50) Dirty Feet (TW: suicide, sexual assault)

(NOTE:  I realized recently that the author of this post is unspecified, and some people have thought it is me.  To be clear, this is a letter sent to me by someone who took my classes, and I thought I had commented that it was my “first guest post”, but clearly I didn’t here.  Sorry for any potential confusion.  For obvious reasons, the person has chosen to remain anonymous, but they deserve the credit for this beautiful, heartfelt letter.  My apologies for any misunderstanding!)  šŸ™‚

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My feet are sore.  The good kind of sore like a scab you poke, because it’s fun to hurt a little bit.  It makes you feel alive.

You told me about barefoot hiking.  You were right.  It made me slow down a lot.

My feet are dirty.  I’m glad I’m alone.  But I wish I could laugh at my dirty feet with somebody.

I rub each foot in the firelight.  Sap.  Tiny stones stuck in the roughly flaked calluses that most people don’t have on their feet.  Cuts.  A little blood. Lots of dirt.  That’s the beauty of feet.  I weigh almost 160 pounds.  What do they say?  10 000 steps a day?  My feet take a beating every day.

“Keep walking, though there is no place to get to.”
I love Rumi too.

It is so quiet here.  Just crackling.  Fire is Mystery.  Like love.

Black sky.  Silent night.  Stars.  Tree silhouettes.  Dirt.  Dead branches.  Sleeping bag.  A diary.

“Dear Dan,

I still don’t feel comfortable saying that.  You asked me to.  I said it was weird.  But you shook my hand and laughed.  It was what you would call “an authentic moment of experiential engagement.”

My therapist told me to express gratitude when I feel it.  I feel it now.  Thank you.

—— fuck ——- I am editing myself already.  I tried to write this before but I quit.  Each time I write some sentences and stop and look at them and
that is
it.

The end.

I can never say what I mean.
I’m glad I can’t paint, because it would always be ugly.
I hate ugly paintings.
Go get a camera!
Ugly paintings are shit.

I read my sentences and they are —— stupid —— if anybody reads them ———- If anybody reads them then they’ll see something.
They’ll see me?  Or just “stupid”?
So I erase them.

I am a bit obsessive.
Last summer I sat on my bed and tried to read my whole diary.  Diaries.  A lot of them.  Nine years, since I was 13 and was raped for the last time.
Almost one decade of heartbeats.
It was too hard to read.

You taught us about “scaffolding”.  I think it’s one of your favourite words.
In Zen practice, you might start by counting your breaths.
So I counted the words.
187312
It took forever.  I kept falling asleep.
After counting them for so long, it was easier to read them, like I had conquered them a little.
Is this like “labelling your thoughts”?  You said “it gives your pre-frontal cortex a fighting chance.”
I read every one.
I cried, a lot of times.

Have you ever felt “that moment” of snapping?
You are okay, you are thinking about your life or that person or that situation and then ———-
You feel It.
Like panic.  Just before you panic.
Like screaming.  Just before you scream.

I’m sorry.  I recorded your classes.

You said, “You know that moment of awareness, like when you’re arguing with somebody and you’re really angry and you’re saying all this shit and then, you are about to say That Thing.  That thing they hate.  Like “fuck you!” or “You’re just like your mother/sister/brother/my-ex/etcetera?  You’re a fraction of a second away from SCREAMING at them, a fraction of a second from swearing, slamming the door, throwing the plate, punching the wall, and then, you know.  You know.  You have a moment of crystal clear awareness when you KNOW that you are about to do that, that in the next fraction of a second, you are about to do that.  You really, really want to.  “Fuck them,” right?  But ——- you have that moment of awareness.  That’s your moment of choice.  That’s what mindfulness stretches out a little for you, makes more explicit for you.  What do you really want to do?  You have a fraction of a second to figure that out, to attune to yourself, before your implicit, automatized patterns just run themselves out.  You have a fraction of a second, maybe, to choose.  To try.  To engage your will, if there is such a thing at all.  It is an ephemeral moment.  That’s what you have.  That’s what Viktor Frankl was talking about.  That is all the freedom we have.  That moment to Choose.”

You paused for a long time.  I have never had people pause so long in classes.  It makes things Very Real.

“That moment, is you.  I think it’s the closest we get to ourselves.”

I am a bit obsessive.
I figured out how long it takes a person to drown, if they throw themselves overboard in the winter.
It is not as long as most people think.
The cold is the problem.
Even swimming your hardest, you cannot outswim the cold.
You said in another course — “Our fundamental essence, from a thermodynamic perspective, is to be far from equilibrium. Maintaining that, through the continual transformation of energy into self-organized organic-social processes, IS life.  IS consciousness.”

I cried in your classes sometimes.
No.  I  cried in your classes often.  It is the most healing place I’ve known.  I never think about suicide in those moments, except to realize how fuzzy and far away those thoughts seem then.
Usually, suicide thoughts are clear and sharp.  Like those Egyptian hieroglyphics after “the mere exposure effect.”

I am a bit obsessive.
Thinking about suicide has been my main hobby for 14 years, 7 months and 16 days.
You were right about sexual assault, especially for kids.
“It makes you see yourself as a demon.  So you check-out, dissociate, a lot of the time, because who wants to be a demon?”
I realize why I kept this fantasy alive for so long.
I believed the only worthy thing to do with my life was make sure my last act will be one of love.

You said, “At the implicit level, a whole bunch of attentional-cognitive-emotional-physiological-social processes feed into one another, driving obsessive cycles of “reasoning” — positive feedback loops that tend to spiral themselves into extreme places — John Vervaeke calls this “parasitic processing” — and you convince yourself that suicide is actually the right thing to do.  You convince yourself it is a compassionate, even heroic act.  If you are poison, then remove the cup of You from the lips of those you love.  It is the most loving thing you can do.  You convince yourself of this, and so, suicide isn’t a “selfish” act.   It is a courageous act.  Even a loving act.  Except —– you are totally deluded, don’t get me wrong,  But THIS is what you convince yourself of.  Your so-called reasoning processes aren’t reasoning processes at all, in the way we normally mean.  They are implicitly-driven self-justification processes.”

You talked about why people make suicide plans in so much detail sometimes.

I have one.

It’s beautiful.

I’ll never do it.
(don’t worry)

There is a place.
Nature
Water
It’s quiet.
Beavers live there.
I have canoed there and watched the “self-organized whirlpools” you described.
Sang.
I like hearing my voice echoing back to me.  It makes me feel like I’m out there, like a star, my song penetrating the whole universe.

Nothing is “outside”.

One night, our bonfire was huge.
I was Apollo.
I was the phoenix.
I was Life.
I remember his laughter echoing across the bay, like when I sing.
We played Madonna until the batteries ran out.
Played with a vibrator, until the batteries ran out.
Sorry.
But it was a real moment.  Why be afraid of that?

I am going to die.
And so are you.
We talked about meaning in your class.
Choice.
The sensitivity that comes with embracing that.
“When awareness of experience is fully operating, human behaviour is to be trusted for in these moments the organism is aware of its delicacy and tenderness towards others.”

Sometimes you talk about epiphanies (I had to look that up).  “Moments of profound realization”.
If these are authentic, they are “present moments of wisdom, in the sense of engaging in the path of experientially-directing-yourself towards Wisdom”.
Relevance Realization.
I watched Professor Vervaeke’s videos because of this.

My mind opened.
Not because of you.
Or Professor Vervaeke.
Because of everything!

All of this is just this moment.
This epiphany.
Whether I act on it or not.
All of this is “the experientially-realized convergent nexus of holonarchic dynamic systems that IS your consciousness”.
I don’t know why I like that so much.

I think the most transformative moments happen like car accidents
Something hits you from a direction you didn’t expect
That is why it hits you at all.
Because if you expected it you would dodge
Or put up defences
Which is just another way of dodging.

I need to end this — poem?
Diary entry?
Letter?

I want you to know that I am lucid.
Being different is not wrong.
It helps others understand who they are.

So thank you.
I am a bit obsessive.
11 times in the past 62 months, I have gone to that quiet place with beavers.
Looked at the water I have imagined slipping underneath so many times.
“I imagine death so much it seems just like a memory”.
Why do you quote Hamilton anyway?

I went there last in June.
I took a love note.  The first one.
A sock that he left, on purpose, when he left.
(What kind of person leaves one sock?)
I burned them
and cried like I never have before
I poked the fire with a stick and thought
“my ancestors are here”.
I didn’t feel as lonely then.

You ended a course with Rumi —
“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

I know, because I live,
that we can change.
You said, “In fact, we can’t NOT change!”
“Life is beautiful at its essence.  When you wake up in the morning, before you make the first movement, pause, be aware.  Here I am.”

I am a bit obsessive.
“Letting go” is necessary for “connecting”.
Life is so Real, it can be like being in love.

I never knew before how much pain hides inside my classmates
Until we felt safe enough to be honest.
I never knew before how much courage they have either.
I’m not the only person I have seen crying in your class.

I hope.
I hope every person can feel not alone.

“Let the beauty we love be what we do.”

“And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?”

I go barefoot hiking now.  My feet are tough.  I’m proud of them.
It requires “bare attention”.
You told us that you can’t truly practice “bare attention” without love.
That is true.

——– I don’t get listened to by the world.  Or anybody.  Share this if you want.  Maybe it’s one way I can give back.  Thanks for reading this.  Sorry it was so long.

  6 comments for “50) Dirty Feet (TW: suicide, sexual assault)

  1. December 5, 2018 at 5:56 pm

    That was so raw and powerful. Thanks for sharing.

    • dandolderman
      December 14, 2018 at 6:20 am

      Thanks Rob. Yes, I have to say, I appreciated it so much and their way of interweaving quotes from all these classes with their own poetic letter and life mini-story, kinda totally blew my mind….oh yeah, I loved it…So, thanks for commenting. I’m glad they are getting this feedback too. šŸ™‚

  2. Leah M
    December 5, 2018 at 9:32 pm

    Every class of yours is like this letter. Full of pauses, moments, realizations, connections, healing. I’m glad you posted this but I hope you know that this is probably the norm for a lot of students of yours, if not pretty much all of them. It’s an amazing thing that you do.

    • dandolderman
      December 14, 2018 at 6:30 am

      …..Thanks Leah, I really appreciate that, more than I can express. You know, it’s kind of weird….how things change over time. When I was in high school, I did like giving presentations and getting into debates with people, just for fun. I felt at the time like I had achieved some deep existential insights, and the result was nihilism — Bohemian rhapsody — nothing really matters, anyone can see, nothing really matters, to me. The freedom of the Void makes for good times in intellectual playland, but otherwise, there was no reason to build anything new, to grow in any particular direction.

      It’s amazing how long that kind of approach to life can be relatively gratifying. If you’re always focused on short-term payoffs, then…..well, you just keep ‘moving forward’. But man….do things ever change when you feel other people’s pain and love. And I think those are basically the same thing. I don’t know how else to say it, but that’s what happens, when for whatever reason a kind of ‘space’ opens up in conversations amongst people. It takes time, and honesty, and (insert the unknowable here?) — then it happens. And people connect with each other. It’s almost like magic, or alchemy.

      So, thank you. I think the attribution is shared amongst an uncountable number of us though, because it’s more like a changing zeitgeist, I think. It’s pretty awesome to think that conversations we have been involved in, could be catalysts or early-stages of upward spirals. That’s cool. šŸ™‚

  3. Anonymous
    September 23, 2019 at 7:47 pm

    Iā€™m so glad I read this and the person who lives those words wrote them down. Thank you.

    • dandolderman
      September 23, 2019 at 9:35 pm

      Thanks for letting me (and them!) know. And I agree….this touched my heart beyond my ability to put into words. Thanks for responding.

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