Began The Sole Panacea, a book about the Vajra Seven Line Prayer–a main text encountered throughout (Tibetan) Buddhist study. The first encounter with the prayer I remember, was at the Tsoru Dechen Rinpoche group here in Miami, where I later took in-person refuge vows (following remote ones) and began more formal practice. The prayer was one of many texts in a folder I was given a few visits in. Hm, that must have been in 2009! However, it was later, when introduced to Padmasambhava by a friend whose thanka image on a Mac Book desktop sparked my curiosity, that a real relationship with the figure, the prayer, the accompanying mantra began (as much as any idea of beginnings can apply) to form. Lately I notice I’m encountering more expressions of Padmasambhava, suggesting I look even closer.
The Prayer – photo below copied from Sevenlineprayer.com : [The version I practice is slightly different]
I’ve barely left the book’s intro and already have happened upon wonderful angles which when allowed to sufficiently sink in, subdue tendencies toward scattering attention and shallow focus I can’t contend with on my own. The first comes with the line I’ve titled this entry: non dual wisdom-light phenomena. This speaks to that ‘next step’ some humans seek to accomplish during our chance at precious life–a shift which comes not just with add-on spiritual language but indeed with ‘new’ awareness and ways of being, seeing, which means a whole new world of phenomena to be gotten acquainted with. It feels really clear, reading the way the book describes non-duality, that this simply is the practice.
I wonder what it would be like to live the subtle as default. Is that allowed? 🙂
There was a time in which mantras and recitations were keystone of practice, yet after moving into a small apartment, sharing thin walls with others, I, without intention or much awareness have practiced this way less and less. I feel it. Today is Losar, the beginning of a period in which accumulations are said to be multiplied, so would be a perfect time to renew, dedicating with a wish for peace, ongoingly and forever.
9:30 AM and I determine to write every morning–determine to write to get into the right mindset. What about writing “one beautiful thing a day”? I consider. What about just going with the flow, moment to moment? Which will it be?
Isn’t it enough to set out to write one beautiful thing, just this day?
I pick up the laptop, open the How to be Estranged journal, notice it is at almost 108,000 words. 108 is a significant number, isn’t it? Should I end it, or keep going?
Why am I determined to make everything into Some Big Decision? The guru in my mind says “At least you see that.” The student in my mind rolls her eyes.
The birds seem especially loud lately, and I love that, but don’t turn off the TV. I’m almost finished watching My Name is Kim Sam Soon for what I promise is the last time, even though this time, I didn’t like it.
I’ll probably forget not liking it.
There’s no way to stop making resolutions, no way to stop resolving to not make resolutions.
For the first time in several years, I am reading many books at once. Or at least, I’m dabbling in many while deeply reading few. Most are fiction, a few are activism-based, and then there is TSK.
Some days I read furiously, as much as possible, as though digging tunnels to make an escape. Others, I delicately sift and brush single sentences at a time, taking care not to lose hints of meaning, content to stay where I am.
Either way, I find that I’m longing for solitude and quiet arts, thus the knitting and memoir writing as well. One book I just re-read was Circe, a superb re-imagining of a nymph out of Greek mythology, recast as a witch drawn to humans, banished to an island as punishment. She finds banishment suits her far more than acceptance in the palaces ever could.
I guess I keep bringing this up, but the more I write about ‘my life’, the more simultaneously confusing and beautiful it seems. The consistent practice of questioning assumptions about the way things are, can make everything I write seem like a lie, every story I pin down, some genre of fiction–which is frightening, quaking, exposing of groundlessness indicative of reality. I’m not uncomfortable in this ghostiness, except when I feel trapped outside looking in.
“Don’t worry, there is nothing real about your confusion.” -Lojong
“You take nothing for granted.” – Something I once heard in meditation
Negative capability is a phrase first used by Romantic poet John Keats in 1817 to explain the capacity of the greatest writers to pursue a vision of artistic beauty even when it leads them into intellectual confusion and uncertainty, as opposed to a preference for philosophical certainty over artistic beauty. The term has been used by poets and philosophers to describe the ability to perceive and recognize truths beyond the reach of consecutive reasoning. [Wikipedia] (came across as a note-to-self recently)
[[I haven’t picked up the book for a few days, but continue musing on the feeling and notion of the the book itself, even closed(!), as a practice. Why, oh why, is the way I work with things so odd, when compared against what others describe!]]
One of the few notes I have from childhood is from an elementary school teacher at the Playhouse and Biltmore School, who asks my mother to please stop putting barrettes in my hair, because instead of napping I take them out and play with them, distracting the other children.
“Stephanie is disruptive.”
And I’ll admit, there is something disruptive about me, something mischievous I’m always trying to pin down and trim away at to be able to settle down and fit in. Sometimes at work, I call it “puppy dog energy”, hoping others will see me in a playful rather than nervous way when I can’t help myself and say something I absolutely know better than to throw into the mix during simple small talk or break room conversation. Why do I do this?
“Stephanie is disruptive.”
I remember the relief I felt when a friend introduced me to Padmasambhava, suggesting I pick up the book Crazy Wisdom. I wasn’t privy then, to all the stories and controversies surrounding Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, so when the text hit me like a lightning bolt, I had no hesitation letting go into the experience of getting to know the aspects of mind and expression he channels so potently. I read the book quickly, unpacked it longer (and still). To describe that feeling in the context of this post, it was “Ah, there is a teacher who, instead of feeling Stephanie is disruptive for playing with the barrettes in her hair and wanting the attention of other children, would be delighted by these qualities and tendencies!”
When talking to my therapist I once described the need I have to constantly remind everyone and myself “that we are human”. When I feel energy go flat, or find myself in too rarefied a group, I want to stir it up, and am allergic to ego policing. A case can be made that we already feel human most of the time, so spiritual practice should lead us beyond, however we must remember that contemplative practice opens endlessly; what makes sense at one level may be disregarded at the next, only to pick up again yet later. Over time practice becomes fluid the way that working with recipes gives way to more and more experimentation as ingredients become familiar.
I’m learning to knit right now, and I find that I can’t multitask in any way without tangling my project. I need quiet and full concentration. When I see the more experience knitters around me, they chat and sing, watch TV and listen to books or podcasts while knitting. They throw it down and pick it up at a whim! I can’t do that now, but one day, I will. I’ll work with various kinds of yarn and make different types of stitches. The practice will become easy.
So, there’s a way in which I’m in this place with TSK. It is giving me permission and more trust than it did before. As with the “too late” shift I wrote about, it is almost like the book is curious about me, asking more open ended questions. There is intimacy present, a gentle walking-along-together-on-a-beautiful-day conversation. “What do you see?” “Yes, that’s fine.” “Nice.” Since it is TSK asking these questions, already I hear them as coming from the particular and peculiarly bright place I experience asbeingTSK, and feel loved and understood–the opposite of corrected and scrutinized as a troublesome student it is hard to have around.
I’m tempted to write about guru yoga in this context, but will set that aside for now.
Once, I killed a mosquito in a dream. I woke feeling fearfully responsible, puzzled I could do such harm (it felt quite serious) even when (especially when) unconscious, even when there was no choice in the matter at all. In my waking life, I try not to kill flies or mosquitos, but what occurred in the dream got down into to a response I couldn’t slow down enough to navigate, couldn’t catch in time.
Like so much in life.
It frightened me for quite a while, that neither will nor cultivated awareness made much difference to my action, outside of allowing me to examine.
Mind you, it isn’t that I have a belief around not killing a fly or mosquito. Rather I was haunted by the sense that no matter how much effort put in, I might not reach deeply enough into the foundational operating system to ‘actually’ turn my response toward generosity or ahimsa (do no harm) in a way I could relax with, could trust.
I suppose it is the trolley question: when someone else acts heroically in a sudden emergency, one wonders what they themselves would do. Many people are pretty sure they’d enact consciously chosen values, but I’m not. I’m not sure self-preservation wouldn’t win out.
I began Vajrayana practices with this kind of (hidden) karma in mind.
Some years later, a hint came across my path, a master who wrote [paraphrasing]: You can kill anything if it doesn’t weigh on your mind, but if it does, even a mosquito can cause great trouble.
When I came out of my first stint in therapy, I had the sense it had been a mere stepping stone to the higher way of meditation I’d begun practicing there. Whereas therapy would leave me drained and sad a lot of the time, contemplative study elevated my outlook and stirred innate playfulness. I laughed more, felt as though everything ordered itself into a friendlier context. There was ENOUGH of ‘whatever was needed’ to greet ‘whatever happened’. However, I can see now that although more attentive, simultaneously sharper and more open, in many ways I continued to bypass hard decisions, drunk with some feeling of permission to skip over the mundane.
Second-arrow is a concept sometimes used to illustrate the way we all experience pain in our lives, but then also suffering, as added on to that pain by our interpretations, blame and praise. The general idea is that when we’re hit with an arrow, it’s painful. However, we can learn to, right at that moment, become aware enough to respond with/to the second arrow, even dodge it altogether.
Much of the work I do in therapy is about this: “Yes, this happened, but why do you think it is your fault? “Could you actually have done something about that?” “What about what is happening now?”
The first arrow can make us more aware of our surroundings and our coordinates within them. A path of expanded perception may appear, lighting up possibilities. “In the beginner’s mind are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind are few.”
Perhaps therapy just helps slow everything down.
Many of us sustained injuries way before we encountered coping skills. We have wounds we walk on and hide, to greater and lesser degrees of success… wounds we couldn’t have addressed properly before. Deeper avoidance patterns may require outside help, just as persistent pain in a shoulder may warrant the care of a physical therapist. It can be hard to know what can or should be addressed logically vs. given the cosmic perspective treatment.
In my case, I benefit from a therapist’s trained eye to parse between first and second arrows… what treatment will benefit versus what I can work with, or around, with the aim of fewer friendly fires. 🙂 It is from a place of compassion that I do this, and an optimism I’m not sure there would be, if not for spaciousness developed in meditation. It does make a difference that therapists I’ve worked with have been contemplative people who comprehend and value devotion.
A note stuck to my computer reads, “I hope you’re well, and that the new year will be kind to you.”
It’s a line that seems personal, as though taken from a longer letter, but was pulled from a 2010 workshop chat log at the start of 2020, when I needed to remember the feeling of being seen and guided, rooted to a less society-bound vision, less swept up in the struggles of the day.
In 2010, the US was a few years into the Obama presidency, and I was newly involved with work meaningful to me on a surface level and to a higher contemplative aspiration. I was beginning to execute decisions I’d been frightened to make, having a heightened experience overall. A smooth stone in a gushing stream, this voice held steady kindness, reminding me that whatever else was going on, the eye-on-the-ball was whether I was becoming kind and present in the midst of it all, or not.
It eased my heart, then and now.
Sadly, there are many estrangements in my life, but also tremendous, enduring, even while subtle, encounters… dreams endlessly becoming persons and situations and dreams again. Not much seems meant fit into my life in a finite way.
Sometimes, when I can find an edge of that and settle into it with appreciation, without trying to pin relationship down to definition, a vast and glowing field appears.
I am walking from ‘the house’ toward the front gate on familiar chipped square tiles. I encounter three ferociously barking rottweilers. They are to the right of the path, in the part of the yard where one of the avocado trees rains down the largest leaves. I feel afraid. I wake. —–
I am walking from the house toward the front gate. The light feels different, brighter. I look to the right, and the dogs aren’t there. Maybe they are somewhere else. I’m surprised. I wake. —–
I am walking toward the gate, and the dogs aren’t there. I keep walking. I am noticing more details, more color as I reach the gate. It is not right on its hinges so I lift up the gate itself as I open and lift the handle, and walk through.So tangible.I keep going, out into the street, surprised not to be stopped, where there are three huskies laying around in the road. I look at each of them and see that two are sleeping, but one is wide awake. I look into his eyes – startling blue; they are my son’s. —–
The first part of the dream above stagnantly recurred for years before I sought out therapy. And then during that process, began moving into its other progressions.
It stopped when I knew what it was saying… what was trying to make its way through to my psyche: the three huskies were my children, my life now. The hell-hounds were behind me.
I was free to go, but didn’t know.
I experienced a lot of peace after that, and a level of stability that supported a great deal of forgiveness, as though a huge deposit had been made into my emotional account. I’d honored my own story and voice, therefore didn’t need to be understood as much. By making place for it somewhere it wouldn’t hurt anyone else, exposing it to the light, the fear had found correct proportion.
I’m not sure people can forgive by acts of will, but forgiveness is definitely possible.
I’ve been sharing some ways I productively deal with restless feelings lately. It has been amazing how much energy there seems to channel! What I haven’t talked about directly though, is the relentless nighttime anxiety I’ve been experiencing since early last year. I wasn’t sure how to grip the subject, mainly because I hadn’t thought of it like a recurring dream, nor compared it to the example above–until this week.
I also remembered sleep paralysis as a teen. Any kind of dream would lead to being/feeling choked while trying to scream… not able to use my voice. Or, I would half-wake feeling as though I were outside my body and couldn’t get back in. Others who have had these experiences describe hallucinations, actual figures that seem to be in the room on that sleep/wake boundary.
There wasn’t too much information then (there is A LOT now, and a researcher friend helped to fill fascinating gaps in my knowledge), but while feverishly reading self-help books in the library, trying to get a hold on what was happening, I did become enamored with Carl Jung, relating to the hidden layers of meaning and symbology he described.
SO, what is happening now is similar to sleep paralysis: I wake at some point almost every night, in tears or argument. First thing in the morning this greets me too, until I shake off things, memories mostly, that I thought I came to terms with before.
A lot of it is physical. The science-y part of me breaks it down this way:
There is a history of panic attacks in my family.
There is a history of barely traceable hypoglycemia as well, which leads to drops in blood sugar during the night, affecting sleep and dreams.
I am in a key age range for hormonal changes, similar to puberty.
Even before some recently upsetting events, I was having work anxiety I couldn’t shake, catastrophizing and exaggerating faults; the anxiety has just switched what it is clinging to.
* Therefore, one part of my hypothesis is that I need to have some blood work done, see what is off kilter, and fix it.
But as anyone who has experienced these things knows, what the nightmarish phenomenon roots into can also reveal a lot about what one is not facing. Not continuing to ignore … taking the content coming to the surface as a sign it is ready to work with, may yield rewards.
I’ve reached out and have made an appointment with a therapist.
Good for me.
And good for you, doing so too, if you recognize yourself in anything I’ve written here, which may spark deeper inquiry.
As you see, bolder formatting is temporarily gone from this site. I’ve stripped it down while making changes, but also to symbolize my current state.
In meditation this morning, the theme of faith arose. Unkind thoughts were present – an argument I’ve been having with someone for as long as I can remember… feelings of injustice, betrayal, silencing. But, rather than get deeper into the argument, I could see how it had affected my trust levels in relationships, and how much of ‘me’ it had defined.
I would say, “I’d let it define”, but that wouldn’t be accurate. It is more like, my quest to resolve or escape it has, both knowingly and unknowingly, defined key interpretations.
As can happen in meditation, I could experience the argument as an object of attention, one of various, a wheel spinning off in the corner somewhere, bigger or smaller, taking up more or less space. And I could ask, “Help me let this go.”
Who was I asking? Who was the I, asking? Worthwhile questions, but distractions in this context, because more important is the asking itself and the imagining… the feeling of the possibility of that wheel no longer spinning so fast, defining so much.
I think this imagining, at the point at which ‘I’ runs out, or intersects, is faith, and where across religious/spiritual disciplines and schools of thought, there may mustard seed sized agreement. It is a bit like a blank slate itself.