Hope of Letting Go
3rd Day on Retreat
(This note was written shortly after learning my home was to be torn down, devastating information when added to the enormous waitlists and largely poor quality of subsidized housing in Vancouver today. I was shocked to be losing the friends and community I have cultivated, in addition to losing, if I end up in miniscule housing or on the street, everything I have slowly acquired to turn my single room into a place of welcome and comfort. But I was on retreat. I had a chance and support to look at things in a different way.)
I have been calm. I have meditated, prostrated, chanted, and prayed on a nearby forested hill. I have reviewed my Brigit poems and found wisdom in some (and lousy writing in some others). I have received listening and a reminder of non-attachment and the need for an energetic and clear-thinking ally to help me find housing. I have taken a risk and opened up in prayer circle and when all left I have sobbed until I could chant and then chanted until I could carry on and then walked out. I have fallen asleep fifty times but not allowed myself to nap.
Today I have slept anxiously, woken at 6:30 with the start of a cold, and forced myself to stay in bed and rest. I have risen deflated and anxious, looking for the friends I made here, not finding them, recollecting the countless times I had entered into a three-way friendship only to become the one and they the two. I have reminded myself of the old hurts that make that seem unfortunate. Reminded myself that I have chosen a deep, reflective retreat. They have chosen a restful, playful, adventurous one. No surprise I am left behind. Nor would I have wanted to go. How many opportunities do I have for real contemplation?
More important is how I meet this housing—catastrophe, it feels like, but I am reminded of the true devastation people face in the Sudan, Nigeria, Aleppo, and I know that this is merely frightening for me. No one is dropping bombs on my home. No one is torturing me. I do not have to flee with only my life.
My zen books and the dharma talks remind me of the comfort of my ancestors, the link to them when I walk mindfully for my father, for my mother, even if they never had the opportunity in their own lives to take a mindful step. The dharma speaks of suffering, how it arises from the desire to be an individual, and that we have choices (as I knew yesterday but was forgetting today) in how we face it and how we remove those obstacles of craving. (Not easily done, but worth a shot.)
I spent an hour in meditation on that very idea yesterday—each piece of furniture I feel I can’t happily relinquish—the hutch my mum and I refinished, the wardrobe I bought with Eileen, the bed I was given at eighteen by one of the few people who were really thinking about me then. I put my thoughts on each piece of furniture and what it means for me, what memories, what love it attaches to, what age-old hope for calm and security. And saying to it, yes, I can live without you. I am grateful to you, but I can say goodbye.
It loosened the ties but didn’t break them. It gave me some breathing room.
I had a thought a few minutes ago, in the midst of depression at losing my precious, stable, beautiful, peaceful home—thirty years it took to create this!—and after reading once again, “craving to be an individual” and “how we face our suffering”. The thought was: maybe this is the best time in my life for me to move. Sooner, and I would have been paralyzed with grief and fear. Much later and I would be too old to take as much advantage of it. If I am going to face my fear of such drastic liberation, perhaps the perfect time is now.
This of course does not end my suffering around it, or secure me good housing, or guarantee anything. But that luscious, tempting fruit: the chance to slice away the fear that makes me cling so hard to my securities and comforts, the craving to be this particular person who I see and story-tell in this particular way, that is a tantalizing one. Normally, it is not tantalizing enough to cut the strings. But now, when I have no choice, if I am not too quickly saved, if I must lose all? Then maybe. Maybe there is hope of letting go.