Sunday, August 23, 2020

Perfection of Melancholy

 After teaching an on-line retreat last weekend for Irish mindfulness trainees and teachers, I was inspired to go back to a book I bought, on the recommendation of Irish friends, the last time I was in Dublin.  Who knows how long it will be, if ever, that I walk down those beautiful, green-lined, busy streets?  

The book, "Are You Somebody?" is a memoir by the late Irish journalist Nuala O'Faolain, a wild and daring writer about Irish culture, feminism, and the movement in Ireland from narrow poverty to cultural openness that she witnessed during her lifetime.  

She writes about a breakdown she had just before turning 40, after the deaths of both her parents and before she became sober.  (She, like her parents, and most of her friends and partners, was an alcoholic.)

Here is her recollection of those last days before sobriety, which echo the feeling many of us have had during these oppressive days of life during the pandemics, now 5 months in.  

"An aspect of being vulnerable is that you are very open.  I used to lie on the bed and look at the sky as it very, very slowly got dark on summer evenings.  There was a kind of perfection of melancholy.  On Sunday mornings, or on Bank Holiday weekends, I had absolutely nothing to do but feel the quiet.  In a way, I was with my self very fully.  Afterwards, I used to miss the feeling of being held within pure, empty space."

Maybe you have found that the enforced solitude has been a strange kind of gift, helping you find your way to something beyond the identity with a self that is active and productive and ignorant of suffering.  This is the formula for Zen practice, too.  Sit still, feel everything, as far as you can bear it, and see what happens.  Perhaps you, too, will feel held within the pure, empty space of this wondrous life.

1 comment:

  1. I will be having my 79th birthday in early October.
    I look in the mirror and I see that old guy that I saw in my youth, sitting on a bench soaking up the sun. I see that old woman who forgot that she already bought THAT item and now has two of them in her pantry.

    Is that me?

    I don’t recognize that person that I see.
    I am finding that I relish this solitude, it is a coming together and a falling apart, all at the same time.

    It’s not, “fun”, nor is it, “enlightening”. It is just there to be into at any given time. This includes the grief of the loss of my wife of 32 years, it includes the diamonds and gem stones that appear on the branch of the bushes and trees after a rain in the sun, the loud calls of the Sandhill Cranes flying out to their meeting places in the morning to catch a bite to eat and to get into the latest gossip in Crane World.

    - David -