Friday, October 17, 2008

Baby and the Bat

San Francisco is a bicycle city. Everywhere you go, there are swarms of them, even on the insane hills of California street. When stopped at a light in my car, I am usually completely surrounded by urban cyclists. It is interesting to observe. Every type of person can be seen on a bike- twitchy, edgy guys in a big hurry on a fixie; middle aged professionals on hybrids with squishy seats looking nervous about that delivery truck; thrift store girls on old Schwinn three speeds peddling in high heels; older guys with graying beards and old spandex on touring bikes with lots of water bottles (or recumbent set ups with flags)...

The thing about a bicycle is that it becomes very personal. When you ride a bike daily, you start to think of it as almost a part of you- mostly because it is a machine that relies entirely on human input to function and must be fit to its rider exactly in order to function properly. You can tell a lot about a person by looking closely at their favorite bike. Mine are something else. I have two bikes that I consider my favorites- A 21 year old Specialized Rock Hopper Comp that has been modified quite a bit to meet my taste and needs (I have owned it for all but 1 of it's two decades), and a new Batavus Soccorro trekking bike all the way from Holland (it is beeeeeeautiful!) which has received just a few cosmetic changes to suit my taste.

My bikes, while sharing certain traits- upright, european style seating position, rack and luggage set ups that allow me to haul almost anything I would haul on a bike, fenders- are very, very different. My old, beat up, well loved Specialized (Baby) is tacky, there is no getting around it. What Pepto Bismol is to the colour pink is exactly what my bike is to the colour green. Baby has yellow fenders (plastic) and a huge black metal basket hanging off the handlebars. The bell is painted orange with multicoloured flowers painted on it. The blue panniers that hang off the back are the same ones I have had since I first got the bike. When I ride Baby, she makes me happy (try to ignore how that sounds and just go with it). Just looking at Baby makes me smile, her utter silliness is pure joy to me. Baby is regular, old me who can't believe I am not in college any more. Baby wants to ride out to the beach and smoke a fatty.

My new bike (The Bat) is many things, but tacky is not one of them. The Bat is shiny black and brushed silver, with a step through frame that sweeps like a swan's neck. The panniers on The Bat are bright red with a Japanese floral design. The saddle is a deep, lovely brown leather, and the handle grips are lacquered cork. As for the bell, it is brass and sounds like a Tibetan talking bowl. This machine is sleek and architectural and European. Riding The Bat, I have to step up my game and make sure I pay attention to the niceties of grooming and style. The Bat is grown up and focused and much prefers a smoky scotch in a jazz club to a gritty joint.

These are sides that are equally representative of 'me'. I could not pick one over the other. My many sides are only bits of a whole, after all. Some days seem to call to different parts, and I surely do see the world differently from these different 'bicycles'. 'Baby' days are coloured by humor and fun and utter lack of concern for schedules or convention. 'Bat' days are productive and stylish and urban. Both take me all over the place, and each is with me even when left at home. Each teaches me more about myself and how I fit into the grand scheme of things.

Pretty cool for two wheels.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Alan Watts- Music and Life

I ran across this video while looking around at various "Slow Bike Movement" websites (there is one perma linked in the side bar). There is something about Alan Watts that I really like.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Through the Looking Glass

A woman whom I have come to know somewhat over the months, posed an interesting question to me today- how do you know what is 'you' and what is 'conditioning'? A seemingly simple question, but with a maddeningly difficult answer to come to. How do I know what is what? If I do manage to identify it, then what do I do?

Life hands us a lot of things to process along the way. Some of the lessons leave more deeply ingrained scars than others. Somewhere along the line we learn that it is impolite to interrupt, that crooked teeth should be hidden behind hands or close lipped grimaces, that certain music is bad, that brussel sprouts are gross... We learn how to swim through the stream of life, along with the current, trying to make as few waves as possible. Then BLAMMO! It turns out to all be wrong. Where do you go with that?

For myself, it is interesting. I am a rebel. Not in the sense that I need to appear, outwardly, much different from anyone else. Inwardly, though, I am very much my own person, at least in my own mind. The reading I have been doing lately is on the nature of inter-dependence and how the true nature of all things is one of non-difference and inter-being (a lot of hyphenation in this new world I am finding!). This is a great departure from my normal line of thought. These teachings propose that our base consciousness is derived from many sources, and while we each have our own basic (store) consciousness, it is only a part of the collective consciousness of all beings. Without the collective store, I would not have my conscious, nor would you. Further, without my conscious, the collective conscious would not exist.

This is big stuff. It changes the whole game. Now comes the point past which there is truly no return. And there is no choice but to continue, because the door is open and it is sucking me through. I am Alice, and I have drunk the potion.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Family Tree

Today I was listening to a dharma talk on the Prajna Paramita, which encompassed a number of interesting things. One of them was the first explanation of 'emptiness' that I have heard that made sense- emptiness is another word for the lack of intrinsic stability in the world of form, or more simply, everything changes so don't get too stuck on it.

The other lesson was this- we are all aggregate manifestations of every circumstance and situation that came before us, or we are completely a product of everything that has ever happened in the universe.

I have no issue with either teaching. They both make complete sense to me, and in a way, are the wording for things I have thought without words for years. What has come from those thoughts is interesting.

When I look at myself, I have tremendous gratitude for all the factors that brought me into this world. While I have made a large effort to study Buddhism, lately, I do not find myself to drawn to the teachings of suffering. There have been difficult times and situations in my life, but I do not feel that I have lived a life of suffering. However, in feeling the gratitude for my life, I started to think about some of the circumstances of the world that allowed me to be born- some of them take some effort to be grateful for.

War- My family is predominantly English, and what isn't English is from some other part of Brittan. My family, on both sides has been profoundly affected by The Battle of Culloden, The Tudor wars, the Boer War, WW1, WW2, and many, many dozens of others. So my gratitude has to go out to not only those who died, but those who killed. My gratitude must extend to not only those who died in the camps, but those who ran them, right up to Hitler himself. I must be thankful for the French sinking English ships, the Russians for killing the Czar, the Vietnamese for ousting the French, the colonists for tossing the tea. I have to thank the Cesears for all they did, and all those that opposed them.

Religion- Romans and Pagans, I must give my thanks to. Pontius Pilot must have equal ranking with Jesus. The Crusader's make the list as does Mohammed. Buddha walks hand in hand with Jim Jones in the ranks. The Pope (s) and Martin Luther..... even King Henry the Eighth (which of his wives could be left out of the story and still have 'me' be here?)

Conquest- All of them can line up, I owe them my life. From Alexander and Genghis Khan, to Teddy Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. All of them beat and stole and murdered their way to me. Would I be here if Cortez had not sought his fortune?

There are so many 'aggregate circumstances', that make up who I am, and I can't just put in the ones I like. General Custer is as much my ancestor as Crazy Horse, as are all that died that day, and all who lived to tell the tale.

How do I look at history again? Everything I have ever learned, every person I have ever read about it, is my ancestor. Everyone, everything they did is responsible for my life. And yours.

Friday, August 15, 2008

I Am the Ocean

I am not the boat,
tossed on the ocean.
I am not the bird,
resting in it's waves.
I am the waves,
the movement of the ocean.
I am the ocean.
Let the boat and bird
rest in me.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Bells of Joy

I am on a total sonic high! Tonight was the Grace After Hours event where the Cathedral stays open for people to come and walk the labyrinth. The entire Cathedral is lit with candles and, tonight had a wonderful woman who sang and played flute. When she played her Indian flute, it echoed so beautifully from all directions of the Cathedral. As I walked I could smell the candles burning and the music wafted around. There were many participants, all regular walkers, so the flow between people passing one another was lovely.

Tonight's walk, for me, was only about getting back to myself, which has, recently, been more challenging than usual. The weather has been horrid- grey, dark, cold, windy- and I have been very affected by it (unusual for me). Many people use visualization in their meditation practices, I use the sense of a window in my chest that I can breath through, to keep my heart open. I found that I had kept this window quite tightly closed, recently, without paying attention. When I went to 'open' that space, I found it quite uncomfortable, with a dull pain in my sternum. Funny how that works. I found it preoccupied me, so when the walk was over, I felt as if I had missed something.

Just after leaving the labyrinth, the hosts of the walk started placing brass hand bells around the walk. They were for the end of evening 'Harmony Walk'. I had never done this before, so I was intrigued. There were several bells, all tuned to one another to create amazing chords no matter which are rung or in what order. Walkers can ring their bells whenever they like, they can put them down for someone else to use, or walk with no bell at all should they choose.

Walking with 20 others, bells ringing, candles glowing... it was pure, simple, bliss. The chords the bells created actually vibrated in my head and hands and feet and off the walls... I walked in utter amazement and joy. I was so happy with the walking and the sound it made other people laugh when they passed me. Every now and then, a particularly lovely chord would spontaneously sound and make me just stop in my tracks and smile with my toes.

What an awe inspiring event. I can't believe how fortunate I am to have been able to participate in it.


Monday, July 21, 2008


Without noticing it, you too may be suffering from the myriad ways in which expectations can undermine your life. I call it the tyranny of expectations. They plague your daily life, causing you to be irritable, disappointed, and disillusioned. Many times they lead you to say unkind words, act unskillfully, or make poor decisions. Expectations are so insidious that you can persist in maintaining them even after you have clear evidence that they are unfounded.- excerpt from an article by Philip Moffitt

I read this the other day. Good food for thought. Expectations go hand in hand with assumptions, both more than happy to make asses of us all.

What are the expectations that I have that are sabotaging me? It is difficult to say, especially as I have to really think about what expectations I have of any type. Waking up tomorrow morning probably ranks up there pretty high. Not sure that I am blocked from making progress in life by that assumption, though. Some level of assuredness that tomorrow will in fact arrive with me as a passenger is required to have a certain base level of structure in my personal day. Without that faith, why clean the bathroom?

Here is a good one! I expect myself to be open to others. Am I? Nope. It drives me crazy when someone doesn't get it, whatever the 'it' is. This does not mean I want others to agree with me, only that I want them to show some understanding and growth in the subject (of course this is based on my opinion of what growth and understanding are). This is something that can make interpersonal communication difficult (the attraction of the blog- one way monologue).

How do you get rid of expectations? Is it even possible? I expect that it is.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I Am So Not Zen

Over the years, I have been a great many things. A bit like that Bugs Bunny cartoon where he and Elmer Fudd swim around in a sea of hats and take on the persona that each one represents. I have fewer questions, these days, but a deeper need to study them. So, I am exploring some of the many paths of belief. The most recent of these, is Zen Buddhism at the absolutely beautiful San Francisco Zen Center. I listen to their dharma podcasts on my Ipod, all the time.

As the title may suggest to you, I did not click with Zen.

There are so many rules. I get their general purpose, to keep you focused and in the present, but holy cow. Walk in the door this way, walk out that way. Turn clockwise. If this bell rings wait here, but first take off your shoes while you stand with your back to the mat. Sit anywhere you like, but not here, or here, or here, or here.... and whatever you do, do not sit on anything
brown. Sit this way, but not that way. If the 'senior Dharma student' enters the room....

I do not respond well to that much structure. Due to genetic programming I have to follow a rule once I know about it, but with that many rules, I can't breath trying to follow all of them (which is the focus of the meditation class I was there for, after all). Despite listening to a very good, and timely , dharma discussion with the Abbott, about acceptance of the situation at hand, I was very happy to get out of there.

Here's the kicker- during the meditation class, I had to use a second cushion in order to sit comfortably, and there was a perfectly good one right in front of me. The meditation instructor, a Buddhist priest, said nothing about it. When the dharma talk was a few minutes from starting, an older nun came to me and whispered that I was sitting on the senior dharma student's cushion. I apologized and got off it immediately. Apparently, both of my cushions belonged to the senior dharma student. So I put the other one where I had found it, thinking the whole time 'why didn't the meditation instructor say anything?' So then this nun tells me they need to be fluffed! OK. I fluff. An hour later, the discussion is over, I can't feel my feet because of the position I was forced into by not being able to replace either cushion with one that was sanctioned for my use, and not only has the nun who kicked me off my cushion (very politely) slept through the whole talk, but so has the senior dharma student!

I will sit on the seats at the back of the room if I go to a dharma talk again. I am definitely not cut out for Zen.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Too Much Information

Somehow, it has happened. I have read too much.

The list of books I have read recently has exceeded reason.

A New Earth- E. Tolle
The Power of Now- E. Tolle
The Seeker's Guide- Elizabeth Lesser
True Love- Thict Naht Hanh
Peace Is Every Step- T.N.H.
Meditation In Action- Chögyam Trungpa Rimpoche
Why We Can't Wait- Martin Luther King, Jr.
A House for Mr. Biswas- V.S. Naipaul
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay- Michael Chabon

The list of books to start is equally improbable

On the Road- Jack Kerouac
Underworld- Don DeLillo
The Dancing Wu Li Masters- Gary Zukav
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind- Shunryu Suzuki

There is a good possibility that I will develop some kind of syndrome from all of this. Too much thinking is bad, but I wonder if too much change in thinking could be the same.

Time to read 'The Dark Night' graphic novel. Comic books always help.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Who Am I?

Nature vs. nurture. The question of the century. Which is it? Is it either? Will my answer make the sign turn over while the bells wring or will the cosmic buzzer blow a raspberry at me?

My travels down the road of spiritual inquiry have brought me, today, to this question. How much of who I am on a daily basis is a result of the past and my accumulated experiences, and how much is simply who I am no matter what swirls around my life? What is 'Little Me' and what is 'Big Me'? There seem to be a lot of opinions on this.

Eckhart Tolle talks a lot about 'my story' and how we all allow ourselves to be self-defined by the accumulated events of our lives. His teachings are that the story may be very engaging, but that there is no way that the past can dictate you current moment. That using the stories of the past as your only means of living in the present moment is an illusion as the past is gone, and this moment demands to be met on its own terms. As an example, as a child I was introduced to an older man who wanted me to hold onto his genitals while he drove the car (I chose to sit in the back seat). As an adult, if I were to interact with all men as though they were about to ask me to be sexually inappropriate with them (no matter what the actual interaction was), I would not, in fact, be interacting with the man facing me at that moment. I would still be interacting with the man I met 30 years ago. This would be true for more positive interactions, as well. I loved going to the beach when I was younger because the freedom of the sand and the surf was intoxicating. When I take my children to the beach, I remember those days on the beach, and I try to reenact those events (from the past) for them, and ultimately, for myself. That interaction with past experiences that block our ability to act in the present is what Tolle would call the interaction of the 'little me'. I try very hard to keep 'my story' to a minimum- to be honest, the story has become increasingly boring and unnecessary. I am tired of it.

Buddhism has many things to say on the matter. When we forget, or simply do not recognize that there is no separation between us and the objects around us and that what we see is the illusory projection of form, we are doomed to reenact our mistakes and never rise to a place of lessened suffering. To ever get to a state of awakened awareness, one must learn to feel the presence of the 'emptiness' that exists beneath all physical entities and how that connects us to the earth, the universe and everything in it. That 'emptiness', which is not 'empty' in the sense of there being nothing there only in the sense that it is empty of the emotions that we call happiness, fear, sadness, elation.... and the physical forms with which we are familiar, is the foundation for life as we know it. It can not be destroyed, it can not be changed, it can not be negated. This is a surprisingly tough concept to accept, sometimes. We are so programmed to be 'individuals' and to be proud of our 'difference'. Anything that could possibly remove any iota of our difference is dangerous (the basis of the communist scares of the 1950's). Not only are we each different, but we are also constantly changing. That there could be any part of us that is unchangeable (and therefore, uncontrollable), is untennable- Of course, any part of us can be changed at any time, because we are completely in control of everything in us. And yet, if we drop the need to be in control, the need to change for just a little bit, there is great comfort in knowing that there is something within that is constant and strong and unyielding without need or impetus to 'evolve' or control. A part of us that simply exists for no other reason than to do so.

Then there are those who believe in the Descartes school of being- I think, therefore, I am. This was my school of thought for many years. A constant need for more information, new books, new ideas, interesting concepts to keep me occupied for hours and days at at time. College was a huge feed into this line of belief, for me. Sitting in one lecture and having information from another lecture suddenly 'click' with the new topic had a physical feeling for me. I craved it, I was excited and happy to 'get it'. I liked studying because it meant new information to assimilate and interpret and utilize and file away for later. It all felt like I was 'me' because my mind is where I felt 'I' resided. For the past few years, I have found my desire to engage my intellect has become much less forceful. There has not been the need to understand much, and this has caused me some concern. I have wondered if there is something wrong with me, but then Bono came up with the lovely lyric 'the more you live the less you know. The less you find out as you go. I knew much more then, than I do now."

There have been the various religious teachings that say that we are nothing but sinful bodies that must be resisted and denied. How does anyone live like that? I have always been flummoxed by the idea of self abuse in the name of God (or any kind of abuse, for that matter).

For myself, I experience my core self to be a constant. The 'eye' that has been looking out at the world from inside me is exactly the same as when I was little. The layers that surround it have changed some of their interpretations and interactions. What surprises me is how complicated it can all get when you don't pay attention to those layers, and how easily the way we, I, fall into communication based in an unintentional lie. How shocking it is to find the lie, but how lightening it is to put it down. So many layers over so many years.

How do we walk around with all of this hanging on us, or is that part of the illusion of life? Can we just put all of it down, because it isn't there in the first place? The Emperor's new clothes?

Does that leave me naked and blogging about spirituality? Not sure where to go with that...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Demons, Fire and Light

Riding back from lovely Coalinga, Ca (a place that can cure anyone of a desire for meat) the other day, James and I were listening to the radio. I was enjoying the 80's-90's feel of it, I knew the lyrics to almost all of the songs. 'Cult of Personality' by 'Living Colour' came on, and I started to sing along. I have heard this song hundreds of times since it came out, and I have always been taken by the lyrics. When it first came out, I was surprised to hear the band put Joseph Stalin in with Mohandas Gandhi. Kinda edgy.

A few days later, I found myself in a discussion with some friends about the colourful life of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of the Naropa Institute and Shambhala training. Through this discussion I was surprised to witness how much many people invest in the leaders of the different branches of Buddhism. Granted, Trungpa was an enigmatic individual who left a tremendous disturbance and impression wherever he went. There are many stories of his life and the colourful people in it. He has been accused of sexual inappropriateness, violence, fiscal malfeasance, lying... He was an open alcoholic, showing up for many public talks obviously drunk. He was wild, but he never made an excuse of it.

In listening to the song in the car, certain lyrics stick out as appropriate to Trungpa-

Neon lights, a Nobel prize
The mirror speaks, the reflection lies
You don't have to follow me
Only you can set me free

Did anyone ever really 'see' him, or did they simply see a reflection of what they thought he should or shouldn't be? Of course there were those who could not see beyond the behavior, and they tend to feel that Trungpa was a hindrance to Buddhism in America. However, there are just as many who couldn't see beyond his teachings. Some were so enamored of his words, that they couldn't see the danger in his behavior, and followed along with it, much to their detriment.

Isn't that what the 'cult of personality' comes down to? Someone who's personality and charisma overshadows all around them and thus distorts the vision of those they influence. Sometimes, to such an extent, that true interpretation of their thoughts and actions becomes impossible for those who can not get beyond the spell.

I have an innate distrust of almost all religious and spiritual leaders, so I don't really expect much out of them. There has never been a point where I have felt a need to know much about the lives of most leaders, of any type. Either what they say speaks to me, or it doesn't. If they have something I want to learn, I listen to the lesson and then move on with the process of understanding it if I can. Learning too much about the teacher seems to just cloud things up. If the purpose of a teacher is to point to the truth, then that is all we need them to do. Until this point, M. Gandhi was the only exception to the rule, but now I have to put in Trungpa, too

You gave me fortune
You gave me fame
You gave me power in your gods name
I'm every person you need to be
I'm the cult of personality

Do any of these leaders take what they end up with, or do we just give it to them blindly? I think it is more the latter, and if that is true, then why do we get angry at them for using what we give them? Trungpa's life, for me, seems more like the lesson than a lot of his words. He drank himself to death by the age of 48, but in the meantime, he started a movement that reverberates to this day, in some ways more clearly than it did when he was alive. He was a boorish lout, at times, but he also founded a University. He believed, and taught thousands of others to also believe, that peace is a place that we can put here on Earth, even though he obviously struggled daily with finding peace within himself. What an amazing lesson, from a man. Not a Saint. A man with demons and fire and light.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Heart (by feralkat)

A new post from our wonderful, feralkat!!


The heart can understand what the mind contemplates. The feeling of having an “open heart” is a recognition of the true essence of the moment. The heart can also close, and then the mind begins to construe thoughts that actually carry consciousness farther away from truth. You know how it feels, rumination in your belly, you know how it has a sense of urgency, it is like a veil over the truth the heart knows. When you feel the truth of your heart, your sense of awareness opens, and becomes boundless, becomes gentler, and any sense of deficiency is dissolved while filling up the spaces where the questioning mind leaves traces. Being is never made smaller when mind rules, only the idea that being is smaller impersonates truth. Behind that is the vastness of space and the realm of heart.

If the sense of yourself becomes contracted, smaller, limited, incomplete, you can feel that way and be led by those feelings. But when you feel the fullness of the heart it is like viewing a reality so vast that it stops thinking for a time and there is stillness, quiet, peace. The truth of what exists here and now.

If you know your heart, it will tell you by it’s movement whether a truth you are experiencing is erroneous. If you hold onto an erroneous idea, your sense of who you are will align with that idea as long as the idea is held. Ideas can enhance perception or limit it, but ideas closely aligned with truth are larger, exist beyond the constraints of one small mind.

The simple fact of existence is both routine and profoundly mysterious. Heart is there throughout, either expanding or contracting in a subtle sense that is felt through changes in both physical and spiritual being. You know when something touches your heart, you also know when something stimulates your mind. If you accept that you are perfect just as you are, the heart will expand and relax, if you listen to an inner dialogue that tells you that your being isn’t “good enough” the heart will close, and if you ask yourself, you will find you know exactly what that means.

Who “I” am is always changing, shifting, like the inhalation and exhalation of breath. A sense of neutral ground which neither expands nor contracts will not effect the heart, it is like no-mans-land. Open-hearted feeling need not be judged. It is appropriate to experience your heart opening when you touch upon a profound truth, it is also appropriate to experience your heart closing when you touch upon a limiting concept.

The heart is true in an instant, with no constraints on its sensibility, it will always reveal where truth resonates. If you tell your heart something that is true, it will respond, likewise if you tell your heart something that is not true, such as telling yourself you are inadequate or whatever, it will contract respectively. Judging is a way of dealing with the uncomfortable, and it is not a fault but rather a learned response to holes in your background, upbringing, education. Even positive judgments reflect the idea that we are limited, while the truth itself is unlimited. What really is important becomes evident, it depends on where you are coming from. For example, if you spent a good deal of life focused on thoughts and ideas, then when you experience true emotion it may feel like an awakening. In contrast, if you have been practicing meditation techniques for example, then the emotions such as anger or joy or whatever, can seem to be a contraction rather than an expansion. It is important to know where you are, and you can know by just looking, seeing, feeling, recognizing. No one but you can have your individual perspective, no one can duplicate your essence, just like no one can sleep or eat for you. (except your mama when you are an embryo/fetus). You can trust your heart. It is always accurate, and can show you how true any choice you make is, like whether to come or go, whether to buy that item or not, whether to eat another helping or not, whether to make friends or relationships with another or not.

Adding to this, is the store of unconsciously strongly held beliefs about yourself, about the state of existence, about values, etc. They create a perpetual motion that is pervasive. That’s why moments of clarity seem so rare, What can you do about it? Nothing, it is what it is, the most and best you can do is to embrace it. To have compassion, and to accept the grace of being.


Air Supply

Air. It is all around us, it enters us every moment. We hardly ever think about air, unless there is something wrong with it- today is a 'Spare the Air' day because the conditions are correct to let air pollution collect at acutely toxic levels. Even then, we only think about the impact of polluted air on us as individuals. We don't contemplate the air its self. The practice of mindful breathing has us focus on the feeling of breathing, or focusing the breath to parts of the body to achieve different outcomes. It is a wonderful practice that has done me a world of good. So now, with all the mindful breathing I am doing, these days, I am thinking about air.

While meditating the other day, it came to me that the breeze around me is that very thing I am trying to tap into- universal force. It made perfect, total sense. Air is invisible, we only ever 'see' the results of the presence of, or the lack of, it. When on the move, air is a powerful force that can move ships across oceans or blow houses down. Air can fit in any space, no matter the size, and you have to try damn hard to keep it out. We blow it into floaty inner tubes, and hold it when we drive through tunnels. We can't last more than a few minutes without it, and yet we take it for granted to the point of almost never noticing it.

The meditation I was doing was a healing one, of sorts, loosely based on the 'soft belly meditations' of Stephen Levine. I have some quite old, and now degenerating spinal injuries. The injuries themselves can be challenging enough, but over the years, my body has learned to store my stress in those spots, which compounds the issue. As I tried to envision my pain leaving my body with my breath (having wrapped it up with the breath I just took in), it occurred to me, that I was releasing my pain to the wind, the air. That I was allowing the universal presence to take my pain from me. At that moment, I knew that from now on, I would always be able to give my troubles to the wind, to blow them away (assuming I can let them go in the first place, which is why I am trying all of this new stuff).

As I 'gave my pain' to the wind, another thought came to me- I am considered to have 'chronic pain' (I loath the very sound of that!!!). Many, if not most people, who suffer with chronic pain get very little relief from conventional medicine, and usually end up with powerful pain medications that wreak havoc on the body over the long term (I will do anything to never be on any narcotic pain medication). So much of the pain that they feel is tied up with stress and depression. What if that pain that just will not go away is really the pain of the world? Pain from an over burdened Earth, polluted by the billions of people who demand their pound of flesh daily? All of us breathing it in, all of us breathing it out. Constantly recycling all of that energy. In giving my pain to the wind, do I have to make sure I do not contribute any more pain to the world so that the wind will always be able to blow my pain away? In the language of Ekhart Tolle, can I be the space for that pain so that one day, I can be free of it?

Today, as I rode my bicycle home from work, I found myself cycling into the headwind that seems to follow me everywhere. Trying to bike up the hills to my home, bent into the wind and tired, I started to beg the universe for just one block without the heavy resistance. So, of course, I got one doozy of a gust right in the kisser that nearly knocked me of my bike. I realized, I was getting some serious 'emptiness' thrown at me, and I remembered to give my pain, or in this case my fatigue, to the wind. But I also realized, I could breath all of that awesome spirit into myself and get my energy from that- breath in energy, breath out fatigue. Spirit in, spirit out. Universe in, universe out.

I made it all the way home (the last 4 miles of a twenty mile round trip commute) with no need to stop, not out of breath, full of the spirit of the wind. Full of the presence of the universe.

Notice the air. Spare the air. Respect the air.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Mile Rock Beach

This is a post I wrote on a discussion forum. I thought it would work well here. I have walked labyrinths many times over the years, but just recently started walking them as a formal meditation. I have found them to be very helpful in my practice, and for whatever reason, walking the labyrinth gives me great focus and a much deeper meditation experience. The labyrinth in this post is found at Mile Rock Beach near Land's End, here in SF. Labyrinths can be found all over the world, in multiple cultures and have a several thousand year old history. I highly recommend trying one (my kids love them!).

I took the kids to the labyrinth at Mile Rock Beach, here in San Francisco. You have to work to get there! Maybe a quarter of a mile of steep stair case and some mild rock scrambling. This labyrinth is situated on a cliff overlooking a sea lion and sea bird sanctuary, so as I walked the lab. there were flocks of pelicans flying just at the lip of the cliff (the edge of the labyrinth is only a foot from the edge!) It is made from the stones found around the site. Just off shore to the west is a light house with a fog horn that sounds every minute. To the north, the Marin headlands on the other side of the bay outlet to the Pacific Ocean. To the east, the confluence of Marin and San Francisco with the Golden Gate Bridge between them and Angel Island in the background. The sky was the most amazing blue with large clouds flying by, leaving shadows on the deep blue ocean. All around, crows and seagulls and pelicans drifting on the breeze. At the base of the cliff, a rock strewn beach with sea weed swaying in the waves.

The kids decided to walk first (my 3 yo kept trying to 'beat' them to the end). They were both so much calmer after. I really need to get them out to do this more often! When they were done, they decided to climb the rocks and off they went. It was my turn.

I have been pondering many things lately, as some here could attest to. I have had a difficult time trying to assimilate some concepts that something in me tells me I need to understand. These ideas we throw around about presence and the now are so much bigger than I had thought them to be. So much more foundation shaking, and frankly, I have been a bit blind sided by them.

Today's journey to the center of the labyrinth held at least some of the answers. I have been resisting the idea of emptiness being the foundation upon which our forms are projected. The idea of life as illusion... uncomfortable. Today I got a glimpse of the joy of this. Without the emptiness, without the foundation of all things, we could not have this incredible experience called life. We may create our realities through the mental projections we put out into the world, but emptiness (formless, presence, God, the Ultimate...) props up that 'illusion' by giving it structure. By giving me structure. While I may return to presence when I die, for now I am here, and I know that is to be in this place, in this time with this body. I know that I am here to experience all that form has to offer, to think all the thoughts that come into my head, to feel all the emotions that swirl around my heart.

There is no need to worry about egos. They are part of the ride. If I identify with mine from time to time, it's ok- it is, after all, mine, and it has been given to me for a purpose beyond over coming it. I know this.

I am solid. I am free.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Lamaze for Life

We create each other’s reality, every day. What we choose to share (in the moment) creates our current realities, and therefor shapes the reality of the person we share with. With the end of that interaction comes the death of that reality, and indeed, that person. Every interaction is a reincarnation, a chance to be a new person. Every interaction is in fact the whole life cycle- birth, growth, expansion, stasis, retraction, death. We live multiple life times, everyday. When someone thinks about us, we are reincarnated there. We die at the end of the thought.

How do I feel about this? Who have I been today? Mom, protector, commuter, chef, laundress, seeker, referee, pain in the ass, lady that cut me off without her turn signal, drinker of tea... Each of these incarnations has been born, has lived, has died today. Repeatedly.

It makes sense to me why we become less present in our lives. With the scattering of communities, we are each stretched farther and farther to interact every day. For myself, I raise three children, sustain a marriage, maintain a career, juggle friends... every one of these relationships demands different parts of me, and really, different 'Me's'. I am a bit like a telephone operator, jumping from line to line- birth, death, birth, death.... The requirement of breathing, takes on even greater importance.

Somewhere along the line, I learned that the root word for respiration (breathing) is 'espiritu', spirit. When we inspire (breath in) we take in spirit, and let spirit back out to the universe when we expire (breath out). Spirit in, spirit out. We need that exchange of spirit to give us strength to live, and die, every minute of every day. When we pay attention to our breathing, we are recognizing the spirit we exchange with the universe and showing it the respect it deserves. In turn, it gives us the ability to ride through all those birth pains.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

What's the Difference?

Somewhere along the line, It came to me that I like boys. It wasn’t an active realization, I never sat down and thought ‘who will I be attracted to? Who should I be attracted to?’ My first crush was on my parent’s friend, Eric. He looked like Leif Garret (remember him, circa 1975?). What if, instead of Leif, my first crush had been Farrah Fawcett (they both had the same hair, he he he!)?

What if my path had been as a gay woman? Would I be a fundamentally different person? As I have never identified myself, primarily, through my sexual self, my answer is no. Many in the spiritual community would say sexuality is form and not an aspect of our true selves. Many in the religious community would say that homosexuality is a choice to turn away from God, and therefor, the answer would be yes, I would be fundamentally different- I would be damned (which is always a possibility no matter which team you bat for).

One Buddhist ideal of non-duality states that if heterosexuality and homosexuality are opposites, that they each must have the other in order to exist. Each has the qualities of the other and as such ‘inter-are’ . There is no difference (separateness), so here, I would still be the same basic person I am now, and if you didn’t like me, too bad. We are each the other so all of us is at least part gay (would this explain the modern ‘metro sexual’?)

Of course, another Buddhist principal states that my physical and mental being are simply projections of form on my formless being. In a nutshell, I (as a physical entity) don’t really exist, and therefor can not be either gay or straight. I don’t lean on this belief, myself. I am a physical entity for a reason, and at least part of that reason is to have someone who is turned on by the skimpy undergarments I bought last week!

From a personal perspective, I don’t give a fig leaf over who anyone sleeps with. If you aren’t sleeping with me, then I don’t need to know the details. From the perspective of consciousness, it is a great jumping off point from which to practice the principals of universal oneness. Being gay, isn’t like being black or white or Chinese. There is no unifying set of physical features that make up ‘gay’ like there are for being ‘Caucasian’. Gay people look like me. I look at someone and I can see that she is East Indian and now I can instantly, subconsciously identify in just what ways she is different from me. I can not see her sexuality. Here is a difference (if indeed there are differences) that must be experienced. There in lies the rub. It isn’t an easy label to apply and takes some thought to come to , not to mention, up close interaction.

Isn't that the spiritual journey when you get down to it? Can any of us truly follow the path to enlightenment as long as we hold on to the fear of 'the other'. No path can be fully explored unless it bisects the paths of others. Those intersections are where the real learning happens. That is when we 'see' that all of us are the same- all of us fabulous and fierce and free to love.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Courage (by feralkat)

Courage. It can't be found in formless pursuit or in forms laced to the bone of my ankle. Freedom has been hardly known, rarely practiced, wound up in clanking, honking duties.

We have all been forewarned since childhood to hurry, time's passing by, still, sometimes the beauty of a vanished moment can be more encompassing than a present awareness of the now. And if you are looking at a painting, or serving up a gourmet meal, it can be both here and/or not to be here. Commitment, due diligence, ambition are noble enough, but only when touched by grace do they rise above the mundane into a place of deeper understanding. With new awareness comes an intolerance for complacency, to make room for enthusiasm.

But that's not enough sometimes. We already don't like it because of the intolerance factor. There's already a dichotomy. From the simplicity of nature, the Huntress Goddess looks at the charred bones of the feast and would rather see a living bison. It's not the awareness, but the intolerance that is intolerable in the awareness. Until the intolerance thunder-cloud rolls on.

You have to break in your new shoes before you can walk comfortably in them. We want to be perfectly beyond intolerance and here come the ghosts marching down Bourbon Street blaring jazz that you can hear above the white noise of the buzzing traffic. All these centuries worth of programming from expectancies, from learning, from knowledge, experience, reaction, genetics, conditioning - like a nightmare they come out howling and dancing around a bonfire in the moonlight, a couple of shadowy gremlins with blood-dripping grins emerge, yes, it can be that grotesque. It's undeniably a fight to stay alive.

Courage, to bludgeon the darkness, but even sometimes just to take a baby-step into the light, the blinding light, with no dilution. Those old ideals of perfection, those are the last straw, the one that breaks the camel's back. You were born just this last Spring and you haven't seen a season like summer or winter yet before. And even in the present our instincts have an awareness of changes, we can trust the sunrise and sunset to happen once each every day of our consciousness. Courage, not with a mask like the Lone Ranger, overblown with hard-ridin' horses and yelping sharp-shooters, but as a process of living, of bringing hotly brilliant vibrant energy through the ever-so-resistant belly push-button solar plexus. That deep spot where the body knows things the mind doesn't know, because it's always computing. A place where the belly button does not negate, but rather, accepts the full garden of intellect and all it's potential seeds because the solar plexus is non-judgmental. Be courage fueled by awakening, in whatever you do, think and say.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Ch Ch Changes

How does one deal with the changes that occur when we start peeling away the layers of junk that settle on us over the years? I have been asking myself this a lot, lately. At first I thought that getting rid of some of the layers of social pressure, inevitable parental damage, self delusion... would make the load lighter. As it turned out, peeling some layers off just revealed the demons that they were holding down- squirming, kicking, howling demons! While I may be a timeless presence in a transient form, I still have to deal with my transient form, and it is a mess!

What was the most surprising was the depression and sense of isolation that I developed. OK, I was equally amazed by how much pain my ego inflicted on me. Not just emotional pain, there was that, but actual physical pain and dysfunction. I had a knotted up ball of muscle in my back and neck that made me unable to lift my right arm for several days! As the layers of distraction dropped away and I found television and radio and computers almost completely irrelevant, I found myself in a state of withdrawal for my former life. Without the distractions of electronics and entertainment, or indeed normal social life, I felt at loose ends. Everyday conversation became largely meaningless, so there was no idle chit chat with my co-workers. The friendships I had cultivated for many years, some for decades, held no attraction for me. There was no one to talk to, as there had always been before.

Back to the pain. I am serious when I say I couldn't use my arm. Being a Physical Therapist Assistant, I tried to diagnose myself. Had I slept strangely? I knew I had a severely impinged nerve, and some horrible spasms in the muscles surrounding my spine, but why? Why wouldn't it go away? Nothing I did helped, nothing my PT friends did helped and I was starting to get frightened.

While driving to work, one morning (one handed), I felt the need to turn off the radio and just sit with my feelings. As I quieted my mind, I suddenly thought about my husband and my inner voice said very clearly 'I don't want this relationship any more'. That is a damn powerful statement! In the past, I would have panicked and gone through a million reasons why I was wrong for thinking that way, and of course I still want this relationship, and how could I even think that when James is such a wonderful man, and my kids need a father..... This time I just sat with the thought without judgement and let it unfold.

Indeed, I didn't want this relationship, anymore. Over the weeks leading up to this day, James had lost his job and was always home. He had always worked very late which left me to myself in the evenings after the kids went to bed. Now, he was always there and I never had a moment to myself. I felt claustrophobic and put upon. It wasn't my relationship to my husband I didn't want, it was my relationship to my lost time. I was all twisted up over the fact that my alone time, which I have always used to connect with myself, was gone, and therefore, to some extent, so was I. Except that I wasn't. I was alone in my car, communing with myself, no husband. How completely stupid! For almost 5 years I had wanted James to be home more, and now that I had it, I was letting it make me sick!

With this realization came complete relief. I could almost see the pain leave my body, and my arm worked perfectly. How insidious the ego is! How unconscious I was, especially in the middle of a quest for consciousness! Aaaargh!

At least now, if I come out of meditation with pain, or have pain (always in my 4th thoracic vertebra) that I can not relieve with conventional methods, I know there is something I need to deal with coming up from my rapidly evolving self. There can be no shrinking away from the issue, it must be faced without emotion in order to get to the root of it- and the root is almost always something silly.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My Journey Begins

A few months ago, I was watching the Oprah Winfrey show. I am almost never home at that time of day, but I was sick and didn't want to read. Oprah started talking about her book club selection, A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle. She was announcing the online class that she was going to do with him for each of the ten chapters of the book and how she hoped that it would be the biggest online classroom in history. I was intrigued by the idea of a world wide classroom, dedicated to a book about finding... the inner world that each of us shares . Something about that idea completely hooked me, and suddenly I realized that I had been waiting for something like this to come along for quite a long time.

Because I was new to the spiritual quest, I decided to take it slowly. Only one chapter a week was going to be covered, so I would only read one chapter a week. That first chapter changed everything, although, at the time, I didn't know it. Reading along, I kept thinking that I was nuts for starting this. Tolle kept talking about 'ego' and 'labeling' and how the world was insane because of the collective lack of consciousness. He kept talking about how dysfunctional our minds are, and how thinking was a huge problem for the world. This was a huge problem for me! I am a thinker by birth, from a long line of thinkers. My whole life I have wished more people would think more often!

Despite my misgivings, something stuck in my head. What if he was right? I had been thinking all these wonderful things, and yet, for several years, I had grown increasingly dissatisfied with what my life was becoming. In tiny, sneaky increments, I had become totally separate from myself. Work was a place my body went to to do things for other people. My brain was raising my kids, but my desire was to be alone. Marriage had become this anchor that wouldn't let me sail out of port. I no longer read the books that had always been my great joy, and instead buried myself in mindless television and never missed an episode of "Extra" (I just loved seeing the stars fall from grace. Serves them right!). In other words, I had stopped showing up for life. Some days, I would start arguments with my husband just to feel alive (I still need to apologize for that)!

I was coming up hard and fast on a great truth- my mind had been running amok my whole life, telling me all kinds of lies and misinterpretations and falsehoods. My inner world was my own private cult and I was following the false prophet of my brain without reservation (amazing I never gave out flowers at the airport!). I was learning that the true me, the part I was born with, that had no societal overlays or patina, was being smothered by my out of control intellect in a manner similar to my partner choking on the couch right next to me without my noticing it because I was too absorbed in the TV. I needed to get myself in line.

I had no idea how challenging this would be. Had I, I doubt I would have started this journey.

As I continued to read the book, take the classes, and chat on line on the book club boards, I started to see myself much differently. I struggled with the sudden changes that made me feel as if all my internal organs had been removed from me and put back crooked. Strong opinions, intellectual pursuit, and convictions had been my cornerstones, and now I was learning that this seemingly strong foundation was in fact sinking in the sand. Becoming aware that most of what goes on in my head is the brain's version of Muzak was stressful, because, once I became aware of it, I had to work at quieting it down. Once things were quiet, I found all kinds of junk that had been covered up by the noise- and all of it needed to be dealt with.

Since that point, I have bumbled along, experimenting with meditation, finding other spiritual authors to read, discussing some of it with others (mostly online). I have had some dark moments- two weeks of depression a couple of months ago, periodic waves of anxiety dreams that seem to come in the period just before I have a breakthrough about something, and distancing from my old life and a lot of the people I love... There have been some amazing times, as well- learning walking meditations from Thict Naht Hanh, discovering the calm under the storm that to this point has been Adrienne, finding a deep appreciation for my family and the simple fact that they exist, and meeting some amazing people who have helped me to think more clearly (hopefully, some of them will post here soon!)...

My journey is just beginning, but already I can tell, it will never really end. As I 'see' more, I 'find' more. Maybe that is what the meaning of life really is- a life of learning to 'see' in order to live a life of 'finding'. Guess we'll all find out. Hopefully, together!!

Here We Go

Well. Here I am. I have now officially started a blog. So where to begin?

My name is Adrienne, and I find myself in the beginning stages of a spiritual journey that has already changed my life irrevocably. With these changes, I have found a need to share my experiences with others, but few to share them with. I have met others, like myself, who wish for supportive environments in which to share their experiences. With a little luck, this will be a place we can all come to to share what we are learning.

This is a space for any who wish to join. The only requirements are these-

1) In the words of Elizabeth Lesser, a fearless spirit with which to live in the mystery.

2) A desire to share openly, honestly and respectfully with others, your journey to the self.

3) A recognition that all paths lead to enlightenment. This is about your journey, not your opinion about someone else's.

4) A need to explore - giving, energy, ethics, meditation, patience and wisdom.

If this sounds interesting to you, then blog away!! Send blog submissions to The only posts that will not be published are those that are attack natured (sorry I have to put that in, but something about the spiritual journey gets some folks riled up!). Please, use your own thoughts, and credit those that belong to others! Most of all, have fun! It is much easier to find what you are looking for with a smile than a fist!