Tuesday, October 10, 2017


On Saturday, one of my CPE peers came over. I’ll call her Nellie. We had a really nice day together. She visited with Hammett, and we walked over to Scarlet Sage and on to Papalote for burritos for lunch. We went to Dog-Eared Books and came back to my place for tea. In the evening, Tom and I went to Eric’s, Chinese food at Church and 27th St., for dinner. We had pot stickers, eggplant and cod. Everything was incredibly delicious, really fresh and lovely.

Nearly a year after breaking up with F. (that is, him breaking up with me), I’m finally starting to get some helpful insight into the matter. Basically, I want him to behave in a different way so that I don’t have to have certain feelings, primarily that of longing. I haven’t been able to fathom why he doesn’t feel the same way. Doesn’t he miss the remarkable togetherness we had? (Quite some time ago, at this point.) No, he does not, because he refuses to feel longing; he prefers to feel angry. How he feels is based on how he sees things; how I feel is based on how I see things. There is no way for me to affect how he sees things. There wasn’t when we were together, and there certainly isn’t now. There is nothing I can do about that.

I realized that I have this little mound of grief, with notes of regret, guilt and occasionally anger, that I may have to carry forever. Once I accepted that, it was a short hop to tonglen: being willing to shoulder all of the bad feelings left from this relationship, and to wish for F. to be entirely free of them—there’s no sense in both of us feeling bad. A couple of days after I began to practice tonglen—“May I take upon myself all of the sorrow from this breakup; may F. be happy and at peace”—I noticed a new sense of separation between us which for the first time felt good instead of bad. It felt clean and peaceful.

I usually forget about tonglen practice until I’m desperate, but it is quite powerful. It is a way of turning toward difficulties rather than trying to make them go away, and it affords a bolstering and inspiring sense of doing something noble.

However, about the time the sense of separation arose, I began to consider how much of this pile of suffering might be self-inflicted and therefore optional. Maybe some of it is unavoidable, and this I will willingly carry with me, but probably a lot of it is due to how and where I deploy my attention. As the Buddha taught, grasping causes suffering. Theoretically, I could have figured this out two days after the breakup, but it always goes the way it goes.

Yesterday I went for the fourth and final day of orientation for my new position as staff chaplain at VFMC, along with my wonderful co-worker, Carolina, who I like more every time I see her. That will happen very rarely, since we are going to work on different days. The night before, I kept smelling smoke, and when I woke up in the morning, I learned that there are a lot of wildfires burning north of here. My apartment, where all the windows were closed, was smoky, and the hallway outside my apartment much more so. Outside the air was hazy. Even deep in the bowels of the hospital, in the basement, it smelled like smoke.

A few times yesterday, my new boss spoke to me in a rather withering manner, which caused a knot of fear in my gut. She spoke to Carolina in nearly the same tone, and I know it’s not personal. The person I feel for most is Rebecca, the administrative person, who I know is regularly criticized and scolded. It may be partly the difference between a hospital that is basically corporate and one that is a teaching hospital affiliated with a university. There’s quite a different feel.

However, I must admit that my boss’s bordering-on-rude observations were not entirely off the mark. I am detail oriented and risk averse. I am an Enneagram One, and I like to do stuff right, and in order to do that, I have to know what’s right. Unfortunately, the kind of question I am most urgently moved to ask is exactly the kind of question that can annoy my boss, so I guess this is an opportunity to figure out how to draw upon my own authority.

I also see the parallels with F.: I want my boss to act in a different way so I don’t have to have a knot in my gut. But that is outside my control, and it’s not reasonable to expect only good things to come my way. After having been affirmed constantly at TWMC (a teaching hospital affiliated with a university), being treated as if I’m a loser is hard, but I am grateful for the memory of that extravagant kindness, and also for currently being treated extremely well by Clementine at the County Hospital (also a teaching hospital affiliated with a university).

What they call “self-supervision” in CPE is called for here: how can I be a chaplain to myself? I can figure out creative solutions, such as taking the unpleasantness itself as my object of attention.

As for the job at TWMC, I haven’t heard anything. The online listing has now disappeared, so the application period appears to be over.
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