Friday, September 3, 2010


I had this moment of recognition at bedtime last evening. The feeling has been gnawing away at the edges of consciousness, almost unnoticed, for a few days now. I have been associating it with the TEDx talk that I'm scheduled to be giving next week but I realized last night that it's bigger than that. It's the end of summer, back-to-school dread that reappears every year around this time.

It makes particular sense these days, because we have taken to spending the two summer months down in Laguna Beach, and early September heralds the return to the city. And while I "work" just as hard down here, writing almost every day, the city means schedule, office and business. I do not have the same feeling of comfort and ease in the city, with its constant hum of traffic, its almost palpable throb of electrical power and activity, its always close-to-the-surface subtext of competition, anger, hostility. There is a hard edge to living in the city that makes constant demands on the psychic energy--and even on the body.

So I do not look forward to returning, even with the knowledge that Laguna Beach always awaits us, at the weekends and, more frequently these days, for a week or so each month.

There is, however, something deeper going on than either the anticipation of the TEDx conference or the return to the city. It's the old, deeply implanted memory of the return to school. Those who did not enjoy the dubious privilege of private boarding school may have experienced this feeling as the end of summer approached but not, I suspect, with quite the same dread-fulness as we who did.

For me, it started with the reappearance of that dreaded "trunk" and "grub box"--the big trunk for the clothes my mother folded in neat stacks: the shirts with their separable collars and studs, the sports gear, the school ties and gray herring-bone tweed jackets, the blue Sunday suit; the grub box for the cookies and cakes and jars of jam, reminders of home that added a note of home-cooked joy to the rigors of school diet. And then the trip to London in the family car, the arrival at Victoria Station with its hissing plumes of steam, its all-too-familiar smells of coal and steel, its crowded platforms and its seething carriages. Then the familiar faces, too many of them feared or loathed, that sense of terrible isolation, of not being one of them, and the awful fear of tears welling to the surface despite all efforts to keep them down as the train pulled away from the platform and all those parents stood there waving goodbye, the faces of my own parents receding amongst them. The parting, to me, seemed each time like forever...

Now, decades later, that memory is still powerful enough to generate a sick feeling at the pit of the belly. Reason reminds me that I don't have to go back to school, but the seasonal pattern is profound. I experience it first as a kind of persistent, low-grade depression, a dread so deeply hidden that I do not recognize it at first for what it is. Then, slowly, it begins to drift toward the surface of consciousness until--as it did last night--it hits me. Ah, that old feeling...

It's in these subtle ways that old patterns manage to control our lives. All the more important to pay attention to what's happening inside, and to be aware when a pattern of this kind begins to repeat itself. At such moments, I am grateful to have discovered the breath as the best vantage point from which to watch the pattern's action and, with careful observation and an understanding of the potential power of equanimity, to gently detach from it until it fades away.

1 comment:

TaraDharma said...

beautifully written, albeit anxiety producing. your train station experience sounds hellish, poor boy.

it is the most challenging thing to be centered in the middle of all that noise, traffic, duties, humanity! I can understand your dread in leaving your little paradise. I know, of course, all these things are grist for the mill and you'll be turning out thought-provoking posts from the eye of the storm!