I was standing in the kitchen of the outdated apartment we struggle to afford, injured dog across the main room looking out at me from his new crate hoping for potatoes, rubbing the pinched neck that was my pinched back a few days ago and getting ready for a job that like all jobs, I both love and loathe (and need even more than I did before taking said dog to the Vet), when I found myself smiling, bubbles of “I love my life” permeating the air.
It made no sense, wonderfully, and that no-sense reminded me ~ spaciousness is always available. There is always room. One doesn’t have to pretend that things aren’t hard when they’re hard, or that there aren’t worries when there are. But that’s not all there is.
In celebration, here are a few more photos of Fairchild Gardens. 🙂
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.
The world is perceived as an apparent objective reality when the mind is externalized, thereby abandoning its identity with the Self. When the world is thus perceived the true nature of the Self is not revealed: conversely, when the Self is realized the world ceases to appear as an objective reality. -Ramana Maharashi | Indian sage
Fourth of July. Writing from bed because my back insists I not willpower my body into working the way others work, pushing the way others push. I didn’t do anything to injure myself; it was a simple day. Yet, by the fourth hour standing tears were breaking through–not even from the pain itself, but from my imagining dire consequences around not being able to continue, as though I’ve always done this, every day, rather than part time for the last three years. Although I’ve been considering a new role or change, I want to do so on my own terms this time.
A tendency toward catastrophizing, on the flip side generalizes personal experiences and puzzles as having much larger implications in the wider world. Yes, the personal is political, but the range can reach delusional degrees. “If I forgave my mother, would the threat of US fascism retreat?”
I am “always trying to save the world”, my grandfather would say, not as a compliment. But how can there be a difference between self-preservation and preserving one’s world? A sudden memory of him sometimes surprises me, like the day we walked around property he owned in Georgia, showing me what he intended I someday inherit. There were deer tracks running through the land, which I’d never seen before then, and I immediately began visioning out plans for the space. Excitedly, I told my mother that I would open a home for unwed mothers there. He changed his mind, of course. I wasn’t thinking of property values or neighbors. I was young. When he did pass away a few years ago now, the property he left came with lots of strings attached.
Someone I dated a few years ago:
[Him] You give money to causes and campaigns? I’d rather drive a nice car… [Me] I’d rather drive a crappy car and live in a nicer world...
I’ve doubted this tendency lately, have been suspicious of trying to be good, questioning my deeper intentions. But my therapist says that’s the product of looking to adults for love and validation, yet receiving criticism. If intention isn’t pure, that still doesn’t mean one should not follow a generous inclination. Questioning intentions can lead to greater sincerity.
Building on that, I’ve come to realize that there is nothing wrong with striving for excellence, or even goodness, but to expect perfection is to deny the very nature of our evolving humanity, of openness, of further possibility. It is to become critical, flaw-minded in a negative sense rather than a wabi-sabi appreciative one. One mustn’t turn on themself, abandon themself, even if that’s been modeled.
I remember being a little concerned that the Zen aesthetic I was drawn to could feed into perfectionistic propensities, once I recognized them. I felt thankful to see the opposite occur.
Although as a teen I developed intense stubbornness to show how little I could need or be hurt by someone withholding ‘things’ (by the time I left home at 18, my bedroom and closet were already nearly bare). I’m not afraid of having things, now, and don’t give away everything that comes to me. Back then, that space had been the only space I thought of as my own, and felt most powerful when it was empty.
That was then. Lately when I can’t sleep in the middle of the night, instead of shopping online, I make donations. There isn’t much I can do, but it feels good to try, and generates hope in a time in which it’s deeply important to be hopeful. Last night I happened upon a women/youth shelter, which linked into the memory of my early intentions well. The feeling of finding that shelter was is: closure. I can validate that early yearning and imagining toward saving my world, myself.
It’s difficult to describe how Buddhism helped me come into healthier distinctions, but I think in part it has to do with tantra, and the way one can experience so much on the level of intention and imagination. There is so much to love and appreciate across such an unfathomable range of possibility! There is so much space in things, after all, and so little is actually hindered in the ways I might conceive of when forgetful-of-true-nature.
As for my weak back, and the work that requires a strong one, I don’t know. I find myself writing and dreaming about, my family-of-origin more. Could it be that just as I feel safer having things, it feels safer to tell my stories, too?
P.S. The Maharshi quote at the top of this post came to me via a note Andrew Holocek sends out each night for those subscribed. I’ve only been receiving these for a few days, but it’s a lovely way to signal winding down for the night in a dreamy-minded way. https://nightclub.andrewholecek.com/
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
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.
I set out to do a few restful-yet-meaningful things while out on a leave this month. Yet, surprise surprise, found several other rabbit holes instead, all of which led predictably back into my comfort zone of philosophy/creativity. The hook this time, was serendipity, looking into what progress might have been made on a study exploring such since last I checked (nothing that I could find). See: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-01405-7
This scientist identified a few ways serendipity seems to come about, an intriguing one of which of which is ‘controlled sloppiness’. The word itself traces back to a 1700s Persian fairy tale about The Three Princes of Serendip who were “always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.” (Wikipedia) The description conjures a Monty Python skit, doesn’t it? Or something along the lines of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
I found a few podcasts, which led to audio books (I’d recommend The Flip as pretty okay with flaws), which I listened to while playing Archeus, a Pokemon game. 🙂 I then wandered over to Audible again and for laughs thought to look at Tibetan Buddhist offerings (I had low expectations). One can easily find Pema Chodron or a few others on audio, but what I wanted was something in keeping with my theme: imagination-based, tantric.
And what do you know, there are a few books by Lama Thubten Yeshe, even free with my Audible membership; the one I’m reading so far is perfect! Well, perfect without being perfectly read, for instance “Rinpoche” is pronounced “Rinposhe” throughout. Once you consider how often that word is used in any Tibetan Buddhist context, you’ll understand it is no small issue. 🙂 However, the pronunciation soon felt like a small price to pay for the wisdom that unfolded, resonated, soothed. It even became endearing after a while.
It’s an odd thing, but probably not as unusual as it feels to me, that I’ve never finished preliminary practices in a concerted way. I fell in love with certain mantras and visualizations, have practiced those fervently at times. Nevertheless, I’ve also been unusually fortunate in teachers and spiritual friends, some who have practiced traditionally for multiple decades, others who have beautifully cobbled together practices of their own. Life keeps giving me a lot to take in and far too much to narrow down, endless windfalls.
I want to remember something stated strongly in the book: Empowerment (ritual) only activates what is already there. The practices are about allowing allowing. Whether or how I do them is about my own receptivity, whether I give myself permission… sabbath for man rather than man for the sabbath, etc.
I once asked a teacher to help me grok the idea of karma in more than a zero-sum, exchange-level sense. It was early on and I’d not yet learned much about dependent co-origination. Even if I had, all that would have changed about my question is that I would have articulated it with more complexity and confidence.
What I wanted to understand was the experience of karma to a person, viewing their own life, but what I said was something like “A grand blossoming tree, heavy with fruit, grows healthily in the same grove another withers. Why?”
Perhaps I should have asked, “What’s a good way to work with the uneven and contradictory way (my) karma appears?”
“Appears” is a key word here. Being presented with a paradox/puzzle is a signal to grapple with non-duality; one is being asked to stay with a koan long enough to see meaning evolve. That’s tantra. The Bliss of Inner Fire: Heart Practice of the Six Yogas of Naropa talks a lot about the “stubbornly persistent illusion” of karma and time, without using those terms, but I hear it. There’s even a me who groks it… the me who believes cultivating the inner garden comes first, trusts doing so. She’s the Mary, of ‘Mary and Martha’ fame, who leaves the guests and dirty dishes for later while Jesus speaks.
When I came out of my first stint in therapy, I had the sense it had been a mere stepping stone to the higher way of meditation I’d begun practicing there. Whereas therapy would leave me drained and sad a lot of the time, contemplative study elevated my outlook and stirred innate playfulness. I laughed more, felt as though everything ordered itself into a friendlier context. There was ENOUGH of ‘whatever was needed’ to greet ‘whatever happened’. However, I can see now that although more attentive, simultaneously sharper and more open, in many ways I continued to bypass hard decisions, drunk with some feeling of permission to skip over the mundane.
Second-arrow is a concept sometimes used to illustrate the way we all experience pain in our lives, but then also suffering, as added on to that pain by our interpretations, blame and praise. The general idea is that when we’re hit with an arrow, it’s painful. However, we can learn to, right at that moment, become aware enough to respond with/to the second arrow, even dodge it altogether.
Much of the work I do in therapy is about this: “Yes, this happened, but why do you think it is your fault? “Could you actually have done something about that?” “What about what is happening now?”
The first arrow can make us more aware of our surroundings and our coordinates within them. A path of expanded perception may appear, lighting up possibilities. “In the beginner’s mind are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind are few.”
Perhaps therapy just helps slow everything down.
Many of us sustained injuries way before we encountered coping skills. We have wounds we walk on and hide, to greater and lesser degrees of success… wounds we couldn’t have addressed properly before. Deeper avoidance patterns may require outside help, just as persistent pain in a shoulder may warrant the care of a physical therapist. It can be hard to know what can or should be addressed logically vs. given the cosmic perspective treatment.
In my case, I benefit from a therapist’s trained eye to parse between first and second arrows… what treatment will benefit versus what I can work with, or around, with the aim of fewer friendly fires. 🙂 It is from a place of compassion that I do this, and an optimism I’m not sure there would be, if not for spaciousness developed in meditation. It does make a difference that therapists I’ve worked with have been contemplative people who comprehend and value devotion.