Wednesday, April 30, 2014

the seeker

I loathe writing bios. They're such a losing proposition. If I had some kind of prestigious job or if there were parts of my identity that I were fanatical about, I could see digging it, and I feel admiration/jealousy when I see somebody who's apparently embraced the form. Mystery novelist! Dog lover! Outdoorsman and pizza aficionado! You go, you guys, with your clarity and willingness to commit. God bless. I will admit to having judgmental feelings when I see bios that mythologize their owners in rakish, flattering ways. Mad hatter. Artist. Thief of hearts. Dancer like nobody's watching. I mostly hate trying to sum something up that I don't have a handle on. I mean, I love my kids and my husband, and I love Prince and green smoothies and Wes Anderson films, and I love reading and writing, but I'm not prepared to scrawl any of that on my tombstone. It's a "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" problem. All of those things are true, along with a billion more things like them, but those things feel limiting. Ultimately, I have no idea what this Tina situation is all about. It's seemed sketchy from the get-go. Like, there might be some kind of Tina persona on the loose out there, and if people are buying it—even though I've been actively honing it and selling it, whatever it is—that makes me nervous. 

But there's one descriptor that seems apt, and if it didn't give me that self-mythologizing vibe, I'd hang it out there every time and feel like I'm telling the truth without sweating that whole-truth-and-nothing-but thing.


 Such a great song. I first heard it when I saw Stephen Soderberg's film The Limey, when an old, black-clad, just-beaten-up Terence Stamp was staggering to his feet on his way to avenge his daughter's death. Holy gods, did I develop a crush. I thrilled to the moment because you knew he was going to have satisfaction eventually. You could see it. You could beat him down but he was going to get up and get exactly the fuck where he was going. 

I want something. I don't want anybody dead, but I show up at my meditation cushion 6-7 days a week because I want something, and I talk to a spiritual teacher twice a month because I want something. And that endless whirring going on all the time under the surface of me, this part of me that can't rest, it's because I want something. 

A few months ago, I was talking to Jim, who's my teacher, and a big thing happened. I forget what we were discussing, exactly, but he said at one point, "You're okay." Plainer, more boring words were never spoken. Nobody's going to break out their embroidery thread/tattoo needles for that little number, but something rippled through me when he said it. I thought of Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, when he's caught in that water tunnel, and he puts his hands behind his head and lets himself drop off the edge to his possible death. I felt like I was the fugitive, and that I'd been running for, fuck, I don't know, a thousand years. Forever. Like that was my whole gig, my whole raison d'être since time immemorial. But in this case, I felt like somebody had caught up to me just to tell me, "Nobody's chasing you." That's what I heard in that little "You're okay." Nobody's chasing you. You can stop running. I can't tell you what a shock it was, what a newsflash, even though it only lasted a split-second. I just grasped a corner of it, and I could barely absorb it. Brain scramble. 

I had three reactions. 

1. I was running?


3. Well, shit. Now what?

If you've been doing something for a thousand metaphorical years, even something that sucks, you're going to feel weird when you get the go-ahead to stop. If I'm not running, what's my next move? Or is that a fugitive's question? I want to add that it's not like I've actually stopped running, either. I just didn't know I was doing it. Stopping is easier said than done, especially when you have all this stupid momentum.

I was talking to Jim this afternoon, and he asked me some good questions. Like, what exactly am I looking for? What do I want? What's the thing? What do I think this seeking's going to win me? 

I thought about it. I pictured whatever I thought the end was, whatever the big win was, and just got a picture of this enormous peace and quiet, and I said, "Well, I'll get to rest."

And Jim asked, "Rest how? From what?"

I thought about it a little more, and described the picture, "It's like there are no more adversaries. It's like the universe has been washed clean of my enemies, and I don't have to fight any more, or recover from a fight, or wait for the other shoe to drop." 

"What else?" asked Jim.

"My responsibilities are all met. I did it. I don't have to worry about letting people down any more. I don't have to be so vigilant. I can clock out."

And Jim said, "Okay, well, let's imagine that's true. Boom. Right now. That's already done. That's all gone. What do you get now? What's there?"

Uh. I don't know. "I don't know."

Jim was happy with that answer. He said that that was kind of the thing, that you take any seeker and have them keep deconstructing what they're seeking, and they're eventually going to run into a wall. There will come a place past which you cannot get. That the seeking model is flawed, somehow, or a red herring.

I don't know where I'm going with this. I don't know what I'm trying to work out here in front of you.

In my mom's apartment is a framed, gilded skeleton of a leaf. It's just the veins, all wispy and fragile. This is one of those family treasures. It's a clipping from the tree the Buddha sat under when he reached enlightenment, or a descendent of that tree. I'm not a Buddhist, I'm not anything, but I love the story of Siddhartha. I love that he had a good thing going on—a palace, riches, a family—and he threw it all aside to go find out just what the fuck is going on here in this living. He went seeking hard, trying all sorts of things. And he didn't find it, whatever it was. And then he stopped and went and sat under that tree, or went and sat under that tree and just stopped. And then it happened, whatever it was. He found something or lost something. He made it.

I don't know what the hell I'm doing, myself. I'm just trying to figure out how to drive this thing. I want something, which right there is maybe already screwing me over—which is probably also wrong—and I don't know if I'm supposed to apply gas or put on the brakes to get it/not get it/find out I always had it or something. Or maybe hit the gas pedal on the way to the meditation cushion, and then once I'm there, coast. I don't know. 

And nobody's asking me for a bio anyway. You just kind of think everybody is all the time, and that you have to have some kind of answer. 


Amy L. said...

What a contemplation! It verbalizes so nicely my own something-something that I've got going on right now. I love it when you bloggers do all the heavy lifting for me.

Let's create a universe of navel-gazing mythical creatures. I will be The Completer. Like The Seeker, always running, always running. Imagining the deep, deep peace that will come with finally completing all the things. A fidgety emptiness will be all that remains...

LunarSusan said...

I loved this too. For me, I was seeking happiness-then I found it, and it was (and is) still so surprising that I almost rejected it. I actually have to actively work to accept the joy I have in my life, because my habit is to work toward it.....I had no plan for when it got here. What an amazing problem to have. Also-I always look at personalized license plates that are about one thing....GR8MOM.....and think-how can you sum up the complexities of your personality and just pick one thing?? Great essay-thank you.

Paul Mullin said...

I'm so in a similar place right now. And I really appreciate you letting me peek over your shoulder. Soon we have to get together somehow and compare notes.

Teresa D. Lee said...

I feel that way too, but it's also different. I don't feel like I'm getting anywhere but I feel like I have to keep trying to move. It's probably a search for love for me, and the Deepak Chopra book I got out at the library yesterday told me I already have it, but I keep looking for greater levels and more and more attention anyway. It stopped coming immediately at the rate it did on Twitter a few years ago, so now I'm practicing endurance challenges to keep a project hidden and meditated on and iterated till it's a bigger deal than the joke or writing I posted last time. Can't stand it if people are looking while I make it, but can't stand it if they don't look after I publish.

I also love the Siddhartha story, and think a framed leaf skeleton would be beautiful. Someone coated one in resin and turned it into a pendant:

dianne said...

I think I love you. So, what am I so afraid of? I'm afraid that I'm not sure of a love there is no cure for.

Anonymous said...

Three things:

1. Perhaps (like me) you actually long to be more like Tommy Lee Jones in that same scene from The Fugitive. Harrison Ford pleads with him, saying "I didn't kill my wife!" Jones replies with a simple "I don't care." He is so driven by his role/identity that any information that detracts from that becomes irrelevant.

If you're running, instead of running away, wouldn't it be nice to run because it's how you find meaning? You can replace "run" with any verb or task or job. "I write/sing/bake/code/fight crime because it's how I find meaning." Ah, the dream.

2. This has been top of mind lately for me, as well. I want to find and interview people who very openly identify with a role or title (butcher, acrobat, lawyer, farmer). I'm interested to see what kind of person assumes a specific role, how they found that role, and how they feel that role gives their lives meaning. Maybe it'll happen, maybe not. But I'm fascinated by it right now. Probably because I lack that clarity.

3. I'm not sure why I follow you on twitter, but I think it was after seeing some witty banter between you and Dana Stevens, who I adore. Thanks for posting!

Cheryl in Wisconsin said...

I need a Jim. In the meantime I've been rolling a similar point over in my mind. I always think of "when I get there", things I will embrace and allow when I finally become my ideal self. A couple of years ago I made myself stop and try to define "there". What is it? And why is it so elusive? Did I set my bar too high, or are there really that many obstacles, or am I self sabotaging because "there" seems like a high maintenance, uncomfortable place? Do I feel unworthy for some reason? I have reached no conclusions yet.
Wow, thanks for inspiring, and allowing me to rattle that off!

Heather said...

ALL MY OBLIGATIONS ARE MET! I love that. Right. Damn the to-do lists get long and exhausting sometimes. So much so that I am often surprised how easy a task is once I actually start to do instead of just look at it and dread it as a member of the to-do list group.

Once all my obligations are met, I would like to sit near some plant I've tended to and read a book with a good cup of coffee that I made. That's not ALL, but it's something.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon this blog - upon you - in the midst of a sort of emotional adventure borne of my fear of writing and my even more intense fear of not... It began precisely 9 hours and 48 minutes ago. During this time, I have experienced hysterical joy, devastating reflection and absolutely every emotion in between as I have scoured through your posts. Each one, it's own hauntingly wonderful gem. Each one beckoning to me to break my silence... yet the anxiety bubbling to the surface forced me back into my Cancer shell, horrified at the silly notions I ever thought I was capable of penning my own name, let alone writing something of such poignant beauty. It seems 9 hours and 48 minutes was some sort of magical formula enabling me to come out of the shadows just long enough to thank you! For the gift of your words I have so selfishly absorbed, embraced, relished and tucked away for those moments I need them most. You have a gift... no... you ARE a gift. Thank you!!!