Yarrow (angelweed) wrote,

The Uses of Despair

My Bridgid pledge for this year has been to be happy. (The gods caught me at an unguarded moment during a lull in Marsha's 2004/5 Winter/Spring health crisis, or I'd probably never have agreed to such an out-of-character idea.)

So part of my practice, when I remembered, has been to stop and be happy for a second or two. And eventually I found that I could achieve that, could reliably touch the basic joy that I believe to be the ground of the universe. (Or a ground of the universe -- Rachel Pollack has a character in Unquenchable Fire say that the only real things are ecstasy and suffering, and I think she's right.)

So I can be happy -- for seconds at a time, but even seconds are worth it. And it makes a difference in the day. But I noticed that I never seemed to remember to do it when times were bad. Until today.

This weekend I had an unexpected encounter with despair. Things had been going well -- I'd found a way to exercise that I didn't hate, Marsha's health was good, I was going to visit a dear friend and her partner. I did have a slight cold, but I'd slept for 12 hours the night before and felt pretty good. We watched Mad Hot Ballroom (about school kids in New York learning ballroom dancing). In the process of getting settled for bed I went downstairs for some reason and found my friends in the kitchen, waltzing. It was gift to see them comfortable and laughing and connected. We talked for a bit, and someone cracked a joke or two, and I went back up to my lonely bed and felt just fucking awful.

It didn't help to know that I'd been doing well recently at making my life more manageable (I was doing the right things and still felt unhappy. Unfair!) It didn't help to be ashamed that witnessing my friends' happiness made me miserable. It helped, a little, that I'd been listening to Pema Chödrön's Getting Unstuck, whose working title I'm sure was Learning to Stay -- learning to stay with the uncomfortable or painful feelings we just want to escape. I'm not sure how I could have escaped, but even the idea that staying with those feelings was something I was actively doing, rather than just suffering, helped some.

Monday morning I was weepy and probably no fun at all. My friend brushed off her rusty Tarot skills to do a reading for me, and that helped some. When I got back to Richmond and looked in on Marsha her face lit up to see me, and that helped some. Listening to Baaba Maal's Kettodee helped some. And the next day, driving to work, was just as bad as Sunday night had been.

One of things that Chödrön's audio book helped with was her story of one of her own bad times, and how her teacher Dzigar Kongtrul had talked about some of his bad times. He'd then asked her to describe her experience in more detail, and said "Oh -- that's the Dakini bliss".

I don't think I was listening to that part on the way to work; I think I just remembered. But it reminded me -- finally! -- of my own practice of getting in touch with the world's joy. So I did, after wrestling myself into a state of being willing to try. I switched for a second or two from despair to joy. And then back to despair. And then for some reason I was curious to see if I could feel both at once. Or maybe that just happened. But I did, for two or maybe three seconds, feel both the bliss of the universe and the horrible despair all intermingled. I remember thinking this was really weird, and I remember feeling like I was going to split in two soon. I wonder if that's what the universe feels like to the Goddess.
Tags: the sacred

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