The actual title was “The Irony of Attachment” by Sharon Salzberg, the Monday columnist at On Being. I read “irony” as “agony,” before clicking the link and read the column. This in particular spoke to me this morning:
We either become lost in attachment — infatuated on a particular individual or scenario, fixated in a fantasy world, waiting for the sensation of “a full bucket” — or, alternatively, we practice cultivating awareness in the present, which can catalyze fear and anxiety about the future. Rather than tap into the inherent fullness of each moment, we become filled with despair, and fixate on the sensation of emptiness and how much more of the “bucket” remains to be filled.
– Sharon Salzberg
Waiting for the sensation of a full bucket or fixating on the empty one, obsessing over a fantasy world or despairing over the actual one — does this not sound like agony to you? It’s like ebony and ivory, except agony and irony. It’s how I felt when I woke up yesterday morning: Daylight savings, November.
I stayed in bed for a few minutes with my eyes closed and my head feeling thick, feeling quite aware of the glass-half-empty-glass-half-full dilemma. Wanting very much to see the latter, to choose. To breathe into the fullness and wholeness and all of that very soothing and peaceful stuff. To rise and take a deep inhale of the rich coffee smell in the kitchen, to see my child’s face and greet her like the sun itself after a dark night.
I did these things, to the best of my Sunday-morning ability. I really did. I even made chocolate-chip pancakes for the second morning in a row, and washed all the dishes by hand (there is, in fact, no other way to wash the dishes in these parts). And then, I honestly don’t know what triggered it, but I was in tears again. What triggered it? Mani doesn’t remember either. Something having to do with being a mama. And a provider. And a human. All I know is that once the tears started, it felt like they would not stop.
You know how some rain is different from other rain? As in, sometimes rain comes vertical and sharp and narrow, and other times the drops themselves seem almost supple and soft, round, gentle? I don’t know if this is scientifically possible, but that is the physical experience of rain for me — by no means the same every time.
The same is true of tears. They are not all the same. Not at all. The Inuit may have many words for snow; there must be some equivalent for all the different kinds of crying. Of laughter. Of sex. In this case, though, I’m talking about the tears. And the ones yesterday were thick and round and came pouring out in perfect-feeling droplets over my lower eyelids and then down my cheeks, as they might in a painting. But I did not feel like a woman in a painting. I felt like a woman flying a plane with no radar. This is a terrible sensation, and not one that has to do with “choosing” how to feel.
We don’t always choose how or what we feel. Is this chemical or conditional? As the nurse practitioner I spoke with last week suggested, it may not really matter. Is it a matter of meditating more or taking better care of myself? Perhaps. And. To say that these are at the root of moments that feel so difficult I can’t fathom what’s come over me is too simplistic, especially when I can twist an otherwise simple assessment into some kind of moral failure to thrive.
A Facebook friend and Jungian analyst popped up last night. She was just checking on me. Mind you, this is not a person I’m in close, frequent touch with, so I was moved and impressed by her telepathic skills. She popped up and we ended up sending back and forth messages for a while. At one point, she shared such a beautiful image; as I write off the top of my head here tonight, I realize I’d like to pass it along in case it resonates for you, too:
It just helps to have that mirror reflecting a different perspective back to you. A good clean mirror. Instead of the fun house kind that life too often offers us. – Amazing Jungian Analyst Friend Who Showed Up at Just the Right Moment
Ah, a good clean mirror. How good it is, to have an image reflected back to us that’s true.
I see this in my writing groups all the time. So often, we don’t think our writing is “good.” And then others read it — one person, four, eleven — and the response is so genuine. There is no way that many people could be “just being nice.” And they’re not. They’re being honest. They’re being emotional. They’re being literary. They’re being generous, yes, and also saying: Thank you. Your words speak to me across time and space and the weird invisible world of wireless networks.
The same is true when I’m sitting at my desk working away, my hair pulled back in two unfastened braids, jeans and a sweater if I’ve even changed out of yoga pants and a t-shirt, and out of the blue Mani says, “You’re so pretty.” I look up, startled. Me? Really?
We don’t always see ourselves with a clean mirror. We don’t always see our lives as they are. We see them through the fun house distortions of memory and struggle or of fantasy and stress; we see them through a chemical haze of neuropathways and it’s not a shortcoming to be this kind of human. This kind–the feeling kind. The highly sensitive kind. The empathetic kind. The kind who wants to be good and reminds herself that she is (you are, I am) already just fine.
I went for a walk yesterday morning after dropping Pearl off at her cousin’s house, to rake leaves and play in his beautiful, spacious yard. I parked the car at a nearby park and just walked and walked, first on a paved road and then a dirt road and then a trail nearly covered completely by leaves. I cried as I walked. (Mom, don’t worry — I am really ok!). I talked to God. I asked for help. I asked questions that don’t have answers. I sobbed even. I felt scared. I felt tremendous sadness.
I also kept walking. I knew everything depended on this, on the movement, the breathing, the being outside, the letting it all through me and out of me and into the November air.
And then I turned around to head back in the direction of the car. Quieter now. Taking photos of unturned locks and red leaves and the strange comfort of the woods become emptier now as we move into the dark weeks before Solstice.
This morning, we arrived at Aviva’s bus stop a few minutes early. (One benefit to the clocks falling back an hour is that she was ready today — and I mean awake, dressed, lunch made and everything — at 6:30am! If only that would last!) The clouds were striking and the moon still high in the rising blue. I stepped out of the car to take a picture. I only took one.
Later, when I got home and looked again, there she was, unmistakable: An angel, plain as the brand-new day. Clean as the mirror others hold for me so steadily, just as I do for others. We do for each other, you know. It’s this wonderful thing called reciprocity. It’s a win-win, as opposed to a silly double negative. It’s neither ironic nor agonizing. It’s what keeps many of us tethered here, and I thank God for that every day in some way or another. I really do.