Thursday, July 29, 2010

The view from the bowsprit

"Roaring Forties," Gordon Frickers, & at Messing About in Sailboats

The sea was dark, the waves were high, but the lurching up and down was all I thought about. I held tightly to the pulpit surrounding the bowsprit where I stood lookout, each time the boat headed up a crest and the sea crashed against the bow, throwing tons of water across the deck. I never let go. It was the one thing that mattered to survive. "Don't let go."

It was simple and easy to take wave after wave, one wave at a time. Up, through the crest, and then back down. Then the unthinkable happened. The boat did not emerge from a crest. Instead it seemed to plunge into the heart of the wave, deeper and deeper into the sea. Was it really heading down into the sea, instead of through the crest to the back side of the wave? In an instant it was clear -- "don't let go" now guaranteed my death, rather than my survival.

So I woke up.

I love having a dream that stirs you deeply, that seems to hold a truth like a golden key to a treasure chest. I dreamed that dream a long time ago, and I've thought about it many times, not because I wanted to ponder or recall the truth it held, but because I did not understand something about it. I got that it described a moment of discernment, when suddenly everything you've needed to do to live is turned upside down. All the rules seemed to change in an instant, and what was right was suddenly wrong, and what was wrong was suddenly right. But that never seemed to be everything, so I kept thinking about it. Yesterday, the missing piece came to me during a visit with my mother who continues, even to the precipice of death, to teach me about life.

For the logical mind, it's simple. We hold on and let go all the time, for different reasons. There's no one rule or way to be that "always" or "never" works in life. Constructing a rigid response, literally clinging to a rigid rule to be safe, guarantees death, because the circumstances will change. You can count on it. We're quite happy with that understanding of a dream, though we may (as I have) sense that there's something more going on.

On a different level, however, the dream suggests something quite different. That's what I glimpsed yesterday, as I watched my mom, now weakened so terribly, still intermittently struggling to act, and then letting go, over and over. I saw that in that last second of the dream, there was another way to see and another way to respond to the flip of the rules, because I saw an essential identity between life and death.

Have you ever experienced death in a dream, and realized that you were aware in death (like being aware that you are dreaming in a dream)? You're dead, or you've just died, but you're actually conscious of it? This dream speaks to that kind of awareness, an awareness that exists behind or beyond thinking, behind or beyond the idea of "me" and "my life." It suggests that the certainty that clinging would result in death, and letting go would save life, are right for one level of existence, though they are exactly wrong for another. At that other level of existence clinging to life is a kind of death, and letting go into death is letting go into the life of the formless, but life nonetheless.

The logical mind will rebel and dismiss this, but you can quiet it for a moment, assuring yourself that, yes, it's true that we have no way to think about this formless state using the word, life, because we define life as, well, not dead. But if you can just put definitions aside for a moment and try to see without them, you may see in the dream a crossing of elements, a melding of states. Perhaps life and death are somehow the same, not polar opposites, but essentially the same thing, in different forms. Clinging in the one prevents letting go into the other. Having trouble with that logical mind? Without an active meditation practice, it's nearly impossible to see any other way, so I recommend it to you. But back to the story.

Mother, my teacher, showed me peace, love, joy and life when she would let go, into death. And she showed pain, resentment, anxiety and anger when she would struggle to hold on, to life. Logical? No. Beautiful truth? Yes.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Time -- the perfect gift

Traveling always awakens my senses and gets me thinking, but it also gives me time to slow down, meditate, practice yoga, read, and most importantly, reflect on the things I see, hear, read, feel and think. It's all one big messy happy process, and I feel lucky that I can catch a truth here and there and contemplate it more deeply, and maybe come out of the process a little clearer about what to do with my most treasured possession, my time.

Montreal is filled with wonderful things to experience, and because I will only be here for 10 days, I chose a little part of it to get to know better, Le Plateau. The place I rented, however, simply can't be an accident, though were I to recount how I came to find it, it would certainly seem that the process lacked intent to produce any result other than to find a place to stay. But it is too much more than that, too precisely what I need and can appreciate now, to be an accident. Photo credit: Archive for the Plateau Mont Royal category.

Verona's apartment is filled with her and others' paintings, sculpture, poetry, plants, and old repurposed furniture. Everything is placed with obvious care and attention to detail, balance and beauty. Her bookshelves are filled with books on mediation, the life of Buddha, eastern and western religions, philosophy, art and artists, travel and travelers, and knowing yourself, finding truth and experiencing love. The apartment is a gift I feel honored to be offered and to accept for the time I am here. Photo: A table and wall in Verona's apartment.

Just like life.

Everything in my environment, my body and my everyday experiences seems to be reflecting back to me just who I am at this moment and what I need to grow. So my French immersion experience has evolved into a meditation, yoga, consciousness raising, Reiki retreat. And I've got the time and the inclination to go along with it all. It reminds me of Alice's Wonderland, only it's here and now and real.

Perhaps four walls and a pallet might have been just as perfect a gift, but I don't think I would have recognized it as such at this time. That's what makes this place so special. I recognize it for the gift it is, and am taking full advantage of it. It's like the bridge that Stroke of Insight was for me last year -- just what I needed to go from where I was to where I needed to be. Photo: Bridge in the Japanese Garden, Jardin Botanique, Montreal.

In one short week I have recognized truths that seemed to elude me for more than 50 years. Topping the list is that it doesn't work to try to argue with feelings. Logic is simply ineffective. On the other hand, meeting your own feelings with acceptance, love and compassion enables you to do the same with others who are in need too. 'If you can't have compassion for the only person whose feelings you can actually experience, you won't be able to extend compassion to anyone else.' --Cheri Huber

Just as importantly, moment to moment awareness is a powerful tool to help us identify what the thoughts and feelings are that keep us stuck in patterns of self-protection. You can't meet a feeling with acceptance and love if you don't know what it is.

And every encounter with people, choices, and even things, presents us with an opportunity to listen to our hearts as well as our heads. Like a lot of people, I tend to lead with my head and talk myself out of most of my heart's inclinations. But I can see the results of that approach, and while fine by material standards, they fall pretty short on the spiritual side.

And last, I better understand the power of intention to bring energy, intuition, and opportunity together to make change.

So that question of what to do with my time? At this moment, seems pretty clear that there is nothing more important than this moment. Practicing moment to moment mindfulness is the foundation for everything else I will do in my life. I get it.