Mary Duggan

Mary Duggan
Virgin Islands, USA
October, 1999

Emerging from the darkness

How do you condense something that has taken on such a monumental importance in a life? To what bare essence do you distill a thing that has become the pervasive fragrance? What instrument is worthy enough to accompany the crystal song which marks each step taken since that marvelous moment of a truth? As I cast my occasionally fraudulent memory back to past times and other days, the overriding feeling that comes up is the unhappy. It is not that my life has been unfortunate; I come from a large family that loves me. We were middle class and there was always a roof over my head, plenty of food on the table, and gifts on all the occasions. Born in the United States and then raised on a tropical island from the age of 10 is not what some would think of as an unhappiness. In all honesty I must confess I had a mainly happy childhood.

But there is that unhappiness stewing. I was a child of books and daydreams, a watcher, shy and apart from the energy of other lives, waiting for a something. The older I got the more I felt unhappy. Someplace inside a darkness took root and grew. I do not know the exact point I abandoned the faith of my birth, Catholic, but probably around the time I turned to the god of alcohol.

At 15, I had my first drink and was drunk. I thought, “This is it. That long waiting has been for this. “I jumped in and swam in it, reveled, turned into some totally other else. It was a marvelous three year frolic, but a frolic as all things doesn’t last forever, and when you begin with a darkness even the strongest light must fail and the darkness returns. The fixing I thought I had found at the feet of Bacchus was just a brief stay. Alcohol is a stern god, one which sucks the very inner life of a soul, but I had cheated the god, being lost from the start. My interior was the blackness of the empty spaces. My thoughts were the dark yearnings of a lost and alone one, bargaining for happiness and pleasure with a god who did not hear and could not care. I had no sense of things, had no understanding, off balance and adrift. I floated my shaky way to becoming a police officer. To this day I don’t know how I made it, but I did, and soon the only identity I had was that of a police officer. When that was threatened I got sober on December 1, 1984, with the kind assistance of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The job that I loved, and the life that I did not, was saved. I had begun my alcoholic sojourn hollow, and as I exited and left the god behind there was still a deep unsettled place within me: that vaguely disturbing sorrowing, a silent wailing as my life seemed to slip-slide so very far off-center, deep agony, thoughts of suicide’s relief. I reached a point of things when it felt like the hole that had become my life was just too deep and black, but fear woke me and caused a scrabbling climb to a more seemingly stable unhappy place. Blaming the blackness of my life on the latest catch phrase “job related stress” I started researching ways to relieve the awful feeling.

At some point I read where meditations would help and began looking into the different types. Reading a Zen book had me intrigued with the thoughts of Buddha, and so, as I perused the different Buddhism titles I saw one called _The First Discourse of the Buddha_….figured go to the source…As I read the book I got such a prickling as the hair on my head raised up. My heart pounded and my hands shook. Never had I known such a true thing; always had I known such a true thing. Excited by the promise of it, terrified by the fact of it, mind reeling with the simple beauty of it, for me there was no choice. I knew the true thing and knew I had to walk the Noble Path. With the exuberance of one who has been long away from the home place and has found their family once again, I happily read and learned and began to practice. It has passed my mind to ponder why, of all books, that one would come to hand, of all schools why Theravada. Such a happy chance, or not chance, in the end of things it does not matter. My heart sang with the joy of the finding, and that is as it is. I wish I could say that since then my life has become serene and elegant, a graceful display of humanity, a peaceful shore. It has been anything but. This Noble Path is much work and I have gone through some very deep pain. I have cried more than I had in years. I have also laughed more. I have been shaken to my very core by kind and caring friendships. Threading its way through the worn fabric of this life is the certainty that the difficulties are only that, and just as there is sadness so tomorrow there may be joy. The treasure is now, whatever it may be. The promise of an ending thrills me, has filled that vast empty place with hope and a love so deep and profound I weep. My life could have gone in many directions many different times, but all the steps taken have lead to here. I am just grateful for this chance,this life, and this wondrous Dhamma.