Thursday, July 19, 2007

to the mountains...

i'm going into the mountains soon, with some very specific goals. i am intimidated by what is coming in a way that i have not felt in some time, and i look forward to that.
i wrote once about fear in such a way that one could say, "yes, i am afraid", and that could be true, or the same person could say, "no, i am not afraid, not really..." and that could be equally true, and that they are only different versions of one's self and one's feelings. neither are lies, and in neither is one necessarily lying to one's self either. they are just different values on a number line that really only expresses itself in a binary form.
today i am not here to write about fear, or even about truth. i'm here to write about Vipassana, why i'm doing it, what i hope to get out of it, how i hope to have it change my way of being.
starting on Sunday i will be in the mountains of Colorado learning the Vipassana meditation technique. for 10 days i will remain silent and hopefully focused on the goals of the technique. i foresee in me some challenges that i would like to address so that i may understand them more clearly.
a friend of mine who has studied the technique to a great extent (two three-month stints) asked me this: "are you very hard on yourself?" i understood her point immediately; that if you are, dealing with the tough moments that come as a result of living solely inside your own head for ten days could be difficult. when your mind steps in and interrupts your attempts at meditation for the hundredth time, will you be frustrated at yourself, or will you kindly, and without judgement, simply ask your mind to exit?
am i hard on myself? in some ways, yes. i pay a lot of attention to what goes on inside my head and heart, and i do judge it; i try to keep myself in check. but at the end of the day i am proud of myself and i do let myself be myself. i let myself make poor decisions for the sake of ego. i let my ego run free sometimes.
and this is what i really want to write about: i want you to know why i am really doing this course.
i am doing it to distance myself from one world and reconnect with another. i have had an incredibly successful time since i left my job in December. grad school interviews went well and, although i was tested, i ended up getting what i wanted. the campaign tested me too. i had to play the role of the assistant, be treated with less than the full respect i prefer, but in the end i was given the opportunity to have control, to be in charge, and i have succeeded in that, and my pride has grown, both in a positive sense and a negative sense.
the campaign world is a world in which the strongest version of oneself must be presented. to show power, control, self-assuredness is to receive respect, to be treated as though you have power, control and self-assuredness. and thus begins the cycle. at first you pretend you know what you're doing, and people respond by assuming that you do; and when you succeed, all of a sudden it is no longer an act, it is only you. the part of you that doubted, that wasnt sure, that maintained humility, has now faded, and only the proudest, strongest version of your self remains. and the world of the campaign rewards this. it rewards the ego. the cycle continues and the ego gains momentum.
the ego will continue gaining momentum until something happens, which it invariably does, that somehow takes a knock at the ego. your hubris gets you into trouble at an event and you get scolded by a superior, you get rejected by a girl, you get turned down at a job application...these things hurt, yes, and they should. but the problem is that they hurt even more because they are chipping away at your ego. they do not hurt so much in themselves, but they hurt because they do no align themselves with the way that you view yourself. there is dissonance between your own self-perception and reality. and once you see a gap there, once you know that your own self-perception is not the exact same as reality, your entire self is called into question.
it is harsh in me because i see it in myself. i see it so much that i even talk about it, write about it, joke about it. my ego, for me, is a separate entity with its own personality, its own tendencies. i am not the only one. it is a problem for people of our culture, a culture that, on the whole, rewards such egos. this is America.
but i have chosen to avoid this. i am no ascetic, i have not rejected the material world for a life of the cloth. but i am not going to business school, law school, or vying for a job in the White House either. i am choosing to work in a world that focuses on other things, things that, in reality, may actually make me more of an egoist at the end of the day, but in a different way from the K Street/Capitol Hill egoists, and i am proud of that.
but this is a balancing act for all of us. and in this balancing act for me there must be this choice, this space for me to back away from everything i've done for the past 9 months and recognize which parts of it are for me to take with me and which parts are for me to leave behind, to have as a part of the past, of memory. i am proud of things i've done and i am ashamed of things i've done. i have made decisions based not on true feelings, on the seeking of truth, but for self-aggrandizement. and the inverse reaction of this is that when nature's path leads to the natural chain of events, the events that do not align themselves with one's self-aggrandizement, it feels like an attack at the ego, which it is only because the ego is not trying to follow the natural path, but instead is trying to find the quickest route to the highest point, to look over the sea of people below and be looked at by them, be seen high above, arms raised in a V.
i can apologize for this but it wont mean shit. i'm not even sure what specifically i would be sorry about...speaking mostly in allegorical terms at this point.

i know that there are answers, and i also know that, at the end of the day, i will find those answers. i know that they involve adjustment and alignment. the ego adjusts to counteract the feelings of shame associated with self-aggrandizement, and as a result it can align itself more smoothly with reality. and this is all a process. i will have to do it all over again many times over the course of my life, sometimes in more life-shifting ways than others. in little ways i do it everyday. now that i feel more done with the campaign, i suppose i can start shifting the pendulum back this way, towards the mountains, with Vipassana as its guide.
it will be a shock to the system, though. living in comfort these past several months has altered me. in a classy hotel room with a comfortable bed high above downtown Oakland, views of San Francisco across the bay, i bitched about slow internet. i was rude to the hotel staff and was frustrated when it didnt work smoothly on the first try. in New Orleans i struggled to adapt to my sister's air conditioning-less flat. rental cars and hotel rooms, airports and my parents' house. the comforts have become the norm and, at times, i have become to accostumed to them. it is time to reconnect with the other side. i haven't slept in a tent in over a year. i have lost touch with that side of me. this is what i have lost by not choosing to travel abroad. i have no regrets, but i am sorry.


Blogger Zack said...

Where is the retreat? Good luck!

9:14 AM  
Blogger Gili said...

Thanks for sharing with such candor and openness. You speak a lot about ego but I am not sure what you mean by ego. One thing is for sure, that if you wish to align or alter your ego not accepting your ego will make it very difficult. This ego that you reject for yourself and for America has served you well especially as a campaigner.

If you see ego as bad and a source of suffering then it makes sense to reject it, but at the same time you are your ego and I do not believe that you need to fight it. You can use your knowledge of the ego for your own benefit. Knowing how it works and how it operates helps you take advantage of your ego's purpose on this life which will give you greater happiness and fulfillment both as a traveler, campaigner or psychologist.

Finally, I think your friend made a good comment that you should be friendly and gentle with yourself. This is especially true when dealing with your self-aggrandizement.

11:20 AM  

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