Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mind the Gap, Please

Watch out, you guys, cause I'm going philosophical on you today. I'm supposed to be working on my fiction writing this morning, but instead I've gotten caught up in online teachings on Buddhism. So today you're getting my (undoubtedly fascinating and illuminating) thoughts on these teachings. Think of it as a little sermon given by a totally unqualified individual.

You're welcome.

I've been feeling kind of icky lately. After my abbey experience I was so centered and peaceful. Then I got bombarded by TV and radio and computer games (so wrong and yet so right) and, well, humanity as it exists today. And I can feel my anxiety rising and my peace fading. I can feel my demons slithering and clawing and crawling their way back through my innards. I was feeling so blissfully unconcerned with my body, like someone threw water on a fire that's been burning and suddenly there's relief from the pain. But with an impending trip to New York to see my friends from the casino the demon voices have started hissing in my ear again. They tell me that I'm so fat, that people will think I'm ugly, that I'm not sophisticated enough (for what, I don't know). I've tried to start singing again, and the demons hiss their old and familiar tune, that I'm not good enough, that I'm a failure, that I've racked up this debt for nothing.

In an attempt to take financial control of my life, I've been spending the week coming up with different "profit centers" that I can utilize to actualize my talents and make money with them. I've been working on business plans galore; one for singing and acting, one for writing, and one for a sort of "creativity store" that I mentioned in an earlier blog. And it's helped, a little bit. But then I listen to a dharma teaching, and I can feel how far from my own peace I've strayed and how anxious I've gotten.

I wanted to share a particular statement that struck me this morning. The teaching I listened to (twice!) is about suffering, and the nun who was teaching on it said this:

"Wanting to be happy, wanting perfection to happen [or] occur in our existence, that means there's always this gap that occurs, [there's] always this imbalance...and so there's always this ideal state that we desire for, hope for, and envision, and then there's the real state of existence that we have to put up with. That's quite a gap."

This statement and idea gave me so much relief. I can feel its truth so strongly. Can't you? I feel it especially in its relation to my singing "career." I feel such a sense of despair and failure that my career hasn't gone as planned, as was set out for me in the trade magazines I read, in the "opera camps" I attended, in the entirety of my Masters training. The gap between what is and what should be or what I (am supposed to) want is wide, and it doesn't seem to be narrowing. As a result I feel panicked. It also works for the discrepancy between what my body actually is and what I want it to be. And I assign my very worth to the fact that I can't close this gap. I can't be what I want to be, and so I am a failure, a nothing, worthless.

I just want to be happy. We all just want to be happy. And I'm not, and nothing I do seems to really, deeply fill the happiness void and make me feel whole, except for listening to Buddhist teachings and studying Buddhist texts. And, frankly, that's scary, because what do I do now? I'm certainly not ready to become a nun, for goodness sake, and I'm not ready to separate from the things that I love, like my family and horseback riding and ice cream (though we all know where that leads) and wine and roller coasters and the beach and my kitten.

And though I now know that these "profit centers" that I've been working on won't bring me true, lasting happiness, I have to pursue the ability to make money and support myself, cause that's just a necessity, and I'd like to be able to do it in a reasonably pleasant way.

So I guess what has to change here is my mind, somehow. I need to stop feeling worthless because I can't close the gaps, and I need to start finding joy in what is. I need to Let it Be.

Maybe there's a reason why I cry every time I hear that song.

Be happy, everybody. Be what you are in this moment, and love it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Busted Open

Hello from the other side (if you don't get that, see the end of the last blog post...and oh hell, while you're at it, go ahead and read the entire post)! I am happy to report that not only did I survive my week as a Buddhist nun, I thrived. I lost, like, seven pounds due to the mindful eating and vegetarian menu (of course right before writing this I had my face buried in a monster slice of cake. Old habits die hard). The constant silence allowed me to relate to both myself and the people around me in a new and lovely way. And the pesky clothing situation was hard at first, but by the end of my week not only was I reveling in the comfort of baggy clothing, I wasn't plucking my eyebrows or showering every day either, because those things just weren't that important. And I was happy as a clam. Well, probably happier.

I arrived back in stinking-hot Philadelphia with a new sense of peace and purpose. And then, just as I was about to return to my mom's apartment and life as usual, I sprained my ankle. Badly. I did it outside, in the rain, on, like, two steps, and afterwards I had to sit in the rain for a while because I couldn't walk and nobody was home. After a trip to the emergency room (my sister did come home eventually!) I spent the past week trying to keep my right leg elevated and being waited on by my sister and brother-in-law because I was completely incapacitated.

(P.S. Have you ever tried to carry a bowl of cereal from the counter to the table on crutches? Take my advice, just don't)

Not that it's not sort of nice to get waited on. But I had big plans for this week. I was going to find a job, start a Buddhist dharma practice, get back to working out, look for stuff to audition for, start singing again, etc., etc.

Instead I couldn't do anything. And I have a point about this. I sort of feel like "life," whatever that word means, is screaming at me to "STOP," and it will break my ankle and physically stop me if it needs to to get me to listen. I don't know why I would need to stop, but the fact is that it's happened, and maybe I should pay attention.

I'm not just talking about the ankle. I'm talking about the fact that even though I have a Masters and am highly intelligent, friendly, and professional, and even though I send in reams of applications for all sorts of jobs and even have a few interviews, I can't seem to find a job to save my life. I left my life in Ithaca and my loving and dear husband in January, and I still don't really know why (although things are slowly becoming clearer on this point). I am 30 years old and I feel like I'm moving backwards; no career, suddenly no prospects for children, and living with my mother.

So my life has already ground to a halt, and every time a try to start it up again I am forcibly stopped.

There are a lot of things that I learned about in this first foray into Buddhism that have started to illuminate why all this is happening. I'll save these insights for another blog post, because this one is already getting unwieldy! But maybe all this is happening for a reason, not some sort of cosmic reason or ultimate grand plan that I don't know about, but because of who I am in the world and what I want from it. And maybe I should start listening to the stuff deep inside of me that I've been scared to hear for so long.

Well, what an unsatisfying and esoteric way to end a post. Sorry. I'll leave you with the fact that my ankle is rapidly getting better and I can almost feed and take care of myself. Meanwhile my left butt cheek is getting the workout of its life. Things are going to be very uneven when I am healed up...