“Feelings are Exhausting”: in Memoriam Eliot Bartlett

These words are from a poem by Eliot Bartlett. I’ve spent the last couple of hours reading the Twitter posts and Tumblr poems of this young man I barely knew off screen. He was the son of a friend from my spiritual community in Philadelphia. I met him when he first came from–I think it was–college in Ohio. He was grieving the suicide of a friend there. He was struggling with addiction, looking for some support, some meaning. It was a Jyotish Roundtable at Yoga on Main led by the late astrologer and teacher Betheyla. I was deeply moved by him, his raw sorrow, his exhaustion.

Over the next couple of years, Eliot was a part of us. He lived with his mom in a beautiful tranquil duplex two doors down from my partner. He worked for a time at the coffee shop on Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr that shares a lobby with the Film Institute. I used to see him outside in the alley smoking. He came to kirtans to chant, to Amma Satsang. He was young and seeking in so many ways. He was using and abstaining. Cutting himself. Dating a girl who also cut herself. He was in Bryn Mawr and then someplace else. He was on the move. He worked for Apple, and he was brilliantly alive online on Twitter and Instagram. This morning, I followed his journey from east to west and saw a bit into his world and world view.

Last Thursday that world view came to an end. I don’t know how it happened. I only saw the picture of Eliot and his mom on a boat and the consoling posts below it that touched my knowing that he was gone. The picture is a beautiful one. A young man and his mother, a wind whipped and gray sky. The life transmission that comes from Eliot’s body in that photo is powerful. I can feel its warm contours, its aliveness.

On learning of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, on February 2 he tweeted “Philip Seymour Hoffman, I never knew you were one of us, and your loss is a painful reminder of the fatal nature of addiction.” On June 23 “18 months sober.” On July 12 he turned 27. Two and a half months later, he was dead.

Recently, someone from the Philly sangha posted on Facebook a long quote from Adyashanti about suffering being optional, “an addiction to the self.” I always feel a bit of a wet blanket when I respond to this sort of “teaching.” That it just simply is not the truth of human life. Suffering is human. You can hair split as far as you want into the Vedas and Buddhism and the neo-Advaita about the difference between pain and suffering, but the bottom line for me is that it’s semantics. We all suffer. I know people who have been awake as consciousness for many years who find living this contemporary human life so painful that they can only take it in very small doses. There’s a reason that sages from the past lived in cells and caves.

My point is that it’s hard enough to be incarnated into this human life with its super-sensitive organism and navigate the self-other field without telling people that their suffering is an addiction and an option. For pity’s sake! What good does that do them? Where’s the compassion in that?

Anyway. Eliot, I’m sorry it was so hard for you. You were beautiful, and I loved you from a distance, in the few small times we met, and hugged and talked. I felt you. I will miss you. May all beings be free from suffering.

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