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With wisdom, creativity, and artistry, Susan Piver brings a Buddhist lens to the spiritual map of the enneagram. The results are vibrant and nourishing; a banquet of insights that help us transmute our difficult emotions into pure expressions of our basic goodness.

–Tara Brach, Author of Radical Acceptance and Trusting the Gold

Singing Sweet Songs in Darkness

October 5, 2007   |   2 Comments

The lonely child who travels through
The fearful waste and desolate fields,
And listens to their barren tune,
Greets as an unknown and best friend
The terror in him, and he sings
In darkness all the sweetest songs.
—Chögyam Trungpa
from “The Silent Song of Loneliness” in Mudra: Early Poems and Songs

Relationships are lonely. Even good ones. My relationship with my husband is lonely. My relationship with my guru is lonely. They’re the same kind of lonely. And these are the good relationships.
The other day, we had a fight. (My husband and me, not Rinpoche and me) It was a bad one. Super bad. Bad like leaving-the-house-at-1AM-to-go-sleep-on-the-couch-in-my-office bad. It’s so cliché to say I can’t even remember what it was about, but I sort of can’t. Well maybe I can, but just don’t want to believe that something so unbelievably stupid (someone not telling someone else that they bought a new camera, for example; I mean it only cost $200 and I needed it for work) could cause two normally sane people to absolutely lose their minds and jump all up and down yelling at each other. I mean for goodness sake. I was so depressed after this argument. I drug myself home at 6AM, dreading seeing him, but also hoping I would so he could see that I was still ignoring him. As I let myself in and walked up the stairs to our bedroom, he was exiting the shower, towel around his waist. His hair had little droplets that smelled like drugstore pineapple shampoo.  His bare chest looked kind of dewy and sweet, I couldn’t help but notice. Although I was still angry, I could see that he no longer was. (When he blows up in anger his emotions metabolize and become digestible—he feels better after a “good” fight. For me, a fight is like getting socked in the head, the kind of punch that at first you can’t even feel how much it hurts and then throbs for days…) He came toward me and held his palms up to me like two “hold it right there” signs or, possibly, two “okay, okay, I give up” signs. My palms spontaneously rose to mirror his, whether to stop him from coming closer or to hold him to me, I also couldn’t tell. In that moment, I realized I was trapped. I couldn’t push him away, nor could I hold him close enough. I couldn’t keep him at bay because our lives are no longer two separate-but-parallel tracks as they were when we began living together. No. We’re living one life together. I don’t know how or when this happened.  Apparently, we’ve held each other too many times. Inhaled each other’s breath while falling asleep too many times. Had the same fight, kissed the same kiss, exchanged the same glance, eaten off the same plate one too many times. Our bodies and hearts have re-formed into cutouts that can only hold the other. From this realization and from the sight of his bare chest and the scent of his pineapple hair, I felt myself soften a tiny bit. But I could never hold him close enough so that he would know what it felt like for me to do this, or recognize the sequence of thoughts and feelings that led to this opening. I saw the depth of our connection and the simultaneous inability to know each other. He must feel the same exact way, I thought as I pulled him close. Very lonely. And, I realized, the closer we got, the more shocking and painful it would be to still not really know each other.

I feel pretty much the same way about my spiritual practice. Are the Buddhas and bodhisattvas really there? Do they know me? How can I ever know them? Am I inviting them or rejecting them? I have no idea. Sometimes I think yes and sometimes I think no. Just as often I think neither answer could possibly be relevant, but I don’t know how else to ask the question. All I know is that my efforts to connect more deeply with my teacher have become sort of dreamlike, difficult to discern, at least with my everyday mind. I can feel that the more I practice, the more something happens, but I’m not really sure what that something is, or what it responds to.
I used to just go to dharma talks and then try to practice what I’d been taught. I still try to do this. But just as often, these days I get my practice instructions from Aerosmith songs or an overheard conversation on the train. There’s nothing mysterious about it—I’m just listening to my iTunes or going to work and suddenly something clicks, like, “it’s really true—I don’t exist.” I don’t know where it comes from. It’s very personal. Intimate. Lonely.
A few weeks ago, I was talking to friend of mine, also a practitioner, but from a different lineage. He was telling me that nowadays, his practice consists of getting up in the morning, going to his meditation cushion, and sitting there. He just sits there and basically tries not to do anything at all. There are no longer any rules to follow such as “place the attention on the breath” or “visualize an open sky.” Just like me, he doesn’t really know what to do anymore. He can’t go back to following a set of practice instructions, nor is there a new set to jump forward into. There is only space and the feeling of groundlessness. In his tradition, he says, this stage of spiritual development is called “stupefaction” and that’s a pretty good way to say it. I love that. Stupefaction. This is where no one can tell you what to do anymore, no one but your Guru. But I no longer know what listening looks like. Some kind of dialogue is taking place within me but below my radar. No one will ever know what this is like for me. Not even me.

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  • Posted by:  Susan Declerck

    Hello Susan,
    I stumbled upon this howl of loneliness blog after reading your book “how not to be afraid of your own life” and what sems to be happening is that although your rational mind tells you that you should not depend on a relationship and intimate other to make you happy, we all deeply desire this anyway. And although you have said that relationships are all about uncertainty and impermanence, we can’t help but longing for certainty and permanence in love when everything around us is in constant flux. Although we are in some rational sense fundamentally alone in life, our most profound emotional and spiritual need seems to be for connection. I have been in a monogamous relationship for thirty-four years, but can honestly say I don’t really know anything for sure about relationships. Well, maybe I know that a relationship enfolds both soaring pleasure and hope and excrutiating pain and despair, and must be a dynamic process, not a static product to survive.

  • Posted by:  susan

    Hi Susan. Thanks so much for taking the time to write. Yes, “howl of loneliness” is a good descriptor. I agree, there is a weird disconnect between rational mind and a heart full of longing. It’s amazing (and somehow heartening) to hear that after 34 years it’s all still pretty unclear except for that it includes all the things you list–pleasure, hope, pain, despair, dynamism… This sounds so right. I keep wondering where to find the courage to stand in life the way it is. Hearing from someone like you gives me courage and I thank you so much. It is so rare and precious to discuss such things.

    If you have time, please check this out.
    “Trungpa Rinpoche on desolation, relationships, and loneliness as consort”
    Everything about it blew my mind. I’d be interested to hear what you think.

    Thank you again for writing.

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“With wisdom, creativity and artistry, Susan Piver brings a Buddhist lens to the spiritual map of the Enneagram. The results are vibrant and nourishing; a banquet of insights that help us transmute our difficult emotions into pure expressions of our basic goodness.”

 – Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance