Monday, June 27, 2016

Zen as Fuck

My friend sent me a snapshot of a well-dressed woman on a bus, wearing a gold bracelet with the words: “Zen as Fuck” stamped on it. I immediately added this to my list of Future Life Goals: “Someday, somebody will take a look at me and say. ‘That is one together lady. And she is Zen. Zen. As. Fuck.’”
Because I have not always been “Zen as Fuck,” that is. I’m in my mid-forties, but emotionally there’s a part of me that acts 15 years old. In fact, I find myself doing a lot of stupid things now that I didn’t do at 15 years old. I guess that's the ideal time to make those mistakes. I was wise beyond my years as a child, and now that I'm middle-aged, I've acted naive beyond my years. And I get upset because of things people say. My therapist and my close friends tell me that my problem is that I spend too much time caring what other people think and that I wait for other people to validate me. And I wonder if I do this because I’m not really sure who I am or whether that person is worthy of love. When my therapist asks me what I am looking for in my relationships and in my writing, I respond: “To connect with other people.” 

Right now, two of those people, to whom I connected, are causing me immense pain. Each word he says is a cat-o-nine tails with a steel barb that cuts through my defenses and exposes the pulp of my weakened emotional state. "How could you be so stupid? What in the Hell were you thinking?" he says. "Why did you do it? Why didn't you tell me?"

I had been thinking along the lines of James Bay's song "Hold Back the River." I hoped that if I looked into somebody's eyes it would remind me of something that I lost, but I did not find what I was looking for. The River came and engulfed whatever that was. I answer: "I had to see for myself. I regret it. It was a disaster."
"So and So (his friend from the coffee shop) thinks you are crazy and that you have anger management issues."

"Does he really? Now remind me what your friend has a Ph.D. in? Oh, wait, it isn't Psychology. How many times has he met me? Four total?" "That was enough for him to make the diagnosis."
"So and So knows fuck all about me. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess he knows very little about women, in general. He's projecting!"

I try to push these words out of my brain and focus on being a positive person in my interactions with others, like this other day, when I was driving back from yoga. This guy jaywalks in front of my car at a leisurely pace that could only be described as the “asshole stroll.” Normally, I wouldn’t say anything out loud, but I’d mutter under my breath and be resentful for a few minutes. I’d think about what a hurry I was in and how inconsiderate this person was for slowing me down. However, that day I happened to be in a good place. I slowed my car to an almost stop, smiled, and raised my hand to acknowledge his presence and let him pass in front of me. He smiled back. He probably didn’t even mean to do the “asshole stroll” thing. He was probably just in his own world and not paying attention. In the brief moment we smiled at each other, “Asshole Stroll” guy and I connected.

So I focus on minor victories in the self-improvement department. Like most people, there’s a struggle between my Good Angel and Bad Angel. The latter is very snarky indeed and takes other people’s sanctimonious cant as an affront to my own shortcomings. Bad Angel very cynically assumes that whenever a person is in constant need of reminding themselves (or me) of their qualities, this might reflect some inner doubt on their part. Meanwhile, I am rather familiar with my own shortcomings, so much so, that I am loath to give them up. However, I don’t appreciate other people pointing them out.

But back to my relationship with others. I send out these neuronal dendrite feelers trying to connect with different people. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t and those connections get brutally cauterized. Then, after my painful experiences, I look for meaning, because I think that if I can understand something, I can control it. Only the meanings can be elusive, and this control thing isn’t working out really well for me. In fact, it’s failing pretty badly. The only person I have control over is me, and that hasn't worked out so well lately, either.

People who struggle with anxiety and depression don’t always have a street fighter side to their nature, but I do. There was a time when I was a child, when I was weak, powerless, and my autonomy was compromised. I lost my voice and could not cry out. I swore that I would never let this happen to me again; so that, as an adult, if I feel manipulated, threatened, or hurt, I strike back. However, sometimes, when the anger and desire to control come from a source too close to me, this overwhelms me and I crumble.

It is not good to be childish and naive, but the flip side is to be childlike. With this quality, comes a sense of wonder, amazement and joy, sensitivity, and sensuality -- the ability to appreciate beauty and deeper meaning in life and see things with fresh eyes. I would still prefer my range of highs and lows to the alternative of emotional flatline and disconnect from others, even if the price I sometimes pay for this is pain and betrayal. I love and trust recklessly. Some connections fail, but others grow and link me to people and things outside myself. Ultimately, I am not alone. I am part of a whole, and, as such, am made whole and holy, in a web of meaning that does not begin or end with myself. 

I like to read stories and write them because stories help me find meaning, to know that I am not alone in my experiences and emotions. When I tell a story, it is my story. I have a voice. In this space, I am in control. I am not being acted upon; I am the Narrator. My stories have the meaning I choose to give them. In them, I have imagination and the power to regenerate and re-program cauterized neural pathways and bridge synaptic gaps. I can plunge to the inky depths where the submerged Self lies languid and exanimate and breathe life into her, the rhythm of my breath vibrating with the notes of Ariel's song from The Tempest:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
             Of his bones are coral made;
   Those are pearls that were his eyes:
             Nothing of him that doth fade,
   But doth suffer a sea-change
   Into something rich and strange.
   Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
   Hark! now I hear them—Ding-dong, bell.

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