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.

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.

A Day in the Life

February 16th, 2016

The alarm rings, and I slowly convince myself to get out of bed. It’s later than expected, so I hurry out of the house, skipping breakfast. Daughter and husband are still asleep.

I rush up the sidewalk as fast as I can towards the bus stop. I see the top of the bus coming over the hill, and I run full tilt to get there in time, lugging my ball and chain laptop over my shoulder. I make it to the bus and check work emails and Facebook and personal email and Instagram while the bus drives downtown.

Twenty minutes later, I exit the bus and walk 6 blocks to work. I notice the time and walk a little faster. I stop to buy a coffee and yogurt – not enough time for anything special. I make it to my desk in time to take off my coat and run to a meeting. Thirty minutes later, I eat my yogurt at my desk and scroll through new emails before another meeting begins.

After some work time, I go to buy lunch. Sometimes I get a moment to write or peruse online articles, but today is not one of those days. I eat at my desk and prep for a 1pm conference call. I put myself on mute and finish my lunch while listening to the call.

A few more hours of work trickle by, while answering urgent emails. An important one comes through: A project I was working on was suddenly delayed. I feel thwarted, as I had been working on it all day. I shift gears and start to work on something else. I get hungry, but am too absorbed in my tasks to get up from my desk.

My phone rings – it’s my husband. My daughter is crying in the background. “When are you leaving work?” he asks. “Could you swing by the store on your way? What do I make for dinner?” I frown as I look at the clock. It’s already 5pm.

“I’m leaving soon, don’t worry,” I say. “Yes, I’ll stop at the store.”

I try to get through the rest of what I was working on, but a few emails pop in that I need to answer. I remember I promised to send an email at the end of the day, but it’s already 5:25, and I need to leave. I decide to write the email from home. I pack up and leave the office.

I walk six blocks back to the bus stop. The next bus comes in 8 minutes. I scroll through email and Facebook and Instagram until the bus comes. I get on and continue scrolling. The bus slowly packs full of commuters and students for 20 minutes. I turn off my phone and rest my eyes.

I ride the bus one stop further than I usually do, and grab some groceries from the store up the street. “Double bag them please,” I say, “I’m walking home.” They oblige. The milk is heavy, but not as heavy as my laptop. I put on my gloves and head out the door.

I walk the four blocks to my house down the street. It’s a little icy, so I take it slow. It’s after 6pm. I’ve been out of the house since 8am. I stop and look up at my house from the street and take a deep breath. I know this is my last silent moment before crossing the threshold into chaos again. My daughter wanting to spend time with me. My husband ready to leave and get out. The dog demanding to play.

Breathe in. Breathe out. The moon was out and shining already.

I climb the stairs, open the door and smile. My time will wait. My life is for them at this moment. I will have to answer and send that email later. I will have time to write and read my book later. I can watch Netflix later. I can run to the store later. I will see my friends later.

My daughter’s face lights up when I come in the house. The dog runs around excitedly in circles. My husband looks relieved.

These days are busy and full and exhausting. It’s hard to be mindful. It’s hard to stay present. But I try. I do it for them, and I do it for me. I can’t do anything else.

The world peers in with loving glances. I am suddenly grateful for my exhausting days. Grateful for my husband and daughter and demanding dog. Grateful I have a moment to stand still in the moonlight. On the outside looking in. Grateful for the world. Grateful for this life.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Love.

“Language-twisting-twisting”

Words are always following me. They hang above, trailing me wherever I go. Constantly composing, re-forming, re-stating. Once I have a moment of peace or silence, they flood me like the deluge…. An onslaught of compositions, essays, poetry, and random statements.

I am used to this constant internal narrative. It’s been there for me all along, so it’s all I know. Constant and normal. But I do have to work to keep it productive and not obsessive. Once I open the gates to the flood, it is hard to retain balance. To find the prior equilibrium. I’m working on it, but it is an ongoing battle. A battle I enjoy, really, so I am at least thankful for that!

The more I write these thoughts and think things out in words, the more I find it’s not really about the words at all. The individual words, meanings, or technical skill. It’s not even about the literal story. No… it’s really only about conveying a concept. Communicating a feeling. Incepting pictures to the hearts and minds of others and to myself. The words themselves are meaningless, but together with intention and imagination they create, transform, and build.

Feeling these concepts in my writing, spirited and soulful concepts, is the goal. I hope I am on the right track. It feels good, and moves me passionately, so I think I am stepping in the right direction. The pictures of the soul are so much more communicative than any human written piece could aspire to be. Transformative, intimate, touching. These pictures are the ones I reach for and hope to glimpse.

Amazonian shamans have a distinct relationship with words. They talk and describe their spiritual journeys and ayahuasca dreams in far-reaching metaphors that seem nonsensical to the outsider – but they make perfect sense to them. They tell us that this is the only way one can know the unknowable and examine the unseen. To get close. To glimpse.

They describe this as tsai yoshtoyoshto, which means “language-twisting-twisting.”

In his wonderfully readable memoir about his studies in the Peruvian jungle with indigenous peoples, The Cosmic Serpent, author and anthropologist Jeremy Narby posits why they must speak in twisted language – the “language that is double and wrapped around itself.” The shamans use their koshuiti, or particular song they sing, during their hallucination dreams in order to communicate with what they are seeing. They say:

“With my koshuiti I want to see – singing, I carefully examine things – twisted language brings me close but not too close – with normal words I would crash into things – with twisted ones I circle around them – I can see them clearly.”

Here, we could infer that normal language does not let us know these concepts adequately. We need the metaphoric meaning, as this is the only real way to see. Mental pictures cannot be described in mere words. They are concepts, feelings, pictures that reach beyond and within the self.

I have been writing my poetry stream-of-consciousness style for a while now, and I am only just grasping the pictures and concepts that it conveys to me. When I write, I try to let it flow unhindered, and it naturally comes out in rhyme. I’ve decided not to fight it – indeed, maybe rhyme is the best way of seeing the universe?

I will heed to the “language-twisting-twisting” as it shows me what I cannot see in this rationalistic, brain-based world. It shows me the language of the heart…in singsong.

*

I want to know, but feel unrest.
I want to formulate the best.
And so I must take my time…

Pyramids are built in rhyme.

To Know Thyself

Starting this blog was putting myself out there in a big way, and while part of me was exhilarated, the other half was screaming to pump the brakes. But I made the decision, ignored the introverted and fearful part of my brain and jumped into the pool, arms open, into the deep.

I have no regrets and I’m enjoying this more and more. Using this space as a collection point, a place for gathering and keeping. An opening of my heart in order to share it with the world.  But I have to remind myself that while I love this space and the engagement that exists here, this was not my ultimate goal.

In essence, I do this so that I may know myself.

I truly, really, deeply, do not think well out loud through speaking, or through just thinking alone. I must write it out. For some reason this is the only way I know myself and the depths of my feelings and opinions and thoughts.

If I’m conflicted on something, putting pen to paper helps me sort it out and ask the right questions. If I’m in love with something, the written words flow and express so much more eloquently then anything spoken.

In these writings, in these words on the page or screen, these moments are sacred spaces for which I have entered into my own Self – if such a thing exists. Into the cavern that waits inside so patiently. So willingly. Stilled waters bursting with life.

I’m glad I found it. I’m glad I recognize it. I’m glad I can know myself even better than I could have imagined. Greatness is in this space, and I am only just glimpsing it.

I encourage you to follow your heart, follow it faithfully into the dark so that you may find that light – your guiding star – within.