Reaching out!

Sometimes I know why I write what I write.  Sometimes not.  Sometimes the prime influences of the moment are evident.  Right now, for instance:

  • In a few hours Bobbie and I will leave for a two week tour in Egypt.
  • Right now my back still hurts from having done something or other to it last Sunday.
  • My digestive juices are working over some pancakes, coffee and a host of dietary supplements.
  • Right now a whole bunch of my clients have become former clients, leaving treatment for addictions against clinical advice and almost assuredly returning to the lives they left before coming to treatment.
  • Tightly linked to this is the memory of an article by Rabbi Simon Jacobson I read yesterday linking addiction with childhood abuse and it’s profound attack on self-esteem.
  • Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance and A man of Zen: the recorded sayings of Layman P’ang are also in the mix.

All morning images have rushed through my mind in a carnival of confusion, color and lunacy (Was there really a plastic shopping bag tied around my ankle or did I dream it?  Imagine it?  Plastic bag?  What plastic bag?  Is there more coffee?) Still I know that these influences only influence and do not explain anything, the mind being what it is.  Is being what it is.

Why I write at all is another matter, particularly why blog.  All this started  back in November of 2006.  At first it just seemed like fun and, more than that, a chance to see how much courage lay beneath my surface.  Putting out my words (a mild way of saying thoughts) for others to see, braving whatever comments/criticisms might come back–that was the real challenge.  It was only last night, however, that I finally understood why I write at all.

My writing and, as it turns out, like my meditation and my work and my cycling and traveling and friendships and acquaintances and just about everything else I now fill my self with are all a reaching out, a seeking connection with others.  Like other human beings I am a social animal.  The blog, particularly with it’s opportunity for reader comments, seems an ideal pathway for the mutual exchange of concerns and perceptions.  I particularly want to know what you think and what you think about–not just feedback about what my postings introduce, but where your thoughts go from there.

The better I understand myself, the better I see me as part of an ever-expanding community, a community of not just people, but of all–even emptiness.  Maybe the word totality is better than community, but somehow it lacks the warmth and responsiveness of community.  Undoubtedly the word love comes in here, the love that holds all the rest: the laughter, the suffering, the celebration, the isolation, the ego and the soul.

I’m getting carried away here, but maybe not. Maybe that’s why the picture at the top: to undercut the whole thing with humor; a safeguard against taking myself too seriously and against you taking this too seriously.

What do you think?

Published in: on August 9, 2008 at 11:15 am  Comments (4)  

Memories are made of this

This has nothing to do with raccoons.  I just found it while looking for something else among the few and scattered remains of what was lost from this computer last crash.  It was written  back in May, undoubtedly for posting, but that somehow never happened.  Could be that my May bike crash in Central Park and subsequent in-head memory crash had something to do with this being side-tracked?  Actually no, that was a year ago May–the one they had in 2007.  At any rate…

Just about twenty-four hours ago, maybe it was forty-eight, I wrote an entry for this space using a method I learned from Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing down the bones.

Simply, one begins by placing the pen or pencil in the upper left hand corner of a blank page and writes and writes and does nothing but write. No reading what has been written. No correcting spelling or grammatical or punctuation or any other possible errors. No crossing out. Just keep writing until the pre-determined time period has ended or the hand hurts too much or you run out of paper or ink. Being bored or running out of things to write are not legitimate reasons to quit. Rather they become topics of the writing. Something like…

…and so in conclusion let me just restate that never before in the history of human kind have such wonderous thoughts beens s et to paper.  (Damnit, what do I write about now?  I can’t believe that there’s nothing left to say.  Not hing coming to mind at all.  There’s bot to be something to write about.  I promised myself I’d keep this up for at least 20 minutes and I[ve got at least 3 or 4 to go…

Anyhow I had written about working with koans at a seven day Ch’an retreat at the Dharma Drum Retreat Center about 6 weeks ago, about how I’d struggled to the end of my logical abilities to make sense of this Zen puzzle and still came to no answer.  Then, as it is supposed to happen if one is sufficiently open, the investigation jumped outside the realm of the logical.

One afternoon, standing along side a creek rushing with snow melt, all sorts of ego and emotion made their unbidden appearances, and suddenly I was overwhelmed by feelings of nausea and loneliness–the likes of which I’d not felt since my first marriage ended in 1974. Only this time it was quite clear that these feelings were not being thrust upon me.  I was creating them myself–or better–the ego was doing it.
At this point the writing exercise began to imitate the koan work.  I’d reached the end of the koan stuff (I’d thought) but was committed to writing more.  Without planning I found myself describing the interior monolog I produce whenever, on my bike, I approach the top of East Clinton Avenue.  East Clinton is a mammoth stepped hill which descends the New Jersey Palisades a few miles north of the George Washington Bridge.  I can easily reach 45 mph on this descent.  As I near the top, the initial “o boy !” feelings are chased out of my skull by the “what-if” messages of Logic:
What if somebody backs out of a driveway?
Or crosses an intersection?
Or there are pebbles on the road?
Or oil slick appears?
Or some oncoming fool decides on an unsignaled left turn right in front of my zippy ass?
Images of Goldberg as roadkill, of ambulances, of weeping family members as far away as Taiwan compete for space in my cinema brain.
As the descent begins the brain shuts down.  The emotions kick in: anticipation, anxiety, fear.  As I begin the drop feelings progress through outright fear to omygod fear to mind-changing fear to too-late fear to resignation-fear and then…the wondrous white-noise of no feelings as it becomes evident that feelings are as irrelevant as logic.  With feelings gone comes pure response to the ride,  comes “WHEEEE!!!”     Not out of control.  Not in control.  Control is simply no longer a factor.

Now the connector between the koan work and the hill are most neatly stated in another koan:

The priest Shih-shuang said, “How do you step from the top of a hundred-foot pole?”

How, when you’ve reached the limit of your secure, verifiable, testable and provable logical process, do you take that additional step into the insecure, unverifiable…ultimately spiritual realm?  Birds have to be nudged out of the nest.  My long-time-not-seen friend, The Mole, insisted that the only thing to get him to leave the security of his parents’ apartment was them closing the place down and moving out of state.  For many of us  this is that fabled “leap of  faith:” the belief, not that all will work out as we might wish it to, but that this is what is called for at this moment.  And that, whatever happens, we will be able to handle it.

When an addict decides to go sober this selfsame leap of faith is involved.  So too, I think, for the immigrant who moves to a new land without the promise of anything.  It is a remarkable instant in which faith in the universe and faith in self become indistinguishable from each other.  Each then may create his own suffering of fears and hopes (two sides of the same egoistic coin) or, by simply doing what must be done, avoid the suffering, stay better focused on the reality and thereby succeed without having pre-defined success.

At any rate, 24 or 48 hours or so ago when I was at about this point in the exercise, just after I’d launched into a bit about how, when we take these leaps, we leave behind who we were and become whoever comes next, I hit the “save and continue editing” button and the entire essay disappeared.  Disappeared.  Vanished from my hand, screen and memories.  Gone.  Poof !  The life-follows-art conspiracy strikes again.

Another koan:
It is said that throughout his career as a rail-splitter, Abraham Lincoln always had the same ax.  During that time it went through 3 handles and 2 heads.

Published in: on August 3, 2008 at 1:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Right here in New York City!

I’ve really nothing to say right now, but I couldn’t just send you these snaps without some kind of comment.  This afternoon, walking thru the Ramble in New York’s Central Park, I ran into these fellers:


In Central Park!!


Quiet, calm, curious, friendly–but mostly curious– raccoons right here in New York City, where people come from everywhere else so they can make more noise and craziness than they could at home while at the same time being more afraid of strangers than they’d ever been before.  But not them.

So you can surely imagine my surprize when these little fellers, soft as their fur, just moseyed out of the trees onto the sidewalk and right up to me. Not brave but simply with no fear and no reason to develop any.

Look at this one! There he is up on his hind legs and there I am on my ugly twisted feet looking down into his beautiful eyes and there we are, the two of us, just being there in the Ramble in Central Park in New York City.


*                   *                  *

Now that I’m back home and I’ve started thinking again (while I was out there I was too busy being there to do any thinking), I wonder how they got there and where was mama when I was taking pictures and how come in 43 years of walking thru the Ramble I’d never seen raccoons in there before and some more generic questions like what do they eat and how do they spend their time and do they have rabies.  That last one gives rise to a personal question:

Was my toe in danger?

The only one I can truly answer is the last one: no.

Published in: on August 2, 2008 at 9:59 pm  Comments (4)