Wednesday, February 25, 2009

1001 Ways to Get in Touch with Reality

[photo: monkey fists]

A Poet doesn't have to walk very far to trip over a metaphor. This morning, as I was thinking about the hard, tangled mass of delusions that has a friend in a lot of trouble, the knot called "monkey fist" came to mind. Tom made one of these for use as a doorstop after reading The Shipping News. (In the photo, the monkey fists are the knots on both sides. The dime in the picture shows scale.)

Actually, Buddhist teachers consider feeling hopelessly knotted up to be a "promising"condition. It means your trip isn't working. As long as we can tolerate what we're doing, we won't change. Even though a constructed life isn't really satisfying, it's what we know. It takes a major quake to shake us up. You can go through what Christianity calls despair and Zen calls Great Doubt with or without a religious tradition; and you can go through it and stubbornly continue acting the way you do. But sometimes when everything stops working, we are able to change.

Where was I going with this? I got to thinking this morning that I am significantly more at ease with my "problems" than I would have been thirty or forty years ago, and today's problems are much bigger than the ones that preoccupied me back then. I know that taking my spiritual path seriously had a great deal to do with it. But healing doesn't just start when we adopt a practice. It takes earlier growth to even get to that point. It takes persistence, and the suspicion that life can be better to get us to try new things. It seems to me I tried 1001 things, actually, and benefited a little from all of them. One was the list of Things that Make me Feel Better.

I don't know what inspired me to make that list. It was at a time in my life before cancer or kidney failure, before Tom's post-polio syndrome appeared, a time of economic stability in which I was pursuing my career dreams; yet my life was joyless. I called it "depression." I recall that my list of comforts included vanilla and a hot bath. Obviously, such a list was not a route to awareness, though a little self-cherishing certainly couldn't hurt me.

It interests me now that I didn't make a list of things that made me feel worse. It was like eating chocolates in hopes of forgetting that a rhinoceros is standing on your foot. Looking back, I know why I didn't want to touch on some deep and complicated received ideas, like "My family loves me and if I think they make me feel wretched there's something wrong with me and I'll be happy when I get with the program." Penetrating to these intimate monkey fists of delusion was still down the road. When I did, I would be forced to change. So maybe my little exercise in cause and effect - What makes me feel better? - was an essential paving stone.

What do you need in your life? It's not found on a "bucket list" of experiences you want to acquire. I'd like to go to Paris, myself, but I'm sure It is not only to be found at the Eiffel Tower. It is also in the snowdrops in the back yard.

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