It’s 5 in the morning and I’m up for the third or fourth time.
Maybe I should just get up and meditate. Yea, right, because that’s working.
Eventually I fall back to sleep and don’t get up until 9.
Now I’m late for nothing in particular but aware that normal people don’t get up at 9, take two hours to get dressed and make their way to an office. On days I don’t make it to the office I also don’t make it to the gym or to anywhere much. I spend time looking at Facebook wishing it was something more like news or work or creativity but instead there is so much nothingness contained in its “feed” that it is vast enough to swallow me like a toothless whale. I am kept in the belly of the dark. I am curious and restless about that big nothing in the way I might ponder the literal ton of plastic widgets in Wal-Mart if I ever went in there. I don’t go because it overwhelms me. I never remember what I thought I needed the minute I enter. All I can see are huge aisles packed institutional floor to warehouse ceiling full of things that make me wonder who does really need them. Does anyone need all this nothing? Am I this sort of nothing too? It’s not as if people are in short supply. Maybe I’m a human widget?
There are days when my entire list of accomplishments are meeting a friend for lunch and remembering to buy toilet paper. I’m not proud of this fact. But I’m also aware that most of what we do, we are making up as we go along. Factories making things we don’t need, advertised by companies who pretend we do need them and bought by people who have decided to be convinced. If all that made up stuff stopped tomorrow, if we all shared what we had and didn’t want what was not necessary, what would happen? Vast amounts of nothing until we figured out how to spend time more wisely than pretending to do real things…at least that’s what I suspect now that I’m closer to shiftless than a “hard working, God fearing American.”
I want to say, maybe scream loudly, I was not always this person! I used to work in a highly competitive field, I rose through the ranks, I raised great kids, was married and even tended a garden and wrote some good articles on the side. I want to say I used to play the game, to pretend it was all so urgent as well or better than most. Then one day the bottom dropped out. I couldn’t look at my closet full of stuff I would never wear and feel attached to it. I couldn’t go to work nine hours per day doing things that could be done without me so I could buy more stuff I didn’t need. It’s dangerous to let yourself start thinking this way. It means your shift in priorities will never quite let you swim up that stream to spawn in the way you used to. It means you may hang out in the shaded, shallow waters watching the clouds go by and feeling really good about it.
I had a meditation teacher tell me people would rather do anything but sit down and shut up, that they would rather die than change. I understand why. Facing our own boredom, our own ambivalence and then trying to find a truly meaningful way of life is beyond difficult. It’s downright anarchy.
Jung taught us to pay attention to our dreams and Freud said we need only two things–love and meaningful work. That sounds simple until you try it. What is meaningful? How do you get work that is actually, truly meaningful? How does one control if they love and are loved in return? If the truth is in our dreams how do we enact that in our waking?
That is when the discovery runs deep that there is so little we control. Our thoughts and our feelings are about all we can harness and they toss us around like an angry bull at a fast gallop. What we pay attention to is also in our control and again it is dangerous because if we see the futility of the commodifying of pretty much everything from dirt to us and all that’s in between we are likely to be fatigued by it. We may realize that humanity is running on its own and largely by a collective delusion. It, the collective us, seems to act as if all that dashing about making widgets, selling and buying widgets and gathering up as many as we can before we die leads to meaning. What do we do when we discover that collective delusion is not true–at least that it’s no longer true for us?
Once you’ve stepped away from that group thought you step into Terrence McKenna’s abyss. While he may tell you that you land on a feather bed once diving into the abyss I will testify that first you will hit every rock and branch on your way down. Once you land on the feather bed you will fumble in the dark for quite some time before finding others who have also landed there.
But here’s the funniest part to me, in my experience, the ones you find are not who you expect. They look like the pleasant man who works produce, the bus driver, the homeless kid, the friend you’ve had for years, your own child and sometimes they are the minister, teacher and writer you love to read. Sometimes they are the precise people you never liked before.They come from all over, every walk and encompass everyone who is trying to do what you are doing—something meaningful and which brings joy.
At first I thought that meant everyone, period. I assumed I was the last to jump and everyone was in this process and wanted to talk about it. Nope! That is why discernment matters. Then I thought everyone who talked about it had the same understanding. Nope again. Finding meaningful work and love are solitary pursuits only you can do and only you can know about for yourself. And these things are not likely to make you lots of friends, money or prestige. In fact the true pursuit is more likely to make you poor and friendless at least at first, that’s how it worked for me. Let’s hope your different but I cannot promise that.
And I will say something most of you won’t like—you can’t figure it out without doing the dreaded sitting down and shutting up. Only a quiet mind can hear the truth of its inner guidance. If we are outrunning boredom by say, blogging, we cannot literally hear ourselves. We cannot know what we want or need.
Here’s some more semi bad news while I’m at it–when I try to crawl my way out of the abyss and go back to the rat race where I once fit so well and did not question that’s when I wake up multiple times per night so riddled with existential angst that I am more full of holes than whole within myself.
There is no going back.
There is no, “just taking a job and making some cash like I used to,” or “checking out the singles site because maybe there is someone waiting for me,” reality. My reality is sitting, shutting up, doing what my inner guidance suggests and a whole, big, heaping helping of faith that I’m on track. My track seems to cast just enough light for the next step and no delusion that I can know the future or control it. Of course I am also called to be responsible for this day and this minute. It’s frankly rigorous as hell and if I knew what I was getting into I might not have started asking questions. I might have looked in the closet and thought instead, I have too many black things. I’ll spice it up with more pink. But I didn’t do that. I chose instead to meditate, face my delusions, understand that every moment calls for my best and highest effort and sometimes that effort means doing nothing and saying nothing no matter how hard it is. For me–that is very, very hard and I fail at it more often than I succeed.
I want to run my show and your show and the guy who I just met–yea–his show also.
Instead this verse of the Tao Te Ching rings in my ear, “The master does nothing but leaves nothing undone.” It also says, “The master does her work and forgets it. That is why it lasts forever.” It calls us to set ourselves aside and our need to do, be and feel as if we are at the center of things. We are not.
So I am a widget in the widget aisle making peace with that. I am on a feather bed in the abyss breathing and volunteering to be of service minute to minute and hoping I can love well enough and vast enough to feel it bouncing back. That’s my call. Yours may not look like that and I’m not saying it should so, please, don’t interpret my words as suggestions to quit your jobs or relationships or anything. My only suggestion is spending time in silence every day for twenty minutes and see what happens, if you want to. If you’d rather dash into the store and grab a few widgets, race home in traffic and blast the television while talking and texting–that’s up to you.
Most people would rather die than change. Believe me I understand why. But, sometimes at an unexpected time and place you may find yourself sitting on a rock watching the clouds go sailing by in a sky ocean with geese flying south in perfect formation, you may be able to hear the subtle sound of breeze blowing through wild grass and a grasshopper with perfectly striped legs may land on you and look you in the face and you’ll swear he’s smiling and in that minute which actually lasts for an hour or more you will no longer be you but something less and something more and that deep and troubling dive off the edge of society and culture will really feel, exactly and precisely like a feather bed in a dream which is actually the only reality there is: one love, one reality, one true thing.
If it’s a good day, I’ll be meeting you there.