I went to class last night and learned that I am drowning. A tragic predicament for anyone, especially a Pisces. Even more troubling is that I don’t have to be drowning, yet it appears that I am choosing to.

Last night’s class wasn’t about swimming – I know, you’re shocked. It was a Buddhism/Meditation class focusing on Samsara – which in Buddhist teachings can be translated as the cycle of suffering or the cycle of life. [While I am aware that there are multiple translations of the word (from its Sanskrit origins) and different cultures and practices attribute a variety of meanings to it, for the sake of this meager post I will say that my understanding is that Samsara means the cycle of suffering.] At the end of our guided meditation we were encouraged to think about a cycle that we are caught in – some type of personal suffering that we seem not to be able to escape from. Smoking was offered as an example: the smoker who wants to quit, believes they should quit, tries to quit and sometimes succeeds only to smoke again. We were encouraged to focus on something that we could take lightly, with some humor.

I ignored the “humor” direction and focused on my negative state of mind. And by negative state of mind I mean the self persecuting state of mind which has gained considerable volume in my head as of late. My “you’re worthless and weak” mind, my “you have never and will never amount to anything” mind, my “you’re going to die having accomplished nothing” mind. It’s as if the Great Santini hijacked my conscious and, not having his teenage son around to bully, is focused on me (If you have never seen the movie “The Great Santini,” rent it. But for now just think – emotionally abusive military father figure). So I focused on my Great Santini (which sounds dirty, but its not). As expected, I started to feel anger, sadness, hopelessness, and anxiety. We were then encouraged to think about this cycle of suffering as if it were an ocean. And, to be honest, I can’t recall why we were encouraged to think of it that way – all I remember is feeling like I was drowning, and then I started to laugh. Which I’m pretty sure is not helpful when you are drowning.

Why was I laughing? Because I knew that I was choosing to drown. Yes, the facts behind the Great Santini’s persecutions are tough to argue with – I am turning 40, I do not have stable employment, my financial situation is less than rosy. But, my thinking about this, my wallowing in it, my stress about it, is all of my own doing. So I started to laugh – because what an ass am I? Of course, I didn’t need meditation to figure this out, I guess I always knew it, but sometimes I need even the most obvious things pointed out to me, especially when I’m stuck in an emotional cycle. It’s not so bad when the emotions are positive – then the cycle is fun, but when they turn, and they always turn, well …

After the laughter there was some comfort. We were then encouraged to consider whether other people were going through the same cycle of suffering. As ridiculous as it sounds, it was the first time during this – what I will call – “Dark Period” of my life that I realized there are others out there struggling with this same bullshit. What was important for me in that moment, was understanding that my “poor me” mentality was neither original nor particularly interesting. We were further encouraged to consider whether we could help others out of their cycle – and that gave me some peace. It was as if that idea began to calm the tide, to settle the waters, hell I’ll go so far as to say that the idea gave me a life raft, a way to avoid the drowning.

As class ended I prepared to leave, focusing on getting past my Great Santini mind and perhaps helping others do the same – having no idea, of course, how to do that. And just as I was experiencing a small dose of self-satisfaction, I pulled out my iPhone, checked my email and learned that I was rejected from the Public Theater’s Shakespeare Lab for the second year in a row. You would think the Great Santini would start with the “you suck” chanting right off the bat, but he didn’t. I took a couple deep breaths and assured myself that I was not surprised at the rejection. I convinced myself that it was not a determination or judgment of my talent and that it was, in the end, “no big deal.” Do you want to guess how long that lasted? Not very long.

About an hour later the Great Santini started up. Small at first, even gentle, just a little “that’s a bummer buddy, you’ll get em next time.” But after getting a couple hours of sleep, he was up and raring to go this morning: blaring loud and clear with a new found vigor that this latest rejection was merely another example of my chronic case of “notgoinganywhereitis;” another sign post drawing attention to my wasted potential; yet another chapter in the sad and cautionary tale of my life.

So I sat down to write this. In doing so, I started thinking about that drowning. I started thinking about why I would continue to drown, knowing that it is in my power not to. All this thinking (I know, I know, the thinking is a problem) dredged up memories of another class a couple years ago. It was Beth Lapides’ Un-Cab Lab class – a fantastic class for writer/performers in Los Angeles; I had just performed a story about my latest break-up (there had been a lot of them (try and hide your surprise)) and I couldn’t figure out why I would get myself into a fast and furious romance when I wasn’t ready and when I knew it would end badly. Beth’s insight, as always, was right on. She said “Tom, maybe you like the drama.” WHAT!? HOW DARE SHE?! I do not like the … oh shit, maybe I do. A little. Maybe I’m “That guy.” You know, that guy I hate, the drama maker. After Beth cut me to my very core, I went home and rewrote the story, reworked the bit. It wasn’t hard. The story was rewritten with me as a guy afraid and unprepared to enter the serious relationship pool (not a highly original thought, granted) and yet jumping, heart first, into the deep end without my water wings while there was no lifeguard on duty. And why would I do that? Because I liked the rush, because I liked the drama. I liked the drowning. It was like I was the protagonist in a David Lynch movie about seemingly normal people who get off on being submerged without air entitled “GULP” – though I’m guessing they would hire James Spader to play me.

So, here I am again, drowning in my own drama. It’s difficult for me to admit that I’m causing it, and its hard to believe that part of me enjoys how miserable I have been lately, but it’s even harder to argue with the evidence. I see it now. How could I not? Three years later, the drowning motif cycles back into my consciousness – my own little cycle of suffering. My own Samsara.

It can’t be that simple, can it? Can it be THAT obvious? Isn’t it a bit odd that I’m repeating this drowning motif AND I’m a Pisces? How about the fact that the symbol for Pisces is usually two fish forming a circle, isn’t that a bit convenient? You know what else is convenient? Fish don’t drown in water, they can breathe in it. So convenient or contrived or simplified or not, that’s what I’m going to try and do. I’m going to learn to breathe, a little bit every day, till the Great Santini’s only significance is as pretty great movie starring the incredibly talented Robert Duvall. I’ll probably cough up a bit while I get used to the whole breathing under water thing, but no one ever said it was going to be easy.


7 thoughts on “Gulp!

  1. Toddy Randolph

    For some reason I feel like offering the March quotation from my Pema Chodron calendar, which i flipped to, a day late, just after reading this beautiful post:

    “No matter how many times we’ve been instructed to stay open to whatever arises, we still can use meditation as repression. Transformations occurs only when we remember, breath by breath, year after year, to move toward our emotional distress without condemning or justifying our experience.”

  2. Tom, I love your blog!

    And I remember the class where Beth said that. Hee hee hee.

    There’s the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Chod (or Chud), where you give yourself to your “demons” – while getting VERY familiar with them – and arise, embodying enlightened qualities instead. Traditionally, you do it for forty days straight. It’s very colorful and ritualistic but incredibly powerful.


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