Sunday, December 30, 2007

What Matters

before Christmas

A gray and white sky of furled clouds, but to the northwest is a pool of clear silver: in it floats the moon, its blemished surface held within a circle that is breathtakingly pure. A moment later the clouds have curtained it, but it breaks loose once more before the sky closes altogether, and the dawn turns into ordinary day. I close my umbrella and board the bus.

I feel fragile and weak, as if I had been ill for months, rather than days.

I am reading -- nearly finished with -- Barchester Towers, and I am hoping that I do not resemble Bertie Stanhope as much as I think I do. Trollope does an extraordinary job of conveying family culture -- no one but Tolstoy, maybe, does it so well -- and the family I grew up in, after my parents divorced, certainly resembled the Stanhopes more than is comfortable for me: that family that is so good-natured and entertaining that it takes a good while for an acquaintance to realize that they have no hearts.

I do not believe in psychopaths: I do not believe that there are really people without hearts. But certainly there are people who so habitually disregard them as to lose track of them: and clever, rootless people who don't have to work for a living are peculiarly liable to do so. The work of my life has been to recover the heart I misplaced as a child and a teenager. This year it has been bruised and wrung enough for me to be quite sure that I have recovered it.

The last few weeks have been a strange shadow-life: all of my past has risen up to testify against me, and I move easily through the many masks I have worn, never quite sure who I am at the moment, nor which variation of living in hiding is going to sweep me up at any given hour: long-dead temptations arise, spectral and impotent -- fitting Christmas companions, though their power to haunt and compel is injured by their being such a crowd: they jostle and fluster and embarrass each other.

I am held up by the extraordinary kindness of friends. This time, ill-spent and idle as it is, has nevertheless been necessary, and I think that soon I will be through it. Until enlightenment I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and in the supreme assembly of the Sangha. In the Buddha: in the purity of my own heart, which I lost and disbelieved in for so long. In the Dharma: the teachings, from Nagarjuna to Tolkien, from Lao Tzu to Trollope, from the nun who ran the the Gestalt group at the New School to Michael at KCC. In the Sangha: the community of practitioners. Meaning many things, but certainly including all of you. For me, most importantly, including all of you.

Merry Christmas. Happy Solstice. The blessings of Sunreturn. However you celebrate it -- here's to the coming of light after darkness.

after Christmas

I can't say I write because I think it matters. I write for the same reason cats mark their territory, taggers tag, kids carve their names into their desks, and sorcerors pour their souls into their cut-off fingers, and hide them: always, always, the idea is to escape from death, to lodge oneself in something solider and safer than this trembling unstable flesh. And of course always the hope that, in some other, refracted form, I'll be more interesting than I am in -- as we say -- the flesh.

I am tired of it, this itch to be something other than a few decades' flickering pattern of a mammal: it's a stupid waste of time, surely.

(But the sky, the sky, the clouds and the moon and the sun and the stars and the silver dawn pools of brightness. I suppose the name for this feeling is reverence, or awe. It stands directly opposite the marking impulse.)

I am in the flesh, all the time, in this odd ursine frame, short on sleep and sniffling. I see myself in a shop window, say, darkly, and am disturbed by what I see -- an active white-haired man. Square shouldered and round bellied. He looks like nothing I associate with myself. Never has, though. That's nothing new.

I feel almost alive, almost real, when I'm touching someone. Otherwise, not much, not often. Cloud, sky, sun, moon, stars. Otherwise -- it's an artificial, unconvincing life, for the most part: I can't take it very seriously.

Othello's occupation's gone: that's what I'm really responding to here. I built my life around the service of eros, and if that's done with, then -- what am I to be? And more urgently, what am I to do? I can't look at the sky all day.

Well -- just the next thing that serves, I guess.

The grimly interesting thing is how much everything stays the same.

Ain't it funny how your new life didn't change things
You're still the same old girl you used to be.

For most of my life I've looked to eros to change things. It seldom did. It advertises itself as the way into a new life, and that of course is what it always means in Hollywood; but new lives aren't really entered into that easily.

The wish for a new life is a deep and powerful one, but it's almost -- as it's been configured in me -- a completely self-defeating one. Because with my heart and my attention set on a new life, I relegate this one to a restless idling in the waiting room. I don't fix anything here, I don't settle to anything here, because I'm not -- as I conceive it -- staying here.

But here, of course, is precisely where I live. A few months shy of fifty, and I still camp in my house, rather than living in it.

Having children, of course, contributed to this. Because everything with children is temporary, and there's no un-draconian way of stemming the inwash of useless and unbeautiful stuff into your house, when you have kids. But it has far more to do with the everyday habits of my heart and mind. I lived this way, camping out, long before I had children. I lived this way when I was a child myself. I never invested myself in the the houses I lived in. The work I was doing was never my real work.

It can look like equanimity, like an admirable lack of attachment, but mostly it's just rootlessness.

I have moved. I have moved to a genuinely new place. But it will take all my attention to stay here. I must watch and meet the waiting-room habits of mind, as they arise, where they arise.

This is a struggle partly to be made on the cushion. But even more, in the domos. I must, literally, put my house in order.

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