Searching for the light switch in the dark

SingleLightswitch

“If a man going down into a river, swollen and swiftly flowing, is carried away by the current — how can he help others across?” – The Buddha

I am that man. Some days, at least. Absorbing the toxic words and actions around me in the news, on the roadways and in my own home, I swell with anger or fear so plumped that I could not pull myself out of the fast flowing river of popular roars and rants if there were a thousand outstretched helping hands lined up along the banks for miles.

 

And yet, I know the flip of the switch we all possess to alleviate the suffering that comes from the world being too much with us. Choosing not to allow the inflow of water or to let it pass through prevents the swollen suffering.

Detachment isn’t a synonym for tuning out, more so tuning in while refusing to participate. The only way to survive this volatile time on the planet and at home is as the scientist examining the world and my responses to it under a bell jar, watching with dispassionate interest the outcome and culmination of all the forces I choose not to be swept up by, like that river that I can fall in and under or navigate with the vessel that allows safe passage–for me and you.

There is a switch we can all turn on that allows us not to react to the chaos and frenzy around us but to observe it without attachment. I keep looking for that light switch in the dark.

Preview of Upcoming Publication: Yoga and Gravity Unbound


Happy International Yoga Day. In honor, I have written a soon-to-be-published essay about yoga, meditation, gravity, growth, language, presence and play.

“Growing up” is the metaphor, like a slow-rocket burst through the air in defiance of gravity. So many metaphors about that first half of the arc that rainbows our lives bespeak struggle against warring forces like the pitfalls of acquiring experience called trial and error and raging hormonal bodily take-over that is puberty. Not only the breaking through, busting out and bursting metaphors of rising roots characterize maturing, but also minefield metaphors of making mistakes as we learn, falling in missteps (failing a driver’s license test, picking the wrong partner, losing a job) and picking oneself up from such falls. Struggle.

Learning our bodies and minds requires overcoming. Charlotte Joko Beck in Everyday Zen writes about the spiritual growth of achieving zen and states that “the process of becoming fully independent (or of experiencing that we already are that) is to be terror, over and over and over.” Our struggle lies in the fear of breaking free of our own mind chains–of falling.

Bhavana: How we grow as knowledge cultivators

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Bhavana, meaning to cultivate or develop but commonly used in Buddhism as a word for meditation, once again flashes before my mind’s eye. Despite researching the term, the exact sense of the word often escapes me. Does it simply mean to grow understanding? Are meditation and bhavana the same? I have not yet reached that place where my life experience and the word’s essence combine to flesh out the bones of meaning—not in its spiritual sense.

Cultivating takes time: crops grow over…See more

Meditation

  
Hold hands in equanimity,

knuckles to knee, soft palm up,

elbows east and west to the sea,

or thumbs poised right angle to

index, cupping the joint round.

Lotus springs from the dead

but loving breath warms limb, 

left foot rising over right over

left again, balance in the being

synced forth in a becoming to

the rhythmic beam’s third eye.

Hold hands, heart with mind,

hear the calm of 10,000 years

in lungfuls of uncharted time.  

cause and effect

 
 
Though once a huge fan, I have become disenchanted with cause and effect. Formerly hailed as counterpart of or precondition to logic, itself some powerful amulet to ward off irrational emotion since the Age of Reason, cause and effect aka reasons or origins, somehow dissolve into explanations and/or excuses, thereby de-motivating change.

For example, my struggles with anger, judgment and mind-chatter, seem endless. Now, I certainly can and have traced the origins of each of those behaviors as inherent or learned. My father flips into uncontrollable, body shaking, nerve-wracked rage on a hair trigger. His primary feature, besides negative, might be dubbed anger. Whereas my mother never was prone to anger–as much. But she was awfully judgmental, and over the border of cautious into the territory of suspicious. She was quick witted, the product of an agile mind, but also quick to judge. She carried pre-conceived notions and prejudices: “That long-haired boy is dirty,” she once complained to me, though I knew intimately well that he showered–with soap and shampoo–daily. 

The mind chatter may be inherited or environmentally induced or unique to me, though I seriously doubt it. Mind chatter is nearly everyone’s 21st century (and much, much longer) problem. But analysing roots to my own traits and those of my husband, children, siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins and parents is a favorite pasttime in the post-Freudian/Jung era. My family loves to do it. However, tracing origins does little to eradicate unwanted behaviors and knee-jerk reactions. In fact, the comfort, even downright smug confidence, in the careful analysis of reasons–for me anyhow–thwarts efforts to eliminate unthinking behavior by believing the job half completed.

  
No doubt changing behavior, especially ingrained thinking patterns and involuntary reactions, is enormously difficult for most. It is for me. Most emotional reactions go unrecorded, unthought of. My litany in the driver’s seat on any given day is one such example. An hour of yoga in the morning concentrating on and then achieving a connectedness with the universe, its inhabitants and all that exists flies out the car window a half hour later in the 15 minute, muttering-filled drive to school: “What are you some kind of a moron?” I might ask aloud to the car swerving into my lane ahead of me, without a mite’s notice. The violence of that question, that mindset, goes completely undetected mostly. Maybe not undetected, but completely unrestrained in the uttering. 

And then I judge myself for lack of control, criticizing myself–Miss Yoga–for the irony and absurdity, for its impeding progress to judge and anger less and focus on chatter-free presence more. Now, I might lapse into congratulating myself for a clever analysis of the causes for such “bad” behavior, like lack of sleep, lack of yoga, lack of control, lack of you name it, when that happens. Knowing and admitting my weaknesses is half the battle, right? That is the psychological lore anyhow.

But that comfort in doing half the work–incorrect math–is illusory, justificatory, rationalization. Enormous effort effects change, enables me–or anyone–to cease automatic behaviors acquired before consciousness. First, the mind chatter must quiet, reduced by half at least, so as to hear, see and smell immediate surroundings of the moment. Quieter still, to “listen” to emotional reactions as they occur or watch them arise. And then neutral observation may have a chance once the way is paved–stillness–to regard the workings of the mind and body. If I can watch the anger gather me up in the car (or anywhere I perceive my efforts thwarted or my path blocked), note it and think of it without judgment, I might short-circuit the cyclic occurrence, the connection between driving and anger severed–one street of one drive at a time. Baby steps. 

The requisite discipline overwhelms me just the thought of it, sometimes. I am too tired to separate myself out like that most days. But at least I know I have this problem and how to fix it, right? Wrong. Cause and effect unconsciously, silently and insidiously strikes just like that.

Bhavana

  
Bhavana, meaning to cultivate or develop but commonly used as a word for meditation in Buddhism, filtered down into my comprehension pool of late, that place where I can see a term’s reflection and pair it with illustrative experience to flesh out the bones of the word.

Cultivating takes time; it slowly sweeps widespread across a large swath of reading, span of years and percolation time. Like when I first tried vegetarianism back in the 90s. I ran tons then and ate little meat to keep light. Thinking the natural evolution of cutting back on animal protein was a vegetarian diet, I took the leap but was unsuccessful. I craved someting, felt a huge hole in my diet and so gave up. 

Fifteen years later, without much thought, I just stopped eating meat. And never missed it. Like yoga and meditation, dozens of attempts over several decades and then one day it all made sense and was effortless to form the habit with full understanding of that seepage, that diffusion through mental pores of  cultivated disposition to bend not only body but behavior, to flex a will to become. Unfold. 

Sometimes conscious understanding needs time to catch up to that deeper knowledge, the stretch between knowing and understanding like the lightbulb lit with the words, “So that was what he was trying to tell me,” or “now I get how to play fifth position on the fingerboard”. Before, it was flat mystery like a hollow idea.

Bhavana is like a road trip uncharted and unknown at the start but so expected at the destination. As if you always knew where you were going after rolling back all the miles that you thought you had no idea where you were–an illusion, like your shadow catching up with you.

 
credit: wikipedia

Transformation

image

Spoke a spiritual self,

and my world swelled

my head full visions of life

intent on living with intention;

realities and modalities flickered

like moths worshipping tensile light

before me like a card bridge in mid-shuffle

soon folding in flattened before the game begins.

Observation and witness transforms without elimination.

Pure illumination: Intend first and the rest unfolds manifest.

Midnight Ramble

  

 
 
Turning the key, I hear the wheels scratching the tar and asphalt, metal struts hitting cement. The skateboarders like the open space–and the night. This corner of the strip mall is recessed, secreted at night far from the beaming boulevard with auto showcases and fast food restaurants.

Tonight’s boarder seems older, maybe mid-thirties even. He is lean and has a beard, and he looks like he is in the zone, grooving with sways and swivels. And jumps. Fluid like an eel.
 
But then I thought about my sweater I left at Gina’s last night. I don’t know when I’ll get it back, and I like it so much. 
….
 
The door needs to be jiggled after it’s locked to check that it really is locked. Or maybe it doesn’t, but I need to check anyhow. The locking click of metal into slot and resulting tightness in the door’s mobility are pretty good testament to the door being locked. But I must jiggle nevertheless. It’s a compulsion.

 
The skateboarder makes another round to my corner. I sit in my car for a few minutes before driving off, taking inventory of all of the cords and usb plugs and devices. I charge and read, sometimes play games to wile away the time, chip at it with distraction; they are long shifts.
 
How free inside the gut and soul to skateboard when it’s right, when the sync is on. I remember snowboarding and those clicked moments: it feels so natural, so inborn–and joyful. The same joy as symmetry or coincidence, synchronicity, except fuller and rounder.
 
There is no snow boot big enough now. I won’t be boarding in a long while, I imagine. Still thinking about tattooing that bracelet silhouette on my ankle after it’s gone. It will be gone.

 
Though dinner last night was elegant and lovely, the guests lively, the hosts gracious and welcoming beyond measure–as always–I needed to be alone and felt awkward. Old friends should not make me uncomfortable. I’ve known Gina and Richard for decades. Perhaps because I just sermonized on introverts and declared myself one, I needed to prove it to myself. Since no one else cares. But I did feel sick, dizzy, like I was going to pass out from being too drunk, only I had had only one beer and a good amount of food with it. Could it have been stress?
 
My social anxiety is not that extreme. I don’t know what happened to me. But I suspect the pot everyone was smoking–and the over stimulation. F and C, new to the usual guest list, talk a lot, quick-talk about intriguing topics only remotely known to me, like Photoshop and cellular biology, so I have to concentrate. I can’t tell if they are smart or silly, self-inventors or mere drunks and stoners. Maybe all of them, and who cares? I suppose I have to label them so I can figure out if I like them or had a good time. Did I have a good time?
 
Their space–an oasis in urbanity–is mind-freeing, open to nature’s chaos mixed with their own, overlaid with nourishing touches, finishes and tucks of warmth. The night had that last bit of summer air, only a hint of cool. Unusually thick for a Southern California September night. Usually, the desert cold of night sets in around this time. So dinner outside was perfect, candles and overhanging white lights, festival lights without color, decorating trees and wood trellises. The fire pit flames cast shadows on the brick walls low like baseboard trim to the relentless hay, weeds and succulents strewn through the unrolling backyard.

 
It was a potentially too-long drive past Manhattan Beach, not in the maddening sense too long, but past the point of acceptability for a one and a half hour dinner. How many hours should one drive round trip proportional to the time spent at the dinner? Had I spent four hours, which I could have had I not freaked out, and drove two hours, which I did, then it would not have been a bad return on my driving time investment. The ratio seems reasonable.

 
Mopping the store floor when buzzed is the only way to get the full enjoyment of mopping. It’s like seeing Forbidden Zone on acid. Everything makes sense when you do.

 
Turning the lights on, cruising in my jalopy, a champagne 1998 Nissan Maxima, the first three-point turn to get on track gets me up close to the skateboarder, who dovetails just at the left side front end of the car.
 
His eyes meet mine, and I want to peer into them hard to see what it feels like to be free inside, to know joy at the core so fleeting, yet practiced in stealth, climbing the degrees of duration until the skill to ride fearlessly and flawlessly was always there. Only my windshield is too dirty. I swoop past in a wide arc and catch the flash glance each of us share, acknowledging our existences seconds deep; then I hit the bright boulevard headed for home.

 

A Curious but Obvious Notion

I nearly always practice yoga in the solitude of my room, yoga mat spread flat and cushy on the clearing between my bed and doors, bathroom and bedroom. The spot is spacious enough, though I often disappear from wherever I am anyhow, closing my eyes in movement, shuttering my awareness to the outer material world as much as possible. I do not feel this kind of freedom in a class.

One consistent ritual in my practice is to light incense, some evergreen, pine or reedy scent reminiscent of the earth’s goodies. I am not sure when or how I switched from scented candles to incense, but I burn incense now as I have for years. To complement the scents, I click on my Native American flute ensemble station on Pandora to hear the hollow wooden whistles of the fluted chorus sung through the wind or birds, screeches of eagles, or even drums of thunder and clackle of wampum. Sometimes I listen to the sound of simulated light or water in vibrational tones or wind chimes. Anything to cast away the walls as I salute the sun through and past the house rooftop.

But it recently hit me. The memories of moving through asana practice outdoors, like that yoga on the beach or in the park series, bring me peace, thinking how I glimpsed the indivisibility of the inner and outer worlds integrated then. The juxtaposition of moving inward while outside brought everything yoga I had read, practiced and believed into focus. Moments of fluidity of mind and matter.

It all makes sense. Inside, the impulse to move inward is driven by outdoor signs; outside, the drive to move inward out into the expanse pivots from the outside moving inward and back out again, both inward and outward absorbing all as one. Not so much an epiphany as a slot-filling, the answer finally catching up to the question.

Namaste, as you were.

One Naked Poet, the Gaze.