Thursday, October 28, 2010

Open Selfishness

I was speaking to a counselor, recently, about that "flow" humans fall into when they are engaged in something enjoyable and mildly challenging (see the works of Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi for formal info). We all recognize it, I think...that state of forgetting oneself and all the cares of our worlds in the immediate task at hand, whatever it is. When I paint, garden or give my complete attention to something, I literally "become" the feeling, motion and whatever is present, whatever I am concentrating on. It's a narrowing of focus that does away with any sensation of separateness, of distinction between subject and object. Some call this "peak experience"--especially when the challenge is great and adrenaline is high.

But what about the mundane, the ordinary, the unpleasant-but-necessary "parts" of life? For some of us, this is ninety-nine percent of it. We look forward to those peak experiences, whatever they may be for us, or to habitual "escapes" like TV, internet, gaming, and so forth, where we are passively entertained and/or seriously addicted to something--anything--that keeps us unconscious. This isn't an active participation in the full range of being; it's a kind of avoidance. These common pastimes aren't inherently bad in any way. Using them as a narcotic isn't morally wrong, either. But it is akin to keeping a freedom-loving creature in a tiny box, blinded, deafened and unprepared for inevitable reality.

The "inevitable" is frightening for some. I understand this. It was for me, once, because I associated it with pain. Fortunately, I love life more than my own fear. Just that simple thing, allowed to grow, became something intensely beautiful.

People say that the difficulty lies in maintaining a state of being that is as fresh, open and "unstuck" as it is in those times when we are more in tune, in that flow, unselfconsciously participating and engaged. How many times can we drive the same freeway, clean the same bathroom, look at the same people without switching over to "autopilot"? Once we are familiar with a task, routine or sense of self, it gets old. It's just how it is. Right?
No. The difficulty lies in letting go of the lines and templates we project over life, the ideas about what we are doing, the stories around the tasks that allow us to believe that we are in control of what we are. Those get old, because we use them to prop up--or indeed, create--a sense of self. It's shallow, thinner than watered-down gruel and completely ineffective as a "container" for the real size of our lives, which needs no maintenance at all.

Learning the groove, developing ritual or routine is not a problem. It's what allows us to evolve and expand, the same way that learning to ride a bike opens the door to a different reality, where we can feel the wind created by our own effort and cooperation with natural forces (as a natural force), without having to constantly wonder if we're balancing correctly. Familiarity is good. But are you really "familiar" with yourself? Are we ever?

Not entirely, and that is good news. Embrace that fact, and I embrace my own potential. Deny it, and I deny the full scope of meaning available to me. Meaning has everything to do with the quality of total health and thus, life.

Focusing intently on a task erases the mental "overlay" of ideas and language around myself. So does attending deeply to this physical/mental/emotional reference point, at rest, in action, in debate. Something completely slippery and mysterious does this attending, is present at every opening and closing. This "space" is anything but familiar, because I cannot conceptualize it. When I come to rest in it (even going ninety miles an hour), I find that all the elements of self-and-world are contained in this reference point, and therefore it has no place, time, or boundary. Oh, and it is writing this, right now, and reading this, right now. It is the only stable, changeless thing in a constant state of change.

Have you ever walked a familiar path so many times that you believe you could navigate it blindfolded and with one leg tied behind your back? Me, too. I am familiar with a few of these--nature walks, mostly, thoroughly loved and traveled, seen in every possible light...except one. The light I speak of is like a pause in conceptualization, in mapping, that reveals the incredible nature of the experience Maria+World=This, reduced to a brilliant One that is also Zero. It feels somewhat like being an alien on a new planet that is absolutely suited to this particular lifeform, and therefore Home, but a home never "owned". It's an open Self that is absolutely mine, not in any partitioned way. And it is full of divinely brilliant things, gateways into more Self, stretching endlessly out there and contained absolutely right here.

This feels somewhat different than forgetting oneself in service to a pleasurable task, because the main quality of feeling is more intense than neutral, happy or contented. It is more a blissful gratitude with a strong sense of childlike awe in the mix...almost painful, in a way, when it is fully allowed. I'm convinced that is what we actually are, but that we dial this joy down for many reasons. It is an available option that requires some willingness to risk feeling vulnerable, just like jumping off a fifty-foot bridge into deep water. And once the jump is made, what becomes familiar is the lack of structure, the feeling of falling, the consciousness brought to the fact that "I" am no longer in control. Something we cannot hang on to is leaping, with a light that is dark as long as we use our pale, virtual version to define the contours of our heights and depths.

This powerful dimension of Self is behind the most common, ordinary things (which, from this perspective, are so unique as to be anything but common). A tedious and clumsy way of expressing this is to say that you are never the same person from moment to moment, and your world is never the same world, but you mentally structure being so that an illusion of continuity is present. Things feel solid, you remember your name, you know where you live. It is just as true that you are numinous, completely open and have no name or address. Nothing dies or is born in the world, and everything you encounter already exists within you as a source of constant amazement. You never get used to anything, and nothing is stuck anywhere. But such a "view" is not validated much, because our languages, sciences and educational systems still can't see to the bottom. This will always be true for systems that insist there is a "bottom" to this ocean. How can there be, when those very depths create shallows on the other end of whatever arbitrary scale we use?

It is not "practical" to be (at this point) quite as immersed in gorgeous reality as some of us could be, simply because it is not socially acceptable, generally speaking. In some places, it frightens authority figures to the point that they will lock a body up. Perhaps it will always be thus...perhaps it always has been. I look around and see more and more intrepid explorers, though, setting out on adventures to the sky and the center of the Earth, with no agenda except to live and love thoroughly. In this way, we flower fully...over and over, still, hearts exposed.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Practical Joy of Shifting

Ever feel like nothing but a dysfunctional lump of meat? Me, too. This morning, for instance. Right now, in fact.

Ok...let's get into it. I am tired, since I haven't been sleeping well (broken ankle, still hurting). I have a cold. There exists a tremendous amount of interior painting, moving furniture, accumulated junk to get rid of, and many, many other things to get done within the next couple of weeks. My physical energy level is very low. I have been dreaming apocalyptically, and I wish I wouldn't.

That's not all, but I'm already sick of bitching. :)

Occasionally, I write long, stream-of-consciousness rants in my journal, full of anguish and pain and conflicting solutions to all my apparent problems. When I was a kid, I used to believe that I was "working things out" on paper, logically addressing my emotional distress. Now that I'm a bigger kid, I realize that I am simply directing a muddy stream of energy to a "safe" place. It doesn't really matter what I say--just that I say it, even with the full knowledge that it's just so much bluster and blah, blah, blah.

Depression and angst are not resolved with logic. Problem-solving is best used for extremely practical purposes, such as putting on a sweater when it's cold, or filling the belly when it's hungry. No amount of mental talk or structuring will fill a hole in the soul or open a heart that has been "damaged". Mental review of strings of painful images will not prevent pain. Neither will avoidance and denial.

There is a larger, more inclusive "language" to use for healing purposes, in which conflicts are actually met in the source and resistance is allowed to be the effective and necessary energy that it is. (That overused word energy is probably still the best metaphor for this fluidly shifting, morphing, mental/physical/emotional field that we actually are.) Maturation, deeper self-awareness and authenticity are the natural fruit of attending to and allowing the motion of energy--in other words, developing an awareness of yourself as a rolling wave in a vast ocean, each informing the other, working together as a silent whole. Not just a poetic, intellectual awareness--I'm talking about a visceral, unsterilized recognition of the invocation and evocation of This. All of it.

Energy is just another inadequate description of a certain spacetime-friction that literally blasts this dream into being in every moment. I can't point to it as a phenomenon apart from myself, or even as a quality of being--it is Being, a situation we wordlessly recognize (and often try to valve down). To "get close to it" is to awaken powerfully creative forces that we don't always agree with. Depending upon the social or religious indoctrination forming the walls of my mental structures, I might be shocked or dismayed to find (for instance) that I am God, and that God is far more lusty, playful and spontaneous than could ever be imagined. Or that God sometimes appears as a hopelessly dysfunctional human thought. Or that, really, I can say "dodecahedron" instead of "God", and mean exactly the same movement.

It seems that a deep awareness of the motion of energy is also a huge invitation to "get involved". Getting involved is a willingness to be "in the flow" and out of denial, out of cookie-cutter descriptions for what is happening in the moment, and out of ways to fight shadows or contain the uncontainable. What this feels like, in our world, is a kind of passionate dance with both the great tides and minor swirls and splashes that make up our ocean; what it often looks like are spontaneous eruptions of not-always-sensible (according to social mores) behavior.

When I say "spontaneous behavior", I'm not talking about unleashing, say, anger upon yourself, fellow beings or environment, which is a sure sign of ignorance (ignoring reality). Deep attending is exactly the reverse of the surface emotional reactivity we are so accustomed to. Deep attending means following an impulse past fear or desire, all the way down to the energetic level where it originates...this sounds terribly esoteric, but is in fact a moment of introspection, in which an impulse is felt in the physical, mental and emotional body...felt thoroughly and allowed to unfold before action. Unnecessary violence is never efficient or practical for an energy flow. When we respond in "fight-or-flight" to a situation in which all that stress is not actually needed or helpful, we know, even blinded by emotion. The body knows, the heart knows, and eventually will make all of you understand, even if your physicality must be brought down, locked up or otherwise frozen long enough to allow an opportunity to really see. See? Finally, shift can happen.

I'm talking about answering a calling, large or small, that bubbles up through our multilayered egos and presents as an irresistible "touching" of something significant, an authentic contact with wisdom-imbued "otherness" just there, in the moment. It may arise as a response to some difficulty, or for no apparent reason at all. What is actually happening is a moment of non-interference, when all of our selves are out to lunch or tired or exposed as repetitive and ineffective.

I might, for instance, be seemingly plagued with thoughts of financial stress, trying to apply math and logic that involve everything but printing up some cash (with a big heart on it, perhaps?), in an attempt to take care of business and still be "solvent". Suddenly, I become aware of my worried thoughts and feelings of helplessness...I follow them down, and a "solution", a different impulse will arise that requires me to drop everything, turn on some music with a definite beat, and stomp out a rhythmic circle on the floor until I know I'm finished. I may see or feel things that have nothing to do with money, but are somehow dissolving that sad and angry dam in my heart. I could be "led" to a further action, perhaps painting a story out of my vision, which later sells for enough cash to take the edge off...or (as is usually the case), I just stomp to the very bottom of my ocean, where such problems simply don't exist and abundance is what I am.

Another example: I am almost at the end of my day, in full power-down mode, leaning toward sleep. Someone walks by with a cookie. I want one, too. I don't need it; I'm not hungry, but a powerful craving for the sweetness strikes. I know very well that cookies and I don't agree, and result in a gastrointestinal brawl, but oh...yum! 

Now, I can argue with myself in that way we do when faced with a want that goes against a necessary restriction...I can reason with myself or beat myself up or get angry for even focusing so intently on a mere lump of glutenous sugar and fat. I can go into endless explorations around why I want a cookie when what I really want is "love"--etc., etc.; or, I can fall along the impulse raw, underneath the mental/emotional gunk, to a place where it is very clear and simple. I close my eyes and "see" it for what it is--a beautiful little being in itself, multicolored, non-threatening much less sticky than I would have guessed. It's there, before me, and I watch it make its way along to wherever it's going. Nothing needs to be done about it; in fact, action, either for or against a cookie, has nothing to do with this little creature. This is clear--so clear, that I could paint a portrait of it, and call it "Negative Cookie", or some other catchy title. It is far more fascinating than arguments over diet, and I go to bed thinking of art.

These callings are, of course, otherwise known as instinct or intuition--a wordless knowing by the entire energy field of just what to do and how to care for my little whirlpool (and by extension, the whirlpools around me). This level of care is entirely non-defensive and flexible. I've given up trying to figure it out so that it "makes sense" within my story or culture--it's better to just go with it, whatever "it" is doing. It leads me often into beautiful, technicolor visions and interesting physical sensations, walks, or vocal expressions, accompanied by "direct" knowing of whatever it is I'm looking into. What I'm sensing in those moments is a "hidden" order of being, a wider self with vastly expanded creativity and perception. My typical inner speech tumbles into a puddle of wordless gratitude and a kind of awe. If a human wanders too close, he or she is likely to be seriously hugged, mauled with lots of eye-contact, and have their confusion blessed thoroughly...after which, Maria flies off, giggling to herself. Alas, this is the real me!

In just the time it took to write thus far, I have moved from being a pessimistic and defensive animal into a more openhearted space, in which I am grateful for actually being a body with feelings and thoughts and memory, painful or otherwise. Energy shifts. We could help it along by giving ourselves and others permission to be real. We could really help it along if we took a good long look at human culture in general, and the tendency to give ourselves any excuse to get together (even self-to-Self) and have a good time. Energy shifts faster when there is a multiple of us enjoying the moment deeply...with music and dancing, with rhythmic chanting, with the percussion of running, with engagement in the flow around and within us.

I am reminded of a concert I attended last summer in which a huge variety of people checked their routines at the gates of the venue. Many wore colorful clothing that would cause too much sensation on an average street, and brought toys, food and various kinds of consciousness-altering things to share with each other. There was a long period of settling in and adjusting frequencies and saying Hi to the neighbors...then the musicians (shamans) came out on stage and began to weave magic with their lights and sounds. Within a song or two, the audience-organism was up and dancing, every unique wiggle part of the whole gorgeous scene, an ocean swaying and waving in delight. It's a people-watching orgy, for animals like myself...some folks closed their eyes and went in, while others focused on group silliness. People sang off-key, danced like fools, and called down the moon. We were in a space and time that could be called "sacred", in which we had permission to be more naked, more raw, more creative than what we could be during a typical, corporate-owned day.

A man in front of me turned around in his enthusiasm, at one point, and said joyously, "Oh my god! Do you hear that? This is where it's at! I love you!!"  He gave me a bear hug, laughing, and I laughed back, "I love you, too!" He was a total stranger, in love with the moment, having an epiphany that I couldn't see with my eyes, but felt like the ring of a bell. The pool of energy changed and moved with the tempo of the music, with the stage of the journey we were all agreeing to. It could have been ten thousand years ago, or hence--this is a human-animal energy that gets "sublimated" to the point of insanity in a culture that insists upon mediocrity, conformity and total obedience. It's also a Universal energy that is content to be expressed for no particular reason that we can see, in a moment of birdsong or otter play or belly-laugh. When this motion of energy is felt at the "bottom" of experience, each little blossoming hold a kind of joy--even the motion of "repressing". 

The universe is delighted to be. How do I know? I am. Even when I am "negative", I am.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Influence

Recently, I was looking up music on YouTube, and came across a little video that someone had made for a particular song. I don't remember which song, exactly; I do remember it was well-done and somewhat "psychedelic" in nature...lots of shifting colors and morphing shapes, in and out of changing scenery. It was quite beautiful. At one point, a little beating squiggle--the pulse of the tune--began flying through mountains and valleys. Fantastic...and as it represented the ebb and flow, it subtly affected the scenery it floated through, maintaining a kind of individuality while quite obviously being enmeshed in the landscape. Ahhhh.

It's difficult to describe the feeling, the understanding I became while watching this swatch of art. I recognized it instantly, and like other brief scenes in the story of my life, it wordlessly spun me into bliss. Yes--bliss, as in an upwelling, encompassing recognition of Home, complete with a full-body chill and an inner sweeping wave of happiness, partially borne of the fact that I was suddenly a silent verb in a universal language. I loved, loved, loved the fact that I was here, in the moment!

This kind of ecstasy is a powerful energy, with so many emotions involved that it's pointless to attempt to analyze it (thank god!). It rolls through like a big wave, simultaneously peace-giving and dance-seeking. There's only one thing to do: Give in. I might laugh, smile, cry, all of the above. I might go big-eyed, awestruck and childlike. I might be alone or in company, and the trigger may be light, sound, taste, touch or scent...eventually, there is an utter synthesis of these things, lasting seconds or hours.

What it leaves behind is a feeling of gratitude, and the deeper I get into a laundry-list kind of day, the more I realize that it's an indicator of human potential--like a high-water mark for the tides. Anyone choosing to stay "in the world" has to negotiate and navigate, and must create a slew of opposing forces to "get things done". The memory of such peak experience is not, however, just in the brain, but in the entire being, beyond skin and calendars and artificial boundaries. The memory is always gigantic, and "recorded" in a many-layered fashion. Somehow, it echoes through all the refuse I haul around in my head, and keeps it in its proper perspective...which is why I wish I could bottle this bliss and add it to the general water supply. :)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Defining Nothing

An absolute simplicity exists that I cannot experience as an "I", pointing to and defining myself as something apart from the world. With that first split--me/other--the complex dream begins. Plots thicken, chapters are committed to memory, and endless subplots are revealed. Next thing I know, I'm a character in a story, which, if it is to have any consistency, I must react to and behave in. Crazy, huh? And quite painful, if I forget my origins, because all my complex elements share a common characteristic, just this side of utter stillness--they ceaselessly shift and morph, devolve and evolve.

All this motion and change happens in "spacetime", sometimes patterned and sometimes chaotic...or so it seems. It can be overwhelming to a consciousness which believes it is somehow apart from experience, and is trying to follow and "make sense" of it all. A natural response is to attempt a withdrawal...take the body away from the story, run to a monastery, shut down the senses, numb the emotion. I say such a reaction is "natural" in the sense that every "thing" seeks (and springs from) a point of balance or rest, no matter what the physics. The "water" in the body, mind and spirit must be allowed to find its own level, at some point, undisturbed by fight-or-flight. Formal meditation is one way to relax and let go. (A good meditation period might be better described as a "mediation"--that is, placing any sense of conflict into the relaxed hands of neutrality, and resting.) Any activity, though, which involves doing something for its own sake is a way to rest, even when the energy output is high. "Resting" is simply dropping the sense of identity for a time.

The ability to let go of the typical sense of identity is crucial to a sense of peace in the surface world. I don't mistake a Facebook profile for an actual human being; ironically, at this point in my story, neither can I believe that I am "an actual human being". I've seen the other side of the truth, and thus understand that my identity can shift from acting as an insignificant iota in a meaningless universe, to utter inclusion of all in a boundless Self. These are, you see, exactly the same. There is nothing I can really do to escape what I really am--nothing I have to do, nothing to prove, nothing to reach. What is beyond language holds hands with the tiny self of garnered fact. In daily life, this a kind of refuge; in deep peace, all need is gone--even for wholeness. Not because I am wholeness, but because I am nothing. No-thing.