disassembling the temple

 Nancy, Reflection  Comments Off on disassembling the temple
Aug 282012

Over the last ten days, I’ve been bringing more change to my home. I’m making it more my home. This is joyous and sad all at once, perhaps like all of life, when we really connect and open to it.

I have music again. A couple of months ago, I brought old stereo speakers alive, in my cabin up near Lassen National Park. Now, I’ve finally done it at home, and it’s about time. The story is kind of amusing…

While we were building our house, Nancy and I designed places for a flat screen TV and pre-wired, hidden stereo components all around the fireplace in the great room. In 2007, during construction, we had a prolonged conversation about the visible parts…especially the speakers. The TV has a recess in the wall, with a chase to a nearby cabinet where the electronics live, all nice and neat and clean. But good speakers have to stand out in the space, visible and audible, and we talked about it a lot. Finally, she agreed to simple black towers, from a design-oriented manufacturer so they looked good. I hunted on craigslist for months, and found a pair of beautiful Bowers & Wilkins tower speakers for a reasonable price that she liked. I drove to Napa to buy them, then put them into storage along with the appliances, the furniture, the bathtub, the rugs, the lighting fixtures, the toilets, and all of the other cubic yards of things going into our house.

A year later we finally moved in…and she didn’t want the stereo installed. She loved (and I did too) living in a page from Architectural Digest, a home that looked and felt like a design statement, without compromise. So I shelved my desire for music, and lived with an iPod player for four years. (Four fucking years. How much of myself did I abandon in this relationship?)

About ten days ago, I pulled the speakers and amp out of storage, wired them up to pre-installed connectors in the wall, installed the power amp in a hidden cabinet, connected the Apple TV, and Voilá, I have amazing computer-controlled sound. The house is different, my home is different. Roxy Music at high volume, Bach organ works, Van Morrison, opera, INXS, Grateful Dead, John Lennon, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, Andrés Segovia, Morcheeba, Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Tom Club and the soundtrack from Chicago.

It’s all ripping through my soul like a sonic cleansing.

I am loving this. My girlfriend watched me wire the bits up while she worked, and said she has rarely seen me so joyous and focused. It’s true, the installation of music into my home has been something I’ve longed for, for years. I cannot express the deep joy I feel as I turn the sound up, and open to the pleasure of good clean sound, exquisite performance and skill with voice and instrument. Hearing all my old friends, remembering the concerts. James Cotton, Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, 1983. Tommy Castro 1999. So awesome.

But there is a dark side, an ongoing pain that I know well. Any change to my home is Disassembling The Nancy Temple. It’s just the truth for those of us who grieve this kind of loss. Giving away her clothes, changing the arrangement of pots in the kitchen, moving artwork or furniture around, it’s all traumatic. The Way The House Was Arranged At The Time Of Her Death is somehow sacred. I boxed up her shoes and am taking them to a consignment store tomorrow. It helps to have a little momentum!

I have a new life that I am gently opening to. I must release her arrangement of the artwork and furniture, her preferences about speakers and stereo and TV. I get to reclaim myself. Dammit and Yay at the same time! Little by little, I am making my home truly mine. Morcheeba fills my sonic space tonight, a gift from my girlfriend, who is becoming a very significant relationship. The cats curl by my feet and sides, content with the changes.

Every change opens another little corner of my grief, which seems endless. Perhaps I am hunting my own pain. And…I long to be whole again, to have an open heart, that can love fully, commit and hold a long-term relationship. Perhaps I will never be completely whole again in this way. But I am sure my heart will be open again. I just have to disassemble the Nancy temple first.

Aug 162012

Early this summer, I wrote about the exquisite tension between time together with my girlfriend and time alone in solitude. I’ve learned some things. My life is getting a little easier. I so love our time together. It’s still hard to spend time alone. I still think of calling or texting her often…and I can finally say I enjoy my time alone, too.

I’m learning about layers of grief. At first, I grieved the simple loss of my partner and my love. More recently, I’ve been grieving what could have been, how Nancy and I were punching through our pattern of bickering, and finding loving connection with the help of a great couple’s counselor. It’s tragic, like fighting your way to reach what you long for, and just as you get there, the object of longing is gone. We were making wonderful progress in October, then her illness put her in the hospital, and she never returned. The loss of what-might-have-been is quite different from the loss of my soul mate.

So I’m still in it, spending time with others, spending time alone, and more is bubbling up. I notice that most of us who lose a spouse, either through divorce or death, tend to respond in one of two ways: we lose ourselves in companionship, or isolate completely. I have several divorced friends who spent months going through sex partners like grapes. I know others who completely cut themselves off, staying alone for weeks or months or years. Some still can’t grieve, seem like shadows of themselves. I did both extremes in the first couple of months, too much dating, too much time alone.

One of my favorite Rumi poems speaks to this.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want. Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open. Don’t go back to sleep.

Back and forth across the doorsill, going out and connecting and feeling love, going in alone and feeling who I am now. Now I seem to do both, consistently and easily, a few days social, a few days quiet. And who I am is…abandoned. Nancy just left, without a goodbye, without any connection or warmth toward me. Some resolution came in after she was gone, as her ghost danced in my life for weeks, but the hole in my heart came from her departure, and the way she departed. So I now feel abandonment, and realize this is a wound that goes way deep, perhaps to my birth. Now my grief is for myself.

It’s the door in, the yawning, gaping hole, the abyss inside that drives me to attach to others, to love, to the joy of touch and connection. Good to know. There is a whole area of psychology about this, attachment theory, and I’m doing some reading to help bring context to all I’m feeling.

So I continue to move back and forth, from union to separation and back again, letting abandonment unfold, softly and sweetly. The pain seems to be easing, a little at a time.

Aug 022012

One of the most delightful and challenging aspects of buddhism are the vows or intentions that I’ve taken on in my studies. The learning is deep and rich. In January, I took a set of five vows known as ‘the precepts’, and of course, one of them is a vow that I will not take a life.

This is a perplexing vow, and like all of the precepts, it’s really designed to make me sit in the question of “what is taking a life?” Can I swat mosquitos? Can I eat meat? What about plucking fresh vegetables from the ground? Obviously, we have to take plant life to nourish ourselves. Perhaps we can eat eggs, or drink milk, or eat fish. Perhaps even chicken, or beef. Everyone I know that has buddhist beliefs has worked with these choices, even if they didn’t take vows.

So begins the story of today. More than a year ago, Nancy and her caregiver found a baby rattlesnake on our driveway, and asked me to kill it. (My house is on the edge of open space, on a steep hillside with lots of rocks and places for critters to nest.) I thought about it for a while, and realized that our pets, our friends, and Nancy herself — who gardened a lot on this hillside — were at risk. So I reluctantly took a shovel, and killed the creature. It’s bothered me ever since, although I feel like I made the right choice.

This morning, I walked out to the car to drive to work, and found a 16-inch rattlesnake next to the car, on the curb side. It was still, and had a few rattles on it’s tail, perhaps two years old. Big enough to be deadly to a child or a pet. I sat in the car for a few minutes, trying to decide whether I should kill it or not. I contemplated many facts and points of view, risk to neighbors and to myself, then finally decided to leave the creature alone and drive to work.

I’ve been thinking about this decision all day, in the way I’m inclined to think. Was this right action? It troubled me. I probably burned a thousand calories considering positive and negative consequences, imagining the worst that could happen, afraid that a passing hiker or dog walker or dog could be hurt.

And then I got home tonight, right about sunset…and saw the snake was still there, in the same spot. It’s actually dead, perhaps run over by a car or bicycle, left at the edge of the street. So I cautiously pick it up with a long-handled tool, and throw it away, consigning the body to Marin Sanitary Service with a small blessing.

This is a good and subtle learning. On one level, I chose well — I got to have my cake and eat it too, so to speak. I chose to let the snake live, and got to find out that it was not a threat after all, it was already dead. On another level, I worried and thought about something today to no avail, it was a complete waste of energy, as there was actually no danger. I can even go self-critical, and wonder how I missed the fact that the snake was already dead. Or perhaps it wasn’t, I arrived just after the event that injured it, or someone else saw it and killed it.

But I mostly notice this as another perfect moment. I made a choice that felt wobbly to me, sat with my fear all day of all the things that could go wrong, then the universe reaffirmed my decision. If I had taken a shovel to kill the snake, I might never have known. So I burned a thousand calories for nothing. I need more faith. Buddhism teaches “non-dualism”, how there really is no separation between our awareness and the events and objects of our experience. What if I could just have faith in my vow, decide not to take the life of this creature, and trust that my decision was right action? Devote the thousand calories of worry in a more fruitful direction? Hmm?