It’s 4 a.m. I lay in bed thinking Who is it having these thoughts? Who is the I?
I am the I you asshole is the answer that kept coming back.
Philosophy wasn’t working. Anxiety has it’s own compass and it usually points south.
It started in Santa Fe. I woke up in my friend Heather’s guest bedroom with my heart in mouth and every questionable thing anyone had ever said to me in my ears. I have to teach a 7 a.m. yoga class here in Santa Monica this morning so I decided to get up and make coffee because that always helps anxiety so much. Right.
So the coffee doesn’t help with anxiety but it’s the small things that keep us going, right? My habits are the things I count on and without them I am not sure who I would be. Who is the I?
I am the I, you asshole, again.
It’s not working. None of the metaphorical or meditational or metaphysical stuff is working so I will take the coffee and perhaps look at books.
What can I find in my shelf? The Aeneid of Virgil, a book of John Updike poems, The Color of Water by James Mcbride, Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle. Let me lose myself in words that aren’t mine so I can get away from myself. Escapism? Maybe. But I’ll take it most days over the I.
Who is the I? I am the I, you asshole.
Stop calling yourself an asshole.
Wait, who is saying that if I am the I? (Maybe I’m not?) This is too confusing for me. Back to words.
Aeneid: What was the wound
To her divinity, so hurting her
That she, the queen of gods, compelled a man
Remarkable for goodness to endure
So many crises, meet so many trials?
Stolen, by John Updike: In their captivity, they may dream of rescue
But cannot cry for help. Their paint
Is inert and crackle, their linen friable.
They have one stratagem, the same old one:
To be themselves, on and on.
Last night the theme of my class was compassion not for any reason except I was feeling none toward myself and I thought it would help the asshole in me. I had been dreaming of rescue but could not cry for help so there I stood, in front of my class suggesting that the greatest compassion we can have is for ourselves. You asshole. There it is again. Pema Chodron suggests what I already know about compassion and that is to say that is truly the thread of humanity. But the crux is: how can we be part of the thread is we are fraying, if we are inert and are paint crackles and we can’t stop beating the living shit of ourselves? We must recognize that we are indeed part of the thread before we can weave ourselves into the rest of the blanket. So many crises, so many trials. Yea, yea, we all do. And yet to be themselves, on and on.
The thread of humanity and here you are calling yourself an asshole.
I’ll stop. For the sake of compassion, I will stop calling myself an asshole. It’s just so hard in the middle of the night with your heart in your throat and every questionable thing anyone’s ever said to you in your ears and you’re alone, no matter how many bodies are in the bed with you, you are alone. It’s hard then.
What is compassion? It has the word compass in it but I doubt it points south like my anxiety does. It points toward the center, doesn’t it? Towards the very center of the blanket that we are all part of and it lies down right there with the dogs in the center of the blanket so all the weight is in the middle and the ends might flap up in the wind but the center is rooted because that’s what counts, right?
The center. Your heart. Which is the center of the world.
Compassion comes from a word meaning to co-suffer but I prefer it’s meaning to be to co-love.
James McBride, The Color of Water: To further escape from painful reality, I created an imaginary world for myself. I believed my true self was a boy who lived in the mirror. I’d like myself in the bathroom and spend long hours playing with him. He looked just like me. I’d stare at him. Kiss him.
Compassion is not to be found in the dark in the middle of the night. Turn on the light, right there in your bathroom and say You are not an asshole.
You don’t have to spend hours staring at yourself in the mirror (although that is one way you can cultivate compassion for yourself because after a while you see nothing but a set of eyes and a nose and a mouth and it doesn’t belong to anyone in particular anymore and it’s much easier to have compassion for no one in particular rather than yourself.)
Tattoos on the Heart: God’s unwieldy love, which cannot be contained by our words, wants to accept all that we are and sees our humanity as the privileged place to encounter this magnanimous love.
These books, really the four I just grabbed because they were at the top of my shelf and I was desperate to un-call myself an asshole and the only way I know how to do that is to drink a lot of wine, read something or sleep. Sometimes yoga works. Anyway, these words. Look right there. Humanity, in all of them. The great writers and thinkers know it and found it because most got up in the middle of the night and flipped a switch somewhere and said Enough calling yourself an asshole.
Oky, so you get out of bed and start writing and stop saying I am the I, you asshole. Now what? How do you keep going in the face of all the suffering, all that is wrong with the world?
You just do.
(Hang on while I pour another coffee. I have to teach a yoga class in 45 minutes, remember.)
You just do. You say I am the part of the thread that makes up this blanket and I am going to lay with the dogs right at the center. And then you ask how may I serve?
I’ve been waiting to get to this part, the meat of it. The compassion is known when we serve others. Not by suffering with them but by loving with them.
It’s not the asshole in you that does the loving. It’s the part of you that goes right to the center and holds it down. Your love is heavy enough to do that. Did you know that?
You very much have to get out of bed though and turn on the light and remember that you are remarkable for goodness as Virgil so eloquently stated. He didn’t say you are remarkable for being a jerk. When you lay in bed and let your thoughts eat your mind you forget that goodness. You think that the I am a bad person as you lay in your lumpy bed is the truth? Nah. That’s the dark talking.
Get up and find a book or make a coffee or stare at yourself in the mirror until you become someone you love. Look, I am talking myself through this anxiety attack here. I’m okay with admitting I use books and coffee and you all for help. I am not in my captivity, like Updike’s paintings, unable to cry for help. I am crying for help. I am wailing. Here’s how I do it. You’re witnessing it. You’re reading it.
They have one stratagem, the same old one:
To be themselves, on and on.
I will be myself on and on and on. The myself that is not the I or the asshole or the person laying in bed and counting backwards but rather the person that is writing to you now. The person that is remarkable for goodness. The person that holds down the center of the blanket so it doesn’t fly away.
“Close both eyes see with the other one. Then we are no longer saddled by the burden of our persistent judgments our ceaseless withholding our constant exclusion. Our sphere has widened and we find ourselves quite unexpectedly in a new expansive location in a place of endless acceptance and infinite love.”
― Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion