Thursday, May 13, 2010

Our Stories

A story that I impose upon the events of life goes like this. I was raised Catholic in a loving and strict household. When I went off to college I wanted to be President because I thought it would enable me to help the greatest number of people. When I headed off I also knew deep within, that college would test the ideas that I had been brought up with. I wondered what I would be like when I had to think for myself. My sophomore year of college I took a course that exploded my mind. I had always been something of a feminist. In high school when we read “Lord of the Flies”, a story about little boys stranded on an island and the breakdown in civility that occurs, I remember being the only one to suggest that it would have been different if it had been all little girls on the island. My feminism is different now, but the class that exploded my mind, Political Thinking About Women, made me examine so many of my beliefs about how society was organized and how frequently the feminine was lost or devalued. Much of what I was exposed to conflicted with my Catholic upbringing yet it resonated deeply. I could see that it made sense and that this perspective was driven by love, compassion and a desire for justice and equality. I struggled to reconcile my Catholicism and my burgeoning feminism . I also met someone who would much later become my life partner. At the end of my sophomore year however, we parted as friends as she went into the world to pursue her own dreams of helping people. When she left, I was incredibly bereft and searching. She was perhaps the first person that I truly loved. My junior year I met another woman and I reinvented myself in the image of what I projected she wanted. In the end I lost touch with reality. I became mentally ill and had to be hospitalized. My friends found me one morning wandering campus mumbling to myself about marriage, Christ and the Resurrection. Since then I have had a number of other episodes in which I have lost touch with reality, even one as few as three years ago, though I have managed to avoid an episode for as long as 14 years. The psychiatrists have classified me as bi-polar.

So why do I relay this story? Why do I circumsribe the events of life with a narrative and labels that appear to give a cohesive understanding or picture? Well in this case, I do it because I want to suggest the opposite; that no one is fact their story. I write it but I am not identified with it. I do not see limitations to the completeness of who I am based on what has happened in life. They are just events that pass through a space that is much deeper, richer and untouchable. It may seem like once I am classified, once I am labeled, one can understand me, but is that true? In truth there is such depth to everything that in the realm of form we can only know very little about something. In the realm of stillness however, we can "know" the wholeness of something to its core. I write it to suggest that those who have struggled with depression or bi polar disease or any other mental illness or any other malady for that matter can know peace contentment and presence. The key lies in not being attached to the story and in remembering who you are at the deepest level.

It is easy to become attached to the particular label of mental or other illness that a doctor proscribes. And the reality is that we may be limited in what we are able to do by what the doctor says. We may have to operate under certain parameters such as being on medication or confinement to a wheelchair. Let those limitations awaken you, let them teach you wholeness by truly being with that limitation and seeing if in fact that very real limitation binds who you are at the deepest level. It is not what we do or do not do that makes us complete, or whole. Ultimately our actions do not even have the ability to make us content or happy. Happiness comes from the inside. You have heard it before, but what does it really mean. It means that peace, happiness and contentment are available to us in any moment, even the "difficult" ones, even in our worldly limitations. It is simply up to us to clear the layers between our open heart and the world which we are. Happiness, contenment, peace and joy come from remembering in every cell, our limitless "self" and embracing the moment we are in.

Experiment - Sit quietly for 5 minutes. At the end of the five minutes mentally list or even write down all the things that would make you happy if you had them. Now spend a few minutes going through what has actually made you happy in your life and list those things. Are they similar or different? Does it take much to make you happy? Look deeply, why do you think you were "happy" during some of the things you named? Try to get to the bottom of why? Was it really something the thing gave you or was it more about a simple connection and attention. Is that connection and attention only available when that something is around or is it something you could bring to whatever is before you? How does the space you were in relate to your happiness? Who are you without those things that would make you happy? What would happen if you embraced whatever is coming up for you in this moment with compassion? Do not worry. There are no wrong answers. This was just an exercise, hopefully playful, at looking at the conditions for happiness.

Stories are wonderful perspectives on truth. They are entertaining, lovely, riveting, wondrous, and at times helpful, and informative. They are like looking through one face in a diamond crystal. Some part of reality is shown but not all of it. To look through another facet of the diamond, another story, is to see another element of truth. Ultimately however, truth, which is who we all are, cannot ever be captured by a story. So liberate yourself from your story by remembering in each moment the full glory of your being.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Nights ago I dreamed that something was after my family. I even whimpered aloud as I once did as a little child. When I awakened it was clear that the nightmare had ended. It was clear that the absorbing story that frightened me just a minute ago, was not reality after all. It could have fooled me. It did fool me. The feeling was 0dd because in my life I have been so exceptionally content and happy. It was funny that "I" was not able to meet my dream with the same equanimity that I have been meeting the rest of life. I found myself marveling at this "other world" that managed to emotionally terrify me and handcuff my ability to be present. Yet in actuality the events were imagined. I was on edge. My adrenaline was pumping. It had all felt so real.

What if the world we live in is a lot like that? What if most people live in a dreamlike state; rarely aware of the true reality they could wake up to. Freedom is not the cessation of "bad" things from happening it is embracing what is happening simply because it IS happening. There exists a reality is below the surface of what passes for the real world and is a part of what we call the real world but in actuality it is more "real" than the things we touch, hear, see, smell or taste And yet ironically our access point to that richness of that reality is through thoses senses. We touch the divine through our bodies. Anything you have ever "experienced" of the divine or the formless has come to you through form by your senses. The dream world our minds recreate each moment is part of the real world. Yet have you ever awakened out of a deep slumber and for a few moments not had any part of your story come to consciousness ie) you were just present without referencing a who or a where or a what? Have you ever meditated and melted into a space where only the "isness" of the moment existed, where you were not thinking of a "me", where "every-thing" seemed to almost disappear. There is a richness to a world where we let things "be" as they constitute themselves before us in that moment. In our effort to control our world and rid ourselves of the fear of not knowing, we give a false consistency to the wildness of life, to the "suchness" of unmediated experience. We forget that the world is created anew through our own eyes each and every moment, that each and every moment anything can happen. So your father "always" criticizes the way you dress, and your best friend "always" gets withdrawn when you mention her relationship with her husband. How much does the fact that they acted that way in in the past - color your present moment with them? How much is your present conditioned by their "past' behavior? What would happen if you gave them the space to be whoever they were going to be in the moment you were interacting with them? What if you met them wherever they were and realized that you are both free to act differently at any moment and you both just might? You are not the accumulation of your deeds and no one else is either.

Forgiveness would be more prevalent. Forgiveness would come naturally because we would realize that we are each more than a tally sheet. It would come because we narrowed our lives to the present and gave ourselves the gift of relating to reality and not the "dream" world of what that person or situation was five minutes ago. Holding onto the past is painful. The present is always something we can handle. This does not mean that we need to put up with hurtful behavior, that we cannot remove ourselves from harmful situations, or that we cannot choose to spend time with other people, it simply means that the burden of attachment to something which is not now, is no longer there. Until you have forgiven, you are still in the dream world where at some level you believe you are a victim. Does that sound harsh? I do not mean it to be, I only mean it to help one free oneself. If you have not forgiven someone, then you are telling yourself a story in which you were wronged and that at some level things won't be ok until something else happens. Nothing ever needs to happen for you to be happy. Nothing ever needs to happen for you to be content.


What if you really did nothing. Spend 10 minutes alone quietly sitting on a chair or lying in bed when you are not too tired. Language fails here but "try" to do nothing. Truthfully, I find its more like relaxing into nothing. No worries, there is no wrong way to "do" this experiment.


What happened at the end of 10 minutes? Did your thoughts slow down? Did the "spaces" between your thoughts increase? Did you find your mind rattling on and on -- if so do you know how it started down that track? Did you find it hard to "do" nothing? Did you have a running commentary about how you weren't doing the exercise correctly? Did you fall asleep? Were you able to sit/lie for the full time? What constituted "doing" or "nothing" for you in the exercise? How do you feel? What were you able to sense during the exercise? What was your breathing like? Are you living your own life or is life living you?

The aliveness of the web of oneness can directly touch us in any moment that we are not ensnared in a believing a story about it. There is no magic to it. Just use your senses; your access point to the divine, to open to the world within the world, by experiencing without conceptualizing and by embracing the moment you are in. How will you know whether or not you are in the dream state? The more aliveness you sense in everything around you, the more your are leaving the dream world. The more your felt connection to that which inhabits the cosmos, the less you are living in the dream world.