How I’ve Made It Through

I’ve seen horrors. Horror after horror in this life. I’m sure I’ll see many more before it’s all said and done.

Some of those horrors were real, most were imagined. Sitting there, assaulted by hypothetical after hypothetical, thinking I could possibly know how others felt about me—thinking I could understand the unpredictable intricacies of cause and effect.

Despite what I’ve seen with my own eyes, despite the pains I’ve felt against my own skin, nothing can compare to the atrocities that flashed behind my eyes, the pain beneath my flesh. Years and years I lived with it, endured it, and accepted it as a fact of life.

In some ways, I even got comfortable with it, as one does over time even with the darkest things this world has to offer.

In Zen, we’re taught that anger is an affliction. That isn’t entirely misguided, because it is an affliction. Anger is one of the most destructive and unwieldy forces in our lives. It pushes people to commit atrocities. And anger comes from fear, sorrow, and longing.

But I’m a bit more lenient with afflictions than some of my fellow practitioners. Anger has been a savior for me on multiple occasions. It’s the only tool that I’ve been able to use that reliably turns my mind around.

We do have to use it with care. Most of the time, we use anger like it’s an out of control fire hose, spraying in all directions, breaking everything it comes across while the fire just keeps burning brighter. But with a clear intention in mind, it’s like a water saw that can cut a line through concrete with almost surgical precision. You could carve a sculpture with it, something beautiful.

Anger is passion with the purpose of dispelling something, just as longing is passion with the purpose of bringing something to life. They share the same root, because if we’re trying to dispel one thing, then we’re doing that so that we can cultivate something else and vice versa.

Passion is ferocity. Fierce loyalty, fierce appreciation, and fierce intimacy. We call what we do a practice because it’s an art form. Like all the arts, it takes patience, understanding, and diligence to master. Anger isn’t wrong in itself. Nothing we feel is wrong. It’s when we haven’t mastered the art of feeling, thinking, and wanting that we run into problems in life, both real and hypothetical ones.

Passion is what’s gotten me through all of this. Passion, curiosity, and fantastic orgasms. It truly is the little things. Once the hypotheticals fall away, we don’t necessarily become equanimous blank slates that just drift about like leaves. For me, their absence makes wise hedonism possible.

Food, water, whiskey, music, the sound of my footsteps on a hardwood floor, teaching my one and a half year old nephew that sprinklers aren’t scary, sunlight, rain, embraces, laughter, even my own pain—this is it. This is the God that everyone’s been looking for.

Idiots think that heaven is something hidden, something in the future that they have to die for and strive for. Even if their magical paradise in the sky does exist, what makes them think they’d even recognize it? Heaven and hell are both right here (points at head).

Running parallel to all of that, there’s softness, patience, and a preference for keeping my own company. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder several years ago. Living with it means that I’ve had to basically learn to satisfy two different personalities with very different needs. Mania and depression are both signs of unfulfillment, it’s our brains telling us that our needs aren’t being met. Most of our emotions are about attaining some kind of goal, and if there’s a goal, that means there’s something lacking. The remaining emotions are about maintaining something we already have.

The manic side of me finds fulfillment through passion; the depressive side through equanimity. The manic side favors intensity and intimacy; the depressive side enjoys tranquility and solitude. I’m fire and water, warrior and poet. Finding my footing has meant figuring out how to work with these opposing forces while not fucking up other people’s lives in the process.

Unfortunately, there’s no formula to share. No steps, no trail, no detailed travel log. If there was, it’d be complete horseshit, not useful for anyone but me.

The best I can do is say that my wants have guided me to where I am. I wanted to find balance, I wanted to master myself and be the master of all situations I encounter. And other people I trusted told me that I could do it, told me that others have done it, told me that I don’t need to look outside of myself to acquire some magic stone, that I already have everything I need to do it.

Persistent trust and persistent desire. With those in place, I stumbled on all the views, methods, people, and situations I needed to brush aside the snow. So, I’ll tell you the same thing: you have to want it, and you have to trust that you already have everything you need to bring it to life. If you can do that, then everything will fall into place.

Now there’s no conflict. When there’s passion, I’m passionate; when there’s tranquility, I’m tranquil; when there’s sadness, there’s sadness. I never seek beyond the mood of the moment, and that prevents my mind from circling. Circling causes moods to morph into more and more extreme versions of themselves.

Instead, I’m like a monk, I just smoke what life puts in my bowl. Wait, not smoke. Eat, I eat what life puts in my bowl. Uh-hem. Then, once I’m done eating, I rinse the bowl out and put it in the dishwasher, just like I would if I was staying at a friend’s house (my room is clear evidence that I don’t do that at home).

A final note, just blind wanting isn’t enough. We have to want something very specific, something that unites all aspects of our personality: we have to want to be ourselves. The us that just is, that doesn’t rise up from the different circumstance we find ourselves in. The us we’d be without nature and nurture in the picture.

Or, as I like to call it, the True Person.

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