The Graces – Part I

7

Anava followed the drysmus line to the small, cobbled dormitory where she lived while studying at the temple. She was distracted and disjointed from her encounters with Ren and Rana. Her skin prickled with confusion.

Why not give guidance to your own son?

Why me?

The questions were plaguing and stung with betrayal. Ren was the entire reason she knew Rana. How gleefully they played as youngsters, imagining this and that and chasing each other about the main courtyard; how Rana would come out in her colored robes and talk to them, enchanting them with stories as they played amongst the fragrant blooms and shrubbery.

How she envied those robes as a girl, how she dreamed of wearing them one day. The robes she never thought she would ever have. They made a strong, gallant impression. They signified respect. They signified knowledge. They signified the Graces.

And now, thanks to Rana herself, she had them within grasp. But without Ren as an equal, it felt like a hollow victory. A chasm had appeared, and although she continually tried to brush her errant, betrayed thoughts aside, they would not leave.

Anava felt herself stray from the narrow path within the tall grass now and again, and focused on letting the magnetic currents push her back. They were especially strong at the drysmus line, and this soft, light push was comforting. Consoling. When she walked the lines she felt a closeness to the world that nothing could compare to.

As she saw the onyx precipice of the dormitory tower come into view through the top of the grass, Anava decided to go to the pavilion and explore her misaligned thoughts further rather than study for ceremonies.

She deviated left and up the hill to a small grove of trees. Within them was a small outcropping of rock with stone pillars to surround it. Bells and other chimes were hung around in the tree branches, marking this as a holy place. A sanctuary.

She entered the circle of pillars and seated herself. The rock was mossy in spots, but still firm. There was an older gentleman bowed in prayer at the other side, so she made pains to hush any noises of her arrival.

She held her fingers together, and moved them through the courses that now came second nature through her many years of study. She focused on breath: in and out, in and out, in and out. She let her emotions come through with no judgement. She observed each one, looked for attachments, and let them fall in the dark, swirling space of her mind. It was a familiar, dancing rhythm. Rise and fall, rise and fall.

Finally, smooth and unfiltered thoughts started to flow. Flowers; small pushes from the drysmus; Rana’s wide and warm smile; cool breezes and the exhilaration of her dreamtime forest.

Anava’s temple was calling her. The forest was waiting.

This time she did not have to find dreamtime and create her temple – it had found her. All she had to do was slide into the space, and it opened for her as if by request. She was keenly aware of the silence and opening drift of reality that was both crystal clear and murky. She was amazed, but quite shaken, at the relative ease and effortlessness of the action.

With a small thrill, and her heart racing, she smiled, and felt the moment blossom.

*

She walked along the same moss and glittering tree canopy as she had before. She stroked the ferns and felt the warm sunlight welcoming her, and she them. She greeted the wind and listened to the chirping chorus of the birds flittering faraway.

As she walked, a stone path appeared through the undergrowth and rotting logs. The ease of this place – responding to her, calling to her – expunged any hesitancy she might have hidden within. She knew she would seek her questions here. This was the place, the only place that mattered. A devout warmth filled her chest, and suddenly every question she had at the forefront of her mind rushed forward in a flurry, simultaneous and all-encompassing:

Why would Rana do this to her son?

She is not that kind of person… Is she?

Am I more talented then Ren?

I didn’t think I was.

Rana loves her son, she would never do anything to hurt him.

Why train me alone, and not others?

Were there others?

Why am I so distraught?

What should I do?

I do not wish to do initiations without Ren by my side.

Should I discuss with Rana?

Should I drop it?

I don’t want to cause a rift – their familial relationship is theirs, and not mine.

But they are family to me.

Why doesn’t this feel right?

 

Her stream of thoughts started to slow, and Anava felt her questions come to a nexus:

 

Please.

Show me what I need to do for healing.

For me. For them.

For Us.

I request Your love and Graces.

 

She continued walking in relative silence. The rocks and trees more familiar now, but still the same forest. There was no destination in her sight, other than the questions. She stayed open and confidant and kept walking.

Nothing different appeared. No new shapes or sounds.

Anava listened and closed her eyes, imagining the drysmus line guiding her and comforting her. In time with her footsteps, she repeated and repeated:

 

Show me what I need to do for healing.

For me. For them.

For Us.

I request Your love and Graces.

 

Please.

 

 

Please.

 

 

Please.

 

 

Please…

 

 

And suddenly in her reverie, a scream reverberated through the trees, and the birds and trees grew silent.

Her heart jolted. She swiveled herself to the origin of the sound, and the forest moved around her in a blur of color and sound and feeling.

She was transported to a small clearing, and before her was a man, slumped in the dewy plants. He appeared to be distraught, but his arms obscured his face. He radiated agitation, infuriation… and Anava felt the deepest wave of sadness. A wall of grief overcame her.

She gaped for a moment, not sure how to proceed. Maybe he would reveal something to her. Clues, information. The graces were answering her!  She reigned in the triumph and reinstated her stoic front. She approached him slowly. He seemed to be asleep.

He was wearing nothing of note from which she could discern his identity – no robes from the temple, no marks of the graces, no clarions. But he had a pearly auric shimmer about him that gave her pause. It was beautiful, but jagged.

Anava kneeled beside him. Sweat had gathered along his shoulders, and he was breathing rapidly in his so-called sleep. She thought of a breeze to help cool him down, and the wind obeyed, ruffling his light linen overcoat. He was not enjoying his slumber, and she wished to see his face… do I know him? Is he a clue to my questions?

Abruptly, he lifted his head in a gasp and made eye contact. They stared for an endless moment.

He could see her.

She froze.

 

….

Continue on to Part 8 – The Graces – Part II

 

If you wish to read this ongoing story project in order, use the following links to go back to previous posts:

Part 1 – Downed with Despair
Part 2 – Z+B I
Part 3 – Z+B II
Part 4 – Anava
Part 5 – The Promise
Part 6 – The Readers

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.

The Embrace of “Detachment”

I’ve been ruminating lately on the concept of ‘detachment.’

In the past, I’ve taken issue with this esoteric mandate that one needs to detach oneself from oneself and all worldly things and loved ones, as this is the only way to be enlightened. Or to see God. Or to ‘ascend’ or ‘transcend’ reality. Or the myriad of other metaphysical endgames out there.

I have always had a recurring feeling that this definition is not wholly correct. I felt that it was erroneous to think that ‘detaching’ yourself from others and the world was the way to wholeness.

God, by nature, cannot be detached – far from it! He/She/It is within everything, everyone – no exceptions. So isn’t this idea of detachment pushing a ‘separation’ agenda? This didn’t sit well with me, as I’ve always felt all separation is an illusion.

But looking back, I see that I was focusing more on the meaning of ‘detachment’ in the literal sense – emotionally and spatially – than in a figurative sense. Held back by the confines of language once again.

Now I have come to see that achieving the end goal of ‘detachment’ has nothing to do with literal separations. Instead, it has to do with shedding our conscious ego; giving up expectations, attachments and aversions. That part of ourselves that likes to put things in boxes.

Detaching from the ‘Self’ of the conscious brain so we may integrate ourselves more fully in our vast, all-encompassing true nature. The higher, universal ‘Self.’

You can still feel emotions and love – indeed, strongly! – while also recognizing and not taking personally these ephemeral situations, thoughts, feelings and people that pass us by on a daily basis. Difficult to accomplish, yes, but not impossible. Just being in the flow of the moment.

In essence, I feel that ‘detaching’ is not some kind of separation – it is a recognition. An embrace.

A deep, wide understanding that we exist beyond ourselves – in as such, our conscious ‘Self’ can become quite meddlesome. Which is why we are advised to think beyond just our own little paradigm of life. To ‘detach’ from the brainy prison of our own vantage point and look further.

*

My honorary grandfather Mel wrote this lovely post which discusses the terms ‘attachment’ and ‘aversion.’ Letting go of your attachments of expectations or situations, but also letting go of your aversions to certain situations and feelings.

Seeing these terms spelled out was an eye-opener for me. When thought of this way, giving up ‘attachment’ is in no way suggesting that you should not care for others or feel compassion. Quite the opposite, really. It is actually encouraging compassion by putting aside your own biases on outcome and expression.

You cannot see the world or others clearly until you have worked to put aside and recognize your own cultural, personal, and spiritual agendas. Once you can do that – then you are wide open to receive things as they are, without judgment and total love.

Unconditional love.

Before reading that post, I had never thought about the equal importance of giving up aversions. They are the same thing as attachments, just in the opposite swing. By giving up expectations that revolve around the aversion of certain outcomes, expectations, and feelings, you remove roadblocks of guilt and personal preference. You pave the way for a clearer vision of the world and open the door for love in places that you may not have loved before.

By no means have I mastered any bit of this, but in my past posts where I expound on boxes of cultural constructs, pre-determined values and the illusion of separation, it is plainer to me than ever that this is what I am trying to do.

To see beyond the attachments and aversions of the personal ‘Self.’

To remove the locks and curtains of cultural expectation and personal preference, so that I may open the window wide to the non-judgmental and unclouded observation of the universal ‘Self.’

The embrace of unconditional love to see things as they really are.

And in doing so, I think we will feel far from “detached” – we will feel as one.

Reknew

Ribbons dusted,
Rise anew
Portents, portals,
Nails that grew.

Searching, intuit
Thoughts and stares
Running fingers,
Stinging glares.

Walk the footsteps,
One by one
See the grains of
Salt & Sun.

I see in you
The ocean blue
Let’s dive into
The One we knew.

Letting Go… To the Heart

In order to have control, we must give it up.

In order to have power, we must let go.

In order to rule, we must surrender.

Are these statements true?

I have been ruminating much on the meaning of these phrases for some time now, and I believe the answer is…YES.

It appears to me that a lot of wisdom is gained in life when we are able to let go of things we cannot control, to release the worries and the burdens that we carry in our hearts and minds to become freer to be otherwise. But when we let go of the conscious control, and hand our fate over to God or ‘destiny’ or what have you, are we really just gaining subconscious control? Do we hand over the reins to the heart intelligence? This, I believe, is where our true wisdom might lie…

Perhaps the world around us is intricately connected with the heart-subconscious in a way that is too complicated for us to comprehend. That they exist co-dependently somehow. If this is true, then there is no fathomable way for us to try and control this world with our conscious minds, as the conscious mind is only aware of a portion of our reality; a tiny sliver of our visible and perceptible world. Only the portion that we need to know and perceive in order to survive and evolve – no more, and no less.*

And yet the subconscious heart is the navigational system that we so desperately seek to have control of, but lies just outside of conscious reach. Maybe the only way to access this valuable information is to let go of the conscious desire, the conscious will of the ‘self’ and the ‘ego’ that is constantly dictating that WE NEED to be the driver of our lives. That WE are in control.

Instead, maybe we should hand this job off to the subconscious. To the heart.

Maybe if we want the greatest power and knowledge and peace, we should move to surrender our conscious will to the heart. (Which ironically, we have to do consciously…? Sorry, I can’t help but chuckle at that!)

Can the heart do the heavy lifting? Can the subconscious drive us to where we want and need to go?

I think it already is. Perhaps our conscious-reasoning brain is just getting in the way all the time!

 

*If this topic of evolutionary perception and consciousness is of interest, Google the work of Donald Hoffman, who studies consciousness, perception, and how we view reality. You can view his great TED talk here. Watching this video earlier this year really sent me down the rabbit hole!

Parallels

A girl stooped down to tie her shoe. She was thinking about God.

Not THAT God. NEVER that God. The other one. The loving one.

She knew He was there. Or He/She. Or it. Whatever the ‘Source’ wanted to be called. There – in that spot that is unknowable, but relatable –  He resides.

She continued on with her walk to get coffee. The buildings surrounded her with weight and substance, but were not quite relevant. Brick and stone mortared to the world they stood, but not rooted.

Yet the more she walked this path in her life, this one she walked every day to get coffee, every day past these same soulless blocks of architecture that loomed overhead, she came to like them. There was a familiarity and ordinariness of how they stood by, in the same places, day after day. They were like the embrace of family for the flesh and bones of the humans that occupied them day after day. Humans who implanted and projected the blank buildings full of meaning and memories. Thus calling them ‘home.’ Because of this, the buildings then grow unseen roots that are not bound to this world, but the world that lives just below the surface. The one of feeling, of emotion and spirit. A world no less real then the one seen with her eyes.

From this, the buildings become something else. Something like an extension of the humans living amongst them. Buildings that cradle them and the humans loving them back. A coexistence of sorts. The humans loved and appreciated these brick blocks in a way that they themselves would not recognize: they loved them by paying them no mind. They loved them because they were not a threat. They loved them because their existence was to help us find meaning and roots of our own by standing by every day, in the same place, accepting and implanting whatever we give them. By reflecting our own meaning back to us.

Is this how God works? she thought quietly.

Does he help us by mirroring our meaning? Does he protect and guide us by being there everyday, offering familiarity and safety, but not interfering?

This was a comforting thought. That God was ordinary and stationery, standing over her day after day, never judging or emoting. Just being there, helping her to find meaning and build purpose and love without her ever realizing.

She smiled to herself and ordered her coffee. She saw the coffee shop with new vigor. New appreciation. All the drab window frames and coffee-stained countertops were now there in a way they were not before. Like they were smiling back.

She put her extra change in the tip jar and went out the door, past the dull bricks and stone, past the other humans, and felt in her a new coziness.

Maybe the cradle of the buildings.

 

sidewalk_thoughts