Grace

With a loss like Robin Williams, purposefully from the world, it is hard not to succumb to the pull of hopelessness. For me, the news came along with another article, about the “fall from grace” of a monk who after a decade had lapsed into previous drinking habits, and whose sense of shame had bullied him out of the monastery where he had been content.

After decades of sobriety, and a lapse several years ago, maybe the climb back up seemed too far for Robin. Or maybe the support for such a climb wasn’t there in the same way it had been years earlier, with new children, a bright mind, and a thriving career.

I’m not sure. What I do know is that I feel it… the collective pull, a wordless “If he couldn’t make it, how can I?” It isn’t my pull, I remind myself, just something I’m feeling, maybe a world is feeling.

Even the Antidote

First night of a conference I’ve looked forward to for months, and I come away with just a few notes. A note of appreciation for progressive tones, awareness of female inclusion (although there were only 4 of us in the group of 20), and discouraging of too much deferential treatment.

Basically, K.D. is classy. The message itself was simple and even, at least for those to whom non-duality is not unknown, reaching sudden depths during questions afterward. Oh, another classy thing: inclusion of all religions (as all beings) as carrying basic insight, while making a distinction only for the sake of teaching, between having come to terms with what that means. Recognition of recognition.

I found myself considering a phrase that has come up several times over the last few days, “drop even the antidote.” Religion could be seen as such: the answer to a problem, or to rational thinking which is problem based. Rational thinking could also be seen as an or the answer, to magical thinking and superstition. Both are dropped.

 

 

Lag Time

Lately it feels as though each part of my body is in a different dimension: I can’t quite gather the parts nor make them work in conjunction, although I have an acute sense of where they all are – near to reach.

I’m reminded of a game my son told me about, in which one plays as an large and gangly octopus; the object is to do ordinary human tasks, such as talking on the phone and stirring cake batter at the same time. I see it as a symbolic representation: a multifaceted creature out of its element.

 

 

Unguarded

Attended a family event today – a warm and loving gathering that for once, I didn’t feel envious of as “not my own” and which in fact surprised me for the affection I was greeted with by each there, also those who later arrived. Most I didn’t know, but felt familiarity and kinship with, although there were a few moments in which I feigned memory  and one case in which that feigning backfired, and I failed to remark on a tragedy the year before.

Especially touching was the beauty of the frame in which they’d displayed a print of a painting I gave them maybe 5 or 7 years ago, about the time I stopped painting, and the way my uncle spent time with my son as though filling in as grandfather for his brother.

On the way to the event I’d said to my son that where we were going was a place where there was no need for defenses… no sarcasm, no criticism or even inquiry that doesn’t come from a place of concern and care.

This time there was also me, and this time something missing from me, mainly my usual loop of comparisons, my usual defensiveness. I didn’t want to make up for anything, didn’t feel apologetic for not being around more nor injustice for their being so easily supportive of each other, and my having been left out of that growing up. I just felt appreciative for being there … sincerely at home. Not packing armor and resistance myself, there was no need to burden him.

That is all.

 No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.  -Aesop

On Not Deciding

I tend to be ahead of things, sometimes making it hard to experience the same page with others. Realizing that up ahead something falls away, it can be difficult to keep going ‘through the motions’ myself, and also not to bring the difficulty to others who themselves may be having a quite different experience, and their own way of dealing with the ever-changing nature of reality.

In fact I enjoy the company of those who can, without much effort, ‘not dwell’ on the up-ahead, yet somehow catch the necessary leaps by instinct. They seem more body oriented yet still presence-minded, and it is a joy to go along for the ride.

Andy Warhol famously said, “My time is not your time,” in response to criticisms of his work, suggesting that if one took a different view they might be in the alignment and better “focal setting” to appreciate him – the experience would be more complete. And the book Time Space Knowledge suggests that indeed the way we experience everything: objects, yes, but also time and space itself, is dependent on focal settings.

Yet, I think the book was describing something even deeper than the subjectivity of experience we all understand as coloring our perceptions and opinions – that I may enjoy the sound of bagpipes because they have some cultural connotation, or read ill motives into someone’s speech because it rings as similar to another time that I, and not the other person, might be aware of.

In the TSK sense of things, it has to do with how deeply one understands the mirror like, simulation like, nature of our experience and how even time and space play out differently based on how we are seated in wider awareness. Contemplative traditions use terms like “big mind” and “higher self” and “no self” not in order to denigrate the capacities of physical brain, but to describe the difference between known and unknown capacities, and to give entrance to ways of functioning that include but aren’t limited to the known.

We say “unknown” or “dark” to describe what we don’t include nor have language for, when speaking from the material focal settings we factor. And we place a lot of faith in unraveling the mysterious out of that small base. Yet, “My time is not your time.” Our experience of and access to one-anothers’ particularly drawn universes – our awareness of interconnectedness and mutual influence – depends on our working out of the unknown. We have a few good tools to this end, like suspending of judgment, suspending of doubt, extending benefit of the doubt, and increasingly developed ways of listening based on “friendly universe” thinking rather than survival-of-the-fittest paradigms which mistaken the baby for bathwater, but our learning to think in these ways does take intention.

One of the most liberating ideas I’ve come across in the last few years is that deserving, makes little sense. Does a child deserve affection and nourishment? Does an adult? Do we look around in our experience and see people accomplishing things because they are more deserving than others? Rarely. Ever?

Even the wherewithal for someone to envision a life of accomplishment, is given rise to out of circumstances, such as a healthy mind, that they seemingly did not choose.

  “The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice.” – RD Laing

 

 

 

Tradition

Perhaps everyone who chooses a path, chooses a kind of struggle, or perhaps attempting to adhere to a path is one sure way in which a fundamental pervasive struggle (with “ego”?) is continually exposed – I’m not sure. But whether it is a religious path, a no-religion path, a family path, a single person’s or couple’s path, a work/s path (more likely various combined), struggle seems to be ‘what’ this life is about. One struggles to stay on a path, to leave a path, to abandon hope, to generate hope… and when one is really sure they should stay, the path may leave, or really sure they should go, they may not be let go.

When in a very friendly mind, I would say life is dialog rather than struggle, and see consciously chosen traditions as one way to tap clarity beyond personal agendas. This is how it feels to my own experience – certainly how it felt to me over much of the last few days while attending Buddhist teachings. With all teachings there are generalities made, and examples given that one may take personal exception to, but I found myself choosing to accept of a balance of resting the scrutinizing intellect appropriately engaged ‘first’ when in other contexts, to listen in a different manner. There is support for that quieting in a setting such as this one, and I was reminded of a line in a book based on a famous Tibetan master, where he was quoted as saying that some were noisy, full of gossip, about people another person had heard say nothing at all.That’s how it is: words aloud aren’t necessary; one can drop deeper to a level of intention and hear what is ‘really’ being said, see something else going on, take part in what tonight I’d phrase a transcendent context.

So I tried to do that over the last few days, appreciating the Rinpoche’s smile lines and hearty laugh, his earnest aspirations coming forward as he plead for everyone to take the work of better establishing the dharma center seriously. There was a great sense of presence in the room as he spoke and told stories, and one couldn’t help but see not just him in his expressions but so much coming through, as though other teachers were looking through his eyes at times. I may have heard the forms of these stories before, and may have felt at moments that such were not very marketable in today’s world (part of the intellect that I let rest when it popped up – the “I” that is always writing and parsing), but I’ve never heard more sincerely.

What he was saying was ‘true’ in a heart-of-the-matter way… a way that can only be pointed to… not named, and blooms forth in one’s own understanding rather than being grasped at and earned. Yet, there is merit… one of the biggest aspects of Buddhism that secular friends take issue with, and I think rightfully so, as at times it feels the work of spreading the dharma is as ‘busy’, and about accomplishment, as the world the dharma encourages us to question and reevaluate our loyalties to.

I can’t even explain to myself entirely, why there is such pleasure in what others might see as religious trappings, and so far I still wrestle with strict hierarchies. Simultaneously, I think that although there is a rightful reaction against rigid class structures and privilege, there is too, such a thing as what I’ve heard called “supportive hierarchies” that can be cultivated well, understood to be impermanent and questionable forms. For instance it benefits a child to know there is a teacher to turn to, and we are smart to submit in particular contexts, to one with more expertise, be they doctor, pilot, or Compassion.

Will I attend the temple on a regular basis, take it on as my personal work? I’m not sure yet. I can’t in good conscience entirely check my scrutiny at the door… there are things I’m not comfortable with and may not want to become comfortable with. And after all, Buddhism is highly appealing for its intellectual astuteness and demand to turn the light inward. Both sides of the coin have value, but only when taken together.

Practitioners can understand from their own experience that practice is helping them. No other proof is necessary

Death Doula

Fascinating article that feels to respond to the birth & death question I asked, in the form of musings here, a few weeks ago. I’ve had the experience she describes, where someone that I didn’t realize would die within weeks, asked me a question about death in a taking-for-granted-that-I-know, sort of way. And I’ve had the experience of talking about death in a strange-suspended-in-time sort of way, with someone who would die way too early.

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/may/04/death-doulas-helping-people-face-up-to-death?CMP=fb_gu

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. 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, 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