Come As You Are
Come as you are, as you were
As I want you to be
As a friend, as a friend
As an known enemy
Take your time, hurry up
The choice is yours, don’t be late
Kurt Cobain – Come As You Are
I’m writing this somberly watching the rain fall outside of my midtown apartment. The rain is pooling in my backyard and every drop creates a ripple effect against every other ripple. Coincidentally, it perfectly expresses my current state of being. The universe isn’t without a dark sense of humor, and I can appreciate that.
I’m making no attempt to push this melancholy emotion away, nor am I attaching myself to it for any type of self-deprecating coping. I’m down, so I’m allowing myself to be down, that’s all. Wanting it to pass quickly, push it away, or pull it in and make a home inside of it would all serve as detriments.
Last night I expressed a lot of anger outwardly, publicly. It’s never proper to do so unskillfully; ie, in a way that isn’t both true and useful. Anger expressed to cause harm or elicit a reaction goes against not only my buddhist beliefs, but my personal beliefs as well. I let my feelings of insignificance and anger boil over, and tried to stop the emotions by putting a lid on the pot while turning the heat up. Obviously, that didn’t work.
Afterwards, I texted a friend and said that I felt guilty for doing and feeling those things — that I wasn’t “practicing what I preach.” That of itself made me even more irritated. There’s a standard I’m supposed to live up to, an image to project, a manifestation of Buddha themself — right? I’m not supposed to get angry to the point where I’m reactive — right?
After a couple of steaming hours without relief, I did the only thing I could think to do: turn off all my devices, grab my cushion, and meditate. I didn’t give a shit about a timer, the neighbors stomping, or the impending severe weather. All I could do was sit and stare at my wall in zazen.
So I sat, with raw human emotions of anger, betrayal, insignificance, depression — anything that decided to rise and fall, burn and cool, stir and settle, I sat. I made no attempts to fight them, but after who knows how long I no longer attached myself to them via stories, either. The longer I sat at peace with these experiences, the more I felt like I was coming to my senses. I stopped telling myself “I am angry. I am insignificant. I am useless.” And instead, it became an awareness. “This feels like anger. This feels like insignificance. This feels like vulnerability and a want for attention.”
And in typical Buddhist fashion, there was the “a-ha” moment: There’s no escape from unsatisfactory conditions in life. We are perpetually subject to dissatisfaction at almost every turn. Even when we’re experiencing something “good,” we tend to attach ourselves to it. We want it to last forever — and when it doesn’t, as all things pass, we suffer. Believe it or not, this is a good thing: Because satisfied people don’t develop wisdom.
Satisfied people don’t develop wisdom. It was that realization that finally settled me and got me off the cushion. I have been trying for years to be someone I’m not: this perfect Buddhist who shuts down emotional reactions because I’m supposed to be above trivial responses like that. The fact is, I’ve had it all wrong.
The Buddha didn’t stop experiencing life and emotions after he became enlightened, instead, he didn’t attach himself to them. In between an emotion/feeling arising and a common reaction/attachment, there exists space. Within that space is an opportunity for mindful awareness and a chance to treat your experiences with compassion and understanding — while not being attached or led by them.
I’ve been reflecting most of the night and this morning about what type of person and Buddhist I am. I’m drawn to extremes. Substance abuse, heavy metal and gangster rap, anger, depression and anxiety, BDSM on one hand — and the other holds compassion, giving, Buddhism, tolerance, calmness, and wisdom brought upon by a lifetime of dealing with some form of suffering/condition.
It isn’t until now that I realized that my hands aren’t separate from another. They’re together in gassho, resting upon another during zazen, hugging a loved one, and taking care of myself. I’m crippled if I try to only use one hand. I took a vow to do no harm to any living being, yet, I’ve been doing myself harm by trying to “cut out” half of my experiences as a human instead of sitting with them compassionately.
We have to give ourselves permission to be who we are, not who we think we’re supposed to be based on what society, religious leaders, or family/friends tells us to be.
The hard part is recognizing and acknowledging the truth about ourselves — while not giving in to the cravings and desires we naturally have that create more suffering. For example, I’m naturally predisposed to abuse alcohol, I accept that. I recognize my alcoholic cravings and let them pass compassionately every single day as a sober person — and every other one of the pieces of myself need to be treated in the same manner.
So where do I go from here? That I’m not sure about. Part of my gift has been being able to communicate with those in need from certain walks of life: poor, disenfranchised, depressed, ill, rebellious, angry. And it’s because I’ve been all of those things (and still am) that I’m able to do so. What I am sure about, is that I refuse to try and push down parts of myself that are always going to be there. Instead, it’s time I made friends with them, and learn how to experience and appreciate them while not becoming attached.
In the end, maybe the world doesn’t need another Happy Buddhist scholar from me. Maybe I’d be best for the world served the way I am: sarcastic, profane, damaged, with a heart of gold and an understanding that comes by walking through Hell next to everyone else — not tucked away in books or meditating in the mountains.
Only time will tell.