Friday, February 25, 2011

Tom’s Diner

A friend and I have been discussing this teaching:
The World is an illusion
Brahman alone is real.
The World is Brahman.

Well, maybe we’ve been arguing.
I’ve done a couple drafts in an effort to state my position with more clarity.
How silly. What does it matter?
I’m not sure either of us listens very well, even when we try.
I also realize the absurdity of someone not living in enlightened Unity arguing as to what it’s really like!
Good Lord! Silly girl, be still.

Anyway, here is how my friend would restate the teaching:
Living is all there is.
Separation from living is an illusion.
There is nothing to find.

Or to restate the situation as she sees it in yet another iteration, she might go along with:
There is a totality of Life which is always present, in the endless forms in which it appears.
Within this totality of Life, there is never a self.
There is no me and there is no you.

Well, I have been chewing on this for days.
Finally, I have focused in on something I do have experience with and the exact point where I apparently disagree.
I am uncomfortable with:
Living is all there is.

I say this because I have experienced an emptiness, a silence, something beyond all words that seems to be beyond all Life (by this we mean the whole Shebang) and yet gives rise to all Creation.

My friend dislikes the old texts, but I think this passage makes the point:
That supreme Brahman is infinite, and this conditioned Brahman is infinite.
The infinite proceeds from infinite.
If you subtract the infinite from the infinite, the infinite remains alone.
Mundaka Upanishad

Life is not all there is. Because when it drops off, the Infinite remains.

Nisargadatta points to these two infinities by saying:
When I look inside and see that I am nothing, that’s wisdom.
When I look outside and see that I am everything, that’s love.
Between these two my life turns.

Or to illustrate with song, there is the Suzanne Vega acapella bombshell calledTom’s Diner.
Acapella: “something missing,” and that emptiness, silence (analogous to supreme Brahman) makes all the difference in the world to the Song (analogous to Life = conditioned Brahman).

The space (i.e., the emptiness) feels more like what I am. And the “things” that come and go “within” that space never feel like they are separate from that space.
This is why saying that things happen “within” space or “within” consciousness don't feel accurate. No concept feels accurate.
All concepts appear to come and go in whatever I am.
And what I am is more like simple being itself…
It’s just this, this great space, this silent being, and things coming and going in that, inseparably.
Scott Kiloby, A Day in the Life.
(If you’d like to read a nice description of a typical day from a much clearer consciousness than mine.)

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

An Inquiry

half bath inverted
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
In a couple of weeks, I am going to see my Taoist Teacher, Wong Loh Sin See.
It’s been a year since I was last with the Teacher, so I was soaking in my morning tub thinking about what I hoped to gain from the coming workshop.
Just after I had satisfactorily clarified my intentions, I heard the Teacher’s voice:
“Patty, what is enlightenment?”

I thought a moment before replying, realizing he had touched a nerve.
“I could give you a definition, an explanation in words.
“But, I don’t know that I know …
what enlightenment feels like to be lived or embodied.”

At least, that was how I was going to finish my sentence.
Instead, I heard what I had just said:

“I don’t know that I know”

This revelation stopped me cold.
Stunned into silence:
I know!

It’s just life as I live it every day.
That’s how it feels.
It’s that simple.

By then, I had melted into tears.
And immediately the mind and commentary kicked in.
“Insights like this are supposed to be met with laughter not tears.”
And I was OK with the “incorrect response,”
as I zipped right on to the next thought, “Now! Can you just let it be?”

… No...
Embodiment can always go deeper.
Going deeper, becoming clearer, gentler, softer – those had been my intentions for the workshop.
What will being clearer be like?

That’s what I don’t know.
That's the mystery and delight of the next moment.

We were both enlightened in the most profound and deep way; we were both fulfilled.
And yet there was [something] that had not risen to the surface to be met.
And that's what had to be seen…
I had to be willing to discover how I was and what deals I had made with myself to overlook this.
And so, it's endless. And vigilance is necessary until the last breath…
Gangaji, Awakening is Endless 

Friday, February 04, 2011

By Way of Introduction

..for a lot of people we’re beginning to see their taking on illness as an apprenticeship, almost a shamanic apprenticeship to know themselves, to know the mind… there is the “gift of the wound” and although I wouldn’t wish illness upon anyone, I would wish the ability to take illness as a teaching on everyone.
Stephen Levine, (click Couch Talk Preview)

I wrote the following squib, “I Am Surrender,” a month ago.
But, after I got it all polished I had the thought, “Now is not the time.”
So I put it away and forgot.
Yesterday, when Evie told me how her day had gone, I recalled the story of the “average but sincere student of Vipassana.”
Then, I knew, “Now is the time.”

I am Surrender

Blue Buddha, Red Ball
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
One night not long after my twenty-nineth birthday, I woke up in the early hours with a feeling of absolute dread. I had woken up with such a feeling many times before, but this time it was more intense than it had ever been. The silence of the night, the vague outlines of the furniture in the dark room, the distant noise of the train – everything felt so alien, so hostile, and so utterly meaningless that it created a deep loathing of the world. The most loathsome thing of all, however, was my own existence…

Then I felt drawn into what seemed like a vortex of energy. It was a slow movement at first and then accelerated. I was gripped by an intense fear, and my body started to shake. I heard the words “resist nothing,” as if spoken inside my chest. I could feel myself being sucked into a void. It felt as if the void was inside myself rather than outside. Suddenly, there was no more fear, and I let myself fall into that void…
Eckart Tolle, The Power of Now, describing his awakening.

Evie couldn’t sleep the other night. Pumped full of steroids and chemo there was good reason for her body to be freaking.
From the beginning of her struggle against cancer I have wondered about the mindset we bring to this disease.
On the one hand there is the “the fight” that needs waging and even the governmentally sanctioned, “War on Cancer.”
On the other hand, there is the tenet “That which we resist persists.”

I feel like we’ve been walking a line between these two extremes.
Yes, resources must be gathered: logistics, plans, hard decisions made. A strong fighting spirit can do this well. Yet, even from the get-go we’ve been amazed by how useful knowledge and helpful connections have arrived with stunning synchronicity.
We can’t take credit for this grace.

Nevertheless, in organic disease things happen physically. Solid matter has to move and shift. Drugs are lowering the boom. There are reasons for Eve’s body to be freaking.
The question is, does putting your shoulder against the boulder and fully engaging the task at hand have to be a war?
Must Evie herself go to war; or can she leave that battle to her body?
How can Eve’s spirit support her body?
Curiously, by recognizing that ultimately, there is no war. There is nothing to resist.

Recently, I read the story of a women who went into a medical crisis.
During pre-eclampsia she developed the HELLP syndrome: hemolysis of red blood cells, elevated liver enzymes (her liver ruptured), platelet count drops.
She describes it with these words:

In excruciating pain and knowing that both the baby and I might not survive… there was nothing else to do, but to be present.
I told the nurse, "Acceptance of what is, whether it is what we want or not, is critical."
She said, "You don't understand, you're dying." I assured her I understood fully and asked her to be as still as she could.
She asked if I wanted last rites.

Metta practice was directed to everyone helping and to all suffering beings. Then came the ultimate challenge. I had to, in order for us to live, open up to death itself, for even the most microscopic form of resistance would kill us both. I was emptied of all fears, past and future. And in so doing, I was set free to choose to stay in this manifestation or to not…
Signed, An average, but sincere student of Vipassana since my first retreat at the Tao Center in Winona, MN. (see personal experiences)

Once at a retreat with Adya, a woman got up to say that she had realized that surrendering was not something you could do or practice.
I sure agreed with that. How many times have I tried and failed to “just let go,” or to even simply “STOP”?
Then, the woman said something that amazed me.
She said she had discovered that, “I am surrender.”
And Adya, not at all surprised, said, “Yes! That is another name for who you really are.”

These days, I guess that also means that Surrender is simply another name for God.
Let your Surrender cradle your body.
And Evie is learning this in her apprenticeship.
She felt it last night as we sat in our circle.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Stem Cell Evie

Stem Cell Evie
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
When I was in Benares, I went to see a jnani no one had heard of, named Swami Brahmananda. He was called "the Staff of God". He was about 90 years old and had three disciples who had been with him for about 50 years. I was invited to sit by him. I think I was the first Westerner to get permission to stay with him. So I sat with him for a few days, listening to him say nothing. He was mostly silent.

On the third day that I was there, he announced to his disciples that his body was in pain, that it was arthritic, but that he still had work to finish on this plane. He said he was going to leave his body the next day at 3 pm and take on the body of a younger person. He said that someone would slip on the street and crack his head. "I will take up that body," he said. I listened as I usually do, and we couldn't wait for the morrow to come. Nobody cared that he was going to die. We wanted to see if he could do what he said.

At 3 pm the next day, he was sitting in the lotus posture, he stiffened, and he did die! I felt for a pulse but there was none. I pinched him. Nothing happened. His body was an empty shell. We fooled around with his body for about a half hour to see if we could bring him back to life. Nothing.
We heard a commotion outside. Sure enough, a young man had slipped on the street — it was raining — and hit his head. A crowd had gathered and a doctor was there. He was pronounced dead. All of a sudden, the young man got up and ran into the forest. No one ever heard of him again…
Anything is possible.
Never believe that something is impossible.
It limits you.
Even if you haven't experienced it yourself, have faith that within you lie infinite possibilities.
Robert Adams, The Mountain Path article, 1993.

You don’t have to believe Adams’ story, though I find that I can’t dismiss it out of hand.
I share it now to put into context the point worth making: don’t let beliefs limit you.
Anything is possible… which brings to mind a word I love: “totipotency”.

Do you realize we all begin as “totipotent” cells?
That’s how a biologist would say “anything is possible.”
And from totipotency we descend into the merely “pluripotent” – stem cells that can become any tissue in the body.

I also like Adams’ story because it is such a “control-alt-delete” moment.
That is exactly where Evie finds herself today as she embarks upon her stem cell transplant.

From the moment I heard about the transplant specific words and an image came together in my mind.
I heard “Stem Cell Evie” and I saw her photo: age 6 or 7, young and strong and whole.

So I dug the photo out of the box it’d been stored in for years and propped it up on my dresser.
I wanted to see her every day in all her pluripotency.
I wanted to reinforce a simple fact: Eve possesses every gene she needs to be perfectly healthy.
It’s just that some genes have become encumbered or entangled in their programming.

One of the first discoveries we made as we started reading up on Hodgkin’s lymphoma was totally surprising to me. Hodgkin’s isn’t so much a case of some critical gene or genes having mutated and become permanently dysfunctional. Rather, a few cancerous cells are being nourished and supported by a host of non-cancerous cells that are producing inflammatory products.

What this means is that the disease can be eradicated if those support cells simply shift their physiology: some genes need to be turned off and others need to be turned on.
This is very doable. Why? Because genes get turned on and off all the time.
Biologists like to speak of the “program of development” we all go through as we mature.
We don’t go through life using all of our genes all the time.
There is a constant up and down regulation.
Some genes are off most of the time. Some are on most of the time.
Some are off, then turned on. Some are on, then shut off.
You can even adjust the volume, so to speak – way turned up or just barely on.

Stem cells represent the original setting of the genes. By going for a transplant we’re admitting that the programming has gotten all screwed up. There’s been such fiddling with the controls that it’s easier now to simply hit control-alt-delete and start at the begining.

So, I have set out two pictures of my “Stem Cell Evie.”
It’s my way of seeing and affirming, “Yes. The genes are all there and working fine.”
It’s my way of re-enforcing the resetting of Eve’s genetic program.
I see these photos and am flooded with love and that too flows to those genes.

This is biology and this is prayer.

And this is the Song of the Day.