Minimal Editing/the spirit of Jack Kerouac
January 19, 2011
Today I sat down and meditated. It has been awhile since I've done this and I've always found it difficult. But I've made a New Year's Resolution to do this, to meditate once a day, to sit down with my mind, my rambling, squirreling mind and find some sort of compassion for myself. I have this little mantra, compassion is always the answer, and I write it in different places where I might stumble upon it later when I need to see it. So I sat down today, the very first day and all I could think of was what are people going to say about this? Ego stepped in, and offered how I must have control, must have perfection, must have profundity. Isn't this a way for you to put your name out there? Right away, ego started organizing things. I said, I will give you four rules, which I have placed at the top. That's it, now go away. But ego didn't go away. It sort of just sat down in the corner of my mind and watched.
So, already I am breaking a rule, because here is another paragraph. My English professor side cannot be obliterated. So be it. The first thing I did was feel my back ache. I pushed it aside and stretched forward. The second thing I did was read the first entry to Pema Chodron's book Comfortable with Uncertainty. The entry spoke about climbing a mountain and how we relate this to spiritual enlightenment. We climb over rocks and precipices and roots and we feel the gravity groan in our bones. We break into a sweat. We struggle and gasp for air. When we reach the top, we have passed all of our loved ones, who still grovel with the climbing. We look and see the tops of mountains the shimmer of lakes. This is supposedly enlightenment. But Chodrin says to find the bruised, softened heart, we are not climbing a mountain, we are descending it. I am looking for my softened heart and the compassion that accompanies it, shrouds it, like soft linen.
I cannot just sit there and breathe. My thoughts come in like a swarm of flies. I must think of someone and feel what they are feeling. This is my exercise in compassion. I thought of my brother-in-law Dennis's uncle, who had just lost his wife. I met him on Tuesday when we drove up to Rockport on a cold night when the snow was still covering the trees and the stars were glistening. We entered the solemn place, took off our coats. Christine, Dennis's sister, introduced us to Dave, the uncle. He looked at us with hound dog eyes, grasping on to the arm of a chair, slightly hunched over. He may have nodded his head. Then he said to Christine, “this is our song”. There was some soft music in the background, it was a familiar song, but the name eludes me. I saw him there, huddled by the chair, listening to the song. I felt we had intruded in a moment, but then, I thought no. Here is where compassion comes in. Sitting in meditation, I thought of Dave, I thought of Dave listening to the song and expanded my heart. I have lost many; I know the piercing, bleeding pain of grief. Dave had felt this, I had felt this. I sat with this grief with Dave. That's the only thing I could do. I thought of Dave lying in bed this morning looking up at the ceiling, thinking of his wife, the memories, like butterflies.
From Dave, I went to the snow banks. The crystalized, less than beautiful hunks outside that are melting in this 40 degree weather. This is how my mind is, most of the time, great hunks of ugly ice with shit stuck in it. Then I thought of the flowing water underneath, delicate and cool, spring water.
This is what I know my mind is as well.
January 20, 2011
I didn't want to do this today; I just wanted to lie in my soft, warm bed with my husband. I got up because commitment is important to me. I got up because of ego, who wants the credit for the blog. I want to say I got up for bodhichitta, the awakened heart, but I'm not sure if that's true. Chodrin talks about bodhichitta as a jewel deep in side us, buried under the fear, the prejudices, the anger, the opinions we learn to live by. It is a glistening jewel we have to dig for. I dug for it today.
First, I sat down and felt the tiredness in my eyes. I just wanted to look at the trees glisten and the fresh snow of morning. The artist in me thought this a better scene than yesterday's fog and gloom. Out there, a kingdom of ice, treacherous no doubt, for walking, but glistening. Inside, me wrestling with my mind. I was hung up on a dream. The dream was about my childhood home in New Hampshire. I was in the small kitchen entertaining guests- my neighbors Christi and Josh stopped by for a visit. I knew Christi just had a baby and she was very animated, happy to get out of the house. Josh was quiet. We talked for awhile and then they went back to their children. As they walked outside, I noticed an exterminator's truck parked in front of my house. I thought the truck was theirs, but it turned out it wasn't. After this, the actor who played that creepy murderer in No Country For Old Men (can't remember his name) opened the basement door and stood in the hallway looking at me. How did you get in, I asked. He didn't answer. I was alone in the house, expecting my husband, but enchanted and terrified by this strange man. I didn't know whether he would kill me or make love to me. He walked around the house as I shouted for him to leave. It became quite obvious he would leave on his own time. I could still see his face: handsome, as he was in Eat, Pray, Love. After awhile he left and Richard came home. I told him that a stranger got in, that we needed to make sure the house was locked. The dream rambled on, and I remembered the different rooms in my childhood home, the windows in the living room, the stairway up to the second floor, my parents bedroom with the garish wall paper. After awhile, Javier Bardem came back, only this time he had hoodlums with him and they were carrying knives. I went to my father's garage and got the chainsaw (I'm not kidding) and went in for them. We fought and there was blood, but on them, not me. I felt excited, terrified, and ridiculously attracted to Javier Bardem. The dream ended and I woke disturbed.
So I sat cross legged filled with the dream, wondering what it meant. I breathed and then there appeared a swirling nebula. I felt sadness when I observed it. I sat with the nebula and let it swirl. These were my thoughts and emotions, a tumult of elements. After awhile the word settle appeared in my mind. Settle, as the snow had delicately settled last night on the stairs, on the old snow, on the wood of the deck, on the hood of the car. I waited and breathed. Then I heard a crow, and my husband in the next room groan and the sound of a passing car. The nebula had disappeared and I opened my eyes.
January 21, 2011
The word of the day is equanimity. This is my mantra. Equanimity is the flowing water under the icebergs, the flowing water under the tumultuous waves. I envisioned putting my hand in this flowing water; I envisioned it flowing delicately from the wound of Christ. This water flows with gentleness; I felt it cool and tickling on my hands.
I sat down to meditate on my yoga mat, put a bolster under me to save my back. I closed my eyes and heard the sounds in the house, the classical music from downstairs, the cars crawling slowly on the snowy road. I remembered my dream, another weird conglomeration of symbols and emotion. Again, the anger, I remember becoming frustrated with my mother because she decided to move out of her condominium and into a house on a flood plain. The house was attached to a prison. She told me, now I have a place to stay and a job; I can push the food trays under the door to the prisoners and I don't even have to see them. I thought it completely absurd she would want to leave her condo to go to the house attached to the prison. We argued on the phone, as I paced a friend's living room in my robe. There were two women there, my friend and her lover, another woman. The lover started to call me names. She lounged on the couch with her cropped blond hair and shouted insults at me. I was furious with both my mother and her. I remember there was also a Playgirl magazine on the coffee table (should I be committed, geez this stuff is weird). I wanted to look at it, at the men, but I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of my friends. The lesbian lover had posed for Playgirl (obviously the subconscious is not ruled by logic); she continued to shout insults at me and I picked her up by the neck and said something like, will you please shut up! I sensed the embarrassment of my friend sitting opposite her lover on the couch. I was sorry to have upset her.
I could spend hours trying to analyze the dream. The point is, there is no equanimity. I am burning with emotion, anxiety, tension. These waves roll inside me. These waves roll inside everyone. The awakened heart, bodhichitta knows the flowing water in the crease of the earth. We need to come back to this water. The last image I had was the nebula of emotion floating above me. I sat below it, cross legged with my eyes closed.
January 22, 2011
It's a cold Saturday morning. I sat on my mat and listened to subtle noises, my stomach growling, my dog's stomach growling, my husband yawning in the other room, cars turning up the hill, my own breathing. I did not have any fear. This is unusual for me because I always have fear. Pema Chodrin says to sit with the disturbing emotions, to let the lightning strike and the rain pour down and maintain equanimity. I find this impossible. My fear comes in torrents. It usually happens when I've got to be present for someone else or I am limited in my freedom. Trapped. The fear I have is irrational and if I claim what it is, you will probably think it is childish. But it is real to me. My fear is related to losing control, as is most people's fear, I guess. It boils up in my body and sends out rushes. I sit there twitching, trying to put on an act that everything is normal. But inside I am saying, oh no, here we go again. I tense up and fight. It pummels me. It's been a long time since I've felt completely free.
I have long analyzed this process and know the contributing factors: stress, ennui, exhaustion, insecurity. I can hold my ground with fear only when I know it is limited in its power. This is because something else in more important, like my writing, or a task I am interested in. The other way to limit fear is to hold compassion close. This is usually difficult to do for oneself. I've often run to someone else. But there is danger in that too, the danger of dependency.
Sit with the uncertainty, sit with the fear. I suppose an experienced warrior botisattva could do this, but I can't. I can only hope meditation will help me find a way.
January 23, 2011
I sounded the Tibetan bowl this morning and put my face up to the light coming in through the ficus tree. I wanted to talk to God. I wanted to be bathed in the radiance and take it with me for the rest of the day. I read this from Mechtild of Magdeburg in The Flowing Light of the Godhead:
God compares the Soul to Four Things:
You taste sweet as grapes.
Your fragrance is as intoxicating as balsam.
Your radiance is like the brightness of the sun.
And you're the maturity of my most sublime love.
The soul always follows a rare and excellent path, and she draws the senses after her in joyful obedience.
The complexity of the mind can shift you from the soul. I get tangled in mind's wanderings and worries. The soul part is what I wish to be bathed in. Meditation is a good start in preparing a path to God, learning to put your face in the radiance. I can't sit in a Catholic Church and pretend I'm pious, and yet I feel I am missing something from my life. I want to know the living Christ and not the mythical Christ. The living Christ begins with an awakened heart.
January 24, 2011
Oh God, screw this. That's how I feel right now. Being awake is such a chore. Sleeping is heavy, so are dreams. I feel blanketed by emotion, by winter. My husband and I sleep like bears in our bed. We've entered another place and somehow it is heavy, but not entirely restful. I supposed we are hibernating, but yet, there is this feeling of disturbance, as if it is not particularly safe to let it all go even though our bodies want to in the warmth, aware that outside is nothing but a cold, frozen world.
I get up and make myself some tea and sit on the mat. I think about the literature classes I will be teaching tomorrow. I come up with a definition of literature, how it is an iceberg. The top part, the smaller part, the above water part is decorum. The bottom looming part is all the emotion we feel. Anger, frustration, fear, anguish, passion, lust, joy. That's where the world of literature is, right there with all that stuff in the dark, sunless water. We read literature to have a deeper understanding of the human experience.
Well here's my experience: I don't want to sit on the mat and read about loving kindness. I don't feel that right now; it's not available. An image rises in my mind and it is of a laceration, the skin grated, intermixed with blood. That's how my heart feels now. Depression is readily available. Stay with this, a voice says. It comes from the iceberg deep. I picture the Buddha, the cartoon Buddha I saw on the WGBH documentary, sitting under the tree, meditating, allowing his demons to rise. The demon was desire for him. For me, it's insecurity, depression, fear. The cartoon demon of desire grew large for the Buddha, sent out his sexy daughters to tempt him. The Buddha continued to sit and breathe. When Desire and its daughters where especially strong, the Buddha touched the Earth. A very simple act. Seeing the Buddha touch the Earth gave me peace. I too touched the Earth. I said it aloud, Touch the Earth. Stay connected to God's world; Be grounded. My earth was the floor of my house, but it served its purpose. Touch the Earth is the mantra for today.
January 25, 2011
I went away yesterday wondering why the Buddha touching the Earth is so comforting to me. Despite the fact that the Buddha was meditating, he was connected to the Earth. When the demons were strong and he was witnessing them, he needed that extra sensation to remind him he wasn't alone. He was a part of the Earth, the soil, the trees, the birds, the deer. I've been noticing the ravens in the snow as of late. The black of their feathers is such a strong contrast to the pure white of freshly fallen snow. They squawk, touch down, fly up, commune with one another. They have an intrinsic knowledge of what to do and how to conduct their lives, as do the patient bulbs in the frozen ground, the meditation of the naked trees. Nature knows just what to do, is a mechanism in itself. When I observe that mechanism, walk in the woods, watch the birds at the bird feeder, I have a sense of certainty. The Buddha touches the Earth to remind himself he is a part of the natural world, the mechanism of change and beauty, life and death. He is a part of a bigger thing and not alone with his demons.
The Christian belief is that God gave Man dominion over all of the animals and plants. They are there for his use. The soullessness of slaughterhouses and depleted soil and mechanized farming is obvious. This mass production separates us from touching the Earth, because we're not touching it anymore, we're grinding it and pounding it and stomping all over it. Localized farming seems to be an answer to this, but I often wonder if it's feasible. It's just too easy to go to Shaw's or Stop and Shop and get exactly what you need. But you pay in other ways. I would much rather go to a farm than stand anxious and dizzy in the overstocked shelves of a super store. That place is soulless as well.
January 26, 2011
I don't want dogma, I don't want doctrine; I want spirit. I sat down under the ficus tree on my bolster and I started talking to God. When I did this, it seemed I was not alone. And yet, I don't know how to pray. I didn't know what to say to God; I just rambled on. Once again, I got tangled in the snare of my thoughts. Of my insecurities, desires, of ego. I asked God what I should say and tried to meditate on that. It seemed to satisfy my soul to just open up the space. I felt the exposure of my heart. Maybe I didn't need to come up with something brutally profound. Maybe I needed to only ask for a blessing.
January 27, 2011
The truth of the matter is I believe God isn't on my team. I started to believe this after my father died. This belief is reinforced with every rejection I get, with my infertility, with the struggle to avoid depression and anxiety. My faith is nil. I have carried this around inside me for years. And yet, there are moments where my sheltered soul rises up like a baby bird looking for its mother God. This happens when I hear a certain musical piece or a sermon. And then I go back to not believing, to drudgery and failure. I push harder to create, to learn, to teach because without God on my team, I've got a bigger burden to carry. Today I realized this. So I ask God, how can I change this? How does one let go after grasping for so many years? I feel like an oxen with its yoke, pulling a house from Derby to Federal street (ever see that on historical houses, “this house was pulled from Derby to Federal in 1811 by 40 oxen”). And then there's Job. And Charlie Brown. What do you do if you are one of these people?
Faith is a strange thing. It is part hope, part relinquishment, part hard work. I got the hard work down pat. It's the hope and the relinquishment I'm having trouble with. Let go and let God. I hate that saying. I don't know how to let go and let God.
I meditate on the rising oxalis. In the deep winter, we are blanketed in white. Mounds of it, everywhere. The sky is gray. My spirit lusts for lavender, for moist rain and mud. But I must continue to wait. I've cut down the diseased oxalis plant in the window. I've thrown away the brown leaves. There was nothing in the pot save roots. It has begun to spring up again, green clovers and delicate white flowers. I confess, I thought of throwing that plant away.
I meditate on Gabrielle Gifford's arm; the picture of her husband staring at the television with tears in his eyes. They won't show us her face, just her arm, because to show us her face would be too much. I wonder where Gabrielle is, if she is aware of her state, if she is at peace, if she is worried, if she is terribly afraid. But something tells me God is in the room. God is in the breathing tubes, the blip of the machines.
God is like the daffodil bulb, patient.
I think of my sister's unborn child. She's worried she may miscarriage because of the blood. We're all worried she may miscarriage because of the blood. She told me of the flashing heart on the ultrasound. I think about that heart, of that little thing buried in her, as we are buried in snow.
January 28, 2011
My sister miscarried. There's nothing more to say today.
January 29, 2011
I have discovered I stow away my joy. The tip off to this came in dreams. I have been dreaming of having these little feelings of joy for other people. I look in their eyes and they tell me how much they like me, how they desire me. It is a surprise to me and after their confession, I feel this magic, this adolescent magic, like a crush. In the dream we exchange numbers or email addresses. I want to find them again so I can experience that joy. The dream ends with me looking for them.
I have been stowing away my joy for years. I tell myself, “not until this happens <publication, baby, move to the country, find a spiritual community> will I be fulfilled, will I have my joy.” So I keep it in a box inside me, while the rest of me is anxious, teetering on depression, tired, achy, restless. I read this poem this morning:
As another new year begins for us,
we're already looking forward to spring's
green mountains and fields and blooming flowers
We're already looking forward to that beautiful time,
even though the landscape is still winter-brown.
That's exactly how it is for anyone who gives
their all for Love's good-looking promises,
before measuring Love's immeasureableness.
Their joy isn't ripe yet,
but it will be.
-Hadewijch, Poems in Stanzas
But what if my joy is overripe, ready to burst? I sat on my mat, put my face up to the sun coming in through the ficus tree and allowed myself to open that box of joy. Immediately a vision came, of ranunculus and roses bursting and blooming vermillion, peach, pink, out of my heart. They filled up my space with colorful petals. I breathed and puffed out this chest of joy, as a rooster would his breast of feathers.
January 30, 2011
I asked God where he was in my life and questioned myself whether I could recognize him/her. It's easy to turn poetic about God and spin metaphors. As I sat on the mat, I wanted to know from the deepest part of myself. Who, What, Where are you in my life. Enough of the mystery.
I work fairly hard for everything I achieve (or don't achieve). Life can feel like drudgery. I know what work is, in the physical and emotional perspectives. In Physics, work is W=Fd or work is equal to a force applied through a distance. For instance if you push or pull a box across the floor. Emotionally, we can feel the exertion work has upon us. We push through our chores, through getting up in the morning; we push to do things we don't necessarily want to do. Work is a human thing; it comes from us and the forces around us. Grace is something different. You don't have to exert with Grace; it just happens. Grace comes from God. I'm trying to think of the last time I experienced Grace. I think it was the time a man walked in front of my car while I was stopped at a stop sign and I didn't see him. I was looking to the left for cars coming and I put my foot on the gas before looking to the right. The man had just cleared my car when I started to move. I saw him and shivers went through my body and all I thought was thank God. My whole body was filled with thank God.
I guess this could be interpreted as luck, but I see it as Grace. By the Grace of God I didn't hit that man.
I wish I could wax poetic about other instances of Grace in my life, but nothing comes to mind. Maybe when I step away from the computer, they will fill my head. Then again, I suppose meeting my husband was an act of Grace; we have a good marriage and are intrinsically right for one another. It was by the Grace of God I met him after dating so many people not right for me. But I put myself out there to find him. I guess this is an instance of God helps those who help themselves.
But the daffodils. Always the daffodils. Again, I forget God's Grace is patience as well, when there is no work to be done at all.
January 31, 2011
I feel weakened and vulnerable. Depression is very available to me and I fear it will take me under. Yesterday I couldn't shrug it off; it is a force that pulls me inward, down into myself, and into the scary vault of my thoughts. I think I am worried about this semester, worried it will turn into last semester, a stress-fest, where I felt everything was pointless and it was a struggle to teach class and be present for people. But Pema Chodrin tells us our moods are just story lines. She writes, “we habitually string our thoughts together into a story that tricks us into believing that our identity, our happiness, our pain, and our problems are all solid and separate entities.” We believe these entities have power over us, as I believe my depression and anxiety has power over me. If I could visualize my depression, I would see it as a flesh eating black ooze. I remember once, when my grandparents were watching us while my parents went to a wedding, we watched this movie about a black ooze that overtook an island. Our eyes were glued to the television as the ooze moved in on a grassy hut were there was a parrot and the colorful parrot was chirping and talking until the ooze covered the cage and then he was silent. I went to bed, obsessed and terrified of the black ooze, of how it devoured living things and left nothing but bones.
So my story line is the black ooze of my depression and I spend my life trying to run from it. I have my armory of weapons against it, but sometimes these just don't work. I think, on some level, this ooze has to do with failure and grief and how no matter what I do I can't change my place in life; I can't reach that plateau where the ooze is no longer a threat. Chodrin says trying to hold on to the storyline “blocks our wisdom”. I pray I come to believe this.
February 1, 2011
Sat down on the mat, wanted to sleep. Had stomach issues. Got up, went to make myself some tea. Sat and watched Sunrise Earth while the tea warmed. Body relaxed while being present with Svalbard, Norway and the snow covered plateaus and a trail of footprints into the highlands. There were birds flying up into the sun and their bodies disappeared and then reappeared. The clouds passed in front of the sun like spirits. I wondered who those footprints belonged to, who would go to the rock temples and witness the sun descend to 6 degrees above the horizon. Sunset turns to sunrise and the sun begins its ascent. Could I go to such a place, where everything is nothing I know, where the sun doesn't set?
Pema Chodrin tells us to lighten up during meditation. She says we are witnessing “only thinking”. The black ooze doesn't eat bones. It is only thinking. My anxiety does not have a mind of its own; I give it one. It is only thinking. So I must be as light as the midnight sun in Svalbard, who sinks only to 6 degrees above the horizon and bounces back up.
February 2, 2011
Pain can be very grounding. I notice when I am in pain, I don't have as many thoughts. It is almost like a meditation in itself. I sat on my bolster with my pain and labeled my thoughts as they came into my mind. Ego. Job. Fear. Stress. Observations of the outside world. I noticed, however, I always went back to the pain, to the center of the pain in my body. It was like calling up a candle's flame and being present with it, or being present with the breath. I am reluctant to keep popping drugs, so I bear as much as I can. I think many people go around bearing things, little packages of discomfort, mostly emotional because we have all the remedies for the physical. That's not true; we have all the “remedies” for the emotional as well, in the escapism our culture preaches. If we could only learn to see discomfort as part of our nature, something we are allowed to have instead of something we must shrug off, we might learn how to be human.
February 3, 2011
Pema Chodrin says:
Our mind is always seeking zones of safety. We're in this zone of safety and that's what we consider life, getting it all together, security. Death is losing that. We fear losing our illusion of security – that's what makes us anxious. We fear being confused and not knowing which way to turn. We want to know what's happening. The mind is always seeking zones of safety, and these zones of safety are continually falling apart.
I have been moving from one change to the next for the past four years. I don't feel stable, I don't feel secure in my bones. Ego is pushing for confidence and praise, for stature. I am restless during the day, I am restless in my dreams. The time my body is supposed to be rejuvenating is just another mode for searching and it's the most disconcerting type of searching because it deals with the subconscious and images I don't rightly understand. I feel like a Greek hero working my way through a labyrinth in an epic poem. My point is, yes, our safety zones are continually dissolving and yes, we must come to expect this, but there should be rest. Peaceful, rejuvenating rest where we find compassion for ourselves and let ourselves just be. Gibran said rest in reason, move in passion. I say push with ego, rest in compassion. We must learn to create our own safety zones amidst all this dissolving and we must allow ourselves to rejuvenate there in a our own coppice of peace. Only then can we handle the instability of life and have it not tear us apart.