By John Lee Pendall
“Think!” I said to myself as water spread across the counter and dripped onto the floor.
I’d accidentally overfilled the tea maker. I instinctively moved it to the sink, but then I froze. My brain rushed to stop its former mental processes, gather new information, and then choose the best course of action. That’s what all of our brains do. Mine had gotten stuck in the gathering phase. For a few seconds, I stood there staring at the counter, not knowing what to do next.
“Think!” Frustration rose like a sudden gust of wind. I rapidly slapped myself on the top of my head while saying, “Think, think, think, think!” in time with the blows, alternating my hands. After the last one, I was clear—clearer than I’d been for hours, all traces of frustration and overload were gone. I grabbed some towels and calmly wiped up the water. Then I cleaned up the tea maker, emptied it, and tried again. It went well that time.
My brain is broken.
Between the mood swings, fixations and daydreams, I still somehow manage to live some kind of life. My eyes are broken too, I was born mostly blind. There are a lot of ordinary things people do that I’ve never done or that I do poorly. It doesn’t get easier as I get older and more independent. If anything, I just get more and more confused.
I long for love many times throughout the day. For someone to take care of me and someone for me to take care of. I often feel like a failure, and too unstable to have the confidence for romance or a job that goes beyond stocking shelves on the night shift.
I’ve been at war with myself since I can remember.
It often feels like I’m trapped in my body, like I’m a radio signal struggling to get through. Sometimes only static comes out. Sometimes there’s nothing but dead air, but I’m still here and I’m aware of what’s happening.
Even the little things can be like that. I might feel intense gratitude and love within, but the best I can muster outside is a flat, “Thank you,” and a fleeting hug. The whole time I’m thinking, “This isn’t me, I’m not like this. I’m warm and kind, and I want to show it but the message just doesn’t get through.”
One of the main inquiries in modern Chan Buddhism is, “Who am I?”
We’re supposed to ask ourselves that over and over with feeling. It’s kind of silly, really. It’s supposed to topple our self-views and show us the truth, but my self-views have been wobbly for years as it is. During those delicate moments of evenness, I know who I am, but they’re so fleeting. So, there really isn’t anyone there for inquiry to topple.
All I can really say for myself is, “I’m here, and I hurt and I love, and I just wish that someone could see me.” So I work at it, I work at breaking through. It really does feel like things are coming to some sort of close for me, for this part of my life, like it’s make it or break it time. My walls are coming down, and I’m taking positive steps toward my overall health.
If you’re moody, like me, it can help to set your goals and views when you’re feeling good. You decide, “This is what I want, this is what I believe, and this is what I’m going to do, no matter what.” Then, when your mood plummets, you disregard all the down-in-the-dumps views and desires that come rushing at you and stick with what Happy You decided.
I mean, if we look at our moods as different versions of ourselves, who are we going to go to for advice—the happy person or the miserable one? If I trust the miserable one, then I’m probably just gonna wind up with more misery. So, I trust Happy John; he knows best. I believe in love, even when I’m numb or full of anger. I believe in peace, even when I’m stormy. I cherish people and enjoy interacting with them, even when I feel like everyone’s stupid.
Buddha practice requires this kind of dedication when we’re unstable, and it requires remembering that what we’re thinking and feeling is going to pass.
It’s not always going to work. I’m still going to have moments when I experience overload and have to smack myself out of it or ask someone to help me. You can’t cure autism, and you can’t change where you are on the Spectrum. No amount of meditation or study has taken one bite out of my tendency to fixate and fall apart, and it won’t. It’s unhealthy for me to think that it will. It’s just made me more aware of my tendencies.
What does help is being in a good mood, which happens when I let my guard down and speak and act spontaneously.
I have a really hard time shopping alone; I get overwhelmed. I was in a good mood the other day, feeling like myself, and it was fun. I relished being able to be openly eccentric. “Greetings fellow human!” I said to the cashier. She looked at me strangely, no smile glancing across her face. Instead of feeling like I was struck by a stone, I felt amused, and a little sad for her.
When our walls are down we can see the ones others have up. When our walls up, we don’t see others at all, we just see the ideas we have about people.
For me, modern Buddha practice is all about tearing down those walls and living authentically. That’s probably not what Siddhartha had in mind when he was under the Bodhi Tree, but that’s alright, he wasn’t a god.
In all honesty, I’d rather be real than enlightened. They might be the same thing, they might not. The only thing I know is that living truthfully is the only way for me to reach you and serve you. If I’ve got walls up, then there’s no way I can even begin to pass anything over to you. And the truth is that we have such a short time with each other.
Chasing permanence seems just as wasteful as chasing nirvana. The best I can do is be myself and encourage you to do the same.
Editor: Dana Gornall