I woke up today with the word “indolence” in my head. It was almost noon and I was having one of those stupefying, stultifying sleeps where the whole thing has been a hellish dream. I woke up with it at 5 as the birds started singing. I woke up with it again at 8 when the neighbor dragged a chair on her porch. I woke up with it still later, still going full force, and felt like I was escaping from the underworld with faeries swiping languorously at my ankles as I fled. It was already 89 in my little loft space.
I recall, during this seemingly days-long dream, that I was being trained as some sort of assassin, but with the tenor of heroism (of course), like I was going to be saving people from A Bad Thing. The instructors for some reason singled me out to perform particularly savage acts to prove I was capable of whatever they wanted me for. In the dream I vaguely knew these things were wrong, but some laser-like part of me seemed to have been let loose and I acted unhesitatingly.
Have you ever seen Last Kiss Goodnight with Gina Davis and Samuel L. Jackson? In my endless dream, I was like her (a highly trained assassin) after she snaps out of her amnesia (watch til the end!) and comes to as a ditsy, tame suburban mom. I saw Hunger Games: Divergent, which also reminded me of the dream in this scene. Yesterday my dad was playing John Williams’ piece from Star Wars where the lead rebels all get on the fancy stage at the end and Princess Leia hands out the bravery medals. It felt like that, too, except in the dream we never won, we just kept training.
I’d been watching a bunch of martial arts videos last night, too. Studying Systema vs. wing chun, mainly, and wishingwishingwishing I could train again. I quit Muay Thai, my most recent area of martial practice, in 2016 due to intense pain in my right hip, which turned out to be severe osteoarthritis as an x-ray revealed. Shit. Two surgeons have casually suggested I let them amputate the top of my right femur and replace it with plastic and metal, but that won’t fix the problem and I know it. They don’t, though, and they’ve both dismissed my assertions that I can beat this on my own. Fair enough; they’re businesspeople, after all, and hawking their wares like everyone else. Note: Hip replacement (and modern medicine) is a miracle for some people, I know. When it works!
However, the surgeons (and all the other medical people I’ve consulted) don’t seem to understand that arthritis doesn’t just appear, out of the blue. Like cancer, it’s not something that usually just, oops! happens. There are your thoughts, your nutrition, your attitude, your physical habits, your environment, the people you choose to spend time with, what you put into your head, and your willingness to take responsibility for yourself and your experience. Sometimes our ailments develop over the course of lifetimes. Sometimes they happen because we made an agreement with someone else or ourselves to experience this thing. Sometimes because we just honestly want to stop being here or don’t know what else to do.
But it’s a fucking hard truth and certainly a hard sell (ask me how I know) to say to someone who’s in any kind of pain, “Look, you can fix this. How can I help?” After 3 years of research and soul-searching, I know that the causes of my personal case of arthritis are: lifelong gripping from emotional and physical trauma; a congenital pelvic twist; a Yang-style, no-pain-no-gain physical training attitude since my 30s; aggressive yoga; and resentful, exhausted connective tissue and muscle trying to hold the whole damn business together. All of these factors have literally pulled the knob of my femur out of its normal position in the hip socket, causing the arthritis. So cutting off the top of my femur isn’t going to do a damn bit of good, in my estimation, because doing so won’t remove the reasons the arthritis happened in the first place.
As you can tell, I’ve been stewing on the arthritis issue for some time now. And since I believe the body and mind are inseparable and designed to work as one, the arthritis-stewing mingles with my daily-existential-stewing quite a bit. That’s a lot of stewing for one person–even one who’s naturally inclined to and even kind of enjoys stewing.
However, earlier this week, having become somewhat distressed about the sheer amount of stewing going on 24/7 (and its obvious effects on my hip pain), I decided I was losing traction and wanted some help. Some metaphysical kitty litter under my back wheels, if you will.
Enter a nice lady who’s a local professional listener and non-judger, i.e., a good psychologist. I told her all the stuff you tell psychologists on your first appointment (blahblahblah) and finally finished breathlessly, near tears, “I’m just a really intense person.”
An elderly lady with a big, grandmotherly bosom, she paused, looking at me frankly over her reader glasses, and asked, “Well, what do you do for fun?”
I felt my mouth drop open a little, like a moderate gut punch I hadn’t seen coming. She’d absolutely fucking nailed the single most critical issue in my life–the root of all my discomfort and angst–and the crux of what I need to learn in my own path to self-mastery.
Tears starting in earnest now, I managed to answer, “I don’t even know what that is anymore.” Dramatic? Perhaps. But also true.
Everything I do is for something. Everything I do is about learning, making enough money to keep going, and self-realization. I’m on an endless personal mission for self-mastery. All my undertakings are geared toward this effort, ruthlessly channeling all my energy into becoming myself. Except for this one goddamn thing: the harder I try, the further away I get from actually being It.
Jesus. No wonder my hip is seized up.
One of my businesses, Human Being Training, has at its heart the encouragement that relaxing is the fastest way to evolve. And by “relaxation,” I specifically mean relaxing into the knowledge–as it sparkles in your bones–that you are enough. That you are It, whatever you call It. The very essence of the best, most precious, perfect thing in all the galaxies. Yes, you. Yes, me. We are all worthy of the endless, infinite love that is the Universe and in which we’re swimming at this exact moment.
So as I keep having to relearn, it’s really hard when we’re on the physical plane to remember these facts. We’re like the goldfish in his bowl who wonders, “What’s water?” We have no concept most of the time, unless we consciously make the effort (hello, meditation!) that we’re swimming in the very thing that sustains us. Think of a person struggling to stay afloat, who’s terrified of drowning, because they don’t know how water works. Now picture someone who knows that if you stop thrashing and sputtering and yelling and just float there looking up at the sky, or easily paddle around wherever you want to go, the water will support you. That’s what big-L Love is. The rock-strewn rapids are of our own making.
It may seem I’m introducing a different topic here, but alcohol use has been on my list of anxious things, too. I keep going back to it after significant periods of abstinence. I never get drunk or messy or stupid, but seem to be able to use it judicially to relaaaaax. I think many of us do. I’ve had this persistent thought for years: “It’s your teacher until you remember how to relax on your own again.”
Particularly in this, my second sultry, humid, lushly green, thunderstormy Maine summer, beer–sparkly, hoppy, playful, tickles-under-my-breastbone beer–is my friend, at least for now. I went to AA for a while (what a grim, dire, lack-oriented group of very serious people!), read some books on the evils of alcohol for “spiritual people,” signed up for videos from a depressed guy preaching the horrors while tramping earnestly through some sickly European forest with “rotten egg-scented streams” (wtf?), etc.
Finally, with a great burst of joyous fuck-all-this-ness, I went to the goddamn store and got myself some ice-cold Frye’s Leap IPAs made by the Sebago Lake Brewing Company right down the street. Aaaaahhhh on every level.
In my talk with the lady, I told her my terror of being an “alcoholic.” AA teaches you that this state is a basic character flaw, but also no fault of your own because you’re one of the “poor unfortunates” with an “allergy” to alcohol. AA says there’s nothing you can do about this deadly character flaw except never let alcohol touch your lips. Ever again. According to AA, you “can never drink safely” because you’ll become a “monster” who destroys yourself, your family, everyone who cares about you, and eventually your life. And look, people do that. I’ve seen people do that. They have giant, gaping holes in their hearts, like most of us. When they drink, they wake up in jail. Or the emergency room. I was like that in my college years to a much less dramatic degree (neither jail nor emergency room), although there are stories still circulating among my old friends.
I respect AA and all it’s done–for the folks it works for. It’s working great for some people who are very dear to me. But it doesn’t work at all for others, and there’s quite a bit of evidence that there are more effective avenues if you believe you’re a “poor unfortunate.” (Btw, I love the article’s main image, lol. So true for me! Yes, some days I’d love a beer bath, lol!))
But the lady listened to how I deploy alcohol now to help with mental and physical relaxation, and 8 years of moderate-to-severe chronic pain, and that I was reluctant to give up what I perceive as its very real help. She looked at me with wide-eyed bewilderment and asked, “Good Lord, why would you want to give that up?” She even cited some recent studies showing that a limited use of alcohol has been found to be more effective than painkillers for chronic pain.
I felt my whole being sigh with relief, and the truth of what she’d asked me. I drink like the little birds that pecked at the hot, fermented fruit in the shade of our old plum tree next to the koi pond back in my old life. They used to sit for a minute and then fly off a little haphazardly to sit in the big willow and sing. I drink to feel the beauty better. I drink like the martial arts masters who never get drunk. And for joy, to remember who I really am, to remember who you really are, and to feel better in a world that seems to encourage the opposite. I drink because, to me, it’s fun, at least in a sense I can currently understand. I guess “fun” means “relaxing” to me at this crux of my life. More importantly, it reminds me how to have fun-relax, and to feel less physical pain. Until I can live in that space–letting the lovely, silky, cool water hold me up–under my own power, I appreciate the help.
Update: While writing this piece off and on for 3 days now over a hideously hot and humid New England weekend, to the detriment of all the things on my never-ending to-do list, I’ve vacillated wildly on whether to post it or not. I mean, it’s very personal. But by the same token, as part of my own Human Being Training, I hold myself to a high standard of transparency and integrity, which to me entails vulnerability, humility, and a willingness to show my work. In my own teachers, I expect the same. I never trust anyone who calls themself a teacher but hasn’t walked through the spiritual fire of life. And believe me, having regularly singed myself to varying degrees since age 9, I can tell if you’ve done your work. (That’ll be 44 years, for anyone keeping count.) So I’m going to post this. My hip’s killing me today. Yesterday it was great and I was like, woo! But as I enjoy the delightful effects of this second Frye’s Leap, the summer sun setting among the giant hardwood trees across the lane, I’m receiving a strong, clear message: “It’s OK not to know. ‘I don’t know’ is where you can start to move forward again.” So I guess, having birthed this baby, I’ll see what kind of dreams come up tonight.
Last thought: Like bread, sugar, oxygen, soup, water, and network television, consuming too much of anything will make you sick. Don’t be dumb and dishonest with yourself. If you use too much alcohol, you will die sooner rather than later. Unless that’s what you want, I encourage you to examine your motives for using alcohol, or any substance. Sugar will also happily kill you dead. It cracks me up in a sad way when people bring pink boxes of doughnuts to AA meetings, for instance. My university students used to ask for my thoughts on drugs and alcohol. I usually said something like, “If you’re using it to enhance your life and your understanding, cool. If you’re using it to suppress emotions you don’t like and don’t want to deal with, that’s going to be a problem.” Good luck, thanks for reading, and write if you find work.