Loss of Possibilities

I’ve been trying to start writing more, again, although most of it has been letters to family that I’ve fallen out of touch with. Fortunately family, to some extent, transcends the time that causes most relationships to fade. I suppose a decent definition of family would be the people in your life that are always happy to hear from you even after a huge amount of time has passed. I tend to be fairly friendly, and I have been blessed with better friends and family than I probably deserve.

Back to the writing though. I always enjoy writing, and I don’t publish most of what I write on my site. A lot of it is more of just processing my thoughts at the time. Putting it down on paper (or the screen, as the case may be) helps me articulate how I’m feeling about things. I’ve loved writing for a very long time, and used to do it almost constantly. I had notebooks full of bad poetry and terrible short stories. I hope they were all destroyed, but I’m probably not lucky enough for that. When I was first going to college I had to decide between writing and music. I ended up deciding on pursuing music as a career, which didn’t work out perfectly, but I don’t play much music these days and I still try to write when I can.

I was just catching up on my mother’s blog, which she still thinks is just because it’s hers, and not because I like it. I do highly recommend it to anyone who like thoughtful commentary on life with a Buddhist focus (Beginner’s Heart although she just switched blogs since I wrote this Tea and Breath is the new one). She was talking about how she was going to miss me as I went off and about again. I was struck with how much some people writing sounds like the way they think, not necessarily the way they talk, but that informs it. When I read my mother’s writing I can almost hear her in my head. Gentle, carefully reasoned, trying not to make anybody feel bad or upset, but in no way pulling punches or weak.

She is one of the most prolific personal bloggers I’ve ever seen, and by personal I mean not with any industry affiliation. I suppose some news bloggers might be more prolific, but I don’t read a whole lot of news these days. As I read her post on missing me and trying to remember that it’s bad Buddhist practice to be overly attached to things I thought about how much we rely on possibilities. I was living in Portland OR, and my parents lived in Tulsa OK. They rarely came out to visit. Once a year maybe, and the whole family would usually meet up for Christmas. We also tried to do 4th of July together. My point is that my parent’s wouldn’t come out super often. However what I think my mother was reacting to was the loss of the possibility of coming out.

This is the feeling that we have when we realise that a very old friend unfriended us on FaceBook, if you’re the type to pay attention to such things. It makes us realise that they weren’t our friend for years, but our friend years ago. You almost certainly weren’t going to catch up with that person, but now you realise that it’s too late. I’m not saying that it’s too late to spend more time with my parents, not least of which is because they will probably read this, but it’s that feeling of lost possibility or opportunity. As people we don’t generally deal well with loss, even small amounts of it, and when we feel that we lost something that is important to us, like the ability to see your son, it hits us very hard.

I tend to be a pragmatist on such things. I am probably going to see my parents around the same amount every year, although I most likely won’t be home for Christmas, so I don’t worry too much about it. I honestly don’t worry too much about anything. Most of my good friends will attest to this, but I don’t think this is an especially virtuous trait. People who worry tend to care, and very deeply, and while I care very deeply for my family, and friends, there isn’t a whole lot else that really hits on my radar.

It’s nice to have money, and toys, a nice house, a car, and a job, but it’s all ephemeral. These are things that we can lose, very easily if truth be told. Family, friends, sense of self, and the relationships we build are the things that we should be more focused on. Honestly I worry that I’m the finite time I have with my family. My nephew is growing up so fast, my brother and sister-in-law are building a whole life that doesn’t have anything to do with me, and my parents are not getting any younger. However I’m not really sure what the alternative is. I’m trying to build a life that allows me to spend more time with them, but that’s a bit of a catch-22 isn’t it? Spending all of my time away to try to get more later. I don’t buy into that for retirements. I’m not interested in saving for 40 years to finally be able to do the things I want when I’m too old to enjoy them. I also know that the longer we wait the more life gets in the way.

I talked with my brother a few years back, or more than a few now that I think about it. He said that he had always wanted to go travelling, but that it would probably not happen for years now. He didn’t regret his choices, and honestly I’m a bit jealous of the life he’s built for himself with his family, but he wanted me to approach my life decisions with open eyes. I think that I do that, but I suppose everybody thinks they do, especially the people with their eyes closed tightest, fingers in their ears yelling over everything that it’s all fine as their life goes over the edge of a cliff. Here’s hoping that I’m not one of those people, and that you aren’t either.

Noah Gildersleeve
Sunshine Coast AUS 2016

Breathing and Stress

I used to be prone to vicious outbursts, and metaphorical self-flagellation. I would internalize conflict until I exploded in either violence, hitting walls or a punching bag if it was around, or going over the different viewpoints in my head arguing in increasingly circuitous paths that I would never tolerate in someone arguing with me. These days my anger tends to come from stress. Better from stress then hate I suppose.

I like to think that I’ve gotten better at controlling my anger. Internalizing that kind of anger is unhealthy, but if you can truly let it go then it can’t control you. Whenever I feel that anger building up it feels like I just have to explode or swallow it. If you swallow the anger it will build and fester. Instead I hold it in the my hand in my mind’s eye. Then I just breathe. I let it go. It will dissolve like mist into the world. Remember that no one is the villain in their story and that even malice is just unhappiness manifest. Also remember that you aren’t dropping the anger. That means that you still hold onto it. You’re just letting it go. Just breathe in and breathe out.

I try to remember this when my temper starts to get the better of me. My friends these days think I’m one of the calmest people ever, and don’t really ever get mad. As I mentioned before I used to have a wicked temper. I give credit to my mother who taught me to just count my breaths when I got angry. Soon my stress will switch from distress, unhelpful stress, to the lesser talked about eustress, helpful stress. The stress from making forward progress in life goals and going on an adventure. It makes all of my current stress seem small, and I try to keep that in mind as I center myself.

ALL STUFF MUST GO!!!

I was reviewing posts that I had written, but not put up yet. This one was blank. All my stuff is pretty much gone now.I also arranged to sell my car. I sold my guns (emo tear), and my guitar, and all of my gaming stuff, and my computers, and about seven years of dross, as Thoreau would put it. Most of it I just tossed away. That includes clothes, furniture, electronics, and all manner of minutiae that I didn’t even know I had. The oddities I had surprised even my friends that were helping me clean out my apartment.

Everything I own now will fit into a two backpacks and a suitcase, minus the knife collection and the violin I have to send to my brother for safe keeping, and the other violin I need to sell.

It’s pretty freeing to know I’m not leaving things behind while traveling. Of course we always leave things behind when we leave, but those things won’t fit in any bag. My nephew’s second year, my brother and parents. I’ll stay in touch, but Skype can’t compete with the quiet of my family spending our evening doing what we love best, sitting around eating ice cream and reading.

I just got back from the last family visit I’ll have before I leave so I guess I might just be a tad melancholy. Whenever I write something I worry that I come across as too wrapped up in my own head. I tend not to be, at least to my reckoning, but I’m sure if you just read my internal monologue it might seem so. I also am generally considered pretty funny, but that rarely is seen in anything I put down on paper, or in this case a LCD. I suppose time will tell.

The more you get rid of the less you care about what remains. I care about the utility of my remaining possessions, but I am not particularly attached to them. I left a small box of stuff I’m emotionally attached to with my mother, and my grandfather’s gun with a friend. However even those things could be lost and I wouldn’t lose too much sleep. I suppose there is a lesson in attachment there. Once you start freeing yourself from material wealth and goods it just gets easier.

I’m going to throw away my clothes and trade them out for traveling shoes (other types of clothes too, but stay with the metaphor… of shoes) to blaze a trail with my traveling companion. That isn’t for a little while though.

Brother Sloth

My father once told me when we were doing yoga that the yogis had a name for our mind, it was Brother Sloth. He was referencing how when we wake up in the morning we don’t want to work out, or do yoga, even though intellectually we know we will feel better for the entire day if we do. I have been thinking of this recently. I have been struggling with a couple of health issues and I know that I just need some meds to alleviate them.

I have been thinking of Brother Sloth; it almost seems like an inertial force keeping me sedentary. When I was younger I used to be more high strung then I am now and much better at making snap changes. I suppose this speaks to my growing maturity, but say what you will adolescents are very good at changing their behavior suddenly. These changes don’t come as readily to me as they used to. I worry that it’s because I check out of my daily life too much. We can accomplish much on auto-pilot, but in the end we are only reducing the visibility of the life we lead to our mind’s eye. If you, like me, can’t handle being mindful in your everyday life then you should look to change your circumstances, and that’s not to say it’s easy. It’s much easier to slip into Brother Sloth’s easy rhythm: Work all day, TV all night, and drink all weekend.

I’ve taken steps to change the way that I live my life in a fairly large way. I know what needs to be done, but Brother Sloth whispers in my ear,

“It’s six whole months away.”
“One more time eating out won’t break the bank.”
“Stargate SG-1 for six hours is totally time well spent.”
“You can get to the doctor and start working out next week, give yourself a break. You’ve been so good lately.”

These are of variable truth, and none are particularly wrong. I include the SG-1 comment as well, because I love that show (free on prime right now). I used to combat this inertia (caused to some extent by the medical issues I mentioned before) with super doses of caffeine (3-4 Amps a day), but apparently “That’s not good for you,” and it’s pretty expensive.

I was just thinking that I should make a pact with myself to slap myself every time I start to slip, but that seems excessive. Actually to be honest I don’t find it excessive, but I’ve been accused on occasion of being an excessive person. The Dali Lama says that all love comes from loving oneself, and that it is easier to forgive others for their weakness than ourselves. I am starting to believe that these self-destructive tendencies we all seem to have, myself definitely included, come from a lack of love for ourselves. I have done a great many things in my life that I am ashamed of. I’m not sure that I’ll even ever forgive myself, but a long time ago I decided that you can’t change the person you were, and can only work on becoming a better person. I think I still see myself as that person though, and that person was hard to love. Instead of self-flagellation (the slapping agreement I mentioned earlier), I commit to myself that whenever I’m slipping that I will tell myself this, “You are one of the Goddess’ children, and worthy of the life you’ve chosen. Choose your path with open eyes to the consequences, both good and bad.”

I think that the secret is mindfulness in our decisions. Driving home on auto-pilot and getting McDonald’s is easy and fast, but would you do that for someone you love? Would you get your sick mother McDonald’s for dinner if she was hungry? You probably wouldn’t and neither would I. If you take the time to ask the questions the answers present themselves. You are worth the few breaths it takes to ask.