Everything that we settle on as materially true or irrevocable, like the validity of our thoughts, for example, which form our beliefs and which then become the self-perpetuating limitations of our unique, self-constructed ideological prisons, all comes to an end. And I’m not even talking about death itself. I’m merely referring to the everyday life changes that are occurring at any moment.
Whatever it is, we can never know when the end will occur. More often than not, it will occur when we least expect it; when objective circumstances change to such a degree that our assumptions simply cannot hold up any longer. A friend is suddenly no longer a friend. A job disappears. A debilitating accident occurs. A chronic disease appears. Or your partner suddenly discloses she just isn’t in it for the long haul the way you are.
For three years, I had been almost entirely under the impression that I was in a relationship with someone who was equally devoted to the partnership. I say almost because there was a period of uncertainty 18 months ago, but passed. Or so I thought. Overall, I was content in a way that I had never been, relaxed, unencumbered by contentious striving for improvement that had characterized previous long-term relationships. I felt a spaciousness that was so welcoming and I devoted myself to creating that spaciousness in return.
That did not simply mean that I avoided our differences. But I did make space for them to be just as they were, without needing to change anything. I was thoroughly engaged with no doubts, no one-foot-out-the-door reservations about anything, believing that there was love, attraction (at least for me) and a long view of what we were engaged in. I was at home. There were nothing to suggest that our relationship was on tenuous ground. We had a European vacation planned soon. Yet, suddenly, it became obvious that something profound was emerging for her, causing great distress.
There was no inciting incident (that I know of), no trauma, none of the common reasons for abrupt separations or terminations. It turned out she was not ‘at home’ the way I was. It was not anything I did or didn’t do. Or so she said. She had tried for a long time to make it be what she wanted it to be, what we all want. But in the end, it wasn’t working for her. There surely was love. And love remains. But ultimately, not enough.
There I was, all those things I imagined myself to be—and suddenly, un-partnered. In the midst of the initial shock and grief, I realized how that partnership shaded every other action, every belief I adopted about myself. And then that ground was ripped away. The assumption of stability dissolved. The shape of my activism, however much time I could devote to it, the course of my spiritual practice, all of these things were cast in a new light. The prospect of being alone, possibly for a long time to come, loomed large.
Yet, in the rubble of collapsing assumptions, emerging from the trance-like bubble of complacency, there is also great opportunity. After the initial sadness, shock, depression and moments of despair, the sensation of falling was not so terrifying. It began to feel almost exhilarating. Life opened up. First I got heavy. Then I got light. One moment the ground was firm. The next it turned to mush. For reasons that have yet to be fully revealed, it began to feel okay.
You might ask how in the world was I able to do this, and so quickly? How does one bear such a loss and simply turn around and recalibrate? Isn’t lingering in a bardo a prerequisite? I was asking myself the same question. It wasn’t as if I had been betrayed or lied to. I would have felt very different if I had. It also wasn’t as if I had made some grave error myself. The only answer I can offer is that I had no regrets. There was nothing I would have done differently. I withheld nothing. I was not faulting myself or perseverating on perceived flaws or errors of omission. Of course I’m not perfect. But this was not the time to bury myself in regret.
I turned my attention to the mechanics of separation, packing and planning for the disposition of my possessions. As I managed that process, a friend offered his home as a base during my transition. He and his wife were on vacation for three weeks, so I moved into a comfortable setting to explore my new solitary existence.
It turned out to be the perfect transition. In this unfamiliar environment, the overwhelming character of my instantaneous reality was of being alone; without the security I had just left. Not only alone, but without the usual anchors of a life structure. If all I was interested in was grasping for solidity, I might well have been in a panic. But having decided that a sense of security was not the primary objective, I was able to watch the parade—in dismay, in curiosity, even in delight. A reflexive and urgent desire for the familiar signposts of security did recur at times, but I was managing to breath into the panic.
Every moment became a mirror of my state of mind, what I was dwelling on; my attitude toward the present. Sometimes aloneness was accompanied by a fresh intimacy with everything I did, down to the smallest detail. I could have been making a meal, being with friends, sitting in meditation, bathing or just turning on a light switch; the sense of being utterly in the moment was acute. Everything was a choice; totally deliberate. Every physical and mental act, the degree to which I might indulge in aimless mental adventures, rationalizations or regret that took me back to the past or into a non-existent future, also turned out to be a choice. I discovered I didn’t have to go there. There is nothing for me in clinging to a belief in those thoughts–or even believing in the thinker of those thoughts.
A month later, having moved out, I lived nowhere. I live with no one. I do not go to work every day. Having no structures to hold my routine activity, my habits of thought and action sharply emerge. I have no commitments or obligations other than to remain the parent I have always been. I am uprooting myself, unburdening myself of accumulated possessions. Everything is elemental. Every act is a conscious creation of structure or a deliberate suspension in uncertainty, or both, simultaneously. Each act is a spontaneous renewal of presence, a re-creation of temporary certainty in the midst of a welcome-and welcoming-uncertainty.
I am writing some of these words while sitting in a motel room in the town of Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I have a direct view of the monument to the Wright Brothers achievement of lifting a human being and a machine off the ground longer and farther than anyone else. Taking flight. This story is one of taking flight. Experiencing the lift of dwelling in uncertainty brings me more directly into the present. Here, the gift of every moment is the clarity of intent, the small acts of creation in the present that seem to have no root in the past. In this rare and subtly open state, a spacious awareness arises that is unaffected by the familiar train of discursive thought that usually sweeps me away so easily. Future scenarios based on hope (or fear) are more apparent. Their seduction is diminishing.
I live through the choices I make, through the ways that I express caring for the fluid nature of living. Living the uncertainty of my own life is my window, my connection to the uncertainty of every life. In an uncertain world, caring becomes more important and more accessible than the effective implementation of carefully constructed plans, all bending toward some desired outcome. We can plan all we want, but we can never know how it will all unfold.
The planner is slowly dissolving.