Friday, October 17, 2008

Hopes and Dreams

girls 60 celebrate
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
On Friday, four friends and I head to the South Carolina beach for a long weekend.
Ostensibly, we’re celebrating the 50th birthday of the youngest of our crew.
Here’s a snap from an earlier 60th celebration. (You get the idea.)

One of us reads the New Yorker regularly and so could describe this cartoon:
There’s a fellow sitting in his doctor’s office.
The doctor says, “Well, I can fix your back so it won’t hurt anymore. But, I can’t guarantee that you’ll have anything left to talk about.”

Ah, point well taken.
Luckily, we have a tradition that for years has helped shaped our discussions.
Once comfortably fed and settled in, one by one each is asked to describe her hopes and dreams for the coming year. And each must field all the questions. Not a corner is left to hide. Your turn can last a long time. Kleenex can be involved.

I used to love this exercise. To be heard, to be understood. To be loved.
But, I find it’s getting harder and harder to participate.
I have no idea of what to say. And even worse, the next day I can only hold my head and moan, “My god, why did I say that!”

As far as inner transformation is concerned, there is nothing you can do about it.
You cannot transform yourself, and you certainly cannot transform your partner or anybody else.
All you can do is create a space for transformation to happen, for grace and love to enter.
Eckhart Tolle

For a life-long, self-identified “seeker” – doing seeking – working on transforming and evolving… this is devastating news. And I’m really beginning to realize that it’s true.
Still, I keep on trying.
I’m like some guy crawling cross the dessert on his belly. I keep trying the next spiritual transformation.
I know I can’t make that final shift in consciousness for which my heart so deeply longs. But dang, I keep on trying.
Futility. Stupidity. Ego.
What is this, if not Hope?

Hope is what keeps you going, but hope keeps you focused on the future,
and this continued focus perpetuates your denial of the NOW
and therefore your unhappiness.
Forget about your life situation for awhile and pay attention to your life.
Your life situation exists in time. Your life is NOW.
Your life situation is Mind-Stuff. Your life is REAL.
Eckhart Tolle

More and more, I realize I am compelled by a primitive, irresistible force within me.
Maybe, that is actually Grace. But, I struggle too much to use that word voluntarily.

And so I get so grouchy, thinking about us sitting round the table or before the fire.
I get all irritated and frustrated, and cannot think it through with any clarity.
Hopes and dreams! Oh, pah!
Fruitless, pointless, mocking. I do not want to do this! And I’m going to tell them!…

All inner resistance is experienced as negativity in one form or another.
All negativity is resistance…
Negativity ranges from irritation or impatience to fierce anger, from a depressed mood or sullen resentment to suicidal despair…

Ah, gotcha once again. And Tolle proceeds to say:

Once you have identified with some form of negativity, you do not want to let it go, and on a deeply unconscious level, you do not want positive change.
It would threaten your identity…
You will then ignore, deny or sabotage the positive in your life.
This is a common phenomenon.
It is also insane.

Yes. I know it’s true.
Have you noticed? It’s very interesting.
I can feel how getting all stirred up, even down right suffering, has this hidden edge of pleasure.
Anger allows me feel my power.
Drama helps me get my point across.
Suffering brings me sympathy.

But, if I don’t call a spade a spade at least within my own head – where can I start being truly honest.
And I do value honesty. And truth.

So, so much for Hope.
Let’s move on to Dreams.

Years ago, this weekend’s Birthday Girl told me that I had the densest pain body of anyone she knew.
Speaking of such people Eckhardt Tolle says:

…your desire to awaken, to finally get out of this misery is much greater than a normal person's desire to awaken. …[for] when your dream turns into a nightmare, then you really want to awaken from that…

My desire to awaken is certainly more than normal.
But, I’d not say life is anywhere near nightmare status these days. There is just that primitive force at work deep inside me. And, I’d like to think that that is Grace.
But the fact remains that I am definitely in resistance to this whole “Hopes and Dreams” format. I do not want to look.

So, three dear friends get to spend six hours in the car with me come Friday. I hope I’ll be on better behavior.
And I’m going down there “unrehearsed.”
Luckily, we have promised not to discuss anything real juicy on the drive down.
We’re pledged to wait until we’re all together.

And I figured we will need a good two days simply to be debriefed on Marv, the man of Linda’s dreams – or not. We will have to see.
And maybe, I’ll print this out and read it as a manifesto. (It will not stop their probing, nor get me off the hook. But, it may divert attention.)

Meanwhile, I plan to take my camera and tripod. That should keep me focused on something like the Now.
That’s my plan… not my hope… not my dream.
It’s a plan.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Blue Guitar and the Blackbird

The biggest challenge for most spiritual seekers is to surrender their self importance, and see the emptiness of their own personal story.
It is your personal story that you need to awaken from in order to be free.
To give up being either ignorant or enlightened is the mark of liberation and allows you to treat others as your Self.
What I am describing is the birth of true Love.
Adyashanti, How to Treat Others.

I have come across a couple poems by Wallace Stevens.
I have also read that in The Man with the Blue Guitar, Stevens was exploring whether our thoughts and mental images can represent reality as it actually is?

How do we see Reality? Through the glasses we have on, be they smokie, rose, or clear.
Through the stories that we tell, be they short or sweet or sad.
But, is any of that really Real?

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."

So went the first cantos of the poem I found yesterday.
And then this morning, I came across Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, from which I offer the first five:

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

I know I am being rather vague as to what my point is here.
I’m talking about making it through life in an honest manner. Sometimes it gets rather hard to see the truth.
Personally, I’ve come to believe in two trustworthy clues.
Is there love or silence in the telling? … the blackbird whistling or just after.

Perhaps you can take the poems and run with them yourself.
You might like to try this suggestion offered by Jeanette Winterson, at whose website I originally found the Blue Guitar.

Here’s a tip – and a mystery of its own – if you learn a poem, and then repeat it out loud in front of a mirror, watching yourself, you will discover something more about the poem, and something unexpected about yourself.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Sound of One Hand Clapping

Krish self portrait
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
My nephew, Krishan, came over this past weekend to teach me how to make HDR (high dynamic range) photographs. As I worked at my computer processing the images I’d taken, Krish sat right next to me and made this self-portrait.

I mention all this because in a self-portrait the perceiver and the object of perception are one and the same. And, an identity between subject and object forms the essence of non-dualism.

So today, when I came across this explanation of the Zen koan regarding the sound of one hand clapping, suddenly Krish’s self-portrait became quite appropriate.

This discussion is by Ken Wilber. I don’t read him all that often. But recently, I have found some of his stuff quite helpful. For instance, I have never had much grasp at all of this koan (or really, any other). Though, I am given to picturing trees crashing to the ground with quite a thud in my absence.

But, I digress:

Usually, of course, we need two hands to clap - and that is the structure of typical experience. We have a sense of ourselves as a subject in here, and the world as an object out there. We have these "two hands" of experience, the subject and the object. And typical experience is a smashing of these two hands together to make a commotion, a sound. The object out there smashes into me as a subject, and I have an experience - the two hands clap together and experience emerges.

And so the typical structure of experience is like a punch in the face.
The ordinary self is the battered self - it is utterly battered by the universe "out there."
The ordinary self is a series of bruises, of scars, the results of these two hands of experience smashing together. This bruising is called duhkha, suffering.
As Krishnamurti used to say, in that gap between the subject and the object lies the entire misery of humankind.

But with the nondual state, suddenly there are not two hands. Suddenly, the subject and the object are one hand. Suddenly, there is nothing outside of you to smash into you, bruise you, torment you….

So what is the sound of that one hand clapping? What is the taste of that One Taste? When there is nothing outside of you that can hit you, hurt you, push you, pull you - what is the sound of that one hand clapping?...

As a Zen Master put it, "When I heard the sound of the bell ringing, there was no I, and no bell, just the ringing." There is no twice-ness, no two-ness, in immediate experience! No inside and no outside, no subject and no object - just immediate awareness itself, the sound of one hand clapping.

Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything. Chapter 13.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Sorry, but I Can’t Resist!

Sarah Palin
Originally uploaded by etchasketchist
It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where—where do they go?
Sarah Palin to Katie Couric

I’m sorry, but if I don’t find something to laugh about regarding Sarah Palin, I am afraid I may join a friend who emailed today to say that the Republican VP candidate had her in a complete swivet.

Yes, swivet.
I had never used the word before, never even heard it. So, I Googled. ...

Which always leads to interesting things… and I just had to share this article on sentence diagramming.
And so, while politics should probably be eschewed here (I don’t usually use that word either. But, I do know it.)… eschewed here, language is very much about consciousness and that is right on topic.

And besides, laughing is so necessary.
God, help us!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Regrets are Clarified. Chi is Rectified.

listening at dawn
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, …the glory of everything….

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren, dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart.
She was in a class by herself.

It is not that often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.

Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White

During the past year, perhaps my greatest regret regarding the demise of my twenty year relationship is that I also lost my paddling partner.
No more of our paddling alone-together into remote wilderness.

There are not many people with whom you can share deep silence,
who can paddle on their left,
and adjust the camp stove’s Whisper Lite fuel system when you come home hungry.
Becky was master of all three.

And every time I realize this, these lines of Wilbur’s mourning of Charlotte come to mind.
I have to smile even as I feel the sadness.
No more paddling alone-together.

It’s a wonder the dreams haven’t started up again.
For years, I had this recurring dream about paddling up a river.
I believe the roots lie in an afternoon I spent, some forty years ago, with my best high school buddies.
Somehow, that day we managed to get our boat way up the river that formed Lake Decatur.
We were well past all our usual skiing routes.
We’d reached into the Sangamon itself. It was not a place anyone ever motored.
And we ourselves hadn’t really planned to go there. But something just kind of pulled us on.

Vivid in my memory is that the river possessed the most curious luminescent yellow light and the softest, deep silence, even as a bunch of teenagers picnicked and joked.
I dropped a line into the murky waters and pulled out the stubbiest brown catfish. We wondered if perhaps it weren’t an evolutionary fossil.
I resolved to return one day to those waters so full of mystery. But, I never did.
Instead, we graduated and scattered to the winds.

Some years later, the dreams began.
They came in a couple different versions: a gravelly put-in below the dam, an icy winter rendezvous at an 1840’s village – but always, there is the longing to return;
return to the far upstream, beyond all the usual routes.
To return to the Mystery.
And always in these dreams, I am thwarted by logistics.
The ice is too thick. The food runs out. Time’s too short. People don’t show up.

Then four years ago, in a nameless creek, off a lake formed by the Allagash River in Maine my paddling partner and I proceeded till the rocks would let us go no further.
There we sat, in the sun and silence and simply felt what that all was like.

Silence. No one else.
Well, maybe a moose.
Quiet, now. You’d hear the breath or soggy footstep first.
Silence. An insect buzz.
Suddenly, I realized, “This is the river of my dreams.”
I’d made it.

What a wonder it was to sit there wide awake in what had been a dream.
I made plans to go back the next summer, but logistics got too complicated.
And then, by the year after that, we had fallen all apart.
No more paddling partner.
No more access to the silent wilderness.
No more paddling on the river of my dreams.

I have sat many evenings in my backyard watching the trees, grieving this loss...

Now, the Garrison Institute, located on cliffs high above the Hudson River, is “conveniently located just one hour north of New York City”
and certainly not wilderness.
But most curiously – revolutionarily – I discovered there, in the midst of 170 people on retreat, that I hadn’t really been seeking wilderness at all.
Nor, had I been seeking isolation or even the river itself.
I had been seeking Silence.

I discovered there at Garrison that the Silence in the trees, on the wind, in the sky and lilac blossom, is the same Silence deep within the wilderness.
It is the same Silence (though I never called it that)
which has transfixed my attention these past few months right in my own backyard.

It’s the same Silence I have been sitting in and staring into with unseeing eyes.
The same Silence I have been sitting in and bemoaning my perceived regrets.

…if you want to wake up, you need to hang around awakened beings.
It can be awakened human beings, awakened trees, awakened mountains, awakened rivers…
When we expose ourselves to that awakeness, to that environment where spirit and matter are harmonized, it helps us to awaken.
Ultimately, that’s what satsang is.
That’s also what meditation really is…

When I sat and listened to Kwong [Roshi] talk at retreats, sometimes I was very interested so I would really be listening…It happened on one of those days I wasn’t listening quite as much…All of a sudden it was like smoke, that subtle stream of presence was sensed.
I knew, “That’s what he’s doing. It’s not about all this talk, talk, talk.” …that’s not what was going on…
for some reason, through no choice of his own or of any of us present, there was a magnification of something very subtle, very pervasive…
we think nothing is happening…
So I had missed it until that day and that one talk, when I experienced that subtle source, and it was just shining.
I saw it and sensed it, and then it was shining inside me, too…

I wouldn’t call this true awakening, but it was a foretaste of awakening: realizing the sacred presence. …

The old Taoists would call this “rectifying the chi.”…
That’s why scriptures have advised us to hang out with awakened beings.
The awakened one could be a human being, a tree being, a street-corner being. Expose yourself to them… and this rectification happens.
Adyashanti, Emptiness Dancing

Or, as Wilbur might say, expose yourself to “the glory of everything”
including your own backyard.

You might just find that all those distractions and pollutions of the city are remarkably similar to thoughts in meditation.
In meditation we learn that thoughts do not have to be banished into the mental hinterland.
When thoughts are given permission to “just be” then you are freed to settle into the Silence that is there all along.
Life can be just like that too,
once your chi’s been rectified a bit.