Healing | Impermanence and the Lack of Return

I’ve healed past the worst of depression in the last few months, but I find myself in a difficult place that’s hard to understand. I still wish I were dead. I feel like I’m just waiting for my life to march forward, one day at a time until my consciousness blinks out. I don’t really have any joie de vivre, rather a goal of trying to become wiser and tune into the ebb and flow of the mystery of existence while showing up for the other lives around me.

I’ve talked about this a few times on the blog before – the problem of the metaphor of “healing”. People speak of it as though you’ll return to how you used to be, but that’s a very limited conceptualization of healing. I’ve thought of it more in terms of other, physical healing I’ve been struggling with.

Last summer, I was in the best running shape I’ve been in in probably 15 years. I was getting faster and faster, more and more enduring, and simply poised. My goal was to run a marathon, and I was ahead of schedule and pace.

Then, I pulled a hamstring. A few weeks later, I started again and immediately had intensive calf problems. Every run felt like my calves were going to cramp with every single step. Eventually, I gave up on the marathon and shifted to minimalist shoes – I used to wear them all the time and had greater leg strength and balance because of it.

Not long after that, I started having Achilles tendonitis. First in one leg and then the other. Since December, I’ve been fighting and hobbling along as best as I can for one or two runs a week, getting stronger through care and a strong sense of resolve, but one Achilles simply will not fully heal. I would walk around like an old man with one good leg for most of the week, heal, and then run and repeat the cycle.

About a month ago, I realized I could get a compression sleeve to assist. It’s made a huge difference. I can walk around without much any pain and normal gait. I can run with only a slight pain at the start. It’s almost like my Achilles is normal, and the sense of a nodule near the heel has slowly dissipated. However, I can only go roughly a day without it, and it doesn’t feel completely normal. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to walk normally again without some brace to support my foot.

In healing past everything I’ve gone through, have I returned to some version of myself prior to my experiences? Some chipper, confident guy who believed in love, partnership, and the good intentions of others in relationship with a hope about life and the future? No, I haven’t. Not in the slightest. I’m still pained and tortured on a deeper level, and I don’t know how to change that. I only get through due to a lot of developed self-care, the loving care of those in my life who do value me and see me, and the constant presence of my cat as well as my family. In a sense, it’s like the sleeve – if I don’t connect to these supports constantly, I quickly fall apart, unable to bear all the memories, doubts, and feelings of unworthiness.

The funny thing is that shattering pain has made me feel deeper and kinder than I’ve been in the past, and I can’t really imagine going back to normal in some way that covers over the vulnerability and compassion I’ve felt from it. A couple quotes recently really brought that to the fore, affirming my efforts and dispelling some of the doubts I’ve had about myself, which I’ll share briefly below, but I want to summarize this post with a clear point first.

Healing isn’t some river of Lethe forgetting and return to some previous before. Our lives and experiences are integrated in a complicated growth and decay of impermanence – change. In a very real sense, the body and heart keep the score, and healing back to some enhanced functionality may never be complete like it was before, but like some sort of psychological kintsugi, the art of mending may leave the need for supports that hold the cracks together or an inability to do like previously, but with some fortuitous circumstances, it may sometimes also leave some golden, shining new beauty.

In my own case, all I can do is continue on, doing my best for myself and others, with patience and care for the entire process.

As the Kotzker Rebbe, a nineteenth century Hasidic rabbi, said: “There is no heart more whole than a broken one.”

Sent by a friend, uncertain origin

Sublimation happens when we are no longer attached to our pain. It is not that our pain vanishes, nor that we become immune. Tender sentiments continue to flow and, in fact, appreciation of beauty intensifies. When we are no longer consciously and deliberately fighting it, the pain itself is reconfigured into the very substance of compassion and sensitivity.

Thus, in the work of these three great masters [Saigyō, Hōnen, and Dōgen], we see a pathway out of tragedy that transforms its energy into the signs of enlightenment, signs that do not designate a sterile and frigid person, but one full of feeling and tender. It is this transformation and this process that Dōgen seeks to explicate in Genjō Kōan.

The Dark Side of the Mirror: Forgetting the Self in Dōgen’s Genjō Kōan by David Brazier, p. 37

May this help those who need it.

Gassho!

Cross-Post: The Post-Rock Way – Transformation | Spotlight: Mono

This post was originally on my other blog about exploring spirituality and philosophy through post-rock music. I recently wrote a post on the best albums of 2021 in post-rock, so I recommend checking that out if you find the music in this post interesting.


Earlier this week, I went to see my favorite band live for the 4th time: Mono. Up to the concert, I’d had some mixed feelings due to personal history, but I came out of the concert feeling deeply cleansed. Here’s what I wrote on Instagram:

Words cannot capture how much this concert from my favorite band, @monoofjapan , meant to me tonight. I nearly cried several times through what truly felt like a pilgrimage of the soul. The artistry is so powerful it breaks your heart wide open. At the end, an encounter with a friend led to us staying for autographs, and I got a copy of the first Mono album I fell for as a piece to sign and frame. So thrilled for every moment of this night. #postrocklive #concert #musicasspiritualexperience

To be clear, as this might just feel like fanboyish excitement: Mono’s newest album is called “Pilgrimage of the Soul“, and it’s inspired in part by William Blake’s poem, “Auguries of Innocence“. Lines from the earliest section of the poem are regularly quoted as inspirational and highlight Blake’s spiritual aspirations/virtues. In fact, not only are several song titles based on these lines, an audio clip of a reading of the poem played at one point, closing out a song in the set.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

Auguries of Innocence, opening lines

The set was interspersed with tracks between this album and the previous, “Nowhere, Now Here“. The feelings of nature and pushing to greater heights of a spiritual pilgrimage had the counterpoints of the more minor key of the previous album, and the balance was stunning. Beyond this, there were a couple classics: Halcyon and Ashes in the Snow (arguably Mono’s best song).

In thinking of my experience, the album, and Mono’s greater discography, I realized that this idea of transformation in the strongest, most beautiful sense, although one facing the challenges of suffering and sadness, is something I’ve always taken from Mono’s work, and I’m convinced it’s a dynamic thread throughout. Their first album is titled “Under the Pipal Tree”, a direct reference to the Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree (the Pipal Tree). The Buddha’s spiritual journey is one of recognizing the problem of suffering in the life of all sentient beings and seeking peace in response to it.

Subsequent releases riff on problems like this, thinking on fantastic takes of the connection with others, the remembrance of family, dealing with disappointment, and a sojourn through Hell.

A much younger me discovered “Hymn to the Immortal Wind” (the album I refer to in my Instagram post), and the experimentation of rock crossed with classical orchestra with a delay-laden tremolo lead guitar, immediately got through this focus on nature, humanity, connection, and heart/soul. It was a turning point in my life, from which I’ve never been the same, and furthermore, after which, I’ve struggled to share these feelings with others. My trepidation at the concert was grief: a feeling of sharing that having been lost.

However, with the opening riff of the first song, “Riptide“, and the subsequent shift to crushing power and speed, I felt all my clinging of attachment unmoored, and this feeling of having my narrative torn apart by beauty, by majesty, and my sheer, powerful abundance of all that is, came through multiple times, leaving me nearly in tears.

There are few post-rock bands as masterful as Mono, and Taka’s songwriting and presence on stage are nothing short of genius, and this kind of spiritual experience is intentional in their music, especially live. As Taka said when touring for “Requiem for Hell”:

“Music is about experiences,” Goto says. “Witnessing extremely loud sounds live is one type of experience. It’s almost like seeing a spark of thunder in a quiet night sky, then hearing the echoes of loud thunder. It’s beautiful, yet crushing – an unusual experience.”

“At the same time, subliminal music is extremely spiritual. Every sound and melody start to soak into every cell in your body, takes them subconsciously and moves them. Music can speak to everyone more eloquently than words. It’s close to philosophy. It’s a gift from God.”

Taka, from this story

This quote summarizes both my feelings about post-rock’s intensity of expression and the intensity of Mono’s live shows. I highly recommend exploring the spiritual experience of transformation that their music offers.

Philosophy Riffing | Ethics – excellence, ethics vs. morality, good and evil, and a spiritual expansion

This was a meandering recording that pulled up a lot of details I didn’t originally have in mind and left many others unsaid that I had originally intended. May come back with a part 2 soon. I hope this gives others many things to ponder or at least some ideas/sources for them to go look at further. Feel free to ask questions in comments.

Note: At about an hour and 10 minutes, I make a mistake with Carl Schmitt. He described the distinction that grounds the concept of the political as the friend-enemy distinction.

Heartbreak | Poetry | Crimson Drops

A rough attempt at poetry – initially thought of during a recent run. The beginning is merely a symbolic expression of the pain of loss – not any message of intention at self-harm.


Languid flow oozes – ebbing life and death
Crimson crystals coagulate
Drops fall to the ground
Mixing with the salt of tears

The stain of such a staunched flow
Crimson – the deep color of compassion
Mahayana monk’s tender tone
A reminder: death (XIII) is transition

Romance may have withered and fallen
The faded crimson of a dead rose
Yet heart’s vulnerability
Can hear the cries of the entire world

Twisted knot on my arm
Crimson dyes of tattooed ink
A lucky symbol and inspiration
Wisdom and compassion: entwined as reality

No matter my despair
My raw flesh of heart
Can pull in all the despair of the world
And push out peace to all – tonglen


May this pull in the despair of heartbreak from all those who feel it, take it upon myself, and replace it in everyone out there with warmth, acceptance, and peace.

Gassho!

Heartbreak | Poetry for a Pulverized Heart

I’ve wanted to explore the topic of heartbreak and healing through a spiritual lens by riffing on a few of my favorite spiritual texts and trying to make them into some heartfelt poetry. This will be an attempt at that.


Form is emptiness.
Emptiness is form.
Form is nothing other than emptiness.
Emptiness is nothing other than form.
Love is nothing other than heartbreak.
Heartbreak is nothing other than love.
The arising of love is the flux that also flows out into its absence.
With gain is loss. With attachment is separation.
All such dharmas, every dharma, the entirety of the ten thousand things,
Each, no more substantial than dreams.
Each as empty – impermanent and without a Self, an identity that lasts.
As such: “Slogan 2. Regard all dharmas as dreams”.
Each can pop and be gone in the blink of an eye.
Even a life can.

The pulverized heart – pulverized: something crushed into powder: pulver.
It is perhaps the greatest emptiness.
A flux of confusion, hurt, memory, despair, hopelessness,
And perhaps, the last reverberations of a beat:
A small echo of the past and a yearning for it to grow back into life.
None of it solid. None of it stable.
Complete emotional rawness.
Potential opening for vulnerable wisdom – a being-here to sit with.

Form is emptiness.
Emptiness is form.
There is no love. No heartbreak. No connection. No rupture. No gain. No loss. No joy. No grief. No healing. No hurt. No learning. No forgetting. No path. No resolution.
All of it, gone, gone, beyond gone, completely beyond the concept of gone.

And yet…
Form is form. In each moment, just this – the entire universe is this present moment.
Emptiness is emptiness. The goings and comings are being-time; time-being.
We misunderstand them because we don’t understand the beat of time.
For love to last, effort must be put in – the consistency that is accomplished through change.
Be water, my friend.

Seeing clearly is sitting without attachment.
It’s cutting through the grasping onto form, emptiness, and any arising.
It’s severing the ties that hold us to our devils: all being creations of mind.
When heartbreak arises, cut through the narratives, justifications, and demons of ego.
When love arises, cut through the narratives, justifications, and demons of ego.
As should be remembered:
“Flowers fall even though we love them. Weeds grow even though we dislike them.”

Just this.


For reference, this free-form poetry is riffing hard on The Heart Sutra, Dogen’s Genjokoan from his Shobogenzo, some ideas from Mahayana Buddhism in general, particularly the 8 worldly concerns (gain and loss being two of them), The Tao Te Ching, the 52 slogans from the 7 points of mind training (Lojong) in Tibetan Buddhism, and Machik Lapdrön’s The Great Bundle of Precepts (the founder of Chöd and an absolutely radical female monk from the Middle Ages – highly suggested reading).

To end, I’d like to quote three poetic passages from Addiss and Lombardo’s as well as Red Pine’s translations of The Tao Te Ching, as I find them absolutely beautiful and inspirational, and I feel they speak to this problem of duality in experience and how to behave as a Sage who gets to the fundamental aspect of doing well without getting caught in the self-involved pain of trying to jump only from gain to gain to gain to gain.

Recognize beauty and ugliness is born.
Recognize good and evil is born.

Is and Isn’t produce each other.

Hard depends on easy,
Long is tested by short,
High is determined by low,
Sound is harmonized by voice
After is followed by before.

Therefore the Sage is devoted to non-action.
Moves without teaching,
Creates ten thousand things without instruction,
Lives but does not own,
Acts but does not presume,
Accomplishes without taking credit.

When no credit is taken,
Accomplishment endures.

Tao Te Ching – trans. Addiss and Lombardo; chapter 2

7

Heaven is eternal and Earth is immortal
the reason they’re eternal and immortal
is because they don’t live for themselves
hence they can live forever
sages therefore pull themselves back
and end up in front
put themselves outside
and end up safe
is it not because of their selflessness
whatever they seek they find

8

The best are like water
bringing help to all
without competing
choosing what others avoid
they thus approach the Tao
dwelling with earth
thinking with depth
helping with kindness
speaking with honesty
governing with peace
working with skill
and moving with time
and because they don’t compete
they aren’t maligned

Lao-Tzu’s TaoTeChing – trans. Red Pine; chapters 7 and 8

Heartbreak | The Hermit’s Way

I recently have been attending a Buddhist dharma talk weekly session through a local Buddhist temple. One of the monks reached out to me to chat and get to know me better. She asked me about my difficult emotional states I’ve brought up when we’ve shared in class. I rattled off some straightforward description with some points about how I’ve been too attached to certain ideas of partnership and love and that I just need to reevaluate and come to terms with the possibility for a different narrative, understanding, and path for myself. I thought I would get some sort of agreement or pat on the back, but the actual reaction I got surprised me and made me understand my treatment of myself differently. Instead of just seconding such a tough approach to my situation, she paused and told me that it makes sense I would be grieving and struggling with all the transitions and restructuring I described. I realized in that moment that something some friends tell me is right: I don’t have a lot of compassion for myself. I strive and push myself hard to be better, to understand deeper, to stand taller, and to be stronger. When I fail, I tend to focus on how I didn’t do well enough and have to be better next time. As such, recent transitions have been tough. I tend to think of myself as weak or stupid rather than as working through legitimate issues. The fact that a monk who is well-versed in the phrasing and concepts I used basically indicated that I should pause and grieve with grace, accepting those feelings as legitimate, was quite the message to me.

Then, today happened. The last few weeks have been hard in general in that there’s flashbacks to a year ago and shared moments, as well as shared intentions and aspirations. We had talked at some point during that time about spending holidays with her family – helping her cook and enjoying the time. So, the loneliness of today, being alone, facing the existential shifts of looking at no partnership, no family, no fatherhood in the future as quite likely outcomes (No, I’m not being dramatic – it’s going to be difficult to find a match who is not settling for my sense of compatibility; such a person will be rare. That’s a statistical certainty.) has been incredibly painful, much more so than regular recently, and regular is wishing that my heart would stop, daily.

I’ve sat with all the feelings and tried to muster up the energy to just focus on other things that need done. That’s kind of my Zen of heartbreak: chop wood, carry water (as I’ve spoken of before). However, it was difficult, and I tried to focus on being patient with precisely that process.

One key focus for that was to go on a Jingle Bell Run – a family tradition of running in the Christmas Eve darkness with bells for the kiddos to hear. I didn’t have any bells though but took the idea up in spirit. I haven’t been able to run for months until recently, so doing this particular run was quite meaningful.

As I left, my heart continued to ache with all the feelings. I turned on a live album by my favorite band as the running vibe. The soft nuances and crushing crescendoes of electric energy really jogged my heart and my mind as my feet moved along as well.

Somewhere in the middle of the run, I realized – “Why am I so worried about these future concerns and the loss I feel from the recent past? So what if I won’t end up in a partnership, as a father, or with a family? I can take the extra time and independence to invest in myself, to become smarter, stronger, and deeper. I can mentor others in a variety of ways, find opportunities to be helpful, compassionate, and involved, and help children in other aspects, perhaps volunteering. I can dedicate the love I felt for another in new directions, expanding my heart to hold and help others in the various ways they cross my path. So what if relationships have never left me feeling seen or valued? I can value myself better than anyone else ever will be able to.”

In recent months, tarot and I Ching have time and again counseled me to find strength, insight, solace, and equanimity within myself. Find and strengthen my inner light of truth has been the counsel, and let it shine — the Hermit card.

I’ve tried, but I fall away from it time and time again, as I’ve wanted love. I’ve wanted partnership, but honestly, it’s time. It’s time to accept the path of solitude from a place of strength and empowerment.

I was challenged at one point that the feelings of connection I had with my person of heartbreak were all stories in my head. They weren’t. That’s not how I exist or engage with life. I don’t get lost in stories that I create. I push myself for insight, truth, authenticity – as said above, and sometimes, I’ll even sanity-check with other people just to make sure I’m not getting lost in a bias. They were intense experiences. I didn’t get lost in my head. I got lost in my heart. It may be the closest I ever get to unconditional love for a romantic partner. The best I can describe: I saw the other person fully, even with all their myriad flaws and darkness, yet accepted them and would have challenged them to grow and get stronger – as they did me. Seeing our future together brought images of two birds flying together to the treetops and beyond, soaring in accompaniment. It doesn’t matter that the other person didn’t feel the same. That doesn’t invalidate this as a true experience that I had, and I’m certain that evaluation of what we could have been is absolutely true, although it matters not. I was reminded of this again tonight, however, as the music at one point felt like it expressed that soaring, and fittingly enough, it’s a song called “Halcyon”.

To return to the events of tonight: I came home drenched. The rain tonight was steady and pretty hard. This too was somehow uplifting. In thinking of the Hermit’s Way, I remembered all the times I have had runs just like tonight: running through the wet and cold alone in the dark with so few people in life I could even describe such an experience to, nonetheless with whom I could share exactly what it feels like. I realized though that in some ways I always struggle with and resist this process but also always end up feeling enlivened and sometimes exhilarated by the sheer wildness of facing wind, rain, and cold for miles with nothing but resolve and a pair of shoes. Introversion and self-reliance have always been some of my greatest strengths. They’ve acted as an engine for many of my endeavors, even writing this blog right now, as well as learning many of the things that I reference in it all of the time.

In any case, I think it’s time to trust the process and move past the pain of struggling with being alone and the grief of losing a great love. It matters not that I’m pretty certain I won’t have anything like that again. It matters not that that certainty is bolstered by having looked through 100s of online dating profiles. I’ve played the field or cast my nets, and it was just what I expected. The path forward for me is one of investing in the Hermit’s Way, and I will do so with the strength and sure-footedness of someone with light feet. As I wrote in a creative project for school long ago:

12) Healing thyself.  As Nietzsche said: “Everything good is instinctive – and consequently light, necessary, free.  Effort is an objection, gods and heroes belong to different types (in my language: light feet are the first attribute of divinity)”.  Light feet as divinity – a revelation!  Feeling the weight of heaviness keeps us from running, dancing, flying…  We encounter the suffering of others all the time, but we are more than just vessels for suffering.  Staying healthy requires a lightness of foot, mind, and soul, rather than the heaviness of disease; it requires a quick, easy readiness to laugh!  Remember that to heal oneself is a dance with the abundant radiance that is in oneself, in the Other – “You”, and in the world.  Light feet… 

Writing mine. Quote from Nietzsche: Nietzsche, F. (2002).  Beyond Good and Evil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Honestly, that’s an aspiration that’s hard to live up to. I’m sure I will struggle with accepting this still, but I felt bolstered tonight with a lightness of foot that I haven’t felt in quite some time. Whatever the case, I will aim to take up my hermit’s lantern and shine.


May this help others find their own lightness of foot and inner truth as they struggle to grieve and grow.

Gassho!

Meaning and Health in Life

Personal events in my life recently reminded me of how true it is that all composite things are impermanent. This is a famous phrase from Buddhism, and the unstated extension from science is that everything is composite — you, me, both as bodies and psycho-social-emotional identity constructs, even atoms: all of these are impermanent. I quote this line often as a piece of wisdom in relation to discussions with others, but it’s easy to overlook in one’s own life.

For Christmas, I went home to see my family. For those of you who have read my blog regularly for a long time, you may recall that my father died this year, and this was the first winter holiday season without him. In the time between, my grandmother has struggled with his death, and the loss has driven her into an assisted living home in her local hospital. I went to see her while I was home.

Let me take a brief aside to provide some personal background and a perspective on psychology and philosophy. A few years ago, I completed a masters in clinical psychology. The program I was in had an existential-phenomenological theoretical stance. This meant that we looked at human experience holistically with an emphasis on personal meaning and the flavor of experience, rather than reductive methods and techniques (nothing against those by any means). One of the first books we read in the program was Viktor Frankl’s famous work Man’s Search for Meaning.  This is a book by another Austrian psychotherapist who was a contemporary of Freud and Adler. In the book, he talks about his experience in surviving the concentration camps and what he saw in the psychology of himself and other survivors: he saw that these prisoners perceived a meaning in their lives, a goal to work towards that gave their horrors in the concentration camps a limitation, a transcendent reason of some sort. That may sound religious or profound, a “Meaning of Life”, but it doesn’t need be. For the author, his was that he was convinced that his family was alive, and he needed to live to see them again. Frankl references a line from Nietzsche from Twilight of the Idols:

“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”***

Viktor E. Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning (Kindle Locations 847-848). Kindle Edition.

The prisoners in the camps who lost this future goal, the simple purpose of seeing life holistically as some greater gestalt with projects above and beyond the life in the camps, were the ones who withered away and died or stopped trying to not be picked for activities that would lead to their deaths. In other words, existential despair of perceived meaninglessness in one’s own life can lead to a nihilistic idea that I may as well be dead. In fact, on a greater scale, this is precisely one of Nietzsche’s greatest concerns in modern culture as a whole — a loss of the values that have informed Western society till now could lead to a threat of a nihilistic willing of self-destruction. I’ve never seen it read this way, but we could easily read another famous quote by Nietzsche in just this manner:

“Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein. ” – Jenseits von Gut und Böse – retrieved at Nietzsche Source

“And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss looks back also into you.”
– my translation^^^

We could see this as the problem of an emptiness looking into us, becoming intimate with us, emptying us. The line before warns us that fighting monsters leads to becoming a monster, and apparently, we can surmise that staring at the yawning chasm of death that an abyss is leads to us being either more abyss-like or more tempted to jump in to our death: willing one’s own destruction in seeing oneself as an abyss.

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Maybe looking down doesn’t have to lead to anguish and despair

Returning to my story: I was concerned about my grandmother right away after my dad’s death. I called her not long after to make sure that someone was paying attention to her and giving her the room to express her own feelings about what had happened. We usually had fairly long phone calls and talked about books, the world, and the challenges I faced in growing into an adult, but this time, the call was brief, and my grandma said something along the line of not seeing much of a point anymore to things. My therapist senses tingled with concern — she had no meaning. She didn’t see any future to her world anymore.

I told my mom to make sure that my grandmother was OK, and it didn’t take long before she had to be taken to the assisted living facility. I knew all of this when I walked in to see her over the holidays, but I didn’t expect the dramatic change, the marching forward of impermanence in such a brief period. It had only been about 9 months since I had last seen her, but in that span of a baby’s gestation, she had aged seemingly 20 years. She’s lost 30 pounds and a lot of her faculties. I recalled an ex girlfriend telling me that when her dad fell off a horse (his passion) and broke his wrist, he aged years in the few months it took to fully heal. Clearly a trauma, physical or emotional, can really shake the stability of older people’s lives, and as Frankl noted, the loss of meaning can shake one’s life so critically that it begins to fully unwind.

I’m not sure I have a solid point or piece of wisdom to share in this post. I could counsel you to be aware of the meaning that you build in the narratives of your life and to be aware that the structures around which these are built will end, and the meanings you currently have will need to be amended. This is normal — you’ve likely changed course and built up new projects in the face of your own future and death several times, but it’s something else to realize that an intense personal trauma may wipe meaning off the table to the extent that you cannot readily amend your narrative and your meaning. Perhaps, the counsel is simply this: all of us, and all things we know will die. The mountains outside your window, the oceans you visit, the cities you grow up in — all of these are impermanent, having risen and fallen before, and they will do so again. This also applies to the people you know and yourself. Try to find your peace with that and be open to finding your way in the world without those people and places if they come to a sudden, unforeseen end, no matter how difficult it may be. I say this with no judgment for anyone — myself, my family, or anyone ever. This is perhaps the largest challenge one faces in life.

May this bring new meaning to all those who read it.


*** The original line in German is: “Hat man sein warum? des Lebens, so verträgt man sich fast mit jedem wie?” I would translate this more as: “One who has their own “Why?” for living bears almost any “How?”.” Humorously enough, Nietzsche ends the phrase with a joke that only the English strive for happiness, which leaves me with many questions about how Nietzsche read Aristotle.

^^^ Interestingly, Sartre also talks about the sensation of what is felt when standing at a ledge over a fall (I believe inspired by writings by Kierkegaard rather than Nietzsche, however). He describes the sense that you have the potential to jump, that you could choose to leap to your death, as anguish.

Considering Connection and Lost Time

I woke from dreams yesterday, a bit confused, and lay in bed for a while to process the ideas and feelings mindfully, rather than hopping out of bed and forgetting them.

In an earlier dream, my family were all together, travelling, talking, and I spent time with my dad, catching up. A subsequent dream made the first a dream within a dream — waking up from the first, I remembered that my dad was gone, and my mom and sister were both completely lost, shattered, going through the motions of daily life, trying to make it through each one. My sister warned me not to talk to my mom about … something… and when I went to go talk with her, sure enough, she went rigid, cold, and mechanically started doing chores, almost knocking me over as she pushed forward in completing them.

This contrast and some of the associated emotional ambiance of the dream highlighted the emotional difficulties of grieving and letting go, how the process throws us out of our element enough to put us on rails of pain and heartbreak, and in my own case, it accentuated the abstract, almost surreal quality of disconnection. I mean — in my own processing of this event, recently, there have been times where something makes me think: “I can’t wait to talk to Dad about this.” Only a second or two later do I realize that that’s impossible. The few times this has happened have each been equally a moment of bitter realization; it seems the event is just too big, too much of a change of the structures of life for it to readily sink in at the new-normal operating level, even after a few months.

I think that this ultimately speaks to the one piece that I struggle to accept in losing him, the one thing that doesn’t fully digest: I regret not seeing him more since I left to college over a decade ago. There were years when I saw him not at all or only once for a few days. We were both too busy a lot of the time to readily keep up on the phone. Etc.

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That’s ultimately the problem with death, as the existentialists and Buddhists constantly warn us, it’s not operating on our time table. It can come out of nowhere, and it waits for us as soon as we are born. That’s why Heidegger sets the ultimate challenge as being resolute in the face of it, creating your life through your projects, seeing it coming, and knowing that it could pop up at any time. The mahayana path of Buddhism tells us to do similarly: start practicing now, in this moment, and be grateful for the opportunity of being alive and experiencing the truth of the Dharma. You have this one chance to lead a wise, compassionate human life. Don’t waste it.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t as mindful of this in my relationship with my dad as I could have and should have been. I feel like our relationship in the last few years is captured with “Cats in the Cradle” by Cat Stevens (I listened to a rock cover of it a lot in high school by Ugly Kid Joe). I’m sure my dad probably experienced me growing up and zooming off out of our small hometown at a more or less breakneck pace, and he was always just a bit too busy to be there as much as he would have liked, and when I grew up, it was the same for me — too busy doing other things and in places far away (so I experienced the inverse and see that now).

My point with all this is be aware and grateful of the connections you have in your life — both large and small. Try to make the time to be present for them. Reach out. You never know when your time or your friend’s/partner’s/colleague’s/acquaintance’s/family member’s time will be up, and if that time passes, there’s nothing that can bring it back.

On Communication: Affirmation and Clarity

Two very different conversations recently have made me ponder the importance of being clear with your expression about your intentions, beliefs, feelings, or values. There are many reasons for this, so let’s build up some clarity around this issue.

First of all, from the aspect of discussing complicated political issues, I’ve seen some convoluted rhetorical stances that ultimately can only be called disingenuous. If you rely on questioning other people’s positions as being too partisan while hiding the fact that you have no problem with a highly controversial position, do not be surprised that your subterfuge will only result in complete disavowal. Any good points you may have had were used merely as a rhetorical ploy, so the discussion is moot. If you’re going to be provocative, be forthright about it — affirm it. Then, you can create real dialogue. That dialogue must be based on the truth of admission of what your beliefs are and what your intentions are: i.e. it must be based on a hermeneutics of trust to be productive, otherwise it always risks doubt and dispersal. In fact, that’s the problem with a large swath of our news narratives today regarding politics; they’re based on a hermeneutics of suspicion, looking for hidden agendas, secret agents, and conspiracies. There may be truth to such critical analyses, but the problem happens when this style of meaning-finding reaches successively meta-levels of suspicion: the people behind the people behind the people are the real instigators of some ultimate evil plot! Unfortunately, this is necessary to a certain extent (political scientists and myself do find plenty of evidence for seeing oligarchy at play behind many machinations in current events), but it can get to conspiracy theory levels sometimes — thinking of some of the crazy stories of the “deep state” I’ve heard in the last year or so.

TLDR: if you want to have a meaningful discussion with others about a political issue, make clear your values, beliefs, and intentions. If you try to hide them while you merely attack and mock, you will be ridiculed all the more when your ulterior motives shine through, and even if you had some critically amazing points, they will mean nothing. Affirmation and clarity are needed in a conversation among equals.


Secondly, I heard a podcast recently that told the story of an odd relationship between a distant, disciplinarian mother and a stranger to the family in a traditional culture (seen as odd by her sons). The story ended with sadness amongst surviving family members of two generations regarding the reticence of expression — the mother never told her son she loved him, and the son only told his daughter once or twice. Having recently undergone the loss of my father, it made me stop and ponder the things I wish I asked him or told him. There are simply things I will never know but meant to ask for a long time, now mysteries washed away by the tides of time.

This has made me realize that mindful, clear expression needs to affirm the fact that we all die and could at any time. This authenticity, resoluteness in the face of death, if you want to be Heideggerean, should animate our language and interaction with those for whom we care. You never know if you will have another chance to say, “I love you!”, to tell someone to take care of themselves, to ask questions you may have held for years, or to resolve any nagging doubts from childhood. The chance to express, to question, to profess, to pacify, to let out, to let go in all the verbal ways possible, could disappear in a breath now, in the next moment. You never know. So please, make sure to reach out with your thoughts and feelings. Timing may be important, but life shouldn’t be lived as “Some day,” or “Maybe next time,” if you can say it now. Affirmation of ourselves, our values, and our purpose as well as expressive clarity are key to fulfilling intimacy in our connections with others.

With that, I’m adding three songs which have been pulling at many of the various feelings I have about my dad in the gamut of emotions that play through. Post-rock will always be the most expressive music to me for feelings, especially with no words to conceptually narrow the rawness. May it touch others’ hearts out there as some sort of clear expression of the depth of human experience.


Musings of an Aspiring Oneironaut: Interconnected Awareness in Dream?

I recently had a dream in which I went to a doctor — and there was a weird sexual temptation and gender-bending with this doctor, but hey, dreams are weird that way. I don’t recall the reason why I was visiting this doctor, but the doctor was known for having unique and alternative methods to address issues.

At some point, the doctor kneeled before me and induced a trance in me by looking me in the eye directly and asking me a question (although it’s a couple weeks later, so I don’t remember what the question was). The important thing was my answer. In my trance, my eyes closed, and I saw a beautiful golden statue of the Buddha. It emanated wonder and peace – a soothing certainty that the universe is an unfolding connection in all aspects, not only in those I like, and I felt myself dissolve into that interdependence. Along with this feeling came the words, “I love the Buddha. I am a Buddhist.” Yes, not nearly as profound as the emotion, but it capped off the whole experience and made it even more personal.

This feeling that I tried to describe just now is an intense insight that I’ve been lucky enough to feel a few times in meditative practice, an embodied experience of interdependence and the other seemingly mysterious and abstract ideas of Buddhist cosmology. Then again, I had the first experience of this before I had fully read up on these ideas, perhaps its what made them sensible to me – having already sensed them.

The interesting thing about the dream is that this is the first time I’ve had this experience within a dream. I have read a lot about all the amazing things that are possible in lucid dreams, but I hadn’t expected that deep meditative insight could be experienced in dream.

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I take this as an exciting inspiration. I have ups and downs with dream yoga, but this experience shows me that the potential of it is just as deep (if not more so) than waking life.


May this inspire you to feel interdependence in your waking life and to deepen your own pursuits of insight, whether waking or dreaming.

Gassho!

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