December 18, 2015 8:28 AM

It's been an interesting last few months. In a certain way, nothing fundamental has changed, but my understanding has become deeper, more articulated, the minutiae grander and the horizon-wide arcs smoother and ever more bemusing. I made some really delicious kim chee, too.

I don't think I can pinpoint a specific moment in time when this movement began, but it might've started with Laurie Anderson's new film, Heart Of A Dog. It's spectacular in so many ways, naive and hilarious and profound in the same breath that only could be Laurie's, but one question in particular she posed stuck with me: how can one feel sad, without being sad?

This sense of apartness from one's feelings was familiar to me. Beginning in my teenage years, I recognized that I needed to create a steadiness in the midst of my emotionally-stoked, vibrant irrationality. I set out to build a psychic home, a center of calm, furnished with music, writings, and inspired by theoretical, technical and fictional sources. I think I've done pretty well for myself so far. The home's quite cozy now, brimming with curious emblems and ornamentation, and I've learned to appreciate its quirks, its worn floors, its misjoined, irregular corners.

My problem these days has been dealing with outside forces -- my feelings, and the rest of the world which sparks them. I could find myself going for weeks, months peacefully, only to be stricken suddenly by anxiety, self-doubt, and sadness. It would come from ordinary human worries: that of my body, means of sustinence (a.k.a., "a living"), and the successes and failures of my life, as told from the inside and instructed from the outside. Frequently it arose from the possibility of romantic love, for me a thing so highly refractive, so endlessly glittering, so paradoxically shapeless and overflowing that I'd just end up on the floor, twisted up and thoroughly cross-eyed. I could never understand why it would explode on me so outrageously. It didn't seem like much of a problem for most people. Why couldn't I face it straight-on?

It was from this scenario I came to a few Buddhist texts, recommended to me by friends. I knew that Buddhism had a notion of self-detachment, of egolessness, and this seemed to be a way to enter and expose this knot. At the same time, I was still hanging out with an enchanting lady. I was trying to process the nature of our relationship, because, while she had said we were to be just friends, there were moments that seemed out-of-place, or at least ambiguously positioned between my ideas of friendship and romance. I had met her family on numerous occasions; she'd check if it was okay for other people to hang out with us, and send me appreciative texts out of the blue; I comforted her when she was sick, and we'd have philosophical, emotionally-laden conversations.

I was stricken and confused. I eventually did ask her outright -- was there any romance here? It was an unfair, greedy question, and I knew there wasn't an answer that would satisfy me. It's an empty question, a cloud; it might be yes, or no, but then you realize you were talking to an incident, a single moment, an emergent shape that readily dissolves into a greater pattern and can't fully know it's own future or situation, nor can you, you freakin' daft cloud-spitter. I honestly can't remember her exact answer. It doesn't really matter. I felt the truth lingering somewhere between, tangled up between our words and unsteady minds. She worried that it was catastrophically over for us. I assured her it wasn't. It felt true then, and it remains true.


There's three fundamental concepts in Buddhism that I understand to be the most vital mechanisms by which we can approach our feelings, and the world. The first is the awareness of the present moment, which Buddhists call mindfulness, the idea that you should be fully aware and receptive to your surroundings, because all moments and all things will come to an end; enjoy it while it lasts. The second is that of compassion, which is coming to people with empathy and a humble openness, and seeking good qualities in all things. The last is that of balance, or equanimity, which is assuring that a single feeling, desire, or story never dominates your perspective; you should always keep the entire spectrum of possibilities in view.

It shocked me how immediately I took to these ideas. They dissolved in my mind readily, like water into desert dirt. Mindfulness is a way to not only recognize our subjectivity and transience, but fully embrace it as an impetus to feel and learn. Compassion is a legitimate challenge to the rarified Western archetype of love -- so desperately precious, a burden to bear, and a delusion to subjugate ourselves to. Buddhism transforms love into the atomic bounty of life, rendering it ordinary and plentiful, something that lifts and brightens everything, if we just let it bounce around freely. Practicing equanimity opens up an endless potential for stories, for new narratives bolstered by knowledge and experience, and relieves us of the urge to define our perceptions, and thus ourselves, with grandiose finality -- an exceptionally useful technique for us artist types. These concepts are simple but delightfully confounding. When set into simultaneous play, they have the tendency to suffuse and saturate everything. It's a uniquely humble form of liberation, one that blooms effervescently from within yourself.

It hasn't been entirely nirvanic bliss for me, though. There's been a mishap or two. I tried to reach out to someone who I went on a date with some time ago, coming to it with genuine compassion and no (okay, very subdued) romantic ideas. She couldn't understand why I would come back around. It scared me, and made me second-guess my motives. I tried my best to explain my reality in plain terms, short of telling her that I went a bit woo-woo. You can only communicate so much, especially if you don't know them well, and what you say is underwritten by their private subtext. Ultimately though I felt that I acted truthfully and honestly.


Here's what I see around me. I see stories tinged with romance; I see stories of heartfelt friendship; I see them beginning, and ending. They are mostly in balance, although they do tip every now and then towards one or another, spinning curiously, but not so violently, nudged this way or that by psychic winds, fatigue, or simple hungers. I feel deeply for this one lady, and, as far as I can ascertain, it arises with no expectation of anything in return. I'm happy and thankful whenever I can spend time with her, and just as happy and thankful amongst my friends, family, and neighbors. A freshness and clarity arises when you take the Ever-Exploding Now seriously, divest from your rambling fantasies (dance with them, don't die with them), and remain unworried by definitions. You also feel relieved, because you're no longer responsible for the past and future movings of the entire universe. You never were, and never can be. The only thing you can control is your rational mind, your sense of truth, your linkage to reality and stories, and aspire to be transparent and preforated, ever-feeling and ever-learning, because letting something pass through as-is will always be more affecting and graceful than resisting and contradicting what's inevitable.