Thursday, November 30, 2006
Inhabiting my life
I used to be driven.
I grew up wanting to be an artist, and for many years I pursued that vocation with formidable intensity. There was a tyrant in me that demanded I produce art. Lots of it. It had something to prove and, damn it, it was going to prove it.
All this began when I first saw Hieronymous Bosch's painting, "The Garden of Earthly Delights" at the Prado in Madrid. I was all of 9 years old. (That was the same year I saw the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, a subject we'll have to leave for some other time.)
In any event I was determined to do massive art, and I did. I got a degree in art and off I went, sometimes even making a bit of money at it. I kept doing art even after I realized it was not much of an income producing option and entered the business world. My friends would tell you I was very productive- true- and very talented- of that, I am no longer so sure.
This dictatorial engine drove my life until I was forty-five years old. It was my constant companion through ten years of alcoholism, then twenty years of recovery, serious spiritual work, and meditation.
I was enslaved. Convictions like this one, you see, justify themselves in ways impossible to resist, because they are part of an intense delusion: that we create our personal value by doing things. That is, the value in life lies outside of ourselves, and we have to create it. To leverage it, to show everyone- but above all ourselves- how we're valuable.
Then one morning I woke up and everything was completely different. I don't know quite how to explain that. But something fundamental had changed inside me, and for the first time I can ever recall in my life, I understood I was valuable without doing anything.
I walked around feeling positively ecstatic for a number of weeks, because I started out every day already being worth something. When I breathed in my first breath of the morning I was grateful for this very beautiful life (I still am.) The very act of just breathing was a blessing (it still is.) Touching the sheets in bed was a blessing. It was a time when I began to understand that Christ's "Peace of God which passeth all understanding" is real; within us we carry the seed of a magnificent flower.
All this, paradoxically, took place at what was possibly the very worst time of my life (short of my recovery.) I had just gone through an incredibly destructive marriage and divorce where I had lost custody of my children, lost my house, been fired from my job, and had lost all my financial reserves. I was alone, back in the New York area, eight hundred miles away from my kids, and starting a very demanding new job.
There was absolutely no reason to feel so good. But I did.
Of course this state changed. Everything does, and trying to hold on too tight is a sure way to crushing the blossom. But an undercurrent of this understanding has stayed with me.
What it has helped me to do is to make more efforts to inhabit my life.
I see that becoming more whole in an inner sense has little to do with the outside world. It starts from inside and works its way outward, whereas what I had tried to do for my entire life was start outside and work inward. My life-understanding was upside down all along! (Fortunately, I continue to discover that's not unusual with me. The times when I find out I'm completely wrong and accept it are always the most valuable, because then I really do learn something new!)
One meaning of inhabit is to wear, as in a monk's habit. I express this understanding as one of inhabiting my life, because the outer conditions of my life are like clothing. We take clothing off and put it on but the clothing isn't us.
For me, this is a way of understanding non-attachment. We wear clothing, but it is just a garment. It can be dirty or clean, afford us more or less protection or status, but it isn't us. Our inner self- the essence, that spark of divinity indside each one of us- is already the fundamental value, before the first "sock" of our life goes on in the morning. So when I make the effort to inhabit, I'm "inside" this life, accepting its conditions, wearing each one of them as it comes along -but organically knowing in a part of myself that the life-condition is not me.
This experience comes from what I call the "organic sense of being"- to me, that's attaining the marrow- inhabiting the very bones of my life.
I don't do much artwork at all anymore. I do play music, but I'm pretty relaxed about it. I spend a lot more time these days devoting time to attempts to simply inhabit my humanity- all part of the effort to become, as Gurdjieff used to say, "a man without quotation marks."
In attempting this practice of inhabiting my humanity, I discover a new possibility: to retain a hidden, positive and joyful core of being, right down in those bones-- no matter what happens.