Heartbreak | 2 + 2 = 5?

I’ve been trying to figure out how to approach this one. I feel compelled to write something, but whenever I think of what this post might be like, even in a vague, general sense, I start to lose it immediately. The basics are that I want to share the difficulties of my recent process. I’ll focus on that. This is going to be a bit raw and deeply uncertain. I hope in sharing this that others who experience deep doubt regarding love and relationships feel seen, understood, and accompanied. In fact, every time I post on such things, someone tells me they’re grateful for my vulnerability and shared experience. I hope this post generates the same feeling of not being alone in the dark – that is likely the only version of suffering that is not useless.

This post is one of two that I am making for my birthday as kind of a creative gift to myself. The other, I recorded last night (actually on my birthday) as a first attempt at a true podcast-style recording, more intentional than my previous recorded clips. This post is the dark, shadowy path of the emotional process. The other one is kind of a counterpoint – a philosophical exploration of love and my personal experiences. It’s sad as well in parts but was also a joyous discussion of ideas and life. May they both find the audiences they benefit.


I met up with her about 10 days ago. She reached out after a solid radio silence. I actually thought I would never hear from her again, as our previous contact felt like she was either annoyed with my existence or at least that it was on the edges of her life and goals, or she didn’t want to feel guilty about the clear pain that I have been going through. We met with the intention of giving me the space to say whatever I needed for closure, but ultimately, to me at least, there were more than a few edges that felt like justification for being cut out.

I came home afterward with an article of clothing I had lent her and had been requesting back for some time. I smelled it, breathing in her scent and all the ideas of spending more time with her. I cried.

The moment that really broke me in this meeting was me trying to explain the ongoing evidence of how powerful our connection is. How unique. How profound, and she simply brushed all of that aside and said that she has a stronger connection with the other guy. I took it in stride, saying something like “Well, that’s that then,”, and clinked glasses with her, but honestly, it felt so crazy, so impossible, that she may as well have asserted that 2 + 2 = 5.

Here’s the thing: I’ve had long-term relationships with a few people. I’ve had dating adventures and sexual exploits. My connection with her is unique. It’s something that has made me question some of my perspectives and experiences, getting me to much more fully believe in magic. We’ve had oodles of moments of synchronicity. I can feel her presence sometimes. It’s an intuition that speaks to me and has led me to shared moments. It’s fully bizarre and something that can’t really fully be put into words. It’s deep. It’s meaningful.

To indicate that some other person has a more meaningful connection, who from all descriptions, seems completely unworthy of that category, is so intensive of a dissonance with my experience that it really makes me question everything I’ve felt for the last several months regarding her. It’s like after all these conversations about said connection being told that those were meaningless or not true. It simply seems impossible or utterly dismissive. Something is magic or it isn’t. You can’t claim something is magic for a long time and then just say it isn’t. It feels like gaslighting – not that that’s what she’s doing; it just feels like it in terms of emotional impact.

Ultimately, if love, relationships, and trust therein felt shaky before, they feel even shakier now. I feel so incredibly empty, so deeply called into question regarding my values and experiences. I feel like nothing means anything, not in any way I can trust.

I’m going to share portions of a couple recent journal writings to show this set of feelings unfolding candidly.

What’s wrong with me? At the same time, my heartmind is shifting to not having her. It’s cold. It’s dead. Life feels completely dull, empty.
Video games are about the only thing that has engaged me in a way that I don’t feel this existential ache. In the ache, love feels a lie. Relationships seem a manipulative game.
What can I do? Just sit. Sit in the pain. Sit in the existential doubts. The depths of the life underneath me opens. It may destroy my understanding of who I am and how that person lives and loves with others, but anything less than finding my way through this experience would be denying it and covering it over. The moon card. With gratitude.

Another from the day before my birthday this week:

One more day till b-day! I don’t really want to celebrate this year, to be honest. I feel generally like a failure and unlovable. Furthermore, I feel like love may not even be out there or trustworthy if I find it.
I sit with the feelings but they are deep and ongoing. I take care of myself and push forward with resolve and renewed focus on sitting and letting go, but it’s hard to grieve, and it’s hard to unravel a deep love and stories about yourself.
Something about this time is sending my mind into loops about how things could have gone differently, and it has plenty of room to whirl with these thoughts often.
I hate when the hard edges of anger come up in the process. It’s seldom — almost completely despair, but anger feels so much worse and ultimately far more pointless other than bolstering self-righteousness and a closed heart rather than empathy. I prefer the vulnerability and empathy. With gratitude.

At this point, that’s kind of where this has to end. This process unfolds. The opening to vulnerable, existential doubt is a sitting that I’m still in. The one really interesting overlap there that I’ll point out: I don’t believe in astrology, but I do hold an open mind about it as another interesting perspective to consider, rather than dismissing out of hand. Sometimes it seems quite insightful, and that can at least push questions, rather than give answers. I have been using an app called “The Pattern”. It provides “patterns” of the influences in your life, supposedly based on astrology, although unlike other astrology apps it doesn’t line out signs or planets, etc. Anyhow, I’m currently in a pattern that lasts almost two years which is supposed to challenge me deeply. They’ve called it “Mission Realignment”. The timing of events and the description are quite accurate and leave me pondering it as things I’m encountering on the path right now, even just as food for thought for breaking down current ego stories for new ones (I struggle with things being called “destiny” – maybe karma?). There’s so much of this that points to practicing harder to overcome the suffering of samsara as well as solid advice about just sitting in the difficult times and difficult emotions of life.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime period, during which you’ll face events designed to take you deeper.
It’s a period of intense activation. Events and experiences beyond your control may challenge your idea of who you are and help you align with your intended path.
You may feel like your deepest fears are surfacing, possibly believing that you’ll never reach your destiny. Or maybe it’s a general feeling that something crucial feels missing from your life and you’re being made aware of it.
You might imagine worst-case scenarios, worrying that you’ll be stuck living an unfulfilled life or never get what you want. You may be experiencing feelings and circumstances you’ve never felt or known before.
In this period of transformation, you’re being taken where you’re intended to go – but you can’t get to your future without going through this underworld initiation.
This energy takes you to a deeper level, forcing you to shed parts of yourself that are no longer necessary. You’re facing any shadow or unconscious behavior and uncovering anything you’ve kept hidden and repressed.
These issues are holding you back from aligning with who you are and they need to be dealt with in order to move on. It can be uncomfortable, painful, and trying, but the intention of this time is to overwhelm ordinary reality and cause you to question everything you hold to be true.
You may feel motivated to take a much deeper look at your life in the world. There could be a sense that things are getting out of control and buried secrets are being exposed or need to be revealed.
You might start to feel that your life is merely being lived on the surface, like there’s something inauthentic about it and you’re disconnected from your true instincts and genuine feelings.
It can seem like an immense gravitational force is making you look inward. On the extreme end, it might appear that everything you know is being destroyed and your entire identity is being dismantled.
In response you might have a desire to overturn ordinary reality or even wreck it as a way to speed up your transformation and growth.
You may have to face a situation that you can’t change or solve. Your will, strength, and logic don’t seem to help, and you can’t detach from it or pretend doesn’t matter.
You try, but you may feel like you can’t escape your fears and the feelings that are emerging. But you’re being taken out of your depth for a reason. What seems random and chaotic is, in fact, a set of instructions for self-development.
You’re overwhelmed because it feels impossible to do anything to make it better – so don’t try; instead, surrender to what you’re feeling.
This isn’t personal – you haven’t done anything wrong; this transformation is intentional. You’re being asked to courageously experience all the feelings and circumstances that arise without being able to control the outcome.
It’s a time to embrace the irrational and allow yourself to really feel, even if it’s fear, anger, or confusion. You’re being forced to sit with deeply buried emotions, and there’s no need to do anything but feel them.
This time may seem irrational and intense, but it’s an important initiation – freeing you in order to reach your destiny. If you consciously choose to participate, you’ll emerge stronger and more empowered.
You’re learning what it’s like to start from scratch and build yourself anew. In a spiritual sense, you may have to die to be reborn. Let go of any expectations and simply give in to your experiences.

The Pattern app – Timing

Another way to think of that – a combination of the Hermit, Moon, and Hanged Man cards, the three main cards that have continually appeared for me over the last few months, with just a pinch of the Strength card as well.


May this post make others feel seen and accompanied in the deep meaninglessness of heartbreak.

Gassho!

Heartbreak | Sitting in Turbulence

I feel oddly inspired today to thread together a few different experiences and ideas with a couple quotes. May this share my inspiration precisely as the etymology of that word implies: others breathing in the animating spirit of the ideas here for their own benefit.


I’ll start with some morning pages from today. I’ll cut a bit for brevity, but I was surprised at the vulnerability and feelings of mistrust that spilled out. I know that I have these feelings, but generally, they aren’t this intense. The sudden burst surprised me, but it’s an interesting change in the death I’ve described in recent posts and leaves me wondering about my future and whether focusing on compassion is the better direction for a fuller life, rather than the egoic hurt of identity and love. I’ll expand on that in the second section after morning pages.

Second, but it came up first emotionally and in order of events, I just saw one of my poems to [the person] briefly as I flipped this open. So many things like that come back to mind now and make me feel like a complete idiot.

I mean, it just emphasizes the feeling of unfairness, of not being seen, of not being valued. She told me that the poem was “the sweetest thing anyone had ever done for me”. Yet, now, it’s buried in some corner, forgotten, just like I am. Does intense effort even matter in the end? I honestly don’t even know, and I ultimately don’t know that I can ever really trust anyone to value me back. I keep thinking: “I need a spiritual friend,” and my mind replies with – “My friends! There are no friends!” I’ll keep meditating and building gratitude, like in this moment.

Myself – Morning Pages Journal

I know this feeling is there. I told a friend a while ago: “What do you do when you tell a person your heart beats for them, and they basically react with: “That’s nice. Whatevs.”? How do you trust love at all after that?” That’s part of where I’m at, beyond the feelings that it’s unlikely that I will find someone who is highly compatible with me. How do you trust? The vulnerability of putting your heart out there to care, to give, to love is intense. I think I’ve felt unseen one too many times, and this time, it just feels too fundamental for me to really trust the process of others. I’ve always operated from a hermeneutics of trust when it comes to love. I don’t know if I can do that anymore.

As a counterpoint, I want to return to a beautiful moment from last night and cap it off with a couple quotes. This experience is the reference in the final line above of “keep meditating and building gratitude”.

Last night, I went down to the sea and pumped up my inflatable paddleboard to enjoy perhaps the last really warm evening before the rains of fall. It was right before sunset. I put in my headphones, went down to the water, and paddled out into the cool breeze. I paddled north – my destination about a mile down the shore, a set of pillars where I had spent some of my favorite moments from this year with the person. She introduced me to paddleboarding and to my destination. The water rippled with every stroke, gliding along with my arms’ strength. The movement felt peaceful and empowering as post-rock accompanied the changing colors, graceful flows of birds in the sky and waves beneath me alongside the misty mountains in the distance like something out of Tolkien.

When I reached my spot, I stopped and stretched my legs. I’m still no good at standing up, so I tend to kneel and paddle. It makes my legs stiff after a bit. I looked at the mountains, and my board slowly turned with the waves and faced the beach. I saw many people there, catching the final gasps of summer just like me. I switched to sit cross-legged and set the paddle across my lap. I realized that this could be a great way to meditate, as my heart struggled with the mix of the beautiful scenery with my myriad associations of love and loss. I put my hands in a zen meditation mudra, with the paddle on my lap, after changing the music to a fittingly deep song for the moment (will cross-post to a post on that song soon!). I breathed in, feeling the rocking of the waves, letting my eyes gently unfocus, seeing the beach and people there with me. My mind shifted to a version of the equanimity meditation I had been doing a few months ago – thinking of all their own lives, stories, motivations, and struggles. I repeated the mantra: “All beings are heirs to their karma,” and felt my heart gently open to the sensation of life rocking up and down, being moved by things beyond our full control, the life-waves pushing us about, just as the waves bobbed my board up and down. My resolve grew to sit in this and open my heart with equanimity.

I had to stop a couple times to avoid the waves of boats or reposition to not bob too far out or in, but I spent several minutes like this, and my heart felt much more open to the world around me and the pains of others, including my own. The thought occurred to me and did again this morning: “What’s my own karma right now, and how can I be more accepting of it and myself in it?” I don’t have an answer yet, but my heartmind is trying to sit with that.

Here are two quotes from two recently discovered books that I read after writing morning pages this morning. I feel they expand on these ideas in even grander and more inspirational directions and depths than anything I have written (or could write here):

It’s clear, in this peaceful desert, that peace is not the opposite of violence. Peace is in violence. It can only be seen by the open eyes of awareness. Peace is itself. The experience of peace I’m discovering in the desert had always been with me in the city. I hadn’t let it in.

The peace being expressed in these writings doesn’t come from the mind, the lips, or from gentle actions. It doesn’t come from legislation made by governments or peacemaking movements. It’s a peace that appears without effort. Like the desert filling up my eyes. It appears like snow, wind, or rain. Peace arrives on its own if I don’t resist it.

During years of chanting and meditation, the habit of fighting against what was in front of me rose and dissolved like waves in an ocean. There were times when I asked questions, critiqued, and took action. And there were times when confusion took over, the mind doubled down on itself. The only thing to do during those times was to breathe and be still. The body knows when to do this. Stillness is inherent. After suffering and resistance, the only thing left is contemplation of life and after contemplation, stillness, and after stillness, peace.

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel – The Deepest Peace: Contemplations from a Season of Stillness, pp. 12-13.

More than any other aspect of embodied spirituality, I have found that living more fully from our hearts is the single most powerful step for many of us. The shift from thinking of the heart abstractly to actually feeling physical heartbeats can transform us in the moment. Try it when you are already in a fairly present state and let it deepen. Then try it when you are emotionally stuck and see what happens.

Susan Aposhyan – Heart Open, Body Awake: Four Steps to Embodied Spirituality, p. 15.

May this inspire others to sit and open their hearts, even in the pain of loss, in the trauma that breaks trust, and in the stillness underneath the ever moving turbulence of movement and violence.

Gassho!

Running Scared – A Spiritual Experience

My breath huffs in and out as my feet plop on the cold pavement. The darkness envelops me like a lonely secret, and the cold reverberates through my muscle fibers, much more strongly than the earbuds in my ears. All this, however, is par for the course — the course that is distance running in the evening in the depths of fall. None of it occupies my mind or senses. Not really. They float in the periphery. Fear grasps all of my attention. My mind focuses on my left knee, which stiffly resists my attempts to run. The left leg clomps along, like an awkward log attached to my hip, rather than the supple motion of the other leg.

In recent months, I’ve returned to a running regimen for the first time in a while. It’s been a journey in and of itself, despite the relatively short time. As I’m much older than my young running enthusiast self of the past, I’m much more prone to injury, and I’ve fended off a few on the path towards a marathon. However, now, with about a month till the race, I’ve been hit with an injury that may force me to put up the shoes for a while. It started with tightness in my calf, which was handled by a new pair of shoes, but then that pain moved to my knee. Minor at first, it flared up near the end of a long training run recently, and since, I’ve had to move to ice, rest, a knee brace, and much care.

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Last night, I laced back on the shoes and tried to face the pain and the fear of this knee. I’m afraid that it will force me to stop running and miss the race — the goal that has pulled me along through the last few months. I’m also afraid that if I keep running that I’ll hurt the knee even worse and may never recover enough to have a really functional knee for these kinds of activities anymore. The plodding in the cold with many layers and the knee brace is a test. It’s a walk along a tightrope between these two fears. It’s also an existential journey where I look at my attachments to both body and ambition straight in the face — a spiritual delve into my internal darkness, alongside the darkness enveloping my body’s steps.

Thankfully, after years of working on mindfulness, I see my heartmind jump from concern to concern, being pulled along by attachments and stories. As I let them go and relax into the present moment of movement, of breath, my knee relaxes as well. I stop and stretch and readjust, but I also let go of all my plans and concerns. There is only this next step forward; come what may. The delusions of the rest merely pull away from that, and being with it is truly taking care. Sometimes, this care is recognizing the needs of the body and stopping before hurting it. Sometimes, its pushing to get up and move, feeling that the stiffness is superficial. Gratitude, vulnerability, and insight are the only things to grasp onto in the process.

Living in the Light of Death

In a few days, it will be a year since my dad died. It’s been a very interesting and ponderous year. I’m reminded of the first book I read about existentialism, which explained the idea of an existential crisis in relation to Heidegger’s Being and Time as an event bringing a heightened awareness to our mortality in such a way that the experience of life is fundamentally altered for a period. That’s what this has been.

Of course, I have meditated on change at length prior to this. It’s evident in a large number of the posts here over the last few years, but being confronted with the situation of having to personally sort out one’s own story and relationship with mortality is different than cerebrally breaking down the sweeping, subtle, and slow changes of matter, mind, and heart.

Ironically enough, recently, I’ve been reading chapters in a meditation manual about meditating on change and death, and the writer/teacher emphasizes two phases to the sessions — one for thinking on ideas or images about change/death and the other to let the emotional depth of meaning really sink in and be understood, not just conceptually. This experience has been something like the second part of that process. For the last few years, I could have quoted on a whim a passage that struck me in the first translation of The Dhammapada that I read: “All states are without self*”, but what does that mean when a life ends? I’ve been slowly piecing that together over time.

I dream of him often. In the last few weeks, I can think of a time when he appeared in our lives again — a Doppelgänger, and I was the only one in my dream who remembered he had died and didn’t trust this imposter, and yet, I didn’t want to inflict loss on my family again by convincing them of the truth. In another, he wandered around a former city I lived in with me, but he had some sort of handicap and lacked the wit and mental acuity he had in life. I think I was imagining what his survival might have meant as a tradeoff, and it was tragic in other ways — “he” was still gone, but then again, all states are without self. Finally, I had a dream where he was a cold, heartless man, driven by greed. He was an ambitious entrepreneur, somewhat like the small business owner from my childhood but fully consumed by it as his only pursuit. He seemed dead to me in his cold grimace and methodical drive. This made me realize that there are other ways we describe people as dead — when their emotions seem to lack the humaneness of connection, of the passion and compassion of a beating heart, thumping out a song with the lives of others, always already around us. Just as change is a constant and identity is an abstraction, rather than an essence (“All states are without self”), we are always already born into a universe, billions of years old, on a small rock populated with other humans — as well as all their culture, history, language, minds, and hearts…

My dad in life was a warm man, very much unlike the cold, driven, hyper-capitalist in my last dream, but at this point, I don’t know how much more there is left of him other than the stories of those who remain. I hope to still learn from him like this in dreams and musings, and I hope that these thoughts of him continue to bring insights into what it means to live and how death is related to that living presence in this world. I can’t claim to understand what the process of life is about, as I’m convinced there isn’t some permanent essence, a soul, behind it, but going through all this has sharpened the sense of mystery to existence. In many ways everything has felt just as hazy and ethereal as a dream, and sometimes, I feel that I’m not sure if I’m dreaming of a butterfly or if I’m the butterfly dreaming of Z, so to speak, but I do as that meditation teacher suggests: rest in the looking — look in the resting. What else is there to do? I’m already in the thick of the mystery and there’s no way out. There’s only the ongoing path of being on the way.


A much more succinct passage from The Dhammapada’s opening chapter could get at the heart of all this much more quickly:

Hatred never ends through hatred.
By non-hate alone does it end.**
This is an ancient truth.

Many do not realize that
We here must die.
For those who realize this,
Quarrels end.
– Chapter 1, (5-6), trans. Fronsdal

Maybe we’re better served by a statement about the nature of that mystery from The Heart Sutra:

‘Gate gate, paragate, parasangate, bodhi svaha.’

– Gone, gone, beyond gone, completely beyond gone, great awakening.***


May this provide comfort and camaraderie to others who experience the mystery of being.

Gassho!

*The point of this quote is that everything lacks essence. Another way I say this, riffing on Buddhism, is: “All composite things are impermanent, and all things are composites.” Our greatest spiritual battle is overcoming an unreflective, ego-protective sense in which we posit some permanent essence behind us, an unchanging self. I take this quote to mean that everything lacks essence and that “the self” is an emergent process, not a set entity. Here are a couple other translations of this passage to compare:

“All things in the world are insubstantial.” – trans. Ananda Maitreya

“All things are not-self.” – trans. Gil Fronsdal

The second translation is particularly exciting because one could possibly see the way that the Prajna Paramita tradition of emptiness (shunyata) is already indicated in these pithy remarks, and this particular quote also points to interdependence — if all things are not encompassed as a static entity in and of themselves, they’re in relationship with everything.

**Most translations say “love” or “loving-kindness” here instead of “non-hate”, and while those are more poetic, I prefer this more literal translation. The word has a negative prefix on hate, meaning the negation of hate, not another word that means the opposite. Negation in language can mean a returning to zero, so to speak, and I think that fits the meditation practice and ideas in the early texts better rather than telling people to react in the opposite. One must let go of the clinging and reactivity that gives rise to hatred. Only then can loving-kindness be cultivated as a new relationship with the world.

*** I pieced this together from reading several commentaries and translations.

On Anger – Zen’s “Just Feeling”

For this consideration of anger, I’m sharing a passage from Morning Pages in tandem with some thoughts by a great Zen teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck.


I’ve been thinking a lot of anger recently and how to mindfully experience it. I find that being present for anger does not entail doubling down and Hulking out. In fact, I find that being present for an emotion, really feeling it, is not investing in reactivity. Sitting with lets emotions blossom and change on their own. With anger, being present for it lets that original pricked sensation come and go. It’s only in reacting to the original feeling, spinning it further and strengthening it does that original sense of anger become the larger mood of rage and aggression. If you can stop and sit with anger, you’ll see these reactions dancing around you wanting to take hold…


The point I was unable to reach by the end of the Morning Pages entry is that our experience of anger is something that rises as a roaring bonfire because we add fuel to it. We grab onto it. We spin it. We keep it burning strongly by reacting and ruminating on whatever the slight or initial frustration is. However, if you stop and sit with anger, if you mindfully be with it as it arises without clinging to the thoughts, feelings, and the narrative, you’ll experience the feeling without the feeling defining you in your reaction to it.


I am not implying that there will not be upsets. What I mean is that when we get upset, we don’t hold onto it. If we become angry, we are just angry for a second. Others may not even be aware of it. That is all there is to it. There is no clinging to the anger, no mental spinning with it. I don’t mean that years of practice leave us like a zombie. Quite the opposite. We really have more genuine emotions, more feeling for people. We are not so caught up in our inner states.

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Free image taken from morguefile.com


The Buddha is nothing but exactly what you are, right now: hearing the cars, feeling the pain in your legs, hearing my voice; that’s the Buddha. You can’t catch hold of it; the minute you try to catch it, it’s changed. Being what we are at each moment means, for example, fully being our anger when we are angry. That kind of anger never hurts anybody because it’s total, complete. We really feel this anger, this knot in our stomach, and we’re not going to hurt anybody with it. The kind of anger that hurts people is when we smile sweetly and underneath we’re seething.

When you sit, don’t expect to be noble. When we give up this spinning mind, even for a few minutes, and just sit with what is, then this presence that we are is like a mirror. We see everything. We see what we are: our efforts to look good, to be first, or to be last. We see our anger, our anxiety, our pomposity, our so-called spirituality. Real spirituality is just being with all that. If we can really be with Buddha, who we are, then it transforms.


Now the child of pride is anger. By anger I mean all kinds of frustration, including irritation, resentment, jealousy. I talk so much about anger and how to work with it because to understand how to practice with anger is to understand how to approach the “gateless gate.”

In daily life we know what it means to stand back from a problem. For example, I’ve watched Laura make a beautiful flower arrangement: she’ll fuss and fiddle with the flowers, then at some point she’ll stand back and look, to see what she has done and how it balances out. If you’re sewing a dress, at first you cut and arrange and sew, but finally you get in front of the mirror to see how it looks. Does it hang on the shoulders? How’s the hem? Is it becoming? Is it a suitable dress? You stand back. Likewise, in order to put our lives into perspective, we stand back and take a look.

Now Zen practice is to do this. It develops the ability to stand back and look. Let’s take a practical example, a quarrel. The overriding quality in any quarrel is pride. Suppose I’m married and I have a quarrel with my husband. He’s done something that I don’t like–perhaps he has spent the family savings on a new car–and I think our present car is fine. And I think–in fact I know–that I am right. I am angry, furious. I want to scream. Now what can I do with my anger? What is the fruitful thing to do? First of all I think it’s a good idea just to back away: to do and say as little as possible. As I retreat for a bit, I can remind myself that what I really want is to be what might be called A Bigger Container. (In other words I must practice my ABCs.) To do this is to step into another dimension–the spiritual dimension, if we must give it a name.

All quotes taken from the Kindle version of Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck


May this help you find the ability to sit with all your emotions, even the difficult ones, without wrapping yourself in reactive feelings and narratives.

Gassho!

 

 

A Visit–Nostalgia

A trip through a home from the past
Proof positive–nothing does last
The place–uncanny, both foreign and known
In these environs, many memories grown
Faces and voices flit through my head
Though called forth alive, long since dead
Recollections: so much pomp and circumstance
Also, niggling–the sweet comforts of romance
Nostalgia flashes under pale blue, fall sky
As all these trees and buildings pass by
Yet hazy ache is soon quelled
This story by details dispelled
Forgotten, repelled, and left aside
As self-righteousness and revisionism abide
Home you were, briefly and hard-won
In a moment, our greatest loves unspun
What was–cast as silly and delusion
This self-justification is the “wisdom” illusion
The Way goes on–perhaps with a return
Meanwhile, may you peacefully live and learn

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Heartbreak Wisdom Journal–Entry 12: Heartmind’s Abundance

Being dumped and left behind, completely forgotten by a great Romantic Love, feels much like being forsaken by a deity. On some level, this is precisely true. Love as great object of inspiration has forsaken you, left you alone to find your way in existence without it. Here echoes the existential dilemma of Sartre: alienation. You’re on your own in finding your meaning in life now, and your choices no longer involve the creation of a shared meaning with another person.

This feeling of forgottenness and abandonment has been biting at me for months. Social media hasn’t helped. I’ve seen the contacts I once had slowly forget my existence. Such is to be expected and is not anything wrong on their parts, but it just emphasizes the feeling of alienation even more. The constant reminder of this in the noise of social media babble has, along with a few other motivations, pushed me to close my main social media account for now. In a strange way, it’s been liberating. I feel that I’m taking up the solitary path that is discussed in the Dhammapada; like the well-trained elephant, I’m learning to take on the trek through the jungles by myself, relaxing in the journey yet staying on course.


Recently, I did a particular meditation for the first time in months. In it, you center for a few minutes while holding your hands over your heart with your thumbs and pointer fingers together in the shape of a triangle. After breathing and centering for some time, you ask yourself, or rather, plant the question: “If I planted my heart, what would grow?”  You then sit with whatever answer comes to form in your mind, not forcing, not judging, just observing. The last time I did this, I had some intense yet interesting experiences (you can read about them here). This time’s experience of the meditation was also intense but very different from the last.

My question first met with a blank, and then, a stalk with a pink flower popped out. At first, it was the bleeding heart flower but became a larger, bell-shaped flower.

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From this:

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To something closer to a single one of these:

Then, another and another popped up. Eventually, they started to lean down and crumple. I had a sudden fear that they were withering and dying from some blight, and indeed, they soon disappeared. However, the ground then gave birth to green leaves, like those from orchids, coming out of the ground by the hundreds, spreading out and out and out. I was struck by the abundance of this–an overwhelming sense of compassion and generosity.

I was almost in tears of gratitude as I came out of this meditation. I realized again, that the problem of this kind of pain only bites and tortures when focused on “me“. The question isn’t what I can, should, or will do for myself. That will continue the focus on the pain that is here, never getting beyond it and keeping the story locked in my orbit, reinforcing that story even. Instead, how can I give to all? If my focus becomes about abundance outward, I’ll find lushness throughout existence. Then, it’s not about me. It’s about the universe. It’s about All.

Identification born of ignorance is a source of grief, and its fading a move toward freedom, as I learned in the days following the death of my only daughter, Ona. She had been congested; her doctor failed to notice her swollen ankles and pale complexion. She was a cherubic child, and we, too, were slow to appreciate the extent of her listlessness. A trip to another physician led to a rush to the hospital; Ona died that night. Her heard had a hole in it and could not keep up with the increased burden of pneumonia.

Days and nights followed in a blur of emotion. Relatives wept with us, visitors came and went, sleep was elusive. The pain made a home in my body and lived there. I had never known such grief. Yet, sometimes, I was able to experience this grief in a nonidentified way, noticing feelings rise and fall, as I did in meditation. And I began to detect a pattern. Whenever a telephone call came–yet another person expressing sympathy–my grief erupted anew. Emotion welled up from my belly through my heart, my head flushed with sensation, my eyes filled with tears.

Watching this time and again, I saw how, at the moment of contact with the caller, an image formed in my mind: the father who lost his child. Instead of experiencing the shifting emotions of the moment–now sadness, now disbelief, now compassion for my wife–I inhabited the image of someone overwhelmed with grief. I identified with that fabricated image, stepped into it as if boarding a train, and became overwhelmed. The immediate suffering was compounded, distorted, and amplified. Knowing this was freeing. Once I discovered this pattern, I was able to watch the train come into the station but not board it. I still felt grief: Ona was of my heart; her absence was confusing and painful. But when I stopped stepping into the mental-emotional construction of “the grieving father,” that pain became less sharp and turbulent because it was not proliferated into a “second arrow” of suffering.

Insight Dialogue:The Interpersonal Path to Freedom, Gregory Kramer, pp. 65-66


Later on in the evening, I read the following in Matthieu Richard’s “Happiness” before falling asleep.

As the pain that afflicts us grows stronger, our mental universe contracts. Events and thoughts continually rebound off the walls of our circumscribed inner prison. They speed up and gather force, every ricochet inflicting new wounds. We must therefore broaden our inner horizons to the point where there are no walls for negative emotion to bounce off of. When these walls, built brick by brick by the self, come tumbling down, suffering’s bullets will miss their mark and vanish in the vast openness of inner freedom. We realize that our suffering was forgetfulness of our true nature, which remains unchanged beneath the fog of emotions. It is essential to develop and sustain this broadening of the inner horizons. External events and thoughts will then emerge like stars that reflect off the calm surface of a vast ocean without disturbing it.

One of the best ways to achieve that state is to meditate on feelings that transcend our mental afflictions. If, for instance, we gradually let our mind be invaded by a feeling of love and compassion for all beings, the warmth of such a thought will very likely melt the ice of our frustrations, while its gentleness will cool the fire of our desires. We will have succeeded in raising ourselves above our personal pain to the point where it becomes almost imperceptible.

Exercise: When you feel overwhelmed by emotions
Imagine a stormy sea with breakers as big as houses. Each wave is more monstrous than the last. They are about to engulf your boat, your very life hangs on those few extra yards in the rushing wall of water. Then imagine observing the same scene from a high-flying plane. From that perspective, the waves seem to form a delicate blue-and-white mosaic, barely trembling on the surface of the water. From that height in the silence of space, your eye sees those almost motionless patterns, and your mind immerses itself in clear and luminous sky. The waves of anger or obsession seem real enough, but remind yourself that they are merely fabrications of your mind; that they will rise and also again disappear. Why stay on the boat of mental anxiety? Make your mind as vast as the sky and you will find that the waves of afflictive emotions have lost all the strength you had attributed to them.

After reading this, I lay there in bed and started winding my mind into sleep. As I closed my eyes, I saw the image of a statue of an elephant’s head facing me. It was ancient, long forgotten in some lost glade of the Indian wilds. It was overgrown with grass and hanging vines, although only partially–his regal head was still clearly visible as well as the details of the carving. The foliage hung gently, emphasizing his calm majesty, and the light green was punctuated at the crown of his head and along the edges of the ears with light pink flowers–the same that I had seen in my meditation. His calm warmth inspired me and reminded me that the selfless path to nirvana is described in the Dhammapada as the training of the elephant. This ancient wisdom is still here to calmly inspire and point out the path, overgrown as the symbols may be, even in the darkest times of our lives. That smiling, beautiful tranquility is right here to be seen. I drifted off with this serene joy.

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Something like this guy, but just the head from straight on–face to face, and much closer…


At a retreat about 2 years ago, the shaman in charge told all of us that the point of what we were doing was to get beyond the head and into the heart. He was completely correct, but maybe, it was in an even deeper manner than he realized.

Mahayana Buddhism urges practitioners to rouse bodhicittaBodhicitta is translated usually as awakened mind or awakened heart and sometimes as noble mind or noble heart. The point I want to pull out here is that mind and heart are not clearly distinguished as separate in this Sanskrit word. When we Westerners say “mind”, we generally think only of the intellect, but ultimately, mind is all of our experience. All experiences we have in our lives are filtered by our mind. Our emotions, our thoughts, our perceptions, all take place within our receptive engagement with the universe–consciousness: mind. If anything, part of our problem as Westerners is that our usage of these words has tried to split out emotions, “heart”, from what we’ve made into a more idea-laden space of “mind”. However, psychology would show us that even emotions are tempered by our concepts, (hi)stories, and social constructs. Our experience of heart is not separate from our experience of mind. It really is Heartmind (inspired by Sanskrit’s lack of clear distinction between the two).

Opening the heart and traveling into its depths then is both getting beyond the head AND awakening the mind–the heartmind. Really reaching into these depths of mindheart is stepping past all of our identifications and constructs. It’s finding the empty and open potential for all unfolding in this moment–sheer luminosity. We can call it creative force, Source, Tao, or buddha-nature, but opening to this emptiness behind/within All, shunyata, is the great spiritual journey of the warrior who seeks to awaken the heart. Seeing this, even briefly, goes beyond intellectual constructs of self and lights the abundant fire of compassion that is bodhicitta; it makes the awakened heartmind beat with abundance.


Life is a dream,
the years pass by like flowing waters.
Glamour and glory are transient as autumn smoke;
what tragedy–for with the sun set deeply in the west,
still there are those
lost among paths of disillusionment.

Our heart should be clear as ice.
Forget all the worldly nonsense.
Sit calmly, breathe quietly, heart bright and spotless as an empty mirror.
This is the path to the Buddha’s table.

The Book of the Heart: Embracing the Tao, Loy Ching-Yuen, “On Tao: §3”

May this inspire other warriors to rouse bodhicitta and let their heartminds overflow with abundance. May the training of self, the harnessing of the process of walking the path–the trained elephant–act as a guide and inspiration on the path.

Gassho!


Previous Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry– Entry 11: Just Live
Next Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry– Final Entry: Letting Go of Letting Go

Story-ing

Here’s another excerpt from Morning Pages that got to the heart of my walk along the Path of late.

Edit (7/27/15): I’m adding the end of a second and a third set of Morning Pages (excerpts) separated by second and third horizontal lines. They are both closely related to this post and add to it, extending the depth of the questions and ideas presented here.


That reminds me of story-ing. I finished, “The World is Made of Stories” last night. This small book is truly a seminal philosophical work presented in a simple style. I’m pulled back into hermeneutic analysis again. It’s refreshing.

I’m realizing that some of the most sound advice I ever provided was when I told my ex to be careful with the stories she told herself. She had some intense storying and revising of history. That led her down the path she’s on now, and I’m not sure whether she realizes all of this.

I don’t say these things in judgment. It’s not that her story is the “wrong” story, rather a story. All of our understanding is an interpretation–a story, and as all stories are, it is one that interprets things in a particular way, thereby drawing particular consequences. There’s nothing wrong about this, but each interpretation casts things in a particular way.

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We all tell and re-write our stories about ourselves. There’s nothing inauthentic to that. It’s a coming to grips with our place in the universe–a making sense. However, we should be aware of how we are creating a “self” through story.

I’m starting to think of the stories I’ve told myself, and I think with time, I’m moving away from standard ones. I’m moving towards those of the bodhisattva instead of the individual trying to get conditions just right for happiness.

Does that make all of my reading and writing a sort of narrative therapy? Perhaps it does. I’ve been gaining particular story-telling skills, stylistic usages, archetypes, and genres to help me re-story my-“self”.

The interesting thing about this as pointed out in the book several times is that this story is about unstorying, not-storying, de-selfing. The Buddhist path is about finding the “no-thing-ness” at the heart of existence that is the formlessness behind form–emptiness. The emptiness is the Truth to our existence and cannot be storied. It defies the personal security of identity built up in stories.

How do we balance that with living a storied existence? I’m not completely sure. That’s where the path of study and discipline continues to lead. I look forward to discussing that with others who walk this challenging Way, who tell this unique and beautiful Story.


I suppose that you could argue that this (the previous part of this entry talks about just writing whatever comes to the pen in jotting down Morning Pages) clears the mind as well. “The Artist’s Way” described it as though that were the case. There’s something to be said for this–letting juices flow and getting them all on paper. However, I think that simple expression doesn’t always make idle thoughts/feelings go away/come out for good. If they’re part of a larger pattern, expressing them as important could reinforce them.

We are storied beings, and the stories we tell ourselves can get stronger and more nuanced with repetition. Individuation is pushed as a boon in this culture–our story. However, this leads to our feelings of separation and loneliness. It’s a never-ending game to assert “my” existence. Samsara spins here, round and round.

So, ultimately, although I’ve tried to write simply and without intention toward pre-thought ends, I have tried to avoid letting this just be a space to spill out all my “me” stories–letting it instead be a place to express the ideas and discoveries that blossom as words run across the pages. The stories we tell are the patterns that bind. I try to let this be a space that is free of those patterns, but of course, at times, I throw these thoughts/difficulties/stories that I’m dealing with on the page. Sometimes, there’s much more difficulty to write around them than to simply write them.

Can this be done from simple awareness? Can it be an identification of the thoughts and stories at play without continuing them? “Thinking”? Can one freshly see that these stories are arising without clinging further to reactions which spin the story onward? Can these simply be mere thoughts passing by without becoming sold as solid, enduring truths? Can we experience this moment without clinging to “my” story?


As I hear the music, I think of “stories” again. We truly write the narrative of our lives for better or worse, yet we can’t control all of the elements–born prince or pauper, in America or Africa, raised in a religious community or by a small family of atheists–we can only control how we write our reaction to these elements–how we weave them together into our story. However, we tend to either overemphasize “My” Story–the aspect of myself in it–or act as though my interpretation is not part of it at all, as though meaning were just cast upon me–pre-written. In other words, we often overlook this act of story-ing and how it works in our lives. We then overlook how our stories are intertwined with myriad others. The world, our lives, are made of them.


May this make you aware of the “story” of “your” life and the deeper aspect that cannot be storied.

Gassho!

Love, Rebounds, & Relationships: Part 4–“The Love of My Life”

“The Love of my life” is a familiar term–the person who stands as the greatest inspiration of (romantic?) love in a lifetime. It is the superlative relationship, partner, or desired. The Beloved. Perhaps, we cannot help but think in such comparative of superlative terms, yet in this post, I hope to call this label and evaluation into question to some extent.

In one of my last face to face conversations with my ex, I told her that I was afraid that she was the Love of my life and that I would spend the rest of my life looking back at her and our time together. She batted away such concerns and said that I would find someone else who would be amazing–with such certainty as though it were verified as a scientific constant. Writing this now, both stances seem so black and white, and this is precisely why we were both wrong.

I was wrong because it’s silly to worry so intensely about something that is totally uncertain. There’s absolutely no way for me to say whether she’s the love of my life or whether I’ll die tomorrow–what lies in the future is unknown to me. I’ll be able to say for sure who the greatest Love in my life was with my dying breath, but before that, life can and will unfold as it will. It’s not something to feel such fear about.

She was wrong precisely because she also can’t say what will happen with such certainty. There are simply some things that will never happen again in life. For instance, I ran a 4:34 mile in high school. Even if I trained really hard every day for a year, I doubt that I’m physically capable of doing this again. I’m a bit too old now–that time has passed. Likewise, I might search the rest of my life and never find another person who sparks feelings of romantic Love like she did, or maybe, I will have a chain of lackluster relationships despite trying my best in each, or… There’s simply no way to say what will happen, but it’s a definite possibility that some high point in my life is over. Again, who’s really to say until it’s all over? Until then, life can and will unfold as it will.

Worrying about whether someone is the Love of your life or continually thinking that that person is out there somewhere to be found is living in a hypothetical realm, a fantasy world in which you can compare and evaluate your whole life, yet underneath this lie those simple samsaric elements that drive so much of our activity: desire and aversion. In one version, we’re afraid of losing what we have now–aversion–so we cling to it. In another, we’re tired of what we have and want something else. We hope that it’s out there and run toward this hope–desire. Of course, the second can be a bit more of a mixture of desire for something else and aversion regarding the familiar. Pop advice says that “hope” is better, but they both drive the same game and keep us locked in fear of/hope for the life we don’t have.

That is the ultimate silliness of this entire thing. You are always who you are in this moment–not in the past or the future. We may yearn for or fear the changes that come, as nothing (not even atoms, according to science) lasts forever. However, we fear change or run towards new changes in order to have something that we want to hold onto–something that if we try just hard enough will defy this one absolute law of flux. Basically, at the heart of all this is a yearning for or fear of death, yet each moment is born and dies, passing by without our notice much of the time. We would do better to welcome life as it comes and be open to it no matter what arises, rather than getting lost in comparisons of “my ideal life”.

So, is the person you’re with the “Love of your Life”? Don’t worry about it, one way or the other. The one thing that is certain is that your relationship with him/her will end–no matter what; even if it’s just the ending of death due to old age 70 years from now. That end could come at any time, so treat them with love, kindness, intimacy, and appreciation now. Don’t get trapped in comparisons with the future that might be or the past that was. Those are dreams of whimsy or nostalgia. Be here now. Be with your partner. Treat him/her with love and work towards a future of growth, wisdom, compassion, and truth together, and at the end of it all, that person may just be the Love of your Life. You can’t say till then. You never know, one way or the other…

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May this bring you the courage to be present in your romantic relationships and light them up with wisdom and compassion. May this ground you, rather than allowing you to float in the samsara of fantastic or nostalgic comparison.

Gassho!

Closing a Book

The following is my last entry from my first journal for morning pages. I felt like it spoke to many of the challenges and growing pains I have gone through in walking the Way in recent months and thereby thought it may be useful to others to share here.

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Well, this is it: the final entry. The last few months have been quite a journey. I’ve continued on the path of practice with all the challenges that arise in such an endeavor, the endeavor to wake up. Furthermore, I’ve endured heartbreak. Perhaps these two go hand in hand…

I just looked back at the first few entries of the journal to get a sense of who I was at the time. I was finishing the Heartbreak Wisdom bootcamp. I was finding my way to digest my pain of the last few months before and transform it into strength as a spiritual warrior.

In some ways, I’m still at these steps, but at the same time, my focus on the open-hearted way is intensifying. I less readily get emotionally reactive, and when I do, I can better stay present with it or subvert it instead of fully running with it.

I more readily see our ways of spinning stories and creating our own drama. I see this all the time in others, and the pell-mell run towards happiness and away from an underlying anxiety leaves a smile on my face. I smile compassionately, and when I’m very awake, I can see when I do these dramatic shifts myself and can center myself with compassion.

Something that has been very interesting for me in recent spiritual adventures is the call to the mystery of being. Getting past the ego’s focus on “me“, on certainty, on the undying (or rather, a yearning for it) opens a door to the profound enigma that is emergence. Each moment is truly a miracle. We fail to see it, so we experience it boxed and filtered through our own interpretation. We throw labels like good and bad, like and dislike, interesting and boring, on everything before we’re even experiencing it. The rawness of it generally eludes us, and it takes a “doing nothing”, a “just sitting”, to open to the miraculous that unfolds every moment in the universe universing itself. This doesn’t mean that our flitting thoughts are to be discarded. They are part of this unfolding miracle as well. However, we generally give them weight–grabbing onto them and holding them as more important than the puffs of breeze we feel softly moving across our skin–but are they really that different? Do they not pass by just as quickly if we don’t flow along with them? Do we try to hold onto the wind or to run alongside it? Wonder is right here to behold, just waiting for an open heart.

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