My memory has always been poor. I’m assuming that is what can happen when people in your life rewrite your stories for you from early childhood. I was familiar with the term “gaslighting” before it became a buzzword a few years ago.

At least I think I was. I know I’d seen the film with Angela Landsbury when I was young enough to be deeply unsettled by her — or her character’s — sexuality.

I’ve moved so often over the years, time is vaguely divided in my mind into chapters of “where I was living then”. So those mornings, in that house, when the kids’ heads could still be nestled under my armpit I woke fully conscious and fully unaware of who I was. It only happened twice. Not two mornings in a row, but close enough together that I carried a seed of panic for months. I was then still statistically too young for early-onset Alzheimer’s. But I wondered, and sometimes still do if it was a glimpse of things to come.

It was such a specific experience, lasting more at least a minute, that I still wonder if experiences like these are the source of people’s belief in reincarnation. I lay perfectly still and “sorted through” my mind to find my gender, my age, my situation: oh, yeah, I have children, two — just tall enough to fit under my armpits in side hugs.

I wasn’t overwhelmed with emotion during those lost moments. I was curious. At first. It felt as though I’d woke underwater and could see the light at the surface. But while swimming upward, I felt a growing fear that I may not reach the surface soon enough. What if I didn’t break through?

I’ve never talked to a doctor about these experiences. I figure now that I’d been dreaming. I’ve googled of course, but search results always mention “confusion.” I didn’t experience confusion. I felt remarkably clear, actually… just very far away.

I pull up these experiences now when I consider my meditation practice. Despite prevailing psychology theories, this is my conscious self detached entirely from narrative. Even the idea that this awareness was/is a dream-self is itself a narrative consciously placed on the experience.

In these moments the whole of my awareness was the “I”, watching the experiencing self — or in these two instances, searching for the experiencing self.

Swimming upward.

When I sit in meditation, I have to be careful. I have to guide myself to avoid hallucinations and other kinds of associative traps. I begin with the image of water. Blue (the air here is white*).

When I was small we would — or we did — camp in the desert and swim in springs. I remember once being tossed naked into a dark pool and feeling the cold current pushing against my feet, my legs, while the water around my torso was still and warm. I remember having the choice of where to put my attention.

I panicked. I kicked at the cold, I screamed: it got me nowhere.

I’ve found lately that there is a reason for pulling up memories. I’m beyond hope of uncovering objective truths, or even causes/consequences. I’ve given up on healing childhood traumas through memoir, but I’m convinced that it is possible that every incident tucked away — in sensual detail — in my mind is a metaphor for… everything.


*This is not at all in accordance with Buddhist symbolism, but it is in accordance with the Jæren landscape and relevant to my personal experience.

This Sunday didn’t begin with a Dharma Talk. Which was disappointing. I’d gotten up at 05.15 assuming there existed some unspoken agreement based on a pattern I’d noticed.

I went back to bed. Maybe that was lesson enough for today.

I’m tired. I’m still not convinced that the burden I’ve been carrying the past two weeks is actually gone, but yesterday I allowed myself to slip it off my shoulders – to set it down.

And today, I ache. My shoulders, my head, my heart. The load of “what-ifs” and “but-thens” in the corner of the room like a nest of snakes.

Once my step-father took me to the river to fish, and I wandered along the bank downstream until I stumbled on a log – nearly falling into a nest of baby moccasins. That moment: that “what-if” might have been the first hammered into my brain. “I shouldn’t have to tell you not to…”

What if I dare to wander? These are the worries I carry, the what-ifs that accumulate when one doesn’t wait to be told, doesn’t stay within the circle that someone drew to include you in their muddy little realm.

Aren’t these the worries we all carry? Premature guilt? Premature shame?

After I crawled out of bed a second time and had a cup of coffee, I sat down to work on this week’s meditation prompt – worries and restlessness. I started thinking about the H.C. Andersen story about the red shoes.

I think I have my own pair of red shoes. It is freeing to take this perspective – that all of this restlessness doesn’t come from within me, but as the result of my grasping at something I want so intensely, so simultaneously single-mindedly and absentmindedly.

I’m fine. I’m just wearing a cursed accessory. I have no idea if I am reading Andersen with a Buddhist perspective, but it is a perspective that makes sense to me.

I’ve never walked on coals, but from what I understand, it is simply a matter of not stopping. You walk as quickly as you can, while the perspiration from you fear helps provide a tiny barrier to keep you safe. If you stop? You get burned. I’ve known this for a long time:

Keep moving and consequences can’t keep up with you. Keep moving and you’ll slip through their fingers. States’ lines. Names changed. A driver’s license is freedom. A pressing deadline, a permission slip – hall pass – enigma.

We moved a lot when I was a kid. And that is an understatement. We once fit 4 lives into a U-haul. A drugged cat wrapped in a bath towel bit my ankles all along Route 66 (and then some) – then we crammed ourselves into an already-occupied two-bedroom mobile home: 4 adults, 3 children and a vengeful cat.

Every corner filled with snakes.

The drive to always look for something better carves a very deep groove in the heart.

Momentum. An object in motion stays in motion…
but the world is not a vacuum.

The eternity machine doesn’t really exist. Something is fueling the motion. There’s a guy in the back room getting paid less than minimum wage to keep the thing going – to maintain the illusion.

In Andersen’s Christian perspective, Karen cuts off her feet when she can’t pry them out of the cursed shoes. A sacrifice as payment for her sins. But I’m thinking, there must be at least fifty ways to take off your dancing shoes.

Right?

Isadora Duncun died when her scarf caught in the wheels of her car. It’s probably very unfair to Duncun that this fact now pops into my head.

I started looking for a new job again last week. I’ve been browsing the housing ads.
But it’s time to just dig in.

To go ahead and burn – to burn an ever-widening circle of my own in this damned over-grown field.

We change.

At least that has been my experience of the world. Everything in it changes – even if our conceptions don’t change accordingly.

We cling to our understandings. Even when they are destructive. We know it of others, railing at our parents for not seeing who we have become when they see us as a six-year-old child, when we are sixteen, or 26. Or 50.

Every seven years I am a new constellation
wearing a hand-me-down
story that so easily slips off
in sleep – in the moment
of perfect attention
to the naked truth

But I find it difficult to question my own filing and labeling system that helps me orientate myself in the wild. I find it difficult to let go of the illusion of control that it gives me. Security.

When I know that I’m often wrong about my own motivations – how I can catch myself by surprise but rationalize a “meaningful” reason for a behavior – it’s ludicrous that I can for a moment believe I know what is motivating someone else. I think we each create our own mental matrix. Not in regard to events and phenomenological cause and effect in the physical world, but in terms of our understanding the how and why of it all. The wills.

This is how I am coming to understand the illusion of self, of illusion in general: within a great paradox of consciousness. The ouroboros of logic destroying itself.

I’ve been thinking about swimming lately. The water here is so cold I never wade past my knees. So it’s been years since I’ve allowed myself to lie on my back and float. It’s a thrill that I miss: the simultaneous terror and relief of relinquishing control. Or the illusion of control. I miss that brief moment of quiet, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face. This for me is an example of being in the moment. But for me, these fearless, fractions-of-seconds interspersed through the years are as rare as astatine is on this earth.

You don’t have to work so hard, I tell myself. But not working so hard takes a ridiculous amount of effort.

How long can you lie on your back will the swells rising and falling under your body before the stories creep in? The toothy creatures rising from the deep – as though seeing it coming and bracing for the bite would make any favorable difference to the experience of being eaten alive.

Can you let go for a second? Two?

I find it fascinating that these moments for me have probably never lasted a full second, yet are so significant to my life experience. I don’t think of them as moments of “trust”. I’m not trusting in a supernatural being to protect me, not trusting in the earth’s compassion or the ocean’s goodness. I am just… being in the world.

When I think about this I think about those moments of being newly-in-love. The high that falling in love gives us and makes us utterly and deliciously reckless.

Is wanting more of these moments a grasping? Another paradox. Another lesson in coming at the truth at a slant?

It’s funny that trusting someone is always a matter of trusting one’s own judgment of that person. Trust is a narrative. A fiction. And how helpful is it? When I say that someone betrayed my trust, I’m assigning motives that are very likely non-existent. I’m trying to shift the blame. Trying to assign blame. Then I’d have the power to forgive. To feel righteous. To feel a sense of control.

I was listening to a podcast yesterday about a sociologist who studied a culture that he claimed had no practice for trusting one another. Conflicts arose and then fell away. Relationships continued.

I was thinking that this was possible because by not needing to trust each other, they didn’t need to cling to preconceived identities for one another: prescribed rules of conduct that – when not followed – would be interpreted as personal betrayals requiring some kind of moral compensation – some kind of ethical capitalism.

It seems to me that a society without trust may well be a society will more room for loving compassion.

I wonder what it is like to truly be in love with the world instead of coming at it speaking softly but carrying a big stick.

I’ve been in one place for a long time now. In some ways.
But the terrain keeps changing. I am continually reassessing, reorienting-

Gearing up – or down. I didn’t expect it to feel like this at this point.

It’s not that I expected smooth sailing, but at least a clear direction.
I figured I would have interpreted the signs,
– have plot a course
and taken each obstacle as it appeared
for what it was.

But nothing is ever
what it was.

It is becoming and un-becoming
and shimmering – always –
a mirage.

Nothing will ever be.
Let it change. No. Watch
it change.

An evening run. Because
the morning slipped
between a coffee cup
and God-knows-what.
And I need to run.

I’ve showered now and pulled on a wool bra and cashmere lounge pants. There’s nothing like cashmere lounge pants. I own one pair because I stumbled over them – misplaced in rack in an H&M- marked down to affordable.

Is this what it feels like to be wealthy? Wrapped in cashmere?

I had an angora sweater in high school. I bought it myself with the money I’d earned from my first job – selling hot dogs at the local rally-cross track. I knew it was out-of-place in my life: it shrank in the first wash.

But now. … Why don’t I always dress like hugs? I’m a grown woman and should be in full control of these things. I want to be the woman who empties her wardrobe and dresser drawers of all the fast fashion clothes, and fills them with nothing but quality fabrics in neutral colors that tell the world she definitely has all of her soft, yellow ducks in a row.

When I was a teenager we didn’t have ducks. But we had finches in bamboo cages in our mobile home. Some in the living room, some in the my mother’s bedroom in the back of the house. And they would sing to each other. Pitifully.

They make these small bamboo nests to put in the bamboo cages so finches will lay perfect little eggs. We had one hatch once. Have you ever seen a soft, naked, newly-hatched finch? It burns in your mind when it is dead on the newspaper tray at the bottom of the cage.

My point is… I’ve never had my ducks on a row.

These cashmere pants were marked “sleepwear”. Are there really women who sleep in cashmere? I sleep in cotton exercise pants that are too napped to wear in public anymore.

I feel guilty wearing cashmere around the house. It seems decadent. But they were marked “sleepwear” and I wonder if I wear them out (you know, feeling all elegant-like) people with think I’m an idiot for wearing my pj’s to dinner?

I wear them for yoga now. Kind of like dressing up for church. Not for the Holy Spirit, mind you – but for Buddhist idea that we should enjoy the pleasures of the present moment so long as we do so without clinging. And I have no illusion that these cashmere pants will survive the wash more than a few times.

At any rate. Here I sit in bed. Leonard curled beside me, dreaming of chasing hares – small, inaudible barks puffing his cheeks. I’ll have to wake him to send him to his own bed before I turn in for the night.

E. is offshore for a few more days. He may as well be on the moon. And only half the moon is visible tonight.

It’s been raining all week and the lake has flooded its usual banks. The bench roses weirdly from the water, and I stopped to take a photograph. For a moment I thought I’d stop and sit there for a while, watching the moon. But then a man came walking with his two schnauzers, and I was worried he’d think me insane.

And I was wearing my new shoes.

So… there’s that, at least: new, serious-ugly running shoes.

I’m that kind of woman.

or… Why I am still uncomfortable calling myself a Buddhist.

The past two mornings I’ve been hearing a nearby dog whine. Another bark. I haven’t been able to figure out where exactly it’s coming from. I’m wondering if the neighbor got a new dog who’s frightened to be alone during the day.

I went outside, but still can’t be sure where it’s coming from. The sound bounces around these houses so much when the air is this clear. It seems to be coming from everywhere at once.

Howling now. But Leonard is unperturbed. I figure he speaks dog language better than I do, so maybe it’s nothing to worry about. People, too, can bitch at the drop of a dime with little cause.

Storms in teacups and all that.

For some time now I’ve been listening to one teacher’s dharma talks. I like them because he refrains from homilies, and seems to favor consideration over dogma. He gives his interpretation of what is thought to be the words of Gautama Buddha, and often reminds the listener to ask themselves how it rings – or doesn’t ring – as true in one’s own life.

Yesterday in a talk, he interpreted a passage regarding the division between spiritual life and family life. For the first time I found myself disagreeing so strongly I began to question the foundation of the eight-fold path. I’m usually fine with contradictions in metaphors. I don’t think we are ever in a position to see the entire elephant, and that actually – a perfect metaphor that feels true from every perspective, would no longer be a metaphor and would become a kind of false dogma.

But here, the teacher pointed out that in order for one to “truly” follow a spiritual path one must leave one’s family. He said that if you chose family life you would be “behind” on your spiritual path and you would not actually be following the eight fold path.

There are times when I feel the crone in me rise in her mature glory. This was one of those times.

I once heard another Western teacher talk about how one of his gurus was cruel with him often – sarcastic and insulting. And this teacher explain that this was a good thing: the guru was teaching him in this way. My first thought even then was, yes, I suppose if you are a monk with no family (no siblings, no children, no acerbic aunts or creepy uncles), you might need someone to treat you poorly so you can learn to deal with it. Who needs family if you have a guru who makes you feel like sh*t?

When I read that the Dalai Lama has an acolyte sleep on the floor in his room in case he is thirsty in the night, I nearly wept. In his book An Open Heart he explains how much a devoted layperson should meditate each day. I was in my 40s then with two kids and a full-time job. Even with the privilege of having a responsible husband, it would have been nearly impossible for me to fit so many hours on a meditation cushion.

What about the single parents with multiple jobs? Because I don’t believe in reincarnation or a caste system, I reject entirely the notion that anything that is not a valid choice for everyone can be a tenable ethical- or spiritual imperative. I believe that to accept these ideas is egotistic, and at odds with the understanding that the self is an illusion.

The idea of “My spiritual path” seems at odds entirely with skillful intention. To relieve my suffering by avoiding what makes people suffer, is not skillful living. It’s avoidance.

This is the crone in me whose earned-wisdom will not be dismissed by people who do not have to sit in meeting rooms with colleagues, or negotiate bedtimes with children.

There are many paths and many teachers. And it’s not a friggin’ race anyway.

(Yeah, avoiding harsh words isn’t exactly my strong suit – being a teacher lets me work on that way every day.)


“Haaaaaa”: allowing that storm to settle. It’s a bit like reading tea leaves in the aftermath.

“speak. stumble. be seen. be known, be known.

beloved.”

NEIL REID

I love it when the written language can give room to the misinterpretations/multiple interpretations that spoken language can offer our imagination.

“Be(-)loved”: affirmative imperative verb, adjective, noun.


I’ve struggled with what to call myself since I’ve committed myself to a very spiritual practice of “secular” Buddhism. (It isn’t easy to give up the feeling of belonging that labels can provide.) I don’t believe in a Buddha deity. But I’m following the eight-fold path, and I definitely believe in a spirituality of our existence as a part of all things.

I cherry-pick from my personal experience with religions. The childhood faith, which I mourn but cannot accept as a whole cloth faith. And I consistently question my cherry-picking with concern for well-intentioned, but ignorant appropriation.

As part of my morning meditation, I hear the words of a camp song: “Beloved, let us love one another” [1 st John 4:7-8 ] Please don’t look it up. I promise you, what you will find is not what I hear anyway. Words. Rhythms. They burn into our minds. As they are intended to.

But they are also uniquely embedded within each of us – within the contexts of our individual experiences – even if it is nothing more than an intonation of a single word: misheard, misunderstood, misremembered, and repeated enough to become real.

Beloved.

I believe we have to give in to the facts, and the poetry of our past and make it all work for us. I believe this includes the doctrines on which we may have been reared, and the healthy skepticism that personal experience demands for our mental/physical/spiritual health.

Beloved.

I tweak the words to another verse: I rewrite “His” as “It’s” to be more in accord with my recognition of the spiritual righteousness of Nature/God (thus circumventing the bearded old man concept of God the Father of my childhood).

I remember reading once that secular originally just meant temporal or “of this century”, and not necessarily at odds with religion and/or spirituality. With this definition it would seem all religions should encompass a set of secular guidelines for ethical behavior.

I didn’t intend to write about this when I sat down this morning. But aren’t we all digging continually in the wreckage of our own lives and purposing what we find?

Shouldn’t we be doing this always?


I’m taking part in a zoom reunion today with cast members of a production of Steel Magnolias – oh, so many years ago. It’s brought up things I haven’t thought about it years. I find myself ashamed of who I was then (-in a world of pain-).

I was surprised that they reached out to include me, and I feel a bit like I want to make reparations à la some kind of 12-step program. But I’m going to let it go. Let it be. And focus on the moment.

This is who I am in the world today:

10.10.2020 World Mental Health Day.

Beloved.