27

“The most important step [we] can take is the next one.”

 

Today I begin the first day of my last four weeks as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Month 27 is here.

It’s hard to properly absorb. The uncertainty of the path ahead of me obscures not only my future but my feelings about the present. It is so hard to conceive of what it will be like to be not-here. To be elsewhere. To not have a goal, a mission, an objective.

I can’t even bring myself to book a plane ticket yet. I feel almost paralyzed by indecision in light of the seemingly infinite possibilities in front of me.

This state is temporary, as all states are. I cannot stay here forever. There will come a day when I will have to decide what the next step is, where the next place is.

There are so many things here worth exploring, though;

There is fear. Fear that whatever comes after this couldn’t possibly mean as much to me as this has.

There is anticipation. Anticipation of adventure, exploration, and new things. The anticipation of “anything is possible.”

There is grief. Grief at the loss of this life and these people who have become so incredibly dear to me. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to get to know them.

There is love. Love for the process, for letting go, for all the tiny, infinitesimal things that make all the difference, for my community and my friends, and for myself.

Recently I mused with a dear friend about the truths of the universe. We talked about how amazing it feels to hold two contradictory ideas in one’s head and heart at the same time and accept them both as true in spite of their mutual incompatibility.

One; The speck of dust to which we cling and live out our short, pointless, little lives is nothing to the universe. It is a quark inside a proton inside a hydrogen atom. In the swirling eddies of the cosmos we are less than an eyeblink. Nothing we do matters.

Two; The joy, fear, anticipation, grief, and love that blooms in every living heart is the product of each and every action we take. Every step forward is a miracle. Every life touched is a super nova. Every beat of our hearts is a symphony. Everything we do matters so, so much.

For some reason that is indescribable to me, holding these two truths at the same time and accepting them both brings me so much comfort.

Like a singular light in a vast, infinite darkness, Truth lights the way. To what, I do not know, but I will forge ahead regardless.

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Pattern

I would have thought that I would have more to say when these final days came around. Maybe I’ve already said too much.

It is so strange to me that I fretted and worried about this day for so long and now that it’s actually here I don’t feel nearly as much of that anxiety.

Go figure;

Back then, the visions…most of the time I was convinced that I’d lost it. But there were other times, I thought I was main-lining the secret truth of the universe.”

-Rust Cohle, True Detective

I feel as if I am in that liminal space once again. Finished with one rite of passage but not yet started on the next one.

My mother recently reminded me of how different things seem with me now. I had almost forgotten about all of those long, distressed, emotionally-laden letters I had sent to friends and family back in those early days attempting to make sense of the chaos and confusion.

I have no idea how I got to this point, but I feel so much more at peace with the uncertainty of the future and the inevitability of change. I feel that spike of awareness coming back a little bit now that I’m reentering this space, though. More energy, more activation — that space where even the small and inconsequential things seem life-changing, where I want to capture each moment as it flits by.

I feel more present, clear, and aware than I have in some time. The events of the last couple weeks stick out sharply and clearly in my mind. No fog or haze obscures them. The faces, the laughs, the smiles. Snapshots of my life that seem so crisp, so unique, and feel so lasting.

Part of the difference is that this change feels so much more like a natural transition, and not like something that is just happening to me. I feel more surrender, more acceptance, and less resistance to life.

The only pattern I can see that helped bring me to this space of acceptance is one of slow but constant release. Release of expectations. Release of shoulds and should nots. Release of myself, my ego, and my identity. I did not get to this point of change by resisting, discarding, or hating myself, but as always by accepting who I really am after being given opportunities to see myself more clearly.

So often in my life I have perceived patterns and lamented them as ruinous. Break-ups, self-destruction, addiction, and hurt. This pattern of letting go, if that’s what it is, feels so nourishing to me. Daring to be seen. Putting myself in the way of situations and people who will see me and accept me, or help me confront those aspects of myself that are more challenging. The gift they have given me is to see and accept myself and to choose what kind of an impact I want to have on the world and in the lives of others insofar as that is possible.

Life really does feel as if it has this underlying flow to it sometimes. Something that moves just under the surface, visible only as a ripple you weren’t even sure was there. Just beyond our grasp, just outside of our ability to fully perceive it. It flows through everything like a river. Oneness. Stardust. Cosmic Truth. Call it what you will. Something felt by all, yet understood only in the most vague of terms.

The truth of life as I understand it is that we are all connected. The things we do impact one another. Pain, jealousy, joy, excitement, fear, lust, love. If we live a life in which we conceive of ourselves only as individuals we are resisting life.

My inner voice has changed so much over the last few years, and I feel immeasurable gratitude for that. I’ll never forget that day so many years ago when I sat in my home one night, drunk and alone, and that voice told me that dying wouldn’t be such a terrible thing to have happen, that it might be better than feeling empty, alone, and afraid all the time.

The voice I hear now is so much kinder. So much more forgiving. All it took was time, and a realization that the right thing and the easy thing are often not the same thing. As my time here comes to a close I want to keep doing the right things. I want to take in and be a part of things as much as I can. I want the people here to know how much this means to me, and that I will carry them with me wherever I go for the rest of my days.

If I figure out how to do that I’ll let you know.

River

So where are you now? Where are you reading this in the future? Will you remember this feeling sitting here on the beige couch surrounded by orange light and hearing cars splash through the rain like you have so many nights in the last decade? Will you remember what it was like to lie in bed at night and feel so warm and safe? Will you remember all the people you loved who passed through this place? Will you remember all the times you cried here and how it felt?

You might not. And that’s okay. You can’t hold onto this forever. It’s not possible. You wouldn’t even want to. Just be here while you are here.

Boil up the rain and make tea.”

-entry from Tuesday, November 17, 2015, with a quote from John Craigie

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I realized lately some of the ways in which I have been holding back. Sometimes I feel as if my sadness is a burden to the people I love. Sometimes I feel that I have already burdened those people too much. When I dig a little deeper I realize that it is because a part of me still feels that loving me is a burden. I wonder if that feeling will ever go away.

The tears come easily as of late. The emotion simmers right under the surface, boiling over at the slightest or most unlikely of provocations. A kind word. An embrace. A whiff of raw sugar cane.

I think often of how I felt the last time I made a big life transition — how painful it was, and how hopeful. I think about how I processed it and I look for clues about how I can possibly begin processing this. How can I be present here without burying my sadness?

In 10 years how will I feel about this time in my life? How will I feel about the people who are so important to me now? Will I feel far away? Close at heart? How can I take what is here now into my heart? I want to be open to these people, this place, this experience, and to the pain of losing it, the knowledge that it will change, and the struggle to accept impermanence.

The excitement of adventure walks alongside the joy of connection and the grief of loss. Acceptance is something I am still cultivating, practicing, and learning. I imagine it will be a lifelong practice.

Will I think about Thailand with the same sense of a somewhat indescribable, yet deep longing and nostalgia that I get when I imagine Portland’s rainy streets, or cool evenings in the San Fernando Valley? Times and places that no longer exist outside of my heart, more feeling than sight or sound. The feeling of life in all its complexity and varied aspects.

Two years of experiences distilled into a single feeling. It hardly seems fair, does it?

Those powerful feelings remain even as the details fade with time.

The roaring fire of clenched fists and a drunken argument in the midnight rain. The cool breeze of a silent hike through a green meadow surrounded by mountains. The gentle warmth of a tearful embrace in a dark room. The flowing river that cuts through it all.

Does the river lament its passing by of beautiful and marvelous things, I wonder?

Does it feel that deep pang of loss when it must flow past and away?

How does it regard the beings who step into and out of it?

The rising and setting sun?

Does it ponder its destination? Its source?

How does the river meet the inevitable and the impermanent with such grace?

How does the river accept that it must flow?

These are questions whose answers I want so badly to know, but I know that I never will.

The water roils and rolls and flows, ever-changing. Never the same, yet always a river. Always water. Always flowing.

Flow like a river. Pour like rain.

The Importance of Being Seen

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One of the most important things I have learned in Thailand is that if you want people to come talk to you, sit by the food.

Hands down my favorite thing to do at site is to share a meal with the people that have become my friends. So many of my best memories of feeling connected with people here are during meals. Crowded around the table, elbows perched on the wooden slats, reaching across to scoop from one the several dishes, talking, laughing, and teasing — this is the safe space.

Over these meals and at these tables I have choked back tears. I have shared frustrations. I have told tales of snow and mountains and a life long since passed. I have talked to people about relationships, marriage, polyamory, mothers, fathers, sexuality, gender norms, politics, authoritarianism, immigration, drugs, drinking, sex, and a hundred other things. I have ranted about the cultural differences that piss me off. I have told tales and heard many more. I have sat and shared a meal quietly with friends, a tacit understanding that we are all connected even when we say nothing to one another being shared within that silence.

To me, the simplest things are often the most impactful. A simple gesture, action, or word that communicates a shared understanding, familiarity, or intimacy. An action that says, you matter to me and I matter to you. Something that makes us feel seen.

Sometimes that’s really easy to do and sometimes it isn’t. I often find myself wishing people would do things that, to me, feel very easy to do. I think this is something we run into a lot in our work. It makes me feel such an immense amount of disappointment and loss. Every time I see a kid being left behind, ignored, or unseen, it hurts my heart.

A friend recently reminded me that maybe it’s not easy for them. The things that are easy for me, for us, may be insurmountable obstacles for others. My journey lately has been about trying to accept this, but some days it is rather difficult.

Every time you make a child feel seen in a world where everyone expects them to be invisible, obedient, and quiet, you are making an impact. That impact cannot be measured quantitatively. There is no indicator for “number of people who felt seen by you,” but rest assured that number exists somewhere within you and within those people. Every time you talk to someone who you now consider a friend about something outside of their experience you are making an impact. Every meal you share. Every smile. Every time you don’t hit someone. Every time you challenge a preconceived notion about your gender, race, or nationality.

If I could measure the impact of my service only in terms of meals shared, ideas challenged, and those moments of shared intimacy I would. Those things are so incredibly important. I want to cherish those things instead of focusing on all the things I think I’m not doing or should be doing differently.

That part within us that just wants to be seen defies age. Our kids are not the only ones who yearn to be seen. We do. The teachers we struggle with do. The government officials whose position of power seems mystifying do. The people who fight us at every turn do.

I want so badly to be seen — to be seen fully as I am, without all of the things that I use to cover myself, the things that mask pain, vulnerability, insecurity, fear, boredom, and all of those inconvenient emotions.

I see others using these same things that I find myself sinking deeper and deeper into and it makes me resent them. Phones, games, drugs, drink, Facebook — the list is endless. Really I am just afraid that I’ll keep putting more and more things in front of me to obscure my view of the world, that I will lock myself up in a cocoon of my own design.

The worst part is that the recognition that I’m sinking doesn’t stop it from happening. The slope is slippery and yet I still find myself drawn to it.

These desires to mask are powered by the same old fear, the one that was planted within me like a seed decades ago and still takes up a little bit of space — just enough to matter. The fear that whispers in the darkest parts of my heart, “there is nothing about you worth seeing.

This is the same sentence I hear in my head every time I see a teacher punish a child for not conforming. It is the same thing I think when I see people who have done nothing get all of the recognition. It is the same thing I hear being screamed out loud whenever another kid in the back gets ignored and labeled a problem child.

We have the power to stop this cycle. For a day. For an hour. For a moment in time. We have the power, each and every one of us, to lift the burden of invisibility off the shoulders of someone for as long as we are able to hold it for them.

We have the power to say “I see you, and you matter to me.”

w.

Acceptance

…nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”

-Pema Chodron

 

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I feel like there’s barely any time for me to do anything. Every interaction I have feels fleeting, the connections just barely established before being ripped away.

There is an intense longing of late.

I thought the other day about what it would be like to stay here. Could I do that? I discount it so readily as an impossibility but what would it be like to to really consider that choice? What would it be like to pretend for a little bit that that potential future is an actual possibility? Kind of…try it on for size.

Deep down I know I couldn’t do it. I would get restless. I could settle down, but I know I don’t want to. I want to see more, do more, and face new challenges. Although the initial choice would feel good, I see no future in which I feel fulfilled and content in the way that I want to feel.

But these connections…

…the people

…the human element

I have certainly encountered exceptional people before in my life, people that changed the very core of me. I have certainly connected deeply with people and felt loved and supported by them, but I have never felt like I belonged to a community of people the way I feel I belong here.

I’ve also never cared so much about being part of a community before.

Is this the imprint that this experience has left on me? To be opened up in this way?

Someone once asked me what some of the things I will take back to the U.S. from Thailand are. My first answer was being a part of a community. Feeling like a family. Feeling connected to the people you see every day, whether it be at work, at the market, or at school.

Perhaps the most important thing I have learned here so far is what kind of connections I want to have in my life and how to foster and be a part of a community. Now that I am presented with this beautiful opportunity to take what I have learned here and share it, it feels almost like an obligation, like something I need to do.

The cynical part of me cares less about the beauty of this new aspect of myself and sees it as just another way to be disappointed in people, but that is an ongoing struggle. I sometimes wish I could discard that cynical voice, but it’s as much a part of me as any other. I will try not to commit the aggression of silencing it, but instead try to listen to what it has to teach me.

 

Acceptance is the continual struggle.

Accepting that the relationships and connections I have with the people here will change when I leave.

Accepting that this experience, like all others, is temporary.

Accepting that it won’t always feel this way.

Accepting that all my relationships will change — grow, shrink, transform, shift, erode, explode, fade away.

But just like matter cannot be created or destroyed, so too are our connections to all things ever-present. The connections exist regardless of our ability to perceive them.

Acceptance takes courage, and there is no courage without fear.

-w.

 

Fleet of Heart

“Maybe I’m just this kind of person — the kind of person who connects with people fleetingly and leaves that connection open but moves on from it. From place and from time, to new and more people, to new experiences, more connections, more love. And there is nothing at all wrong with being that kind of a person. I feel more inured to that version of myself, to that kind of life, than ever before.”

 

It’s Friday afternoon. I’m at the provincial administrative office, referred to by most simply as jangwat. The four-story building is arranged like a big square with an open courtyard in the middle and offices only on the outward-facing side.

Me and three interns from the municipal office where I work are riding the elevator up to the top floor. I’ve been asked to keep them company while they deliver some documents. “Why am I so nervous,” I hear one of them ask herself. I ask them if they’ve ever been here before, and they all answer, “No, never.”

The elevator dings at the fourth floor and we step out of the open doors into the long hallway. One of them is reading directions off of a neon pink post-it note scribbled by her supervisor. “Go right, walk straight, it will be on your left,” I hear her say under her breath.

I’ve been to the building many times, but never to this specific office, so I follow their lead. We take a couple wrong turns and walk almost all the way around the square. “Maybe we should ask for directions,” I suggest to them. We soon discover that we passed the correct office two turns ago and start walking back the way we came.

The giddiness and excitement of being somewhere new, set on an unfamiliar errand, radiates off of them. The stakes are different for everyone, and everyone reacts differently to the situation. Nervous energy bounces between them and I try to observe their reactions. One is confident, and walks as if she knows exactly where she is going, even if she doesn’t. Another is a bit more nervous — she keeps checking the paperwork to make sure it’s right, and repeating the directions to herself. The third is more reserved, pensive. She waits to see what will happen before she reacts.

 

I can’t help but think about my own journey here as I follow them on their adventure. I look at them and I see us. I see a group of people with very little background knowledge being thrown into an unknown situation with vague directions and an expectation to come up with some kind of result that is not fully understood. I also see how far I have come. Here I am, taking an unfamiliar situation in stride, and feeling more at ease than the group of Thais I am with. It’s astounding to me.

Their excitement and nervousness about the newness of their situation is intoxicating. Imagined stakes that may or may not be there, trying different tactics until they get it right, desperately seeking help from anyone who may offer it, figuring out how to get along with the other members of their cohort and what roles their skills and personalities fit best — it reminds me so much of those first months in Thailand as a naive little trainee trying to run before I could crawl.

The whole day is just another opportunity for me to see how different things are now. The arc of my journey here astounds me. I imagine that I won’t fully understand it or grasp its significance for many years to come. What do I know, however, is that it has left it’s mark on me. Each person I have met and each experience I have had have left their fingerprint on my soul.

I don’t know where I will be two years from now — I can’t even begin to imagine it. Despite the fog of uncertainty, I do know that whatever happens has the capacity to have an impact on me if I let it. During my time here I have learned how to be raw, how to need, and how to take the seat of the observer. Every experience, big or small, has this same capacity to leave its mark. The length of time that I have it seems kind of irrelevant.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about existentialism lately (thanks to a friend who sent me this article recently). It occurred to me as I was laying in bed reading one night how very much we care about this little world that we live in, despite our occasional attempts to convince ourselves otherwise. I lay there reading my book and realized how much I cared about this stupid, little, made-up story, and how much everything in our lives is just a made-up story. The innocence of youth permeates our entire existence.

To those existentialists who wonder whether or not life has meaning I would answer simply; of course it does, because we are here to make meaning of it.

Divination

To live… to live would be an awfully big adventure.”

I used to feel like my life was so small. The circle of people and things that I cared about was cramped and lonely, but it was a known entity. It was easy.

Now my life feels so big. The number of people that I know and care about, and who care about me, has expanded exponentially. Full of love and connection. When I start to think about all of the people who have come into my life over the last two years my heart swells with gratitude.

The present is clear — love, fulfillment, connection, people. I know there is more connection and love ahead of me but that is so hard to see now. The future remains shrouded in uncertainty. I can’t see it yet, so my heart keeps screaming at me, “why are you taking this away from me?” I know the answer, and I don’t. I can’t explain it, even to myself. I’m trying to quench that fire every day, and it makes my heart so tired.

I have no idea how to do this. I have no idea how to move forward from here.

I thought recently about the heartspace again.

I thought about divination. The reading of bones, astrology, reading palms, astral projection, the Great Spirit, and peyote. Life after death, heaven and hell, your loved ones live on, death is only the beginning, “To die would be an awfully great adventure,” spirit returning to the Earth

Humans are compelled and hardwired to make order out of chaos, and to recognize patterns even where none exist. This is a great strength, but also the source of so much of our suffering. So, we throw the bones. We literally create a random pattern out of nothing for our minds to interpret in order to explain our inexplicable, painful, short, little lives. 

As I thought about all of these things that I do not feel are truths within my subjective reality, I thought about my own truths, and the heartspace. All of these divination techniques, these religions, these supernatural explanations — this is just a list of all the different ways that we reach the heartspace.

There are an infinite number of doors, but they all open to the same place. That human place. The place where we are all connected. The place where we can take comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our suffering. The place where the discomfort of existence is not to be explained, but accepted and shared by every being that draws breath. 

Holding two opposites in our bodies, our minds, and our hearts, at once without being torn apart. Love cannot exist without grief and loss, peace without fear, acceptance without resistance.

It is my essential truth of human existence that tears at me every day. In order to let in the love of the world, I have to let in everything else. I can’t think of anything harder. I cannot imagine a more impossible task to ask of myself. 

But I am not alone.

People

The shutter of the camera snaps and clicks. The image on the screen pales in comparison to what I see with my naked eye — ancient temples lit up with colored lights across a placid pond, hanging smoke illuminated by the spotlights, a few dozen lanterns being swept up high into the sky by the swirling winds. 

It never looks as good as the real thing, I think. Then I think that the photo isn’t meant to show the real thing. It is merely a reminder. It is something to look at that allows the memory to blossom within our minds, a memory that is more than just images, but sounds, smells, and the way we felt when we were standing there taking it, and who we were with. 

I think about how good it feels to be here. The feeling, like an energetic motion seeking expression, branches through my chest and into my limbs. The energy of it is overwhelming. There’s something else there, though. A sadness that hangs heavy. A loss. Grief climbing in around the edges. 

Simultaneously embodying two contradictory feelings strikes me as incredibly strange, and yet somehow makes complete sense.

Never before have I felt so connected to so many people at once. People have become more important to me in my life than ever before.

I sit around missing people I saw hours ago. I look forward to Mondays because of the people I get to see. I go to the coffee shop that’s “just okay” instead of the really good one because I enjoy the people there so much. These are not things that I used to do.

How will these people remember me when I’m gone? How do they see me now?

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I am so much a creature of habit. My brain is so good at scheduling things for me and reminding me to do things at the same time every day, or on the same day every week. Routines, schedules, and habits. 

Habits and routines in and of themselves lack any kind of moral content or value. Sometimes a habit is doing yoga every morning. Sometimes it’s smoking cigarettes after a meal. Sometimes it’s eating a certain snack when you get home from work. Sometimes it’s getting high. Sometimes it’s watering the plants. Sometimes it’s going for a run.

For me the struggle is to try and develop those habits that are nourishing to me in the long run, the ones that will help lead me to a place where I feel healthy, present, and accepting.

What so often happens for me is that I will develop a habit, or a routine, and then if that habit is one that helps me escape, or deaden, or distract, I find myself ripped out of the present moment when things are uncomfortable or challenging, simply looking forward to that time after work when I can get home and play a video game by myself for an hour, or listen to a podcast, or whatever my newest routine is, because they always change.

Regardless of what the routine is, not being present is something I do not like being. There is nothing wrong with the habit to me as long as it does not keep me from being present, and as long as it doesn’t provide me with a convenient distraction to keep me sedated. I want to wake up, and be awake as often as possible, especially when I am with the people I care about.

Especially when my time with those people is running out minute by minute.

Out in the garden where we planted the seeds
There is a tree as old as me
Branches were sewn by the color of green
Ground had arose and passed it’s knees
By the cracks of the skin I climbed to the top
I climbed the tree to see the world
When the gusts came around to blow me down
I held on as tightly as you held onto me

-The Cinematic Orchestra, To Build a Home

 

Tree

I stood there holding my tree pose, focused on the drishti that was the reflection of my own hands pressed together at heart center. Pride swelled as I thought about how easy it was to hold the pose, and how long I might be able to hold it. As my focus shifted, so too did my balance, and the tree swayed lightly in the breeze of my errant thought. I tried to let the thought go gently, without judgement, and return to my breathing and the drishti, but not before I thought to myself;

“Every tree will eventually fall.”

 

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The support I feel here is overwhelming. When my heart feels heavy, I reach out, and I get support and love in return. It takes many forms. A few words of encouragement. A warm embrace. A listening ear. A light in the darkness. How incredible is that?

Being here is teaching me how to let go, open up, and ask for help when I need it. I feel I am coming to accept myself more and more as I truly am, and not the way I thought I needed to be, should be, or was somehow destined to become.

The pain, the anxiety, the suffering.

The love, the warmth, the connection.

All so needed, one impossible without the other, the scales balanced out. In, out. Hot, cold, Darkness, light. To be able to see value in the things I shunned and avoided for so long feels like such a gift.

Once again I feel that incredibly odd and unexpected feeling — gratitude for my suffering, and for every painful step that brought me here, and all the good ones, too.

The multitude is so beautiful. If I only allow myself the “good,” then I am only living half a life.

Lately, my struggle with selfishness has resurfaced. It’s so hard for me to remain unaffected by things that have nothing to do with me, things that are so far removed from me.

What other people do is of no real concern to me, and yet it is. We all impact one another. Our actions, our words, the way we treat people, the way we take up space in the world — they all matter.

I think that when I see others behaving selfishly it reminds me of my own selfish behaviors. As I thought about this the other day, seeking some peace within the turbulence caused by not being able to let go of these frustrations, it occurred to me that I probably still haven’t fully forgiven myself for the things in my past that I wish I hadn’t done. The things that caused pain to people I loved. The neglect. The fear. The constant dismissal, avoidance, and distraction.

There are yet others that I have still not been able to forgive for their selfishness — people from a life long ago that feels like someone else’s. No matter how long or how many times I avoid this road I keep finding myself walking on it again.

So, I turned again to the tonglen meditation practice in an effort to cultivate the ability to let go and accept the duality of all things.

Breath in SELFISH // SELFLESS Breath out

Breath in BROKEN // WHOLE Breath out

Breath in RESISTANCE // ACCEPTANCE Breath out

The beauty of this to me is that we are simultaneously both and neither of these things. We are sometimes one and sometimes the other and always and never both at once. Neither is good, or bad, they are merely opposing forces. Sometimes we need to resist. Sometimes we need to be selfish. Sometimes we need to break.

This is the essence of being human. The source of my suffering lies in trying to be one instead of the other. The path to my peace is in accepting that I am both.

I once had a waking dream. In the dream I died and went down, down, down, into the warm core of the earth. Only colors, warmth, and echoes of sound.

With me there were others who had died. A voice spoke to our collective hearts. The voice told us that we would all be reborn as trees. It told us that the more we had suffered in our lives, and the more pain we had felt, the more beautiful our tree would be.

After I had this dream I cried at the beauty of human suffering — the suffering that connects every broken heart, everyone who feels alienated and alone, every grieving parent, child, friend, and person on this earth.

What if the thing that we fear the most, the thing that we avoid with every fiber of our being, is actually the things that brings us closer together?

-W.

 

ปล่อย/Release

One day while talking about why it is that I seem to have such a hard time letting things go, a friend here told me;

พรุ่งนี้ก็ไม่แน่นอน วันนี้ก็ไม่แน่นอน”

“Tomorrow is uncertain. Today is uncertain.”

She went on to explain how her religious upbringing instilled within her the practice of letting go. It’s not that she is less affected, or more poised than I am, but rather that she is more practiced at letting go.

I think about this often in the context of my relationships here, and this experience as a whole. Despite my best efforts, I so often find myself trying to grasp things, to hold onto them and keep them.

The question isn’t, “should I hold onto this?” Rather, the question is, “can I?”

The answer I am trying over and over again to accept is, “No.”

I think a lot about my connections to the people in my life. Many days I still feel uncomfortable, anxious, seeking, and scrambling;

Are my connections strong? Can I be doing more? Do people know how important they are to me?

I try as often as I can to let go, to just accept those connections as they are. They didn’t get this way by being maintained or forced — they got this way through gentleness, openness, and vulnerability.

It feels like I am always trying to create opportunities, worrying about those connections instead of just being. That is such a huge source of anxiety for me — constantly seeking instead of finding, constantly feeling what isn’t there at the expense of what is.

I want to practice letting go and being present. If I keep this intention in my heart every day, I can practice opening myself up to all of the things that are there, instead of just the things I feel are missing. If I can stop resisting life. If I can drop the story lines.

That letting go often doesn’t feel as good as I imagine it will. Somehow the idea of release feels more exciting than the release itself. I think a big part of that is because I anticipate letting go — that I will be able to let go at that time, on that day, in that place — but when that day actually comes, I can’t do it.

No matter how diligently I try to keep the intention to practice letting go in my daily life, the desire to feel connected still aches within my chest. I seek and I reach out, and I so often forget that those connections will come as long as I am open to them, as long as I allow myself to see what is already there in each present moment, and not just what isn’t.

So much of my writing is full of metaphors. Water, stones, circles, cycles, orbits, strings, trees, and visions. Even the idea of letting go, of the open palm, is a metaphor for an emotional and entirely internal experience.

A feeble and futile attempt to quantify and clarify the human experience, to paint a picture of the inside of our hearts for others to see and therefore understand us. It’s all an attempt to explain something that was never meant to make sense in the first place. Cells given cognition by Lady Luck and Father Time, stardust with consciousness capable of contemplating itself.

Here we are pretending it all makes sense.

The world we as humans have created is so spectacularly odd. To think that any of this was intended strikes me as so incredibly arrogant, as if a mote of dust is the entire universe fabricated for our benefit.

We attempt to sift meaning out of the neutral chaos that is nature because our brains evolved to detect patterns because it was advantageous to us in some way. I suspect this is part of the reason that I see so many patterns when I look at my own life.

Maybe the only thing that keeps that pattern going is my belief that it exists. A prison of thought created to try and explain the indescribable, because being free and open to the truth that nothing is certain is too terrifying to bear. So I build comfort out of explanations willed into existence only by the belief that they are true — and they are as much as they aren’t.

A couple weeks ago I went to the local election for the Youth Council in my province. About ten minutes into being there my mind started to run along the course that has become so familiar to me during my time here — frustration, annoyance, disbelief, exasperation, and resistance.

“They should be doing this, not that. Why aren’t they doing this other thing? Oh, no, they’re doing that all wrong. What are these kids even doing here? How is this still happening?”

After letting this run its course for a while, fairly inured to the feeling at this point in my service, I remembered my intention to let go and allowed myself to look beneath the surface. I tried to feel into that initial frustration without judgement, smooth it out, and then just let it go and drop the story line that I was telling myself about it. I tried to tune myself into the present moment. I let myself slow down for a moment to ask, “What is happening here?”

“I see students who are doing something productive on a Saturday. I see adults who care about the youth in their community. I see the desire for change. I see effort and perseverance. I see people who recognize what the problems in their community are but often have no earthly idea of how to begin fixing them. I see youth daring, exposing themselves, trying new things, and making friends with other youth who believe that they can take an active part in their community, even if they are not yet sure what that means.” 

When I allowed myself to let go, the totality of the experience became available to me. It’s so easy to focus on those initial feelings of frustration, anger, or sadness, but if we are able to not grasp onto that we are left with all of the parts of that experience that make it so rich, so whole, and so human.

Inexplicable. Stardust floating through space.

W.