Why not just not? My waiting for a feeling of optimism to arrive has proved unrealistic, so why not I just stop waiting. Why not, for a change, I just give up on waiting for any improvement? Why not I just stop waiting, for anything. And how about while I’m not at it I don’t start worrying about why I’m not waiting for anything. Why not, just, not! I’ve been thinking, okay, for whatever reasons, I seem to be emotionally incapable of looking forward to finding enjoyment in anything on the horizon—and it could be that I have my reasons, for example inappropriate genes because apparently I chose the wrong parents, and then came the early-life trauma, loneliness and boredom, after that the addictions, of course—so here I am, fatally exhausted, basically a total buzzkill personality—so on a morning recently I just say to myself why not even if just for the limited duration of my daily meditation practice I just sit here. Not leaning in. Just letting go of waiting for anything that I might want or not want. No waiting, no worrying, for this thirty-minute period I just totally give the fuck up. Full stop.
Because it’s like, since my automatic reaction is to say no thank-you to any suggestion that I should do something, no matter what it is—I always feel like I’d really rather not—why not now, instead of dwelling on how my lack of enthusiasm is a defect and spiritual deficit, why not just go all the way with it? And just say yeah-no but we’re done here. It’s not about my winning or losing, it’s this game: just count me out. Like, basically. I mean, profoundly. I’ve pushed my chair back from the table, my hands are folded in my lap. I’m not even paying attention. Nothing! Let this be my contemplative state, or alternative-to it, or not even that. So guess what happens:
It’s actually a great relief.
And afterwards I’m laughing, like, this is an eccentric form of redemption. Not to say that I am now in some really durable way redeemed or liberated, just that letting go so entirely feels, like, very okay. Less like I’ve been left out than I’ve been let in, is the feeling. I don’t know, I mean, what did I expect: alienation and trauma again? Like, why? I don’t know, but it was fine, all good, is what I’m saying. So I’m doing it again, and not just in the morning.
Maybe it’s like homeopathic medicine, which supposedly works by administering smaller and smaller portions of the elements that are harming you, achieving a more and more powerful cure this way. I say supposedly because I love science and homeopathy seems backwards to me, but whatever, I’m just making an analogy. Because maybe what’s been for so long wearing me down is how I’m always seizing the moment and expecting the evidence of my unenlightened state to be somehow falsified. So why not I just seize it less and less? This dumb-ass present moment, which these days is ridiculously reified and deified. Maybe not grab it at all? Go to a zero dose to cure my mediocre mindfulness practice by OD’ing on forgetfulness. Being like, Zen and the art of no-therapy.
The experiment was not notably exciting. No ah-ha moment, at least not the thousand-watt marquis lightbulb sort of moment. More like just some winsome and lightly-contented LEDs trailing from a kite I go fly, and then for a laugh I flip the bird with the hand that was holding the string. And there you go. Bye-bye being arduously mindful. Later for paying attention to my experience of the divine, to the contemplation of higher concerns. Later, later, later. At least until I have to walk upright through the world again. Until I actually need to do something, with best practices, being useful and spiritual and all that. But meanwhile, I’m just sitting here, not thinking about being mindful and not making a point of trying not to think about being mindful. There’s just everything, emptiness. An inner backflip gently releases me. And it doesn’t matter; hanging in was just a habit anyway, like most of the things a person does.
Going completely cold turkey on purchase power is counter-intuitive. The effect is covert. Leaving off on efforting, not contemplating life, not leveraging one’s feelings, unplugging even a nominal resistance to things—this is not a human being’s natural state. Renunciation like this was not a survival strategy in prehistoric times, it wouldn’t have been acceptable in agrarian and industrial societies, and for sure it’s anathema to modernism and the hyper-capitalist post-modern worldview. When I try to describe it now, I mean: what I talk about when I talk about lack, and it’s like lack entire, lack ad infinitum, and my words become like an ironic reference to something else, a riddle, known maybe only like some kind of Zen koan. My explanation has a half-life of about a nano-second. Trying to gather up these thoughts and type a description into my laptop, it’s like I might as well be reaching under the furniture with a vacuum cleaner, sucking up dust bunnies.
People spend a lot of money avoiding situations where they won’t be stimulating their appetite for something, where there’s nothing to rave, nothing to make a claim on, nothing to in any sense purchase or leverage. The prospect is as unpopular as jail-time, and even prisoners find places to plant their flags. Human beings, we’ll take the blue pill or the red pill, drink the orange juice or the hemlock. Yeah-no, even suicide. Just, something, even nothing, has to be better than this. In my moments of idleness I tend to be annoying, I admit. I count among my minimal side-lines constant foot tapping and verbal ticking, and when I do speak I tend to put my foot in my mouth, which is the worst. Other than the imperfectly enshrined thirty minutes every morning, stillness and silence are very rare for me. So what happens—this is the experiment—what if I don’t just unsubscribe and change the channel but actually turn off the set and instead of mindfully counting my breaths or whatever, I just leave it to my breath to find me? And if it doesn’t, fine then, I’ll just not know. Not know anything.
Actually, I do know what won’t happen: my breath won’t find me, because there is no permanent, separate, and unchanging me—look out, here I go again, me getting off on my story, which in this version is about me being a Buddhist. But what if now it’s like: been there done that, bought the T-shirt with the slogan on it that says “suffering is optional.” Which it isn’t, although it might be boring, like the history of my various addictions and arduous recoveries. Buzzkill, boring, everybody has a book inside them. Best thing for most of us is to just leave it there. Dropping everything now, I’m good for that. And not just for the half-hour in the morning, sometimes during the day I’m just letting go, for even just a moment quitting and forgetting everything.
One thing Covid verified: the future ain’t what it used to be. Being locked-down. Stuck in the house. Alone, or just with a spouse. Or both, with my spouse and feeling very alone. Boring, but, you know, the thing about being bored, my boyhood hero John Cage used to say, is that if you get bored doing something for a few minutes and you keep doing for twice as long, maybe you’ll get even more bored, but maybe not. And if you just stick with this being bored for twice as long again, longer if necessary, odds are that what happens inside you will become very interesting. Okay, true, and I’ve gotten pretty good at riding those waves, but what if now I’m feeling like I’m done with taking a great interest in my boredom and my inner experience of it? What about that? Is there anything more heretical than saying that I’m not into paying attention right now? That I’d prefer to see what it’s like to not be paying attention to anything. Not even to Cage’s music of silence: 4:33, four minutes and thirty-three seconds of musicians in concert not making a sound. I used to be a music critic, reviewed various performances of this new-music classic. Was the paid witness, hired to write it up. The audience shuffling in their seats, stirring and rustling, like existence itself, so beautifully. But I don’t deliver critiques to a deadline anymore. I don’t interview the person who has the one hand clapping, maybe for a tree falling in a forest and not him, her, a they, whoever, even fucking there to hear it.
I don’t know. But as much as I enjoy meditating, and am annoyingly prone to mixing up metaphors, Zen koans, unattributed song lyrics and one-liners, I want to tell you that I have a life: things to do, places to go, people to meet. A year ago, still very much in Covid, I started a little business teaching English on-line, and it’s a surprising success. China is twelve hours ahead and—I’m big in China—and now I’m dragging myself out of bed long before dawn most days to be ZOOM-ed out exhausted by nine. And late last winter my wife and I sold our house, really her house, in what was then still the hot market of Toronto, which was a hugely stressful thing to do, with a ring of ominous finality. We’re going to build a new home on an island in the St. Lawrence River, nearer to be with our families. Also near to my sailboat, which is going on fifty years-old and I’m her slave and saviour. And I am—I was, have to get used to saying was, past simple tense for this statement of fact—the chair of the board of directors of a Zen Buddhist temple that suffered a Covid crisis. Suffering seems actually like mandatory in faith communities. Also yacht clubs and house-construction sites. Leadership in relationships, organizations, and on big projects, when you make the effort to demonstrate it, is terribly not boring. Feels like when I try to walk the middle path as the leader, I get squished. Well, we’ll just have to see what happens, what variety of disaster.
Well yeah, okay, I do want to see what happens. I am curious. Notwithstanding what’s been in my past is that when I got enthusiastically involved in my day, I’d usually end up totally fucked up on drugs. Historically speaking, because that’s what I used to be, a stoner. And yeah-no, I could still imagine myself looking forward to the purchase that would result in me feeling absolutely fucking fantastic, but I am very well aware that it’s crucial that I don’t. And actually, I don’t want to anymore. Really, no desire to get high, just very occasionally the dry husk of a fleeting thought. I inhabit abstinence without exception—well, almost, but that was almost two years ago, and I explained it all in previous and prolix posts, that particular disaster, my eight-day relapse after fourteen years clean. The etymology of disaster is destruction of a star. Dis-aster, dis-astronomy. Okay, among things I do that some people find annoying, last one I’ll mention but I am trying to desist, is citing word origins.
But yeah-no, the current situation is post recovery, once again—actually, there’ve been several, I think my recoveries come with a bit of PTSD. I prefer to describe a continuing process of uncovering. Because there’s still curiosity, above all, and it’s not me, eh, it’s just about how, right now I’m more curious about what will happen in this world than about avoiding discomfort, let alone getting higher than anyone has ever been before. And so, entirely without even the illusion of will power, letting go of the string and fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke, I just somehow keep on showing up here—and I really don’t know. Just don’t know.
* * *
I often feel flooded by my disappointments and anxiety, but a while back I was on a ZOOM call with a twenty-something ESL student of mine who lives in Rostov-on-don, in Russia near the border with Ukraine. The invasion started the previous Thursday, the same day my house sold. Our call was originally scheduled for a few days just after that, but he was too busy, as he put it: “arranging my affairs for the occasion.” Planning an escape is what he’s doing. But he apologized for having to reschedule. And then he said he was sorry but he has to quit taking lessons. “I hope it won’t last long,” he texted, “but who knows—they said the same thing about the Crimea Crisis, also Covid.” I reminded him that in previous months he’d repeatedly assured me that Putin was bluffing. Said that it wouldn’t happen. “You said you thought he was stupid but not stupid enough to actually invade—ha-ha.”
“Yeah, well, I guess this time the laugh’s on me.”
Eugene loves history, literature, and philosophy, he’s curious about Stoicism, he listens to metal and plays keyboards, feels insecure about his musical abilities. He’s engaged to be married, and he used to work in a warehouse but now he puts in long hours in front of his screen teaching ESL to kids in China. His English is excellent, although not without the characteristically Russian downward intonation that expresses pessimism at the end of long sentences. Accent opposite of the teen-age girls of California, whose sentences are also typically a lot shorter. And I shouldn’t judge, but which speaker group is threatening the world with nuclear weapons? Maybe the Russian intonation is injurious to speakers. If Putin was my student I’d as soon as possible have him uptalking like a valley girl. I share an idea for how to save the world: Vlad and The Donald hook up as a Beach Boys or Jan and Dean cover band. Eugene loves this; he hates Putin, I hate Trump, and we both like a joke. And he’s a good guy who’s grateful for my invitation to stay in touch, and so I know that he’s going to respectfully start out the next conversation asking me how I’m doing and how the sale of my home went.
What am I supposed to say? I should tell him how I feel? I’m disappointed, because we only got a million and eighty-five thousand which is a few hundred thousand short of what I calculated we’d need to pay off the (relatively small) mortgage, pay the fees, and then build a lovely modern cabin on our land in the country, as well as, very importantly, set aside a sufficient sum to live out our days off of. And buy me a new sailboat. A bigger boat, like I always wanted. For which we needed to get one point four, at least. Supposed to be such a hot market, this was before interest rates started rising, but we only got one offer, from a frugal young professional couple who are tired of waiting in line for the socially distanced elevator in their condo building. They have bicycles and a dog and they want to have a baby. No bidding war, no gay couples going crazy over this sweet little gem of a home, which was what we were hoping for. Now it looks like if we’re really careful we can maybe do the new build, lay the nest egg, but no new boat. I know I’m lucky, and I truly believe in luck, both good luck and bad luck, and what I’m learning from Stoicism is that I can’t always know which is which. Every dark cloud has a silver lining. Silver is prone to tarnish. And don’t take it personally, and I don’t, either case. Because I certainly don’t believe that everything happens for a reason—ohmygod no! But the thing is, this was probably the last big deal before I die, and that’s why the thought of buying a lottery ticket is depressing. Ever since I was a kid I had this dream: a boat big enough to sail to the South Pacific, me and my beautiful first mate—my first choice was the Micky-Mouseketeer Annette—and now I’m pushing seventy and I have to accept that that’s not happening. Annette Funicello was a real person who died of complications after twenty years with multiple sclerosis. My wife is younger than me and quite fit, and she’s really taken to sailing, thank God, but she says: “sailing all night would be too scary.” And I think: “I’m the captain of this boat and obviously skillful, why in the world would you not feel safe?” With me.
Yeah right. (She was my editor, she knows my history, and sees me in my absolutely worst wretchedly incapacitated moments in which I stay stubbornly stuck, that’s why not.)
It is only with my individual therapist and couple therapist that I talk about my relationship, certainly not with my students. And I don’t have an editor anymore. (Or is that obvious?) I could preface my answer to Eugene’s polite questions with a teaching point, the English idiom: “It’s a first-world problem.” But no, I don’t know if that even pertains here, or anywhere, anymore.
When I got online with Eugene I forgot about my story, and just said: “I’m fine, thank you for asking, it went well, but what’s your life like being at war now?” And as he began to answer, I added: “You said last time you were seeing refugees streaming in. What the fuck, Eugene, are you actually hearing the sounds of the war?” I think that I can swear, interrupt, and ask as many question as I like now because I’ve stopped charging him. I lost two other paying students because they are, or were, in Kiev, but that was several weeks—and due to the nature of the “occasion,” feels like forever—ago. One has since come back for lessons. He sent his family to stay with friends in Estonia but he’s still in Kiev, occasionally hiding in his bathroom because it’s the only room in his apartment without windows and is maybe therefore a little safer, if he hears missiles going by, bombs falling in the neighbourhood. He thinks he’ll probably need English in the future, for wherever he ends up and will be looking for work.
Eugene said he’s “sang-froid” but his fiancé is “freaking out.” She’s heard reports of young men being press-ganged off the street, even pulled out of street protests to be drafted. He said he doubted that, and also that with seventy-some kilometers between Rostov and the border, the shelling was too far away to be heard. But yeah, the college campus across the street from his place is filling up with refugees, and, for sure, the trip to Istanbul that he’d been planning for next month is now the escape plan, and for right now. They’re taking a long bus ride in the opposite direction, to a small regional airport on the other side of a different border.
“In Chechnya,” he says, and when he says Chechnya there’s a look on his face, which I notice, and he adds: “This is getting ridiculous, my country is a fucking joke.” I consider telling him that sang-froid and freaking out are mismatched in tone and formality and therefore would not normally be used in the same sentence or even paragraph. But I’ll save that teaching point for some other time. Or maybe, because he typically enjoys language niceties, he’d find it pleasantly distracting to acquire this one while he’s trying to get his cat into a small mammal carry-all, for their escape from the fatherland.
He gets paid in US dollars and can take his job on the road, all good, but right now what I see in my screen is him in his apartment in this far-away city that I’d never heard of before, but is now in the news, and he’s making check-lists and texting his travel companions while he talks to me. I’ve found it flattering that he’s wanted me as his teacher these last few months, and now I’m just worried about him, but also interested in how he sees things.
I asked him if army enlistment in Russia was like in Canada where it’s people from the less wealthy parts of the country who join the military because it’s an alternative to minimal employment. He said yes, but, in Russia—by far the largest country in the world—the only places where that isn’t true is in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Two little pinpoints on this huge map. Also, he said the bureaucracy is a complete mess, especially in the military but actually everywhere, nobody gives a shit about anything.
He originally chose me as a teacher because he wanted someone to talk about music with—my profile advertises this—and early on he gave me a link to video of a Metallica concert, a huge outdoor show at an airbase outside Moscow in 1991. He said this was what broke up the Soviet Union. And he’s laughing telling me this because of course that’s absurd to think. Like, Gorbachev was there? Or, like, anybody influential was there getting their mind changed, their politics significantly repositioned. Anyway, I watched it, despite I wouldn’t normally have time for metal, and I found myself agreeing with Eugene’s view. Totally amazing energy. Free spirit. The event took place before he was born, but still, reverberations. He said that street protests and such have no effect on government policy, because the history of Russia is not about citizens, it’s about subjects and tyranny, and tyrants are only deposed by people in their closest circle. Which is what we hope for now, but he said nobody knows what the people around Putin really think, or what he thinks of them, or even what information he’s getting. And we’re thinking: what happened to the end of history? Topic for today’s lesson was supposed to be music history. Maybe it still is. Are we still in the Romantic Period? I don’t know.
In the following weeks we have trouble scheduling conversations. He wants to talk, and we set something up, but then he cancels: “tons of emergencies today.” He and his fiancé and the cat go to Moscow for a few weeks, stay with a friend and think about getting out from there, but then instead they go back to Rostov, because the cat needs two operations and that’s where the vet is. So, they’ll take care of their old cat, and then maybe it’ll be Viet Nam for the mid-term and then emigration, either to France, representing liberty, or Japan, for Zen. They don’t know. Who does?
I certainly don’t, but I should be able to find time to chat, although not about me because my days abound in disappointments and fears that become absurd when I think about sharing them with this young man in Russia, or anybody else, other than my therapist and you.
And I guess the laugh’s on us.
* * *
I got a text from a temple member who I have been trying to keep in touch with since he moved out of the city. He was coming in for the weekend and he asked me if I wanted to join him for the Friday evening service, and we’d catch up afterwards. Would be great, but I texted him back saying that although I really want to get together it has to be someplace not in proximity, because there’s one or more persons from our Zen Buddhist temple who’d likely assault me if I was seen.
“No, not kidding.”
“What the fuck?”
Yeah, this was my temple for nearly twenty years, and I lived there for eight. Went there straight from a six-month residential addiction treatment, straight out of getting divorced. Turned out that I was very well-suited to the lay-monk life and I would very eventually become a well-respected elder, conducting services, facilitating discussion groups, and leading the board of directors, participating in lots of ways. Best friends forever. And the priest was a very good friend. My being board chair through Covid was what did us in. First her resistance to public health protocols, then the anti-vaccination bullshit, and constant problems with her pathologically immature common-law husband. The deeper issues were there all along—is what people say when the shit goes down.
This guy I’m meeting with, who I feel very safe with, and would like to be better friends with, we talk from the addiction histories we both have. Which are similar, because drugs and sex, but also different because he’s thirty years younger than me, he was in the gay scene and I gather he retained a significant alcohol problem, whereas for me falling in love with crack cocaine caused a disremembering of drink. We find a place on Bloor west of Bathurst, after discovering that several of this good neighbourhood’s long-standing places have permanently closed. Makes no sense to either of us that really popular coffee shops—at least two, maybe three—have been replaced by cannabis dispensaries. Regrettably. We just shake our heads and don’t discuss it, and I’m glad we don’t have to explain to anybody what we think about this.
We talk about what’s going on in his life and mine, taking a long time getting to why, two days previously, I quit the temple—yeah, two days, and that’s like, I look at my watch, about fifty-one hours ago—and I’m saying firstly that trying to explain anything is usually just a waste of time, because people who agree with you don’t need to hear your side, and the people who disagree aren’t really listening. Because, people have already made up their minds, based not on carefully considering the facts, but because of what the people around them are saying and doing. Still, I have a story, and I want him to know what’s really going on in our community—formerly our community, now just his community because I’m gone and he’s still there. And because of who he is, his being there can in itself can make the place better, so I tell him everything. Even the part I hate to hear myself say out loud which is that I’ve submitted a report to the Canada Revenue Agency, suggesting that our leaders’ indiscretions, financial and otherwise, warrant review of the temple’s charitable status. I tell him I’m not seeking his affirmation and approval, especially regarding my rat-out to the CRA, but I just wanted him to hear it from me, and now he could ask me anything. He said he appreciated that, but I shouldn’t think that he was not thinking independently, and I said that absolutely I did not think that because I totally respect him, and so later when we part it’s with hugs and bows we agree and we’re good.
Two Buddhists, me much older but both of us householders in long-term relationships, and I’d like for us to become closer friends, hopefully including our partners, but I don’t know if it’ll happen. Where’s the commonality? What are the relevant differences? There’s religion and domesticity, but then again there’s the age difference. And orientation, which maybe doesn’t matter much to either of us. But what about addiction/recovery? I don’t know, but does seem like we’ve found a fast-track to friendship in recovery stories, and that’s fine with me.
I talk about conflicts between romantic partners as the principal cause of relapse. Seems like he and his husband, who’s also older, do not have serious problems in their relationship, and great, may they be happy forever. Because when people have addictions, relationships turn into triangles, into threesomes, and the addict is very jealous opportunist, ruining everything. I look at people’s lives through a prism of relationships, coincidences, and addictions. Relationships, of course, are always central. And coincidences are always happening, until death, everything unpredictable and unforeseeable. So, relationships and coincidences, for better and for worse, wedded since the beginning of time. I talk more about how I feel terrible about quitting the temple, and now I have to stay away, and this totally sucks, like exile, because the thing you realize through addictions and recovery is that being in community is crucial. But look what happens: you think you know people, and then suddenly, a plague, war, flood, pestilence, whatever, and you find out that you don’t know them, and to me it seems like how can that be? I was saying before about how people don’t decide what’s true based on a reasoned assessment of the facts. Decisions are made based on what the people they hang with think and do.
I offer an etymological citation, which he allows, thereby passing a conversational generosity test. The word decide has the same root as suicide and homicide. Means, like, to cut off.
Could be in an on-line group, actually any group, membership changes like we’re playing a game of musical chairs. And you are the music while the music lasts. And all this is entangled in a humungous mess with nature, nurture, and plain old luck—and I’m not talking about fate, which, like free will, does not exist. Cause and effect, yes, very real, the law of cause and effect is fundamentally true, unlike fate and free will, which are caretaker un-truths. But whatever, we usually can’t suss out cause and effect because things are just way too complicated, so by my lights what we do is we apprehend life through our relationships and our seemingly coincidental experiences. Unfortunately along with which come this world’s ten thousand relapses, lurking around every corner. Eventually ruining everything.
Anyway, whatever, all good today: this dharma buddy and me ending our chat on a sharing of books and podcasts, and despite our various differences we love many of the same great writers—I insist he read The Overstory by Richard Powers, and I tell him that he’d really like A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (The Candy House hadn’t come out yet and would be best enjoyed as a sequel anyway, like with Powers’ Bewilderment), and everything by Heather O’Neill and Ted Chiang—our literary enthusiasms bode well for connection. Yeah, I reckon I’m like some kind of serial book-clubber, and seems like it sort of works. But without regular temple attendance it’ll be harder for sure, with him and also several other of my friends from there—fuck I am pissed at the people who run that place! And I used to be so fond. That’s what gets me here.
Hugs and bows. Be well. Keep in touch, eh. Yeah.
* * *
About my marriage I have previously written quite a lot and my wife seeing some of what I wrote made her very unhappy. I wish it weren’t so.
Margaret Atwood was on the radio one Sunday morning. Must’ve been a few years back, she was talking to Michael Enright. And she told this story:
A writer met the Devil, and the Devil said, “You will have great art, which will be appreciated by many people, and will make you rich. And in return, you will give me your soul, and your life, and also the soul and life of your mother, your wife, your children, and your dog.
The writer stared into the eyes of the Devil. The Devil reached into his satchel and brought out a contract, which the writer studied for a long time. Eventually, the writer looked up and said:
“What’s the catch?”
Somebody who really gets the joke, probably that’s a writer and you want to think twice before you get into a relationship with this person. Sharing just one chapter of my manuscript—which was humungous, at least two full-length books about my recovery and uncovery—with my wife took us into couple therapy that cost way more money than if I’d self-published. Or I could’ve bought an airplane, which I always imagined would be hugely fun, and my ex-wife—I typically refer to her as my very-excellent ex-wife—told me that you can pick up an old Cessna pretty cheap now. Imagine. Taking flying lessons, getting a pilot’s license. Old planes aren’t like old boats. Because aviation is totally regulated the maintenance is done by professionals. And little planes don’t have heads and galleys, and no brightwork to varnish every year. None of that. An old sailboat’s to-do list just gets longer the more you do. Yeah-no, I love my boat, but I’m a boat-slave. Seems to me marriage is the same: failures and defeats ever greater, at least one step back for every two steps forward, and no twelve steps toward anyplace redeeming. Key is to be in the learning mode, and like, all the time. But I ache in the places where I use to play. My hair is grey. Are my friends gone, too?
Dear reader, I’m thinking about you right now as my one and only friend in the world; I’m not a friend to myself even. I’m hopeless—technically, neurally hopeless. My therapist, not the couple therapist, my personal therapist who’s also a medical doctor, he says that what it’s like to be me is probably at least partly due to my enormous consumption of cocaine and concurrent sleep deprivation, and I don’t know about that, but for whatever reason I’m like weirdly incapable of experiencing pleasure in looking forward to anything. Anxiety pervading. My future really just ain’t what it used to be. Even before the drugs, probably my future never was what it used to be, certainly nothing ever turned out the exact way I hoped it would. And I took drugs forever, since I was a kid. But truly now, so long as I can still make a wish before blowing out the candles on my birthday cake, my one wish is that you feel my love. My writing every day may seem like it’s all about me trying to explain what I’ve supposedly come to realize, and to tell you things that I think are so important, but no, that’s all just because all I have is this machine at my fingertips, in my lap, and the screen. This is just the game I’m in because I want to but can’t quite remember how it was the time I tasted your blood. When I was young, and a performer. All I want in this world is to believe you’re still here with me, breathing, heart beating, brain braining. I’m a loser but I’m your loser, and with me you get to be real. And in this whole world, I believe you are really here to be loved.
And another thing is that it’s just as well nobody but you hears my words now. Because romantic relationships, like hard-core addictions, are survived, occasionally enjoyed, by people who are basically lucky. And believe me, I don’t want to jinx what I’ve got. My amazing good fortune. I’m not saying not to do the do things, not to build wholesome habits, not to be unselfish and kind. Of course, all that. But, would people feel the need to believe in fate, free will, and all the other impossible things, if good intentions were enough? No, you search around, you see that freedom absolutely cannot be taken for granted. Birth is an irrevocable surrender, life is pure vulnerability, accept it or not. The truth of this life is that to be happy a person also has to be lucky. Really lucky. Especially with what’s already happened. And so I ask: am I, on balance, going to realize my unbelievably good fortune, which is true totally in my simply being alive, and what a totally fucking amazingly lucky coincidence that is! Or am I going to just barely survive, even as it seems that by my assessment my losses are mounting up? If the number of lottery ticket wins went up tenfold there’d be just about that many more divorces. Losers might wish they could take their game elsewhere, strike out on their own, but they feel too trapped. I rarely buy a ticket. There’s no purchase when the feeling inside is like I’m a wolverine trapped in an aquarium, making out like a cross between a chain saw and a banshee. Thank you, I won’t try to kiss you through the glass. Like porn stars do. Especially Christian porn stars—they’re the worst, they think they have God on their side.
I have you. And you are super and natural and more than enough. Thank you for being here with me.
Sitting still before the Buddhist shrine in my study in the morning, practicing undistractible non-meditation. And in this non-doing, this holistic unsubscribing, there is sometimes a glimpse of what’s like an unmoving mirror. Might try to describe it as something experienced deep down below consciousness, but it’s not a thing in a place. And saying that I catch a glimpse isn’t right either, because what happens is more like I just stop looking away from what’s always been totally obvious. Everything of me and around me is moving, but this mirror is still. Reflecting, delineating everything, actualizing space and time. And seems to me that I should be doing less like this more often. Could be for your benefit I realize this, and I like to think so. Used to be my abiding belief that cultivating inner peace was the best way to make the world a better place. But how would I test that? I grew to think we can find freedom in making the world a better place for somebody else. That’s a popular theory, but now I don’t know. The demands are infinite, so seems like running the experiment is questionable use of my lab time, which is ridiculously finite. Moreover, there’s no self and nobody else, not really, so life’s not about finding freedom; it’s about being free, and we already are, we just don’t feel it or act like it. But here we are. And now I’ve gotten old, just in time to realize that I never had time—we can’t have time, we’re made up out of time, we’re time itself—and now I really don’t know what to do.
For some years I worked in restorative justice, and I conducted peacemaking circles for several organizations that were dedicated to environmental and social activism. These were very intentional people—and I have to admit that couldn’t get out of their rooms fast enough. Mediation was my chosen profession in my years of recovery and post recovery. I see lots of addicts recover into jobs, often as an addiction substitution. Probably I was trying to do that, and thank goodness I was unsuccessful. Relationships are another popular alternative to OD’ing alone on some stranger’s toilet. But I chose instead to work, and I was pretty good at it, but lacking entrepreneurial zest, and wanting to practice in the social margins despite being an older white male, and too often missing a break when I could have got one, I never managed to earn a decent living. I ended up mostly volunteering at a high level for ten years, and then I quit. The music stopped, Covid came, and for the last while I was dancing or stumbling around, not sure. But I gained rich experiences, which I’ve written about elsewhere.
So okay now I could join one of those environmentalist groups. I’m told this is the way to go. To work shoulder-to-shoulder against climate change, habitat loss, and/or animal suffering. Causes I’d feel justified in giving my life for, I think, but at present I don’t even donate money to, except as alternative Xmas gifts. And now my wife and I are embarking on a rural lifestyle that deepens our ecological footprint to the hemline of a tutu-wearing dinosaur in a tar pit. I’m pissed-off at the world, and now I’ve quit the faith community that for decades I’d held up as representing the religion that best believed in science. My temple’s priest, who’d been a dear friend, she went all conspiritual, rallied the place against health protocols and the vaccines. I find it hard to espouse inner peace in the company of people preaching anti-science and leading people into harm’s way.
I could look for another sangha. No doubt there are decent outfits meeting somewhere not much more than an hour’s drive from my new place in the country. Maybe closer to two hour’s drive: Perth, Montreal, or Ottawa. Could buy an electric vehicle. Go green, go. I know, like I said before, a total buzzkill personality, a curmudgeon, that’s me.
My first marriage ended, after thirty years, when I gave my wife no alternative but to divorce me because of my addictions. I couldn’t stop relapsing and could not start recovering within a relationship that enabled the addictions. I just could not take the necessary steps toward recovery. Got to the point where there was no denying that to cut out the harm to the family and to save my life it was necessary to thrust me out of that overly-sheltering and too-comfortable relationship. So she did.
Well, no more addictions. Opportunities for honesty are sweet now, like the things a person loves about the season’s change: a cool breeze in summer, the moon in autumn, a fresh blanket of snow, ten thousand flowers. Yes, truly, if you’re still struggling with using, believe me, you can let go the reins of your distraction, despite your feeling of passionate enthrallment. And good riddance, for sure. But did I really think that it would be enjoyable to face the world sober, hyper-sensitive, and extremely vulnerable? Probably I did imagine that, that I’d find happiness, even though I knew I’d never forget what it’s like to feel absolutely fucking fantastic. Silly old me, I did not predict I’d be going into my seventh decade in circumstances—my various coincidental troubles—of uncertainty, loss, and pain. Feeling like this now, and thinking that I’m running out of time. And so yeah-no I still sometimes experience terrible temper, and then crying my face off I wish that my fear and anger could be immediately ameliorated, or transmuted, or something—I don’t know, just that it be not. And in those moments my marriage feels like shambles and that’s the worst hurt of all, and so on this I am working harder than ever. I continue seeking help and support, for example, the personal and couple therapists. I’m never really sure what to do, but I do know that I’d be in far greater danger without my marriage. Because this time it’s different, this relationship is different, because at those times when it’s my greatest discomfort, now there’s no escape hatch, no possibility for feeling fine somewhere else—and so I know that without this relationship a great potential for a spiritual awakening would be squandered. My love for my wife is a light in the shadows, and on my shadow, and although what I see is still fearsome, this light shines on a path of freedom, and the strongest and deepest parts of me hold to it.
I abide in the specialness of romantic relationship, no matter what else, with all the exits closed. The future is still unknowable, the trauma of our fighting floods my sense organs, and still I want to learn how to love her. That was my vow in our wedding: to learn to love my bride. A vow I regularly renew, to shape a shared life out of individual coincidence. On our wedding day I imagined it would be relatively easy to adore this attractive woman, who has an art deco smile, like the facing on one of those beautiful bureau cabinets from the age of great furniture design.
I can always quite easily recall how I need to feel loved, just like I remember the all-embracing need to go out, to score, to go get drugs, and a piece of the action. But what surprises me is how much I need to love someone. Like my wife. Like you. Also like myself, which is harder, but I, me, we, they, really need to feel it and know it. All of it, every difference, right now.
* * *
On a Saturday we’re not getting divorced anymore, which is a great relief. My back has been sore since Tuesday when I crashed head over heels down the stairs for the second floor to the front hall. Gleaming hardwood, according to real estate listing. Both our hearts are hurt also, from this last example of the—she said four—times since last summer that we have talked about splitting up. Reports of my throwing myself off the top step are greatly exaggerated, I think, but I don’t exactly remember, being that I’d lost my temper totally.
Thank goodness things are by far better now. But I’m wondering, like today getting up long before dawn to teach ESL to China’s late afternoon—and not only did I get to bed late due to another of our quite-frequent dinner parties, but also, I wake up long before the alarm goes off because I’m racked with anxiety, typically, but also now my back’s hurting like hell—and I’m just wondering: What’s the big idea about waking up? I mean, waking up is everywhere so valorized, and confected with happiness, well-being, flourishing, eudaemonia, whatever you want to call it. Life’s biggest best offer: awakening. Supposedly. I mean, it’s just assumed that socially, spiritually, personally, professionally, on whatever the plane and priority of your existence—you want to put a smile on your face, the advice you’ll get is: Wake Up! Smell the coffee, sniff the roses. Pull up your socks, and then take that single first step on the thousand-mile journey. Show up. Be here now. Carpe diem.
I don’t know. Despite there’s no definition of progress that describes human awakening as a wrong turn for the cosmos, just look at the evidence, and tell me if there isn’t prejudice here. After all, sleep-walkers do stuff. They get things done. In 1987, a Pickering, Ontario resident drove 20 kilometres to Scarborough, murdered his mother-in-law with a tire iron and strangled his father-in-law. Apparently woke up in his car on his way home, and noticing he was badly bruised and covered in blood, he went to the police station. Told the cops he thought he might have killed somebody, but had no recollection. Famous case, the Crown versus Kenneth Parks. He was in his twenties and a chronic sleep-walker. Also had gambling debts and was stressed about stealing from his employer, which may have exacerbated his somnambulism. Case went all the way to the Supreme Court. And he walked away a free man, directed to get treatment for the sleep disorder but he was not judged to have been insane when he committed the crime, and the year he spent in jail pre-trial counted for his embezzlement. Twenty years later, still living in the area and now a father of six, he ran for the school board. He would have been in jail all that time if he’d been drunk or stoned when he went on his rampage. How come sleepers get to be so special when us stoners aren’t? Awareness? Intentionality? Does anybody really know? A blind belief in free will haunts the question. Sleeping people text pictures of their genitals, sometimes to wrong numbers. As if there are the right people with whom sexting is more proper. Yet their defence is that they dozed off while masturbating, got maybe one number wrong, and so what’s the big deal, could happen to anybody. Well, I say no, it still says something about you and what you might do in the future. But basically, my point is: Can you tell me that things done by awake people are more creative, more exemplary, and in some huge way more significant? And anyway, which is more like the original natural state, sleeping or waking? Which came first?
Being asleep. Is my guess. But the question’s a koan.
What if the differences between wakefulness and the sleeping state are actually just a series of historical coincidences? A meteor whacks into the Yucatan Peninsula sixty-five million years ago and the previously inconsequential mammals rise up. This did not have to happen. Earth could very well still be the dinos are us venue. Big lizards had been going strong for a couple hundred million years, no good reason why the shrews and platypuses—platypy?—couldn’t stay down for a few tens of millions more, at least, or forever. Emergence of homo sapiens seems pretty unlikely, actually—omg everything seems incredibly unlikely! But what was the deal for those few hundred people—our ancestors—who walked out of Africa? Argument with the parents? Gangs of teenagers on a global rampage, looks like what happened. And if we had not happened, would lizards be vegging on sofas watching reality TV in the spring of 2022 while another big-swinging-dickhead lizard makes a stupid lizard war invading a country?
No. No way, but hey, we’re humans! Yay for us! We’re the best! For fuck sake, we’re actually gods. And some of us really like to be seen as the kind of gods who are also good corporate citizens. Gods who give each other major awards, for good governance and the growth of the economy. And the winners give speeches, in which they profess an awareness of mistakes having been made. They do not deny that some things might not have gone as intended. How long did it take us to go from having language to using the passive voice? Well, what if it was the other way around: that we developed language out of the passive voice? What if waking up is an indicator of a species-defining passive-aggressiveness? What if homo sapiens are a symptom of a cosmic passive-aggressive disorder? I mean, like, just who do we think we’re gaslighting here? Some other little god who’s sitting behind the curtain and pretending to be all-powerful? With every one of our religions, including Spiritual But Not Religious, all what we’re doing is trying to game the cosmos.
Where did we go wrong? How’d we in such short order get from just having an erection while standing to being a global existential threat. Was it with banging the rocks together to get a spark? Does the cave graffiti represent implicatory events? Or was it not until we settled into agrarian lifestyles and started domesticating other species? All of whom sleep, too, by the way. But none of them wake up quite like we do, and I seriously wonder if the waking up piece is the problem. Just saying, just before we get so into destroying the world that like the guys who kill their family with hand tools, we prove that can even do it in our sleep.
I admit I typically sleep not much and not well. I rarely get a good night’s sleep. When it happens I love it. I do sometimes dream about using tools, but I’m fixing my boat, same as all the time what I think about when I’m awake. My history of drugs of choice showed preferences for stimulants and hallucinogens over opioids and alcohol. Sex and psychosis are us, but yeah-no, we want to be very clear that we know mistakes were made, but our focus now is on moving forward.
Still got my morning coffee. And I’ve got You, Babe!
Or, more like: “I could drink a case of you and still be on my feet,” but I had to get up to go the bathroom anyway, because of my prostate.
* * *
Suddenly, urgently, I need to search myself out. Might think, what with my being a Buddhist and all, that I’d know better than to try: the core teaching of no-self, in the ancient Pali language, anatta. But if there’s no such thing as a self, who flew into a rage at his wife? Must have been somebody, very likely somebody with whom I am very intimately acquainted. A very frightened, in pain, and exhausted somebody.
Okay, I don’t expect my search to turn up a whole and independent self, who’s like, somewhere in there, presumably in my brain and I can unzip him, my true self, and bring him back from the brink like an accident victim. But that’s my fantasy: I get into my head and it’s like I’ve witnessed an accident. I rush in and do CPR, which I am trained to do, until the victim, who is my true self, he gasps, gets up, gives me a big hug, and insists that he’s taking me and my family out to dinner. And probably we’ll enjoy each other’s company and our wives will friend each other on Facebook and every year we’ll get together for meals at the same place. Where I always order the fish. And one year maybe I get a bone lodged in my windpipe and be choking to death, and due to awareness engendered at our original connecting event my true self will be quite prepared to perform the Heimlich maneuver and save me. Whoever me is at that moment, fucked if I know, it’s a fantasy and it’s never going to be like that, and even in real accidents the benefits of CPR are more often for organ harvest and transplant. But what it is like is that despite the Buddhist no-self doctrine, which I can honestly say I believe in, my semi-conscious but dominant everyday working assumption features in the starring role a personality: Me, who can be saved, if not by a higher power at least by a better future self.
Okay, okay, what’s really happening here? And are freedom and happiness possible, in this the only life?
Well, yes, I think freedom is possible, for sure freedom from addiction, which is hugely good. And maybe with luck a person can enjoy a bit of happiness, once in while at least, get in some good cheer. I’d like to prove that this goodness has everything to do with quitting the ubiquitous but very bad habit of at every turn becoming a somebody.
But first off, before I try to show how not being a somebody makes a person larger, not smaller, please bear three things in mind. One, when I’m talking about me and my experience I’m talking about somebodies, plural. I am multitudes. Searching out the self is not a hunt for the buried treasure; X marks the spot. Two, never is any one of our multiple personalities independent or separate from everything else. Interdependent is us. And three, never is the self I’m searching for made of anything eternal. Our souls come and go, swell and shrink, according to how we feed them. This is psychology, and it’s Buddhism one-oh-one, which I’ve accepted for years— belief in impermanence, that all things change, and that therefore the self is impermanent and changing too. So no-self, and in constant change there’s bound to be suffering. So what?
Maybe so nothing, because there’s no huge benefit in knowing the doctrine of anatta if the way we adapt to our suffering is to just keep on feeding our bad habits, which is pretty much always done, despite my decades being a Buddhist. I somehow managed to quit my addictions to substances and behaviours, but—actually I just did the right things and I got lucky, but that’s another story—what I’m saying is that I remained in the habit of what might be called selfing: reacting to stimuli by becoming a someone, by forming an identity around every impulse, making the experience me and mine. Which the Buddha, by the way, said absolutely do not do, because despite that taking everything personally makes intuitive sense and is programmed by evolution, it’s a massive over-reaction and totally erroneous. And this is it: going from just getting the idea that the self isn’t really real to not habitually making it real, this is everything. And about this the Buddha was absolutely right. And despite it’s just a habit and perfectly normal, it’s the root addiction underneath all addictions, and it’s destroying the world. So there.
It’s like we’re driving a fake car down the road to fantasyland and faith in individual self-salvation is fueling our trip. I used to ask my mediation clients if they’d rather be right or be happy (I could have said right or free, same difference), and they’d laugh, but they always wanted both, and only for themselves. And there was no way, especially if they were in the legal system. We get so interested, so fascinated, believing in the impossible, when actually every variety of self-righteousness is a wrong turn, a contraction, a shutting down. And now that I’m coasting on fumes into my elder years I’m thinking I’m actually better off empty. Because it’s when I not only stop driving but get out of this vehicle, this vessel that is me—when I just desist and suspend entirely and instead for a change ask why not just not, not be me at all, why not just not play the role of any of my characters and caricatures of me-ness—suddenly it’s like I’m perfectly present here and have been all along, and it’s totally fine. What’s funny is that this forgetting about myself paradoxically constitutes a very liberating and empowering practice. For which it’s like I have to sit down and do absolutely nothing. And then not even that, for it to be just this!
This practice, this realizing freedom and maybe coincidental, occasional happiness, is all about uncovering how I habitually engage and perpetuate the addiction to me-ness. I need to recognize the mechanism that I’m working at to know how the intuition of identity does not actually bear out. To look for my illusory self is a process of uncovering how I keep getting stuck at trying to game the universe. When instead I need to be asking who’s asking. It doesn’t matter that I know the answer, which is that there’s nobody there, I still have to look, every time, and for every arising of a becoming somebody I must yet again re-open the question, ask who’s looking, who’s feeling, who’s thinking. This is the practice. Seeking out the self, again and again, starting again from scratch, being with this, and, it’s like: Right Now. And it’s magical how this so totally helps, how in the space where the self used to be the whole world just up and appears, amazing.
I’ve been a meditator for a long time. A really long time. I’m probably still a certified mindfulness instructor—for fuck sake, certainly past the best-before date on that one. Yeah-no, long have I contemplated the Buddhist doctrine of the self being not really real. Sitting in silent retreats, watching the self-thinking going by like clouds across a sky, like a rainbow in the mist of a waterfall. But does believing in the teachings and sometimes glimpsing their truth mean that being myself is no longer very definitely and durably pissing me off? I wish. On behalf of me and everyone in range of my me-ness, I wish I could get out from under my selfing downpour. Religious dogma is no umbrella. No religion, not even Buddhism. Doctrines provide no PPE to protect me from my self-making addiction, or protect you from yours. Of course, I can always go back to being addicted to sex and drugs. Which would be a huge relief, because now instead of being routinely overwhelmed with pleasure, or fixated on wealth, power, purchases, social media, whatever, I’m bewildered. Addiction simplifies the situation. You can feel fantastic, you can shuffle off this mortal coil, for a little while. Or at least you can want to, and this seems to do the trick. But with me now, especially like in the lonely hours before dawn when I despair, trying to accept the frustration and bewilderment, focusing on my breathing, valiantly counting my exhalations, flailing in my embodied experience; decades of this and now it’s like: so what? What does it matter what I know about all this stuff? Because everything still hurts, and I might as well forget about meditating my way into a better place of understanding, not to mention the ultimate liberation of enlightenment. My religious practice has proven to be about as useful as putting on a headlamp to see the sunrise.
So why not just not? Why not just not do anything? And for a change stop becoming a self at every turn and instead allow this world that’s right here.
Why not, I just wonder, what happens, if I stop seeking, if I quit playing the expectation game, and instead just turn around to stare down the space and time that I believe my seeker inhabits? Look in the mirror and ask who’s looking. Be purely and intensely curious. I do this all the time now. My failure is assured. My vulnerability is enshrined. I’m knocking on the door, it’s a sharp rap, and there’s no one home gonna answer. Practicing not-practicing, I am (not). I’m a total fucking paradox. Pausing to ask the question, before I know it I become the question. Turning the person formerly known as me into a bundle of whirling wondering.
And still I really don’t know. Much of the time I feel pretty much hopeless, not knowing freedom, let alone joy or contentment, except very occasionally and coincidentally. Okay, okay, there’s a back story, I have to admit, because, you know, it’s been, like, fifteen years, since I peeled off my obvious addictions, which were egregious. Sex and drugs mainly, finally crack cocaine; was total fucking chaos. With therapeutic assistance more recently I’ve been able to relate to my anxiety and depression as another set of bad habits. Similarly curable, or at least curatable—that word, among many good words that have been seized and husked by marketers but still, I curate—my recovery, which I call an uncovery: my stories. Which I’d love to share with you, and have tried to do so in prolix past podcasts and unpublished missives but now I’m shutting down the show. For one thing because too often this guy who tells all these stories is still spinning in fear and anger, and still can’t sleep night or day except to dream vividly and ruthlessly. Sometimes in them I’m relentless and decrepit like a zombie; can’t be killed because undead, other times I’m a cry-baby and please throw me out with the bath water. Once in a while I’m a barrel of laughs, but still, we have to stop meeting like this and that’s why I want to right now take a really good look, and not look away because even though I know that the cast of my home movie is not really real, the production tends to capture my full attention, and there are people around here who are too typically harmed by whomever I’m acting out like. People I need, some of whom I love and would much rather be taking care of.
In my four decades of addiction I was what’s called high functioning, until I wasn’t. A low-functioning addict is like a pedestrian drunk who falls face-down into the ditch, every fucking night. A high-functioning addict is like an airline pilot who while flying enjoys sex with flight attendants and maybe one time the plane hits a mountain. I got away with getting high just so magnificently, but not really, because I became a caricature of myself, an ironic reference to getting away with it, because life is short and I’d spent a fuck of a lot of mine pretending to be immortal, balancing on the brink of orgasm trying to get higher and harder than any man has ever been before. Leading to numerous overdoses. One was a near-death experience, although reports of NDE as death are not just greatly exaggerated, they’re false. But still, there are lots of ways to be traumatized and none of them are good for you. I rationalize my post-recovery incapacity for optimism and my general anxiety slash depression as damage caused by stimulants and sleep deprivation. And for sure, being so trained at getting high and staying high did some kind of number on my nervous system. Not only coke, booze, and pot—yes, I was very harmfully addicted to cannabis—also psychedelics. I had prolonged sexual bouts on colossal doses of acid, many dozens of times, and who knows what that did to my brain. Who knows what my addictions did to my enteric nervous system, my guts? Not just the drugs. Other aspects. The trauma of addiction-related crime. And punishment: I was known to the police, I got busted when I was in my teens, could’ve gone to prison for simple possession in those days. I didn’t. But the constantly increasing unfolding of everyday chaos, especially later, when pot and hippies had been replaced by crack and the sex industry, with the occasional weapon-wielding psycho-on-my-path. And the shit that happened to me outside the drug scene, including in my very high-functioning interludes between relapses, for example once on a mountaineering expedition and my climbing partner fell and we got him out but he died in the hospital—that was awful. But I gravitated toward risk and stress. Always, such a lot. Many times in professional roles, so often in front of audiences, despite how I worried and worried before every presentation. Looking back now even to the early years of terrible stage-fright performing classical guitar concerts, when I was supposed to be a kid. In the sixties, when us newly invented teen-agers were being repurposed by capitalist kidnappers. My best-friend-for-life committed suicide, and I still think about him, actually I think about him now more than ever. I reckon he was bi-polar, undiagnosed, of course. And what about all the worrying I did when I was parenting a teen-ager, same age as him? Fucking-whatever trauma, who the hell knows what all caused how I’m feeling now!? Seems quite possible that a life of running a psychotropic-neurotic maze turned me into a gutless insomniac.
But hey, so what? Because I’m actually also totally beat of mining my past for meaning, for entertaining events and entraining circumstances. So much bovine excrement. People say God lives in the details, but I don’t care because I don’t like God, or the gods; I’m not just an atheist I’m an antitheist—I don’t want to be in any higher power’s video game any more than I want to be in my own. But whatever, I’m just saying, it’s not only my very fecund past and very likely senile future I can’t abide. This present moment sucks! So fuck it, I’m just plain suffering here, and I’ve no doubt that you are, too.
I’d like to learn to stop creating my suffering. I’ve come to believe in an alternative to suicide: We should all unsubscribe to our phoney selves, forget about supernatural beings, and just stop harming the very real world, for the sake of ourselves, our loved ones, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and everything. And what else is there to say about it?
The future just ain’t what it used to be, that’s what else, and I’ve been saying it for going on three years. Along with my other take-away from the pandemic, which is that after the shit hit the fan we realized that the problem was there all along but it took this crisis for us to see it. The issue I’m naming is society’s ubiquitous addiction to power and wealth. Which is a transferred addiction, a manifestation of the addiction to the self. Which is not only false but also self-righteous. And what this righteous self-making has given the world is one fuck of an addiction shit storm. Which is legal, perfectly natural, and absolutely horrendous. The passion to hold power and acquire wealth. The aspiration for it among them who don’t have either, and their idolatry of those individuals that appear to have loads of both. This addiction is everywhere wrecking all kinds of institutions and organizations. The American and other national governments. The corporations controlling social media. Families and friendships. It was along these lines what happened to me in my former faith community, albeit on a pretty small scale, but still. We survivors should have a conversation about lessons learned dealing with existential threats.
But still, just wait a second, because despite every bad thing I’ve done and the consequences I suffer, all my issues, I absolutely need to state that I am occasionally flooded with spiritual pleasure. I feel love and know that it is true and unconditional. When the wave of me-ness is encompassed in the ocean of cosmic wonder and mystery, and to the marriage of true minds no impediments are admitted, as we plot our course by a star whose worth’s unknown though its height be taken. I’ve been saved. Quite a few times, actually. Lucky me. Honestly, I am very lucky and I know it. My wife questions how at other times I can be such an arsehole, and I reckon that’s something I’m working on.
So here we are, still otherwise suffering, and I have decided to relate by scrunching up my face, holding my nose, and taking a deep and inquisitive dive into the cesspool of my miserable me-ness. Searching myself out. I’d like to make each immersion a brief exorcism, but hey, what with how it’s been going down so far it would be no small comfort to believe in reincarnation. I would have time! But I don’t, I don’t believe, I don’t have anything, especially not time—time has me, for fuck sake, and so I’m saying this situation is urgent and that’s fine, life is supposed to be a bit of an emergency.
And so sometimes when I look for who’s looking and there’s no addict, in fact no one at all, suddenly there’s the whole world. Reflected, rustling slightly, precipitously, spontaneously, intimately, and obviously. Not in here, nor out there, and not like now or never, either. It’s just, like, why not?
* * *
April 9th, 2022, was my sixty-ninth birthday. So now I’m into my seventieth year, seventh decade. April is when I go down to the boatyard to start work, preparing my old sailboat for the coming season. Another spring. Another story. And this time, at the very beginning of the annual project, in the moment when I first put my hand on my boat after the long winter—I’d sort of forgotten, I guess, how this is, how there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats—I suddenly felt peaceful, wonderfully content. Amazing. And then it’s funny, because anticipating the jobs through the off-season I’m typically anxiously perseverating and now here I am just loving this, despite the fact that this thing is going to present all sorts of problems. Enjoyment and complications. But that’s me, too. My love-hate relationship with problems. Well, never-mind, now it’s time for Zen and the art of sailboat maintenance, the return to making this vessel more functional and beautiful. Has to be both: the world will be saved by beauty.
I share camaraderie and tools and way too many stories with my fellow boaters. They’re migrating to the boatyard, too; some don’t show until the weekend before launching, the big day we call crane-in, usually the first Friday in May, but Covid screwed that up. Other boater owners have been working under their tarps for weeks already, taking advantage of hothouse conditions. Tarps used to be canvas and the smell reminded me of my Boy Scout pup tent. By the end of April everything’ll be happening here, in my world of boatwork. I’m curious, content to be so engaged, acquiring new skills. The waters of the bay sparkle, there’s a song sparrow on the hedge. My boat and the blue sky above me. All as usual for this time of year, but now I say suddenly because in the moment when I touch this half-century-old fibreglass vessel I have to just smile, at the true feeling.
And then I’m untying the strings and pulling the cover off my sleeping sailboat and here we go again.
And a couple of weeks later, several predicted and unpredicted boatwork troubles, failures, and temporary victories later—actually it’s all temporary—the crane plops the package into the water and I hop aboard to check the thru-hulls. Determining that we’re not at the moment sinking, so thumbs up to the dock crew to release the slings. I take the helm for the tow to my slip. The workboat’s outboard motor, the shouts of the men behind us who are already onto the next boat, the crane’s diesel roaring louder all day than everything including my tinnitus, and now my bow parting the water, with maybe a slight chuckle at the waterline right there. We’re underway, and it’s like, wow, how wonderful. I’ve learned to love this. But not only did I learn it, because yeah, I am learning to take care of my boat and everything including my paradoxical self, but the love of this, it’s always been right here, and waiting for me.