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?
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
For the first time in several years, I am reading many books at once. Or at least, I’m dabbling in many while deeply reading few. Most are fiction, a few are activism-based, and then there is TSK.
Some days I read furiously, as much as possible, as though digging tunnels to make an escape. Others, I delicately sift and brush single sentences at a time, taking care not to lose hints of meaning, content to stay where I am.
Either way, I find that I’m longing for solitude and quiet arts, thus the knitting and memoir writing as well. One book I just re-read was Circe, a superb re-imagining of a nymph out of Greek mythology, recast as a witch drawn to humans, banished to an island as punishment. She finds banishment suits her far more than acceptance in the palaces ever could.
I guess I keep bringing this up, but the more I write about ‘my life’, the more simultaneously confusing and beautiful it seems. The consistent practice of questioning assumptions about the way things are, can make everything I write seem like a lie, every story I pin down, some genre of fiction–which is frightening, quaking, exposing of groundlessness indicative of reality. I’m not uncomfortable in this ghostiness, except when I feel trapped outside looking in.
“Don’t worry, there is nothing real about your confusion.” -Lojong
“You take nothing for granted.” – Something I once heard in meditation
Negative capability is a phrase first used by Romantic poet John Keats in 1817 to explain the capacity of the greatest writers to pursue a vision of artistic beauty even when it leads them into intellectual confusion and uncertainty, as opposed to a preference for philosophical certainty over artistic beauty. The term has been used by poets and philosophers to describe the ability to perceive and recognize truths beyond the reach of consecutive reasoning. [Wikipedia] (came across as a note-to-self recently)
It matters to use our words, no matter how small the context. The gesture matters … the still small voice.
The post I wrote yesterday was uncomfortable for me, even without crossing (current, changing) boundaries nor sharing too much. Yet last night I slept incredibly deeply, without anxiety.
I dreamed of traveling by bus to a lush green seemingly endless park with towering trees and enormous sections set aside for relaxation and play. One of the sections was similar to photos I’ve seen of ancient temples, overgrown with vines and moss, yet was pristine. Next to that was a children’s area, but far more sophisticated and real in a way I can’t say I’ve encountered on earth… more enduring somehow.
As the bus passed those places, I had the sense that I’d been there before, while on retreat. I considered how we’d walked the distance easily before, although now by bus it seemed to be taking longer.
Then I met a very special-to-me spiritual friend, and delighted, asked him how he had come to arrive at this same place, at this same time. He responded that here was where he had (always) lived. I acted as though I knew that and had meant something else, so he wouldn’t think I’d forgotten, though I had.
I, with all the other travelers along behind, followed him to a village where the structures were two-stories high, open, and woven like baskets. In the upper space I knew to be his his were several small fires with several small covered pots on top.
I began to hear a shaking sound.
He was holding a drum, but an odd drum, large and ball-shaped, covered in netting. Actually, it was similar to an African shekere, but much larger, with a soft rain stick type sound. He was shaking it fast, but hardly seemed to be moving, and came closer to me until I and the drum, the shaking, were one. I felt surrounded, supported, but also as though it was natural to feel that way, without apology.
As my mind tried to go in the direction of anxious thoughts the way it has been doing for months, the gentle energy simply persisted, not stopping my going that way, but giving me a choice, which I appreciated and allowed.
We were back on the bus again after walking him home, which was in a more normal setting, not a village, when someone on the bus next to me remarked that I must be special to special people. They mentioned another spiritual friend who was on the bus, someone just out of sight, and we both tried to describe him… who he was in the world, but could hardly do so, as though he wasn’t quite in the world at all.
When I described the dream to one of my children this morning, they said I’m moving forward, without knowing what I’d written here yesterday. Sometimes the universe responds very fast!
I’ve been rather (overly?) ‘thought’ful in my writing here of late. So much has been on my mind that I’m not sure whether or how to talk about, and until I am sure, I’ve decided to try to work it out in other ways.
Retail work has been the most surprising of those ways… getting on a train I don’t step off of for hours, setting aside worries and all other options/choices. Goodbye, scrolling Twitter until I think, “What time is it?”, Goodbye, “looking for something to watch on TV.” After having a flexible schedule for many years, this structure feels incredibly freeing to me, comforting in the way I imagine weighted blankets are comforting to people who liked to be tucked in at night as children (not me – I always needed a leg or at least foot outside of my blanket).
Choiceless, in a good way.
I’m fairly suited to the kind of work I’m doing, thankfully, at least in most ways, on most days. I can get the sort of ‘hit’ of feelings of youth that I imagine some people get from watching a sport they played in high school.
With this one decision (and the company’s decision to hire me), I solved at least three big puzzles that were fast becoming problems prior: weight gain (I’ve lost 8 lbs. so far and hit my 10,000 steps mark almost every day); eye-to-eye starvation (Most of my daily conversations had become typed or mitigated by social media, which is way too comfortable a zone for me, not being especially verbal); and, putting my ethics into practice.
That last one is hugely important, so let me elaborate…
In the Taoist ox-herding tale, there is seeking and striving up the mountain, and a time of retreat that can look like one has finally arrived. My spiritual life–alongside, but sometimes consuming, the rest–has been a mix of those modes: lots of (almost constant) study, retreat, giving up whatever seemed in the way of devotion–‘working’ to trust the flow and truth of insight and intuition. To that end, unimaginally wonderful friends and teachers have appeared all over the mountain as I’ve wandered … people deeper and happier than any I’d before encountered, sharing similar longings and a language of play-beyond-words… celebrating the enoughness of ‘what is’.
Finding these places, these people, has often felt like validation of my deepest needs and calling, and of course, one would want to stay… would want to do whatever it took to stay, including bring others along. On the mountain I learned of a million bright and open eyes, countless ways of seeing and being seen, and how to find thin places where distance, manipulations and lies, have no meaning at all, present no barrier (“How can a mantis block the road?”).
Yes, like visiting Heaven, or, more comfortable imagery for me: a land of Buddha fields.
As I traveled though, I always suspected there might come a time when my go-to’s would no longer work… when I wouldn’t be able to retreat and study myself into a blissful mind palace state of grace over and over again. Truth be told, as much as I have loved and desired that, I have also wanted to be drawn from… to serve… to pour myself out completely so that I could really rest, “one day.”
And lately, I simply show up to meet the moment. I don’t control where I am or who I encounter, for hours of most days, and often can’t fully classify a good day from a bad. I am ‘snapped out’ of my story-telling and ruminating, over and over again until that movement works its way into my body, giving my mind to whatever the apparent situation may draw out. It isn’t exactly that I’ve come down from the mountain nor left the quest behind, but that all those books and sutras and sessions and endless audios have become a kind of inward architecture… more perhaps, Rumi’s Guest House.
“Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”
(Coleman Barks translation)
There may be a shift here, from reading to being read, which I like to think may be a true culmination of practice, moving into living lucidly, spontaneously as true default… inhabiting a certain quality of mind. I’m still a little concerned I’ve managed to find just a new way of avoidance, but it seems to be where/how the aliveness has moved, sweeping me into a new phase of exploration.
I even feel some of that here, coming back to my fingers. Dare I hope?
And dare I hope that just situating myself where Life seems to want me, might also matter to ‘the world’ – a ‘coming back’ gesture of belief in Basic Goodness… a better collaboration?
So, I’ve been doing shadow work–contemplative work which includes intentionally going into the emotional places I’d rather (and usually do) avoid, and searching around in there to see, “What still hurts?”
Basically, it’s a check up.
In the same way, I have a shoulder issue which bothers me occasionally, but only when and if I’m doing certain things. I can go a long time without thinking about it, but when I see my doctor, we move the shoulder this way and that to find out whether improvement has taken place.
It simply isn’t useful to check it all the time, because part of healing includes not aggravating the injury. Obsessing would in fact be a sign that it is in need of something further in the way of intervention.
Same with the emotional body. If you neglect these appointments, you can have flare ups of what some have deemed “the pain body”, who will emerge from a blind spot and wreak havoc in your life!
The feedback I’ve received during the tests and prodding included in this emotional check-up has been mixed. On the one hand, general inflammation is nowhere near as debilitating as it has been at various points in life, and specific discomfort areas have proven manageable enough to ‘get on with the show’ so to speak.
Yet, there is still deep pain in some areas, things that need addressing, people who present as enemies or obstacles to happiness in one way or another. There are memories that still hold the patterns and frequencies of fear.
I’m fortunate to be able to schedule this work… to have learned how to mostly do that, and now, I need to map out and schedule the follow-up treatments, which include spending direct time with those people and memories. Most can be addressed out of my home first-aid kit, with technologies like EFT Tapping, what I’m calling prayer, lots of walking, and nature bathing… tangibly moving through.
At a deeper level, all can be addressed by tapping into a sense of timelessness. Meditation is the only way I know of there, or some ‘flash moments’ of writing and/or painting.
But the timelessness I mean is different than one might suppose – timelessness that would allow one to relinquish their need for validation or justice or understanding, or even improvement at all. Rather, the timelessness I’m turning to is active, fulfilling, not invalidating any need, including for justice, as less important than ‘cosmic viewpoint’ or some such.
This timelessness is compassion, is the nectar of Bodhicitta, the promise of transforming experience of life in ways beyond even cosmic fathoming.
I feel I’ve been prescribed a deep-dive exploration, and surprisingly, it isn’t one that requires getting rid of so-called baggage to undertake.
Why Citipati, above? I’m not sure. Somehow I have the sense that these graveyard dwelling wrathful deities can impart some key. They seem to be the guardians of this first leg of the journey…
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.
Have returned from a trip – my first to Europe – and from writing elsewhere about the trip in a way that surprised me. The recounting poured through like sunshine first thing in the morning, and I could hardly leave my bed–where I’d started off writing just a few simple notes–for most of the day. :
By 6 pm I was hobbling in pain, my back loudly protesting what I’d done, but wasn’t sorry. In the community, there came genuine appreciation that I’d tried to bring into the experience those who had not been able to go, to include them in the adventure. Of course, it wasn’t that I could include anyone anywhere, but they appreciated that I took the time to show they were already included… something the dynamics of the group have taught me to see throughout ten years involvement.
This felt connected to my waking a few weeks ago with the thought loudly before my eyes: “I don’t want to teach. I (just) want to write!” Which seemed odd out of context of the many years in which I’ve worked to articulate knowledge I feel has empowered my life, with the idea of ‘helping’ others. I felt released from that burden.
Why have I done that anyway? In part, out of a desire to show appreciation, to ‘make good’, like a child who is well aware of what their parents have sacrificed to give them greater opportunities. But times have changed. There is a hierarchical way of sharing, of giving and receiving, that isn’t quite appropriate anymore, even if our institutions and formulas have not moved beyond that way of thinking. We’re walking funny lines.
The ‘appreciating food’ practice a friend on the trip shared, consisted of taking a moment to contemplate how our meals, in all their myriad components, had reached our table. Each time we ate together she walked through some of the many factors and relationships required for any given meal, much less the innumerable factors necessary to gather such disparate people as we ourselves from all over the world, to appreciate that presentation. This practice, although simple, deeply affected my way of seeing during the trip. Perhaps the writing took on that flavor as a natural overflow.
It is far too easy to snap into a category and write ‘about that’, to try to line things up with calculations of what is wanted… what is most ‘useful’. However, the benefit of going with what pours out is that there is 0 pretending. There are too many factors, so you give up on capturing them all in advance, and go along with the momentum appreciatively.
This may be what Steve Jobs was getting at when he said that people don’t know what they want until you show them. Market research is useful, but incredibly limited. It matters to me that I’m clear and that what I write takes in mind the benefit of others, but I can’t be driven by that. I can’t be driven by a motive to ‘do good’. That’s an effect that in a way, I trust to happen from a deeper devotional intention.
There is a TED Talk that speaks to this beautifully, given by Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote Eat Pray Love. She gave this talk about genius and inspiration after the gigantic success of that novel, so it comes from a vulnerable place, asking, “What if my best work is behind me?” It isn’t a talk centralizing on fear. Rather, it draws upon the way genius moves, and what genius is… how much wider and free-er than can be contained by the will of a vessel trying to do well or be special.
If you haven’t seen it, it is worth the 20 minutes, and gets better and better as it goes on.