A difficult night last night. Three a.m. text messages are never good news. Even when the news is edged with hope: a turn for the better, an “it could be much worse”.

It’s not the knowing that all things are impermanent that is comfort, it’s the acceptance of this. And I am forced to redefine the concept of “comfort” in my mind.

Again I read in a news article that it is foolish to say we live in uncertain times when the future is always, and has always been, uncertain. It’s a matter of how aware we are of that fact.

An alarm pulling us from sleep, even to offer hope, exposes our most vulnerable nerves. These truths that fade in sleep. Or in dreams, are popped into relief as a kind of rehearsal for the inevitable. Waking is a reprieve sometimes. Awake, asleep – both are ambivalent states of being. There is nowhere to escape from ourselves.

Is there comfort?

Soothing is not healing. But doesn’t try to be. What if the largest part of our job is a kind of palliative care? What if all that there is, is the soothing of ruffled feathers? A warm hand on a cheek? An intention to reassure one another: you are not alone.

Breathe, and be here with me. Even over a telephone connection. Like a dream. Listen to the wind against the window. Be here with the wind.

Reaction is not action.

In the theater, an actor’s every, individual action is supposed to be an assertion of the character’s will. Actors strive to inhabit the character’s lack of self-awareness. Acting is the inverse process of living Socrates’s examined life. Don’t act: react.

Art is, by most definitions, artifice. It has the intention of recreating life. But for what purpose? Many diverse cultures have had a tradition of hiring mourners for funerals. Actors, reacting in an act of compassion. We cannot bring back the dead, but we can care for the living. The theatrical is no less real for being theatrical.

And leading an examined life, acting instead of reacting, is no less real for its directorial perspective.


It’s one thing to accept the futility of one’s own will in regard to illness and accidents – the events of the greater world. It is another entirely to accept that there is no one to whom we can appeal for guarantees. No one’s will can stop the world in its tracks. It keeps turning under us, and we are forced to put one foot in front of the other. Because that is what we are here to do.

“You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

― Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable

Even the most devout of us will caution that not all prayers are answered with yes… And they go on with that knowledge.

In a news report two years ago the journalists described the video that had been online: in her final moments, a young woman who was beheaded by terrorists cried out for her mother. Her mother, who was so far away. And unaware of that moment at that moment.

Somehow the mother, knowing this, goes on. She breathes still, now, beyond the unimaginable. The surreal. What can any of us offer her?

And each other, knowing that this is somehow all of us. All of it.

Of all the scenes in all the films I’ve ever seen, burned into my mind is that moment in Private Ryan where the soldier asks for a time-out. When I react in fear, that scene comes to the forefront of my memory.

If I had Socrates to dinner, I’d tell him that the unexamined life is most definitely worth living. Necessary even. We live for each other. Sometimes we act, sometimes we react. We give attention. We care. This is the nature of us.


This morning I light the candles, and the incense, and I unroll the mat. Through the window, I watch the tree across the street moving in the storm. Inhale through the nose. Exhale through the mouth. Let my shoulder girdle settle. Spine in the center of my body.

I reach upward. Inhale again.

I am tired. I’m confused. Raw. And aware of my fortunate state of being. In this moment.

Who can stay on the middle path when the storm is blowing and the road is covered with ice?

We try.

We change.

At least that has been my experience of the world. Everything in it changes – even if our conceptions don’t change accordingly.

We cling to our understandings. Even when they are destructive. We know it of others, railing at our parents for not seeing who we have become when they see us as a six-year-old child, when we are sixteen, or 26. Or 50.

Every seven years I am a new constellation
wearing a hand-me-down
story that so easily slips off
in sleep – in the moment
of perfect attention
to the naked truth

But I find it difficult to question my own filing and labeling system that helps me orientate myself in the wild. I find it difficult to let go of the illusion of control that it gives me. Security.

When I know that I’m often wrong about my own motivations – how I can catch myself by surprise but rationalize a “meaningful” reason for a behavior – it’s ludicrous that I can for a moment believe I know what is motivating someone else. I think we each create our own mental matrix. Not in regard to events and phenomenological cause and effect in the physical world, but in terms of our understanding the how and why of it all. The wills.

This is how I am coming to understand the illusion of self, of illusion in general: within a great paradox of consciousness. The ouroboros of logic destroying itself.

I’ve been thinking about swimming lately. The water here is so cold I never wade past my knees. So it’s been years since I’ve allowed myself to lie on my back and float. It’s a thrill that I miss: the simultaneous terror and relief of relinquishing control. Or the illusion of control. I miss that brief moment of quiet, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face. This for me is an example of being in the moment. But for me, these fearless, fractions-of-seconds interspersed through the years are as rare as astatine is on this earth.

You don’t have to work so hard, I tell myself. But not working so hard takes a ridiculous amount of effort.

How long can you lie on your back will the swells rising and falling under your body before the stories creep in? The toothy creatures rising from the deep – as though seeing it coming and bracing for the bite would make any favorable difference to the experience of being eaten alive.

Can you let go for a second? Two?

I find it fascinating that these moments for me have probably never lasted a full second, yet are so significant to my life experience. I don’t think of them as moments of “trust”. I’m not trusting in a supernatural being to protect me, not trusting in the earth’s compassion or the ocean’s goodness. I am just… being in the world.

When I think about this I think about those moments of being newly-in-love. The high that falling in love gives us and makes us utterly and deliciously reckless.

Is wanting more of these moments a grasping? Another paradox. Another lesson in coming at the truth at a slant?

It’s funny that trusting someone is always a matter of trusting one’s own judgment of that person. Trust is a narrative. A fiction. And how helpful is it? When I say that someone betrayed my trust, I’m assigning motives that are very likely non-existent. I’m trying to shift the blame. Trying to assign blame. Then I’d have the power to forgive. To feel righteous. To feel a sense of control.

I was listening to a podcast yesterday about a sociologist who studied a culture that he claimed had no practice for trusting one another. Conflicts arose and then fell away. Relationships continued.

I was thinking that this was possible because by not needing to trust each other, they didn’t need to cling to preconceived identities for one another: prescribed rules of conduct that – when not followed – would be interpreted as personal betrayals requiring some kind of moral compensation – some kind of ethical capitalism.

It seems to me that a society without trust may well be a society will more room for loving compassion.

I wonder what it is like to truly be in love with the world instead of coming at it speaking softly but carrying a big stick.