What Now?

Thoughts and Poetic Direction

When you come to a fork in the road, take it. Yogi Berra

No matter what age you are or what stage of life you are in you will come to Berra’s forks in the road. Most folks have four prongs pointing forward, none to the past unless you turn the fork on yourself and stick it in you to see if you’re done. People ask me all the time, “When will I be done?” My silly reply has always been the same, “Only steaks get done.”

Alright you’ve lost a relationship, parent, career, your youth, or a home. I, by the way, have lost all of these the last couple of years and I’ve asked myself this question every day: “So what now?” 

For many this question gets harder the older some of us get. But most of us are driven to seek out the answers anyway. Some of us go slowly and tease the answers out like pulling cotton from its stubborn boll or taking a pearl out of an oyster that doesn’t want you to have the “great prize.” Others attack the question like a bull in the china shop only to get hooked by our own horns – hooked on drugs or alcohol or other numbing processes to make us think we’re really searching for the answers, but we’re not.

To put all of this in a more poetic way, if we’re not careful during these difficult times we may, to quote William Stafford, “following the wrong god home we may miss our star.”

Perhaps you are having to do what I’m doing – drawing on the support of new and old friends even though sometimes making contact using my 300-pound cell phone to call them when I’d rather pull my comforter over my head and go back to sleep. I’ve also enlisted the help of a new therapist – nope, I’m not done with therapy or 12-step meetings.

I also have to keep cultivating good crops of patience, something I don’t grow very well because I want the answers to “What now?” When? Now, damit!

Then I re-read T.S. Eliot’s words one more time:

I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

Another thing I try to remember is to pay deep attention to my body and a little less to my mind – thank you T.S.

I recall the words of the Sufi poet Rumi: “Let the body speak openly now without your saying a word, as a student’s walking behind a teacher says, this one knows more clearly the way.”

And if I don’t listen to my body during these tough transitional times and slow everything down I will commit way too many errors in my impulsive decision making and end up like another of Rumi’s poems:

  Who makes these changes?

  I shoot an arrow right.

  It lands left.

  I ride after a deer and find myself

  Chased by a hog.

  I plot to get what I want

  And end up in prison.

  I dig pits to trap others

  And fall in.

  I should be suspicious

  Of what I want.

Translated by Coleman Bark

So I hope this short post, while not answering yours or my question: “What now?” provides a little comfort and some poetic pointers to the way forward.

You are not alone and I’ll give Rilke the last words for now: “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror…” and “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…”

Why We Can’t Be Rejected

“When we lose someone and we find ourselves, we win.” Anonymous

One of my best, dearest friends I’ll call K has broken all contact. She doesn’t call; she doesn’t write; she doesn’t send flowers or return texts, and seemingly doesn’t miss me at all. My psychologist brain says, “don’t take it personally.” My human heart says, “she has rejected me and it hurts.” But here’s the truth. You and I can be dismissed, avoided, shunned, hell even banished but we cannot be rejected.

You readers will say, “Well you’re just wrong. My boyfriend rejected me last week.” “My father has always rejected me.” “My best friend hasn’t spoken to me in over a year. Don’t tell me she hasn’t rejected me.”

No one can reject us. Here’s why – because it’s never about us. We are the creators of, not only our outer worlds but our interior ones as well and what we are drawn to or deny is already in us lying loose, latent or floating down that ole’ river D-nial.
I was well into my 50s, having “felt” and “thought” I’d been rejected numerous times before it became clear to me, thanks in large part due to my long-time therapist and mentor, Dr. James Maynard.

You see, I lived my relationship life foolishly thinking that if I was attracted to a girlfriend or other loved ones it was because something was in them that was not in me – that perhaps it was their lovely disposition that pulled me into their orbit. They were “attractive” because of their looks, spirituality, intelligence, groundedness, sense of humor, etc. all things that my low self-esteem told me I lacked.

What James and decades of experiences showed me was that real attraction for others, and they to me, emanates from within and goes out to them. Attraction thus is self-generated, rather than coming from the other person and when I’m no longer attracted to someone or I’ve integrated their qualities I stop generating the interest in them but I do not reject them nor they me.

This truth becomes obvious I hope in Rumi’s poem:

The minute I heard my first love story
I went looking for you, not knowing
How blind that was. Lovers don’t
Finally meet somewhere, they’ve been
in other all along.     Translated by Coleman Barks

Those we love who we think are rejecting us are rejecting those things in themselves they are no longer able to pull out of their own inner or outer shadowy part of themselves that they projected onto us.

A woman I loved a long time ago and am still good friends with I’ll call B was extremely intelligent and cleaned houses for a living when I met her while giving a lecture at a local university. She was also a nurturer, mother and possessed boundless sexual energy. I was a counselor, writer, still too much in my head and anything but a nurturing, parenting person, with little to no domestic inclinations at the time. Of course we got together. During those four years later – I became a pretty good step-father with a greater inclination to nurture and after we went to many therapy sessions we broke up. Once again at first I thought she had rejected me. To make a long story short she went back to school and got a master’s degree in counseling psychology and is one of the best working therapists.

A couple of years later I got married to Susan, bought a home and we set out to have children that hopefully I would spend a lot more time with than I would in hotels and conference centers.

broken heartGoing back to K – she left, either because she saw things in me that she was not ready to embrace or already had successfully embraced or perhaps never needed and therefore I guess I rejected the “sunny” disposition she had in abundance while I was my grieving my despairing divorce. She rejected my “old age” and perhaps I rejected the youth she possessed but was still somewhere in me even though I was having a terrible time finding it. She rejected my seriousness, and damit, I rejected the spontaneity I saw in her that I have always longed to have more of and on and on. Our paths diverged because I needed to access all that she manifested, and she either needed to access some of what she saw in me, but to be clear, neither of us did anything wrong nor did we “reject” the other.

When I said in my earlier book, Writing From the Body, that people tend to be drawn to artists because they dream of being creative but they’ve been told that they are not, or they are afraid to succeed or fail having way too many credit cards, cars and a house payment they feel they must pay off first. However, “If we spot it, we got it,” as the old AA saying goes. So we tend to “acquire” the artistic creative person instead of “accessing” the artist, writer or the tender, compassionate domestic, nurturing, sexy person we’ve been all along.

So the next time you or I “feel” rejected see Solutions below:

  1. Make a list of the qualities, characteristics, attitudes, traits you have found in other and acknowledge and further develop them in yourself.
  2. Remember the attraction for others starts inside you and proceeds outwards, and as the Indian poet Kabir says, “I say to my inner lover, why such a rush…” because I say he or she has always been inside us waiting for us to stop projecting onto others.

Unbecoming: From Despair to Love-Part 4

“…I don’t mind you saying I’ll die soon, even in the sound of the word soon I hear the word, you which begins every sentence of joy…Ah, you’re a thief the judge said, ‘let’s see your hands. I showed him my callous hand in court. My sentence is a thousand years of joy.”

Robert Bly

Hope is the big brother to happiness who can bully the joy right out of us. Hope is the religious hole that was dug for many of us even before birth. “I hope it is a boy.” “I hope it is a girl.” We all hope whatever the gender that the baby is healthy. Then on heartbreak occasion that the baby is not healthy, still born, where does the hope go? I fell into the hope well, as did my former wife with each successive miscarriage—four to be exact. Way before that I hoped my dad would stop drinking a million years ago now. I hoped I’d marry Phyllis Bacon. I hoped and hoped and splashed around until I almost drowned in the world’s darkest wishing well.

Hope is a well-set bear trap that we set for others almost daily. The poet Rumi says, “I shoot an arrow to the left, it lands right. I go after a deer and get chased by a wart hog. I did a pit to trap others. I should be suspicious of what I want.” We provide even the people we love with just enough false hope or encouragement on towards the impossible outcome. Hope like happiness is a turtle trying to catch and pass the hare of our desires. Hope is always in pursuit of something being some other way than the way it is.

The Indian poet Kabir said it this way:

“I talk to my inner lover and say, ‘why such a rush…the truth is you turned away yourself and decided to go into the dark alone and now you are tangled up in others and forgotten what you once knew and that is why everything you do has some weird failure in it.”

homeless-850086_1920So we hope instead of have faith and wonder why love is so elusive in our lives and why “love” fails so often. One out of two marriages will end in divorce. Again the culprit is the searching, the scanning the crowds, looking for the lover out there hoping they are looking for us. Rumi say, “The minute I heard my first love story I went looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere; they’ve been in each other all along.”

Hope is what keeps me from grieving what I once had hoping it will come back. Hope puts what we never had in a small box, wrapped and placed on the mantle above my fireplace. But it is this very grief work that “sorrow sweeps clean the house so joy may move in,” says the Persian poet.

Now put your hope in the wish for your prince to come and if he or she does then you’ll be happy. But when the mailman brings you the certified letter from the Prince saying “he is unavoidably detained and will not make it this lifetime” you’re right back in dark woods of despair. Burn the letter and the envelope it came in and let Faith turn all our heavy lead hearts through the alchemical fire into the pure gold of love.

Unbecoming: From Despair to Love-Part 1

“Despair takes us in when we have nowhere else to go; when we feel the heart cannot break anymore, when our world or our loved ones disappear, when we feel we cannot be loved or do not deserve to be loved, when our God disappoints, or when our body is carrying profound pain in a way that does not seem to go away.

Despair is a haven with its own temporary form of beauty…Despair is a last protection. To disappear through despair, is to seek a temporary but necessary illusion; a place where we hope nothing can ever find us in the same way again. Despair is a necessary and seasonal state of repair…”

David Whyte from Consolations

This is the house of my adult despair, not my childhood, adolescence or young adult depression. This is where I lived as a late mid-life man for a year in semi-seclusion. This is where I separated from my former wife and life as I had known it. This is where I separated decades of depression from an adult despair. It is in this house where I stared out windows and into some distant pastures, past ponds and pine trees and saw the distinction between happiness and joy.

IMG_0572

It was here in these small, simple rooms I signed a contract with myself to sit with, stand up to and sleep with the gaps in my life and the chasm between fear and anxiety. I have searched for a secret self that has played underneath the debris of years of false selves and explored the hidden paths that produced a way into and out of this forest that finally brought me to a clearing, a way of thinking differently about depression as opposed to despair, anxiety and fear, hope and faith and finally some realizations and direct experiences regarding adult love that I have never been able to show or feel.

Here are, then, the fruits of this process that words will barely do justice to, if they will do it justice at all. Here in this house I will write what I know deep in the marrow of my bones what I believe today after a lifetime of searching, teaching, learning and more searching.

I’ve come here to this sweet, Alabama home. It is here that my heart hurts every day. It is here that my heart heals every day. It is on this mountain of tears and longing that has been a sanctuary made of silence, pine trees, crickets, cicadas, and pastures. It is here I sit and look at and feel the gifts of grief and the balm of solitude. It is here that I have time to think in ways I’ve never had the courage or desire to think and feel feelings that have been foreign, frozen or simply forgotten in all the rush to become and it is here that I have entered a stage of existence I am calling, “Unbecoming.”

1995-45-a-full

The poet Rumi says:

I said, “What about my eyes?”

God said, “Keep them on the road.”

I said, “What about my passion?”

God said, “Keep it burning.”

I said, “What about my heart?”

God said, “Tell me what you hold inside it.”

I said, “Pain and sorrow.”

He said, “Stay with it. The wound is the place where the light comes in.”

Here is a spark of light about the differences between depression and despair. First depression is a situational, circumstantial, or biochemical imbalance or a combination of all three. Change the situation, the circumstances for the better the depression should diminish, dissipate or disappear. If it is due to biochemical difficulties then change the biochemistry and the depression should lessen. What we know is that only two out of ten people who are diagnosed with depression get little or no relief from pharmacology or psychotherapy or both. What is the other eight or millions really suffering from? Could it be despair that pills, nor PhDs or psychiatrists cannot cure?

The philosopher Sartre says, “Life begins on the other side of despair.” It is in this house of aloneness that I can sit and listen to you, “tell me about your despair, and I’ll tell you about mine,” says the poet Mary Oliver and this is where I have come and “I want to know if you belong or feel abandoned, if you can know despair or see it in others,” to quote David Whyte again.

Despair is rooted in an existential loneliness that almost everyone is afraid to admit for fear they have done something wrong. Despair is a house we eventually have to sit in until we are ready to reassess our deepest self and our interior world. It is in this house where we must unabashedly and without embarrassment or shame strip away all our false selves. Despair is the first stage of freedom and an entrance into a more genuine and real existence. Despair is the bridge that takes us from “here to there.” Despair is that lonesome valley that we all fear but must be walked through. It is the dissonance or the distance between what we thought we would do with this life and what we have actually done, who we thought we’d be and who we became.

Despair is caused by self-betrayal and giving up on our deepest desires; it is the result of the risks not taken, the love not received or spoken. As John Burnside said, “Nothing I know matters more than what never happened.” Despair is the continual frustration and even anger over the feeling that some unspoken or spoken contract or agreement with our self, each other or the divine has been broken or dishonored. It is very different and from depression and must be treated differently.