Tuesday, June 01, 2004
Sent: Tue 6/1/2004 12:19 PM
Subject: Got a minute? If so, please read.
Hi. I hope that this email finds you well. It's June 1, and even if summer isn't officially here until the solstice, I personally mark the seasons by the beginnings of the months (March, June, September and December). The spring blossoms have dropped, everything is green, green, green, and the kudzu is once again launching its campaign for global domination. In another sign that summer is here, I've been seeing the email announcements for the June sesshin, which in turn, reminds me of you. It was at the June sesshin last year that I first met you, so it has now been one full year since we've met and, amazingly, three months since we've parted. I say "amazingly" because first, despite all the teachings about impermanence, I hadn't really believed that we were ever going to be apart, and second because the time since that parting has gone by incredibly quickly. As I look back over the nine months that we were together, and all that we did and experienced, the last three months feels like so much less than one third of the time that we spent together.
I also saw your email message about switching dates for kitchen duty this month. My paranoid mind immediately jumped to the conclusion that you were doing this to avoid seeing me (I am listed on the schedule for ino duty that morning). I hope that isn't the case. But the mind being what it is, even while I was toying with the idea that you were trying to avoid me, I then started to imagine that you were changing the schedule because you were going off on some fabulous vacation with someone new. Now, while I have begrudgingly grown to accept the fact that by now you probably have met someone else, my mind still had to construct this elaborate fantasy of your trip, and I bothered myself greatly with this idea as I tried to read between the lines of your email.
And with that as background, I have to admit that I didn't go to the zendo last Sunday in large part because I knew, from that same email, that you were going to be there. I didn't go out of town last weekend, and was trying to use the holiday to deepen my practice - I went Friday night and Saturday morning, and as always, opened on Monday evening. But when I got up on Sunday morning and was getting ready to go to the Center, I just didn't feel up to the challenge of seeing you and confronting all of my unresolved feelings, so I changed my mind, put on a pot of coffee, and settled back down while it brewed.
Speaking of Friday night, only Dave and I were there, and before we got started, we were talking about Friday night attendance, and Dave said that there were two or three Friday-night regulars and also matter-of-factly mentioned "Oh, yeah, and L. stopped by for about a half-hour last week." That statement stopped me right in my tracks, because I felt like I had dodged a bullet - I had opened for Dave on Friday two weeks ago and was there that night, and you had showed up the Friday in between those two weeks. And further, as I was sitting, my mind started wondering why you were there for only a half hour. Could it have been, I wondered, that she was looking for me, and left after she saw that I wasn't there? Or was she back from, or off to, a hot date, possibly with the person with whom she was going on vacation? Needless to say, it took a while for my mind to calm down before I could start real zazen, but even then, I nervously kept an eye out to see if you might not come walking in the door at any moment.
This is not good. I shouldn't be avoiding the Center out of anxiety about seeing you, and I certainly hope that you are not doing the same, or switching dates to avoid being "on" at the same time as me. I shouldn't be obsessing while I sit about whether or not you are there, and the possible reasons for your absence or presence. It is interesting to me to observe how the mind lurches from one extreme view to the polar opposite - first, it suspects that you are switching dates because your contempt is so deep you don't even want to be there on the same day as me, and the next minute it imagines that you are showing up on a Friday night just in case of the remote possibility that I might be there. The truth is that you probably come and go on your own free will for a hundred different reasons all totally unrelated to me, and while I recognize this intellectually, part of my ego still can't accept the fact that it isn't all about me, me, me.
So, as you may gather from all of the above, the last three months have not been a particularly easy or good time for me. I have been really struggling with a lot of issues since you've left, including loneliness, depression, self-esteem, self-identity and so on. I don't mean to cry on your shoulder, but for the sake of my practice, I want to get to a point where I can walk in and be equivocal about whether or not you are there, and I hope the same for you for the sake of your practice. I'm not sure how to get to that point. One way, I imagine, is to no longer care about such things and just go on about life completely natural and effortlessly. I'm not yet there in my practice. Another may be to just get on to the next (chapter? phase? person? thing?), so that my focus is elsewhere and your face simply blends in with all of the others at the zendo, but I'm not there in my life yet.
The answer may be more communication. You have gone, almost overnight, from being my best friend, with whom I had at least daily conversation, to an almost entire stranger with an embargo on nearly all contact. Part of my anxiety about last Sunday was, I think, that in the presence of this lack of communication, I am likely to attach huge significance to any message, subliminal or overt, just as I did with the kitchen-duty email or Dave's report that you were there last week. If you went about your business without acknowledging me, I would have been crushed, but if you had rushed over and hugged me, I would have been equally confused. In any event, if I were there on Sunday, could I have even done shikantaza while trying to read some meaning into your every gesture, into even your mere presence?
So all of this may be a long, long way of simply asking if you want to get a cup of coffee or dinner sometime and talk. Don't worry, I have no intention of ambushing you and blaming you for my struggles, or trying to lay a guilt trip on you, or complaining long and tediously about my life. Also, on the other hand, I'm not asking in the hopes of any kind of reconciliation. To be perfectly honest, I will admit that I did still hold out some hope for that through March and April, but by May I came to recognize and accept things for what they are, and have abandoned such fantasies. What I hope for now is a healthier, more natural, post-intimate relationship, which, even if it isn't quite Jerry-and-Elaine, might be better than the present situation. That way, we can see each other, or not, in the rarified and silent atmosphere of the zendo with a more comfortable and relaxed attitude than at present. And who knows? We might even be able to enjoy each other's company.
I imagine that you're probably going to Tampa sometime during this holiday-shortened week, if you're not there now, and I will be attending the June sesshin starting Friday night. So if you are willing to meet and talk with me, and I sincerely hope that you are, I'm not sure when will be a good time for you, but I'm available any night this week, including tonight.
I look forward to hearing back from you.
Sent: Tue 6/1/2004 5:20 PM
Subject: Hi there Shokai
Ola Shokai -
Thank you for your frank email...I appreciate your candor and courage, as I always have.
Let me clear up a few points -
1. Am not going steady with anyone. Only half-up for dating...putting the energy into cultivating girlfriends and career and other interests. Certainly haven't been involved in any "hot dates". Maybe at some point, but not now.
2. Switched that weekend in June because I am going to the (famous! wonderful!) Iowa Writing Program that weekend and thus can't cook. Although, I was sorry that I would be missing your service on that date, but I felt I needed/wanted to go to the writer's program.
3. I sometimes come on Friday nights before my AA meeting at Emory...which starts at 8pm...so I usually only stay for the first period and then leave for my meeting. Neither avoiding nor manipulating seeing you...just trying to live...
4. I am in Miami on business this week and then meeting my college roommate, Janine, to go salsa dancing and eat cuban food.. just a little escape for the girls to have fun and enjoy each other ( not a romantic situation).
Sure, we could go for coffee, dinner, etc. I have missed you very much. But also, I appreciate your saying that you have been letting go of the idea of a reconciliation.
Long boring story on my return - will be teaching at Emory and taking flamenco in the evenings every night when I return... so, if I am swamped for a few weeks, please don't feel it is a comment on my feelings.. rather, I have scheduled myself silly.
You are a wonderful man. I would welcome a friendly, open way of relating. I have good feelings about you, for you. Or, if you prefer, we could schedule some days are your zendo days, others are mine. Whatever works. I am interested in making peace.
Posted by Shokai at 8:56 PM