It’s 2:30 in the morning Los Angeles time, 5:30 AM Indiana time. I am at the Indianapolis airport with some time before my generous and early-rising friend arrives to pick me up. I am sitting at an empty gate, with my stolen airline blanket, contemplating my recent behavior.
Traveling is always anxious-making for me. I’m not scared of flying, but I am scared of packing. I have recurring nightmares where I’m running late, packing at the last moment, searching for lost items. In my nightmares, time is running out and I can’t find something, I keep changing my clothes at last minute, what I have on or have packed seems totally unacceptable, and I can’t keep myself from trying to alter it, despite the fact that those actions are self-sabotaging, and I’m making myself late and other people are waiting for me. I can’t control myself.
Life imitates nightmares. I tried to prevent it, even wrote on my calendar for Thursday night “pack for trip,” to save myself a Friday panic. But my plans were derailed as soon as I decided to pack electronics first. I had promised my mother I’d bring my digital camera, tohelp her take pictures and put some items on Craig’s list. I’d felt like the helpful, responsible got-it-together daughter. I envisioned snapping pictures with my shiny camera. I was such a good person.
Until I couldn’t find the camera charger. I checked every outlet in the house, every shelf, and un-used purse. I hoped it might be at my sister’s, I hoped it might magically be at my internship on Friday. I searched some more. By Friday evening I knew I needed to cut my losses and pack my things, but I waited too long. My packing was haphazard. Paul had to witness my obsession and my shame spiral, and still get me to the plane on time. It was too late to buy a replacement charger. I borrowed a camera from a friend–but instead of being comforted by this, picking it up on the way to the airport brought an irrational lump of anxiety to my chest. Then, arriving at the airport I realized, with a sinking sensation—I had left my sunglasses behind. I have light eyes, and am rather blind as a bat in the sun without a really good pair of sunglasses.
Surveying my domino-fall of bad decisions, and I felt a terrible sense of loss, regret, self-loathing, I felt keenly the cost of replacing lost items, then my lack of money, then my late stage in life for lacking money. Soon I was contemplating my grey hairs, and dissipating youth, my mother’s questionable health, my inability to provide for her as I’d like to do. In the car I was fighting back tears as Paul looked at me and wondered why I was being so crazy.
And as I sat in the waiting area for my flight, I too, thought, “Why am I being so crazy?”
I do not have big problems. Not even a busted hard-drive, or no money, certainly not a grave illness. I have a camera to use. I have a credit card, if I have to get new glasses, it’s not the end of the world. I could, if I had to, even squint for ten days.
My real problem is that, for this moment in time, I have lost my equanimity, my flexibility, my ability to emotionally roll with the punches.
And that, in fact, is probably because my life is going too well.
By this I mean that, despite my practical worries, I am doing things each day that engage me—working full days at my internships, seeing friends and shows and networking in the evenings. The drama of my own life is fun to get wrapped up in, I get swept away by the momentum and let my mind revel in visions of future outcomes—be these bad or good. At night I fall to the pillow, exhausted, and sleep almost immediately.
In other words, I’m not taking the time and space to step away from own drama. Simply, I’m not meditating. I’m not doing the thing that gives me perspective and distance. And with no distance, I fall into bad habits. I eat sugary foods that add to my emotional instability, I push away my emotional and spiritual work, saying I don’t have time, I rush around, I fall apart in little ways.
When I was ill, I had very little sense of the future. Because there was pain in the present, and so much uncertainty, I wasn’t so engaged with the future, and this made it easier to devote time to meditation. Not thinking was a pleasurable relief.
Not thinking is always a relief. I know it in when I reach that state, but it’s harder work to get there. It’s more difficult to convince my mind that this is what it wants and needs. Thinking seems like the more immediate pleasure, it seems like the soft sofa compared to the boring treadmill of working not to think. But in metaphors, and in reality, the treadmill pays off. So. meditation. I must return to it. Or I will make myself crazy.