Today is the birthday of a friend, someone I’ve not seen in quite a long time but a friend none the less – someone who is very close to my heart. I have that little reminder that pops up on the side of my Facebook page to thank for that notification and I have her to thank for lifting a veil, for calling me out, for changing my life.
It was maybe six or seven years ago (how time flies!) when we first met and there was some chemistry there. So we had a thing and I had a thing for her. We spent a bunch of time together all of a sudden, just like that. I was in my usual (at that time) space-surfing-no-home-to-speak-of mode, painting, partying, traveling a bit here, traveling a bit there. She was a painter and pretty focused on a Tibetan Buddhist path. At that time, I think she was in school, I don’t remember exactly. Anyhow, this is all just auxiliary information. The point is: there was a spark, a fire, a reflection, and I respected her.
A conversation one evening went something like this:
“Michael, you smoke a lot of pot. You’re stoned quite a bit.”
This was certainly a fair, inarguable observation. In truth, I would hazard to guess that I’d been stoned for 300 days a year, at the very least, for the previous eight years. Illuminating when you add it up like that. I had, in any case, gotten high at least once a day for those three hundred days. Some of those days – in the midst of the painting binges for instance – were spent in such a haze that there was no in or out, high or low – it was just one long sustain and all I could do, or think of doing, was keep myself there. While I may have felt I was productive in my painting, in retrospect, I wasn’t productive in much else. While I may have been experiencing great highs, I certainly wasn’t integrating much.
“Yes, well… I may smoke a bit in the morning, take a hit or two…” But I knew it was a tough one to argue.
“Well, to be honest, it’s tough to hang out with you because there’s always this veil – this sort of space between you and I. In fact, it’s between you and the world. Really, it seems sort of selfish. You end up forcing everyone to get through this veil and you’re in there but it takes some work to find you. You’re not straight forward with life. You’ve got this veil to hide behind.”
Well, she said that in so many words.
“So, really, I like you a lot but I can’t really deal with the constant stoniness. So it’s either me or the pot. If you want to be with me, you’ve got to give that up.”
So I chose her. I’d like to imagine it was an easy choice but truthfully I don’t remember. I’m generally aware enough, even in the most egocentric times, at weighing choices like that – door number one is a path you know, a habit, a pattern. Door number two holds something new, different – an opportunity for growth, maybe new adventures, some light.
I chose door number two.
The short end of that story is:
Ultimately, it didn’t ‘work out’ between us. But we are where we are when we need to be there. And we came together for the lessons we had to share with each other. Giving up smoking pot broke through all kinds of things – suddenly life was REAL. In fact, it was so very real that I started drinking heavily because all kinds of emotions came up – sadness, depression, loneliness, attachment, wanting, craving, everything! – and they were quite hard to deal with because I’d never actually dealt with anything. I’d lived in my head and my daydreams for so long that screwing my head back onto my body was, in fact, rather disconcerting. I didn’t know how to handle it and I freaked out for a little while. It was sort of a heart wrenching/heart opening time. The drawing above, at the start of this post, was drawn during that time. It is called “The Heart Dance”.
For people who say there is no addiction in marijuana and no withdrawals… Sure maybe for the recreational smoker, this is absolutely true. But, as with object of addiction – whether it be alcohol, drugs, television or hamburgers – if a person finds that it helps to squelch the real emotions that they don’t want to deal with and it works, and it makes them feel good, they’ll keep going back for more. That’s addiction. Take the object of attachment away and everything it was being used to block rears it’s head. That’s when it turns out there are a lot of demons down there. Granted, marijuana likely helped me in many ways – it was a tool that I had at my disposal; a teacher in plant form. But, as with any teacher, as with the parable of using the boat to cross the river: once you’ve made it across the river, it’s best to abandon the boat. For all I know, I’d been lingering on that shoreline for far too long, hanging out with my boat.
So for a little while, all I seemed to be able to do was calm the demons while I learned how to deal with myself, knowing I’d get back to the darkness. So I worked with the tools I had, picking up new tools along the way. I worked on finding a center (and dealing with the urges and cravings that sought to pull me away from that) and figured, however consciously, that I’d get to the darkness. All good things in their own time!
Ultimately, when I got back to painting – by that time it was in Costa Rica – my work was so much more present. I was more efficient and my lines and approach crisper than it’d ever been. To top it all off, I was having these experiences that actually felt like they could be integrated into my being and I began to understand what “Being on the Path” really meant. I’d never realized what I was missing. I’d thought, for a long time had convinced myself, that I ought to be high in order to paint. I’m sure I’m not the first artist to fall prey to this belief. Now I found a deep reservoir of creativity, an endless and boundless spirit, and I found I had the skills to illuminate it. As I passed through these things, so did the emotions rise and fall, rise and fall.
Through that process, as demons have come and gone and challenges have been met, I’ve discovered more than I’ve ever dreamt. I’ve pushed myself and allowed myself to be pushed in ways I’d not imagined possible. And I’ve found something inside, something nameless, shapeless, wordless, some truth, that allows me to participate in this world, through my work and my interactions with others, in a way that is truly enlightening.
This friend helped lay some groundwork for all that came after. She is someone who helped me to step onto my path and be who I am – and admit to myself who I am – without just living a daydream of what I might be. So I say happy birthday to you, my friend. And thank you. May you live long. And prosper.
This one is dedicated to you.
May all beings experience bliss.
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