Imperfect Love

Here’s a little love note I wrote a while ago, and just discovered today. How lovely.

Virtually everything we ever do, especially when we are not self-connected/God-connected, becomes riddled with yucky stuff that has nothing to do with what is true.

One time, I had a fight with a beloved while we were eating ice cream. My ego has them tied together in a way that is obviously illogical. So, I notice that I can hate ice cream if I indulge the samsaric thought that I’ve been abused and neglected as a person. Ice cream is not hate-able. That’s just a story my mind makes up to protect me from getting hurt again. The actual cause of the hurt is deeper than the situation of ice cream. The cause is my human suffering, and the Buddhist teach that there’s really no getting out of that one!

I love to connect to communities, and to put what I hope is “right effort” towards creating them. And in each connection, there’s always that thread of suffering. Instead of noting that each of these people and groups has “given me” a tickle with a slap, I’d like a reframe. I believe in my heart that each and all of these are part of the same evolutionary pull to create community and move humanity forward to something holistic, integrated, ascendant. I feel drawn to them even more than to ice cream because I’m ready to live a life of connection rather than self-gratification.

Of course, me, humanity and each of us individual humans to which I want to connect are still riddled with ego, forgetting, misunderstanding, early learning and so on. So every single time we move to gather together, we bang our teeth on each other’s foreheads. It hurts, but the alternative (being a hermit or waiting to only connect with perfected beings) is the antithesis of what is called for in this life.

There is a world of abundance, people, opportunities standing just on the other side of this struggle waiting to flood in as soon as we are ready. Let’s be ready. I wonder what that involves?

I am riddled with ego, forgetting, misunderstanding, early learning and so on. As I acknowledge that and offer myself forgiveness, it makes being present to the beauty of this moment so much more real and possible.heart-love-romance-valentine

 

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Right in the middle of the beginning

The change of the year has a weight for me because the new calendar year corresponds to my biological birth-date. I flip the calendar and add a year to my life-count in the same week. So this always get’s me reflecting and feeling a bit archaeological. Luckily, I write a lot, so I’ve left myself a pretty decent digital pile to sift through when I’m feeling this way. I’m sure this writing is a missive to my future self, and I look forward to being able to look back on this and see what turned out to be persistently true, and what turned out to be only true for this moment. It’s fairly complex and wandery, because, welcome to Rayellen. Thanks for following along.

What I’m noticing today is how words can have so many meanings. Sometimes, words become invocations or spells, sometimes intention and premonition, sometimes a plea or a prayer. The poet David Whyte encourages us to not name a new love too soon, because if it is a true love, it will change us in ways that create a whole new vocabulary. Naming from the starting point, he explains, will box this new love into the limited vocabulary of the current self. So I’m reflecting today on ways I’ve named things in the past, and what types of words those were.

Middle

In 2010 (at the start of my 40s), I began a private journal and I named it “Myddle”*. At that time, I thought I was in the middle – middle aged, middle income, middle on the spectrum from failure to success, mid-way through raising kids from 0 to 20ish. There was something about being in the middle that felt comforting – it’s a safe place to hide out, the middle is. Everyone thinks you are at least a little bit like them when you are in the middle.

Here was my first entry in Myddle, 2010:

How do you know when you are half way there?  It seems the first half of the thing is all anticipation and discovery – laying down immutable decisions before you have any clue what walls they will erect for yourself.  So, then what is the second half?  Regret? Reminiscence?  That’s not the goal.   Maybe it should be refinement.  I’d expect the optimistic risk taker I was in the beginning would expect my forty something self to still be charging forward, creating, emerging until its over.

So here I am in the middle.  Like Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, I feel like I need to contemplate and shed to lighten the load for the next steps in the journey.

As I reflect on these words, I recognize that the middle is also a dangerous place, where one can get lost or be unseen. What I knew at 39 was that I didn’t want to keep having the same years I’d been having over and over again, and I had no idea what would come next. So I knew it was time to shed, but I desperately didn’t want to lose the things that had meaning to me. It was like Anais Nin said:

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin

And the middle can also be a place for connection and perspective. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama has a meditation he suggests where you picture yourself sitting in the middle — of an infinite line of people, with everyone to one side more fortunate and everyone to the other, less fortunate, than you. I wonder now whether I learned that idea before or after I named my journal “Myddle?”

At any rate, what I was in the middle of then, on reflection 8 years later, was dismantling my life and “starting over.” What I know about transformation is that it includes break down, chaos, and then growth, fruition, and harvesting the “rewards.” I also know now that I can stall and get stuck in any of those stages, but I can’t really speed them up or avoid them. So in 2010, I welcomed the shedding part, and apparently the mystery.

Beginning

In 2014, I started a Facebook photo album which I called “Letting the Dreams Begin, again and again.” Somehow I’d gone from the middle to the beginning! I remember feeling sacredly called then, and that somehow this nascent beginning would be something WE would look back on together after this gift to the world we were creating had matured. I didn’t know who all the “we” would be, but I felt sure they would come, and it felt hopeful, innocent, and audacious to be venturing this way. I didn’t feel ready, but I expected I’d become ready as we grew into the opportunity.

Now, I wonder instead about the premonition of the “again and again” part. I think I meant for that to indicate discovery and an opening to newness and surprise. Having dismantled my life, I thought I was ready to begin the building of a new one, and I expected it to be iterative. And I wanted it to be a totality – family, work, home, spirit, lovers, poetry, art, beauty, nature —  all wrapped in Tenderness with a fairy-light agile-ness that would be balanced by pragmatism and competence (or at least an ability to ask for help). It was such a hopeful dream, and even with fear, it was something I committed myself to without naming it too soon.

That “again and again” thing didn’t turn out to serve me as much as I’d wanted it to. What it turned out to be was a stubbornness/tenacity of trying over and over again, even though the obstacles were clear from before the venture started, even though the mismatch between the dream and the capacity were so in-congruent, even though parts of me became less and less expressed inside of that dream.

Even though it stopped being tender. Again and again, we weren’t tender.

Stop

So after trying to begin so many agains and agains, after I clung to re-engineering and rebooting more times than is worth counting, it ended in 2017. It had begun, again and again, and then it stopped. Full stop. That change is not far enough back in the rear view mirror for me to fully articulate, but it felt quite different than the 2010 middle, and I’m needing some words to hold it. It didn’t devastate me, but it was a totality. I stopped a family, a home, a work, a lot of dreams, a connection to a land that had loved me so tenderly, and a heart-life with a human I had intended to be with until my final walk home.

Some of the teachings I called in to support me with this change included understanding shadow and ego, being with what is, and allowing myself to show up in my brokenness. One afternoon before the stop, I was pruning hedges and listening to Pema Chodron talk about helping a trauma victim who had been unable to experience the emotions related to that trauma. Pema described that she guided this woman through — by simply being with her gently in her meditation and feelings with the simple word “Stay.” Pema invited her to finally let the feelings come, and to just stay… stay… stay… until they passed through. Pema talked about the 90 seconds it takes for an intense emotion to pass, and the way we meditate on the sound of the chime to both witness the fade, but also to see if we can discern the instant it ends. I am coming to understand that connecting with impermanence, rather than being indifference or loss, is an invitation to freedom.

After “the end”, I painted the word “Stay” on a rock and brought it to several ceremonial spaces with me. In the middle of an end, I didn’t intend for that word to prevent me from leaving, or plant me in the place I was moving from, rather in trusting that my goodness and wisdom would go with me and that spirit was always here. “Stay” helped me be more present during ego storms and to do something different than clinging. It was an invitation to stay still, listen, not stir the muddy water, to be present while clarity slowly returned on its own. In order to leave, I needed to Stay — more committed to my own knowing than to my breaking heart or my clinging to a faulty dream.

This refinement of the ability to STAY also helped me as I walked my dear aunt Peach through to the moment when her breathing, and then her heartbeat stopped. I don’t have the words to describe that, but I do know that it was an experience of being with what is — which is the point of why we are here, even if we are only good at it during certain times in this all too brief life. The experience of being with Peach and her people during her transition puts the futility of clinging and the imperative of presence into a perspective worth practicing.

Right in the Middle of the Beginning

So, now I find myself right in the middle of the beginning (I stole that line from a film I cannot remember the name of, but it is such an important mantra for me, I’m keeping it without attribution). Right in the middle of a new beginning. And the mystery doesn’t scare me like it did (or should?). Right in the middle of the beginning. That is where we always are, if we are paying attention.

The themes that insinuated themselves into my life to help me name this were circles and roots.  Sometime in the last year, I began to re-imagine that meditation of being in the middle of that line of suffering people as being in a circle instead. I think that’s more true, and harder even to grasp. I am both more and less fortunate than everyone else in the circle; each of them suffers both more and less than me. And it circles around until I am no longer able to measure it and that may be the point. There is no front or back of the room in a circle. We are all in the middle of that continuous line when we circle.

Another time this year, when the invitation was to speak from the CENTER of a room, I chose instead to “stand up for myself” by speaking powerfully from my place seated IN the circle. It felt different than hiding out in the middle. It also felt different than making it all about me. It felt like becoming with. It is belonging. It is one of the places I feel most like me.

So that’s unexpected. As I turn 49 and enter the final year of the decade of my forties, it seems I’ve gone from the middle to beginning to stop, to something not even on a line. I’ve come to something more foundational. To circles and to roots. The circle piece is about belonging, and the roots piece is about source, connection, support, communication. Both are feminine. They are about being. This is a true love I won’t name too soon, and that probably will remain un-name-able for the rest of this lifetime. It is a knowing that creates an entirely new vocabulary, but one that is mostly experiential. And I’d like to be understood, so I will continue to invite people to join me in these experiences, so we can each have our individual knowings, together.

At this moment

From this place in the circle, growing and witnessing the connection to roots that has always been here, I welcome the moments that will be happening soon, and my robust participation in as many of those moments as my practice teaches me to be. Pragmatically, I have everything I need and considerable abundance for sharing. Including the gifts that I have of disappointment, loss, broken-heartedness. These are gifts that help me see with much sharper clarity the deeper truth of wholeness, connection, and that there will always be enough love.

 

 

 

Gifts and Sorrows

His Holiness the Dalai Lama suggested this excellent exercise (paraphrased through my mind):

Picture yourself sitting in a line of other sitting humans that stretches out as far as you can see to your left and to your right. Now bring to your consciousness a sorrow or burden you feel.

Imagine yourself looking to your right. Imagine that all of the people in that direction have more resources and an easier time with their sorrows and burdens. Maybe they have fewer problems, more or better friends, they are more clever, and they have abundant access to whatever they need to ease their suffering. Imagine they suffer less that you.

Now imagine yourself looking to the left. All of the people in this direction have it worse than you. They are carrying burdens and disabilities that are more challenging than yours. They have fewer resources to draw upon to meet those challenges. Imagine they suffer more than you.

And now bring your consciousness back to yourself and check in again on your gifts and sorrows in this moment.

I have found that exercise to be quite useful. And now I realize that I prefer circles to lines. I love the small circles of family and tribe. I participate in many gatherings where we form circles for celebration and communication.

So now I’m picturing, curling that nearly infinite line of sitting humans to my left and to my right into a circle, and this meditation becomes quite powerful.

I am an equal part of the circle.

As I become aware of my tribe mates,

I am aware that each has gifts and sorrows greater than my own. And that I have gifts and sorrows greater than theirs.

In this moment, which is all there is.

Perhaps we can be useful to each other’s sorrows with our gifts.

Riding the train out of high school (1995)

All these questions

All these contradictions

Searching for

ANSWERS
Searching for answers to…
THE WRONG QUESTION.
You ask:

“How?” Why?” “What?” “Who?”
You forget

You forget the key –>

The question that is the answer

To all these questions:
“When?”

“When are you?”

“when?”
And the answer is:

Now.

You are now.

On the bridge.
Not a kid. Not one of them.

In the middle. On the way.

Part way there. Not there yet.
Cradle yourself.

Do not demand so much.
Cradle yourself.

Gently take this journey.

Which you can not stop,

Should not fight,

May not speed up.
Just be now sweet darling.

Gently ride this train 

Into adulthood,

Where the questions

won’t be answered,

But they won’t hurt so much.

Mindfulness Explained

The frogs get it.
They sit by the pool, reflecting.
Perfectly still except for the movement of their
Slow – Steady – Breath.
Perfectly still, and also perfectly alert,
Aware.
Ready to catch, leap or continue being still and aware
As the circumstances which arrive warrant

Eclipse Meditation

The sun is a really true thing. It’s there every day. It is like breath, coming into the sky, going out, coming in, going out. In modern language, you can literally set your clock to it. The sun is a really true thing. It is there every day. Even when clouds come in front of your experience of the sun, and you instead say “it is cloudy.” Yes, there are clouds, but the sun is still there, and so it is still a cloudy “day.”  Here’s the thing about the sun, it has a power you simply cannot deny. You will die with out it, and if you don’t keep your exposure wise, you can die with it. It can literally blind you. This is power that is impossible to ignore.

The moon, she is true also, but you have to pay attention on a longer time scale. Those who can truly appreciate the moon are those who have the patience to notice deeper, more esoteric patterns. The moon stays with the earth, dancing around and around, and also comes closer and moves further away. The moon, she comes and goes to help you with impermanence, and cycle. She asks you to come out to play at night when she is full; and when she is “new” — when she has moved closest to the sun — you are invited to fumble about at night on your own. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that this longer cycle is somehow less powerful, or less true than the hard and fast cadence of the sun. The moon is tides, and wind, and weather, and seasons. The moon makes the savory richness of complexity. This is power. You are wise not to ignore it.

Today, we will have an eclipse. The sun will still be true, but the moon will give us an experience of darkness during the light that is unfamiliar, entirely predictable and still titillating. Today, the moon will say “you may not ignore me.” The astronomical predictability of today’s eclipse is essentially not different than the cadence of the sun, the pattern of the moon, it just takes an even longer and far more patient scale to grasp. It takes the kind of scale which requires understanding at the pace of mathematics, learning, and teaching. It takes believing in something you can observe, but not touch nor change.

People who have not taken the time to learn this mathematics or patience have traveled long distances to be in the place where the eclipse will be “total.” Even the folks with the day passes in the location where they reside will probably take a few minutes to go outside and see what all the buzz is about. They no doubt have not done the math either, but they take on faith that those who have are speaking truth. This is power, and it is a choice.

Think about that! Someone you do not know has predicted darkness today, and you believe it is true, and you will be acting accordingly. The moon is a really true thing. The sun is a really true thing. And this eclipse is a really true thing. And you know about it because other struggling humans with math and the study of astronomy have let you know the news. And then these two things that give you an experience that you take to be immutable, will give you a really different, though entirely predictable, experience today.

Today also, the 14th Dalai Lama tweeted the following words. If we can believe the cadence of the sun, the patterns of the moon, and the prediction today of the mathematicians and astronomers, and act accordingly, I wonder if we could also extend our consciousness out, even if for just a moment, to believe the truth of these words. Could we, like we do with the astronomers, take on faith that this lineage has done the math, and has an understanding of human psychology and ego that the rest of us can take as news to use. Can we truly grasp that thousands of monks and scholars, learners and teachers, over generations, have done the practice of slowing down to pay attention on an even deeper, slower, more patient and esoteric pace? Try it in this moment just to see. Here is the news that Lhamo Dondrub has let us know today:

“Anger and jealousy are related to our sense of self-centeredness and our disregard for others. Self-centeredness easily gives rise to fear, which fosters irritation, which, when it blazes into anger, can provoke violence. The time has come to accept that if we’re talking about peace in the world, we have to consider peace within ourselves.”

At other times, he’s said you can take any path you want to peace within yourself. If it is Jesus or agnostic meditation, celibacy or tantra, 1 god or many, is of no import. But find that peace, please, because we need you.

So here is a little exercise I’m going to offer myself during the eclipse.

As you watch that shadow cross the landscape from where you observe, take a moment to notice your breath. Notice the in- and out-ness of it, and how grounded and real that helps you feel. In and out. The breath is, in this moment, the truest thing. And notice it helps your heart maintain its cadence. But the heart is different. It wants what it wants, and drives you to take yourself through deeper and more esoteric patterns of fullness, newness, it dances you around and around, sometimes calling you to move closer, and sometimes further away. And then, pay some attention to your mind. Not just the thoughts your own mind conjures to entertain and distract you, but notice the news you’ve let in from the others. You are not alone in this world experiencing either the darkness or the light without the cadence of the sun, the patterns of the moon, the contributions, some true and some not, of thoughts shared with you by your fellow humans. 

And as you contemplate this, invite yourself to ask, what do you give your attention to? Do you stay focused on the simple and undeniable cadences like the sun? Do you allow your focus to extend to a longer, more patient scale like the moon? Do you believe what you observe, or what you are told, or do you need to do the math for yourself? Maybe you don’t need to do the math, because you have something else to contribute that the rest of us could use? Are you doing that?

Because a number of us are telling you that a shift is coming, and this eclipse can be a metaphor for that. What is it a metaphor for? That is yours to find inside. And it starts with knowing deeply your own patterns of anger and jealousy, of seeing that your self-centeredness is not the truest thing in the landscape today, or ever. There is a natural loving kindness and great peace that is here in this and every moment, if you choose to cultivate the practice of making yourself available to it. Please do. We need you.

 

 

Stillness

Lately, this extremely unfamiliar but very welcome deep calm has come for a visit. Paradoxically, it is a little unsettling in its newness. I laid down to meditate for 10 minutes yesterday and over an hour passed without my noticing the time. I sat at my computer to be productive and chose instead to wander aimlessly about the house adjusting little details.  I pulled into my driveway from errands, turned off the engine, and felt no desire to ambulate for many minutes.  I had an intention to create some art, but found a truth that I could summon the beneficial feelings of those practices without actually getting out of my seat.
I can see how some of the mystics get so unkempt, seriously. It’s a quiet that is more about my mouth not moving. I’m having stretches of no mind, no thought, no desire, even no desire for movement because this moment is so engaging. And then this moment and then look here is yet another that is so worthy of my full presence.
I’m sure there is a name for this. I know it is a normal part of the process, but my analytic mind insists it needs some context, lest I allow myself to fear the pull of drifting completely into stillness that won’t serve my basic needs like work and food and child care.
But when I think too hard on the nature of this stillness, my ego is all too pleased to respond with less peaceful thoughts, my learned personality offers to shatter the calm with obsession and worry over details, my mind rushes in to stir the pot.  But on a deeper level than these friends is the truth, and it gently emerges to offer them a reminder:
This is a practice. It takes time.