Consciousness for its Own Sake

Fascinating interview listened to this morning while cleaning the house, Sam Harris and  David Benator on “Is Life Actually Worth Living?” There’s no justice I could do to the discussion here, but I thought to write my personal experience of seriously contemplating the discussion, which brought about a counter-intuitive sense of joy and relief.

Why counter-intuitive? Because much of the conversation between the two casts serious doubts upon whether humanity is worth propagating, and not from a stance of saving the environment nor even a better way of life for those here once hypothetically, no one else would come into the world.

Instead, it is a serious inquiry for its own sake, and the pleasure of that is something that for me, validates whatever this experience of existence that we’re having is, nearly as much as unjustifiable suffering does the opposite. It feels like getting closer to some sense of consciousness for its own sake, something that starts to feel like what one is.

Several years ago, a friend raised the idea of whether it is immoral or selfish, to bring children into the world. My having three children, on a personal friendship level I was a little appalled by her seemingly bad manners at the time, and just didn’t dive into the topic. In the context of how our friendship came about, studying Buddhism together, it was fair game however; she wasn’t being cool or callous at all.

Yet, it was still a conversation I didn’t want to have because it seemed inapplicable to me. I’d forfeited any right to even pretend to be objective. I couldn’t be absolved of any guilt we might agree upon, and the conversation itself seemed disrespectful to those I’d brought into the world.

So what I admitted today, is that one can and should entertain questions that by nature can have no tidy closure, even after the deal seems done. This is another way of looking back, and unpacking what it means to be alive moment by moment. One doesn’t have to come to a decision – there isn’t enough information first of all – and there doesn’t need to be regret. There just needs to be learning, and within that, the possibility of a leap. In my case it is a kind of leap that may benefit those I have brought into the world, who may allow ‘more’ or a ‘wider range of’ conscious examination to bear on their own situations.

Part of me questions living in a way that is too scrutinizing or logical, but this carefully handled line of questioning still seems infinitely worth not shutting down. It opens the question of time and reciprocal value as well. It looks as though we are brought into the world and bring beings into the world, and that there are calculated (both individually and collectively) reasons, but I’m not convinced it is so simple.

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Looking Back (2017) – The Twin Peaks Post

My reflection on 2017 is not complete without writing at least something about Twin Peaks. Anyone who watches or has watched the show, especially The Return, will immediately understand how hard it is to do so, however.

First, I can’t think of anything less less able to fit into categories. Second, there are a thousand detail-maniacs also 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 couldn’t engage in much directly, because my way of watching seemed so very different. Which yes, I know, is totally OK. In fact it may be that because of my different way of absorbing the material, there is something of value to offer.

When Twin Peaks first aired, it was hardly a blip on my radar. I was in my early twenties and had just returned from my first away-from-home adventure in the mountains of Colorado – an environment not so different from Twin Peaks actually, which would make my discovering the show later in life actually somewhat precious, triggering deep nostalgia.

Rather, I heard about Twin Peaks through a meditation community during a dream studies workshop in a virtual world. We were sharing moments, during waking life and dreaming, wherein there arose a 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 the feeling strongly, while watching Twin Peaks. Others chimed in agreements.

This was noteworthy, because in years of discussions, several per week, television had rarely come up, much less as informative to contemplative explorations. So I rented the DVDs through Netflix, and watched over the course of a week. “Ah, I get it!” I thought. It was immediately quirky and charming, and the process of watching felt like a spiritual practice somehow, or at least many elements did. I’d not been drawn to gritty shows (so had little exposure to David Lynch or Mark Frost in general at the time), and some elements of ridiculousness pushed beyond my usual tolerance, but the weaving of the spiritual into everything felt dare I say, more realistic, than a normal story.

Plus, I was smitten with the sweet boy-scout character at the center of it all and just liked spending time with him. Nothing of what Dale Cooper was experiencing in his dreams seemed that unusual to me, outside of the few cross-overs like the disappearance and reappearance of his ring. I felt we might understand one another.

So this was in, I think, 2010. There were already a few rumors cropping up about the show’s possible return, which built up lightly in the background of my attention over the course of years until the first definite announcements. Imagining what I wanted from a next season, there were just a few things: Dale Cooper, and a sustaining of that uncanny feeling. Everything else I left open, but also did more research, watching a few David Lynch films, and reading some of the more obscure theories. Later, I read The Secret History of Twin Peaks and The Tapes of Dale Cooper.

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 WORK. It took far more than an hour of engagement sitting in front of a television screen, not just to process the intensity of some of the scenes and try to connect and project what they might lead to, but to suspend and eventually let go of judgement and expectations.

Each part (not episode) absolutely had to be watched twice, once without subtitles and once with, homages to films and artists had to be (happily) researched, 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: I had to go into each part, and each scene in each part, and each character in each scene in each part, as an entirely blank and new canvas. That’s trust, man. And what or who was I trusting? The Art itself? I wasn’t necessarily ‘a Lynchian’ trusting the Artist. Mostly, I was trusting the rareness of the connection I’d had before, leaning into that.

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.

So, “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.”
-Joseph Campbell

 

 

Looking Back (2017)

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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. And that they 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.

 

 

 

Starting Something

I’m happier these days, writing in an in-between space between public and private, spurred on by the tiniest inkling of outside scrutiny, deciding to work on increasingly letting go of practical concepts such as age and time … of notions that I chose the big priorities of my life already and am supposed to make due with what I’ve done rather than starting something new.

In other words, I’m going to keep trying, keeping starting something new.

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It is a manner of writing and conversing that I’d like to be more comfortable with, to the end of making place for the kind of thoughtful company I most value.

Elizabeth Gilbert accomplished this I think, with Eat Pray Love.  It was a spiritual book, but it was more so a telling of her personal spiritual story in a way that included foibles and smallness, insights and breakthroughs, without ever giving the impression that she was coercing readers into sure fire a way of being.

Is this the reason I haven’t yet read her more current book, Big Magic, after rushing to read The Signature of All Things? Is it because Big Magic seems like it may be a guide or program, and I feel flooded by those? It might not be that at all. It might be just a longer version of her excellent TED talk on muses and creativity.

What Lies Beneath

On a partial fast this week, along with drawing back from Facebook and making a concerted effort to spend time on more contemplative ‘first’ things… back to basics. Unlike the idea of what I would experience, which was greater focus, clearer intuition… what I’ve actually been experiencing is panic and boredom, with an undercurrent of said greater focus and clearer intuition. In fact, a few days ago I began to feel incredible frustration at having made these gestures of intention to get on track, and the Universe responding with seemingly greater chaos and distractions, more needs from others and ‘things to worry about’.

Until I realized that the greater chaos I am experiencing, is simply what I’ve been avoiding with food and Facebook. It isn’t that my heart desires are being undermined in some universal sense.

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There is a huge difference between what one knows mentally, what one aspires toward and understands, and actualizing – leaning into and living that reality. Which is why, although I still draw inspiration from spiritual teachers, I don’t have the same faith that I used to, that mere learning will translate into greater freedom and expressions of joy and meaning. A decade into concerted practice, thousands of hours of acquiring insights, and what I know is that you can’t skip hunkering down.

Caught Unawares

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.

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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 like a log, and were welcomed so very warmly by the caretakers.

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 it was a pleasure to meet. Then weeks later, when I described the whole retreat to a friend, I found myself remarking on how strikingly beautiful she 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 came upon a large house where, just as I reached to knock on the door, she appeared in scuba gear, smiling, having returned from treasure diving.

A few years later, I had the chance to return again, and to see more of her life cultivating flowers, vegetables, people – basically full time appreciative being and service. Strangely, she was ordinary, beautiful and spiritually vivid, alert, but also a quite human. It was like I’d encountered a new reality in the middle of my usual daydream, or that my understanding had been covertly turned inside out like a pocket, revealing a vast universe of more subtle dimensions.

When people say that life can change in an instant, they are usually talking about sudden events which 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. Memory just doesn’t always hold them.

Like this moment of Namaste’.

 

 

 

The Next Turn

I have a dear friend, or believe that I do… someone I love from afar these days, unable to quite trace the steps back to where we left off.  It was probably where the convenience and shallowness of Facebook entered the picture. FB should be renamed Time Suck and Deflection since, as it turns out, there is a cost to connecting too easily, a mirage created that suggests it would be easy to start again, which begins to take the place of actual encounter.

My friend is an artist — an abstract painter — and the shifts of her being flow one to and through another along the ever more impressive walls of her studio space.  Just as I’m sure I know her work, understand her, she transforms again. It is not because she intends it necessarily. Rather, there is a natural process that, when following an artist who is in love with their work over the course of many years, can just be seen.

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The nicest quality of abstract art as far as I’m concerned, is that it resists definition. Techniques develop, play occurs; some processes are taken to and repeated more than others, leading and surprising its creator too. It is about more than being non-linear; the best work of any sort imparts presence and feeling more so than fixed narrative, so you can take in its company a long time.

And there are many textures and ways of time. The one who rushes to the beach to see the day’s sunrise experiences sunrise time, but also, the ocean is time, the sand is time, the atmosphere is time.  As well there is the time that one brings… the resulting interplay of the days, minutes, and seconds that have seemed to come before. There is no real dividing line between inner and outer experience, or as my teacher reminds, “Mind and world are co-arisen.”

Which reminds me of a (if I remember correctly, beautiful) children’s book about slavery, “Who Owns the Sun?”

Thus, I’m learning to allow my life not to be easily understood, even by me.

 

 

Disparate Stories

This year, I embarked on an adventure.  Several constant patterns having dissipated,  time opened to consider a few new areas of learning — the idea being that with further integration of the practices I’ve been working with for so long, and by letting in further related associations, there would come a better sense of inner world/outer world balance… better circulation.  I’ve been trying to, as one author put it, unlearn isolation.

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So, facing previous blocks head on, I set out to make more spiritual friends – especially Christians whose faith was less about church and politics than about personal inspiration – which led into A Course in Miracles.  I also allowed myself to listen more closely to new-age teachings I’d been averse to since before my first ‘awakening’ at 18: ie, if a new acquaintance was moved by angels, I decided to just walk along with them and experience that way of being for a while. Same with various other practices; no sense of threat, just curiosity about the person.

My basic feeling is that if someone I am drawn to, is drawn to these areas, that is enough; for me the heart of the matter is the devotion, the leaning and desire.  People who are ‘like that’, who cultivate these kinds of intuitive talents, pique my attention and awakeness.

Also, one does find hidden paths while traveling down more obvious highways.

Still, I’m finding at this midway point of the year, that I am turning again to less social practices and studies, like Zen. And that I feel fatigued by the capitalistic fervor of the new-age community.  I have ultimately formed few bonds sans background agendas toward my possibly becoming a client.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of the best sort of candidates for this kind of path, as someone whose spirituality has often seemed to get in the way of ‘everything else’. The people doing this kind of work in life and health coaching especially, are some of the most vibrant and outgoing folks I’ve ever come in contact with, and most honestly wish to be of service. A few are deeply amazing, and inspire mirroring, crafting lives that do not separate work life, family and romantic life, and spiritual devotion.

The problem has come when trying to go further as ‘just part’ of a community in these contexts. There seem to be prescribed positions of asking for help, giving help, cheer-leading, and eventually a default to some kind of product, including classes and books, promotions.  I do indeed have a business to nurture further and try not to compartmentalize away from other aspects of life, however: not at the cost of the central exploration.

The main question is what Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche illuminated in Spiritual Materialism. And there is so much grey area. For instance, did I just lead you toward a product? And what about this blog itself?

One good example is the topic of ‘signs’ which I’ve written a little about previously. After several rounds of discussion threads that begin with someone looking for ‘their sign’ and asking for validation about whether it might be this or that, one tries to push a little further and go beyond the question of ‘my sign that leads to my path of my abundance’ or what-have-you.  ‘My sign’ is a shiny hook.  Or a temporary flash of light leading one on.

My impression is, after admittedly just a handful of attempts, is that there seems little momentum for leaning in further. Rather, there comes another ‘new shiny thing’.

A loving parent doesn’t want to nurture the dependency of their child, nor does a loving teacher. They know that formulas fail, or only reach so far, and that it isn’t the sign or words of a teaching that will be there always, in all situations. Only what you are will be there always.  A good therapist, teacher, parent, or friend, will always come back to this center.

So don’t misunderstand me: I value dipping my toes into a few of these coaching or new-age leaning communities. I certainly value what I’ve put into practice of ACIM and intend on lightly continuing. It is just that at this point, in the spirit of good research, I feel I must take as accurate of a snapshot as possible.

 

Untended

The water lily you see in the photo was taken in the tended portion of an otherwise now stagnant garden that for most of my childhood, had bustled with all manner of life. Bright blue crabs and slippery turtles scuttled through layers of coral rock beneath the foliage, while peacocks wandered above on winding banyan covered paths leading out into wide fields of intense Florida light. We would walk along attentively but without deliberate appreciation.

It was part of home, after all.

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It had been years since I visited, so the overall scene that greeted me was a bit of a shock, especially when a volunteer told me they were working to thin out the upper canopies, to circulate the light more naturally. Somewhere along the way, it had been allowed to go to seed in the first place, which I had not imagined ever happening.

I felt as if my childhood self was standing there, asking for attention.

This blog too, or the intention it represents, has been a neglected. So my newly uncovered intention is to decompartmentalize expression, to open chained off passageways and allow better flow between the spaces… to extend myself more and stop trying to get everything right. Even though there will be messy and unfinished areas and many works in progress, my vision is that this will become a more authentically tended, space.