July 30, 2008

By saying less today, I will gain more...

Blood on the Ground

I don't want to talk to you anymore,
I'm afraid of what I might say.
I bite my tongue everytime you come around,
'cause blood in my mouth beats blood on the ground.

Hand over my heart, I swear I've tried everything in my power.
Two weeks and one hour I slaved, and now I've got nothing to show.
Oh, if only you'd grow taller than a brick wall.

From now on I'm gonna start holding my breath when you come around
and you flex that fake grin, cause something inside me has said more than twice
that breathing less air beats breathing you in!

I don't want to talk to you anymore,
I'm afraid of what I might say.
I bite my tongue every time you come around,
'cause blood in my mouth beats blood on the ground.

Hand over my mouth, I'm earning the right to my silence.
In quiet, discerning between ego and timing.
Good judgement is once again proving to me
that it's still worth its weight in gold.

So from now on I'm gonna be so much more wary when you start to speak
and my warm blood starts to boil,
that seeing you is like pulling teeth and hearing your voice is like
chewing tin foil.

I don't want to talk to you anymore,
I'm afraid of what I might say.
I bite my tongue everytime you come around,
'cause blood in my mouth beats blood on the ground.

High fives to better judgement. By saying less, I will gain more.
Low twos to you, my fickle friend who brought the art of silent war.

So, I'm still riffing on the remorseful theme begun in my last entry. That episode involved a failure to act. This particular drama revolves around the failure to refrain from action. During a conversation in which I was debating whether to stir up trouble in a message board thread, a friend told me "there's a difference between impishly perverse and straying into malicious territory".

Of course, it's not like I don't know this already. But having it pointed out by a friend made it sobering. My mouth (or, here on the intarwebs, my fingers) more than occasionally gets me in trouble. Driving in traffic, at message boards, even sometimes at work, my shadow overtakes my persona and acts out. Snarled curses at the steering wheel, sarcasm intended as humor that comes off merely as snide, general snarkiness that slips out like verbal diarrhea. But I'm in my 40's, for crying out loud. Shouldn't I have gained the maturity and experience to control these urges? And yet, perhaps it's not so shadowy after all. There's heredity at work behind these nasty impulses. I grew up with parents who consistently reverted to sarcasm and insult to deal with stress or conflict (and still do). My brother and I quickly learned to do the same. It's probably no wonder that writers such as Ambrose Bierce and movies like Dangerous Liaisons are favorites of mine. But at this point in my life, I don't want to be that way anymore. As another friend recently wrote at her own blog:

"It was a place I needed to go to survive... Even when I no longer required it, a piece of me remained, inextricably tied there. Finally and cautiously I moved beyond it. I haven't fully examined what it means to live where I now reside, joy is still sometimes elusive and love even more so, but I am happy to be here. These old feelings have awakened in me a desire to move further away from them, to continue to search out experiences of joy and light"

Sometimes it seems that this behavior is worse during times of worry, stress, or depression. I've overcome the slothful symptoms of depression I wallowed in over the past winter/spring, is this how it's manifesting itself now? In a dropping of my guard, lowered vigilance that allows bitterness, resentment, and spite to roll off my tongue disguised as wit or righteousness? Or, again, am I just fooling myself? Am I just afraid to admit that I'm too weak to control myself?

Could this be the face of my shadow?

In another discussion prompted by the post at that other friend's blog, she talked about the realization that being alone isn't good for her. As she put it, her usually full schedule is "a concerted effort to get out of myself." Maybe that's my issue, as well. I've generally chalked my solitary ways up to misanthropy, but maybe there's more. I've always known that I sometimes don't play well with others. Don't get me wrong, I fully enjoy the time spent with friends and the things we do together. But the only time I feel true contentment is in solitude. Working, driving in traffic, any situation in which ego can be involved, sets me up for the slip into shadow land. In brooding the other night over not helping a person in need, I stepped back at one point and watched myself. It dawned on me that the contentment I find in being alone is perhaps due to the fact that, with no other people to deal with, there are no stumbling blocks for my ego. By myself, I don't have to worry about intention or whether I'll say or do the right or wrong thing. But in escaping to solitude and avoiding those challenges, there's also less opportunity for growth, isn't there? There've been times in the past when I've considered doing some sort of volunteer work to get out of myself and away from my own ego. Literacy, in particular, is an issue close to my heart and I've considered learning to tutor. But do I have the patience for it?

Another possibility would be to find a local sangha. That indeed might be what I need. I wrote at the beginning of this year about how I felt I had made some progress in my attempts to follow the Buddhist Eightfold Path:

1. Right View: "to see and to understand things as they really are"
2. Right Intention: "commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement"
3. Right Speech: "to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary"
4. Right Action: "to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest"
5. Right Livelihood: "one should earn one's living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully"
6. Right Effort: "1. to prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states, 2. to abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen, 3. to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen, and 4. to maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen"
7. Right Mindfulness: "to be aware of the process of conceptualisation in a way that we actively observe and control the way our thoughts go"
8. Right Concentration: "wholesome concentration, i.e. concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions"

Sounds fairly simple, doesn't it? But now I think that Buddhism for me is like kicking drugs or alcohol. I'll find something, some book or magazine article, that resonates and wakes me up for a bit and I'll go along fairly well, making headway in forebearance and letting go of ego. But then I'll fall off the wagon and the dark nasties will begin poking up their heads and taking over my thoughts and speech. Perhaps, like a junkie, I need to admit that I can't do it alone and go find myself a meditation center or sangha where I can re-commit to the Path and have reinforcements to help keep me on it.

A final confession: I have to admit I've been hesitant to write about these things. I want to be honest here, and there is value in exploring these issues in writing. Blogging is free therapy. But I've begun to develop relationships with the handful of people who read these entries, and I do worry that confessional posts of this sort will affect their opinion of me. Then again, perhaps they can help me. The conversations we have are another way of getting out of myself and seeing things from another perspective. And, as my friend did with her comment the other night, they can remind me of what constitutes Right View and Right Speech. Maybe together we can share some "high fives to better judgement".

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