Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sadness, anger, rage, despair (it's much better than you think)

Thanks to the time change and a migraine that had necessitated afternoon caffeine consumption, I had trouble falling asleep on Sunday night. I was also fretting about work, and how dreadful my job is, and wondering the likelihood of finding something that would both help me live and contribute to my reasons for living. I thought about how I used to try to start my day with a positive thought, but it didn’t really work for me in the long run, instead leading to dissatisfaction and frustration. Someone wiser than me may, one day, reveal to me that I was going about it the wrong way; certainly, fools will try to convince me of the same.

I have found that a certain level of discontent is more likely to lead to my happiness than a concerted effort at acceptance of life on life’s terms. I think this is one of those ironies that Zen teachers love. Allowing myself to be reasonably discontent is more accepting of reality than trying to become accepting of reality and, thus, content with it.

I wouldn’t feel right without a little discontent. The world is full of unfair things, like lupus, character assassination, war and genocide. I feel more balanced when I don’t only focus on the things that make me happy.

I was thinking about this Sunday night and I began to brainstorm about starting a blog called … Well, I won’t tell you the name now, since I still might start it, and I don’t want some Web crawler to snatch the name. But the basic gist was a sort of anger-positive daily meditation for those who find more fulfillment in discontent than in contentedness.

This idea gave me a good amount of hope and I fell asleep. The next morning, I told myself that I needed to finish another Web site I’m working on before I’m allowed to start the new project, and this would have proven great inspiration for me to finish that other Web site, had not life – or death, more precisely – intervened.

As I was walking out of the office today, it occurred to me that I haven’t experienced a moment of anger since Tuesday morning, when it hit me what might be happening with Elizabeth.

There was a time when I would have thought that this was a lesson from God to stop being angry, ever, and I would have pledged myself to become a different person, one who focused only on gifts like sunshine and crocuses and ignored gifts like poison ivy and news about financial embezzlement.

I used to think anger was a problem, because I seemed to be angry all the time and it interfered with my life. I talked with a therapist about this – the only therapist I have ever liked because he never once evinced a nurse-like sympathy for my pain or pressured me to discuss sadness – and two things became obvious. First, that my problem wasn’t anger; it was rage. Second, that I preferred rage to despair, which seemed to be my only other option at the time, and I was hoping that rage would displace despair. But what I said to him was, “If I stay angry enough, I won’t fall into sadness.”

It appears that the opposite is true, too – that if I’m sad enough, I’ll forget to get angry. If ever there was a sure sign of mourning, it’s when a career malcontent goes an entire day without making a snarky remark about her perceived political opponents, religious detractors, intellectual inferiors, or her less-preferred economic and social systems.

So I won’t be starting my malcontent’s daily meditation blog today.

This is not one of those ill-considered resolutions that one makes upon the death of a loved one to view life in a whole new way, to be positive and to love on everyone for the loved one’s sake. I am making no resolutions to try to love life like her or to become a Trappist monk, even though we’ve both admired the lifestyle. I am just, for right now, too sad to be dissatisfied.

Elizabeth was far more patient than me and, while people often boggled her as much as they did me, she was better at reserving judgment. As my first and long-time spiritual companion, she introduced me to the idea of “that of God in everyone,” and I think she was better at seeing it than I am – though I have gotten better at it over the years.

Patient or not, she definitely enjoyed my cynicism (as long as it was reasonable) and got laughs out of my snarkiness (as long as it wasn’t demeaning). I guess that’s part of seeing that of God in everyone: accepting that some of us express our love for life and humanity in contrary ways.

So I won’t feel any guilt when my vitriol begins its daily exercise again. Instead I will think of it as a little and paramount gift, one that Elizabeth’s companionship on my spiritual journey helped me to appreciate.

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