Monday, November 23, 2009


Sometimes I get hit with a love wave so big that I literally must sit down.

Such was the case this morning, when I paused in the midst of my insanely busy life to recognize my own heart staring back at me.

Kinda funny--it resembled a computer, a messy desk, three or four "to do " lists, and you.

Stories are ending everywhere, I am too broke to even pay attention, and I get to drown in sweet, sweet love.

We do, all the time, underneath. :)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Losing Yourself

By the time a human is determined to be middle-aged (like yours truly), he or she has generally developed a very strong virtual self--a sort of default mental program consisting of patterned sensory impressions known as "memories", as well as imagined times and spaces occupied by representative images of our bodies and feelings. We call this bundle of thought "me", "myself", and "I".

All through a typical day, we return to this virtual character a million times, holding it like a touchstone to orient us in our personal map of the world and the game therein. In this way, we "remember who we are", and locate ourselves in what we perceive to be the larger scheme of things.

Even a little time spent observing how this process works begins to reveal an underlying honesty, an authentic quality of self that "generates" in the moment, a bit like an invisible source code. Something unnamed can observe the creation and adoption of images and thoughts upon waking in the morning, like a naked reality throwing on a layer of clothes against the chilly unknown, shuffling to a screen with that first cup of habit and calling up the role-playing game of the day. We agree that we are one type of character or another, with specific goals and tasks, and comfort ourselves with the general predictability of this world.

There is nothing wrong with such a life, and it can be successfully argued that these default selves are islands of "sanity" in the midst of what otherwise might be construed as chaos. Imagine an inability to remember your given name, address, family...we call this state of affairs "dementia", or some other form of mental illness. We say the brain has ceased to recognize, or cannot agree with, reality.

In truth, not much stands between the world we believe is safe and sane and the condition we refer to as "lost"--maybe a blow to the head or some other kind of shock. We carry a deep, primal fear of such a state, even though people who cross that line clearly adapt, in some way or another, to their new reality. We sane people often become, for them, the insane ones.

Perhaps it is this fear that keeps us from fully exploring the mentally indefinable Self that is awareness Itself, being the capacity for recognition, pattern-making and habit-forming, always with us as the matrix of our world. We all touch this base level of reality at some point, but most people withdraw immediately. It's as if we look into a mirror and find no reflection there. Scary.

But every time we believe we are returning to our mental/emotional talisman (Me) to orient ourselves, we are actually creating it on the spot. Something we cannot explain is doing something we cannot explain. Any explanation is just another point of view. So in our oceanic universe, we react as if we are small boats set adrift, and we must create a mooring-place to tie ourselves to, however momentary it is. We pretend, all our lives, a solidity and stability that our temporary identities can never possess. Indeed, it's the inattention to the creation of these "personalities" that brings up the stormy sea we try to guard against!

Most of us create a whole fleet of role-playing selves that "take charge" in various circumstances. On the surface, this works...but there is a downside to being unconscious to all this activity. Conflict between our interior characters is common, and unresolved, usually leads to exterior conflict of some kind. But even more painful are the false limitations posed by the belief that we are one role or another, or one "type" of person or another. The limitations are immediate and extensive, and we believe in them to the degree that we believe in our definitions and assessments of ourselves, almost all of which are socially imposed.

There was a time that I generally agreed that I was "the artistic type"--talented, but moody; prone to being antisocial, disorganized and idealistic, among other things. I used to begin and abandon projects on a whim, and this tendency fit quite neatly into my rebellious, slightly bohemian character. It didn't help my financial situation much, so eventually I concluded that I lacked self-discipline, and needed to work on developing some. Otherwise, I might end up starving, stereotypically, in a garret.

After a challenging period of deliberately finishing things (no matter what!), I was quite successful at bringing almost every endeavor to a satisfactory conclusion. But the original belief that I was somehow discipline-challenged remained as a sneaky saboteur, a chain I needed to hit the end of many times before I recognized it for what it was. It appeared over and over in every part of my life. It was an underground reason to avoid challenging new things, an excuse for staying within my "comfort zone" even when I desperately yearned to get out. I was afraid that I wouldn't meet my own expectations, afraid of biting off more than I could chew, and afraid of being response-able, because it sometimes hurt.

One day, I realized the true extent of freedom.

The temporary characters and their various roles in the game were--well, temporary!--and the vast majority of their habitual action simply stopped. The need to believe that I was somebody, and the right kind of somebody, was a crutch I could drop. I was, after all, not standing upon anything--I was the standing, Itself--understanding.

This kind of freedom determines my (now mostly unchained, unpropped) behavior and thus the scope of reality, the degree of my creativity and security. It's permissible, now, to follow new interests, explore possibilities and assign myself names I never considered before. I can, for instance, entertain the idea of being "a runner", whereas such an activity used to be for people who were far more disciplined than I! These days, I am free to lace up my shoes and indulge in an activity that feels good, for ten blocks or ten miles, ten minutes or ten years.

Even the more "positive" and nonthreatening patterns I hold are automatically questioned. I usually assume that Maria is fond of both chocolate and thunderstorms. However, sometimes chocolate is something the body neither needs nor wants, like standing on a hill in the midst of a shower of lightning. I am not bound by my loves to the point of physical peril. I don't have to be addicted to a substance, a point of view, or a lifestyle, as enjoyable as I may find my highly responsive senses and their stimuli to be.

In a way, I have become quite goalless, in the sense of using habitual patterns toward predetermined ends. Oddly enough, this "losing" of myself introduces me each day to a woman who is far more interesting, capable and creative than any self I could possibly dream up. I love her life, even full of twists and turns as it is; I never really know what might blossom from her heart next! Boredom is something I have not experienced in many years. Most stress is resolved by a day or two of downtime, of passive attending to Self both local and extended, doing nothing, really, about it all. Amazing, what a hot bath can accomplish!

Many of the things I used to do, think about, or worry over have proven to be unnecessary and energy-stealing--like carrying a heavy middleman which insists loudly upon its own value, while trying to keep the simple, most efficient, intelligent and direct connection hidden. At some point, I dropped the extra burden. I lost the rigid form of my mind, and discovered something easier, more flexible and almost weightless.

It certainly isn't the latest in technology, the coolest or most profitable's too simple, too available for that. It manufactures no dangerously edgy mind-toy, no artificial way out, no distraction that must be chased or repelled. Just beautiful, unpredictable and kaleidoscopic loving, consensus reality still intact...

Seen, though, for what it really is.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Just Who Do You Think You Are?

...A person? A nation? Maybe an impersonation. :)

Our epic travels around the sun are taking the populations of the northern hemisphere into a time of increasing darkness, while we respond by turning up the heat and the lights. Stress is already being dialed up, as well--family stress, "holiday" stress, and conditions like Seasonal Affective Disorder...right along with National Financial Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, the clouds have moved back in, making the brief visits of sunshine seem precious. The artist in me is on high alert for those remarkably beautiful spears and cascades of brilliance, the heightened contrast that brings such gorgeous dimension to the sky and landscape.

I do love the light! Along with this true love is a corresponding appreciation of deepening shadows, and the natural downtime involved in approaching winter. My animal self wants to burrow under the covers, retreat to the back of the cave for longer periods, and hibernate. Not out of fear or depression, but in rhythm with the native cycles of being.

I'm convinced that much of our seasonal and social/political angst is due to a denial of this urge to deepen, to go within for a while. Some of us fear what we might find at the back of the cave, in the dark. Many years ago, I realized that interior forays are as well-lit by the beam of attention as exterior journeys are in the middle of a clear summer day. The inevitable discoveries are invaluable and necessary to the thriving of all aspects of life, even if the terrain and creatures encountered seem foreign. Much treasure is found in the willingness to venture below the surface, simply to shine an observational light upon oneself. It is a gift that truly "keeps on giving" long past our symbolic celebrations.

This is the time of year that feeds my contemplative soul, and not only am I unafraid, but I look forward to it!

"As above, so below" is an ancient observation that is certainly borne out as soon as one shines even a dim light on the human psyche. Depending upon the point of view, we are one universe of many galaxies, one world of many countries, one species of many members, even one god of many faces. Our complete nature is fractal that way; psychologically speaking, we experience ourselves as one person moving through time and space. In reality, we are many, many characters, each playing out a part, each with its own set of fears and desires and carrying an agenda. That nagging feeling of being "at war" with oneself is the inevitable conflict of an unexamined "subconscious" colony. The corresponding physical "fact" of our wars with each other is this ignoring (ignorance) taking further form as the world of disputing ideoligies and needs.

All of us have ideals that we adopt or develop as responses to our personal stories. Socially, it is important to us to feel secure, healthy, cohesive, attractive, balanced, loving, powerful in some way. Inevitably, this translates as a list of shoulds--the singular "I" should be thinner, wealthier, more caring, less timid, more objective, etc. In the quest to personify our ideals (thus, we believe, finding happiness), we tend to run into countless stumbling blocks along the way, in the form of an annoying--and sometimes destructive--self that can't stay out of the candy dish, consistently shows up late, refuses to accept the inevitable, wants to intimidate the neighbor or is still afraid of monsters in the closet. This rogue self seems to thrive in the face of our judgements about what is good, right and best for ourselves and all concerned. We give it lots of names--Ego, Satan, Because, Addiction, In Case, Biology, Them. We tend to treat it as an enemy that stands in our way or a trait to be vanquished, pretty much guaranteeing an energetic fight.

There is a different way, one which involves a mental pause, a descent through the tear in the fabric of one's world (we always leave this opening to put our heads through, and yes, pull our heads out!), akin to the instinctive burrowing of a mammal and the healing quest of a shaman. Our own intention to see is the very light we need; our attention to the process is exactly the vision that changes everything.

The sheer depth and horrific beauty of our underground suspends judgement for a time. This is good, because we are not here to praise or condemn what we find. The moment that we stand there with nothing in mind but the torch of awareness held up in invitation, the children of our deep begin to come forth. Oh, my. All ages, conditions, professions and types, fascinated by the rare appearance of light, anxious to tell all about themselves and their mostly unnoticed existence. It's like an entire world, just out of sight--but now, it can't be ignored!

Initially, much hunger and desperation may be encountered, along with every form of wounding known to humankind. Just the simple act of being there dissolves most of it. Things quiet down, and the most persistent and permanent resident characters of the underground become known. Aha--there is the sugar fiend! There is the abandoned child, the hangman, the joker, the fool, the princess, the visionary, the beach bum. Some of them spend all their time persecuting, some of them acting the victim role, some of them avoiding and some of them chasing. It becomes clear that they exist within for reasons that are quite logical to each of them; they are what they are, and they don't need changing. Attempting to change them or convert them, another judge springs to the fore, and another argument ensues.

A reconstructed role is not required, here. A different mask, a new set of clothes, a new coping behavior is not what this exploration is about. Open looking, naked observation is all there is. Feelings like fear and disgust soon reveal themselves as yet more characters of the underground, one more victim and one more judge. Nothing can hide from an intrepid light.

Inevitably, an ageless, solid security arises, an independent and utterly free sense of cohesiveness that has nothing to do with manipulation or pandering. It is discovered through simply recognizing what appears as an entity, character or feature in its own right, needing nothing in particular and granting no special power. Whatever it is exists fully and completely in the warmth of attention before dying a natural death; in truth, nothing exists before your awareness or after it. The size of the world, the quality of its being, is determined by the quality of attention.

At the back of the cave, the direct connection between what seems to be within to what seems to be without becomes obvious. At exactly the same point and time that we imagine we are characters standing here looking out at the world, we-the-world is looking into our interior. Each projects the other in a mirrored dance so close that only an imagination could discern any difference. I am looking out at you and looking in at myself, all at once. My imagination exists to draw lines between the two of us in different places, for different effects...or no lines at all!

The characters, either interior or exterior, both and neither, continue to appear. No threat now, no false masters. I can see them, finally, with compassion and an affection which appears to spring out of an underlying stability beneath the ceaseless change. I can see them clearly when I am not busy downsizing to characterhood, losing myself in the drama.

A little reflection goes a long way in the waning of a moon, a year, a system, or a self...eventually, we will outgrow our mirrors, and know that we are nothing but clear, full light.