Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Give Peace a Chance
I have not worked in two and one-half years.
Saying so is like admitting to being an alcoholic, or that I cheated on my wife -- neither of which is true. However, the shame of not working - working for pay - is built into my white anglo-saxon protestant genetic material.
Of course, I have worked. I've volunteered for three different organizations, done a decent job at plodding through the edit of a book I wrote about 12 years ago, and took care of a family. A small family, albeit, but yet - a family.
Giving up my legal career was like giving up something toxic: cigarettes, whiskey, or gambling. I think that's a British way of saying "quitting," isn't it? "I've given up," when asked for a cigarette. Or fag, right?
Anyway. It has been an interesting transition, which is to say interesting in the way the Chinese might curse you by wishing you, "an interesting life."
If you are a WASP, you might understand that there is no amount of toxic that can make it all right not to work, or to be productive. My sister, Sarah, for instance, doesn't work for money, but she does home-school three of her four children, three of whom were adopted through the foster-to-adopt program of Alameda County.
Sarah and her wife, Jill, who is a Lieutenant in the Alameda Police Department, live their lives around those children. I know that Sarah is making up for our parents' complete lack of interest in parenting and martialing our many talents. I don't really understand Jill's motivation - other than to emulate her mother's strength in leaving an alcoholic man, and thereafter, her self-sacrifice as a single mother of three.
However, I also know that Sarah and I underwent a firm brow-beating as children by both of our parents, and then by our step-father, that working is the only thing one should be doing when not eating, sleeping, or shitting. I swear to whatever you believe in -- I am not exaggerating.
So, now, I've come back round to my initial parry: I have not worked for money in two and one-half years.
What I have been doing is somewhere along the lines of this: burnt out in flames from my last job; got a good doctor and some good meds; wound down from working 24/7; bemoaned my high salary and perks; picked up some volunteer work (because I like to offer what I have to give and because it gave me something to tell when asked "so, what are you doing now?"); worked with the Berkeley Writers' Group (awesome writers' group by the way) to edit a novel I wrote between 1999 and 2000; and tried to pull off a relationship that was doomed from Day 1.
What I continue to do "now" is a somewhat intentional review of my life thus far. If you've been reading my blog since its inception in April, you will have the details. If not, then please read up as I don't want to summarize right now.
That is another thing I am doing: not doing. I am certainly being a good roommate, and caring for my cats and Laura's dog. However, on a more "meta" level - I am figuring out what I don't want to do and what I want to do. The former is really much easier than the latter.
When I say, "what I don't want to do," that includes old habits of mine that bring me needless suffering. I am a Buddhist - so this is important to me. Siddartha Gautama, or The Buddha, already summarized what this means (he was big on lists and outlines - perfect for an attorney):
1. There is suffering
2. Suffering is caused by aversion (anger), desire (greed) and ignorance (self-delusion).
3. Suffering can be extinguished.
4. Suffering can be extinguished by the realization of nibbhana through the Noble Eightfold Path that includes practices and a lifestyle that, if observed, can lead you to the end of your suffering.
I have been at the practice of dharma - meditation, mindfulness, retreats, dharma study, etc., since about 1999. I have a solid foundation of practice when I stopped working in 2010. That's a good thing since I "lost my way" so to speak. Tripped off the path, ambled into the woods and fell into an empty well.
Where I dwell for almost three years with a woman who was not a Buddhist, and with whom I do not share core values. I let myself be a Hansel or a Gretel and followed sweet nothings all the way to the ginger-bread house. I want to emphasize that I let myself do this - for whatever reason, I chose this path.
I had a teacher remark that I might be facing one of the five fetters to realization (recall that the Buddha liked lists) - the most difficult fetter: doubt.
Doubt is a difficult mind-state - for all of us. Doubt in yourself. Doubt in your abilities. Doubt about your relationship. We've all been there at one point or another - you may have even been in a bad enough doubt space that you relate, or empathize with what I'm saying.
I was not working for money, so I started working for love. Not as a result of love - although that had some part in all of it - but for love. As a payment for sublimating first my desires, then my needs, then my life in order to try to please another enough that she might love me. A really abysmal trade-off.
I know that this happens all the time. It seems that I've heard this story from various friends, and even strangers, over the years. However, this had never happened to me. And, it never will again. I do learn quickly; I do not doubt this strength of mine.
Ok. So, there I am in someone else's empty well - or being eaten by someone else's fears (i.e. suffering), and I finally wake up all of a sudden. Well, it took me almost a year - but when I came to a conclusion, it was like snapping awake at the wheel while driving late at night after working 14 hours.
I felt no doubt. I was with the wrong person. I was not in love with this person anymore. It was my doing, but who cares!? I'm out. Or, as my ex said to me, I'm done.
I'll tell you, that when I'm done, I'm done. My ex sort of spun around in that age-old mind fuck of come hithers and fuck yous for about 3 months - but from the moment I became aware of the mountain of doubt I'd been carrying along behind me, I let it go.
I also realized that the doubt I'd been carrying around was ages old. Some Buddhists might say aeons old. Regardless, I knew I'd dropped some deeply imbedded sadistic journalist who'd been writing my fate for far too long.
This is not to say that I am now sure of what it is that I'll be doing for the rest of my life. I've realized that my novel writing is really more important to me than my poetry. I would love to do both, but want to finish that novel I wrote all those years ago before doing anything with the poetry.
My writing gives me something to say to the inevitable (and from what I understand an indication of the American character) question "What do you do?" I can say that I am a writer.*
I have also learned that surrendering to the reality of life as I know it has been worth the sometimes horrifying, sometimes liberating ride that has been the last almost three years of not working for pay.
Also, if you feel that you must earn someone's love - or if you're finding yourself wanting someone to earn your love - then, I urge you to wake up. Just one of you waking up and becoming conscious of human equality as our birthright will break the cycle.
I broke my cycle. Now, I'm just walking (budump-bump).
I have to admit that as I've driven down the freeways of New England, visiting family, both alive and dead, my mind tries to fashion work-arounds in order to bring me back to that empty well; that gingerbread house where I might be eaten alive by the unconscious (and those with unknowable conscience).
Mindfulness techniques that I find most helpful in such situations include audible books and language lessons (I'm trying to learn Hindi in case I go to India this winter). There is no need to follow the mind down some of its worn paths; there is no need to suffer in doubt as you find your way down other paths.
In other words, I'm breaking with the WASP tradition of shaming oneself into toxic self-sacrifice. On the other hand, I'm absolutely honoring the WASP value of "waste not, want not." I'm not going to waste what I've done with my lemons - even if it's the luxury of not working for money, or better yet, not working for love.
The bottom line is best summed up by John Lennon, and which has become an American chant of political dissidence:
All I am saying, is give peace a chance.
*I am not "now" a writer in the sense of now that I've given up a lucrative career as an attorney. I have always been a writer. I've been writing poetry and journaling since I don't know when. My first diary - the pink kind with a clasp and a tiny key - is long lost.