More on Moving: Reclaiming Denial

I am moving, from one house to another. Something I did very frequently as a child and young adult, then about every five years in my 30’s and 40’s. Every time I say I’m never doing this again.

Making that promise to myself, a promise I know I will not keep, has become a ritual.

It’s a piece of magic I learned from my mother, and it’s repetition serves one of the key functions of ritual – it connects me to cyclical time. We like to think that we live in straight lines and we do, to some extent, but those straight lines exist within circles and we spiral through them, learning new refinements on old knowledge with every turn. This repetition reminds me: I’ve been here before. I’ll be here again.

All those moves that made up my childhood? They were my mother’s job to manage. My father’s bosses would tell him to move, and he’d go, and my mother would pack up the house and wrangle the three children and follow, sometimes months later, always across state lines, sometime across oceans. She’d set up the new house and nest us all in and go about the business of making a home there that felt as rooted and comfortable as a forever home, even though she knew the reality of my father’s work meant that she’d be doing it all again, next year.

I asked her once, when I was older, about the costs of that ritual of denial. The physical and emotional work of investing so deeply in place after place. “Home should feel like forever,” she said, “even when you know it can’t be.”

When I was younger, I scoffed at these kinds of rituals. I was all about looking face-on at the hard truths. I was anti-euphemism. I worshipped the pantheon of Knowledge, and I thought Comfort was a lesser god.

I was smart. But I was not wise.

This ritual my mother taught me may be one of denial, but it is what one of my teachers, Roshi Joan Halifax of Upaya Zen Center, calls “radiant denial.” In teaching how to be skillfully present with the dying, Roshi tells a story about a woman she knew who maintained “I am not dying” right up until the moment of her death. Those were, in fact, her last words. This isn’t a cautionary tale. This woman’s process was without struggle, and her death was peaceful.

“It’s easy to consider denial as some kind of pathology,” Roshi Joan writes, “However, in being with dying, we simply do not know when it might be serving a positive or healing function… Deep down inside, we are all aware that we are going to die. If we activate the spirit of hope or wisdom through denial… that is our own business. In some situations, it can be of great help and bring peace into our lives.”

These days, after many years of home ownership, I have chosen to be a renter again. In three days I will sleep in a new house. And I will absolutely know that it is not mine forever.

The same can be said of my body, really. Our houses and our selves mirror each other in interesting, sometimes oblique ways.

In acting like I am here (or anywhere, really) to stay, I am enacting my mother’s ritual. I am entering into the next phase of my life in radiant, intentional denial of its temporary nature. I am going to let the wisdom of that act spiral out through all of my parts, laying new and reinforcing old patterns in my soul. Because Home should feel like Forever. Even when you know it can’t be.

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One thought on “More on Moving: Reclaiming Denial

  1. Helene Christopher August 23, 2018

    Great post! In my life, I’ve always been the one to look at truth dead on, no matter how painful. Now as I age I see the benefits of keeping it “soft” and am much less judgmental of others who have a hard time facing the truth.

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