Written by Ari Bouse
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
The Prophet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Looking back at Zen, I remember writing the following poem right after I graduated from college in 1996. I was embarking on a new quest, life transitions and also in soul searching, on a bus from Hartford, Connecticut to New York City to visit some fraternity brothers who I recently graduated with. Our plan was to celebrate our rite of passage in style in NYC and then venture onward to the Hamptons for some fun in the Long Island sun. But it was only a year and a half after my mom’s suicide and my heart was still bruised, battered, broken and bleeding from this freshly cut deep soul wound. Try as I might, I could not distract myself from the tough f-bomber of being orphaned and grieving. Grieving isn’t a linear or fixed process, nor without its ebbs and flows- you just never know where or when the voice of the trauma will freeze, thaw, flow like a river or inundate you like waves from a Tsunami . . .
Since you floated away,
I’ve been pondering my feelings – particularly today.
If I were a movie and you were my director,
After your credits were over, I could no longer cry on your shoulder.
As your script flashed before my interior eye,
I was left disillusioned before I could cry.
Literally, I was your creation – your pride and joy.
You were my mommy, and I was your little boy.
In here and Tao, it’s been many moons since my Mother left this Earth. I’m an older man today than she was when she died. Mother never made it to her 43rd birthday and was already having major issues with getting older. Learning how to be human is a complex ride and my mom’s humanity was no exception. However, we’re meant to age gracefully, like a fine wine. Easier said than done. It takes a lot of inner work to move beyond our judgements and not get sour grapes along the way, if you’ll pardon the pun.
As I look back, I feel that the hallmark of Mother’s suffering was that she really struggled with paradox or understanding how opposites in life don’t have to be enemies. Rather, they can co-exist peacefully. Happiness as a way of life does not mean that we do not suffer. One of my mom’s sisters would say that she “saw demons that weren’t there.” While that’s partially true, it’s not entirely true. I believe my mom saw demons that were real, on some level at least. But the root of her problem was that she demonized them, developed an attitude, and then went to war with herself about her perceptual reality. Mother’s entanglement with form became her vicious cycle. And that’s a normalized shared experience for many humans on the Planet today.
Moreover, the energy of an attitude feeds the ego, becomes a heavy burden to carry and can seduce us into sneaking into Martyrdom. In fact, many people do that without killing themselves, in a literal sense at least. I have met people from all over the world, from all walks of life. Different races, nationalities, genders and socio-economic statuses. One thing that I have noticed is that some faction of all kinds of people know happiness as a way of life, while others appear to have an underlying edge, chip on their shoulder or an attitude about someone or something.
For example, it could be an attitude for or against BIPOC or LGBTQ people, White Privilege, the Police, the Establishment, the Counterculture or society at large. My own experiences with trauma have invited me to try on this hat in some form or another before and it’s not a good fit.
Additionally, in our Civil Rights work in schools, we focus on six categories- Race and Skin Color, Ancestry and National Origin, Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity & Gender Expression, Disabilities and Religion. In our work, we have an intention and commitment to talk about these areas and focus on what we can do to make school, etc. a more welcoming place for everyone. It isn’t easy to do this work, or not get discouraged at times, nor get seduced into developing an attitude about the “other” or “us and them” kind of segregationist thinking.
Furthermore, it is sobering to reflect on my mom’s crippling experiences with clinical depression, anxiety and alcoholism. Being human is not without its attachments. Mother got sucked into her attachments to her mental illness and developed a toxic relationship with it. Truly, my mom wanted to be free from her suffering. But I believe she could not learn to love herself- all of it. It’s not that she wanted to die. Death was actually terrifying for her. I remember taking a High School Humanities class, where our teacher encouraged us to go home and ask our parents if they had a living will, which I did. I remember feeling enraged that my mom yielded on my query and came up with clever excuses to avoid the proposition. And then after her death and having to go through the Probate process- well let’s just say it didn’t make grieving any easier. But at least I had access to a good lawyer, from a family friend that helped cushion the blow. I am grateful for that, as well as a supportive family system and peer network. Not everyone is as fortunate in the crematorium of tragedy.
More importantly, you have to be in a dark place to seriously contemplate suicide and in an even darker place to do it. You have to con yourself into thinking that people and the world will be better off without you in it, and that you will be better off to escape the pain in your life. Some people even romanticize suicide- which is why it can be even more dangerous when a person starts coming out of their darkness because there’s more energy to do it and don’t want to return to the dark tunnel. They might believe that their soul will be freed from its entanglement with form. The tragic sadness is that we can play with death without dying and free spirit from its entanglement with form while we are still breathing. It takes work, but the payoff is worth it.
More mindfully, meditation on seven generations before and seven generations ahead helps build a longitudinal perspective about living now in the gift of this lifetime. I am living proof, in that I look forward to the time when my soul is ready to leave my body and this Earth, and yet my will to live is stronger than ever. There are 10, 000 ways to get into the valley of death- and the truth is none of us know when our number will be called. Might as well remember to breathe while we are here and soak up the precious moments as they come. Someday- hopefully many years from now- my goal-less meditation practice is to leave my body consciously by dematerializing like a rare few still do, or at least die peacefully in my sleep like Grandfather did. There’s nothing special about me and I’m not the only one out there who feels this way. It’s just a shared place in consciousness available to anyone who’s up for the freedom and responsibility of the experience. But it shouldn’t take so much work in the matrix we have created from the inside out. That’s the current suffering of our humanity that we can all release into a black hole in the Universe together if we so choose.
In my mom’s case- I don’t think her morning ritual of smoking a cigarette, eating preservative enhanced coffee cakes and then washing them down with a Diet Coke helped relax her depression or anxiety. But some healthy supplements washed down with a green drink, black coffee or green tea, water, fruit and oatmeal and a little morning meditation probably would have been a more effective strategy for her everyday living. Sacred Medicines or psychotropic medications can have their place in the journey in healing. But probably not mixed with skipping meals, a dysfunctional sleep cycle or overindulges of alcohol or other drugs- or during times of abstinence; cursing yourself with habitual negative self-talk is a prescription for bad medicine. Getting some fresh air and exercise moves around emotional blockages.
Reflecting back, my favorite take away from the internal martial arts and energy medicine is that we all need to cultivate self-love. Alternative energy starts with ourselves and will radiate outward from there. We all need to learn how to make the Qi of every cell in our bodies smile. Building a self-care regimen into our everyday routine is so important to wellness as a way of life. It’s easier to find a healthy replacement for an adverse behavior than to extinguish a habit. What more important relationship should you have than your relationship with yourself? Why not adopt this perspective while we are still breathing?
Finally, looking in the mirror and hating yourself is a receipt for feeling bad about feeling bad. But relaxing your gaze, and looking into the window of your soul and saying “I love you” is good medicine. You can do this telepathically or aloud. It’s OK to feel uncomfortable with that. I know I have. And trying to be as gentle and kind to ourselves is worth revisiting with our regular consideration.
Text © Ari Bouse
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