Without Darkness, How Can We Appreciate the Light?

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A friend recently found out about a family member’s 10-year obsession with her. They had been compulsively collecting and cataloging her failures and perceived cruelties and mistakes. Their intractable and absolute conclusions as to her intentions and actions over this time, and perhaps even earlier, currently exist as highlighted, underlined, and (probably alphabetized) chronological “proof” of her awfulness. A solution or reconciliation did not seem to be the purpose here and my friend began to think this archive was apparently “evidence” for a retaliation of an undisclosed nature. Regardless of how many times my friend tried to address the root of the problem, the relative would not participate in a solution. It seems that to ask for clarification of, or response to, these logged behaviors would make the accuser have to acknowledge their own failures (the root cause of the dilemma is not necessary to the point here, so the personal details will be omitted).

In this mind-numbing set of circumstances, my friend found herself stilled and bereft of creativity and confidence. She had become very self conscious and nervous after this revelation. If this person were so obsessed with her weaknesses, real or perceived, how would she fare under the scrutiny of others who are not obligated by blood or kinship to be kind or compassionate? After all, even informed and logical life choices she had made had been twisted out of context. How could she guide reality? This worry affected her writing. Her opinions were tepid. Ambition, rather moderate. It took some time before she would even practice yoga in our group! Her sadness would not dissipate; but, she did brave asking me what she should think of all of this. Was she really what this person claimed?

The only thing I could say with certainty is that the need to believe in and, thus, prove the worst is simply just that–a need–rather than a reality or truth. Like other forms of interpretation, what may look to be absolute may have more meaning if one educates oneself beyond the surface “evidence.” If one refuses to question or confront something, any reality can become terrible and impossible to participate in or change. This participation in reality takes strength and courage, not the hoarding of pain and blame. The family member was without the ability to understand or care about this.

After this discussion, she disappeared into herself for a while. Then, after about two months, she reached out. She told me that, after a time, all the obsession about the betrayal began to feed a different energy. She became more analytical about the whole thing. Rather objective. She couldn’t really explain her internal process, but she could offer some solace or help to those in similar situations or difficult circumstances by sharing her experience as a kind of allegory for questioning the self. With calm meditation and reflection, it became evident that her antagonist was quite the narcissist, less focused on revenge than self validation in relation to my friend’s abilities, and accomplishments. The antagonist did not want to acknowledge their own faults. Their lacking was easier to ignore or deny if someone else was to blame for their own life choices or their inability to make wise ones. The accuser stopped being a nemesis holding a “loaded “pile of paperwork “aimed” at her and threatening her very permission to exist as a faulted individual. Her identity could no longer be reworked and scripted through a curated installment of electronic and print missives. For my friend, there was a kind of “dark night of the soul” before her inner light and common sense could regain their rightful place in her consciousness. But that light did illuminate reality and offer the comfort she needed.

My friend’s succumbing to fear and insecurity had been part of the person’s goal; but, she found that hiding and cringing took  more energy than finding relief.  The obsession should remain with the obsessed and not participated in or subscribed to. Through engagement with discomfort and fear came reassurance and affirmation.

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The key here is that her “soul” or inner spirit endured and expelled the darkness. She maintained a sense of self that even a long and highlighted list of ill-informed accusations or misinterpreted scenarios could not eradicate.

We cannot control the results of, or reactions to, our actions, intended or unintended. There really is no outside environment that is worthy of arresting our right to create, grow, learn, and teach. What we can do is move forward and learn to identify what is true and renounce what is false. Then we should, if possible, not walk away but use the experiences to inform our next, productive moves.

What “dark night” can you turn into fodder for creative growth?

Keep Reading, Keep Learning, Keep Growing

Some ideas and observations are worth a revisit. This entry was originally posted about 3 years ago and I find that it has relevance still today. I’ve  changed the title and did a bit of editing but the essence remains:

Perfection is an inaccurate term to use for a human being, I believe. There is a positive force to embody in our lives regardless of the term we apply to it. As I continue to savor random moments alone with How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roach, I find myself kind of floating emotionally in a soft cocoon. My head hums a bit, my chest alternates between tightness and the most clear and weightless expanse of breath I can ever remember having. Realizations and fear, regrets and hope all ebb and flow. It’s like having a misty aura pulsing around me. Very spiritual. Very new. Very different from the reactions to the texts I usually read and write about.

A current passage that has insinuated itself into my thoughts contains references to the dilemma of pride. Pride is especially troublesome when it has installed itself within a student and the master or teacher must find a way to refocus it. One of the pending titles for my blogging is Teaching People How to Learn. I still may use it later on, but for the moment it serves as a better example of the trajectory of this post rather than a guide for a separate entry. As the narrator tells us, pride must be hit or beaten with a figurative stick until it becomes “a healthy kind of confidence” ( 135). One holds onto pride jealously but confidence is flexible. It can be shaken, it can be restored, and it does not begrudge change.

Confidence is what many of us lack when we endeavor to write. Pride is what stops us from learning. Those of us that have allowed rejection letters or the disinterest of influential people or difficulty with insecure bosses  to define our worth have allowed a perception to dominate our overall sense of ability and worth. That is not to say that there is a ceiling to learning and that writing is a static medium. The negative must be analyzed closely to find the realities within that collapse of hope or momentum.

This leads me back to teaching people how to learn. I have students who go into throws of anxiety and confrontation when they get a C rather than the expected A (Read: grade earned for simply producing the work). I see them as people with potential to evolve if I can assist them in realizing that earlier grades came at earlier periods in their education. Perhaps the standards were lower as well–let’s be frank about that. Many do not know how to evolve from the platform they have rested upon and refuse to find that there is more work ahead. Their pride is blocking the growth of their knowledge base. I am the wall they hit or the stick that beats the barriers down if I can.

What overcomes the obstacles? Reading of course. The text is life. Each text is a portal into a new perspective on life as it was or is if you see it for its potential rather than only its concrete form. How Yoga Works teaches us that things are not “themselves” or, rather, don’t have an unyielding unchangeable identity. Our engagement with the world creates or molds the nature of what we behold and that nature “itself” is not static. Roach offers us an example when the narrator engages her jailor in a discussion about a bamboo pen on his desk. Is it a pen? To him, yes, but is it only a pen? He comes to realize that it is also  a tiny piece of nourishment: “I mean that impression, that sense of division is so strong . . . I simply never realized that I make the pen itself ; my mind takes the pen a pen, just as the cow’s mind draws the same green stick as something good to eat” (118).

Now, I don’t  believe that our perceptions are an illusion or that people do not create texts, art, or even meals in an unconscious state that only others can give concrete form to as they engage with them. We are not passive vessels nor are our accomplishments eradicated by lack of witnesses or missing accolades. What this text brings to me and what I take from my interaction with it is that we can change our perception so that pain and discomfort do not concretely define an experience. If someone is cruel, the unhappiness is real, but the root cause of our pain may be suppressed or veiled by the surface actions. What is truly cruel in the moment?  The actions or the causes of these?

For a non-spiritual on non-philosophical example, think of the “kick the dog” syndrome. Someone is raked across the coals by his unhappy boss who is looking for someone to abuse because his wife made nasty comments that morning. The employee, feeling victimized and powerless, then spits profanity at someone who accidentally bumps his arm causing hot coffee to burn his hand. The person soundly abused for an honest mistake cuts someone off at a turn feeling the need to assert her authority and presence. The person who narrowly misses hitting that car comes home shaking and, as the dog trips him in his glee at finally having someone to play with, kicks the animal for also being in the way.

These examples and questions are not meant to confuse your sense of order or make you doubt your eyes or heart. Doubt is not the goal. Doubt is real at the moment you feel it, but it should not be a  manipulative tool for preventing the emergence of self-assertion and confidence. The key here is that self assertion must be based in awareness and tempered by acceptance of the changeable nature of what Roach calls “universal powers” and of perception.

The text I am reading is life. What you are reading is life. As it should be? As you agree? Does it matter? We are experiencing the opportunity to learn and grow from the nourishment that is found in the narrative.

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Wishing, Chanting, Praying: Different Approaches for the Same Needs

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One day, as I sat wishing upon wish that I had some guardian angel who would suddenly produce substantial funds for my family or that I had some magic machine that would find buried treasures (artifacts that I could sell like when some treasure hunter found Viking relics on a farmer’s land and made them both rich), I realized that there must be millions of other desires and pleadings being sent out into the world by the minute. I’d always thought of my wishes as significant and personal and that they might resonate with, first, God, and then, as my spirituality evolved, with some general benign energy that wished me well. Karma, planting the right seed, deserving it, earning it after all I’ve gone through over the years . . .

praying intently / the man communes with his God / desperate for his love

The crowded atmosphere of desperation and desire was not really something I understood until the Recession made so many of us around the world genuinely ruined financially with little-to-no chance of decent employment to rectify it. I only then realized how loud the cries must be during wartime. How saturated God/Ancestors/the spirit world must be with pleas for salvation, peace, food. How much competition I must have coming from the refugee camps in Syria. How many in Africa need hope and help? How many newly homeless in NY?

Mindfulness is so very important in our daily lives. Practicing careful consideration of what those around us deserve and need should be parallel to our own concerns. There is nothing any of us is going through that makes us alone. I was told just the other day, by a very kind person, that I must have been “sent” to them. I? I was someone to be grateful for? I may have helped someone accomplish something that they were proud of and that would contribute to their success. It was not planned and  as just being the editor that I am, but it made a difference! Yes, pride is taking hold here. But not hubris. I am also humbled not elevated. This took me outside of my own sense of defeat and, for a short time, gave me a sense of wellbeing. This person had his own wishes and they were much like my own. He was able to value our exchange as a boon. I can only hope I can recognize when someone is sent to me. I seem to only see the financial windfalls.

There is also a practical side to this. As a writer, I must be aware of how effective my character development must be. Or how honest my nonfiction must be. If I write without understanding the larger world or the nature of pain and wishes, my representation of people, real or imagined, cannot resonate with my readers. They should either feel connected to the people on the page or they discover something new about human nature. I’m responsible for creating that verity or enabling the discovery. Every time I realize how connected we are in our motives and driving forces, I can understand what my readers will benefit from. Maybe this understanding will enrich their own sense of self and their own connection to the world. Maybe they will simply feel understood or have an “aha” moment that affects their own writing or daily choices.

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I am still processing what I’ve learned over these past few days. I am still crowding the psychic and spiritual pathways with my fears and pleadings for special attention. But I don’t think I will take precedence. I am among those who have a better chance of saving ourselves. There are others who truly need a miracle. Maybe one of them will become mine.

What’s YOUR Story?

I think of my friend Malynda who used to go up to people and say, in her Texas drawl,  “What’s yer story?” RealRembrandt, Old Man with a Beard (left) and self-portrait (right) hidden underneathly, this would be her greeting. Those are the first words she ever spoke to me and I was dumbfounded at first. But her face was inquisitive and she really wanted an answer. I observed her do this many times over the years and she nearly always ended up getting the “story.” Sometimes the tale was of the present. Other times it was a yarn about how the person came to be standing there answering. But we all answered because someone was present, interested, and ready to listen.

I recalled her bold and genuine query the other day as I thought about writing in general and memoir in particular. Really, what is your story? What makes you “you” at this moment and how did you get to this place where we are interacting? What brought you to this screen? This blog? Why are you asking yourself to offer a real part of yourself to strangers? Why am I? Come to think of it, memoir is not the only writing form that suits this question.

What path led you to fiction or fact? I think it is much more than wanting to share or explore versions of reality. I think those of us in Malynda’s presence responded rather than recoiled because she wanted our story. Her attention told us that we we might be interesting. That our general outline might be much more textured and rich once revealed and explored. What we thought we covered up or lost still showed through and is considered to be a hidden treasure by some. She was actually making us ponder our motives, incentives, and resultant existence as openly as she.

So, you may think you are fully aware of why you are a memoirist or a short story writer or a poet, etc. But if Malynda bore down on you today as you passed on the sidewalk or sat on a bench, what would your answer be? What’s YOUR story? And who will you honor with it?

 

 

Ask, and the Answer is Not What You May Expect. Listen, and a Path Opens Up

I listened, earlier, to news about youthful offenders. Missives of sadness. I read now from poems of welcome and belonging. Of comfort and sureness of purpose. Which is more likely to teach me about love and hope? About life and how events unfold and to what purpose? Both.

NPR’s story of the horror of one particular offender’s actions resounded within me. While not identical to my own encounter with another’s cruel and manipulative violation of trust, it answered my desperate question as to how one’s troubling behavior can be overlooked or ignored by others. I was reminded that it is common to find out, after the crime is committed, that the assailant had been exhibiting antisocial behavior already. That their friends and family knew the person was troubled. It’s not personal that no one let you know. It’s not a conspiracy of silence that set you up for trauma. There is basically a pattern of ignorance or passivity that many  participate in expecting that “this behavior” is not a long-term problem or a sign of danger. But if you are dragged into engaging with the seemingly preventable damage, there is a relentless psychological, spiritual, and emotional nagging that adheres to you. It’s like grief after a loved one dies. No amount of comforting or advice can make you skip the stages you must go through and the time it takes to become accustomed to the loss.

I was not comforted that someone else was hurt. By no means. But I was finally brought to face the commonality of many victims’ experience. A sense of community, albeit tragic, came to me. I am not a freak, nor a failure. Just another dupe. No amount of beneficent intentions can prevent bad actions. All one can do is hope to earn the respect and love of others so that you can share all that is good. This trust creates a respite from anything too large to bear alone. There is hope that I can now help myself and others through this unexpected life lesson.

The poetry book, The House of Belonging, now that I think about it, called to me because of my need for gentleness. I have been afraid to let too much gentleness in since my hatred and loathing for another and myself was evoked many months ago. The book has been moved around as I have packed to move. I couldn’t quite part with it but I did not want it near me. It took something as objective as radio journalism to bring me back to face something that is not about being alone and isolated, but a painful part of a greater whole: humanity in all its horrible truths and insatiable lust for healing.

In one morning of routine actions (turning on the radio as I work with the horses) the message of hope I needed found its way to me. All of my prior asking  did not result in satisfaction. But my continued listening did.

A Most Inspiring Post from a True Bodhisattva

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I subscribe to Seeds 4 Life, a wonderful site on which many wise and inspired people share their words of wisdom. Ok, I did post there so I may seem to be bragging, but this is not my point or goal. The following was posted by Moshe  Kessler and it is a much more accurate and helpful perspective than the traditional “Hindsight is 20/20.” I felt it was very timely since I am working so hard to move forward personally and professionally. I hope this is of assistance to you as well.

The quotation that he reflects upon is from Søren Kierkegaard: “Life Can Only Be Understood Backwards; But It Must Be Lived Forwards”

Moshe writes:

Never in history has humanity been as advanced as we are today. No matter what field you examine, incredible strides have been made. From medicine to space flight, from human rights to standard of living; we are far better off than our forbearers. Yet with all of these advances; in certain moments, we are no different from our ancestors of the distant past. When serious challenges arise; we still ask that eternal question, “why is this happening to me?”

In that stillness of time when we are hit with a traumatic event, there really are no answers. What often does occur is that as we gain some distance from it, sometimes a beam of understanding pierces through the darkness. Perhaps what we initially thought was to our detriment turned out to be to our advantage. Maybe we were forced to take a more rigorous look at the direction our life was taking and make some painful adjustments. Sometimes we were forced to admit our powerlessness and learned to practice acceptance.
As we emerge from that life changing event, we hopefully have attracted new levels of wisdom and understanding. From that point, the trajectory of our lives must be forward. It’s crucial to avoid the trap of dwelling in the past. Rather than bemoaning our “bad luck,” we can recognize that we have been given a second chance. We become gripped by a powerful drive to make every day count, and even every minute count. To do otherwise would debase the profundity of what happened to us in the first place.

 

Per The Seeds 4 Life: “Moshe and his beloved wife have 3 children and 7 grandchildren. He loves to meditate, journal, and do tai chi and yoga. He is also a member of a number of 12 Step Programs. He believes that insights from these programs can be of help to anyone. On a daily basis he blogs at http://www.wisdomfromtherooms.com.”

We Are All Movers of Obstacles

Meditation does not guarantee peace. It is very much the job of the mind to encroach upon our precious moments and deposit obligations, regrets, great plans, and worry any moment there is a chance of quiet or calm, and our consciousness often acquiesces to these distractions because they are so incredibly strong and very important to us. After all, they design and direct our goals and create a structure for our behavior.

imagesThese obstructions, like many others, are possible to move aside given that you have the right fulcrum. There is no certainty of the existence of a chant or theory that will be the catalyst for your “aha” moment, but, what is certain, is that you can create it for yourself. You are the foundation of your quieted mind.

I came to agree with this ideology—as I often do come to understandings or even questions—as I lay upon my yoga mat after an especially vigorous class. On this day, the outside world and its cares were rather easily forgotten. Like many of us, I do have a tendency to let shopping lists or big ideas flow around when I should be savoring my down time. The darkness was let in and welcomed and the familiar horizontal streaks of insistent daylight played in front of my lids. As I let go, images and lights flashed around incoherently. As they gelled, I had a vision that each of my fellow practitioners was sitting upon her mat in the form of Ganesha and each had a flame over her head. The room was not fully formed, so the background was a general haze of pale yellowish light. I was mesmerized and fascinated and happy and still disengaged from interpretation or analysis. As the voice of my teacher, Alison Levine, gently enticed us back to the moment, I held on to the feeling of wonder.

When I discussed this with Allison, neither of us really knew what to think of this. Obviously we knew it was Ganesha and I have a fondness for that deity, but that did not help me understand why he was manifested as a student and topped with the tongue of a flame as you’d see in relation to the Holy Ghost in Christian scriptures. I was raised Catholic so it’s possible some of the love and beauty from these teachings aligned with this deity, and being blessed with the Holy Spirit is much like being filled with the confidence of the Mover of Obstacles. But Ganesha is related to wisdom and intellect–a guide for those who prefer more active engagement with spirituality. I see the Holy Spirit related to surrender rather than action.

Interestingly, Ganesha is also associated with writers and a writer must remove any obstruction that impedes the creative or analytical process. Inspiration is really not an outside force, but an inner movement motivated by openness to possibilities. Upon reflection I felt a sense of surety that I was identifying each student present as their own mover of obstacles if not in life, in practice on the mat. We were all capable of embodying the idea of challenge and the flame was a reiteration of being infused with this potential.

This idea of possibilities in yoga crosses in to my teaching and writing often. The end is not always what I am concerned with , but the process and what coming to the mat, computer, or notepad may ignite. Your initial intention may very well be moved aside to make room for more or different experiences and output.

As you know, there is much out there on how to remove negative mantras from our thinking patterns, and the term “mindfulness” is becoming a mainstream catch phrase. But do we always find a personal connection to these pieces of advice or terms? And what about those who are interfered with by outside forces rather than internal and who may not have the spiritual resources, yet, to circumvent or fully remove these human or financial trees from the path? I find that when people say “get rid of excuses” or some such maxim, there is insight lacking in their statement. Excuses are formed of matter that bad experiences (perceived or real), low energy (spiritual or physical), and poor self esteem merge to create. An excuse is a symbol of much deeper concerns, not a generic barrier used to casually avoid change. BUT, once the platform for the excuse is restructured or razed, the practiced rationalization is no longer so dear or poignant to the person’s personal rhetoric. The obstacle has been removed or reworked and a new story can be written.

What is your obstacle? Is it a tangible object or a thought that impedes your forward momentum? As a practitioner, do you find any particular impediment to your practice or your quiet mind?