Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Greed and Gluttony: Failing at Brahmacharya and Aparigraha

As an adolescent person beginning to look more deeply into the workings of things, I viscerally remember the depression I felt upon first encountering the Four Noble Truths. The world is filled with suffering and the only path to alleviate suffering is non-attachment? It felt so harsh and lonely to me, this idea of not being attached to anything and the assumption that this meant you couldn't love anyone. In my mind, the two were one in the same; the love I felt for my family was woven together with a desire that I would never be without them.

There's an old Taoist story concerning a farmer whose horse runs away one day. His neighbors express their sympathy and the farmer says, "We'll see." When the horse returns with more horses in tow, the neighbors are overjoyed for him. Once again he replies, "We'll see." The farmer's son takes one of the horses out for a ride, is bucked and breaks his leg. The neighbors are so sorry about this misfortune, but the farmer is unmoved: "We'll see." Soon the army comes around, conscripting young men for a war. Because of the son's broken leg, he is overlooked and left behind. The neighbors are again so happy for the farmer, but his reply is unchanged; "We'll see."

You may have noticed that what once brought you joy has the ability to transform into a source of suffering. It is near impossible to accurately discern which occurrences are "good" and "bad" because of the ever shifting nature of reality. Everything is changing, one thing turning over into another. It is also the case that frequently the joy has not become suffering. The joy simply becomes a thing that Was, rather than a thing that Is, and it is our clinging to it that causes us pain.

Many years ago, I became heavily attached to a man who brought me a lot of pleasure. I did not understand that he was not to be a deep well for me, but a happy hour shot of well tequila. What he had to offer was real and fun, but was limited to the moment, and I had yet to learn that the world is generous and abundant. Scarcity mentality combined with a strong predilection for feeling gooood trapped me in an illusion that he was the only source. It HAD to be him and if not him, surely I would never experience anything better. This makes for desperation and grasping, which ain't cute, kids.

It's not illogical to want to keep having fun when you're having fun. If you are able to connect well with someone, which is often half the battle in human relating, it makes sense that you would want to grow and maintain the connection. However, we have to be real about what's actually available. If you are at a restaurant that doesn't offer refills for your drink, what are you going to do? Scream at the server? Demand a manager? Write a nasty Yelp review? Perhaps, instead of causing so much strife, you could just enjoy the drink you had and if you're still thirsty, order something else.

There's a limit and lifespan to all things; bodies, relationships and pints of fancy vegan ice cream. I can't tell you how many times I've mourned something before it's even over, still in a place and already half-not-there. It's a way to inoculate oneself against the pain of loss, but it's also a terrible joy robber. My time with my old lover could've been a pure joy, still looked back upon with total fondness, if I had just welcomed it warmly and bid farewell with gratitude when it was over. I've managed this since then and it's a much healthier way to relate to people and moments. Open handed. Welcome, thank you, good bye!

It's also really fucking hard sometimes. Holy shit it is hard to gracefully embrace the reality of life when the reality is the absence of something that brought you so much happiness. I'll have strong words for the next person who assails me with the gross platitude Don't Cry Because It's Over, Smile Because It Happened(!!!) Seeing just how gluttonous and greedy you are capable of being can also be uncomfortable. I have stood outside myself watching myself, marveling at the sort of animal I have in me; unapologetically self-serving, insatiable, demanding and ungrateful. It does not feel like who I am, and is certainly not who I want to be. Yet I've found myself sending a fifth shrill text in a row, trying to get a bucket of water out of a well that's long run dry. Trying to manipulate reality to meet my needs. Suffering because of my attachment to what Was.

Zen Master Osho taught that when we cling to memories, we turn our back on the innumerable blessings available in the here and now. It is one thing to day dream a bit about the past, and another thing entirely to refuse to participate in the present because you're so sure that it will never get any better than what was. How will we know unless we try? Letting Go is an act of faith that the world is indeed generous and abundant, that the end of one joy is not the End of All Joy. This pain will become another thing which feels good and that'll become something else until we die and become the source of someone else's suffering in their missing of us. This is the way of things.

The adult self is learning that while attachment and love are not mutually exclusive, they are also not the same. One can be very attached to something that they don't actually love, and love something deeply that they are able to let go gracefully when the time comes. A high degree of attachment does not denote a superior sort of love. This is an ego trap. If you can't stop thinking about someone and/or feel that you can't live without them, this is unhealthy and bound for pain. In fact, the only way for something you love to never become a source of suffering is to remain unattached to it.

This is a pretty idea. I would love to be able to love this way; without need or grasping. Pure, free and perfect love. This is a tall, challenging order. There's a greedy, gluttonous sort of animal inside me who is slow to tame. Life will continue to present opportunities to practice this in the form of pleasures transformed into pain. Perhaps, someday, I'll be a very good yogi and master the yamas; brahmacharya (non-excess) and aparigraha (non-greed). Perhaps I'll be able to smile because it happened, to love with open hands and non-attachment. Until then, I will be an evolving human doing her best and that's okay.

My love isn't perfect but it is strong and sweet.

May we be able to let what comes, comes, and what goes, goes,
with equanimity, grace and gratitude.

xoxo

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