Burn It All Down
I have been to the hospital. They have done blood tests, checked for anemia, thyroid disease. Depression is an obvious and simple diagnosis.
But sometimes I wonder if I am just exhausted from all the secrets I carry. This illness is new. I did not have it when I was a teenager, although I have had psychological problems for as long as I have been fully aware of what the world is like. But the exhaustion is new. The older I get the more severe the exhaustion, because the older the get the more secrets I have to keep, the more grief and rage.
This afternoon my mother forwarded me an email from Against the Stream, announcing that Noah Levine is being investigated for sexual misconduct. I have known about this for months. I kept the secret because I wanted to honor confidentiality. I removed his blurb from my book months ago. I didn't tell my publisher why. Because confidentiality. I tiptoed around the subject like I always do.
I am a teaching assistant for a large lecture class in college. The other day a young white man dressed as a janitor interrupted the lecture. He was carrying a large plastic bag and it was obvious he was not a real janitor. He pulled a T-shirt out of his plastic bag. "Is this anybody's T-shirt?" he said over the professor's voice.
"No, it's not." The professor said. "Can you please leave? I am in the middle of a lecture."
"Sorry, but I just want to know if this is somebody's T-shirt," the obviously-not-a-janitor continued, ignoring the professor. Everyone could sense something was off, but we didn't quite know what. I felt uncomfortable.
"I need you to leave," the professor repeated, more firmly. The fake janitor left. Ten minutes later he returned, with his big plastic bag. "I see what's going on," the professor said immediately. "I need you to get out right now. GET OUT!"
I felt relieved when the fake janitor left and was grateful for the professor for kicking him out. But then what I felt was jealousy. If it was my class, I would have let the man stay, with his big mysterious bag full of T-shirts or guns or magician's rabbits whatever was in it. I would have been polite. I would have felt increasingly uncomfortable and scared. I would have stood frozen, like I have so many other times, unable to say "no."
I carry so many men's secrets. So many successful, famous, Buddhist men's secrets. Men who have hurt me and who have hurt my friends. I have so many names. The priest who beats his wife. The famous teacher who sleeps with younger women. The other famous teacher who sleeps with younger women.
I keep their secrets because I have convinced myself I am the one at fault. There is a psychological term for this. It makes more sense to live in a world where women are constantly at fault then one in which men abuse innocent women.
I wrote a book about being young and naive and giving myself completely to spiritual community, about the death of a friend, about my mental illness and doubts about a religious tradition I loved with my whole heart. I wrote about being a mess and being twenty-four. I am planning a book tour and reached out to several Zen centers. Most people have been welcoming. But one abbot of a famous monastery said it was "too soon," to invite me to teach. Too soon meaning too young, presumably. I am not mature enough. I need more practice.
How dare he.
How many years of Buddhist practice do you need before you can speak with authority about your own life? How many years do you need to be alive before you know what is right and what is wrong? Naomi Wadler gave a speech at the March for Our Lives last week. She was only 11 years old. "My friends and I might still be 11," she said, "And we might still be in elementary school, but we know. We know life isn't equal for everyone and we know what is right and wrong."
How dare this system. How dare these other men. How dare they hurt women and continue being teachers. How dare people believe they can be teachers at all. They are old and have solved all the koans and achieved unshakeable enlightenment and yet they are nothing, they are shit.
The lineage is shit.
And yet I keep their names a secret, to protect them. Buddhists don't start drama, don't get angry; we just swallow it.
How much anger do we have to swallow and how sick do we have to make ourselves with secrets before we just burn it all down?