Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Moth Koan

Catching a moth in my hand I release it out the window, such a delicate thing.
My friend asks, "How can they fly, they're nothing but snot and dust?"
I reply, "How can they not fly, they're nothing but snot and dust!"

Moth in Wax

Monday, November 14, 2011

Letting Go

It's been a long couple of months. Two deaths touched my life, several relationships drastically changed, two over-long visits, along with lots of little things added up to a lot of loss and stress compressed into just a few weeks.

Great is the Matter of Birth and Death

The Han at City Center

My paternal grandmother passed this last month after nearly a decade of suffering with Alzheimer's, as much as our entire family (she had seven children) will miss her we are all a bit relieved that her suffering has ended. Her mind was her greatest gift and watching her lose first her memory then her consciousness was heartbreaking and difficult for everyone. I only saw her a few times in that last ten years but every time it was progressively clearer that we were losing her synapse by synapse.

The last time, I was visiting with my daughter and the only response we got was when we asked the little one to sing her a song, having been a teacher for many years she still remembered enough to sing along. It was a bittersweet moment, watching a duet across there generations, knowing that we would not likely see her alive again.


Steve Jobs passed away the day after my Grandmother, and while the impact was very different it was also a great loss: a personal hero and one of the creators of the industry I have worked in for more than 15 years.

Death has a way of forcing you to let go, it becomes very clear that there is truly nothing to hang onto any longer, the person you knew and loved won't ever come back to you, holding on to them is beyond meaningless but we tend to to it anyway. Mourning is the fundamental process of letting go of someone who has died, it's the stepwise ordeal of finally coming to acceptance.

"How do you live your life if you know you're going to die"

Zenkei Blanche Hartman gave a wonderful talk on March 16 2011, just a few months afer her husband Lou Hartman died, titled "Exploring the Great Matter of Birth and Death"

Not Getting What You Want

My Grandmothers last words, recorded by her daughter as she had a brief moment of lucidity with her husband amounted to "Thank you, I Love You, I'm Sorry" and watching the video of the two of them sharing this exchange was really heartbreaking, especially since I was dealing with the loss of two relationships that I had hoped would last as long as theirs.

The first has been a long time coming, a previous girlfriend who I foolishly walked out on and held out hope for reconciliation with turned up with an engagement ring on. Loss is a weak word for what I've felt over the last year and a half since we separated, the obsessive attachment and regret for how I treated her in that relationship are what brought me to practice in the first place. I'd hoped that my attempts at self-improvement would be enough to re-kindle our relationship but, clearly, it's either not enough or the damage I've done is so bad that there's just no reconciling.

As hard as it was to see the ring on her finger it wasn't really unexpected, and I've been processing the loss over the last year. While it's still difficult to see that she's moved on, it puts an end to, or at least countervails, the hope that we would be able to work things out, the hope that she might forgive me. The hope that the past I deeply miss could be recreated in the present.

The other is harder, because it's fresher, because there is an element of deception, because I put a lot of time and energy into building a friendship to base a relationship on (one of my many many errors in the previous relationship), because I really wanted to move away from my obsession with my last relationship and into something new and promising. In this case the loss wasn't about what had been but what might be, instead of pining for the way things were I lost my dream of how things could be in the future.

Either case is a variant of not getting what you want, something that's worth paying attention to in practice.

White and Black Bunnies

bye bye bunny

The Mind Moves from the Present to the Past

All of these losses amount to attachment to the past or future, the loss of a relative or hero or a past relationship attaches me to my memory of the impact they had on my life. The loss of a potential relationship attaches me to the future I imagined and wanted. Letting go of the past and the future means moving back to the present moment, coming back to the reality of what is.

Even if the present doesn't include everyone I love anymore, even if the women I desire routinely rejected me, even if I struggle with feelings of worthlessness and the pain of loss. All these things are difficult, but they are all present right now, and at least I know that it's all really true: that there really is nothing to hold onto and nothing to hold on with. When I'm attached to what isn't, my mind is full of greed and delusion, unable to see what's right in front of me.

When I'm able to let go of these things (some day, maybe?) then lightness and joy can come in to take the place of loss and suffering, the present moment can arise and that can be sufficient, enough to be contented with, enough to sustain me until the next crisis, the next loss, the next moment.