Body is getting ready to work at the store, second day back after a month’s leave. Mind hasn’t quite caught up; it floats like a balloon a little behind, working through the thousand half-teachings ingested while on break. To soothe mind, I suggest we lean into appreciation instead, let understanding tend to itself.
Which jostles loose the preoccupation.
I arrive to work on time, overriding compulsively early tendencies. No car meditation; instead I listen to Lady Gaga’s Born this Way to get into some mood. It’s one of a handful of songs that take the edge off, let me ease into a more public persona, along with Shania’s Up!, or ABBA’s I Still Have Faith in You. Tier B is a slightly different vibe, with Barbra singing On a Clear Day You Can See Forever or Judy’s The Trolley Song. Once in a while, NCT’s Baby Don’t Stop hits the right spot. Or, despite my efforts to resist, BTS.
You get the idea.
People think I’m joking when I set goals not to arrive to places early, assuming this to be a humble-brag, but shifting gears has always been a challenge for me, no matter how fond I am of bardo teachings. In fact, this is probably why I’m so fond of them. The buffers I install around modes and roles become modes and roles themselves, which isn’t really a problem until a small meeting requires large buffers, squeezing out other worthy things. I would be well on the way with my knitting project if instead of arriving too early to a tiny check-in-and-fix with my teacher, I simply risked being a few minutes late.
Although several diagnoses might be suggested by such tendencies, my therapist never goes there. Instead she often praises the toolbox I’ve built for myself. The car can be a great place for meditation, after all. Having worked with, and having friends on the non-neurotypical spectrum, has also imparted perspective.
I spent a lot of Fathers’ Day watching films, beginning withRocketman as a promise to my daughter, who loved it so much that she paid to see it three times. Then, wishing to make comparisons, I rented Bohemian Rhapsody., which I’d walked wide circles around before, failing to imagine how anyone could do Freddie’s story justice.
It was in fact a little surprising, to have felt such strong possessiveness over Mercury’s story, since roughly calculating the hours I’ve spent listening to Elton vs. Queen, the former would easily run circles around latter. This is mainly because his music has permeated key events of my life to a greater degree, often through the instruments of musical friends.
I didn’t fall in love with QUEEN until I was into my 30s, but THEN it was, “Oh, wow.”
Freddie is clearly the more tragic figure, also the more naturally flamboyant, which makes him delightful to watch. But, importantly, he is not alive to validate nor invalidate what has been done with his life story, so is also far more vulnerable. I can’t help but think he might have added nuance to a few needed places in the film, such as regarding the tenderness of relationships other than with his first, female, love.
So I didn’t want to like the film.
However, in the end I must admit that both films were sufficiently tender with their subjects. Artistry-wise, I mostly liked them differently, with what I disliked hinging upon the handling of the music itself.
That Bohemian Rhapsody was lip-synced should have been a problem but wasn’t, because Rami Malek’s physical embodiment felt so genuine that I wasn’t put off by his lip-syncing at all. I felt that not thinking about the music, a la “I like (or dislike) this better than the original, etc.”, kept my attention with the story. I was also already a fan of Malek, thanks to binge-watching Mr. Robot during a time I desperately needed that immersive distraction.
On the other hand, I would describe what was done with Elton’s story and catalog of music as “translatable to stage.” Choices made to adjust to the pace of the story and Taron Egerton‘s voice, make total sense when putting the concept itself at the fore, and Rocketman is definitely more conceptual. Think Across the Universe with a bigger budget. I’m a fan of Across the Universe, and covers of Beatles music generally, but there isn’t a single Elton cover I deeply like, even when sung by artists I value; his voice is simply fused with his songs for me.
Today I did find THIS playful rendition:
The presence or absence of fathers in shaping a life, features prominently in Rocketman, and must have been the main story Elton wanted to tell as the hook into understanding his longings… the depths he sank to, the fits of ego that possessed him. Longing has shaped many artists – to be reached for and loved, seen and known.
My longing has been to make sense of everything in some cathartic way, to turn the puzzle inside out. It is the fairy tale of finding (or being!) a magic key that once turned, makes ‘it all’ always to have been worthwhile. It is some version of karma, but without punishments and rewards… something like, true character revealed, and that being a good thing.
I’ve had experiences of this kind of flip in vision-dreams before. Once the curtain falls, everyone bows, acknowledging the roles that they played and why, with even the villains deeply appreciated. In my last dream of this sort, I encountered my once step-father, the night that he passed away. He was surprised and delighted to find me there (whatever ‘there’ means in this context) to see him off, since we’d shared tragic history.
When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.
– Totally Fake Buddha Quote
Addiction features prominently in both musicals too… addiction to whatever can stop the consuming pain of a primal need unfulfilled, such as for that of a present and approving father. Or the pain of looking for knowledge that can’t quite be filled in… understanding you would have had to have received from the get-go, or early along the way.
Therefore, we will always require the kindness of others. We will always need others to empathetically imagine us as though we had been given all those pieces – to see the ways in which what is missing makes us the wonderful beings we are.
The tragedy for those who become famous may be to reach the pinnacle of achievement in the world and find it ‘still not enough’. No matter status or stature, the answer is never ‘out there’.
I let the weekend pass by without writing, too preoccupied to string thoughts together sensibly with the correct measures of thought for others, the big picture, my little self. I’m worried about things: my country, my judgment, our systems of justice, overall stamina to rise to the occasions arising. And of course the just day-to-day.
A woman on twitter wrote that the country seems like an abused spouse to her, walking on eggshells trying to find ways to mitigate the chaos constantly. Her image has stuck in my mind. Simultaneously, I try to seat myself ‘in the light’, so to speak. Without closing my eyes to the above, I find ways to root myself into ‘this very existence’, ‘what is’ through play and loving energy with others, making a celebration out of ‘whatever is right at hand’, be it silly or profound.
A friend with an ill son once said to me that during the times in which he was healthy, their family wasted no moment finding ways to express and celebrate *the life*. Her Jewish ancestors had taught her the wisdom of hesitating not at all.
Which may be part of the reason I’ve been taking refuge in music similarly to when I was young and, feeling caged, thought my life would forever be small. I have hesitated too much in my adult life (my ancestors taught me the opposite – that moving too fast and being reckless will get you into crisis where you will stay and stay for a long time), but the exceptions to that have been times of being so caught up in the flow, especially with others, to an extent that I couldn’t have overridden it if I tried. But why on earth would I have tried? 😉
And… music is flow. So I’ve been getting myself back to the garden playing dozens of small documentaries around the apartment while sorting and working. There arelots easily streamed, among them Jeff Beck, Prince, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks, Abba, ELO, and Joni Mitchell.
My oldest ‘child’ is moving away, which keeps hitting me over and over again. I can see her at every stage of life, hear her many voices, remember so much. Trying to wrap my mind around the idea of connecting over the (yuk) phone isn’t working so well. No matter how unzen it may be, sometimes I DO want to go back. But instead must flow with the changes, align with the countless possibilities, appreciate the presence of mental time machines when they spontaneously appear.
This is where we are, with all the big puzzles of our time – *more* cooperation is needed, not less.
For those who love words, I’d highly recommend listening to the question and answer segment after the unveiling. Answering a student’s question, Shep Doleman described space time as “flowing through the horizon”, among other wonderful things I’ll spend my day envisioning.
So I’m driving along when it hits me: “Belief systems are effects, not causes; everyone has the wrong end of the stick.”
The paradigm of the last decade or more has been to think in terms of belief systems (programming packages from childhood and current environment), then to examinine, expose, and consciously replace outdated thinking with new. But lately I notice a lot of us giving up on overtly changing others’ thinking by reasoning and argument, aware that thanks to media filters for one thing, we are truly living in entirely separate worlds. Words, even words communicated in the same language, often mean completely different things.
Yes, I do worry that resistance fatigue in itself is part of authoritarianism creeping in.
Perhaps one thing left to do, is go even deeper. When I think about my own belief systems, they often are much more about resonance than something I was convinced of. Or, if I was convinced, I was already drawn into listening. I’m drawn to teachings that feel like good music to me, that affect me energetically. I’m drawn to people who remind me of what I want to be, and be doing… people I feel sparked by. It was a tiny photo of people sitting at a small make-shift desk in an airport, embedded in a random article about deportations, that sent me back to school for paralegal training, for instance.
Beliefs are not irrelevant, but there has always been a sense of not quite hitting the right spot when trying to get at things by working with past traumas and limitations in some logical way. This must be true on a larger scale as well? Things like EFT Tapping and Myofascial Release have shown me how much more effective it is, to go deeper than thinking, then deeper than even ‘patterns of thinking’. Then, the screwy thinking comes up and shows itself and you can deal with it, or say goodbye. 🙂 Meditation has always been about this, but personally I was too disconnected from BODY for a long time.
Anyway, just some thoughts this Saturday morning as I get ready to move my body outside into the uncharacteristically GORGEOUS weather.
I stepped up meditation practice recently, beginning with using the new app from Sam Harris, Waking Up, but also continuing withInsight Timer. Along with just giving more time.
Things I appreciate about the Waking Up app:
It is NOT a social media app.
There are no ‘rewards’ like stars or trophies for meditating more or less.
It is rather single focused.
The lessons and meditations are a closer study of ‘nature of mind’ than almost anything I’ve come across so far. This app works well with science-based consciousness explorations.
My decidedly ‘non-woo’ friends might find a more comfortable home in this app, than in communities sprinkled with chakra and spirit guide talk.
Waking Up is NOT FREE, however if you have a genuine desire to use/try
it, but financial limitation is the obstacle, you can send an email and
will be, at least for now, gifted a grace period.
Things I appreciate about the Insight Timer app:
It IS a social media app. I enjoy ‘seeing’ friends’ names and faces pop up once in a while, and trying out the meditations they seem to like. I really love the ‘who is meditating in your area’ feature.
It is FREE unless you purchase courses.
It contains everything under the sun, from a wide range of teachers and guides. You can set a simple timer to track your own activity (with or without music), or at the other end of the spectrum, you can be led through elaborate visualizations and shamanic journeys.
Chanting. Insight Timer offers courses, and my favorite so far is a course on mantras and chanting. I go back to it often and feel instantly de-tensed. Mantras are a really nice way to get into the flow of a new day.
Music. Some friends don’t use the guided meditation feature of the app often, but instead they listen to meditative music. Although you can find similar offerings on YouTube, these are contained (not leading into auto-play algorithms), and you can bookmark your favorites easily.
This is the big one. Insight Timer is hugely helpful for INSOMNIACS! There are so many guided ‘yoga nidra’ or ‘music for deep sleep’ options! This is actually what prompted me to begin using it a few years ago.
I must not be alone, because just this morning the Insight Timer folks shared their billboard in San Francisco, contrasting it with “Calm”, which I’ve never used (below).
I am ambivalent about the rewards and trophies Insight Timer offers. In the beginning, this feature did help me to create a good habit, giving the feeling of moving toward a goal.
I’m just not sure it is a great thing to be encouraging in the long term. In the end, meditation isn’t the kind of thing that can be measured by how much you do it, and intention is important.
So much in our culture is already about striving for improvement instead of acceptance. Validation is great, but if it becomes just another hit of adrenaline, I think it is missing the point.
On day 4 of the newest guided meditation app I’m trying (Sam Harris’s ‘Waking Up’), the instructions turned to SOUND – a fascinating line of inquiry, because sound is so easily just part of background environment. So when you isolate it out as an object of attention, it can be reorienting in a really cool and peculiar way (yes, I’m a little nerdy about these things).
What Harris suggested at some point is something I’d never encountered in meditation instruction before now: “Try to hold on to that sound.”
Meditation teachers often advise one to watch for the source of thoughts… to try see where thoughts are, or seem to be, coming from and where they are, or seem to be, going. In fact basic meditation practice consists of allowing stimuli to arise and fall, come and go, without following it off somewhere or generating stories. This is necessary to develop stability of attention, and to gain the sense that one can opt out of heedless reactions, not be so helplessly triggered.
But here, Sam was suggesting to try to ‘get back’ or ‘keep’ the stimuli intentionally. What I found was that, of course, I couldn’t hold on to the sounds, but I would generate a trace memory of the sound that would trick me occasionally, that would seem to be me holding onto the sound.
This illustrates something about free will or the absence thereof, but even if one is not into the philosophical question (I am, obviously), the benefit is witnessing first hand, an experience that amounts to trying to hold on to time itself.
When you really see yourself trying to do such a thing, you recognize it other places too.
So later in the day, a friend shared a little clip of a young girl singing “Halleluiah” beautifully, in really nice acoustical conditions. No matter how many times I hear that song, or who is covering it, I’m always stopped in my tracks. As she finished, I thought about the different versions of the song I’ve heard, and the times I was fortunate enough to see Leonard Cohen himself perform it live.
But then I tried to get back that moment. I tried as hard as I could, to bring Leonard Cohen singing live, into my present head space.
Frankly, this was shocking. Even if it should be obvious, I realized that I live this way, unexaminedly thinking that experiences I have had can indeed be brought with me. That they are mine to keep in some way, somewhere, that they really belong to me.
I do have the memory of those experiences. I can see where I was standing and who I was standing with, what I was wearing. A few moments are vivid, surprisingly musical solos or smiles and jokes, but not even one entire song. This has nothing to do with my level of appreciation in the moment, as I remember it. I think I felt *wow* the whole time.
Yet, I could not hold on to that moment. Or, to make the point more clear, I could not hold on to the myself of that moment.
I’ll probably continue to think, ‘I’ was actually there.
P.S. Just in case you thought I’d mention Marge Piercy when you saw the blog title, here’s that poem:
We were fortunate to see Hamilton! a few weeks ago, which was everything it was cracked up to be. I’ve been obsessed with the music for a year or so, but was still surprised by just how timely the whole thing is when you see it come together, how complex even though popular, and how deep some lyrics run.
Like other great works, although the play is named for one central character, other characters come forth more strongly – as more raw, or their stories more heartbreaking – than does Hamilton himself. Sometimes we’re not sure we like Hamilton at all, and we think we dislike Burr, but his arc is not so simple. Lin Manuel Miranda is very generous with the music, giving others the best melodies.
One of the most poignant of the songs, One Last Time, is a conversation wherein Washington announces to a protesting Hamilton, that he is stepping down rather than running for another term of office. This seems an absurd move when there is much good to do, and such good opportunity right where he is. He’s probably even happy there! Yet the stately Washington makes the case for teaching the country how to say goodbye, for going on in a different way.
I’m terrible at goodbyes. Perhaps I’ve never seen one modeled well. I’ve always found it hard to be clear and just let go, inevitably leaving things half undone for a while, hoping they will make sense of themselves. It is ‘nicer’ in the moment, but not the most mature approach!
These days, people are more likely to ghost, letting others fill in their own narratives, but that doesn’t sit right with me either.
It can be especially hard when there’s no good enough reason, when it really is just a call, which is why I’ve been writing (then editing way down) a letter for the last few days. The meditation (and lots of other things) group I’ve been part of for ten years is full of people I still care for, and I still love the vision.
So it feels more like moving to another town than a break up.
This song *really* helped. Listening a dozen or so times, I heard Washington’s layers of reasons, and accepted that there may never be a good time to go, and I will never feel good about doing so. And that it is the right decision, for now. Of course, the scenario of the song is about the transfer of powers, which my situation is decidedly not, but the emotion he expresses is close. Once I’ve accomplished some things, too, I would like to return. Also unlike Washington, I’m not ready for retirement. 🙂
Much of the song is taken directly from Washington’s final address, and uses a variation of a line from the Bible I always thought was beautiful: “Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.“… (adding to it, not from the Bible:) “They’ll be safe in this nation we’ve made.”
There lingers love in him and a great vision he remains invested in.
Wondering where the singing gecko part of the story is? You’ve arrived.
Many changes flowed from that ‘happening’, almost all of them subtle and light. I felt a breezy new energy and wanted to read more, meditate more, ‘just be’ more. But we’d bought an older house which needed constant repairs and improvements, which was taking up a lot of time.
Just outside our new bedroom window stood an old black olive tree grown too large for the space. Its branches scraped against the roof, leaving streaks and scars, and its roots endangered the foundation.
But the tree also provided shade from the intense Florida sunshine and a resting spot for lots of birds. And a gecko.
A loud gecko.
A loud gecko who, every night when I would crawl into bed, would make a horrible noise, something like >rwaaaaak< >rwaaaak< >rwaaaak<.
I saw it once, and couldn’t believe the giant sound came from such a tiny creature!
This went on for weeks. Some nights I was nearly in tears, pleading “Please, please stop…” to no avail. I would lean on friends’ sympathy so hard that the gecko became our daily news. I even wrote one night in my journal, “I’m sure he’s here to teach me something if I let him.”
Not realizing it was a prayer.
I don’t think it was that very night, but it might have been. I fell asleep early, deeply, and at some point began to stir, woken by the most Astoundingly Beautiful Music. It seemed to be playing both within and without me— a layered, heavenly sound I wished would go on and on forever.
Yet as I continued to wake, the song began to change, warping into a sound I thought I recognized. It was… sigh, yes, there it was: the >rwaaak< of the gecko.
I came to myself, realizing I was in my room, except that now, I couldn’t hear *just* the >rwaaak< alone. I could also hear, alongside, this deep and ethereal music.
After that, the gecko was gone. Or at least he was gone from the tree. I never heard from him (her?) again,
There’s a lot here to consider inspirationally, also to see about our minds and the wonders of consciousness. A fascinating link that showed up in my life later, helping to convey:
“Composer Jim Wilson has recorded the sound of crickets and then slowed down the recording, revealing something so amazing. The crickets sound like they are singing the most angelic chorus in perfect harmony. Though it sounds like human voices, everything you hear in the recording is the crickets themselves.”
Just, I mean, Wow.
One of the richest places for dream or meditative practices, is in what some traditions call the amrit vela (nectar veil). Sikhs call it the ‘hour of God’. It is around 3 or 4 am, when barriers are softer. before we’ve put on roles and agendas. This doesn’t seem to be a rule implemented, but rather to be based on discovery of natural ‘thin place’ openings.
Hypnopopia is specifically the boundary state on the edge of waking, whereas hypnogogia is the opposite. In my hynopopic state, the gecko transformed from a nuisance that didn’t fit in to my plans and didn’t seem to benefit my life, into a guide who taught me how to further lower my guard and trust (the groundlessness, openness, emptiness, vastness) what Life is doing.
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.