Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Echoes, openings, and simple practice

One small echo of Mitt Lenix's spirit and life legacy is that I've found myself drawn to attend the teachings at the local Tibetan Buddhist monastery of late. The simple, logical, and practical philosophy of loving kindness (which I had only ever seen as a pleasant but largely dismissible bumper-sticker mentality), is really resonating, and my ear likes the heavily-accented monk's voice, full of energy and vibrance and logic.  He uses words like "right" and "wrong" as convenient signifiers; and phrasing like "it makes trouble" and "it's nonsense!" make this most fundamental information plain enough for an eight-year old to understand (which I guess, spiritually, we are).

Once we understand that the inherent nature of every human heart is to seek peace and happiness (as inseparable as heat is to fire), we also have the responsibility to do what we can to reduce, or at least not contribute to, others' suffering, whether by thoughts, words, or deeds. Discerning "right understanding" of what serves the heart's happiness is the first step.

And, if we cultivate kindness in the secret corners of our moment-to-moment thoughts, then we plant the seed of peace in the rich soil of the mind, where it can't help but take root and be expressed outwardly in the world. Moment by moment by monkey-minded moment. 

Practicing loving compassion seeks others' benefit. Basically, "Don't make trouble. There's enough already." It's so simple, but invites constant mental vigilance. Just have to remember: "right effort" includes joy, built-in. Practice with a furrowed brow is no practice at all.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

On Approaching Infinity

Balloons released outside a church after a memorial service and celebration of a remarkable life.

No matter what your tradition, or manner of worship--or lack thereof; no matter what your relationship to the Great Whatever is, it's all fine and good. Believe whatever you want--if it increases the amount of love, goodwill, compassion, and joy in the world,  it's all good.

My meditation for the day: 
We are imperfect expressions of perfect Love.  Mind the gap--and close it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Spring of Discontent

All this baby owl knows is, it's damned crowded and uncomfortable in there.
Discontent is a very encouraging sign--especially as it relates to personal patterns or habits.  It means you're putting attention on something you hadn't noticed before, and that you're ready for a change--either in that thing, or in yourself in relation to that thing.   The trick is to let yourself feel the frustration at what came before, without falling into the shame-trap that the fault is irremediable.   Carry on, and work on being open to a New Approach.  You will feel yourself drawn to new choices in the right time.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

On Redemption, and Grace

"There is a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in." - Leonard Cohen

From suffering, we can sometimes recognize our experience as a perfect gift. But, despite the insistence of some in the new-age, pop-spirituality racket, this is  not something that happens by force of will, or even by conscious intention, or even through the application of some "Secret" manifestation. We can decide we want to "get over it," we can put in all the mindwork we want to, but ultimately, the moment of redemption happens on its own, and in its own way. Living in that place of not knowing, that's the stuff of faith.  Coming out on the other side of it, that's the stuff of grace.

I use the word grace because it is comfortable for me as part of the lexicon of my religious; but, this isn't a Christian thing. The zen experience of satori--sudden insight--is a name for this universal force as well.  No matter what you call it, it's everywhere.

A personal anecdote to illustrate:

Four years ago, I decided to take a decisive step to create a theatrical performance which had been in my head for two decades. There was an early piece by Bertolt Brecht and Paul Hindemith, the Baden Lehrstuck. For over twenty years, this piece haunted me, and I wanted to present it--not leastly because it included an examination of what it means to be human, asking as its central question, "Does Man Help Man." In typical Brechtian style, it was not what I would call a "laff riot". Dark and didactic, the piece also had in it a Clown Act, in which two clowns attempt to help another (a giant puppet) to be comfortable. In the process of "helping" him, they end up dismembering him, until he lies in a heap on the floor with a stone pressing into his back. Then comes the punch line: "Well, Mr. Smith, you can't have everything!"  See, it's funny...'cause it's true. 

Long story short, I produced it as a part of an entire evening of political cabaret entitled, The Cabaret at the End of the Empire. In general, I was satisfied with how it turned out, the questions it explored, and the conversations it engendered. As a creative artist, this show was the first time I experienced the axiomatic truth of the two most important questions in creation: "What if?" and "Why not?" It was a very fruitful time of resourcefulness and adaptation.

And the poster, by Michael Mormino, totally kicked ass, if you don't mind me saying so.

As a producer of an evening of theater, however, I experienced it to be a true and harrowing ordeal, for a number of reasons throughout the process. I was wrung out, completely drained financially, spiritually, energetically, and emotionally; I couldn't understand why so much had gone wrong on this project that I thought I had done "properly"--that is to say, I got a "Let's Do This" attitude about a long-held creative impulse, built a team, and forged ahead boldly, despite the fear attached to the process. It's where I first realized the value of the two most important questions in creation: "What If? and Why Not?"  Epic. Fail. That is what stayed with me from the experience.

Skip ahead a little over a year later. I'm having lunch with a dear and wise and brilliant friend who was passing through Atlanta for a bit, on tour with a show.  We are catching up, and I tell her about my harrowing experience with C@EoE--that it completely tore me apart. I told her about what I had intended, all the problems that I encountered (rivaling Terry Gilliam's awful misfortunes making Don Quixote only in scale), and sharing the particulars of the Lehrstuck that so inspired me. When I finished my recounting of the experience, she laughed a little and cut right through to the heart of the issue: "You say it tore you apart--kind of like that Clown. You wanted to do that show, and turns out, you lived it."  It all came together in a blink. I had so wanted to do this show, that I "became" Mr. Smith. In that moment, I reframed my entire experience and saw the perfection in it (I reclaimed it). I laughed the laugh of the universe.  (Since then, I've presented the Clown Act as a stand-alone piece, to good effect.). As she reflected back to me so clearly what was there in my experience, what my inner knowing was about this, I now think of her as one of the shiniest mirrors I've ever met.

It was then, in that conversation, that I came to my understanding of just what "grace" is. No matter how much we want or try, or decide, or will ourselves to move on from some painful experience, there is only so much conscious effort that can go into it. Ultimately, the reframing and reclaiming happens spontaneously, when we least expect it.

Between suffering and redemption is a blank space.  All we have to do--all we can do--is to create in that blank space, the possibility of redemption.  We can, in that barren no-man's-land of not knowing, cultivate an openness and the willingness to reframe and reclaim the experience, to have a new understanding revealed to us. Grace, then, comes when we are ready, and not a moment before. And then, it comes as it will, from sources both sought and surprising. 

The Christian Church's observation of Holy Week is like a highly-concentrated version of this process, showing us the suffering/opening/redemption cycle in the story of the passion/burial/resurrection of Jesus. The universal and ultimate truth of the cycle is part of the basic story of human experience, as experienced by individual humans in their lives. As with all myth, the value of the story lies outside of the factual merits of the narrative.  It's important to note, though, that in fact, this requires the presence of the ineffable, the beyond, the divine, the Great Whatever, in order to come to fruition.

So. Do your work, and allow the Unknowable to do its work in turn. That's the lesson I take from this mystery. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

On Suffering, and Becoming

I had a sudden realization recently, that I felt compelled to share. But, I feel like I need to lay some thought-groundwork first to set up where it's coming from. So, what comes first are some possibly-disjointed thoughts and philosophical snippets which tend to bounce around in the rattling bingo cage that is my mind. . (Bibliography and inspiration/sources available on request. Likewise, If you want to skip this part, scroll down to cut to the chase.)

The natural state of the human being is open, curious about the world, and actively compassionate. Anything that deviates from that standard indicates an emotional wound that lies unaddressed, and unhealed.

"In the presence of Love, that which is unlike Love comes forth to be purified."

The ego's job is to protect the self against all attacks--real or imagined.  Yeah--it's the imagined part that's the problem. The ego takes everything personally.   It can't grasp that it's not the center of the universe.  All the cool kids know this:  Buddha, Jesus, Buber, Khan, Rumi, Tolle, Walshe...that whole crowd. They say it a lot better than I do, but the bottom line is always:  "You're not who you think you are--you have no limits, and we are all One. The same. God."

Decisions we make about our lives--to be more patient, to eat less chocolate, to finally write that novel--are often met, almost immediately, with a host of obstacles that seemingly come out of nowhere.   If I say, "I'd like to be more patient," that intention is not rewarded with a sense of serenity and a feeling of calm as we move through our days. On the contrary, it's as if Life itself is conspiring to give us opportunities to work on that very skill.  That is, our patience will be tested. Constantly.  The thing is, this isn't personal. It's just the way it goes.  Were given plenty of chances to say, "On second thought, no thanks. I'm good."  This is what free will is about. We have the option to say, "No, thank you" to what we know is in our best, highest interest. And, in the end, in the largest sense, it's okay if we do. The chance will come again to grab (or not) for the gold ring. Maybe not in this lifetime, but eventually, we'll make the choice to go for our highest, greatest vision of ourSelves.

Some schools of thought phrase it in terms of a "Breakthrough/Breakdown" cycle. After a "Breakthrough" (a powerful, profound realization combined with an intention for some sort of transformation in one's life), comes close on its heels, a "Breakdown" (life circumstances, events, and personal resistance that challenge one's resolve to follow through). It's a constant cycle, and though it's easy to take it personally, even to the point that it appears a super-human battle on an epic scale--a fight against "temptation" and even "The Devil" himself--it's just not. This gives an outsized amount of personal authority to this impersonal cycle. It also allows us not to take any responsibility for saying "Never Mind" to what we say we want as our higher good.

Every religious and spiritual tradition teaches that we ultimately are here on Earth to recognize our identity with God--to realize that there is no separation, to become One with All That Is. At the core of these teachings is the commandment to love each other as oneself. To practice compassion, to be our brother's keeper, to break down the walls that make us think we are separate and apart from each other--in short, to live in such a way that we are the very embodiments of the holy spirit of Love and Compassion. The Kingdom of God is Within, and there is no Without.

God is the impersonal energy of Creative Love, manifested personally. God creates in order to know Itself. It just creates, and creates, and creates again. Because that's what Love does.  It really doesn't care about who wins a football game, or what the building looks like which we have built to honor It. It is the Great What-Have-You. The Ineffable Mystery of Everything. It honestly doesn't care what you think, say, or do. It has no need to take offense. Does a river care if you throw a stone into it? Or curse it? Or even look at it? It's the same with Love. It simply Is. It will continue to flow and do Its work whether you "put in" or not.

Cut to the chase:

So, why do we suffer? Why is there so much suffering and pain in the world? I've been thinking on this a lot lately. And something finally gelled for me, which leads me to share this post.

I came to this inquiry about suffering on learning about the family of a child who passed away recently. This child had a recurrence of cancer, and their home was burglarized while he was in treatment. Throughout it all, they steadfastly refused to be anything but loving in their viewpoints and their approach to their circumstances. They were active in philanthropic organizations, and raised some $300,000 dollars for cancer research in the past six years; and, the father's eulogy was a love letter and a promise to the children who knew and loved this valiant young man. They chose powerfully, deliberately, to live and cultivate Love, and that radiance was, and still is, palpable. 

I sat with my heart torn open by the beauty, perfection, joy, pain, and loss that is inherent in this worldly life, and I felt like some puzzle pieces started fitting together, helping me understand in a new way, this piece of the picture.

What if--just what if--we really did come into this world, charged with the Self-initiated task of realizing ourselves as Love Itself? (This is not a new idea, of course.) But to extrapolate from other teachings, what if the very act of being born is a Breakthrough in the soul's evolutionary cycle?  We make a resolution to stand for Love (and it's not enough to know ourselves as Love, we have to choose to experience it as our Truth) Then, from the moment we get slapped by some guy in a mask, we're in Breakdown--the basically impersonal process by which we can take responsibility for defining and creating ourSelves as Love.  And this includes no less than giving it, allowing it--recognizing (at long last) our own inherent worth to receive caring and love from others.

So, you wanted to come here to practice Love, eh? You're on: I'll give you plenty of opportunities to be Loving.  Try this on for size: You're born into unimaginable poverty. Or maybe you're born into unimaginable wealth.  You have a genetic disorder. Your nerves don't work. You can't walk. Your child has cancer. You will be a target for other people's pain. You'll be used,  abused, attacked, emotionally extorted, and bullied. What do you stand for?  In the face of the "the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to," how will you move through your days? Will you still Love? Do you still want to do this? Really? How about now? What about this? Or this?  

Pain, the despair of feeling isolated, disease, strife, world tumult, it all shows up in our awareness; and every time, it's as if Life itself is asking us what we stand for. 

I think, when all is said and done, suffering is a test of our resolve to Love. In the face of suffering, Love can be a fierce, defiant choice.  All the things that befall us in our lives, all that we witness and help (or not), every injustice we ignore or wrong we seek to right, is a challenge to our pre-birth resolve to be Loving.  So if we take the viewpoint that we are in agreement with this spiritual task in our lives, we are in choice, and we are not victims. We can start to recognize that it's not personal, though we often experience it that way. It's about what we choose, putting us in charge of our capacity to love.  We choose to stay with our Big Task, or not. Every moment. We're in choice, all the time. There's no "have-to" and no punishment awaiting us if we don't go along. At any point, at any given moment of the day, we have the option to say, "You know what? No. I don't wanna." We can give in, it happens all the time. Most of us live our entire lives this way. But if, in our spiritual prep-time, we'd already made the pledge to come here to find, express, and be Love, maybe we can start seeing suffering as a means to prove ourselves and what we stand for.   Maybe we can afford to see suffering as part of the process of becoming Love.

Now, I'm finding myself--when confronted with some ego-trigger or I witness someone's painful circumstance--starting to reframe events and circumstances in these terms. (It's not that huge of a shift, really--just taking a slightly larger view of what I already know.) I'm feeling more inclined now, to remind myself, "This is a test. This is only a test. What do you stand for? Be that."  The result: it's not only making it easier to transcend the "bad stuff", but it also has the unintended happy side-effect of deepening and clarifying my experience of the "good stuff.".  Even if I'm wrong about all of it, everything I've written here--so what? It's enhancing my experience of my life.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Physical Conversations and the Mythic Mind.

This is not a fanciful suggestion by a bunch of New Age bookstore employees. Smart people in a laboratory figured this out.

This, to me, is pretty fascinating. I encourage you to click on the link to read the brief encapsulation of the discoveries. It appears that schizophrenic individuals have the ability/propensity to transfer or expand their sense of physical self beyond the bounds of their own body. My extrapolation: The literal displacement of chi (life energy) suggested in the minute drop in temperature of the subject's hand (the hands being exit points for energy) is consistent with a mytho-energetic understanding of schizophrenia-related disorders--which I had first read about in Joseph Campbell's Myths To Live By (cf. Hands of Light - Barbara Ann Brennan).

When I teach juggling, I approach it from a standpoint of having a 'physical conversation' with the objects--conversation being both 'talking' (exerting one's will/yang energy) and 'listening' (receiving information/yin energy). The best jugglers work their props in such a way that they appear to be extensions of their own limbs, deftly manipulating the objects in the air and around their own bodies. My students make their own juggling balls, which they keep with them for practice outside of class. This is not only a practical solution to the "how do you assign homework in juggling class", but also sets up the ability for these objects to be 'imprinted' into the practitioner's energy field.  This in turn, makes the object more a part of their sense of 'self'.  'Practice makes perfect' takes on a whole 'nother level of meaning here.

It's a reasonable, logical extension of the assertion in physics that all matter is simply energy, condensed.  Frontier physics (quantum and string theory) is where Western empiricism meets Eastern mysticism.  The fact of a subject in the above research having a repeatable out-of-body experience in the laboratory suggests that the bridge between the two is there for the crossing. So, don't call it 'chi' it our electromagnetic field.  There's no conflict in premise, only in approach.  East=chi. West=EMF. To me, it's a kind of unifying theory of consciousness, physical existence, and consciousness and its related disorders--you know: Life, the Universe, and Everything.

So, the question is: what if the treatment of schizophrenia included modalities that are not only based on brain chemistry, but also on consciousness alteration centered on energetic awareness? If this research can be integrated into a mythic/energetic mode of treatment for consciousness disorders?

Further:  based on the above picture, how far of a leap is it, really, to suggest that the Universe is the mind of God, and that we living creatures are literal microcosms of that God-ness?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Where was I again?

You know how sometimes you forget what day of the week it is? Today, I forgot what my emotional state was. As in, I had to remind myself, actively, that I wasn't pissed off.

In more than one idle moment today, my mind and body went back to the funk that had been in for much of the week. I felt the tightening in my lower back, my adrenals were ready to pounce, my thoughts started ramping up...then I remembered, 'wait a minute--that's not in play anymore'...the fog had lifted a full twenty-four hours prior--no need to be angry. After a moment of mental/visceral recalibration,  I was back to being a little more present.

It was an odd sensation, actually--a kind of unmoored anger, which was so patently made-up, and kind of easily released.  An interesting exercise in choice, awareness, and maybe even possibility.