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Have you ever been driving down the street on your way to some pleasant dinner date or on your way to work when suddenly someone in another car cuts you off or stops without warning and you quite suddenly explode with rage? You honk and scream and wave your hands around until the offending motorist is out of sight, then find yourself wishing him the most horrible of fates.
Or you're working busily in the kitchen or your office and as you go to move something you drop it--a stack of papers, a handful of chopped celery--and then you simply lose control. You pick up the nearest object--a stapler, a saucer--and you hurl it to the floor or against the wall. You feel as if you're going to burst, you're so angry.
You're relaxing after a tiring day. Your feet are propped up on the coffee table. A big bowl of buttered popcorn rests in your lap. Your favorite old black-and-white movie is on, and you're deep into it. A commercial comes on for a long distance phone company, and it shows a young woman getting on a plane, leaving her parents for the first time. A few seconds later, it shows the old couple at home on their front porch with their faithful dog. Everyone is sad; they all miss the young woman so much. Then the phone rings and, of course, it's her, calling "just to say I love you." You burst into tears.
When that happens--and it happens to everyone sooner or later--do you ever ask yourself, "Where did all that emotion come from?" Probably you do, but just as probably you shrug your shoulders and move on, not in a very good mood, but you move on. And, of course, sooner or later, it happens again.
If you knew where all your anger came from, you might be able to get a handle on it and control it. If you understood the source of your sorrow, perhaps you could put it to rest rather than have it come to the surface at the most unlikely times. We can all learn and accomplish a great deal regarding our "inner selves" in relation to our "outer behavior." But first we must see and understand that it's never about what it's about.
Life would be so much more manageable if we had a few basic tools for understanding where certain feelings come from, especially the ones that make no sense to us. They can be feelings of rage or despair, the desire to kill, or a wish to run away. They are powerful feelings, and they can be insidious and dangerous; they pounce upon us and wreak havoc with our minds, not to mention our hearts.
They're not always our own feelings, either. Very often, they are the feelings of others projected, or thrown, onto us in an attempt to get us to carry them. How many times have you been the victim of someone else? A coworker who always seems to attempt to undermine your efforts, make you look bad, sabotage your projects? A "friend" or relative who "plays with your head," making you feel inadequate as a friend, a wife, or a husband? A parent who tries to cast you in the light of an ungrateful child? Whether these feelings you carry are your feelings or someone else's, you end up becoming the victim. But once you have a way to understand what this behavior and these feelings really are and where they come from--that is, what they are really about--you can begin to liberate yourself from their menacing effects.
A Guiding Principle
In our house, we have a principle that guides us through almost every facet of our lives. In fact, it's so pervasive that we've had matching tee shirts made with this principle, "It's Never About What It's About," written on them. We mean this quite literally. For us, it is the foundation of our individual lives, and it is the guiding principle of our relationship. From this basic, guiding principle, several other principles flow. They are fascinating, liberating, and enlightening.
These guiding principles are simple to understand, difficult to experience, and are observable throughout our entire society. Knowing what they are can change a person's life. Understanding them and how they work is liberating. Keeping them in consciousness is enlightening, but definitely a 24-hour-a-day job; yet it's a job well worth the effort.
Remembering What's Important
A funny thing happens when you're dying. Not ha ha funny, but ironic funny, peculiar funny. When you know you're going to die soon, you finally begin to live. When time becomes short, you cut out the extraneous activities, you stop spending time with people who aren't "friends of virtue," and you grow increasingly intolerant of people whining about petty annoyances. Suddenly, you experience life as a wondrous place, an awesome time, a rare opportunity to know yourself and the universe around you.
In my experience, people diagnosed with a terminal illness fall into two categories. The first group wakes up and begins doing the excruciatingly difficult work of finding out who they are and how to make the rest of their lives meaningful. The second group runs like hell. They stick their heads farther into the sand; they take their disability checks on the first of the month and head for the corner bar; they get mean and nasty and selfish and hurtful. More times than not, this second group of people are just carrying to the extreme the personality traits they exhibited either openly or just beneath the surface for most of their lives.
The people I was close to who died of AIDS didn't "find themselves" until after their diagnoses. Most of them were tripping through life acting like the rest of us: as though we will never die. Then, when the message got delivered--"Not only are you going to die, but you're going to die soon. Very soon."--most of these people began cleaning up what was left of their lives. They got sober, stopped abusing drugs, engaged family and friends in a healing process, and worked hard at making bad relationships good again. They became more selfless, more emotionally available, and more spiritually developed. Not everyone does this, mind you. I've been lucky to know some very courageous people.
My late partner Andre was somewhat of an exception to begin with. He was spiritually developed at the age of 24 when I met him. I don't know how he accomplished that, but who and what he was got me to start thinking that reincarnation may be a fact. There was no other way to explain him. He came from an abusive home and dropped out of high school before his senior year. I believe he must have brought his wisdom with him from previous lives.
My current partner and I are examples of people who were green, but looking to be fully ripe. We both had spent many years of our lives searching for some meaning. Paul had been in the seminary and was much more actively involved in a spiritual and intellectual life than I was when we met. I was more of a disillusioned, former party boy. But I was searching. I had been introduced to meditation by Andre and had been practicing it on and off for 12 years. When Paul and I met, we complemented each other's spiritual and intellectual quests. We were also trying to understand ourselves emotionally. Both of us had lost partners; both of us were infected with the AIDS virus. We were filled with sorrow and rage, and we hadn't a clue what to do with the feelings.
Although we were both HIV positive, we were healthy. But about two years after moving in together, we each began to exhibit symptoms. When that happened, we figured time was drawing to a close for us. Paul left his job, taking disability; then I went on disability a few months after that. By winter of 1996, we felt as if maybe we had a year or two left. We increased our time with each other, spending our days working in the garden or going to the movies. In the evening, after dinner, we would read to each other. I took up crocheting and began making afghans for the friends I was about to leave behind so they would have something personal from me, something soft, warm, and loving to remind them of me and how I loved them.
We started doing volunteer work and formed an AIDS support group. We prayed every day at least twice: once in the morning separately, and then in the afternoon we would sit together for prayer and meditation. We found ourselves spending more time with our women friends and more time supporting others in the struggles they had in relationships and with jobs. We were quiet and peaceful and content. We often commented to each other how ironic it was that now that we were dying, we'd never felt more alive. And, while we were much more reclusive, we were more attuned to the world and more in love with each other than ever before.
Remembering Who We Are
Then the Universe threw a monkey wrench into things. Along came protease inhibitors, a new drug with profound effects on people with HIV, causing, in some, a complete disappearance of the virus. Because our health was failing so quickly, our physician managed to get us into a clinical trial. The first three weeks were difficult adjustment periods for both of us, and for a while we thought we might have to stop the medications;
then, just when it looked as if we couldn't take it any longer, our side effects disappeared and the drug began to work. Each of us improved dramatically. I became more involved with my AIDS work at the state level; Paul went back to the gym and brought his body to a level of health and stamina unlike any he'd ever had, even before he was diagnosed. I finished a new novel, began work on two new books, and started running again. Both of us began spending more time with friends and acquaintances, traveling, going out to lunch and dinner, attending parties, and socializing in general. And the more we became engaged in life in the "outside world," the world of the "not-dying-soon," the more we found we didn't have time for some of the other things.
Sometimes a day or two or four or five would go by without us sitting for afternoon prayer. There were days when our schedules were so busy we hardly saw each other. When I traveled for the state, we spent long hours on the phone and became aware that we communicated, if not better, certainly more directly, when I was out of town. What was happening to us? I remembered a story that shed light on what Paul and I were going through.
There is a common urban myth that haunts me and reminds me of Paul's and my experience. It seems there was a woman with a three-year-old son. She and her husband had just had another baby, and the three-year-old was totally enamored of the new infant. Within days of bringing the baby home from the hospital, the three-year-old began imploring his mother to let him hold the baby. Then a few days after that, he began asking if he could be alone with the baby in the baby's room. The mother thought it was cute, but, of course, she declined the request. The baby was too fragile to be left in the care of a three-year-old child.
For the next few weeks the woman's son continued asking his mother if he could just be alone for a few minutes with his new baby sister. The asking grew into begging and begging became a frantic pleading. The woman was growing concerned. What was it that her son wanted? She and her husband had tried very hard to make sure they didn't slight their son after the new baby was born. Was he jealous? Did he intend to harm the baby? What was this all about?
At last the mother consulted a child psychologist. The psychologist suggested that the woman allow her son time with the child, but that to make certain everything was all right, she also suggested installing a listening device to monitor the baby's room. That way, if anything untoward happened, she could intervene. The mother took the woman's advice and, after installing the device, she told her son he could spend time alone with the baby. She took her son into the baby's room and left, closing the door behind her. As she closed the door, she saw her son standing at the crib, but looking at her, as if to make sure she was closing the door and leaving them in private.
The mother rushed into her own bedroom and clicked on the listening device, and this is what she heard. "Quick, tell me about God. I'm starting to forget." Paul and I decided to write this book because we don't want to forget what we learned about living while we were waiting to die. We don't want to slip back into denial; we don't want to lose sight of our mortality. In other words, we want to remember who we really are.
We must stay with Death if we are to be Death's friend; or more precisely, if Death is to be our friend. If we are to have fully meaningful lives, if we are to know the wholeness and the goodness of Being, we must never forget all that we learned when we were within sight of Death's door.
Paul and I are trying to slow down now. We are trying to remember, trying to experience that we are living and dying. We are trying to live life with our minds, hearts, souls, and senses fully open.
There is an ancient Hindu formula for a perfect life and the attainment of bliss: Every moment think of God and remember your own death. We think it is sage wisdom. We suggest it for everyone.
|Chapter 1||Remembering What's Important||1|
|Chapter 2||It's Never About What It's About||9|
|Chapter 3||The People Inside: Meeting Our Inner Selves||25|
|Chapter 4||Acting Crazy, Staying Sane: What We Can Do to Change Things||45|
|Chapter 5||Life Is But a Dream (Shaboom, Shaboom)||57|
|Chapter 6||Diana: A Modern Myth||67|
|Chapter 7||Pleasure, Happiness, and Joy||83|
|Chapter 8||The Process Is the Product||91|
|Chapter 9||The "G" Word||103|
|Chapter 10||Attachment, Detachment, and Non-Attachment||126|
|Chapter 11||Confusing the Experience With Its Object: Distinguishing the Inner and Outer Worlds||133|
|Chapter 12||The World Is a Tar Baby||145|
|Chapter 13||The Truth Is Seldom Kind||151|
|Chapter 14||Rage, Rage Everywhere, But Not a Voice to Scream||159|
|Chapter 15||Everything You Need Is Within You||169|