When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears

Rumi do no seek loveIf you read this blog regularly, then you know that I’ve struggled over the last couple of years with living on my own. The loneliness tends to creep in around dinner time and sticks around until I fall asleep or numb it out with one of my three go-to additions (TV, food, booze). I’ve tried to remedy this unpleasant feeling in other, more productive ways – meditation, working and playing hard (basically keeping busy), and working with two wonderful Huichol shamans (more on that soon) – but I remain susceptible to its pangs more often than I care to admit. Nevertheless, I think it’s a basic human necessity to share your life with someone with whom you share a special intimate bond.

However, a recent sojourn into that tricky realm brought to my attention that, more often than not, there is a barrier between me and the rest of you that makes having a healthy relationship difficult, if not impossible. It’s nothing unique. I’m pretty sure there are others who have constructed, knowingly or not, a wall between them and the rest of us too. I picture mine as constructed of red brick, old clay bricks, crumbling to create a substantial pile of red rubble on the ground near its base. Large chunks of mortar are missing and the corners of the walls are uneven and lower than the rest of the wall. It’s old and failing, but it still separates me from you. Sometimes I can’t even see or hear you on the other side.

Your wall might be made of stone, concrete, straw bails, or maybe it’s just a sheet of plastic that you can pull down in one fell swoop, but it’s there, separating us, keeping us from connecting. You say I’m just writing in metaphor, but I say it may as well be real because there is nothing more powerful in keeping you from what you want than FEAR.

Fear keeps me bottled up too often. I don’t write more because I’m paralyzed by fear. I don’t reach out to more people because I’m afraid. And fear keeps me from expressing who I really am, in so many ways, far too often.

The blessing is that whereas I’ve been oblivious to its influence on my behavior for most of my life, I see the fear now, recognize it and my attempts at subverting it. I see now how I’ve hurt myself, lost sleep, and a lot of hair trying to outrun the fear. A lot of my actions – like surfing hard, stressing over my body image, and needing to know all the answers – are just me trying to cover up my intense fear that you’ll discover I’m imperfect and therefore unacceptable and unlovable. I’m so afraid of rejection that I do back flips in an attempt to prove to you that I deserve your love and attention.

The funny thing is that I had to be rejected to see how much my actions are motivated by my keen desire to avoid that very rejection.

I fell for someone recently, and as is typical for me, I fell hard, fully, unabashedly, and, it turns out, foolhardily. At first he seemed to be falling too – we were two people falling into the fuzzy abyss of love with big smiles on our faces, holding hands on the way down. We seemed to read each others minds and synchronicities abounded when we were together. For the first couple of weeks I couldn’t walk down the beach without finding heart-shaped rocks. Not just “a” heart-shaped rock, but rock after rock. One of them, about an inch across and pink, was almost perfect. My interpretation? Our love was divinely orchestrated.

But then he let go of my hand and I kept falling.

I fell for a while before I realized that I was on my own in feeling the way I wanted so badly to feel and to be felt about. I was pretty deep down in that hole when I finally  accepted I was alone down there with a goofy grin on my face, holding on to nothing.

That was hard. It felt a lot like someone kicked me in the stomach with steel-toed boots. I guess it was the impact of hitting the hard reality waiting for me at the bottom of my free-fall into unrequited love that knocked the wind out of me. What really happened was over the course of several weeks the other person’s actions (like his reaction when I gave him that pink heart-shaped rock) and what those actions said about how he felt sank in, and I had to admit to myself, “He’s just not that into you.” Yeah, no one wants to hear that, even if it’s your very own heart gently sitting you down and telling you like it is for your own good.

I cried a lot that evening. I took a walk down the beach as the sun was setting and felt the hurt and the anger bubbling up to the surface despite my attempts to keep them down. It all came out in a big blubbering, tear- and regret-filled emotional waterfall. I was angry with myself for being such a fool, for jumping into the deep end of a relationship once again, for wanting it to be what I’ve waited for so badly that I rushed in without giving things time to cure, without giving either of us time to discern whether this was the path forward or not. As the anger dissipated, it was replaced by sadness as I felt, once again, the hole in my heart where loneliness lives.

“Oh, it’s you again,” I said with resignation. “So, tell me, when are you going to leave for good?”

“As soon as you learn to look for love within.”

“I’m working on it,” I said, looking up at a sky filled with so much beauty I knew my thoughts were heard elsewhere.

This experience taught me something that I’ve been unaware of until now. It turns out I’m scared a lot. I’m running scared shitless of what other people think, afraid of people’s judgment, and especially their rejection. My whole life story is driven by avoiding rejection. I’ve said it before, and someone wiser probably said it long before, fear is a poor motivator. It’s a lot like running from your own shadow. You can never outrun it. And I’ve tired of running.

The good news is that somehow during this experience, I realized that this heart of mine is full of love. As I ran over in my mind what happened and how things had fizzled so fast, I considered my actions in both romantic and other relationships and saw that they are more often than not caring, giving, and kind – all demonstrations of love. Gratitude, appreciation, and empathy are all rooted in love as well and these are emotions I experience daily. This made me realize that the fear that has driven me so often is not so much solid like a wall, but merely a smokescreen hiding the love that has always been right here inside me. To transform it and pass to the other side where we can all connect, I just need to turn that love inwards and recognize that I deserve my own loving embrace as much as anyone else does. So far, I mostly know this intellectually, but little by little I’m beginning to feel it in my soul.

thinklessfeelmore“Think less, feel more” was one of the many wise things my lover-turned-friend-and-teacher said to me during our courtship.

I can feel it right here in my heart, that unconditional love that I keep looking for elsewhere…I’m getting close, so very close.

IMG_0519

One of the miraculous sunsets we’ve been treated to lately.

 

 

Trust

Le Petit PrinceI’ve had a while to ponder this the third in a series of posts (to start reading from the beginning go here). I meant to write it soon after the previous one, but If life is a box of chocolates, then I keep getting the really bad ones…you know, the ones no one wants…the turd-filled kind. These shitty circumstances, and, it turns out, some deep-seated misgivings, stopped me from continuing after I came close to finishing a first draft of this. Circumstances included a trip to San Francisco to attend the annual writers conference and then yet another illness – this time the flu with a fever that made my eyes feel like they were on fire and my head like it would explode, the worst I’ve had since contracting dengue in 2003. It put me in bed for five days straight. My misgivings – the greater of the two obstacles – stem from the delicate nature of the matter at hand and, honestly, much like the illness, I don’t think I’m quite recovered. But like they say, there’s nothing like baring your soul to heal the wounds therein. So here goes.

After my existence was referred to as “Bukowskian,” I thought it high time I schooled myself on what exactly that means. I bought of a book of his poetry and stumbled across a piece, called The Crunch, that contained this excerpt:

there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock.

people so tired
mutilated
either by love or no love.

people just are not good to each other
one on one.

the rich are not good to the rich
the poor are not good to the poor.

we are afraid.

our educational system tells us
that we can all be
big-ass winners.

it hasn’t told us
about the gutters
or the suicides.

or the terror of one person
aching in one place
alone

untouched
unspoken to
watering a plant.

Charles Bukowski, Love is a Dog from Hell

Those last two stanzas punched their way home, leaving me slightly dazed, but determined to extinguish the loneliness my soul’s been steeped in. I was over being Bukowski’s poster child.

I returned to the online dating site. As you may recall from my previous post, I’d avoided putting any money on the line. Now when a check finally arrived for some work I’d done months earlier, I took it as a sign that I should pay for a full subscription. When push came to shove, I found myself hesitating though, going back and forth from the page that would take me to PayPal, to the page displaying the names of lots of presumably lonely men. It took me another day to actually click on the “Pay” button.

I know I’ve said it before, but I was surprised how scared I was, how much courage I had to muster to open the door fully to the potential relationships on that site.  I wondered how I could be so fearful of exploring the online singles world and I was pretty hard on myself. Only now do I remind myself that I’d never done this before and I hadn’t dated for going on ten years.

Tentatively, I began the process of seeing who was out there. The first thing I noticed was that without exception everyone was “outside my match parameters.” I recalled the wine-fogged night I answered the personality profile and wondered if that wasn’t influencing the results. I also began to feel duped by the wily marketers who got me to part with my hard-earned cash.

The second thing I realized was that there were almost no surfers to be found. Not being a surfer was a deal breaker, much the same way being a smoker was. Eventually, it became apparent that I was limiting my options by nixing anyone who didn’t surf and focusing on guys from the west coast, so one day I decided to look outside those limits. I clicked on the photo of a guy I’d been intrigued by, one part because of his blue eyes, the other because of his nice suit. Unlike the profiles of a lot of men, his was complete and well written. He sounded like someone who cared a lot about helping others. I decided to reach out.

The process of getting to know him couldn’t have been more different than anything I’ve experienced before. Where relationships are concerned I’ve historically been a two-feet-into-the-deep-end kinda gal, but in this case our physical separation necessitated that we take things slow. I reasoned that this was precisely what the doctor ordered. Maybe this time I’d see the red flags when they were waving, rather than being blinded by proximity and, frankly, lust. We exchanged long letters – I have to call them “letters” because they were far too carefully penned and poetic to be lumped in with the texting-influenced one-liners that so many emails have become – they were heart-felt, emotions-on-the-page, revelatory letters of the sort I imagine people once wrote while courting over vast distances, long before the internet sucked up vast amounts of our time, back when people were promised to someone they’d never met. This guy could write! And he was opening himself up and being vulnerable in a way few men, in my experience, have been willing to do. My excitement mounted. And before I knew it, we were making plans to meet. I was headed home for Christmas and would be flying through San Francisco on my way to Canada, so once the craziness of the holidays was over, we would finally meet face to face.

I’m limited to a really bad internet phone connection from where I live, so I called him for the first time en route to Canada. Hearing his voice was unexpected and special in a way that comes from knowing a man’s dreams and desires, his heart, long before those words are associated with a specific tone and accent. It felt like we were doing everything backwards, but I reminded myself that I hadn’t managed to get the relationship thing right yet and this might be the way forward.

We talked for several hours many nights in a row, adding to the romance of our writings our individual voices and laughter. We discovered shared histories, philosophies, dreams that grew with each conversation. We anticipated our first meeting, planned romantic forays to points around the globe.

Along the way, there were plenty of signs that our meeting was not meant to be: his family life slowly revealed itself to be more complicated and drama-filled than I was comfortable with; his professional life seemed overextended; the head cold I’d picked up in November moved into my chest New Year’s Eve; the weather turned from frigid to freaky with talk of the here-to-for unheard of “Arctic Vortex,” huge accumulations of snow and blizzards wreaked havoc on airline schedules, delaying my departure by four days, exactly the number we planned to spend together.

What frightens me even now is that I didn’t heed all these signs even when, standing in line at the airport, shortly before learning I wasn’t going anywhere, he texted to say he had to cancel our meeting due to a family crisis.

We agreed our plans were on hold, not cancelled, and our conversations continued. But something had changed and when I returned to Baja, a gap seemed to open between us in proportion to the distance keeping us apart. I felt the dreams we’d co-created slipping into that gap.

 Like I said, communication is tough from where I live. Email is easy, but phone calls not at all and something seemed to be swallowing up his desire to stay connected. Let me tell you, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to connect with someone who has decided to disconnect. I kept my frustration to myself, but I didn’t understand how or why all the promise seemed to be evaporating, I just knew the loneliness and its twin-brother sadness was oozing back up around my knees.

The days dragged on into weeks during which he sent only two communications: the first to explain how another family crisis was demanding his attention; the second, a week later, to say that recent events made it clear he needed to give his complicated family all his attention.

Yup, a “dear-Jane-I-don’t-have-room-in-my-life-for-you” letter.

To say I was disappointed is putting it mildly. I was disappointed and angry. I wrote to a friend I’d been keeping abreast of developments, “It would have been nice had he done the work to figure that out before I spent the better part of six weeks getting to know him!” But it wasn’t just the time invested. It felt like he’d just blown a hole in the bottom of my lifeboat and the dark flood waters were threatening my new existence. Our collective dreams were swept away in the deluge and into the void crept that familiar feeling of isolation, joined now by a sense of abandonment. You know that picture of Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince standing on his tiny planet? That’s how I felt.

For several days.

Then reality crept back in and I realized how wrong this man was for me. How by clinging to him like a lifeboat that I thought could lift me out of my unhappy circumstances, I’d managed to turn him into what I wanted him to be rather than who he really was. I’ve known for many years and several relationships that I have a tendency to do this, but it was more than a little unsettling to recognize how easy it was for me to idealize even a relationship that hadn’t involved so much as a face-to-face meeting, let alone the intimacy of a kiss.

As I wondered how I might control this tendency, I remembered something that happened early in the process of getting to know him. I was walking down the beach, trying to discern if I should pursue a relationship with someone who sat well outside several parameters I’d discerned were important to me, when the word “trust” popped into my head. I decided then that I would trust in the intangible universal forces of good to take me where I needed to be, trust in the process, trust that I am exactly where I am meant to be. So I did. And in the process, I learned that it’s up to me to listen to my intuition and heed the red flags that tell me when someone is not the right person or this is not the right path for me. Yeah, 45 and still learning to trust myself.

A Little Bit of Bliss

Image © Issare Rungjang courtesy of Dreamstime.com

Sometimes when I do yoga I am filled with this sense of calm contentment…happiness is what some might call it. Today was one of those days.

It’s flat and the surf has been non-existent or marginal since I returned from Canada on the 13th of May. I’ve been frustrated and irritable, in part, because of the poor conditions, in part because life hasn’t been cooperating, hasn’t been giving me what I want in other ways either. But today, today I meditated for the second time in a week after months of neglecting that practice and then I did my yoga.  By “my yoga,” I mean I did a series of asanas (postures) that were prescribed for me by my teacher and some that I do because I like to do them. They speak to my body in a way that is pleasing and brings a pleasant, healthful feeling to my being. Today the result is that, despite the way I’ve been feeling of late, I’m smiling as I type this (a gentle, non-tooth-revealing smile…one might even say a Mona Lisa-esque smile).

It wasn’t just the meditation or postures that led me to bliss today, it was a whole combination of things. The music that played as I moved into the next series of postures (Rejuvenation by Ron Allen), the uncharacteristically cool breeze wafting through the windows and across my body, the slight scent of pineapple in the air from the fruit left, like an offering, by my dear friend upon departure. It’s the book I’m reading too, that has given me a sense of inner peace and acceptance of things I have little control over. Things like who I fall in love with and how they react to my love. This little book is so full of wisdom and Truth that it blows my mind every time I pick it up. I’m underlining, in pencil, the passages that strike me and that I know to be the kind of wisdom that will set me free. Free from anxiety, free from loneliness, free from the depression that comes from anxiety, loneliness and a sense of having no control over one’s destiny that plagues me from time to time (particularly when the surf is off).

The book to which I am referring is “Love, Freedom, Aloneness: The Koan of Relationships.” It’s a compilation of teachings given by Osho, an eastern mystic to whom westerners flocked in the 1970s. I was introduced to the teachings of Osho by my Dutch artist friend. He too flew to India to hear him speak after a colleague of his underwent a dramatic, positive transformation by the experience. Like so many mystics, Osho is not without his detractors, nor flaws, but more than twenty years after his death he maintains a loyal following and his teachings continue to be published as theme-based collections by a major New York publishing house, St. Martin’s Press.

Of love, Osho said:

Love yourself…This can become the foundation of a radical transformation. Don’t be afraid of loving yourself. Love totally, and you will be surprised: The day you can get rid of all self-condemnation, self-disrespect – the day you can get rid of the idea of original sin, the day you can think of yourself as worthy and loved by existence – will be a day of great blessing. From that day onward you will start seeing people in their true light, and you will have compassion.

Create loving energy around yourself. Love your body, love your mind. Love your whole mechanism, your whole organism. By “love” is meant, accept it as it is.

Love is possible only when mediation has happened. If you don’t know how to be centered in your being, if you don’t know how to rest and relax in your being, if you don’t know how to be utterly alone and blissful, you will never know what love is…[because] Love is a sharing of overflowing joy. [During] meditation one is bathed in one’s own glory, bathed in one’s own light. One is simply joyous because one is alive, because one is… The greatest miracle in the world is that you are, that I am. To be is the greatest miracle – and meditation opens the doors of this great miracle.

When my meditation practice of many years waned a while back, as it often does, my yoga teacher said matter-of-factly, “You must make time to meditate. It is the most important thing. Everything else comes after.” I looked at her in disbelief and she responded, “Yes, more important even than asana practice.” Then, sensing my resistance, she looked at me sideways and said in her don’t-mess-with-me voice, “Just do it! Just sit. How hard is that?”

I’d love to hear from readers about your experiences with meditation. Or perhaps you’ve wanted to begin a practice of your own, but don’t know where to start. Here’s a link to a great little book that helped me get started.