Sunday, October 12, 2008

Life Review - The First Ten Years

The Life Review Practice has been more difficult in some ways, and more easy in other ways than I had expected. Expectations are rarely in synch with reality, I think....

I have slowly been working through the first years of my life... By Friday, the 17th, I will have reached age 10.

Thus far, therefore... I have mostly been working with years that I have no independent recollection of whatsoever, or years in which I have been essentially innocent in all of my thoughts and actions...

Soon, however, I will be entering into some of the more difficult years; I think that this is probably true for most of us... and I will be doing my best to squarely face the truth of my life, my thoughts, my experiences, my actions... and my life.

I think that perhaps it is our secrets, more so than nearly any other facet of our inner lives, that separates us from those around us and makes us feel lonely and isolated.

Rooting these secrets out, gently opening them and holding them under the light of truth and reason, then, is my primary goal.

It doesn't really matter who we are.. we all harbor these secrets... naturally, one person's secrets will differ greatly from another's, but, secrets in and of themselves serve to have much the same effect on our heart.

It is curious to me to see how I alternately see myself in glowing terms, or, alternately, in gritty, stark terms. Neither of them is an accurate depiction.. both being a construct of sorts... holding a small piece of the truth... but not the whole truth. This is what we do! We take puzzle pieces and snapshots, and with that small facet of the overall reality, we take some wild leap to a conclusion that we have produced, and hold onto it with frantic obstinacy!

It is my hope that I will be able to smooth out the wrinkles, open my eyes, my mind, and, ultimately; my heart... and accept myself completely... just as I am.

It seems that we are harsh to others in our judgments and in our assessments... it is very easy to point out and emphasize the faults and shortcomings of others. Nobody is capable of living up to the expectations and hopes of any other person. We have, as a society... at least here in the U.S., become intolerant of one another, callous, unfeeling, and dismissive of one another. When I watch people, I notice a dismaying penchant for listening to nearly four words of any sentence or comment, and immediately either filling in the rest with what we expect to hear, or, alternately; tuning out whatever wont fit into our pre-formed expectation. As a people, we have lost the art of 'caring' for one another. It isn't considered unacceptable any longer to hurt someone else's feelings, or to be in some way negligent or rude to other people.

Unfortunately, as humans, we tend to be much, much harsher when judging ourselves even than we are to others. As it turns out, we have become disenchanted with our own inability to meet the expectations and hopes that we have formed for ourselves.

We live in a culture where everything seems possible, everything can be attained 'now', and the common and mundane facets of our lives are no longer noticed.. never mind appreciated. Just being a good person counts for nothing! We set our sights high, and then, when we are unable to attain our own lofty goals, we beat on ourselves, berate ourselves and, ultimately, begin to lose the sense of inherent sacredness or worth that we all possess. This is our inheritance, and our right... yet... we drop it to the ground, and we spit upon it and tread it underfoot... to leave it lying, soiled... in the mud and muck and other detritus of broken lives and lost dreams.

This is doing terrible violence to ourselves... and to everyone around us. It is a toxin that we spread to one another... and we are dying.

It seems to me that the only worth that a person has in this world is the material wealth that others may be capable of prising or coaxing away from him by some means. Why is it so that a person is not valuable simply because they are alive?

I am sure that many will judge my words as overly harsh... I don't think they are; One simply has to look at recent events to see precisely what I see; New Orleans circa Hurricane Katrina, Rwanda, Darfur, Iraq, the workplace... nearly any public place. We no longer have time for one another... and we no longer have time for ourselves. The most important thing is the acquisition of more and more wealth... and, sadly, in some cases this drive is forced upon us by rising costs and stagnated, diminished, or lost wages. We frantically run over one another in our need to keep ourselves and our families housed, fed and clothed.

So.. what can I do about this, and what has it got to do with the Life Review Process or Dying Practice?

Quite a bit, actually...

Firstly, Dying Practice is serving, at least for me, to underscore the very real inevitability of my own impending death. It is coming... much more quickly than I would like to admit... and there is not a single thing that I can do to avoid it. And, most importantly, when that moment (that will last what? A minute? A fraction of a second? A half hour at most?!) comes and I *do* die... everything that is so bloody important... the money, the working, the schedules, the expectations, the hopes, the dreams, everything... ALL of it... will be rendered instantly and totally meaningless.

I will be still... but the world will continue to move onward... and my passing will not make a bit of difference to anything... save for the few folks who happen to love me.

According to my countdown, I have perhaps 8 months and just over 3 weeks left to live... according the THE countdown, I may have more time... or less... but, it is passing just as quickly, isn't it? And the time WILL come. And I WILL die. And all of this stuff will be unimportant.

I have this image of myself as being 'this' kind of person... but not 'that' kind of person. I am a person who ".....", but not a person who ".......". But, what I am learning through this life review practice (although I am working on the early years of my life... it is true that other times and situations creep in on me... and, when they do, I let them unfold, and then gently return to my focus time period...) is that I am not so easily pigeon-holed or classified. As it turns out, when I look at myself with brutal honesty, I am much, much more than I generally suppose myself to be... and, simultaneously (and paradoxically, I should add..), I am also much, much less.

I find that I have a tendency to view myself as being whatever happens to be the most appropriate parts and components of myself/my personality that serves to fit the moment and the view that I have already decided to hold. So, I manage to quickly rummage through my memories and my psyche, selecting the bits and bobs of my personality that best fit whatever point I wish to make (either to myself.. or to others... it doesn't matter), and I quickly kludge these disparate parts together to form some composite image of myself that suits me in that moment.... so.. I have become this sad little shadow box, or collage of a person....

What I am trying to do is to scrub away all of the crap, falsehood, and prejudice that has built up over the years to occlude my own ability to view myself, like greasy filmy crud on a window... so that I might catch at least one totally honest and accurate glimpse of what, and who, I truly am...

My current intellectual view is that I am more of a stream of thoughts, choices and actions... and less of a static, ossified being. Every breath brings a choice... every moment is new... NOW is new... and I am not quite the same me that I was a moment ago... much like a candle that burns all night long; it isn't the same flame all night, because it burns different fuel, and uses different oxygen ... however, it isn't the same candle flame either... it is the same/different candle flame... an illusion of continuity... like a motion picture... a series of snapshots that appear to be a continuous, evolving reality....

Most of what I view myself to be is most likely false and inauthentic to some degree.. though some of it is not. I have surprised myself a few times by really and truly looking inward through this practice. Sometimes it is clear that there was some moment when I basically decided that I was LIKE THIS... and I immediately and ever afterward went about conforming myself to that view... sort of like trying to blow up a balloon inside of a milk carton... no room to grow.

Maybe, if I am able to strip off the masks... (yes maskS... because there are multitudes of them, one over the other.... placed there each one, over the years, by my own unskillful apprehension of the truth, and my inability to allow myself to be what and who I am... or to become that person in favor of meeting some expectation that was held by others, or by myself), I may be able to pick up whatever authentic scraps of myself that are left and allow them to flourish. To some extent, this process has been occurring naturally, both as a part of this specific Dying Practice, and also as a part of my greater monastic practice. As with many such things that we choose to undertake in life, it seems to me from where I now stand that I will never progress far enough for any of it to make much of a difference in a real, concrete sense... but, this may be an unskillful view in and of itself; so I will simply continue with my practice... viewing it as journey, and not as a destination... and understanding that, most likely, there *is no* final, ultimate destination... I am always arriving in some sense of the word.

One hope that I still harbor is that this process will, in some mysterious and unforeseen manner, lead me to find some meaningful vocation or employment in which I can (at long last) be content and happy, perhaps even be passionate about, which simultaneously affords me the opportunity to meet my financial responsibilities, and perhaps even manage to put something away for the future. Currently, it seems that I simply move from one low-paying, fruitless, droning job to another.... like a lurching, shambling, animated yet lifeless zombie from a cut-rate "I got a camcorder and a few free hours on Saturday.. let's make a movie!!" movie, enduring rather than enjoying what turns out to be a bloody great chunk of time that is used up doing somebody else's ultimately meaningless dirty work for some pittance that I cannot manage to survive on... time that I cannot retrieve, ever... time that I am forced to be away from those aspects of my life that *are* important... time that is, in a sense, completely wasted....

Time that is becoming increasingly precious to me given the focus of my practice.

So... this is my journal entry for these past few weeks... it has been relatively uneventful up to now, but since I am fast approaching the period in my life review where I am working with the years where I begin to be somewhat more antonymous; having my own thoughts, making my own choices, and facing the consequences... the practice will most likely deepen and produce a bit more in the way of interesting material for my journal entries.


margot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SuvvyGirl said...

Sorry I haven't commented in a while. My brain is usually a bit too foggy to comment lately. I think my childhood would be easiest and most fun to review. Everything beyond that point I tend to review quite often. Fortunately and unfortunately I have a rather good memory for most things espeically my "secrets" or the "wrong" things I have done. Over the years though I've made myself quite reliving them all the time and deal with them. Doing so has given me much more peace of mind. granted there are those that I have just shoved to some corner and haven't dealt with, but it's all a work in progress.

I think part of what helped me when I was dealing with some of these "issues" was that I had already been judged by people around me for them and I accepted the fact that I could not change them, so I knew I could only work on changing how I felt about them etc.

Anyway, I will be popping by again for your next post. :)

Bunan Unsui said...

It is the act of forgiving ourselves - *truly* forgiving ourselves, that is, I think, the most difficult thing for most of us. We know each and every thought, action, and emotion that we have ever had, and when we hold these things up to the harsh light of our judgment - particularly in consideration of the consequences that may have resulted, if any.... we tend to be somewhat overly critical of ourselves. I say 'we' because I am generalizing... it is a human trait, I think.

In any case, if, by re-visiting the actions, incidents, and people in our memory we find that we are capable of forgiving ourselves and of opening our heart, we may begin to truly love ourself. Not in a narcissistic way... but simmply by way of showing loving-kindness and compassion.

By opening the tight fist of anger, and by releasing ourselves from the cage of guilt, regret, and bitterness -- we allow ourselves to move forward without this burden that so often creates nothing but suffering and pain... and which also often results in our repeating the very same actions, thoughts, and emotions that caused suffering to begin with.

In this way, we break the cycle and free ourselves so that we might live 'first-hand' - with more tolerance and understanding when confronted with the weaknesses and mistakes both of ourselves, and of others.

It is this release which allows us to find peace and acceptance within our own hearts.

Thank you so much for reading what I have written, and for taking the time to leave your comment.

With palms joined in a humble bow..

Bunan Unsui