on bedraggled life…and hope

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Rime Forest

That beauty near-death voyagers describe,
returned to their bodies with heart thumps,
or try to describe before they realize words
are to the eternal as the dark is to a lamp,

might be close to this, as if we’ve entered
a mile long hologram of spiral nebulae
or the neuro-networks of a frozen brain,
everything glazed and glistening, clarified

in a silence of hanging windchimes, even the smallest
twig an icy capillary, every millet blade
diamond-spined. Walk for a moment
over the snow crust and the sound is stiff brocade,

the feeling slight gliding. Every reflection
seems a further facet of a farther star,
and at the nexus of white galaxies,
synaptic leapings in the sycamore,

ski trails down a broken milkweed pod,
a crystal river through the interstice
of two larch boughs. Every branch and needle
backlit by each other, Victorian lace,

chandelier pinecones, the last jet vapor trails
criss-crossed in a fallen maple leaf.
Breathe slowly, look long,  In only hours
bedraggled life will reassert itself

and shaking melted colors from the sun,
tend onwards as dawn. In a day or less,
mud and rocks and damaged undergrowth,
the basal rosettes of the winter cress.

~Dick Allen

This poem describes a scene of transcendent beauty that the poet strolled through on a moonlit, ice-covered woods.  While reading it, it struck me like a barreling train.  I was caught up in the imagery, thinking that it so perfectly describes the “mountain-top experience”, that place where the Universe is singing to me, where spiritual insights surprise and engulf me.  The place where hope resides.  When I got to the last few stanzas, I felt strongly reminded that after the mountain-top, the desert.  After the times of insight, the fall into the everydayness of life’s challenges, perhaps even into a dark place.  I was reminded that the loosening of the knots requires both the transcendent beauty and the return to the mud and rocks and damaged undergrowth.  I felt a sense of rest replace my anxiety and self-recrimination.  I felt the gentle brush of hope’s wings against my cheek and was filled with gratitude.

bridge

Nobody

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(How is it that I find just what I need to read or hear just when I need it so very badly?  Seen at Tertium Squid )

Four years ago I was somebody. I made a lot of words in those days. I was a word maker. Talking talking talking talking. Writing writing writing writing writing. Talking and writing. In my defense, there were people who wanted to hear me. There was even a group of people who paid me to talk to them every Sunday morning. It was a straight-up gig. On the level. I made words for people.

So many words. So very many words.

So I was at the talking place one Sunday morning, doing my talking thing, when I began to feel that I had said enough. My mouth slowly closed until it was small and round, like the mouths of the kids singing at the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas. And then my lips came together and no more words wanted to come out.

I could not make those kinds of words anymore. So I backed away from the microphone. I kept backing up until I had backed all the way out of the room and into the parking lot. I backed into my car, drove it backwards all the way home, and backed into a dark closet. I wrapped myself in a thick blanket of nobody, and I haven’t come out since.

nobody’s priest
nobody’s fool
nobody’s hero
nobody’s tool
nobody’s icon
nobody’s note
nobody’s scape
nobody’s goat
nobody’s mouthpiece
nobody’s boy
nobody’s furniture
nobody’s toy

nobody to fix
nobody to heal
nobody to care for
nobody to feel

nobody needs me
nobody sees me
nobody hears me
nobody feeds me

I am nobody. I am not a body.

These days I wander around looking at the world in new ways. And I’m watching all the busy and important bodies walking fast and talking even faster. I don’t know where they are going. I don’t know why they are in such a hurry. And I don’t know what they are saying. It’s probably the same stuff I used to say, but I’m not sure because their words don’t make sense to me. I cannot make sense. Of their words.

I seem to not know things now. I am not able to know the things that other people know.

I live in a state of unknowing.

But I know I’m not alone. Now that I’m off the main road and not moving so fast, I see footprints meandering here and there and trailing off into the woods. I feel the presence of someone else. Another nobody.

Good.

There’s a pair of us.

AntiRLP300

notes from my journal 3/17/2013

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Lying down for a rest, my mind took me places that made me sad.  I was thinking of how meditation and reflection bring you face to face with yourself and the workload is to not turn away, but instead turn toward what you see.  As my thoughts meandered around the things I might not want to see, I thought about how we all want to be happy, to feel safe, to not be afraid.  And what keeps us from being happy often is just this – not considering what it is that is keeping us from it.  It can be easy to see how other people’s strategies for happiness aren’t working.  Not so easy to identify our own strategies and see why they aren’t working.

Life itself will teach you the strategies that don’t work after we butt our heads against the wall enough times.  Sometimes even that isn’t enough – we can see the failure yet stay attached to it for lack of a better plan.  We continue to use food, entertainment,  drink or smoke, shopping, busyness, etc. to soothe us and make us feel “better”, even though we know those things don’t ultimately give us happiness.

In fact, it’s probably safe to say that any false strategy to produce happiness will ultimately grant us grief instead.  We become addicted, tied up, attached to the thing and it becomes a barrier to our well-being.

I thought of my fears.  And of how we all share the same ones, once you boil them down.  We all fear death, getting old, being sick or suffering with extreme infirmity or crippling poverty.  And we fear these things for those we love –  that they will suffer, be ill, grow old, die.  We fear losing everything and everyone we love.

But we don’t face these fears.  I think this is at the heart of our difficulties.  It’s why happiness is so fleeting and illusive.  It runs through our fingers like water.  We can’t grasp it.  Even the things or people that we have in our lives that make us feel truly happy don’t come with a guarantee of permanence.

And yet … and yet it is the testimony of those who radiate serenity and well-being that happiness is there to be had.  Not grasped with our desperate fists, but like a deep pool to rest in and become enveloped in, supported by.  Happiness is something to jump into, splash around in.  And I think looking at our fears, facing them and learning how to release them is the way to change our actions from grasping to swimming.

Attraction/Aversion = grasping

This is key.  Take the big fear.  Death.  I want to live.  I don’t want to die.  But the fact is:  I will die.  I will die.  Not facing that squarely and honestly keeps me in bondage.  It’s like standing at the pool with weights shackled to my ankles.  I can’t jump in.  I can’t rest in this pool of happiness and serenity with the weight of this fear.  I will die.  Face that and life becomes richer, more precious.  Priorities change.  Other myriad weights from other chains fall off independently of any effort and the pool becomes a possibility.

The fear of aging?  I don’t want to get old.  But I will, I am.  Unless I die, I will get old, I will be ill, I will lose everything.  Why not face these fears and rest in the arms of serenity?  Suffering over them holds no guarantee of them not happening.  They will.  Not facing this causes untold suffering, grief and anxiety.  How can you truly enjoy anything or anyone with the weight of your fear binding you up?  Even the lovely things become a burden by their impermanence.  How many times have you tried to hold on to a magical moment and lost it by the trying?

 

Bring it forth

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(Looking for another post, came across this one from April.  I love the way the two quotes compliment and compete each other)

 

If you want to shrink something,
you must first allow it to expand.

If you want to get rid of something,
you must first allow it to flourish.

Tao Te Ching,  36

 

At first glance, this saying makes no sense.  It seems counter-intuitive.  But as I consider it, I begin to see the wisdom in it and understand the logic.  At least in terms of the inner work.  When I suppress or try to deny some unwanted part of me, some fault or weakness of character, it doesn’t go away.  It may seem to.  We are so good at hiding from our faults, quickly turning the other way when evidence of shortcoming rises to the surface.  Or perhaps we decide to become a better person and try to change by the sheer power of will.  And we fail, again and again, with mounting shame and self-loathing when we inevitably screw up.

There is another way.  This way is simple, but not easy.  Attention.  We see the thing, we notice it.  We don’t judge, we don’t buy into the stories attached to the emotions, we simply notice.  And as we notice what is really there when we stop hiding, it can feel rather grim.  The darkness mounts, there seems to be nothing good in us.  It seems to expand, to flourish.  No need to worry.  Accept that we are made of both darkness and light.  Radical self-acceptance will keep us sane.  Patience and compassion will soothe us as we notice more and more how much we have hidden, how afraid we have been to see all that we are capable of, all that we are.

And then, on its own, the vines of negativity begin to wither.  The faults and weaknesses shrink and begin to disappear.  The darkness begins to give way to light.  It is a wonderful mystery that what is unwholesome unravels of its own accord if I stop hiding from it; spontaneously, in an organic way, and without my meddling. Balance is restored, true balance.  We are still made up of darkness and light, but we have made friends with the darkness and it no longer oppresses us.  The muddy water begins to clear and the serenity of  an untroubled mind reflects a more accurate world back to us.  We find we have more patience with the weaknesses of others, having become so well acquainted with our own.  It becomes easier to accept another because we have learned to accept ourselves.

It takes a dose of humility to admit and face our shortcomings. We lie to ourselves quite well, not wanting to face our fear and shame, all the while secretly flogging ourselves for our weaknesses. Simone Weil said, “In the intellectual order, the virtue of humility is nothing more or less than the power of attention.” This has layers of meaning to me. But in what I am considering today, it speaks of the humility needed to pay honest and clear attention to who we really are, weaknesses and strengths, darkness and light. This kind of honesty in self-evaluation and then simple attention to what is seen brings incredible power of change. And it happens spontaneously, thus saving us from the pride of knowing we “fixed” ourselves!

If you bring forth what is within you,
what you bring forth will save you.

If you do not bring forth what is within you,
what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

Jesus, from the Gospel of Thomas

introspection

on taking the monster’s teeth and claws

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Reading over my journal from the last couple of years has been wonderful.  I’ve always thrown away my journals at the end of the year.  I read over it, get a new one and throw it away.   I don’t know why.  Year after year I did this.  Then I had an excruciating year and couldn’t bear to read over that year.  I couldn’t throw it away if I hadn’t read over it, so it still rests in a drawer, awaiting the day I am ready to open it.  It broke the habit, so I now have the last couple of years of journals to read over.  I’m enjoying it so very much.

Looking over an entry I wrote with thoughts about panic and foreboding, I realized that I had changed my way of responding to dark thoughts since I wrote it.  I didn’t try to change, I didn’t implement a self-improvement program.  The change came naturally, organically, and so quietly I didn’t even notice it.

It used to be that when I would have a tough moment, one of those times when darkness comes like a sudden storm to overwhelm with despair, I would sink into sadness and the litany of hopelessness would begin:  There is no point to life, too much pain and suffering, too full of disappointment and dissatisfaction, no reason, no hope, no purpose, no redeeming factor.

What I would do with these thoughts is key.  I would give them significance.  It was if they held more truth, as if they had a certain heft, a bulkier weight to them.  It was as if they bore more significance, were full of more truth than ordinary thoughts and feelings.

Somewhere in there, in learning to sit in meditation and notice my thoughts, in learning to listen to my inner dialogue throughout the day, a change came.  These thoughts, which should carry no more weight or significance than any other, became just thoughts again.  Thoughts come and go, like clouds in the sky.  Giving shadow thoughts (despair, hopelessness, foreboding) extra significance and weight is like giving the monster teeth and claws.  Take away the teeth and claws and all that is left is another thought, floating by, soon gone.

teeth and claws

notes from my journal 8/27/2012

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Norman Cousins calls panic “the ultimate enemy”, explaining how intense psychological stress can damage the heart, undermine the immune system, even cause sudden death.  He said, “Nothing is more essential to the treatment of serious disease than liberating the patient from panic and foreboding.”

I can see this in my life the last several years.  So many losses and stressors, all working together to bring great psychological stress and suffering.  I have known this “panic and foreboding”.  Sometimes I wonder if my life has been shortened, I worry that I don’t have a long time left, that my future is bleak.  This is foreboding!  This is what I need liberation from!

Part of what I need to do to experience this liberation from panic and foreboding is to trust the process.  I must remind myself daily that I can’t control life with my fear, that can only find peace by leaning into life, riding life with skill like a surfer instead of being battered by the waves of samsara.

Reading Rumi last night:

Don’t let your throat tighten

with fear.  Take sips of breath

all day and all night, before death closes your mouth.

 

The first time I read this, it hit me like a punch in the gut.  Oh!

Reading it again, sitting with it a bit longer, I began to love it for the remembrance of death and the decision to be awake, coupled with the admonition to notice fear in its manifestation in the body.  The tight throat, the shallow breathing, the tenseness in my shoulders, the clenching gut.  Noticing it with the intention to NOT be afraid, remembering how ridiculous 99% of all fears are when one remembers DEATH!  As long as death has not closed my mouth – I can breathe in and breathe out.  I have choices.  I can choose life, choose while looking in death’s eyes and taking little sips of air, experiencing every little miraculous moment until death closes my mouth.

always becoming

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When I was a young woman, I had a volatile temper.  Once I was angry, it was out of my hands.  My mind would sharpen and just that right cutting response would erupt out of my mouth.  I was also a thrower.  I craved the sound of shattering glass as if it could soothe me.  I was a real bitch when angry.

I used to say that I had inherited my temper from my Dad.  “It’s just how I am” was my testimony.  I didn’t think it was an excuse.  I felt it was a part of me.  I thought I was being self-aware by owning the anger.  It took some time, but eventually I realized that saying I had a bad temper, as if it were something I had no control over, was lame.  I started to think about the anger.  I started to notice it.  I started to reflect on it.

I realized that I had made a comfy home for the anger.  I was even secretly a bit proud of how cutting I could be, how I could cow and control with my words and tones.  Until one day, thinking back on my courtship with anger, I suddenly felt a shift.  I didn’t want to cut with my anger anymore.  I didn’t want to hurt others.  I didn’t want to hurt myself.

I started to notice what was under the anger.  Once I saw my own fear and sense of vulnerability, of perceived frailty, I felt a strong compassion for myself.  I immediately stopped referring to myself as someone with a temper.  I changed.

We all change, every day.  We know this, we see it when we look back, but we forget that who we are in this moment is fluid, spacious, and ever-changing.  The next time you describe yourself as being comfortable with your lesser character traits, such as anger, fear, aggression, arrogance, inflexibility, and so on, try giving the trait some attention.  No judgment.  Just notice it.  Reflect on your emotions when it comes calling.  See if you can identify the intention behind the action.  Are you using the action to feel superior because you secretly feel inferior?  Are you trying to control because trusting is too frightening?

This has been a great help to me over the years.  It has helped me to identify parts of myself that no longer served or expressed who I was becoming.  It has also helped me to undo the knots that keep me from living from a place of freedom.  And it has sometimes surprised me by revealing a strong gift or passion, a fire that had incredible creative and transformative muscle when it was recognized and tended properly. Attending to my anger, I found the strength and courage to face my fearfulness.  Anger, turned on its back, became my strength, molding a warrior, fearless and daring in the face of the chaotic, dreadful, juicy, mysterious, fertile void at the edge of who I am becoming.

roy goodwin