My favorite shifts are the ones barely noticed, as though they don’t have much to do with me, at all. When did the sky, become so blue? Have I always laughed so loud? I don’t want to eat the chocolate, but instead, the strawberry. It’s no longer jasmine that reels, but orange blossom.
Such pleasure, simply observing. Tendencies toward contraction quieten, and there is no story to tell. How to instead let the magic be.
So many things make up our stories, our lives. Various objects, substances, ideas, obligations. It’s interesting to just let some run their course. Let the shampoo, make up, frozen food, all run out. Notice the qualities of the emptiness when less and less, frames the openness. No de-cluttering or organizing. So soothing to appreciate the space, taking over.
Rather than the bursts and busts of energy, charges of accumulation, a gentle stirring, building, an easy-ing of things. A million gentle surrenders.
“To attain knowledge, add things everyday. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.”
I’ve long been drawn to the biblical story of Mary and Martha, to contrasting characters’ modes of action. I think of myself as having strong Mary tendencies while admiring Martha-type industriousness from a far, but many who know me in daily life might disagree.
Anyway, these two came to mind because with sudden urgency I went plundering a decade’s worth of emails last night, looking for the Buddhist refuge name I’d shared with just one friend. (I’ve taken on practices more comfortable than any in ages, so it seemed right to search for ‘my name’ as a locator…part of a set of coordinates, if you will.)
I’m turning 52. When I took refuge 12 years ago, my name was written on a small card I promptly lost. The meaning of the name was written on the card as well, but I couldn’t read it and was too shy to ask clarification.
Thankfully, although I couldn’t find it, my friend could. 🙂 It’s a funny name really; it’s visual representation would be something like this:
A note I happened upon when searching, regarded the Mary and Martha story. In it, the same wise friend shared the sensibility that we’re both Mary and Martha at different times in our lives, or, he said, “More accurately, we are always both Mary and Martha.” They may be presented as a contrast, but are not truly in competition.
I didn’t see this simple truth when first given this name, I felt I had to not place much importance on what I thought of as trappings of the journey I was embarking on. I was untrusting of myself, suspicious of falling into similar cult-like ‘obedience and conformity’ behaviors as I’d experienced in churches when young. Praise from elders and connection within groups is a deep longing for those who yearn for family, and the idea of available love can be very seductive. Thankfully, something in me always kept some light of questioning, even back then.
[In a a vivid dream of walking down a busy highway with Jesus, I turned to ‘evangelize’ to a group of ‘unsaved’ people my age, Jesus didn’t. When I noticed and looked back, he was still walking, so I abandoned course and jogged to catch up with him instead. It took me weeks to come to the conclusion that I had to question, even go against, what my church was urging. I’d prided myself then, as many seem to now, on being willing to go so far as to embarrass myself ‘for my faith’. Many can recognize this when they see it from others, especially in political buffoonery, but don’t most religions have some version of killing ego? ]
My rebelliousness, what my ex-husband called my feralness, won out. Perhaps the Lama could see that as the case? I like to think now, that he picked up on an underlying ferocious when he chose the name. 😉
“Emptiness and appearance do not negate each other. Just like a rainbow can appear, but doesn’t have to have truly existing entity. Knowing this true nature of all phenomenon is the darshan of Manjushri.” -Dzongzar Kyentse Rinpoche
I described to my therapist the feeling when, after waiting and waiting, with many buses stopping and going, a bus finally approaches that seems to be your bus. The numbers are fuzzy but there are the right number of digits. Then, those digits slowly take shape; their edges become clearer. It’s within this context that I’m willing and happy to take on more structured practices now. It isn’t performative, and if it’s just for a time again, that’s okay.
Speaking of names (I’ve mentioned this before), I work across the street from the bus stop a boyfriend wrote as the setting in ‘our song’. The lyrics describe our second meeting, two years before we became involved–a very long time when young: “Won’t you be my friend, and tell me, what’s your name? Won’t you be my friend, don’t turn and walk away. Won’t you be my friend, believe me when I say, I have hopes that some day we’ll meet again.”
He was a lovely person, and although the relationship lasted a blink, the bus stop is a daily reminder to me that auspicious timing is worth waiting for, and names can be like signs over the doorposts of life chapters. When I later met my (now ex) husband, I asked him jokingly “Don’t you know who I am?” He startled, believing I might be someone ‘important’, which indeed I became to him.
So many worlds in play, none of them ‘me’, Who May be sitting in a garden somewhere, Under a tree.
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 came to the end today. Two years and eight hundred pages since starting the journal I titled How to be Estranged when reeling from my grandfather’s death and my mother’s overdue abandonment. I love the way I’ve written this, including for the first time photos and more creative writings with the worries of the day, dreams of the night.
My first entry was a dream:
Covid. July. 2020.
A small, quite ridiculous creature appears uninvited; there is no door. It has a large mouth which, as one looks, gets bigger and bigger, revealing more and more sharp menacing teeth. Its already small eyes are quickly hidden. Lurching out from beside, clasping its own mouth over the creature’s, my even smaller, yet fiercely loyal protector, breaks the spell.
The dangers of our times are absurd. Could the antidotes be simple?
A wee-small-hours of the morning dream stayed with me throughout the day, which is unusual on a work day, when I generally shift into such an entirely different gear so as to forget almost everything else. Often before work I sit in my car for a small meditation, hold an intention to bring that energy into rest of my time, only to blink and be right back in my car, several hours having passed in a blur. So I’m not sure why this dream is so potent, but it may be its great vibe… a weirdly optimistic Bladerunner aesthetic.
There were street markets and hidden gathering places. People were generally poor, but a sense of community was present, and life didn’t feel unsafe outside of a vague sense of surveillance far away. It felt like some idealistic vision had been realized, an alternate timeline that was missing greed, somehow. No one was showing off for one another at all.
What I remember most strongly, and what kept coming up all day, was the sensation of flying in a car driven by a friend, and the seamless transition between driving on a road into flying. Who this friend was keeps changing in my recollection, but the way she told me we were only able to get away with flying the car at the height we were flying, as the way to access places we were going, remains vivid. I looked up when she said this, to see another layer of the daytime sky I hadn’t been aware of before, and a globe-shaped vehicle traveling through that space.
As I mused with the dream earlier I realized, “Ah, we were flying under the radar!” And I thought of Bob Dylan’s line “To live above the law you must be honest.” Interesting associations, but there may be more to consider.
After all, here I am, writing about it now, shaking it for further treasure.
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...
A strange thing has happened now that tossing and turning has fallen away from nighttime explorations; I find myself reliving alternate scenarios such as “What if married life with G had taken this turn?” Last night, I was the one working more, coming home to be shown our baby’s head lifting up with strength for the first time, other things. The dream was bright, not magical, but there was contentment.
When I have these dreams, there is often then residue of other dreams remembered, fragments of scenarios wherein I see my true wishes and have a chance to play them out, even if just a bit. They become experiences I have had, therefore are in a different category from pie-in-the-sky wishes. These desires genuinely feel sort of checked-off, although not fitting into what the circumstances of my life say is true.
Exploring virtual worlds was like this, too. Had I kept a journal then, I could have written that I began the day with a morning balloon ride before landing in a field of flowers where a deep international discussion ensued. I could have described dancing in outer space with someone who felt familiar, but I didn’t know, just as I might recount a dream. These accounts would have been true, suspending so-called knowledge that neither balloon nor flowers were real balloon and flowers. But what is real?
In some ways, those experiences felt more real, exactly because of the layer of true-knowing that they weren’t. That’s hard to describe, but neuroscience so far concurs that vivid imaginations and memories can weigh as much, matter as much–if not more–as so-called real life happenings, when it comes to our day to day responses and choices.
I believe we are less alive and awake in our lives when we forget what we’re experiencing at any given time, is not the whole truth. What we know about one another’s intentions, wrapped up in past experience and read-outs of such, is a story we’re actively telling that would disappear if we stopped actively telling it. So really, we have a great deal of freedom.
The starkest of my recent nighttime dreams remains that of mourning my grandfather’s death alongside my mother and sister, generating care and okay-ness, moving into a next, more loving phase of life together. That’s not the scenario that played out, but it has brought me comfort to go back to that dream, and that dreaming self, and say “I see you.”
When accused of ill intentions, or when I imagine that I’m accused of such, there is a deeply rooted knowing there, reminding me of what I really aspire toward when my guard is all the way down, which is love. Forgiveness too, yes, within that, but not a keep-the-fragile-peace forgiveness: an honest forgiveness, wherein people who love each other love each other in full view of failures and misunderstandings and doubts, as well as victories and reliefs and good works/intentions. Who wish each other well, even-or-especially in ways that don’t benefit our (material) selves.
One reason so much spaciousness occurred when my mother exited is precisely that the shaky ground which kept me on-guard all the time, finally just gave way as I feared. Which doesn’t mean I wanted it that way.
For a long time I couldn’t look objectively at my background, because to do so would make it very hard to continue that relationship without some kind of acknowledgement–not for the acknowledgement itself, but what the acknowledgement would mean for our future. Since then, I’ve been able to see that choices had already been made, to build a new life and backstory my existence contradicts; love for me might indeed require risking that construction. Judging by the way I’ve so far kept specifics mostly to myself however, only willingness to risk would be required.
None of this means love itself isn’t possible. Indeed suffering occurs when I try to deny love its place. I want to let love have expression, even when I don’t understand, even when I want to cry “Unfair! Unfair!” Leaving aside individual responses to particular situations in moments which arise, in general, I have to be on love’s side to be happy.
I’m reminded that during my first real therapy sessions, when (the first) Dr. W tried to take me through visualizations of support, building layers of ground beneath me, I still couldn’t find stability. Something insisted on holding out for The Real Deal. Those visualizations indeed turned out to be a kind of priming before the insight of groundlessness took precedence.
“The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is, there’s no ground.” ”
― Chögyam Trungpa
Is there a chance the current wish-fulfilling dreams point to something yet deeper as well? What is the territory I’m actually meant to explore? Buddhism loves the concept of the wish-fulfilling gem, which I’ve taken to be (the mind of) Naturally Occurring Timeless Awareness, a la Longchenpa. These dreams may themselves act as objects of meditation, or taken together, as a singular koan.
“Naturally occurring timeless awareness—utterly lucid awakened mind— is something marvelous and superb, primordially and spontaneously present.
It is the treasury from which comes the universe of appearances and possibilities, whether of samsara or nirvana.
Homage to the unwavering state, free of elaborations.”
In line at the market, buying writing icing for the Congratulations cake we bought to mark successful getting of the big job by a family friend (intensive process they went through beforehand, getting a hotel to prep, for weeks, basically falling off-grid). An older gentleman looks back to ask if I’m in a hurry, gesturing that seeing I have so little, he would let me go ahead. I explain I just have “I’m in a hurry” energy, whether in a hurry or not, which gains a chuckle all around. I’m not sure it’s true, but it might be.
Everyone continues through the line. All is pleasant, normal. By the time I reach my car however, I’m highly sensitive. I look around and see many older people walking slowly, carefully. Some help one another. I felt sore most of the morning, a little worried about how work might go later, but now I’m standing still, deeply wondering how anyone manages anything at all. Everyone seems so very frail.
I watch the well-mannered gentleman get into his vehicle–a small van, although signage isn’t clear–and realize he must spend long portions of his day waiting.
I’m not waiting, but I’m not going anywhere, either.
Trying to put my finger on this sampling of experience, I’ll call what occurred ‘all-in-the-same-boat-ness’. It was profoundly strange, a little Lynchian. I’ll resist the urge to attach meaning or value, just remark that everything was certainly thin.
A few times this week I noticed, more exactly than usual, rippling effects of small gestures into undulating patterns, noticed how I can’t precisely tie them together, but as in this case, find myself in a wide mind then step back to trace. This gentleman’s gesture seemed to slow everything down, which was a reminder to appreciate the whole scene and all appearing in it–including me–as a shimmering mirage. Everything, including fragility and pain became ‘wonderful’, in a way.
While I know I’m still to some extent drawing the lines myself, in TSK terms, I’m also asking to see that the level as changed by asking when that so-called change occurred. Of course it never did.
Andrew Holocek on Buddha at the Gas Pump. So many wonderful quotes, but his passionate interest in dream yoga is why I’ve read some of his books several times. I may not lucid dream much these days, but the interview was a spark ignited to remember this way of being.
“Awareness of Being, is bliss.” Nisargadatta
I’ve felt a little shamed out of sharing dreams over time, concerned doing so was full of self, rather language to study with others inclined. I do actually believe, as many teachers do, that dreaming can be a rich practice ground, coupled with view, yet know that becoming fixated on what dreams mean to “me, my fortune, etc.” solidify rather than liberating experience. Over-editing what one shares may be as much of an issue.
Whether small amounts of practice in sleep are equivalent to large amounts of time in other kinds of meditation as some say, I’m less sure of. “Dreaming is code language for manifestation of mind” Andrew says, and an awakened one (Buddha) wouldn’t experience dreaming and daily life differently. They might live life itself as a malleable dream-like reality.
This wonderful image and description is fromOkar Research Blog, which I highly recommend glancing at:
Gyuma Chenmo (Dream-Dakini)….is the Dakini of dream., invoked and visualized in dream yoga-practice in the Ma Gyu (Mothertantra).
A few new-to-me terms came up in the interview. as well I’ve studied very little Hinduism or even Advaita Vedanta, but it comes up along the way.
Turiya In Hindu philosophy, turiya (Sanskrit: तुरीय, meaning “the fourth”) or chaturiya, chaturtha, is pure consciousness. Turiya is the background that underlies and pervades the three common states of consciousness. The three common states of consciousness are: waking state, dreaming state, and dreamless deep sleep.
Turiyatita – state of integration where awareness is never lost [“beyond fourth”] / pure consciousness/non-dual awareness
Turīyātīta (तुरीयातीत):—Pratyabhijñā claims that the state of perfection achieved by its sādhana is beyond and above the turīya, the “fourth state” of the Upaniṣads: it is Turīyātīta, Śiva-consciousness, in which the individual experiences the self as identical with the entire universe and with Śiva. [Wikipedia]
Turiya, also called Chaturtha is the stage of transcendental consciousness where the individual experiences ultimate reality and truth. This state is inexperienced by the five senses and indescribable, incomprehensible by the mind which is tied to continuous cycle of births. The transcendental mind is within itself a possibility of creating anything and everything that mind conceives and the possibilities are infinite. In this state the individual experiences the sleepless sleep or bliss, witnessing similarities of macrocosm and microcosm and is well aware of the union of Self and Absolute. Here the individual is aware of his own consciousness but remains in object-subject relationship with the world around. This is intermediate Savikalpa Samadhi.
Turiyatita or Chidakasa is the stage where the Self ceases to function since the ‘mind-space’ transforms itself into mindless-space in absolute spirituality, which never manifests itself. At this point, there is no question of return to oneself, since it becomes one with the Supreme by the grace of unmanifested spirituality and obliterates dualism. Here there is selflessness, no-mind, no-duality the object-subject relationship disapear. This is ultimate, highest state of non-dual union with ones own consciousness this is Nirvikalpa Samadhi. https://www.speakingtree.in/blog/five-stages-of-consciousness
I couldn’t help but hear Krishnamurti in this. There’s also a section in I AM THAT where Nisargadatta describes knowing himself as timelessness. “Timelessness” he said, “knows time, but time can’t know timelessness.” (You can’t get there from here.)
There’s an ‘ocean is also in the drop’ argument that might be made, but maybe another day. 🙂
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.