I fear I may have misled you. My posts from the last month or so (or two or three months or so) seem to be creating an impression of me as one big general malcontent, unhappy with my life and struggling day by day to accept the choices I have made. While I can see how this might be an obvious interpretation of posts with names like “Bored Bored Bored (with my life)” or “I Used To Be Good At This (and now I suck at everything),” the reality of my life is not actually as bad as it might seem. Do I get frustrated with my job? Sure, my job kind of sucks sometimes, but so do most jobs. Does the unrelenting pressure of raising a small child sometimes make me moody? Absolutely, but moodiness is also a common symptom (listed in most real life medical textbooks, or WebMD at the very least) of sleep deprivation. And do I sometimes dream of being twenty-five again, stoned and skinny and surrounded by the many smart and good looking people that make up the LA art scene? Well, yeah, but isn’t that what all daydreams are made of?
The truth is, despite those downbeat posts and those sad, lonely photographs, despite those poorly composed and ranting tweets, I’m actually pretty darned content with my life. Because at the end of the day or week or month, I always fall back on this one, basic belief: life is a struggle; the more you struggle against this fact, the harder the struggle becomes.
This may not be the optimistic answer you were hoping for. It’s certainly not religion, not quite spirituality, not even a philosophy really. But it’s a framework that works for me.
I’ve wound my way through a lot of theological theories in my life. I’ve been a convent-ready Greek Orthodox and a drug-inspired new age hippie Hindu and just about everything in between. The only common denominator is my need for something more, my need for some celestial understanding to keep me tethered to this earth.
I lost this connection once, and when I lost this connection, I lost myself. I was stoned without being happy, drunk without having fun. I felt as though the world was caving in on top of me, literally – the sporadic migraines that had plagued me for much of my life now became constant presence, one migraine would end and another would begin with almost no room for even a breath. The only relief was in prescriptions to numb the physical pain, weed to numb the emotional pain, and beer to try tricking myself into believing I was still having fun, no matter how out of my wits I felt.
And then I found acupuncture. And no matter how much I wanted to doubt at this point in my life that chi or any other sort of invisible, inexplicable energy forces existed in this world, the acupuncture worked. It did in two weeks what countless doctors had failed to do over the course of two decades – cure my migraines. I was a convert. Having cured the incurable, my acupuncturist moved on to the more pedestrian complaints – carpal tunnel, plantar fasciitis, seasonal allergies. You name it, she cured it. But like any good evangelist, this angel of acupuncture didn’t make her miracles without also giving me the hard sell to go with it: Buddhist Meditation. If you really want to fix your body, she said, you’ve first got to fix your mind.
At this point, those of you who read this blog consistently (or inconsistently, even, particularly in the last few months) might be asking yourself, why on earth would I want anything to do with any sort of mumbo jumbo this silly woman is peddling? She’s just another a borderline bipolar wreck who hates her job and can’t get over the fact that her once ill child has grown up to be as healthy and perfect as any spectacularly mischievous two-year-old can be. But it’s specifically because I spend so much of my time so close to the edge of not quite holding it together that this knot that doesn’t untie has become so very important to me. It’s the only tether I’ve found that never slips.
I started meditating a little bit here and there. I worked to unlearn the strict approaches I had tried teaching myself during my Hindu phase, worked to let myself just sit, just breathe, just be. And little by little, something inside of me started to change. It made no sense to me at the time and it makes no sense to me still, but this change that I experienced was so profound that even now, even when my life is more stressful and more complicated and a thousand times harder than I ever imagined it could be, even now that I am lucky to find time for a good sit once every six months, even now I am changed.
What most people first hear about Buddhism is that oft-quoted saying that life is suffering. But what most people don’t stick around to learn is that this suffering is caused by us, by our own thoughts and our actions, and the first step to escape this suffering is simply to accept that it exists, and to accept our role in it. Or at least this is the way I see it, from my not even knowledgeable enough to count as an amateur perspective.
I’m not a practicing Buddhist. The only temple I have ever set foot in was a tourist attraction in China and the only prayer flags I’m familiar with are the ones that are used to indicate that pot is being grown on the premises (is this just a California thing?). But somehow the general framework of Buddhist beliefs has allowed me to build an emotional structure of resiliency and general wellbeing that I never thought was in my realm of possibility.
I have no fantasies of ever attaining nirvana, no aspirations of following a guru or becoming a scholar of Buddhist thought. Right now I’ll be happy if I can manage to keep in my head even half of the steps from the eightfold path – Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Effort, Right Action. Or in other words, try to do right all the time, inside and out, to yourself and to others. Don’t create struggle that doesn’t need to be there.
Do this, end suffering. (Some days) it really can be just that easy.