Friday, October 17, 2008

Sunlight, Autumn, and Darkness

A couple of weeks ago, the array of life labeled as sean shifted from one pattern to a different one. Each pattern is a familiar counterpoint of the other.

Sometimes, I love brightness and sunshine.

Let me amend that – sometimes the array that is sean responds most strongly to the sharp clarity, warmth and vibrancy of sunlight. I drink it in, elated, brimming, joy-filled at the seeing it enables.

But in my life, the inverse of loving sunshine is not loving darkness. It’s hating – hating darkness, being dissatisfied with sunshine, frustrated by my own incompetence, disappointed with what I get from loved ones, angry at opponents. If I loved darkness, I’d be set. But that isn’t the way my experience has worked.

But in the midst of hating darkness last week, I was blessed with a few minutes of clear sight. As so often happens, it was not my own sight, but my teacher’s.

* * *

Here’s the question she put to me: “Why is it I can be open and kind to yoga students who respond to my actions with defense mechanisms appropriate to their level of development and experience, while I respond to my family members with contraction and dissatisfaction when they respond to my actions with defense mechanisms appropriate to their level of development and experience?”

The question didn’t draw me out of depression – not immediately. My usual experience with depression is that it just takes a while. But her question did, suddenly – startlingly – turn the light of awareness onto my own responses.

I’ve mentioned this most recent experience of depression to several people now. Each has asked me, “Did you see what triggered it?” That’s good cause-and-effect, scientific thinking: find the cause, eliminate, avoid, or counteract the cause, and by so doing, change the effect. But here’s the thing: depression doesn’t come via an announcement. It doesn’t arrive via a physical manifestation, like a big zit appearing on my forehead, a piano falling from the sky. I don’t blame my friends for asking the question the way they did – talking about “depression” as if it were a thing separate from experience, from existence, actually encourages that sort of thinking. But for me, depression is an after-the-fact label that I apply to sift meaning from the perpetual swirl of thoughts. The labeling is an exercise in mindfulness. So there is no separation between experiencing the dimness of autumn’s lessened light and the lowered energy it engenders in my body-mind. They both, simultaneously, are. But depression is a useful mindfulness label nonetheless, because it allows me to perceive the texture of the mind behind the thoughts. And that influences both the sorts of experience/thoughts that can display on that canvas, as well as the mind-channel/ruts that are more likely to arise from such a matrix.

So what manifested this time? A kind of tired-of-it, no-ideas-left brittleness of mind arising as our family struggles to sort out how to take teenaged boys into their school studies in ways that are either beyond their capacity or their desire. A weariness with the constant need to interpolate my world view to my loved ones’. At its most fundamental level, it was “Damn it, I want something other than this!” Which, with a bit of perspective, translated into “Damn it, I want, and wanting sucks.”

As I said, the question my teacher framed didn’t dispel the depression immediately – it just enlightened the darkness a bit, providing a rudimentary ability to see what was going on as simply what was going on. Why do I readily accept my yoga student’s defensive responses, but not my family’s? Easy: because I’m not teaching yoga for what it will get me, but for what it may give them.

So when did I assign my family to the “get-me-what-I-want” category and remove them from the “give-them-what-they-need” category? Once the question is phrased right, it answers itself.

Bless you, my teacher.

* * *

It’s finally autumn here in Denver. The leaves are changing. The sky is clouded. Sun shines fewer hours. The air and the earth absorb less heat, and they emit less heat. My mind moves from expansion to contraction. My heart is inclined to follow my head until it is lent fire from another. Then it kindles, glows, warms.

Fires, like minds, need tending.