[Been away for a bit, catching up today, sorry if this one sprawls a bit…]
One of the reasons why I find it hard to meditate, concentrate, sleep, and all that kind of thing, is that I have a very associative mind, I’m told. What that means in blunter English: everything reminds me of everything.
I was wondering what I wanted to call this particular blog-thing, and this word transpires came to mind. It means so many things at once, I was a bit overwhelmed when I started to think about it, because I don’t generally give a lot of attention to my intertwangled state of consciousness, and here it is. So let’s see… oh, and all of these associations relate to the things I wanted to write about, so this is by way of being a really daft analogue of a spoiler…
Transpiration – something passing through a surface, like moisture through a plant leaf. Which comes more originally from spirare, to breathe – which also gives us our word inspiration, which means to breathe something in. Transpires also means “it turns out”, or “it is revealed…” I also got from this word, in a sideways-glance sort of fashion, the idea that within each trans person’s transition, there are certain peaks, or spires.
Ooh, that’s interesting, I was carefully avoiding the French word pire, which means worse or worst – but then I realise just now that a phrase very relevant to my experience over the last few days is “what’s the worst that could happen?”
Okay, so much for the showing-off preamble. This is going to be loosely about being a trans tomboy, about having PTSD, and about Tonglen. What transpired?
Well, last Saturday I took a deep breath (or 20) and got on a train to travel 200 miles to stay with a friend for a few days, one day of which I spent at a meditation day for gay/bi women. The day was on the theme of Tonglen (I’ll get to that).
Because of my PTSD, going away from home is really hard work (I’ve written about this before, I know). I’ll only do it for friends or Dharma or music, nothing else justifies the effort at the moment. Okay, I’d probably do it for lurve, if such were on the menu at the moment. Being on a crowded train is about as bad as it gets, for me – my Inner Meerkat needs constant attention to prevent it from exploding and taking out the entire carriage. I did well. For 5 hours. This is a little big triumph.
I was really pleased to see my friend (in spite of the not-sleep I got on a futon at his place). But the meditation day was the star event. I went on a similar one about a year ago, and I feel very grateful that they exist, and that they’re very explicitly welcoming of anyone who identifies as a gay/bi woman.
And it’s not just welcoming-on-paper – from the moment I got there, I was just one of the women. What a relief. This was yet another positive experience of queer women being my ‘tribe’. We make sense to each other, and I really need that.
Tonglen: this is a Buddhist meditation practice, from a Tibetan tradition. The name means ‘giving and taking’ or ‘sending and receiving’. Put very simply, the practice involves (in your imagination) breathing in suffering, and breathing out its antidote. The point of it, you could say, is to learn to turn to face discomfort, instead of what we usually do, which is to back away from it with our weapons up. It’s not a practice to do lightly… by which I mean, you need a strong grounding in emotional positivity to take this on without being knocked down by it.
It’s also not a conceptual exercise. The point of it is to not think about suffering, but to call to mind its feeling, its ‘texture’, to sort of embody it – and then to do the same with its antidote. We connect with either our own or someone else’s suffering in a concrete way, and we connect with everyone who is experiencing the same suffering right now. It’s strong stuff.
What was significant for me about spending a day with this practice was that I’ve clearly been living it for the last few months already. In my painful path towards learning how to live with my PTSD, I’ve learned (or at least I am learning) how to keep company with my suffering, instead of trying to get rid of it.
This is the big point I wanted to make here: that as Buddhists, it’s easy to fool ourselves using words like transform. You hear a lot in Buddhism about transformation, but we’re not seeking to transform suffering, we’re transforming our relationship with it. It’s very, very easy to slip into wanting suffering to go away. But holding it at arms’ length is just another way of holding onto it.
So lately, when I feel pain that I’m resisting (which is pretty much always!), I’ve taken to imagining myself putting my arms around it instead, and cuddling it. We’re in this together. This is making a quiet profound difference to life. I hope I can keep it up.
I had quite a comedown after the meditation day, because it was so lovely being around these other women. But I’ve noticed, a week on, that my self-confidence has really risen after that day. Which brings me to… this weekend just gone.
I took a risk and went away again, when I hadn’t yet recovered from the last trip. This was for a weekend of singing hormones – hahahaha, that’s supposed to be ‘harmonies’ but it’s so apt I’m leaving it there – and was worth all the stress/distress involved in being away again. It was more stressful because it was with a bunch of people I don’t really know, apart from one or two. It was stressful because my inner teen was being stroppy, grumpy, and specifically very lovesick. But it really wasn’t in any way stressful in relation to me being trans. I found that I didn’t expect (and didn’t get) any trouble from people there for being who I am. And the confidence in myself that I got from the meditation day meant that I wasn’t uncomfortable with having to sing bass :).
It’s kind of weird and tiring, though, trying constantly to work out whether you love someone, or are in love with them. And of course, it turns out to be both. This is another tonglen scenario, as a part of me believes she’s the antidote to my suffering, sigh… Trying to stay adult in the face of all that going on was a full-time effort, but I did a good job.
The high point for me was singing this song by Bon Iver – I still have it going round my head:
[unfancy flowers springing from the cracks in a wall seemed like an apt photo – this is near my house]