“Happiness or sorrow –
Whatever befalls you, Walk on
Untouched, unattached. “
I have always been a fan of stoicism and restraint. I am drawn to suffering contained, constrained, bound and mastered.
In childhood I admired the Indian in the public service announcement about pollution; the eloquent, single tear running down his cheek meant more than any words. I admired the character that could overcome all internal turmoil to Do The Right Thing, sacrificing personal happiness for the good of others. I love Deborah Kerr giving up her own happiness in An Affair to Remember, and Bogart putting the woman he loves on the plane with her husband. The last poems of Sylvia Plath speak to me of fierce mastery over excruciating pain; it was too much for her in the end, but she managed to give it voice in disciplined lines that reveal no emotional sloppiness.
It is probably the notion of detaching rather than wallowing that draws me to Buddhism. It is the most basic rule that suffering comes from hanging on to things, trying to make them last. Freedom, peace and joy come from letting go and knowing that there is no reality other than the present. Nothing “keeps,” and there is nothing but pain to be gained from trying to make things be other than as they are. There is no wailing, weeping, or crying out to a God for aid and comfort; we are on our own with the power to end our own pain simply by letting go of the illusion that we can “have” anything. People die, feelings change, earth quakes and tsunamis can eradicate all that seems solid and permanent in a matter of minutes.
So I find myself, of late, a hot mess of emotion. I leak tears like a cold glass on a hot day; and I want to be saved. I am, by turn, numb with sadness and alive with panic, and I want to be calm, balanced, and even. I want someone or something to take the edge off the panic, and something to lift the suffocating weight of despair. I am the very opposite of detachment, Buddhist or stoic. I see myself as a sort of amorphous and contagious stickiness of bad feelings that roams around leaving stains on those who try to help.
There is too much wrong, it is too big for me, and still I long to be a fierce and admirable warrior, and not a repulsive, whiny bundle of need. I want things I cannot have, want them desperately, and the part of me that is a drama queen and a small child believes that I deserve them and can have them if I say the right words, or make the right wish. The part of me that is a grown woman knows that everything ends, changes, and refuses to be shaped into a Disney fantasy.
I cannot survive this as a stoic; if I am rigid I will snap under the weight that presses on me from the moment my eyes open until I talk myself to sleep. All I can do, all I can hope for is that I will be alive and aware in every minute, welcome the pain as proof of life, and study the places where I have become attached and must let go. Let me be, every day, less needy, less raw, less burdened, and more capable of riding lightly across the rough terrain of life. Let me be.