Friday, May 29, 2020

Dead Kittens: From the Covid Diaries, May 28

The Covid Diaries

May 28

Yesterday it came to light that I had made a mistake in repeating something from a conversation that the other parties to it considered confidential. 

It was relatively minor, on the whole; nothing of any critical nature was revealed. On top of that, the person that brought it to my attention was surprisingly heavy-handed in the way they delivered the message. I was immediately irritated with myself for the breach of confidence; and paradoxically irritated with the individual who pointed it out, even though they were right. So my emotional reactions were well out in front of me.

First, do the right thing. I corrected the issue at once and apologized. After I had a bit of time to settle down, I realized that I shouldn’t take offense just because the other person was heavy-handed. On the whole, I decided, they were right; and this is what I should focus on. At the same time, I was left with that odd feeling of inner distaste for ourselves which we have when we have screwed something up. This, another emotional reaction, wasn’t helpful either. Before you know it, there was a whole ball of nylon fishing line knotted up inside me. 

I’m sure you know the feeling.

I’m going to mess some things up. I just need to move on. The question that the situation raises for me — and it’s a question with a much more global scope —is this: 

How can I allow the parts in me to criticize, and still love them?

That is, how can I love myself when I fail, and even love the parts of me that criticize myself for failure?

It begins with seeing that I’m human. It seems, coming gently to myself right here as I sit here, that it’s okay to be human. It’s okay to mess things up. There’s no need to engage in self-flagellation. Yet that gentle, very simpleminded approach to the question doesn’t seem to satisfy the complicated parts that want everything to be perfect and race around beating myself and others up for our lack of perfection. If one reads the news, one begins to notice how most articles are about criticizing the lack of perfection in our society and in other individuals. There’s very little media out there about taking a quiet, measured, and reasonable approach to things; about taking the time to get past the emotional reactions, to evaluate, to discern the center of gravity where the truth lies and try to come up with constructive and practical responses to that truth.

Perhaps it’s a mistake to try and extend this practice of seeing how I am in myself to society at large; yet society is made of people like me, other human beings. If we don’t develop a forgiving and intelligent attitude within ourselves, towards ourselves, I doubt we are going to develop a forgiving and intelligent attitude towards others. If we can’t do it at home, we probably aren’t going to do it anywhere.

There has to be a new kind of evaluation of the self in order for things to begin each day in a better way. There is a goodness in the world that is fundamental; it penetrates everything. Human beings may be specialists in ignoring this fact, but the fact remains. It would be worthy to focus on this, to begin with the organic understanding of the goodness of the world, and then see what happens. There’s no doubt that all the crappy parts of me are going to gripe about all the things that are going wrong; and I have to allow those parts some exercise, clip the leash to them and let them run around a bit every day. 

At the same time, the supervisor of my Being, the part that tries to keep all of the maniacs, prevaricators, intensifiers and arguers in line, needs to be mindful enough to recognize the nonsense. There is no way to extinguish the fire; but it can be contained. It’s much better contained, I think, by love and forgiveness than by constriction and punishment.

There’s an available action from within in which I just let go and be. I’ve been sitting here this morning, studying the relaxation and tension in me, and just allowing myself to be with my breathing. Absolutely no interference; I’m just here, breathing. I’m following the breath all the way out to its end, relaxing into it and seeing it as it finishes letting the air out of my lungs. 

At the bottom of that movement, there's a moment when I can feel myself becoming softer, less tense. It’s as though I can just receive life for what it is, without embellishment. There's a tiny kernel, just a taste, of love and forgiveness present at the bottom of that breath, in the pause before I begin breathing in again. The inward breath can give it a bit more life and help it expand within me. 

This doesn’t happen because I try anything. It just happens because I am there with what’s taking place. There isn’t a plan. It’s just life.

I recently wrote a chapter for a book I’m working on in which a man decides to dig a tunnel into heaven, digging out only 1/4 of a teaspoon per day. He’s lucky; he’s in purgatory, so he has all of eternity to work on this project. Generally speaking, I guess most of us feel we're under a little more time pressure. Yet there are some projects, especially with seeing myself from within, that can only be accomplished in very small measure over a long period of time. This is incredibly difficult for me in particular; one of my chief features is that I’m always in a hurry. One of my criticizing parts reminds me that I always seem to rush through things and not do them thoroughly enough. People marvel at how much I get done; but to me, I’m always too sloppy about it. By this time in my life, it’s probably too late to change that. 

Here we are. Get out the love and forgiveness and paint a little on that wound in particular, while I’m sloshing it around overall the other battered parts of myself.

In 1966, we were no longer an American family. We had been in Germany for three years, effecting permanent change in our outlook on the world. It was impossible for anyone in the family to foresee how this would form the trajectory of our future; we just lived it. 

My father took the family to Ibiza on vacation. This was before it became a world-famous hippie destination. 

I was absolutely opposed to the idea of going on vacation on this terrible little island—being psychic, I knew it would be terrible—opposed with every fiber of my incandescently furious 11-year-old being. I complained about absolutely everything—during the planning stages, before we left, at the airport, the flight down there, and once we got to the beautiful little hotel that we began our stay in. 

I remember it well; I was a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y horrible.

Eventually, my father blew his gasket. He grabbed me by the arm next to the swimming pool at the hotel and told me that the problem wasn’t with where we were. It was my attitude. 

He told me that I needed to find a better attitude. 

This was one of the most focused and intense things my father ever said to me. Usually, he was too busy drinking to give me any practical advice; or too drunk for me to believe his advice could be practical. In this case, however, it was a huge shock. I immediately saw that he was right, and hated myself for it. Hated him for being right. 

Hate and shame expanded in an instant to fill my known universe.

I ran from the hotel in a blind rage of confusion... to where, I didn't know. I had never been in this place and I was truly running off into the unknown. 

I found myself down at the water, which was swelling in on huge waves onto the massive rocks of the shoreline.

I stood on those huge rocks staring into the crystal clear blueness of the Mediterranean, which was very deep just where I was. The blues and greens took on a cast that only depth can produce: ancient colors that awaken the hidden parts of the soul. Huge, bulbous concretions of agate lurked beyond my reach, many feet below the surface; the water rose and fell over them like some magical force. 

Life seemed impenetrable, as though I could never understand what it was or who I was. 

I stood there staring for a long time, unresolved.

Finally, I turned away from the water. There, in a crack in the rocks at my feet—so close I could have touched them at any time, had I noticed—lay several drowned kittens.

The shock was terrible and great. I felt it go through me like lightning; all of the emotions I was feeling were paralyzed, stunned. Stopped in their tracks by the shock of death, of these tiny, bedraggled corpses. 

It was certain, I knew, that someone had drowned them intentionally.
I turned and ran back to the hotel. 

Somehow, the inner blackboard was erased. 

The shock had cleansed me of everything in me that resisted and rejected the idea of the vacation. The world looked like a new and different place; the hotel swimming pool was not a place of punishment, but a refuge. It was surrounded with beautiful flowers which hummingbird moths came to in the evening, and in the next few days I would come to love them with the curiosity and astonishment that I’ve always had for nature. I forgave my father without question, because I knew he was right. The rest of the vacation was wonderful.

I can discover a new attitude. If I look around me, when I need help doing that, it’s there. 

I just need to recognize it for what it is instead of rejecting it as one more event that needs to be stuffed into the old attitude, with prejudice.

Go... and sense, and be well.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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