If I Lose Him…

As I may have mentioned before, I am very much in love with a wonderful man and I have no intention of breaking things off, for any reason.

That being said, life is unpredictable and often cruel. I know that one day, he may be taken away from me and I will suffer greatly.

That day, I’m seriously thinking I ought to renounce the world and turn to a life as an ascetic.  It is for his sake alone that I have decided not to since I do not wish to hurt him by leaving him abruptly and because for good or ill, I’m attached to him and I know it.  Without him, I have no reason not to join whatever contemplative order will have me as I am.

I’m in no  hurry to turn to the life of an ascetic but after some years of consideration, I think it would be right for me.  I feel strongly that I have led a monastic life before and that it was a life I found comfortable.  In this world of buying and selling, of competition, of rank and privilege and idle pursuits, I wither.  Here in Oregon there are some very inclusive Buddhist monasteries that I think might offer the kind of environment where someone like me could flourish.

I regret that I live in an age when nobody gives patronage to hermits or hermitage would be my first choice, in that instance.

The Grand Pattern

I’ve figured out what the grand pattern across and within all of my lives is.

I have been a profoundly fearful person, and I oscillate continually between total conformity and total rebellion when the pressure of total conformity becomes too much.

In my medieval life, total conformity had rewards but in 1915, total conformity came with an immense cost.

There’s a quote from my previous life that sums up this continuing pattern: “There’s two of me.  There’s the ashen, obsessive endlessly-working Calvinist, and then there’s the other part of me that doesn’t give a fuck.”

And even in my current life, I’ve oscillated back and forth between the ashen, obsessive, endlessly-working Calvinist and the rebel who cares nothing for prudish ideas of conformity and productive living.  At the heart of it all was fear.  Fear of rejection.  Fear of abandonment.  Fear of being left behind in some way or another.  Fear of being taken advantage of by someone stronger or smarter or with more authority.

In three lifetimes, too, I had long periods where I hid behind a gun and while this made sense on the Western Front, it didn’t make sense in Portland, Oregon in 2012.

I think, given the circumstances, gender dysphoria was actually the best thing that could have happened to me because it forced me to confront the truth of my nature on every level.  My personality shattered into a billion pieces and the resulting mess gave me a chance to take inventory of just how much of those old accretions I needed.  I found things in my metaphysical attic going back to medieval times.

But I’d be lying if I said I was done being fearful.  In fact it was the emergence of that old fearful side of me a few weeks ago that prompted this assessment.  When I am unable to do anything about a situation, I panic and I become fearful and direct my aggression outward, or hide my fear and lose myself in conformity only to break under the strain.

This is an opportunity to break a long-standing pattern though, and I believe I can.  I believe we aren’t slaves to our past and that our nature is not fixed or determined.  And when this life is over, I want to be able to smile and say to myself “well done,” not because of anything I produced creatively or any laurels I’ve rested on, but knowing that I’ve just broken one of the great barriers that has kept me from being as loving, peaceful, and wise as I am capable of being.

Recalling John’s Life

I often find that I feel closer to one of my previous lives than others at any given time.

I’d been thinking about Phil more recently, because at least in him I see something of a way forward for me.  I have similar skills, talents, and interests and I feel I could probably achieve similar success if I really apply some discipline to my work.

But ever since I had the chance urge to do a bit more work tracing John’s life, I’ve been thinking about him more and more and I have to say that it’s often a much more desolate feeling when I think about his life.

There is a longing there, a deep longing that I know can never be satisfied, to go back to the home I left behind all those years ago.  And I might even know now where he was born, and I might even be able to spend the night in the same building, but the people I left behind there in that life so long ago are long gone, first moved to other towns in the 1890s, then died of old age, disease, or war in the intervening years.  I can go back, but I know it will be a house full of strangers when I get there and whether or not any of the people I knew in that life have come back to me, I can’t say.

I have an inkling that maybe my fiance and my father were there, albeit in different roles.  But if they were, neither of them remember anything and even if they do appear to remember something when we visit, how can any of us tell if they’re remembering it spontaneously or remembering it because I put it in their heads?

And I can go to Ypres and Houplines, but all I can really do there is say my goodbyes to people who probably reincarnated along with me, had full lives after the war, then died of old age and are probably on their second or third postwar life now.  Those few who remember usually only have a vague sense that they were there.  I’ve only met one other reincarnated Tommy who has any clue as to who he was, and he was already career military by 1914; I’ve yet to meet anyone else from Kitchener’s Army who knows so much as their name, rank, and serial in this life.

And I can never undo, unsee, and unfeel what happened 99 years ago.  It left a dark stain on me that was with me throughout my previous life and carried into this one and though I’m back to where I can feel love, happiness, and joy again, now and then something will remind me of that spring in Ypres and I’ll be back to longing for the life John knew before the war.

The world now totters on the edge of another major war.  I hear they’re trying to make it possible for transfolk to serve, too, which means I could be drafted if the elites of this world decide a total war between superpowers is in the cards.  Already, 2014 is looking so much like 1914 and I’m terrified.  I read the news and it reminds me of the rumblings we ignored from Serbia, Russia, Germany, and Austro-Hungary during that blissful spring of 1914.  Just like before, everyone goes about their daily lives trying not to think about it, even as Ukraine, Russia, China, North Korea, Japan, the US, and the various powers of the EU (the ultimate cordial entente if there ever was one) all brace for war.  Ships, jets, soldiers, and missiles are massing everywhere and all it will take is one careless prod by a superpower to send the world into another major war.

And through it all I wonder, why did I go to war when I had the choice in 1914?  Why didn’t I stay in Hereford picking hops, swilling beer, and courting Ann by the river?  And will I be able to stay here in Portland reading, writing, swilling beer, and courting my fiance by the river, or will my mind be made up for me by the draft board or by some battle that razes the city I live in?

I want it to be different this time around.  I want to say my goodbyes to John and Phil and live the life they couldn’t, a good life untainted by war, by fear, and by people who won’t let us be.  

My One Gripe About the Story of Buddha

I admit, there is one gripe I have about the story of Buddha.

As much as they may have been a distraction and an obstacle to his goals, once he had married and had a child, wouldn’t Siddhartha be morally obligated to be there for them?  Also, calling your child “ball and chain” and then leaving them in the night is not the behavior of a wise or compassionate person.

Granted, I know that part of the story has him essentially locked in a sort of velvet prison, free to do anything so long as he is protected from pain, need, and suffering by his doting family.  And I imagine part of the point of the story is that he was literally not allowed to leave on his own, so a “jail break” of sorts makes sense.  But why take it out on the child?  Why call them “ball and chain,” of all things?  That’s not the child’s fault and I think it should be considered a negative example of how to frame your thoughts when involved in a similar situation.

I suppose a cynic would be able to use that to bolster their case that the whole story is somehow unwholesome to cling to and rife with human failings.  But in all likelihood, it’s the fault of the scribes and scholars who recorded these stories, not a gross failing of the subject of their story nor of the ideas attributed to him.  And one of the more generous traits of Buddhism is its broad acceptance of allegory and its injunction to take only what you know to be wise from the texts.  Dharma is not what is written, but what you learn from what is written, and negative examples of conduct are just as valid as positive ones provided you have the basic wisdom to know which is which.

I would add that I feel that the idea of leaving one’s family to become an ascetic is generally not a practice to be encouraged.  One who marries and has a child has expressed one commitment explicitly in their marriage vows, and one commitment implicitly in the act of conception.  I remember wanting to become a monk toward the end of my life as William Longespee, but the abbot at Ile de Re (I believe Claude was his name) wouldn’t have it; I had promised Ela to return, after all.

Also, one of my greatest regrets if I was Phil was the way I went through wives and proved to be anything but a model father for three children.  My memories of them are vague and have not been confirmed, but in truth I feel bad for them and I wish I could remember more about them, or that I could tell them that if I was their father I’m incredibly sorry for putting all of them through bitter divorces and leaving them without a father.

Keep your promises and do not neglect those who need you.  Treat your commitments seriously unless they do more harm than good.  This I firmly believe.

The Meaning of that Dream…

I had a dream a few weeks ago (I think I made an entry about it) where I walked through an alternate Yeovil- one as it would be if two world wars hadn’t happened- and saw it much more intact, and closer to how John would have remembered it.

The part of the dream that really struck me, though, was when I came to the square where the Yeovil war memorial would be, and in its place was a giant, ancient myrtle tree.

Today in an art history class, we were discussing the Venuses of Titian and Giorgione and it was mentioned that the myrtle is a symbol of Venus.

Suddenly, a possible meaning of the dream clicked.  That myrtle was the distinct opposite of what stands there now.  Rather than a cold stone in the spirit of Mars, God of War, this was a living thing, ancient and beautiful, in the spirit of Venus, Goddess of Love.  I sat in its shade and was very content.  If I was aware of this memetic symbolism, it didn’t click consciously.

Another possible meaning for the myrtle comes from the Welsh lyrics most commonly set to the tune “Cwm Rhondda,” which I believe to have been John’s favorite hymn during his adult years in the Welsh Marches.  The title of that particular setting is “Wele’n sefyll rhwng y myrtwydd” (Lo, between the myrtles standing).*  The meaning of the myrtle in Christianity is apparently that of the Gentiles who converted to Christianity, so the symbolism would have a lot of power in Europe.

Now, I could digress into Neoplatonism and try to string the two meanings together, but right now I’m not in a good state for such intellectual gymnastics.  And yet, if this is anything but the product of 29 years of absorbing Christian and Greco-Roman religious memes and conflating them through common conventions, it’s tantalizing to think about because it’s the first time I’ve seen any hint of the divine in this.

I would feel very blessed if the Divine Feminine came to me in the guise of Venus in this life.  I am waiting for something a little less ambiguous but I’m listening.

* I should note that John was probably more familiar with an English language version of the hymn and though I’ve found evidence of the Harris family in the Welsh Marches going back hundreds of years, I have no reason to believe that he actually spoke Welsh.

A Couple Things

First of all, many thanks to a friend on a reincarnation forum I post on for information about Ile de Re’s climate.  While I don’t know how it was in 1225/26, he pointed out that at least currently, it’s fairly mild there in the winter and it wouldn’t be out of the question to see something like snowdrops growing in February, which might support my memory of leaving the island around the time the first signs of spring had come.

Also, I had a brief flash of memory from John’s life.  I may have remembered a girlfriend.  I think her name was Ann.  She had light brown hair and a fair face that I can’t recall in detail, except that she had heavy eyebrows that didn’t detract much from her looks, and wore simple beige dresses with burnt-orange colored floral prints.  There was a green brooch too, I can’t remember if it was a green cameo or a stone of some kind.  I think she was younger than me because I was in my 30s (her dress seemed very late Edwardian so I’m thinking this was between 1909 and 1914) and she was probably not much more than 23.  She was the one I used to tour those ruins with.  I think that abbey outside Shrewsbury was our last time together.  She’s the one whose face and smile I still can’t bring myself to remember clearly, but whose presence I had some sense of whenever I had memories of touring ruined castles and abbeys while hearing the song “Scarborough Fair.”

I could be entirely wrong about this.  I have no way to prove that Ann ever existed; anyone who knew of John’s life and loves is gone now.  I do know that in my previous life I was married to a woman named Anne for a while but it ended badly.  I could have gotten the name from her, but from what I’ve read (I have no memory), Anne wasn’t anything like the person I remember Ann being.

I wish I knew more.  I wish I could trace this person.  Finding the right 23-year-old woman named Ann living in Hereford or Shrewsbury around the time of the Great War would be like looking for one particular needle, in a stack of needles, inside a haystack.

Missing England

I don’t know what to say except every now and then, the urge to go back gets strong and it’s very strong for me right now.

It’s not even rational.  I don’t think the political situation there is inherently much better than the one here (especially considering the huge number of surveillance cameras in the UK and the fact that it’s become a playground for big banks and the US government).  But the fact is I’m scared about the near future Stateside and I feel the need for familiar comforts.

The fact is, I’m homesick for an England that doesn’t exist any more and I know it.  I already made that mistake in 2003-05 when I studied in London to get away from Bush, and I should have learned.  

But it doesn’t go away; I really do miss being there and any time I come across all the saber-rattling from so many angry Americans (who have a right to be angry but are usually angry for all the wrong reasons), I just want to go to the English countryside I remember and stay in some out-of-the-way village as if I’d always lived there.  I’m sure somewhere, in the back of my mind, I’ll be wondering what ever happened to the village poacher I used to buy pheasants from or the lads who gathered hops and apples in autumn in Hereford.  They’re gone, though, and I know it.

I love where I live right now.  It’s relatively peaceful and one of the few parts of the country where being poor isn’t a crime.  But I worry that all this will be gone soon and when it is, I wonder where I’m going to go.  Will I just keep looking for the England that exists so vividly in my mind every time the going gets rough in the country I was born in, even though I know it isn’t there because I already looked?

Some things defy reason.  The fact remains that I’m deeply attached to the English countryside, that I still love the taste of blackcurrant jam, Double Gloucester cheese, and Cumberland sausages with Colman’s mustard.  I still get a warm feeling when I hear British patriotic songs.  Before I had even traveled there in this life, I was told I had a trace of an accent (at times a trace of the Somerset drawl would even slip through).  Even my family and friends have joked that I’m more British than American.  

One day, I’m sure, I’ll inevitably go back to England for more than just a casual visit though on what terms, I don’t know.  I just hope I don’t make the mistake I made back in 2003 and think that I could not only hide from a global dystopia, but that some ineffable thing that I was only dimly aware of at the time would still be there.