Stephanie is Disruptive (TSK Journal – 4)

[[I haven’t picked up the book for a few days, but continue musing on the feeling and notion of the the book itself, even closed(!), as a practice. Why, oh why, is the way I work with things so odd, when compared against what others describe!]]

One of the few notes I have from childhood is from an elementary school teacher at the Playhouse and Biltmore School, who asks my mother to please stop putting barrettes in my hair, because instead of napping I take them out and play with them, distracting the other children.

“Stephanie is disruptive.”

And I’ll admit, there is something disruptive about me, something mischievous I’m always trying to pin down and trim away at to be able to settle down and fit in. Sometimes at work, I call it “puppy dog energy”, hoping others will see me in a playful rather than nervous way when I can’t help myself and say something I absolutely know better than to throw into the mix during simple small talk or break room conversation. Why do I do this?

“Stephanie is disruptive.”

https://prodimage.images-bn.com/pimages/9781570628948_p0_v1_s.jpg

I remember the relief I felt when a friend introduced me to Padmasambhava, suggesting I pick up the book Crazy Wisdom. I wasn’t privy then, to all the stories and controversies surrounding Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, so when the text hit me like a lightning bolt, I had no hesitation letting go into the experience of getting to know the aspects of mind and expression he channels so potently. I read the book quickly, unpacked it longer (and still). To describe that feeling in the context of this post, it was “Ah, there is a teacher who, instead of feeling Stephanie is disruptive for playing with the barrettes in her hair and wanting the attention of other children, would be delighted by these qualities and tendencies!”

When talking to my therapist I once described the need I have to constantly remind everyone and myself “that we are human”. When I feel energy go flat, or find myself in too rarefied a group, I want to stir it up, and am allergic to ego policing. A case can be made that we already feel human most of the time, so spiritual practice should lead us beyond, however we must remember that contemplative practice opens endlessly; what makes sense at one level may be disregarded at the next, only to pick up again yet later. Over time practice becomes fluid the way that working with recipes gives way to more and more experimentation as ingredients become familiar.

I’m learning to knit right now, and I find that I can’t multitask in any way without tangling my project. I need quiet and full concentration. When I see the more experience knitters around me, they chat and sing, watch TV and listen to books or podcasts while knitting. They throw it down and pick it up at a whim! I can’t do that now, but one day, I will. I’ll work with various kinds of yarn and make different types of stitches. The practice will become easy.

So, there’s a way in which I’m in this place with TSK. It is giving me permission and more trust than it did before. As with the “too late” shift I wrote about, it is almost like the book is curious about me, asking more open ended questions. There is intimacy present, a gentle walking-along-together-on-a-beautiful-day conversation. “What do you see?” “Yes, that’s fine.” “Nice.” Since it is TSK asking these questions, already I hear them as coming from the particular and peculiarly bright place I experience as being TSK, and feel loved and understood–the opposite of corrected and scrutinized as a troublesome student it is hard to have around.

I’m tempted to write about guru yoga in this context, but will set that aside for now.

Too Late (TSK Journal – 3)

I’ve been watching the effects of the letting go I’ve done this year so far, of ‘supports’ of a certain kind. Going down to once every-2-week therapy sessions is one thing. I definitely see the effects of that, because I do write more and try to lean out more into more public expressions of my life, reach into the past for answers, less. Which feels incredibly good, and doesn’t make me ‘believe in’ therapy less. If anything, I see how positive attachments nourish confidence and sufficiency.

The decision I want to make now has to do with the Waking Up app, which I’ve subscribed to for a few years. This is my go-to app for meditations before work in my car, and occasional discussions about consciousness that gel with my modern interests. It’s an inquiry based meditation style, with a beginning course format, and basically I’ve found it refreshing to stay rooted and respectful to source texts without longing for a past or other world, some different reality.

When I began with Buddhism and meditation, quite a while ago now, “dzogchen” was the most mysterious thing, and I like the way Harris has made it less so. In the circles I’ve been drawn to there is always the idea one doesn’t have to study for years and years, but rather can start at the end (Harris often uses “Arrive instantly”). Yet, still there has for me been some feeling of “too late”—of reaching the gate after having done all the necessary chores, closed out.

How could I have known, back then, what I would have needed to know, to be now where I need to be?

In fact, a teacher I truly love once hurt my feelings by saying it was too late for me. Over the years I kept waiting for him to take it back or clarify, wrestling with what I’ve felt as double standards and blind spots… thinking something like “What then, are we just playing around? Is the start-at-the-end stuff just some fun concept?” But today, and I can’t explain this, “too late” struck as quite liberating. “Give up” wasn’t meant to bully me or get me to go away. Or, if it was, I’ve unpacked precisely the opposite message. Yes, it’s too late. How wonderful!

What this means for subscribing to the app or not, I’m not sure. It doesn’t seem to matter either way.

TSK Journal – 2

Everglades

He says,
from behind the steering wheel
Of his imposing machine

That by taking certain roads
Between the grassy lakes
There will open a pathway

It’s more of an adventure
Than I set out for
On this particular day

Not driving
Not taking –
Being taken

And Indeed tall grasses
Do part
As we drive

Full speed,
Right through

Resources seem no object
And I’m sure there was
No road here before?

But I still don’t know what
All this has to do

With becoming a Bodhisattva

Dream 1/18/22

TSK Journal – 1

Writing a memoir (which I’m doing as part of therapy/coaching) while studying TSK, is exceedingly strange, but also one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done. I’m fascinated by the way I reach for something that at first seems so tangible and sure, only for it to wiggle and change the closer I get. Events that have preoccupied me, spinning into some mechanism that ongoingly has shaped my view—of the world, the past, future, and the characters of other people—often aren’t what I thought they were. Or, at least I can’t be sure. Layers appear.

There is the first level story, full of beliefs about motivations and choices, but inquiry invites the second level in, which questions that story. This leaves open possibilities and interpretations the character in the first level of the story refuses to see. The second layer asks “What if it isn’t, though?”, “What didn’t I see?” Or, S’s famous “What else is true?”

Something I’ve been working out over the last 3 years in particular (and part of why I decided to go through therapy at all), is that this inquiry level shouldn’t necessarily negate the straight story level. The story still matters. Even if the character doesn’t really exist and the events didn’t happen, the experience has some value. The linear story may not be strictly true, however that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t try to tell it (also doesn’t mean one should).

The value may just be in learning to allow stories and ‘me’ to be non-linear and even nonsensical to so-called others. The attempt in and of itself stirs joy, especially in those constricted moments when my character insists on believing there are no ways out of what can seem an unfairly fixed struggle. It may be time to actively challenge the idea that linear stories and formulas are what is being asked for at all.

How Does Your Life Seem To You Now?

I’m laying on a heating pad, playing with a contemplative exercise a teacher I regard highly gave to a group years ago. I am one of two people in that group who actually did the exercise I think, much less two or three times.

Each time was revelatory.

It is a surprisingly radical act to consciously do nothing*.

The basics of the exercise are as follows:
–Ask yourself the question “How does my life seem to me now?” Then write for five minutes.
–Next, *do nothing*, for three to four hours, not even meditate. (My version today will not be this long; we’ll call it a micro-contemplation.)
–At the end, you ask yourself the same question. Then write for five minutes.

This can be a kind of ‘state of things’ address to one’s self, although there is no need to answer in an itemized kind of way. The main thing is to experience/compare the way one’s mind behaves with less or more spaciousness. Today is a perfect day for something like this, as it’s breezy and cool outside, George is content to be a foot warmer, and I’ve been staving off anxiety.


*leaving aside the question of whether this kind of doing nothing is actually doing nothing. It is closer to doing nothing that what one normally does, hahaha


Arrival

A little loop of synchronicity as I skimmed through blog posts all the way back to the beginning, surprised to find that I’d started where I find myself again right now: reading Time Space and Knowledge.

When I began this blog, I was at Exercise 17, while I’m almost to 14 now, working my way through. I was thinking of commenting on some of the readings in a more disciplined, systematic way, then linking to these comments in discussions, but I’m wondering if I want to share this blog with more people I know. Should I take this little coincidence as a sign, or write it off since there are three exercises between, making it not a perfect signal? 😉

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.

—T.S. Eliot, from “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets (Gardners Books; Main edition, April 30, 2001) Originally published 1943.”

Waking from the Dream of Time

Washington State, 2021

Recently, I’ve taken up practices associated with a book I’ve long been interested in, Time Space Knowledge (Tarthang Tulku).

This happens every few years, that I begin with this book anew, excavating forgotten passageways between ‘my’ world and a sometimes less hidden place, which I can never do as an act of will, but only when a knock from the other side lets me know visitors may be arriving.

TSK is not what most would call an accessible book; the language is particular and rooted deeply in eastern wisdom traditions and histories not explained within the text, written in a rather philosophical western voice. This isn’t meant to exclude, but rather to allow in anyone who can ‘arrive without traveling’, whether they have studied contemplatively for decades, or not at all.

That the text draws one in at all means something about capacity to travel the course.

There’s an immediate expansiveness I encounter when even considering the book. Slight shifts of attention angle this way and that, opening vistas beyond what I ever imagine before entering. The phrase ‘focal settings’, which is used often in the text, has become less visual and more of an embodiment over time, as I try to grasp it less than I did at the beginning, let the book take the reins.

There is also the theme of levels, which is perhaps meant to help one recognize when they’re leaning on less or more effective sources of energy. One must drop agendas and receptively be… appreciatively, playfully, to have a chance at glimpsing… what. I can’t say. My suspicion is that this is about, as my title suggests, waking from the dream of time— not merely by experiencing more flow states, but actively inviting timeless ways of reality into the so-called every day. No waiting for the knock.

A Year Without Miracles

I’m heading back into Buddhist study after a period of necessarily letting some air out of my practice. By which I mean, I think there are times in which it is impossible to take in too much learning, but then there are times to see what is actually draw-from-able in an active way. What is left, without props or teachers? What is genuine? What is true?

Amanda Palmer described the concept of inhale years and exhale years (at least I first heard the idea from her), and what I’ve done is a bit similar. The inhale/exhale pattern is meant to let one off the hook of trying to be all things all the time; as a creative, you try spending a year-ish focused inwardly, ‘making’, then a year (times approximate of course) outwardly promoting what you came up with. Make sense?

Well, what I did, was to fling myself outward into the world. I let go of reading and listening to audios constantly, of parsing and pursuing and trying to understand or prove myself a worthy student. I let go of anyone I seemed to be forcibly holding onto and said “Let’s see.” In Play-as-Being terms it might be a somewhat radical version of “drop what you have, to see what you are.”

It has been messy and contradictory and… grounding. I could almost call it a year without (leaning on) miracles.

Emerging from this time, I realize it has been a deconstruction quite similar to another I underwent when I left Christianity, or at least the Christian church, back in the early nineties–but this time not due to disillusionment. Back then, there was an enormous difference between the faith-life which came up in my writing, prayer and private study, and the faith I was being taught to have within systems. My faith was loving and intimate, intellectually interesting, joyful even as it was excruciating in a kind of desperate longing, but none of that had place in the male-centered church; none of that seemed to make sense to elders no matter how much they touted ‘personal relationship with God’ on stage. Curiosity was continually shut down.

It was terrifying to step out of at the time, but seeing what has happened to the churches of my childhood (the extent to which they were openly primarily political entities was much less obvious or acceptable then), I’ve never not been thankful to have gotten out, smuggling along with me some of the innocence of that personal connection/intimate sense of what faith could be.

I think it has been beneficial to my Buddhist practice, where Buddhist teachers can lean things a bit too far the other way, mistaking intimate personal devotion with dreaded attachment.

Faith in Eastern traditions is quite different from the way it is taught in the West. The first website I pull up describes it thus: ” Shraddha means faith. Faith is needed when you have found the limit of your knowing. You know something this far, and you don’t know anything beyond that. Your willingness to know the unknown is shraddha, is faith.” It isn’t different from the way faith is described as a “substance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen” in the Christian Bible, but by the time it filters through institutions it is usually depersonalized, made collective by demands to make ‘statements’ or ‘shows’ of faith, for instance.

Depersonalized, faith becomes the opposite of the kind of active belief I wrote about yesterday.

One story I find exemplifies substantive faith for me is actually a Biblical one: The Woman with the Issue of Blood. Without heading for the scripture nor quoting entirely, there is an ill woman who follows Jesus as he makes his way through town. She can’t reach him because the crowds are intense, having heard of the miracles that happen around him. You can imagine them kicking up dust and clamoring to be heard, seen, making requests. In fact it is easy to imagine these days because of fandom cultures! Imagine that the people had cameras then, Instagram!

But the woman persisted; her sense was to make any connection whatsoever. Once she caught up, she was able to reach her arm through the crowd and just touch him, or not even him, his robe. Jesus stops! He stops because he tangibly feels power drawn. Although it is tempting to say that she had great faith which met with great power, and that’s how the story is often told, I actually think there is a Mahakasyapa type recognition here… openness meeting openness. It is an exchange, what in buddhist terms one might call a transmission.

I also like this story because I once had an experience while in meditation with it. I vividly imagined myself to be the woman reaching out for that garment hem, only for the vision to flip. I found myself to be the one with the hem! It startled me so terribly at the time that I jumped up and walked around, frightened to offend my then idea of God. It has taken me so many Buddhist stories to begin to comprehend what the vision showed me, pointing at non-duality.

On Being a Friend

I have learned something uncomfortable-but-transformative about my capacity to be a friend this week.

It is this: I don’t believe enough.

I’m fortunate to know many expressive people, some of whom are successful at enacting their dreams and visions in the world, most in less sure stages of development. There are people so clear about their abilities, and confident about their gifts, that one doesn’t question whether they’ll be able to pursue most of their interests and connections freely. And there are people endowed with such loving support around them that at the very least it is easy to see them as less encumbered, with a bit of a head start to snowball faster. If one of these friends tells me about their plans to write a book or to develop a podcast, etc., there’s no hindrance to my celebrating with them, adding my openness energy (I know, funny term, but it says what I mean!) to theirs.

But then there are the other friends who, knowing my editing work or general appreciation for creatives, tell me they’ve thought of writing, or what-have-you. I’ve always believed myself to be a supportive friend to them. Isn’t my availability for feedback and offering positive response outwardly, support? It isn’t. Therapy has helped me become far more aware of a critical voice in my mind which up to now I’ve thought was reserved for myself. I’ve seen myself as encouraging of others, even as giving what I do not yet have.

I flashed back to a conversation with a friend several years ago, who expressed that someone thought her young life camping in the Everglades with her dad would make a good story. I agreed that it would, but inwardly, felt she wouldn’t be up to it. Her education level was relatively low, and her interest in things like grammar and spelling were not great, so a quick calculation landed me with the general feeling that this couldn’t happen.

But you know what? It could have. What it might have taken would have been, if it was more than a passing interest, someone–a friend like me– to help her get the stories out in at least a draft. There were no limits on the type of book she might write; who knows what form would have appeared once she began? I didn’t say anything discouraging, and actually was quite encouraging at the time, but was my energy in that support? It couldn’t have been, because I didn’t really believe in her. I had a notion of what her level was. In my mind, she was still someone I, a horrible Math student myself, had tutored way back in 8th grade.

I could feel quite badly about this, and l do see how it is a pattern not just with this friend but in many relationships, but the truth is that these are quite normal inner obstacles. Objectivity can also be support at times.

However, what hit me today is that nothing I thought, was true enough to keep the ceiling so low. None of those factors mattered as much as they seemed to at the time. AND THIS IS TRUE FOR MYSELF AS WELL. If I was hesitant to face my limitations when it came to supporting this friend, I have been terrified to face the way I have talked to myself, bullied myself, taken on the mantle passed down in my family of “Don’t set your hopes too high”, when the truth is, none of us has any idea what is possible… not for ourselves nor each other.

We do not know.

I’ve had experiences of shared openness which should have convinced me long ago of the empowerment we might way more easily offer, and the wonderful effects that might have for the world should we tap deeper into completely available resources. Sometimes seeing a pattern is all it takes to melt it away. What kind of awesome friend, then could I be, even to me?