Do it full out (Week 4: Passions and Outcomes)

monday

I.

…looked a lot like Sunday except I DID ALL THE THINGS ID DIDN’T WANT TO DO.

Well, one category of them, anyway.

Yay, me.

Also, Ursula Le Guin died and I spent much of the day loving her.

Here are two of my favourite ULG features from BrainPickings:

II.

Michelle Obama is coming to town as a guest of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on March 23. The cheap seats are $200 and I’ve spent so much imaginary money lately, I can’t tell you… There’s no way. I can’t. I won’t.

Facebook message from my dad:

I will gift you Michelle’s Obama ticket! Happy Birthday! Something changes within you when you meet great, good people! Love You!

The mantra I am practicing, do you remember, my sankalpa, is:

I ask for what I need. It comes to me.

I accept it with reverence and gratitude.

I accept.

With reverence and gratitude.

III.

We carve out a night of pleasure in the middle of obligation and chaos, and it is good.

tuesday

Up at 5 am but back in bed before six. A phone call. Another. Coffee. Burritos. More? Cheese tortilla? Fine. Lunch and second lunch for everyone—the interviews I need to conduct happen in-between.

We have to get Cinder to a math test across town. Car2Go or Uber? The little smart cars get stuck in the snowbanks; their tiny tires are useless on the ice.

Uber.

The driver’s name is Michael. The car smells like dog. But we’re on time.

A text from the back seat of the Uber:

Jane: Have to take C for his math final—I kicked out the boys, because Flora’s too cranky to supervise them both. They’re heading to your place. Or the Common.

A response from my neighbour:

np — They’re here now. Don’t worry.

I love my hood; I love my tribe.

Cinder’s test runs for 2 hours and 45 minutes. I read a billionaire romance—for work, not pleasure. It should be both, but it’s not—it hurts. This female fantasy of someone with bottomless pockets to take care of ME so that I don’t have to worry about… bills, job, LIFE… it’s so shaming, it’s so disempowering, it’s so relatable…

Do you ever, btw, wonder what rich people worry about?

You: Money.

Jane: True. I guess… there’s never enough.

What an awful, awful thought. Ugh.

I pretend to work in the cold high school hallway. So cold. Sterile. It smells funny. It’s a little re-traumatizing. Why do we make these spaces in which our children, your young people spend so many hours so… aesthetically bankrupt?

You: You’ve seen what office cubicles look like, right?

Right.

Sean checks in with me as I slog through the romance. Reports on Action: Feeding the Children.

Sean: I fed Flora pierogies. Cinder can have a frozen pizza, and I think Ender’s supper is going to be ham buns.

I end up making him another burrito when Cinder and I get back home after his test, with 30 minutes to spare before I have to take Flora to her martial arts class. Our Uber drive’s name is Emil and he pronounces my name correctly and triest to catch my eye as he does so—he wants me to comment on it, he wants to tell me where he’s from. His story. But I can’t. Suddenly, I have a deficit of words and thoughts and feelings, and I sink into the backseat of his RAV4, Cinder beside me, in silence.

Cinder’s not sure he passed his test. “It was difficult,” he says. “I didn’t remember everything. There were a lot of questions where I just didn’t know…”

I find words. And they’re good ones.

The driver smiles at me in the rearview mirror. I smile back. He’s just told me he’s a parent; no words necessary.

The drive to Flora’s martial arts class and back—always, these days, in a car borrowed from one neighbour or another—is all the focused attention my Unicorn gets from me these days. We talk a lot about pop music.

Flora: There haven’t been any good new songs for a while. Weeks. Months.

I agree.

“Hotel California” comes on.

Jane: I like this one, still.

A throwback not to my teenhood or childhood, but to my parents’ teenhood, childhood.

Flora rolls her eyes. She doesn’t say, “You’re so lame, Mom.” But she thinks it; no words necessary.

Back home. So late, so tired. Sean’s cleaned the kitchen before leaving for the night—I don’t send him a thank you text but I think it.

Ender’s ready for bed.

Where’s the electric toothbrush?

Fuck, we need a new toothpaste.

Jane: Calvin & Hobbes?

Ender: Yes… We were… here…

We read Calvin & Hobbes—I remember I forgot to let the dog back in after I let her out to pee—“Flora! Check on Maggie!”—“Mom! How could you! She’s frozen!”—lights out—bedtime.

I sit beside Ender until his breath tells me he’s asleep.

Kiss the foreheads of the other two.

Think about reading; I have this book on my phone:

…and I’m still not done re-reading The Great Work of Your Life, but the billionaire romance has sapped me.

Sleep.

wednesday

I.

Sean’s first day of his new job. Squee!

Jane: I’m so excited! Text me at lunch to tell me how it’s going!

Flora: What’s going on?

Jane: We have a job! Benefits! Money coming into the bank account on a regular basis!

Flora: Dad has a job. We just spend his money.

Ok. I don’t want to tell you I lose it with her here. But I do.

Her words feel like a slap.

An undoing of EVERYTHING I’ve tried to teach, model, live.

I deliver a scathing post-post-modernist feminist anti-capitalist critique of what she said, the insiduous, unexamined thoughts behind it, and how thinking like that harms women, men, children, families and the world we live in.

Then I burst into tears. And stomp off.

Behind me, I hear Sean murmur, “You know your mom works, right? Harder than I do? And makes money? And we’re all in this together?”

They do and they don’t, I suppose. At the end of the day… they don’t see my work. They don’t see me leave for work.

And I’m the one who makes the fucking burritos for lunch.

Not always. Of course. Not always.

But.

Fuck.

Is that all Flora sees?

II.

Possessed, I reorganize the whole entire main floor. For once, this is not an act of procrastination. I have until Monday to file these two easy, easy easy stories—they’re totally written in my head anyway—that other thing I’ve drafted… it needs to marinate a bit.. I am not putting off anything important in order to scrub the floor and baseboards and drag the couch out of living room and into the kitchen.

Cinder: Love what you’ve done with the place.

Jane: Shut up.

Cinder: Should I test Dad and warn him you’re about to start a new book?

Jane: Fuck off.

Cinder: Should I help you move this couch over the bump?

Jane: Yes.

Cinder: I wonder what it would be like to grow up with normal parents.

Jane: Boring.

Wow.

My new space.

It looks really really good.

I’ve very happy.

I love beautiful spaces, places, things.

People.

III

It’s 8 pm and dark and cold, and Sean’s holding the stepladder and helping me climb into our community dumpster. He’s using my phone as a flashlight, and I’m really grateful that we now have compost garbage. I’m mostly stepping on broken toys. An old car seat.

We’re here because mid-day, I scored Cinder a new office chair. A beautiful $150 or maybe even $600 office chair that was no longer good enough for the accountant who occasionally used it. Unfortunately, in the process of wheeling it home over the ice, I busted one of the wheels.

Meanwhile, Cinder had exchanged his totally busted “this chair is trying to kill me” gaming chair for one of the arm chairs I moved out of the kitchen while making room for the couch.

He tossed the gaming chair into the dumpster. Its wheels fell off.

Its wheels would work perfectly well on the chair I just acquired.

See?

Anyway.

Dumpster.

Sean: See, this is the difference between being married and dating. This is not the kind of thing you do with strangers you meet on the Internet.

Jane: I suppose by the time you get to this stage, you’re not strangers anymore.

Sean: I see it!

I see another one. Five chair wheels acquired. Score!

Sean pulls me out of the dumpster as a neighbour’s car rolls past.

There’s something unexpectedly romantic about our brief walk home from the dumpster.

But when we tell Flora what we were doing, there’s only one thing on her mind.

Flora: So who gets the new  chair?

thursday

One of those days.

Process journal: “I feel lazy and dumb.”

But it ends with a bang.

Thank you, #writertribe.

Also, the Michelle Obama tickets go on sale.

Thank you, Dad.

friday

…starts with a surprise. Hello, shiny thing. Oh. Goodbye, shiny thing?

The unifying thread that runs through the Buddhist-Vedic-Mindfulness-As-Secular-Religion crap stuff books (just fucking write books!!) I’m reading right now is one of impermanence.

Transience.

Freedom and happiness, or at least tranquility =  freedom from attachment.

I really, really struggle with this because… I WANT. Oh, gods, yes. I DESIRE. CRAVE.

I love. I care.

I throw all of myself into everything I pursue. My work, kids, loves, community…

If I’m lukewarm about it… half-hearted? I just… don’t do it…

I’ve equated freedom from attachment with… detachment.

And I’ve been detached, and, honestly, my love, when I’m detached, I might as well be dead. You might as well be dead—I don’t give a fuck what happens to you…

That’s a terrible feeling. It’s emotional death. What person in their right mind would want to pursue it?

Ender: Mama mama mama I love you, and I’m never ever going to let you go.

Jane: Good.

I love love love him too. Except… I’m going to have to let him go. It’s easy to forget, not see it with him, yet. But his almost 16 year-old brother? His 13 year-old sister?

Loving them right now is 90% about letting them go.

Cinder: 99%.

Jane: Give me 10%. I’m driving you to your fucking finals.

Letting them go does not diminish my love for them. It even, perhaps, intensifies it.

(This is the magic, you know, of maternal love. This gross squishy wailing pooping peeing thing exits your body, enter your life—and you overflow, drown in love. And think—I can’t possibly be feeling something this big, this intense. How can there be more? And yet there is more. And more. And more.)

Attachment.

Detachment.

Passion.

Letting go.

Fucking mystics, why do they make everything so complicated?

In re-reading Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life, I have a glimmer of what it is they mean, maybe. Cope is paraphrasing the Bhagavad Gita’s prescription for happiness (or at least a meaningful life).

It has four pillars:

  1. Look to your dharma. (Purpose in life.)
  2. Do it full out.
  3. Let go of the outcome.
  4. Turn it over to god.

Number four is hard for an atheist—the internal dialogue goes something like ths: “There is no God, gods. The Universe is an intricate, amazing thing, but if I say, ‘Turn it over to the Universe,’ Bill Nye will come and kick my ass and, really, it just means the same thing. So turn it over to who, what?” and I spin and spiral and spin and spiral and I just let it go and go back to focusing on numbers two and three.

  1. Do it full out.

Yes. Fucking watch me.

  1. Let go of the outcome.

Really? How?

Can I?

Sometimes, I do.

And I know this—“let go of the outcome”—is a true, powerful thing. These two principles:

Do it full out

Let go of the outcome

–they are true. For me, anyway. When I do it (whatever it is) FULL OUT without craving an outcome beyond… DOING THE THING—when I DO IT—love you, love her, write this, do THAT—because it is the thing that my being knows needs to bed one and I don’t think abou the result—will you love me? will the story be good? will we succeed?—I am… happy isn’t even an adequate word.

I AM.

I AM.

Anyway.

Let go of the outcome.

Working on it.

saturday

productive morning, meandering mid-day, strange evening, restless night

I write about habits, context, credentials.

sunday

I try to write, and at some point actually do—finish my deadline work.

Don’t finish my “I’m exploring this idea, where will it go work.” Abandon it, actually.

But I end up spending some time with Sylvia Boorstein again, thinking about what she calls “kind speech.” (The Buddha, apparently, said “wise speech.” She likes kind speech better; softer now than I was even a year ago, I agree.)

That kind of speech, she writes, s “true and helpful and gentle.”

She adds, it “makes the mind feel safe and also glad.”

Also, this:

“When I am privy to disparaging critiques, even when they are not directed at me, I feel unnerved and my mind is roused into protective mode. I think of it as a basic survival response and I’m glad I have it so I can run away from real danger.”

But living in protective mode… it’s really, really draining.

Suddenly, I understand what my core issue with Facebook is.

I used to love it, after all. Defend it.

And now I’m trying to figure out how to pursue my career, goals… without it.

Interesting.

So interesting.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Check this out:

… How very Victorian, Bernard. Of you, I expected no less. But Maria… with you, I am disappointed. Let’s file this under “research” … and ponder it a little. It fits so very well with my current projects…

2018

The year started with a Monday; so does every week (Week 1: Transitions and Intentions)

Easier than you think, harder than I expected: a week in eleven stanzas (Week 2: Goodness and Selfishness)

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA

Dharma, slowing down time, & beauty in the ordinary

I.

Ender and two of his friends have just finished beating the shit out of each other on our trampoline. Well. Play-wrestling. Apparently. But there was screaming and taunting and swearing, and I think possibly a bloody nose. I tossed a roll of toilet paper off the balcony—my nod to helicopter parenting.

Now, they’re sitting on the trampoline, pretending to meditate.

It’s fucking adorable.

Cross-legged. Hands on their knees in gyan mudra. Eyes closed. Except when they peek them open to see if the others are meditating as well.

II.

Today marks six solid months of meditation practice for me, the first time in my life that I have ever—well, so many, firsts, actually. Not just the first time I’ve meditated for a sustained period of time—the first time I’ve meditated, ever. Sure, there were the five minutes of “meditation” at the end of my martial arts classes way back in the day—but let’s be honest, all we did was close our eyes and pant and try to slow our breath down and stop our hearts from exploding out of our chests. Plus, we only did it because the instructor told us to do it.

Compulsory practices don’t count.

I think it’s also the first time I’ve ever consciously and conscientiously engaged in anything like spiritual practice. I don’t count the prayers and masses of my compulsory Catholic childhood: a child does not choose, consciously and conscientiously, her religious beliefs and practices. And, indeed, as soon as I could choose—I chose to not just step away, but to run away screaming.

I flirted with Neo-Paganism and Wicca for a while after that. It was my methadone before the heroin of full-on atheism.

And now I’m meditating.

It’s really weird.

And I keep on being told I’m doing it wrong.

But I’m doing it.

At least once a day, most days twice.

III.

I’m doing it, because, dharma.

Dharma is an annoying Sanskirt word that means, almost, whatever it is that you want it to mean at the moment you’re deploying it. For me, right now, it means, purpose. With a capital P, I suppose. Maybe in all caps to boot. PURPOSE. As in, “What the hell is my purpose in life?”

IV.

When Cinder was five or six, one of his aunties asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He gave her this withering look and said… “Me.”

Fuck.

Me too.

When I grow up, I want to be me.

So… I’m all grown up now, right? And I’m me. Is that it? Am I the me I’m supposed to be? What does “supposed to” mean, anyway? Who decides? Just me? Who am I?

OMFG, my head hurts…

And is the very fact that I’m engaging in all this obnoxious navel gazing just proof that my life is too easy and I have too much time on my hands?

V.

Wait. No. That is not possible. I feel a scarcity, a paucity of time. So much to do so much to do so much to do. Not enough… too much? What a thought. Is it possible?

I watch Ender and his gang fake meditate on the trampoline and I close my eyes to join them—invite enlightenment.

Her: You know that’s not how enlightenment works, right?

Jane: Nobody knows how enlightenment works. My ignorance is really not significantly greater than anyone else’s.

It doesn’t come—enlightenment—but I do decide that I’m definitely not bored. I’m meditating in part in pursuit of boredom—I mean, stillness. That’s the word. Stillness. I want stillness. Silence. To slow the world—time—down a little. So that I can pay attention to it more fully. Because it is precious and beautiful just because it is, and I want to… I want to live it, breathe it, experience it… document it.

That, I think, is my dharma.

I experience things, the world, life… and I write it all down so other people can share that experience too.

There. That. My dharma, my purpose, the driving force in my life since I was four years old.

The problem—you knew a problem was coming, right?—the problem is that it just doesn’t seem… big enough.

You know? Shouldn’t my Purpose be something bigger than writing very ordinary stories about very ordinary things?

VI.

Flora has spent much of the last three, four days working on this poster. It’s beautiful and amazing, but she said I couldn’t show it to you.

So just imagine something beautiful… right here:

 

[this space intentionally left blank]

 

I don’t ask her… why. To what purpose. She doesn’t ask herself, either. There is no need. It is blindingly obvious, to her.

I don’t think she cares if it’s not blindingly obvious to the rest of the world.

VII.

I would like to make it clear to you—if it’s not blindingly obvious, because, as I am a self-conscious grown-up and not a yet-unspoilt child, I care, a little—that I am not a Buddhist, nor attempting to be one.

I’m chasing dharma, but fuck, I love desire. Desire is the fuel of… well, everything.

One of the books that I’ve been using to obsess about dharma is called The Four Desires, by Rod Stryker. Its entire first section is called Life is Desire. I love it. Stryker frames desire and dharma in terms that resonate with my practical poet’s soul:

Your soul has four distinct desires… The first of these four desires is dharma, the desire to become who you were meant to be. It is the longing to thrive, and, in the process, to fulfill your unique purpose; it is the drive to fulfill your destiny.

Right? Purpose, with a capital P, and in all caps to boot. But, there’s more:

The second is artha, the desire for the means (such as money, security, health) to help you fulfill your dharma. The third desire is kama, the longing for pleasure in any and all forms. The fourth is moksha the desire for spiritual realization and ultimate freedom; it is the intrinsic desire to be free from the burdens of the world, even as you participate fully in it.

Rod Stryker, The Four Desires

Moksha and I have just the most passing, casual of relationships—I think it’s possible it will come on me in old age (religion often does). Right now, I’m all about dharma. Artha and kama matter only as they support it. It is fascinating, really. The intensity of the desire to live, to fulfill my… dharma.

VIII.

I feel goofy writing, owning that. Especially when I look at my children. Who seem to simply… embody and live their dharma. Not, you know… existentially angst over it. At all.

IX.

The boy meditation session on the trampoline below me has again deteriorated into a wrestling match. And this time, not bloody, but out of joint noses. Ender leaves his friends to come sit with me. He wants to do a puzzle. He asks for help he doesn’t really need: what he needs is my attention.

I put away my laptop and my existential angst, and give my undivided attention to the boy and the puzzle.

Time slows down.

I’m… to be honest, I’m a little bored.

I explore the feeling.

X.

Just in case you were waiting for some kind of mind-blowing, insightful wrap-up here… that’s not how enlightenment works.

But this is how serendipity works. I remember, that while I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons, during her conversation with Martha Beck, Beck said something along the lines of, “Living with my son is like living with a Zen master.” (One of Beck’s children, Adam, has Down Syndrome; Beck wrote about the life-changing experience of his diagnosis, birth and their ensuing life in Expecting Adam). I type “Martha Beck” and “living with a Zen master” into Google, looking for, what? I’m not sure—something to round out the story of Ender’s trampoline meditations and Flora’s art practice, maybe?

Instead, I get this:

Our culture has created two almost irreconcilable descriptions of a “good woman.” The first is the individual achiever; the second, the self-sacrificing domestic goddess. I found that women fell into one of four categories: those who’d chosen career (and were very conflicted); those who put family first (and were very conflicted); those who’d combined work and family (and were very, very conflicted); and mystics.

Mystics? Where the hell did that category come from? It was so unexpected that I did years of interviews without even noticing that the calmest, happiest women had all experienced a kind of satori: Faced with two mutually contradictory options, they had discovered and come to trust an intensely personal inner voice. Each had found some method of detaching utterly from social context, connecting deeply with inner peace, and carrying that peace with them back into their hectic lives.

Martha Beck, “Yes? No? Maybe? How to Make Decisions,” September 29, 2013

OK.

That helps.

That actually… really helps.

Me, anyway.

Does it help you?

xoxo

“Jane”