The Opening Chapter

OK, so I dropped a few layers. I still have a personality, an ego structure, a history, and an opinion about things, but I am also less driven from those forces as I am driven from a place of awakening and now awareness.

My experience last week (with Ashamarae and my current beloved) wasn’t insight, or understanding a good career opportunity when I see one, or “letting go” of some thoughts that have been troubling me. My experience last week didn’t even take place exclusively last week, that particular string of moments was simply a more tightly concentrated connection of moments that lead to a nice “Aha!” discovery, but what was there to be “Aha’d” has been here all along and would be here even if I hadn’t noticed. Last week was simply one of the precious first moments where I let in some help to really pay attention, and so I did.

It came about because I’ve learned to practice – meditation, listening, feeling, compassion in a way that was at first self-serving and thankfully has begun to shift to being of service. It was the logical next step of learning to meditate, of awakening my energy body, of beginning to let in the truth that this idea of separateness is an illusion. It was the next gift after learning how to access what the Buddhist call the “God Realm,” come back to what we call the “Human Realm,” and notice that neither is the true reality. (And the also the same experience with the “Hell Realm.”

It was possible because I became willing to turn to face and walk straight into the thoughts and feelings that have been most compelling – be they extremely attractive compelling or extremely aversive compelling. So long as I was unwilling to think of myself as worthy of the beauty of those compelling ideas that were enticing me, so long as I believed myself too weak to experience those compelling ideas that were scaring me, I was driven by those ideas and was therefore less aware. One by one, as I’ve turned into and deconstructed those compulsions, they have dis-integrated. This brought me to the emptiness, to the question, to letting go of the argument with the question, or wanting to get the question right, or even believing that I’d ever get an answer to the question.

Now, the tiniest taste of awareness has come and it is like one of those life changes that is like jumping off a cliff. There is no going back, and only the faintest idea of what the landing place looks like. And although what I understand is vast and amazing, I have the deep knowing that I’ve got only the tiniest inkling of a clue here. It is just like the books and (non snake-oil salesmen) gurus say, only not at all like that. All of these things we say to describe what it is are metaphors. And there are 7 billion of us, each with a very unique configuration of personality, ego structure, history and opinions about things, so many many metaphors are needed. Pick your philosophy, pick your path, it is not important, the how. It isn’t even important that we all awaken, but wouldn’t it be great if we did?

I’m not entirely ready to share what my particular insight into the oneness is, partly because I am reluctant to sully it with words, but mostly because I understand it is the tiniest little insight that has had to be interpreted through my silly little human mind and when I describe it in words, I will get it 99% wrong. And because it isn’t important that you know what my awareness is, it is important that you know what your awareness is.

And also, it is important that you know that awareness is possible in this lifetime, even for a middle aged house wife so inclined most of her life in overthinking and senseless chatter.
So get to it, and if you want some encouragement, radical honesty, undefended love, compassion and empathy on your path, let me know.

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Beyond Luster

I’m enjoying this discussion from SwamiJ.com about what to do when your spiritual awakening begins to lose its luster. Frankly, getting to the point where my spirituality will feel like “old hat” sounds like a luxury! But as I’m listening and thinking this through, I’m finding myself relating these musing to what happens when a relationship loses its luster. The typical responses are ones I have succumbed to myself: to give up hope, or to chase new experiences, and I’m beginning to see that there is another alternative.

The first concept that strongly resonates with me is the advice to NOT try to go back and recreate that shiny new feeling, or rush out to find the next new thing whose shine I can attach to. The shiny newness (The “New Relationship Energy”) is a natural part of the process — as is the transition and opportunity to go into something deeper. I like the idea of embracing and being present with each step/level/phase of the romantic or spiritual evolution, rather than placing some sort of artificial higher value on any particular part. Of course, Hollywood does us an enormous disservice by focusing so many romantic stories on the beginning part, the part that is all discovery and excitement and angst. (If you haven’t seen the Krishna Das film, please do, and notice the last thing he says, coming from that beautiful post enlightenment truth that he is privy to.)

Instead of chasing, the advice that Swami Jnaneshvara recommends to the yogi who is no longer enamored of a particular mantra, book, teacher, or practice, is to go back to the source of that previously inspirational thing, and explore its context – what came before and after it. This can beautifully be applied to romance as well. We choose partners who have qualities we admire, and then as we are falling in love, we tend to project onto our new partner things that are actually hopes and dreams we hold for our self or our own life. These projections tell us who we want to be, and also, if we weren’t completely delusional in the beginning, about some of the best qualities in our partner. And the inverse is true – I have to acknowledge that my partner saw something in ME that is worth cultivating even after the adrenaline wears off. So, rather than pine for newness, can I learn to mine the original inspiration’s context to learn more about where I can and want to go? In fact Dan Savage recommends that we stay connected to the idealized version of who we fell in love with in the first place. Even after we fart in front of each other and know each other’s dark sides, the magic in a relationship happens when I envision you as the person you wanted to be when you first presented, and you do the same back for me, and then we are each sort of obligated to live up to that higher definition of self. I have certainly not mastered this practice yet.

The second part of this exploration that interests me is the reality that both the peaks and the valleys of our spiritual path are opportunities for awareness. The peaks, those ecstatic illuminated moments when we breathe into the truth of connection, oneness, goodness of self give me that deep gratitude for being alive, and are almost always accompanied by a deep drive to share this joy with others. But the valleys cultivate compassion and empathy and (if I am doing it right) healing, which are just as important elements of the path. With romance as well. By all means, we should celebrate, embrace and try not to hoard the opportunities to feel ecstasy. And then rather than fearing or trying to control the inevitable release from that heightened state, we can also celebrate and embrace the lows.

“Ha!” my ego says, “Celebrate the lows… what are we some kind of masochist?” It helps me to keep both the ego-driven attraction to ecstasy, and the ego-driven aversion to difficulty, in check when I stay grounded in this notion: the peaks are generally about where I am headed, and the valleys are about where I have come from. To quote:
“When there are breaks or breaches in that high discrimination, other impressions arise from the deep subconscious”
So, a little growth & strength, then in comes an old thought pattern or learned behavior, and an opportunity to use my new muscles to break that down. And I’m learning from my practices to notice, but not indulge, those old thought patterns. To cultivate tranquility and forbearance/tolerance during the “dark night of the soul” parts, in order to become free of misguided pressures to continue participating in thoughts or actions known to not be going in a “useful direction.” And this isn’t a one time practice, it is a lather, rinse, repeat kind of thing. It’s a wave.

So, luster goes. When that happens, and it certainly will, can I learn to take the next steps: embrace this new truth as just as worthy as the truth that is passing, go back to the source context, and keep practicing. Swami J instructs that these “dark night of the soul” periods can be seen as a blessing, especially when we continue adherence to practice even though the individual is “stripped of the experience of the spiritual ecstasy associated with acts of virtue.” So, if meditation got me to my first peak experience, the invitation is to keep meditating after the luster is gone and see what happens. Similarly (and I look forward to the chance to try this out some day) continue to practice making love, leaning in, listening with deep attentiveness to my lover even after the newness and mystery has resolved, and see what happens.

Finally, in this discussion, Swami J talks about self and ego in a way that I find extremely comforting. He actually encourages indulgence in ego as a part of the path. “You cannot transcend the ego until you have one,” he posits. The process is one of repairing the broken parts of our ego and past issues, to build up a sense of self that is strong enough to be released. In relationship, I have yet to accomplish this full process, but I get a sense of what it looks like… Indulge fully in the shiny newness. Go all the way in. Allow the shift to occur, where the bumps in the road, the egoic and past issue-driven challenges will certainly arise – and then indulge fully in their truth too. Then, from that deep place of strength and trust that has been co-created, let go.

Let go. Go deep…stay deep…let go. Not of the relationship itself, or even of the person with whom the relationship exists, but of the attachment to the illusion that happiness and strength and enlightenment and ecstasy (and even suffering) come FROM that person, or were done TO this person (me). Let go of that illusion, and instead allow acceptance of the knowledge that these gifts come from source and “we” just happen to be helping each other swim in them together.

Cultivating Meaning

They did a study where they asked volunteers:
“Would you like to build a Lego robot?
Here are the instructions and I’ll give you Five Dollars when you are done.”
People like to create, and rewarding them is good motivation,
until the researcher thanked them for their work,
and dismantled their creation right in front of them and asked:
“Do you want to built it again? I’ll give you another five dollars.”

Turns out, most people won’t keep going, even for tangible benefits,
even a fun and easy task that they would normally do for free,
if they feel that their effort is futile, meaningless.
Most of us get frustrated, throw up our hands and walk out of the study.

But the sand mandala makers remember the truth,
they intentionally cultivate a practice of creation and destruction,
and accept the invitation to be fully present in each moment
In that first moment when the surface is blank and nothing exists but an idea,
And during the beautiful aching anticipation of the first colorful pattern emerging,
And when it is part way there, and their backs ache and they long to sneeze,
Then, when it is complete and the community comes to shake their heads in awe,
And even on the humble walk to the river, solemn and celebratory in knowing what comes next,
Then again in the moment of letting go, scattering the temporary illusion of meaning
Back to what it has always been…
Chaos, devotion and love.

To this, I bow.

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Source: http://metasentamovingcultures.blogspot.com/2010/05/tibetan-monks-visit-richmond-va.html

On not becoming

Here is my ponder today:
Why do we seek external ‘permission’ to follow our deepest internal longings?

I see this pattern everywhere, and especially in myself and my dearest loved ones. The pattern is a dance between external, internal, and oneness with truth.

What I mean by ‘external’ are the details of body, location, people, rules and systems. The internal is the stuff I do in my heart, mind, ego as thoughts feelings and actions. Internal is all about my choice to lean in or out, give or take, contribute or disrupt what is going on externally. Ah, so then oneness is destiny, harmony, God, calling— choose whatever label works for you to understand this unnamable thing of becoming who we were meant to be. ‘Enlightenment’ feels too audacious a term for me, so I like the word ‘oneness.’

Lately, in both work, my personal life, and my family life, I have been feeling the edge between what has happened (external), what desires have emerged as patterns over and over in my life (internal), and how I am called to offer my gifts to serve the collective (oneness). I’ve been exploring this in a parallel meditative practice (Blog bow to Adyashanti) in which I let everything be as it is (external), let go of trying to manipulate and control (internal), and openly inquire about deep questions (oneness).

And what keeps coming up is this forehead slapping “aha” of how we overlook the most obvious messages the universe is sending us because we focus so narrowly on a small subset of the universe in which that thing the universe wants us to do/be/have appears to be discordant. Or, we are so busy trying to numb the discomfort that is here to show us our direction, that we miss our own point. Then, rather than using our precious time and effort to manifest, we use it to fight or avoid some system or belief structure.

Some concrete examples would help here.

Let’s say I’m hungry. I decide I must have a White Castle cheeseburger with a girlfriend who is no longer here, and it has to be at 5:07 pm (these are all external). Ah, such suffering when I believe that my life sucks and I never get what I want (internal). Let’s say I reframe my request as longings that aren’t so externally specific: I long for nourishment, loving connection, and a schedule today that has some room for flow and spaciousness (ha, also internal and a very different healthier choice for myself). Hot damn! I get everything I want (oneness).

Now, let’s say that in my self identity, I call myself a teacher, a solution designer and a curator. These things I know are true (tiny glimpse of oneness – yay!). I’m currently employed as a sales engineer, and therefore am not specifically invited within this role to contribute those skills (external) which most make my heart sing. Is the problem with my employer? Absolutely not, it is with my choices (internal). I haven’t figured out how to resolve this, but stay tuned (and isn’t this post a tiny manifestation of me being true to that oneness, curating ideas, designing a better solution even if just for me, and hoping it helps others?)

One more example: Let’s say I (umm, like all sentient beings?) have a longing for family, community, love, spiritual and sexual connection, and partnership. I believe that many long term monogamous relationships that aren’t happy aren’t so because we assign one person the job of fulfilling each and all of these needs. Is this a problem with monogamy itself? Not necessarily! What I know is that when I stopped trying to make myself relish monogamy (external), when I embraced alternative thought systems that felt more resonant with who I am (internal), I have found more harmony (yet another glimpse of oneness!). And also so much more joy and happiness with so much less suffering. Where I sit today, after what others might call a ‘failed’ marriage, I have an abundance of each and all of family, community, love, connection and partnership — all beautifully woven together in a tapestry of loving connections to so many beloveds. And I feel genuinely of service to these lovely people and that they “get” a much better version of me than my previous ‘monogamous’ partners got. I believe there is no choice in longing for connection, it is a universal truth for me. The choice is in how I acknowledged the infinitely interesting ways it can manifest, or fail to.

Seems easy. Let everything be as it is. Let go of manipulation and control. And listen to what humms. Become one with my purpose. Become Awake, Aware, Enlightened. So what is stopping me? Ah, that’s the work, the practice. I want to piss and moan and complain that there are so many external obstacles blocking my path, but I guess I can see now that the obstacles are just internal choices about which belief systems I chose to engage with.

So, what are the essential obstacles to achieving enlightenment? We tell ourselves these superficial stories about enough or not enough, right or wrong, worthy or not worthy. But I believe that the real suffering is in hooking our deepest longings to specific people or places or systems, in seeking external permission to be who the universe obviously wants us to be.

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