August 20th, 2006

work

Lessons

Things have settled down a bit: Marsha's out of the hospital, the Bush administration has backed off on requiring birth certificates and so on from Medicare recipients, the nursing home actually sent a bill that made sense, ...

Callan says "Education is what you get when you don't get what you want." So the month o' Hell must have taught me something. Let's see:

  • There's a lot of love out there. People from work offered to help, people from my local Reclaiming group, people from hundreds of miles away.
  • Recovery takes a long time at my age. I'm still too tired, and I'm having to struggle to keep from slipping back to old patterns. Unfortunately, staying up too late is one of them, and it tends to be triggered by exhaustion. (Sounds paradoxical, but: too tired, drag through the day, run an hour late by day's end, stay up too late, wake up too tired, ...)
  • I'm not very brave. I spent most of the time terrified, not of imminent bodily harm, which would at least have made sense, but of having to confront people while stuck in a maze of twisty little bureaucratic rules, all alike. Knowing that constant adrenalin production makes no sense in absence of a large carnivore to run away from didn't help.
  • Spiritual work is possible while in a state of constant fear. What I wanted was some way to stop being afraid. What I got was some inkling of what it means to be in touch with the divine: it doesn't wipe out the terror, it doesn't make it an illusion or a test, it doesn't mean that the ordinary concerns of an ordinary life are unimportant. But sometimes, when I remembered (and I had lots of time to remember!), I could touch the joy that underlies this world of struggle. Or that runs beside or through or between the struggles -- in many ways the two seem orthogonal, bliss and struggle, nirvana and samsara, heaven and earth. That's the crux of the lesson, then -- trying to contact this joy in order to escape fear (or anger or sorrow or boredom) doesn't work: since they are orthogonal, the fear stays; and concentrating on the fear hides the joy. The only way it works for me is to hold them both, simultaneously
  • Joy is like sorrow as anger is like fear.I think it's Pema Chödrön who says somewhere that great grief opens up the heart in the same way that being in love does. And joy is like anger as sorrow is like fear: joy and anger impel to action in ways that grief and fear do not. But the feeling of joy and sorrow is of opening, while the feeling of anger and fear is of shutting down.
  • Action is possible while in a state of constant fear. I was not particularly efficient about dealing with the Medicaid problems, and the hospital, and the nursing home's fiats about Marsha's computer equipment, but I did deal with all of them.
  • What equanimity I had was useful. I'd sure like more: if my heart and my belly trusted my head, which knew I was doing a rough approximation to the best I could do, my best could have been a little better, and I'd have slept better at night. Still, knowing that I didn't have to "run in circles, scream and shout" just because I felt that way was a great help.