Friday, December 31, 2010

Whatever Happened to Witnessing

black stone
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
With the egoic sense of self, the more we know, the less innocent we feel.
But, to our true nature, the more we know, the more innocent we feel.
I call this feeling innocence… because it has a sense of being very unguarded…

In innocence, there is no idea about what’s going on…When I say it doesn’t know what’s going on, I mean it’s not relating to experience through thought… it may seem a nice place to visit, but it’s a terrifying place to hang out because it takes all the tools of the egoic state of consciousness and renders them useless… the mind is actually not very comfortable staying there because it is non-operational while it’s there.

We see that we are not who we thought we were, and the world is not what we thought it was. Everything is new and open… For example, if you are sitting in your chair and you have a certain sensation arise in your body that your mind would immediately label fear, the innocence wouldn’t know that…

Innocence just looks with curiosity and asks, “What is it?” And it draws the sensation very close. It discovers what that sensation is through the experience rather than through the idea.
Adyashanti, Emptiness Dancing

I found these words this morning, after the fact, after deciding that I wanted to give an update on my complaint to Adya, last fall, that I felt as if I had become stuck as the witness.
So, here’s an update and how it relates to the fear and intense emotions I mentioned in my last blog.
The other day, I was at work when I abruptly stopped because I felt very strange and wondered what was happening. I just stood in the middle of the lab kind of looking this way and that totally perplexed and very ill at ease.
After a bit, I realized that in the past when I complained of witnessing, it was because my eyes looking out at the world saw (felt) that nothing was “Real.”
I didn’t (don’t) particularly enjoy this sense of unreality, of watching, of witnessing from some distant, privileged state of REALness.

The strangeness that now stopped me in my tracks was the noticing that my body and all its contents, that sense of center, were no more real than that “unreal” world I had experienced during witnessing.
I looked down at my torso. I looked out into the room. The two now seemed a seamless continuity of the Unreal.
I looked back at my torso and probed inside for my thoughts and feeling; again, there was seamless continuity - no difference between the inside and the outside of my body.
Suddenly, there was nothing of true substance, truly real.
This was not good news!
In fact, my discomfort seemed the central perception. I was Very uncomfortable, bubblings and turmoil in the body, something intensely physical was happening, but what?

Mind did not want to look too closely.
It felt as if I moved a muscle of mentality, of individual will, intention, or analysis the total strangeness of the situation would explode into total Chaos.
A thought came, “Do not do a thing.”
So, I allowed mind, emotions to simply hang there. My body I directed back to the small work-tasks at hand.
Eventually, another thought arose, “Jesus, the witness just collapsed!”
I let that thought go also.

Oddly, I discovered foretastes of this discomfort and process while viewing some “post literate asemic art.”
Now, the art seems the perfect illustration and I have to wonder about their power as mandalas.
I hope you take a click. The glyphs and dreamwork by John Ryan and Tony Burhouse and earlier December posts seemed to explode within my body. I had to leave immediately.
About a month ago, “The Systematic-Reductive-Dismantling” of Peter Ciccariello felt marvelously compelling: That’s it and I wanted to share.

Which brings me back around to the intensity of feelings I’ve been experiencing and Sarojini’s comment about barriers and collapse of a separate self, or witness:
…without any barriers in place (namely, the sense of a separate self) …these [emotional] energies are free to go from 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds.

Before that experience of the collapse of the witness, I decided that my emotional situation of late is more like a baby’s. Babies are happy until the instant they are not happy. Then they cry – 100%, all out. And then, it passes and it’s gone. There’s a clean slate. This is the innocence of babies’ emotions – no barriers. At first, I labeled this as learning “impulse control.” We call it “maturing” or “growing up.” That’s when I also realized you could also call it conditioning and that it coincides with acquiring a sense of self.

There is no need for an emotional barrier or the feeling of separation… The only reason you ever thought that you needed protection was because of a very innocent misunderstanding… when you were given a concept of yourself in very early childhood, you also received a kit with which to build walls that would protect this concept…This is very innocent. It happens without your knowing that it’s happening. It continues until you realize that inherent in this holding of “me” as a self-image in the mind and body is the belief that you need protection… When you drop your protection, the truth comes in and takes away the self-image.
Adyashanti, Emptiness Dancing

And you can also freakout a bit.
If you’d like to hear this collapse of self from another perspective, there’s a new interview with Sarojini on Buddha at the Gas Pump. She describes the severing of a cord connecting awareness and the body. (See discussion beginning around minute 17:45.)

Happy New Year! New You. No You.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dissolving: Ego and Personality

Sleeping Buddha
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
You will feel emotion like you have never felt before. There is now a quiet, steady center that is constantly present; however, when an emotion comes along, its energetic depth will surprise you. You will realize that without any barriers in place (namely, the sense of a separate self) that these energies are free to go from 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds.

I spent a good deal of Christmas Day gripped by fear and grief. Oddly, they weren’t at all in my mind. I can’t say why there was fear or why there was grief. Though there had been fleeting thoughts. The emotions seemed totally and intensely physical.
So, in a sense, I was fine. I curled up in bed and read. Outside, a winter storm arrived delivering a white Christmas.

Everything was fine, and still – my gosh!
Since Christmas, I’ve been experiencing intense fear. It grips my belly like broken glass. It stabs and breaks my heart. It electrifies my body.
It seems like there are no barriers anymore and the emotions just rip through.
What barriers were there to drop? I didn’t even notice. I’ll accept Sarojini’s explanation, “a sense of a separate self.”

Last night driving home from work once again I approached (ha! at the intersection of La Vista and Druid Hills, oh what a metaphorical stage)… I approached the question, “Who am I?”
As a response, in the midst of evening traffic and emotional blowout complete with streaming tears the words, “I cannot say!” seemed a desperate, desperate reply.
The inability to say, really bothered me – “me” which seems to have disappeared despite my driving the car, putting in an eight hour workday, and pitching emotional fits.

Even this morning, finding words is just too frustrating and physically painful.
So, I found some nice quotes I want to share.
Yesterday, I went back to the beginning with my books. The operative word was emptiness – there is a lot of that these days. So, I picked up Emptiness Dancing, by Adyashanti:

If my identity can take a break and I don’t disappear, “What am I then?” or rather, “What am I when I do disappear?”…

It has been said many times that the only people who don’t know who they are, are the ones who are awake. Everyone else knows… they are their script…
There is a state in which the mind says, “I have no idea who I am,” because it can’t find the right script. Awakening is the realization that happens after the mind says, “I give up. I just have no idea who I am.”
Emptiness Dancing p.11

Have I given up? I DON’T KNOW that either! There’s an awful lot of thrashing around that seems to counteract the claim. … which makes me laugh out loud.
I’ve been doing a lot of that these days too, bursting out in laughter.

I also have been wondering about the distinction between ego and personality.
People say that after awakening you still have a personality. How’s that differ from having an ego? Here is Eckhart Tolle’s take:

Ego is complete identification with your thinking and your emotions. When you are unconscious, personality and ego are one thing. As you awaken, you become more aware of your patterns, which may to some extent still operate…

As you awaken spiritually, the awareness that is nothing to do with your personality increases, and the power of the personality, with its conditioned patterns, decreases. Gradually, the personality is no longer opaque; it is transparent to the light of awareness, or consciousness. It loses its solidity. This is why you find that in people who are awake, or people who are awakening, there is more of a lightness to them…

Strictly speaking, before awakening, to a large extent, you don’t have a relationship with your personality; you are your personality.
If you can have a relationship with your personality – which is the ego, with its way of reacting and thinking, and emotions – who is having a relationship with the personality?

What that means is you are witnessing it. There is a witnessing consciousness there, and if there is a witnessing consciousness, then you can have a relationship with your personality.
What that really means is, you can be there as a witnessing presence when your ego is doing something silly. And you can laugh at yourself…

Thus endeth the lesson regarding ego, personality and laughter.
There is one more just for now, and that’s regarding fear, the heart, and emptiness. This comes from a fellow by the name Davidya:

In the first awakening, the mental idea of being a separate self, often called the ego, falls away. In the second cycle, the ‘crust’ on the heart falls away and it blossoms. In the second waking, the core identity falls away.
The core identity is the driver of the emotions/energy that in turn drives and sustains the ego-mind’s concepts and shadow story, it’s beliefs about the world. Because one arises from the other, they have a similar modus operandi and similar way of falling away. For example, the ego falls away when we become Self, but much of it’s supporting structure of related constructs often remains, trying to resurrect itself. I’ve referred to this as “ego shrapnel”. Adyashanti talks about minds attempts to return…

This increasing openness to what is, coupled with clearing of the old stories and dramas means the clouds start to really clear. What has been deeply sub-conscious, the core identity begins to be sensed, then seen. This is a purely fear based grip, holding the sense of separateness. Holding us from Oneness. As the core identity is seen and allowed, it falls away. Then the peripheral grips are seen and cleared, much as the ego shrapnel before, but more subtle and loud. (laughs) These are things like a deep need to know or to control or be seen or complete. While quiet, they often have had a profound impact on our life. They are often our core motivators to act, think, and feel. The clearing feels like one is being emptied out but what remains is fullness.

“Emptied out” –that’s what it feels like. All those emotions are just in this heatless burning away. It feels real correct to absolutely do nothing. Don’t try to find a word. Words are too inaccurate. Words can only distort. To insist, to do anything to impinge about what is happening only hurts. Physically, intensely hurts.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What is the Grass: Part One

blue leaf's revelation
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic, And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones…
Walt Whitman, A Child said, What is the Grass.

A friend has been encouraging me to inquire into the nature of my true self.
I am having difficulty with this task that she says is not that hard:
simply look and see.
But, it feels like racing a truck down a railroad track – bone jarring.
However, my friend will not let up and has no patience for a whiner.

So the other morning in the tub I was reflecting once again upon the question, “Who am I?”
I noticed that once again my immediate response was, “I don’t know.”
But then, as always, I wondered if perhaps that’s just a knee jerk.
Are those words really mine?
Or are they just the reflex of a spiritually indoctrinated mind.

So, I asked again, “Who am I?”
This time, new words came and they made all the difference in the world.
I heard quite clearly, “I cannot say.”

When I look inside and see that I am nothing, that is wisdom.
When I look outside and see that I am everything, that is love.

Ah, he couldn’t seem to settle either.
And, I wonder if it’s even necessary to decide; “I am this” or “I am that.”
I will be Whatever I Am with or without an answer chatting in my brain.
… though, I probably will suffer if I haven’t really seen…
if I really do not know.

Sometimes, I am amazed by an emptiness.
Emptiness started within me and spread to encompass what is outside. I’m surprised to discover that it feels very different from nothingness.
Sometimes I feel as if I am no-one. Who am I? - nobody.
Nothingness feels more akin to no-self, emptiness more like an empty glass.

Sometimes there is Silence and that certainly seems like something: an ocean that can drown you. Silence stunningly loud arises out of nowhere with the slightest provocation. A fly pings into the lamp shade and suddenly: The Ocean of Unbounded Silence is Here.
My friend says Silence is no-self. I can see the logic, but, I cannot say, “I’m That.”
Nor do I appear to be the Nothingness, the Emptiness, the Silence.  I can be a nobody.  And what's amazing is it changes nothing!  Life does not require that I be here.  Body, mind, talking, work activity carry on just fine. (Which is not to say it isn't a bit freaky.)

Sometimes, I notice what has always been: simple awareness, the screen of consciousness which allows a mind to be conscious of all the this and thats.
Yes. That is who I am, from the moment I was born: that non-changing consciousness, pure awakeness, a awakfulness that remains even in deep sleep.
I cannot call this no-self; I have to call it Self.

I seem a What more than a Who.
And sometimes I lose direct experience.
And sometimes, I do not care if I cannot say.

Somehow in the midst of all this reverie, I came across Walt Whitman.
He seems quite comfortable with not answering the “WHO” directly.
He pours his Self into Creation and ends his poem about the grass with these stunning words:

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

What is the Grass: Part Two

Awakening is instantaneous. Clarity takes place in space-time.
Attributed to Jean Klein

I had lunch last Sunday with two old friends from my TM teaching days. I’d not seen either in almost thirty years, though I have been chatting with one fellow this past year via email.
But, this was the first time we’d sat together sharing warm food and physical presence.

It was not just a coming home to my youth, but also to my spiritual roots; a thirty year check-in regarding what we had learned? And, what had become of our hopes?
Mark has taken Buddhist vows. Graham is a yoga instructor. And still we seek.

I asked them to look within and tell me the answer to; “Who are you?”
We all experienced the simple awareness that is the screen for all the play of Life.
However, no one would claim awakening or enlightenment (the word we’d set our hearts on).

Each had a reason for denial: Mark still freaked about money. Graham, dear Graham so gentle and smooth, spoke of insomnia.
And I got totally confused.

Yes, it seems I have found my true Self… but there is also sometimes a “no-self.”
Self is a fullness that experiences.
So, what is this experience of “no-self?

There is no one there: No one to have a thought, No one to feel the emotion.
That seems to be the answer Inquiry seeks.
And I just don’t see how that could ultimately be as I obviously have a self and not a no-self.

“What is no-self?” I felt quite desperate, knotted up, holding my head.
Mark said, “No small-self.”
Well, DUH! I knew that!
“No-self” extinguishes small-self. It was as if something untwisted in my psyche, as if belief and assumptions exists physically. And then like some rubber band, the twist wants to reassert itself and immediately confusion returns.

I take small-self as something small and illusory… like a tree, or a truck.
Illusory trees and trucks make much sense to me. I experience them as illusory, not really real.
And too, I respect their solidity. I’ve live with this paradox each day for years.
Now more lately, small-self seems like the trucks: merely a ghost, but a ghost that’s still in play.
Personal identity remains. Call out, “Patty!” and I turn around.

The next day, I came across these words:
Feeling myself as somebody experiencing Truth, that changed into I am That.
So there was no longer somebody experiencing Truth…. Before that moment there was still a separation… a going into freedom and then back into experience of personality. Like they were two separate experiences… [after that] it was simultaneous.
Kranti Ananta, interview around minute 50.

These words rang a bell with me. “Somebody experiencing Truth… still a separation.”
Yes! I am waiting for the epiphany in which, “I am That,” tolls out.
Well, I read it in a book. I heard it in a video. I have this belief that that is what happens.
And then, you are awake.
(I’m smiling. Are you?)

The me-story is like a fan going. You can turn off the switch and it takes a while to slow down. When this slowed down I stopped allowing my energy going into the me-story… Now that’s automatic… The me-story is “swoosh!”… but the triggers can still happen, the body gets like kind of a hit and feels fear, or whatever can be there, and the body knows this is the moment to meet what wants to be free.
Kranti Ananta, interview around minute 55.

Now these words reminded me very much of what Adyashanti said regarding what it’s like to be awake:

A thought can come that can cause an instant of grasping, that can cause a momentary experience of a certain separateness… when it does happen, the gap between it happening and the seeing through it is very small… at a certain point, the gap between the arising of a sticky thought and its disappearance becomes so narrow that the arising and disappearing is almost simultaneous.
Adya interview with Tami Simon

Coincidentally, as I looked for the above quote, I also came across these words which took me by complete surprise. Strangely, I had remembered the above words and apparently forgotten these from the very same interview:

Awakening is not experiencing vast, infinite space, feeling spacious or expanded or blissful or whatever. These feelings may be by-products of awakening…
Awakening … is a change of perspective.
Everything we thought was real is seen to not be real at all; it’s more like a dream that’s happening within the infinite expanse of emptiness.
What is actually real is the infinite expanse of emptiness.

Oh well, there you go. (laughing) That seems really straight forward. This is the story of the illusory trucks.

One final thought. A friend sent me this link to Shinzen Young, with the simple explanation, “Saw this and thought of you.”
At the time, a couple days before my Sunday brunch, I thought it excellent and beautiful, really not much help… except, it kind of grew on me.

Song of the Evening

And so at times we talk, and I pretend to take your struggles seriously, just as I pretended to take my own seriously… we really shouldn’t forget that we are pretending… we are making up the little dramas of our lives.
We are making up whether we need to hold on or surrender or figure it out or pray to God or be purified or have karma cleansed—it’s all a thought.
Adyashanti, It All Comes back to Nothing

I was just pulling into my driveway last night after work when this came on the radio.
Seems the PERFECT celebration of the me-story! And I just broke into laughter, two hands on the steering wheel singing along: Dup doo bee wahhhh.

You know the me-story?
That’s where you actually believe the drama and the suffering.
Except songs like this reveal that deep down… you know that that’s not really true.

But, then again, why not strut it across the stage?
If you really know, then the song and dance become the Play and Display.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


When I walk the streets and see the faces of people, I am seeing the faces of all the friends I have ever had. All of the history I have ever had with one person, is a history I share with all human beings. Every face is beauty of the deepest intimacy…

Every thing about them is held out like a timeline, and it is all known in an instant. I feel that I could walk up to any of them, put my hand on their face, and feel all the love I have ever known for any human, to the core of every being.
Takuin Minamoto

Last Saturday, I went to the funeral of a man I had never met, the husband of a friend I see only infrequently and then mostly we shut our eyes and meditate. I knew Donald was an artist, a sculptor. And I knew he and Brenda had fought his cancer for a long time. But, from the moment I stepped towards the chapel I fell into discovery.
“Oh, Donald was black!” … I hadn’t even known him skin deep.
He was 80, a Guyanese expatriate, father, grandfather, uncle, story teller, life-long friend, teacher, and connoisseur of the stupid.

I read his poetry and was blown open:

What is there at the heart of the land?
What is there at the kernal of the nut
inside the buried bones of all those devils we know
the angels we wished to have known
the lines of muddy canals we didn’t swim in
river-water pelting down from the backdam…

What a man to find now that he is gone!
“Why is it my friends and I seem to share our families only at funerals?”
“Why do we wait until it is too late?” This was the thought that brought the tears.

On the drive home, the words above of Takuin came to mind.
Last week I had been trying to remember, trying to figure out why they seemed so familiar. Now, I began to see.

They say that Awakening is remembering, remembering who we really are.
They say that Unity is seeing oneself in all of Creation.
But, I wonder how does that Unity actually feel? What is the experience? What is it like to actually live that consciousness?

Scott Kiloby says, “Oneness. Is that like spreading butter over a piece of toast?” He rejects this “sameness” and goes on to point out that a whole body has arms and legs - all these little details.
Adya switched the word from Oneness to “intimacy” and something clicked with me.
Yes, that makes more sense.

It is intimacy that Takuin speaks of with such depth.
And I remember now, there are those times when suddenly I see a mere acquaintance with such intimacy. As if with new eyes, instantly and effortlessly, I know them as a child. I see them as adult. I see them deeply and with such seeing love immediately arises.

Remembering that, knowing that such intimacy is possible and that usually I miss it, tore my heart wide open at the funeral of the man I never knew.
My God! WAKE UP! … well…

Turns out, Donald Locke loved the opera.
Acknowledging this love his family played the duet from Act One of Bizet's “Pearl Fishers,” two men singing of their friendship.
The music says it all, without a single word needing interpretation.
We all know this.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Song of the Day, indeed.

All are mere words, of what use are they to you? You are entangled in the web of verbal definitions and formulations. Go beyond your concepts and ideas; in the silence of desire and thought the truth is found.

I regularly drop by Takuin Minamoto’s website for a bit of beauty. He keeps things simple and his words often hit like poetry. They resonate deeply, but I cannot always explain just how.
It is enough simply to be brought to tears.
I have faith the rest will take care of itself.

So this morning early, I spun the dial at Life Beyond the Image and found this entry entitled: Energy, Ghosts, and Life After Death.
It felt germane.

… it is not so odd to feel these sensations as you go about your day, although it is probably infrequent. But they are not ghosts, at least not in the way we think of that term….

When I walk the streets and see the faces of people, I am seeing the faces of all the friends I have ever had. All of the history I have ever had with one person, is a history I share with all human beings. Every face is beauty of the deepest intimacy.

When I see them, I know their entire history. Every thing about them is held out like a timeline, and it is all known in an instant. I feel that I could walk up to any of them, put my hand on their face, and feel all the love I have ever known for any human, to the core of every being. (Of course, we don’t go putting our hands on people’s faces…it is just not that kind of society.)
Takuin Minamoto

There is something so familiar here, something behind or within these words that seems to rip my heart open and send tears down my cheek.
Something in me knows, says “Yes.”
And yet I cannot articulate just what it is I know; what I have forgotten.

I was mulling all this over as I drove to work.
How to pass these words, this sweet little blossom from Takuin, along?
And then on the radio, there came this song,
perfect, perfect antithesis rounding out another whole:

I was laughing.  I was humming.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Sometimes We Need a Story

Jumping into the bathwater
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
Medical journals educate physicians with statistical information and are not interested in stories about unexpected remissions and recovery.
Yet stories can change beliefs and beliefs affect us at the cellular level.
Jean Shinoda Bolen, Close to the Bone, chapter 7: sometimes we need a story.

Emotions are not in the head. There’s a cellular consciousness. There’s a wisdom in every cell. Every single cell has receptors on it. The emotional energy comes first, and then peptides are released all over…. Consciousness precedes matter. It’s not like a peptide creates the feeling. The feeling creates the peptide, on some level.
Candace Pert, in Close to the Bone

There is no such thing as false hope.
Michael Lerner, in Close to the Bone

Mary and I met with Evie the evening before she was to start her next go round of chemo. It was our prelude to what Evie had called the atomic bomb of chemo and the stem cell transplant.

The day before I had sent around a story I’d found about a fellow, Bob Ellal, who had undergone two stem cell transplants and been given by his doctor one chance in 20,000 of it working. Well, he’s been cancer free for more than 12 years now. And he has a nice concise list of what to do. We’ve been doing most of this, but it was good to just see it written out so plainly, and he included one point we haven’t articulated real clearly:

Find someone in your life—besides yourself—to live for. This may seem like a strange statement—isn’t it enough to want to survive? You will find that after large doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation you will sometimes be so sick that you will feel like quitting. That’s the time to remember that other people need you to survive.

I liked this particularly.
As it turned out, many of us had gotten a boost from Bob Ellal’s story, and so we were gathering to meditate already feeling some momentum of “being ready.”  Still, Evie spoke of how she'd turned inside.  She didn't know if it was hiding like retreating to a cave, but she knew it brought a piece.
It seemed to me she was giving her own words for going into her soul, her higher self.
As a closing exercise we decided that Eve would try getting in touch with an animal form or what my Taoist teacher calls “the lower higher self.”
Eve thought for a moment, saying she wasn’t sure what that animal would be. She liked the butterfly. The turtle had come up with the tumor they’d removed, but more recently she was coming across the bear as healing energy.

“Oh,” I said. “You don’t choose the animal. They come to you and take ahold.”
With that we did bows and began.

Afterwards, I asked, “Who came?” She said – the snake.
We had a good laugh over that.
I had really hoped for a mammal of some sort, something strong and furry. Or a power-bird with warrior feathers – that would be just fine.
But a snake? Eewww!

Then, I recalled Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Goddess in Everywoman, a book I had loved back in the ‘80s. It was there I first learned of women and snakes. When women come into their power they tend to have a lot of dreams about snakes:
The image of the snake is one of the major symbols that you might be drawn to. It may show up in a dream about transformation and transition.

The next day I went on a search to see what exactly Dr. Bolen said about snakes. I discovered she had written a new book, Close to the Bone: Life Threatening Illness as a Journey of the Soul.
I have ordered it from Amazon, but wanted to share some of her words today:

Whenever or however that line from health to illness is crossed, we enter the realm of soul...
We lose an innocence, we know vulnerability, we are no longer who we were before this event, and we will never be the same.

A life threatening illness calls to the soul, taps into spiritual resources, and can be an initiation into the soul realm for the patient and for anyone else who is touched by the mystery that accompanies the possibility of death.

Once we take soul seriously, a whole different premise opens up.
If we have a soul--and this is one of the innate beliefs that human beings do have--then we are spiritual beings on a human path rather than human beings who may or may not be on a spiritual path.

The journey of spiritual beings on a human path holds major questions that have to do with the big picture at each major transition fork in the road.
What did I come to do?
What did I come to learn?
Who did I come to love?

… and How long do they need me to love them?
These are good questions for all of us.
The answers will be the stories we need.
The answers will reveal how truly blessed we are.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Even The Terrible

Can you imagine a world without certainty?
The wind rises the wind falls...

Are you afraid?
Somewhere a thousand swans are flying
through the winter's worst storm.
They are white and shining, their black beaks
open a little, the red tongues flash.
Now, and now, and now, and now their heavy wings
rise and fall as they slide across the sky...

It is the nature of stone
to be satisfied.
It is the nature of water
to want to be somewhere else...

This the poem of goodbye.
And this is the poem of don't know.
Mary Oliver, Gravel

A couple days ago I read one of those Thanksgiving articles entitled Even the Terrible Seems Beautiful to Me Now. The writer, Mary Schmich, was reflecting upon a statement her elderly mother made a few months before she died.

That phrase has stuck in my mind ever since.
Even the terrible seems beautiful…
I knew it could be true, but I didn’t really get it.

Then, Evie phoned with the news. Her cancer has come back.
The last time she’d called with such news my immediate response had been such anger.
This time I wanted to throw up.

Even the terrible seems beautiful…

I don’t know.
I had trouble sleeping last night. I wish I could really get it.
The terrible… beautiful?

I am suppose to be part of Evie’s support system, the philosophical old aunt…
well, not always.
This morning dear Evie gave that gift to all of us.
She was right there sharing her strength. She sent along this song that made me see.

Hidden inside the terrible – is LOVE.
And that’s what makes it beautiful.
And that’s what makes it Life and wondrous… if only our hearts can stand it.
Now, and now, and now, and now... this is the poem of don't know.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Pain of Not Knowing

Wraith of the Desert
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
In the Zen monastery, in the zendo, the meditation hall, watches are not allowed. And I’ve noticed that here, during the meditation, some people keep checking the time. Like, gee, I wonder how much longer I’m going to have to sit here? Is he late? Is he torturing me again? Or whatever!

It’s really recommended during meditation periods that you keep your watch somewhere you won’t see it. Otherwise you’re denying yourself the pain of not knowing. And that’s an endless detour. Don’t deny yourself the pain of not knowing! That’s a very powerful and important pain.
It seems quite harmless, of course, “Oh, I’m just looking at my watch. Just want to see what time it is. I want to know, is it ten more minutes, thirty more minutes, one more minute?” But again, that’s a detour around something that can be very powerful.
Because ultimately it’s all about not knowing.
That’s really the secret teaching.
Jon Bernie, The Pain of Not Knowing

These were the words I read aloud last night as we began our meditation. I’d come across them just that afternoon and they’d rung a bell with me.
They took me back to Monday when I was surprisingly disturbed after the sonogram they did to assess the thyroid nodule in my neck.
It was easy for my mind to say I was upset because, “What if it’s cancer?” was rattling around.
However, it wasn’t long before I knew that wasn’t really the issue, but rather a lame excuse.
The real issue was I wanted a few minutes to have a good cry and be with the feeling, “There’s nothing underneath me. I don’t know what will happen.”
But, instead of the luxury of a cry I was at work, sitting at my desk, and expected to repeat yet another biology experiment.

I called a friend. I told her about the sonogram. She immediately said, “Don’t give those thoughts any energy!” She meant the cancer deal.
I told her that although those thoughts were running, it was more just being on my own, living alone, not knowing what would happen… and even that wasn’t what was really bothering me. What I really wanted was a chance to cry.
This she understood and it wasn’t long before we were laughing about the privacy of bathroom stalls in public halls and weirding out co-workers.

That was Monday.
Last night as I left work, I revisited these events amazed to discover my complete ambivalence. I tried to find the words:
It seemed impossible to worry about the sonogram or what might lie ahead.
It seemed impossible to even pick up the thoughts.
It was as if they slipped right through the fingers of my mind. So, I kept I looking for the correct description until the word “peace” occurred.
Yes. That was it. I was at peace, despite nothing having been resolved on the level of facts and information.

Somehow the words of Jon Bernie addressed this transformation.

As it turned out, Mary liked them because she could never know why her son had died so young.
Eve liked them because she is living with the unknowns surrounding her cancer treatment.
She spoke of how with so many unknowns personal control is lost and in the end you are simply left with faith.
I took that to mean you just have to have faith: that there is a God,
that God will do what’s best, that in the end it all works out… Faith.
And I wasn’t so sure she felt that she could find that.

For a moment no one said anything. We all just sat there quietly, and I couldn’t find the words to explain what I wanted to say… which is this:
There’s faith (like that) and there’s also something else.

Jon Bernie's little exercise of noticing, notice how we even want to know the time, is the practice round for allowing yourself to notice the big deals.
“My God, I don’t know how I’ll get through this!”
It’s about giving yourself totally to “I don’t know.”
How does that feel?

If you can be with that terror, or that pain, or whatever feeling that arises and let it run its course you are delvered into God, into Peace.
Faith is not required (though it can be another way to get there).
Bernie is speaking of a more direct path that runs right through your body and delivers you directly.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Song of the Day

I see her pearly decks, my love,
Set in with twinkling specks, my love,
I see her pearly mast, my love
Far from her seashell past
And gently does she sway
All on her starry way.
Voyage of the Moon

Bennie and I take our morning walk before dawn when the neighborhood is still quiet, though people are beginning to stir.
This morning the sky was particularly clear, the air particularly still. I looked up at the stars finding a rotated Big Dipper, Orion’s Belt – or maybe not. Who knew?
Bennie pulled me along, sniffing here and there, poking into nooks.
I enjoyed letting myself feel just how it was we existed in that air, how we moved in that silence, and the softness that gives a wholeness.

We had made the rounds of the cul de sacs and where headed towards home when I noticed a very bright star low in the east.
It seemed the brightest planet I have ever seen, bright even though the sky had begun to lighten.
Or maybe planets loom larger at that low angel, just as the harvest moon appears so large as it rises.
Doesn’t matter, that star was something. I marveled at its bright light.

And then, in no time, we came upon a dog Bennie simply cannot stand, and I got to focus on desensitizing his conditioning around “other.”
He did better than our last encounter and earned a lot of yummies.
But, we’ll keep working on that.

Later, on the drive to work the radio played this Mary Hopkin song.
Made me recall the dawn.
Made me appreciate being awake... however that may appear.
Made me think of the journey we all are on and how sweet that it can be.

I hope you too have the time to enjoy the song.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What the Holy Books Never Tell You

… people are not so interested in seeing themselves as they really are…they would rather pine for what they think they should be.
Takuin Minamoto

There seem to be new issues arising each day making each day a somewhat uncomfortable time and leaving last week’s or yesterday’s experience old news.
Meanwhile, I’ve not posted anything. I cringe to do so, but I’ll leave a note, as this is what I wrote last week and it still is getting played out in a variety of ways:

I feel like I am being dragged towards an awful conclusion.
As I keep listening to interviews on Buddha at the Gas Pump, there’s a panic rising in me.
There’s a growing suspicion that what I’m calling “stuck in the witness” is what Maharishi called Cosmic Consciousness, or what others call “awake.”

Now, Adya has said he’s never met anyone who wasn’t totally surprised by what they awaken to. And if you listen to the Buddha interviews, several people say just that. “It’s not what you expect!”
So, perhaps I shouldn’t have been all that surprised this morning when as I listened to Andy Shulman describing his awakening I was hit by the thought, “Shit, this is it?!”

I broke into tears of utter disappointment.
I really thought I’d be a better person.
Despite experiencing what “awakened” individuals describe, I have continued to discount the possibility that I am awake because it is so obvious, “I am still so messed up.”

But something about how Andy spoke made it obvious and I just broke into sobs.
Disappointment broke my heart for about a half minute until I had a second thought, “Oh, this is the wrong response!”
As if to highlight the issue - I can’t even respond to the good news in the correct manner.
Sobbing immediately became belly laughter.

I would love to have a map of the spiritual territory; one that draws the line between the counties of Ignorance and Awakened straight and true and definite.
I’d love to have a pushpin I could slowly, deliberately stick in “Here” – right there one step over the line sweet Jesus.
Yeah, well.
There isn’t such a map, so get on with life.

A few hours later I went online to read what Sarojini might have to say. She has several articles posted and I chose at random.
Imagine my surprise as I discovered these words:

Today I would like to take the time to address some things that you may never have heard about which happens upon or after Awakening / Enlightenment / Liberation. These happenings are usually never mentioned in the holy books, or if they are, they are totally ignored…

1.) Awakening or Enlightenment is the last great disappointment of ego. In that non-instant there is the bewildered declaration of: "Are you kidding me!?" followed by utter perplexity that eventually yields to the deepest laughter ever encountered. Most of the "Awake" (or subsequent books about Awakening) discuss the laughter. However, the laughter doesn't come first; at first you will be baffled and will, more than likely, feel slightly let down for a few short moments. …

2.) No one will notice a thing. Your closest friends and family will, more than likely, not see much of a change. You will not glow. Angels will not surround your home. Buddha will not come knocking at your door to welcome you into "the club". You may actually become more annoying to those closest to you…. your loved ones …could care less about your latest discovery (which, to them, is likely to be just another "aha" among a long journey of "aha's" that you've shared with them umpteen times before)…

3.) You will feel emotion like you have never felt before. There is now a quiet, steady center that is constantly present; however, when an emotion comes along, its energetic depth will surprise you. You will realize that without any barriers in place …that these energies are free to go from 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds. And they will… Do not be surprised and, by all means, do not attempt to block this from happening…

These points kind of blew me away, they fit so perfectly.
And now, I just want to stop thinking about the details: just drop it, drop it, drop it. STOP.
But, I am out here in the world and it’s uncomfortable.

Tuesday, in my meditation group I was trying to explain how totally empty my life feels. I have no goals, no interests. It’s a bit amazing that I don’t see this as depression. Rather, I’m just empty. My friends just kind of stared and appeared a bit worried. Eve reached out and touched my hand.
I worry that I’m wasting precious life and time, but I can’t think of anything to do…
even as I shoot off emails to family about micro-hydropower plans, pond construction and yurts, and panning for gold in North Georgia.
I’m happy about new family projects, but this occurs in emptiness that is inescapable.

Which brings me to about an hour ago, when I found the perfect summary… of what?
What I now believe to be a good description of the terrain. Bring in the pushpin! Finally a place to set it.
I want to share these words because they fit so well.
I want to share this link because I want people to know about this part of the path – and I cannot bear to say any more about myself.

This is a blog entry from Gina Lake (a new face to me) wife of the teacher, Nirmala, and a student of Adyashanti. It’s entitled: What Happens After Awakening.
It is concise and right to the point.
Maybe now, I can simply stop and just allow the thoughts to drop.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Stuck in the Witness

Red Cube
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
Bit by bit, if we are sincere, we begin to see each time we fixate. Somewhere, somehow, at some point in time, something in us realizes that our awakening is not complete.

...At first it [witnessing] was wonderful and amazing and transformative and profound. But over time, I started to have this intuition, this little voice that said, “This isn’t the whole thing. This isn’t oneness; this isn’t unity.” The witness was perceived as being totally free of the human being that I imagined myself to be. But the illusion that the witness was different from what was being witnessed remained. For me, as for many people, the next phase of the journey of awakening was the collapse of the witnessing position.

It starts to collapse when we see that if witnessing is different from the witness, then there is an inherent division. Letting yourself see this division is the beginning of the collapse of the external witness.

With that collapse, you can start to see the elements of ego that are using the witnessing position as a way to hide, to not be touched by life, to not feel certain feelings, to not encounter our lives directly and intimately in a gritty, human way.
Adyashanti, The End of Your World

At the retreat last month I asked Adya about being stuck in witnessing.
I have no idea how to implement his “answer” and in fact he said, “I can’t tell you how to do this.”
I have to discover the next step for myself.
So, I am reviewing just a bit some teachings on witnessing.

The more we realize that who we are is totally outside of time, outside of the world, and outside of everything that happens, the more we realize that this same presence is the world----all that is happening and all that exists. It is like two sides of a coin. This experiential awakening is not rare, and no one teaches it to you.**

It seems a part of this process is to simply stop.
No more thoughts, the analysis. No more me-ing. Stop.
And, there is a strong pull to do just that.
But there is also a reactive struggle to pull myself out of that stillness:
To think, just a bit more. To dance and thus avoid the Void, just a moment longer.
So, I read on…

When we are no longer functioning through our conditioning, the sense of “me” is no longer there. What really runs and operates this life is love. ... one will find that “I” am the silence between two thoughts. You are nobody. You are this openness, this presence. You are not a creation of thought, belief or faith. It is free of all identity. It is the uncreated.

And right there it seems is where the getting stuck occurs.
I perceive the openness and presence and yet do not identify it as “me.”
I have been assuming that some thought will arise that recognizes the Vastness as “me.”
But, that may not be true.
Maybe that belief needs to be dropped.
But meanwhile, old habits die hard and I have to ask:

Where am I? What can I identify as “me”?

It seems I do not know. Awareness comes through my eyes. It seems to flow from an unboundedness inside and it looks out through the eyes to see another unboundedness: The World.

I feel like merely a point. Sometimes, I am the toggle point between the two infinites. Sometimes, I occupy an area no bigger than a thumb print rattling around in the vastness. I’ve become no thicker, no more substantial, than the thin inky outline a thumb print leaves upon a blank white page. But, I remain substantial enough to be uncomfortable in the expansiveness. Substantial enough to want to reach out and touch someone, or something, just to kind of steady myself and my individuality for a moment.
And, I am substantial enough to desire to be done with all this. Enough!

Trying to hold on to one’s identities, even if it is the holiest of identities, is like shoving a camel through the eye of a needle. However... Not a shred of self-centred identity can go through, only nothingness can.

A friend told me that this is about unconditional love. Yes!
Adya said I had to learn how to witness from the heart.
I replied my heart would break.
The separation of the witness is intolerable to the heart.

Well, enough said for now.
I’d like to offer another link to Buddha at the Gas Pump and an interview with Takuin Minamoto regarding his spontaneous awakening. His description of a Vastness that has somehow scattered the components of memory and self-identity into such a great space as to render them no longer relevant feels very familiar to me. It is exactly this blowing to the winds that my little mind(?) or ego(?) is attempting to avoid by its refusal to stop. I can feel the larger amount of energy such a “holding things together” requires.
But, what a disaster for an ego – to be simply blown away! So, for now it holds on
… even as the heart is breaking to go Home.

** While I originally thought these and the remaining quotes below were Adya’s words, I think these are actually the words of an essay by Dr Tan Kheng Khoo describing Adya’s teachings. But they are so close, it is hard for me to tell.

Redemption Song

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
'Cause none of them can stop the time…
Won't you help to sing
This songs of freedom-
'Cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs

Bob Marley

From this morning’s drive time we have the song of the day. I hope you are going slowly enough to enjoy it.

I’d also like to pass along this link to Buddha at the Gas Pump, a wonderful compendium of interviews about ordinary people waking up. I have been enjoying these stories and finding in them an aid for dropping the beliefs I hold regarding what is and isn’t possible, about what is true and not true.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Reporting In

Sunken Spoon
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
You took the part that once was my heart
So why not take all of me
…Willie Nelson sings it fine

September 10 - 17th I went up to the Omega Institute for a 7 day silent retreat with Adyashanti.
This is something of a report back.

Last night a friend asked if there was anything I needed to talk about regarding the retreat. No, not really. I didn’t have any particular tale to tell. Except, we were having dinner and conversation is nice. So we talked and maybe it’d be nice to share some of that discussion (or a completely different one) here.

The retreat did cause some shifts in perspective. It’s made me pull out my old copy of Collision with the Infinite by Suzanne Segal, a TM-teacher and contemporary, who had an abrupt shift to no-self and struggled mightily for the next 12 years. I’m concluding, now, that Maharishi prepared us for enlightenment with teachings that haven’t serve our minds that well. And criticism here is not directed at MMY so much as one’s mind and just what minds do. Minds form preconceptions and misconceptions and sometimes perform out right deceptions.

To be specific: Maharishi taught that Cosmic Consciousness was the first stage of enlightenment. Here, the Self is realized as infinite and separate from activity – and Suzanne and I both expected that to mean we would be filled with joy. I had to dig deeply in my notes to find Maharishi actually said, this wasn’t the end of an ego. He did say a mind that doesn’t understand can rob you of living the full benefit of the enlightened state.

I expected that in Cosmic Consciousness I’d be a “better person”…if not incredible.
Now, I am sure it doesn’t play out that way. Seems like, waking up is where the real work starts.
To another friend, wanting to know about Retreat, I was trying to explain that now it seems to me that “teachings” provide a treasure map with the landmarks of awakening all drawn out. What the teachers don’t explain is that these guideposts can appear in any order along the path and with differing degrees of intensity so that some aren’t even recognized for what they are.
“Oh! I would have described it this way…”
Segal was terrified that no-self meant insanity.

Retreat has got me thinking that what I thought of as “really intense witnessing” actually is my version of “no-self.”
It took really hearing Adya say “no-self means Life no longer has a center” for it to click inside my brain. Oh, God, that’s what happened that time at work! The boss wanted to discuss experiments at the white board and I was in shear panic inside, the mind screaming, “How can we do that?”
Memory holds the starkness of the vision of the room and now I notice it looked that way because the distance between witness and world had expanded to such a degree that the witness had finally snapped off.
“I” was missing. So who was going to talk genetics with George?

It’s terrifying. And Suzanne describes it well. Her descriptions coupled to the echo of what Adya said, “Life no longer has a center,” seems to let understanding in more deeply.
(And, for the record, the science went just fine. I even presented good ideas.)

But, such witnessing is an extreme event.
So, I finally asked Adya the question that’s been bothering me for years.
It went something like this:
“I am afraid I have become stuck in witnessing. I look out through my eyes and nothing appears really Real. There is always separation.”
I know – this is not a question. It is a complaint and plea.
Adya said he couldn’t tell me how to do it. I’d have to intuit it for myself. But, I needed to witness from my heart. Not my head.

Ah, the heart… I knew that. Maharishi had explained that.
But, I’ve no idea how it is my head witnesses. It just does. So, how to do this from the heart is beyond my comprehension.
I know my heart needs to open, to be totally unguarded.
It was breaking as I spoke of the constant separation.
Adya spoke of those statues where Jesus exposes this flaming heart…

And I have to smile. I have a friend who’ll bring me one from Mexico where they make them beautifully from tin.
I think of Dorothy and her Tin Man… whose heart was fine all along.

Suzanne Segal’s story beautifully illustrates how the conditioned mind can throw a fit, kicking up so much dust you miss what you’ve been blessed with. I have had so many doubts.
But, mind can only protest as Life Unfolds in its own way.
Segal was plunged rawly into no-self. I am slipping slowly.
I am left Witnessing - dancing on the Void – my little self having received the news of its non-existence refuses to accept the denouement.

OK. Whatever. Go ahead and dance.
Which is where Willie Nelson came in this morning singing:
All of me, why not take all of me…
And I danced for Bennie, all around the kitchen, singing to myself softly…
Why not take all of me…

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sailing Off The Edge

Bath Tub Truth
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
There’s a phenomenon happening in the world today.
More and more people are waking up – having real, authentic glimpses of reality.
By this I mean that people seem to be having moments where they awaken out of their familiar senses of self, and out of their familiar senses of what the world is, into a much greater reality…
Adyashanti, The End of Your World

They (the doctors) will tell you, they will practically shout: “There is a cure. Do this!”
But, if I read the data carefully I cannot find this “fact.”

Instead, I find right in black and white and I am practically quoting here:
Doctors treating Hodgkins make assumptions the greatest being that chemo followed by stem cell transplant is better than chemo alone.
Read on down and they also put it bluntly: there is no modern study that proves this.
And then, they try to explain why overall survival is not improved… 40-50% of transplants relapse; regular chemo can produce multiple remissions, but they do not hold.
The statistics become a mess. The news is not that good.

But, Eve has to make a choice and so we continue reading.
I am used to reading “the literature.”
I am used to the tedious flipping back and forth between the first page and the fourth or third and double checking references.
Science literature is not read in a relaxing armchair. It is attacked at your desk with a pen and calipers and an intellect that would vivisect a kitten.
But, I am totally surprised that in cancer new articles appear daily.

So now, I can get pissed when a doctor says he’ll give oral busulfan when intravenous is proven better.
All the facts keep changing, ever changing.

I am not used to knowing the latest before the doctors can switch their routines – not when a loved one’s life may depend upon what’s new.
At times it feels like we’ve sailed off the edge of the world
Into this Void of No One Knows.

If you read back through this blog you’ll find a trail of rants as to “reality” and “knowing” or “not knowing.”
But, these past few weeks Eve and her Hodgkins seem to have transposed that spiritual lesson into such a nitty-gritty reality that previous struggles seem like pie in the sky indulgence.

Or, maybe they were just a prelude.

We (the world) know so much.
The world is truly linking up to form a new collective consciousness that can tackle problems. No one person can think it through. Not with cancer.
The factoids float. They swarm. They flood and overwhelm.

All these facts somehow have to come together or at least get waded through.
How do we part the waters?

We (the world) know so much…and I am only led to realize: No one knows!
Not really.
All we can do is slip a foot forward through the muddy waters and test to see if slippery rocks beneath feel steady enough to bear our weight.
One step forward, does it feel all right?

It has to be a feeling, not a certainty or fact.
Cause no one really knows.

Get used to it.
Get used to it and where that leaves you.

We have sailed off the edge.
The bottom has dropped out.
And where are we now?

Sit quietly (I know that is not easy)
But, sit quietly.

Sail off the edge…
into the lap of God.

…what is experienced, if it is a true awakening, is the same: all is one; we are not a particular thing or a particular someone that can be located in a particular space;
what we are is both nothing and everything, simultaneously.
Adyashanti, The End of Your World

Saturday, August 14, 2010

No One Particular

This muggy summer morning on my back deck I wrote more contributions to the apparently on-going series “Bad Poetry.”
If you’d prefer a real poem, I invite you to go here: Sondra Gash’s Rugelah, 5 a. m.
or, stay here and proceed forewarned.

No One Particular
You needn’t be anyone particular
to hear cicadas in the summer, that buzz
upon the air crescendo diminution
here, there, and once again
you needn’t be anyone.

Cicadas sing not to “his wife” nor “her mother”
but to you the you before all That
to This.
transparency to transparency
without particulars
you can become the details

Well, that didn’t really do it for me, so I sat there a while longer and came up with this.

The Fool
The knot upon my wrist says “arthritis.”
I say, Oh no! When did that happen?
When did I grow old? And will it hurt? And
what will I do now
now that I am old and no longer young and
able. Able to be foolish and so full of life –
Was I ever that? That full, I mean.
Certainly I was foolish.
Hell, I still am and shall always be.
Oh! To capture youth in foolishness.
Surely we can all do this.
Surely we shall remain capable and able
and perhaps more perfect in our foolishness
as we grow old.

No more denial. Self aware: The Fool.
Now isn’t that an archetype – the old, old
fool you meet upon the road and only
later wonder, “Who was that masked man?”
A fool certainly; a sage, a saint perhaps?

I hear laughter coming from the woods, somewhere
deep inside the woods, somewhere I
cannot yet venture.
I must grow older before I’ve strength to go there.

With thanks to HystericalBoredom for the video.
She understands.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Baker & Rosemary
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
I had walked the halls and returned to my desk still ill at ease and at a loss for what to do.
(Sometimes in the lab, there are these waiting days.) And I Googled around a bit to no avail still left which such unease. Until I realized, “I am waiting.”
We all are waiting. That’s all there is to do for now and then finally, next week Eve will have the scan and biopsy and then we’ll know.
Then there will be things to do and we will feel better, or we will feel worse.
But at least we won’t be waiting.

So, I decide to Google “waiting poem” and got a surprising number of hits.
I started checking links and the poems just didn’t seem to do it until I got to this one:

In the Waiting Room
by Elizabeth Bishop

In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist's appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist's waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited I read
the National Geographic
(I could read) and carefully
studied the photographs:
the inside of a volcano,
black, and full of ashes;
then it was spilling over
in rivulets of fire.
Osa and Martin Johnson
dressed in riding breeches,
laced boots, and pith helmets.
A dead man slung on a pole
--"Long Pig," the caption said.
Babies with pointed heads
wound round and round with string;
black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it right straight through.
I was too shy to stop.
And then I looked at the cover:
the yellow margins, the date.
Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
--Aunt Consuelo's voice--
not very loud or long.
I wasn't at all surprised;
even then I knew she was
a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed,
but wasn't. What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all
I was my foolish aunt,
I--we--were falling, falling,
our eyes glued to the cover
of the National Geographic,
February, 1918.

I said to myself: three days
and you'll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world.
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?
I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was.
I gave a sidelong glance
--I couldn't look any higher--
at shadowy gray knees,
trousers and skirts and boots
and different pairs of hands
lying under the lamps.
I knew that nothing stranger
had ever happened, that nothing
stranger could ever happen.

Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
What similarities--
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts--
held us all together
or made us all just one?
How--I didn't know any
word for it--how "unlikely". . .
How had I come to be here,
like them, and overhear
a cry of pain that could have
got loud and worse but hadn't?

The waiting room was bright
and too hot. It was sliding
beneath a big black wave,
another, and another.

Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth
of February, 1918.

I just blatantly share the whole poem here. I hope Ms Bishop doesn’t mind. She died in 1979.

I think her poem got to me because she tumbles through time and self so.
I have been reviewing old family photos and diaries this past week; discovering my own history and have found it quite disorienting…

Waiting… for greater transparency of self.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

What to Say?

black stone
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
I’ve been focused on the “Direct Path” for some time now, but with Eve’s getting sick I have been brought round again to my Taoist practices.
What Eve needs right now is to be able to center emotionally and to move the energy that clogs her meridians.
Qigong and acupuncture were discovered by the Taoist.
So, I have returned to those practices of my Teacher, Wong Loh Sin See, which
can look at times surprisingly shamanic.

Last week, I was shown how to “channel my higher self.”
I didn’t really know what to expect.
And from a Direct Path/Non-dual perspective it doesn’t even make all that much sense since I think of higher self as “Nothing” .
But, I was curious to give it a shot.

What emerged was this rather gnarled old persona, missing a few teeth, and somewhat the trickster. I watched from somewhere “in the back” as this fellow spoke with other people in our group. He shed tears easily and rolled with laughter even more readily. He also offered a healing touch.
When he wanted to refer to me, I was, “What’s Her Name.”
It felt good to let him just roll on.
I felt connected to love and softness, silliness and wisdom.
But, it’s raised a number of questions and emotions.

Anyway, I haven’t posted anything in awhile and have no idea of what to say.
So, I thought I’d give “What’s His Name” a chance.
I got a notebook & pen, sat out on my back deck this morning – and let him roll.
I enjoyed the process. Here he refers to me as “She”.
I have absolutely no idea if any of this is of any use and find it somewhat embarrassing.
But, what the heck?
I’ll put it in bold, cause it was written from a different place than usual (maybe).

Why don’t you have faith and relax?
All the sages through the ages (you like that phrase?)
All the sages through the ages have told you one thing: There is a God.

All right, two things: It will be alright.

And your little heads have got it all knotted up!
“I!” it screams.
“Aye, aye, aye it won’t be! Something might happen.”

Well, of course something’s gonna happen. How else can the world turn, the galaxies spin on their axes, a caterpillar spin its cocoon?
You want to miss all that? I don’t think so.

Oh, you see? I used that word “I.” Don’t be afraid of it!
Right now, just now you have a body. Enjoy it.
You are an “I” for all intents and purposes under the sun.
Isn’t there a song like that? (Well, there should be.)
You are an “I.”
Oh yeah,
“I am the eye in the sky…” there’s the song!

You are the eye in the sky – that means you are body and also infinite.
Be with that.
And don’t worry, fuss, and fight.

How? How? Always with the how! (my Jewish persona comes through, see?)
How to be both you and the infinite?
Ha! I’ve debated the answers, but will go with this: You got to cry your eyes out.
I like that.
Cry your “I’s” out.

First I was going to say, “Cry your heart out,” but I changed that to “eyes” and then that made a good pun.
I like that! Puns are stupid. Her father used to say, “Puns are the lowest form of humor.”
But you know, they capture a flip-flop. They tell you, “This is also That.”
So, they are these little spiritual lessons slipped to us so we don’t even notice.

I like that. You see, the Universe is whispering and leading you every little moment, all along, so that you don’t even notice.
And now, I am crying, softly.
It’s all so beautiful and gentle, and you never even notice.

So, what to do?
After you’ve cried your eyes out, open them!
Ha, ha! I think that is either quite poetic or quite ghastly!
I see eyes in the palm of your hand and you saying, “Open, open.”

You see? I am not a very good teacher.
(She can’t seem to find any either though she combs the internet.)

Why don’t you be your own teacher?
It’s all inside you. Just face the right direction. Turn, turn. That’s your responsibility: to be open.
And don’t lose faith. All is well.
You needn’t change a thing. It will change all by itself. Just notice what your heart compels – Do That.

Yes, I’m talking to you!

Talking to you and me both.
Is that another pun, or paradox, or truth?
I think so.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Song of the Day, Today

This is the movement of the seeker, but it’s also the movement of the me because the me is always interested in opposite and equal reactions, trying to sustain one experience and avoid other experiences.
That’s what the me does.
It chases after the good and avoids the bad.
Adyashanti, Emptiness Dancing

Well actually, it was just the song on the radio this morning singing about Sugar.

…Which made me want to look up once again Adya’s comments on spiritual addiction:

A spiritual person can become addicted to spiritual highs and miss the experience of Truth…
There is no drug more potent than spiritual experience. The intellectual component of this addiction is the belief that if you just had enough of these experiences, you would feel great all the time….
Spiritual experiences often become like this, and the mind puts them into its familiar pattern, thinking, “If I had this experience all the time, that would be freedom.”…
That’s the mindset of an addict: “I got it and I lost it. I need it. I don’t have it.”
Once these high and low experiences have played themselves out for a long enough period of time, it starts to dawn on you that maybe the high spiritual experience is just a pendulum swing followed by a low experience. At some point, you may have an ordinary moment and get on to the fact that these pendulum swings are equal and opposite reactions. You realize it’s impossible to sustain one part of the pendulum swing because its nature is to move back and forth.
Adyashanti, Emptiness Dancing

…Which made me think of how Life has recently pushed my nose flat into reality.
“This is It.” Are you going to accept and embrace it?
Can you?
Should you?

Long story short - a friend commented yesterday (in an email from her work) that she wished she could go back on vacation. And I jokingly replied, “Vacation is now.”

I wish I could recall where I read that the great thing about travel and going to new places is that they wake you up. Your vision hasn’t gone to sleep.
You appreciate everything around you.

And on the radio today when Norah Jones started her song I flashed back to a quiet, sun-filled coffee house on an island off the coast of Maine. My companion and I were the only people there, save the owner who had spread her maritime navigation books upon the table and was deep in thought. The place seemed magical to us.  The moment is frozen in time.
And what about this morning's drive to work?
Can it be seen as any less vibrant (or mundane) than that coffee shop?

I may have posted this recently (if so, sorry), or it may have never escaped from the draft I put it in… and so, I’ll share these words:

Zen teachers don’t explain anything in an abstract way, which is both the beauty and the terror of it. My teacher’s way of explaining this would be to hold up his staff and say, “This is Buddha.” Then he would bang it on the ground, and everyone would think, “Wow! That’s really wild Zen stuff. I wish I knew what he was talking about.”
Then he would go—bang, bang, bang, bang—and he would say, “This is Zen. This is it!”
And everybody would react, “Oh wow!”
People would wonder, “What? Where?”
But nobody would say, “It couldn’t be that because that’s just beating a stick on the ground.”
Since it’s not all One to the mind, the mind keeps looking for it, “Where is it? What state is it?” Because the “me” references everything to its own emotional state, that’s what it uses to decide what is true.
It thinks that what is true is always a spiritually high emotional state, but this stick pounding is not a very spiritually high emotional state.
Then, to make it worse, to make it more horrifying, he would say, “This is a concrete description of the truth. This is Buddha.”

And this is what I’m beginning to get… as my nose is pushed down to the ground.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

When N = 1

blue egg & wisteria
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

An uncomfortable feeling is not an enemy.
It’s a gift that says, "Get honest; inquire.”

The world is nothing but my perception of it.
I see only through myself.
I hear only through the filter of my story.

Byron Katie.

Katie gives us lessons that we all can use, but today I want to approach them through the lens of cancer… and statistics.

When I revived after surgery, I asked my first question of my doctor and chemotherapist: "What is the best technical literature about mesothelioma?"
She replied, with a touch of diplomacy… that the medical literature contained nothing really worth reading…

The literature couldn't have been more brutally clear: mesothelioma is incurable, with a median mortality of only eight months after discovery.
I sat stunned for about fifteen minutes, then smiled and said to myself: so that's why they didn't give me anything to read.
Then my mind started to work …
Stephen Jay Gould, The Median Isn’t the Message

My niece, Eve, has had a recurrence of her cancer.
Since we got the news several weeks ago, all my spiritual learning seems to arise from that reality.
I have been questioning many of my beliefs with new urgency.

I have been reading the latest literature on Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stem cell transplants, curcumin, inflammation, macrophages, CD68...
I have been pushed to look deeper until there seems no difference between the spiritual and the totally pragmatic, nitty-gritty of “you bet your life.”

So much is shifting, I have been struggling to process all of it into a useful form.
I can only imagine how it’s been for Evie.
It doesn’t feel like I have been all that successful in my efforts to organize my thoughts and now, the easiest way of sharing seems to simply tell a story.

Ah stories, I love them. What else is there?
Byron Katie

So, here is one regarding N = 1:

My internist and I spent at least two years trying different medications for lowering my blood pressure. Then, I happened to get laid up in bed unable to eat. That got me off drinking coffee without even trying.
After that, I noticed that my blood pressure finally normalized.

I took a month’s worth of the numbers to my doctor.
Yes. Caffeine seemed to be the culprit.
We were happy for a moment, and then he said, (I guess because he knows I do research)
“N equals one.” … in short, my experience didn’t prove a thing to him.
It took a few hours before the stupidity of his comment really began to sink in.

Well, Hell!
N did equal 1, but when that One refers to me, that’s all I need to know!

Suddenly, I realized that my doctor and I had different interests, maybe even conflicting interests.
He wants to know what will work in general for the whole panoply of patients that cross his threshold.
Meanwhile, I want to know what will work for me.
And now I see, the same holds true for cancer patients.

What does "median mortality of eight months" signify in our vernacular?
I suspect that most people…would read such a statement as "I will probably be dead in eight months" - the very conclusion that must be avoided, since it isn't so, and since attitude matters so much.

Stephen Jay Gould

In his essay Dr. Gould explains his rationale as a scientist who knows statistics.
And I wish all cancer patients could know his story.
He didn’t swallow the statistics naively.
He interpreted them with an eye to N = 1 and in a scientific manner.
He lived for twenty years after his diagnosis with his mind clear, at least on this point.

He lived to tell his story.

Which kind of brings me back to Byron Katie.
She likes to begin spiritual inquiry with two questions regarding the thoughts we think:
Is it true?
Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

Ask yourself these questions and you’ll soon discover that usually the answer is either “No” or “I don’t know.”

For instance with Hodgkin’s statistics, by the time my head allows for four different forms of the disease, four stages, two sexes, a bimodal distribution in age, bulky or non-bulky, treated with these drug or those drugs, that number of cycles, radiation or no radiation, I have no idea how many in the study are actually closely matched to Eve.

So, what do these statistics really say to me, the N = 1 that really matters?
I don’t know.
The doctors don’t know.
NO one really knows.

The door to God is the insecurity of Not Knowing anything,
Bear the grace of that insecurity, and all wisdom will be yours…

Adyashanti, Emptiness Dancing

Not knowing isn’t an easy place to be. It can be quite uncomfortable.
But it is an honest place.
And it is as good a place as any to rest and to take the next step forward.

How do you get back to heaven?
To begin with, just notice the thoughts that take you away from it.
You don't have to believe everything your thoughts tell you.
Just become familiar with the particular thoughts you use
to deprive yourself of happiness.
It may seem strange at first to get to know yourself in this way,
but becoming familiar with your stressful thoughts
will show you the way home to everything you need
Byron Katie

Enjoy Gould’s essay and grow strong.