Q+A: A Conversation with the Scales

Where am I?  I whisper into the night. Why am I here, in this place, at this time?

I wring my hands and crack my neck and stay worried all the same. Nothing feels grounded, nothing feels right about this place, this ephemera – this ME.

The constant swirl of dogma. The constant berating threads from social media and how EVERY fucking person needs to express to the world their feelings, and have them legitimized in some fashion.

And, of course, every single fucking person is RIGHT about what they feel because, well, it’s what THEY feel. WE don’t feel it, so how in the world are we supposed to tell them how NOT to feel it. Insensitive, right?

“Ugh.” Inner critic chimes in and scoffs at this thought. “These people are just expressing themselves. The problem is that every expression gets amplified and routed around like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. People will have opinions – this is fucking normal! – what is NOT normal is how we are bombarded with every single one at one time and then expected to nod our heads and tell everyone ‘I respect your viewpoint.’ Because we don’t, really. Not our inner selves. Not our heart.”

{ Inner critic has a point. }  Yes. I see it. So what about these other people’s opinions that we don’t respect? What’s going on there?

“If their opinions differ from yours, it will be a challenge – difficult even – to hear their side of things. You will have to exercise good listening skills and empathy –things that do not exist in great numbers! And are not supported or encouraged by social media and sound bite data streams. People these days listen to speak and react – not listen to learn. Listen to observe.

“But back to topic: you are certainly not going to agree with everyone – it will NEVER be Kumbaya and hugs all the time because there are billions of people with all shades and shadows of disagreement to what you think and what you believe. You will never find solace really.

“But somehow we convince ourselves that it is possible. That maybe – just maybe! – if we create a nice safe box to live in, where everyone looks and acts the same way, then we can finally be at peace. We can finally feel safe in our own skin and our own comfortable canon. But that’s just because people these days don’t know how to have disagreements with others and not feel existentially threatened. A shame really.”

Whoa, Inner critic. On a roll there!

“Yeah, well – needed to get that off my chest. Whew! Felt good. You’re not going to broadcast this on social media now, are you?”

What! And let this gem sit in a Word doc forever?

{ I am causing my Inner critic to deal with hypocrisy, and it makes me snicker so what the hell. }

*

{ But….. I linger on the conversation a bit. I can’t leave it alone. Picking the scab open further, I keep at it. }

So what was that part about not respecting people and that coming from the heart – what in the world does that mean? Because what I have been led to believe by my own heart-searching is that all people are of unfathomable worth and equal in the eyes of God. Why in the world would my heart not respect some of these people, brothers and sisters that share this planet?

“Oh I never said the heart does not respect the PEOPLE, I just said viewpoint.” Inner critic jumps back in with zealous rigor. “People don’t equal their viewpoint. Viewpoints change.

“But yet, to find a viewpoint that the heart truly and deeply disagrees with is a difficult one. I imagine the figure of Lady Justice inside of the heart, mother of the Fates, blindfolded and holding the scales and sword. That is her true home. If you weigh something against your heart and the scales don’t measure right, that is the sign that the heart will find it difficult to respect, because it will weigh against the heart of humanity. The wrongness will ring, and make it difficult to ignore.”

But….what? How do I know if this is the case? I am troubled by this train of thought, it sounds a little religious-right to me. Like, “I feel this is morally wrong because my heart/religion/God told me so, and so I cannot respect you.” A little bullshitty and hive-mind and not intellectually sound.

Inner critic pipes back, “Ah – but that is the hard part to discern. Was it truly the heart we are weighing against – or the words of man interpreted though another mouthpiece and mistaken as heart?

“If it is truly the heart, then you will know it as truth. If they are words you have heard or been reflected to from another source, then it’s not truly the heart. It might be something that aligns with your heart-logic, but it might also be something that aligns with your “safe little box” guidelines, and so they FEEL right. Heart-logic informed solely from mind-logic, which is easily influenced by “safe little box” logic. An erroneous place to start from. Remember that these visceral feelings are fleeting, and should not define a person.

“Also, you inferred that you cannot respect a person if their opinions offend your heart-logic; that is incorrect. They are still fallible human beings that are capable and deserving of love. Sometimes they know not of what they are doing. They just want to be safe in their boxes. And just because you don’t really respect their opinions doesn’t mean you can’t love them and hope they will find unconditional love for all beings.”

Yeah… sorry Inner critic, but I’m having trouble getting on board with radiating love to all people if they are spouting horrible hate-rhetoric, even if they “know not of what they do.” That sounds like it would feel weird and horrible.

“But it is not a silent love – it is a noisy love, a love in disagreement. Because you care. And it will feel weird and horrible maybe. But it will also weigh right against your heart and against humanity. “

OK, shit.

That is true. It feels true.

Thanks Inner critic for this dialogue. Didn’t know you were into love and stuff on top of questioning everything I do.

“Yes, I am 100% dialed in. And remember: if things are done in the name of good, but are detrimental or demeaning to others, then they are not wholly good. 100% goodness is a rarity. Just be comfortable with loving on your fellow people and doing it more noisily. Because you care. That is a wonderful goodness. Just be sure to self-examine once in a while to ensure you are not getting swallowed up in “safe little box” logic.”

Ok – but I’m an introvert sooooo…… can I love noisily on a blog?

“Oh absolutely.”

Wait – are you really my Inner critic, or are you a brand of heart logic that I wasn’t recognizing?

“You’ll have to weigh me against those scales and see where I fall.”
😉

 

Um seriously? A winky-face?

“I’m funny sometimes. Just you wait.”

In Search of “Authenticity”

Self-expression. Is there any arena, stage or circumstance where self-expression is not wanted? Where it’s a bad thing?

I think the generations that have preceded us might have given a different answer than we would today. And if there are situations where self-expression is unwanted, we are slowly ushering them out – asking ourselves why, poking the great machine of cultural correctness.

But regardless the answer of that question, our society and culture of this day is striving – no, craving – an age of expression. Immaculate, unadulterated self-expression.

No limits, no boxes. Just pure US.

Pure authenticity.

Of course, this has led us to an age of superficial “authenticity” where we believe we are being our true selves, moving with pure self-expression – but in reality we are only reacting to an innately buried self-centeredness and idealized earnestness in the current “creative consultant” culture. One that makes us acutely aware that if our authentic ‘Self’ is not brand-right, palatable, and marketable, then maybe our authenticity needs some tweaks and nudges from the realms of self-promotion.

But true authenticity moves from a place beyond the idea of social or monetary profit, and beyond the idea that ‘Authentic You’ will be accepted and revered by the masses.

I am led to think that true authenticity is throwing everything – EVERY thing – out the window and just sitting down in front of a mirror. True authenticity is a search of knowing oneself.

Isn’t that what we all want? To make sense of ourselves in this crazy web called life? To find out what is going on in that boney skull of ours? What is driving us, moving us, putting the fire in our belly? To answer the penultimate question of our lives: Who am I?

And I’m not sure we can ever know ourselves authentically – our true mind, soul, heart, spirit, ‘Self’, thoughts, life – without introspection and self-expression.

That’s what I do here. I write so that I might know myself. I write so that I may self-express these strange thoughts, elucidate them, percolate them, and let them fly. For inevitably, they stoke the fire for ever more ideas, thoughts, and creative tangents from the ether.

All so that I might answer the question.

The other day I watched some of the new ‘visual album’ from Beyonce, entitled “Lemonade.” I was awestruck, and it surprised me. I do not count myself a fan of Ms. Bey. She is a cultural icon and entertainment powerhouse to be sure, but I’ve never really given her or her music much thought until that moment.

It struck me while watching that I was witnessing a great art of self-expression. The raw feeling, meticulously pried apart emotions. This is her delving into the darkness – diving into the journey of knowing oneself – however deep or shallow, we might never know… But this is what that journey looks like, and what that journey can sound like.

And I thought to myself: this might be the only way we can make sense of that journey and the thoughts, feelings, pain, happiness, and sorrows that inhabit us – the deepest parts of us. That the only way for us to process these disparate things and make them whole in us again is through the arrow of self-expression.

[[I do entertain the possibility that the entirety of “Lemonade,” complete with Jay-Z and poet laureate collaboration, could very well be a carefully constructed corporate ruse to make big bucks with an audience that is foaming at the mouth for authenticity. I recognize that – and would laugh pretty hard at the irony if that is the truth! ]]

But in the name of self-expression, aside from all the corporate greed and cultural trends that might drive our lives, I wish to encourage everyone to go out there and get to know the true You. Reach for it. Ask tough questions. Sit with your own comforting and disquieting gaze. Listen to the small voice – the meek one – that is drowned out by expectation and cultural constructs. The small song of the heart strings.

Some musicians make music for the masses and the money. Some purely for the sake of music. And some make it to reach for something beyond themselves… But most artists, first and foremost, make music – or any art – for themselves. To know themselves, to work through their shit in a glorious cascade of self-expression, to spring forward in perpetual renewal.

And perhaps that is why we flock to those artists who can do this so honestly. We see their raw authenticity, even if we cannot outright recognize it. We crave it. We devour it. We appropriate it. We want it for ourselves so badly. A way to know, a way to answer the question of all questions: Who am I?

I cannot condemn or dismiss any art or artist who is putting forth the effort and diving deep into self-expression. For they are being courageous. They are choosing the inner path. They are exploring that last unknown territory that we all yearn to face, but cannot articulate – yet alone consciously choose.

Introspection, reflection, self-expression. All leading down to the final destination: A never-ending, undefined, loving expanse –  Authentic YOU.

 

“None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tending to the Gardens of Mind

Do we need an “evil” figure in our lives in order to recognize the good?

Do we need to unite against an “enemy” in order to rally to peace?

I’m feeling these questions acutely right now, especially given current events in the ongoing election. What is happening to us?

Is this some sick social experiment that is testing our collective consciousness? Poking and prodding our conceptual knowledge of what is good, moral, and right while trouncing it with maggot-ridden bait?

((Apologies for the melodramatic statements.))

In time after time, we are taught – and drilled – to know evil exists on the other side of goodness and purity. But to draw lines in the sand is to make them manifest in the first place. To create ‘Us vs. Them’ is to say “Us vs. Them” in the first place. It really takes no other act. Just a simple statement of this duality plants the seed in the minds of those who hear it. But where this seed grows and gains traction is up to the individual.

Are you tending to your thought garden thusly? Maintaining and nurturing and giving it life? Or are you letting it run wild – untamed, overgrown, dying in parts, but robust in others? Flowers choked out by the weeds?

The seed is itself harmless. But what it becomes in us is what really matters, for we are the soil from which the world springs forth.

If you grow and nurture the seeds of division – or ignore them – they will be what you sow in the end. If we need some kind of perceived evil in order to see good – if we need the weeds in order to appreciate the flowers – then perhaps a perspective tilt is in order.

Maybe we need to draw less lines and more circles…

*

I pray and wish for a day when we recognize that darkness is but the shadow of the light – nothing more, nothing less. We need to stop giving it the power it does not deserve. In the reality of the heart, it is ephemeral, changing, and it exists where we let it. This “evil” – this “enemy” we are constantly working to identify – exists only as a part of the whole, and does not define us. It is just a mere seed that moves through us and onto the field beyond.

We are the ones who invite these seeds to stay. We are the ones who plant them.

These seeds have always existed, and always will. What will we do with them? Plant them and watch them grow and take root? Or watch them float by, adrift on the wind?

Note to Self: Don’t Take the Bait

Before you read this piece, you should know I’m no expert political science columnist. I’m just a citizen of the United States who tries to make informed decisions in a world of misleading memes that play to your emotions with quotes taken out of context. A landscape that is trying to make the multi-faceted, colorful world into one of black and white.

The landscape of politics. *sigh*

I try not to peg my views in any box and label it as Democrat or Republican, but these views often lean toward the former. I would like to consider myself somewhat of a swing vote, but I have grown tired and weary of American ‘bootstraps’ individualism, which seems to run prominently with Republicans. I’d like to say I vote for candidates that are not derisive and that draw people together rather than tear them apart, but both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of this. One need only to scroll Facebook to see it in action.

*

Recently I read a rather lengthy article that discussed the single-payer healthcare plan put forward by democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. It also discussed what happened when other ‘universal healthcare’ plans were put forward by Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama while on the campaign trail in 2007/08.

When Obama first submitted a plan to woo voters, it included no mandate for citizens to buy individual insurance, but Clinton’s plan did. Healthcare policy experts had recommended it as the responsible thing to include (see article link for details) so her team did the ‘responsible’ thing and included it. Once Obama was in office, did his previously non-mandated healthcare plan stay the same when presented to congress? No, it did not. Now it was mandated, as those policy experts had originally advised to Clinton. Any voter who had this as a sticking point between the two candidates is likely to be pretty apathetic about political promises right about now, and with good reason.

We’ve encountered a time where bait and switch policies do not work anymore. The citizens who heard these campaign proposals on the election circuit are going to be sorely disappointed (and thusly jaded) if these “promises” or “changes” do not literally come to fruition. With so many candidates promising sweeping reform, changes, and dictums, it’s no wonder that ‘We The People’ are growing so very disenfranchised with our government as a whole. These “promises” that are made to us now are nothing more than a vision plan with which to rile us up. They are marketing tools to help candidates sell themselves into office. They are the flashy, political equivalent of “BO-GO” deals at the store, or when items are marked with red “Clearance!” stickers, but they are only discounted 10%. These promises and platforms are motivational tactics – they are meant to move the merchandise; only in this case, it’s the voters they intend to move.

I am trying to put myself beyond the sensationalism of this political sideshow, but it’s getting increasingly difficult. To see beyond these flashy sales deals and the bright red sticker prices. I’m sure there are many others who feel this way.

I’m tired of politicians who keep “one-upping” the other with grander and grander schemes and finger-pointing statements in order to lasso more voters to their base camp. There is no way to prevent that from happening out-right, but the fact that some of the facts, promises and statements being made border on being astronomically insane is really getting to me.

I get that people are fed up with government and the bureaucratic process.

I get that people are looking for someone who is essentially an outsider who can whip Washington into shape.

But these grander and grander selling points and schemes are mainly just fueling the fire for more and more vitriolic division.

The American people are divided indeed. As such, the governmental process is a long and arduous one that requires time and compromise (i.e. actually listening to each other, a lost art these days) in order to solve anything. I don’t foresee that ever changing – not with political bases growing further and further from each other, while also growing increasingly cynical from political promises.

And so I say to myself, over and over: Don’t take the bait. Don’t rile yourself up on grand campaign promises. This is the politics machine, trying to alienate you and your views from anyone who would ever think otherwise. Drawing lines in the sand makes decisions easier.

I’m trying my best to remove myself from these social manipulations and promises that we are being put through, and trying to imagine the candidates on how they would conduct themselves in office:

  • Would they treat all people – regardless of race, gender, religion or creed – with respect and dignity? Do they act this way now?
  • Would they pass policies and laws that respect all people, regardless of race, gender, religion or creed?
  • Will they make informed, intelligent decisions that put people above profit?
  • If they are making sweeping promises – how many of those promises are sincere and put the welfare of the American people above sensationalism for sensationalism’s sake?
  • And finally – are they thinking beyond Band-Aid fixes for deep, systemic problems? If they lack expertise in a given area, will they pull in experienced advisors who are not beholden to particular corporate interests to work towards achievable, unbiased solutions?

We are being subjected to a lot of marketing slogans and handshakes and flag pins right now, and I hope that I can find the insight to see through the circus to the core person on the podium. The real leader who would recognize that being President is not about them – it’s about us.

The office of President is not about status or the power of making promises or individual vision plans, and it should certainly not be treated as a vehicle for personal agendas or beliefs.

It’s about serving for the common good of all. Are these candidates serving us?

Or are they just serving themselves?

On Duality

As above, so below.

*

The other night, I thought of this phrase and imagined a giant inverse pyramid on top of the great pyramid at Giza. Like that of a mirror. An invisible inverse that only the soul may see, as the soul is the same aspect of the physical body, but inverse. The inverse of our Self?

The intangible to the tangible. The sweet to the sour. The light to the dark. Both reflecting reality at the same time in different frequency, only in dual tracks.

But maybe the use of the word ‘dual’ is not appropriate here. It implies separate and opposite entities, separate tracks. I think that is far from it.

The soul and body, the light and dark, are both kinetic potentialities of the same element. They exist out of the same space.

Tracks on top of and encompassing one another.

They both manifest together, simultaneously and integrally. You can’t have one without the other. They are wholly one thing.

Duality as the whole? A fingerprint of the divine, a clue to the manifold potentialities of matter, mind and ultimately… humanity?

What is “Enlightenment?”

What does it mean to be enlightened? My husband and I were arguing about it the other day.

Okay – after writing that down and looking at that statement again, I laughed to myself out loud. What an absolute JOY to be arguing about enlightenment! Of all the trivial things we could be discussing, we have a heated argument about the credentials of transcendence.

Back to the subject at hand: What is enlightenment? What does it mean to have this label or state of being?

Is it the long, painstaking acquisition of some mysterious body of knowledge?

Is it the emptying of yourself to transcend this ordinary life?

Is it necessary to spend years “in the wilderness” or temples in order to achieve it?

Is it necessary to swear off your family, friends, life possessions and trivial pursuits in order to claim it?

I don’t feel that detachment from reality or the act of “acquisition” is the real answer.

As my honorary grandfather Mel (over at Melting-Pot Dharma) might perhaps say, it is recognizing the Buddha within. It is seeing the connection, rather than the detachment, of the world around you.

Some of us need the temples and wilderness to know this, and others do not. But in recognizing the divine that is already there, and working to keep it top of mind, THAT is enlightenment in my opinion.

I was discussing this with my husband, who (I think) holds in the back of his mind that “enlightened” ones of high regard will have physically worked and put time into developing this title. But do they? Where do we get this assumption? And why do we demand these qualifications to this kind of title? Is it because we have such high expectations of this level of “achievement?”

I think my husband might think this, in part, because he has spent years studying Shaolin Kung Fu. He has put in his time. Almost 13 years of time.

To him, the discipline and practice is what makes you the master, the teacher – and in a lot of ways, we see other “enlightened” ones as teachers, or expect them to be. Masters of some kind. In Kung Fu, if you put in the time, effort, and dedication you are rewarded with opportunity to teach others and to be an example to others. This comes with – and is expected of – the titles and degrees.

So it goes with our modern society. We like to see teachers, self-proclaimed “experts” and masters as having the necessary credentials in order to lay claim to the designation (i.e. licenses, graduate school, years in the wilderness, years in the temples, etc.).

But when applied to spirituality, and awakened-ness, I think this is slightly a flawed assumption.

Credentials are conditional, and the state of so-called enlightenment is not conditional. It is like an unconditional love. It exists without any presumption or prerequisite.

It exists because life exists.

Recognizing it does not take work and time in the human sense; it only takes desire and openness to see beyond the material and spiritual borders we ourselves have drawn. Whether that takes years or minutes should not affect your “enlightened-ness.”

You do not need credentials to know divinity; to know God.

But I do agree with my husband that in order to teach this “knowledge” you need to find your proper credentials, the ones that speak to you. You need time to sift this out. Find your footing. Relax into the role if that is what you are after. Build trust with the world on your viewpoint.

But to be an “enlightened” person doesn’t mean you are going to teach, and it certainly doesn’t mean you claim to be an expert or a master. You just are, and are eternally becoming.

To me, to be awakened is to realize the interconnected-ness of all. That separation is an illusion. That there is a divinity within us that we don’t have to strive for or work to achieve – only to yield. Because it’s already there in its imperfect perfectness.

After discussing this with my husband, and tearing up a bit (as I usually do when talking about interconnected-ness), we both ended the discussion with a thoughtful “Hmm.” The best way to end a discussion…a little open-ended.

Do you really need to empty yourself to transcend this fleshy existence? Enter into the void that is above and beyond humanity?

I don’t believe there is some magical transcendence of reality, or the emptying of the Self. I don’t think there is some divine void above humanity.

It is within humanity.

Love it with all your heart.

*

In the end, isn’t Enlightenment just another label, another set of constructs that we set upon a preconceived notion of our most ideal selves?

What is your ideal state of being? Mine is love;  infinite love, and I try to always keep it at the forefront.

Husband, thank you for discussing these themes with me. I love you to the cosmos and back ❤

Us vs. Them

In small moments when my daughter wants to sit with me, on my lap, and is not content unless her hand is touching my neck, collarbone, hands or heart – this is when I fully realize and remember why we’re here. What we’re meant to do. What we’ve been looking for.

Connecting with others, ourselves, and the world.

Things can be beautiful and fun in this life – but in these moments of beauty and exhilaration and lighthearted fun, isn’t there also a moment of connectedness? A sharing of yourself with others or the world? These amazing moments do not happen alone.

We are not alone, and we were not ever meant to be alone. Because we can’t be. We are connected already. We are one.

Our souls are ever searching, our subconscious on the alert, for any person, situation or community that we can feel this ultimate unity and the togetherness we crave. We may even sacrifice logic, reason and moral values in order to achieve this. It is a powerful subconscious drive within us. Propelling us to fantastic feats and also the lowest of degradations.

We need to recognize our link to each other and the world. We need to celebrate it!

In these tumultuous days, every time I see or feel an “Us vs. Them” story or directive, I know in my heart that at the core it is a lie. A pure, blatant lie that our conscious world has co-created with us. A lie meant to serve the Ego, the “veil” that separates us from the Cosmic God we yearn for, and that we may never recognize unless we tear the lies out. Tear out the lie of ‘Them.’

It is never “Us vs. Them.”
It is always “Us vs. Us.”