Small Circles

Grappling with a fasting headache ahead of a small procedure tomorrow, going to bed early. Well, trying to. The dog is at my feet, already in position. He supports this idea of going to bed early, but can’t say “Don’t worry, it will all be okay.” Can’t kiss my forehead. Sometimes I do project onto him all kinds of comforting or silly sayings, but on a night like tonight, that I do so drives home how small my circle has become.

George the dachshund laying across my legs

I’m missed at the store; there have been check-ins and well-wishes, which means a lot. But while I’m gone everything is changing– people are coming and going–and I remember my grandfather repeating what he saw as an important lesson, that when he sold his shop, he sold his friends.

The first manager I worked with there advised me not to become attached, so I immediately did. 🙂 I’m glad I did, even though letting people go so often is bittersweet. I’m glad they came into my life at all.

Buddhist non-attachment teachings have been challenging from the beginning for me not because I find it difficult to detach, but because I was running from so much, and took the teachings as permission to make escape into a virtue. My kids felt my initial withdrawals while coping with illness and awakening at once intensely, and I regret not making it clear it was never from them.

Yes, I was contending with the kind of insight eruption that can’t help but upend one’s life, and I was indeed choosing (for various values of choosing) new ways of being, but I actually wanted to integrate my current world into that new one, and just didn’t know how. I thought I had to just keep digging deeper and deeper for the answers to appear. Some answers did appear, others not yet, but once I realized their feelings, I tried harder to articulate myself more, imperfectly and sincerely. As it turned out, non-attachment did not let me off the hook the way I thought. It meant looking at my attachment to running also, loosening the default need to do so.

Or something like that. Lesson ongoing. 🙂

Somehow my lesson reminds me of an article I read years ago and think about from time to time, especially when I’m dating. I’m guilty of imagining that someone with a deep spiritual commitment would be the type I’d be most compatible with, and that everything would work out that way. THEN I remember The Problem with Zen Boyfriends!

.

The Rest

I’m surprised! It’s been over a week since I wrote the previous entry, during which time I’ve listened to several Vajrayana related audio books–a few multiple times. Not all the lessons (mostly talks given during retreats) hit me the way Bliss of Inner Fire did, but understanding feels to have taken a leap, integrating the disparate knowledge too easily left in piles all over my mind.

(free stock image, not me)

Integrated knowledge comes with such feeling of relief! So much that seemed wasted or lost reveals itself as quite there, within a larger vision. All is re-contextualized as the mandala mosaic finds its flow again.

Energy is freed!

I’m so glad that although it seems indulgent to hunker down into binge mode with these books, I’ve continued. The freed energy contains its own will to follow through, and understands how best to concentrate those efforts. Now, to let it.

Gorgeous: Dublin Library

A few years ago, I changed strategies about spiritual practice, frustrated with what I labeled my obsessive and indulgent tendencies: staying in learning mode and not ‘doing anything with’ what I’d been learning. But I wonder now, whether that shift was unwise, untrusting of intuition. “Not doing anything with” is a judgement made by someone on the outside, not actually what I believe to be true.

The critical voice has lessened with meditative spacious and therapy, yet I do survey the landscape from time to time, grieve what has been forfeited in pursuit of its pacification. I ask, What would someone who loves me, say? She would say that although my process may not look like that of others, it is worthy nonetheless.

When things come together and open, I’m reminded how fortunate I am, to be on the path I’m on… that even dropped in the middle of a family that could be hellish and frightening, abandoning and cruel, my aspiration stubbornly leans toward compassion, practices of love and bliss and goodness.

The Rest

From the corner of a room

where my mother’s body
lay beaten,


I wrote
this poem.


French doors frame

a trapped child
frozen


In an instant.

Soul split,

I walked away,
leaving in tact


the rest


I now return for,
with a pen.

The above was written over 30 years ago, dropped whole onto the page. I then read it, realized it was true. Writing has always been integrating, healing. Fortunate are those given (nod to Pullman) a subtle knife.

Imaginal

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 okay podcasts, which led to audio books (I’d recommend The Flip as a 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.

A favorite market, now shuttered and grafittied. The photo fittingly a blur of change taking place in time.

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.

Something could be said of apples and oranges.

nondual wisdom-light phenomena

Began The Sole Panacea, a book about the Vajra Seven Line Prayer–a main text encountered throughout (Tibetan) Buddhist study. The first encounter with the prayer I remember, was at the Tsoru Dechen Rinpoche group here in Miami, where I later took in-person refuge vows (following remote ones) and began more formal practice. The prayer was one of many texts in a folder I was given a few visits in. Hm, that must have been in 2009! However, it was later, when introduced to Padmasambhava by a friend whose thanka image on a Mac Book desktop sparked my curiosity, that a real relationship with the figure, the prayer, the accompanying mantra began (as much as any idea of beginnings can apply) to form. Lately I notice I’m encountering more expressions of Padmasambhava, suggesting I look even closer.

The Prayer – photo below copied from Sevenlineprayer.com :
[The version I practice is slightly different]

Seven Line Prayer of Accomplishment

I’ve barely left the book’s intro and already have happened upon wonderful angles which when allowed to sufficiently sink in, subdue tendencies toward scattering attention and shallow focus I can’t contend with on my own. The first comes with the line I’ve titled this entry: non dual wisdom-light phenomena. This speaks to that ‘next step’ some humans seek to accomplish during our chance at precious life–a shift which comes not just with add-on spiritual language but indeed with ‘new’ awareness and ways of being, seeing, which means a whole new world of phenomena to be gotten acquainted with. It feels really clear, reading the way the book describes non-duality, that this simply is the practice.

I wonder what it would be like to live the subtle as default. Is that allowed? 🙂

There was a time in which mantras and recitations were keystone of practice, yet after moving into a small apartment, sharing thin walls with others, I, without intention or much awareness have practiced this way less and less. I feel it. Today is Losar, the beginning of a period in which accumulations are said to be multiplied, so would be a perfect time to renew, dedicating with a wish for peace, ongoingly and forever.

On Imperfectionism and Unfinishing (TSK Journal – 7)

The word imperfectionism appeared in the air around me this week, for good reason. Since the beginning of the year I’ve taken on several things I can in no way fully accomplish quickly–things that require prayer. By which I mean, I can’t see the end of them and must leave space for pregnant possibility.

These aren’t things I have to do : knitting, going into the next phase of healthy eating, becoming fluent in Spanish, but they all reach toward greater fluidity in my life, melt away at frozen habits. They also all seem important to do now, at the same time, contributing into the same eventual leap, if you will. Can I know what that leap is? I can not. Is that unnerving? Yes.

In pursuing what I can’t see the end of, some other things, which have seemed right and comforting before, drop away. I risk that should I reach for them down the line, they will no longer be available.

When my kids express feeling stuck, concerned they aren’t heading somewhere, I can easily trace for them that from the outside, there is progress. I can easily encourage them to have faith in the whole they can’t quite see, and in doing things they’re drawn to for their own sake, trusting intuition. And I do believe that’s right, that the years my son has spent learning to draw, only for that interest to drop off, contributes now to his concentration on music, whether or not he can draw clear lines between the two. As a parent, do I wish he would develop the same interest in say, coding? Yes I do. 🙂 But I keep that in check.

Backing up from the beautiful human dilemma of trying to drive destiny, I realize that what’s sometimes missing is synthesis, synchronization. It is fine to do ‘all the things’ and more, but to be worried over whether any or every particular action matters is a programmed and heavily agenda-ed perfectionism. In social justice circles there is some discussion of whether it traces back to a colonistic mindset which sells the idea of civilized and non-civilized cultures. How do we extricate ourselves from such deeply ingrained ideas that seem on their face–inside systems of time and space–to be right?

Accepting this, the only answer seems to be leaning even further into the unknown, the greater non-doing portion of the equation.

Promptings

Much of today was spent pacing, not bodily, but in my mind, going over and over the state of the world, circling around the same points over and over again, watching tiktok videos so as not to feel alone. It occurs to me that I often spend the first days of any crisis this way, taking in information until something says, “Enough.”

By the end of the night I was looking for a way pull away from the circling and get ready to sleep, when a video unrelated to war popped up. @yourdailywritingprompt asks a few questions to quickly “go write about”, which I did.

(His Q, my A)
What is the strongest emotion you have felt in the last 24 hours? Sadness
If you were a piece of food, what would you be? Pear
If you were a time of day, what would you be? 7am
What do you miss? Forest
What sound do you love? Wind in trees

(What I wrote)

He asked
More questions
Than anyone I’d
Ever
Met –
Or known

Listened
To me ramble on
About visions

Childbirth

And that one sexy line in
Time Problem –
About the House of Pears

We stayed

Floated for hours
in the lake
near Zendo Forest

Through several
Changes in wind
And countless shifts

Of mood

Elated in awe, then
Plunged into melancholy
Swaying
like the branches

Over our heads

Eventually accepting

It was always
Going to be

Goodbye

just this day

Making resolutions seems a mere coping mechanism.

Maybe it is coping mechanisms all the way down.

9:30 AM and I determine to write every morning–determine to write to get into the right mindset. What about writing “one beautiful thing a day”? I consider. What about just going with the flow, moment to moment? Which will it be?

Isn’t it enough to set out to write one beautiful thing, just this day?

I pick up the laptop, open the How to be Estranged journal, notice it is at almost 108,000 words. 108 is a significant number, isn’t it? Should I end it, or keep going?

Why am I determined to make everything into Some Big Decision? The guru in my mind says “At least you see that.” The student in my mind rolls her eyes.

The birds seem especially loud lately, and I love that, but don’t turn off the TV. I’m almost finished watching My Name is Kim Sam Soon for what I promise is the last time, even though this time, I didn’t like it.

I’ll probably forget not liking it.

There’s no way to stop making resolutions, no way to stop resolving to not make resolutions.

So, um, about those mindsets…

On Mud and Lotuses

When humans ascend they are still human.
When humans descend they are still human.”
-Heaven Official’s Blessing

I can’t get enough of reading these days; the outwardness of the last few years, for better or worse, may have finally reached its fill. Just in time, work conversations have become book-swapping, friendships taking on new risks and dimensions.

It is a surprisingly vulnerable thing to recommend a book to someone, or to read a book they’ve recommended when it is a relationship not begun on those grounds. Suddenly half of my co-workers are reading Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, so along with Circe, I decided to read (well, I listen to) that again, while also reading a series of detective/mystery novels—>normally not my thing, but I’m enjoying. The writer is Kate Atkinson, and she’s clever enough that I find myself smiling in surprise often, even in moments I’m not ‘supposed to’.

Of course, there is also TSK.

If I’m completely honest though, the books I’ve been zipping through in long sessions, relishing in an immersive way, are the Chinese novel adaptations of Mo Xiang Tong Xiu. Heaven Official’s Blessing*, which I quoted at the top, is one of three sets of three, and creates a tangible world quite near (to me) to fantastical virtual reality adventures. I’m especially drawn to the natural way in which reincarnation is handled, with characters sometimes remembering previous identities and lives, working out karma. They’re both fun and thoughtful, escapist and contemplative.

Just a few months ago, what I needed most was music and chatter, endless new encounters and conversations, puzzle solving, surprises and busyness. The store, which had always been a back burner place I wandered to clear my head, was there to take me in, giving me a place to actively settle worry and restlessness.

Especially, I hadn’t realized how the drumbeat of pre-Covid cafe’ writing sessions–being with people yet not–had well balanced my life and ordered my time, until I could no longer refuge that way. I used to call those sessions my finishing places, since I would often start many things, then finish them away from the apartment.

Now, although a few cafe’s and libraries are again available as third places, I’ve lost the strings. ‘Home’ is once again writing and writing, reading and reading, fantastical lands and listening to the wind outside. Which is me? I’m the last to know, and ponder whether the shift is simply a coping mechanism gently helping settle the reality that health might not allow me to continue as I have been, mitigating despair.

The last few weeks have been a blur of doctors’ appointments and too much laying in bed, waking uncomfortably in the middle of the night. But also of dreaming vividly, experiencing edges between realms more softly, then embracing such softness as none-other-than. I’m not sure there has ever been a time in which I was less concerned with being good, being interesting, being this or that. I do keep in mind that when I look back on my life, times like these have been richer than I realized when in them.

I’m not yet resigning, not even from the store, but perhaps easing into surrender.

*Disturbingly, there seems some validity that this author has been detained in China for at least three years for distributing books with so-called BL content, even though her TV adaptations passed censorship with skillful editing. It isn’t illegal to write romantic relationships between two of the same gender, but it is illegal to sell such materials, so tightrope lines! With infuriating and intellectually lazy book banning trends in the US, we (I’m in South Florida) do well to remember the “freedom” we’re always touting as making this country unique, symbolic though it may be.

Sacred Ordinary (TSK Journal – 6)

There is no 100% analogy, but one of the ideas I like to consider contemplatively is ‘outward’ life as a mirror of mind, and mind as a kind of petri-dish in which influences have a chance to interact. It does seem to me that although I can’t always choose the influences (I can choose some), I can and do bring a kind of base solution of mind into which those influences sit. The solution may be heavier or lighter, more or less agenda’ed or relaxed; influences and impressions will sit a longer or shorter time before giving read-outs or a suggestion.

Those awaited for precious read-outs might then be almost too subtle to hold, or read like giant billboards fallen across my path, forcing me to stop, or act.

L A Story *** (1991, Steve Martin, Victoria Tennant ...
LA Story

Ah, I just had the biggest smile thinking of the film LA Story.

I wonder if it is still as great as I remember. 🙂

This isn’t meant to be a commentary on free-will btw, because I’m only describing how things seem. Admittedly, it is a dreamy sense of everything, likely rooted in years of dream practice and fantastical imaginative play.

But I think there’s something to it, too.

Now that I attend therapy sessions only every other week, there is so much to catch up on, but also greater chance for happenings to have taken a few different turns, or for circles to complete. The patterns are more intricate and leveled. Like this morning… I began with health, since health and anxiety around health appears to be a driving narrative at the moment., but the health conversation moved quickly into recent decisions I’ve made to trust myself in ways I hadn’t recognized myself doing, and some dare-I-say-it, stable core well-being at the center of that confidence.

Valentine’s Day this year (even though I spent the actual day at a doctor’s office) was a chance to recognize the loving gestures I’ve made toward myself, believing my own impressions when chances have arisen to turn against myself instead. As we talked, disparate strings showed themselves to be not so disparate after all. I shared too, what I first framed as a very silly dream that nonetheless kept whispering “Look more deeply.” And indeed the dream became quite profound when mixed with my therapist’s humor and validation, our shared laughter bubbling over like that mischievous teenagers. Suffice it to say, there was an unlikely and out-of-place experience of intimacy, in which a pedestal-ed teacher was wonderfully ordinary.

In that ordinariness, life was easy, alive and free, and there was not a thing in the world I needed to do to earn that. Just let it be.

Ghost Writer (TSK Journal – 5)

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)