Saturday, March 21, 2009

Walls, only Walls

So much to process. How can I even begin? "Just do it," Nat would say. So I will.

First, this is how my last week and a half has looked:
Thursday before last through Saturday: Milwaukee, teaching and working, lots of socializing.
Saturday: party at our house
Sunday: Hung out with friends most of the day
Monday: Grade all day and write
Tuesday: Drove to Wi Rapids and back to teach, help Natalie Goldberg out at night
Wednesday: Drove Natalie Goldberg around, spend time with her, go to her reading
Thursday: Graded all day, watched some Buffy
Friday: 6am Left for LaCrosse
Saturday: Returned from LaCrosse (attended conference, lots of socializing)
Saturday night (tonight): Friend's birthday party
Sunday (tomorrow): Shambhala Arts Day at Madison Shambhala Center most of day
Monday: grade all day and party at night (sister in law's bday)
Next Weekend: three day weekend in Chicago socializing and teaching.
Let me just be clear that I am not complaining. Just realistically assessing. Thanks to all who have spent time with me this week. Very good things! Just too much. Like too much cheesecake.

In the last 5 or so years of teaching, there are some things I have learned about myself and what teaching does "to me"
1. I need at least every other weekend off. No teaching, no traveling, just chilling at home.
2. I am good at social and love people but I MUST have time alone and quiet.
3. Large chunks of #2 are crucial for my sanity, and so is 9 hours a night of sleep.
4. No matter how happy I am with the content of my life, if I don't get 1-3, I suffer greatly.

More recently, I have set it up so that when life is steady, I do the following:
5. Meditate every day for at least 15 minutes, do yoga or stretching, exercise 3x week and write every day.

However, this has not been one of those weeks. Despite taking out adult classes (on spring recess right now) - or maybe because of that, plus happy circumstance (Natalie), I managed to fill my "vacation" with stuff to do. This next week I will have some time, but until then, there's more talking and listening to do. I keep making language mistakes - I am tired and can't track my own speech, as if I am drunk. Luckily I won't actually be "teaching" anything in the next two days, and tomorrow night, I can sleep as much as I need.

Solo time. Unstructured solo time. For me, more and more, this kind of time, which I didn't understand at all and judged as a waste when I began this adventure of self-boss-ness, is crucial. Maybe it has been all along and I didn't see it. But now I know that I need it. Time to choose to watch tv, meditate, read, do nothing. Pet the cats. Walk. Buy groceries.

The last two days I was in LaCrosse attending a conference called "Awakening the Soul of the Writer" with 5 of my students. I didn't drive, I didn't have to teach, but it was busy - full of ideas, lots of concentration and not much sleep. Despite near utter exhaustion, one stream of thought emerged out of all of the workshops (well, more than one, but this is the strongest one): that everything we fear, all self-hatred, all Acedia (the main concept at the conference), all depression, all - as we Buddhists put it - dukkha or suffering (more commonly now being called "anxiety" to match the language of our age) is caused by a fear of impermanence. Of death. Of loss.

Why do I hate myself sometimes? Why waste my time creating a self only to hate it? Because if I can hate it it means there is a self to hate. Ridiculous? Who ever said life made sense. All of these games are walls to "protect" the vulnerable heart, which can, which does actually feel the raw temporal state of the universe. It knows the truth. Feelings touch you and let go - your ego is what keeps them in tandem for too long after. We cling to suffering because it is a veil we can wear against the truth. Our fig leaf of shame.

"I don't exist and I cannot handle that," our inner Eve or Adam says. I am filled with Biblical images, as Acedia is ostensibly a Christian concept, though the word was born of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, Chrisitian mystics of the 4th-6th centuries.

The walls we put up against this vulnerability, the truth our hearts know and can try and tell us about through our bodies, our blocked-with-distraction arteries, these walls are made of the bricks of distraction - even when they attempt to pave a road to good intention. I need to not build these walls - even if they get me to truly inspiring conferences like these. Too warn out and I serve no one. Without space, this heart cannot breathe, cannot feel and misses the truth.

Solo time is that space. My heart rejoices and reconnects with the world. The fevered pitch of busy-ness may just indicate exactly that, in fact - trying too hard to fill because I can't feel the space at all. I need to do things to know I can, instead of appreciating the potential and leaving it at that. Some do not enough. I do too much. But I am working on it. And playing with it.


  1. one of the things i learned when i started freelancing in nyc was that i Had to schedule myself days off. you can work every day when you're in charge- there is no union to guarantee you vacation or sleep. everyone overdoes it at first, then realizes there must be balance. aside from "me" time, you still need to do laundry, get groceries, go to the bank and the post office and wherever.
    i have one of those weeks coming up this week, and, like you, i am grateful for the great things i get to do, but somewhat horrified when i actually look at how intensely i am scheduled.

  2. You are very right - "me" time in addition to all the rest - hard to know which ones are necessary until it's up to you to do them. Thanks, ajt!