This was a difficult session. I knew beforehand that it would be; I just didn’t know exactly how. I had to deal with anger and unfairness in two big ways today. The first was from my turning away a publisher that is committing systematic tax fraud and cheating its workers. The second was that tension finally popped through the surface of my connection with L.
The eruption of anger at L was really more like longstanding resentment that I finally voiced when she was grouchy enough to first voice irritation with me. She seems to censor my “Buddhism” as not really “Jenny” and as inherently judgmental. It is probably fair to say that I do judge her and let her repetitive obsession-suffering patterns frustrate me until passing judgment is the only way I feel I can disentangle myself. But it is also fair to say that she is in fact indulging in patterns of thought I do not want to make my own ever again.
Although I can sympathize with her suffering, she does in fact intentionally, if ignorantly, create it, as we all create our own suffering. But it is clear that I cannot advise her. When I even inch in that direction, my “Buddhism” sounds smugly doctrinaire to her because she has, I just learned, decided to reject it without, of course, considering it. She is not as open as I at first thought and in fact has lately been angry and dismissive toward others in general. She enjoys raging, in short–or she thinks she enjoys it. Instead of drawing her in, my perspective puts her further off. She reacts fiercely to my even saying she is not on this path, as if that phrase were in itself not just a fact but a judgment. Well, it is a judgment. I judge indulgence in sexual obsession and denial of the obvious suffering it brings to be places I myself am not interested in exploring. Because our society extols romance, sex, and intoxication of passion, her view is normative and mine is dismissable as “inhuman.”
Almost every time she chats with me, she seems to leap on me with news of the latest failing by her would-be lover and her conviction that whatever ultimate future state she desires with him is already over. And the next week they are on again. Then off. And then on. It is silly. And she is so enmeshed that she won’t acknowledge that it is a pattern that she perpetuates with men. I understand these obsessions and how they feel. But my path has been to renounce those recursions. I find nothing enjoyable about feeling at the mercy of passions, including this saying-so. The difference is that she dismisses and censors my honest view, but I’m to spend ours helping her indulge this nonsense simply because it is the norm.
This arrangement is not fair. It hasn’t been fair for a long time. In truth, I’ve been disenchanted with her for months, often feeling like she sucks my energy away instead of building up a mutually helpful energy between us. Her having no toolbox is not something I should fault her for. But she is interested in feeling-addictions, not in ideas or understanding. In our tense exchange, she said “nor am I willing.” She was very pointed in her dismissal and sarcastic at one point.
I finally regained mindfulness enough to realize I should stop the conversation, as it was becoming harmful, mutually harmful. She said she would never mention her bf again, which is not what I asked for but didn’t correct her about. I had asked only for the dismissive double standard to stop. But it is clear that she doesn’t want me to mention the dharma, and in exchange she’ll not mention boyfriends.
When I said I needed to go meditate and sleep, she sarcastically wrote, “Oh yes. Go meditate. That will sort it all.” I answered this jealous stab calmly instead of reactively, and the calm was no act. And how was I able to? Because the complete loss of control, rage, and delusion on her part was suddenly so clear and foreign to where I’ve so far come that I really did feel some at least relative-level compassion for her, for what she does to herself in the name of High Romanticism. I used to be like that, just like that. But I’m tired of it, and she is not, not yet, not enough. It is strange–the point at which suffering becomes so thorough that it divides from itself just enough to become aware of its own intentionally self-harming nature. That is the point of renunciation, the first step. And there is truly no going back.
For many months I have been vaguely in unease over how my commitment to my practice is affecting and will affect relationships. Buddhist monks seem to offer contrary advice on whether to put oneself aside and just be there and listen, or whether to cultivate seclusion in order to safeguard the practice and what little progress has surely been made. I look across a gulf and see my suffering fellows. But I cannot single-handedly change their karma, and I’m not skillful enough to begin to teach them when I’ve barely begun to control myself (though I am going to give myself credit and truthfully acknowledge that things have shifted for me, and profoundly).
I think Tharissano is correct: It is necessary to cultivate seclusion, to make that really solid, to be unafraid to be alone, to befriend oneself in a truly unconditional, not-backward-looking way. I have long known that Facebook is poison. In fact, it was mainly while engaging in online convenience friendships that I first felt the stirrings of compassion for myself, that I simultaneously felt distanced from and sympathetic with my fellows on this ship of deluded fools called the Facebook newsfeed.
The skill of content seclusion and nonpublicity is the most important skill fo rme to work on. I will be tempted to turn to others, but I need to keep this firmly in mind, no matter the siren. I am so grateful for finding Thanissaro, because he has taught me how to find meditation so pleasant and interesting. He has taught me that it is in fact good to be mightily attached to the practice, for now. For how else can I slacken the pull of more poisonous forces?
During tonight’s meditation, my mind chased after past and future scenarios, and I could not find the moment of arising, the seam of becoming. I don’t even know whether what I decided to say to L today was mostly skillful, or mostly unskillful or even harmful. But I think it had to come out somehow, and at any rate it did.
The Black Howl
During tonight’s sit, suddenly all this black howling grief arose in me. It came as from a bottomless black pit in me, astonishingly fast, all at once, full force. I was crying. I never heard the bell. So the sit was in chaos. Yet I noted afterward, and even during, that somehow I don’t feel the searing shrinkage at heart that I normally would. I feel sorrow, but not the fear of sorrow.
Compassion and derailment both come from my father, from his pain and the karma that was and is my family. How do I behold others’ weaknesses and neither engage to save them nor boredly/smugly note to myself the gulf between us?
Is this separation part of the path? Yes, and it is saying that you need to retreat for a while.
Do I need to literally cultivate aloneness? Yes, and break the addiction to self-publicity.
Did L need to hear my criticism? Yes, she did, even if she doesn’t understand it at this time.
[As I write now nearly 3 years later, I have to remark how dear a friend L still is of mine, and note that, during my recent grieving over the loss of my friendship with Daniel, it was she who said to me the wise words that grief is never over whatever occasions it but is a release of much that has been long stored up.]