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Sunday, July 11, 2010

That Which Cannot Be Taken

"Only that which cannot be taken away by death is real. Everything else is unreal, it is made of the same stuff dreams are made of." -- Osho

A friend asked me to elucidate this statement as it pertains to my life. As my readers know, I have fallen a considerable distance from faith (also hope and love). I have been grasping at straws, and that is just how elusive my efforts have seemed at saving myself from being awakened every morning with a dark heaviness in my chest, a near inability to breathe, and a mind clogged of any vision beyond my nose. It is only with forcing myself to get up, dress, roll up my bedding, and start the engine that I come out of the bog.

That morning slough happens every day now, and it is a painful reminder that I no longer want the life I am constrained to live. Belief that tomorrow could be different requires a leap of faith for which I am no longer equipped. That kind of faith is a pole vault or a climb up Mt. Everest. What I have had to do, at least, to make myself more comfortable physically is dial down the sensation and shut off my mind, meditational skills I learned long ago.

What remains is me being, me in my beingness and nothing else. I am not relating temporally where there is so much energetic investment and anxiety, nor am I connected spacially where I experience confinement. I am existing outside time and space: I am here but unattached, here but free of judgments. I am bound only to the moment and the barest of daily routines.

I am not talking about the be-here-now mantra I never understood unless, in fact, I now understand it as I never before could. That mantra seemed to imply a spurious break with the past and future in exchange for a romp in an irresponsible moment. One's past and future, like a prison term, are still there the next day. No wonder so many hippies turned out to be investment bankers.

What I am referring to here is shutting out the suppositions, assumptions, theories, what-ifs, as-ifs, and the futurism and nostalgia that perpetuate these states of mind. I am getting empty so that I can see again, if there is any path at all to follow. I am just here, and I do not pretend to know why. Maybe answers will come. Maybe not. I suspect there is no reason to be here, though I would still like to be more comfortable, that is, not living in my truck any longer.

So far so good with these new practices. I really have no choice given the deadly, suffocating heaviness I experience every day. At least, the emotional pain subsides; and I keep it that way, rejecting any thoughts that lead to uncomfortable feelings. I am not ignoring my feelings, but being discriminate as I have walked the way of those difficult feelings before and know those well-worn paths to be unnecessary and unprofitable. I am staying open to new experiences.

All that is left is the living soul experiencing.

One question I am beginning to ask is, "What am I not seeing?" I ask this question particularly in response to running out of money, which, as I reported in a previous post, causes me tremendous fear, even if I do recognize the damage it has done to our society. Nothing changes the need for it, but I am beginning to look for ways around it. Most recently, I cannot pay the cell phone and internet broadband bill. I panicked. I phoned a friend to see if he could pay the bill this month for me, but he is also hard up and goes without broadband.

So, I figure I, too, can go without broadband, though it means driving to places where there is a wi-fi presence that allows me to connect from the street while online in the truck. Of course, there are also cafes and coffee houses where I can plug in as well. Anyway, that was how I used to do it, and I got spoiled. Any convenience is very welcome and usually saves gasoline.

Minus broadband internet, I may be able to keep the phone on, and my best friends are going to appreciate that. Nonetheless, there is someone who would be willing to take calls for me in the interim if I cannot find at least $50 today. And so it goes.

Allowing myself comforts, however small, is becoming a new habit. Yesterday, I had ice cream sandwiches, raspberry with small chocolate bits between two chocolate cookies. Four in all. (I still have Food Stamps!) As a concession, I did not eat lunch or dinner. I was quite full, anyway. I am also sleeping more as a way of worrying less. Worry is tiresome, and I can feel those fine lines around my mouth sagging with every sorrowful thought. I am afraid my mouth will fix in a permanent frown. Hence, I remember to smile, sometimes at nothing. I seem to have created, magically, more time in a day by not worrying. The day seems to race to a close with an excess of concerns and fears in the mind, and my vanity just will not allow me to consider aging in any serious, graceful way quite yet.

Remarkably, despite my mother, despite the life-long agony of feeling motherless, I want to go home and fantasize about being in the house and surroundings of my childhood. I allow it. No good fighting the sense of joy I have sitting for breakfast at the antique table in Mother's light-filled kitchen as the sun tops the huge oaks in the backyard: 10:00 a.m. From now in summer, the heat will pour on thick as a down blanket and all but smother every living thing. Bathing is futile, for as soon as one dries off, the sweat is on again.

There is no use doing much of anything. The old people used to sit on their porches and shell peas or shuck corn in this weather. The slightest breeze would knock together the delicate glass pieces of the Chinese wind chime hung in the corner, the sound wondrously like the tinkling of water. It seems anyone with a porch had one of those once-cheap wind chimes comprising two or three tiers of glass inscribed with Chinese characters held together with paper glued to red string and gathered at the top by a ring. The chimes were available for sale at the dime store for two bucks fifty. Some years later, I bought one in Chinatown and had to spend $35.

If one can only get through the muggy afternoons, the early evenings bring the sweet smell of grasses and wild honeysuckle. Ground fog rises up and sits gently over the neighboring fields like a dewy cloth to relieve the brow of fever. The air is humid, misty, fragrant. The oppression is lifting as night falls and the tender winking lights of the fireflies fill the trees and shrubs as if to rival the display of stars overhead.

There is only one healthful time to eat in the midwestern summer, and that is in early morning, though one is tempted to eat, and hungry, when the sun goes down. But one is also tired at the end of the day, enervated, sapped by any human effort. If there were ever a place to drink a lot of water, it is here. The cool evening air is delicious, stirring musings on life and love and their inevitabilities as one begins to drift to sleep.

But my mind wanders, relaxed in these peaceful thoughts.

That which cannot be taken away by death is what has remained in the heart long after the passing of people, places, and things, which can be evoked again and again and which are met once more in lifetime after lifetime. The heart, connected to the permanent atom of myself, is what transform all experience into light.

Still, I do wish I could go home again.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Letter to a Friend

Hi Leslie,

I am writing to apologize for my reaction to your comment yesterday.

Perhaps your friend is right. Perhaps, no matter what, I should call on my mother and siblings. Maybe your friend's comment was a nudge at a distance.

Nonetheless, I want to repeat here for the record that I did take umbrage at your friend's comment, to paraphrase, that were she in my position and homeless, she would go to her family to live. You told me your friend is in her 50's, and I thought that comment was rather glib, uninformed, and maybe unrealistic given her age.

I cannot rule out that her relations with her family may be much better than mine; but it is no secret that family are often the hardest people with whom to maintain relations, just karmic fact for most of us. Family always have higher expectations for us than for anyone else, so my apparent failure being homeless would sting them. I would be surprised if this were not the case with her family as well. I wondered how much thought your friend had given this matter.

Personally, I also have my pride and have not given up on making it on my own despite the odds. Of course, given my circumstance, I have had to think of everything. When I have thought I did not, I phoned friends to ask for their ideas. So it did seem patronizing that your friend would think a homeless person who was formerly middle-class and educated would not think about every avenue of escape.

Please bear in mind that I am attempting to raise your awareness and your friend's. That is the purpose of my blog, to help dispel all the assumptions we tend to make about a situation that we do not share with another human being. There are, of course, middle-class assumptions that simply do not hold in a homeless setting. Where you would typically shun an alcoholic person, for example, I now tend to overlook the addiction. I told you how one alcoholic was the first person to greet me when I first started living in my truck. He made me laugh, and I dearly needed laughter at that time as I was laden with grief.

I also tend to ignore addiction among the homeless for another reason. Addiction may be the reason why some people become homeless, but it is not exactly the reason why they stay homeless. Among the wealthy, there are plenty of alcoholics and drug abusers. The difference is that they can hide what they do because they can afford it. It is a class issue, not a drug issue. Lack of money is what separates a poor user from a rich one.

Here in the United States, we think we are an exception to the rest of the world. It is known as American exceptionalism ---- the reason we do not protest all that much or start riots over money like they do in Europe. The Europeans have not forgotten that there is an ongoing class war, no matter how large their middle class. They know that if the European elites decide to fart in their direction, there goes the middle class; their goes funding for education, health care, worker safety nets, jobs --- the whole enchilada. We would do well here in the United States to remember that there are very powerful people who can shut down the entire game if they want to. And, those elites need to know that we will do ugly things to keep them in check as well, like rioting and other things that scare the Bejesus out of them.

Surely you remember the Kent State shootings. It was appalling to see footage of the National Guard shooting live ammunition at students, not unlike Tiananmen Square some decades later. It was quite surreal to me given the high-flown rhetoric of the greatness of our country with which I had grown up. It just did not seem possible, yet it happened, and someone gave the order and that order came from higher up. (As a note here, restitution has still not been made to the families whose children died at Kent State 50 years ago. Here is a recent report: http://origin.wkyc.com/news/local/news_article.aspx?storyid=135890&catid=45 ).

I recall thinking that the elites were real tired of the bratty children of the veterans of WWII skipping college classes to protest the Vietnam War. We were not grateful enough and did not appreciate the virtually universal education they had acceded to give to the generations of the World War II vets; and it was not long before it was taken away. Subsequent cohorts have had to go into debt for a mere undergraduate degree or forgo a higher education altogether.

So, yes, I spend considerable time thinking about my situation and that of others.

I only wish I could have listened more patiently to you yesterday.

Thank you for your help, always.

Kerry Echo