To me, the garden is, well, a garden. To Norma, the garden is alive. Why is it so hard for me to feel that? Most of the time, I treat nature as a stage set. I pace back and forth, mumbling into my beard. It’s an engaging soliloquy, but isn’t the garden speaking, too? Norma hears it. Isn’t the garden singing now, just as, in the winter, it broods and dreams? Here I am, my voice ringing on an empty stage. I am talking about love. I am talking about life.
It’s important to recognize my imperfections; it’s also important to stop pretending I’m less than I am. This morning, I woke up suffused with a love no words can describe. But in a few minutes, I was reaching for my dog-eared script, already forgetting the radiance that had permeated my being.
Do I really need to understand myself better? Isn’t that just another kind of accomplishment, another goal that’s always out of reach? In therapy, I discover hallways that lead to more hallways, secret stairwells, rooms within rooms. This is the sort of mansion a man could spend his whole life exploring, following clue after clue. But loving myself has nothing to do with following clues. Loving myself has nothing to do with understanding my story — such a beautiful story, such a poignant story. Just a story.
I begin in the dark, having awakened before my president. Let my president sleep, let my president dream. I wonder if, in his dream, he’s still president of the most powerful country in the world. I wonder if, in his dream, he sits in the Oval Office, wondering how he got there. Maybe it’s just a dream, he thinks. Maybe he’s not really president. But he’s afraid to ask: people might stare at him; they might laugh.
I don’t want a tax break. I don’t want to get richer while the poor get poorer. But I don’t pretend this makes me a saint, because I like what money can buy: a double espresso, a room in a good hotel. Because of my modest success, because of my comfortable surroundings, because I have so many choices, I try to narrow my choices: When the alarm rings, I get up. I pray to the mysterious God. I follow my breath. I drink black coffee and braid my thoughts into sentences.
What did Neem Karoli Baba say about Abraham Lincoln? “Lincoln was great because he knew he was only acting president.” How do I remember that I, too, am only acting a part? In my dream, Sy isn’t a bad man at all. He’s loved. He’s respected. But he’s asleep nonetheless. Young man, old man — where did the years go? He kept writing in his dream journal right up to the end, forgetting that only one thing mattered: wake up!
I’m grumpy because Norma had dinner last night with another man. I’m grumpy because it was dinner, not lunch. I’m grumpy because I shouldn’t even care: they weren’t fucking each other; they were just eating overpriced pasta in a trendy restaurant, just being friends. I’m grumpy because, after nearly eighteen years of marriage, I’m still so easily threatened by another man, even when the threat isn’t real. My wife loves me dearly. She’d never betray me. Then why do I respond to every blip on the radar screen as if it signaled an attack? When it comes to marriage, I’m just like the president, insisting we need a $500 billion missile defense shield to protect us while we sleep.
So she was gone for an evening. And all those other evenings, the ones we spent together: aren’t they gone, too? I can’t claim them for my own. I can’t claim Norma for my own. That’s just one more illusion, the tenacious fantasy of a tenacious ego.
Judging myself for not being more aware is never helpful. The judgment masquerades as some kind of “teaching,” but the real teaching is in seeing the judgment for what it is. My struggle to be more aware isn’t a consequence of some moral failing, or an unhappy childhood, or not having read enough spiritual books. It’s a consequence of being human, and it’s a challenge I can resent or embrace.
There’s nothing I need to prove. There’s nowhere I need to go. There’s no culminating event in the future that will redeem the past, nor does the past need to be redeemed. This is it. The “answer” to life can’t be anywhere but here. Publishing The Sun for another quarter century won’t change that. Nor will meditating every day. Nor will bench-pressing another thirty pounds. Do I believe it’s important to relieve suffering? Then I need to relieve suffering right here, right now, not with plans for a brighter tomorrow. Time is a shell game: if I bet on tomorrow, I’m going to lose.
Once a man is free from illusion, the Buddha said, once he has freed himself from dwelling on sorrow, he will delight in existence and help reveal the path to many. Still, to free myself from dwelling on sorrow is no small task. In this culture of forced cheerfulness, it sometimes seems as if the grief I’ve repressed is the deepest truth of all. But just because something is buried doesn’t mean it’s the treasure I seek.
Let me stay rooted in what’s real, even as the storm rages. The thunder is loud; the lightning could kill me. Something is going to kill me one day, that’s for sure. Let me stand my ground, even as the sky rumbles. Let me remember that, no matter how hard the wind blows, the planet doesn’t pause in its orbit. This is the kind of weather report that bears repeating.