When Shit Happens...
Death brings release, discursive memories and a stinging acknowledgment of one's impending mortality. Best to sit in the brew rather than trying to climb out of the retort.
“Faith: not wanting to know what is true.” —Nietzsche
WHEN MY MOM DIED last summer, I experienced for the first time in my life the psyche’s ability to be in fifteen different ‘places’ simultaneously.
We’re told that the mind can’t hold two thoughts simultaneously, so my experience was shedding light on a different corner of the self and how the self is assembled.
I’m convinced now that consciousness has capacities that we rarely encounter unless, I suppose, some kind of shock knocks us on our ass.
This feels especially true when it comes to death, especially of one’s father and mother. Doubly so regarding one’s mom. As Gurdjieff noted, we never know what it’s like to be truly alone until our mother dies.
So what I’ll call ‘the death space’ calls up wild new psychic skills while recalibrating, instantly, into a series of instinctive rebounds—namely a ramping up of one’s survival drive intermixed with an onslaught of unprocessed memories.
Memories that—after a spell—drop beneath a leaping arc that destroys notions about ‘the future’ and land you squarely on that part of the chessboard related to death—one’s own.
And that was just the tip of the iceberg for me during the past six months.
I rarely turn to spiritual writings and teachings while life is drilling into my defenses.
I’m not sure why that’s the case. Most likely, it relates to the decades that I spent in different spiritual pursuits or schools that offered detailed reasons and explanations for why this or that happened while never mitigating in a literal way why I still felt like shit.
All of the palliatives and explanations became, after a spell, an added burden for the mind and heart to navigate. Ugh.
Over time I learned to forgo the diversions and simply exist with the harsh feelings, whatever they were. As a coping mechanism for my temperament, this was a wonderful solution.
The less I injected different concepts or rationales into my ‘condition,’ the more my psyche’s healing (for lack of a better word) capacity could do what it does best. Namely, keep one present and engaged with life in a way that was actually ‘real’ and engaged.
My experience also showed me, as Pema Chödrön mentions below, from her book When Things Fall Apart, that I never really understood how one breakthrough or breakdown would play out in my life. Never. Not once.
Sure, the mind—being usurped by the imagination—churns up a bunch of shit. Still, as I mentioned above, the more I distanced myself from other peoples’ explanations or rationales or whatever, the more time could move through me and do its thing: which, for all of us is delivering constant surprises.
Or so it seems to me. What do I know? I can only speak for myself.
I’ll close this post with this bit from Chödrön’s book.
And please share with me your experience with this topic in the comments.
“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.
When we think that something is going to bring us pleasure, we don’t know what’s really going to happen. When we think something is going to give us misery, we don’t know. Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. We try to do what we think is going to help. But we don’t know. We never know if we’re going to fall or sit up tall. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.”
—Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart
Opening photograph: The Hindenburg in flames above Lakehurst Naval Air Station on May 6th, 1937. The National Archives.
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