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.

Finding ‘Home’

What is the difference between Good and Evil?

Are they just labels that we assign each concept, or are they concepts that transcend our mere understanding?

And how can I know the difference between the two in this utterly confusing present?

This feels like a silly question to ask since there seem to be so many examples of good and evil in the world today – even asking this question feels unfathomable. But the more I lean towards a limitless inner world and trying to erase the lines of separation around me, I tend to believe that these two labels – these two lines in the sand – are causing far too much trouble than they’re worth.

They are both just energy – but in how we direct this energy, in how we assign it, in how we nurture it, it will manifest very differently. The ultimate agent is ourselves.

 

I know, I know
You can bring the fire
I can bring the bones
I know, I know
You make the fire
My bones will make it grow.

 

This is a lyric from the song “Hometown,” by Twenty One Pilots. To me, these lines represent that any of these forces – good, evil, or countless others that we label – can be invited in, be planted and channeled within us. And from within our mere flesh can be grown. Fostered in our bones.

‘Evil’ is a name we attribute to bad things that happen to us in this world, a force that we negatively associate with. A malicious, chaotic energy. A life-removing energy. ‘Good’ is the name we attribute all that we feel positively about, a force that is uplifting, kind, and benevolent. A loving, life-giving energy.

But these are both just forces of energy to which we ultimately assign a name. And there is nothing in our power to stop either from existing except for this: To nurture the energies that give life, and to ‘let be’ the energies that don’t.

 

A shadow tilts it’s head at me
Spirits in the dark are waiting
I will let the wind go quietly
I will let the wind go quietly

 

We cannot stop the wind. We can only let it blow past us. US being the indomitable beings we are – the pure, open awareness; the calm within the storm. We can know the storms that tumble and rumble will pass. We can have faith in our hearts that these storms, winds, energies and forces beyond will always bother us, and will always blow past.

The “evil” energies and malicious thoughts will always be there, but we have a choice to let them go. To let them be. To remain the observer of these forces rather than the grower of them. And when we recognize love and a life-giving energy – we can invite it in.

We are the vessel from which any and all things may come or not come – it is our individual and collective choice.

This is the pivot of our free will, the crucial choice of what we will grow in our bones. Often gone unrecognized and bogged down in the minutiae of everyday life.

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As these ideas and forces whirl about us, and I fret about making mistakes and nurturing concepts that are not ‘Good’ from within myself, my heart reminds me to look unflinchingly inside: To re-route all things through my heart and examine how those labels are assigned and who did the assigning.

The door of the heart is open, always unlocked with a simple request; a simple recognition. A reminder to me that the lock and key that I imagined there had never existed in the first place.

 

Where we’re from, there’s no sun
Our hometown’s in the dark
Where we’re from, we’re no one
Our hometown’s in the dark

 

This lyric might ultimately mean something else, but for me it speaks of the Heart. That in this darkness of within, the cavern deep, there exists the illumination we seek. It is Home, and it will steer us true.

When we are in love, and acting from love, we will make the right choice – and let the wind go quietly.

 

“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 Search of the Forest and the Trees

My professional background is interior architecture. I’ve worked in the professional design community for almost 10 years now. Surprisingly, part of me loathes it… but an equal portion is enthralled. An oscillating love/hate relationship. But the design instinct is ingrained and natural and I will never get rid of it.

Design and architecture in general is quite fascinating to me, but you will never catch me ever owning an Eames lounge chair or an overpriced Noguchi coffee table – the inherent materialism in the design industry is quite off-putting to me. But this profession pulls me into it given a natural balance of over-arching vision, and the methodology of how to convey such a lofty intent in the physical, built environment.

I have been trained to seek the Why behind the What; To see the ‘Vision’ through the individual pieces of methodology; To see the Forest for the Trees.

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I think a lot of us focus on either the Trees or the Forest, but never both. I like to think I focus on the Forest, but really I am just obsessed with trying to see the trees. ALL of the trees and possibilities of trees that have ever existed.

I think that many of us, when we think of the term ‘Forest’ we are actually conjuring a pre-ordained paradigm that we believe to be the ‘Forest,’ when in reality it is a cultural assumption that we have taken on as our own. We have been told by others that have come before us what the ‘Forest’ really is, and what it consists of, and we take their word for it. We take on these systems of belief as our own.

Therein, I think a lot of us think we are seeing the Forest in its awe-inspiring grandeur, but in actuality we are only seeing a projection of our own Tree.

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But maybe all we can ever hope to see is our own singular Tree? Our own singular observable universe.

Maybe the other trees that exist in this multi-verse of a Forest cannot actually be observed, but only felt? Only theorized?

It is hard to fathom or imagine the breadth and scope of all the other trees out there that might live in this Forest with us. Side by side, interconnected in a symbiotic dance of an un-seeable ecosystem that we can’t really perceive – only postulate.

In my work-life, and in my spiritual-life, I am drawn to the trees – ALL of the trees in their myriad of possibilities. I have a drive and curiosity to know each of them intimately so that I might know more of this Forest beyond. To trace the seeds of all the Trees amongst the many.

And while these other Trees and seeds might exist just out of sight, perhaps they are within reach of the heart.

“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.

Tears of Equilibrium

Sometimes I feel that becoming a parent leaves you with your guts poured out on the floor. All of you, in its messy gloriousness, spread everywhere for the world to see.

As it is literally with childbirth, I suppose it is only rational for the rest of you – the inner, emotional you, to follow suit. The inner to mirror the outer.

But I don’t think you need to have the physical experience of birth to feel this way. To be a little “inside-out.” For the outer façade to crack a little, letting your inner ‘innocent self’ leak out. Tears streaming.

I have throughout my life felt I was naïve. Vulnerable. Maybe a bit emotional. And our culture certainly does not value being emotional or naïve. So I – like many others – have adapted my personality and behavior to avoid appearing this way, and detouring around messy spills of myself onto unsuspecting passersby.

Because the last thing anyone wants is a bunch of stares and sideways glances, of people wondering “Why is she crying? What’s happened?”
Hidden for so long under the stoic surface, emotive force was always a hairsbreadth away from cracking my calm, still demeanor. I feel that I reach this emotional cracking point, or tear-stricken ‘event horizon,’ multiple times per day. And it is not due to sadness or melancholy or grief in humanity, although those things are indeed everywhere you look.

For me, this ‘cracking point’ is most evident in ordinary moments of life. In loving my family, feeling profound love, talking about oneness, seeing people come together. By being thankful and bowing to greatness within. Being happy and moved by whatever that “Cosmic Infinite Source” is.

This makes going to any kind of church or having spiritual conversations without tears impossible. So I tend to avoid them. Or to tread with caution.

Because I don’t desire to be a blubbering mess (as society has trained me to believe is “weak” or “inappropriate” outside of grief), I close myself off. I will avoid eye contact. I won’t first reach out to hug someone in distress or sadness. I may clam up and not engage in conversation. I mentally wander away in order to avoid the subject at hand and keep my eyes dry. I push past things without realizing it. I put up walls.

I have been told many times that I am “grounded,” or calm under pressure – and I take these as great compliments. To be a calm within the storm. To exercise my control in the situation, and remain as still as the rocks at the shore. To be pummeled by the waves, but showing little evidence. But sometimes, usually after the fact, I think I come off as cold.

Cold, hard and jutty – just like those rocks.

Maybe it is okay to be a part of the storm from time to time. To join it. To feel it.

I often use these “grounded” compliments as excuses not to cry joy at everyone I meet every day. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as our neat and buttoned-up world would like me to acknowledge, but being a blubbering mess does hinder my communication verbally, and would lead to many stares and personal assumptions from others. My want to keep my emotive forces under control in daily life is my adaptive behavioral response to a messy, spiraling, stormy world around me. A world that makes assumptions and sometimes labels me unfairly – whether I wanted to be or not.

We humans like exercising control, and if we cannot control the government or the Syrian refugee response, then we can at least control our emotions and other people’s perceptions of ourselves. Right?

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In a past entry, I hypothesized emotions as a divine ‘energy’ or ‘force’ that perhaps we pull from the Cosmic Soup and translate into a specific type of kinetic energy – emotional energy. An energy that we use to drive forward and compel our lives and that of the world.

Some energy is draining (fear and hate), and some insanely uplifting and life-giving (joy and love). Depending upon the energy you express, you will interact with and achieve typical results from either of the two.

In essence, we use our emotive forces to propel forward our world and society around us.

I read some articles recently (here and here – among others) that crying is the body’s biological response to excess stress – and that some studies show people who cry in times of duress are more likely to get their anxiety and stress more quickly under control than those that don’t.

This made me wonder…if crying is a stress response of the body, does that essentially mean it is a stress response to an overload of kinetic energy? An overdose of divine cosmic energy, flooding through you as a particular emotion? Maybe an overreaching thought, but an interesting one.

As someone who cries at ANY powerful emotion no matter what it is – anger, sadness, frustration, happiness, friendship, love, joy, passion – it seems a good explanation. It means I have just pulled too much energy for my body to biologically make sense of, so it must create a response to calm me down and get back to equilibrium. That in fact, through the act of tears, I can be swept away by the storm, but am able to be brought back to the shore more quickly and resolutely.

That in losing yourself in the tears, you will also find yourself – and ground yourself – reliably.

Even taken with a grain of skeptic’s salt, this thought gives me solace. But not necessarily the green card for sobbing at the office in order to gain equilibrium for a mounting workload.

More and more, though, my rocky surface is starting to erode. The storm starts to poke through. The stoic gates come crashing down much more easily than it ever did before.

Once you let the flood into your heart, it returns and pours fondly. Again and again.

We Are Sailors

Does God consciously make decisions or pull the strings?

I think it’s more of an interaction. As we engage with God and life, this relationship produces actions and reactions, sometimes good, sometimes bad. Depends on the type of engagement.

An intelligent source that needs agents and directors to produce and create.

An intelligent source that flows, but needs winds to move it and hearts to guide it.

We are those sailors of the heart, but we are not just sailing with the wind – we are having a hand in its direction.

Helming the ships of destiny.

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Here is another short story I wrote regarding this same theme – sailing on the seas of the heart. Something I keep coming back to again and again.