My friend Viv, who is a swan among us, serene as a ballerina on top, and paddling furiously underneath, tells me that Covid is the thief of happiness. I thought about this a lot, as I wondered around the pond staring at the heron in the tree, trying to remember to breathe through my feet and rest in awareness; things I do when I'm trying to be happy. Here's the truth: I'm really struggling. And not in a normal, oh fuck, I'm having a horrible day way, just that there are so many things that feel discordant and out of alignment.
It struck on Good Friday, a disproportionately sunny day, the end of which we spent in Winchester, first at a Ravilious exhibit and then at the Cathedral, for a female choral Pergolesi Stabbat Mater. It's the kind of divine music that makes a believer out of you, swoony, tearful, feel it in your heart stuff. We wandered out afterwards and there were young people lying on the grass, pink sun-burned faces, small children on bicycles, old couples hand in hand, arms without sleeves, giddy dogs. And then at home, the sun pouring into the kitchen, great shafts of baked orange light, the kind that makes you look up from the sink and give praise, even mutedly. You see, the thing I've found about England is that after the winter, the cold, the pandemic, the horror of the war, the pessimism of the BBC news, the misunderstandings and awfulness and jarring discombobulation, all we need is a sunny Good Friday, a cup of tea and a hot crossed bun, and all is well. All is reset.
But my dog is dying. I know that she is dying because every single bone in her body is prominent but her gut is the size of a large water balloon. People with dogs will understand this. For me, she isn't a bony gargoyle with bad teeth and an attitude, she is an irridescent angel of light who has gotten me through the biggest move of my life, warming my ankles at the same time, even on the coldest of nights. We have been through months of yellow puddles of Bisto, epic flatulence, mistakes and accidents and misdiagnoses, bad vets and good vets, and the lovely nurses in between. A dead chicken lies in her wake. And now here we are with a pretty strong belief that it's stomach cancer. I am okay with it. I couldn't think about it before, but now I can, and that's how brilliant the mind is, isn't it? Easing you in to uncomfortable situations gently, grooming you for the worst. I'm ready for it. But, oh God, I don't want her to suffer. I know it hurts even when I pick her up. She needs a sheepskin bodysuit to protect her.
So I poll my two best friends. I say, as one does, "Did you feel psychotic when you had Covid." And "Was your mental health affected when you had Covid?" and both of them said "No." Very Quickly. But they would, wouldn't they? Isn't that what people do, especially here? People want to keep a lid on it. I wish I wanted to keep a lid on it.
Dog is at the vet and C reports that she's getting steroids to try to get rid of the fluid that is filling her stomach and preventing the protein from working its magic. Steroids are what I was given with my auto immune disease. They feel magical and final somehow.
I told another friend that I wanted to get away to somewhere warm, somewhere with a warm sea, and she told me that it was just as easy to feel good here, by focusing on nature in one's own garden. Believe me, this is usually what I do. I wake up. I walk outside. I get pulled in by the birds and the sounds of the tree in the breeze, and everything changes.
My dressage and non-duality friend (ha ha) is a fan of Duncan Trussell, and because of this I've become a fan. You may want to check out this conversation between him and his dying mother. It's beautiful. But one thing that gave me enormous strength this morning was in this conversation between Duncan, Sharon Salzberg and Ragu, where he says something like, "I'm always struggling with depression." I feel a need to come out and say that same thing: I am always trying to find ways to keep my depression at bay. I have been off my meds (all meds) since July, I have a robust meditation practise, I am an ardent fan of spiritual podcasts and listen to them every day. And I have downloaded books by monks and scholars and the enlightened in order to further understand this thing Prince calls life.
But still, every morning, I must decide to wake up and choose happiness. I do not take it for granted.
Let's be honest, Covid has fucked with that. (Viv says "honust" instead of "honist" which is so elegant an old-fashioned and well-bred. Every time I speak to her I try to remind myself to do the same; it's so much more pretty.)
And another thing: I love wine. I love the taste of it. I love the gently woozy, happy way it makes you feel after one glass. I love the color of rosé, the gentle pink of it, the way it makes you think of summer and people you adore, of cherry blossom and blowsy peonies, of picnics by the sea. But wine is not my friend. It is one hundred percent connected the way my synapses snap; and my dopamine levels, after a life of drinking, of coming from a drinking culture, of being part a society where drinking is as natural as smiling, need refreshment. So I don't drink. I don't drink until I feel smug enough about not drinking to have a glass of wine to celebrate. And so it goes. And so it goes. And I know why I drink. I drink because it makes me not feel everything. When I don't drink I feel every single thing, every vibe, every issue, every sting of pain, every old trauma. It's what our parents and our grandparents did because they didn't understand coping methods, nor, generally, boundaries.
Feel it to heal it, right?
So, healing. This, right here, this is what I'd like to figure out.
Not just for me, by the way. I'm hoping that whatever I discover will help everyone.
Here are two book recommendations. The first one comes from a taxi driver I had in London on Thursday, who asked me if I meditated. He knew, of course. He used to be a monk and this is his teacher.
He's a party guy who joined a buddhist monastery where they meditate 12-14 hours a day alone...but he offers such invaluable tips as "don't reach for your phone the moment you wake up" and other things we need to be reminded of. Huge sense of humor and brings real world knowledge to his spirituality. Lovely.
This recommendation comes from my friend (who I've never met, ever!) Rick Archer at BATGAP. A former TM teacher who lives in Venice, CA teaches something called natural meditation (rest in awareness) similar to Gelong Thubten (above). Sound, uncomplicated, effortless. I love him.