mandala

When out of flow, there is something left unacknowledged… neglected… something to give away. At times it is a phone call, or promise not yet followed through with (to myself or others). Maybe I’ve not gotten quiet enough for the still small voice of intuition to float up to conscious experience. I begin to ask, “Did I follow the last instruction? What WAS the last instruction?”

Elizabeth Gilbert described a similar sensation recently:

“I am writer. If I have a story in me that I’m not able to tell, things will start going wrong all over my life. If I have a story in my head and I tell it, “I’ll get to you in 2015,” that story will start to rebel, start to act out, start to claw at the walls. That’s when the shit gets dark in my world.

Because having a creative mind is something like a owning Border Terrier; It needs a job. And if you don’t give it a job, it will INVENT a job (which will involve tearing something up.) Which why I have learned over the years that if I am not actively creating something, chances are I am about to start actively destroying something.”    Elizabeth Gilbert

So, here, is my shot in the dark, for what is waiting to be seen…

Mandala

Three years later, I understood the dream mandala. It had been a gathering of distinct scenes, some illuminated. A circle of singing angels was among the bright spots, as were various work places, passageway kitchens. A grand and wide-spreading tree dug into the heart, under which refugees gathered. Yet that area was dark, awaiting resources. I leaned my face nose to nose with a small, unknown child, and felt responsible for her.

On the outskirts of the mandala was a fence, separating the scenes from a parking lot where visitors arrived – people who in some cases were intimate friends, yet couldn’t or wouldn’t, intermingle with the rest. I remember feeling that those inside of the fence would be benefited by their incorporation, but that it wasn’t the only way. A usually tired friend arrived, with long healthy hair, seeming much younger. A few months later she received a large inheritance which unburdened her deepest concerns.

I was looking for my son (a recurring happening from the time he was very young) and could get through some areas very easily but, like a labyrinth, other areas were less welcoming. I tried to climb up a set of small stone stairs and when hindered, another passage appeared, sloping down. There he was. I sat on a bench and simply watched him playing for a while.

….
I have wondered whether this is a story not to tell but to paint, but I don’t paint anymore. I gave up painting because I was mediocre and not as compelled as I have been to write, to learn. This afternoon, a cousin from a part of my family I love but am not entwined with, said that she and her parents cherish the painting I gave them… that it remains in their main living room. I couldn’t remember which one, although it must be a copy of the first painting, the one I lost myself in entirely as though under anesthetic, emerging with it finished and projecting a certain portal energy.

The experience of that painting, more than the finished product, felt to be a taste of an entire lifetime… each stroke a particular journey, arising from previous strokes yet also from nowhere, coming together in a restful Flow.

 “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
-Vincent Van Gogh

 

Birth and Death

I had intended to write about matters of health today… have begun to consult a homeopath and to do my best not to resort to medicines when discomforts arise, but rather to look to energy practices like Qi Gong. Although I can tell almost immediately what has an adverse effect on focus and energy levels (sugar, for instance, but also things like mindless TV), and what cultivates greater liveliness and awareness (sitting practice, walking, singing, mantras), I still distribute energy unwisely… so I aspire to do better.

But – Instead of going further into that, out of a conversation I had this morning, I want to write about birth and death.

A dear friend is letting go of a treasured loved one. She is on the boundaries, floating in and out of lucidity, sharp then quickly sleepy. He too, is on this boundary with her, back and forth. They are in transition.

(as I write this, the first dove since I’ve lived in this apartment, has landed on a branch outside, singing)

The word “transition” is particular to another context as well, that of childbirth. I’m reminded of the stark choices presented upon news that my first child was on her way, that I would either: go the medical route of hospital with medications, or the natural route: home and without. Thanks to a lucky conversation and decent insurance, I was able to find a pretty good middle scenario in which midwives helped through natural birth in a hospital that didn’t treat the whole situation like a “procedure.” Though near ideal, it was nonetheless frightening…

Giving birth is not as daunting as facing death. One thinks that they know more about what is on the other side. But nearly all parents will tell you that they couldn’t have imagined the transformation that took place in themselves and their lives, upon having a child. I can attest: it is more different than night and day, blows away categories like better or worse, and obliterates previous concepts of love. There is a false sense of preparing for such a thing as becoming a parent: you buy things, read books, talk to people and go to classes. All around, you think you see other people doing what you are about to do.

During the “transition”phase of labor, when birth pangs are not as distinguishable as the waves that preceded them, none of the seeming preparation really matters; you find yourself at the complete mercy of a mystery. At some point in the throes of labor I even changed my mind and decided not to have a baby: I tried to stand up, leave the room. It was then that the midwives were most helpful: their guidance, reaching me as through a long tunnel outside of my perception, held my attention.

I imagine death, when not abrupt, to be somewhat like this too… a moving back and forth between inwardness and outwardness, situating for the process of giving up into a great mystery. It likely really matters that others are around, and that they are supportive, but ultimately one probably looks for a kind of teacher in the distance.

I respect the desire that we have in our modern age, to help humans in different kinds of transitions achieve maximum comfort through medications, and I can’t say I would be enthusiastic to have a natural death without pain medication if disease was ravishing my body… but I do wonder whether consciousness at the end of life is something we should still be attentive toward preserving as much as possible… treating death as a beautiful, sorrowful, but still mysterious and confusing process. The end result as helping someone lets go with as much ease, and as fully, as possible.

Permission.

 “I had seen birth and death but had thought they were different.”
~ T. S. Eliot

I’ve Decided to Stay

When I began this space to write in, it was to condition and nurture an opening outside of familiar outlets, to start anew as though the internet were new. I felt willing to try anything… no attachments, no place, yet keeping a name that wasn’t impossible to find. I opened this space for delving into the past when necessary, working with the material that found no expression… the in between things, is a good way to describe it… not lofty enough for poetry, not twittery enough for tweets.

I expected to be soon letting go of a work of love I’d been devoted to as well, but have decided to stay – there and here.

This a terribly difficult space to write in… canyon like. There is no one present to draw out what wants to be known, and no one to play off of. The advantages are great as a potential place of reinvention, to play with hypotheticals like, “What if I’d never isolated bits of my writing to suit various, often critical, audiences?” That seems the possibility – the dream lost when moving from MySpace to Facebook, from message boards to MySpace… when connections began to be made based on the same things they had been based on in the default environment already (family and work connections, known “like-minded” friends).

My romantic world is this way too now. “No particular longing” is probably the safest place I’ve ever ventured into dating from. This could be the upside of someone I was sure of, walking in and out of the picture, and the upside of previous relationships being available again, spoiling other daydreams and hypotheticals. When all the layers of contrivance fall away, what stays?

Equanimity isn’t for its own sake, as a quality for an egoic self to where, but for the sake of holding nothing back and not getting in the way.

As a good friend has shared with me time and again:


Since all things are naked, clear

and free from obscurations, there
is nothing to attain or realize.

The everyday practice is simply to
develop a complete acceptance and
openness to all situations and emotions

And to all people – experiencing
everything totally without reservaations
and blockages, so that one never
withdraws or centralises onto oneself.

-Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Quote

Edges

Today I am celebrating the edge of the universe as I know it, and those in my life who bring me edges to consider.

Already last year I knew something had changed; a shift away from “love and light” to something more balanced, or even, dark. I began to dream dreams of operating backwards, as though the back of my head was actually as ‘open’ as the front, which made perfect sense even when I woke.

I think that I owe this to Facebook, to a relentless barrage of positivity- by-way-of-cliche’, that I signed up for, to help me stay on a compassionate path. Each morning, I received messages in commanding tones, imploring me to let go and to forgive, to stand up for myself and others, to see the good in everything but not turn my back on injustice, to fight for change and to accept things as they are, to have integrity, to not hurt anyone, to care, and also not give a shit about what (these, same?) others think.

You get the idea I hope: a bit maddening.

Or maybe the shift began with the most intendingly gentle person I’d ever known… and the way the judgment and scrutiny I felt in their presence brought me to question the compassion of their way of seeing.

The other night I found myself awake (which happens about once a week: unable to sleep I find some stream and binge on a well-reviewed television show I missed in my previous rejection of TV) and watching Enlightened. Now canceled, it is the story of an executive who has a melt down and flees to an idyllic island rehab, where she has a genuine change of heart – true insights about herself and world.

It is about integration really: What really happens in our time rather than some other, when “returning “enlightened” to the marketplace” (reference: the Taoist Ox-herding pictures), and must interact with the world they have known before?

Enlightened is a validating story, appealing to me for clash and contrast between Laura Dern’s character and the world she no longer fits into, and mainly for showing that she remains the self-absorbed person she’d been before, but with a bright new new mission which she then projects onto the others around her… a “do-gooder” as she is called by her ex.

She is not perfected; she is still unaware of and disconnected from the feelings and struggles of those around her. And over time one begins to realize how much better this is, than the ideal she sees herself in.

Even falling short of “selfless buddha,” the character’s intentions are blatant enough to be disarming, and is a sensitive picture of the digestion of Eastern spirituality in the West, which tends to be focused on improving self image. (The Book of Mormon musical also did a brilliant job of making this one point, as the image of himself as missionary-savior is larger in one character’s vision, than the plights of those he is sent to help).

The thing is, as materialistic as the West’s interpretation of Eastern thought can be, it is still the very nature of those teachings to open into to something more genuine. The series ended in a more happy ending than I would usually find believable… and that was OK.

When The Secret/Law of Attraction teachings came to popularity, I found myself in an awkward position. I could see that the way the ideas were being presented, was missing the point (I had learned about this already through a journey with faith teachings), and yet many friends and family members who had been averse to meditation, were suddenly open to looking at their minds and worlds in a very new way. These teachings had reached into their lives; I couldn’t exactly say The Secret was wrong… even if not exactly true.

I couldn’t have predicted how quickly the first expressions would be self-correcting. Changing one’s outlook does go a long way toward changing one’s circumstances, and it isn’t easy at first, to consider the possibility of a generous universe, dropping the mindset that humanity is fundamentally untrustworthy, and opening the heart to Basic Goodness. It is a difference in view that Einstein once insisted was the biggest decision one could make ~ whether their universe is friendly or un.

That sort of shift prompts another… a relaxation of guard that might allow asking for what is needed, and desired, which might further prompt exposure of motives. This kind of sight tends to refine what is wished for, and who is included in that wishing… expanding the boundaries from a focus on what might garner envy or reluctant admiration from a world outside, to what might bring forth a more genuine world from within. Yes, good ol’ fashioned prayer.

I’m optimistic; I think that’s where we are now. Here is something that came to me (yes, through Facebook!), just today:

“It is easy to stand still and leave no trace, but it is hard to walk without touching the ground. 
If you follow human methods, you can get away with deception.
In the way of Tao, deception is not possible.
You know that one can fly with wings,
You have not yet learned about flying without wings.”
You are familiar with the wisdom of those who know,
But you have not yet learned the wisdom of those who know not.”
- Chuang Tzu

Shift Again

The shifts seem to be happening more quickly, now that I’m writing again… even if in the shadows. There is a distinct pattern that begins with stuckness and taking a few, mostly self-absorbed steps, to open up. I begin to hear again, connect again… begin to remember that being other-minded is the only freedom, and only reason, for self. That freedom is both/neither, and timeless, really different than that first confused mode of being from which expression begins.

It has been a stubborn act, writing here… constantly feeling silly because everything I seem to discover has already been discovered, felt, thought of … already broken through. There IS breakthrough, but nothing special really. Nothing profound.

Abandon

Abandon is a double edged sword and for some of us, spiritual path. An experience of longing and fear (of that longing never being met or even “self” in some way), is a compelling exploration. The quest I think, is to be okay with longing, to stay open in mystery,  while not being consumed by it.

It is the place that I write from and my strongest impression of a what others call God… longing opening into boundless love.

My first experience of abandon was beautiful, then frightening, then devastating; too little awareness came coupled with the longing. Later, with investigation, it became a constant guide, and gentle. Ordinary, even.

The longing is still a fearsome exploration, but fearful in a different way… more like being small, aghast in wonder in an endlessly surprising unknown.

Dormancy

I begin to understand the edges of my own motivations; as though writing is sealing the work, allowing me to move beyond without forgetting, without banishing what is confusing or unpleasant… giving it place. Being ‘able’ to write about anything somewhat releases from actually doing so; sans taboos, my life ceases subservience to a vague, forbidding entity.

Although… I have noticed myself editing a little more, slowing down pace in hopes of safeguarding a blossoming relationship. It may not be as fragile as I suspect: a younger couple meets themselves years into the future, and works to reconcile what has happened, between. My sense is that “just friends” could be the best path, but I’m not ready to close the question.frozen

Winter brings this a sharp point… so much dormant yet alive, awaiting the right conditions to spring forth. Maybe previous selves don’t die but go dormant at times.

 

 

Going Back

It seemed a right and loving thing to do to section off the past traumas, needs and desires as something insubstantial… to forgive, move on, and let the future be full of clean pages on which to write a new and more beautiful play. It is just that, beauty isn’t quite what I thought it was. There is a lot of messiness in beauty… a great deal of imperfection. So I am learning not to edit before I write.

I wrote the above a few days ago, and since then so much has come clear… insights into people in my life, into myself, and sources of connection and disconnection (oddly one in the same). There is a term in some spiritual traditions: self secret. One edge of what this means, is that big “life revelations” come clear in their own time. Until it is time, there is no matter of cajoling that will crack them, and no amount of explaining that will convey them to someone else.

Once open however, one wonders how they possibly missed so much – everything changes in every direction (inside and outside, past present future). Becoming willing to “go back” has produced this kind of shift in me.

For many years I’ve held Anne Lammot’s guidance in mind like a koan, that “what happens to us, is ours, belongs to us.” She wrote it for herself, and for other artists, yet I could never reconcile its truth with “do no harm.” I have admired the fearlessness of friends and artists who, to my view, didn’t hold back, who broke into their lives fully. Yet I have marginalized them too… have silently assumed that their situations weren’t as dire as mine… that they couldn’t really have had as much to lose.

I was wrong – they did – but they came to a point of truth, as for a friend who famously, literally, painted herself out of a corner… do-or-die. On an episode of Radio Lab, Oliver Sacks reluctantly admitted that he himself made a bargain at some point, that if he didn’t write the book he was procrastinating about in a number of days – perhaps ten – he would kill himself. I’m very glad he wrote the book, but it took his getting ruthless.

There are people in my life that might be happier if I did the latter, rather than write as my modus operandi, but I feel they are misguided, and frightened in a way they needn’t be. My heart’s desire is still “do no harm,” but I can’t ask for permission, because I don’t know where this is going and it would be a constraint to please, that I’m not willing to take on. It also isn’t lost on me that while I am grappling to protect my own call to excavate all three times, leaving nothing out that wants to come up, there are some I wish would let me off the hook for their versions of my role in their past too. I don’t have a right to ask that… and it reveals my little faith, that I want to.

When I was a religious Christian, I used the term, “the things of God” a lot. I vowed to care for the things God cared about (ie. Kingdom of Heaven), with an idea of relationship – that while I tended to Heaven’s business, Heaven would care for the things that concerned me. Excluded from the promise however, was any request to cater to my preferences. It was an aspiration on my part, to be “all in.” Little did I understand what this would mean; the things of God weren’t ideas about the things of God, and for me, didn’t mean missionary work or church membership. That would have been going part way, playing at devotion.

Lately it means giving up looking like an unselfish person, to come to terms with what no-self might actually mean.

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”  – Cynthia Occelli

Image

Trust

It is hard to allow spontaneous responsiveness to take precedence; the main struggle is the waiting. “Producing some thing” won’t wait for work, and in romance so far I am finding it hard to stay on the same page with someone. There is too little integration of heaven and earth.

An angel of a friend advised me to notice paint beneath paintings, music within voices, light within photographs – to get beyond content, and find rest. He avoided the word “energy”, perhaps to avoid a near enemy, but what is noticed is this naturally restful and indefinable way that life has, of appearing to happen and be happened upon…

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”  – Franz Kafka

The Buddha’s Last Instruction
by Mary Oliver

“Make of yourself a light,”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal — a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire –
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

- See more at: http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/blog/2013/02/20/mary-oliver-the-buddhas-last-instruction/#sthash.gSFQFDqi.dpuf

The Buddha’s Last Instruction
by Mary Oliver

“Make of yourself a light,”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal — a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire –
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

- See more at: http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/blog/2013/02/20/mary-oliver-the-buddhas-last-instruction/#sthash.gSFQFDqi.dpuf

The Buddha’s Last Instruction
by Mary Oliver

“Make of yourself a light,”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal — a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire –
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

- See more at: http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/blog/2013/02/20/mary-oliver-the-buddhas-last-instruction/#sthash.gSFQFDqi.dpuf