Various components of the absurd are discussed in the academic literature and different theorists frequently concentrate their definition and research on different components. On the practical level, the conflict underlying the absurd is characterized by the individual’s struggle to find meaning in a meaningless world. The theoretical component, on the other hand, emphasizes more the epistemic inability of reason to penetrate and understand reality. Traditionally, the conflict is characterized as a collision between an internal component, belonging to human nature, and an external component, belonging to the nature of the world. However, some later theorists have suggested that both components may be internal: the capacity to see through the arbitrariness of any ultimate purpose, on the one hand, and the incapacity to stop caring about such purposes, on the other hand. Certain accounts also involve a metacognitive component by holding that an awareness of the conflict is necessary for the absurd to arise. [Wikipedia]
Absurdist is the way I’ve been describing myself these days, because when pressed to give an answer for anything, especially anything that could be called a belief, that answer usually has a lot of space around it, and a dozen or more qualifiers. I’m way more full of possibilities for what could be wrong in what I’m saying or ways I might fail to be right–way more loopholes than formulas.
Since everything is but an illusion,
Perfect in being what it is,
Having nothing to do with good or bad,
Acceptance or rejection,
One might as well burst out laughing!
For instance it is often tricky to talk about my spirituality with anyone not so inclined, because well, I’m rather devout, while not having beliefs per se, while also totally and entirely buying in! Do I believe in deities? Well no, except yes absolutely, just not as separate beings; I don’t believe in beings at all for that matter, and am entirely committed to them. There’s just so much like this, and I’m so aware of what it must sound like and seem, which means there’s almost always an irreverent mischief beneath the surface.
W.H. Auden captured so much when he wrote “We are here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for, I don’t know.”
I may be toward the end of this stint in therapy. It’s a little hard to tell because, when doesn’t one need to feel heard? When doesn’t one need to hear themselves more clearly? But, I also don’t want to always be examining tendencies and unraveling patterns. There are times to just cut through.
I was lightly startled awake a few weeks ago, when a conversation with my son turned nostalgic and he said, “Mom, I’m sorry but you’re talking to me like your therapist.” Which may sound mean, but isn’t in our context actually, because he knows I like to catch myself. It was a gentle nudge, a loving “Look and see.”
There’s still such a strong tendency in me, to believe that if I can just draw out a clear enough map to how we got ‘here’, it would be possible to make a convincing case for fixing <insert issue>, re-writing the script. Especially, I want to own my own part of things, as though if sufficiently aware and remorseful, the previous possible timeline I’d envisioned many moons ago would be available again. It seems a relic of childhood experience, where a child makes their parent feel better and then is allowed to go to the party, or have the thing. As an adult, however, I’m not willing to be bought in this way. I want to be truthful, and I want others to be truthful, just as my son was in this instance.
Rather than feeling slighted or dismissed by him, I felt thankful. In that moment I recognized a false idea I’d been carrying around, that my grown kids still need me to re-explain where things went awry between their parents. Each is going to have different interpretations, and when they ask, I’ll be happy to attempt to answer. I just don’t need to keep figuring it out. Figuring out can largely go on without me because it isn’t as though their dad is asking those questions or having these discussions with us. It isn’t as though I need to write a book about family dynamics, etc.
Would I love to be able to articulate my “side of things” once and for all? Who wouldn’t! But is that what’s happening in therapy? Not really. And actually I’m always learning, so my impression of what have helped or could have been different, is always being revised. The big things are pretty obvious, and although their effects can still pop up, catch me off guard, recovery is usually swift. As a friend would say, I do bounce!
Therapy is my eye in the storm, but the storm is rather predictable now. I have more supplies and a steadier plan. My therapist is a lovely woman I can imagine being a good friend with outside of the therapy context, who often shows acceptance I couldn’t find from either the family I was born into, or the one I married into, and who takes my side. She also catches me mid self-condemnation and exaggeration–psychological doomscrolling–to ask “But is that true?” “Is that really your fault?” “Could you have foreseen that?”
Does it help to doomscroll? What good can come of this?
The first therapist I went to see, in about 1994, ended one session asking me to consider why I think everything is my fault. I dismissed her question out of hand because I reasoned, “What good does it do to see the situation as someone else’s fault?” I couldn’t change or convince anyone, also didn’t want to … didn’t want to manipulate the way I’d been manipulated. But her question stayed with me, and would come up at the oddest times until I had to pay attention. She was right that I leaned that way and was willing to absorb blame just to have peace. She was right that I found it hard to trust others to do the work of self-reflection as well. My current therapist is also right that the tendency has remained, even with so much more space around it.
That being so, it might be time for a more surgical strategy.
Just the greeting, just the wonder
I feel as though I’ve been in some awkward spiritual state for a while now, missing highs and lows present in most of the rest of my micro-lifetimes. Mainly, it is a certain synchronistic flow that has so often seemed ‘me’ I’ve had to get used to not being as strong nor obvious. Perhaps trust means looking for that less and less, not contriving nor contorting, just allowing that strong sense of ‘spiritual me’ to fade even more.
In favor of?
Sense of wonder about the world? Yes, that’s here. I’ve spent the last few days gazing at the astounding Webb Telescope images, leaning into unknowing. The practice is not to disconnect that sense of wonder with the greeting of everyday life, or just to see how that is so.
Just the greeting, just the wonder.
How to be Estranged
I came to the end today. Two years and eight hundred pages since starting the journal I titled How to be Estranged when reeling from my grandfather’s death and my mother’s overdue abandonment. I love the way I’ve written this, including for the first time photos and more creative writings with the worries of the day, dreams of the night.
My first entry was a dream:
Covid. July. 2020.
A small, quite ridiculous creature appears uninvited; there is no door. It has a large mouth which, as one looks, gets bigger and bigger, revealing more and more sharp menacing teeth. Its already small eyes are quickly hidden. Lurching out from beside, clasping its own mouth over the creature’s, my even smaller, yet fiercely loyal protector, breaks the spell.
The dangers of our times are absurd. Could the antidotes be simple?
My last entry is this image from the JWST:
A work friend’s family was in attendance at the Chicago parade, two parents and two very young children, huddled together with strangers in the stock room of a nearby store for 2 hours while the shooter was still on the loose. How terrifying. She seemed okay, grateful, and relieved the store was slow so we had some time to talk about it.
Everything to say about the US right now is too obvious, but I find it comforting to directly communicate with people, check in, temper feelings of isolation. This is the heart of why I think I panic when faced with the prospect of not being able to do what I’m doing. There’s a bittersweet flavor. I’ve been fortunate to encounter such wonderful people, also to have had busy hands and attention during a time when without it I might sink into social media and despair.
I tried really hard today, to connect with a young man who has worked in the store for just a few weeks. I just can’t seem to make a connection, which concerns me because he is like this with everyone. When asked what he’s interested in, nothing; what he wants to study, nothing. He doesn’t engage. He quietly does his tasks, but doesn’t feel as much there as others do.
I may have been projecting too much onto him because of so many young disconnected men in the news, but it seems right to be a source of warmth, lightness, in whatever ways I can.
degrees of freedom
The world is perceived as an apparent objective reality
when the mind is externalized,
thereby abandoning its identity with the Self.
When the world is thus perceived
the true nature of the Self is not revealed:
conversely, when the Self is realized the world ceases
to appear as an objective reality.
-Ramana Maharashi | Indian sage
Fourth of July. Writing from bed because my back insists I not willpower my body into working the way others work, pushing the way others push. I didn’t do anything to injure myself; it was a simple day. Yet, by the fourth hour standing tears were breaking through–not even from the pain itself, but from my imagining dire consequences around not being able to continue, as though I’ve always done this, every day, rather than part time for the last three years. Although I’ve been considering a new role or change, I want to do so on my own terms this time.
A tendency toward catastrophizing, on the flip side generalizes personal experiences and puzzles as having much larger implications in the wider world. Yes, the personal is political, but the range can reach delusional degrees. “If I forgave my mother, would the threat of US fascism retreat?”
I am “always trying to save the world”, my grandfather would say, not as a compliment. But how can there be a difference between self-preservation and preserving one’s world? A sudden memory of him sometimes surprises me, like the day we walked around property he owned in Georgia, showing me what he intended I someday inherit. There were deer tracks running through the land, which I’d never seen before then, and I immediately began visioning out plans for the space. Excitedly, I told my mother that I would open a home for unwed mothers there. He changed his mind, of course. I wasn’t thinking of property values or neighbors. I was young. When he did pass away a few years ago now, the property he left came with lots of strings attached.
Someone I dated a few years ago:
[Him] You give money to causes and campaigns? I’d rather drive a nice car…
[Me] I’d rather drive a crappy car and live in a nicer world...
I’ve doubted this tendency lately, have been suspicious of trying to be good, questioning my deeper intentions. But my therapist says that’s the product of looking to adults for love and validation, yet receiving criticism. If intention isn’t pure, that still doesn’t mean one should not follow a generous inclination. Questioning intentions can lead to greater sincerity.
Building on that, I’ve come to realize that there is nothing wrong with striving for excellence, or even goodness, but to expect perfection is to deny the very nature of our evolving humanity, of openness, of further possibility. It is to become critical, flaw-minded in a negative sense rather than a wabi-sabi appreciative one. One mustn’t turn on themself, abandon themself, even if that’s been modeled.
I remember being a little concerned that the Zen aesthetic I was drawn to could feed into perfectionistic propensities, once I recognized them. I felt thankful to see the opposite occur.
Although as a teen I developed intense stubbornness to show how little I could need or be hurt by someone withholding ‘things’ (by the time I left home at 18, my bedroom and closet were already nearly bare). I’m not afraid of having things, now, and don’t give away everything that comes to me. Back then, that space had been the only space I thought of as my own, and felt most powerful when it was empty.
That was then. Lately when I can’t sleep in the middle of the night, instead of shopping online, I make donations. There isn’t much I can do, but it feels good to try, and generates hope in a time in which it’s deeply important to be hopeful. Last night I happened upon a women/youth shelter, which linked into the memory of my early intentions well. The feeling of finding that shelter
wasis: closure. I can validate that early yearning and imagining toward saving my world, myself.
It’s difficult to describe how Buddhism helped me come into healthier distinctions, but I think in part it has to do with tantra, and the way one can experience so much on the level of intention and imagination. There is so much to love and appreciate across such an unfathomable range of possibility! There is so much space in things, after all, and so little is actually hindered in the ways I might conceive of when forgetful-of-true-nature.
As for my weak back, and the work that requires a strong one, I don’t know. I find myself writing and dreaming about, my family-of-origin more. Could it be that just as I feel safer having things, it feels safer to tell my stories, too?
P.S. The Maharshi quote at the top of this post came to me via a note Andrew Holocek sends out each night for those subscribed. I’ve only been receiving these for a few days, but it’s a lovely way to signal winding down for the night in a dreamy-minded way. https://nightclub.andrewholecek.com/
A wee-small-hours of the morning dream stayed with me throughout the day, which is unusual on a work day, when I generally shift into such an entirely different gear so as to forget almost everything else. Often before work I sit in my car for a small meditation, hold an intention to bring that energy into rest of my time, only to blink and be right back in my car, several hours having passed in a blur. So I’m not sure why this dream is so potent, but it may be its great vibe… a weirdly optimistic Bladerunner aesthetic.
There were street markets and hidden gathering places. People were generally poor, but a sense of community was present, and life didn’t feel unsafe outside of a vague sense of surveillance far away. It felt like some idealistic vision had been realized, an alternate timeline that was missing greed, somehow. No one was showing off for one another at all.
What I remember most strongly, and what kept coming up all day, was the sensation of flying in a car driven by a friend, and the seamless transition between driving on a road into flying. Who this friend was keeps changing in my recollection, but the way she told me we were only able to get away with flying the car at the height we were flying, as the way to access places we were going, remains vivid. I looked up when she said this, to see another layer of the daytime sky I hadn’t been aware of before, and a globe-shaped vehicle traveling through that space.
As I mused with the dream earlier I realized, “Ah, we were flying under the radar!” And I thought of Bob Dylan’s line “To live above the law you must be honest.” Interesting associations, but there may be more to consider.
After all, here I am, writing about it now, shaking it for further treasure.
They say that these are not the best of times, but they’re the only times I’ve ever
And I believe there is a time for meditation in cathedrals of our own…
Casual meditation with friends today, zooming in as we do regularly from various parts of the world, each with disparate strings of contemplative practice, brought together by a bright star whose timezone doesn’t match well lately. It was a day in which talking felt strange, contrived, which happens somewhat often. My sense at least, is that there is substantive nonverbal communication going on, but humans are so used to filling the space between, covering over awkwardness, that there is discomfort in not doing anything–not meditating and not talking, yet setting aside the time to be together. The second one of us suggests this may be going on however, we might correct for it and end up just as contrived, staring at each other without meditating or non-meditating. 🙂
Each of us can only respond to such an intuition in a personal way.
Sometimes, I want to lay bare all the circumstantial struggles I’ve been having, but to what end? Just because someone is wise about their own life, doesn’t necessarily mean they would have insight into what I might do to shake loose the restrictive patterns in my own. Therapy is for that, but not really. There’s very little advice in therapy, per se, just steady mirroring and encouragement, reminders to be gentle with myself, and to write about it.
I seem to have built a circle of people with incredibly different circumstances from mine, so different in fact that it’s hard to imagine they could comprehend the difficulties of my life, really. Compassion for my life? Sure. But deep down I feel as though anyone’s honest response to my needing help to see out would be along the lines of my mother’s favorite phrase when grounding me, “You made your bed, now lie in it.” But does anyone really make their own beds? By the time I had any sense of agency I was already quite deeply embedded.
In a psychological sense, if one is grounded a lot as a child, by a parent whose moods and punishments dramatically swing, perhaps there can develop a pervasive sense of entrapment… a feeling of going from one trap or set up into another. And perhaps there might be confusion about when one deserves to be punished or not, what one could have controlled along the way. I can still feel like this when trying to measure what my value is at work, or read overall signals, for instance. I’m having trouble keeping up physically, but am blank about what alternatives there might be. Sometimes my body feels like another captor.
A psychotherapist friend would often suggest “Dream on it”, modeling this guidance well over the course of years when facing her own challenges, but dreams have been missing guidance lately; my body is often achy from pushing through work, resulting in restless sleep. How I long for the deep deep contemplative rest experienced when on retreats! Was it the company, the simplicity, natural surroundings? What made way for that natural rest to take the helm during those times? If I must be captive, must be trapped, let me be trapped by Such a keeper.
“Someone who does not run toward the allure of love walks a
road where nothing lives. But this dove here
senses the love hawk floating above,
and waits, and will not be driven or scared to safety.”
― Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi
All of these issues are connected. I know most of us know that, and that it is hard to have everything out on the table at once, but the book bans, the freak out over CRT and freer gender expressions, the discourse over freedom of religion that assumes everyone is Christian.. needs to be taken on the whole.
I usually try to understand other positions on issues like abortion, especially having had different feelings about it in my youth that did frame what I did with *my own choices*. Back then, I had not educated myself on implications, and the way monied interests manipulate culture wars. But also, my feelings were about influence, not legislation. Even back then, I thought to be “pro-life” was about making a world where women would have support and care. I was naive. Even the most sincere people celebrating what this Court is doing seem to have no vision or passion for care that extends beyond their own circles.
I’m hanging on to my moderate-ness by an unraveling thread, because I’ve ‘believed in’ aspirational democracy as the best hope we have. Regulated capitalism has seemed to be a hybrid vehicle capable of taking us farther along that “arc that bends toward justice” — but y’all….
The above is an Instagram post I wrestled with posting, in the wake of the overturn of Roe v. Wade, but feel it is cowardly to share just other people’s words and memes about such serious issues, or to just read as friends pour their hearts out about the matter. I paired it with a video of a self-described “white Christian” woman speaking to, I think, a school board. She eloquently expressed the distinction between trying to make kids feel bad, and educating kids (and everyone) in ways that affect how we govern and behave from here on out.
Abortion rates drop when there is sex education, access to contraception, and support for families to get out of poverty. If someone is not for such policies it seems to me they are for higher rates of abortion, but want to be seen as part of a certain political club.
I believe I’m a better mother because I seriously considered whether that was the right choice for me. I had that option, to weigh the sacrifices of following through with an unplanned pregnancy, which included the option of marrying someone I was in love with and had a good chance of making a life with… someone with the resources to support the decision. Contrast this with the Court’s decision to allow basically everyone to carry a gun everywhere, I would not have lived to become a mother had there been a gun in the often terribly violent home I grew up in.
Checking in here after nearly a month, coming around to a more settled rhythm. My sense is that of rich undergrowth having spread more fully between insights and events, highlighted by sunbeams innocently playing their way through domes above. I finally stopped to look around, finally noticed, after happening upon a protective cool spot in the middle of a scorching day.
Inner, outer: who can tell? And who wants to?
It’s a wonderful thing to let oneself be a little lost, leaning into phenomena as though adventuring with a wise and rugged friend. Deep listening is available, loosened grip, easing the industriousness of the last few months, so as to accept an invitation to quite intentional appreciation. The richness of What Is.
The pull is close to that of aimless wandering practice, which I first engaged in at what used to be, and I guess still is, Windhorse Farm. Was that back in 2012 or so? It always strikes me as especially delightful when the practice finds and captures my attention, even here in the city, with the same persuasiveness once experienced in that lush old-growth forest.
Beautifully, that land has fairly recently been returned to the Mi’kmaq. The following letter is from the website linked to above:
Sadness for the hundreds of years of colonization of these bountiful and beautiful lands and people. Joyful that the Land is returning, through gift and sale, to the loving hands and hearts of tthe Mi’kmaq through Ulnooweg Education Centre, an Indigenous Charity.
The Wentzell and the Drescher Families have lived here for 180 years caring for and protecting this place, in reciprocity with all the other beings who live here. In effect, we have been mere placeholders waiting for this auspicious “land-back” event to occur.
We are in deep appreciation to all of you who have come to play, work, live, learn and heal here at Windhorse for 31 years during our “watch”. You and the Forest Families have offered warmth, moisture and nourishment to the legacy.
Now it will return to those who have been here for 15,000 years – to the loving care of the First People, as a place of healing, education and ceremony – to those who have known and respected the sacredness and healing medicine of the Land.
These First People are teaching us all the power of, and need for, living in reciprocity with all beings – the leadership necessary to carry us all through these uncertain times.
A cause for celebration and gratitude.
Looking forward for seven generations, may all beings, seen and unseen, benefit.
Love, The Drescher Family
Located in Mi’kma’ki, the unceded and unsurrendered territory of the Mi’kmaq
on Atuomkuk Wentzell’s Lake and Pijnuiskaq LaHave River