02 June 2010

Following the Rules

In the morning (or whenever I get up) I perform a little ritual: start the coffee, make my bed; grab a cigarette and a lighter (and sometimes a book) and take them to the little courtyard in front of the house; move the chair into the sunlight, return to the kitchen to complete coffee prep and take my beautiful Peet's Coffee thermos outside. I smoke and drink, read, pull weeds, watch the birds glut themselves at the feeder and think.

In the house where I grew up there was a right way and wrong way to do everything. It's probably one reason I am drawn to improvisation as an adult. There are lots of "right" ways to do things in improvisation and I like that.

There are rules; but the rules govern attitude rather than specific behaviors or movements or sounds.

I hate being told what to do. When someone gives me an order, it drives a wide, white bolt of lightning down the center of my inner landscape...buildings start crumbling to the ground and trees fall and the air is filled with screams and angry shouts. As a child, I simply did what I was told. As an adult, I throw a tantrum inside my head--visible on the outside to varying degrees depending on the situation.

The psychic dissonance is even greater when the order is delivered in a manipulative or passive-aggressive spirit. The cacophony grows louder with the addition of the snarling voice of my "inner judge" as I criticize the psychology of whoever is issuing the demand.

I suffer when someone gives me an order.
It's a ring of my Private Hell.

Many spiritual and religious traditions speak to the issue of human suffering and how to minimize or eliminate it. Tonight I will attend a dharma talk on Heart Sutra. I anticipate receiving insight on the judgment-inspired dimension of my suffering and I will listen when it comes. As I make my way through the current Life Curriculum on Life Work, it is clear that my journey from "here" to "there", from mostly suffering to more joy, will involve change: change of perspective, practice, opinion, habit, approach... I am willing.

Extrapolated from "Don't tell me what to do" is "I hate rules." This morning, I was struck by the predictability and precision of my coffee-cigarettes-weeding-and-reading ritual. I follow the rules closely in my morning ritual.

Following rules is not the source of the suffering; having rules dictated to me is the issue.

"I don't want rules! I want to improvise!" is the mantra intoned as I stamp around in my tantrum. This morning "Don't tell me what to do! I want to improvise!" transformed into "Don't tell me what to do. I want to make my own rules."

The words "improvise" and "imagination" usually operate in tandem in my lexicon. Whenever one is banned the other immediately and automatically deactivates.

This interpretation or perspective appears to me now as a possible contributor to my suffering.

Another new ritual or habitual behavior that has developed in these first two months of return to CA involves concurrent computer work/play and piano work/play. The piano bench sits only a few inches from the desk chair in my little room. I sit at the piano and work intensely on Bach or Chopin for a spell and then slide over to the desk and answer email or play a computer game or, today, blog. Back and forth between the two keyboards for hours, with an occasional break to step outside and smoke.

The effect on my psyche? A scene of humming industry: my mind's eye sees conversations at cafe tables and gardens being watered and dogs running beneath a sky of pristine blue where wide-winged birds soar in pulsing sunlight. A steady breeze stirs gently and the lungs of everything that lives fill and empty and fill again and empty again.

There is order and beauty. Imagination and improvisation course through every moment, every action, every aspect of the scene. It is the exquisite beauty and order of chaos.

It is difficult to allow the mind to find its natural resting place (and I do believe a river of tranquility flows somewhere inside each of us). There is so much to think about. There is so much memory to cling to and fret about. So many judgments to pass and defenses to construct. So many plans to make and escape hatches to secure.

But we do much of this kind of thinking unconsciously. Awareness of the ceaseless churning and chattering is a first step toward returning to tranquility. A next step is realizing that we are creating much of the churning and chattering--the World is not shouting at us so much as we are shouting at ourselves.

These two tiny steps "outside" place us a little closer to tranquility. Stepping outside the storm to observe it places us...outside the storm.

When I listen for my life's calling, I hear an indistinct song about helping myself and others toward honest, humble, compassionate observance of the journeys of our souls and spirits as represented in the ways we think. And, insofar as, "As I think, so I behave" is true, to change the World by helping people to change the way they think. I want to help us make rules for living that allow and encourage imagination.

This is an important part of my life work and I'd like some company on the way.

1 comment:

  1. I've been thinking a lot lately about the nature of karma and how it is not simply about sowing and reaping, but, more deeply, about [my] life's work, and how I co-create my karma with Providence/Fate/the Universe/God by all the choices I've made thus far.

    I understand my karma to be something like an obstacle course that I've designed for myself, or perhaps like an escape challenge that Houdini or somebody might contrive...

    By that token, the reason life never gets "easier" and the lessons tend to be rather monotonous is not because I keep failing the lessons, but rather because I keep adding new levels of complexity.

    Several years ago I had a conversation with a therapist who suggested that it may just be that I create needs for myself--niches into which I happen to fit quite handily--as a function of my drive to feel useful. The way he said it was uncommonly gracious and made me feel for the first time as though what for me has always been a pattern may not be a pathology at all, contrary to what decades' worth of self-help books had led me to conclude.

    A Columbus poet, Valerie Malloy, I think her name was, decades ago shared with me a poem that began something like, "Was Jesus codependent? Is God an enabler?" Yes, as Robin Norwood quoted in Women Who Love Too Much, "Help is the sunny side of control," but sometimes help is exactly what's being called for. Sometimes I create my own callings--for my own discipline and sometimes, happily, for the benefit of my larger world.

    I'm learning (albeit more slowly and painfully than I might have fancied much of the time) to judge the increasing complexity of my life less and appreciate the possibility that I may simply imposing new rules--he said, internalizing the language in Alex's current blog observations--on myself.


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