and we wake up transformed. That happened today and I feel much happier, being in this beautiful, quiet and still place.

Marian Woodman writes eloquently about this in “Dancing In The Flames” and other books…how staying with a difficult feeling, nurturing it, breathing into it, can allow all that emotional energy to become something else. The actual transformation process is described in almost incomprehensible detail in Carl Jung’s book, “The Mysterium Coniunctionis”, which I read once upon a time and do not recommend.

Now it’s Saturday morning, and I slept almost twelve hours last night. I must have been even more exhausted than I thought. This morning is perfect, no noise except for a few bird songs, temperature 72 degrees. One of my neighbors is here this weekend, in the place across the street, a quiet and introspective woodworker whom I will probably greet sometime today. Otherwise, the neighborhood is vacant.

So the first gift is this feeling of peace and happiness and relaxed attention. No anxiety at all, no urge to connect with anyone. In fact, my cell phone miraculously rang (mobile coverage is VERY spotty) and I actually had no desire to answer it.

The first gift creates a second, spaciousness. I don’t feel like I need to do anything, my driving compulsion is gone, no desire to call my girlfriend, visit neighbors, or mindlessly get things done. Yet I am having a pleasurable and productive day. I’m loving the tasks I’m taking on, and the objects I touch. The cabin is dusted, and I’m delighting in the small details of craftsmanship, the feel of the original growth doug fir used to build it seventy-five years ago. Nancy’s old bicycle has been sitting here for months, waiting to be cleaned and reassembled and oiled, and it’s all complete now, ready for my first bike ride here ever.

And then there are the Advents. Here is a tale of lust going back to my college days. I was too poor to own a stereo, so I spent much of my time visiting friends elsewhere in the dorm to listen to music. The debates about equipment were endless: Dual versus Technics turntables (way before CD’s, of course!), Kenwood versus Pioneer versus Maranz (all trumped by the one guy rich enough to have McIntosh tube equipment). The speaker discussions were especially heated, and one friend had a set of four of the original Large Advent speakers that filled his end of the hall with Pink Floyd in such a decisive way that truce was grudgingly called whenever he cranked it. I’ve always wanted a pair, but somehow never made it happen. I think these antiques have the most natural and spacious sound, a bit warm, just as I prefer.

It so happens that my stepfather, Herb Runyon, who passed away in 2004, had a pair. I remember visiting he and my mother, and playing their records just for the sheer pleasure of hearing the speakers, something that they never did for themselves. When I moved my mom into a nearby townhouse in 2009, I carefully placed these gems into her new space, and she and her caregiver used them all the time, listening to everything from classical and opera, to show tunes and reggae. They went into storage in our garage when she moved to assisted living a year and a half later.

Now I have them up here with me, and I just spent a couple of hours replacing the cracked woofers with new factory originals, sanding the scratches out of the exterior, and rubbing Danish Oil into the fresh wood. They look and smell fantastic. Thank you, Herb, wherever you are, for the pleasure I am about to experience. Ken and Carolyn, the first piece of music to grace them will be yours, it’s been stuck in my head for days. “Solitude”.

Jun 132012

This seems to be existential crisis week. I’m wrestling with my identity.

The trigger was the Fairfax Festival this past weekend, our delightful annual bacchanalia. Live music, good beer, interesting food, big crowds, crafts booths, kids getting their faces painted…you get the idea. Lots of folks with long hair wearing tie-dyed shirts, shorts, sandals. Totally fun.

I spent hours wandering around the fair, enjoying the sensory overload, while feeling like a stranger in my own town. The issue is that I’m single, a bachelor, living alone. I am so conditioned to marriage and partnership that I don’t really know who I am in this new role. My sense of identity, self-worth, purpose and even the meaning of my life has been tied to my partner for decades.

Last week I spoke of the tension I’m sitting with, and this is what is unfolding. It is a subtle and hard thing for me to face. I feel adrift, without a solid sense of purpose, wondering what my life means. I’m kind of shocked to find out how deep this partnership wiring runs in me. When I make dinner alone, I have to push myself to put some care and creativity into it, to honor myself as the recipient as fully as if I had a guest. When the living room gets a little cluttered, I take extra effort to put things away, valuing a neat, tidy environment for myself alone. I used to do all these things in service to my partner, with only some thought of myself. Now I’m learning how to be in service to myself, and it’s an odd sensation. There is an internal relationship that I’m building, a brick at a time, slowly and painfully and thoughtfully.

This piece of art by Janelle Schneider reminds me of the feeling. It’s a beautiful Jungian image, like an image of the self, in relationship to an ocean of Self.

Feeling like this, it’s difficult for me to be spacious with the woman I’ve been dating. I have random urges to text, email, give her a call, make plans, find ways to get together more. I catch myself a lot, and just take a deep breath and let the urge go.

Coincidentally (is there really such a thing?), one of my friends posted a lengthy article on anxiety yesterday. What great timing. Peeling another layer, I realize I feel anxious. I’ve never directly experienced anxiety as an emotion before, although I’m sure it’s been a part of my life all along. She quoted a beautiful teaching by A.H. Almaas about unusual anxiety, and I found it on the web:

When the defenses start actually breaking down, a person will experience increased anxiety, followed by the repressed impulses and feelings. So under normal circumstances, the presence of unusual anxiety indicates that some defenses are dissolving and that some piece of the unconscious is pushing towards consciousness.

Well. That feels accurate. I’ve been here before, received the fruits of sitting in almost unbearable feeling, and here we go again. Dammit, I wish self-exploration were easier. As usual, meditation helps a lot, even though I feel depressed and listless at times. This exploration feels very important to me, vital to whoever I’m becoming. I’m good with it. Even as I squirm inside.

exquisite tension

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Jun 052012
One of the pieces of artwork I live with, that so reminds me of the feeling of sitting in the tension, of holding myself.

It’s been a big adjustment for me to live alone, no denying it. The honest truth is, I’ve never felt completely comfortable all alone, I’ve had roommates or a partner or a wife nearly my whole life. There were a few months in 2004 when I lived alone, but Nancy was a frequent guest…and then she moved in. In college, and through my twenties, I almost always had roommates.

Until now, of course. Probably the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with, aside from my feelings of loss and abandonment, is sitting alone in my house. Honoré de Balzac apparently said,

       Solitude is fine, but you need someone to tell you that solitude is fine.

It was so difficult at first that I simply fled, and went on a road trip in early January to visit friends up north. Then I spent alone time because I couldn’t bear to be around other people. Then I found myself seeking friends and companions because I couldn’t bear to be with myself. The first couple of months were a wobbly swing from one extreme to the other.

Now I’m happy to say that coming home to a quiet house is often a pleasure. It’s easy for me to keep it neat, I can do what I want, when I want, without interruption or taking anyone else’s preference into account. I can see how my single friends like this, and might never want to give it up for the pleasure of sharing their lives with a partner.

This is where consciousness and change really happens, sitting in an uncomfortable place long enough for the feeling to shift and evolve. I have practice doing this, which has helped me sit here. We call it “sitting in the tension”. This is one of the biggest tensions I’ve ever tolerated for a long time.

Mind you, it’s not always a pleasure, I have plenty of moments where I wish I had someone here.

And sometimes I do.

I’ve been going out with a friend for more than two months, a delightful woman that Nancy and I have known for a few years. It was almost casual, how we started seeing each other, but we seem to be more and more solid as the weeks go by. The amazing thing about our friendship is, we have no commitments, no real boundaries, no discussion of a future together. We’re present and connected when we see each other, and spacious when apart, which is most of the time.

Talk about sitting in the tension! I am so oriented towards classifying and labeling, it’s very challenging to not know, to not even ask. Our unspoken agreement seems to be, “we’re doing great so far, don’t change anything”. I actually set my life up this way, when I vowed to myself in January that I would not commit to a relationship this calendar year, so that I could feel out my own preferences and truth. Well, I’ve got what I asked for…and it’s damn hard to keep my vow at times. This is not simple. Even a question about how she feels, or telling her how I feel, could lead to a commitment discussion. Does she wonder about the long-term potential of us? I don’t know. And I don’t want to know. Yet. For the knowledge itself begs the question.

There is some new level of self-awareness coming in, perhaps a different way to be in relationship, I can feel it. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be so uncomfortable. And delightful.