Before There Was This Place There Was Another

two-houses-copy

***

One of my earliest memories is of being in the backyard of our place in Denton, Texas. I remember watching my old man digging in the yard with his shirt off and I was running around underfoot. It was a hot, sunny day. I don’t know anything about the world or what my mood was, but there was suddenly a big coiled up snake in the dirt and my dad jerked me up off the ground by my arm maybe? set me on a table or something and then raised up the shovel and brought the blade down through the snake’s body maybe once maybe a few times what I remember was he was mad and I was afraid and thrilled and sad and mad. proud of him for killing the snake and sick that he’d killed it, too. scared of the snake and scared of my father’s anger and mad he was mad at me when I’d done nothing wrong and upset that he was so upset. I think I bragged about him killing the snake to my mom but I don’t know if that’s true. Fact is, I don’t know if it even happened. I just know that I remember it, so for me it’s like it did. Like I remember him in his dark policeman’s uniform walking out to the patrol car parked in the driveway, like he was some old-timey gunslinger in the west. I remember my mom in her bee-hive hairdo and a summer dress, cat-eye glasses, the whole shebang. I don’t remember them ever saying anything to me in those days, although I’m sure they must have. What I remember is watching television in the morning before they woke up, and getting in the crib with my baby brother and probably torturing him, hoping he’d go back to wherever it was he came from. I remember dirt and sunlight and long hours of silence and being left to my own devices but who knows. I thought I was alone then and it got more like that after the divorce. My old man kind of was drawn out of my world and loomed ever larger in it because he wasn’t there. And I turned a blind eye to my mother, blamed her for his absence, set myself against her in all ways.

Now I’m an old man and I’m mistrustful of all of these memories I carry around. I am not one to dwell on the past, for me it holds little interest- but it’s unnerving to realize how little of what I have built up as the bare facts of my life ever happened at all. I have no idea what I know and what I think I remember because it’s been told to me over and over again until I swallowed it. I know I’ve layered over them again and again with new interpretations and embellishments, based upon what soothed me to believe at the time or what I felt aggrieved about. I’m still doing it. I don’t guess I’ll ever quit it altogether.

More and more my past is like flipping through the family photographs of a stranger. There’s folks in there, frozen in time, doing what they were doing once and now can’t ever stop doing, but they bear little resemblance to anyone I’d say I know now.

I don’t know if that’s sad or not.

***

Namaste.

***

Prelude to India

Souls IV

***

Countdown time. Six days until take off.

In other news, the Woman on The Verge has returned from her travels! I am a relieved and happy dishwasher. The kid may be even happier to see her than I am- if that’s possible. I don’t think it is.

My cells are happier when the woman is around. They plump up and relax their borders. My brain wants to snuggle up close to her brain and lie around like two dogs in the sun and dirt. Tails thumping lazily.

Food tastes better, too.

I’m lost for her is what.

***

I don’t know what to expect with India. I mean, I guess I expect noise and color and smell and jostling and bumping and craziness. Interspersed with teachings and meditation at various holy sites, and of course, talk amongst the other pilgrims about what we’re thinking and how we’re reacting and what’s next and what what what.

I know most of the people on the trip and I love them already, so that part is good. Comfortable and pleasing. I’ve spent lots of time on retreat with almost all of them and they are without exception good people and serious practitioners. I will have a roommate and him I have yet to meet. So there’s that to look forward to. All I know is that he’s been a practitioner for almost thirty years and he loves to meditate, so I’m pretty sure we’ll get along, and if we don’t, well, we can at least sit together in silent contemplation.

And of course I love Dawa, the teacher that is leading our trip. I’m sure we are in good hands and I love being around him, and he’s a great speaker and wonderful spirit. I feel very blessed to be going with him.

I just want to go with open eyes and an open heart, see everything, experience all of it directly.

Shamar Rinpoche was going to accompany us on the pilgrimage originally, but his death kind of made that impossible, but he will be there in spirit, certainly. I know that Dawa is carrying his spirit and memory with him and this adds a sweetness and complexity to the whole endeavor, as well as a good reminder of impermanence. Our trip ends with a teaching and a private visit with the Karmapa, which is profoundly meaningful for me. I still remember the video he posted after the Sharmapa’s death- it was so moving and it opened my heart to him so much- I wanted at the time very much to see him somehow, and I thought that it would be impossible. Now I will be seeing him in just a few weeks. It means a lot to me.

And that’s what this trip really is for me. It’s not about going to India, not really. It’s more like giving myself to this path- fully and completely. And then witnessing how that commitment profoundly changes my lived experience. I will be in India with my teacher on the spot where the Buddha attained enlightenment- this is, to me, just the most beautiful and powerful manifestation of the limitless transformative power of intention. It seems to me that I’ve managed to jump my life off of one set of tracks and on to another one completely.

I hope that I can meet this trip with wisdom and awareness, and treat everyone I encounter with love and compassion.

Anyway, that’s it from here. Tell your mama I ask how she’s durrin’.

Namaste.

***

The Gravity of Consciousness

GPB_circling_earth

***

So the other night this image came into my head. I wrote the other day about a couple of dreams that I had, and how I had the unsettling experience of meeting another consciousness through the medium of dream time. Well, if you’ve been reading here long you know that I have been engaged in dream yoga practice, working towards gaining lucidity in my dream life, and at the same time I’ve been engaged pretty deeply in meditation and some other Buddhist practices which involve a lot of prayer and visualization work- so there’s been a lot of work going on in my mind over the past two or three years- a constant, daily practice of attention and mindfulness, an analysis of the state of mind, the content of mind, the nature of reality, etc. as well as a kind of conscious effort to see waking time as a dream and dream time as a conscious dream- to break down the barriers between various states of consciousness and to maintain the highest level of conscious awareness I’m capable of creating at all times- trying to maintain present moment awareness, a wide-awake and vivid, curious state of mind about what is happening and what’s going on in my awareness from moment to moment. It’s been very interesting, thrilling a lot of the time, and disconcerting as well.

Anyway, that’s the background for this strange state of mind that I’ve been in for several days now, maybe a week. Maybe it has to do with or is facilitated by my wife’s departure in some way- the time that I’d usually spend processing things with her, kind of running my own awareness through her filter and vice-versa, is now spent in a kind of reflexive, recursive self-analysis. The sensation is kind of like having a probing, curious, self-referential light of awareness that never shuts off. I’m always awake, in a way, and always checking my state of consciousness and the quality of mind and the contents of mind and the “outer” world- which is really the same thing as mind, or at least it’s seeming more and more to be the case to me.

Okay, so this is the state of mind and the other night I was in this post-dream state, on the edge of awakened awareness and yet still in the territory of the sub-conscious and unconscious mind in some way, and I had this image in my mind/dreamscape/imagination/visual field, of Indra’s net:

Immaculate_Pearls_of_Indra_by_MescalineBanana

And how my own mind, not brain, not the physical entity, but my mind, the energetic aspect, the subtle body aspect, my nub of consciousness, was like one of the nodes of the net and every other consciousness was another node and we were all tangibly interconnected in a web that makes up the subtle fabric of reality in some way, not some physical way but also not some purely spiritual way, but in some way that is just out of reach of our normal way of seeing.

And this is a familiar image to me, a familiar experience, something that is part of my own internal spiritual model of how things are. But then, layered over this image of Indra’s net and my own individual, pulsing node, was that image above of how objects with mass distort the fabric of space time and cause what we experience as gravity, and I had this sudden insight or really just this vivid image as if I were watching it on the most limitless IMAX surround-sound movie screen- my own individual node of mind, of a kind of condensed conscious awareness, was distorting the fabric of Indra’s net, this kind of spiritual space time continuum, in the same way that a physical body such as the planet Earth or the Sun distorts the physical fabric of space time- and just as those distortions on the physical plane cause other bodies with mass to be attracted into the orbits of the sun and planets, or cause cannonballs to fall to earth rather than just floating around- in the spiritual/pure consciousness non-physical realm, then massed consciousness such as exists in the mind, which is clustered in the brain/body nexus, also attracts other bodies of condensed consciousness- that is, that mind itself distorts the spiritual space-time fabric in a way that attracts phenomenon to it- that it attracts the display of forms that continually manifests in conjunction with mind to create our experience of reality- phenomenon, actions, events, other people, our entire tapestry of experience.

For me, it was not just a concept or neat idea- it had a tangible aspect to it, it had the feel of something true, and since then I’ve got this feeling no matter what I’m doing that superimposed on my physical body and environment there’s my ethereal “mind” sort of sitting in this indentation of Indra’s net, tugging into this distorted kind of sink hole that is dragging the rest of the world, both the seen and unseen, into the black hole of my own consciousness.

So, that’s what it’s like in my head this week.

***

Just as I was born to love the woman on the verge, I was born to wrestle with mind and the deep questions on the nature of reality and what it is to be.

I could not be happier to have these two great unsolvable riddles to spend myself on.

***

May all beings be free from suffering and the cause of suffering.

Namaste.

***

two dreams and meeting someone new

kinder-mit-fox-copy

*

I’m standing in front of this grocery store in some strip mall and there are some flimsy metal tables and too small chairs scattered around. It is hot and the sun is baking the black top and the air smells like paper and ammonia and in the parking lot the cars bask in the sun, immobile, suffering in silence.

I’m so thirsty I can’t think straight and I leave whoever I’m with and walk over to this kind of seven-eleven and I go in there, there’s an immediate blast of coldness and vivid color and I go to the soda machine as I ask the guy behind the counter “do you have plain soda water? Can I get that? A cup of ice and some soda water?”

Dude comes over to me in his red and green shift. He’s got greasy hair and a suspicious-looking mustache and he’s holding up two glorious Big Gulps full of crushed ice.

“You can have these, dude.” He starts to hand them to me, then pulls them back. “But there’s a catch.”

“What?”

“You have to take these twins with you.” And he motions over with his head towards these two kids I hadn’t noticed before. They were about eleven, red-headed and freckle-faced, dirty and barefoot. They looked like every kid does in the middle of summer.

“They’re pure evil.” The man says, and hands the cups to me. “They’re yours now.”

I look over at the twins and one of them looks up at me. His eyes are vivid green, the color of antifreeze, and they’re electrified. A terrible fear rises in me, a tornado of fear running right through the middle of my hollow body.

“Come on then,” I say, clutching the cups of ice. “Let’s go.”

And they follow me outside.

***

I’m standing on the beach with my back to the sea. It is night and the beach is crowded with my family members, everyone I know. They’re trying to talk to me, they’re moving forward and I’m backing away. I step into the surf, holding my hands up as if to stop them. I can’t hear what they are saying and I don’t understand why I’m backing away from them. I don’t know what’s going on at all.

I leap up into the air and I’m flying, but kind of doing acrobatics, too. I have no control, really, looping and swirling around. I come to a stop a few inches above the surface of the water and hover there for a long while as everyone on the beach stands there kind of motionless and gape-mouthed.

The night is pitch black but alive with stars and everything pulses. I can see undulating stars on the water, dancing in silence. I’m holding my breath.

I look up at the stars and shoot straight up into the sky, accelerating. In seconds I’m at the edge of the atmosphere and seconds later I’ve left the solar system behind and as I go faster and faster and farther and farther the stars coalesce into a single bright pulsing light and I shoot into that and everything gets white and very loud.

***

The thing about dreams is that they feel really important to us and they of course bore the living shit out of everyone else. There’s nothing in these two dreams to hold any interest to anyone. What was interesting to me was that each dream triggered the physical sensation of being touched by some outside intelligence- through the medium of dreamtime. I had the distinct, not impression, but direct experience, of another intelligence speaking to me through the dreams- in the green eyes of the boy, and in the white light of the flying dream- once the intelligence connected to me, to my mind, there was a transmission of experience from it to me. From mind to mind.

Like how when you meet someone for the first time, you don’t really wonder if you’ve actually met them, right? You did. It’s simple.

That’s what this felt like to me. I’m not saying it happened.

I mean, not in any real way.

I think it did, though.

***

Namaste.

***

Entangled

trees

I was nineteen years old. I had just been asked to leave the college I was attending and was in Korea, visiting my mother and step-father, burning some time, teaching English to harder working students than myself and getting ready to go into the Coast Guard. I didn’t know shit about anything and I was pretty lost and confused and trying hard to act like everything was okay, like I had things figured out.

I remember standing in the living room of my mom’s apartment and I don’t remember the doorbell ringing or my mom opening the door or anything- all remember is when this woman walked into the apartment and the whole world came to a stop.

She wore blue jeans and a jean jacket and there was a red bandana wrapped around her dark hair. She was slender, slight, of medium height and her skin was the color of something warm and burnished. Not a color I could identify so much as a sensation- like late summer, just before dusk. And then I saw her eyes. Never in the history of the world have there been eyes like those. I know, I know, but that was the impact that they had on me. Dark. Wide. Brilliant. Deep, a depth that just kept going on down the farther I fell into them.

I’m sure that we said hello to each other briefly before she left with my mom or the two of them hung out there and I left, I don’t remember anything else that happened. But for me it was like walking into a familiar room and finding an enormous golden elephant glowing there, vast, ethereal, yet undeniably tangible, present.

I probably saw her a handful of times over the next few months. I got to go to her house where she lived with her husband (whom I loathed and despised for his great good luck and the ease with which he seemed to exist around her) and her two children. As far away from me as she was just in her own astounding beauty and power and grace and intelligence, any hope of winning her receded into the impossible mist of distance seeing her in her own home, with a husband and kids- shit, I was a kid. It was painful to witness what it looked like to be a grown up and to see clearly how far from that place I still was.

Ah, but I pined for her anyway. All the more, really, because she was impossible. And yet, and yet. I could talk to her. I could run into her at the market and give her a hug, breathe in the smell of her and hold her in my arms, even if it was just for a second.

And then I was off. Back to the states for boot camp and then two years on a cutter in Alaska. There was a girl there I wanted to stay with but she moved to New York, so when I got out of my six month tech school for Aviation Electronics, I picked the Coast Guard Air Station in Brooklyn to be my new home. Of course, before I could even get there the girl found herself someone interesting in the city and that was that.

So I found myself in the big city all alone.

One day I was talking to my mom on the phone, maybe singing the blues a little bit about my predicament, when she says to me, “Hey, remember my friend from Korea? She’s in the city, too, right now. She and her husband moved back there and I think they’re going through a divorce. You should call her up. You guys could have coffee and go to a museum or something. At least she’s a familiar face, and you won’t feel so alone.”

A couple of weeks later, we got together for dinner at a little Italian joint. We had a nice time. We walked around the city, had a couple of drinks after. I walked her to her door.

I went in.

And I never left.

***

It’s the most romantical thing that ever happened to me.

***

Now it’s twenty-seven years later and I still got it superbad for her. We have lived a whole bunch of lifetimes together in those years. Immolated in the fire of first love, wrecked on the rocks of despair and confusion, wrung out by poverty and hard work, subsumed by parenthood, adrift in the doldrums of daily routine, fights, making up, clinging, running away, we’ve had it all. We made a baby and she grew up and made babies of her own. We watched her burn down the world and emerge from the ashes like a phoenix. Over and over again we picked up our battered hearts, put them back into our torn-open chests, and beat on them till they started up again.

So here it is 2015 and she’s in Mexico with her Dolphin and a rag-tag bunch of full-time RV’ers, having a big adventure. And in a minute I’m off to India for my own adventure.

Somehow we have managed this great good thing. We have loved each other with this kind of whole-body fierceness, but without stunting each other, without demanding that the other comply with how we might want them to be. Not that we haven’t gone at each other hammer and tongs, because we have. And still do. (Mostly she has to go hammer and tongs at me. I have proven to be a slow and intransigent learner. But I keep trying.) But mostly we have treated each other with tenderness and kindness in the face of a world which can be cruel and indifferent to our needs.

I love her. I hope to breathe my last breath in her company. I see us growing older and it only gives me joy. I never feared getting old, I don’t know why. I look ahead at the long decline and I’m convinced that our happiest years are coming to meet us at last.

*

I don’t know what I’m up to here except that I wanted it on record somehow that I love this woman and that loving her has been and continues to be the practice of my life and the way I learn the language of my heart.

***

Namaste.

***

Listening to Nagarjuna’s Letter To A Friend

So on Sunday one of our teachers, Khenpo Tsering, continued his teaching on Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend. I’m not going to really go into the teaching he gave or anything, but I wanted to write a little bit about my own reaction to his teachings, to give a feel for what it is like for me to listen to him teach, if I can capture that at all.

Nagarjuna is a heavy-hitter in the Mahayana Buddhist world and Letter To A Friend is a classic, with many, many commentaries written for it. The short version is that the text was written by Nagarjuna for a king who wanted to be able to implement the teachings into his life but, because of his kingly duties, could not dedicate himself to monastic life. So there is a lot of interest in this text among lay practitioners who hope to gain some guidance about the same thing; namely, fitting meaningful, dedicated practice into a busy life full of worldly responsibilities.

One of the things about getting teachings from texts such as this one is that it takes a lot longer than you might think at first. At least in the teachings I’ve been exposed to, which isn’t a lot, there’s a very slow, deliberate, and in-depth examination of each word, phrase, sentence, and stanza. There’s discussion of each word’s meaning, connotation, and relationship with surrounding words- first in English, then usually in Tibetan, then Sanskrit, then back to English. With Khenpo, there’s also talk of other translations, related texts, possible other word choices in English, etc. There’s a discussion of the direct meaning, then the deeper meaning. The relative and absolute truths being discussed.

We typically cover one four line stanza in each hour-long session.

Some people, I know, find Khenpo to be very difficult to follow. I do, myself, to be honest. But I find the reward worth the difficulty. Because English isn’t his first language, he sometimes has to pause, think, back-track- that’s one aspect of the difficulty in listening to him. But also, there’s the very clear sense that each word in the text is like the tip of an iceberg that goes down for miles and miles, getting wider and more vast the deeper he follows it. He can frequently spend a lot of time just trying to touch very lightly on the major points of one term and yet still spend ten minutes or more going “down” as it were before he goes “forward” again- and this can be difficult to follow, too, it requires a single-pointed concentration to stay with him. What can look like confusion and distraction to some is really, at least, it seems to me, just a really brilliant mind with huge knowledge trying to give his listeners some sense of what is really being said in the text. Without his guidance, I’d really have no clue. It isn’t really available to us in the words alone. You could read the root text over and over and have no idea about what’s really in there.

So, all of this just to set up the conditions in my own mind when I’m listening to him. We begin with a half hour of meditation, so my mind is clear and focused and kind of prepared for the teachings. And he begins and I hang on, I know the stanza we’re covering in the root text and I have my own idea of what that means for the ground we’ll be covering- but very quickly I find myself in this state of rapt attention, trying to stay with Khenpo and fit what he’s saying in with what I think I know, into my existing model- of Buddhism, of meditation, of the nature of reality, of the workings of karma, of the nature of wisdom, confusion, spiritual progress, compassion- what’s happening is that Khenpo is holding a gigantic nesting Russian doll and he just keeps pulling another one out of the one he’s holding and it goes on forever and it seems to encompass all 84,000 of the Buddha’s teachings in one word.

And yesterday while he was teaching and I was listening to the words he was saying and watching him and at the same time watching what was happening to my own mental model of the whole path, I had these two feelings- one, that it was really as if Khenpo was physically manipulating my mind, prying it open, kind of purifying it and helping to remove errors of ignorance and mistakes of confusion- and then there was a corresponding sense of my own tiny light of awareness trying to perceive, directly, the nature of the reality he was describing. That’s not quite correct but it approximates. Maybe better to describe it as finding myself in a reality that was beginning to reveal itself to me, was beginning to coalesce as something, not new, but new to me- simple, natural mind.

Then it slipped away.

This path. It contains so many wonders, so much that can seem difficult or contradictory, arcane, esoteric- but it’s also utterly simple and direct- I guess that it, like everything else, contains everything. It’s challenging to try to apprehend everything at the same time.

Anyway, I love to hear him teach. I feel so lucky to be able to sit in front of him and receive the teachings directly. And he’s just one of our teachers- they are each of them quite remarkable. I find great value in all aspects of this path- it reminds me of what he said yesterday about wealth- that it has nothing, nothing at all, to do with money. “Wealth is an emotion,” he said. “When you say that you want to be wealthy, you’re after the emotional aspect of feeling wealthy, feeling that you are provided for, that you lack nothing, and that you’re able to meet the demands of life.”

This path has made me rich. I am a wealthy man.

***

May you be happy, may you be at peace, may you and everyone you love be free from suffering.

***

Namaste.

***

the melancholy of echolalia

Sangre-De-Hermanas

*

So.

This silence.

Yes.

***

That woman I love is in Mexico, on her grand adventure. I am proud of her. It makes me love her more, if such a thing were possible. Look at her go.

It make the soles of my own feet itch.

Wanna go somewheres.

And like her, I want it wild and silent and I want it to shake me, to put a voltage in my bones and an ocean in my heart and a stone in my mouth and windows thrown open in my soul.

***

Through my own affinity for error, I am embarked upon an interior journey, fraught with imaginary peril and real horror. Nor will I strike for shore or drop an anchor nor reef the sail.

Nor man the helm.

I seem compelled to grip the rail and feel the deck buck and slip beneath me, listen to the wind in the rigging and the whisper of the known world sliding against itself, as the craft does what it will of its own accord.

Bearing witness to my own soul is what it is, I suppose, without the metaphor. Just looking at my mind, watching what it does when I let it follow its own inclination. It seems to be intent on making me suffer. Time and again it makes the same bad decisions. I used to think it was surprised when it got the same result, but I’m beginning to realize that it likes the bad outcome.

I think there’s value in this dark approach. When I was practicing last year it was all about seeking the light, burning for it, yearning for it. I wanted to shed the darkness and be blissed out and joyful and I was. I really was for a while. And it’s not that I wanted to turn away from the light. Not intentionally.

But I did. I sought out the darkness again.

I’ve struggled with depression my whole life and I have what feels like an intimate knowledge of the darkness that can descend like weather on the soul. This is something different, though. I can’t call it depression. It seems more like going back to visit someplace you grew up in after you’ve been away a long time. You know the landscape, but things have shifted. You’ve changed, and it makes the place look and feel different. That’s how it is for me right now. I’m back in the darkness, but the darkness has lost its hold on me. I can be right in it, but I can’t take it real serious anymore.

But there’s something to be learned for me, I think. And that’s what I’m doing, what I’m trying to do. I don’t want to change anything any more. I don’t want to get enlightened. I don’t want to be a Bodhisattva. I’m going to do that- I’m still committed to that goal- but I am coming to the realization that I can’t simply will myself to that state. I can’t pretend that the darkness in me, the confusion and error and fearfulness, can be ignored or repressed or cleaned up- at least, not without more work on my part. So I’m sitting here in the dark. Just watching. Listening. Opening my heart to it, opening my eyes to it, and trying not to make any judgments about it at all. I want to see it. I want to let it speak to me if it has a mind to.

Maybe then I can let go of it. Or dig it into my own topsoil to act as fertilizer. Or uproot it. Transform it into wisdom.

Or see that it already is wisdom.

Watching.

***

If all goes as planned, I will be in Kathmandu in a little more than two weeks. Through the generosity of a benevolent sponsor, I will be going on pilgrimage with one of my teachers and a group of about twenty other practitioners to Nepal and India.

We’re going to hit all the Buddhist holy spots. Lumbini, Sravasti, Kushinagar, Rajgir, Bodhgaya, Varanasi.

Whirlwind tour, two weeks. Prayer, teachings, meditation, contemplation. Rubbing up against the world in a way I’ve never experienced. I’m frightened a little bit, astounded a bit, but thrilled, too.

When I doubt the astounding power and reality of this path, which I sometimes do, all I have to do is to look at what this path has wrought in my life since I committed to it with all my heart. I am going to go stand on the earth where the Buddha attained enlightenment, where he first taught the Dharma, where he died his human death. I will be in the company of my teacher, who holds a living connection to the teachings. And I have the support of a community of fellow seekers surrounding me and helping me. I have the teachings in my heart, I look out upon the world with eyes made clear by the teachings, I hear them whispered in my ears throughout the day and night.

I am living like a tiny little baby mystic. Hard and crusty on the outside, but bathed in light on the inside.

What’s wrong with me is but small, what’s right with me is vast, but neither of these are mine.

***

I am glad to bear these wounds of my deep confusion and to hold the warped and twisted knots in the grain of my wooden heart and to feel the living breath of God in my lungs as I turn my face, now to the glory of the light, now to the vastness of the dark, and to see that they are not two, nor am I, nor are we any of us.

***

Namaste.

***

abandoned in a bountiful land

Christina's-world

So much is cracking open for me it’s difficult to settle down and try to write about it. I turned fifty in the midst of a great upheaval, and all around me the seas keep rising like mighty mountains, threatening the continued destruction of everything I’ve endeavored to construct to define myself. I’m hunkered down in my little raft, grabbing onto the gunwales and grinning like a mad fool, urging the storm on, shouting into the wind-driven spray, gibbering and dancing erratically, my eyes streaming with tears.

Nor have I learned moderation.

*

I’m beginning to think it is not to be found in me.

*

This spiritual path is my welcome undoing.

It is good that I didn’t understand what I was up to when I started out on it or I would have left the whole thing alone. I think that I really did believe that I was pretty much supergood, and smart and capable, and that really committing to a spiritual path would be like adding some really sweet and creamy frosting to a pretty wonderful cake- you know what I mean? That it would make me better tasting, more desirable, more attractive, all that. A better me, but, you know, still me.

What I’ve been in the process of discovering is that things are a little bit more dire than that. But also, confoundingly, much better than that, too. I am much, much worse than I’d ever been willing to see or admit, and yet, and yet, there’s this really limitless, profound, stainless, wise, compassionate aspect to my own fundamental nature that is vaster and more perfect than anything I could have imagined.

And what I’m experiencing right now is this kind of actual working of the teachings on me. I am engaged with full, unstinting commitment to this practice, and the results are manifesting. It is not anything you could describe as pleasant. It was horrifying to see, to really see, the lies I have been telling myself about myself just to get through the days. I have been engaged in this lifelong practice of subterfuge and posturing, lying to myself, lying to my loved ones, to my wife and daughter and everyone, about who and what I really was.

Maybe that’s overstating it a little bit- it’s not that there was a real other me inside- the real me was the false one, has been the false one. Now I’m left kind of in this empty landscape where what I was has been torn down, dismantled, the pieces carted off- a process for which I am profoundly grateful- but it’s unclear to me how to relate to this new place. It’s not that I am enlightened, or that all of my obscurations and defilements have been uprooted and purified, not that at all. But I think that I may be at a genuine starting point for discovering something profoundly true, a true way of being. One that is maybe not free from ego completely, but certainly is no longer enslaved by it, no longer blind to it- it is almost as if I’ve been cleaved in two and I can now really regard the creature that has been running the show for me for the last fifty years. I imagine a vast, empty, windswept plain, two figures standing there- a dark, twisted, golem-like thing, wincing and shielding itself from imagined blows, but still somehow boastful and proud, and this new man, naked, blinking a little bit in the new light, unknown to himself and to this new world.

I wish that I could take credit for being this new man, for finding and casting out the golem hiding within me, but I can’t. It wasn’t my doing- I am as astounded as can be by the whole mess. I believed that I was the golem, but I saw myself as the golem sees himself, not as he really is. I thought I was beautiful, handsome, precious.

If you didn’t see that, it was your fault. You didn’t understand me.

Ah, but there was another kind of ignorance in play. I didn’t understand me. I was maybe the only one who couldn’t see my real self. Or couldn’t see that there was a real self in there, hidden and concealed by the golem.

To protect me. To shield me from the real world.

So, yeah, not really my doing, finding myself in this new land. I mean, yes, yes it is my doing on one level- I certainly asked to be revealed, I asked to be known to myself, I embarked upon the path wholeheartedly- but it is the path that has done the revealing.

***

I am relieved, I think is the best descriptor. Horrified, ashamed, regretful, yes, and frightened, uncertain, too. But full of curiosity, and light, and love. Love for myself, love for you, love for this world and everything in it. Love for Buddha and his teachings, love for the teachers, love for those who have gone before me and are helping show me the way.

I know this path isn’t for everyone, and I’m sorry if my bald enthusiasm for this path is off-putting for you in any way, but it is mine and it is the work I am here to do. I can’t imagine anything more useful to do with this life I’ve been given.

***

Thanks for listening!

May you be happy, may you be comforted in your time of need, may you be of comfort to others in their times of need, may we all know love as the very basis of our being.

***

Namaste.

***

Dynamics of interpersonal violence in “armed vs. unarmed” confrontations

 

Coffee break is over, back on your heads.

 

Who is the unarmed man in this picture?

Who is the one in danger?

ECQC Los Angeles 2011

Who is the unarmed man in this picture?

Who is the one in danger?

 

I just grabbed these pictures and threw them up because they’re from my own limited experience and they illustrate how unclear the dynamics can become in an entangled encounter between two men when one of them is armed and the other one isn’t.

If you haven’t ever been faced with this, it can seem like a no-brainer. The guy with the gun calls the shots. He has the gun, the other guy has to do what the guy with the gun says. You know, or he’s fucked. Dude’s gonna shoot him.

But in both of these pictures it’s pretty clear that things actually are not that clear at all. A gun in play, when things are up close and personal, is a gun in play. It’s not always the case that the guy who starts out with the gun gets to finish with it. Sometimes the bigger, stronger, more violent guy can take that gun away and use it for what he wants. Sometimes the bigger, stronger, more violent guy doesn’t even WANT the gun. He doesn’t need it. He’d rather use his hands to kill the other guy.

So, Ferguson, right? Michael Brown.

You guys all know I carry a gun and a badge so I must be on Officer Darren Wilson’s side. When cops look at this shooting of an unarmed teenager on his way to his grandmother’s house, we see a good shoot. I know it doesn’t look that way to a LOT of people, and frankly, I don’t expect it to. It should horrify people when an unarmed black teenager on his way to his grandmother’s house is shot by a white cop in broad daylight.

But that doesn’t make it a bad shoot. It just doesn’t.

And I’m not here to argue that it’s a good shoot and everyone should agree with me and move on, lets end the discussion. I think the discussion is so vital, so important, and so necessary. It really is. Because it’s totally fucked all the way through and we have this terrible tendency to look at the many facts involved and choose to see the ones that support our view as the ones that really, truly carry the most weight. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t facts that don’t support our view, it’s just that, honestly, those facts just aren’t as important as these other facts over here that really do prove that how I see it is justified.

So I have some limited experience with these kind of encounters, where there’s a fight, there are some punches thrown, there’s a struggle over a gun, and I just wanted to take a second and throw out some stuff to consider around that dynamic. And maybe I’m just sensitive about this issue because I know that one day I might be in Officer Darren Wilson’s situation and it’s a horrifying thought. And I’m not saying it’s not horrifying to find yourself in Michael Brown’s family’s position, either. It’s just that this was, in the end, a human interaction. Two human beings’ lives intersected in a moment of violence that changed both of them forever. There’s a human cost on both sides.

And, you know, I recognize that this isn’t going to solve anything, or change anyone’s mind about the significance of this shooting and the presence of racism in this country and the rage and helplessness that people feel when they’ve been on the receiving end of racist acts by the people who we pay to protect us and to enforce the law. I know that. And really, in the end, that’s the conversation that needs to keep going- how do we address these problems so we can drag them out into the light and uproot them?

But I keep coming back to this particular shooting and I want to poke around at the dynamics of the encounter because there are aspects of it that may not be apparent to people who don’t get in fights like this. And my heart goes out to Officer Wilson and his family and I want to come to his defense a little bit because I haven’t heard or read anything that sheds much light on this messy aspect of the lethal encounter.

So we know a couple of things about how the violence in this encounter began. We know we have a cop on patrol, in uniform, driving around the city he’s working, doing his job. And he’s heard this scanner traffic about this theft of cigars and a description of a suspect in a black shirt- he’s not going to the call, but he hears the traffic and it registers. Then he sees Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson walking down the street and he contacts them, tells them to get out of the street.

And we can shift our camera view now and look at this from Michael Brown’s perspective- he’s just walking down the street with his friend. He’s not doing anything wrong. He’s completely innocent. He might have boosted some cigars, he might have smoked a little bit of pot, but this cop right here doesn’t know any of that. As far as this cop right here knows, all he’s got is a innocent black man walking down the street, minding his own business, and now he’s trying to tell him what to do. Trying to tell a grown man living in a free country he can’t simply walk around with his buddy in the middle of the day doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG.

Both of them are coming at this thing from VERY different perspectives, and both of them have some justification for their points of view.

Officer Darren Wilson’s been on the job a while, he’s had plenty of encounters with people having bad days, people who are angry, who feel that they’re being harassed- this is not the first time he’s talked to someone who doesn’t want to hear what he has to say. He’s going to handle this contact, and the dude’s going to do what he’s supposed to do. And if there’s something up, if there’s something went down he thinks is criminal in nature, well, he’s going to do something about it. He’s not just going to let it go. That’s what we pay him for.

And I’ll bet that Michael Brown had had some contact with The Man before, too. And even if he hadn’t, he knew lots and lots of people who had. Men in his family, in his community, who couldn’t walk down the street without the po-po messing with them. He’d lived with it his whole life. I don’t know a single black American man who has not had some encounter with a cop that left him feeling harassed just for going about his business. So, yeah, it’s pretty easy to see that even if Michael Brown had been up to no good, he could seriously feel justified in saying to himself that this cop didn’t know anything about what might have happened earlier, and RIGHT NOW all he’s doing is walking to his grandma’s with his friend and fuck this cop if he is going to apologize for THAT because that’s bullshit.

So, things don’t start out well, and they get worse fast.

And there comes this point where Officer Wilson is in his car, seated, and Michael Brown is reaching into the unit and punching Wilson in the face a couple of times. And Officer Wilson gets his gun out and at some point the gun goes off, and then Michael Brown starts to walk or run away from Officer Wilson’s car.

And that fight in the car is where I think a lot of people might look and say that Officer Wilson is just not justified in trying to shoot Michael Brown at all. I mean, the guy is hitting him, or hits him, and the cop tries to shoot him, that’s an unreasonable use of force! That’s overkill. That’s racist or unfair or crazy bloodthirsty, just looking for an excuse to shoot a black man. And you know, maybe it was. I don’t know.

But I do know something. I do know that when you’re seated in your patrol car and there’s a guy reaching in through the window and beating you in the head, you don’t have very many options to unfuck your situation. I haven’t ever been hit in the head by someone who was 6’4″ and 280 pounds, but I’ve been hit in the head by some pretty big guys, and I’ve been hit in the head by little guys, too. And I’ve been hit by guys a lot when I’ve got headgear on and had my bell absolutely RUNG so that for a good long while I don’t know up from down- and that’s getting hit by a guy wearing big boxing gloves and hitting me when I know I’m going to be hit, and I’ve got a mouthpiece in, and headgear on, and I can defend myself.

I can tell you that it can be a very frightening, very disorienting, very unpleasant experience. It can make you want to cry, it can make you want to throw up, it can make you want to do anything in the world to make it stop. It’s fucking awful.

Now imagine that you are Officer Wilson and this guy is reaching in your car window and punching you in the head. You throw your hands up to protect your head and maybe block the punch a little bit, but how do you get the guy to stop doing what he’s doing? You can’t open the door because he’s blocking it. You can’t slide over because you’ve got your computer terminal and your radio and gun rack blocking you in, and there’s a cage behind you so you can’t jump back in the back seat. You have a baton, but you can’t get it out and if you could you couldn’t swing it. You’ve maybe got pepper spray, but if you launch that you’ll blind and choke yourself, too, and that’s no good. You know that any one good punch can knock you unconscious, and you know that whatever happens after that, it ain’t going to be good.

So you do the only thing left to do, and you take your gun out and hope you can get the guy to stop hitting you and chill out and let you arrest him, and if he’s not going to stop, well, then, you’re going to stop him. You’re not going to let him knock you out, take your gun, and kill you with it, which is a reasonable position to take.

But because he’s got a better position than you, he can see what you’re doing and he grabs the gun as you draw it out, and now you’re fighting over it. Now things really are pretty awful. Officer Wilson testified before the grand jury that Michael Brown grabbed his gun and twisted it down and into Wilson’s hip. This is really bad, any cop knows, because that’s where your femoral artery is, and if you take a shot into anywhere in the pelvic girdle you are in a world of hurt and you stand a very good chance of bleeding to death right where you’re sitting. You’d be dead long before any medics could get to you.

So now you pull the gun back and try to shoot through the door, but the gun won’t go off. If you look at that second picture up at the top, you can see that the top of the slide is slightly pulled back by the guy fighting for the gun. The gun is “out of battery” and will not fire in this position. In the picture, I am trying to keep the guy with the gun from shooting me, and I know that “out of battery” thing, so when I grabbed his gun I made sure to clamp down on the slide and pull it back towards him so he couldn’t shoot me even if he could get the muzzle pointed into my body.

Officer Wilson says he tries to pull the trigger twice, but nothing happens. His gun may have been out of battery from the struggle with Brown, and this statement to me is very telling, because it really tends to indicate that there was a struggle over the gun. That just wouldn’t have come up if there had not been some displacement of the slide of Officer Wilson’s handgun.

Then the third time he pulls the trigger and the gun goes off. This startles both of them, and Michael Brown breaks contact with Officer Wilson.

And so this is another point in the story where those of us who weren’t there can sort of slow things down and do some Monday morning quarterbacking, think of all kinds of different options to take so that what happens next, well, doesn’t happen next.

But what does happen is that Officer Wilson calls for backup, puts out “shots fired” on the air, and goes to try to stop Michael Brown from getting away so he can arrest him for the assault. Which is what we pay him to do, I mean, it’s his actual job. If he had just let Michael Brown walk away, he would have been violating the trust we placed in him. He swore an oath.

So, he goes to try to stop him.

And then things went one of two ways:

Michael Brown stopped, turned around, put his hands up, and Officer Darren Wilson shot him to death where he stood.

OR

Michael Brown stopped, turned around, and charged at Officer Darren Wilson, and Officer Darren Wilson shot him to death as Brown closed on him.

And I don’t know which one of those happened. I do know that Officer Wilson told the grand jury that Brown growled and put one hand down inside his waistband as he charged at Officer Wilson, and Officer Wilson shot a couple of volleys at Brown until Brown went down, which Wilson said happened after Brown lowered his head while charging and Wilson shot him in the top of the head.

 

And this is where my little bit of experience doesn’t really help. I think this part of the shooting- I’m not very sure that anyone is going to change their minds about it, because there’s just no way to know exactly. Eye witness accounts differ, and there’s no dispute that Brown was facing Wilson when he was shot. I’m inclined to look at the whole situation and to me it’s more likely that the guy who started handing out the violence kept handing it out, kept trying to hand it out- that whatever was in his head and in his heart that led him to start punching Officer Wilson in the face did not just suddenly go away when Officer Wilson had the drop on him. But I know human beings, too, and I know that sometimes adrenaline and terror turn into rage and violence, and maybe Officer Wilson shot Michael Brown because he was mad at him. Or maybe because he was black. Or because he was a teenager walking to his grandma’s house in broad daylight.

And here’s where the conversation, in my mind, needs to get a little bit more nuanced, more serious, more contemplative and less reactive. I think that what I’d like to see is that we don’t use Michael Brown as a symbol for all the dangerous, criminal, drugged out monsters who attack the police and make our world unsafe, and that we don’t use him as a symbol of all of the innocent young black teenagers who are violently gunned down in the street in broad daylight by racist white cops for no reason. And we don’t use Officer Darren Wilson as a symbol of all the badge-heavy, jack-booted, racist thug cops who are just looking for a reason, any reason at all, to gun down an innocent black boy. And we don’t hold him up as the shining hero who was out there trying to save the world (although, you know, I personally think there’s an aspect of that in his service to the community- my own bias, I admit.)

The fact is that there are two powerful forces in direct conflict here, and although race may play a part in them, I think that it’s a mistake to conclude that the encounter was all about race, or even about race at all. I think that there was a battle here between the drive for personal freedom and the state-sanctioned drive to control the citizen.

Call it freedom vs constraint, maybe.

I believe that what may have been driving Michael Brown was not a drive to kill a cop, or commit crime, or terrorize anyone. I think Michael Brown was probably, like all of us, simply trying to do what he thought would make him happiest. And getting hassled by the police for walking down the street, despite what he may have been up to earlier, threatened his sense of autonomy and freedom. It felt awful. It felt unbearable. It was unbearable. For whatever reason, he could no longer live with his freedom being constrained by some outside force that didn’t know him, didn’t understand him, didn’t care about him. It was intolerable. I think that is what may have driven him to reach into that police car and start punching away. I think that feeling only grew stronger the harder Officer Darren Wilson tried to control him, tried to stop him, tried to constrain him and take away his freedom.

And I think that Officer Darren Wilson took the job he took because he believed in the state’s right to constrain its citizenry when legally justified to do so. He probably thought that it was right and proper to constrain those who refused to follow the laws and rules of polite society. I think he was probably biased, not against any particular race or culture, but against those who feel that their needs outweigh the needs of others, those who feel that they can do whatever they like to others and not face the consequences. Officer Darren Wilson IS a consequence. And we asked him to take on that role. We gave him training and a uniform and a badge and a gun and paid him to go out onto our streets. We told him, “protect us.”

I think that’s what we rail against, and we’re really, really unclear about it. I don’t hear anything like this being said anywhere on the news or in the media. I mean, I get it, I do, most of our cops are white guys, and mostly we imprison our black males- there’s something wrong with that, there’s real racism active and alive in our society. But that’s true for every society. It’s not a black thing or a white thing, it’s a human thing.

But I look at so many of these encounters, and to my eyes it looks like the State taking individual enforcement action against the freedom of one of its citizens. I think the white cop arresting a black man might not see that. I think the black man being arrested by the white cop might not see that. It seems that the enraged protesters are blind to it, as are the talking heads on TV. If you ask a white cop if he’s racist, he’s going to deny it. He’s going to say he doesn’t give a fuck what color someone’s skin is, he just wants folks to do what they’re supposed to do, and when they don’t, he’s going to make them. A white cop can’t even hear you when you’re telling him he’s racist for doing his job. He knows that it just isn’t true. (Even for those white cops who actually are racist. Maybe especially them.)

Those roles are much deeper and more complex than skin color. It’s deeper than socio-economic status and culture. It’s a really primal thing that is beyond all of those factors. As a society, as a species, we value freedom. We hold it dear, and we’ve killed and been killed for it numberless times. And yet, conversely, we value safety and order. We value the laws and rules of society that allow us to go about out lives without having to carry our own spears and swords and machetes and guns around with us every day in case someone wants to take something that belongs to us- our property or our lives. So we pick a few of us to carry the spear, and we ask them to do the violence for us. On our behalf.

And that’s the discussion I wish we were having. That’s the discussion, it seems to me, that’s important to have and isn’t happening. It is terrible when one human being kills another human being, for any reason. We should be outraged. But we should seek clarity about what exactly we are outraged about. We want our cops to go out there and be brave and heroic and when things get ugly we want them to take care of business. But we don’t want them turning against us. We don’t want them out of control. What we really want is we want them to take it to the other guy, but to leave us alone.

And we should understand the moral weight involved in interfering with another human being’s freedom. As cops we should have the highest respect for the individual freedom of those citizens were are sworn to protect. Even the ones we’re trying to take to jail. The same white cop who can’t hear you when you call him out as a racist for throwing a stop and frisk on a young black man might actually stop and think about what it means that he’s constraining someone’s freedom if it was put to him in those terms. Yeah, okay, you’re not really racist, but you are powerist, you know? You’re exercising power on a brother. No cop can deny that.

And that approach, the one that kind of slips past the obvious, easy to see conflict and actually gets to the dynamic that’s really in play, that might open up some interesting conversations. Because then no one is put in the position of having to admit that they are wrong before the conversation can even begin. Both sides can sort of look at that like, you know, yeah, I’m exercising power over those people that I stop and make empty out their pockets or whatever. Or, yeah, I actually do value my freedom, and it isn’t so much that this guy who is hassling me is white, it’s that my sense of autonomy is being threatened, I’m being controlled by some outside force. That shit sucks, and it sucks if it’s a white cop doing it to me or a black one. It’s the interference with my autonomy that I cannot abide. It isn’t really what the guy dispensing it looks like.

I think it’s easy to imagine a world in which everyone was the same color. Do you think there wouldn’t still be these terrible shootings? There wouldn’t still be injustice? When a human being is the pointy end of our system, and it always will be a human being, then justice is going to be meted out in a human way. And that’s going to be messy.

When these two forces that are in direct opposition come together, it’s only natural for there to be serious conflict. But we need to understand that those forces can never be fully reconciled. It will never be possible to have laws and public safety without being willing to take away someone’s freedom. And we don’t want to give up our own personal freedom, even if we’ve done something wrong. So there are going to be fist-fights, and car chases, and foot chases, and people are going to get killed. It’s messy. It’s a philosophical quandary made flesh, and it’s ugly and horrific under the best of circumstances.

And I think it’s right that we get outraged. I think it’s proper that we examine these shootings and killings and take a look at what happened and see if there’s something we can learn, some way to make it as clean as it can be. But so many times, it’s not that the innocent teenager was really all that innocent, or that the cop was all that racist, or all that pure- it’s just that two opposing forces collided.

Forces we all hold inside us all the time.

We should talk about it.

 

***

 

 

Namaste.

 

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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