Sitting down to write this over brunch while my children were with their father, I found myself intensely irritated by the jangling Christmas song that was playing, that was pounding with the most monotonous rhythm between my ears and through my head. How would I write this thoughtful, wise, affecting piece, I wondered.
And this description of my state in that moment of starting this piece contains all of what intense living meant this year and how beauty and anxiety (or joy and pain; or being alive and being irritated) are always present. For this year, 2018, has hammered me much like that Christmas song (and that first song was followed by another of the same, with the same kind of nostalgic chiming that makes me want to hit my head against the wall with the same slowed-down-sledgehammer rhythm).*
In 2018, I lost my home, and got a new home. I’ve been surrounded by loving old friends, some of whom want me to be stylish and sexy. I’ve found new friends who enjoy my being foolish and want me to be wise. I’ve listened to sorrows that aren’t directly my own with more care, which means more boldly, more uncertainly, more tenderly, some mix of those. I’ve been slapped numb by Trump, and RISE San Diego Gen IV has filled my heart. I’ve stepped out into shocking aliveness in NYC and I’ve returned to heartache, tacos, longboarding, coyotes, and sunsets in San Diego. I’ve waited, and waited. I’ve struggled to write and publish and I’ve written gloriously (and will publish soon!). I’ve continued a family history with my mother and brother. I’ve built on my family history with my daughters who are heading (I think, I hope!) towards knowing and loving me more fully than anyone. I’ve been heartsick that another family history has ended. Pretty much every thought and feeling slowed. Parts of me have left. I’m uncertain about whether some have returned. Will I know if they do? It’s still hard to admit I’ve cried. I’ve lost myself and found myself, over and over, and, often enough, I haven’t been sure which was which.
In the midst of all this intense living, I started dipping back into Buddhist writing and rediscovered a teacher, Chogyam Trungpa. From him, I found my ‘mantra’ for this holiday season and my transition into 2019. Beauty and anxiety are always present. The book I am reading focuses on anxiety or suffering. The shadow side of anxiety and suffering are happiness and joy, or beauty. The logic, sort-of, is that once you truly know the glass is always half-empty (there are always sources and effects of anxiety and suffering), you can enjoy it being half-full (there are always sources and effects of beauty and joy). The tricky part is that the 'half-full' and 'half-empty' aren’t easily distinguished. Beauty and anxiety are always present. I’ve always known this, and now I know it more deeply.
In the last fifteen years, I’ve shied away from both beauty and anxiety. My life had large and endless swirls of beauty, mainly relational – especially the joy of loving and being loved by my children and spouse – and somewhat physical – especially the sensuous beauty of light, water, earth, movement, and touch. Not much of the intellectual, so a large part of me was shoved into dormancy, and profoundly missed. In that state I was like the Bollywood victim who was cast into liquid oxygen by the Bollywood mob boss he had transgressed. The liquid didn’t let the transgressor live, and the oxygen didn’t let him die (hence, he was left suspended in a wickedly ironic "living death"). Like that transgressor, I couldn’t fully live the beauty in my life because part of me was sedated; also I was afraid if I enjoyed it too much it would be taken away. And I couldn’t fully live the anxiety because, well, my life was so full of sensuous beauty and so, so much love, how could I permit myself the indulgence of anxiety? So I lived, mostly ok, in a slightly flattened state – sometimes happy and smiling, sometimes complaining.
This year the anxiety grew exponentially more intense, and the beauty exploded.
I could have denied one or the other; or, more familiarly, I could have spread myself across a neutered middle. But my friends, my family, New York City, and San Diego (special bow, again, to RISE) didn’t let me. I have them both – beauty and anxiety, joy and suffering – all the time. Sometimes one rises more to consciousness, sometimes the other does. I don’t deny either.
* Of course, this music celebrates the birth of the man (or Son of God) who taught generous and vulnerable love.