Ditching our Demands: An Unseen Answer.
When we give way to anger, resentments, and fear, what gives?
Where is our power, when we feel thwarted and powerless? We are made small, what Pema would call fixed, concrete, and hard, when in reality, we are soft creatures. What path out of the emotional jungle?
I wrote a piece yesterday called “Re-tooling Resentment.”
“Ditching Our Demands” follows that piece, starting here. In this place where, well, resentments, anger, and repeated frustration with normal life irritation lead us to wonder: WTF do we do with these feelings?
Not everything is perfect, life upsets us sometimes. We get pissed. What is it that pisses you off? Can we agree that every form of upset we enjoy is born in an urge within us, for things to go our way? That premise gives so much freedom.
I’ll give you one of mine. I get livid at all forms of animal abuse. Mercy For Animals had a protest last month at Walmart NYC. Just watching this can set my blood to boiling. (Don’t worry that’s the end of the rant.)
Though I’ve read some pretty insightful pieces on letting go of this same anger, it often rules me. I am unintentionally self-righteous, quietly unbearable, and I’m told, not-so secretly smug about people’s insane specism. So that’s my resentment pathology. What’s yours?
If you never get angry, or more upset than you want to be, you can stop reading now.
If not, meet a favorite teacher of mine, through his writing. This piece is better than a picnic with a tattooed yogini under a
weeping willow in a hillside meadow. Well, nothing is better than that, but it’s still a damn good read. The guy is looking at what are the root causes for suffering. His message: we are too often strangled by our wants.
Urges. Desires. Demands.
“Those adolescent urges that so many of us have for top approval, perfect security, and perfect romance, urges quite appropriate to age 17, prove to be an impossible way of life when we are at age 47 and 57.”
He’s onto it. He’s doing the work, at the very bones of our struggle to make peace with our peacelessness. This teacher was, like our man Chogyam, flawed. Deeply flawed. I love that in a teacher! He was driven to seek with every fiber of his twisted being. And sometimes, he found.
“Suddenly, I realized what the matter was. My basic flaw had always been dependence, almost absolute dependence, on people or circumstances to supply me with prestige, security, and the like. Failing to get these things according to my perfectionist dreams and specifications, I had fought for them. And when defeat came, so did my depression.”
You can almost see this text pointing toward meditation. The cry for any form of self sufficiency, for autonomy in emotional calibration, for freedom from our drastic, visceral trafficking in events as currency for feelings. How can you break that? Here’s one way you can’t.
“I couldn’t possibly do that so long as I was victimized by false dependencies. ”
Now that I can grab onto. False. Dependencies. Yes. There are so many of them. And their unreality becomes invisible to me, I start to think they are real.
I go to retreats and monasteries sometimes. Because I can’t do it alone, but with the help of lots of sitting people—and the, well, for lack of a better word, peer pressure—I can sit, and sit. And sitting, eventually, glimpse it. I can see that it doesn’t matter it I’m behind in the mortgage, or if I have a girlfriend or if people are nice to me. I can see, momentarily, truth. There’s nothing to fight. There is only to appreciate.
But I can’t live in an Abbey. I like Kit Kats and cafes and girls and movies and travel and stuff. I need glimpses that continually unfold. I need spirituality at the gas pump, in the subway, in the punishing conversations, on the yoga mat when some teacher is showing off instead of helping. I need spirituality when I feel the urge to show off, to judge, to get angry again. So back to the letter.
“If we examine every disturbance we have, great or small, we will find at the root of it some unhealthy dependence and its consequent demand. Let us, with God’s help, continually surrender these hobbling demands. Then we can be set free to live and love: we may then be able to gain emotional sobriety.”
Demands. That’s the distillation, people of earth. Our demands are crippling us. It’s as serious as a cat gone missing. We’re slaves to our perceived lack, and knowing it’s all in your head doesn’t diminish it even a little.
“For my dependence meant demand, a demand for the possession and control of the people and the conditions surrounding me.”
There’s the gold. Resentment is a correction within my mind of the way life is going or the way life went. It is bowing to my little vision of how life should be. Nourished, allowed the air and water of my precious human attention, it grows into a demand. A frustrated demand. We are roughly as happy as our demands on life are few. The caricature for this demanding self is “King Baby.”
So you want the gold? And thanks for reading this far. Here it is, the essence of his letter. The what-to-do.
“This seems to be the primary healing circuit: an outgoing love of God’s creation and His people, by means of which we avail ourselves of His love for us. It is most clear that the real current can’t flow until our paralyzing dependencies are broken, and broken at depth. Only then can we possibly have a glimmer of what adult love really is.”
The teacher is Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. But don’t let that inhibit you. Take the gold. The gold directly wrested from the hell that is addiction, and healing that is recovery. Be at peace. And don’t take yourself too seriously. Instead of being a source of demands, be a source of love.
Let go of our demands on life. Be a source of love.
Okay, that works. What’s the road map?
When I teach meditation, I re-purpose a lecture from Pema. (And if you do that, please, give her credit! Don’t even get me
started on that!) I ask students who are having an issue with loving themselves to start with a dog.
Picture that rascal and the unconditional love she lays out there for you, 24/7/365. And then the love you give back, when you allow yourself to.
Now point that same love right at your own heart. Yes it’s crooked. Yes it’s broken. Yes, it’s judgmental, and often, so foolish. It’s frequently conditional and armored. But damn it, it is what you have to love, and lover, it is so so loveable.
You are a crazy beautiful source of love and you are made of busted stars flung in pieces centuries ago.
There’s no other way anything needs to be. There’s no other way. We are given this. It is, by definition, perfect. Our gift to us, no guilt. No judging. No demands. Just life.
Just life, and just being lovers.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta