Thursday, June 23, 2011

Look At How Far You've Come

Sometimes you don’t realize how dark it got until you turn around and look at the ascent you’ve made to rise out of it.

Every challenge, every destructive pattern that was ripped from its foundations, every stumble that led to knowledge, every sleepless night that culminated in a flash of understanding, every encounter with the painful truth - All of these things are single steps that added up to the climb.

The mountain metaphor has been serving me well in framing my own process of overcoming a couple years of anxiety and doubt and anger, a couple years in the shadows, in the valleys, in the lands lower than I knew. The only problem with the image of the mountain is that it peaks. I realize that there is no summit that we can hope to attain, only more inclines into thinner air.

On the solstice, I stumbled on my roommate and our friend performing a ritual, burning two candles for that transitional day. One candle burned for all they hoped to gain within themselves, and one burned for all they hoped to leave behind. They asked me if I’d like to join them, and I did.

A couple years ago I would have dismissed this invitation and left them to their own devices, but getting that deep into some canyon wilderness opens you up to all kinds of things as you try to locate your trailhead. I can see it simply as an exercise, and I can take from it what I need and filter what doesn’t connect.

We talked a lot about losing fear, or more, actions from fear, actions from loneliness, actions from unhealthy ambitions, greed, dependency, weakness, a need to control. We talked a lot about opening up to courage, to faith in ourselves, to action from love (in all of its complexity and misinterpretation), action of kindness: to ourselves and those around us, actions of knowledge and strength.

After the candles were lit, my friends were elated, they said that they felt like a weight had been lifted. I told them that I felt a burden. They tried to help, they asked me about it and I explained it with the mountain metaphor. I told them that I felt like I just arrived at a false-summit, that I suddenly caught my first glimpse of the next ascent, steeper than before, rising higher into the clouds. “The challenge of love?! the challenge of courage?! The sort of discipline that real kindness demands?! This is going to take everything I’ve got, and then some...”

My roommate told me to turn around. She said, “Take a minute, and look back down at how far you’ve come.”

* * *

Sometimes I feel like a pessimist, but outwardly, people often comment on my optimism. My good friend who passed through town on tour the other day asked how someone who tends to wear all black, has naturally black hair, can exude so much light. Damn, that meant a lot. Maybe I’ve been mourning something. Maybe I was born mourning something, but every moment gives you a choice between wallowing and hope. My whole life I’ve spent wishing, always longing for something, but I always believed I could get it, maybe even if I didn’t understand how. I used to want very material things. I wanted the spotlight, and power over people, despite my drive to understand things, to know people, to know the world, to be open, to talk. We’re conditioned to want all that empty stuff. I think deep down we feel that it will somehow break that vast separation between us, dissolve that universal loneliness, if only we get a little more - but it only pulls us further apart.

Now I just want to be calm. I want to not fly so high and drop so low on my ups and downs. I want to create, and have much less interest in reaping the spoils of my creations on any economic market, or up on some stage. I believe that we can be kind to each other, to understand our world and ourselves. I believe in patience and in process. I believe in the action of love, as complicated and difficult as loving can be - and I’m not talking about some mystical innate romanticized force of hollywood love. I believe that we can be friends, that we can let down our walls, be peaceful, be reasonable, resolve things. I believe we can find value in our passing moments and not in the hollow goals that pull us from them. I value beauty - real beauty - in nature, in art, in all our hearts, in the sunset that comes with each waning day. I believe in hard work towards genuine ends, that we can learn to share, that unjust power will always crumble, that we can never be perfect, but always be “perfecting.”

I don’t know what it says about our times to be called an optimist for spouting this stuff. These aren’t things that were meant to be strived for. These are things that we’re all entitled to. Why does our system shove them away? How far into the darkness are we when it seems like only the hopelessly hopeful, the deluded, the guru, the therapist, the rambling artist, can speak of any of this stuff genuinely and openly and not face a cold shoulder or a dismissive joke?

And then I start to wonder: in which direction are we heading from here?