My favorite shifts are the ones I barely notice, as though they don’t have much to do with me at all. When did the blue of the sky, become so blue? Have I always laughed so loud? Or, habits change. I don’t want to eat the chocolate, but rather the strawberry. It’s no longer jasmine but orange blossom. There is such pleasure in observing phenomena when tendencies toward contraction are quiet.
Still, how does one write when there is no story to tell? How does one share without making a case for another to adopt one’s own view, which isn’t really one’s own at all? To present a solution, one must posit a problem. To posit a problem, one must posit a one who has that problem. How to instead let magic to run its own course.
Leave it be.
Or maybe, let it run out?
The usual substances around here–the shampoo, the make up, the frozen foods–are all running out. I’ve been watching, letting them empty, rather than de-cluttering or organizing. It’s soothing to appreciate that emptying. This sensation feels deeper, more permanent or actual somehow to just see. Rather than bursts and busts of energy, there’s a gentle stirring, building, easy-ing of everyday things.
“To attain knowledge, add things everyday. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.”
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.
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.
Wonderful practice session this morning, still ongoing really, since I come to write just after meditating. The rhythms and music and feeling of the practice were guiding, leading into a sense of reaching deeply into light… light in the sense of lightness rather than brightness. The subtlety and beauty of this place, indeed the place itself, almost imperceptible, yet very much ‘there’ too, seemed a place wherein friends and I could simply experience no-being-ness together. Blissful.
Considering refuge tree practice, I wonder whether visualizations may have arisen as devotees sat beneath trees, finding shade–refuging–from harsh sunshine. The heat is incredible here, Miami in August, so the way this makes sense is quite tangible, and helps me to really experience the trunk and branches of the practice, where the bodhisattvas and arhats may be situated, where “I” am. “Bodhi” dimension. Yesterday in therapy we talked about boundaries and tears, and the way that when readying for retreat, boundaries are thinner, dreaming more constant and vivid, tears more near at hand.
One day last week, I made a mistake in sharing too much about my background with a new manager, which may have happened because I was caught up into her energy, perhaps related to this ‘thinness’ phenomena. I can find myself almost drunk with an openness that seems like freedom at the time, but in retrospect I find embarrassing and may well be inappropriate. She and I do not know one another yet. I just knew she had experienced a lack of support in early life, emancipating from her parents at a young age, yet had managed to pursue her education. Impressive. I took this fact as immediate kinship, so flung open the gates.
I texted later and apologized for oversharing, asked her to keep what I’d blurted out between us. She said she would, so that’s where we are. If I’d done something like this years ago, I probably would have contrived a reason to leave my job, feeling too exposed, but perhaps due to therapy–having that place to hear and be heard–the stream kept flowing.
Waking while dreaming another family related dream. Why now? This time I was visiting my sister and her husband. I arrived wearing clothing very far from my wheelhouse: white faux fur coat, boots, and perfectly curled high-volume hair. I was greeted very warmly by them… except that everything I touched had to be erased right as I touched it, so that my mother wouldn’t have any idea I’d been there or that they’d treated me nicely. When I mentioned something about this, as my nephew handled something I’d either given him or was mine (not sure), my sister behaved as though it was very offensive to point out the obvious.
I love the way dreams spell out true things, things one knows but isn’t saying. In this case how I was welcomed by my family as long as I played along, as long as I behaved as a polite outsider without stakes in anyone speaking in truthful ways about past, present, or future. It was often the case that I’d let my mother tell blatantly unreal stories that painted herself in a bright motherly light, only saying sometimes to my sister on the side, “It really didn’t happen that way.”
I always knew the price for not doing so. And I guess I always knew there would come a day when I would push back, when the cost for not doing so was too high. This happened when my grandfather died, years after my marriage falling apart, and I considered moving closer to them. I knew we’d either have to forge more honest balances, or that she’d be ‘done with me’ the first time I didn’t play along, which I could only do as a visitor, not as someone living nearby, interacting every day, being interdependent with them.
We know what occurred, which is the ‘done with me’ part, but the part I’m still working through is the role my sister played. I had my sister on a pedestal, I think, as someone who played the needed games better than I did, but who would eventually be my ‘surviving’ family. I saw her as the more resilient one, the more strategic one, but as someone who, having been through so much as a child, realized I was there for ‘all that’ too. I learned through this that she was quite happy to be the only child left standing in our mother’s life. Whether anger toward me was in service of the necessity of rejecting me, or its own thing, I’m not sure.
It’s quite a story really… out of five marriages and five children, the only one left for my mother is my sister, playing these games together, doing what’s needed to get what’s wanted. I can’t articulate the money part; it’s a big, but not the main, factor.
I don’t feel upset by all this on a daily basis now. I have thoughts that pass by and I think something along the lines that it would have been so beautiful to have figured out the balances… to have been valued and loved enough to have included as someone worthy of having their voice and stories heard, their real presence around, etc. I wonder about my niece and nephews, wonder if my sister or mother ever wonder about my kids, who they knew and pretended to love for decades. I wonder if I should feel badly for my kids not having the kind of family around them others have, or whether they are fortunate not to be entangled.
Again, as with my in-laws, I chose reality, and it didn’t go well for me.
But then again, it did. Eggshells are scarce, my health is a lot better, and so many things about who I am being are more okay.
I think the dream is saying that these patterns are still there, although I don’t feel them, and that they are working themselves out on their own. As long as I don’t suppress them, I think they’ll gently move their way through, allowing me to relax even places I don’t experience as tense and knotted. This will further help my health, further allow my energies to flow where they are welcomed and needed.
When these kinds of knots let go, one thing I’ve found happens is that I can see farther into what occurred and/or is occurring. I can see back into choices I made to counter one type of longing with another, one type of belief system or influence with either its opposite or complimentary. I am not a mastermind, as evidenced by the way these schemes didn’t work out ultimately, but when I think about what I was saying to my family by my choices, because I couldn’t be honest with my words, there was a lot of rejection of their ways. I was always finding ways to opt-out of their thinking, without expressly saying so. I was always introducing ‘other’ ways to see and do things. I raised my kids differently, without corporal punishment, etc.
This was actually my way of staying in their lives.
Is this why I was so dressed up? Was that how they saw me, coming in as a fancy outsider? I usually downplayed things so as not to trigger those accusations, back then, but I guess here I am myself, playful and “high volume” whether they give permission or not.
The wonderful thing is that the more these underground tensions release, the wider the sky seems to be, too. These are gentle shifts and explorations, not bothersome. When I woke this morning I said aloud, “Why still these dreams?” It felt like I was bored by them, rather than hurt by them.
I’m just not finding this carousel particularly interesting anymore.
I may be toward the end of this stint in therapy. It’s a little hard to tell because, when doesn’t one need to feel heard? When doesn’t one need to hear themselves more clearly? But, I also don’t want to always be examining tendencies and unraveling patterns. There are times to just cut through.
I was lightly startled awake a few weeks ago, when a conversation with my son turned nostalgic and he said, “Mom, I’m sorry but you’re talking to me like your therapist.” Which may sound mean, but isn’t in our context actually, because he knows I like to catch myself. It was a gentle nudge, a loving “Look and see.”
There’s still such a strong tendency in me, to believe that if I can just draw out a clear enough map to how we got ‘here’, it would be possible to make a convincing case for fixing <insert issue>, re-writing the script. Especially, I want to own my own part of things, as though if sufficiently aware and remorseful, the previous possible timeline I’d envisioned many moons ago would be available again. It seems a relic of childhood experience, where a child makes their parent feel better and then is allowed to go to the party, or have the thing. As an adult, however, I’m not willing to be bought in this way. I want to be truthful, and I want others to be truthful, just as my son was in this instance.
Rather than feeling slighted or dismissed by him, I felt thankful. In that moment I recognized a false idea I’d been carrying around, that my grown kids still need me to re-explain where things went awry between their parents. Each is going to have different interpretations, and when they ask, I’ll be happy to attempt to answer. I just don’t need to keep figuring it out. Figuring out can largely go on without me because it isn’t as though their dad is asking those questions or having these discussions with us. It isn’t as though I need to write a book about family dynamics, etc.
Would I love to be able to articulate my “side of things” once and for all? Who wouldn’t! But is that what’s happening in therapy? Not really. And actually I’m always learning, so my impression of what have helped or could have been different, is always being revised. The big things are pretty obvious, and although their effects can still pop up, catch me off guard, recovery is usually swift. As a friend would say, I do bounce!
Therapy is my eye in the storm, but the storm is rather predictable now. I have more supplies and a steadier plan. My therapist is a lovely woman I can imagine being a good friend with outside of the therapy context, who often shows acceptance I couldn’t find from either the family I was born into, or the one I married into, and who takes my side. She also catches me mid self-condemnation and exaggeration–psychological doomscrolling–to ask “But is that true?” “Is that really your fault?” “Could you have foreseen that?”
Does it help to doomscroll? What good can come of this?
The first therapist I went to see, in about 1994, ended one session asking me to consider why I think everything is my fault. I dismissed her question out of hand because I reasoned, “What good does it do to see the situation as someone else’s fault?” I couldn’t change or convince anyone, also didn’t want to … didn’t want to manipulate the way I’d been manipulated. But her question stayed with me, and would come up at the oddest times until I had to pay attention. She was right that I leaned that way and was willing to absorb blame just to have peace. She was right that I found it hard to trust others to do the work of self-reflection as well. My current therapist is also right that the tendency has remained, even with so much more space around it.
That being so, it might be time for a more surgical strategy.
Checking in here after nearly a month, coming around to a more settled rhythm. My sense is that of rich undergrowth having spread more fully between insights and events, highlighted by sunbeams innocently playing their way through domes above. I finally stopped to look around, finally noticed, after happening upon a protective cool spot in the middle of a scorching day.
Inner, outer: who can tell? And who wants to?
It’s a wonderful thing to let oneself be a little lost, leaning into phenomena as though adventuring with a wise and rugged friend. Deep listening is available, loosened grip, easing the industriousness of the last few months, so as to accept an invitation to quite intentional appreciation. The richness of What Is.
The pull is close to that of aimless wandering practice, which I first engaged in at what used to be, and I guess still is, Windhorse Farm. Was that back in 2012 or so? It always strikes me as especially delightful when the practice finds and captures my attention, even here in the city, with the same persuasiveness once experienced in that lush old-growth forest.
Beautifully, that land has fairly recently been returned to the Mi’kmaq. The following letter is from the website linked to above:
Sadness for the hundreds of years of colonization of these bountiful and beautiful lands and people. Joyful that the Land is returning, through gift and sale, to the loving hands and hearts of tthe Mi’kmaq through Ulnooweg Education Centre, an Indigenous Charity.
The Wentzell and the Drescher Families have lived here for 180 years caring for and protecting this place, in reciprocity with all the other beings who live here. In effect, we have been mere placeholders waiting for this auspicious “land-back” event to occur.
We are in deep appreciation to all of you who have come to play, work, live, learn and heal here at Windhorse for 31 years during our “watch”. You and the Forest Families have offered warmth, moisture and nourishment to the legacy.
Now it will return to those who have been here for 15,000 years – to the loving care of the First People, as a place of healing, education and ceremony – to those who have known and respected the sacredness and healing medicine of the Land.
These First People are teaching us all the power of, and need for, living in reciprocity with all beings – the leadership necessary to carry us all through these uncertain times.
A cause for celebration and gratitude.
Looking forward for seven generations, may all beings, seen and unseen, benefit.
Love, The Drescher Family Located in Mi’kma’ki, the unceded and unsurrendered territory of the Mi’kmaq on Atuomkuk Wentzell’s Lake and Pijnuiskaq LaHave River
I’ve been experiencing such dread on Spanish Class days. Thanks to COVID and other challenges, I slid behind the rest of my group, and have struggled to make up the difference since then. I can handle not being ‘best in class’, but don’t like to be a drag.
I’m taking as my practice the backward step, what a good friend calls sheer appreciation. Even should I drop the class with just a week to go, it has oriented my view differently than before embarking, and has helped me to approach life in Miami with the enthusiasm of viable learning curve and endless opportunities. I turn my attention from the content of the painting, to the paint itself, appreciating a wider, less time-ordered view.
It’s okay to evaluate and revisit a goal, but if one forgets appreciation within that, the goal, meant to be one part of a complex universe of relationships and connections, becomes a sticky web.
In practicing open awareness, I’ve found it helpful to think of existence—the entire play of sounds and thoughts and bodies and trees—as the foreground of life, and awareness as the background.
In the Zen tradition, the shift from focusing on the foreground of experience to resting in pure being is called “the backward step.” Whenever we step out of thought or emotional reactivity and remember the presence that’s here, we’re taking the backward step.
If we wake up out of a confining story of who we are and reconnect with our essential awareness, we’re taking the backward step. When our attention shifts from a narrow fixation on any object—sound, sensation, thought—and recognizes the awake space that holds everything, we’re taking the backward step. We come to this realization when there is nowhere else to step. No anything. We’ve relaxed back into the immensity and silence of awareness itself.
By contrast, the feeling of ‘endless opportunities’ is the opposite of what’s been going on with my work as of late, not just due to management shifts and the loss of an important presence on the scene, but general plateau. I’m still learning, but haven’t shifted gears in a while. I’ve been wondering if this is the restlessness I’ve sometimes felt intuitively, signaling a change of wind direction or something new out on an edge. I can appreciate this open question.
From this stance, I found myself captivated by one of the writer George Saunders’ [excellent!] “Story Club” emails. In it, he described ten ways of approaching endings.
Another way I’ve talked about this is that we want to always be escalating, even into its last lines. So, I’ll spend a little extra time goofing with the ending, sort of, you know, Rubik’s-cubing it, trying to see if I can get just a little more light into it. I’m thinking something like, “Dear story, do you have anything else you want to tell me?’
This is where I’m at with my work in the store, Rubik’s-cubing it. Not a bad approach when dealing with restless edge states. And the idea of tweaking, playing, and backing up to open up to new meanings, brings to mind the Beatles documentary that came out during the last few years. I highly recommend it. Most of the promos rightly center around a fascinating moment when Paul is just playing, like a child in a bathtub plays with sounds and toys, and out of that comes Get back.. get back.. get back to where you once belonged...
“All feelings are positive”, says Jenny Lim, yet so often, by the time I even consider inquiry, fears and discomforts have whirled by feverishly, leaving a mess to attend to in their wake. The window in which to sort through what was felt in any systematic way has already closed, rendering such guidance quaint.
I did okay with it today.
I left work deflated, having been busy from start to finish, wrapping up a series of designs in what I felt was the most efficient way–only to be (albeit lightly) scolded just before leaving, for taking too long. It had suddenly gotten busy just as I’d gone off floor to wrap details. Still, I knew I’d balanced my time well, and that the other person was operating from a blind spot. If anything, they’d spent twice the time with their clients I had with mine, after having come in hours later.
Mind you, I have a lot of respect for this other designer, and know the nature of things when there aren’t enough people to manage a rush. Everyone is handling more than they can, so it’s hard not to think the next guy isn’t doing their part. I’ve definitely fallen into that pattern myself. Still, rather than feeling put upon, it would have been better to ask more detail about what I was working on. I’m fairly confident they would have comprehended the deadline more clearly, but even If not, I wouldn’t have felt quite so shot down in a flash at the end of an exhausting day.
Granted, there was a time I would have cried, and I didn’t, though I am tearing up a little while writing here. That’s progress. And maybe therapy is finally clicking, because a few hours after arriving home, after tea, I was calm enough to ask a few probing questions.
What emotion were you actually feeling? Disappointment. Looked over. Unsure whether it is worth trying to be heard. Why even try? Sadness (I tried my best and still didn’t meet expectations) Pride. **Don’t you know who I am?
This last one is funny, I guess. It’s the gist I boiled down from a longer rant about being taken for someone only capable of, or not even capable of, such a job. I realized how much I wish to be seen in a totality rather than as a body performing tasks. When I feel reduced in such a moment, especially by someone I’ve worked with a while, I’m especially sensitive and prone to catastrophizing.
If everything isn’t perfect, I jump to, “Oh no, I have to leave!”
Why is the discomfort so strong (disproportionate)? Fear. I fear this isn’t the right place for me. Simultaneously, I fear that this IS the right place for me, and I’ll leave prematurely just before things get better. It’s always so close to ‘getting it (life) right’.
There’s more, but you get the idea.
Hidden in the bundle also arose spiritual perfectionism. Looking at the attachment I feel to my role, not just as a ‘good designer’, I see myself taking being an excellent worker and colleague to be a fractal of mattering to/in the world on the whole. I get through my day by seeing what I’m doing as more than what it seems to be a lot of the time.
Perhaps I’m not holding my roles very lightly. “For Hongzhi the whole purpose of practice is to “graciously share yourself with the hundred grass tips [i.e., myriad beings] in the busy marketplace.””
-from “Cultivating the Empty Field: The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi” by Taigen Dan Leighton, Yi Wu
“Looking back, I guess I used to play-act all the time. For one thing, it meant I could live in a more interesting world than the one around me.”
From Tuesday afternoon until Friday night, I slept, then Friday night through Sunday, attended an online (Dzogchen) retreat. Today, Monday, I’ve spent restless, neither sleeping nor awake, neither up nor down, watching snippets of things on my computer, half interested. I should be studying Spanish, but feel blurry-minded.
[ Entry: The week of our Covid-19, 2022. ]
Honestly, I’m already looking back on the retreat time, acknowledging the opportunity with a sense of importance and awe, although certainly, I wasn’t able to live up to what I’d envisioned my part of things to be: meditating in between sessions, taking contemplative walks. Quite ill, I had to make an on-the-spot exception, choosing to believe that given my situation, the teachers would have permitted my dizzy slouchy attendance.
At some point one of the Rinpoches did ask those in attendance not to take formalities lightly, not to lean back lazily listening. I was laying on my side as he said this, contemplating the ethics of recording the teachings, my eyes struggling to stay open, stomach cramping. They couldn’t see me, but in that moment I thought, even if they can, let’s just be really real. As my therapist says, life is “Come as you are.”
There’s a discussion to be had about accessibility, but this is a good example of why practitioners are encouraged to meet with teachers individually, address particularities and receive permissions in line with unique aptitudes and situations [a la skillful means].
In any event, I’m glad I made the call to attend; drowsiness and all, it was truly wonderful, and interestingly, my condition may have rendered me more receptive than otherwise. No temptation to multitask nor worry about what needed to be done in the apartment (there was plenty), I lapsed from time to time into vivid little dreams animating what was being transmitted, letting the boundaries blur until ‘I’ was neither here nor there.
It was especially interesting to lose myself into dynamics of translation, where it was sometimes impossible to see where translator left off and teacher began. The process was just so easy and wide open, not like work being done. I’ve experienced this a rare few times… ‘no doubt’ within some relationship dynamic; it can be close to the experience of creative flows one can’t consciously recognize until looking back, like “Man, where was I!?”
It was a loving retreat, focused precisely where my last blog post left off: timelessly luminous nature of mind.
After we closed, I fell asleep listening to a beautiful White Tara Lunar yoga nidra ritual through Tibet House US, feeling cradled and soft. Tara has been active in my awareness persistently for a few weeks now, as Green Tara in a sadhana shared by a friend where I also learned the Condensed Praises; as a friend at work by the same name who has been helping bring more awareness to the way I treat my body with food; to this practice; to happening upon another Lama suggesting Tara practices when praying for Ukraine, earlier in the day. Ah, and actually a few weeks ago I went into Second Life, showing the Green Tara Temple to another friend, and meditated there.
It’s funny to me that my friend Tara is not only not Buddhist, but doesn’t seem to have even referential knowledge of Buddha Tara. It reminds me how disparate our worlds can be, even as people who occupy the same city, job, age group, etc. I made a little comment once, that she was a buddha for me (I’ve learned a lot from her at work as well), and her face hardened a bit, not complimented, so I’ve never brought it up again, although we did have a nice conversation about faith in general.
I think she considers my Buddhism to be ‘belief’ in Buddha the way many Christians would say they ‘believe’ in Jesus. And that’s fine with me, for her to think that. Who am I to say it isn’t, anyway.