So, I quit smoking five weeks ago.
I’ll just let that sink in. Yes, the yoga teacher smoked. I could give you all the mitigating factors I always gave myself… I only smoked on duty as a Paramedic, in uniform, in the middle of the night… but it doesn’t matter. The yoga teacher smoked. Everyone gasp in unison.
I gave it up when I gave up believing that my suffering was necessary. I knew for at least a year before I quit that the reason I smoked was to keep from crying. It was also an effective way to stay awake, but I knew the deep down reason was so that I wouldn’t cry. It is impossible for me to smoke and cry simultaneously. Perhaps it’s a chemical, maybe it’s the inhalation pattern, or maybe it’s some meaning thing I played …. tough girls smoke but don’t cry …. but it’s how it works for me.
And one day I decided it was too high a price. I’d rather cry. Yes, on duty, in uniform, I cry. Didn’t used to, saved it up for when I got off duty, after the uniform was in a pile on the floor.
And then today I was bubbling in a hot tub at 10,000 Waves in Santa Fe, overcome by beauty, love and fortune, and felt a deep seated sense of suffering just rise up out of me and dissolve in the mist and mountain air. I had a pang of ownership, of needing, of wanting to feel like I had done something worthy of this dissolution, like I had purified and purged myself in some deserving manner. Suffered enough.
And in the mist and beauty it came to me: who says it’s your suffering? What made you think God wanted to you bear it? or purge it? or purify it? or own it in any way?
And I knew why I thought so: because, I thought, my suffering makes me who I am. I created it or it is my legacy from things done to me, a badge, a mark, a stigmata of individuality.
I must bear the mark until I thouroughly purge the cause, whether I committed it or had it committed upon me, this was my way of making meaning, making sense of the pain and incongruities of my life.
But, what if we are not atomic selves, individuals cast adrift in a sea of randomness in search of meaning? What if we are each unique expressions of consciousness, but consciousness is itself a relational factor? What if we are God’s way of experiencing itself, deeply inter-related? What if God knew – knows – that limited consciousnesses aren’t equipped to bear all the pain of knowing? What if God never expected we would try to bear it, try to act is if our integrity & sovreignty as human beings depended upon this suffering born of limitations and bodies and what we do to one another? What if this is the remnant of an adolescent revolt against the connections of childhood, connections we must find a way to contain within the more expansive scope of an adult life?
And I felt a deep sense of Joy and connectedness at giving up what once seemed to define me. What once seemed so selfish to let go of now seemed selfish to retain. Armor I no longer need against threats that long ago ceased to threaten. Selfish conceit, this attachment to old suffering.
And vulnerable freedom this acceptance of connection, rendering of responsibility for something I couldn’t possibly contain, accepting limitation, but also the limitation of what harms. If both capacities for joy and pain are limited, perhaps we are free to feel each in turn, only when they are necessary and to let them go when the moments have passed. Perhaps I can be free to meet the moments without injunctions of feeling or attachments to old meanings and selves. It doesn’t leave much of a self, but perhaps it leaves enough. Enough to love.