"This was us all on the planet lamenting the loss of a man who was a master human being. And the density of that loss is of great weight: a mass of massive missingness."
--Howe Gelb (1994) in the Pioneertown Sun lamenting the death of friend and collaborator Pappy Allen.
"The massive missingness." That wordsmithery stuck with me all these years. Mired in New Jersey at the time -- in every way not romanticized by the Artist Formerly Known as Mr. Julianne Phillips -- I never read that particular issue, or any other, of the Cali-desert-based Pioneertown Sun. But I was a big fan of Gelb's band Giant Sand -- deeply obsessed with their then-current album, Glum -- and I must have read an interview with him, likely in Option Magazine (speaking of obsessions), where he employed that phrase. I read that line, dug it, remembered it, and put it into the tool kit, filed under: "Don't overuse."
More than once in the blahblahbloggery of these many years, I've made reference to my alleged superpower: mostly I look forward, not back. That approach is mostly positive, some sort of nod to the wisdom of Zen. I am generally not bogged down in the slop of the past. Hell, I can't even stay angry with anyone for very long. I'm just driving toward that shiny thing on the horizon, figuring that we've all been through some shit and that we'll all break through it. Or not -- and having watched the "or not" play itself out in the lives of others is a scary incentive for me to rarely look back much at all, and almost never at losses.
Or at present-tense losses to be.
I'm usually someone that bangs out a blog post pretty quickly. But not this one. I wrote a little and then it has sat, untouched, for a few weeks. When I first began this post, I wrote what you see above and also the following bit:
"In a few days, I'm out the door at a job as an attorney that I've had for 29 years.
I'm not leaving because I'm burnt out, or feel myself slipping, or winding down. (More here if you really care about the reasoning).
More than one person has noted to me that I don't seem very sentimental, and that others are a lot more sentimental about me leaving than I am.
I plead (mostly) guilty. And here is your explanation: forward means forward, and the fear of the massive missingness is strong. We all build up walls. They aren't all bad. Some are extremely useful. This particular 'always forward' mentality is generally a good one in that regard."
Well, non-sentimentality and forward thinking was the plan anyway.... I thought I could just plow through all those feelings in a Cyborg-like way.
But then my job threw me two different retirement parties, and I got to thinking -- always dangerous, I know -- and I got a little better realization of how some people were really positively affected by my work over the years, and how much we'd miss each other. Sure enough, the Guy Who Doesn't Really Do the Past got forced to take the past into account. The "massive missingness" was present more than I expected.
It took about a week post-job, but, damn, when the "feels" hit after all those goodbyes those feelings were truly something. Like all sources of stress in my life, this particular one visited most prominently at 3 am one night, and then the next night again. Despite being "retired" -- supposedly free from the bullshit demands of a job, at least temporarily (more on that in another post -- we can't cover everything in this one) -- I was a bit of a sleep-derived mess after just a couple nights like that.
If you've been around these parts for very long, you'll know just what I decided to do next:
re-start my meditation practice.
"WHY DID YOU EVER STOP?' some of you are yelling at me. Because, like most of us, I have -- I dunno -- shit to do, and, like some of us, I usually feel pretty good most of the time. So I get lazy. When I have lots on my plate and I am not feeling bad, I often slowly but surely lapse out of daily meditation.
Ironically, just two days before I left work at the old job forever, we had a continuing legal education (CLE) seminar on mindfulness for attorneys. It was run by a guy named Jon Krop, and his meditation pitch was simple -- very close to what I've previously said on these pages, actually (and, yes, then ignored myself) -- and direct: just do it, every day. A strong theme of Krop's talk was that repetition is more important than duration. In other words, ten minutes of meditation every day is far more valuable than a whole lot of meditation crammed into one day a week.
Krop is specifically a proponent of morning meditation, for a basic reason: it just fits better into the day. "Just do it first thing," he urged us, "Before anything else." I decided to give that strategy a shot. I'm a nighttime/before-bed meditator traditionally, but, as I've made clear, I'm also known for ditching meditation too easily sometimes. "Too tired to meditate" is an easy excuse just before bed. Maybe my morning routine could start with 10-15 minutes of meditation? Maybe I'll keep at it for a longer while that way? I jumped back in.
Unsurprisingly, the results have been spectacular. Yes, I've had all the usual thoughts that I never should have stopped meditating. But the stressful 3 a.m. wakeups also immediately vanished. I learned to address some of those "missingness" feelings more head-on than I'd been doing. Hell, I even made a few changes to my fitness routine to get me to the gym and to yoga more often than I'd been going in the last couple of months.
It's almost like when your head is stress-free (or at least lower-stress), you make better decisions more often. Almost exactly like that.
Granted, restarting meditation for me is like the proverbial bicycle ride; I never "forget" how to meditate. That's because I've been at it for years. A few months away? No big deal. I just settle in, and let that wave of calm wash over me and, yeah, I invariably wonder what my damn problem is that I quit too easily. But it's not a struggle to restart. If you've never been as deeply into a meditation routine, your mileage may vary in that regard.
But really, whether you are an experienced practitioner or not, Mr. Krop has the one critical part of meditation right: just do it, every day. Repetition is the key to success.
Maybe we should start another meditation challenge soon? I think so. More on that idea soon. In the meantime, I'll be staying the course, every morning.