I continue to be captivated by ChatGPT’s capabilities, admittedly with trepidation over the many existential questions it poses. As someone who loves books and reading, and who earnestly believes that to read someone’s writing is to get to know them as a person in an intimate way, will I be able to tell if there is a person behind something I engage with?
Right now, yes, I think I can tell for the most part. There is some kind of synchronistic complexity I experience myself as tapping into when engaging with someone, an opening of worlds between us. But am I kidding myself? How long will I be able to do that? To what extent do I want myself to become an enhanced person? SO much to ask.
Below is ChatGPT’s latest response to my giving just a few requests, as I continue to go down the list of ‘things I’ve meant to write about’. It becomes something different along the way, certainly, but that might not be a bad thing.
The young girl walked through the streets of Kyoto, mesmerized by the vibrant autumn leaves that carpeted the ground. As she wandered through the city, she stumbled upon a hidden path that led her to an ancient temple nestled in a moss garden. The garden was a sea of green, with verdant moss covering the ground and trees, giving the impression of an enchanted forest. The girl marveled at the sight, feeling as though she had stepped into a fairy tale. The temple itself was a work of art, with its ornately carved doors and shimmering golden roofs. The walls were adorned with intricate frescoes and murals, depicting scenes from ancient legends and mythologies. The girl tentatively stepped inside, feeling a sense of awe and reverence wash over her. The interior was equally breathtaking, with its polished stone floors and delicate paper lanterns. The air was filled with the sound of chanting and the soft glow of candlelight. The girl sat down on a cushion, closed her eyes, and let the peaceful atmosphere wash over her. As she left the temple, the girl couldn’t help but feel a sense of enlightenment and inner peace.
Sure, here is a possible outline for a non-linear memoir about enlightenment:
Prologue: Set the stage for the memoir by introducing the theme of enlightenment and the journey that you will be recounting.
Chapter 1: Begin with a significant moment or experience that shaped your understanding of enlightenment. This could be a spiritual awakening, a turning point in your journey, or a moment of realization.
Chapter 2: Jump back in time to your earliest memories or experiences that relate to enlightenment. This could include early encounters with spirituality or religion, or moments when you first became interested in enlightenment.
Chapter 3: Return to the present and describe your current understanding of enlightenment and how you have come to this understanding. This could include specific practices or techniques that have helped you along the way, as well as any challenges or setbacks you faced.
Chapter 4: Flash back to a specific moment or experience that had a significant impact on your journey. This could be a moment of great challenge or struggle, or a moment of great breakthrough or realization.
Chapter 5: Return to the present and describe how you have integrated your understanding of enlightenment into your daily life. How has it changed your relationships, your work, or your sense of purpose?
Epilogue: Reflect on the overall journey you have taken, and offer any wisdom or insights you have gained to others who may be seeking enlightenment.
I’ll admit, this one floored me. I hadn’t expected ChatGPT to be able to write a non-linear outline at all, much less immediately.
15 days until the end of the year. The usual momentum has taken hold of me to wrap things up, or play as wrapping things up, so I’ve washed the car, sorted through things and gathered donations, and begun the list of 100 accomplishments a friend first sparked me to begin quite a few years ago now. ♥︎
What’s interesting about the list is that what ends up on it are not often the things I strongly set out to accomplish or plan with timelines and detail. It’s more accurate to call my list 100 Appreciations.
There are a few notable patterns this year, ways in which I’ve stepped out of my usual groove, going to more events for instance. I was at the Lady Gaga show that a massive lightning storm disrupted, ending it early and sending a stadium full of people into common wings to sing and pray for the show to go on–to which the universe responded a resounding NO.
I was with one of my grown kids that night, who kept remarking that even with the shortening of the show everything was wonderful–our first grown-up concert together! After years of contraction and concern how could we feel anything but happy and grateful? We were good about masks and thankfully stayed healthy.
And I attended a poetry/comedy show with friends that was in itself an answer to prayer, as ALOK would list their upcoming shows on social media and I would wish “Miami, Miami…”, until one day the date appeared. I invited friends, and for the first time in I-can’t-remember-how-long, we lingered and laughed and overshared like crazy until forced to call it a night.
If you have never listened to nor encountered Alok Vaid-Menon, it is well worth your energy to do so. Although I fall into the ally category when it comes to transgender rights and activism, and believe myself rather educated on the topic when comparing myself to peers, I’ve learned that my knowledge base is actually quite shallow, and not to give myself too much credit for minimal apprehension.
While it has intellectually seemed a no-brainer to me that if even the heavenly ideal is “no male nor female no bound nor free”, getting stuck in gender binary thinking is an error, my notions can still be unnecessarily limited. Much like praising a melting pot rather than honoring unique individuals by allowing them to tell their own stories, and listening, my ideas have often reflected my own conditioned and consciously chosen preferences.
This year Rubin Museum also focused on an exhibit on site and via SMS which highlighted Buddhist figures that are understood as being ‘beyond’ yet appear as myriad forms. The same quality and name can be represented by a so-called female or male form. Then of course there are the unions of deities who exude qualities as one/both/neither.
What I’m saying is that there’s plenty of room for further understanding.
And last weekend during a holiday visit with my oldest we went to see the musical Hadestown! The show was full of powerful performances and had the intimate feeling of being in a hidden improvisational Jazz bar. Here’s a little animation someone made, highlighting one of the songs:
As for the rest of my list, and patterns I noticed, there were smaller trips too/getting out more, although no real travel in 2022… a famous local farmers’ market I’d never visited before, new vegan restaurants, knitting groups, scattered between lots of work and recovery from work, lots of plugging away at building my repertoire of healthy meals, lots of reading, therapy, and importantly, real attention to the Vajrayana practices I began this year. I’m probably most pleased with that renewal and deepening those commitments,.
Goodness, it seems like a lot when I type it all out (especially since this is surface scratching!), and I guess that’s part of the point of making time to list those 100 things.
It’s so easy for time to go by in a blur and for the aspirations one nurtured carefully to nonetheless fade into background. Some years, that blur is okay, quite natural. Then there are years like this one, where acknowledging the *so much happening* in my little ecosystem encourages hopefulness–energy to wake and be at ‘it all’ again for as long as I’m given to do so.
P.S. Why is WordPress giving me a prompt when I hit the WRITE button? I generally come here when my own thoughts move me, so that was a little strange.
My sense of time and what I’m running around doing with it, is a wee bit off.
While refreshing my Twitter feed incessantly, waiting to see what will come of the mid-term elections, I began going through WordPress subscriptions, checking on blogs I haven’t really been following, and updating subscription settings. Although I’ve never been one to ‘keep up’ via WordPress, there are a handful of blogs I read somewhat regularly, and a few bloggers whose stories I feel invested in. I was also following several blogs that fell dormant over the last few years, and I let most of them go.
One dormant blog I kept was full of beautiful photos I knew I’d want to see sometime again, and another was very plain, but the writing was straight-forward and honest in a way I admired. The thing about this second was, I wrote it?
That question mark is not a typo. Here’s what I wrote about the blog on Twitter, since I was there:
I just found an entire blog, many posts including more than a dozen memoir pages. I wrote all that, paused, then forgot about it? Entirely?
Then again, it was 2016.
It’s so strange reading pages like these, where I seem pretty clear about things I experience myself as having just figured out.
I’m fascinated. This woman was wrestling with confusion over appreciating some freedoms of being deeply neglected in childhood, and how that seems to have made a link between cultivating being neglected and having freedom?!
Haha, she’s pretty intense.
She was planning to be better to the people in her life, to explain herself more clearly-rather than blaming others for not seeing/knowing the obvious and acclimating to being misunderstood. I’ve done that, somewhat, but she still feels like a different person.
She’s a person I know, but not me.
I wonder who will understand what I mean by placing importance on the year 2016. What happened that year that might have shifted the blogger’s course so much, so suddenly?
I wonder if she would have finished the memoir if she’d kept going? Do I think it’s great, reading it now? In some ways, yes, it has strength and place. In other ways, I see she wasn’t ready.
Perhaps I should write and offer editing services.
ReadingGesture of Great Love, the newest book from the Time Space Knowledge series by Tarthang Tulku. Striking quite a different tone from TSK itself (still my favorite), it is immediate and refreshing, appropriately urgent. Yet, there’s a friendliness which pervades the book too, similar to another given to me earlier this year, Radically Happy. Both focus on greeting life with openness and ease day-by-day, and both could be given to a person who isn’t on a Buddhist path necessarily.
I can’t see yet whether the text will sustain this urgent tone, but in an early portion the author zeroes in on that narrow-minded scriptwriter I’ve mentioned before, who in my case had become adept at mimicking my inner guidance system. Here, that scriptwriter is called “the regime.”
I’m fond of sword metaphors and Taoist themes because there is a focus on energy. Things can happen to offset chi, affecting whether a character’s skills remain capable. It could something as subtle as a barely perceptible fragrance that fills the air, or a tune similar to a soothing one. Parsing out said deviations, exposing them, could take countless eons.
So, the book so far suggests parser and loop as entangled, involved in mutually assured entrapment, and knowing this as the way to step out entirely (never any trap nor person to be trapped).
So what about the Bodhisattva ideal Mahayana posits as worthwhile aspiration? “Beings are limitless; I vow to save them all.” This doesn’t mean to save as in a hero-person acting as a savior to “beings”–it rather cracks open that notion, as in the story of Avilokitesvara, who exhausted his capacity to empty the hell realms over and over again, before sprouting eleven heads and a thousand arms.
I like how, in the version of the story below, Amitaba Buddha is a sort of father figure, dusting off their child, giving them new and better armor to better fulfill their longing:
One prominent Buddhist story tells of Avalokiteśvara vowing never to rest until he had freed all sentient beings from saṃsāra. Despite strenuous effort, he realizes that many unhappy beings were yet to be saved. After struggling to comprehend the needs of so many, his head splits into eleven pieces. Amitābha, seeing his plight, gives him eleven heads with which to hear the cries of the suffering. Upon hearing these cries and comprehending them, Avalokiteśvara tries to reach out to all those who needed aid, but found that his two arms shattered into pieces. Once more, Amitābha comes to his aid and invests him with a thousand arms with which to aid the suffering multitudes. [WIKIPEDIA] 
Even so, I’ve long been drawn to the quote “The foolish are trapped by karma; the wise are liberated by it” because of this dynamic…(beings as) bridges opening and closing the gates, even if only to display that there are no gates, no beings to open them for. Time pointing to no time, endlessly. Is this what Dogen calls Ceaseless Practice?
No suffering, no end of suffering…
Human beings become exhausted when they attempt to hold and manage karma, to respond out of ideologies, but the Bodhisattva is (made of) Love. There’s no draining voice in Avilokitesvara’s mind repeating “I’m tired…” There’s nowhere for such a voice to be generated from nor to land.
[[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.
“I wasn’t doing magic anymore… was just talking about doing magic.”
The above is a note I jotted to myself several months ago, and ran across today. It was something I saw up ahead as I wrote it, as though spoken by a me reflecting on that time, once through it. There was a sense of things I was struggling to identify then… a flatness to everything I suddenly became acutely aware of.
I think I’ve arrived at that point now, of understanding what I said to that previous me.
There’s a book that I love so much that I’ve recommended it to almost every dear friend, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. There are just so many excellent things about the book, starting with the distinct language and the mood that it sustains (like a mixture of many great writers in the Dickens and Austen vein), but what hooked me, was the very idea of the scene Susannah Clarke started with: a meeting of magicians.
These magicians were meeting together very regularly and debating quite vigorously over texts about previous magicians and the times of magic in which they lived. Most of those devotedly present were in total agreement that magic no longer occurred in England, which made for quite enjoyable meetings that ultimately fell into the same patterns as any other hobby group might. Two of the group however, were longing for more. They knew they were missing something.
In the book, this sets the stage for the two men of the title to appear. These men are not among those in the meetings, rather they are twoactually practicingmagicians quite different from one another, each intense and daring in their own ways. They seem to be brought into view by the context of the times. One, an older book and formula hoarder, resource-guards against those he deems unworthy. The other, more lighthearted and generous, is reckless at times.
Both continually endanger those around them.
I could elaborate further, but suffice it to say that the contrasts between the magicians’ group, the two curious men, and the two daring practicing magicians, are something I’ve never been able to shake when examining my own life. I ask myself, am I really IN this that I’m doing right now, really ALIVE in it? Or am I playing it safe because of A, B, C? Where am I indeed out on the edge? Can I give something more to that effort?
Things have started flowing again, taking on new dimensions as my intentions and attentions become less divided. There had been a missing road connecting distinct sensibilities I think, linking knowing about with stepping into that knowing.
I’m thinking of having the Kena Upanishad tattooed onto my body, but the text is a little long:
“Not that which the eye does see, but that by which the eye does see…”
Which has the feel of being inside the storm. Come to think of it, there is another character in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – a disturbing figure in many ways, covered in tattoos. Maybe I’ll take a bit longer to think about it. 😉
Even whittled down into bursts of story, George R.R. Martin’s range as a writer is a wonder to behold, never letting the reader off the hook from intense examining of character motivations, never ceasing to surprise with blind spot connections, and showing that like-it-or-not we coexist with unfathomable contradictions – in ourselves as much as any outside character.
I find myself examining my own life’s story-lines as if written by Martin, which gives me patience with my own “villains” and impossible situations. And I must say, this especially during the show’s last few seasons, where verdicts are coming down, hindsight well in hand. We see some of the we characters we thought of as noble and ‘good’ as sadly ineffectual and even dangerous due to the very values we love so much, for one thing. And we reluctantly love, even forgive, indisputable monsters. George R.R. Martin has said in interviews that he finds the question of redemption especially fascinating. Me, too.
Oh, I’m talking about Game of Thrones, by the way.
My son and I have an ongoing debate. He has a distaste for social justice warrioring, not because he doesn’t care, but because he feels that the only things that ever change anything… anyone in the world, happen not because someone learns them in a straight-forward way, but through such things as, well we might say *art for art’s sake* and one-on-one relationships. To forcefully advocate for a ’cause’ as a central thing, goes against what he believes in, in a way. The closer one can get to being themself, and doing what they do, the more the world at large will also. Or something like that.
I, on the other hand, see it all similarly to learning foundational times tables. I think you have to get some basics down, and then as you work with those basics along with the material of your life, those values/principles/aspirations may find their own avenues of expression. Or they may not. But I don’t think one can afford not to try to move something forward because their effort may be clumsy, or because all they’ve got to work with are blunt instruments. In a nutshell my philosophy is something like Picasso’s line, “Inspiration exists, but it must find you working.”
I agree that it is the sublime that *most* matters, but that doesn’t let us off the hook for the rest.
Yet, I must admit that when I see the process of illumination and natural learning people undergo when parsing and obsessing over these books and shows, I lean my son’s way. I begin to think his way is more realistic about the downsides of measuring what is happening in the world through our filters of concepts, even of compassion (which I do consider the highest ‘value’ available in the world). I have often wielded my sword seemingly driven by such ‘good’ motivations. But then, was I, really? How often am I simply reacting out of un-faced pain? How much damage have I caused at times while trying to do the right thing, to be good, to be worthy in the eyes of someone who isn’t even still there in my part of the grand story …
For now, I can’t decide whether my son is cynical or clear seeing about the political dimensions, but I know that he catches much that I miss, including camera angles and lighting, sound engineering and song choices–not just when we’re watching Game of Thrones. Maybe he is like a mantis shrimp and has more cones than I do, so to speak. 🙂
I wonder how he is seeing this world in this time, which to me has appeared more and more overrun by blatant villains, more empowering to the overtly cruel. I want to believe that by people banding together for the sake of honor and justice it is possible to speed up exposure of what needs to be addressed behind the scenes… that Bengal tigers and rhinos and elephants and wolves might continue roaming the earth, clear waters continue to flow, and all beings be beheld as valuable on multiple levels, rather than just resources to exhaust. Sometimes I do wonder whether my son may be missing my sense of urgency because he may not see how women fear they factor in this question of resources and territory to conquer in times experienced as austere (a measurement itself subjectively imposed).
Well that went in a few directions, not even getting to the contemplative questions I hoped to approach… again. 🙂 So for now I’ll just finish with a photo of Ghost and Jon, just because the dire wolves deserve lots of love and attention as imparting the original vision to George R.R. Martin which became A Song of Ice and Fire, then Game of Thrones.
The Play-as-Being book group is finishing up its reading of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century today. It’s been an interesting ride, but as I write this, I have the feeling that the book is already outdated. Which is scary, because I don’t think enough people are thinking yet about the range of questions he brings to the fore. The only thing I feel sure of (inasmuch as I feel sure of anything), is that he ends the book in the right place, with what individuals can do.
I’m a big big fan of the ‘free will or no free will’ question and discussions that come up around that question within both science and contemplative circles. Free Will belongs to a self that doesn’t exist in the ways our systems tend to program toward, so Harari’s angle is a technological one, drawing attention to the role algorithms have in our lives already, then imagining the directions they are heading in. Importantly noting that they are not heading in these directions on their own, but at the direction of ever more consolidated powers.
He touches on but doesn’t fully address (how could anyone?!) the role of the unexpected in all this. Would any of us have imagined the scenarios we’re in right now, a decade ago? At any second, massive changes can and will occur.
So what CAN individuals do?Harari says, “Get to know yourself as well as ‘they’ do.”
You can tell by my posts perhaps, that this is what I’m working on: meditating more, leaning on and relearning what ‘intuition’ is in light of changes in complexity as a person, but also as a person within a family and friend network, as a member of larger society in my country, and within the world/cosmos.
I don’t have the capacity to mentally encompass all that! Indeed any of those categories when combined with any of the others can shut down my feeling of ‘free will’ about anything and be quite paralyzing! “No wonder that Hindus and Buddhists have focused much of their effort on trying to get out of or off of this wheel (entirely)” says Harari, of fathoming the myriad posited schemes of meaning.
My question is then, how to take it all lightly and keep perspective, while not distracting nor entertaining myself away from the questions or buying into one scheme or another. The PaB group I mentioned above is the closest thing to a community that can embrace so many contradictions that I’ve ever come near, yet Life seems to be kicking me out of that nest too.
Yuval Noah Harari is among my very favorite public intellectuals, even though some of his prophesies are terrifying! Listening to a talk he gave in India this last year, about the capacity of future algorithms and reach of AI, I was struck by just how close the future he describes seems.
Indeed, it is already upon us.
Consider the phenomenon of New Years resolutions and self improvement in general, and the way our consumerist society is driven by the idea of ‘hacking ourselves’ to re-program and ‘get free’ from prior conditioning. Should a company like Amazon develop an Alexa type AI, that offers to monitor all our behaviors (input and output), over the course of a period of time, so that we can have all the information we need to “live our best life”, would we give permission?
Instead of taking that next marketing or time-management course, or hiring a life coach to help us, would we sign off on a ‘more perfect than a human could construct’ optimal life, which would then be aided by various products and services? Would it be like plastic surgery for the total ‘self’ and ‘life’?
Would we hand over that kind of information to a company (with all the “rights” of a human being)? We may think we wouldn’t, but we’ve moved forward pretty swiftly with new tech, regardless of disturbing revelations. My scenario posits permission asking, but companies like Facebook seem more about apologizing later. Mere humans are already lagging.
What Harari is describing is “3.0”, at least. One big question is, CAN you get a read on the inside of a human being, by a ‘full’ evaluation of the outside?
Will this shape up to be a new morality? What’s the template? Who’s is it? Is there any such thing as control over one’s destiny in a scenario where we’re so practically outmatched? Certainly, we don’t seem to be getting better at compromising and cooperating, if you look at our current methods.
One disturbing trend has been a bizarre equating of wealth with being responsible and good… a reasserting of caste system, in a way, and a failure of people to relate to those at the opposite ends of the resource spectrum. I like that Harari is thoughtful about these things too, and I like that he presents meditation and “seeing things as they are” as important in a tangible way, facing what we’re facing.
I believe that, too.
Some of the most interesting ideas Harari has, center around global identity (going beyond nationalism), which has the most practical ends imaginable: collaborative addressing of climate change, prevention of nuclear war, and management of disasters and planetary shortages.
We have no choice but to grapple with these questions together.