Life has certainly been having an Alan lately and making a gnarly good adventure of it.
I wish here to share a story of supreme positivity and acknowledged fullness of life. Truly I have been experiencing a high point and a long sought life turning. However, while often a wondrous adventure, the road that has brought me here has honestly also been through dark suicidal despair...not everyone wants to hear about that.
“In a famous statement, the Buddha once said that he taught one thing and one thing only: suffering and its release . . . The clear-eyed comprehension of suffering
permits its release.
. . . Questioned about his penchant for delivering “bad news”, the Buddha said he . . . would speak of what was true and beneficial even if it was disagreeable . . . but he added one caveat. He would speak the beneficial, if disagreeable, truth only if he knew the time to say it. . . If someone was not ready to acknowledge his or her trauma, he would not force the issue.”
-Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life
Undercurrent throughout this life there has been a painful awareness that something was not quite right. Childhood stories, internalized judgement
voices, created the lived out mind sets that alan is god dammed and a social reject. Much suffering has resulted from the expectation of unworthiness and separation from normal acceptable folk.
Painfully running experiences through this off-kilter filter has often put me in a bad mood.
My apologies - I was frightened.
In the past few years this discomfort had escalated into an alarming anxiety, feeling not belonging and unworthy in a primal sense of gnawing guilt. Feeling so painfully wrong that it seemed better that I should not remain alive. Seeking relief from my agonized inner world suicide often looked like the best way forward.
Mightily worried in my mental dis-ease I read about various forms of depression to see if there was someplace that I fit in the descriptions. What I found is that depression may be characterized by a lack of energy and a lack of courage. Quite conversely the more anxious I felt the more energized I have been in seeking answers. Anxiety stimulated me to even more studies, contemplation, meditation, and wilderness prayer quests; along with various detrimental attempts to fit in the cultural normal world. Only recently my studies showed that this is actually a healthy way to use stress as a motivator. But at the time I suffered alone, thinking that even my dire seeking was just another sign that something was wrong with me.
During these years of increased anxiety I have lived mostly homeless and nomadic. Inwardly lost I migrated and camped six times the length of the Rocky Mountains and western deserts from near Mexico to mid-Montana. Crying my prayers in vast wilderness, visiting far vistas, most often no other people in sight, no artificial light seen at night. And yet the deeper I desperately delved, the closer to the bone I lived, anguish only increased.
“He who does not really feel himself lost, is without remission; that is to say, he never finds himself, never comes up against his own reality.”
-Ortega y Gasset
This past year (2016) has been especially soul steeped in desert quests; wintering in the Sonoran Desert near Mexico, spring saw the depths of the Owyhee
desert of Northern Nevada, mid-summer the Red Desert of Wyoming. In the lands of sand and sage my beloved spirit family has been guiding a perilous while truly worthy migratory path. Only in these
past few months have come the answers and experiences that have proven the dark and hard path to be a true worthy way.
Desperately studying a number of profound writings along the way I was seeking to find some understanding of this life that I've been crawling through. Studying depth psychology (dark acknowledged) concerning the psychological and social ramifications of death; along with Taoist, Zen Buddhist and Existential philosophy. Steeped in their shaping words, meditating in desert silent caves, daily contemplative wilderness walks, and crying at night on moon silvered sands have brought some hard earned experiential agreements.
Along the way I found a Zen thought and practice that embraces our existential anxiety. Not seeking to escape or tranquilize, accepting the anguish to burn though the futile sense of a separate self. This practice has answered profoundly to the agonized hours of many, many midnights awakening in nightmare dread.
“Our worst fear problem is not death, a fear which still keeps the feared thing at a distance by projecting it into the future, but a more immediate and terrifying
(because quite valid) suspicion that each of us has that, right now the "I" that I think I am is not real.
Buddhism analyzes the false sense-of-self into sets of impersonal mental and physical phenomena, whose interaction creates the illusion of self-consciousness.
The sense-of-self has, as its inescapable shadow, a sense-of-lack. The trace of nothingness in our being, of death, annihilation, and it's fear in our life, is a feeling of lack. In its "purer" forms lack appears as an ontological guilt or anxiety that becomes almost unbearable because it gnaws on one's very core.”
-Loy, Lack and Transcendence ... Zen Philosophy
“But how is one to find one’s potential? How does one recognize it when one meets it? How does one know when one has lost one’s way? Heidegger, Tillich, Maslow, and
May [Existential Philosophy and Psychology] would all answer in unison; through guilt, through anxiety, through the call of conscience. There is a general consensus amongst them that existential
guilt is a positive force, a guide to calling one back to oneself.”
-Yalom ... Depth and Death Psychology
“Rollo May and Irvin Yalom view anxiety positively, as a guide that can point the way to a more authentic life…”
“[Jung] was the sort of man who could feel anxious and afraid and guilty WITHOUT BEING ASHAMED of feeling this way.”
“Anxiety is not adventitous but essential to the self, not something we have but something we are. The path of integration is an awareness that does not flee anxiety
but endures it. . . Bear it and let it burn itself out, like a fire that exhausts its fuel which in this case is the false sense-of-self.”
“Authentic faith is not a refuge from anxiety but its fruit. Letting-go of the mental devices that sustain our self-esteem, we stand alone and vulnerable.”
-Kierkegaard ... Existential Theology
“The sense-of-self is not self-existing but a mental construction which experiences its own groundlessness as a lack. This sense-of-lack is consistent with what
psychotherapy has discovered about ontological guilt and basic anxiety
The Buddhist solution to this lack is simple although not easy:
if it is nothingness we dread, then we should become no-thing. The method for doing this is simply nondual awareness, which meditation cultivates.”
Already wanting to die to escape the pain of trying to exist as alan, the practice of letting go of the poor guy that had been pretending so hard was a natural in blessed relief!
Letting go of the ego-defense systems pretending to be a 'me'...
“Anxiety, if not modified by the fear of an object, anxiety in its nakedness, is always the anxiety of ultimate nonbeing.”
-Tillich, The Courage to Be ... Existential Philosophy
“Cultivating objectless anxiety is the most direct route to realizing our own formlessness.”
“The people are afraid to forget their minds, fearing to fall through the Void with nothing to stay their fall. They do not know that the Void is not really void, but
the realm of the real Dharma.”
-Huang-po ... Zen
Several years visiting shamans in the Amazon also provided incremental, each time just over the next limit, experiences of discomforting not-fun self dissolving. At the bottom of each fall was a moment of clear consciousness, still and peace-full. Stripped to basic being of awareness. Until soon again returned the persisting ego patterns necessary to be acknowledged. Now, some years of this practice has brought a great sense of comfort in not striving or pretending to be a me in the vast muchness of what naturally is.
With sufficient experiential practice of letting go the desert questing began opening experiences of inter-connectedness. Opening, just gentle slow, lovingly, to the web of all. Such relief experieced, not needing to be the center of this suffering little story. In fact I was then given to know that much of the suffering that had been felt had been the suffering of life in general!
My deep immersion in the natural world had opened me to eco-anxiety, another starkly real source of angst. While for most of us this is still subliminal, there is a mounting collective feeling of future fear and helplessness in the face of increasing global climate calamities. And at times I stand under sun day or under star night and cry! with the suffering now of so much life in the oceans and on land.
While this is still profoundly painful, wow...to realize and to experience that it isn't all my fault. And I'm not alone!! This has been the stuff of several days wandering the desert shedding tears of joy.
“Self is one particular point in the web of relationships that encompasses everything. Not separate, non-dual, actually self is not a thing of it's own.”
“The Buddhist approach is to gradually extend that sense of belonging to all beings.”
“To yield is to disperse ego defenses, your characteristic hiding places. To admit to your lack of self sufficiency. A complete emotional admission that there is no
strength in oneself. That support has to come from outside yourself and justification for one's life must come totally from the self-transcending web in which we live suspended.”
“The self must be destroyed, brought down to nothing in order for transcendence to begin. The self can then relate itself to powers beyond itself.”
-Becker, Death Denial . . . Depth Psychology
“Full inner connection realizes seamless interface with the whole. Dissolving the illusion of an inner apart from all outer”
The Web of We - All things interwoven and connected, interrelated and relevant
Meanwhile back in the scary stuff. Another source of the nervousness I was living was simply the natural fear of leaving the herd, the common culture. While heart felt seeking in what seemed to be true path the experience of primal fear seemed to only grow more prevalent. Vast and joyful was the relief when studies revealed that the fears experienced are normal, even correct on a path to true self.
“Individuation is terrifying. Being different and alone, without cultural support.”
“Being an individualistic free spirit triggers anxiety states and leaves one feeling alone, isolated, and separate.”
-Firestone, Beyond Death Anxiety ... Depth and Death Psychology
“Each step forward [into individuation] is a step into the unfamiliar and is possibly dangerous…. It frequently means a parting and separation, even a kind of death
prior to rebirth, with consequent nostalgia, fear, loneliness, and mourning.”
So leaving my father's guilt ridden church community, years alone in wilderness, and my unique set of social discomforts created the fearful experience of stepping away from today's accepted culture.
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
— Jiddu Krishnamurti
At this time also the loss of the groups and being with many friends gathered around my former wife's work of group therapy (a nine year marriage and shared work) had set me free again into an individuation process that brings it's own anxiety. Adrift and alone I didn't understand and had thought that the anxiety I was experiencing indicated there was something horribly wrong with me. Increasing my fear and the idea that I just shouldn't exist.
“Primal anxiety is prior to the instinctive drives; it is normal, indeed unavoidable, in such situations as the threat of death.
A child not permitted to grow according to his own needs and possibilities may develop a profound insecurity and vague apprehensiveness, for which I use the term basic anxiety. It is his feeling of being isolated and helpless in a world conceived as potentially hostile.”
-Karen Hormey, psychoanalyst
“Life demands again and again the courage to surrender some or even all security for the sake of full self-affirmation.”
All along the study of our fearful dance with death has also been an ongoing calling. Acted out by becoming a hospice nurse aid and some chaplaincy training. Death became profoundly experiential as my several traditional indigenous teachers all died, and in hospice attending the dying, along with my own bouts of suicidal surrender.
”Actualization of being implies the acceptance of nonbeing [death] and its anxiety.”
“Anxiety of death increases with the increase of individualization . . . people in collectivistic cultures are less open to this type of anxiety.”
Wilderness living, many times close to survivals' perilous edge, opened me to the painful path of our mortal fear of annihilation. This is the price we all pay to reside in a wondrous consciousness capable of aspiring to the stars as it is carried in a mortal creature body destined to die. We are all on our way to death and this can often be an uncomfortable process. Especially as who we think we are has only been a 'function', not a self existing being. Immortality fantasies really existentially do not quell the terrors of our flailing clinging ego when we actually fully face the reality of death.
“Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?”
”The meaning of life is that it stops.”
“Despair is the appropriate response to death and is endemic to the human condition. To not be able to meet and experience our despair is even greater torture.”
“To daily acknowledge mortality is the path of courage. Pay the price, allow life to engulf and completely use you up.”
Often I despaired and gave up, planning suicide...
“…the desperate clinging to the self and the desperate clinging to life are the surest way to eternal death, while the power to die, to strip one's self naked, and
the eternal surrender of the self bring immortality with them.”
"Stiving for life, I seek death; seeking death, I find life." -Shakespeare
“The self must be destroyed, brought down to nothing in order for transcendence to begin. The self can then relate itself to powers beyond itself. Admit you are a
creature, demolish your supports. Alone, without cultural supports, relinquish defenses. Naked at the brink of oblivion, at the brink of infinity.”
Frodo! Throw that frickin' ring into the fire!
“The only way out of the human predicament is full renunciation. To return one's life to the highest powers. Absolution only comes from the absolute.”
“Enlightenment occurs in Buddhism when the usually automatized reflexivity of consciousness ceases, which is experienced as a letting-go and falling into lthe void
and being wiped out of existence.”
“Bravely let go on the edge of the cliff. Throw yourself into the abyss with decision and courage You only revive after death!”
At the bottom of each suicidal surrender was experienced a deeper foundational grounding in the dark. The horrific process of letting go would then quell the need to end the pain; for a while...
“The thought of suicide is a powerful comfort: it helps one through many a dreadful night.”
All right, that is some pretty intense stuff. Let's just say little alan is gaining practice at getting out of the way...sometimes...sorta' ;]
And that which had been trying to be me has been feeling like it has been put out to flap in full gale force wind.
Seneca said that no courage is so great as that which is born of utter desperation.
“Anxiety turns us toward courage, because the other alternative is despair. Courage resists despair by taking anxiety into itself. [Those of conformist group mind]
are disturbed by the expressions of the Existentialist courage of despair. They attack as a morbid longing for negativity what in reality is courageous acceptance of the negative.
Courage, in this view, is the readiness to take upon oneself negatives, anticipated by fear, for the sake of a fuller positivity.”
“This letting-go will not be easy...to stand naked and exposed. Hence, Buddhism calls it the Great Death. If there is no greater psychological suffering, perhaps
there is also none more therapeutic, for this burns away the dross of life.”
“He who sank in possibility [anxiety]... sank absolutely, but then in turn he emerged from the depth of the abyss lighter than all the troublesome and terrible things
Nietzsche said they have heart who with eagle's eyes see the abyss and with eagle's talons and pride the abyss grabs!
“The paradoxical truth is that only by experiencing our existential despair are we open to the fullness of life.”
“There is no love of life without despair of life”
“You must descend before you can transcend”
As the the meditational and existential clues came showing this has been a worthy path a natural noble Life-Love arose borne by a consciousness clearly
not the usual ego voices. Driving me to redouble the dedicated desert quests. There, in it's pristine rightness, Nature gifted an awakening with new eyes capable of seeing and heart core experiencing
that this is not Alan trying to have a life, rather it is Life actualizing an alan. And self gets out of the way enough to often get blown away in the muchness of beauty now being
My concerned friends have been right to question this hard path, it is certainly not for everyone. In the past this dire way has only been the burden of some shamans, philosophers, and meditational masters. Goddess knows why simple silly alan is being dragged through all this, but it is extremely helpful to now know that the terrors that at times overwhelmed have been reported and worked on by those deeply experienced of various disciplinary practices. That this isn't going crazy, losing touch with reality. This is a process of becoming painfully aware of reality as is reported by some of humanity's great explorers of psyche and spirit.
So now what? Uh, I still dunno...
“Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.”
“…awakening does not grasp or otherwise resolve the essential mysteriousness of our being in the world. It opens us up to that mystery, a mystery that is an essential
aspect of the meaning of sacred.”
"Use the creature anxiety as a goad driving the experiential quest to the mystery at the heart of creation." -Loy
I am so grateful to embrace philosophy that encourages the places of not knowing what's going on. There has certainly been a lot of that experienced. Only now there is much more curiosity and often delight as the skill of allowing increases. Watching as life itself does a fine job at supplying the story.
“Buddhism, a clever way to enjoy your life.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
“What were Jesus and the Buddha both teaching their disciples? Don't worry about yourself, about how you will live; just spread the word as best you can and have
faith that you will be taken care of. In other words, let go of your fears about yourself and give to the world rather than trying to protect yourself from it.”
Service can relive one's suffering...
Well now, perhaps in the unfolding of true story there could be a place where we can get together and share the nesescity of suffering and death and the resultant fullness of life!
Or perhaps there is someone you know and love that could use a companion in the pain. I can tell you from experience that it is a mighty comfort to know that way down in the dark we are not alone...