“Does calling it karma make it easier to bear?”
‘It’ being my self, I think.
I’m taking paralegal classes lately, for all sorts of reasons, but mainly because it feels like the right thing at this time, a next logical step. I feel at home, and enjoy playing with various legal scenarios, like taking a vacation into a life that might have been. Considering many sides of a thing has rarely been to my practical advantage, since people seem to value decisiveness and strong opinions most of all, but here that’s the field one plays on, along with learning all the mechanical workings, various parts and pieces.
But, one thing is hard. Legal thinking has unearthed a rather striking casualty of growing up the way I did, with very few sturdy connections: I find it very hard to ‘believe’ in justice.
Maybe in a cosmic sense I can find the inkling of belief, if I back up far enough, and travel the arc long enough to take inventory of all the ‘good people’ I’ve witnessed come into their own happiness, be rewarded for their steadfastness , resistance to cynicism. Or cruel people I’ve witnessed taken down. Although I must say, it isn’t pleasure I feel at the latter, just relief. Maybe someone’s life will be a little more okay out of the harms way.
But in my own little sphere I usually avoid conflict, at pretty high cost. I often feel as though I’m lagging behind, carry a continual impression I have ‘given away the store’. And maybe it is this – that I don’t really believe in justice, or closure, or resolution… don’t really expect that the people who should apologize will do so, or can do so. And I don’t want to be so blind to my own faults that I miss a thousand things to apologize for myself. Or at least that I haven’t apologized for–in some cases won’t apologize for.
By the time you get to my age (which I will not tell you for now), the statute of limitations has run out on what you can blame your parents for. You’ve had at least as much to do with yourself as they did. It is still hard, even knowing that and accepting that, to reckon with such shaky foundations.
Now that I’ve gotten a few posts about my meditation and spirituality background down, I want to begin to move away from those kinds of ‘testimonial’ type writings, into a voice that more closely conveys current complexities. I felt that it was important to give a little context to my choice to change the name of this blog from one that many seemed to like – which I’ve now done, albeit in a simple way.
In contrast, there is not much simple about our times, nor is it easy to be satisfied with cute little stories about enlightened moments, when almost all of us are facing very difficult choices every day, dealing with those we love, and trying not to hate those seeing the world in very different ways from our own. It seems as though we have to have an educated opinion on almost everything, while suspecting every source that seeks to educate us, while functioning in the world with others, yet without risking deep conversations that might jeopardize our livelihoods and family harmonies.
Some may say it has always been thus, and indeed it has been always the case that political/religious lines have created divisions and forced thoughtful people to live at different levels of secrecy. I myself was born in 1970 and didn’t live through the cataclysmic changes that occurred for my parents’ generation, but I did live out the reverberations, attempting to make sense of how views became tangled, one with another.
I think those years, while not first quakes by any stretch, were especially significant because they were happening in a new country, a kind of test country for what ‘the future’ might mean, daring to ask a question I’m not sure ever ‘could’ be asked before then: “War OR Peace?” I think confronting Vietnam with post-WW2 eyes stirred the will to find a way out of war for more people than had ever fathomed the possibility before. Then the younger generation dared to try to play that out, resulting in a material collaborative creativity that, I feel eventually obscured the question at heart, trapping a whole country in the beauty of its own reflection, and into a quest fortifying itself to protect those seeming gains.
Still, I recognize that mine is a partial view, inseparable from core beliefs about what I take the universe, the world, and humanity to be. Therefore I often find it impossible to confront the puzzles of our time by giving a right or more full logical answer, adhering to what has passed (in the past!) for normal parameters of debate. Pushing beyond limits in this sense, mirrors into what buddhists call emptiness, so every situation and conversation and relationship that arises as phenomena, must indeed become unique. This makes opinions mere snapshots in time, with an underlying aspiration toward openness that I pray might leave room for radical changes to occur.
A month between posts again, but with good reason. I’ve been on a book binge, have traveled a little for work, and have been participating in a focused practice with friends, called “99 Days” — a play on the song 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, but with a positive overall intention of seeing and potentially affecting long standing habits.
You may remember that years ago research came out suggesting that it would take roughly 100 days to undo an old habit or to install a new one. So basically what we do is check in with one another every day for 99 days, which keeps our focus pretty steady. We each choose something different at first, although as time goes on and we support and follow one another, the practices have a way of blending.
My focus? I started with one, but moved into another I titled Unlearning Isolation, after a phrase in Rebecca Campbell’s book Light is the New Black.
In Rebecca’s book, it was almost a throw-away line, but one that jumped out and seized me strongly, becoming an easy intention to hold and remember day to day. My idea was to see if I could undo some of the isolating patterns I’ve cultivated as part of my personality for longer than I remember, by first noticing, then stepping out of them in a systematic way. I’ve had fairly good results so far.
It hasn’t been predictable. My early ideas feel almost quaint now – things like reading at the pool instead of inside of my apartment, or occasionally answering the phone without fielding calls. Instead, invitations have come up, and challenges to do things differently while traveling, like not wearing my i-pod as much, actually engaging with those around me.
Honestly, it has been a lot of fun.
One of the first things that happened was that I seemed to become hyper-aware of micro-expressions people, including myself, cycle through when engaging with the world. For many of us, there is a polite openness followed by a sudden gear switching, that if you really see in action, is quite amazing. Getting to that closing point, then breathing to relax and stay open a little longer, can feel like ‘going lucid’ in a dream.
In fact I had one quite wonderful encounter alongside a quite stressful one that I don’t think would have occurred if I’d not been out of my comfort zone in the first place.
There are stubborn obstacles that remain however, like a drained feeling after talking on the phone, that if I don’t slow down to work with, turns into a dread I then want to avoid. I suppose becoming more sensitive, making it into a thing, is part of the process, though. It has helped to hear from others that what I think of as highly personal struggles, are not too uncommon, like wanting to avoid events, being happy one didn’t, and then being very thankful when said events are over. 🙂
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.
After a long conversation with a fellow in the neighborhood, I come running to my keyboard to write about the disjointed thoughts it evoked. What it is about this blog that makes it the right medium? Or is it? Honestly, I don’t know. It just seems that way.
It seems as though this spot is the one that allows for different levels of communication at once, which is how the conversation felt as well. Such an interesting person who has lived many lives, which brought out my curiosity, but also wariness.
It is worth noting when one gets to talk with another who is honest about how they are feeling in the world that very moment. I’ve found that quality to be a rare one: the attention span, capacity, to be with the person you’re with, in the place you’re at. It may matter that he doesn’t watch much television (unlike me! :), and isn’t addicted to his phone.
Our conversation touched on how strange it is to be reinventing one’s life after being so sure of course early on. We’re both like fish used to brackish waters with one eye toward the lively sea, but conversation nonetheless has a habit of “Dance or don’t dance?, Drink or don’t drink?, Films?”
Underneath everything, a fierce guarding of the individual freedoms worked and sacrificed toward.
And that’s where it keeps ending, now several meetings in, over the course of the last few years. 🙂 He probably thinks he knows a lot about me, because one picks up a lot residing in the same building for a while, but almost always I walk away feeling that I’ve ultimately shared very little.
And that the things I leave out are pretty important things.
It must be quite hard for people who have not had to revisit much of their psychology, to understand those like me, who have had to deconstruct almost all their thinking and rebuild it with intentionality.
Sure, to some extent everyone does this. Each time we make a new friend or begin a new endeavor, we change, we make way for growth and expansion to accommodate the new.
We’re deeply fortunate to know SO MUCH in our time, about fluid selves and identity, but for some of us, restructure is more primary work than it is for others, spending much of each day, every day, vigorously questioning, trying on other ways of knowing, being. I seriously can’t remember a single day in the last twenty years, where I didn’t listen to a spiritual teaching, read a spiritual book, or attend a spiritual event. Along with various, often devotional, disciplines and practices. I knew from a rather young age that I wasn’t seeing clearly.
“Spirituality is pursuing the seeing of life as it really is.” —Adyashanti
This probably sounds like a good thing to those working to get into consistent meditation practices, or to remember to write in their journals, or to read more spiritual materials. And it is, but…
More than once I’ve been told by a person I was in relationship with (romantic & non) that my intensity was a barrier. I wasn’t hurt. I completely get that continually questing can seem obsessive to someone not on that kind of path. Thank Goodness those loved ones were honest rather than resentful.
Or, maybe they were just a little resentful. 🙂
It is just that there was SO MUCH for me to revisit, SO MUCH SUFFERING throughout my family history that I’d then perpetuated thoughtlessly. When you begin to see you have a choice about all that – to effect your own experience and the proliferating of those patterns and cycles – well, how not to be obsessed?
Thankfully, I can see all this as a bit over the top. The feeling of being afraid to be too far from middlemen and lifelines has mostly dissipated; I get way farther away from shore more often now. But doing so is still part of what I’ve trusted in and worked so intensely to comprehend, live, and lean on: a natural course of continual transformation.
Some of you may have noticed I keep changing my themes and formats for this blog. This is because I myself am still in a somewhat intense period of learning and shape-shifting. All of us have many aspects. In different mediums, with different others, we take on different expressions. I happen to change a lot, which means sometimes I must change on stage!
Eventually, like the daemons in Phillip Pullman’s wonderful His Dark Materials series, the expression will settle naturally. Maybe we’ll have the sense of having gone through blog puberty together!
I hope you’ll keep checking in, because I’ll keep returning too. In fact my new commitment, after taking some courses and accepting difficult feedback, is to simply show up more, to go back to writing snapshot moments true to this blog’s Smile Lines title.
My reflection on 2017 is not complete without writing at least something about Twin Peaks: The Return. However, anyone who watches or has watched the show will immediately understand how hard it is to do so.
First, I can’t think of any show less able to squish into some category. Second, there are a thousand more qualified detail-maniacs writing about Twin Peaks right now. I mean, I joined a Facebook group during the time of the show’s airing, and continually marveled at the level of Beautiful Mind style dot-connecting that went on, but I couldn’t engage in much directly, because my way of watching seemed so different.
Still, maybe that different way of absorbing the material brings something of value to offer.
When Twin Peaks first aired back in the early nineties, it was hardly a blip on my radar. I was young and wild, and had just returned from my first away-from-home adventure in the mountains of Colorado – an environment not so different from Twin Peaks. This would make my discovering the show later in life somewhat precious, triggering deep nostalgia, but at the time I was simply indifferent.
Rather, the show came to my attention again in about 2010, through a meditation community, during a dream studies workshop, in a virtual world. We (as avatars from all over the world) were sharing moments, during waking life and dreaming, wherein there arose some feeling of uncanny. People cited all sorts of surreal matrix-y moments and odd encounters, in some cases things they had never shared with others before, and a particularly well-read person in the group mentioned experiencing this feeling strongly, while watching Twin Peaks. Others chimed in agreements.
This was noteworthy, because during years of ongoing discussions, television had rarely come up as a topic in this rather bookish group, much less as informative to contemplative exploration. So I rented the DVDs through Netflix, and watched them all over the course of just a week.
“Ah, I get it!” I thought. The show was immediately quirky and charming, but more than that, the process of watching itself, felt like a weird sort of spiritual practice, or at least many elements did. I’d never been drawn to gritty shows (so had little exposure to David Lynch or Mark Frost), and some seeming ridiculousness pushed beyond my tolerance levels, but the weaving in of the intuitive and sense of the spiritual into even the petty felt dare I say, more realistic, than a normal story.
I was also completely smitten with the sweet boy-scout character at the center of it all …just liked spending time with him. Nothing of what Dale Cooper was experiencing in his dreams seemed that unusual to me, and I felt that should we meet, we would understand one another.
Back in 2010 there were already a few rumors cropping up about a possible revamping of the show, and this built up lightly in the background of my attention until the exciting first teasings on Twitter.
Imagining what I wanted from a next season, there were just a few requests: Dale Cooper, and a sustaining of that uncanny feeling. Everything else I left open, but I also did more research, watching Lynch films, reading some of the more obscure theories. When the show began, I read The Secret History of Twin Peaks and The Tapes of Dale Cooper.
So I felt ready.
I wasn’t, Thank Goodness.
Twin Peaks gets its place on my accomplishments/worthy-of-reflection list for 2017 because it was A LOT OF WORK. It took far more than an hour of engagement each episode, not just to process the intensity of some of the scenes and try to connect or project what they might lead to, but also to suspend and eventually let go of judgement and further expectations.
Each part (sorry, not episode) absolutely had to be watched twice: once without subtitles and once with. Homages to films and artists had to be happily researched (see bottom of this post), and more and more obscure theories had to be, or seemed like they had to be, understood.
Then, all of that ‘information’ had to be thrown out: one had to go into each part, and each scene in each part, and each character in each scene in each part, as a new canvas. That’s trust, man. And what or whom was I trusting?
I think I was trusting the art itself. I wasn’t necessarily ‘a Lynchian’ like many, trusting the Artist, but there was some rareness of connection, and I was leaning into that, in spite of several scenes that were deeply disturbing without that context.
I stuck with it because Twin Peaks: The Return, is extra-dimensional, not in the way of telling ‘someone’ an extra-dimensional story, but in giving openings the viewers(?) walk into, or dream into, themselves.
A main question asked by the series, is one I ask myself all the time:
“Who is The Dreamer?”
“The only way you can talk about this great tide in which you’re a participant is as Schopenhauer did: the universe is a dream dreamed by a single dreamer where all the dream characters dream too.”
(some of the) Films:
Dr Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
2001: A Space Odyssey
(some of the) Artists: Edvard Munch
First, credit due. At the end of 2016, there were just a few things I was totally sure about. I’d finished reading The Universe Has Your Back and had moved into A Course in Miracles. I’d begun to feel a release from integration work, and to be more forward looking, open to making new connections, forming new patterns. It was as though a large book I’d been reading had naturally finished, and many of the characters seemed just about ready to go their own way. In fact, many did!
One pressing discouragement had been quite small bucket list items that year after year, remained on the list. These were things like Indian cooking classes, checking out the Unity Church, organizing a dream practice workshop, and getting organized about writing every day. And in 2017, I did follow through on these, as well as related things that seemed to ride the tide. The Universe met me in kind; intuitive guidance returned.
I renewed meditation practice, and let myself off the hook for not living up to the image of the disciplined yogi in my mind who sits for 2 hours a day and is consistent like clockwork. Instead, in large part thanks to not seeking this kind of support in the same places I had been, I allowed myself what before I’d seen as crutches: using Insight Timer app, and checking in with a small group of friends via SMS to share favorite guided meditations. To be clear, the yogi in my mind would never use guided meditations, but I’ve come to love having choices between light music or weather conditions, silence, or someone holding my hand and walking me through.
There were a few hard challenges, and a few areas where I went against my introverted grain, to do what felt right to me. In one case, the risk to my pride was significant, but I followed through. In others, the ice breaking was awkward, but that awkwardness didn’t feel as much like death. In that category, I have one more phone call to make before the year is out.
I was supportive with friends and family that leaned on me, and received help when it was my turn, having to drop some grudges along the way. I became more politically outspoken, while working to find places of compassion for those I disagree with. I strove to be honest with myself and others, and not to lose sight of impermanence… that although these feel like dark times, in which ‘sides’ are becoming more and more prominent and entrenched, time, by nature, arises and passes away. Being shape shifts.
The books I read in 2017 were along a wider range than the year previous, from a charming little book about a master gardener’s apprenticeship in the temple gardens of Japan called Cutting Back, and a somewhat odd book recommended by Susannah Clarke, Thursbitch, to the Upanishads, Twin Peaks related books, Lincoln in the Bardo and The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve (plus many others in between and on the fringes). And all the articles, goodness! I kept pretty well to my determinations not to read much click-bait but rather dive deeper. Oh! I read Pullman’s Book of Dust as well, without letting my fangirlish admiration get in the way of admitting that it was great for anyone else, but just okay for Pullman.
A year ago, I was also having a lot of anxiety. During the day I would go about my usual business, enjoying my projects and communities, but in the middle of the night, and if not then first thing in the morning, I would often wake in panic and dread. Instead of rising with appreciation for the new day and my one precious life, I would quickly find myself in a position of judgement and problem solving. Rather than rising to meet those challenges, I would often just try to get through the day without making trouble for anyone else. I leaned on “this too shall pass”, and little by little, dug my way into more openness.
A great resource in that regard, has been the Facebook Live teachings and ‘cyber sangha’ of Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. I’ve been fond of him since the day ten years ago that I found his book The Yogas of Dream and Sleep in a Barnes and Noble bookstore. Dream practice had come up quite naturally for me, and I was gesturing back to the void, trying to learn as much as possible. Although I did try the methods he introduced in that book, they were a bit too technical at my level of study. His clear writing voice and gentle guidance however, made him someone I have continued to seek out. Yet it wasn’t until he began Facebook Live pop-up teachings, that I felt him to be a constant teacher. His last few talks, on Mirror-like Awareness, have lodged deeply in my being. The gist? Be the mirror rather than the reflection. And actually, that is the way I would describe my seat, my stance, leading into 2018.
I once found myself in a paradise, basking in nature with several nourishing friends. Our main goals were to relax, as much as possible, and to appreciate absolutely everything. After a day or so, all occurring – from food and conversation to the flowers and giant stars – felt to glow, to exude a feeling of magic.
Most vacations have a little of this effect; one begins to believe that if they could just stay in that spot, all of life would be ideal. Separated from daily cares and worries, lingering out of context, humans begin to come alive again.
When we relax and open, the rest of phenomena does too.
During the trip, we were led on a pitch-black night hike through ancient forest, given time to deeply listen at a stream, learned facets of “forest practice” such as aimless wandering and laying down like a rotting log, and simply basked in one anothers’ easy company.
But, a moment I hardly noticed at the time has continually come to mind since then, a short introduction.
Although they would be mostly otherwise engaged during our stay, one of the caretakers sat down and met my eyes directly, simply saying that it was a pleasure to meet. Weeks later however, while describing the retreat to a friend, I found myself remarking on how strikingly beautiful this woman was… how she seemed to sparkle.
So much had happened there, but her presence was at the forefront somehow.
I dreamed I’d gotten lost and had come upon a large house where, just as I reached to knock on a door, this woman appeared. She was in scuba gear, smiling, having returned from deep water treasure diving.
A few years later I had the chance to return, and to see more of her whole life–cultivating flowers, vegetables, people–basically full time appreciative being. Strangely, she was ordinary. She was still beautiful and spiritually vivid, alert, but also quite human.
It was like I’d before encountered an alive new reality in the middle of a usual daydream; my understanding had been turned inside out like a pocket, revealing subtle dimensions.
When people say that life can change in an instant, they are usually talking about sudden dramatic events we couldn’t have foreseen… tragedies or strokes of luck that can change one’s lot in life. But there are transformative, ‘holy instants’ happening all the time.