Saturday, June 30, 2012

Archie Bunker, Wendell Berry and the Buddha

I don't when it will happen, but I know it has been happening more often lately. I get into my car, or arrive somewhere and I just sit. I don't drive, I don't get out of the car. I just sit and stare; sometimes I cry, like I almost did this morning.

Most of the time I think "I've got this", but lately I know, at best, I'm keeping a stiff upper lip. I keep calm and carry on, because to admit you're not okay invites inquires and I'm not always up to telling my story. This morning I thought I was, but then had to sit in my car for 10minutes waiting for the urge to put my head on the steering wheel and cry to pass.

God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change
the Courage to change the things I can, and
the Wisdom to know the difference

Carrol O'Conner did a Public Service Announcement after he lost his son to drug addiction. It was well before I had kids, but his face and voice stayed with me, and when I feel like giving up, backing down or running away I think about him and I keep going.

About his son he said:

"I should have spied on him. I should've taken away all his civil rights, spied on him, opened his mail, listened to telephone calls, everything."

 "Nothing will give me any peace. I've lost a son. And I'll go to my grave without any peace over that."

"Get between your kid and drugs any way you can, if you want to save the kid's life"

In his eyes, I see so much pain, remorse, grief, and also I see resolve and courage to make this statement in hopes that it would help. Help save someone's child. And now it is helping with my own son. I hear it when I am so tired I want to give up, give up and run away, when I want to give into my own increasing cynicism and cut myself off emotionally. I hear it when I am sitting in my car, staring at the steering wheel and seeing nothing. When I don't want to go into my own house because I am not up for the next conversation I must have. 

Damn you Mr. O'Conner, this fight is too hard. I want to give up. I want to stop deciding where to draw my line in the sand and then stay there no matter what happens. Drawing the lines are hard enough, standing firmly by them can tear you apart. Then I hear him again, and I get out of the car, I stand my ground and I don't run away. One day at time.

Not everyday is hard. Some days I have my son back, and he's goofy, loving, helpful, and kind, but I trust those days less now because I have learned that he lies best when he is being kind and sweet, when he looks me sincerely in the eye. I've learned not to drop my guard and think this is the turning point, now things will get better, because invariably I discover missing money, that the sincere face was there to manipulate and lie to me. This used to feel like a kick in the gut, a betrayal. Now, it's part of my life, and that I've become used to it is the thing that makes me the saddest.

Here is where I must remember to hate the disease, not my son. Addiction is a disease and its symptoms really, really suck, but my son is still there, even when his disease has him by the throat. I must remember this, but sometimes I don't and then I have to forgive myself for not being perfect.

I find peace where I can, like now while I write this, or in the times I sit in my car just counting my breaths staring at nothing. I meditate, do yoga and hapkido, I go to parent groups and talk to other parents like me. These things help, while I'm doing them, but in the end I still have to go home and stand by my line.

I love Wendell Berry's poem, 'The Peace of Wild Things', and in nature is where I find the most peace. But even here I find my cynicism creeping in, and it is hard to remain peaceful for more than a moment.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry 

"if you want to see just how much control you really have, try raising teenagers, several at a time"
- my tweet from last night 

I'm not a very good Buddhist these days (good thing I have Unitarian Universalism to fall back on), being so affected by things outside of my control (ie EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE who isn't me). I get to control my own thinking, not necessarily my first thought, and absolutely not my emotions, but what I choose to think after that is up to me. Suffering comes from attachments, from ego, from clinging to hopes and dreams and not living with what is in front of and within you right now.

At this point I would like to point out that the Buddha never had to raise teenagers, he became enlightened only after abandoning his wife and child. 

I need a teacher who has managed to practice Buddhism AND live with children and teenagers, someone with a regular life. I can detach from my ego, recognize how my pride is making me envious, angry, resentful... piece of cake. Okay it took a long while and I'm still working on it, but try to detach with teenagers. When does parenting stop and enabling begin? How do my expectations of acceptable behaviour become attachment to future outcomes? How to I Be Here Now when there are forms to fill out, appointments to organize? How do I, or should I detach myself from my child's self destructive behaviour?

Being a parent is work, trying to be a good parent in difficult times is something the makes Atlas' job look easy. Being a good enough parent is scary, joyful, funny, heartbreaking and utterly exhausting. It breaks your heart, but I think the only way to live with an open heart is by breaking it open, and that takes suffering, and pain, and that takes love, all the love you have. It isn't pretty most of time, but it is worth it ( I hope....).

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pursuit of Happiness, or how to be okay right now

This is my deck, on days like today it makes me happy, not just the corner you see here, but the spot just beside me where my cat is curled up in a low box that recently housed my now planted herbs, the spot just out of the left side of the frame that has my lounge chair and table with various potted plants, the spot behind the ladder where my dog is running with his tongue flapping somewhere around his ear, and the sound of the fountain my kids gave me for Mother's Day.

All this is lovely, but there's a wee problem, as lovely as this place is to me, it can't make me happy, only I can do that. Theoretically speaking, neither chocolate or coffee or money can make happy either, but they do help quite a bit - no I am not the Dalai Lama or Gandhi today folks. Which is slightly depressing, but quite a relief when you really look at it. Happiness is an inside job, so 'they' say, and I grudgingly admit this seems to be the case. For several hours before I took this photo I was exceptionally irritated at the world, my job, my in-laws and mother, in general, and my teenaged children, specifically, for not behaving in a manner I would like. About an hour after taking this shot I was grabbing my Hapkido bag, all set to go get a good work out when instead I found myself heading to the local Marine's Recruiting Office to sit for almost 2hours with my 17year old son as he worked towards enlisting himself.

So here I am, the Peace Mongering Canadian now with a half enlisted son in the United States Marine Corps. Half enlisted because he still has paperwork to finish, still needs a military medical and physical test, and since he has a year of high school left, that he has to do well at, and attend their drill sessions once a week. Not the path I would have chosen for  him. I liked the path where he always did well in school, excelled in something athletic, was socially successful and becomes a brilliant and well paid writer, photographer after a successful college degree, oh, and meet a nice girl/woman who I get along with brilliantly. Mom dreams, what can you do? The problem is my dreams became expectations and when things didn't go according to 'my plan' - ie life happened, as life is apt to do - I was disappointed. I had to grieve the future that would never be, and the son I never had. Somewhere along the way, and being knocked down a few thousand times, I learned to be okay with people, even my own children making their own life choices and learning from them, instead of just swallowing all my years of accumulated wisdom. Of course, I had never been able to learn much from other people's mistakes, but I still thought I could somehow how insulate my own children from making their own mistakes and learning from them.

Life, however, is not like that.

I am not in this life, on this planet etc,  to be entertained, taken care of, coddled, and otherwise indulged; sadly true, because I would have loved an easier life.

But, it's not about me - another bitter pill and blow to my ego, alas!

Life is what goes on with or without me, if I died today there would be a shift in some peoples lives, but the world would continue to spin, and their lives would go on.  The best I can do is work on not becoming too attached to things, thoughts, outcomes, and simply do my best with what is front of me at any particular moment.

I am here to be of service to those I can help, that's it.

The world is not here for my entertainment, rather I'm here to help take care of it, its people, flora and fauna. I am not the very important individual I once dreamed I was, or would be, but instead I get to be part of something that is much bigger, and ultimately more important. For me, that's what life is about. I'm still shallow enough to wish that my life was easier, that I had more money, different parents, a happy marriage, in general, what I wanted. In one way its a drag the world is not here for my personal enjoyment, but I think if I had got everything I wanted in life, I would have become a vain, selfish person who thought things were more important than people, that what I wanted came first and that 'other' people were there to do things for me, entertain, feed, clean up after, and pay for me.

Learning life lessons is not easy for me, possibly because I'm pig-headed, stubborn, and, given the slightest provocation, gloriously self centered. I've only learned a little bit, but the more things change the more open to change I become and the less attached I am to what I think should happen.

That vain, bitchy princess is still in there - my infantile ego - and she still likes to think she's Queen of Fucking Everything, but generally the most she gets is an occasional hands-on the-hips-foot-stomp-with-a-heavy-sigh moment.

So, my back deck. Yes, I feel happy when I stop to smell its flowers, I can just as easily feel rotten if I've let the Princess out, or have let someone else into my head. There are places in my brain where I simply do not go anymore. Patterns of thought that will make me crazy if I indulge them, so as much as I can I try to, as the Buddha said "be awake" and be present for whatever and whomever comes my way.

I love this poem, and really you could have skipped this whole blog and just read Rumi's poem to grasp what I'm babbling on about:

The Guest House - Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.