Suffering and Equanimity

Notes on:
life, sexuality, fortune, poverty, pain, and Buddhism
February 12, 2008
A Haiku for "Us"
we hurt together;
simple needs in open war
and still call it love.

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posted by This Woman Alone @ 8:48 AM   2 comments

Lonely and Alone
I'm in it again; that slightly desperate feeling of being misplaced. The feeling is a heavy, gloomy one, like mud sucking at your boots. Appropriately I've dressed in grey today, though it doesn't fit with the impending sunshine of Africa's tropical weather. Even my happy yellow book-bag doesn't brighten the atmosphere this morning.

The gloom and wretchedness awoke with me this morning. In fact, I think it came to bed with me and stayed the night. I know what it is, too. It's that tortured place between the need for unconditional love and freedom from bonds. While on the surface it's the arena for my mixed-orientation marriage, the darkness comes from a much deeper place.

I often feel the pull to be alone. I'm no longer much of a "social person". I love my friends and spending time with them, but I have very little interest in parties and general social gatherings. They seem fake, plastic. Everyone puts on their best face and dons their manners instead of their integrity. And they drink, so eventually the integrity, or lack thereof, bleeds through the facade anyway.

But it goes beyond that. I often feel the need to disappear even from my friends and family. Not for long periods, but for a day or two at a time. I can't, of course. My house is small and my girl is still just a baby. Playing at Houdini is not a realistic option. Sometimes I feel caught, unable to escape from the situation and the people, and that's when I fall down the long hole of my own melancholly.

Even when I do let my mind imagine the possiblity of escape from the hardest parts, to not be married, to really be alone, I find no relief. As much as my psyche hollers for the release of the tension of the relationship's difficult aspects, there is as much darkness in the thought of being alone. Who will love me then? To whom would I turn when I seek comfort and reassurance? The idea of aloneness is just as dark; no relief there.

Both paths are valid, and both hard. I mused to myself on my morning stroll to work that suffering is ubiquitous. None of the above, and no path at all is without suffering, save the Noble Eightfold Path. The thought lent me a sense of humour, but didn't relieve the ache. Of course I suppose it is as important to remember that impermanenece is equally as ubiquitous: and this too shall pass, both the feeling and the situation. I wonder if that is enough to grant me the will to enjoy the moments as they are?

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posted by This Woman Alone @ 8:25 AM   2 comments

February 6, 2008
An Endless Cloud of Thoughts
Sometimes when I've been away from my work for a while, or caught up in a whirlwind of a project or some administrative process (read: post-graduate registration), I find myself lost for a day or two. It's not permanent. Nothing is, I suppose. All the same I find it curious how my mind is so quick to jump the tracks after just a bit of chaos.

Concentration is a curious thing, at least to me. I tried an exercise once, of writing down everything that popped into my mind that wasn't related to the task I was working on. It was fascinating, for two reasons. First, mostly what I thought about was fears and ambitions. I wonder if that's true of everyone, or if the composition is uniquely mine? Not to say that others don't think of their fears and ambitions, but perhaps they spend more time remembering? Or thinking about social situations? Mine were fears that threaten me, and the goals I want to achieve. That's what was present.

Second, when I wrote these things down (and ticked beside them when I thought of them again) I began to find that I didn't need to think of them. If they were being graciously held by a sheet of paper and my blue ink scribble, that seemed to be satisfactory for my brain, and it was more willing to let it go. Not that I advise everyone to have a list of their fears and ambitions perched next to them permanently. But it was interesting how my brain didn't need to be a holding tank if something else could. I tell you it reaffirmed my belief in the process of journaling as a process of purification.

And it was a sort of process of purification. Unlike many other forms of cleansing the mind, it was amazingly non-violent - there was no repression of the thought (not even the impulse to do so), just the noting of it. But the permanence of the method of notation made it easier to let it go, somehow.

The great part of it all was that I was able to watch my duration of concentration increase from seven to fifteen consecutive minutes in just one day. While that may not sound impressive, when you are reviewing addresses and descriptions for Museum promotions it can be considered quite a feat.

What it most brings home, this whole process, is that concentration is something that I interrupt regularly. And the more chaotic my environment has been, the more apt my mind is to offer an interruption or two of its own. I would suggest that steadfast rituals and segregated activities could go a long way in helping, but in the end this isn't how the world functions, and so it won't be much help in "the real world".

So I go back to my messy mind, and my tidy desk, and try to figure out where I'm supposed to start, and how it's supposed to go. Maybe I'll whip out a pencil and write all the junk down again. Heaven knows I could use a spare hard drive for all the junk I've picked up. I wonder where I can get hardware big enough to hold it all?

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posted by This Woman Alone @ 10:20 AM   0 comments

January 8, 2008
The Weight of Separation
After my coming out I started losing weight. I've been somewhat overweight since puberty; a defense mechanism, perhaps, against unwanted sexual attention and general insecurity. On the magic day of my self-realization, the traumatic and uplifting day of transformation, all that seemed to change. My relationship with food became a non-issue. I ate well when I was hungry and abstained when I was not. Since then, I've lost a lot of the extra weight.

But the in-laws have come for a month-long visit, and I find myself putting on weight again. (Sigh.) I know why too, it's not a mystery at all. First, I'm not out to everyone, just to myself and my own little family unit. I'm in a heterosexual marriage, and I'm still getting used to the idea of being gay and married to a man. At this point I'm still not sure how it's going to all work out. So the last thing I want to do is get everyone involved, particularly the in-laws.

Second, I'm not always comfortable around my mother-in-law. She's great, and really kind hearted, but she's notoriously introverted and depending on how she's feeling she might not say much at all. I end up feeling shut-right-down when I share something and get a sort of null response. What's worse my husband falls into old patterns around her and, like her, will just "check-out", and be in the room but mentally not available for conversation or help when help is needed.

The result is the feeling that I'm a sort of ghost in my own house. I'm there, but people can only hear me, see me, care about me when they decide to be present. The instability of it drives me crazy.

I've tried centering and found some solace in that. Mindfulness of the Three Characteristics (suffering, impermanence, no-self) helps. But I am constantly amazed at how desperate I am for love and acceptance. Inadvertent, unexpected, unrepentant snubs at irregular intervals just seem to destroy my love of self. Is it really such a shallow thing as to be obliterated by temperamental lack of acknowledgment? And just when I finally thought I had enough love in myself to face my greatest personal secret: being gay. Is my maximum really so small? My increasing girth is testament to its tragic insufficiency.

Perhaps the most poignant realization, however, is how amazingly hurtful it is to believe we are a separate self. I am alone, therefore I must be vulnerable. Others do things and I assume that I, my-self, am the object of the action, and accordingly I suffer. Where-oh-where is a little more equanimity when you need it?

I am about to go on another round of vacation with the "crew". Mission for the week: find strategies for remembering not to take it personally!

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posted by This Woman Alone @ 3:15 PM   0 comments

January 1, 2008
The Essence Within
Samyutta Nikaya, XXXVII.34
Growing in conviction & virtue,
discernment, generosity, & learning,
a virtuous female lay disciple
such as this
takes hold of the essence within herself.

- translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu -

New years have never been a time of resolutions for me. It never made sense to save your planning for one day of the year. Self-improvement is almost an obsession, a practice of slow-simmering perfection. I could never relegate it to just one day of the year.

Still today I feel strangely repentant, as though the pledged reformation of humanity has passed to me through the breath, and I've sucked in a lungful of "shoulds". I find myself thinking of the aspects of my life, my own characteristics, that are most important to me at this time.

Living my Personal Truth, my moral compass, is probably first on my list. In 2007 I made vast improvements in being able to read my own moral compass and follow it. Not to say I still didn't make mistakes. I certainly did. But it's clearer now, what is "right" and "wrong" for me, and that's a giant step in the right direction.

Coming to terms with my sexual orientation is another one. It was more than a small shock to realize that I am actually a gay woman in a heterosexual relationship. It explained a lot about the sexual awkwardness of my marriage, however. This year will be one of reconciliation with myself. And forgiveness.

It's also a year of new beginnings. This is year one of the seven-year plan for financial independence. I have to say I'm more excited by this than by my Masters dissertation and related research odd-jobs. Every time I sit down to work on my empire-in-the-making the work flows so easily out of me. I wish everything could move with such passion.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is my spiritual development. With moral compass registering more strongly, this is really going to be about practice. There isn't a way around it. Practice is the only thing that makes for spiritual progress. If there were a shorter way about it, I'm sure the Buddha would have confessed. There simply isn't. If the goal is Unbinding, then the path is meditation, and the Buddha knows I don't do enough. No resolutions; but I'm thinking about it.

If I had to qualify my hopes for 2008, I would say that I hope to "take hold of the essence within [my]self". 2007 only scratched the tip of the iceberg. There is a mountain to discover below.

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posted by This Woman Alone @ 8:29 AM   0 comments

December 31, 2007
Requiem for 2007
It all goes by so fast. The older I get the less one year means in the context of my total life. Time seems to move faster; it's just my memory of a year getting shorter. It took me this long to bloom, more than a quarter of a century. And now that the flower is open, I marvel at how short a time I have before it expires.

This is it: the demonstration of our mortality. Our whole lives are one big long lesson in impermanence; sprout, bloom, expire. We are encouraged to reflect on impermanence, as if we could miss the lesson. More than ever, on the precipice of a new year, I can feel the rush of time as everything forms and dissolves and blows away. Better love every moment. It's all we get, and nothing that we leave behind can ever be retrieved.

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posted by This Woman Alone @ 9:32 AM   1 comments

December 30, 2007
A Haiku for 2007

identity smashed
like an old glass mirror
wounds my open hands

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posted by This Woman Alone @ 8:08 PM   0 comments

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Name: This Woman Alone
About Me: I am one woman, trying to stay awake as my life rushes past. I do my damnedest to get it right and have stopped counting the successes and failures. These are my reflections on the whole gory show.
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