One In and One Out Has to Be Enough Today
By Jane Tawel
December 18, 2019
There are days a person doesn’t feel like working. Or writing. There are days a person doesn’t even feel like being awake, or alive. There are not enough bullet points in the world, some days, to help me re-group, make plans, feel different, breathe deeply, or even care. If asked on some mornings to make a bucket list, there are some mornings I think I would just say, I am ready to kick the bucket, down the hall, out the door, and into outer space. And I’m not ready because I want to die, or I am at peace, although sometimes, I am ready to die without peace — it is just that depressing and bleak-feeling. I’m ready to kick the bucket lists, and dreams, and meaning out, because it all seems so meaningless and hopeless and pointless, and “Me-less”. Who am I in this whole mess that is Life? What difference does it possibly make that I just took another breath?
Someone said to me at a party yesterday, “Oh, I have never been a follower of any organized religion. That is why I became a Buddhist.” And of course, being the awkward, insecure, usually moronic-sounding-in-social-situations-person-I-am, I just politely smiled and nodded and did what all people at parties they don’t belong at do — I left my half-filled plastic container of slosh on a counter I hoped no one would clean until tomorrow morning, threw away the half eaten bits and pieces of Trader Joe’s “just like home if your home is a sanitized, plasticized refrigerator” hors d’oeuvres, and I went home to the only person who seems to really want to spend any time with me anymore — my mattress. (Sometimes my pillow joins us, but she often feels victimized and gets tires of being twisted, punched, and wrestled with, by my nighttime bully-personality.)
What I wanted to say to this really intriguing Buddhist and yet completely American-success-story woman who has swum with elephants and ridden with dolphins — wait, stop, reverse those — what I wanted to say was, “well of course all belief systems are religious in nature and structured in practice — otherwise they wouldn’t be able to be passed on to others as ideals that adherents should follow and beliefs that the believers of such and such non-religion should practice.” For God’s sake, even sex is a registered religion now. Really, could we all stop saying, well “I don’t believe in such and such cuz it’s “organized”. Seriously, are any of us reading blogs and blurbs and getting psychological counseling on how to be less organized? What we really mean of course, is that some us grow tired of religions that abuse the power they have gained over people. What we really mean is that we have grown tired of what people have done to the gods. What we really mean is, whatever those religious people have made of their God, I don’t want a part of that.
What I wanted to say to the much-better-and-more-interesting-woman-than-I-have-ever-been, is, “everyone has a god; it just isn’t always called ‘God’.” In fact every day, I end by asking myself, “well, what did I worship and serve today? Chocolate? Again!? Oh, well, at least my chocolate god sticks to me.” But I didn’t say any of that to the better-person-than-I-am Buddhist woman. Instead, I went home to crawl up to my bed, march beneath my duvet, and leave the cheap cups of my lonely libations on the stacked-against me, dirty counters of my own belief-system and in my struggling dreams with my own gods and demons.
Depending on the time of night or early morning, my own gods and demons have their own favorite times to wake me, taunt me, torment me, or sometimes just put a cramp in my leg, which is not a metaphor for putting a cramp in my style. Sometimes, I meditate and breathe “in and out” through these late-night angst-sessions, much as I imagine the Buddhist lady from the party does. Sometimes I pray, as I imagine all the fomenting or flaccid followers of organized religion might do. Sometimes I have great conversations or write scathing and important emails (in my mind) back and forth with people I need to dress down or bring to the truth, knowing that I will never get up to write all these profound words down and that by morning, I will have forgotten the good ones and be left with what I am usually reduced to — sloshy, half-eaten thoughts — , no matter my practice or prayers for getting back to sleep. What I am left with is the certain knowledge that there are so many human beings in the world who do any of these world-view, belief-system, “staying alive” dark-disco-dances in distress, so much better than I do. What I am left with, is a sense of helplessness like an echo in a dark cavern that reverberates in the walls of my being with no where to go and no end. What I am always left with, is two colliding cries, two moaning mantras, two drops in my bucket list. What I am left with is:
“Help me. Help me. Help me.”
“Could be worse. Could be worse. Could be worse.”
And I have found, in the end that no matter what any one believes, organized or not; this is basically what every one actually does believe. At least in the midnight hours, in the dark hours, in the before sunrise hours, in the hours when no one is watching, and no one is handing you a plastic cup of cheap swill and a plate of unappetizing appetizers. This is the religion of all of us here on the dandelion stalk, here in Who-ville, here where we really live, right here, right now, before Horton, the great elephant-god of Dr. Seuss arrives to save us all. We hope, he arrives that is, but in the meantime, all any of us have is “I am here, I am here, I am here.” Help.
This combined sense of acceptance that things could be worse and also that we really need help is the human condition before the Light comes, before the test is passed, before Mr. Rogers looks in our eyes, and before we remember just how good it feels to breathe in and out. And of course, this is not acceptance at all. This is panic. This is a cry for help. This is:
And. And. And. And starting a new sentence with “And”, means that I know in the pits of my soul that life is not a complete and grammatically correct sentence and none of us is all that good a writer when it comes to life. Life is a fragment. Starting with “And” means I know that there are others out there — well, every one, really if they are honest and truthful about what they believe and how and who they are — which most of us rarely are — there are others out there who will come along side me now and then, and be the person on the other end of “And”. Sometimes I just have to trust that there will be Me, Myself, I, AND Someone Else. And I have to accept that when there is Someone Else, that has to be enough of a moment, enough of a belief, enough of a hope, enough of a faith, to get me through just one more lonely moment, one more struggle in the dark.
In those moments of “And-ness”, I always find that there is first the need to forgive. To forgive the jerks that hurt me. To forgive the bosses, and rulers, and shamans, and priests. To forgive the people I love the most. To forgive the world. To forgive the gods. To forgive the unorganized, non-religious belief systems. To forgive myself. Fragments of forgiveness. Forgiveness that none of them has ever been, will ever be, is enough. And when I forgive them all for not being “enough”, then I also forgive myself, for not being enough. Remember that great scene in the movie “Mozart” when Salieri insanely walks the dark halls of his life, crying out to all the mediocrity of himself, others, and the gods, “I absolve you. I absolve you”. When I — still angry, still hurt, still fearful, still lonely, still anxious, still hating myself — absolve everyone and everything for not being enough, then I have taken one step further into a belief that what matters is that I am here; I am here; I am here. And then, comes not acceptance, but the fight.
Acceptance is all well and good, but in those dark hours, in those hours of rage against the things that are, the things that were, the things up ahead I can’t avoid — in those hours, acceptance is the darkest place I can go. In those times, I refuse to accept acceptance as the best option. So, I fight. I feel such grief for those I know who have lost loved ones not to the fight, but to the idea that there is no purpose in fighting for life any more. This battle is the fight we all do alone, and some people just let “alone” defeat them. So after I cry out for someone to help, after I beg for the “And”, this is the fight I must do alone, without the “Ands” that I love or that understand or the Ands that I hope are out there or any of the “Ands” that are in the world or maybe are still just within me. The fight is my own Quixotic self’s sword fight with the windmills of my mind, my choices, my past, present and future, my soul, my gods; it is the time-honored, time-imprisoned fight against the windmill of my being. I have found my own fight rests first with my ability to cut through the crappiness with my second magic spell. So I breathe in and out and offer the gods the Lord’s Prayer of, “It could be worse”.
And usually, it could, I am both ashamed and honored to report, it could be pretty darn much worse, if I’m honest. That is not true for all human beings, I am aware of that. It is not at all true. Not for everyone. Some people have it so bad, so much has gone wrong, their world is so torn up, destroyed, imperiled, threatened; where they live, how they live, is so horrible and wrong that I don’t see how it could possibly be worse. It is probably and actually, The Worst for those unfortunate wronged or tragically wronging people, that they are still waking up to a new day of torture or hatred. I don’t think Buddhism breathing will help them. I am sure organized religion won’t, if history or current events haven’t been faked out of all recognition. For some people, no amount of belief system is going to change this moment. But it isn’t The Worst for me, so…………..
“It could be worse.”
There is an old saying that I have flippantly thrown around while still absolutely believing it, to those I love or at least want to encourage, advise, and cheer up — “Where there is life, there is hope.” But I will confess to you, that there are many days I wake in the dark hours, or struggle through the sleepy, boring, defeated afternoon hours, or do the dishes in the evening hours, and I do not at all feel hopeful just because I have life. I try a bit, in a sort of pretend-caring attitude of prayer. I give a whirl to Buddhist-ly breathing in and out. I religiously read or recite some kind of God-human writings and pray and praise, exercising my decaying beliefs in the same way I hopelessly exercise my decaying muscles at the gym. I pro-actively with agency, think and plan. I faithfully work harder and bucket-list dream harder. And I feel just as hopeless as I did before I practiced my non-structured meditation and breathing, willed into being my organized religious faith, or gave a hearing to the bully-pulpit of my bullet points of how to do better, be better, and get ahead. And unless I keep really busy, or I get really still, I am still stuck with the feeling that I do not matter. I am still afraid that no matter what I believe or say I don’t believe, that in the end, Nothing matters. Which leaves me with:
“Help me. Help me.”
And I fight back. And I fight now. And I fight forward. I fight an acceptance of what I fear I really do believe, even if all I have to fight with is my continued ability to breathe in and out.
I take a breath in: “It”
I take a breath out: “Could”
And all that has to matter about me today, is that breathing in and out, asking for help, and knowing that something at least could be worse — just those three things are enough. It is enough to have faith that there is someone out there, even if it isn’t me, who needs me to be alive today. It is enough for the world and the gods and the non-gods, for them to all hear my weak battle-cry of “I am here!”, even if I tremble when I cry out, “help me”, even if I fear that They might not be there, might not care. It is enough to cry out, to fight, to ask for help, to be alive for one more moment.
And most of all, it is enough for me to matter enough simply to believe that if it could be worse, it could also be better. And with a little help, it will be less worse.
Today, one in, one out, and one me, has to be enough.