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Tiny Revolutions №91: Kind of an Island
+ the story always changes
Last time I wrote to you I said that I wasn’t sure if I was still upset about the things I hadn’t done or whether I’d gotten too old to care. I mentioned an essay I had written years ago about missing some of life’s big rites of passage, and because it had been a long time since I’d looked at it, I decided to track it down and give it a read.
It put me in a dark mood for a solid week.
Here’s the essay in full if you want to read it: Kind of an Island.
If not, here’s the tl;dr: I was 37 and single and unhappy about it, and I was writing about the experience of being a bridesmaid in a big Southern wedding *yet again*. If you do proceed, be forewarned: it’s basically the opposite of a rom-com (lol sorry).
That said, I poured my heart into this piece of writing and I’m proud of it. It said a lot of things that were painful but true and that I didn’t see a lot of people talking about at the time. I submitted it to some journals and online outlets and got a few encouraging rejections (“we loved it, but it’s not for us” type stuff), so it’s just been sitting in a folder somewhere. No more! (And just in time for wedding season! 😂)
When I read it now it strikes me as a crystalline portrait of a very specific kind of pain — the pain of your life not coming together like you thought it would. The person who wrote it was trapped in a cycle of hopelessness and cynicism; that person didn’t see how things would ever be any different.
It made me think of the famous Joseph Campbell line:
“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
At the time I wrote the essay, I was absolutely not fucking willing to let go of that life I’d planned. I was clinging to it and grieving it and raging at any and everyone I perceived as being an obstacle to me getting it (including, and especially, myself). It was not a fun time!
But here we are eight years later, and things are indeed different. Through practice, patience, curiosity, and surely some great stroke of divine luck, I have gained a much wider scope of vision that’s enabled me to appreciate the shape my life has taken. And even to love it dearly. Which is not to say that it can’t still hurt when I’m reminded of what I lost in the process. But I don’t inhabit that pain the way I used to.
So in the end, it is kind of a happy story, in that the story always changes, and whether that’s troubling or comforting to you probably depends on how you feel about your life right now. In either case, it’s true. You can’t count on much, but you can count on that.
In much happier news!
And speaking of things getting better: I did experience a rite of passage! I became a Zen Buddhist officially. About a dozen of my fellow practitioners at Angel City Zen Center and I participated in a ceremony called Jukai, an ordination for lay people in which we receive the precepts, which are sort of like Buddhism’s code of ethics.
I like how this article describes them:
The way of the precepts is the path of going beyond the dream of self. It is the path that reveals the truth that our own happiness and well-being is intricately connected to the happiness and well-being of others.
Yeah! That’s what we signed up for. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful thing, and while I’m not big on labels in general, I’m OK with Zen Buddhist. It gives me something to live up to.
Another fun thing about taking Jukai is that your teacher gives you a dharma name. Here’s mine:
I’ll respond to Shūmon henceforth. :)
Some food for thought before I go!
Whew! That took some effort. I capped off my crazy busy winter and spring by coming down with the dreaded coronavirus just in time for the holiday weekend. I’m fine and on the mend, but dang. Life! Hoping once I feel better I’ll have a bit more space for this newsletter and other writing projects, so stay tuned.
Thanks for reading and supporting me, as always, my friends.
See you soon.
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p.p.s. Tiny Revolutions is free to read for everyone, but if you’d like to support my work, you can do so by becoming a paid subscriber. You can also just like this post — I appreciate that a lot!