To Be Held is Not to Live Forever

I cannot help but grieve the death of brilliance.
Something is tethered to my heart
and won’t let go, you pull
that string with you into the unknown never.
I cannot follow it.

Teacher, will you hold me in your heart?
To be held is not to live forever, but to follow,
fearless, the ones who go before.

My comfort is this: to breathe through the tears.
Although I see the unknown stretch before me,
still the empty blackness of your eyes,
the unknown always,
is wrapped around this frightened rabbit like a shawl,
heart beating fast.
“Be still,
still, my darling, sweetheart, shhh…”

Plans Fall Apart; Life Happens

So I went on retreat this week: cat-sitting for a friend. I was going to explore some practices and study related to an assembly I am going to in July. The whole thing fell apart in the first day. I figured out very quickly how to undo the block I had set on my phone and now I am watching Netflix. I think what happened was that I was too gung-ho about it, but also, I think I really needed time that was just mine, to relax; space that is mine, sort of.

Also, I think, I placed so much energy into the Buddhism project, and it’s not about that. I was looking for something real, and what I took refuge in, the Three Jewels, is real, but it’s not. It’s just another finger pointing to the moon, but it’s not the moon. It’s just existence. It’s just the moment, sitting here tapping on the phone while the tuxedo kitty sits on the windowsill nearby. It’s the light filtered through buildings into the window and reflecting off of the floor and walls. it’s the leather couch. It’s a relaxed body, and head and neck bent at a weird angle by the armrest.

Maybe it’s also the fretting that I have to be doing something; the worry that my life isn’t going anywhere.

Maybe it’s that, and also coming back from that.

And then, toasted roll with butter and scrambled eggs.

The Truth About Diet (From My Personal Perspective)

Ok, so this has been bugging me for a few days:

*****
Dear ayurvedic, vegan, holistic, organic, herbal medicine, cleansing people,

I know. Your method of eating is so wonderful. You feel so much better. You cured your own cancer, or migraines, or high blood pressure, or whatever. And you did it all through clean living, avoiding GMOs, and some wonderful substance that is either banned by the government or so obscure that you needed some health guru to turn you on to it. Or maybe you figured it all yourself. Good for you (and/or the guru who helped you.)

You feel good. I’m happy for you. You’ve found The Truth. Please allow me to reiterate: I’m happy for you. It took me decades of searching before I found something that felt like the Truth that turned out to be reliable. I’m not going to talk about that here. If you really wanna know, feel free to PM. But honestly, if you don’t know, you really don’t wanna know. And I’m not gonna tell you, unless you ask, because you have already found your truth, and you’re happy.

But you remember that moment when you found It? Remember that pride? Did it happen because you complained about some problem with your health and some friend of yours said, “well, that wouldn’t be a problem if you just …”? You had to do your own search, didn’t you? And now you spend lots of time with other people who found the same Truth, and you tell each other how right you are. Right?

When I complain about some dificulty and you go in on a speech about how my problem would be magically cured by whatever system you’ve discovered and how I should not be taking medications from Big Pharma because they are lying to me and using me as a guinea pig… well, it’s annoying. ok?

I’m a bit of a slob. It took me forty years to discover that frozen veggies can be heated up with leftover rice or put into ramen noodles. Let me say that again: it took me forty… years… to bring simple vegetables into my diet. If I had waited that long to cure my problems with diet, I would have died by now, of the blood pressure that actually can’t be cured with diet because it’s … wait for it… genetic.

When you start spouting about how wonderful your diet is and how it will cure all my ills, you don’t know all that. You are also forgetting an important factor, something that is in your face every day and maybe you just don’t even notice: not everybody can afford your diet. Sure sure, maybe I could grow a few herbs in my house (remember what I said about it taking me forty years to start eating frozen vegetables? In what part of my geriatric years do you think I will catch up to that idea?) But a few herbs grown in a terrace (which I don’t have) garden will not cure my blood pressure. And don’t get me started on the cost of organic food. Let’s just say a trip to Whole Foods would cost me at least three times my budget for food.

Please don’t take all of this as disrespect. I’m doing what I can. I meditate. I study dharma. So, you’ll understand, I hope, when I say that I’m dipping my toes into the alternative stuff. And I think maybe you’re onto something. I just don’t have the energy, money, or time (what with being dirt poor and deeply involved with buddhadharma) to invest in experimenting with alternatives to the methods that are actually working quite well for me.

So, I’m gonna go back to my white rice and my peas and my scrambled eggs with schmaltz rendered from untrimmed chicken leg quarters (59 cents a pound, 29 cents if I get lucky.) Later today I will have lentils from the batch I made in the crock pot with a smoked pork neck bone and tomato paste and dried herbs and garlic powder. Yum. This is as good as I have ever had it, and I’m actually quite proud of myself.

So, I have a deal to make with all of you all-accomplished gurus of healthy living and clean colons: Don’t rain on my parade and I won’t rain on yours. Mkay?

Metta, Namaste, Peace, Blessed Be,

And I mean that sincerely,

Jinpa

Arrogance

I remember a conversation I had with my stepfather many years ago. He was one of the deacons of our church, and he was quite well educated in Protestant dharma. He had books in Greek and Hebrew in his personal library and was conversant in the various important concepts in his faith: grace, sin, faith, salvation, etcetera. He was getting on in years when I knew him. He’d been divorced and remarried and he’d had several children who were themselves grown. He had the manner of a wise and experienced man who had learned to laugh at himself and to be gentle with others.

I was in my early teens, just starting to go through puberty; a lonely kid who didn’t get along well with my peers. I was a big Jesus nerd, interested in all the nuances of doctrine and fascinated with anyone who would actually talk with me one on one about that. So, when we fell into talking about doctrine in a car ride home from an errand, he had my full and undivided attention. Somehow we wound up talking about grace and sin. His idea, which made sense to my young mind, was that since faith in the sacrifice of Jesus was all that was needed to free us from sin, then as long as we maintained faith then any action we could take in that moment would itself be right correct and free from sin. It’s a nuanced position, and one with flaws. I won’t attempt to analyze it here; that could be a lengthy treatise and anyway I trust that my readers will have little problem intuiting the inherent difficulties with that position.

Three months later, my stepfather, this wise man and deacon of our church, initiated a sexual relationship with me. I will not describe in this post the damage that was incurred by this action. I will let it suffice to say that I spent decades repairing the rift in my soul. I am fortunate to have stumbled onto a spiritual path that has allowed me the confidence, self-love, and awareness needed to work with my past.

There is an arrogance that is the achilles heel of the advanced practitioner. And though it’s usually nowhere near as obvious and agregious as my step-father’s indescretion with me, I still see it in myself: I am so profoundly comforted and at ease compared to the time before I found this path that I forget that I’m not done growing. I get caught up in how far I’ve come, and how wonderful my life is now. I also tend to think that because I’ve taken on so many practices and come so far in the curriculum of my school that I am somehow better than I was. It becomes easy to identify with the unconditional buddha nature within me and to forget that I am still here, still human with all my flaws, bogey-men, fallacies, habits, and assumptions.

Discovering unconditional confidence, buddha-nature, christ consciousness, whatever you call it, is wonderfully freeing. My teacher often refers to that confidence we all have as a razor. Razors are very sharp and very responsive instruments. And, they respond to habitual patterns as well as skillful decision-making. As people who are maturing on the road to consciousness, it is our responsibility to avoid mistaking confidence for license. It’s important for us to slow down, apply discipline and pay attention to our actions. We are the vanguard for the awakenment of the human race, which is exciting. But we must always remember that we are not in this to leave others behind. In fact, it’s important to lead from the rear, like generals. So let’s be kind to ourselves and the rest of our comrades.

In the immortal words of Sergeant Esterhaus: Let’s be careful out there.

*****

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche wrote a book about this sort of thing: Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. I cannot recommend it enough.

Rain

How can you just leave me standing alone in a world that’s so cold? This is what it sounds like…

Imagine a man who reads Greek and Hebrew, knows his Bible, his New Testament, conversant quickly and deeply in Protestant dharma. Imagine the good-natured laugh of a man who’s had kids, divorced, remarried, lost most of his teeth, runs a fast-food joint in Greenville. Imagine the warmth, the male pulse, the blood that runs into the root of the body. Imagine an intelligent guardian who is too clever and lets the boundaries slip.

Imagine the quick imagination of a lonely child and the scarcity of intelligent conversation. Imagine the child with too much space. Imagine genius with no direction; no guidance. Imagine pubescence for a child with nobody around to shame her for masturbation. Imagine the frustration in discovering the limits of found objects and fingers, wanting more, and the mind that always wants more, the merging of sexual energy and creative energy – one doesn’t need a catalyst to combine energies that were never truly separate. But the confusion that emerges in the mind as the muse, the ad-hoc guardian and potential teacher becomes a sexual partner and the desire, deeply embedded in the body/mind for partner to become lover, and the knowledge that this is theft, this is wrong, I am wrong. But I still need. I still love. But, love is always wrong.

And I am standing here, in the rain. I only wanted to be in the rain with you, with him, with the Beloved. I only wanted to know you, to see you laughing, to see you laughing in my rain.

After all of this, I still love you. I still believe in you.

I still believe in me.

*****

With all my respect and love to Prince. Thank you for the inspiration.

Fire and Water: Bringing the Turbulent Relationship Down to a Simmer

Good morning, folks!

It’s been a long time since I posted. I’ve been sick with a cold that, as my colds always do, became a sinusitis. For some reason, this time the sinusitis simply would not clear up, so even though I beat the bug, I still didn’t get better. But now, with much help from various people, especially with major props to my Ear Nose and Throat guy, I am starting to feel a lot better. I was stuck with this for two months, so it’s really good to be re-entering the stream of my life.

*****

Since the beginning of the year of the fire monkey, I have been thinking about fire energy. I was born in the year of the water rat, so that got me thinking about the relationship between water and fire. If you look on the surface of the situation, water beats fire, right? Pour some water on a campfire, and you know what I mean. It seems a simple situation: they just don’t mix. But if you put water into a pot and place that over a fire, the water will steam and boil. If you leave the water there without a cover for too long or leave the fire too hot, the water will boil away to nothing.

So, why the physics lesson? Relationships. These qualities of the natural world have a lot to do with relationships. I am one of those people who fall in love madly and deeply and then find that things just never work out. I am too much for my muse. What sane person wants another person hanging on their arm all the time? This is the dampening quality of water. Throw it on the fire, and nothing’s there, right? What was a wonderful, lively fire is rendered into damp ashes, and a muddy pit. Being in love sparks a lot of creativity and fosters a sense of well-being, and for me it seems to make all the irritations in my life easier to work with. That’s the utility of fire. It renders inert water active. But getting too close to the fire makes the water boil over, and that’s not helpful.

But hold the water too far away and nothing happens. Cold, inert water stays the way it always was. So, what’s the solution? Well, it’s the pot. The container is what makes the situation work. Hold the pot over the fire at the right distance and you can cook a good soup. In some relationships, closeness is fine. Water and earth get along great. Fire and air spark and grow all over the place. Which can be auspicious and/or burn somebody’s house down, which is another story, but suffice to say they get on well with each other. Water and fire need a careful distance, and a lot of patience.

Creative, dramatic energy flows like water; it splashes all over the place. Throw it in the air and rainbows appear. Sprinkle it on the ground and flowers grow. But some of us need a catalyst, at least I seem to. Maybe I’ve been stuck in my pot for too long. But throwing myself out of the pot doesn’t seem to be the answer. And neither is avoiding the fire.

But a little bit of distance, and a sense of acceptance towards that container, the pot, seems to be a step in the right direction. If I can stay put and maintain a steady distance from my source of inspiration, maybe steam will form. I’ve been working on this, and it seems to help a lot.

And you know what they say: a watched pot never boils. So, if you find yourself in one of these relationships where you are so connected but it’s just too turbulent, consider this connection to the natural world. See for yourself whether the water and fire analogy works.

Loss

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My primary cat died last night. I said the Avelokiteshvara mantra for her as she lay dying, and many more repetitions as Dad and I carried her body out to animal control to be cremated. OM MANI PADME HUM, OM MANI PADME HUM, OM MANI PADME HUM. Dad had an errand to run, so I came home, and now the secondary kitty and I are here alone. It’s lonely here without my sweet little fox-face. I don’t know if Dot understands that Mouse is dead, but I suspect she feels something.

I remember taking Mouse home, many years ago. She walked right up to me and my boyfriend at the time, put her paws up on his knees and meowed right at him. I remember her annoyance at finding herself in my household; I’m pretty sure she expected to wind up with Michael, but his household didn’t have room for another cat. She found a high place in the apartment and stayed there for months, only coming down for meals. I would go over to her occasionally, proffer my nose to her for a brief “kiss” nose to nose, and then leave her alone again. She eventually warmed to us, and to Toby, our big bruiser of a cat who traversed the rainbow bridge a long time ago. They got along with no violence on either side, surprisingly given how aggressive Toby was; Mouse knew how to handle him, I guess.

She was pregnant when she found us; a fact we only found out after we had her spayed. I was told by the place that did the spaying – a charity for folks who couldn’t afford to go to a regular vet for the spaying – that she likely would not have survived bearing kittens, or at least would have jeopardized her health. At any rate, their policy was to terminate, so they did. I was sad about the kittens, but only a little.

I remember the tricks she came up with to get me and dad, incorrigible slug-a-beds, up in the morning to feed her. Her initial foray into human awakenment was chewing on plastic. She developed the habit of chewing plastic bags as an urban kitty and discovered that the sound drove us crazy. As we acclimated to that, she came up with another fun trick: the dive-bomb. She would make her way to the top of the door to my bedroom and then jump – BOOM! – down onto my bed below. Her pranks generally earned her generous sprayings from the water bottle. For this I am sorry. I should have had more patience.

I remember all the times Dot came up to Mouse demanding to be groomed and Mouse obliged her, until she herself wanted grooming and Dot just wasn’t programmed to return the favor. Mouse would get annoyed with her and a fight would break out. But often I would see the two of them sleeping together, their heads together, almost like mother and daughter, except the mother was half the size of the child. They always looked so peaceful and happy like that.

I remember like it was yesterday, and it practically was yesterday, the grouchy entitled old lady who wasn’t satisfied with pretty much anything. She wanted what she wanted, right now, and let us know in no uncertain terms that she wanted it; she just didn’t have language to let us know exactly what she wanted. Sometimes we guessed right: often she just wanted to be fed. She got food-crazy in her declining years – we thought it might be a thyroid problem. But many times it was impossible to figure out what was going on in her little kitty mind. As she grew older it seemed that what she wanted more often than not was simply to be picked up and held.

In the last couple weeks, she wanted to be held constantly. She would walk right onto my desk like she owned it – a habit neither of my cats would normally try when I was around – and demand to be picked up. She would let me hold her for more than an hour and then would only reluctantly let herself be lowered to my bed.

During the recent cold snap she wanted to be under the covers, preferably with a human body. She would cry until somebody got into bed with her and then dive under the covers before one could get comfortable. She continued this habit after the cold snap and right up until her last night.

I knew she would probably not make it through the night. She lost her appetite several days ago, and yesterday, it became clear to me that she had lost strength to stand or sit properly. She got up a few times yesterday, but it was laborious and she quickly demanded to be picked up and put on the bed again. So as night became bedtime, I got into bed with her and did my best to stay, despite the head cold that demanded frequent trips to the bathroom to clear my sinuses. I lay in bed with her for hours stroking her head frequently, not sleeping, and I sat with her at times when I could not lay down. I remember being in awe at how present and aware she seemed all through the night. Finally I got up and sat at my desk near the head of the bed where she lay, not sleeping. I watched a bit of anime on the computer, looking over at her at intervals to stroke her head. Finally, at around 4am, I looked over and she was gone. Her eyes were open and she was still. I reached over and stroked her a bit, but I knew she was simply not here any more.

She was twenty years old.

Mouse, I hope that you go peacefully through the bardo with Avelokiteshvara, the Buddha of compassion, at your side. I hope you find the pure lands, where you experience ease of body and mind. I pray that you find a human birth and the vows of a boddhisattva, as you richly deserve. And barring all that, I hope you find a rebirth as a kitty with a better human mommy than me; one who will be kinder and more consistent. It’s lonely here without you, and I have regrets. But I will endeavor to come back to the moment, again and again. Have a peaceful journey. And thanks, for these precious days of closeness.

Stay

Oh god, I want out so badly. There’s a person I can’t stop thinking about, and ice on the ground, and my relationship with my dad is difficult, and I feel impotent and alone, and I want out. I wrote an email to the guy telling him in detail how I was never going to speak to him again – it was full of power and hope and blame; it was full of drama. I have spent the last two days mostly in bed, shivering with the cold, dwelling on self-blame, and now I have the will to cut somebody out of my life, forever, in order to feel powerful again. In order to gain something that feels like control.

I’m going to throw myself into my practice, and give up on the whole idea of being in love. I will shroud myself in the robes of an urban monk and meditate two hours a day and spent all my free time at the local meditation center, and I will be free again.

But it’s just more drama. So, I can cut myself off from a friend and a whole group of friends, and can I feel powerful; but for how long? How long before I find some new shiny person? How long before a life thrown into practice becomes boring; how long before spending my free time volunteering becomes tedious? How long before I act out from my loneliness and rage at the person I am rejecting today?

So my finger is hovering over the “send” button on that email as I wonder whether it’s all really necessary.

When I learned about meditation, and started studying the qualities of existence, I had a moment when I realized that Buddhism is something I can fail at – again and again – and still keep coming back. Just like meditation, whenever I find myself in never-never land, I can simply come back when I am ready to do so. And there’s no blame, no accusations of back-sliding, no threat of damnation. I don’t have to know stuff; I can be completely wrong and do everything completely ass-backwards, and it will work out.

But that doesn’t mean I should give in to every impulse to run away. Maybe instead of having to come back I can stay. Maybe just for this moment, I can hold back on the email telling off yet another person who seems to have abandoned me. Maybe just this moment, even as I’m forgiving my friend who I feel so much hurt towards, I can even hold off on the text message forgiving him for what he hasn’t even done.

Maybe I can live with my inability to traverse the ice today, and find some way to be with myself simply and endure the discomfort of not knowing whether I’m any good. Maybe I can endure the inner voices that continually tell me I’m of no use to anyone.

It feels like a retreat I did recently. I was in a beautiful place, surrounded by supportive people, but I had a very bad sunburn. I was in agony, and it looked like I was going to be stuck in my tent for the duration. And I was uncomfortable with the idea of spending the next week stuck in my tent with sunburn. So I left. One of the counselors tried to encourage me to stay, but I could not endure the moment of not knowing what it would be like to stay there for another week. So I booked it. Even though I had every reason to go, it’s a decision I will always regret. I will have to go back and do that retreat again, and I will miss out on some activities for the next two years because I left, but that’s just not important now. The only thing that’s important is that this retreat is just one more thing I didn’t complete.

I don’t need to blame myself for the past, but today, right now, I can tolerate this moment. I can refuse to wage war on my friend and on myself. I can sit.

David Bowie

David Bowie was dying. I don’t know how many knew it; I certainly did not know it. But he had one more album to share with us. So as he was dying of cancer, he worked to complete it, and it released just days before he died. He had no way to know how it would affect us, his fans, the whole world. If he was like most of us, he didn’t completely believe how much we loved him. How hard would it be to believe that most of the modern Western world actually loves you? But then again, how much of him did we really see? How much do we see of one another?

We are, ultimately, a mystery to each other. And one day, we will each, in our turn, leave everybody behind. And we will never really be able to know our legacy. But, we all have a chance to do something we love, whether we get paid for it, and whether or not we think anybody actually sees it. We all have a chance to love someone, and something. To put it more simply: we all have the chance to love.

David Bowie was a god to me in my teen years. His daring inspired me to be myself just a little more. He informed much of my awakening sense of gender and style. I was thrilled that someone could dress like him, be like him, and be so striking and just completely accepted on a broad scale. He made edginess attractive. I can’t even say his name without saying the whole thing: David Bowie.

So, learning about David Bowie’s death knocked me completely sideways as I sat down to breakfast and checked up on the social media. Gravitational forces misaligned in the wake of one of the biggest planets in the cosmos. I finished breakfast, and tried to meditate. But I couldn’t make myself rouse the courage to commit myself to another day. Everything suddenly seemed like a needless, painful, hassle. Suddenly the idea of giving myself to the world just seemed pointless. I found myself comparing myself to this fabulous space-man and wondering: What possible good can I ever do in the world? So I went back to bed.

When I got up again twenty minutes later, I found a lot of noise on the social media about Lazarus; which was apparently David Bowie’s last music video. I was inspired by the realization was still working up to his last moments, as I think the video makes clear. He was doing what he loved, even though he would never know how it was received. But the reception wasn’t the point. The point was to give what he had to give.

I will never really know the effect of my attitudes and actions. I can choose to commit myself to the basic goodness in all beings, or I can choose not to do so. The choice presents itself every moment, especially in the morning when I sit down to practice. But the choice is just a choice, and having made my choice I won’t get brownie points; I won’t see the effect of that choice. All I have is the choice. So what do I want? Do I want to love, do I want to give of myself, or don’t I? My last song could be this one right now; what do I want to leave behind?

I love David Bowie. He is gone, and I love him. I am inspired by his life, his daring, his legacy. And I won’t let his passing and the pain of knowing our vulnerability be an excuse to stop loving him, or us.

*****

On a more zany note, apparently David Bowie had a spider named after him. I give you, the heteropoda davidbowie. Isn’t it cute?

Photo by Seshadri.K.S., uploaded from Wikipedia