Feeling stuck in this Human Realm section of my mini #Buddhist retreat on beings of the Six Realms is definitely part of being human. I find the uniqueness of the human experience involves many complicated emotions and conditions I don’t recognize as occurring (although they certainly might) in other Realms’ beings.
The difference between simple desire or lust and attraction mixed with yearning, for example, comes to my contemplation during this phase of my meditation. Also, complicated grief, i.e., mourning someone we also despise or fear, feel resentment for or otherwise experience relief at the passing of, doesn’t seem to happen among animals. I always think of complicated grief this time of year since both of my father’s parents died in their nineties in November and he died in February in the 1990s.
My father, Ira Fleischmann, incorporated a volatile mixture of bravado, greed, insecurity, rage, brilliance, humor, tenderness, violence and fear. He was extreme in his swings and mercurial in his moods. He could make people roar with laughter and cower in terror within minutes.
After he had been dead for about five years (he died at almost 62 of a sudden heart attack in 1991), new research and study I was doing in graduate school led me to realize that he had suffered from depression and anxiety, unmitigated and unmedicated. Western men often exhibit rage and violence instead of the underlying melancholy, grief or depression.
He had been bulimic for a few years when I was in high school, so his brain was definitely mis-firing, as we now know bulimia indicates. From when I was about three and my brother, four, he had been violent and abusive toward both of us and spent much of our childhoods and adolescence beating on one or both of us, pulling my hair and yelling at everyone in our household except my youngest sister. I used to say I grew up in a war zone, but as I got older, I refrained from using that metaphor, knowing more about actual war zones.
Many people thought my sociopathic father was charismatic and appealing. He was brilliant but largely unrewarded and unnoticed for it, short in stature and on money. His creative application of the law and business ethics often veered over into criminal behavior. He was dishonest, easily bored, restless and dissatisfied.
Because of his unmet desires and lust for wealth and status, he changed jobs or started (and failed in) several careers (corporate attorney, insurance salesman, CLU/CPA, pension fund and investments manager). We found out after his death that he had created a second identity, maintaining an office and business cards in that name for who knows what nefarious purposes. My sisters and I went to look at it in the days after his death, shocked into giggling at the empty office with the fake name on the door just a few miles from his home.
He was also a hobbyist architect, constantly re-drafting his dream house after taking the family on Sunday drives to inspect mansions that were under construction. We’d pick our ways carefully through the unfinished homes as he’d proudly point out the master suite, the living room, the kitchen as if these were his designs and his houses, strutting through what appeared to be an undifferentiated maze of debris and open framing, to me. He was always hopeful that his ship was coming in, but ready and willing to steal the cargo, even from friends, when it didn’t arrive.
After his third wife had revealed her secret of alcoholism about two years into their marriage, they had both gotten into co-dependent/AA-style support groups and reading materials. These experiences and information-gathering had helped my father enormously even though he wasn’t addicted to any substances himself. Learning from the books and meetings, my father had developed some insight into his own violent, frightening and financially insecure childhood, coming of age during the Great Depression and World War II (he was born in 1929) as a Jew in the Midwest, USA.
He adored his grandchildren (my brother gave him four and I one before he died) and was beginning to appreciate his life and the rest of his family when he abruptly died. Because of his re-education and intense self-analysis and my own years of therapy and meditation, he and I had been having our first period of peace since my early childhood, enjoying a tentatively harmonious relationship at the time of his death.
I had loved and even admired my grandfather and did not know how much he and my grandmother had hurt and abused my father before he started talking to me about that while examining his childhood. If he had died even a few years earlier, my grief for him and later, for them, would not have been complicated.
Knowledge and insight are useful, but they did instill other feelings into my mourning. Even today, over twenty years after his death and about that long after they died as well, I continue to puzzle over their lives and my own. I see my irritability and quick judgments, tendencies to be arrogant and disparaging toward others, as coming from that side of my family. I am ashamed and humbled by my failings and theirs, unfortunately passed down through generations, even if somewhat improved in each successor.
Like my father, I am quick to anger and resentment, condescending and insecure. I am also untrusting of authority and unwilling to be obedient without question. Unlike him, I have never hit my child or disparaged him verbally, I have not lied, cheated or stolen to acquire money or possessions, and I do not suffer from depression, bulimia or anxiety.
Like my father, I am funny, brilliant, tender and creative, holding down a variety of jobs and having had several successful careers but easily bored and ready to move on frequently. We both were teachers and public performers, good at both math and languages. We both enjoyed knowing a lot of information about many topics and playing softball and tennis. He taught me to swim, play chess, and love the piano. He had a great voice, singing along with popular and operatic songs with equal ease, and I love to sing as well. He also screamed and terrorized people with just a few words; I can do that. I have done that.
What have I learned in these weeks of contemplating my deceased father and myself, indeed, all humanity? How complicated, and, as Sting sings, “how fragile we are.” I wish we could have known each other at these ages. I am close to the age he was when he died; he would have been 84 right now.
Sting sings: “Nothing ever comes from violence; nothing ever could.” But, a lot of learning comes and spontaneous compassion arises from facing our foibles and mistakes and meditating on the Human condition.
We might have talked about all of this for these past twenty years and more. Miss you, Dad. You would have liked Sting’s song. Listen, now.