February 20th, 2015
How do we change? How do we move from unhappy to happy, to change negative habits to positive ones? There is no straight line progression. Either you have a life-changing tragedy or trauma that forces you to look with new eyes at your situation and at the world all at once, or you plod along gradually, taking one step forward and two back.
I’m in the latter group. In the dry, cracked desert of my psyche little rivulets began to trickle down from some cool mountainous area. Grasses and plants sprouted here or there but the rest of the landscape was still overwhelmingly bleak.
My journal of these days is filled with complaints that drag on like an extra-inning baseball game. Most are about my coworkers at the University of Chicago, where I worked in the Office of College Publications (now defunct). Many were about my first wife. At the same time I was finding a way forward, a way to be less angry, less unhappy, less blaming of others, more responsible for myself, I spent considerable time blaming my wife (who was recovering from a life-threatening illness and trying to get off the medication that had saved her) for being a negative drag on me. The lowest rung of hell would force me to read these words in detail over and over and feel all the resentment I directed at this woman who only wanted to love me, to have children and who walked around the house crying because I was pulling away and becoming more distant from her.
At the same time, I was learning about compassion, about wisdom, and finding a family of friends who loved and accepted me.
In other words, you change by faking it. By enduring all these conflicting things at once.
On this day, I went to work and listened to a program on the radio called New Dimensions. Ram Dass was on.
“Truth waits for eyes unclouded by longing,” he said.
My teacher, Gelek Rimpoche, has a Ram Dass story he told then and still tells. Ram Dass was at a family dinner. He had been taking LSD. His brother was attacking him, criticizing him. Ram Dass said his words looked like arrows coming at him. He was able to stop the arrows touching him. They fell to the table in front of him.
I wrote: “Nothing has been more exciting than exploring my own mind, and seeing how it relates to the universe.”
Then just a few paragraphs later I was complaining that my wife had shrunken one of my shirts. Then called to the office in a panic about a financial problem that turned out to be nothing. “I am so unhappy with her. So displeased with her. She is such a negative in my life. She drains all the energy from me…” Our marriage took months and months to peter out.
We are taught not to feel guilt. Rather, to recognize what you have done, who you have wronged, and to regret, and to remediate somehow, and to promise not to do it again. I do that every day, and am doing it now.