Day 339

1PM:

I thought that the concept of the Uncarved Block

“According to Lao-tse [author of the oldest existing book of Tao-ism], the more man interfered with the natural balance produced and governed by the universal laws, the further away the harmony retreated into the distance.  The more forcing, the more trouble. … Everything had its own nature already within it, which could not be violated without causing difficulties.  When abstract and arbitrary rules were imposed from the outside, struggle was inevitable.  Only then did life become sour” (Hoff, 4).

“The essence of the principle of the Uncarved Block is that things [and people] in their original simplicity contain their own natural power, power that is easily spoiled and lost when that simplicity is changed … ‘things in their natural state’” (10-11).

“When you discard arrogance, complexity, and a few other things that get in the way, sooner or later you will discover that simple, childlike, and mysterious secret known to those of the Uncarved Block: Life is Fun” (20).

“When we learn to work with our own Inner Nature, and with the natural laws operating around us … then we work with the natural order of things and operate on the principle of minimal effort.  Since the natural world follows that principle, it does not make mistakes.  Mistakes are made – or imagined – by man, the creature with the overloaded Brain who separates himself from the supporting network of natural laws by interfering and trying too hard” (69-70).

…spoke to disruptions in sex, in emotion, in fatigue signals being the result of my disruptions in hunger.  By automating hunger, I disautomated the things of which the universe takes care.  I created difficulties and struggle and sourness and spoilage and overload and separation by messing with hunger.

It does not appear that that’s the case.  Based on our mistakes learnings, the disruptions in my hunger appear the same as the disruptions in sex, emotion, fatigue, gentleness.  The disruptions in all these appear to be because of difficulties and struggle and sourness and spoilage and overload and separation brought on by me messing with the “a lot / too much” principle.  They’ve been caused by me walking a very fine line between taking on a lot and taking on too much, probably on the latter side much more often than I’d like to admit.

My Uncarved Block is buried in black gook.  Our road of recovery, the path to reclaiming healthy, is about washing and scraping and chipping away that blackness surrounding my ME.

Day 264

10AM:

When I smile at you on the bus or hand back the rest of a gift card or help you with your bags, it is an IAN.  It is an Intentional Act of Niceness.  It is because the world would be better with more love and niceness and care in it.

It is because I know what it feels like to not have that.  My regular place of work, the thing that has the ability (when my support system cannot or doesn’t compensate) to take away my gentle, is lacking in IANs.  Benjamin Hoff explains, through the all-seeing eyes of Eeyore:

“‘Not conversing,’ said Eeyone.  ‘Not first one and then the other.  You said “Hallo” and Flashed Past.  I saw your tail in the distance as I was meditating my reply.  I had thought of saying “What?” – but, of course, it was then too late.’  ‘Well, I was in a hurry.’  ‘No Give and Take,’ Eeyore went on.  ‘No Exchange of Thought: “Hallo – What” – I mean, it gets you nowhere, particularly if the other person’s tail is only just in sight for the second half of the conversation'” (96).

Making others feel loved, or even worth it, that takes care, attention, niceness — intention.  I am on the bus (because I want to leave a car to make my parents and brother’s lives easier) going to my grandparents to help them prepare their house for sale, doing the things that they would otherwise be alone to do because I love them.  No — I’m doing it so that I attend to that love, intentionally doing what many other members of the family can’t find time to do (but who will send you an email on your birthday or RECEIVE a birthday phone message from you, without response).  I’m doing it because Intentional Acts of Niceness attend to love, foster it and make it grow.  IANs are my mission!

Day 263

8AM:

We will make mistakes.  We will stumble, we will falter, we will collapse.  But we’re still on the road, we’re still on the path, we’re still in recovery.  Looking back on the last nearly eight months, there have been lists and plans and lines to set the recovery on the me path, on the us path.  Some of these have worked and worked masterfully.  Some of these have worked for a time, for that version of me, but no longer, not for the more colourful, soulful me.  And others have practically not worked, even if theoretically they “should.”

We cannot hold these against ourselves, let them be the burdensome, cumbersome prevention.  By that, I mean we cannot let them prevent us from moving forward, let the blackness take hold of them and use it as ammunition for spiral thinking and self-hate and mind-fucking attacks.  I have not been eating breakfast for the week I’ve been back.  I eat twice and act as if eating two times a day means a smaller margin for error, less of a chance for me to eat too much.  But because I’m oblivious to my hunger cues at Meal 2 (as I wrote a couple of days ago, traditionally hungry is not what I’m being aware of), there is actually a larger guessing game when preparing this meal, more of a chance for me to eat disproportionately, to eat out of my nature.  As such, it is a bad habit, one that the blackness has taken a hold of, feeding off my insecurity and using it against me, turning it into a bitter flaw and causing me to make daily mistakes.  These mistakes may not have served to propel us forward on the path of recovery, but they have the ability to give to the wisdom that makes recovery that much more powerful.  The strength of recovery, the respect for what works and what doesn’t, the love and courage that drive us forward – these are intertwined with the wisdom acquired along the path.

In Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff writes the following about the true nature of wisdom: “In the final section of the Tao Te Ching, Lao-tse wrote, ‘The wise are not learned; the learned are not wise.’ … From the Taoist point of view, while the scholarly intellect may be useful for analyzing certain things, deeper and broader matters are beyond its limited reach” (24).

If these are not mistakes for the sake of mistakes, stumbles and falters and collapses in themselves, we can gain strength and courage and respect and love from them.  Being respectful of one day at a time only came from looking too far ahead.  The closeness of failing together ends not with error, but with loving embraces.  Bitter loss serves as an emboldening, one that strengthens the courageous ferocity in the true versions of ourselves.

A post-it note once told me an important life lesson: “remember, we all stumble; you have to fall before you fly.”  I will eat breakfast tomorrow, knowing the problems it causes later in the day with hunger cues, drinking and respecting my true nature.  If we gain from our mistakes, in this way, they serve to make us wise.

Day 261

4PM:

I am still trying to break through the facade of nobility around being exhausted.  It is a flaw in me right now.  Busy is fine, that is the imperfection version of this, but exhausted leads to blackness.  I spent three of the last four days “off” doing chores – inside the house, errands outside the house, things I’ve wanted to get done for the 30/29 working month of July (and no, that does not mean bonus marks).  Yesterday afternoon I sat, thinking I could do so without the demons running through my skull, shaming me, yelling at me, telling me I will put on weight for doing something that my body needs.  I was so very wrong.  I collapsed; I didn’t rest.  I collapsed both mentally and physically and I’m not better for it, because my head, my soul took a beating.  It was a struggle to rest, but does it have to be this way?  What if I had taken the four days and spread the chores among them?  Or what if I prioritized resting above snaking the toilet or cleaning the floors, either of which could have waited a week?

I am spending today helping friends move, exhausted.  I will spend much of next week helping my grandparents prepare their basement for moving, exhausted.  There is an opportunity afterwards: five days.  Five days that I could use to prioritize rest.

As we have seen, I cannot fully rest without being at least a little busy, it is not good for me personally, for the now version of me.  Right now, I can no longer sit and veg in front of the TV for a day, watching movie after movie or reading book after book (maybe someday, if this is my nature, my trueness).  Forcing myself to be someone I am not, even if that is just the version of me (in the present stage of recovery), that is giving the blackness strength.  I have already written about the Tao of Pooh‘s caution of fighting against one’s nature.  Benjamin Hoff also writes about this in reference to people trying (or being forced to try) to be someone they are not:

  • “Let’s start with the first part: ‘A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly.’  Very simple. … And yet, you’d be surprised how many people violate this simple principle every day of their lives and try to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are.  We will let a selection from the writings of Chuang-tse illustrate: Hui-tse said to Chuang-tse, ‘I have a large tree which no carpenter can cut into lumber.  Its branches and trunk are crooked and tough, covered with bumps and depressions.  No builder would turn his head to look at it.  Your teachings are the same – useless, without value. … [Chuang-tse replied,] a huge yak is not easily caught or overcome.  It stands like a stone, or a cloud in the sky.  But for all its strength, it cannot catch a mouse.  You complain that your tree is not valuable, as lumber.  But you could make use of the shade it provides, rest under its sheltering branches, and stroll beneath it, admiring its character and appearance. … It is useless to you only because you want to make it into something else and do not use it in its proper way.’  In other words, everything has its own place and function” (39-40).
  • “‘A fish can’t whistle and neither can I.’ … There’s nothing wrong with not being able to whistle, especially if you’re a fish.  But there can be lots of things wrong with blindly trying to do what you aren’t designed for.  Fish don’t live in trees, and birds don’t spend too much time underwater if they can help it.  Unfortunately, some people – who always seem to think they’re smarter than fish and birds, somehow – aren’t so wise, and end up causing big trouble for themselves and others” (43).
  • “That doesn’t mean that we need to stop changing and improving.  It just means that we need to recognize What’s There” (43).

I like being busy and being useful, but I cannot do either of those things if I am lying to my Mom and friends about how exhausted I am, grinning and bearing it.  There is no nobility in letting people down, and just because I’ve been able to do it up to this point, I have also seen that doing so strips pieces of my soul away, causes me to regress into the blackness.  Perhaps experimentation is needed…

What if I used these five days to break through the nobility of exhaustion?  What if I did prioritize resting on the “to do” list?  The old way isn’t working, so we must find a new one.  This is a bad habit, one which we must recover from to survive the oncoming: two jobs in September, working weekends and weekdays and the days in between; starting my Masters at the same time; going back to a frosty work environment.

This is our time to find a new way, perhaps a way that works best for the me version of me.  So during this experiment, I limit myself to two things per day out of an active (running, biking, working out), an outdoor chore (groceries), a house chore (mowing the lawn, vacuuming, laundry).  The rest of the day must prioritize rest and see if this drives me nuts.  Five days, that’s all.  I was able to stop portion counting (ok, still eating flawed and I am having a hard time being back at home and listening to my nature, but to stop counting was a giant step).  I and my support system (I will need them to “pick up the slack,” to be kind and patient with my discomfort and to be loving) are strong enough to do this.  We are wise enough to know that this is doable, one day at a time.  The blackness shouldn’t be too bad, should it…?

Day 260

3PM:

In keeping with the last few days’ posts about reclaiming my beautiful imperfections, breaking bad habits (ok, so yesterday and the day before and the day before and today up until now are BAD examples), I will look up for the rest of today.  I will enjoy like Pooh Bear enjoys living in the now: “‘Owl, you’re just confusing things,’ I said.  ‘This is the day after Tuesday, and it’s not Thirds – I mean, Thursday.’  ‘Then what is it?’ asked Owl.  ‘It’s Today!‘ squeaked Piglet.  ‘My favorite day,’ said Pooh” (27-28).

Pooh recognizes that the best day is the one you are in.  I will try to live one of those days today and relax.

And I will do so by both literally and metaphorically respecting the simple phrase on the outside of the Mennonite Church yesterday.  One that I have found wisdom in before, their weekly message to the drivers going by, the parishioners going in and all those who need the IAN:

BE STILL

Day 258

11AM:

The bad experiences don’t help break bad habits, bad habits that are brought on by the blackness, bad habits that the blackness uses to turn beautiful imperfections into cancerous, soul-eating flaws.  To clarify this latter poetic ramble, my thoughtfulness and desire to be active have been warped by my blackness into bad habits: obsessing over counting portions and calories, not being able to sit down without shame and getting into the habit of working through meals.  My blackness distorts my thoughtfulness into over-thinking, hyper-vigilance and thoughts of self-harm to stop thinking so fucking much.  These bad habits are reflections of these flaws, distorting the “me” version of me and taking me away from my trueness and nature, my ease, making it harder to breath.  I am not the only one who struggles with this, finds it hard to reclaim imperfections from the blackness.

Regaining these from the blackness, breaking these bad habits by regaining our imperfections, there is a section in Tao of Pooh about it.  About imperfections v. flaws: “Sooner or later, we are bound to discover some things about ourselves that we don’t like.  But once we see they’re there, we can decide what we want to do with them.  Do we want to get rid of them completely, change them into other things, or use them in beneficial ways?  The last two approaches are often especially Useful, … they allow those transformed characteristics to be added to the list of things we have that help us out” (58-59).  My thoughtfulness is an imperfection, in so much as it causes me to over-think sometimes.  I accept this part of me and I love it.  But the blackness dug deep inside to screw these imperfections into flaws, turning this over-thinking into something self-harming and abusive and reinforcing bad habits to make for damn sure that they stayed.  Breaking these bad habits – therefore – is not just about reclaiming healthy, regaining your imperfections, but also about accepting these imperfections as beautiful parts of you.

But back to my point, while bad experiences may be the impetus or the motivation (that one-too-many, the fight, the doctor’s scare, the crying husband), breaking bad habits is about the good experiences.  Good experiences keep you going along the path, that light up the darkness ahead.  Saying, “I’m doing this,” is Day 0.  It is the bad experience impetus, the second before the starter’s pistol, the (to abuse a metaphor from Lao Tzu, the Taoist philosopher) moment right before you look down at your feet, deciding to take the “one step” that will begin the “journey of a thousand miles.”  Day 1 is getting past the bad experience and taking the first step in that thousand mile recovery journey: the first uncounted portion of food; the first snack indulged in (even if it is two apples, to quiet the obvious mental hunger); the first night drinking socially, not emotionally; the first “smoke break” that is not taken; the first time you come home to worrisome husband and calm his nerves.  These are steps on the path.

So while my recovery stems from the guilt, the weight loss, the isolation, the mental and psychological anguish, these are not steps, they are bad experiences, they happen on Day 0.  They are not going to break my bad habits, but motivations they are.  Steps for me (aside from the obvious aforementioned ones) are being able to gloat about an awesome vegan lunch, looking in the mirror and realizing I don’t care or that I don’t want to run to the scale to “check” (still waiting for these), tasting food innocently given to me by a child or made by a loved one.  These are the good experiences that keep me going along the path, these are steps on the path to reclaiming my imperfections from the blackness by breaking the bad habits is has bestowed upon me.

Breaking bad habits, one day at a time, reclaiming beautiful imperfections from the blackness, they do not start at the bad experience, the impetus, the Day 0.  Breaking bad habits starts here – with action and care and try and courage.

Day 257

8PM:

We made it through yesterday – through the artificial insanity of my wife’s birth control pills, the hurricane (or tornado, as it were) of tumultuous emotions that tore her up.  We made it through, got strong and fierce and courageous, pulled her through the fire and flood (not without getting singed or water-logged) because of care and attention, intention and affection.

This brings me to something I read in Tao of Pooh.  I have said here before that love is automatic.  Love is the emotion you feel, it is directionless and pure energy.  Caring is the action, the direction, the follow-through of love.  Ironically enough, the thing that makes others feel loved, feel loved when they are alone, feel affected by love, is not love itself.  The ironic thing about love is that directionless, it has the ability to make others feel unloved.  Love itself, by itself, would be selfish.  Love does not make the lover feel loved; love makes the lovee feel.  On the other hand, caring – the action of love – that makes others feel loved.  We found out yesterday, once again, that being courageous and fierce and loving and strong, that these traits related not to love, but to caring.

In line with this, according to Benjamin Hoff and Taoism, the source of courage and strength (of believing) lies in caring, which is the action of love:

“The two Fearless Rescues just mentioned [(of Roo from the river and Piglet who was Trapped by the Flood)] bring us to one of the most important terms of Taoism: Tz’u, which can be translated as ‘caring’ or ‘compassion’ and which is based upon the character for heart.  In the sixty-seventh chapter of the Tao Te Ching, Lao-tse named it as his ‘first treasure,’ and then wrote, ‘From caring comes courage.’  We might add that from it also comes wisdom.  It’s rather significant, we think, that those who have no compassion have no wisdom. … We also consider it significant that cor, the Latin word for ‘heart,’ is the basis for the word courage.  Piglet put it this way: ‘She isn’t Clever, Kanga isn’t, but she would be so anxious about Roo that she would do a Good Thing to Do without thinking about it.’  Tz’u … saved Roo, discovered the North Pole, and rescued Piglet” (128-129).

Strength and compassion, ferocity and fierceness, wisdom – these are built through caring, through Tz’u.  When my wife and I talk about her recovery, we talk about love being natural and care being intentional.  Care takes courage, awareness takes strength, but as it states above, “From caring comes courage” – what you put in – in terms of belief and strength and courage – will feed the recovery, will beget greater belief and strength and courage and feelings of love.  This is not done through love itself, but through the actions of love, through Tz’u.

I feel the love of my mother-in-law not because she loves me, not because of some abstract emotion she has within her.  I feel the love of my mother-in-law because she thinks of me when I’m not there, buying berries that cost much more than they should (probably because of the water they taste like! – but I’ll never tell).  Tasty or not, it is the caring in her action that makes me feel loved [AN ASIDE: (my metaphor continuing, of my wife and my Roo to her Kanga) my mother-in-law, through her Tz’u and because of her love, demonstrates time and time again her strength of character and that she is wise beyond experience].  Similarly, I feel the love of my grandparents because they sought to understand how they could support my veganism, even if they did not understand the love I have for it.  The caring in their actions – Tz’u – is what makes me feel loved.  Intentional Acts of Niceness make absolute strangers feel loved, and yet, there is no love for that stranger by the actee.  However, the IAN will give them the strength to do a nice thing for the next person, even without love being behind the Tz’u.  There is caring, which begets love and happiness, strength and wisdom in the lover and the lovee.

Going back to my wife’s path of recovery, it is about intention and belief.  Her path of recovery is reclaiming her healthy, her Tz’u.  I have faith in her love, but I also believe in her Tz’u.  I carry around a lollipop notepad from her.  In it, there are messages of love.  I have yet to open it, have yet to read a single one of these messages.  And yet,  I feel loved because of it.  I feel loved not because of the words on the page, words that are finite and after being read once are never-to-be-read the same again.  No, I feel loved because of the infinite care that the lollipop notepad represents.

In 1494, Leonardo da Vinci stated: “Oh ye seekers after perpetual motion, how many vain chimeras have you pursued? Go and take your place with the alchemists.”  Not so, because the source of alchemy is Tz’u.  Even if I never read a single message from the lollipop notepad, it will always be an infinite source of strength and belief, of courage and ferocity, of matter-and-universe-defying love.  This act of love – caring, compassion, Tz’u – always creates and therefore is perpetually in motion.