The Anger that Consumes Me

Khairzul
Painting by Khairzul

To be mad as a hornet. To be at the boiling point. Hot. Seeing red. Anger is so poetically expressed that it is a gut-punch to see and feel it. It can burn with the hottest lava and remain for days among tumbled embers.

They say that anger is actually fear. It’s suppressed fear over something, at some level, that manifests as anger. Usually it triggers our feelings of lack of control. It disrupts our security. There is always a perceived threat that lies beneath the surface of anger’s object.

I woke up yesterday to its small flames under my pillow. This little flickering friend likes to ignite Angereach day. Sometimes it waits patiently for midday; other times, when it is especially cruel, just as I am about to sleep. It’s there, and I don’t like its presence.

I have tried to rival it with logic.
Love has tried its best to hold the anger, tight as a fist wrapped in metal.
God has been asked to enter in and sweep it out onto the street.

It remains.

Yes, I have asked my friends how to expel it. There good words of wisdom, I have tried, but it remains.

Now, I walk with it uncomfortably.

Each day I start my practice. I get out my list. I name the pain, the fear, how it still hurts. I call it into being and I give it my own name, my part. I hurt myself in the absence of the offender.

It’s an old wound, this anger.

Like a friend, I must ask its true name. What is it I need to face? If it is something to be changed, I ask for the willingness to change. If it is something that is outside of my control, I ask for the ability to let go.

It’s practice. Anything hard takes practice and a simplicity of repeating steps. I’m not sure when the anger will be lifted. It will, though, eventually. It reminds me that pain, like pleasure, is fleeting. But when the pain is self-made, the first realization must be one of choice. Do I let loose this small dragon, or do I continue to stroke it?

Today I am choosing to let it loose. I always have the option to pick it up tomorrow. For my serenity and recovery, I hope not.

***

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Reframing Belief and Prosperity

 

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I am standing on a rhyolite cliff looking at a fresh pile of bear dung. Not a pretty way to start a story, I know, but this is where it begins. It’s 8am and the sun has started to burn away the clouds that line the canyons and valleys below. A lone Steller’s Jay decides to announce his presence, then his displeasure with mine. His streak of black-tipped feathers against a strikingly cobalt body remind me of clubs in Toronto where hair and body never quite took on the proper colors and textures. I bend down to survey the pile before me… the bear must have been here within the last hour. It’s not that ominous a scene, however. The Sierra Ancha mountain range is full of black bears, deer, mountain lions and other woodland mammals. Although I have never actually seen a bear here, I have seen their tracks, their scat and their tell-tale scratch marks. It’s an honest place to be.

For three hours, I sat in my tent looking at a deluge that washed over the ridge. There wasn’t much to do in those moments but kick back, read or think. In this case, I opted for the latter. Looking out on damp pine needles, my mind wandered to the themes that are most pressing in my life. Those themes that keep me up at night in the city, but are soon diminished in the cold, damp and windy confines of these high cliffs. It isn’t like they disappear entirely… no, but they don’t suffocate me. They are like the damp pine needles. I just see them and notice their presence. For the past two years, I have felt a building ache in my heart. It started as a married woman. I had dreams of escaping the city with my partner, reluctant dreams. Now, as I am – alone and in flux – I want to do things that I have never before attempted to do.

For one, I am done trying to live my life by anyone’s measuring stick – friend, companion or otherwise. I am also done carrying secrets – mine or any else’s. I do not wish to control or judge; I simply want to be free to live as honestly as I can. I understand that I will lose friends over this. I know it will be uncomfortable for some to accept what I am about to embark upon. Frankly, I am old enough to know it isn’t passive-aggression or rebellious behavior. I just decided I am tired of being a part of an assembly line lifestyle I don’t and never did want.

None of these statements are particularly revolutionary. Many more choose the off grid or simple life: activists, Buddhists, seekers, iconoclasts, etc.. For some reason, though, I have found it difficult to find those who relate to my vision. I meet many people who are on a spiritual path or a path to recovery or healing, yet they still seek the same societal end-means that the rest seek. I am not a believer in the Promise. I do believe that our thoughts impact our perceptions and experiences, and possibly even our outcomes, if external factors align and we are blessed to reside in a country and time that upholds these principles. I still believe in work, direction, movement and animal truth.

This brings me to prosperity. One of the pinnacle reasons I avoid “abundance” as a movement is that it is rooted in the outward rather than how one feels and the quality of experience and character. Plenty of people buy into the idea that if they “positive think” everything, they will be gifted material rewards – usually in the form of entrepreneurial endeavors or independence from wage slavery. The focus is on the monetary compensation that will arrive if they magic-think it so. Abundance thinking has never been outlaw thinking. If anything, it upholds the systems that demand us to believe poor people or those who have experienced hardship haven’t opened up to the power of the universe or simply have a bad attitude. It does not question why some people acquire yet abuse their possessions and power. It also is nation-centric in that the basic premise is that an individual naturally is equipped with a wide variety of choices. It ignores famine, captivity, disease, oppression, slavery and war. By logical deduction, if blessings are created by positive thoughts than hardships must be equated with negative thoughts. If one has control over prosperity than one must also have mastery over poverty. Hmm… sounds like familiar rhetoric, doesn’t it?

One of the reasons I love being in wild places is how it brings me down to the most basic element of being alive: I want to bJuly13dump 319e alive. If I believe I am the most powerful animal in the forest and go about my delusion foolishly, I may get injured or die. It doesn’t matter how much I believe I am the master of my universe, or that Christ or some other deity will protect me; life soon finds a way to subterfuge my beliefs with a mortality wheel I have no means of stopping. In this state of utter surrender, one can be truly prosperous and totally authentic. By understanding the limits of my beliefs and ideas, feelings and thoughts, I can work within a larger framework that includes everything around me: other life, stone, earth, stories. In including everything around me as abundance, I also embrace death and disease, the occasional let-down, loss and missed opportunity.

One of the most fundamental ways of cultivating abundance is through connection. My desire to disengage in the “game of getting ahead” is largely informed by a very human desire to connect. Being a part of a career puts me in isolated odds, whereas serving the community relates to the larger whole. Abundance, ultimately, is rooted in contentment and happiness, comfort and safety. False ideologies will have us believe these can be attained through competition and cultivating our authentic selves. But what are we without others?

Whether we shroud ourselves in an illusion of isolation and self-sufficiency or we desperately seek validation from others, we are still suffering from the same malady to validate our time here on earth. But the most basic beauty is that we all are alive and a part of this life. Just by going outside and noticing the plants and animals in our yard, we can understand that our goals are just as basic as the those of birds and the plants. We are a part of the whole of this dying process, despite our thinking lives, and are here for a very short time. It really doesn’t matter what we believe. The reality is, we are not that unique. Our creature sense wants the same basic things: warmth, food, shelter, the softness of other animals.

What is comes down to is making peace with a lack of control and uniqueness. Imagine the possibilities of being with rather than against. What would our lives feel like if we were more communal than opposing? If we walked among the trees and moss and felt no need to stand apart.

Life is fragile; our own lives are rife with threat and potential. Maybe there is less to do than we think. Maybe sitting on the edge of a cliff and watching the sun rise is a fine way to live. Let us embrace our commonalities and know abundance lives in the place where understanding meets fearlessness, where enough is good, really good.

Returning II

the way the crow fliesReverie and Acceptance

“To lose one’s self in reverie, one must be either very happy, or very unhappy. Reverie is the child of extremes.” ~ Antoine Rivarol

There is room in me now. Anything can take root. My life on the surface is as wide as a mesa, as empty as a forgotten cave, beneath debris and branches. Nature abhors a vacuum. Something must enter in. Where there was a home, a man – I fill these places with memories as verdant as leaves in a wet summer. There are moments I crave in my bones. Those moments I see behind your eyes – laughing on a blanket, the polished cow skulls and hot red dust.  Moments that comfort me – nestled under a metal roof as the storms of the summer rolled over us and the fire of our beginning was consuming, promising.

But I am just the red flame of wish now.

I see trains – I long for their miles of going everywhere and nowhere in particular. I read of the wilderness I have yet to visit and plan my exodus into a world that neither welcomes nor opposes my presence. I simply become a part of that world. Truthfully, that realization scares me. The wilderness cares little for my memories.

So I walk with them for now. The taste of coffee – the snowdrifts and my grandfather’s plaid jacket, where he stashed a day’s supply of tobacco. Stories told between the dusk and dawn by people with hushed voices and warm laps. I will never know them, just as they will never know me. My life is an amalgam of place and the senses. It is less purposeful than it is full of feeling. I want to rise to the surface of all of the things, these illusions. I want to wrap myself in the warmth of their promise, because it was in that promise, I felt most wanted. The future place was where I belonged, never quite fixed in the now.

In memory, there are copper bells hanging from an ocotillo. I catch lizards in the Sonoran Desert. Here, there is another new city – its Chinatown chatter and rumbling streetcars. There is the first time making love to him, and the ones to follow. There is the sound of teenagers smashing thin bodies onto still water, boulders of limestone enclosing us. And here, a young self holds a cat in her arms, dreaming of anything to take her away from home, from suffering.

These internal journeys take me away from the intense cravings for liquor, the stress of bills that continue to pile up, the death all around as age comes to friends and family. These journeys are my church of lessons, symbols of my prayers to the holy hereafter. The hawks and ravens show up just as I look to the pines. I watch the fearlessness of the lion and the freedom of wolves; the adaptability of the coyote running through alleyways into the ‘burbs.

I watch the acceptance of wild things, the deep integration into the land and life itself. I wish I could be so accepting. My resistance to accept that there are disappointments and horrors nestled and entwined in the beauty of those memories fuels my reverie. I cut out the weeds. I pick apart the skeletons and keep only what I want, the polished bones I can adorn with jewels. I can keep them as treasures.  My reverie is my way of being on the horizon of the next day. Never here. Never now.steps

Alcoholism crippled my ability to handle life in the present. Growing up in poverty and secrets, I learned to keep my eyes fixed on the West. I knew something wonderful was out there, just beyond what I could grasp… but soon life would be better, safer. In the midst of my disease, I learned to create my own secrets and covet memory. It was safer to believe that I had things under control, that there was love, there was magic. But, truthfully, it was a fragile illusion waiting for anything to splinter the image. Through my drinking years, I married twice. I traveled often. I lived in multiple cities, still holding on to that child-thought that I could be something else, somewhere else. 

No place changed me. I just continued to spiral downward into the grip of my dreams. I wanted to just wake up on the mesa and become a part of what I believed was soul-desolation. I saw myself being carried off on the back of a wild horse, the crescent moon cutting patterns into the indigo. I saw the man I loved – rooted into juniper branches, becoming the breath coming into my lungs – the long exhalation of everything I held on to in my stomach. The tiring ache of years spent hoping for happiness.

Part of coming into truth required me to lift the lace that was draped over the lens. I had to come to know how I ended up here, what I lived through, what disasters were of my own making. I had to let go of the child who waited for something to come and rescue her.

Arriving to self… There is pain and promise in this process of releasing memory to reality. It is a dangerous game to play with life and madness – to hold up one’s cup to be filled by anything and anyone. Some die. Some never return from the other side of reality. Learning to live with acceptance requires leaving a life of memory and reverie in search of today. Meaning takes on the full expression of what needs to be done now. One learns to kiss those darlings of the past goodbye and welcome in a new day.

There is room in me now. I want to be careful about what takes root. In allowing everything to be as it is, I am not denying that young self’s daydreams of wonder, adventure, happiness… I am simply acknowledging that not all of it will be beautiful. I am learning to be with the pain, too. I am learning to love the balance of chaos and contentment. I don’t need to be anywhere else but here.

Puppies and the Art of Acceptance

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Over the summer, in some bizarre, masochistic state of mind, I decided it would be a good idea to take on the responsibility of caring for a puppy. As a former foster mom to a host of canines of all breeds and temperaments, I was cognizant of the challenges a young pup would entail. In some kindly moment of sentimentality, I referred back to Lily at 12 weeks and recollected her sweet spirit and how she endeared herself to me immediately. Assuming she was too young and weak to create much havoc, she entered my life as a reminder that the small indeed are mighty. Lily was perhaps the hardest dog I have ever trained, yet one of the brightest. I am sure many teachers and parents can nod their heads in a unanimous understanding of those most precocious of students.

Lily is now 1 year and 10 months old and is still ever defiant. I have come to accept that the rules that are most important – such as where to “potty” and to stay within eyesight of me on a trail – she follows. Everything else depends on her mood. As with any aware, intelligent, sentient being, she is who she is. Neko (the tot in question) proved to be much more trainable, although nonetheless intelligent. Perhaps it was her upbringing – a round-up stray, she probably never knew the cushy comforts of indoor beds, bowls of food, and saccharine humans to dote on her. She was born slightly feral, outdoors always, and learned – as any animal – that her survival depended upon modeling the behaviors needed to avert predators and ensure food, water, and the comfort of being a part of a pack. She immediately set to work observing Lily, mimicking some of her habits – both desirable and, well, less than. She instinctively knew where to go “potty” and watched me carefully for clues as to how she fit in to our small pack.

This post, however, is less about puppies and more about acceptance. Some might call it radical acceptance. What occurred to me, and has occurred to me in some less than articulate ways in the past, are the lessons that puppies provide. Most would agree patience must be practiced with any young animal, humans included. Patience has indeed come into play, or my lack thereof. Patience is something with which I have struggled in dealing with the various foibles of humans, but never seemed to be an issue with all these puppies. Every time an accident happened or a disruption or bad behavior, I just rolled with it and acted in the moment, taking care of whatever needed to be done, then releasing any feelings about it within seconds. This is not a process I practice with humans. When humans behave – by my definition – badly, I get angry, hurt, and run through a panorama of emotions that all boil down to my expectations of how they should have responded/behaved and how their behavior somehow reflects something in me, rather than just something the other person chose to do, hurtful or not. It then occurred to me as an epiphany on the a chorus of baroque angels:

 Patience comes when one allows oneself the humility of releasing expectations.

This seems obvious enough. Well, most of us know that we should keep an open mind… Thou shalt not judge, the man in the sky commands. Karma, some say, will take care of all injustice. The new age movement sincerely believes that we simply attract both good and bad by the energy we put forth.

I won’t get in to my personal feelings about the above, only to say that, while it’s a nice embroidered sentiment, letting go of expectations is hard. Brutally hard.

In fact, it is counter-intuitive, or counter-instinctive. As animals, we are in a constant state of outmaneuvering others to ensure the protection of our loot, our booty, our ranking… this physical state of competition is sometimes outpaced by our mental competition, which devises all sorts of psychological and behavioral machinations that make us prone to anxiety, suspicion, stress… and thus, adrenal overload. So, of course, in this stew of motives and skullduggery, we formulate plans, and plans rely on speculation.

 We must make an effort to avoid forming expectations. A lifelong effort.

I’d say most of us – somewhere along our timeline – have experienced some form of betrayal, a hurt, a wounding we have yet to really “get over”. Our natural response, rightly, is to be better prepared, anticipating any similar clues for future harm. We know this is futile. It is impossible to mind read or foresee every possible scenario before it occurs; yet we all are guilty of participating in this game of assumptions, whether innocently or pathologically.

It takes infinite focus to allow ourselves to ease only into the moment that happens right after the next, then the next, then… It takes a monk’s discipline to be so aware of the delight and innocence occurring in each experience that we are re-creating ourselves in every new moment. There is immense courage in this. You lose the drive to be mentally engaged in survival mechanisms and begin to transcend those primal urges to compete. You simple wake up. Then wake up again.

Some call this seeing through child’s eyes.

Some call this the opening of the lotus.

Zen.

The cloud of unknowing.

Some call it a hell of a lot of hard work.

{That last someone would be me.}

 When I am playing with a puppy, though, it doesn’t seem so hard. There’s forgiveness, a softening in me that arises. I feel it when I walk through the woods, or watch the light change in the desert. Maybe, rather than being at the mercy of fear, it is being at the mercy of joy. Perhaps finding more joy, rather than swimming upstream against our nature, is the path of least resistance.

Fully accepting we are in a predator’s body takes a lot of chutzpah. We are animals that rather like to think of ourselves as bearers of reason and goodness, and lash out against those we deem to fall short of, or stray from our paradigm of right. There’s so much freedom, however, in moving between moments. Joy expands and radiates. Joy commands a full attention, but with the rich, wonderful taste of being alive. Joy doesn’t have time for wondering if someone learned his or her lesson, or if justice has been served. Joy doesn’t have need for quid pro quo. Joy is being fully aware that the act of acceptance is in itself the first and last poem.

The Romantic’s Triad: Hope, Faith & Love

 “I have died every day waiting for you
Darling, don’t be afraid I have loved you
For a thousand years…”

These are some of the lines from a song currently on the radio. The theme is by no means unique to contemporary songwriting.  Most films, books, and songs now seem to revolve around unrequited love, jealousy, self-perpetuating misery, or conquest. Underneath these themes lies hope.

Over the past few weeks, I have done quite a bit of reflecting on the subject of love and contemporary romance. I am an Enneagram 4: the Tragic Romantic. Tragic. Throughout my life, most –  if not all – of my romances seemed to circle around the motifs of the damned: loss and high drama. I absorbed them; they absorbed me.  The relationships I have experienced (and witnessed) have been deeply rooted in some level of intense need and inaccessibility. I was a seeker of the wounded. I recognized wounds. I didn’t recognize health.

“I go to your door shivering…
You ask me to come in

Still
you don’t know it’s me
Still you don’t know”

~Nancy Mitchell

My worth as a human became entangled in how much  I could bear or how much I gave. I was not alone in this. Many of the relationships I have witnessed contained the dynamic of hope and dishonesty. Dishonesty cannot exist in a relationship without denial, and greater than denial: hope. Hope that the other will come around and be what is needed: more loving, more communicative, more sexual/sensual, more reliable, more more more. We live on this misplaced hope, thinking if we wait long enough, or do XYZ enough, then everything will work out.

Life goes by in the meantime. Rarely have I ever seen a person relying upon hope receive their desired outcome. Perhaps one of the most wasted energies, aside from guilt, is hope. Hope implies an anticipated outcome that will somehow externally align with an internal wish. Faith, on the other hand, is rather focused on the outcome that IS and WILL BE, that has no sense of expectation or outcome. Faith implies acceptance in Life on Life’s terms (or God, or Allah, or Self, or whomever one relies upon).

“Hope is a bird with wings
That sits on a branch
And sings and sings”

I think what most of us missed in these lines from perhaps one of the most tragic of romantics, Emily Dickinson, is the idea that hope has wings, yet sits on a branch. Hope is not active. Hope stays on the branch singing of its desires, but does not fly to meet them.

Now I appreciate this poem so much more.

Like many, I spent ample time throughout my life hoping. First, as a teenager dreaming of escape – I wanted more than anything to leave the confines of the rural Midwest. I had grandiose ideas about my life then, and I don’t think I ever outgrew these ideas. Settling down never appealed to me. Accepting my reality appealed even less. Hope for something new did.

When I quickly realized that hope would only take me as far as the front porch, I learned to dislike hope and its false promises. Rather, I grew to love action, decisions, bold risks. And so… this is how my life unfolded. In energy. In a tornado. I traveled. I changed jobs. I moved out of love, not once but twice… infatuation even more.

I grew hungry for movement. Movement made me feel alive.

Alive in every way, except in love.

Oh, you see, hope never left me. It remained inconspicuously there, reciting lines from all of the romantic classics I read as a child, whispering the promise of belonging in my ear, a promise for which I was living, unknowingly.

You see, belonging chained me to hope. Being loved, I became its slave as the air in my body tightened, my health declined, my natural curiosity fell from the branches of my being. I wanted, more than anything that child-starved love I was denied, and it was my bird on a branch. It caused my Self to sink into a space I am only now beginning to find.

Hope. I loved and I paid dearly. I lived in hope and denial like a starved animal waiting for the buzzards and wolves to leave.

“What
we know: we are more
than blood – we are more
than our hunger and yet
we belong”

~ Mary Oliver

Looking back, I was dying. My spirit was dimming. I lost faith in something larger than love, a love that only the sense of belonging can bring. I made the mistake of believing belonging came through the experience we have in shared communion with another. My sense of being was tied to humanity, when I was always held to something else – something vastly intimate, something so true no human needs to complicate it. I belonged to the living world, the breath of the mother, and the pulse of life. I not only have faith in this, I regard it as the greatest form of wisdom: we always belong, and love is our domain.

I have not reached this place of knowing, but I strive for it every day. When you know, viscerally, intimately, that you belong, hope wanes and faith steps in. The struggle ends. The bird flies with her song.

Following Deer

“to the seeds,
to the beginnings; to one clear word for which
there is no disguise and no alternative.”
~Brackenbury

I have grown accustomed to mourning and rejoicing in tandem. It seems throughout my life some of the most profoundly joyful moments, good news, and inconspicuous but thrilling arrivals have found their way to me in the footsteps of sadness, change, and difficult times. If there is a lesson in this trend, I am still learning, growing with every new turn and opportunity to respond and adapt.

Just as I was accepting a job offer and entirely new course in life – including a major residential move – a friend lapsed into serious condition, then left this old, dusty world just a day beyond my acceptance of this new path. I was watching deer move delicately across a green meadow, the new morning sweet and endless, as my friend struggled for breath and held the hands of friends and family too numerous to name. Just as I stumbled up a mountain path, where a small doe stood sniffing the air, my family – back in Indiana – dealt with struggles of their own, how to honor an aging loved one’s wishes while serious health issues pressed against good conscience. And all the while my own conflicts provided sullen backdrops against the abundant beauty around me.

 Is it right to be happy when others are not?

How do we fully live while grieving for those who are dying or have gone on?

I grapple with my need to move quickly in the midst of so much emotion. By nature, I am a mover. To remain still, coming from my history and character, welcomes potential peril. I move on, even when my heart is broken and everyone around me lingers, catatonic in hurt. I move with the clouds. I say goodbye as the wind pushes memory and time over ridges, against the horizon. I carry stories. I speak them, and speak through them. I move, too, in the gray space, as everyone naturally moves away from our grasp. Friends, lovers and family circle the wheel, just as I. 

There’s ache in my heart for the many losses faced over the years, for the pains and sicknesses that have plagued those I love, and for the reality that, yes, our limited, linear life becomes ever more apparent as loved ones fly off into hereafter. Childhood, for those fortunate enough to be awarded this innocent time, is short. For many, childhood is merely a time to fight for survival. Fair or unfair, the wheel turns. We mourn. We move on.

As I reflect upon my time in Colorado and the deer that greeted me on my morning walks, I am reminded of a moment of holiness and complexity in my twenties. Holy is a word I choose intentionally. I was facing a devastating loss, dealing with the inevitable end to an ugly situation. I was very alone – not in the physical sense – but the dejected sense of being alone, when surrounded by people who could not or would not understand or acknowledge who I am or the obvious circumstances around us. I was about to walk into a hotel, when I saw a couple of young does rush across the busy county road. The first made it in a daring leap between automobiles. The second was not so lucky. Just as she made it into the first lane, a truck hit her hind legs… and without the slightest pause, continued to drive away. The doe stumbled twice but managed to cross into the National Forest land just beyond.

Without thinking, I left my stunned companion and darted across the road and scrambled under the barbed wire fence. Looking back, my companion simply walked into the hotel and closed the door – a final impasse. I keenly remember an urge to find the doe. I knew she must be in bad shape, if even alive, and I couldn’t stop my legs from moving into the thick green tangle of late summer foliage. I must have walked for an hour before reluctantly turning around to head back. That’s when I saw her. She was on her side, just beyond a thick stand of trees, lying on ferns. I neared and met her eyes. I could tell she was dying. I leaned down and placed a hand on her side as she took her last few breaths.

There was something in the acknowledgment of that final moment of life that was comforting. Sad, yes, but… the truth of being fully there, present and with this transition, soothed my mind. And, something tells me my being there soothed her also.

It is what it is…

Deer vision is unlike our own. They see in the context of movement. What doesn’t move isn’t there or isn’t framed in their visual landscape. Every movement is new. Every motion is a beginning. There’s no need to worry about things that are not felt and perceived. Life and death happen at the most basic visceral level of movement in moment.

From the accounts of my friend’s last moments on earth, he was surrounded by dozens of friends and family. My own family struggles with tough decisions, but they are together – witnessing, acknowledging each other’s feelings. Grief and sadness stand near our moments of happiness – inches away, at times. But these are all feelings that come and go, enter and leave. What remains are those moments of simply seeing each other – real in the music of being real – moving delicately off into fields, through the landscapes of dying and being born. We comfort and celebrate by being witness to the movement of each other – and again, by moving into those new spring meadows.