[image: an example of a Venn Diagram]
Of all the serious stuff I read, what stuck with me lately came from a column in a magazine I picked up in a doctor's office. The writer said that what you obsess about is not really your problem - that obsessing is a screen or barricade against your real problems.
I thought about how some people I know carry around obsessions you can count on. How underneath the constant working-the-problem there are feelings like loneliness and disappointment and frustration. I could see it in layers, like the cupcakes you can buy at Kroger's, huge fluffy decorated icing on top of a plain layer of cake. I thought about how I obsess about how to help my obsessive friends. Eventually I thought about my own case. That's always good when you get there.
I recalled how, when I had a lot of contact with my family as my mother needed caregiving, I used to obsess about various family members. "I don't know why she said that. Did she know how mean that was? Maybe she didn't mean anything by it. No, that's excusing her, that's exactly what my mother trained me to do. She had to know. . . . " You get the idea.
All that could not be unraveled, not by me, and what's the use of all this history, anyway? I'm sure my obsessive efforts to "figure it out" after each family event were tedious to my husband and my therapist. They certainly were to me.
On my second retreat the constant rewind, play it again in my mind had me frantic. I just so much wanted to stop thinking, to just be there in the beautiful building as the sunlight moved across the floor, to be at peace. I wanted the retreat experience as I understood it - the illusion that had brought me there. I remember making it to my room at lunch break and bursting out in tears, whispering to Tom, "I don't want to be sick." I was breaking the vow of Noble Silence, but that turned out to be a good thing. I went back for the afternoon sit, and I vividly recall feeling wonderful by 9:00 p.m., walking back to my room under a full moon.
I had begun to find access to the feelings that lay underneath that crazy mind, the frustration that triggered the inner and outer monologue. Feeling sounds so simple, Just do it. But it isn't simple when the feelings are painful and the issue is deep.
After that retreat I made progress in therapy, but my psychic pain and exhaustion didn't come forth until I apparently ran a red light (obsessing) and ran into an enormous new vehicle. Bruised and shaken, I still maintained my composure and got out to ask the other driver if she was all right. When she picked up her license plate and threw it in fury, swearing, I started to cry and just kept crying. 24 hours. A week. The lid had come off my real problem.
Tolstoy said happy families are all alike. I have to disagree. I've seen that unhappy families, especially alcoholic families, have many things in common, especially shared delusions. However, it was all new and unique to me. I was going through it for the first time, and glib talk and slogans were not helpful.
There is a very wide No-man's-land where the spiritual and the psychological occupy the same field (like the hamburger in the Venn Diagram in the interesting image above). I think obsession is also a spiritual problem, tied in to illusion or delusion, and to desire, which the Buddha said was the root of all our trouble - the craving for life to be different, the insistence that it fulfill our dreams. Desire: I want those particular people to love me. Illusion: Of course your parents love you. The mind is involved too, simple cognition. This belief/illusion leads inevitably to faulty logic, "You're crazy if you think they don't." (So it should be a three-way Venn Diagram, but I couldn't find one this charming.)
We talk a lot about wanting to be in the present moment, being mindful. Everyone wants "The power of now." The news is that we really don't - we don't always want to be there for our own experience; it can feel very raw. But I am here as evidence that psychic pain won't kill you. If it does, please contact me from the other side. I'm always eager to learn.