Tu Cancer es Mi Cancer

You have a friend with cancer, let’s say breast cancer because it seems both more common and less scary than others (just lop it off, right?). It was caught early and it seems like she’s going to be fine, if breastless. She’s not, like, your best friend, so this isn’t a direct hit on your life. But she’s close enough that you can’t dismiss it as another inevitable, anonymous cancer story. You truly care about her. You bring food and offer support and “like” or “cry” or “anger” all her facebook posts. You are not a Bad Person.

But she’s not what you think about at 2am, staring at the ceiling. You think about You. Specifically, You in contrast with her. You start to construct a questionnaire, like those at the doctor’s office that tell you whether you’re an alcoholic. Yours is something like this:

  • Are you older or younger than her?
  • Did she smoke? Do you?
  • Is she nicer than you?
  • Does she drink? A lot? How much less than you?
  • Would you describe her as a “positive person”? Are you?
  • What’s her medical history? How healthy are you?
  • Does she meditate? for how long? Does she seem enlightened? More than You?
  • Does she exercise? What kind?
  • Where did she grow up? Was it on a nuclear test site? Wasn’t there a paint manufacturer around the corner when you were a kid? Was this before they banned lead? Why don’t you ever see those neighbors on facebook!?

And you think you can take all your answers and hers, give them each a number, calculate a cancer score for each of you, and objectively determine whether you are more or less likely to get cancer than she is. Then think of ways to dramatically derail your life so you can beat those odds.

But it’s all bullshit. This is the story we tell ourselves. It’s a lot like our success story, our ideas of the right and wrong things to do to lead us to the desired conclusion. It’s magical thinking, and it’s utterly unhelpful. It saps energy and presence and eats away at you. Of course there are proven behaviors that should reduce risk, but that’s not what this is about. This is about constructing a story against which you can praise or blame yourself and chart your future – a way to give yourself control over something that is essentially out of your control.

Crafted after your scary health diagnosis, this magical storytelling is worse than unhelpful, it’s destructive. Blaming yourself for your affliction is, first, untrue (because there is no free will, folks – your cancer is the product of your genetics, the block you grew up on, the people you’ve known, and the behavior of every atom in the universe which crafted your inevitable journey toward every single thing you’ve ever done); and second, it’s adding insult to injury. Even if you do believe you were responsible, what does that matter now? It helps nothing. The post-diagnosis should be all healing and living and decision making and all that fun shit. When it comes down to it, Your Cancer is not about you and your concept of self. But even more than that, Her Cancer is not About You.

Get off it. Be a friend. Get over yourself. I mean, it’s normal to think this way, but stop now. It’s totally normal to turn your friend’s cancer into your rumination fantasy, right?

There’s no way I’m the first one to do this, right?

Hello? Is this thing on?

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Unlearning the Lines

The_Memphis_Blues_4I am a lyrics junky. I know lyrics. Not just beloved lyrics, either. I know the lyrics of hundreds of songs I actively avoid, and probably twice as many that evoke not a single emotion. I’m guessing this takes up about 5% of my working brain.

I am also hard-wired with lyrics that are totally fuckin wrong. It’s happened more than once that after blithely, boldly singing along with a song for decades, one day, for whatever reason, I stop and actually pay attention to the song I’m accompanying, instead of getting wrapped up in the drama of my own (private) performance. Listening to the song with adult ears, I realize I’ve had it wrong this whole time. And now that I think about it, my version made no sense at all, whereas the actual lyrics were really pretty clear and sometimes disappointingly banal. Continue reading “Unlearning the Lines”

App vs. Enlightenment

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sorry for the crap image; our phones have terrible cameras & WordPress is TESTING ME

Early on, I mentioned my meditation app in passing. Since then, I’ve been forced to confront some spiritually materialistic tempations of the app, temptations in the lure of which I was a squirrel on an unsustainable California almond farm.

The good news is that the app has corrected itself! I no longer have to be strong (or start being strong)- the poisoned nut has been removed.

Here’s the deal. Continue reading “App vs. Enlightenment”

I’m Not Religious. But I’m …

I lied. At the end of my last post, after writing about my problems with the word ego, I promised to steer clear of any more wonky language rants and post my next update instead about the concept of separateness. But as I started researching that topic, I ran into a snag. I came across another word I realized causes just as much confusion and raises even more questions than the word ego, and I decided the meaning of this troublesome word ought to be clarified before I move on to other subjects, because it’s so central to what this whole blog is about.

The word I’m talking about is “spirituality.”

Continue reading “I’m Not Religious. But I’m …”

Spiritual Materialism, pt. 1

file (2).jpegOOOOH!!! LOOK AT ME! I did 165 hours of silent meditation last year! Aren’t I spiritual?

And this is the first time I’ve shown this to anyone. Isn’t that humble? And this screenshot was from over a month ago, when I had many fewer hours logged. Isn’t that modest? And I’m clearly making fun of myself now. Isn’t that self-effacing?

I don’t tell you about all the hours I volunteer and all the money I donate not because I’m such a spiritual person, but because I’m not – because I think that withholding that information makes me a better person. Have you ever read The Fall by Camus? The opening monologue yanked out my precious soul and ground it into the cheap meat I always knew it was.

Am I being too hard on myself? Probably. Am I utterly devoid of pure, loving motivation? No, not utterly. But my cup runneth over with spiritual materialism. This isn’t novice meditator stuff & I promise I’ll explain more later, but I’m behind on work and living out of a bag this weekend and I just wanted to say hi and lay this on you. Dig it, man.

Letting Go of (The Word) Ego

Ego is the archenemy of an enlightened life. At least, that’s the impression I get when I study modern Tao and Buddhist teachings. But when I talk with people about ego, including fellow Zen students, I get the sense that we never quite agree on what the word actually means. If ego really is the archenemy of the enlightened life, shouldn’t its meaning be universally understood?

Continue reading “Letting Go of (The Word) Ego”