Getting back in the saddle

It is more than two years now since I wrote a blog post. Two years of descent into and out of depressive episodes and personal stagnation deeper than any I had ever known (and I am no stranger to depression, and am even a great admirer of the positive impact I have at times turned it towards in my life–more on this perhaps at a later time).

In coming to write this post, I found a draft I began in the spring of 2017 and never published. It captures the spirit of the depressive aspects of the past several years very well:

Unfinished June 2017 Draft Post:

I’ve lost touch with something important. Something central. Is it desire? Purpose? Direction? Passion? Can acts have context and consequence, but no significance?*

All of my friends are struggling. All of them. Like my wife and myself, many are piecing part-time, temp, adjunct, and freelance work together into making a stagnant non-living, residing in either cheap, barely affordable apartments or in parents’ or friends’ houses.

I find a place, off and on, for music-making in my life, but poetry? Art?  I have lost the feeling for words and pictures. They cannot reach me. Even the music is lacking in depth, character, purpose. It throbs and languishes. It circles, stumbles, and falters. I watch reruns of Star Trek series while eating comfort food and drinking too much.

I witness my maladaptation continue still from 2016, a year of personal losses and (literal) assault. All this while 2016 was a turning point for my health–finally learning how to get my migraines under control, and discovering that the strength and flexibility of my body had largely returned from my 2010 back injury. And conservative spite, ignorance, and greed now sit poised to

* Emphasis added. I think this is a great question to ask.

The post cut off there. Doubtless I meant to make some comment about the bonkers political climate of 2017, but hey, its 2019 now. It seems like the fears of a sudden descent into a fascist hellscape have been somewhat soothed by a midterm democratic (and dare we hope progressive/socialist) rebuke, and there is even the possibility that the plutocratic status quo may even face a serious challenge in the next few years. Maybe.

Politics aside, what is most clear to me is how lost I felt at the time, and how much anguish was being caused by this. And how much I struggled to stay in my den and lick my wounds. I have felt this lost, adrift feeling for much of my adult life, but not always as a negative thing. It had turned very sour and stifling for me.

So starting in 2018, I began to find my life increasingly claustrophobic, and my depressive moods and coping strategies were becoming more transparent and pointless. Funny how depression–which is most clearly identified in myself now as a knee-jerk assignment of pointlessness and futility to everything (which is true when you get down to it) as an excuse for withdrawing from all that is negative and positive in life (but definitely a wrong, fear-driven stance)–can itself become a victim of its attacks on purpose. Due to this greater self-awareness, I became insistent on dropping my coping strategies and becoming more committed to figuring out how to deal with (to change, improve, shape) my life.

And one by one, they began to fall away. The need to inebriate, the Netflix binging of Star Trek, the munching. Even the need to calm my mind through regular applications of breathing meditation. Unfortunately, it also seemed that a lot of the good feeling I had from making art and writing fell away too. So much of my drive had been simply anxious, fearful energy focused on production to justify my identity, to establish my purpose for being. I had to produce or I was not of any value. I had to make art to justify my designation as an artist. To not be nothing and nobody.

So I have been getting more comfortable being nothing, or not worrying about being anything, and getting better at seeing depression at work, at seeing fear at work in me, and at making the effort each day to live a life less based on fear and less concerned with finding the impossible existential answers that my depression seems to need so badly.

Part of that is getting back to this blog, and maybe soon moving it to my own server. I’m trying to get a feel for writing again as a tool for growth, which I generally approach through the disillusionment and undermining of everything false and needy in me, everything ego-enhancing. The idea of poembassy bombing is to stare the artificial internal edifices of institutions, poetic and otherwise, into rubble and dust, then find a way to move on from there. I often imagine myself to be finished with that work, sifting through the ruins, and looking for something on the horizon to set off towards, but I don’t think that’s it yet. In this metaphor, I’m still buried in the smoldering rubble, slowly finding the strength to dig myself out. Because nobody is coming to help me do it. I must do it alone.

I should say that a lot of the negativity I have gone through has faded. I have managed, as with my struggle to end years of chronic migraines (I will blog about this soon), to use every darkness and negativity in my life to seek out what is true and of value and figure out how to become a more mature, wise person. I know the world is still probably fucked, moving ever deeper into ecological, economic, and political collapse (and the more we can face this fact, maybe the more we can do about it), but the more personal, subjective experience of my life is less and less occluded by despair and depression. I can push aside the veil of fear and self-assuring knowledge (always seeking to keep things safe, contained, and identify and remove any threats) that haunts my perception to reveal something that is a frequent and refreshing reprise. Like the opening of a window in a dark, stagnant room to let in fresh air. I cannot properly describe this. Sometimes I cultivate this (as though it is something cultivated!) in meditation, other times I slip into it without intention during the day. I think Longchen Rabjam does a better job of it (from The Basic Space of Phenomena, section 10):

Without the arising and subsiding of thoughts, there is a naturally limpid, pristine state, like the unwavering evenness of a limpid ocean.
Free of the occurrence of or involvement in thoughts, free of hope or fear, you abide within the state of naturally occurring timeless awareness, the true nature of which is profoundly lucid.

Without the compulsions of ordinary mind, there is an unfeigned state–a natural settling, uncontrived and unadulterated–though it cannot be characterized with words.
This absorption in the expanse of being, the true nature of which cannot be characterized, involves neither meditation nor something to meditate on, and so laxity and agitation dissipate naturally, and enlightened intent occurs naturally.

I’m not sure he was speaking about what I have been experiencing and working towards in my own practice, but I aim for a natural settling, or I seek out that which is grasping, holding on tight, which is unsettled, then acknowledge it and watch is settle. Some kind of experience of oneness arises, and everything external and internal is subsumed in an undifferentiated whole. It does not feel like a unity/unification, but more that the previous experience of myself observing and reacting to a world that is other has been replaced by, simultaneously, the absence and presence of these as a single thing. All that I had perceived previously remains, but it has a hollow (but oddly warm and whole) presence.

(Hollow and whole. The sound of that. Never noticed the resonance. Hollow and whole. Whole and hollow. The whole hollow. A hollow whole. A hole is hollow, hollow on the whole.)

When I look in at myself, I see an earnest, wondering, urgently concerned image of my face staring outward. But upon seeing it, its transparency and flatness are apparent, and it fades away like a phantom movement you try to catch at the edges of sight. Often, then, a natural settling follows.

I don’t know how to end this, so I’ll just end it here. I feel I could keep rambling on for days without coming to any conclusion. Do I want a conclusion? Do you want a conclusion? Does everything need to be tied up in a nice package? No. Certainly not.

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H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama Coming to West Lafayette

2287-close_web.jpgI woke up this morning to NPR as always. I usually get out of bed when I get angry at the first bit of news that is either wrong or misleading or couched in ignorant, decontextualized rhetoric. It usually doesn’t take too long for that to happen. That’s not the best way to start a day out, either, I know.

This morning, though, the local WBAA news announced that the Dalai Lama will be visiting Purdue for a speech during his brief stay in Bloomington, IN at the Tibetan Cultural Center. Unfortunately, he will not be delivering any three day teachings at our esteemed university, and I will not be able to go to Indiana University in the middle of a school week. Then again, maybe ….

Tickets go on sale for the Purdue speech on August 10th for students ($20) and faculty, and then it opens to the public on the 11th, so get one as soon as you can.