The ‘Oasis’ of Self-Inquiry

Whose stories are you telling? And why?

Self-inquiry is so much more important now than I ever could have imagined. I take it so dead-seriously these days that I catch myself off guard.

I used to hear the term ‘journaling’ and scoff a little bit. Mostly because I didn’t have the time to do it (or so I told myself), but also because I was a bit jealous of these people who did have time and did take it so seriously.

Earlier in my life, I latched onto the idea and image of journaling steadfastly – I wanted so to be a writer, and how else would I get there then diligently writing the accounts of one’s own life, every day without fail? Duty bound to the written word, and eventually left with a large stack of journals and pen scratches as evidence. Credentials.

Yet inevitably, those old journals of mine from middle school and high school didn’t quite stick as a habit. I became bored with them and barely ever wrote in them regularly. But I was living in the outside world then – I was scribing my daily traverses, but of course it was boring: I was not turning my attention as inward as I should have.

The inward motion makes a difference; it moves mountains and carves universes. It is fluid and ever-changing. Reflecting on the outward side of things, without the inward motion, only reinforces tropes and boxes of cultural and personal constructs that are already evident.

Once I was in college and testing the waters of asking myself deeper questions through writing, journaling – or as I have come to call it, ‘personal essaying’ – finally found its proper niche in my life.

Writing in self-inquiry has taken its place as the rightful oasis it always was and could be. It is NOT the “palace of intellect” or “shrine to craft” like I assumed it was in my youth. No… it is much more modest than that, as it humbles yet enriches me every time I do it. To dip my pen in and drink deep of the waters I find, thirst quenched in surprise and awe, as I hadn’t realized I was parched in the first place.

In this way, self-inquiry is really, really important. And I want to stress that to all people I know and all people I don’t.

As you write, or think, or meditate, or talk your way through hard, tough questions, take care to not repeat the stories you’ve been told previously. Don’t regurgitate. Don’t just reflect back what the world wants and what culture has told you is important. Take the world and bend it through your most important lens – that of your heart.

Whose stories are you telling? And why? 

In a way, I think this sums up my budding interest in Buddhism, and how I feel about it a nutshell.

To me, it is applying self-inquiry to your life to root out those voices that are telling your story for you. That are whispering in your ear the script of what’s already been written; thoughts already outlined and feelings already validated.

Self-inquiry is a path, a road, to understanding and recognizing the true You that exists regardless. The true You that has always been there, the shining kernel at the center of your outward persona and self-constructs.

I want myself and my loved ones to ask these questions of themselves and look deeper, to know that luminous self underneath all the horrible muck that we tell ourselves. The muck that society / family / culture / friends / gender roles / media / and even their own inner critic (the most formidable voice among these) spews at them every day and in every moment. To see and recognize each of these voices and see how they influence our lives and our decisions. To see how these voices are not them. They are not You.

Whose stories are you telling? And why?

“Tell them stories” has always been one of my favorite  “this is the meaning of life” quips from a fiction book series that I’ve ever read, from the third book in the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy by Phillip Pullman. This quote jumped out at me when I read it.  It was one of those truth-y moments that lies with you for the rest of your life.

Stories are a mainstay in our culture and they define us as humans; a unique attribute of our consciousness. And we have the power to harness and tell the stories that we want to tell.

So in a way, Buddhism to me is a vehicle of self-inquiry from which we gather and amass tools and skills to hear and tell the stories of our true self – to hear and tell the stories of the heart.

An oasis that lies within.

A Rejection of the ‘Reactionary Self’

Uncertain and quiet, I still just don’t know.

Lately I feel like I have no authority to be espousing my opinion on the internet, to post blogs, or even to write privately because I feel contaminated.

A deep-seated feeling of perpetuating something that’s not genuine. Of creating something that’s not bore of myself but merely a reaction of external and incongruous things. Something that in the end is just word garbage.

(And as I pointed out in my first blog post here, this was one of my prominent reservations that held me back when I started blogging.)

We all know that pure and unadulterated “reactions” are not always virtuous or the right idea/thought/feeling to hold onto or to emulate.

Perhaps this explains my relative lack of blogging and writing, perhaps not. But it does explain why I have started and stopped MANY different essays, none of which are posted here, and helps to explain why I never felt comfortable doing so.

A lot of my thoughts lately have resembled ‘rants’ of some kind and have been rather depressing and deflating to re-read (even to myself).

In a large sense, they are pure reactions to the pain and grief and anxiety and frustration of the people and situations that surround me and share this life. I’m mixed up in them and these myriad worlds of feeling right now, and therefore do not feel a ‘divinity’ or true connection to my writing space as of late.

The other ‘Me’ that catches words – not creates them.

When I’m writing for myself, I’m elated – because this means I have no agenda but to push my own buttons. But when the world is constantly pushing my buttons for me, I am stuck reacting to them and not my own. I have no thought energy or emotion left for the good stuff: The personal and inner journey.

This one takes effort, too. Much more effort than off-the-cuff reactionary thought.

And after crying and fretting at the news all day, sometimes I don’t want to delve down to the inner recesses of my being. I don’t relish opening up a crisp notebook with empty, white pages staring back at me.

Instead I just want distraction.

I think many of us are feeling this right now. Like a suffocation under chaotic clouds. Disbelief and bewilderment of the swirling, vaudevillian world we are suddenly witness to, manifesting before our eyes and before our children’s eyes.

But my inner voice keeps telling me that my reaction to all this is my choice – and that it is so, so, so important. I’m not sure how, but it is.

My heart swells and whispers to stop reacting and start Being. To stop getting caught in the swirl around me, and to create my own swirl. My own message. My own energy.

To connect to the message and energy that reside at the heart.

This or that tragedy. This or that anarchy. This or that doomsday proclamation of pressure and sadness. This is not you. It is not me. It is not Us.

This isn’t what we truly want. It’s energy gone wild. And I’m reminding myself – and maybe you – not to fall into it.

Be the rock in the swirl. The loving rock that observes and sees all things, accepts them as they are, and lifts them up to know the love that you feel so deeply. The love that exists so infinitely and without condition or borders or feelings or thought.

We are all so cataclysmically loved that we feel torn apart sometimes. But maybe that is ok.

The seams are coming undone. Power for power’s sake is getting ripped with cracks and slivers of truth, and is buckling under the weight.

We crave honesty. We crave connection and spirit. No more fakery. No more facades.

Feel the seams rip and love them all the same. Whether apart in pieces or together as a whole, we need to cover it all in love and fly.

“You Exist Because You are Loved”

“You exist because you are loved.”

These words popped into my head after work one day, out of the blue.

I remember right where it happened: I was starting the first leg of my pedestrian commute, walking block one out of eight. Headphones on, music loudly playing. And right as I was passing a giant, red-neon, laughing Buddha at the Asian fusion restaurant across the street – BAM!

“You exist because you are loved.”

So for me, this phrase of insight that came to me so unannounced and sudden is intricately bound with the image of a red, laughing, neon Buddha.

And now it is for you as well.

The meaning of these words might seem a bit backwards at first take. A little voice in our head reasons with us: “We can be born to a family and not loved,” or, even more sadly, “I’m/she/he/them are not particularly wanted or loved, but I/he/she/they exist!”

If I hold these statements in my heart, though, I don’t think they can be true. My heart offers a different interpretation.

“You exist because you are loved.”

IF you are here or have been here, and you are reading this, or if you are existing elsewhere and not reading this – my heart posits that you were meant to be there in that moment. Therefore, you are loved infinitely more than we can fathom.

This is a world of creation, and what is creation but a form of love?

That voice of reason, the shoulder man, is there again interrupting. Reminding me that we exist because of reproduction – a biological imperative. Nothing more and nothing less.

But I think there’s more to it than that, and the girl on the other shoulder implores me to hesitate in coming to conclusions. She is wary, skeptical – but tells me to listen to my heart.

So I chase the seemingly reasonable, logical, and analytical voice away. This voice of mine is rooted firmly into the realm of what can be seen and concretely measured. Palpably observed. And these words that I am contemplating defy a logic that could ever be measured, graphed, or perhaps even fathomed –  let alone scientifically analyzed and promptly debunked.

“You exist because you are loved.”

There is so much in this world that we don’t know, yet so much here that we DO know, if we would just open up. Recognize it. Imagine the unimaginable. See a world without divisions and separations.

Life – ALL of life – is here because it IS love; therefore, it is loved. It is all connected, and we are an integral part of it.

The shoulder voices ask me many things at once: Will we ever rise up and realize these truths? Will we let our hearts guide us as much as our mind? Can we pause our logic for a moment to imagine the unseen?

I hope these words catch you in your heart as they did mine. A little stumble, a double-take at the laughing Buddha. Opening your eyes a little wider, and an offering of peace of mind – and peace of heart.

May it be a little freer, and more loved, than it was before.

“You exist because you are loved.” And you love because you exist.

In ‘Recognition’ of Happiness

Why do we need to apply conditions to our perceived state of happiness?

Can you be happy always, anytime?

I was confronted with these thoughts recently, and finally saw them for what they were: illusion breakers.

Undoubtedly, the first time I saw a quote or meme that stated something along the lines of “Happiness is Unconditional,” I didn’t get it. A line like this evokes one of those mystic, woo-woo Buddhist concepts, spoken from the master to the pupil. In one ear and out the other. A part of me pipes up: “I’m not a monk, I’m a regular person!”

But more and more these words wormed their way in deep. Wriggled and wrought to my heart. I get them now so much more fully and deeply than I ever expected to. A pleasant surprise.

*

A while back, after the birth of my daughter, I was going through a hard time. I wasn’t depressed per se – I was just despairing a little. Feeling unfulfilled at work. Tight on bills and uncertain of financial security. Unwilling to work harder to make said needed money as I now wanted to be home more and not at the office. Plus, I happened to be blessed with a micro-manager who liked to provoke and push – the very opposite of what I wanted and thought I needed. And to top it all off, a lot of my neuroticisms transferred to my husband, who carried the weight of those residual damages.

I didn’t know what to do.

So for whatever reason, I started writing after hearing a speech at work. And about a year ago, for whatever reason, I felt a pull to blogging. The ‘whys’ of such decisions I still cannot fully articulate, but I went for it.

After starting this writing practice on a regular basis, I finally started seeing and thinking and feeling what this misty concept of ‘unconditional’ really means. About what it means to be happy and satisfied unconditionally.

To have no condition or state of being or thing or person or job or money dictate my state of happiness. And to think this could even happen.

Lately, even with long days at the office, shitty traffic, messy houses and emotional toddlers in my life pretty much every day, I am able to see small moments. To slow down. To breathe.

None of these things or situations cause my unhappiness. Their presence or lack thereof does not determine my state of Being.

For if I tied my happiness to any of these conditions, my happiness has the potential of being yanked away at a moment’s notice. My happiness would be tied to this world, and all the ephemeral things that move in and out of it. My happiness would ultimately be elusive.

These things that we typically tie happiness to – people, jobs, money, health, children, cars, time off, social circles, etc – are things that change in life. They change all the time. They are conditions, and our charge is to exist beyond them.

To BE unconditionally.

So back in my tough days (and they are far from over) I had trouble with this line of thinking. It was so clear to me that money and a more satisfying job would solve everything. Right?

Currently I am still at said job, making the same amount of money, and I am happier than I was.

There might be other reasons for this, but a major part is that I’ve now realized that my happiness isn’t tied to those things. If I based my level of satisfaction on earning more dollars, then my happiness would have the potential to never come – and there is nothing further from the truth.

I have power over my happiness.

*

Everyday, I sit in amazement and stare at my dog sleeping so soundly on the floor at my feet, ears twitching at small noises.

I kiss my daughter’s head with fervor even if she’s screaming and I’m losing my grip on patience.

I think fondly of my husband and his zest for life that sometimes lies buried underneath self-criticism and doubt.

I recognize my ridiculous wallowing and give myself some space and forgiveness.

I am in awe of this life and all it contains in this perfectly imperfect moment.

And that is my happiness. ❤

Writing to be Whole, or Being Whole to Write?

I guess I inadvertently took a blogging hiatus, as it’s been a MONTH since my last post. I didn’t mean to, but life got in the way, and I by no means had any kind of blog ‘schedule’ to speak of.

However, in the past month, I have come to realize just how important writing and time to reflect is in my life for my sanity and self-preservation. I have had very little of this in the past few weeks, and I have been paying the price mentally and physically. But now I know how important it is, and I will fight to keep it at the top of my priority list.

If your cup is full, you can pour it out to everyone freely, knowing it will be refilled. Reflection and writing is how I fill that cup – if I don’t get to do this, then I cannot pour out onto others and give as freely as I want. My psyche and body will pay for it.

That being said…. I don’t want to get ‘attached’ to the idea that without blogging or reflection time that I will be miserable – because to believe that will make it so. Coming at it from this frame of mind, I can more easily let go of expectations and frustrations if I somehow don’t get time one week to do it.

Maybe there is another way of filling your cup?

Maybe it is acknowledging that your cup is filled always, if you just ask and intend for it to be that way?

*

I enjoy poking holes in my rhetoric sometimes, and asking myself if I’m getting too attached or averse to certain ideas or concepts. In the end my writing and reflection is just a timely reminder that ideas, concepts and expectations in life do not define me – I am the one who defines them.

Cheers for more reflection time, if it comes or if it does not. Neither one will necessarily make you happier or more blessed. Neither one will make your cup ‘fuller.’ Because you already are!

Writing and reflection just serve as mechanisms to more readily recognize that fact and catapult it. For example: I don’t think I would have come to that conclusion if I hadn’t started writing this. There’s a catch 22 if I ever saw one!

And such is life; a confusing, circular conundrum. I love it.

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

Sediments of Self

I’ve finally come out the other side of a week-long flu purgatory with my husband and daughter, and things are getting normal again. Last Wednesday – my first day back at work after being stuck at home in a fever-haze for almost five days – I couldn’t find my shoes.

I looked everywhere. I didn’t leave the house in five days, how could I not find them?!

I knew in the back of my absent-professor mind that they must be right in front of my very eyes somewhere, but still… I couldn’t find them. After rummaging for a while, already late for work and knowing I was swamped with email catch-up, I gave up and pulled out the first pair of shoes in our closet that I could feasibly wear with the wool socks I already had on: my chuck taylors from high school. I laced them up and ran to catch my bus.

I expected them to be tighter or smaller than my presently lost shoes, but no – they fit as reliably as they always have. A little worn-out, not a lot of arch support, but they did the job.

It felt weird to wear them after such a long time – I marveled that I still hung onto them.

I recently watched the strange Adam Sandler movie The Cobbler, where he becomes other people by putting on their shoes. I was feeling like the character in the movie – that I was encountering a magical portal, slipping into my high school self for but a moment, seeing things through her eyes.

What would she see? How was I different from that past period in my life? What would I be thinking and making of my life right now?

Who was that person?

*

They say you essentially change personas every seven or so years. Given it has been almost 15 years since I first bought those shoes, my Self I imagined I was slipping into was two personas ago. Two whole phases of my life ago. My, how things have changed.

But not all things.

I am still too self-critcal. I still spend most of the time in the clouds, and then assume I don’t possess the analytical thinking prowess of my peers because of it. I still get freaked out when faced with situations that are not what I planned out in my head. I wallow. My main mode of dealing with conflict is still guilt-trips, self-pity and avoidance. I’m still a slob.

But back then, in these past personas, I wasn’t aware of all these things. Now, I am much more self-aware.

I am still messy, but at least I recognize it and try harder. I recognize that I’m stubborn, and in the past didn’t step out of my mind-box willingly. I was just going with the ebbs and tides of social expectation. Floating along. Now I recognize that passivity, and perhaps try to direct with intention. Interact. Remind myself to engage and step out of the box.

I am at the core that same quiet day-dreamer as I’ve always been. Unchanged.  But yet, as with all things, constantly becoming.

Like an agate I have been polished by the grains of time – to proudly wear my stripes and unique striations as clearly and colorfully as I can.

I am still made of the rough rock and minerals – the same as all the others around me. Originating at the same bedrock, made of the same igneous and sedimentary stardust.

Only now, polished and gleaming, battered and worn beautiful by the elements – I can more clearly see these colors at the core and let them shine through. And I’m only just beginning.