Several weeks ago a person came for the first time to the Zen group I lead. When I introduced myself, he explained that he’d found our group on the web and had followed the links to my blog. “I feel like I already know you,” he remarked. “In fact, it feels kind of funny, like I might know too much about you.”

The remark was, I’m sure, innocuously given: I met this person, after all, on the heels of posting a somewhat personal entry that honestly admitted the pain and loneliness I’d felt for years in my marriage. Although I felt comfortable sharing those emotions with my long-time readers–those of you I “know” either by name or anonymously who have seen the various and sundry stages of my personal life–I can imagine how uncomfortable it could be to be a newcomer at the party only to discover the hostess getting Up Close and Personal about her emotional life. If you arrived on the scene expecting casual chitchat, it might be somewhat alarming instead to encounter Emotional Nakedness. Pain is something many folks aren’t comfortable talking about–pain is something many folks aren’t comfortable admitting–so encountering a “virtual stranger” who’s willing to put her pain out there in cyberspace is probably, admittedly, quite odd.

Compared to some of the other blogs I read–compared, in fact, to much of the literature I read–I don’t consider my blog to be very “confessional.” In my mind, the focus here is always on my writing, my photos, my so-called art, whatever the heck that is: the focus isn’t me per se. Yet this newcomer’s comment reminded me of something that not just one but three friends of mine have admitted on separate occasions: they feel a bit guilty (voyeuristic, even) reading my blog even though I put this “out there” for anyone to read. “It seems unfair,” one longtime friend remarked, “to stay informed about everything in your life while I keep all my business to myself.”

This comment surprised me. I don’t feel like I’m sharing “everything in my life”; in my mind, I still maintain clear boundaries about what I’ll share and what I won’t. At the same time, though, I realize I can’t exactly articulate these boundaries because I seem to make them up as I go along: what last month I never thought I’d share turns into the blog fodder of today.

As writers, we always write about ourselves, and as a long-time journal-keeper, I’m used to there being a direct connection between my feeling heart and my writing hand. In writing classes where I read my free-writing aloud as a way of breaking ice with students, I’ve sometimes found it has the opposite effect: faced with the nonchalant candor with which I address some subjects including my own pain, some students panic, feeling their writing has to reach a similar level of emotional courage. Truth be known, we each decide as we’re writing what we feel comfortable expressing. I’ve never, for instance, written in any detailed way about sex here on my blog, I rarely write about it in my handwritten journal, and I certainly don’t write about it when I’m in a classroom with students. Although I don’t have a problem with other people blogging their sex lives if they choose, in my mind that’s something personal, so I don’t go there. It’s not that I can’t write about sex–one of the shocking realizations I had while writing my so-called novel was that I can quickly and easily crank out lurid (and entirely fictional) sex scenes. But when it comes to my own actual bedroom, the blinds are drawn, thank you.

I’ve been thinking with particular fervor about this question of what to share and what not to share now that I know with certainty that my ex-husband occasionally reads my blog. Although I don’t have a problem with Chris reading “in theory,” I have to admit I was a bit taken aback when he was the first to comment on my entry about meeting his new girlfriend. There’s nothing I’m ashamed of in that entry: you’ll notice, in fact, that I said relatively little there about Chris himself and even less about his new girlfriend. If Chris (or anyone, for that matter) came to Hoarded Ordinaries looking for the juicy, catty details of what Lorianne “really” thinks about her ex-husband’s new girlfriend, they’ll go away sorely disappointed.

Although I worried in retrospect that I came across as too pious and self-righteous in that entry–my insistance that “all is well” completely ignored the fact that I had a good long cry in the solitary privacy of my room after Chris, etc. went to the shared comfort of theirs–in the end I wouldn’t have wanted to use my blog to vent my catty first impressions, petty jealousies, etc. Yes, these feelings are there: if you’re a living, breathing human, you’re going to face an emotional rollercoaster of contradictory thoughts as you face the prospect of “my ex’s new love.” But just because a catty emotion arises doesn’t mean that’s the last word: if I judged myself on the basis of what emotions arise (especially in the aftermath of divorce), I’d have to diagnose myself as a hopeless, helpless schizophrenic, my perspective entirely scrambled and contradictory. Instead, I prefer a Buddhist perspective: thoughts and feelings arise, pass, and return without logic or predictability, but these thoughts and feelings aren’t who I am. They arise, but they too shall pass.

Part of why I’m comfortable sharing any of this rests on the fact that I don’t have to share all of it: in the end, it’s me calling the shots in terms of how much I care to disclose, and when. One benefit of meditation practice is it helps you strengthen your “looking” muscle: whereas many normal folks, I think, shy away from their own pain and vulnerability, what you “do” while you’re meditating is look at it, whatever it is, with a quiet, nonjudgmental acceptance. This pain I’m feeling: what is it? These catty feelings: what are they? This loneliness or anger or confusion or joy: what are they, and who is this “I” who thinks she can “have” much less control her emotions? At the end of the day, any pain I feel isn’t truly “mine” because that would imply there’s some unchanging, constant Self who can contain this pain. Instead, while meditating I’ve come to realize that “my pain” is simply Pain: it comes and goes, blowing in and out as it swirls and eddies at my feet. If I either cling to it or try to push it away, it will control me; if I simply let it be, it will rise and then fall away of its own accord.

In other words, there’s no need to chase snowflakes, and I really needn’t push the mountain either. If my semblance of self-disclosure here on Hoarded Ordinaries is extraordinary, it is so only because we live in a world that specializes in Denial. Got a problem? Bury it in work. Facing pain? Take a pill. Confused about your life’s direction? Have a drink. Although I’ve done my share of working, medicating, and drinking, thank you, I realize the efficacy of such approaches is temporary. At some point sooner or later, you’re going to have to look at it, whatever it is. Whatever’s wrong with your life–whatever is your life–one day you’re going to have to stare it straight in the eye: “Hello, Life, what are you?”

Meditation gives you the courage to do such looking, and so does writing. Sharing my emotional bumps and jostles with “any and everyone in cyberspace” is easy: the difficult audience is myself. I remember a remark from one of the teachers in my Zen school: “We become what we practice.” If we spend our lives hiding, ignoring, and denying our own and other’s experiences, we’ll become oblivious; if we spend our lives looking without judgment, we’ll become perceptive, wise, and compassionate. With much looking comes insight, and with much looking comes courage. Facing your emotional load–the heaps of white stuff you have to dig through to find your way–is the difficult part. After you’ve faced it, sharing seems easy. And after you’ve shared it, the load seems miraculously and unaccountably much lighter.

    And amazed “thank you” to my upstairs neighbor, who unbeknownst to me dug out my car–and shoveled our driveway–while I was writing this post. I don’t know what I did to deserve that, but it’s nice to see my car again.