Rising over the ‘bastards’
Injustice is all around, and I struggle to live with it. I clench my fists, longing to be the hand of some karmic retribution, but that is not up to me. It’s hardest to accept this when the injustice is happening to someone I love, and I can only stand by as a source of support.
In these cases I am prone to being possessed, paralyzed with anger. It burns me from the inside out like chemical drain cleaner. My outlook on the world dims, and if I’m not careful I ultimately perpetuate the poison I loathe.
I haven’t heard Cat’s voice for almost a decade now, but I still hear her words from a critical time in my life. She was 20 years my senior, and I met her in my early 20s when I hated, truly hated, myself.
I was in the Great Lonely stretch of extended adolescence — something every person must weather if he or she aims to mature into a full adult. I had no girlfriend, or even a normal social life for that matter, since I worked nights and lived alone. I was a copy editor at the newspaper, reading all the terrible news every day, and Cat was a holistic massage therapist hired to give employees 30-minute sessions in the conference room once a month.
I’d never had a professional massage before, though I’d often imagined how good it would feel. In fact I wasn’t used to anyone touching my body, which was high-strung and sore, for I spent every minute I could cranking down on the overhanging rock of Rifle Mountain Park. Not only that, I was full of bottled work stress and couldn’t see anything but blackness in my future. I obsessed on every mistake I might have made in life, on and off the rock. Whenever I looked at myself, I saw so many things I hated about humanity. No wonder I couldn’t find a girlfriend.
Within minutes of meeting Cat for my first time in the conference room, she asked a question I was used to hearing all the time: “How are you?” The way she asked was different. Her eyes probed gently into mine, really wanting to know how I was, as if she saw a demon in me that needed to be called out. I was surprised to find myself bursting in tears. That morning had not been good. I don’t recall the specifics of it now except that I felt like I was on the brink of destroying myself and everything in my path.
“I want you to say, ‘I love myself,’ out loud at least 10 times a day,” she told me on the massage table. “It’s like there’s a fire in you dying out, becoming cold, and you need to fan the embers of love inside yourself before it’s too late.”
I hated saying the words. They sounded stupid. My feeble, hollow voice grated my eardrums and made me want to slap myself. But I knew Cat was right — if I couldn’t love myself, how could I love or accept love from others?
Cat and I became good friends, and she always stayed on me about this important practice, for practice is indeed what it is. She taught me how to meditate.
Meditation is the art of accepting imperfection. The mind inevitably wonders from its focus here and there, and the purpose of meditating is to notice the mental drift and shift the focus back to where it should be. Again. Again. And again.
Anger draws my attention away from where my heart should be. This week, as I stand by my friend who is being harassed by petty, vindictive people, I’ve struggled to write anything constructive, anything that might add to the world, rather than take away or destroy. So I meditated before writing this column.
The morning sun streamed in through the window behind me. I closed my eyes and concentrated on all the tiny sensations I felt within my body and imagined the white light beaming into me like a plant sprouting from the earth. I felt the goodness of life again and heard the gentle, residual voice of my far-away friend down in there, reminding me of a time I almost lost everything because I was too consumed with anger.
When I opened my eyes I knew what to write: There is much in the world beyond our power to change, but we can resist the frostbite of all the coldness that might steal us as long as we focus on everything worth loving, including ourselves. Fan those embers of love every chance you get.
In the words of a sweet elderly lady I know, who happens to have some things in common with Cat, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”
Indeed. Feel my fire!
“Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of every month. Derek Franz lives in Carbondale and may be reached at email@example.com.
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After opposing Proposition 114, the 2020 wolf reintroduction initiative that passed by a whopping 1%, I had reservations about dressing down another budding ballot measure.