A Window is Where the Wall is Absent

The life impulse to express and to connect arises in me and in all of us. This blog is a celebration of these life impulses. Please feel free to join in the conversation or to just visit. There is a Family Photo Album beneath the posts so you can "meet" my family and I. Welcome!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Unburdened

I chanced across these words:

"If you are content with being nobody in particular, content not to stand out, you align yourself with the power of the universe. What looks like weakness to the ego is in fact the only true strength."
Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

There have been moments where instead of fighting against myself or anything else, there has been an open-sail sense of being united with a vast flow of energy. Moments when I disappeared from my own thoughts and surfaced invisible, unbaffled, silent.

There have been moments when I had no idea who I was and paradoxically felt more clearly myself than ever. The mind relaxes past definitions, expands, and is caught in the tailwind of a life force careening through everything. All the things I thought I needed to be happy, complete, and at peace are leaves scattered in the wind, and nothing remains but happiness, completion, and peace. The mind is unburdened of heavy notions of needing to do something big and flashy, and the sun coming through the window says everything that needs to be said.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"A ward on fire..."

Today I woke up in a puddle of myself. The strange lust for revenge: what does it satisfy?

At loose ends, unsure what to do with myself, startled by a sudden gap in the schedule. From here it is clear that all the frantic scurrying around was to avoid this very spot.

"Like amnesiacs on a ward on fire
we must find words or burn." Olga Bromoff

How many times have I fallen back into the mind after a few brief instants on the lip of clarity? I pull myself out of the broth of past and future, fear and craving, only to slip back into the soup again.

Attention orbits on the cruel circuit of self-centeredness, trapped in an invisible gravitational pull. Open space is unnoticed.

Monday, January 25, 2010

What's the big deal about the present moment?

I have been perplexed at the brouhaha about present moment awareness. What's the big deal? Here I am, sitting in a room, there's some furniture, that's the present moment; now give me something interesting to pay attention to, such as thoughts about all the stuff going on in my life. Thoughts about the not-present moments in my life seem much more interesting than this ridiculously ordinary and uninteresting present moment. Why waste time in present moment awareness? It's painfully boring and unproductive to boot.

When attention is dispersed in the fields of thought, present-moment awareness is fuzzy and dim. But when the energy of attention coalesces into the space of the present moment, something happens.

We all know what this is like, those sunset moments of total presence and luminous clarity. The wattage of consciousness is increased when the energy of awareness no longer leaks into the city of a thousand worries. There's a heightened alertness as attention is streamlined into present reality.

Every moment is a sunset moment, whether it's recognized or goes right by.

What is awareness and how is it different than thought? This is a question that draws me in more deeply every day. But it's not a question to ponder so much as something to experience directly. "Right now you exist; you are aware. Without taking a thought, you are absolutely sure of your being... This is not the result of some fantastic ability or spiritual prowess. It is just a matter of simple looking...You cannot deny the fact of your own being. It is palpably obvious, and yet, from the time we were born, no one has pointed this out." John Wheeler, Awakening to the Natural State

The simple obvious fact of being alive turns out to be the meat and potatoes of the present moment. It is quiet and electric and abundant, this neverending now, and it is worthy of attention.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What's under the mask?

The other day I was looking in the mirror and found myself wondering what if I had glued a mask onto my face and forgotten about it. I'd think the mask in the mirror was my real face. To me it wouldn't be a mask, it would be who I really am. Even though it wasn't me, it would be me. I wondered what if I had glued on not one mask, but ten, or a hundred. If I managed to pry off one mask, I'd think the mask below was me, even though it wasn't.

Actually, this is the story of my life. It reminds me of that weird thing in calculus where you cross the room by half, and then again by half, and every time the distance is halved again and you never reach the other side of the room. I try on different identities and every time I think I've found myself I haven't. Even no-self or Self or big mind or emptiness have a way of solidifying into a new mask, a new concept-in-the-head that I think is finally the real me. But it's just another mask.

Not knowing drove me crazy until I realized that not knowing was the land outside of the head, a land outside of masks, outside of words and definitions. Now I am making peace with not knowing, and it shocks me to discover that not knowing is a realm of greater intelligence than the realm of the known and definable. Awareness is suddenly untrapped from a million thoughts.

Matter and time are masks, and I don't know what's under the mask. In that not knowing I feel at home and I am myself.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"The rapture of being alive" Joseph Campbell

The squirrel doesn't need a reason to live, it just does. The rose doesn't need a reason to be, it just is. The cloud doesn't need a purpose, though it has one.

Yet people- myself included- despair over not having a reason to live or a purpose in life. Just being- like the squirrel and the rose and the cloud- seems far too unglamorous to sate the human's yearning for meaning and significance.

Light existed for billions of years on this planet before the light sensitive tissue that evolved into eyes developed. Somehow the existence of light drew forth the evolution of life-enhancing organs of vision.

Without the prior existence of sound waves would the ear have developed, appearing as if out of nowhere over a vast period of time?

One wonders what other vibrations exist and what other sense organs or capacities might be teased into existence through the life-promoting laws of evolution. It seems unlikely that the five senses so far developed are the end of the unveiling of reality into the realm of perception. Who knows what vibrations now undetectable by any sensory neuron may someday be received by a new neuron of knowing?

Which brings me back to the strange yearning for meaning and significance stamped upon the human heart. Could this be the inklings of a type of new organ or sensory apparatus, akin to the first membrane of light sensitive tissue which had the glimmer of light perception? There is something precious about the unquenchable longing for meaning: it is an inbuilt compass, and not easy to read or follow. One detour or error in the search for significance is "the absurd overvaluation of fame" (Eckhart Tolle). Making a splash in one way or another (whether winning a Gold Metal or blowing up a federal building) and garnering massive quantities of attention from others does not confer significance to one's existence.

Meaning becomes a vital nutrient without which we languish. We become rudderless and stall in the course of our life without some sense of direction conferred by meaning. I've been there many times, and still find myself at times disoriented and directionless, unable to glimpse that elusive sense of meaning to navigate through the day.

Meanwhile I enjoy the squirrel, the rose, the cloud, and all of nature, and the people I love, and the air moving in and out of my lungs. And I find myself entranced by these words from Joseph Campbell:

"People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive."

I don't know the answers, but I wonder...and this sense of wonder itself is perhaps a vital sense organ, the sense organ that has come into being in response to the finest of all vibrations: the presence of mystery. A mystery which seems to be the very substance of every atom and the space in between. The sense of wonder is the deepest possible rapture at the sense of being alive.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Awareness and Perception

What is a perception apart from the awareness of that perception? There is no such thing as a perception without awareness; therefore awareness is a component, a part of what is perceived.

It's not hard to recognize that there is no perception in the absence of awareness. What is sound without an ear? It is at most vibrations evoked in the air, but without a tympanic membrane and auditory cortex, without a perceiving consciousness, how could there be sound?

What would reflected light off an object be if there were no retina and rod and cone cells to transduce that reflected light into a visual image? Without a consciousness capable of vision, all is molecules in darkness.

There is no perception without awareness.
But there is awareness even in the absence of anything perceived.

Awareness and perception are intimately blended together, and it seems easy to be focused on perceptions, thoughts, feelings, etc., while being mostly oblivious to the screen of awareness that is part and parcel of all experience. So for example, I am aware of a thought; but am I aware of the awareness of the thought? I am aware of a sound; but am I aware of the awareness of the sound? I am aware of experience; but am I aware of the awareness of experience? Moreover, am I the thought, or am I the awareness of the thought? Am I the experience, or am I the awareness of the experience?

These questions are not hard to answer directly, because in fact it is not difficult to notice and be aware of the perceiving consciousness itself that knows thoughts and feelings and perceptions. Whether it is in the mental world of words and images, or the physical world of sense perceptions, there is an underlying awareness that can be sensed, an underlying awareness in which the objects of the mental and physical world exist.

I'm not so interested in an intellectual understanding of this awareness (because I think it is outside the domain of the intellect). But I am VERY interested in noticing the existence of this awareness that lights up the mental and physical worlds. And this awareness can be noticed. It can be noticed in any instant. The more it is noticed the more compelling it becomes.

Eckhart Tolle says that awareness of awareness is the secret of balanced living. Without awareness of awareness it is easy to become lost in the whirl of thoughts, feelings, perceptions, experiences. Awareness is the solid river bank and river bed that is present as the river of life flows by. Stepping onto this river bank, being aware of awareness, there is an immediate sense of depth and stillness.

Now it's time to hang out with my kids, who just got home, and to enjoy the balance and blend of awareness and perception as I look into their eyes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cooking Noodles

I was standing at the sink watching the water pour into a pot for boiling noodles. I stood there looking intently for a good sixty seconds or longer as it was a large pot. The pot did not move. The water did move. What moves and what doesn't move?

Something about the stock-still pot and the rushing water from the tap and the two mixed together stayed with me and kept coming back to mind. So it seemed like synchronicity when the next day I chanced on these words: "Aristotle defines space to be an immovable vessel, in which things are contained." Space is the pot and everything else is the water. Why does this matter? Why does seeing this make life feel worth living? What moves and what doesn't move?

Emerson talks about the "meadow of space, strown with these flowers we call suns, and moons, and stars." Maybe there is a field of clarity strewn with moods, and emotions, and the flux of everything. The unmoving canvas beneath the swirls of paint, the unmoving screen beneath the flicker of images, the unmoving stage beneath the dancer's feet, the unmoving silence beneath the waves of noise, and the unmoving now beneath the permutations of time, are the presence of that which neither arises nor passes away, but is more real than bricks.

I'm seasick with motion unbalanced by stillness. Or I'm lost in stillness detached from motion. But this improbable union of that which moves and that which doesn't makes delicious noodles.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Simultaneous Perfection and Imperfection

Paradox is friction... the striking of flint rocks that spark the world into appearance. One paradox is the simultaneity of perfection and imperfection.

"On one side of the paradox, we recognize that everything is perfect just as it is. When the chatter of the mind recedes just a little bit, when the smells, colors, and textures of the world become immediately felt, we recognize the grace running through it all. Even in conflict, or in the midst of what we call suffering, if we are really in touch with the pulse of life itself, we can feel the beauty of it all.
On the other side of the paradox, we realize that everything is continuously evolving. Our human condition, as it is now, is flawed with unconscious habits, addictions, and compulsions."
Arjun Ardagh, Leap Before You Look

Sensing my imperfection helps to keep me humble, real, honest. Sensing my perfection keeps me from despair at the imperfection. When I veer too much into sensing imperfection, there is a neurotic obsession with self-improvement. When I veer too far the other way, there is the shallowness and loneliness of self-congratulation.

"And so it is that we stray and return and stray and return to the middle way, where everything is perfect and imperfect in the same breath."
Ardagh

Another way to language this paradox is that balance and imbalance coexist in the same moment. Paradox gives contour to reality, keeps it from being too flat, too easily summed up in trite cliches. Paradox is a clue that there is something larger than logic. Paradox to me is also something like a sign that the universe has a sense of humor.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Soft Spot

I've been listening to Pema Chodron CD's my sisters Val and Cindy sent to me, and Pema talks about a "soft spot." Listening, it begins to dawn on me that maybe I've been running away from and trying to plaster over this soft place I feel in my heart, and maybe I've been going in the wrong direction. It's odd when the very spot I've been trying to escape may turn out to be the doorway to where I want to be.

I googled "Trungpa Rinpoche soft spot" and this is what came up:

"Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world."
Trungpa Rinpoche, The Sacred Path of the Warrior

"Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. ... These walls are further fortified by emotions of all kinds: anger, craving, indifference, jealousy and envy, arrogance and pride. But fortunately for us, the soft spot - our innate ability to love and to care about things - is like a crack in these walls we erect. It's a natural opening in the barriers we create when we're afraid. With practice we can learn to find this opening. We can seize the vulnerable moment - love, gratitude, loneliness, embarrassment, inadequacy - to awaken bodhichitta."
Pema Chodron

This soft spot is something visceral, it can be directly felt beneath the armor of the mind. I'm feeling into it quietly, letting it guide me silently past the barriers, to more intimate contact with the actual presence of life in this moment. It's the soft things, like water, like the green leaf through the sidewalk, that tremble with real power. Thank you Val and Cindy for sending these CD's and helping me find the way back to myself.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Twist

I came across a few words yesterday with a twist. Here they are:

"the truth catches up with me
I am not enough
never have been
never will be
what relief to admit this finite container
can never contain infinity
what joy to find infinity
needs no container"

by Nirmala, in Gifts With No Giver

I wonder how much suffering I have felt in my life from the thought that I am not enough, that I have never been enough, and that I will never be enough? Not good enough, not hardworking enough, not giving enough, not accomplished enough, not attractive enough... you know the drill, who doesn't? Did this feeling of inadequacy hound me into new heights of glory? It doesn't seem to work this way- that feeling crummy about myself makes me into a better person. I confess I've also used this logic on others, convinced if I could only get them to see how crummy they were being that they would suddenly be transformed into non-crumminess...This is not a fun way to live.

So I was startled by the twist in the words above- relieved to be not enough? Mmmm...I was fairly skipping through my day yesterday after reading the above words, humming happily to myself- I am not enough, I am not enough, I am not enough- how wonderful! After all, not enough means limited, and it is limits that define any shape, any entity, any object. Maybe limits aren't such a bad thing. The growing edge. Without that delineation we'd all just be mush, a big homogeneous soup of sameness- unlimited, finally enough.

There's something humbling and sane in not being enough; let the megalomaniac ego pout and be as miserable as it wants to about my not-enoughness. There's something beautiful in all the supposed not-enoughness (to my eyes) in other people in my life. It's fun to do the twist- and see the loveliness in limitations. Skipping along I'm more likely to gently expand that growing edge- becoming more hardworking, more giving, more accomplished, more whatever...but never enough, thank goodness! Time to go home school my take-my-breath-away beautiful and intelligent 14 yo daughter Mary.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Enough

I was making the bed, smoothing the duvet across the bottom, and suddenly found every ounce of attention flowing freely into the task. Almost a kind of abandonment, like a swan dive off a high dive, as I disappeared into the ordinary bed-making moment.

Attention streams into the world through small tasks.

My husband Greg today read to me out loud an article by Thomas Keating about a disabled child named Sarah. (Here's the link to the article if you're interested:
http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/site/PageServer?pagename=articles_newsletters)
Greg and I read aloud to each other often, kind of like a modern day version of telling stories around the tribal campfire. I had met Sarah back in 2002 at a retreat. The article talks about living one breath at a time. I used to get very bored paying attention to my breath, and I still find it boring sometimes. Yet other times when I tune into the flow of air in and out of the lungs, a keen sense of being alive arises. Brain clutter gradually disperses. The fact of being alive turns out to be the most stunning fact of all. A bottomless well of wonder arises at the very fact of existing. No further entertainment needed, thank you.

Absolute attention to small ordinary moments- just breathing, or engaging in a routine task- makes a kind of chute for consciousness to slide down into the world. What difference does this make? I don't know. No measurable difference, anyway. But I have this crazy notion that the universe tilts on its axis by an invisible fulcrum when attention is unified with present reality.

We're taught that in order to make a difference, to be somebody, we need to stand out in some dramatic way- be a hero and get rid of the bad guys, stuff like that. Sarah mostly just breathed. Did she make no difference, was she nobody?

Is there anybody who doesn't matter, is there anybody who is nobody? Many of us feel like we haven't made much difference, we haven't solved the great problems of the world. I certainly have felt that way many times and continue to feel that way at times.

But I'm also surprised sometimes in the most mundane moment, that in an anonymous, unspectacular way, full attention to present reality does matter, does make a difference. I don't know how exactly. But I'm heartened and emboldened to give myself wholeheartedly and without restraint to making that peanut butter and jelly sandwich (for the ten-thousandth time) and looking clearly into the eyes of my nine year old son Jack as I hand it to him. It is enough. It is more than enough.
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Greetings. I am a psychiatrist working at a state hospital, and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at University of Missouri Medical School. I am also a wife and mother of three grown children. Qigong has profoundly changed my life for the better. I am interested in connecting with other people interested in qigong.

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Mary (14), Chris (15), Jack (9)

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