Armed and Suffering

It’s 9:00 on a Tuesday morning, October 6.  I’m sitting by a window where the sun, recently risen above the hills, shines golden and warming, glinting off the black roof of my car.  Blaine Harden’s book, A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia, sits on my lap.  It’s quiet.  My partner is in the kitchen making cereal.

I clicked onto Facebook to check for a message from a friend, and what I found was a post from a former colleague at the Community College of Philadelphia: “Gunman in my building at CCP. Class is on lockdown mode.  Not getting work done. SWAT just went by.”  That was an hour ago. The gunman’s been caught.  Class extended an hour.  Students want to get to their jobs and so on.

I’m trying to wrap my head around the whole scenario.  The apparent normalcy of the situation.  Yes, the college clearly handled it well, but I must be missing some essential starch in my Being.  I can’t imagine being on lockdown with an armed person roaming the halls and then getting back to the business of teaching composition.  

The shooting last week in Oregon brought this phenomenon closer to home, home being rural north central Washington with its small regional school and where guns are a common element in many homes.

I haven’t the space, time, energy or wisdom to draw any conclusions about the frequency with which we are under armed attack by our neighbors.  There seems to be an epidemic of misery and misplaced aggression that can only be released through mass killings.  I’m remembering a Chris Rock riff on gun violence in which he suggested pricing bullets out of affordability.  “You better watch out, because I’m saving my money to buy some bullets, then I’m coming after you.”

Annually, according to the CDC nearly 25,000 people die from prescription painkiller overdoses.  We are clearly a nation of suffering. Maybe someday someone will successfully run for the presidency on a platform of human wellbeing. Maybe then we will lay down our arms, breathe freely, walk in safety in our homes, streets and schools.  

Until then, be as safe as you can.

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Hell Realms of Mind

I myself am hell–no one’s here says Robert Lowell’s narrator in his poem “Skunk Hour.”  It’s loosely cribbed from Milton’s Paradise Lost,  the great realization of the fallen angel, Lucifer: Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell.”

These words have held deep resonance for me for many decades, since I wrote as an undergraduate about Milton’s Satan as a Romantic hero, since encountering Lowell’s homage cum apology to Elizabeth Bishop and her (superior) poem “The Armadillo.”  

But the merely literary hence intellectual resonance has suddenly found traction in my body.  In myself as that which is.

I realized recently, on a day when I was once again trapped in a hell of my own making, unable to end it or free myself, the absolute tenacity with which my mind will WORK to lay blame on outside sources and experiences for my feelings.  My bad feelings.

In the parlance of psychology this is called projection.  It appears to me to be a fairly common human endeavor.  To blame our parents, partners, bosses, children, and various public functionaries for our anger, hurt and suffering.

It was quite bracing to realize in the throes of my particular misery as I wallowed in it with profound awareness of it that my mind was making every effort to lay blame outside of myself.  And at the same time, these words “I myself am Hell.”  The truth of that.

Whichever way I fly is Hell if I myself am Hell.  

Or: everything is arising in consciousness.  My pain is mine.  It is arising from my own conditioning.  It can be triggered by others (in as much as there ARE others) because they mirror us to ourselves. Relating is a reflection.  Sometimes what is reflected is our best and highest self and sometimes it’s our deepest, most burdensome and unseen wounds.

To see them as they arise is liberation.  To know them as yourself without seeking an outside source is to begin to integrate them and bring yourself closer to wholeness.