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Book club

Week 9, by Eva Tsoureka

Here we go!

When I first read that I’d be writing this week’s post and saw the chapters that I had to write about, the first thought was, You have to be kidding me??! Listening, What Is Voice, The Quarter Turn, The Inner Critic, Diving Down And Coming Up, and Love Your Window.

Those are my favorite topics to talk about, how am I going to fit them in a single post? Even from the first sentence, what a beautiful quote of Krishnamurti. Aloneness is indivisible and loneliness is separation…Aloneness is the purgation of all motives, of all pursuits of desire, of all ends.. It is the aloneness of being; it is uncorrupted, rich, complete. I find this so wonderful and how interesting it is the fact that even the word “alone” according to wiktionary derives From Middle English allone, from earlier all oon (“alone”, literally “all one”).

In many ways, writing is listening and simply taking notes. One of the reasons I love the process of writing is that it enables me to listen until my loneliness opens into a blessed sense of aloneness. The gift of silence is what allows us to let go of what we want so we can receive what we have. And what a great gift that is: the greatest gift of all.

So many memories of Wholeness in the Oneness are popping into my mind right now as I asked my “librarian” to search for them in the folders of my subconscious mind where all memories are kept. My desire to “dive down” is what brought me to New York 11 years ago. I thought that in an 8 million person city, I would find the answers that I needed. Honestly, I have no clue what I was thinking.. That I would stop people in the street asking them “Hey, what is it all about? What’s this life?”

I had a class to attend at NYU once a week for a couple of hours and the rest was ALONE time. I remember myself being on the line in the grocery store thinking “Oh, 2 more people in front of you and then it’s your turn to speak.” It felt awkward after so many hours or even days without saying out loud a word. Only conversations in my head with my beloved roommate. The inner critic that for sure I wasn’t keeping at arms length as Nepo wisely suggests, but instead giving him my entire voice. It took a while for me to confront him and ask him to make some room for me.

I realized that I first had to listen carefully to what he had to say and then dive down, deep inside me to see how his words impacted me and what those words truly meant for me. As Nepo says, “Our work is to open the gift of our consciousness while limiting the impact of our inner critic, keeping the self-watcher at arms length. Being still and listening allows us to behold what is before us. The deepest form of bearing witness is to behold another in all their innocence. This is the key to love. To listen until the noise of the world subsides. To listen until the noise of our wounds subsides. To listen until we only hear the life before us.” Couldn’t agree more. Yes, this is the key to love.

And we can access that love when we are brave enough to open the Window of the heart. “Of the many windows we have into life, it is through the window of our eyes that we take in the vastness of experience. Through the window of our mind, we take in the endless patterns that help us understand the web of life. And through the window of our heart, we feel the thousand ways we are affected by other life, the thousand ways we are each other.” Oh this window of the heart.. It has offered me so many wonderful experiences.

I am inviting you all on a journey to open that window in the meditation I was inspired to create after reading these chapters of the book. I hope you will listen and enjoy. (See below) And I would like to also share with you a piece I wrote while back, that popped into my mind after reading those chapters since it contains a lot of “Diving Down and Coming Up.”

Dear dad, I am so mad at you. How could you? How could you let a gypsy woman ruin your life? It’s so hard for me, writing to you, after all this time; it’s been 4 years since that evening in the bathroom. Sometimes it feels like it was yesterday. I was down on my knees, squeezed between the toilet and the shower, trying to hold you, and Pavlos, from the other side, was trying to lift you. Seems like I was for hours in this tiny bathroom with my brother, only the two of us and you. I was feeling his anxiety; the anxiety of the unknown; experiencing the exact moment that you know is going to define the course of your life. I was feeling the same. Incapable of performing any kind of action: unable to move; with a million ideas of how to react popping in my head but rejecting them all immediately. It was the first time I felt so useless.

There was absolutely nothing I could do but stare at you. You just exhaled and then, never inhaled again. It was just this one breath; a heavy, harsh and loud breath. I heard it. I felt it. I lived it. Like an ouph; a sign of relief and then just silence. Pure stillness. “What happened?” screamed Thanos when he saw the three of us in the bathroom. Just minutes ago, before he left to accompany the doctor to his car, we were all chatting in the living room commenting on the news about the financial crisis in Greece, he was coming back to tell you that the doctor said that you are getting better and to tell us (in private) that you have plenty of months left. He couldn’t believe that the inevitable came much earlier; that it just happened. It has been only 14 days since he called me in New York, to tell me I must come home right away. He said that an issue came up, concerning you.

Something about a decision we (the siblings) had to make. When I received the call, I was at a Greek dinner around the corner from the storage place that Meinrad and I put “our stuff” after emptying “our home”. Totally exhausted after a long day of packing and moving boxes, feeling so sad and so disappointed. What was I thinking dad? Of course it would be a “recipe for disaster” to move in with someone you’ve only known for a couple of days; especially if he is from Austria! I cannot help it but blame Austria for my problematic relationship with Meinrad.

For me it was all about this cultural gap we couldn’t bridge. But of course, you didn’t say anything this time. You were just happy I decided to break up with the “16 years older than me guy”, who I (your only daughter) was thinking of marrying. Music to your ears, when I told you, after my 3 month vacation-existential journey-documentary workshop, that I decided to postpone my return back to Greece, because of an Austrian guy I just met and fell completely in love with.

Now, there he was, seating across from me, impatiently as always, tapping his fingers on the table, looking totally annoyed. “Eva, am I going to wait forever to finish your phone call?” he asked me, when I hung up the phone with Thanos. “There are a couple of more decisions we have to make!” he continued, with this stupid, once upon a time sexy, accent. “Who is going to keep the couch?”

“You can keep everything,” I said and left. Got into a cab and went straight to JFK airport.

My 30 year old crisis, all this confusion, trying to identify myself, my anxiety of being too old for not knowing what I want from my life, my romantic issues, my few minutes ago break up, my bittersweet feelings for emptying another apartment, my insecurities about my career, my disappointment of not becoming a mother anytime soon; all these “huge problems” suddenly seemed so unimportant and pointless. My head was about to explode trying to figure what Thanos meant on the phone. What could be wrong with my daddy that “I” had to decide about? You were always the one who made the decisions. You were supposed to always protect me and take care of me; not the opposite. You were the vice mayor after all! You did it for all these “voters” anyway; for so many years you were there for them; available 24/7.

You were strong and wise; everyone respected your opinion; including me. I knew you were the man I could always count on. “A friend” as you used as your motto in all of the 3 political campaigns you ran. It was just last summer that we were celebrating your 62nd birthday in beautiful Crete. We were both anxious about our careers but super happy that we finally had 3 whole days to spend just the two of us. For the last year that I was working for the biggest TV network, presenting the live morning show, we never had time to hang out together as friends usually do, but you were ok with it. You were so proud. Remember we were dancing barefoot, totally wasted at this fancy club by the beach until 6am? “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine” we were singing to each other, while hugging and dancing making everyone around us believe we were a couple in love (it wouldn’t be so crazy after all, I do have the same age as your girlfriend).

“This situation is killing me,” you told me anxiously over breakfast the next morning, while we were trying to deal with a terrible hangover.

“A clear sky should never be afraid of lightning,” I replied while smiling.

I knew there was this court case that was bothering you so much. I knew you were suffering that the press was accusing you for defalcation and fraud. I knew you were innocent. The financial situation in Greece was bad and people were just looking for scapegoats. I didn’t take your concern seriously. I wish I had.

“Should we tell him?” was the question; I found out after arriving at Thessaloniki airport, where Thanos and Pavlos were waiting for me. They were both as pale as ghosts with red swollen eyes. “Dad has only a couple of weeks left, perhaps months,” Thanos said “It’s cancer and it spread everywhere,” Pavlos said. “This cannot be happening.” I said, in absolute denial. We’d say nothing to you, that was our decision.

Back to the bathroom, with Thanos’s help, we were able to lift you and lay you down on the big sofa in the living room. We were just standing above you, trying to figure out what to do. “I think he is breathing,” I said “Maybe with a small mirror we can check; I have seen it in the movies.” I would have never imagined that I would ever experience something like that in real life. Death was never in my agenda. I was ignoring its existence. I never thought of it as an option. It never, ever bothered me in any way. It didn’t exist. Can it be so simple? Is just this “breath”, one minute is there and the next is not. As simple as that.

With life comes death, as hate comes with love, as cold comes with hot, as bad comes with good and so forth. But for me it was just like life comes with “problems”, death was not part of the acquisition. After the funeral, I left with mom to spend a whole month with her at her boat. We were sailing for days with no particular destination, just gazing at the sea in total silence, both drawn into our own thoughts. She was also feeling lost; you might have been separated for a couple of years but you were her man for 30 years, her only man.

One day we approached a marina to dock safely for a while, since a big storm was on its way. It was August 13th; the day of your birthday. “It’s his birthday today,” I told mom. “I know” she replied.

I could see the deep sorrow in her eyes; and so could she. Sorrow you cannot put in words. So big, you cannot turn it in something so small as a word. I left in search for a bar to have a drink with you, just as we did the year before. I found this bar on the beach, made from bamboo sticks, in total harmony with the wild nature around it. I ordered 2 margaritas; one for you and one for me. I chose the best spot for us, a table facing the endless blue sea, away from the noisy crowd but close enough to hear the music. “I am not the only one staring at the sun” was coming out of the speakers, and I couldn’t hold my tears while I was whispering it to you. Feeling lonelier than ever before in my life. After emptying my 3rd and your 3rd margarita, I somehow went back to the boat (I don’t really remember how that happened) and woke up the next morning with a huge hangover, verifying that it was a successful birthday celebration or just to bring me in the reality that it wasn’t a birthday celebration whatsoever.

I had to deal with it. And is not the hangover I am talking about. I had to deal with Death. The Tibetan Book of the Dead for sure will bring me closer to my goal, I thought, when I saw it at the Munich airport bookstore, where I was wandering around, waiting for my connecting flight back to New York. I was never into “spirituality” but knew that Tibetans had a more clear understanding of this matter!

According to Buddhism, contemplation and meditation on death and impermanence are very important because it is only by recognizing how precious and how short life is that we are most likely to make it meaningful and to live it fully. Also, by understanding the death process and familiarizing yourself with it, we can remove fear at the time of death and ensure a good rebirth. I was a bit skeptical about the reincarnation theory, perhaps the whole idea is too big for me to process, but I felt the need to meditate and pay closer attention to my breath. After all, it was all about this breath.

There I was in a Vipassana silent retreat, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by 200 people that I wasn’t even supposed to look in the eyes; no talking; no phones; no books; just a clock and a flashlight; for 10 days. You have no idea what I am talking about, right? You have never heard of Vipassana? Vipassana which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body. Does all this sound totally abstract to you?

It’s not; trust me after being in complete silence for 10 days; waking up every morning at 4am to meditate and then meditate and then meditate again; 12 hours a day; observing your breath and persist doing it no matter how hard it is; at the end you finally get it. Don’t worry. I didn’t become a Buddhist monk but completed the course feeling enlightened. Understanding the importance of the breath, how essential it is to observe it in order to achieve peace of mind; a mind that creates thoughts that can constantly change just like our emotions; who are always driven by our thoughts; which we have the power to control. Always. What are we after all? If not our minds and the thoughts we create about ourselves? We are the things WE believe we are. As simple as that, dad!

If a person believes with his entire being for 35 years that he is going to die of cancer because a gypsy woman told him so, then YES; he is going to die of cancer in 35 years. Just like you did. Do you understand now why I am so mad at you?

Love forever, Eva

Ps. Looking forward to hearing from you. Now that I know you are around, I feel strong again. I know there is nothing out there that can really hurt me or you.

Eva’s meditation

Schedule:

  • Week #10 The Deeper We Go through Not Great But True, Tracey Yokas, Nov. 4
  • Week #11 Staying Close to What Is Sacred through Stacks of Wheat, Maria Rodgers O’Rourke, Nov. 11
  • Week #12 Placeholders through Going With The Stream, Tammi Scott, Nov. 18
  • Week #13 <<<BREAK>>> Happy Thanksgiving
  • Week #14 Everything We Need through Becoming the Poem, Kim Prendergast, Dec. 2
  • Week #15 The Empty Saddle through This Belongs to Everyone, Eva Tsoureka, Dec. 9
  • Week #16 FINAL book club round up Zoom, Saturday, December 18, 10am pacific

A link will remain here to week 1 in case anyone wants to review the spearheading guidance. Week 1.

12 Comments

  1. What moving piece of writing, Eva. Thank you for sharing that with us. I am sorry you lost your dad at such a young age. Tragic. I lost my husband when he was 62 years old. Cancer. Tragic. That was 5 years ago. Now, in the last year or so, I’ve been watching my 93 year old dad significantly decline. He’s lucky to have lived so long in a world where that age is not commonly obtained. I am so grateful for that, and for the fact that he isn’t suffering. He is just declining. And I’m losing him. I can surely relate to how your dad was a strong presence you could rely on. In my adult years, my dad was that for me. And it’s been my goal to continue being that for my children.

    Death does make us reevaluate our lives. I’m a work in progress. I am also stronger than I used to think I could be.

  2. Wow Eva,
    I really related to your post and your description of your fathers death. Thank you also for that great meditation. It was amazing.

    I was at my mothers side when she died in 2010 and I will never forget how peaceful she was at the end. She was in a coma and just stopped breathing. Death is so surreal. My mother and I had an extremely complex relationship. She had severe bipolar disorder and I was more her mother then she was mine. She had taken such a large chunk of my life and soul and suddenly she was gone. I wrote this poem right after she died.

    My mother died today. The pain weighs me down like an anchor or a pile of rocks thrown into the sea.

    At her bedside she was cold and grey, shriveled like flower petals left for too long without water.

    I kissed her forehead and felt her absence, empty, hollow, a shell. She waited until I got there, not even a gasp of air to mark her passing.

    My insides erupt, shards of glass penetrating tender flesh, an internal tidal wave, drowning, falling.

    Frannie died today and nothing will ever be the same.

    After that I began studying with a meditation teacher and he had me doing a series of meditation exercises specifically about death and the dissolution of the body. We do such a poor job in our culture preparing for this inevitable transition.

    So the chapter that I most related to was “The Inner Critic”. To quote Ram Dass again, “Don’t believe everything you think”. This is a great way to deal with the inner critic. Mine was so strong when I was younger that I named her Gremlina because she was like a little gremlin or devil sitting on my shoulder always pointing out my shortcomings. She never seemed to tire of criticizing me for things both large and small. I have finally been able to shut her up almost entirely. I wrote a poem that illustrates this.

    So loud when I was young, my inner critic is fading.

    Like chalk on a chalkboard I can barely read the lines.

    Once taken so seriously, I thought she was me. Now I stand back and ask what is there to criticize?

    I am what I am, a sculpture molded by life, imperfect perfection, a spark of life expressing itself, unique as a snowflake.

    My inner critic once so loud is now barely a whisper.

    This pretty much sums it up. I have learned to be my own nurturing parent through many years of hard work.

    1. Diane, I can surely relate to your journey with your inner critic. I am so glad you don’t have to deal with Gremlina now, as in days past. I never named my inner critic but she was fairly front & center for so many years. In fact, I think you know, but I’ll share for the group, that it was just after my husband’s death that I finally was able to purge my inner critic. My husband was so sweet and caring, always my cheerleader, even when I didn’t believe in myself. He grounded me and never expected perfection. It was his voice, in my head after he died, that calmed me and told me to be good to myself. It became a mantra for me when I started to dig away at my worth, to tell myself, “Treat yourself as if you were your best friend.” It worked. Thank goodness. That inner critic is a heavy burden to carry.

      It seems so sad that this turnaround in my thinking could only come out of tragedy. Yet, at least I figured it out. In the direct aftermath of Richard’s death, I felt so vulnerable yet so strong was the feeling of not wanting to fall into a major depression. I knew I had to be strong for myself, that Richard wasn’t there to tell me to go easy on myself. Richard always had such a strong desire to live, and to live life to the fullest, moreso that I ever had. It didn’t seem fair that he was the one to die so young. So, in part to honor him, in part to try to thrive on my own, I had to pull on all my strengths, including the love and faith he always had in me, to go on without him as best as I could. In this way, I carry him with me every moment.

    2. Wow Diane. Thank you for sharing these beautiful poems. Very inspiring. I couldn’t agree more about not being prepared for death. We barely even speak of it! Like so many hard things. I guess that’s why we have each other. xo

    3. Diane,
      Thanks for sharing your journey here. it is very meaningful and inspiring to hear how you dealt with your inner critic.

      Kimberly

  3. Wow Eva, thank you for this stunning post and sharing with us about your father and his death. I agree so completely with you and Diane and anyone else who says we face it unprepared. We sure do. Whether or not we have time to “prepare,” we still don’t/can’t/aren’t/won’t. I don’t know…it certainly is systemic and goes waaay back and is pervasive. Not in all cultures, of course. I, too, felt the “same” for we cannot literally know another’s feelings, but I felt the same at both of my parents’ deaths. For Dad, I had time. For Mom, not so much. It was so surreal seeing both of them that way. Them and no longer them. Sue, it sure does seem to be a theme of this book club experience of the dance of “positive” and “negative.” We spoke of it, also, on the Zoom..as Nepo describes it..the braid. I will have to go back and reread that section. Of course, there can’t be one without the other. I guess that’s the point. Why bother fighting it?

    This section, like the others, just blew my mind! The quarter turn! We all have paradigm shifts. But what a beautiful way to explain their potential for change…just turn it one quarter and a pattern emerges! I love how Nepo speaks at the bottom of page 145 that these quarter turns are not to teach, but to lift up and share, to understand better, and to enlist more fully. Yes! That’s how I look at my writing..sharing not to teach but for myself and others to understand better. And, dare I say, to have empathy and compassion. Hard to do in our current day and age. And I LOVE that he clarified that just about anything can be a quarter turn. This is so important in many ways. Even when I talk about self-care, I think many people harbor the idea that self-care has to be this big endeavor. (Or exercise! Yuck, lol) If I can’t or won’t do it for an hour or two, why bother? No!! He reminds us that the gleam in someone’s eye can be a quarter turn. Everything doesn’t have to be so dramatic!

    And how we’ve all related to the Inner Critic! My IC has foiled me many times. What work it is to learn how to keep that voice at arm’s length! “For there is something bottomless about our striving to please, which cannot be satiated, only set aside.” What a relief, to read these words. Who doesn’t hope that at some point the horrible voice and horrible words will disappear? Here, he helps me, like in so many ways, there’s no end to this…but it will be less and less over time. And his explanation of why meditation squelches the IC..that it has nothing to grab onto!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HOLY MOLY!!

    IN THAT STRUGGLE, THERE IS A DIRECT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE POWER OF OUR INNER CRITIC AND THE STRENGTH OF OUR SELF-ACCEPTANCE.

    Fuck me!! YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. Just like that. Boom. One sentence explains the struggle of a lifetime. Better to assess the condition of your self-worth than to try to satisfy your critic’s demands.

    And I have to say..that Nepo’s clarification of the power of introspection was really helpful to me. I think I’ve been resisting spending more time doing it because it seems, what?, self-indulgent..or worse, non-productive! But now I see this is a big part of what’s been lacking in terms of my current practice. Don’t get me wrong..I think a lot..ha ha. Overthink would be more accurate. But introspection is a different process and with a different point.

    Just holy crap you guys. This book!! I can’t even.

    Thank you all, again, for sharing so openly of yourselves.

  4. Thank you Sue for that poignant
    and honest description of your journey after Richards death. He sounds like such wonderful man. I wish I could have met him. As a therapist I have helped many people with their grief process. Your courage and ability to use this experience to become a stronger person and to honor Richards memory is truly inspiring.

    1. Ditto, Diane about Sue.
      And ditto about you..and how you used your experience with your mom in the same way..it is truly inspiring.

  5. Eva,
    That was a very powerful, honest and beautiful post. I am in awe of your vulnerability and anyone who can do a vipassana retreat has my deep respect. Last but not least I really loved your meditation. You really captured the essense of his writing on Listening, from “opening the threshold” to “this is the key to love”.
    Facing death head on is not an easy task. But like so many things I have feared in life, facing the fear is always so much easier than all the fuss about the fear. Somehow this triggered thoughts about underlying deep fear I have not yet settled. I guess more to be revealed here for me…as Nepo writes “If we live long enough, life erodes us to a perfect opening.” I think I am heading in that direction.
    The last piece that sticks out to me from this week is this writing on our voice. I know I squashed my voice and I know a pivotal moment that helped me a squash it.
    From the moment someone asked me what i wanted to do when I grew up I said ‘act’. I have no idea why or from where this came. But I knew it in my heart and soul and as a child I did act whenever I could; which means at school of course. It informed every decision I made. About 16 my mother told me this was an unrealistic dream not a valid pursuit. Depsite my protest, I know I shut down my heart that day. My voice and my heart go hand in hand; with it went some passion.
    My voice is how my heart sings.
    What I keep thinking of in the context of all of the the quote by Maya Angelou…”Our deepest fear is that we are powerul beyond imagination.”
    Namaste

    1. Kim, it is so sad that your heart shut down when you were told you couldn’t pursue a career in acting. I am glad you’ve found your voice and that makes your heart sing.

      We want our children to be successful and self-supporting, and I know it’s hard for some parents to let their children pursue their passions if those passions don’t seem “reasonable” from a parent’s perspective. What the parents’ don’t always see is their kids’ could resent them for limiting their choices. And, it’s sad to think about unfulfilled dreams. If we brought up all kids to find their passions, and cultivated them long enough to build careers out of them, there’d be a lot more happiness in the world.

      1. Thank you all for your comments. I find it so wonderful that no matter our backgrounds, we all have similar experiences to connect with. So deeply grateful for this book club and all the stories I ready I feel so much richer. Thank you all

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