Loss and What Might Have Been
Buddhist say that desire is the cause of all suffering. Of course, that is correct. When we are hungry, we desire food. When we are sad, we desire joy. If we could separate ourselves from our desires, then the absence of food would be an experience upon which to meditate. Instead of concerning ourselves with sorrow or happiness, we could immerse ourselves in the Middle Way of life as an existence to experience, and to rise above.
In many many ways, this philosophy is beautiful and serene and would solve many of the problems of the world- as would many philosophies in their simplest form.
The interesting thing about wisdom, is that it's pretty tough to share. I've read countless books on different ideas about spirit, soul, life, god, you name it. It seems that the only time any of it sinks in, is when I can relate to it through my own pain, or loss, or suffering.
I like Buddhism, but the problem is, I'm kind of hooked on joy. The downside is that it's impossible to recognize joy without having been immersed in pain. So, we rock back and forth. And really, do we want equilibrium? Sometimes, yes. During a particularly trying time in my life, I took anti-depressants and I'll tell you, no matter what Tom Cruise says, they were fantastic. I was reminded of what it felt like to be normal after months of despair. I was able to function.
There was a drawback, however. People would ask me how I was feeling and my response was, “Great! How are you?”
The truth is, I didn't feel great. I didn't feel bad, either. I just felt perfectly neutral. All. The. Time.
I have always been a lover of nature. I have been stopped dead in my tracks by the simplest sights: a branch blooming in springtime, a snowflake floating in the breeze, the way stars will waver -as though seen through water- when the wind is strong and the sky is black. I remember driving as the day fell to evening, and the sunset was exploding across the horizon like flames. Everything was on fire, and the as the darkness descended in it's purples and violets, I came to a realization that struck me hard and to the quick.
I didn't care.
I wasn't moved, or affected in any way. My brain registered what I was seeing and intellectually I knew it was beautiful, but my response was merely, “Huh. Pretty.”
I talked to my doctor about it, and I think that's when I understood why my work wasn't up to the level I wanted it to be. I wasn't having those gut reactions I needed for my craft. I was working as a Goldsmith at the time and I had lost the spark. I just wasn't interested anymore. My doctor slowly took me off the medication, measuring my response, and I was doing fine. The anti-depressant gave me what I needed, and what I can use for the rest of my life: a memory of what normal is like. Anytime I find myself slipping into darkness (which is one of the hazards most artists face), I can remember what it is like to be balanced on that seesaw, and I am able to return to that place.
The other blessing of memory is that I can go back to that sunset that I should have been shedding tears for, and as I reconstruct it in my mind, I am struck anew at the beauty of this world. It is another part of the puzzle that keeps me open and aware. Have you ever seen something or been with someone and said to yourself, “I will never forget this moment.”?
I have. Probably scores of times. There are very few I have managed to keep alive. I never thought to remember that sunset, but it will stay with my whole life.
So much good gets lost in our world every day, but it is important to remember that more is being created as well. Native culture is being revived, but it is very different than the roots from which it is being carefully rebirthed. There is too much that has passed away, and there are too few of us who have escaped the trap of alcohol and defeat. Something new is being created. A sort of...Pan-AmerIndian sensibility, but it is alive and thriving!
New music is being sung, new artistic visions are being created. The inspiration is not just the teachings of the past (the precious records and half forgotten stories from our elders) but the imagination of the past as well. And much more importantly, our inspiration is coming from a reflection of who we are today and what the future has in store.
We are telling new stories, contemporary stories, weaving the fabric of our destiny - a blanket that will surround and protect our coming generations.
For good or ill (and I think for good), the remaining Native American Indian populations are integrating - in fits and starts - with the dominant society. Our stories are strong and will help us to keep our identities. Life will never be what it was in the past, but I pray it will never be the way it is for most people on the reservations ever, ever again.
If there was a higher calling, or a more noble purpose to be made of the sad history we share, it would be to learn from the deep scars and tears shed, in order to experience and give away a more complete joy. We are all in it together in this world, and barring an unprecedented cataclysm, we will never part ways again.
Any good we have, let us give it away. Love and energy are like a stream that needs to flow. If we block it inside, we stop being nourished, and cease to nourish others. If we open it up, unafraid, then love will flow from us, creative power will flow from us, and the flavour of our culture, our thoughts, the way we are hardwired into thinking about this beautiful planet, will flow from us, carving deeper and deeper channels until it is a mighty river of light that illuminates the world.
And how does it start?
Forget our losses. Forget what might have been. These are no longer relevant. Holding onto these things is like anchoring ourselves to the muck of a deep lake, wondering why we cannot breathe. We have to let go and float up to the sun and the air, and the wide open world. The past should be acknowledged, and should never be forgotten. But it should be used like the soil of the lake. Plants spring from that soil, building ladders to the surface. We can build from defeat and humiliation and genocide to share our knowledge of pain, and empathy and most importantly: our celebration.
We are still here! And we are alive.