Picked up a surprising book written by Suzanne Segal, who’d been a student of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi before becoming disillusioned with aspects of the TM organization. It is written in a matter-of-fact way for being, by the end, a quite revolutionary story about awakening and the ‘no-self’ insight, and uncannily, its arrival is perfectly timed with my contemplation of dropping of personal pronouns. She is perhaps an even better example than the one I gave in that post, of someone embodying such realization.
Yet, she didn’t seem attached to anyone else understanding her experience; I feel she truly wrote the book so that someone going through the traumatic phase she went through, might benefit. Mainly, she didn’t try to over-elaborate. She also contrasted her experience with what many doctors and teachers thought was going on with her along the way, sharing the pain of not being heard, and the fear she experienced when no diagnoses nor approach fit. Then, eventually, she brings the reader to the end of that fear.
Into what she calls the vastness.
Although my own experience(s) differ, I related to and understand what she was describing, which again, I think speaks to her intention.
I was excited to see what she was doing now, but sadly, my search revealed that she had died of a brain tumor in 1997, which reminded me of a conversation several years ago, when someone had mentioned (I thought at the time) Bernadette Roberts in a questioning way. They wondered whether in some cases dramatic no-self experiences and a physiological issue such as a brain tumor, might be related. I would guess the answer to be yes, which takes absolutely nothing away from the insight. Her book (or at least the second half) is wonderful, and she does an excellent job of describing what very few people are able to come close to articulating.
I cried a lot again today, after a few days of laughter and celebratory hoopla. Mostly: baking. It was, it is, a wonderful holiday. Although still in healing crisis, it was the healthiest I’ve felt for Christmas in over 5 years, and we planned very well for once, events scattered with days in between, starting with getting to see HAMILTON, which was made possible out of nowhere, like a dream. Then an elaborate-for-us dinner with/for my Grandfather, which he appreciated, and so many unexpected visitors!
The physical therapist wasn’t surprised at all to find me emotionally drained, but she seemed a little startled not to be able to touch me almost anywhere without a lot of sensitivity. She was very gentle and kept my exercise to simple stretching and pilates. I keep repeating to myself, “Trust the process.” How can I not? I feel that being able to so far pull off everything I’d set out to this season, is a direct result. Yet the second I got in the car afterward, so much emotion!
It was as though I felt overwhelmed by having so much attention focused on me, and being listened to so genuinely. I sort of reflexively deflect questions and expect ‘the other’ to be half-listening, which creates habitual tension at a deeper layer than my mind feels ready to go to. Which reminds me of the A Course in Miracles line,
“When you think you’ve surrendered, surrender more.”
When I’d finally cried myself out, a little jewel of an insight was left. It wasn’t made of words, but rather just lingered like a soft peaceful cloud in the air.
Raising the vibration isn’t about making yourself happy. It isn’t about anything, really, but whatever comes up genuinely in any given moment, and not holding on to that. Again, back to relaxing, releasing resistance, which all sounds so dull until it is just the right thing.
I took a few notes in the middle of the night, about personal pronouns and identity, and the way that the current generation more and more wishes to neutralize or change identification with, and at least conception of, gender.
I respect their plight and comprehend its meaning, but find my defaults so strong that even when alert and willing, classification norms assert themselves into conversation repeatedly. Still, I’m settled on doing my best to meet the challenge, starting with learning to use ‘they’ as a pronoun more often, and in the meantime asking for patience and affirming respect, which seems to be appreciated.
This dots connecting process took a little leap a few weeks ago, when I dreamed in another’s shoes. I dreamed that I was someone aware of appearing a certain way to those interacting with me. Yet “I” was submerged deep down. I knew the other couldn’t see/hear me through their apparent conceptions of what I and my life were supposed to mean in the world according to, in this case my gender, on the surface.
Who I actually was, was of value, but they would never know. It felt as though it wouldn’t matter at all to be soft and curious during the conversation, because there was a prepared script we were supposed to stay within for it to continue.
I’ve had dreams similar to this one before, but never so precise, so indisputable in conveyance as about gender. While recalling the feeling since then, life has brought many opportunities to put the understanding into practice, albeit with more errors than successes so far.
There is imperfect willingness, and a reaching toward a fully open heart.
One thing that makes it challenging is ‘my own’ gender identity. It has been somewhat invisible to me just how much I’ve tended to meet expectations of others in terms of gender. I’ve just always felt very “female”, and if anything, have wanted to be *more* so. I have mourned each seeming loss of femininity that has felt taken from me by age or illness, while still being drawn to and admiring of the fluid. I’m also more visually oriented than I realized, in that it is very easy for me to take in traditionally “female” appearance as “she”, whether the person projecting that appearance is male or female.
It would probably surprise some who know me to read of this struggle, because I’ve explored the loosening of gender-identity through virtual worlds and through the experiences of close friends who’ve shared deeply, and I’ve worked a lot with the subject of fluid identity generally. Still, you can’t learn what you think you already know. I believe you can make room for the ‘next’ shifts to happen, though.
I seem to be making the most lasting integrations in my sleep or on the edges. Last night, I woke at 1:30 AM and played (as I often do when woken in the middle of the night) an interview from Buddha at the Gas Pump. The host was questioning the guest on his hobby horse topic: a debate in the non duality movement about doing away with personal identification, with *I* and *you*, *he* and *she* – including in daily language and interactions.
And I wondered, might these questions be somewhat related, or at least, might one question open a pathway to the other?
Societies have always run on double identities and secret languages, because it has never been fully safe not to, but it isn’t just about society. We all signal and filter with insider language and outsider language, with law and mercy. It is how we cultivate intimacy in many cases.
Still, I admire and enjoy the aspiration to go beyond labels, and imagine that when we converse with aliens, gender, and probably independent personhood itself, won’t make much sense. AI will also have something to say.
Maybe it is more a transition we are destined to make.
As with my political post however, I am just not sure what is realistic to expect. If you want to understand the challenge and strangeness of transition more fully in the context of non-duality for instance, you can try to listen toTony Parsons, whose teachings center around taking the no I/ no self/ no beings [idea, revelation, insight] to its logical conclusion, enacting life beyond conceptions of personhood entirely.
“For me ‘teaching’ is helping someone to have a better dream.”
– Tony Parsons
Although it seems to me that to do what Parsons is doing means continually erasing, which instead of offering the central emptiness insight, may obscure it, since insisting upon this kind of treatment can feel intensely self-involved.
Another related idea/practice, is shape shifting, where transformation seems to require perception of self as not permanent or solid, but rather a conception that can be opened and explored, turned inside out, and can reflect other forms. What I had a few weeks ago, which acted like a vitamin to this ongoing endeavor, was indeed, a shape shifting dream.
Anyway these are beginning musings, an intention toward greater clarity in 2019.
After quite a bit of searching, finally, I caught this film at the nearby Art Cinema. There was a larger crowd than I thought there’d be; half of the theater like me, persons attending alone. This is the kind of crowd I love seeing such a film in, because specific reasons, possibly highly cultivated reasons, almost certainly brought them there.
For me it was Yoo Ah Inat first, but then my reason changed. As I read more about the reception at Cannes, and the origin of the screenplay as based a short story by Haruki Murakami, I began to prepare myself for a theater experience that would be an entirely new to me.
I love to read Murakami just for the moods he sets, and that he brings the reader so well into a sort of suspended space of no…
It’s been quite a while since I posted, not due to lost interest, but rather to the legal course I was taking requiring all my energies. I’m finished now, and it will be interesting to see what comes of this new pathway. 🙂
In the meantime, I decided to jump into NaNoWrimo. This is my first attempt, so I set a modest goal of 25,000 words instead of the 50,000 suggested that most participating strive for. This makes me, I’m told, a “NaNoRebel”, which I like the sound of.
Except that, I’ve already reached that goal. Now I must decide whether to set a new goal, or be satisfied to have jumpstarted a daily routine.
I’m also not writing a novel. Instead, I picked up with a memoir I wrote parts of several years ago, which was never meant to be a public book. Now I’m not so sure. Now I think that, if I write it several times more, it may indeed become something of value to more than just myself or my family.
I’m open to that notion now anyway, which feels good.
So I’m reading a book. Actually, since last writing about books here I’ve gone through around twenty, but this one seems fitting for the blog.
I’d never heard of Sophie Sabbage before this year, nor her first book about coming to terms with a terminal cancer diagnoses. Not to be flippant but I have always thought “I’ll seek out cancer comfort literature when and if I need to, thankyouverymuch.” Perhaps that has been a mistake. The descriptions of her diagnoses, and the treatments that come up occasionally in her second book, Lifeshocks, and how to love them (which isn’t focused on cancer specifically, but is sensitively informed by such), are some of the most fascinating. That she has the presence of mind to describe so specifically, what is happening to her, is weirdly empowering for someone like me, who finds it hard to stay looking into deep and heartbreaking problems that have no solutions. That’s precisely when I want to get busy with something else, move on to something I think I can affect.
Cancer is just one of the topics she presents to open in to the underlying topic of her life’s work, teaching the material of her menor, Dr. K. Bradford Brown. A friend who attended More to Life workshops twenty years ago has continued to integrate the message since then, which suggests something worth exploring.
About midway through, the title word itself >> lifeshocks << is beginning to replace another word in my mind: >> awakening <<. Lifeshocks may be a better word to describe what I’ve been personally studying for so long now, once the case is made. Awakening describes something that seems ‘good’ or ‘better’ than what was. It implies in itself, a judgement about what one didn’t know before, or about others. It IS meaningful, and close to what is meant, so I’ve embraced it until now.
It isn’t that it is wrong to use the word awakening when relating the stories of masters like Ramana Maharshi or Eckart Tolle, who were rendered ‘quite different’ upon enlightenment experiences, but lifeshocks describes what we all work with all the time, at varying degrees and scales, down to microseconds… each time an expectation is thwarted. In a sense, we are lifesthocks creatures, orienting and reorienting ourselves all the time, responding and redrawing anew.
This is what exposing lifeshocks give us: the chance to be fully authentic, to find our true path in life and to accumulate an inner wealth that no amount of material wealth can match. Whoever we are and whatever we are up to, they will hammer on our pretences and call us back to love….
– Sophie Sabbage
Many of the tools she shares from the course fall in line well with similar inquiry techniques taught by the likes of Byron Katie, but so far I like the gentleness of her approach more. It seeps in.
There are a few points in the book where I stopped relating to her very much, as the particular struggles of hiding her inherited privilege felt enviable rather than pitiable, but she was well aware of that when she chose to include those stories. In a way, they exactly illustrate the difference between what she is conveying and other like-messages, and form an intimate relationship with the reader.
A month between posts again, but with good reason. I’ve been on a book binge, have traveled a little for work, and have been participating in a focused practice with friends, called “99 Days” — a play on the song 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, but with a positive overall intention of seeing and potentially affecting long standing habits.
You may remember that years ago research came out suggesting that it would take roughly 100 days to undo an old habit or to install a new one. So basically what we do is check in with one another every day for 99 days, which keeps our focus pretty steady. We each choose something different at first, although as time goes on and we support and follow one another, the practices have a way of blending.
My focus? I started with one, but moved into another I titled Unlearning Isolation, after a phrase in Rebecca Campbell’s book Light is the New Black.
In Rebecca’s book, it was almost a throw-away line, but one that jumped out and seized me strongly, becoming an easy intention to hold and remember day to day. My idea was to see if I could undo some of the isolating patterns I’ve cultivated as part of my personality for longer than I remember, by first noticing, then stepping out of them in a systematic way. I’ve had fairly good results so far.
It hasn’t been predictable. My early ideas feel almost quaint now – things like reading at the pool instead of inside of my apartment, or occasionally answering the phone without fielding calls. Instead, invitations have come up, and challenges to do things differently while traveling, like not wearing my i-pod as much, actually engaging with those around me.
Honestly, it has been a lot of fun.
One of the first things that happened was that I seemed to become hyper-aware of micro-expressions people, including myself, cycle through when engaging with the world. For many of us, there is a polite openness followed by a sudden gear switching, that if you really see in action, is quite amazing. Getting to that closing point, then breathing to relax and stay open a little longer, can feel like ‘going lucid’ in a dream.
In fact I had one quite wonderful encounter alongside a quite stressful one that I don’t think would have occurred if I’d not been out of my comfort zone in the first place.
There are stubborn obstacles that remain however, like a drained feeling after talking on the phone, that if I don’t slow down to work with, turns into a dread I then want to avoid. I suppose becoming more sensitive, making it into a thing, is part of the process, though. It has helped to hear from others that what I think of as highly personal struggles, are not too uncommon, like wanting to avoid events, being happy one didn’t, and then being very thankful when said events are over. 🙂
Have returned from a trip – my first to Europe – and from writing elsewhere about the trip in a way that surprised me. The recounting poured through like sunshine first thing in the morning, and I could hardly leave my bed–where I’d started off writing just a few simple notes–for most of the day. :
By 6 pm I was hobbling in pain, my back loudly protesting what I’d done, but wasn’t sorry. In the community, there came genuine appreciation that I’d tried to bring into the experience those who had not been able to go, to include them in the adventure. Of course, it wasn’t that I could include anyone anywhere, but they appreciated that I took the time to show they were already included… something the dynamics of the group have taught me to see throughout ten years involvement.
This felt connected to my waking a few weeks ago with the thought loudly before my eyes: “I don’t want to teach. I (just) want to write!” Which seemed odd out of context of the many years in which I’ve worked to articulate knowledge I feel has empowered my life, with the idea of ‘helping’ others. I felt released from that burden.
Why have I done that anyway? In part, out of a desire to show appreciation, to ‘make good’, like a child who is well aware of what their parents have sacrificed to give them greater opportunities. But times have changed. There is a hierarchical way of sharing, of giving and receiving, that isn’t quite appropriate anymore, even if our institutions and formulas have not moved beyond that way of thinking. We’re walking funny lines.
The ‘appreciating food’ practice a friend on the trip shared, consisted of taking a moment to contemplate how our meals, in all their myriad components, had reached our table. Each time we ate together she walked through some of the many factors and relationships required for any given meal, much less the innumerable factors necessary to gather such disparate people as we ourselves from all over the world, to appreciate that presentation. This practice, although simple, deeply affected my way of seeing during the trip. Perhaps the writing took on that flavor as a natural overflow.
It is far too easy to snap into a category and write ‘about that’, to try to line things up with calculations of what is wanted… what is most ‘useful’. However, the benefit of going with what pours out is that there is 0 pretending. There are too many factors, so you give up on capturing them all in advance, and go along with the momentum appreciatively.
This may be what Steve Jobs was getting at when he said that people don’t know what they want until you show them. Market research is useful, but incredibly limited. It matters to me that I’m clear and that what I write takes in mind the benefit of others, but I can’t be driven by that. I can’t be driven by a motive to ‘do good’. That’s an effect that in a way, I trust to happen from a deeper devotional intention.
There is a TED Talk that speaks to this beautifully, given by Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote Eat Pray Love. She gave this talk about genius and inspiration after the gigantic success of that novel, so it comes from a vulnerable place, asking, “What if my best work is behind me?” It isn’t a talk centralizing on fear. Rather, it draws upon the way genius moves, and what genius is… how much wider and free-er than can be contained by the will of a vessel trying to do well or be special.
If you haven’t seen it, it is worth the 20 minutes, and gets better and better as it goes on.
What I’m about to share is a whimsical little story about a pivot point in spiritual exploration which holds a sweet spot I’d like to convey.
Curtain opens to a typical therapist’s office: wall of books, comfy sofa with a throw nearby, big wooden desk. Me, on that sofa, eyes darting back and forth, tissue box at hand. Therapist, chair rolled away from the desk, yellow tablet in his lap. Patient? Bored? No way to tell.
By the time of this scene I’d been showing up once a week for more than a year, deeply out of place in a life that I’d quite intentionally wished for and made. Health was failing, family turbulent, and it was just not getting better. Originally I’d sought a therapist with a background in hypnosis, with the cover of addressing shyness and anxiety that had plagued public speaking efforts. I envisioned being put under a few times, then emerging with bold ‘after a few drinks’ kind of confidence. But no.
In retrospect, I can see I was actually there to seek permission to alter my situation, someone to certify changes I’d already decided upon.
What I received however, were techniques to contact greater spaciousness in my thinking. I learned to be listened to, and to slow down with simple rituals like breathing, and tea. Along with asking good questions, the doctor walked me through guided meditations with the theme of support, through layers of firm ground beneath my feet, from which stance there would come more realistic proportions.
I thought for many months, this wasn’t working at all, but I did notice a few things.
I could see farther. While I was driving especially, or out and about, what was familiar to me no longer felt as familiar. Distance was clearer, just as a result of being slightly more relaxed.
Standing in lines wasn’t a burden. Rather than feeling restless pressure waiting in the (SO!) many lines a modern life entails, I could locate ease, even pleasure, taking in surroundings, testing new limits.
Once I began to see that visualization was actually helping, I sought out others, each more esoteric and elaborate than the last. A guide might move through meadows and along streams, to encounters with peaceful/wise others, or down staircases into libraries housing any answer I could wish for. These were relaxing, sometimes emotionally moving, but didn’t feel especially personal. It was also the case that I couldn’t really believe in the support I was visualizing. It didn’t ring true with my reality ‘outside’.
Eventually, I encountered Eckhart Tolle, whose simple guidance to notice breaths at natural openings proved revolutionary. Tolle spoke of groundlessness rather than solidity, which brought enormous comfort and even consistent stability. ‘Natural openings’ practice was something I could easily incorporate throughout the day, for instance counting breaths at stoplights.
Where I live, a defining characteristic of life is driving: everywhere, all the time, through heavy traffic, in hot cars. Stoplights are abundant. I started with five breaths at each stop, little by little increasing the number. The practice tapered off when response became automatic, more easily shifting into a more spacious gear at each opportunity.
A collective shift also began to find lift off during that time. Those in my sphere were becoming more receptive to meditation and talking about that; conversation was in the air.
Although I usually feel fairly vulnerable in the world when I compare myself to others, or more so compare myself to the ideas my younger self had about what I might become, when ill there is little energy even for those comparisons.
The pattern becomes something like “nap and listen, nap and listen.”
In listening, I saw.
That I like things rustic and slightly undone. That I lose interest in things that are too well-packaged.That I long for beauty in the midst of chaos–mud and lotus together–and turn off when flaws aren’t allowed, especially in writing (no matter how much I try to hide them in my own).
But that actually that’s not true. It is when mud and lotus are one that I feel at peace. When each reveals the other’s meaning, but when there is no trace of having erased the flaws, even where that might have happened.
It is something like a book I read, Cutting Back, by Leslie Buck, in which she as a master gardener describes her apprenticeship in Japan, and the strenuous work that it took to learn which branches to leave or cut away, which needles to brush out of the ancient pines.
I’m terrified that I’ll never allow myself that level of authenticity.