09 Aug Fulfilling My Dreams Fulfills My Spirit
I’m on day 13 of an Oprah and Deepak 21 day meditation program. It’s actually day 17, but I have been traveling, making it difficult to find the time to meditate, so I’ve missed the last few days. These 21-day programs are designed to guide the participant to go deeper into esoteric concepts through a carefully structured program, and the current one is about “the energy of attraction”. For my first 40 something years, I was cynical enough to find this kind of discussion somewhat unbearable; it resonated as new age nonsense as far as I was concerned. However, over the past few years, I have done a half dozen of these 21-day programs and I always gain a lot of insights about the frames that shape my own views, ideas, and self-limiting thoughts. In all truthfulness, this process helped a lot as we struggled with making a movie about how profoundly the mind-body connection affects our health. Some of the messaging still rubs me the wrong way, but when I can stay open to examining the ideas being expressed, I learn surprising things about myself. Oftentimes, the programs take place when I’m traveling, which makes it more difficult to find the time and space to stay focused, but also provides a greater stimulus that makes the experience more complex.
During the first week of the program, we were traveling as a family in Santa Fe, NM- but it was a relaxed trip and I was able to make the time to keep up with the program. By the second week, I was alone at home in North Carolina for five full days. While I have had chunks of time away from my wife and kids over the last 15 years, it has always been while I have been traveling for work. This was the first time since our oldest daughter was born that I have had this kind of monastic experience at home. When I was in my early 20’s, I spent a lot of my time in my apartment drinking coffee and making art. It was a particularly fertile time for me creatively partly because I had very few worldly responsibilities except for showing up for work and practice with my band now and then. In college, I had become aware of feeling anxious at times- due to the heavy responsibilities and expectations of school. I often had nightmares about forgetting big assignments,or failing to complete papers and about failing exams. In many ways ,my life right after college had to do with throwing off some of that weight and those expectations.
During my current meditation experience, it was interesting to become aware of how part of my brain was constantly preparing to take care of things like dinner for the family, making sure I was on top of picking up kids, or taking out the garbage- even though there was no one to take care of. I was less stressed about theses responsibilities while traveling – though I did often feel guilty about “not doing my share”. Working at home made me keep thinking about those things that I have to do at home. Habitual patterns of thought are connected to where we are physically as well as emotionally. I had some hope of making these days about self reflection. In some ways, I envisioned it as a kind of 5 day meditation retreat, and to some degree, I was able to work less and focus inwardly more. Still, while I didn’t have a very solid sense of expectation, I had hoped to find some kind of rhythm of calm. Things were calmer, but I also felt a little alone and unsettled, certainly feeling the absence of my family. I imagine I also hoped to spark some of that wild creativity of my youth. Instead, I struggled with a continued feeling of writer’s block.
For the past 5 years, I’ve lived in the house that I grew up in. For the first few months, living there had an odd resonance. As my past memories began to meld with my day to day life, I found the experience of being a parent crashing into feelings related to being a child in that same space. However, the past slowly receded, and after five years it feels like where I live, rather than where I grew up. It is an open, modern home with many windows and large common areas. Surrounded by trees, it is easy to feel fully lost in the space- disconnected from the larger world. While it was a good place to grow up, by the time I was a senior in high school I had a strong desire to be immersed in the larger world and I headed off to college in NY with great forward force.
When I moved there, NYC was beginning a period of economic ascendency. However, at the time, it was still a dirty, perverted, dangerous place. I loved it. It was still possible to find cheap rent. After college, I played in a band, took pictures, made movies, and worked just enough to cover my rent- which was only a few days a week. By the time I was thirty, I had gotten married and bought a house with my wife in Brooklyn. Within five years, we had two kids. By the time I was 45, I had lived in New York for 27 years, almost double the time I spent in my childhood home. NY was an immensely exciting place to live, especially when I was young. Once I had kids, it was harder to navigate. By the time we left when my oldest daughter was 11, I was more exhausted and overwhelmed than I realized. Over the first few months, I was back in NY fairly often, and I found myself missing the energy and excitement.
After the first year in North Carolina, I had become fully acclimated to the slower pace of life, and when I visited New York the following Autumn, I found myself thinking “how the hell do people live here?”; I was overwhelmed by the energy. Four years later, this is still the case. Right now, I am back in New York visiting family, friends, and our home/office. When we moved, we didn’t sell our home (it’s a three family so there were two apartments already rented out). We kept our office in the house and for the first year of our time in North Carolina, we also kept a room so we could come and go. However, with each trip, it felt a little less like home, and now the house feels like a weight that drags us down. That house made it possible for us to do the film work that we do, but it increasingly feels like something we need to let go of.
Yesterday, as we visited our filmmaking partner who still works out of the office in the house, I looked through some of the stuff piled up in the space. I found the above self-portrait I made in 1993 when I lived in the East Village and made art all day. I was playing in a band and making a lot of photos at the time. I would find things like this old mirror frame and drag them in from the streets to use to make art. When we moved to North Carolina, we drove down in two cars and that’s pretty much all we could take. So we have a lot of our past stuffed into the basement and the office. As artists and filmmakers, we have acquired a lot of materials- records, photos, files, hard drives, film prints, equipment. All of these things have meaning on some level and it can be hard to let them go. Over the past 5 years, I’ve worked on letting go of attachments, but it’s particularly hard to jettison the things I have made. Still, there’s a sense of needing to make peace with letting go of things, and when I visit the house it always leaves me feeling very stressed out. I try to see it as an exercise in letting go of attachment, but it still hurts when you rip off band-aids.
For the first few days of our trip, we stayed with my brother, his wife, and their kids, which is now our main homestead in NY. The kids are 2-years and 9-months old and full of energy. Their place is fairly small, so my wife and kids take the one guest bed, and I take the couch – meaning I don’t get much sleep and things are chaotic. It was great to see family, but there was not a chance of meditating. Last night we stayed with good friends in Brooklyn. I had a little trouble sleeping even though I finally had a bed. I knew it had something to do with stress related to the house. But once morning arrived, we had some peace and quiet, so my wife and I sat down with the meditation program. Some days, I work very hard to calm my mind and just be with what I am hearing. Some days, I let the thoughts come and try to make sense of them.
The centering thought of the day was “fulfilling my dreams fulfills my spirit”. I sometimes have a hard time paying attention to all of the words because a phrase will connect to a feeling and I’ll follow that feeling. As we sat in the living room meditating, a street sweeper loudly rumbled past spraying thoughts related to cleansing. In the city, meditation involves a barrage of outside images and ideas. As I prepared to meditate I tried to make not of these thoughts so that I could put them to the side and just focus on my breath. At the same time, I couldn’t help but try to make sense of what my own dreams are. For me, the process of meditating has a lot to do with simply making sense of the less conscious frames that shape my sense of who I am and who I should be. What I think I want, what my dream is, is to find a sense of balance in the world. So that is what I focused my breath on. I was aware of how stressful it is for me to deal with the house because of all the emotions that are wrapped up in it. So I spent my time working on accepting what is- rather than what was- or what should be. I found myself to be much calmer afterward. Looking forward to day 14.