“Who is there?”
The Friend answered, “Go away. There’s no place
for raw meat at this table.”
The individual went wandering for a year.
Nothing but the fire of separation
can change hypocisy and ego. The person returned
“Who is it?”
“Please come in, my self,
there’s no place in this house for two.
The doubled end of the thread is not what goes through
the eye of the needle…”
Rumi, from The Essential Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks
Nathan’s post on fear of abandonment inspired me to revisit that old companion of mine since childhood. According to psychologists the two main fears that shape our reactions in childhood are fear of abandonment and fear of being overwhelmed by the large world. Already as children we develop defence mechanisms such as withdrawal, pleasing others and others in order to deal with them the best way we can. We have to. We are entirely dependent on our caregivers and have to make it in this world. Interestingly, most of us use the same mechanisms even in adulthood and do not take some time to reflect on how those reactions to the old fears shape our (unconscious) decisions and influence our relationships today.
Pretty much early in life it became clear to me that people and relationships were not there to stay and that nobody could ever truly get me. People were there to teach me something and our time together, however fleeting, was valuable. Some would teach me read in English, others taught me generosity, and others – what mattered to me when I felt those values were violated. As a child, I was terrified to get lost, that my parents would forget me somewhere. When the waiting became unbearable, I’d convince myself that they did forget me and would start looking for them myself and – of course – got lost, wherever it was they had left me to play. I would finally make it home with the help of strangers, thankful for this opportunity to return and enriched by the experience.
I made my worst fears come true. I guess somehow it was preferable to the waiting to be abandoned. Now it seems funny and sad but I see how through those experiences I’ve learnt the art of getting lost and found and that I would not always need my parents or people I thought I depended upon. Those were pretty useful lessons to learn as a child. I did not become better with directions and often times I get lost in the fields and forest not far from my new home but now I look forward to those brief moments. And never for a second do I feel lost and lonely in a forest full of trees. Getting lost makes me more aware of the potential to be at home wherever I am and to establish connections with others.
I am also aware that as a grown up I can know better as to how to react to those fears. For quite a while I was the one who left relationships first so I would not be left, as a preventive measure of sorts. Now, wherever I feel the urge to turn away and leave in the middle of this relational conversation, I urge myself to stay and see what happens. Even if I later make the decision to leave, it gives me and the person I am with a chance for an authentic dialogue and influences how we part. I am still friends with some of those people. Leaving out of fear is one thing and leaving because your life takes you on a different journey is another. I am no longer a little girl dependent on a particular person for my survival, I have so much more freedom as to where to go and who to be with. I can become more engaged in the choices I make and although I don’t full myself that I can control my life (how boring would that be!), I know I am the one in charge of it. Not my fears and reactive patterns of a five-year old.
I have a few people who “left my life” (at least for now) and that I love dearly. I could get in touch with them and get more of them, only I don’t feel the need to. The love, the beauty of the connectedness we shared, the gifts of their presence and the transformative powers of these relationships have never left me. They became me in a way and I am still here (or – am I? :-)). I guess I could say that I don’t believe in abandonment these days or in people leaving my life. They may leave but they don’t, not really. Even if they tried. This is the beauty of it. I cannot lose something I never had (the person). What I experienced or what I received from them can never leave me. When someone leaves unexpectedly, we might choose to see their back turned to us. We can also choose to see the picture in its entirety: that same person will be facing us if we meet them on the other side of the hill. We just need to zoom out a bit and take a wider perspective.
In Opening the Hand of Thought Uchiyama Roshi says the following to the person who comes to him, complaining about feeling lonely, “…This empty feeling of yours probably comes because you haven’t yet found this basis within the reality of your own true self. In other words, you feel a hollowness in your life because you have always lived only in relation to other people and things, and haven’t been living out your true self”. (p. 22).
Uchiyama then says, “Zazen puts it into actual practice” and quotes his own teacher who said, “Zazen is the self doing itself by itself”. This sounds Arabic to me until I start looking at it closer, remembering the feelings of unease that come up during zazen when there is nothing outside I have to be living in relation to. There is only the self doing itself by itself. Uchiyama also quotes the Buddhist suttas on the subject of loneliness. In Suttanipata we read, “To depend on others is to be unstable” (in Uchiyama, p. 23) and the passage from Dhammapada goes, “The foundation of the self is only the self”. Not other people, reputation, career, property, ambitions – our true self. So in each moment of zazen and our practice of life we have a chance to realise this true self, to become “unutterly ourselves” just as “all the birds and creatures of the world are” in David Whyte’s poem “Everything is waiting for you”.
Paradoxically, it seems that by realising my true self I come closer to everyone and everything else.
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings…
…Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
~ David Whyte ~