Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, two progressions come to mind. The first progression was downward and defined by increasing self-hate. Its floor was despair and emotional numbness and complete self-centered fear. I don’t understand why the progression didn’t continue its momentum, which would have surely ended my life; and I have no doubt that such an end still remains a possibility. However, there was a floor. From that floor began the second progression, and it was upward. It was defined by increasing inner silence. Also came self-acceptance, self-responsibility, humility, love and selflessness. No ceiling has yet been reached; I’m not sure that there is a ceiling. And I wonder if the heights would be as great if the depths weren’t as low.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, sometimes I’m sad with the thought of all the people I’ve said goodbye to. There are so many places I’ve left, people I met there, across the oceans… This is my melancholy, depressing, woe-is-me shit, when I bring forth that thought of “I won’t ever see their faces again.” I could stew on the surface of that thought for hours. But there is something epic beneath its surface. Something legendary. It is the stories of them. The stories I made of them. Each face is a novel. Maybe what I miss most is the thought there will be no new stories made of each face. But have I written the stories already there? Have I read all that they were to me? The best stories — and have no doubt that each face I have seen in this life is a ‘best story’–can be read hundreds of times, and though the words be the same, each time it will be new, because I am new. So, I like to think that all those people I said goodbye to, have come along and changed with me, and I will continue to refresh their legends.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I knew many gifts of desperation. I was desperate for my father’s approval, for my mother’s comfort, for my classmates’ validation, for a relationship to define me, for a career to define me, for financial security. I even became desperate to stop drinking alcohol. However, when I finally gained all those things, even when the bottle was put down, the desperation remained. And I found myself wondering what really I was desperate for? Somehow I knew its taste, its flavor; all my life seemed pointed towards it. What that thing is continues to allude me, but I continue to check off boxes of what that thing is not.
The commencement of oatmeal making in the morning ideally begins when one member of a two-member coupling awakens slightly before the other. This one shall lay in bed flipping her eyelashes up and down for several moments, first pondering the entirety of the day that waits – and, possibly, if it be a Sunday, the upcoming week – before narrowing her focus on the immediate business at hand, the curious rumblings in her stomach.
She should make notice about how she leaves the bed. Her movements will take much practice before mastery comes. The bed is to be left with a deft maneuver, whereupon she swings her feet into the air, out into the void, and down upon the rug, all without disturbing the partner. If she indeed is a master, she will abandon the bed like a whisper leaving the lips of a débutante, dismissing the bedsheets so casually you would think them unimportant to her; though we know she spent the entire night burglarizing them from her partner, who still sleeps unknowingly, and un-blanketed, at the far edge of the mattress.
Still mindful of excessive noisemaking she leaves the room on tip-toed feet, her walk not becoming chassé until she enters the kitchen and finds her confidence. She fills the tea kettle with 27 to 34 ounces of the finest tap water and is careful to maintain concentration. A great many novices at this stage become distracted by the happenings outside the kitchen window – perhaps the alley cat stalks a black crow across the morning snow – and the kettle is dropped upon the stovetop with a great clatter and yelp.
If this happens, she must freeze, and from the bedroom might come a sleepy groan; but hopefully he is soothed by the hiss of the gas, the rapid click of the igniter, and the whoosh of the flame which blooms beneath the kettle. Only when his snores return in earnest – as a grouch bear who awakens too early from hibernation and, realizing it only January, returns to his den pacified by the promise of another three months of shut-eye – can she herself sigh with relief and return to her joyful activities.
She transfers the boiling water from kettle to pot, and fills the pot with two cups of the finest Irish Steel-Cut Oats. These oats are the quick-cooking variety, since time is placed in higher regard when the day is young. (If this couple were older, the oats are more likely the slow-cooking variety, since age tends to put time in its proper place.)
The oats now stewing in their bubbling cauldron, the timeline has shortened dramatically, and she must attend to many matters seemingly at once.
She takes two wooden bowls from the cupboard and slices bananas to fill their bottoms. She removes from the pantry a jar of natural peanut butter – organic, hand-pressed, lined with gold leaf – and places it upon the table. A glass bottle of the world’s greatest maple syrup from a Sugar Zion most have never visited in the flesh, but only in dreams (and only then in dreams of the most erotic and sinful nature), joins the peanut butter upon the table top; as well as two spoons, two small glasses of juice and/or tea and/or coffee, two napkins, and a bib (if one member be non-domesticated). Other delicacies might also now be added, such as Maine blueberries or Washington State raspberries or New York apples – in the first hour of your day, you might put the whole world upon your plate!
Her hands must move with outstanding grace as she prepares the last items for oatmeal setting. She dashes Pink Himalayan Salt over the oats still seething in their pot upon the stove, stirs the dish seven times with a wooden spoon, turns off the burner and covers it. Taking a sip of her Chai, she glances a hard stare at the table setting, determining whether the right time has come, and whether she is ready to welcome another soul into her existence this day. She might decide, and this be her natural right, to keep this day her own for a moment longer. And who could blame her, for the oaf in the other room is quite oafish.
But today her choice is for company.
She is a prodigy; her intuition guides her. So when she drops the wooden spoon loudly to the kitchen floor, one might mistake it for ham-handedness. But she does nothing by accident. And she does not mind the stirrings that thus come from the bedroom.
Three-and-a-half minutes later, the other half of the two stumbles sleepily into the kitchen in flannel pajama bottoms and eye-crust, kisses her upon the cheek and asks if he might help. She beckons him to the table, where he sits and wonders about the dream that woke him – something about timber falling – and he makes clumsy comments on the weather and her beauty.
Finally, she lifts the cover from the pot.
Steam piles toward the heavens and the smell of Ireland – the pastoral farms and shepherds in the hills and gray rain-laden skies – fills the entirety of the apartment’s lower atmosphere. Satisfied of its consistency, she ladles the oatmeal into the two wooden bowls and sits.
By and by, the couple dips spoons into their bowls and enjoy this time together.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, it became obvious that person, place or thing did not determine my peace. I once stood atop the island of Capri and looked down from the cliffs at a remarkably blue sea, and this was probably the most beautiful place in the world, and a beautiful woman who loved me was awaiting my return to a dazzling hotel room given for free. But I felt such insecurity that weekend that my mind had wrecked me. I remember feeling such anxiety in that moment, nearly I was in tears. There was no beauty; I couldn’t see it, and I felt so confused and guilty for not being able to enjoy what certainly must be the definition of happiness. I thought, What was wrong with me? A little part of me was disillusioned that day, and though I didn’t know it, something was clarified. Several years before Capri, I also felt miserable, but felt I had good reasons why. I had a dead-end job, no relationship, no money, no passport — if only I could change these things, I thought, I could finally be happy. And then I got sober, I began to look inward, doing work upon my fears and taking responsibility for myself. One night, sitting alone on the floor of my bare apartment with a candle, I suddenly realized a peace I had never before known. Nothing had changed on the outside, and yet, everything had changed. Work began to look more exciting; I began to bring more creativity to my job. New friends began to appear; I fostered friendships that redefined friendship for me. And though I wasn’t making any more money than before, it was fine; I actually began giving more to charities. So. I remember all this now. And today when I suffer, I do not refuse or repress the suffering, but remind myself that my potential for a peaceful mind is always the same, no matter who is around me, where I live, where I work, what I own, my health, or how much money I have. Nothing can take my peace from me, as long as I find it within, as long as I continue toward that too often understood word: spiritual growth.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I question the motives behind my professional work as a creative. I continuously oscillated between producing work I thought the client might appreciate, or doing work true to myself. The former way, the way of the salesman, paid meager rewards, sometimes only money and applause. The latter way, the way of the Authentic, confronted fear (that same insecurity which drives the salesman to sell his lifetime for a dime of appreciation) but this way proved most fulfilling, most honest in the end. And, though this seem a contradiction, working true to oneself has always been the more selfless way.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see my hypocrisy. Once, I spoke about honesty–how honest I was! But, man, I always spoke to please others. My actions were intended not to offend, to be safe, and to avoid arousing any suspicion that I might be different or weird. How honest was I when I couldn’t ever be authentic to myself?
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see a life filled with moments I could define and describe in relation to other moments. With logic and reasons, every movement made could be analyzed and mined for lessons, to use for future decisions — but I know my future will come on its own and there is doubt whether my active participation has ever changed the outcome; so all that lesson gathering might just be me hiding from the truth of my own powerlessness. Even to line up my life seems too geometric. Rather I’d let it fall and cascade upon the earth, beneath my feet where I’m now standing.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see that sometimes I was bored. But I never actually stopped and asked what was behind the boredom. Instead I looked for things to excite me, or things to do next. When I told people I was bored, no one ever advised me to stay bored. What would happen if I turned to face boredom without moving away?
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see how I blamed people for my problems. And by blaming them, I was saying that they had power over my happiness. This was a clever way for me not to actually do anything about changing myself. Today I see many people blaming political figures for the problems of the world.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I consider my lack of formal education an unexpected (and completely unearned) gift. My own self-destruction led me to drop out of three universities before the age of 22. I was forced to learn many things on my own. Because I was self-taught, I became intensely familiar with being stuck without an answer to a problem. When confronted with a problem, I had no heady storehouse full of facts and information and memorized strategy, no education to fall back on. I had to wait in that raw, anxiety-riddled pocket of the unknown, until an answer revealed itself for trial. Most would think this awful, a clear argument for formal education. However, without formal education, answers always came to me too. And when the answer came, it came clean and carrying no prejudice. It came sudden and immediate. Perhaps if I’d had a thousand books in my head to wade through, the answer would have come slower; I don’t know where my library was. My answers seemed to come like morning sunlight atop the head of a dumb praying monk. I spent a lot of time in the darkness of ignorance (a place we occupy more than we realize, no matter what we tell ourselves), and perhaps I fear that darkness less because I spent so much time there. Being stuck is not such a bad thing. It’s a necessary stop before new realization.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, there are friends I lost connection with along the way. Sometimes, what kept me from reigniting the friendship was my doubt whether I could do what it took to be a good friend. Or so I thought, until I got over myself and stopped being such a selfish ass.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, there was a time when I fell in love with rules and protocol. I was teaching myself how to create websites, and my days were filled with guidelines, strategy, best practices and what others said made great art. It became religious; I almost came to idolize the rules and became urgent in finding more. But my design never seemed to improve. Almost it seemed the deeper into the system I went, the more strangled I became. Until, almost, I could barely move without questioning whether I was doing it the right way. It wasn’t until I dropped the rules and became my own explorer, however terrified and insecure I was, that my designs found any quality. Sometimes, rules are added after great art is made, by the people who are too scared to let themselves go. I was following those rules for the same reason.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, if I could revisit my past self during the times I felt most hopeless, would I tell myself everything would be ok? I’m not sure I should. Because those times were the closest I ever came to accepting life as life really is, that there is no solid ground, that peace doesn’t come from possession or Other. Those times were when my beliefs, which had protected me from these truths, were proven false. The feeling in that moment is always hopelessness. Eventually I always created another belief, and new hope came with it; until one day that belief was eliminated too. Maybe Hopelessness is what’s written on the welcome sign to Acceptance, (not soft-crap-let’s-hug acceptance, but real oh-god-throw-god-out-the-window Acceptance). I don’t really know; I never got past the sign.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, there were many people who said hurtful things about me. Of course, I was only hurt because I believed what they said was true. They didn’t even have to say anything. However, if they hadn’t said anything, I probably would have never known how I really felt about myself.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, truly my greatest battles were always within. But maybe so much war wasn’t always needed.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see the world reflecting me. Once I knew a young woman who was the angriest person I’d ever known. At first I judged her, thought her wrong, and believed it my job to show her a better way. But this did not work. Eventually, my own anger began to rise and I found myself screaming and shaking uncontrollably. I had always thought myself someone who didn’t have anger. I saw then that I had only denied my anger. I had feared anger my entire life, and fearing it, I tried to control it. Without this young woman and her behaviors that upset me terribly, I never would have seen this in myself. I try to remember this today. When the world upsets me, I try to find myself in the world. In this way, the worst days hold the most potential, and the people I think the worst are the most helpful. Maybe by doing this I can be the example the world looks to.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I knew solitude different than loneliness. Solitude was the quiet of myself. I knew solitude as a kid when I wandered the streams and woods. I knew solitude driving through rural New York with an open window at sunset, after leaving Rich’s house, knowing finally I was not whom I had judged for so long, knowing change was possible. I knew solitude for a brief second in time beneath a hazy afternoon light in London, after all my gods had burned down and what didn’t burn was the truth to see. I knew solitude again sipping Cortadas in India under sheets of rain in a world upside down, a world I’d tortured with my fears, a world proven resilient and hardy, a world that still took all my breath away – when the wind gusted and ripped at the tarps and pushed my scooter sideways, but we laughed, were soaked, were lost, and sped through tiny villages under a jungle moon. In solitude I was not always alone. In solitude I was not always solemn. Solitude was wholly good and saturated with stillness, but solitude was not without sadness or grief or other emotions I’d so often considered indicators of wrong direction. My solitude contained the multitude of all my emotions. In solitude, there was no separation. I realize this seems a contradiction.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, all my good intentions toward the world appear inefficient and misdirected. I see how my angry mind, my sad mind, even my excited mind, all lessened my abilities to help people. So many times I have let my unsettled mind lead me, and I have stepped in so much shit along the way, failing to bite my tongue, hurting others in my childish rants. Both you and I suffer the consequences of my ‘good intentions.’ My stomach churns with my regrets for what I’ve said. My heart clouds not knowing how to overcome myself. I believed so deeply I was right to say what I did! But now I see the denseness of my self-denial. I refuse to continue this. I refuse to leap into the mud with you. What help would I be to you then? I must have a peaceful mind before I might bring peace to the world. This is hard and I have been so frustrated in this challenge. The storms still come and rage. I see my storms in you, and it terrifies me what we will do to each other.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I wonder for what I was always searching. There were times when I was so sure of what I wanted. But when I gained it, either I was disillusioned or immediately began searching for more. There was never any permanent contentment with anything gained. Things, people and situations came and went; my emotions rose and fell. Moments of sublime bliss too, but those moments also went. I don’t believe I’m alone in this struggle for permanence. We all struggle. We all keep searching. But this… during those rare moments when I have stopped searching – as on that day I walked in the woods and was struck dumb by the falling leaves – there was stillness and no time, no frame for ideas like permanence or temporary. I felt suddenly there was no need for anything. I was here. I needed go nowhere. Where have I gone since?
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, who was the real me? How many different ways have I seen myself in this life? How strongly did I think myself a certain person, only to years later not even remember who I thought I was? How many Me’s have I forgotten? How many people did I hurt, how long did I suffer myself, in defense of these ghosts? It appears I have spent much time and energy on this personal project.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I look at how I read books. In childhood, I read books for joy and, possibly, escape. However, whatever the motivation, books opened my guts to places they’d never been, and I often found myself reading in wonder and constant surprise. I spent many hours with red eyes in a cold bath because I couldn’t put down a book. Stories nourished me, stories about people I’d never met, stories about ideas I’d never made. In adulthood, I’ve found myself reading books differently. Now I read books in an attempt to validate what I already know. I try to fit the author’s words to my concepts, and mostly I’m successful; I leave the most indigestible books at the store. So if I’m doing this with books, what else might I be doing it with?
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see how teachers entered my life. At first, I barely recognized them and their voices scared me. But by the end of our lessons together, I realized their voice sounded oddly similar to my own. They were always me, weren’t they? They also say that our enemies are our greatest teachers. The process is the same.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see how quickly I abandoned truth for security. During those times when I was at the brink, when my emotions and thoughts wrecked me, eventually I always turned to comfortable ideas for solace. How many self-help books did I read to satisfy my self-doubt? How many spiritual videos did I watch to satiate my grieving heart? I told myself I was truth seeking. Was it the truth I sought, or simply respite from the truth that was right there shaking my life to smithereens and begging for my attention? In my seeking I discovered all new comforting ideas. I thought these ideas so unique and special and profound, but were they any different than the comforting ideas of my youth that I had come to judge in adulthood? Are those who seek solace in marriage, legacy building or the promised bliss of an afterlife any different than myself seeking solace in meditation, good karma or the idea of spiritual enlightenment? I felt so secure in my newfound “truths” that I became a bigot judging others as bigots. I felt so secure that I had to convince everybody that my way was better. Ultimately, I was quite fooled and I acted the part. Ultimately, what I’ve realized, is that security delivers no truth, and truth does not promise security. Ultimately, I just have to let my life shake without going for refuge. Shake and wake, baby. Shake and wake.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I recall the stretches when I felt so engaged in my own growth and every day seemed to offer a startling new perspective. Now, sometimes I miss those days, wish to return and feel the excitement of those lessons again. But I cannot go back. Even if I could, I would rot in those stale slack winds. I have new lessons to learn now, truths even more profound and engaging, lessons that transcend any that came before. Maybe I wish for old lessons because I seek their security. I always hesitated before stepping into a new classroom.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, it was not the knowledge I gained, but the attitude of learning that altered me most. I do not remember Calculus or Caligula. But I remember my openness, my questioning the validity of my own opinion, my willingness to hear another perspective. They say to fix the world we must educate it. But perhaps we don’t need a common curriculum. Perhaps what we need is a return to a spirit of wonder and teachability. So I’ll pray for my humility today, and hope my arrogance is fleeting.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, it seems greater to have found peace in the Nothing Times than in the Everything Times. When I was in a rut, when I felt dull and was desperate for newness and change, when I felt defeated and retreated–what if I found peace with all that Nothing? Well, sometimes I did; I found myself neutral with no need. Then, suddenly, life began to fill with amazing substance, sometimes so quickly I wished for the dull days again.