I am still trying and still failing to situate my householder-husband role into the Goldilocks orbit: planet me revolving around the romantic relationship while at the same time keeping time with the divine. William James defined religion as paying attention to our experience of a relationship to the ultimate. I love that: Paying attention to our experience of a relationship to the ultimate. So, okay, if I can imagine child psychologist D.H. Winnicott as counsel on my love life, I can fancy James, father of the modern study of psychology, as my spiritual guru. And yet, despite how great and inspiring my heroes are, I have to admit I’m not doing super-well. Not so far. I just can’t seem to keep my planet and the sun, my ego and marriage, in step with the dance of the universe. I trip over my own feet, step on my wife’s toes. This is very unlike the way a choreographer I used to work with described how she’d trip her dancers. She said it was on a moment when she knew they’d fall up. Star-dancers, you could call them. That’s not me. I’m a klutz.
And yeah, I always wanted to see myself as some kind of spiritual warrior. There’s this me who’s like in a movie, riding equanimous into the sunset. But what happens is everybody just watches the blooper reel. Featuring me blowing it entirely. And especially with the pandemic, I even lose my temper. Typically very rare, but now, it happens. I remember this one time in Loblaws a woman with a very ugly temperament had at me for what felt like forever, because in her view I’d violated her social distance, in my not accommodating her moving around me. This was at the florist’s counter, where I, masked and vaccinated, was looking at my device while patiently waiting to buy an Easter gift for my lapsed-Catholic wife. I just shrugged, felt comforted by the gesture of support I got from the person behind me in the line. But driving out of the parking lot I saw her pushing her groceries and baby carriage and I thought about running her over. The baby would be left staring into a mother-shaped hole in Toronto’s late-winter sky. Of course I don’t do that. Maybe instead I’m growing a tumour. Or, instead of that, there’s me relapsing into drugs and sex, but that was only once in lo these many years and I’m intending to not do that ever again. Didn’t intend to do it this time either, but this time for sure. Could be someday there’s me getting hit in the parking lot by somebody else’s angry automobile, while I’m dragging around a tumour big enough to put in a baby carriage. Would be an ironic reference to an unborn self, smeared onto the pavement, like fetal roadkill, my anger-tumour.
But I’m very calm. I look into a mirror, full-frontal head-to-toe, and I wonder what percentage of what’s there has any idea of me, the named unique somebody I think I am? I don’t know, but no way even one percent could have that notion. And doesn’t seem like spiritual warrior could be, like, even one percent of that. Just call me maximum point-one percent free-lance spiritual warrior, will travel. Or maybe won’t travel. I don’t know.
Maybe I could just kind of curl up with some sort of spirituality that’s suitable for an ordinary person. An average-brained male of the species. Like me. A guy. An old guy. I’ve done a lot of different things over the years. Right now I think that maybe what I am, my worldly tag, is boatowner. Basically, husband/householder of the boatowner variety. Yeah-no, it is what it is and might as well admit it: I’m sixty-eight and retired, divorced, and remarried, and what I am is, I’m a husband/householder. And mainly boatowner. Seems like at least six months of the year I just think about my boat. And it’s, like: Zen and the art of sailboat maintenance, and like in the not-great book that was extremely popular, back in the day—ohmygod, these expressions—I’m like the guy in it, searching for the principles that scale sufficiently for everything. For a set of values that works with philosophical and spiritual levels, both, whilst I, all day, make my old boat more beautiful and functional, in company of sometimes my wife, family, friends, and others. Inwardly, I am pretty much always in company, but on a sailboat. With my romantic partner for sure, wherever, I’m always connected. And as much Covid allows, we actually get with other family and friends—people. Everybody. And all the time aligned to my spiritual practice, that’s the idea, that I be remembering—like I was saying: remembering to pay attention to the experience of a relationship with the ultimate. The cosmos. The ever-changing tissue of existence.
Frame and content, big picture and small details, for forever and for right now, every situation, wouldn’t it be great to have a way to look at it? Wouldn’t it be truly excellent to have scalable principals, a single set of values that could guide us in living the well-examined, good life? Seems like such a natural curiosity, such a basic goal. I’m frustrated and confused, looking at what millions and millions of people are following instead. My designer Buddhism is telling me to just be nice to all sentient and non-sentient beings, and turn my attention inwards. This is not working, the maelstrom inside me makes perfect sense today and I don’t know what to do about anything. My Buddhist-modern crowd likes to believe our religion is exceptional and superior to all the others. But it’s not. At worst we’re whining and whinging spiritual passive-aggressives, by-passing everyday reality and relational conflicts when things don’t suit us. And at best, well, it’s just hard to reconcile Buddhist religious beliefs, doctrines, and traditions with the evolving cosmopolitan worldview, which is deeply ecological, scientific, and concerned with eudaemonic well-being. And which I have zero inclination to let go of.
So, yeah, it’s hard to reconcile. I know I need spirituality and religion, like I know I need physical exercise and sports. I’m an average-brain person. Raise your hand if you too want to say it’s a beautiful day—don’t let it get away. You need love, of course, but it’s not actually all you need, and what’s been depicted as a hierarchy of needs is more like stories swirling in a cloud. Can seem like swarms of bees buzzing. Can be downward-fountaining trees.
There are very excellent Buddhist teachers. Devout teachers with real integrity, like Thanissaro Bhikkhu—I’ve listened to hundreds of his evening dharma talks, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the sutras—he says that adapting the dharma, making up a secular version based on flourishing and freedom, like I do, is basically fraught. Because, don’t you know, the Buddha didn’t invent the dharma, he didn’t design it, he never sat down facing a blank page to write it. He uncovered it. He sat down—for sure he did that—he plunked himself down under a tree, facing the whole world, the entire universe and everything inner as well as outer, and he promised to stay put, to keep on sitting down under that tree until the dharma was clear to him, as it lived through him. That’s the rub, right there, that’s religion, again, big religion. Because this is the belief, and our faith, rearing up out of the mists of time. Belief and faith in the eternal and revealed truth that has the power to save us. The truth-spewing doctrine of a revealed salvation. The historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gotama, he never wrote a word. Smart man, and in his literary reticence in very good company. But he was not like Jesus, or any other mystic, his accolade was the great physician. These days we reckon him to be more like Socrates, uncompromisingly dedicated to the goal of uncovering what’s realizable in practical terms. Although, in fact, the Buddha set his sights considerably higher than the provisional, eudaemonic happiness idealized in Greek philosophy. Buddhism proposes a complete elimination of existential suffering: salvific enlightenment. Being permanently, timelessly awake. In the process of this attainment Siddhartha determined that one must renounce all craving. And ultimately to renounce what in those days was generally presumed to be the cycle of birth and death. And he left a step-by-step plan for how to get to there, how to squelch reactivity and cease all clinging, to the purpose of forever thereafter experiencing unconditioned emotional and spiritual freedom. The mortal coil shucked for good, nirvana attained.
I spent the youthful years of my life trying to get higher than anyone had ever been before. I was really good at it. Weekends were for amateurs. I went all out for the summit every day, and was super-keen to stay there all day. I believed in feeling fantastic, and this I apprehended. This is the experience I paid attention to. Sensual pleasure was my religion, and I wasn’t alone. Thanissaro Bhikkhu talks about a different kind of pleasure, a spiritual pleasure in the states of higher consciousness, and he says that partaking of this spiritual pleasure is different because it doesn’t take away from anyone else’s pleasure. In the spiritual there’s no zero-sum game. I don’t know, the difference between those states, and my all-day and all-night acid, cannabis, and sex trips, is it really so perfectly black-and-white? Can anyone alive be so perfectly confident that it is? Who’s around here can show me the spiritual way that totally works? Which has within it a method that scales, perfectly illuminating what’s of highest concern in all situations.
Maybe I think that there’s no baby in this bath water, or actually that it’s all baby and all water all the time, and it’s actually fine. I really just don’t know, but yeah-no, whatever we believe, I’m pretty sure nobody gets out of here alive. Jim Morrison said that, and he also sang—his band was called The Doors, the name referring to Huxley quoting Blake: cleansing the doors of perception, whence everything appears as it is, infinite—the song goes: “Come on Baby light my fire. Our love become a funeral pyre.”
There’s none of us ever known such an enlightened person who’s managed to go through those doors and stay always on the other side. Even making a good show of it seems to require a lot of ground support. Catherine Blake, William’s wife, was a vital presence in the great artist’s life. Shoulder to shoulder they laboured together in the studio, making the art. She’s quoted, saying—I think the situation was something like once when she’d gone to the door to answer the knocking of visitors who’d come to inquire of her husband, and she said to them: “I have very little of Mr. Blake’s company. He is always in Paradise.”
Too many exemplars of spiritual attainment eventually prove to be worse than useless as people, and, like I was saying, if a great one ran for public office, I’d not likely vote for him or her. But I reckon they wouldn’t run. Does not running away from anything make a person less likely to charge at things? If you scratch an activist, do you expose an escapist? For sure sometimes, but I kind of doubt that the symmetry can be generalized. I don’t know, ask me later, I think I might be conducting an experiment on that right now. Exploring stillness, I mean, as in being still and still moving. There’s always a lot of things to do today. And accepting where I am seems to me like a radically good place to start. Because I write in the early morning, before sunrise, and my long day goes way late and into the night.
The Buddha’s insight into change and non-self/emptiness, and his way of tasking us toward purposeful goodness, tends to inspire our better angels, and Buddhist doctrines therefore scale better than those of most religions, I think. The big thing is that the self is a temporary and ephemeral construct. Absolutely everything, not just everything except me, is conditional and interdependent, empty of any fixed substance. Wow, the whole religion is worth it for this one critical and transformative awareness. Realizing it is the purpose of meditation. Buddhism’s other best practice is the deep respect for cause and effect. So even if the Buddhist belief in multiple reincarnations toward an ultimate and permanently awakened state of nirvana is too much a stretch, not to mention all the Hogwarts, Middle Earth, and Narnia stuff, people can at least trust these two basic, universal principals. That the self never stops changing, and that the rule of cause and effect never takes a time out. Contemplating these two facts, meditating on them, is truly liberative, and can help us be more discerning—to play the tape forward, as we say in AA. But that’s a funny thing to say, because tape recording doesn’t exist anymore, just in an adage. When was the last time you saw magnetic tape? Doesn’t matter, and anyway, causal connections are typically too complicated to explain what’s already happened. They’re still there and we can still believe in them, but meditating on karma is mainly helpful for accepting the present and setting ourselves on a wholesome future course. Me, I also love believing in complete coincidence. I believe in cause and effect and I believe in luck. And like I said, I get up very early every morning. Why, sometimes I’ve believed in as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
Another one of the Buddha’s teachings that’s true and extremely useful is that renouncing our reactive craving and clinging will relieve suffering. I seriously doubt that perfection is available here, but a person’s psychological state is clearly improved by learning to disown reactivity. Which is a negative, harmful habit, bent on an addictiveness. That just cutting back on it is not in itself a one-way ticket on an express train to paradise doesn’t mean it’s a faulty strategy. Even when not done perfectly it’s plainly a darn good practice, and it’s facilitated by selflessness.
These doctrines, concerning change and non-self, the rule of cause and effect, and the stupidity of addictive reactivity, they go against the grain, against our evolved human nature. It’s like, time’s up, you’re realizing these things are true and so now you’re going to be renouncing magical thinking, too. And for sure that feels abnormal. Even just going on a reactivity-reduced mental diet is contrary to habit formation, and building habits is the basic human trait. But so what? We can tell our genetically programmed self to go fly a kite. Our propensity for bad habits is a correlate of being human, but it’s not what guides humanity going forward. There are lots of better ways to be! Letting go of ingrained bad habits opens the way for regenerative harmony with other beings. Why not go for it? We cut out natural traits all the time, resisting our base urges, keeping ourselves out of jail. And for staying in the wholesome relationships that require we make certain sacrifices. Our issues are not our fate, not a cast-in-stone damnation for original sin. They are just very unfortunate. Really. I mean, as a species, it seems like we’re on a run of bad luck. Yeah-no, we have a history. Because we are brains in bodies, organisms in colonies and cultures, and nothing about any of this was designed to optimize our flourishing in lovely balanced ecosystems. Coincidences aside, there is no balance in nature, only constant change. Only the amazing and mysterious rustling of the fabric of existence.
We’re organisms that evolved for surviving and procreating, in a world that was just as it came to our senses. Our evolutionary fitness was our only reality. That was then, but now we navigate a world in which our genetic inheritance can’t show us where to go and what to do, can’t even tell us who we are anymore. Genetics is often pressed to show causation when what’s evident is just correlation. The field of evolutionary psychology is not super-scientific. It’s an interesting study, but it’s more like economics than chemistry or physics. By the same token, though, knowledge of our biologically evolved personality traits is unfortunately undervalued in the arena of cultural studies. So it’s, like, whatever, somewhere in between them, somewhere in the collusion of nature and nurture, a clearer image of what we might really be like is emerging, but meanwhile a lot of half-truths and failed promises cloud the picture of the ways in which we’re harried in modern society. And recognizing the features of our suffering is totally essential. Because for sure we are suffering. Despite all our fantastic life-style improvements—real progress that we should gratefully recognize as wonders, like these vaccines, for fuck sake they’re medical miracles, among other marvels of science and technology that we should promote and share, making the world a better place—despite the good news, we’re actually pretty messed up and increasingly at risk, inside and out. The numbers of fatalities from the combined total of wars and murders are exceeded by the ever-rising suicide rate. And what about the opioid crisis? We’re alienated and anxious, bewildered, ignorant and over-informed, exploited and indulged, sold-out to selfishness. The polarization in politics goes to show that way too many of us are fearful, traumatized, and indignant. And as someone formerly seriously addicted, I’m saying takes one to know one. And now I’m saying that right now—right now, it’s like: when’s the best time to plant a tree: twenty years ago, and when’s the second-best time: today. Today would be very good time to get together on the things that lead out of suffering and toward well-being, for the benefit of all sentient and non-sentient beings. For our loved ones, even for ourselves. If we could for just a moment not fixate on what brings a shot of pleasure and instead pay attention to what makes us larger. We could dance, with this cosmos that is a celebration of spiritual freedom. And where everything, absolutely everything, is waiting for us to join in!
Me, I’m really still just trying to have a good day here. I remember how I always said that to my mother. When she was dying. And this was often because she died very, very slowly, suffering memory loss caused by senile dementia. In her last couple of years the nursing home was across the street from the Zen Temple where I lived, and I visited her every evening. We’d talk, not in conversations, but in tape loops. These loops in shuffle play. And there was one that started with her asking me what I did for a living. I’d always tell her that I was in the business of having a good day. Actually, the way it always went, was like:
“What do you do for a living? What is your job?”
“Well, Mother, what I do is, I have a good day. I’m a professional. I get up very early every morning and I keep to a very full schedule of events and activities that are conducive to a maximum of well-being.”
And she’d say: “I don’t know, that sounds a little crazy, don’t you think?”
To which I’d answer: “Maybe, but I’m good at it.”
We’d go on like this, my mother saying: “Yeah, but do you make any money?”
And I’d say: “Not much, but I don’t spend much, either.”
At any time she might cut to the refrain loop: “Can you take me home now, Dad is waiting for his dinner.”
“Sure, we can go right after this show is over.” The TV was always on and if I was lucky maybe I could honestly say: “Law and Order, Dad’s favourite show.”
And then she’d say: “This is Dad’s favourite show?”
“Yup, and I want to see what happens, and then we can go home.”
“Good, because I want to go home now.”
Dad had been dead for years but the script about my always working on having a good day was basically true, and still is, because, yeah, I’m still ardently, and I hope discerningly, working toward everyday well-being. But still it’s so hard to know what to do. Likes and dislikes cannot be trusted, because brains, especially average brains like mine, can be hacked, and in the blink of an eye I’m thinking something and it’s like, whoa, where’d that thought come from? With my mother in the nursing home, Dad dead, Law and Order all reruns and I’d seen every one, I knew every ending. But the memory is always fallible. I don’t remember how I got myself from being a crackhead sex maniac to a responsible householder/husband and dedicated boatowner, but I strongly suspect it was mainly luck.
My trying to adjust the dharma path to make it fit myself, well, that project has not proven ultimately enlightening, has not resulted in spiritual awakening. Thanissaro Bhikkhu and other neo-orthodox Buddhists have a point. But, like, so what?! What’s that got to do with me? Should I now be looking to adapt my emerging and ever-changing selves to the 2500-year-old Asian subcontinent Way of the Buddha!? I really don’t know that there’s a skillful method in that! Where is this supposedly great path now?! Which selves of my current situation are good to go with? The self I seem to know best is at least five years behind me. Will the self who I become five years in the future look back to me today and think that my good day was hospitable to the future self’s needs and interests. I hope so but I don’t know! I don’t know what to do now!
I think that the pandemic pulled the rug right out from under us. Covid challenged our trust in experts and institutions—in science! Turns out there was way less trust than I thought, and way more anger. My communities are divided and damaged. The priest of my Zen temple planted the flag for anti-vaccine and refused to observe basic public health protocols. This was way worse than the Y having to close and everybody go home. And here in my home: why are two well-meaning seniors locked-down in a pandemic spending more on therapists than on groceries or the mortgage? We eat very, very well, it’s a very nice little house, and we’re way too often really unhappy. I’m unhappy. My relapse was a totally fucking stupid thing to do, and I am so sorry, but it uncovered issues that my still new-ish wife and I really needed to take care of and this has been a difficult, painful process. And here we are in each other’s faces, and no escaping, living like in lockdown, pressing each other’s buttons.
My mother is long gone, but ohmygod she was so unhappy, and now it’s more than I can handle just to be kind to my wife, whom I love, and not be unkind to everyone else, including myself. I mean, knowing what I should do, this time, right here—it seems like impossible. Here with my second wife, whom I’ve been married to for six years. She’s working full-time, these days from a make-shift work station in the bedroom, so probably she spends more hours per week in there than incarcerated people spend in their cells. She works in the ministry of government that’s responsible for distributing funds, and the pandemic has stretched her department very thin. She’s counting her sleeps to retirement, just a few more months. Meanwhile hoping that Toronto house prices don’t crash. We bought a piece of land in the country to build a cabin on, to live out our days in. It’s not far from where our families live. My wife’s people in Cornwall. And in Montreal my son and daughter-in-law, and the two granddaughters who we love to over-indulge, but for a couple years now have rarely seen. The future home is on the St. Lawrence River, very close to where the boat lives, the yacht club—yah-da-yah-da. Will there be a decent boating season this coming year? I know, talk about a first-world problem, for crying out loud—I mean, I’m so privileged, and yet I was totally depressed all last winter. I’m vaccinated, had my first and second shots early on, and then a booster—I’m totally grateful for the vaccines. I love the science behind how they work.
My wife has had all her shots, too. But like most people who are relatively safe, we’re still anxious, because we chose to vaccinate, because we still don’t want to get Covid or give it to vulnerable people, and especially because we don’t want a lethal variant to emerge, which of course is more likely because people who don’t trust the science and don’t worry are refusing vaccines and getting infected at high rates. And now instead of a war against disease that we might have been all in together, which was how I was imagining this thing at the beginning, now I’m shocked by our conflicts. I tried to lead my temple to either follow the public health guidelines or stop holding public services, but our priest/director refused to do either. Conspiracy theories were cited. We were very patient, because we’re a church, which is a venerable hierarchical structure, and the charity law requirement of a board of directors is an imposition on the authoritarian tradition. But Covid cares less about what anybody thinks is fair or feels is right, and being a responsible board chair and an ordinary, reasonable person, eventually I had to stop pretending things were going to be okay, that our luck would hold out. Sadly now, there’ll be no going back to normal when everybody takes their masks off. I’m not smiling at people whose ‘conspiritual’ viewpoint has put our community at risk. And that’s just one example of what I mean when I say that this pandemic story, it’s been discombobulating.
And this marriage, I see it as our vessel in the storm, or should be. That it be safe and sound is so essential for us now. But we’re still trying to get through the crisis precipitated by my using pot and porn, which was, like, over a year ago now—been a very extended rough patch—and we just kept hacking away at it, in the hours and hours of therapy and when walking and talking together, on the ravine trail or sitting at the kitchen table. Seems like there’s an infinite stock of trauma to be re-presented, to be re-lived, hopefully reframed. All alone together in a little house in the big city. We used to be, early morning to end of day, so busy in the crowded downtown. But two years now, we’ve been shunning the immediate space of any other living-breathing person.
I am trying to adjust my passing selves to the relationship while still caring for my metaphorical and poetic soul. No, I don’t believe that there is such a real thing as a soul, I’m just saying that I’m trying to nurture higher concerns in the wholesome experience of relational and spiritual life. And when it’s not happening for me, and I’m like oscillating, I ask myself: where’s equanimity here? Some of the time I do sort of okay, and then seems like with no warning I spin out, catapulting off conflicting gravitational forces into cold, dark space. Depression is a black hole, anxiety its whirlpool. She says, too, that our fighting sucks the life out of her.
Sometimes feels like I’m going to fly into pieces. Explode and expire. And sometimes I think, okay, that that’d be a good thing. There was an instance, a while back, when I actually did just fucking collapse, and it wasn’t anything like how I thought it would be. One night, after way too much angry reactivity, I called time-out and retreated to the bedroom. Destroyed. Did you know that the origin of the word disaster is from the French: bad, or evil, crashing stars? Okay, I said no more etymology, but just imagine: Stars misaligned, smashing each other to bits, stardust travelling through space and time. So anyway, totally exhausted, I collapsed in bed, into an uncommonly deep sleep. Got up to pee in the wee hours and was shuffling across the bedroom floor when I went down. Really, just went down. Didn’t get dizzy. I so instantly and totally lost all motor control that I didn’t get an arm out to break my fall. Went crashing to the floor with no defences. And what was interesting and amazing was that my brain seemed to shut off. Sort of, because although there was no thought, absolutely no emotion, I recall being completely aware. Remembering afterward the eventual and inevitable succession of body parts hitting the ground, I know I didn’t black out. This was no faint. For the whole of what was like an eternity of my experience falling, I was wide awake, seeing everything. In a view as wide as night on the ocean. That’s just it, how my consciousness was—is—timeless, being, purity and luminous clarity, in which everything just takes place, arising, disappearing. And there’s still just being. In formless sparkling darkness. Do I sound too religious, all too Buddhist, when I should be admitting to a medical, maybe psychiatric emergency? That’s a perfectly reasonable question. But the experience was strangely beautiful. And as frightening as it is to consider the possibility of future recurring collapses, thinking of it instead in terms of my death is freeing also. There’s an awareness of abiding goodness. What if I’m really dying? Feels like I can relate to that, I can just face up to it. I can be liberated from fear of this experience of empty consciousness, because at the heart of it there’s just this abiding goodness, a heart-opening, and I know there can be contentment in letting go of everything to die in life’s loving spirit.
Deep bows. To the bardo of death, birth and always becoming. Okay, and I used to be a Tibetan Buddhist, full disclosure here. I’m bowing, saying tashi delek. Whatever, religion is paying attention to the experience of a relationship to the ultimate. And may all beings experience the peace that passeth all understanding. Okay, passeth me a copy of the King James Bible, too. I’m bowing diversely, my Canadian Buddhist self is.
But still with no surcease, these days and nights the waves of anxiety and depression are all over me. I will crumble into nothingness, all my systems are failing me, and I reckon—okay, okay, I’m calling for a time-out! From me talking. From my metta-pissed-offedness, because it’s like, I hear myself, I hear me selfingly saying: “me thinks this,” and “I feel that,” and so now enough of me already, because, it’s, like, so ultimately unskillful, how my anxiety—it’s just me doing this anxiety, and I do it because I feel like I have to do something, because everything’s out of my control, and feeling anxious and depressed is, like, an escape from that disempowered state, into another addiction—my being an anxious and depressed person requires the addict self. Requires that I be putting my attention into this anxiously depressed way of majorly and spuriously self-ing. And it’s a lousy religion.
Okay, okay, I do know something: What happened in the really falling down, which was not a performance for my sleeping wife—really, no kidding, this was not that—what happened was that every sense of self dropped off completely and absolutely. There was no me, no I, nobody thinking, no theatre, not even a Mr. Nobody falls down story. No actors, no play, no performance at all. There was everything, just arising in its own place. No subject at a centre, no self, no centre. Everything waiting, rustling, pregnant and still empty. Like in how it’s typically contemplated in meditation, but this time radically occurring. Because often, usually, I’m just feeling, like, the waves on the ocean. My emotion. An ebb and flow of feelings, comprised of perceptions. But this time the most powerful and disastrous emotions combined in such a pattern of forces as to create a rogue wave, a flood of power, defined by its magnitude, and its coming, from a different angle, becoming another entity entirely. And resulting in my complete defeat. My sweeping, deep, and complete defeat. A guru wave.
Deep bows. I give up and bow in gratitude. In the bardo of death, birth, and becoming. Death and birth and becoming. When one pays attention to the process, it’s all the same and waiting for us. Okay, whatever, hey, hi: may you be love.
I was addicted to marijuana, smoked half a dozen joints a day, for I don’t know, ten or fifteen years, until about thirty years ago when I became a Tibetan Buddhist, in Winnipeg. Took refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha, at the dead centre of the continent of North America. I still drank too heavily, but no more pot. I’ve been working on why, I, on the morning of this late and much-lamented relapse, for the first time in my life, I googled “cannabis store near me.” Not that I could have supposed one would be inconveniently distant. Must’ve had some inkling that there’d be a dispensary, lots of choices in fact, quite close to me. I had good friends and my therapist close at hand, too. But not my wife, who was in Africa, but we weren’t very together even before she went away, so there, and what does that say about my suddenly choosing to get high again? Because her body had been centimetres from mine but we were a thousand miles apart, and then she sorta like suddenly just left the building and the continent. Fucking Covid, too, eh.
I feel like, in history, I invented pot twice. In the summer of love, nineteen sixty-seven, I was right there amongst the early-adopters. Flower children sitting cross-legged in sub-culture circles, smoking hemp that had a little more THC in it than the blend of organic fabrics in the Patagonia work-shirt I’m wearing this morning. Weak ditch-weed hemp—who knew it would one day make a great shirt—it took hours of smoking to get off and yet from the very first time I did it, I loved that high, and chased it with the zeal of a religious convert. Second historic event was when I joined the queue for the genetically-modified, hydroponically-grown products of criminal big business. And the day, October 17th 2018, when Canada legalized it was the anniversary of me being arrested for possession of same—forty-eight years before. A kid. Nineteen, tried and convicted, in adult court. A federal offence. I was quite possibly facing two years in adult prison. October 17th. What a coincidence. Which I’m not celebrating, despite how I typically love coincidences. I hated everything about getting busted but I’m not liking much about legalization. Repurposing criminals into taxpayers has improved the problem but what I’d appreciate would be a wise and compassionate response to all the people who are still suffering from addictions. Problem is improved like the drug was improved. Enhanced, socialized, institutionalized. Please come back to this site for my next post, which is among other things about my frustration with a famous and important Buddhist teacher who repurposes his own use of mind-altering drugs, representing in my view another missed opportunity to help people. To help people like me, and quite possibly you, or someone you love.
I was egregiously surprised last fall to discover that my addiction to pot slash porn could be so readily and entirely re-established. After years and years living differently. Shocked actually, despite how porn has become entrenched, and pot dispensaries are everywhere and they stay open during lockdowns, unlike florists, bookstores, and art galleries. Strong cannabis is way more available than very excellent baked goods, and unlike hand-crafted lattes and fresh croissants, the price hasn’t risen over the years. And porn is free now. On an ordinary morning, just after nine am and I am putting the last strokes of the final coat of grey latex on the basement stairwell—it’s a beautiful surface that I’ve created here—and I get this great idea of what I can do—oh wow—while my surface dries. And by nine-forty-five I am unbelievably stoned, my paint is not even tacky yet, it’s still wet, but I’d closed the paint can, washed my brushes and my roller, and scrubbed my hands—and getting my hands clean took longer than everything else put together—I’ve chosen a pot shop from the three or four in my immediate neighbourhood and placed an order for curbside pick-up, got in the car and drove there, and on the way home stopped off at a less-convenient-convenience store to buy a lighter, and immediately after returning home I break the seal of this very cute jar—what’d I expect, a baggie? And then ohmygod—I mean, yeah-no, I get whiffs of smoke all the time, everybody’s used to that now, but the scent of the raw plant, I swoon. I roll a fat joint, light up and smoke it all outside the back door, which is a door that goes out from the basement, and now, who—I mean who is this person? This old, staggering, stumbling pothead who’s astounded that the paint’s still wet on the stairway—or is this an es-ca-la-tor? Up, going back up, and I am again now, to be be-cumming again now, making my way, quite possibly on all fours with my tongue hanging out, and onto the sofa, to my entertainment.
Whew! And I’m like: see you later, Baby… hmmm, I dunno, maybe sometime, depending on when, this is going to be a problem, I dunno, in my… relationship. I mean, later, you know… If I get caught…
But I always do: Get Caught. Of course, I do. There’s cause, and effect. Because, being a guy who spent years mastering masturbating while stoned, whenever I get back to it, could be after many years, could be for me for a very long time, but actually, soon as I’m at it again, then all of a sudden, I’m completely and totally caught up in it again. In this case for the whole of eight days and nights, entangled in both nature and nurture. And seems to me like this time the world has caught up to me. I have floundered into a rising societal tide of such addictions. I am distracted, disastrously.
So, there it is: Unhappy! Lonesome as Hell despite married. Estranged from the Y and the temple, and too many people I used trust, by the pandemic. Bored because my boat’s been put to bed for the winter. But I’m sleepless nights. And so unbelievably tired all day I think I’m going to get Alzheimer’s like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, people who like me slept just a few hours a night and apparently that’s a way to get Alzheimer’s Disease, which they both did. But I’m nobody important and old, with my selfhood getting beaten down into smaller and smaller neighbourhoods. I totally lost track of where I was, and then there’s the track, I’m in the station wildly unbalanced at the edge of the platform staring at the hugely expanding headlight of a train that’s rushing out of the tube toward me, and then, suddenly, I don’t know, don’t know fuck all except a former and forgotten self is just like popping up again to, lucky me, save me all over again:
“Hey guy, do you wanna feel absolutely fantastic in like about ten minutes from now?”
Well, you know, what right now surprises me most is that I’m still somewhere. Really, right here along with everything. Still, and still rustling. With everything still right here and still waiting for us.
And, you know, and this is not me all in for Buddhism, as I have so fulsomely explained. It’s just like, you know: I’m still just like forever being surprised that there’s anything here, that there’s this something, this everything, waiting and wondering, including, coincidentally, me. Instead of just me and my bad news going down the tubes to just like fall apart for once and for all, because nothing and total disintegration into nothingness makes more sense than this everything, what we’ve got. What I’ve got, too. Even when I’m losing it. Especially when I’m losing it. And then the way it arises anew, like, every moment, every instant, every nanosecond. The way it always arrives awaiting. Why does existence rustle so? It’s totally a miracle. Isn’t it? Magical. Super, and very, very natural. And I am super-surprised you’re still here with me. And I’m so grateful, and so…
To be continued. My relapse story over for now, but, so many questions: Will my Buddhist temple survive the pandemic? Will my marriage survive the selling of our home and the building of a new one in the country? We’re planning on three moves and my grandfather used to say three moves equals a fire. Will I grow from my sixties into my seventies? Will this be a sailing story?