Seeing my Life as a Task

From my journal for Monday, July 30:

In Franconia.  I look around my house and see things that need to be dealt with and my heart hurts.  Why would my heart hurt when I see something that needs to be dealt with?  Something I’m responsible for but don’t want to deal with?  Maybe it’s just the thing of feeling responsible for finding good homes for everything.  There’s also pain for the things that got lost along the way.  I think of Thomas Merton in the monastery, no longer responsible for anything except his own soul.  And I feel like I can’t begin to come close to my soul with all these practical fidgets demanding my attention.  Maybe that’s why my heart hurts.

Yesterday, driving up, looking at the trees, the clouds, the sun, it was all so beautiful.  I thought of “god” as “source,” the source of all this beauty, as the life force moving through everything, keeping it in being.  I think about whole paragraphs by Merton where he talks about grace, and consolations, which are sometimes “vouchsafed.”  You can’t get them by trying to get them, you have to live in the “right” way so you can be open when they come.  But it’s not like a somewhat capricious god giving you something wonderful as a reward for good behavior.  Bliss and understanding and complete safety are always available when we can open to them.  I don’t know why some people are lucky enough to spontaneously break through — I think this is what happened to Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle — and others of us have to work very hard for a long long time.  I think of the “days of grace” that I experienced for several months, and then they never came back again.  I think of my struggle now, to somehow let go of my old conditioning that makes me so unhappy.  It’s not my own inborn defects that are the problem, it’s what was done to me at a very early age.  I think of Merton’s struggle with self-will, with wanting fame and fortune and pleasure and all the rest of it — though he did come to see the emptiness of all that.  I remember having fantasies that my book would be a best-seller, but I usually saw through those right away.  I don’t know if I was born without those tendencies, or if they were all ground out of me by pain, by never getting what I wanted, believing I was defective, believing that I had to “prove that I deserve to live.”

I’m not saying this very well.  I feel like what happened to me, trauma and abuse, left me with wounds that prevented me from finding ordinary happiness: marriage, kids, satisfying work…   I don’t blame Mom & Dad, but I guess I am angry at the universe — I could have done so much more with my life!  I could have spent my life in service to other people and been happy in their growth and happiness.  Instead I’ve had to focus on myself, work on myself, trying to understand what happened to me, and then trying to unlearn it, to undo the deep conditioning.  Why have I been given this task?  Or why did I take it on?  Looking at the this way, seeing my life as a task, as an assignment, I can see that it’s a huge tough piece of work, and that I have done well with it.  I’m also grateful for the help I got along the way: family wealth, good schools, good therapists, good friends…

I sit here and look out at the green leaves, the sun on the trees deeper in the forest, and I feel sad at how little I’ve been able to enjoy the gifts that I have had.  I think of skiing, the good days, sun & snow & rhythm of movement.  I think of being unable to sleep in the apartment at Jane’s house, and not feeling that I could stop the clock…  so much pain.  Somehow the little joys never built up into a sense that joy was real and solid and available.  But the moments of pain weren’t just moments, they were in my body, a weight on my heart and triggered by new pains…  Am I choosing not to enjoy? I don’t think so.  I do find it painful that I can appreciate the good things but only rarely feel the joy.

Note: I have been reading The Seven Story Mountain, Thomas Merton‘s autobiography about how he entered the Trappist Monastery.

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