Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.
I don't know exactly what a panic attack is supposed to feel like, but if it means your heart races and your breath catches and you kind of want to take your cart and send it flying and run back to your car and and flee that Big Box hell to head straight home to your urban sanctuary, then I think I may have had one yesterday in the housewares aisle at Target.
It's a year now since the Summer of Shiva, those few months in which I packed up my childhood homes in Nebraska and Florida and said goodbye to most of the relics from my pre-drinking-age life. And it only took 15 months, but last week I finally even dug into the trunk I'd shipped from Orlando after March's unexpected, frantic goodbye to the Ocala house. It had been sitting, untouched, in my closet here in San Francisco all that time. I'd told myself I'd get to unpacking it when I was ready. And, well, friends, needless to say, "ready" took awhile.
But on a caffeine-fueled Thursday afternoon last week, I finally sat down with that heavy beast and emptied it out, memories and laughter and tears and all. And those gloves you see me wearing there in the photo above left? They're now resting, unwashed, crusty with sweat and dirt and grime, on top of my fireplace mantle, next to the overgrown pothos and the Georgia O'Keeffe book. And that Nebraska plate I'm holding? It's squeezed on a bookshelf next to a few manuals on teaching yoga, an orange pashmina and my wee tambourine.
There are a few other little salvaged relics, here and there, tucked around my Lower Nob Hill flat: a brown coffee cup from circa 1984, a few spices to add to my baking collection, some unused superglue tubes, a frying pan. But other than that, the big things -- the trees, the scents, the memory of the way my voice used to echo in the cathedral ceiling of that Florida house? Those memories, those losses, have been sneaking up on me more often lately, and I wonder if they're still there; if the willow in the backyard in Lincoln is still bowing in the tumultuous prairie wind, if the fire ants are still as rabid on the concrete in Ocala where I used to do my Bikram series in the midday heat, if the garden's run ragged or if the new owners have decided to plant something after all.
It's funny how you find flashes of those losses flitting in and out of your consciousness, just when you think you've sucked it up and moved on and "let go" and all of those other things you're supposed to do when a house or a job or a person leaves your life. And I suppose part of the simultaneous blessing and curse of loss is that hints, scents, of those former realities somehow still manage to surprise us, tease us, when we least expect it.
I taught yesterday, two classes in the East Bay, and after a sweaty few hours of hips and shoulders and Ganesha and breath, I stopped by the big box chain stores in Emeryville on my way back into SF to pick up a few things I'd been needing. Living sans-car in the city, you learn to take advantage of those rare times behind the wheel to run the errands you usually just ignore, even when it means having to suck up your anti-consumption ethics and brave the shopping hordes for a few jaw-clenched minutes.
So I parked my zippy little Zipcar there at the brand new Target, a sleeping giant planted in the midst of the Home Depots and the Radio Shacks and the Best Buys and the Michaels, stepped out into the concrete parking lot, and found myself rushed back into a weird sense of bodily knowing that associated that experience, that place, with suburbanity, with those brief hot weekends over the last ten years spent in Lincoln and in Ocala, buying doorknobs and bathroom fixtures and curtain rods and bedskirts and the like.
(Not gonna lie: it kind of freaked me out. I wanted, urgently, to hop back in my car and speed back over the Bridge and drink black coffee and throw back a Fernet and escape into urbanity and all of the dark/smart/intellectual/subversive aspects of that life that I associate with not having usual access to big box stores and easy free parking and the like. But I breathed. And watched it. And told myself it was an, um, opportunity to practice not reacting.)
I've been really lucky, in having had the experience of building the Ocala house literally from the ground up, to have had my own taste of the simultaneous domestic heaven and hell that is building and outfitting a home. And while now, here in my little urban flat, I savor my ability to live as simply as possible, to really whittle down my wants and buy only what I truly need -- one set of towels, two sets of sheets, the same red plush chair bought from the Goodwill around the corner 8 years ago, my houseplants, one pot, a few wine glasses, nothing more -- there I was, pushing a shopping cart around Target, clad in my still-sweaty yoga clothes, feeling the strange juxtaposition of my simple, minimalist one-bedroom-flat-in-the-City life intermingled with this cart-pushing, suburban-house-owning, decorating, baking, sanding, varnishing, lawn-cutting domesticated version of myself, shopping for sink fixtures and towels and cutlery and the like.
And, folks: it was weird. It was really fucking weird.
I wanted a cocktail. Right there in the bedding aisle. Vodka, on the rocks.
I wanted to sit down, right there, to park my ass on the bottom shelf next to the Euro shams and the bedskirts, to sip a little Belvedere, and watch my thoughts, watch this strange reaction, watch this bizarro meeting of past and present lives all taking place in a few breaths between sheets and down-alternative comforters.
I wound up pushing that damn shopping cart around and around Target in some kind of befuddled daze, silenced and driven into anxiety by the sensory overload of so much Stuff To Buy, and I was so glad to live in a small writer's flat in the middle of the City that doesn't allow for decorating 3,000 square feet of domesticity, and I was so overwhelmed by the project that is filling a home with Color-Coordinated Stuff, and I was so sad to remember my body, this body, these eyes, that nose, breathing in all of those sights in Home Depots and Targets and Lowe's in Florida and in Nebraska, making a home in very different places, in very different ways, at very different times of my life, and it was all I could do to throw a few things in my cart, those few little "necessities" I'd set out to pick up quickly in the first place, and stumble my way to some kind of check-out line at the front of the store, where plenty of other folks were standing irritably in line waiting to pay for their trash cans and raw beef and kitchen soap and baby carriers,
and I wondered, how can they not be having some kind of profound revelation right now about time and life and loss and change?
and don't they realize that it's pointless to buy any of this crap, because it will just pass, it will just fade away, or get lost to the break-up, or wind up dirty and ripped, or be replaced for a new shinier version, or get buried in the soot from the big earthquake around the corner when we all die and fall into the crevices as the earth under California shudders and cracks open?
[no melodrama here, folks]
or is it just me, and I'm a little woo-woo after too many hours in the hot studio with not enough to eat, and once I get back across the Bridge with some Thai take-out in my belly and my Zipcar contentedly returned to its parking space on California and Polk, it'll all go away?
But then this morning I woke up, quiet, having slept, and slept well, on a belly full of aforementioned Thai take-out, to find this awareness of loss, and change, and houses, and letting go, still ripe in my consciousness, and sure enough, well, then Tricycle came through with this perfect, thoughtful, sorrowful, real piece on practicing with loss, and impermanence, and how to find some way to sit with the loss that is such a sobering thread of reality in our lives:
Read the article, check out the meditation on impermanence that follows it, and then promise yourself that the next time you see a yoga-skirt-clad chick having a slight panic attack over her housewares in the checkout line at Target, you'll reach over, tap her on the shoulder, say, "Hey babes, I get it: I lost a house (or a job, or my health, or my tight abs, or my Paschimottanasana, or the love of my life, or my socks, or my Swiss Army Knife) once, too, and it made me a little sad, but then I remembered that everything comes and goes, and although the house/lover/Swiss Army Knife is long gone, I've still got the stolen doorknob or the memory of the scent of his deodorant or the scars from where I accidentally cut myself to remind me."
At one time or another, everyone loses something. We lose loved ones. We lose our health. We lose our glasses. We lose our memories. We lose our money. We lose our keys. We lose our socks. We lose life itself. We have to come to terms with this reality. Sooner or later, all is lost; we just don’t always know when it will happen.
Loss is a fact of life. Impermanence is everywhere we look. We are all going to suffer our losses. How we deal with these losses is what makes all the difference. For it is not what happens to us that determines our character, our experience, our karma, and our destiny, but how we relate to what happens.
Realistically, since we will all suffer many losses, we need better, more evolved and astute ways of approaching sorrow and emotional pain. We need to be more conscious about the ways our losses can help us become wiser and more spiritually evolved; we also need to be more sensitive to and aware of other people’s pain and suffering.
Different forms of universal wisdom may tell us to “shake it off,” “get over it,” “offer it up to God,” “learn and grow from it,” or that “time heals all wounds” and “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” To somebody who is suffering from a profound loss, these words can sound superficial and shallow; they can even be infuriating.
But none of this alters the fact that we need to find more enlightened ways of approaching loss. There are so many different modes of suffering and dissatisfaction arising out of the various troubles and travails that afflict us. How can we appropriately respond to loss, failure, illness, death, tragedies, calamities, injustice, betrayal, shock, trauma, abuse, grief, and life’s most hurtful wounds? Can we do so with wisdom? Our sorrows provide us with the lessons we most need to learn.
Compare the intensity of losing a tennis game with that of losing a child. Think about the difference between losing a job, a mate, a house, or a parent. Think about what it means to lose innocence, trust, faith, or belief. Some varieties of loss are momentary, while others are more lasting and not necessarily to be swiftly released and forgotten. Some losses, like bankruptcy, unemployment, or eviction are serious, but they can eventually be put behind us. But others, like the loss of family members, mates, and young children, can be so brutal that we may never really get over what we have known and experienced; nor do we need to. The deep pain we continue to experience reminds us of our love and keeps our hearts open. We discover, often to our amazement and relief, that love is greater than time and place and even greater than death. We discover that we can hold our lost loves in our hearts even as we slowly open to new love.
With every breath, the old moment is lost, a new moment arrives. This is something Buddhist meditators know. We breathe in and we breathe out. In so doing, we abide in the ever-changing moment. We learn to welcome and accept this entire process. We exhale, and we let go of the old moment. It is lost to us. In so doing, we let go of the person we used to be. We inhale and breathe in the moment that is becoming. We repeat the process. This is meditation. This is renewal. It is also life.
Teachings on the nature of loss and change are the most basic and essential to seekers on the Buddhist path. However, most traditional Buddhist teachers don’t call it loss or change; they call it impermanence. Buddhist teachings remind us not to run away from our thoughts and feelings about the losses in our lives, but instead to become intimately aware of the gritty facticity of life.
That kind of awareness, that compassion, that shared loss grounded in community, in non-separation, that recognition that impermanence is a reality that darkens and graces all our lives, in every moment, every rising and falling breath, is what keeps us real, keeps us grounded in the moment, helps us to realize that yes, this house, this body, this love, this life will pass -- often before we're ready for it to do so, for sure -- and knowing that, we love it more now, we live in it more deeply, we savor it all the more. And we don't bother clinging to the matching sheet sets or the perfect sofa pillows or the shiny bathroom fixtures, because although we know they might bring us great joy or pleasure or peace right now, or even some shining illusion of security, we know, too, that at the end of the day, just as our bodies, our health, our flexibility will pass, so too will our pots and our pans and our gleaming sets of matching china.
And that's why we don't save grandmother's wedding china for special occasions. We use it for breakfast, for those Sunday morning omelets dripping with grease and cheese and pajamas, with the morning paper sprawled out all over the place, and NPR on in the background, and heads heavy with the ache of too much wine the night before, because -- why wait?
This moment will pass. This morning will pass. The china will pass. So we live in it, with it, here, now, inhaling, exhaling, enough.
Practicing With Loss (Tricycle: The Buddhist Review)