Loneliness has replaced the depression and anxiety that filled me when I was still enmeshed in that most recent abusive relationship. Depression and anxiety are sharp and dangerous pains that make my body feel ill. Right now, loneliness is a dull ache that hovers around me and seeps inside when I am completely unaware. Loneliness doesn’t crowd out all other emotion and thought as depression and anxiety do. It is soft and pliable, moving aside to make room for wonder at nature or sudden bursts of joy. For me loneliness, like a gray cloudy day, walks hand in hand with creativity. It takes an easy pace, remaining soft and open, maintaining a willingness to settle into itself, resistance free. Loneliness doesn’t feel like a disease.
The depression and anxiety that come of loosing one’s sense of self is a cancer that will grow without notice until it suddenly takes your life away. I saw my mother, who was so full of light and love grow weary, lost, and heavy with depression; by the end of her life she had literally turned gray. I watched my father suck the life out of her, bit-by-bit, day-by-day. That was my perception of a “relationship” as I grew up. On some level this became my normal and so I’ve mimicked my mother’s choices without consciousness by creating such experiences as: having my sense of self and power stolen at penis point or having it quietly pick pocketed away, but this last time I’ve just handed it over on a silver platter, with a flourish, while I groveled upon my knees. What kind of self respecting feminist dyke does that?!?!?
Earlier this week I had typed up a long diatribe about the many fucked up reasons I did such a “crazy” thing, complete with thoughtful justifications and deep regrets. Today however I picked up a book I have been intending to read, “Parami-Ways to Cross Life’s Floods”*. What I found in those pages lead me to a more constructive way to look at the past actions I’ve been pondering and the consequences they’ve brought upon what I hesitantly call “me”.
First, from the book:
“The term ‘floods’ speaks for itself; the overwhelmed, swept-along feeling that comes as we get plunged into stress and suffering. In the Buddhist texts, the word is sometimes used in the broad sense of…being overwhelmed by sorrow, lamentation and despair… In their most specific use…the floods refer to four currents, also called ‘outflows’, that run underneath the bubbling stream of mental activity. There they remain unseen yet direct the flow of the stream.”
That wily creature known as the subconscious mind, rather than excuses about what is already done, is the important concept to examine.
The floods are the constant babble that go on in my mind; the assumptions, regrets, worries and general gnashing of teeth. Why did my mother put up with my dad? Why in the HELL have I subsequently put up with the assholes I’ve put up with? Why did I say yes? Why did I say no? What should I have done differently? Am I going to do it again and again? If you have ever made the effort to sit quiet in “meditation” you too will have heard this flood of thought turned up to volume 11 on your internal amplifier.
“We have little, if any, control over it and the stream is so usual that it’s difficult to imagine how we would sense ourselves without it.”
Again, the idea again that my “usual or normal” could have such a profound and lasting effect on me grabbed my attention. Now- I’ve been aware of the evil deeds of my “wile e subconscious” for decades but I’ve been stuck on that first step of awareness for a loonngg time. The great thing about this line of discussion is that it does not lead to pointless self-flagellation (which is fine if you like that kind of thing) but to action that creates change.
The Buddha apparently pointed out four specific floods (or currents of subconscious thought) that we need to watch out for: 1. the flood of sensuality 2. the flood of becoming 3. the flood of views and 4. the flood of ignorance. It is immediately clear to me that as I beat myself up about things I have done or the choices I’ve made, as I feel hopeless about who I am and who I might be, as I am overcome with the fear of depression, anxiety or eternal loneliness I am being swept away by the flood of becoming. “The flood that carries time and identity.”
The concept of time and identity is a familiar one for me. I struggle to “remain present” to “accept what is”, “who I am” and all those new age clichés; I’ve done that for years. What is comforting to me is that, according to these teachings, I don’t have to fight this or any other flood. I am a human being and this rambling stream of consciousness is part of who I am; nothing is going to make that go away in a *poof* of smoke. I can only practice more productive ways of being. All I have to do is gently remind myself on a regular basis that my memories are happening right now, my thoughts and worries about the future are happening now, even my current actions, whose results I will see in the future, are happening right now. The past me, the future me, she’s not real. It’s all happening right now, the past doesn’t exist; the future doesn’t exist. Nothing I can do will change the past or see into the future.
Yet I must continue to gently remind myself of this “now” concept for the rest of my life because within the ‘flood of becoming’ is this current of ‘wile e subconscious’ thought that tells me that: thoughts about who I was and might be are real. Therefore, I am terrorized by brooding conceits such as “I made another stupid mistake, got in another abusive relationship and so at 52 I’m destined to repeat this pattern again and again or just be lonely for the rest of my life. What’s more, I deserve it.” That- is not a helpful thing to say to myself. Yet if I can remember that there is only “now” I can step out of the ‘flood of becoming’. When I can do that, I am sidestepping my wile e subconscious and avoiding that anvil coming straight for my head.
One more quote:
“There’s a lot of drama and suffering and stress in this flood (of becoming)– so much so that we fail to question, ‘who is this character?’ Since I have only pictures of what I was and stories of what I might or will be, can I be clear about who I am now?”
If I do pull my head out of the muck, ask that question and really think before answering then I find myself feeling rather foolish as a made up image of “me” crumbles in my hands. Who I am now is all I’ve got in this moment and all the mental anguish about the past or future will not change that. If I stop wasting energy on berating myself then, in this moment, I have the energy and where-with-all to ask the really important questions that the Big B has encouraged us to ask: ‘Does this behavior cause me and/or others long-term harm, suffering, indignity or stress? Does it lead to my welfare, the welfare of others and to peace?’
Gosh- I wonder how things would be different if I had thought to stop and ask myself those important questions 30, 20, or even 7 short years ago?
Crap! There I go again…
* The book can be downloaded here, for free! http://ajahnsucitto.org/books/