Tuesday, August 19, 2008

housesitting trials and pleasures

some days i feel that i fight a war of flesh versus spirit. i don't like thinking in those terms. i feel that those terms were handed down to me from a very limited christian ideology. always the war of the body against the mind.

and yet, as i read gems of buddhist wisdom today, i see that this "war" has been going on through the ages. buddhists describe it in different ways than christians but there are many similarities.

a war of hedonism versus asceticism. a war of the pursuit of pleasure versus a life of the mind and living in moderation.

i want both. pleasure of body and calm of spirit.

i don't want to be constantly swung back and forth. because i struggle with depression and anxiety and physical disabilities, i am acutely aware of the life of the mind and the body. my mind sometimes torments me with visions of pain, from past abuses to current failures to future deprivations. my body sometimes torments me with pain, from aching knees going upstairs and down, and constant intestinal and abdominal pain to the inconveniences of growing old. and these torments interact with each other. sometimes the mental anguish leads to physical suffering. sometimes vice versa.

i'm here relaxing in the mountains of the sierras, where i'm housesitting in a cohousing community.

last week i traveled back to the city briefly to be with some friends of mine from nashville. they took me out to chez panisse for a treat. so delicious. the lemon sorbet was what meyer lemons were made for! the beets, never a favorite of mine, were absolutely delicious. and they brought such a balanced beauty to my plate of grilled polenta. mmmmm! so yummy.

sometimes, it's very hard for me to enjoy expensive nights out like that. i look around and see the level of people i used to hang with when i had money. the people who can afford to eat like that every night and i remember being among them. i feel such a pang of loss. i see the families celebrating their children's birthdays and the kids consuming $20 desserts, dropping much of it on the table and floor, as if it were nothing. and i remember giving my children treats like that when we were wealthy.

it's not so much that i want to live that way all the time now. i don't think i could enjoy it knowing of others' poverty, and it never brought me the kind of satisfaction that it did my husband. i always thought it was a little wasteful and pompous and exclusive.

but i do so envy the casualness which they seem to feel with each bite. ever since i left my ex, money worries have dogged me. life has been a constant financial strain for 16 years. and it never seems to let up. the minute i save up a little amount, some glaring omission comes to haunt me - like some huge bill i forgot was due. or some crisis happens, a medical problem or a wrecked car or a ....ad infinitum.

i have come to a belief that i must be happy no matter what is in my bank account or i'll never achieve any happiness at all.

i'm so blessed to be able to housesit in this gorgeous setting.

i'm hounded by loneliness while i'm here, far from loved ones. but i have chosen this life. i chose to be apart from my boyfriend when our needs weren't matched. i chose to leave my kids' hometown when my own desires for time with them were disregarded by my ex and the courts. i did not choose separation from my kids; that was imposed, but my kids have chosen to live in separate places from me and i must live with their choices and honor them. i have chosen to leave the bay area behind for a bit of travel, even though i have a loving sangha and many friends there which ease my loneliness. and i've chosen to leave behind my lover for a while, as i travel.

these are all my choices. and i'm glad to be here. i want the experience of travel. i long to leave everything behind and just go, off to explore somewhere i've never been.

often, i'll throw clothes and food in the car, not knowing where i'll end up, and just drive off into the sunset. like thelma and louise but with a happy ending.

and i'm beginning to make acquaintances, if not quite friends, here in this gold mining community.

the cohousers here recognize me and are friendly. the people at the unitarian church are very welcoming and engaging and encourage me to move up here since i like it so much.

i swim laps each day as a physical outlet for the pain of my body and the anxiety of my mind. also, just for the sheer joy of it!!!!!!!! i love to swim. it's my favorite sport. i've always loved the water. our family went swimming, sailing, canoeing, in ponds and pools and lakes and oceans from as far back as i can remember. i'm so glad i was raised to love the water.

it gives me such great joy to float in the pool. to feel my strong arms slice through the water. to feel my legs kick and propel me forward. each day it gets very hot here, unlike the bay area's temperate climate, there is great contrast here between night and day and between seasons. when the sun beats down on me and my skin is sweating, and the air is clammy with heat and my body feels lethargic, i love to splash down, down, down into the cool water, and feel it invigorate me. i love the chi of rushing water. i love to make it happen with my own movement.

all in all, despite my loneliness, i'm happy here.

i have much more detachment now from my anxious and depressed feelings. they don't seem to overwhelm me as much any more. i credit buddhism with that. if they do begin to overwhelm me, i have tools i can fall back on. i can call my therapist, a very kind man i found through a holistic counseling program, who was able to see me for only $7 an hour since i don't have insurance right now. i can go for a walk through the little town. i can read buddhist texts and meditate. i can call my friends or my boyfriend or my lover. i can count my blessings. i can stop and look up and just be in the moment.

i can be grateful for so many things: the silky sheets on my bed. the new mattress which the homeowners bought which feels so comfy. the very loving and beautiful calico cat whom i'm taking care of - she's so loving. the olympics, the joy of watching these world class athletes and the thrill they give us. also the lessons i learn from watching them, they go on after defeat, they smile even when they are hurting. they seek the support of coaches and team members. they love their single mamas. (go michael phelps' mom! isn't she just precious!)

yesterday, i shopped and researched all kinds of things for burning woman. i'm trying to avoid heat stroke and planning like crazy around my needs there. since i have fragile health, i'm careful to really plan ahead. i went to four different thrift stores and shopped till i dropped, looking for very lightweight dresses made of natural material, mostly cotton, that will allow my skin to breathe in the unbearable desert heat!

i'm scared but i love to do things that scare me.

i love to look at a challenge and say, "well, it looks really hard but i bet i can do that."

i'm rather proud of myself.

maya angelou described (in an interview i was listening to yesterday) why she wrote her autobiography. an editor had approached her over and over to write it. she consistently turned him down since she was a playwright and poet. so the editor went to her friend, the profound writer james baldwin, and got some advice. then he came back to maya and instead of asking her again, he said, "you're right to turn down this opportunity to write your memoirs, since writing biography as good literature is impossible." that did it; she immediately said, "i'll do it!"

she said, that as a black woman that's what changed her mind, the idea of being told she can't do something.

i'm the same way.

i sat down and thought of my slim bank account. i thought of what i'd do if i had all the money in the world. and i knew immediately what i'd do. i'd travel! so i determined to myself that i wouldn't let a little thing like money stand in the way of my travel adventures! i'll do it anyway!

so i've taken every opportunity to housesit and learn the history of this area. i'm reading a book on the native american experience in the sierra nevada foothills. i'm reading the history of gold rush women and the chinese railroad workers. i'm doing the thing that i would be doing if i were rich. i'm traveling and growing and learning about other cultures. that's what brings me great joy.

i also decided that the peace of mind that all that money would bring me is something i can have now. all i have to do is just breathe. just breathe and be grateful for all that i have right now, right now this very moment.

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