I had one of those really great dreams last night in which I was with someone I really liked, and she really liked me, and we really liked each other, and as hijinks ensued (some kind of haunted house) there was a good deal of reaching for each other’s hands. It certainly didn’t hurt that this person happened to be a sort of super-casual Gwendoline Christie, who told me I could call her “Winnie” (thanks Wonder Years actress I reblogged the other day) – even though I did get a little nervous when she stopped to sign autographs for Game of Thrones fans. Anyway, despite sleeping rather badly otherwise, that dream was like a massive serotonin injection straight to the center of my brain. Feels good man.
My first year of college I took a Psychology 101 course with a professor who was big on dream theory and had us all do dream journals for the semester. Ever since then I remember most of my dreams with a great deal of clarity as soon as I wake up, and some have stayed with me for years. They’ve always been vivid – I can still clearly visualize some childhood nightmares – but with the detailed recall I’ve been able to pinpoint some recurring emotional themes. When I’m stressed I often dream of being unable to control my car as it hurtles down the road – it often crashes, after which I pick it up and put it in my pocket. When I’m particularly overwhelmed I’ll dream of travelling with all three cats and no cat carrier. How do I hold all these cats?? When I’m grieving a loss, I tend to dream of houses being built on my grandparents’ land, unbearably sad and disturbing. But I haven’t had such a present and lasting dream of that loving, personal companionship in a long time.
I know why I did. I’m not a religious person – I gave up on God and the afterlife in my early 20’s – but what’s never left me is a kind of respectful awe for the connection that appears to exist between living things. Between animals and people, people and people, animals and animals. I even think there’s quite something to plants and trees and things. I don’t know what is there in the energy or the atoms, but I do think there is some underlying shared bond that is our source of compassion and gratitude. Those animals at veterinary hospitals that choose to curl up next to sick or injured patients. Those animals at nursing homes who will sit on someone’s bed as they are dying, with no one having to tell them to. Those people who go out and collect dogs and kittens from trash heaps and have the unfathomable ability to make the sacrifices to make these little lives well again. Those people who go out among the lost and homeless and suffering of the world without any thought for themselves and try to make things better if only in small ways.
I don’t think it all occurs due to an indoctrinated sense of morality that stems from religion. The most powerful stories are always of those most unexpected, unfounded connections. There just seems to be, at the basis of all life, a simple “We are all in this together” theme, and when it shines through all the other cruelties and negligences it is just stunningly beautiful. Maybe it is because we are all star stuff. Maybe we all know, deep down, we are all tiny, momentary bits of something much bigger.
My faith in that is something I have neglected for quite a few years now, partly because it didn’t fit in with the mentalities of my friends. When you’re used to being with pretty firm Christians, any atheist is a breath of fresh air, anyone who says they don’t believe in all that Bible stuff. But there’s a difference between not believing in all that Bible stuff and not believing in anything at all, and I did feel a bit ashamed of my kind of “silly” grasp on the metaphysical. The nice thing about Buddhism, I would always tell myself, is that it’s very agnostic – nothing is certain, you can go either way. There are Buddhists who believe in deities and those who are entirely secular. I could call myself a secular Buddhist and fit in with the atheists. But the wave is the water and the water is the wave still, right?
Anyway, I find myself believing in these connections again, and more importantly, allowing myself to feel them. It is an opening, and a vulnerable one at that. And it’s just one of several things that has balled up to bring me to this cusp I find myself at now.
I’ve found myself at these cusps over and over again, sometimes after months, sometimes after years. The last time I was at one was last November, when I stopped to get my shit together after everything I had learned and gone through last summer. Getting my shit together then resulted in six months of really well-structured art study, not to mention writing on my novel and this blog, which has been a big deal. It also included centering women in my life and concentrating on being more comfortable in myself. All of it resulted in, well, better drawing, a great deal more connection with others I could relate to through the blogging, a more grounded sense of myself than I’ve ever had, and, as a result of all of that, some major changes in who I hang out with and how I want to spend my time.
Not bad for six months. I planned to take a week “off” in June to do some housework – I’ve got two rooms in pretty desperate need of new paint and three closets and an attic that need some serious reorganization. But I hit this past week – not even June yet! – and everything just rolled to a stop. No drawing. No writing. No progress at all save for a sense of “I need to restructure my life.” Well, that’s a sign. It’s one thing to plan to take off work and another thing to find yourself just not doing it because there’s way too much in the arena right now to deal with – and that reintroduction of the metaphysical thing seemed to be the last straw.
(When I talk about “taking off work” for a week or a month I know it sounds like a bit of a luxury. My main source of being able to live comfortably is actually being a helper/companion to my mother – I do almost all of the cooking, a good deal of the driving/shopping, I mow the lawn, fix things around the house and cook/prepare for her social gatherings as well. In return she pays for my essentials like health insurance, car insurance, etc. I can’t “take off” from those obligations – that all is a daily life arrangement. But my own work, which has earned me decent money at times, is something I do take breaks from from time to time in order to get my shit together so I can come back to it in a better frame of mind.)
It’s all a bit like building a go-kart. I take some time to put together a vehicle, push off at the top of a hill, and see how far I go. Depending on the landscape and what I pick up along the way, at some point it all just slows to a stop. Then I’ve got to get out and make some adjustments or build a new go-kart to go further.
It’s apparently time to build a new go-kart.
Yesterday, one of those perfect rainy warm days, I read one book and started another. The first was Let Go: A Buddhist Guide to Breaking Free of Habits by Martine Batchelor. She’s the wife of Stephen Batchelor, who wrote Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist – I’ve been a fan of his for some time. Her book similarly concentrates on the basic practical principles of Buddhism and how to apply them to everyday life, and it had a lot of simple but very detailed observations about looking at what our minds do every day. I’m especially interested in breaking my habit of looking at the Internet throughout the day as a distraction, and getting focused in on how my mental states affect my physical states and vice-versa. She also spoke of compassion in a creative sense, which I liked very much, as “Love everybody!” just does not work. But creatively applying compassion to everyone – including ourselves – is fascinating to me, as it’s so much more about an active involvement and less about just telling yourself what to do.
The second book that I started – and bear with me here – is Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Workweek. Oh yes, I went there! By accident, no less. Sleepily clicking on things on Facebook on my phone, I started a podcast just to see how long it was and couldn’t get it to stop, so listened to his entire morning routine. I did like what he said about meditation and journaling, though, and ended up downloading this nifty Five-Minute Journal app that focuses your intention and gratitude for the day. I’ve heard a lot about his book from various sources so decided to check it out, and it’s a bit of a trip, to say the least. The funny thing is, the last guy I worked for must have been a huge fan because he was trying his best to run his website the way Tim describes this magical lifestyle – hands off! delegate everything! it must run by itself! – but all that means is that you’ve got everyone else doing the work for you. I know from experience. I worked my tail off for this guy while he was flying around the world trying to be a rich dude. Something was just not right about all that and it was one of the main reasons I had to pack up and leave.
However! There are some interesting tidbits in the book about maximizing time and efficiency. I finally got an understanding of the 80/20 rule – 80% of results come from 20% of causes – and how it can apply to all areas of your life. Like you get 80% of your happiness from 20% of the stuff in your life, so by narrowing things down to that 20%, life gets a little lighter. Like my tumblr dashboard, if 20% of the blogs I follow bring 80% of my positive reactions, I should cut out all the other blogs I just waste my time scrolling past. At least in theory.
Besides that, I really would like to make some money, and I’m hoping the more sensible tips in the book (beyond hiring someone to do everything for me) inspires me to get some kind of product up that can bring in some income. I haven’t made any real money for myself in over a year, and no matter how I try to shrug it off it is not the best for the ol’ self-esteem. I’m terribly fortunate to be able to live comfortably as I do, but I would also really like the freedom and ability to like, buy myself a new shirt or something now and then.
Ah yes, those material rewards after talking all metaphysical! I would take another dream like this morning’s over a new shirt any day. In a more perfect world, however, I would be able to get myself a new shirt so that I looked super-cool and comfortable in myself when introduced to someone I might feel a connection to. Maybe in the great scheme of things the shirt would matter. MAYBE. We are all on a path of becoming.
So over the course of the next few weeks I’m going to try to cultivate the garden to try to grow that kind of life. A life more connected, more nurturing, more open and healthy, possibly more prosperous, too. I feel like, this time, it’s less about getting my shit together and more about getting back to myself. Clean some closets, paint some walls, feel a little lighter and more authentic, and breathe a little easier.