Spring is here, which means river runoff, wind-whipped whiskers, and runts rooting in the mud. It also means a return to relative sanity, thanks to a few Buddhist teachers; the longer the days, the more distance I make from those dark nights of the soul that were part of my disconnected winter.
Our bodies are, essentially, solar powered. From a physics point of view, the sun is our engine source – without it, we are no stronger than frozen plants in a lifeless vacuum. It’s not a coincidence, either, how photosynthesis – light – is understood by many religions as the source of healing and harmony. Electric Jesus, anyone?
Now that the Almighty Light has returned to our hometown, maybe now I can forget the dream, the one where I am lost in the desert. There is not one tree to embrace and I have no feet, so the wind flips me through the desolate winter night and I tumble past skeletal sagebrush and snowdrift. I have no home that holds me in and I cannot stop for fear of wind’s motion.
“What’s right about blocking your joy?” Katherine Barr prompted us once during a meditation workshop at the Durango Dharma Center. A longtime Buddhist practitioner and council member to the DDC, Barr is a major inspiration to me. I sought out the workshop because of its theme: The Buddha’s Four Virtues: Loving-Kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity – all of the qualities I easily forget when the sun abandons this sky, the ground freezes, and I lock myself inside to wallow in my own self-inflicted misery.
I’ll tell you what’s right about blocking my f’ing joy. We have defense mechanisms for a reason – to defend us. Blocking my “joy” allows me to stay small and skirt true responsibility for my life. I can stay tired. I can keep complaining, stay powerless, and avoid the grief that bubbles in the black holes within my body. Blocking my joy let’s me say, “I told you so,” and allow the victim to be avenged and my ego can once again be proved right. I can hurl my problems at you with a burning bucket and splash the blame at your face.
Besides, I’m good at staying busy and distracted. We go with what we’re good at, right?
In the dreamscape, my body collapses at the edge of nowhere. I cannot see in, around, or beyond where I have fallen. Loneliness and terror swell like pregnant thunderclouds. I want to run from these uncomfortable, terrible feelings, but fear freezes me.
If only I had remembered the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron in my sleep state; it wasn’t until later that I returned to her wisdom about suffering. Author of “When Things Fall Apart,” Chodron has been a true comfort for me in dark times. She teaches what we fear to be true: that there is no real escape from suffering. And: we can be gentle with ourselves about it all. She is a staunch advocate of becoming true friends with ourselves by showing up to whatever we are experiencing in the present moment with kindness.
Embrace those shameful, ugly craters within myself? How can I be my own friend when I am constantly making myself the enemy and getting lost in the wrong desert?
Chodron offers practical support, summed up in the acronym, FEAR. It breaks down to:
F: Find the place in your body where you are experiencing discomfort (that’s the easy part).
E: Embrace it with your whole heart (much harder).
A: Allow the stories around the feeling to dissolve.
R: Remember with compassion all the other humans who are experiencing this emotion like you are.
Here’s the hook for me that Chodron sums up so perfectly: The intention to strengthen and develop unconditional friendship with yourself heightens your awareness of your unfriendliness until you don’t want be that way anymore.
But practicing FEAR gives me a playful pathway through the darkness into the light of this new season.
How the dream ended: The sun rises over the red dirt and warms my blood. I thaw out. I am hungry, I am curious. Gone is the desperation to escape this foreign land. I take off my skin, and settle into the sand. I unclench my fists and feel for the bottom with my breath. Then, something unexpected happens. Water begins seeping from the ground. Clean water soaks my body. Immediate relief rushes my system. I am quenched.
Maybe my teachers are right, and there’s nothing right about blocking your joy, maybe my defenses are finally eroding. I’m not sure …
But, at least, it’s getting easier for me to say that.
Katie Clancy is the co-owner of Studio Soma, a therapeutic movement and bodywork sanctuary located in Durango. She is also a freelance writer and dances with 20Moons Dance Theatre.