degrees of freedom

The world is perceived as an apparent objective reality
when the mind is externalized,
thereby abandoning its identity with the Self.
When the world is thus perceived
the true nature of the Self is not revealed:
conversely, when the Self is realized the world ceases
to appear as an objective reality.

-Ramana Maharashi | Indian sage

Fourth of July. Writing from bed because my back insists I not willpower my body into working the way others work, pushing the way others push. I didn’t do anything to injure myself; it was a simple day. Yet, by the fourth hour standing tears were breaking through–not even from the pain itself, but from my imagining dire consequences around not being able to continue, as though I’ve always done this, every day, rather than part time for the last three years. Although I’ve been considering a new role or change, I want to do so on my own terms this time.

A tendency toward catastrophizing, on the flip side generalizes personal experiences and puzzles as having much larger implications in the wider world. Yes, the personal is political, but the range can reach delusional degrees. “If I forgave my mother, would the threat of US fascism retreat?”

I am “always trying to save the world”, my grandfather would say, not as a compliment. But how can there be a difference between self-preservation and preserving one’s world? A sudden memory of him sometimes surprises me, like the day we walked around property he owned in Georgia, showing me what he intended I someday inherit. There were deer tracks running through the land, which I’d never seen before then, and I immediately began visioning out plans for the space. Excitedly, I told my mother that I would open a home for unwed mothers there. He changed his mind, of course. I wasn’t thinking of property values or neighbors. I was young. When he did pass away a few years ago now, the property he left came with lots of strings attached.

Someone I dated a few years ago:

[Him] You give money to causes and campaigns? I’d rather drive a nice car
[Me] I’d rather drive a crappy car and live in a nicer world...

I’ve doubted this tendency lately, have been suspicious of trying to be good, questioning my deeper intentions. But my therapist says that’s the product of looking to adults for love and validation, yet receiving criticism. If intention isn’t pure, that still doesn’t mean one should not follow a generous inclination. Questioning intentions can lead to greater sincerity.

Building on that, I’ve come to realize that there is nothing wrong with striving for excellence, or even goodness, but to expect perfection is to deny the very nature of our evolving humanity, of openness, of further possibility. It is to become critical, flaw-minded in a negative sense rather than a wabi-sabi appreciative one. One mustn’t turn on themself, abandon themself, even if that’s been modeled.

I remember being a little concerned that the Zen aesthetic I was drawn to could feed into perfectionistic propensities, once I recognized them. I felt thankful to see the opposite occur.

Although as a teen I developed intense stubbornness to show how little I could need or be hurt by someone withholding ‘things’ (by the time I left home at 18, my bedroom and closet were already nearly bare). I’m not afraid of having things, now, and don’t give away everything that comes to me. Back then, that space had been the only space I thought of as my own, and felt most powerful when it was empty.

That was then. Lately when I can’t sleep in the middle of the night, instead of shopping online, I make donations. There isn’t much I can do, but it feels good to try, and generates hope in a time in which it’s deeply important to be hopeful. Last night I happened upon a women/youth shelter, which linked into the memory of my early intentions well. The feeling of finding that shelter was is: closure. I can validate that early yearning and imagining toward saving my world, myself.

It’s difficult to describe how Buddhism helped me come into healthier distinctions, but I think in part it has to do with tantra, and the way one can experience so much on the level of intention and imagination. There is so much to love and appreciate across such an unfathomable range of possibility! There is so much space in things, after all, and so little is actually hindered in the ways I might conceive of when forgetful-of-true-nature.

As for my weak back, and the work that requires a strong one, I don’t know. I find myself writing and dreaming about, my family-of-origin more. Could it be that just as I feel safer having things, it feels safer to tell my stories, too?

P.S. The Maharshi quote at the top of this post came to me via a note Andrew Holocek sends out each night for those subscribed. I’ve only been receiving these for a few days, but it’s a lovely way to signal winding down for the night in a dreamy-minded way.


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