Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Distinct Pulling, East to West

First let me say: all praise due Facebook! Facebook has given me cherished souls that were long lost to me. Facebook has uncovered personalities previously missed. It has hooked my heart and at least one quarter of my productive time at work. Praise be.

Okay, next, due to the amazing powers of Facebook, I have reconnected with the complex and dangerous minds that probably saved me during high school. And here's a link one of them gave me:

I've heard from other friends too, about this Eastern concept of expecting less, or having no expectations. They're not entirely the same topic... the link talks about not giving in to the desire to "be somebody", as in the guise of wanting to become famous, I suppose. Although I suspect that if you expect less, you won't become famous.

I wonder if the Eastern flavor of lesser expectations and unplugging wants is the 21st Century way of alieviating our psychic stress. In the Middle Ages the people were promised a glorious afterlife, and that seemed to do the trick, right? The concept has lasted us until today, where some still cling to it. Maybe the Thinking Man's Heaven is a dismembered spirit, where one's inherent instincts are denied. If you're a monk you might even practice with things like hunger, pain, cold or needing to pee. But what we really want is relief from our complex instincts: our need to achieve, to feel like we contribute, to feel real (whatever that means to us).

No, I disagree with the Eastern perspective. I understand it provides relief... even if we can't unplug our desires, we can at least point to them and say THAT'S the problem and focus on that. Problem is, those feelings, those desires, those emotions are still part of us. Denying them, suppressing them is just temporary, for they will surely grow back like weeds. Maybe, like unwanted hair removed by waxing, if we just keep after it, they'll grow back less and less, thinner and thinner, until we just don't notice them at all.

And then?

Would we be a nice, compliant, vegetable of a person? Would we be devoid of passion? Is life without passion life at all?

I know I'm something of a hedonist, but I can't imagine it. Even though I seriously torture myself by giving my heart away or pining for what could never be, I would rather -- G-d help me -- I would rather weep and pine than know that my heart is so hard that it can't feel at all.

The Rabbis say that within each of us is both the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, and the inclination to be good, yetzer hatov. Both exist within us, regardless of wisdom or age. The ability to master them, however, is the variable. Still yetzer hara provides us with the motivation to DO things: build a house, achieve in business, etc. Yetzer hara is the inclincation for competition, and it spurs us on. It is not entirely evil, it is just ... self-centered.(Genesis Rabbah 9:7) Rabbi Joseph Telushkin even says, in Jewish Literacy: "A rich person, for example, might have an overwhelming desire to be famous. Let him fulfill that potentially ignoble desire through tzedaka (charity); that way his name will be known because it is engraved on the wing of a hospital, or a college library, or a Jewish day school. These sorts of activities would clearly fulfill another rabbinic teaching, that people should worship God with both their yetzer ha-tov and yetzer ha-ra." The Reform Jewish (and other Jewish strains too, I reckon) belief is that we do have free will. And with that free will, we can choose how to deal with our desires.

Much like I don't believe taking sex out of one's life has made Catholic priests any more G-dlike, I don't believe taking our emotions, wants or needs out of our everyday life will bring us any more happiness. It's just avoiding the issue that we must choose. We must wrestle with ourselves.

The technique could be used as an analgesic, I'm sure. And to be sure, I'm using it now to stave off the PMS-blamed rollercoaster I just got on. You know, I've been sick for days. It makes me cranky and I've started yelling at motorists more. I yell and then I think, shit Shel, you just don't feel good. Take it easy. I can spend three-quarters of a lovely Sunday farting around the house, taking pictures of pancakes and videos of myself acting the fool. But one quarter could still be spent in internal wailing: why not me? why alone? why now? why this?

Peering through welling eyes, the screen going diagonal through the teary prism, I take a deep breath and try to unplug my feelings. They'll come back. But until they come back a little happier, I'm going to breathe, and wish them away. I'll wish my brain into interest about something else. Dive into Hebrew. Hide my head in dry governmental documentation. Go through the motions. Am I living? Am I breathing? Am I feeling?

Sort of. Yes. Soon.

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