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Reflections on Turning 30

When I turned 20, a friend of mine said I was lucky to still be alive.

His exact words were,

“Luck to the next 20.”

Well, now I’m 30.

And you might call it luck,

I guess.  I could think of some other words for it.

But here I sit.  Some things have changed.

Some things have not.

I still use the same font.  I still think like I’m 23 years old.  I still love cats and hip hop.

I don’t still grill chicken with English muffins and peanut butter.

I don’t write spoken word. I write quantitative clinical psychology research articles.

I don’t play the drums anymore.  I went back to Jiu-Jitsu this year but immediately hurt my shoulder.

I don’t still lift weights 6 days a week.  I don’t take workout supplements;

creatine, caffeine, beta alanine, taurine, DiArginine Malate, Citrulline Malate, BCAAs, whey, casein.

In fact, I hardly make it to the gym.  I make music now.  I teach meditation now.

I’m still in love with the stars.  I still want my ashes spread in the Pigme Redwood grove in Big Sur.

I now care about the planet.  I care about you; so, so, much.  It’s actually hard to put into words

how much I care about you.  I’ve seen things that have changed me forever.

I know we’re the same.  I forgive you.  Believe it or not.  Really, I have.

I’m hoping too that you can forgive yourself..

I have a cat now.  I love her more than words.  She’s like me.

She loves her alone-time but needs to be held sometimes.

I’ve learned her language and we talk now.

I don’t go to therapy anymore.  I haven’t been in several months now.

I haven’t blogged in probably a year.  My apologies to those that follow me.  Things will change.

I stopped getting Muscle and Fitness magazine,

although I taught a case manager at work how to do a proper squat today.

I’m a pretty good therapist, I think.  My clients love me.  And I tend to love them.

(Don’t tell anyone.)

Doug is dead.  Overdose.  I’m still crying.  I’m still angry.  It’s still hard.

I’m still scared to talk about it.  I wrote a song about it.

A.J. won’t return my calls.  I still haven’t talked to Stu or Gabe in years.

Kev and I are cool though.  I seem him regularly and that’s my brother.

I’m still scared of growing up; still scared of dying without doing the right things.

I still don’t know what the right thing is.  And I’m still a bit impatient.

I can dance now!  Oh boy do I dance!  No more paralysis.  No more hiding.

I’m okay being out in front.  I’m okay knowing that you’re looking.

I’ve lost some friends.  I’ve gained some friends.

I allow myself to love and be loved.  I’m walking through fears now.

I still wear Sauconys, and still keep them arranged in a very specific way.

I still have to double check the stove and the car lock.  I still make the clicking noise with my tooth.

I still read Mary Oliver.  I still read Jack Kerouac.  I still read Dostevsky.  I still go to Big Sur.

I’m going back to Thailand and Bali.

I still hate doing laundry.  I still love making people happy.

I’m now accountable; responsible.

I’m not as scared of death as I used to be.  I still flirt with Nihilism.

I’m still morbid.  But I keep that secret.

I don’t litter.  In fact, I may have picked up your litter before.

I feed the homeless now.  I volunteer my time now.

I’m still crazy.  And I still love it.  I’m still the funniest person I know.

But I’m also the person I’m the most sick of.

I’m learning to hold contradiction.  I’m learning to hold the yearning for life

and the desire for non-existence.  I’m broadening the scope of what I can hold.

This year, I’ve been with a Hindu guru at an Ashram,

an influential Buddhist meditation teacher,

a combat veteran with severe PTSD,

suicidal and chronically depressed survivors of substance abuse,

a beautiful meditation teacher with a complex trauma history,

a psychiatrist specializing in the brain and attachment,

a professor at the Center for Psychoanalysis,

a man who survived cult and ritual abuse.

I’ve had a patient commit suicide.

When I turned 20, a friend of mine said he was surprised that I was still alive.

His words exactly were,

“Luck to the next 20.”

Well, now I’m 30.

And you might call it luck,

I guess.  I could think of some other words for it.

But here I sit.

The book of my life has been a page-turner.

Each chapter,

a new incarnation….

Luck to the next 30.


If you think about it, this writing, or any art form whatsoever, is no substitute for present-time experience.  After all, one could sit and read about every city in the world and never actually leave the comforts and safety of home.  These words, they’re just symbols.  I put them on the page for you to read, to take-in, to process.  But you’ll never know what I really meant.  You can’t.

My first writing mentor told me, “Zack, you wanna be a great writer?  Don’t think about writing, just go live.”  And that’s what I try to do.  I ask myself, When things change, will you be open to it?  How will you greet doubt?  Will you know the difference between doubt that is harmful and skepticism that is skillful?  How will you tell?  Always examine your intention.  Not just short term, but long term.  But make mistakes.  Forget.  And when you do, smile and remember that you’re breathing.  Balance.  Smooth.  Simple.  Joyful.  Light.  Playful.  Informed but open.  Tenacious but gentle.  Firm but malleable.  Dynamic.  Explore with arms wide open.  Let the water run over your feet.  Get dirty.  Make music.  Listen.  You are not going to figure it all out.  Rest in that.  Moment by moment, like a ball of yarn, time unravels its speckled gold hair.

There comes a point in your life when you realize that what your parents taught you was important may not be…. When you realize what a product of your conditioning you are.  That moment of existential angst is an important one, where one decides to live blindly or to engage life’s uncertainties, to explore possibilities, to open-up.  Art allows this process to happen.

Someone asked me the other day why I write.  I didn’t have an answer.  What I wanted to say was, “I have to.”  But that seems so rehearsed, like the tortured artist who is the victim of his own creativity.  Nah.  But I do wish I knew why I ended up in front of the computer, or with a pad and a pen.  I think it’s about art, about finding beauty in the mundane, about finding meaning in a transient and changing world.  Maybe it makes things easier.  I don’t know.

Maybe this is my playground.  I get to make the rules here.  I can give my writing rhythm.  I can make my writing scholarly.  I can make it angry and hard, or gentle and soft.  But mostly, I think it’s a place where I can let go into the moment and allow myself to be vulnerable with my own thoughts and my own creativity.  It’s a trustful act, this writing.  But it’s just symbols.  It’s not real.

So why would anyone do art?  What is art?

It’s the sound trees make in the morning when the wind blows,

it’s the frosty moonlight creeping in through the window.

It’s the guy on the corner, dirty clothes and scraggly hair,

it’s all the fucked up shit in life that no doubt got him there.

It’s the love I feel for life that communicates through a shiver,

it’s breathing deep, it’s a good night’s sleep, it’s the freezing Big Sur river.

It’s all the times you tell yourself you swear you’ll never do that again,

then the next day comes, you do the same thing and swear it all over again.

It’s the color of my love’s eyes when we’re lost in a gaze,

She asks me why I love her, and I sit back and count the ways.

It’s the waves crashing down on the California coast,

it’s dangling my feet off a cliff while you tell me I’m too close.

It’s my boys, it’s the laughter, it’s the jokes for the days after.

It’s my poetry, these lines I write, this beautiful life I try to capture.

It’s going outside at sunrise for inspiration,

bringing my pad and pen with me, just sitting there, patient.

But here I am.  I’m still right here.  The same young poet with the same old fears.

I used to wear my scars like a medal on my chest.

Now I sit with legs crossed on a cushion and feel blessed.

There is no answer to the question, “Why do I write?”  The answer is an action.  It’s putting one foot in front of the other.  It’s a smile and a laugh.  It’s a fleeting feeling.  Here and then gone.

Moment.  By.  Moment.

Like a ball of yarn,

time unravels

its speckled



Plato said that the unexamined life is not worth living.  I’m not sure that I agree.  And, of course, it seems problematic now that we have discovered numerous developmental and cognitive disorders that would prevent one from the type of examination that he was talking about.  I couldn’t get behind a statement that suggests that those individuals do not live a life worth living.

I think I understand what Plato meant, however.  And I often ponder this question myself.  Me, I’ve spent the majority of my life in an obsessive examination of morality and ethics, intentions and consequences.  A lot of it just led me to isolation.  But now, I’ve seemed to find the middle path, where I am able to examine my life and life in general without an attachment to it, or needing it to be a certain way.

I’ve recently been exploring the Buddhist teaching of “anata,” or “not self.”  It is a rich and complex teaching that basically states that there is no fixed static self to hold on to.  There is nothing that we can claim as “Me,” or “Mine.”  And that these things that we claim as “Me,” or “Mine,” are in constant flux, always changing.  And if one did examine their life quite deeply, one can see the truth of this teaching.

When I sit and meditate, and become quite concentrated and calm, it is rather easy to see.  I sit and bring awareness to my body.  “Am I my body?” I think.  Well, let’s examine that question.  Here I sit with this body…. This skin, bones, muscles, sinews.  And when I was younger, I also had skin, bones, muscles, sinews.  But, all of our cells are constantly regenerating.  There is not a single cell in our body today that was flourishing in our body from infanthood or toddlerhood.  This body that I sit with and contemplate today is completely different than the body I grew up with.  It grows, it shrinks, it lives and dies and lives again.  It looks different almost every day.  More hair here, less hair there.  More muscle here, less muscle there.  It seems the body isn’t a reliable place to lay the claim that “This body is who I am.”  Even if one were to argue that they are their body, well, then they are claiming that they are this dynamic flow that is never static, never the same.  What you are today will be different tomorrow.  Aside from that, the very fact that I can directly observe my body, watch it, sense it, means that it can’t be me.  The very fact that an object cannot directly perceive itself proves this wrong.  So I move on.

What about my thoughts? Am I my thoughts?  Can I claim my thoughts as mine?  Well let’s see.  I sit and watch my thoughts.  An image of my father during my childhood comes to mind, and it produces a pleasant feeling in my chest.  This is quite interesting.  Without my forcing it or willfully conjuring it, an image of my father arises.  And, that image is accompanied by a feeling.  In this case, it was a lightness, a warm tingle in my chest and through my spine.  And I label that feeling as pleasant.  And then, without my help, the image disappears.  Next thought.  “My back hurts.”  This thought too was accompanied by a feeling.  It was an unpleasant feeling, a tight and sharp sting in my upper back.  And I label this as unpleasant.  It’s also accompanied by an autonomic response; namely I begin to sweat and blood rushes to my extremities.  Whatever the “I” is, it doesn’t seem to like physical discomfort.  And in fact, has automatic responses to physical discomfort that serve to get me out of that uncomfortable situation.  But I choose not to listen to it.  I choose not to get up.  I stay and watch, and listen.  I can’t be my thoughts.  I sit here and watch my thoughts, and choose, one after another, which one I will attend to.  I interact with my thoughts, I exist in this space between my thought and the subsequent reaction.  I am not my thoughts.

Am I my feelings?  Well, that would almost make sense in some way.  Ever since I can remember, I have felt things with incredible acuity and sensitivity.  If I was happy, I was elated.  If I was sad, I was heartbroken.  In my past, I could see how many occasions that I took my feelings to be “Me.”  I was heartbreak.  I was anger.  I was resentment.  I was guilt.  But I no longer identify so richly with my feelings.  As a matter of fact, I sat last night with numerous feelings.  I was upset.  I was regretful.  I was sad.  But my relationship to those feelings has changed.  And the very fact that I am in relationship to my feelings, is a clear indicator that I am not my feelings.  Just like my thoughts, or a pain in my body, I can watch my feelings arise.  I can create a space for my feelings to do their dance.  I can smile and greet them at my door with a cup of tea.  And then, when they are ready, I can let them go.  Last night I watched my sadness, my regret, turn into peaceful acceptance and equanimity.  I am not my feelings.

So what does this mean for us?  Well, I’m not quite sure yet.  My examination has really only begun.  But I feel I am on the right path for now.  I am gaining more and more understanding of my feelings, my thoughts, and my body.  I am learning to rest in the space of awareness that can observe all things but not be limited by them, like Jack Kornfield says.  But this search for “Me” has been quite disorienting.  As humans, we are constantly searching for things to cling to as “Me,” or “Mine.”  And invariably we do.  However, what happens when those things change?  What happens when they are taken away?  Our psyche subsequently feels threatened, as it loses a piece of itself.  This creates fear.  This creates suffering.  “These are MY feelings.”  “This is MY body.”  “She is MY girlfriend.”  These thoughts and this language create a static self that is deluded, that is doomed to live a life that is constantly clinging to things that are always changing.  This causes rope burn.  This causes confusion.  Learn to rest in the uncertainty.  Don’t hold so tightly to your opinions.  Don’t squeeze the life out of your lover, or your children.  When they change, let them change.

As the story goes, a boy was given a small bird for his birthday.  The boy, not knowing any better, squeezed the bird as hard as he could.  “This is MY bird.  It will be mine always.  I love this bird and it’s not going anywhere.”  Then the boy looked down in his hands and saw the bird was squirming and in pain.  The boy felt bad, and loosened his grip just a little bit.  The bird began to chirp as it had more space to move, more space to change.  Then the boy would get scared.  “But it’s going to leave!”  And he would tighten his grip again.  The bird would start suffering, and he would loosen his grip.  This is our practice.  When we are suffocating the bird, we need to learn to loosen our grip.

If I’m not careful, the idea of “not self” can be quite disorienting.  And as I walked into my internship this morning, I had a moment of existential angst.  “Who is this person walking into these doors?  Who is it that sits in this chair and holds a space for people to explore their traumas and their suffering?”  How do we reconcile this?  It can make one quite uneasy.  My response is simple.  There is freedom in that tiny space between our thoughts and our reactions, between our feelings and our response, between our body and our minds.  Whatever we are, how lucky we are to be just that!  With this amazing capacity to love, to accept, to fight.  Whatever we are, this is what we have to use to awaken, to really see things clearly.  I don’t know the answers.  But in my seeking, I’ve found that I’m not so concerned with the answers anymore.  They too, like everything else, are always changing.

Rest in that space of awareness that can observe all things, and not be limited by them.  Greet your feelings at the door with a cup of tea.  Sit them down and let them tell you their story.  Be curious about yourself.  Have a beginner’s mind.  Study your thoughts, your body, your feelings.  Study that space that can watch them.  What is that?  Where are YOU in all of this?  And then, from that place of wisdom, compassion, love, and insight, open your eyes and live.  I can think of no greater joy.

Sunday morning long run.

The music in my ears becomes the soundtrack of my life.

I run down to the ocean

Pass the bluffs where I used to drink bottles of cheap wine

And yawped spoken word poems over the cliffs

The drink spraying off of my lips as I threw my arms forward.

As I leave the ocean, another song,

The first song I ever played drums to

And all of a sudden I’m back in my room with the lights off

Beating my drums in the dark, and

“where I go I… just don’t know.  I gotta gotta gotta take it slow.”

I turn the corner and another song

The song playing when I bashed my knuckles into bricks

Outside AJ’s house.  I couldn’t drive home because I was so scared.

O, Life, how have I managed to live you loud yet so quietly

A pendulum, swaying between extremes.

No more wine spraying from lips, now, a new song,

Sitting quietly on a cushion.

O, Life, how you have knocked me down a thousand times

And look, look how I keep coming back for more.

The roads were closing.  Outside of the Double Tree Hotel, a snow storm had swept its way across the mountains and was pummeling the quiet streets of Durango, Colorado.  I sat with my bags in the lobby, staring out of the window.  I was heading to a meditation retreat at Tara Mandala retreat center in the mountains of Colorado.  I had flown in the night before, spent the night wandering the streets by myself in a strange town.  I ate a wonderful meal at a local restaurant, then went back to the hotel in the late evening and said my goodbyes to people, as there would be no communication in the mountains.

I got picked up by a middle-aged woman with gray hair named Susie and a Dutch man named Kilian.  Susie was short, wore black pants and a sweater, and had an aged and wise look about her, like an old Native American sage.  Kilian was tall and slender and jolly.  He had a light aura about him, and offered to carry my bag.  Outside, the snow fell relentlessly on the town.  Susie’s 4-wheel drive had its work cut out for it.  We made our way up the two-lane highway.  I could barely see fifty feet in front of me, but I felt a calm and soothing energy from Susie and it made me comfortable.  We stopped at a natural food store so Susie could get some food for the trip and then began to make our way on the 60-mile drive to Pagosa Springs, Colorado.  My mood matched the weather; just as I couldn’t see my surroundings but knew the car was driving, I too had no idea what to expect, but observed myself on the way to a five-day meditation retreat.  The ride up was full of introductions.  “So what brings you here?  What brought you to a spiritual path?  Have you done previous retreats?  What do you expect?”  My answers were brief and to the point.  Because of the age difference between Susie and Kilian and me, I had to fight off a feeling of separation and make an attempt to share myself honestly and openly.

As we made our way up the mountain to Tara Mandala, the first thing I noticed was that we were in the middle of nowhere.  There was no civilization for miles, just vast white mountains and trees—Spruce, Fir, Ponderosa.  We pulled into the long driveway of Tara Mandala and I saw the temple peering from between the trees in its large red snow covered glory, reaching up at the sky.  It was beautiful, strong, silent.  We began the registration process and got the schedule for the week.

7:00 a.m. to 8:00 – session (sessions consist of a different ratio of sitting meditation, walking meditation, and teachings from Jack Kornfield and Cynthia Jurs).

8:15 to 9:00 – breakfast

9:00 to 10:00 – karma yoga (each retreatant was given a job to perform on the land—washing dishes, shoveling snow, sweeping the floor, etc)

10:00 to 1:30 – session

1:45 to 2:30 – lunch

2:30 to 3:30 – karma yoga

3:30 to 5:30 – session

5:45 to 6:30 – dinner

6:30 to 7:30 – karma yoga

7:30 to closing – session

What struck me initially was the amount of time that would be spent in session, a combined 8 ½ hours or so.  I went to my room, and prepared myself for the first night’s session.

I walked up a snowy hill to get to the temple.  It was glowing in the night sky.  From between the snow flakes and trees stood the beautiful temple, with dim light poking its head out of the windows, delicately illuminating the surrounding trees.  There was an energy to the temple that was different, that eventually I would come to know quite well.  Inside was equally impressive.  The walls were covered with intricate art; large red pillars stood strong in the main hall, pictures of the building’s architect and the Lama who founded Tara Mandala adorned the walls.  Meditation cushions and chairs lined the floor, and two seats in the front with a desk and lamps for the teachers, Jack and Cynthia.  I took my seat on a chair, took a deep breath, and prepared to see Jack, a man whom I felt a deep connection with, a man who has changed my life through his words and his voice.  He walked in the temple, dressed in slacks, a button down shirt, a vest, and a jacket.  Hardly the monk’s robe and halo that I had been picturing.  He was a tall, thin, balding Jewish man with a mustache, resembling my deceased grandfather Irving.  But he walked with a presence and attention to his steps that captured my attention.  He had a slight grin, and a light and airy presence to each step, to each glance, to each gesture.  It was as if each movement was intricately planned, carefully thought of, and perfectly executed.  It was beautiful to watch.  He sat down and began to organize a stack of papers; poems, short stories, teachings.  Cynthia then walked in in a long dress, long white hair, elegant and shamanic, like a mystic.  There was something about the two of them that was undeniable.  A peace, a presence, a beauty, a grace.

The first night was an introduction to what we would be doing on the retreat.  We would be doing wisdom practices and heart practices, through a combination of intense sitting and walking meditations and teachings.  And I was to remain silent throughout.  No communication, not even with eye contact.  The prospect of this was quite interesting to me, and I wasn’t too concerned, as I spend a lot of time in silence anyways, reflecting, contemplating, being with myself.  I did not know the depth of silence that was to come, and the immense challenges that would arise as a result.  We had some sitting meditation, and then Jack rang the bell to begin the period of silence for the retreat.  We then walked in silence down the hill to the dining hall.

During the meal, I felt incredibly awkward.  Here I was, in a room of fifty people, eating in silence.  All I could hear was the clink and clank of forks on plates and the slurp of tea entering mouths.  I was nervous and I did not know what to do with myself.  Do I look around at people?  Do I stare at my food?  Do I eat slowly so people think I’m deeply contemplating the nature of squash?  My mind was a mess.  I gulped down my food and got the hell out of there as quickly as I could, smiling to myself on the way to the room, thinking, “This is gonna be a weird fucking retreat.”

The first session consisted of some more seated meditation and some teaching on mindfulness from Jack.  He described the nature of the retreat, the purpose of the retreat, and some of the challenges we may face.  He told us that we live in a culture that is afraid of solitude, and condemns the sacred.  It’s a culture that tells us through advertising that we are not good enough as we are, that encourages the accumulation of materials, and denigrates the gathering and cultivating of kindness and spiritual wealth.  We come on retreat to find what is true for ourselves.  We create a container within which our natural compassion, loving kindness, and wisdom can flourish and begin to peer through the veil of advertising and material gain and separation and violence and weapons.  We face our humanity, both the immeasurable suffering and the unbearable beauty, with an open heart and mind.  We don’t hide from it.  We don’t search for answers outside of ourselves.  We turn our focus and our gaze inward, to see what is really true, to find out who we are.  We do this in silence.  We do this to wake up.  We do this to slow down.  We sit in the center of our suffering and our joy, equally open and present for both, ready for what they have to teach us.

That night, I didn’t sleep at all.  My roommate, Kilian, was a snorer.  The bed was as big as my body.  I was in a strange place with strange people.  I was nervous.  I didn’t sleep.  The last thing I wanted to do at 6:45 in the morning was walk up a hill in 0 degree weather and pouring snow to go meditate for an hour.  I begrudgingly stumbled out of bed, and half-consciously slipped my clothes on with my beanie and walked outside.  It was still dark, and the snow was now feeling oppressive rather than gorgeous.  I entered the temple and took my seat.  We began a visualization practice.  I didn’t even come close to having the energy to visualize anything other than my warm bed at home.  I thought to myself, “I wish I drove my own car here so I could leave and end this hell.  What was I thinking?  Meditating all day in the freezing cold weather?  For five days?  Great Zack, another brilliant idea.”  Needless to say, the morning meditation was awful.  I walked down the hill to breakfast and sat again in awkward silence while shoveling oatmeal into my face.  I was bitter.  I was tired.  I was judging every single person.  “What a fake bitch.  God that guy is ridiculous.  I saw him last night rocking back and forth while meditating.  He thinks he’s so great.  You should relax buddy.”  It was nonstop.

It was then time for my karma yoga.  My job was to wash and dry the dishes of all fifty retreatants.  I had a team of about six people to help, and we were to perform this job in silence.  We all picked a station and began to work.  It went incredibly smoothly, and for the thirty or so minutes that I was cleaning, I felt really good.  We had great teamwork, and silently washed the shit out of those dishes.  We finished very early, bowed to each other, and I made my way back up the hill to my room.  In the dorm rooms, there were fellow retreatants sweeping the floors, vacuuming, cleaning the hallway sinks and toilets, shoveling snow outside.  It was beautiful to see.  All of these people happily and silently working, contributing to this beautiful land.  Then it was time for session.

It was the longest 3 ½ hours of my life.  Sitting meditation, walking meditation, listen to a teaching.  Sitting meditation, walking meditation, listen to a teaching.  I was unable to be present.  My judging thoughts kept racing.  My back and neck were throbbing already from the sitting, and I knew I wasn’t going to make it through the whole trip.  Outside, the snow was relentlessly falling.  I wanted the snow to stop.  It reminded me of being in Berkeley, where it would rain nonstop for weeks, and I would sit in my car cursing the clouds.

After another awkward silent lunch, it was time for afternoon session.  I had spent thirty minutes in my room stretching my body and my back was feeling a bit looser.  We continued with the foundations of mindfulness; mindfulness of the body, of the feelings, of the mind, of the dharma (dharma meaning the truth, the way things are, that things arise and pass, arise and pass).  This is a practice I have been engaged in for some time now, and I relaxed into it.  I began to get more present.  My judging mind quieted down a bit.  I realized I was sitting ten feet from a man whom I had listened to in my car every morning and every afternoon for months now.  I’d read his books.  I’d adopted his teachings.  He’d changed my life.  And here he was, sitting ten feet away, meditating with me.  And here these fifty people were, sitting quietly, looking inward, deepening their wisdom, dedicated to waking up, to living peacefully, to loving kindness.  And here I was, on a mountain in Colorado, not knowing anybody, ready to bring in the new year by being present and awake, by facing life in its entirety.  I became overwhelmed by the enormity and the beauty of it.  My breathing became more spacious, more expansive.  The space of awareness grew larger, and larger, and soon the small things that were affecting my perception began to melt into the background, completely extinguished by the presence of the moment, by the attention to the breath.  And I remembered why I meditate.  I remembered the many times over the past years when I sat with silence and the little things melted away.  I remembered my perspective growing, and the suffering and pain of my life shrinking to something almost negligible.  “Small potatoes,” as Jack would put it.  A smile appeared on my face.  I became lighter.  I continued to breathe.

Before dinner, Jack let it be known that it was Cynthia’s birthday.  “I’d like us to do something for Cynthia’s birthday.  Maybe we should sing a song.  We could sing happy birthday but that’s so corny.  I’ve got it.  We’re going to sing a wise song, a nursery rhyme.”  Jack then began to sing, “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.  Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily.  Life is but a dream.”  Soon, all fifty of us were singing.  “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.  Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily.  Life is but a dream.”  We sang with care.  It was beautiful.  Cynthia sat and wept, listening to us.  We naturally faded out, and Jack, so wisely, looked at Cynthia and said, “A teaching for you on your birthday.”  It was brilliant.  Though I had had a breakthrough, I was sure it wouldn’t last.  And I was right.  The evening session dragged on and Cynthia guided some visualization meditation that I didn’t connect with.  I was ready to go back to the room and go to bed, and I removed myself completely from the last portion of the session.  I went to bed again a bit bitter, clinging on to those few moments of peace I had, though there were already far out of reach.

That night, I slept a bit better thanks to two Benadryl and shoving the ear plugs so deep in my ears that I felt them in my brain.  The following morning, one of the retreatants decided to shovel snow from the entryway at 5:00 a.m.  Though we were in silence, I considered breaking it to go outside and ask the guy if he was serious, or if he was just joking about the whole shoveling at 5:00 a.m. thing.  I was curious to know what the hell could be going through his mind, and if he needed some help, perhaps some medication.  But, I didn’t.  I lay there with resentment and flushed face.  I attempted to use the sound as a practice.  I heard Jack in my mind saying, “The sound isn’t doing anything.  Just being a sound.  Who is upsetting you?  What are you attached to?”  I told Jack to shut his mouth and slammed the pillow on my face.  Soon, it was time to go to morning meditation.  It was New Year’s Eve, but that didn’t matter to me at that time.  Again, I was upset, tired, dry from the Benadryl, groggy, and wanted to go home.  I slept through the morning meditation.  It was still relentlessly snowing.  I trudged down the hill, ate my silent breakfast, silently cleaned the dishes, and stumbled again to the next session, thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe what a waste this is.”

The long session that day was loving kindness practice, another practice I had been working with for some time.  Hearing Jack teach it was amazing.  His voice flows, so smooth, such ease, such calm.  Each syllable is its own lullaby.  When you’re present for it, you melt into this space where you are a child and your protector is singing you to contentment.  He began to lead a loving kindness meditation.  Halfway through, I opened my eyes to look at him.  His eyes were closed as he was guiding us.  His hands danced through the air as he spoke, like he was the conductor of a beautiful orchestra of words.  And he was.  I looked at him in awe.  I could see how deeply he felt each word.  It was effortless.  The words released themselves from inside of him with such ease.  When you live what you teach so truly, with such dedication, your teachings have their own dance.  All you have to do is create the dance-floor, to make the space.  And he is a master at that.

I proceeded to have a wonderful period of meditation, where I was present with the breath, with the body, with the feelings, with the mind.  I was sending loving kindness out to my family, to my friends, to the woman I didn’t know at the natural food store on the way up, to the people that have hurt me.  Again, I was able to break through the judgment, the bitterness, the pain in my body, the cold, to reach that place in me that is secure in every situation, in every moment.  My mind quieted down, my heart opened up.  I laughed again at the dance, the ups and downs of the two days, the extreme highs and extreme lows, all in silence.

After dinner it was time for the New Year’s Eve ritual and meditation.  We would be in the temple from 8:00 until after midnight.  I was eager to see what Jack had planned.  By this point, the two days of meditation had begun to take effect.  I was feeling open, present, aware.  There became a space between my environment and my reaction to my environment.  There was a gap of mindfulness that created a sense of care and tenderness with each movement.  If I had an itch, my arm didn’t shoot up in an unconscious reaction to make it go away.  I paused, noticed I had an itch, and, if I wanted to, decided to scratch it.

As I walked up the hill to the temple, the mountains were beginning to look more majestic, more beautiful.  I stuck my tongue out and let the snowflakes gently fall into my mouth.  I smiled and played.  If my mind began to judge or complain, I chose not to pay attention it.  At the front of the temple, Jack and Cynthia had created a giant bonfire.  Bright yellow flames shot up out of the snow.  Pillars of gray smoke slithered into the sky.  My fellow retreatants were gathered around the flames, and I joined.  In silence, we stood and watched the fire for some time.  I knew in my gut and in my heart that it was going to be a special night.  Once inside, Jack gave a beautiful talk about the new year, about the changing of seasons, about renewal and making vows.  We had a wonderful period of silent meditation, followed by walking meditation.  When it was time to start the ritual, I was feeling as calm and centered as I ever have.  Jack dimmed the lights in the temple, and began to play a record of a Lama chanting in a beautiful tone to the background of a soft piano.  I closed my eyes and noticed the lump in my throat.  When you are present, truly present, truly quiet, your environment has a profound effect on you.  You can hear with great detail the intricacies of someone’s voice.  You can hear the delicacy of the fingers that press the piano keys.  It is quite moving.

Jack asked everyone to line up just outside the main hall.  We would enter the hall, one at a time, and he would bless us to begin the ritual.  The blessing consisted of Jack dipping a piece of a plant into a bowl of water, and touching you with the water and wishing you New Year’s blessings.  I began to get nervous.  Jack Kornfield was going to bless me on New Year’s Eve.  My heart began to race, and I was thinking of what I could do to impress him.  Perhaps I would bow incredibly low, or walk up with this amazing presence that he would inevitably feel.  He would have to be impressed.

It was my turn to receive his blessings, and I approached Jack and Cynthia delicately and we bowed to each other.  We looked into each other’s eyes for a brief moment.  Jack smiled and began to rub the plant on me.   “Many blessings.  New Year’s blessings.  Happiness blessings.”  What he did next took me completely by surprise.  He took his hand and put it on my chest, then patted my chest gently, smiled, laughed, dipped the whole plant in water and poured water in my face and on my head, all the while laughing his light and airy laugh, like a feather falling from the sky.  I closed my eyes because of the water, and laughed with him.  I then went to my seat.  I felt the cool water all over my face and on my head.  I heard the Lama’s voice and the soft piano.  I began to cry.  I could not stop crying.  For ten minutes, I wept.  I was not sad.  I was incredibly moved.  I don’t know what Jack did, or what the pat on the chest was about.  Part of me thinks he saw right through me; saw right through the muscles and the effort, the bending and the pulling, how hard I am on myself.  He pat me on the chest, as if to say, “There there.  You know everything is fine.  Everything is totally fine.  Don’t try too hard.  Just be you.  It’s more than enough.  There there….”  And then, dipping his entire plant in water, spraying me in the face.  “Lighten up.  Be light and airy.  Do your dance.  There there.”  I had never experienced such a moving moment, one that moved me to so many tears.  I’ll never forget it.

Soon the tears stopped flowing, but the intensity of that eight second interaction stayed with me.  Jack then led us through a period of silent meditation and instructed us to be quiet and allow our vows for the new year to emerge without our effort or our judgment.  As the vow let itself be known, we were to take out our special paper that he had given us and write it mindfully on the paper.  Jack and Cynthia then gave us each a candle to light.  We lit our candle and got into small groups.  Each person would step in the middle of the circle with their candle, announce their vows, and each member of the group would bow to them.  We then placed our vows with our candle anywhere we wanted in the temple.  Then began another period of meditation, followed by a chant to ring in the new year.  Everyone was given a bell to ring, and one member sat near a large drum.  After the chant, everyone rang their bell, or beat their drum.  It was a cacophony of sound, a barbaric yawp from a rooftop.  Jack signaled for us to stop.  It got incredibly quiet.  And in his light and airy way, with such care, with such tenderness, with such presence, he said, “Happy New year.”  It was the best New Year’s Eve I could have ever imagined.

The following day, I woke up to sunny and clear skies.  The vastness of the landscape made itself known.  Mountains and trees and snow as far as one could see, leading their way to more mountains, stretching themselves beyond the horizon.  The snow sparkled in the sun like a jewel.  The sparkle would follow you wherever you go.  It looked fake.  It looked like a movie set.  I went for morning meditation feeling happy and present.  It was January 1, 2011.  Happy New Year, Zack. After breakfast and washing dishes, Jack let it be known that there would be no teachings during session.  He wanted to allow us to contain the immensity and beauty of the New Year’s Eve ritual.  For the entire 3 ½ hour session, we would do 40 minutes seated meditation, 40 minutes walking meditation, one after another.  You would think I’d be daunted by the idea of 3 ½ hours of straight meditation.  I wasn’t.  I was open.  I was raw.  I had Suzuki’s beginner’s mind.  My meditations were deep and clear.  My judging mind had vanished, replaced by the ever-present rising and deflating of my belly, by the dance of emotions in my heart, by the experience of the moment.  The thoroughbred mind had been tamed, and I sat and walked in great peace and ease.  I went back and forth between mindfulness wisdom practices and loving kindness heart practices.  May you be safe and protected from inner and outer harm.  May you live your life with ease.  May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.  May you be truly happy and deeply peaceful. After the 3 ½ hours were up, I found myself not wanting to stop.  Each moment felt so precious.  I let go, and walked out into the snowy mountains singing softly in my head.  Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.  Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily.  Life is but a dream.

It was the last night of the retreat.  We had more teachings from Jack and Cynthia, and more in-depth and challenging meditations.  Jack introduced a teaching about natural compassion, that we each have inside of us a natural care for each other that gets swept under the rug of cultural differences and hatred and fear.  He talked about love and compared it to gravity, being this force that holds us together.  We try to fight it, and create ways to make ourselves different; political parties, us vs. them, all Arabs are terrorists, stereotypes, generalizations, all out of fear.  He spoke beautifully about the creation of the universe, how life started from a big bang from which all the materials that make up our bodies exploded into space.  We began together, as one, and love is the force, like gravity, that attracts us back together.  It was beautiful.  And we began the next practice.

As soon as he said, “Turn your seat to face your neighbor,” I just about hopped up and ran out of the room.  We began a twenty-minute period of meditation in which I stared into the eyes of the man next to me, who happened to be my roommate, Kilian.  Every atom in my body was screaming at me to run and hide.  From only a couple feet away, I sat and looked deeply into this man’s eyes.  I was so frightened.  I instantly went right back to childhood, where I spent my days hiding from the gazes of others, sinking into a feeling of separation and isolation.  I was right back there.  And then Jack’s voice came in, like an angel, like a God of compassion, and I felt the delicacy and tenderness of his voice like a gentle breeze, and I remembered the previous night, how he reminded me to do my dance, that I am okay.  And his voice continued, “I want you to look into the eyes of this person.  I want you to look as deeply as you can, with as much care and presence as you can.  I want you to contemplate the deep suffering in those eyes, the immeasurable suffering in those eyes.  I want you to see it.  Behind those eyes is a being that has struggled, that has fought, that has cried, that has shame, and guilt, and remorse.”  And within me, this great sense of compassion floated like a slow cloud through my heart.  It completely drowned out any self-centered fear that I had.  I looked deeper into Kilian’s eyes, and I felt his suffering, his immeasurable suffering.  I saw the shame.  I saw the guilt.  I could feel it.  I felt this amazing sense of care and concern, and I wanted to hug him, to tell him that it is okay, to tell him to do his dance.  My heart reached out to him, and I saw something beyond just a human body, beyond just two eyes.  I saw his soul, his spirit, and we sat there, present with each other, sharing the unison of a spirit that has suffered.

“Now, I want you to realize that behind those eyes is a being who has experienced immense joy.  A joy that is untouchable by any measure of suffering.  A pure, innocent joy.  A laughter.  I want you to contemplate that in those eyes, behind those eyes, is a being who has celebrated, who has rejoiced, who has given and received love.”  And all of a sudden, a tender smile emerged on my face, and on Kilian’s face, as our spirits now danced in the unison of shared joy.  I saw his joy.  I felt it.  And he felt mine.  For twenty minutes, I sat gazing into this man’s eyes, witnessing the spirit that is within each of us.  There is, inside of us, a natural compassion, a natural care, a deep sense of love.  Here I sat, with this absolute stranger, feeling such deep compassion and care, feeling so connected on a spiritual level.  When you strip away the advertising, the noise, the judgment, the clutter, and the fear, all you’re left with is this immense sense of interconnectedness, this profound sense of care and love for each and every person, because, really, they’re no different than you are.  They exploded from the same singularity that you did.

After more intense practices that night, where we touched our own suffering, re-lived moments of extreme grief and pain through meditation, and brought with us our sense of compassion and forgiveness that we had cultivated throughout the retreat, it was finally the end of the night.  My back was on fire.  It felt like there was an anaconda wrapped around my heck.  All of the sitting had taken a huge toll on my body.  Jack said goodnight to us, and welcomed any of us to stay in the temple and sit for as long as we wished on the final night.  I decided to do so.  Many people left, and I stretched for a bit and took my seat.  I planned on using the silence and the energy in the temple to investigate my pain, to sit with it for as long as I could, not resisting, not fighting, just being with it.  I was going to touch the pain with the same compassion I felt for Kilian.  I began to meditate, bringing a softening and presence to the pain.  I must have sat for at least an hour.  I became so focused that I could sense a thought coming before it actually came, and stop it in its tracks, going right back to the breath.  One of my teachers uses animals as an analogy to thoughts.  She says that to an untrained mind, thoughts are like elephants.  They come and sit on you and you’re weighed down for a long time.  To the trained mind, thoughts can be like fleas, appearing for the briefest second on your body, weightless, only to be brushed away with a simple gesture and presence of mind.  I continued to sit with the pain in my back that was now like a hundred daggers piercing my bones.  I sat with a smile, breathing in and out of it all.  I bowed, and concluded the meditation.  I looked up and saw one other person in the temple.  It was so quiet, and there was an energy in there that is indescribable with words.  As soon as I got up from my seat, I was made aware of the amazing amount of pain I was in.  My back clenched up and I fell to the floor.  After a period of stretching and groaning, I hobbled my hunched back out of the temple.

The snow was illuminated a beautiful white, and I imagined I would look up and see a full moon.  Quite the contrary, there was no moon visible in the sky, only a splattering of stars, like a celestial artist dipped a planet-size paint brush in silver and white and sprayed the sky.  I had never seen so many stars.  Bright, shimmering, gorgeous.  They twinkled and danced their dance.  I stood there in the freezing cold, neck tilted back, mouth wide open, in love with the dream of the sky.  I saw one shooting star after another.  I saw the Milky Way galaxy in its gray glory.  For a moment, I had the feeling and the thought that I was racing through space on a celestial ride.  And then I remembered that I was.  Stars above me, stars below me, no up, no down.  I stood there in the phenomenal silence; a silence so deafening that it made me lose my balance, a silence so vast that the sound of my eyes blinking was piercingly loud.  If I die right now, that would be perfectly fine. I began to spin around in circles, all while staring at the stars.  I had the feeling that I was in a funnel, spiraling through space, mouth and arms wide open.  I spun around, letting the stars make me dizzy.  I stumbled around in my dizziness, laughing out loud.  I was a kid playing.  Jack, I was doing my dance.

I went to sleep that night with a deep sense of calm and happiness.  In my head, a song played.  Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.  Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily.  Life is but a dream. I awoke the following day, sad to leave Tara Mandala.  After breakfast, we had more meditation and teachings from Jack and Cynthia about leaving the retreat and returning home, how we would bring the silence, the compassion, the presence back with us.  We were given saffron colored threads that had been blessed by Jack and we began a departing ritual. They were saffron to represent the color of the monks’ robes in Thailand, where Jack trained.  We would return to the world with our robes, to remind us of our practice.   We tied one knot in the thread to remind us to see the good and the spirit in everyone, just as I had seen with Kilian.  Another knot was tied to remind us not to harm ourselves or others with our actions, our words, our intentions.  And a third knot was tied.  Jack asked us to contemplate for a moment what the final knot would mean and it would be our own.  The third knot reminds me of my vows that I made on New Year’s Eve.  I placed the thread on my wrist and allowed a fellow retreatant to tie it, all the while chanting, “Namo,” a word symbolizing the recognition of the spirit in everyone.  We then bowed to each other.  Simple.  Humble.  Silent.

On the way home I contemplated the whole week.  It was almost too much to contemplate at once.  My heart was overflowing with raw joy and love and peace.  I wasn’t upset to return home.  I was looking forward to it.  I was eager to see how my world in Los Angeles would appear to me after the retreat.  I had didactic and the dentist the following day, and it didn’t matter.  The spaciousness that I cultivated on the retreat was infecting my whole soul.  “Small potatoes,” I kept thinking to myself.  During the ride to the airport, Susie, Kilian, and I shared our experiences.  We shared the extreme highs and the extreme lows.  We shared the joy of sitting with Jack Kornfield and Cynthia Jurs, and how special they are.  The three of us shared a deep connection, though we had only spoken a handful of sentences with each other on the way up and on the way down the mountain.  It was a connection beyond the type we were used to.  It was larger, more expansive.  It didn’t require language.  At the airport, we hugged, exchanged contact information, and said our goodbyes.

After a brief flight home, I walked out of the LA airport to a stream of loud noise and chaos.  People were being rude to each other, screaming, cursing, honking.  It was absolute madness.  I felt my pulse quicken and I sensed my heart getting smaller and tighter, protecting myself from Los Angeles.  I breathed into it.  Do your dance.  Everything is fine. I saw my father pull up in his 1985 Mercedes.  I had a wide smile on my face.  Jack told us, “Feel your joy even in the presence of hateful people.  Feel your calm even in the presence of chaos.  In a sinking ship, if everyone is panicked and scared, it is doomed.  But if even one person has presence of mind and calm, it is enough to carry the whole ship to safety.”  I got into the car, as a parking monitor screamed at us, “Get outta here!  This is for taxis only!”  angrily waving his hands in a gesture of hate.  I smiled, bowed to him, and waved my hand back, in a gesture of calm, non-reactivity, and kindness.  He looked at me for a brief second, then turned his head and looked the other way.

What a gift this life is.  This human life, filled with immeasurable suffering and unbearable beauty.  We all feel it.  We all know it.  We’re not different.  We all exploded from the same big bang. We’re made of the same stuff.  And here we are, with these hearts and these minds.  What, oh what will you do with yours?  Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.  Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily.  Life is but a dream.

Tonight, as I blew out the wick of a long day,

I saw images of myself as a young boy.

I saw myself closing a book, turning off the light, gazing up at the ceiling.

Counting glow in the dark stars—big one, little one, galaxy, moon.

I had put them up myself, stood on top of my bed with bent legs and sprung

up, pressing the star as hard as I could against the ceiling.

Sometimes, I would press too hard, and the opposing force would be too much

for my little legs.  I’d fall on the bed, get back up, star in my hand,

and do it all over again.  Pretty soon, I had that whole ceiling covered.

My own universe.  My own world.  Stars were there because I put them there.

Big one, little one, galaxy, moon.

They would shine the brightest right after I turned the lights off.

And I’d lay there in my bed, wide-eyed and proud of my universe.

No matter what happened in the scary loud day,

I could rest knowing that my universe was a light-switch away.

Tonight, twenty-years later,

I close a book, turn off the light, and gaze up at the ceiling.

There’s no glow in the dark universe.  Only a dim light shimmers from a smoke detector.

I smile in amazement at it all.  And I think,

I’m still that little kid.  Still blindly springing, legs bent,

slamming stars too hard into the ceiling.

Big one, little one, galaxy, moon.

Lately my dreams have been filled

with weightless silence.

A floating cloud.

A story with faces but no sound.

Before the chatter of a critical mind,

or the company of friends,

each moment is silent.


Freedom is when you can find composure

in the silent, weightless moments.

Be a floating cloud

dancing its silent symphony across the sky.

Gone are the slow days of summer.

I close my eyes in traffic and imagine the Oaks in Big Sur

reaching their long limber arms out to me

and I rest in that.

I close my eyes and remember that I am breathing,

that my feet are on the ground.

I feel gravity holding me. I feel the dance of the spheres in the sky.

But gone are the slow days of summer.

Tension fills the graduate school classroom where I sit.

I close my eyes and feel the wet hot air of Thailand.

I taste the cold mango shakes made with love on top of a mountain.

I keep my eyes closed and I imagine walking through the gardens at Esalen,

hearing the soothing roar of the ocean, the piercing of crickets

singing their songs to the stars.

I remember the hot springs, how I looked over the cliff

and knew there was nothing to be afraid of.

But gone are the slow days of summer.

I close my eyes while writing a paper and I see the faces of my friends.

I hear the sounds of their laughter and I smile my big smile.

I open my eyes and I feel the weight of the words on the page.

I feel the weight of the day pressing down on my shoulders,

slamming my body into my feet, holding me down against my will.

I feel stuck.  I feel trapped.

There’s a calm song inside me that wants to be played.

There’s a soothing voice that wants to be heard.

But often I can’t hear it.

Because gone are the slow days of summer.

I close my eyes in meditation.  I remember who I am.

I see how easily I get caught up in the show,

dragged down by the current.

I remember that the weight I feel is a product of my own mind.  It’s not real.

And once again I feel gravity gently holding me in place.

I feel my feet planted firmly on the ground.

I hear the sounds of the city through my window.

But there’s no story to them.  They’re just sounds.

I feel the dance of the spheres in the sky.

I take my one seat on the ride,

and smile my big smile.

The topic of human suffering has always fascinated me.  It wasn’t until about five years ago that I realized that I had spent so much of my life’s energy on futile attempts to avoid suffering.  Some of the methods I used were drugs and alcohol, denial, dishonesty, and dissociation.  I suppose I made some healthy attempts as well, through writing poetry and attempts at therapy.  But that was less about avoiding suffering and more about just dealing with it, or trying to make it into something beautiful.  Of course, I had a great deal of help from my parents, who basically allowed me to do whatever I wanted in order to decrease my suffering.  Their enabling of my behaviors only reinforced the notion that suffering was to be avoided at all costs.  This was, of course, not their intention.  Nonetheless, I could say that for several years, the entire focus of my life was on avoiding suffering and increasing pleasure.  I didn’t know at the time that the methods I was using were not only self-destructive but also counterproductive.  They only served to mask the suffering, like a band-aid.  But beneath all of my hiding, the suffering was still there.  And it was growing.

What I have come to realize, through different spiritual texts, spiritual practice, and simply my own experience, is that suffering is an inevitable part of human existence.  This we cannot change.  No amount of running or hiding, and certainly no substance can change that fact.  What we can change, hopefully, is our relationship to that suffering.  It is possible to change our relationship to pain and suffering.   Maybe the fact that painful events exist in life is not by itself a cause for true suffering.  It is our constant aversive relationship to that pain that creates true suffering.  I have seen this in my own experience.  As I stated earlier, my attempts to hide from my pain only served to enhance my suffering.

There is also this tendency to want to instantly fix other people’s pain.  We know how it feels to suffer a great amount.  So, when we see someone else’s suffering, our natural instinct is to want to relieve it in some way.  This too leads to suffering for us, because often, an immediate intervention on our part is not the solution.  Is our panicked attempt to relieve someone’s suffering a selfless deed or is it selfish?  Is it because we truly want to help or is it because it hurts us to see them suffer?  These questions are worth exploring.

Often, I have heard comedians tell a similar joke about how people are always asking, “Are you okay?” after a painful moment in someone’s life.  They say sarcastically in response, “Yeah, I’m okay.  I mean, I lost my job, broke my leg, and my wife cheated on me, but yeah, I’m okay.”  They proceed to continue to joke about how people ask such dumb questions.  Obviously that person who lost their job, broke their leg, and was cheated on is not okay.  And the crowd lets out a bellowing laugh of agreement.  We assume that because painful events happen, that someone is not okay, or that they are suffering.  We joke that this is a dumb question.  It seems to be representative of our relationship to pain as a culture; that a crowd of people would be laughing at and relating to this joke, assuming that this person would not be okay.

I am reading a wonderful book by Jack Kornfield in which he writes a great deal about his time in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand.  If he perhaps looked depressed or upset, his teacher, Ajahn Chah, would approach him and say, “Are you suffering?”  And Jack would reply, “Yes I am.”  And Ajahn Chah, with a smile, would say, “Must be quite attached,” and scamper off into the woods.  I don’t think one needs to go off to a forest monastery in Thailand to change their relationship to suffering.  The wisdom is in our own experience.  For me, when I look back at my life, the times I suffered the most was when I was running the hardest, when I was hiding from reality.  If I wasn’t hiding from it, I was attached to an idea of reality being a certain way.  The most painful break-up, the most painful disappointment, the most painful betrayal, all are encompassed with this attachment to it being some other way than it is. This is just not the way it’s supposed to be.  We’re supposed to be together.  He’s not supposed to do that.  I’m not supposed to be in the hospitalLife isn’t supposed to hurt this much. This type of inner dialogue, whether it’s conscious or not, reinforces the notion that we are not okay unless life is a certain way.  We’re not okay unless we have that person, that thing, that job, that amount of money.  The sense of self becomes diluted by external things.  We lose who we really are.  We become reliant on others.  We suffer.

I have had multiple experiences where the same painful events that happened when I was younger, occurred again in my life.  But instead of running from it, instead of being stuck in the delusion of it being some other way than it is, I faced the difficult situation head on, explored it, and saw it for what it is.  And I did it with the same amount of energy I used to give to running from it.  Often, I would become not only at peace with the pain, but grateful for it, because it is the painful moments in life that we grow from most.  It’s a beautiful thing when we can sit with our pain, knowing that it hurts, and not run from it.  It’s in these moments that we truly find out who we are.  We find out that we don’t have to run from life’s pain and challenges, that we can face them head on, with a gentle acceptance that this is just the way things are.

I don’t know where to begin….  I guess I should start by saying I’m sorry.  I have no alternative explanation other than to assume this is fate.  When one considers the amount of coincidence that was required for you to be stolen, fate is the only explanation.  This morning, I looked out the window and saw that it was raining.  You were comfortably nested atop my dresser, as you usually were.  I took my sweatpants off, grabbed you hastily and put you on.  This was the beginning of the end of our relationship.  Had it not been raining, and had you not been very comfortable to wear in the rain, you would still be nested atop my dresser.  But fate had other plans.

You kept me warm on our walk to take my bio final.  You created friction on my leg as I shook my foot compulsively during the exam.  And after the test, when we drove to the gym together, I could have easily taken you off in the car.  But I didn’t.  I didn’t want my legs to get wet.  So I kept you on.  Once in the gym, I could have easily gotten a locker to put you in.  But I didn’t. “Who would steal a pair of pants?” I thought.  Nobody.  Nobody would steal someone else’s pants, that have been rubbing on someone else’s crotch, and in someone else’s rear-end.  Nobody would do that.  So I hung you up on a coat rack in the locker room, and went to go lift weights.  I even thought about you while I was lifting.  “Would someone steal someone else’s pants from a locker room?  Nawwwwwww.”  As I finished my workout, I went back to the locker room to get you.  And you were gone.  My stomach dropped, my heart fluttered, my hair stood on end, blood rushed to my extremities.  “Did you see a pair of pants hanging here?” I asked everyone in the locker room.

“No.”  I rushed to the front desk.

“Did someone turn in a pair of pants?”

“No.”  I rushed into the weight room.  My heart was racing.  I walked with purpose around the room, looking for you in every gym bag that I saw.  I felt like I was in high school again.  I was going to find the person who took you.  But I couldn’t.  I didn’t.

You were too good to be true, weren’t you?  You were tight enough to be business casual and loose enough to be comfortable.  A perfect 34 waist, with wide legs to fit nicely over my Saucony’s or over a pair of black shoes.  You and I had some times together, didn’t we?  I wore you to events, to school, to social gatherings.  I wore you in the snow.  I wore you in the rain.  During the week, you were accompanied by a white t-shirt.  During the weekend, a black t-shirt.  You had just started to get a light, gentle fray at your feet.  It wasn’t offensive; just subtle enough to be okay.  You were my pants.  And had it not been raining, had you not been comfortable in the rain, had I not gone to the gym, had I not worn you into the gym, and I had I gotten a locker, you would still be with me.  But fate had other things in store for us.  I’m sorry that you’re with someone else.  Judging from the demographic of the Berkeley 24-hour fitness, you are either with a hipster or a large ghetto black man.  And you’re most likely being torn up by a bike chain right now, as you ride in the middle of traffic through the streets of Berkeley.  I hope the bike chain puts you out of your misery, so you don’t have to be with your new owner much longer.  I will never be able to replace you.  And I hope one day you can forgive my carelessness.

A message to those whose personality type leads them to steal someone’s pair of pants off a locker room wall –  My hope is that one day, one fine day, you steal a pair of pants that is gently infused with crabs, or perhaps syphilis.  And as you ride your bicycle down Berkeley streets, and you begin to get an itchy feeling, you become paralyzed with fear and your legs lock up.  An angry Berkeley driver would then hit you, knocking you over, and ruining your brand new pants that you’ve stolen.  The driver would stop, pull over, and ask you if you were okay.  Unable to respond because of the infernal itching in your crotch, you stare at him blankly while frantically itching.  The driver looks down, and sees that it’s his pants that you’re wearing.  He smiles, and rips his pants off of you.  You’re unable to fight back because of the itch, and you lay there on a crowded Berkeley street, naked from the waist down, crying and itching your pubic region.  At this point, everyone is too afraid of you to offer help, and a news truck happens to be driving by.  The camera man hops out, and video tapes you, half naked, writhing in pain from the itch.  All because you stole a pair of pants.

So next time you’re in a locker room, and you see a pair of pants hanging from the wall, and you’re tempted to take them, think of our friend with the crotch-itch.  Think of my pants.  And move the fuck on.