February 23

Soap Operas

If I remember correctly day-time television got to be named soap-operas because they were generally watched by housewives who have a vested interest in what sort of soap is being used to clean their families, houses, and clothing.  For a time in Jr. High I remember being fascinated with a particular soap opera.  When I would get home from school I’d be able to catch the last 15 minutes of it or so, depending on how many stops the bus had to make before I got home.  The really intriguing thing about this soap opera is that even if I could only see the last 15 minutes of it, and not even every day, I didn’t seem to ever miss anything.  The real truth is that there wasn’t really anything to miss, it didn’t seem as though things actually happened.  Well, things happened, that’s for sure.  People got tricked into thinking someone else was actually their betrothed and seduced into bed with the wrong person, motorcycle accidents resulting in the death of a son actually turned out to be the long-lost twin brother who had fled the city years ago because of some dishonour or another.  While these events happened, they rarely actually happened in a concrete and clear way.  Suspense would build throughout the week in scene after scene: would the character turn around and see the person hiding behind the curtain?!  Then, right when their glance shifted, there would be a cut to a commercial break and when we returned the situation would have magically diffused.  The character wasn’t looking that way at all, oh, but hey, there’s somebody behind the curtain.  It must be someone the cable company sent when they phoned saying something wasn’t working.

I see soap operas as circuitous paths meandering around a topic and lightly touching it without actually facing straight-on the reality of a situation.  Swami Radha said that spirituality is meaningless if it isn’t practical.  To me, practical means having relevance in my day to day living, it means increasing my awareness of what is actually happening and facing that reality with clarity and courage.  I’ve been making huge strides in my ability to communicate.  In the past I’ve attempted communication in a rather “soap-opera-esque” manner; obliquely touching at a topic without saying it outright for fear I may be taken the wrong way or that the topic may offend a listener.  This creates within a separation between the world of my inner thoughts, and what actually is going on around me.  Yet another example of duality inherent in life, this one causes separation and builds upon a conceptualization of my inner self as being an amorphous entity, fictionalized and imagined yet not able to present itself tangibly other than as underlying motivations for my actions.

In recognizing this, and in light of a weakness of expression, I’ve come to see how quickly an intention can manifest.  I have had multiple occasions this week to simply express the facts as they are.  My role at the ashram is absolutely conducive to me learning about exactly the part of me I want to learn about.  I’ve been entering into that uncomfortable space created when I have something to say but think it might not be well-received and I’ve been surviving.  An influx of Yong Adult Program participants has really expanded my role.  More people means more energy – both that they create and require.  But meetings about expectations and consideration in community don’t need to take from me, they can simply be an opportunity to let something else flow through me.  I come to a deeper and deeper appreciation of being carried by the Light in every space I hold.  Cutting away the shrouds of ambiguity lets the light shine brighter and brighter.  I can create clarity and suffuse situations with that light.

Mental Concepts

I recently read “Mind in Buddhist Psychology” a translation of an ancient Tibetan text by Herbert Guenther.  In it, mental concepts are explained in a seemingly endless succession of categorical lists; there are 51 mental events including 5 omnipresent events of which one is conceptualization which is six-fold according to the basis which it operates….etc.  Reading it reminds me of certain Chinese Buddhist meditations in which infinitesimal details are added to the growing visualization of a mental image of a deity.  The mind gets so pushed beyond its limits in envisioning these details and concentration is so complete that something else takes over and bam, Realization occurs.  Needless to say, I was still very much on the level of intellectualizing these ideas as I read this book.  It certainly did result in small scale realization for me, however.  I recognize that each human experience is unique and that my individuation of the Lord is like a snowflake, unable to be replicated exactly by any other human.  Every single person has a spark of essential distinctiveness that cannot be completely understood on this human level.  Yet every single thought or emotion I have; to use the lingo, every single “mental event” has either been or will be examined or felt by another person at some point. 

In some ways this is extremely connective.  Here we all are, having this human experience, and I can know within the depths of my being that everything that passes through my mental, emotional, intellectual and spiritual bodies has been present for someone else.  Perhaps not in the exact combination and degree, but in some way each of my mental events have been mapped out and understood by ancient beings that have tapped into something deeper than I have thus far.  I find this quite reassuring.

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Story Telling

As many of you could, if pressed, probably attest to, I’m not the kind of person that spends a lot of time regaling tales of the past with the kind of fervent passion I’ve observed in others.  I make a conscious choice of this, choosing instead to exist in the present moment rather than recount aloud the things I’ve done and experienced merely for their own sake.  I’ve always wondered what the point of that was.  Sure, in high school my group of friends would spend a fair share of time reminiscing; generally about band trips and the loads of fun they were.  It was kind of a team building exercise.  “Yeah,” we would say symbolically to ourselves, “we did that together, we had shared experiences.  Hey, remember when Guen   ________!!!” (wow I really was a strange kid).  In this way we would cement our bonds, swapping similarities and re-living moments of time.

What about other reasons for sharing stories?  I’ve always internally labelled as arrogant those that go on and on about themselves and their past to others it has little relevance to.  Yes, I’m working with my judgemental self.  I just can’t seem to let go of that two year-old  inside of me, the one that continually asks why.  Why talk about the past, recounting strangers (or nearly so) with unfamiliar anecdotes lacking all reference to situations at hand.  Even if they are somewhat of a tangent from the present moment – what is the gain in sharing them?

I found myself recounting anecdotes that had only slight references to situations at hand this past week.  Swami Samayananda has moved into the back office while the regular office manager is taking the three month YDC.  She’s here to oversee and to ensure the office and bookstore are running smoothly.  She’s an absolute powerhouse of action, confidence, and ability.  Breaking apart the human experience into its three parts of spiritual, physical, and mental-emotional, I would consider her as having command over the physical, tangible reality.  Of course there are layers upon layers to people and I cannot fathom what decades of spiritual work and practice would bring to an individual so I cannot presume to indicate this is her area of forte, merely that it is an area that I see in her and wish to gain a greater command for, and in, myself.  In some ways I feel utterly disconnected from her and, at times, struggle greatly to express myself in a free flowing manner that I so easily maintain with others.  In the months I’ve spent reflecting on this conundrum I am really coming to see it as exemplifying the weakness of mine to function solely on the tangible, quantitative plane of reality that rationalists are always claiming (weakly at that if I do say so myself) is the one true reality.  How can I only function on this plane when there are so many other parts of me all existing at the same time? 

Having been given the opportunity to now interact on a much more frequent basis than previous with Swami Samayananda I am learning heaps about clearly articulating this part of me.  One way I’ve been doing this is to recount stories of my past.  I see it as a kind of ice-breaker.  It’s like we’re getting to know each other.  Well, she’s getting to know me at least; Swamis don’t really talk about their pasts very much.  There we are, perusing sales reports and catalogues for purchasing summer inventory and I break into a tale I remember from my childhood.  Not some deep, soul-opening expression of how I always had to do what my brothers wanted for fear of being left to play alone..and blah blah blah.  She’s certainly heard a fair share of those kinds of stories from me over the months in other contexts.  No, this was a rather innocuous little thing.  Regardless I started to get a little nervous as I began.  Remember, she’s very confident this woman, and my admiration of this trait, desiring to cultivate it within my own person, can sometimes make things come out a little stilted.  She sat patiently.  “Well, go ahead and see if you can,” she responded to my observation I was having difficulty finding the right words.  I did.  And I could.  And little instances like that are how I get practice expressing myself with these feeble things called words with a person I feel little connection with on more subtle levels.  Subtle levels that I’ve spent much more time cultivating in myself than I have the simple and practical.  Perhaps this whole story-telling business has more merit than I’ve given credit.  I shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

February 2nd

Time

Maya and I were in the back office, going through supplier catalogues in preparation for spring and summer orders.  Someone in the office next door called to us, there was someone in the store.  I went out and beheld a face that is completely familiar to me.  My dear friend Stacey had come for a surprise visit! 

She ended up staying for a couple of nights which perfectly coincided with my reflection day giving us time to visit, snap pictures of the bobcat during a hike, and teach her a few guitar chords.  The most fascinating part of the visit was watching myself as the person I am here and now react to someone I’ve been so close to for over ten years.  There were instances of concrete proof that I’ve grown and developed in exactly the ways I’ve been intending. 

I love how I can rattle off my thoughts and feelings about subjects in an honest and authentic manner that in the past I would have completely shied away from, yet in the next days sit with my journal overlooking the lake during lunch reflecting on my propensity to remain inwards.  How grateful I am to have such a lovely surprise visitor and to see for myself just how much I have changed through the passing of constant time; time and the determination to live my ideals of authenticity.

Stillness

Snow fell heavily this past week.  More and more of it came and kept coming.  The view across the lake was washed over with clouds and falling flakes.  Like a pane of shower-stall glass I couldn’t see through.  What is it about watching snow fall that has me so utterly transfixed?  I began to wonder if all snow falls at the same rate.  Due to the laws of gravity it must yet there are allowances for friction caused by size of flake etc.  What about wind?  A strong draft in any direction could change the rate of the free-falling water, frozen into intricate patterns.  These are the things my mind rests on as I sit at my desk, holding the wondrous gratitude that suffuses out of me that I get to live in a spot of such beauty, solitude, and peace.

Having been here for over a year I can’t help but go back to the previous winter and even the summer before that.  There’s a particular statue of Buddha just outside the front entrance that is particularly entrancing(ha!).  I’ve watched it sit in magnanimous quiet, watching all that pass whether they are a random day-visitor, a guest here on course, or Swami Radhananda going for her daily walk.  I’ve seen him covered, neck-deep in snow that smothers the flower beds giving a completely different definition of what natural beauty is than the colourful batches of green and petal that will grace the space in other seasons.  This week, I simply haven’t seen him at all.  He’s hidden under the exceedingly soft and welcoming snow.

I’ve been here long enough to know that I can choose to look at anything symbolically and it will be a guide from my higher self, pointing me in a helpful direction.  With that in mind, what does the Buddha mean to me, hidden deftly in the snow?  He rests there throughout the cycle of the seasons which, as more go by, don’t seem to surprise me as much as they used to.  When I look out to the flower bed seeing white mounds with the occasional branch poking out, I now also see tiny leaf buds, eager to unfold into lush greenery. I see the flowers that they will nourish as they take energy from the sun and transform it into usable carbohydrates.  I see the colourful flowers in full bloom and then begin to fade as the firey leaves take over.  I see the rose hips being swiftly gathered by squirrels who then bury them in moss near their home, keeping food for winter.  I see the deer eating the ones they’d left behind. 

Through it all the Buddha sits.  The inevitability of one season leading to another is nothing new.  I’ve been here over a year, the longest I’ve lived in one dwelling since I moved out of my parent’s house at 18.  Through the complete cycling of the cosmic rhythm I see how change is superseded only by that which is permanent.  The two intertwine and coexist, dancing with each other in complete unison yet as if the other isn’t even there.  The Buddha doesn’t mind the snow, nor is he so swayed by the fragrance of the flowers.  The two manage to co-exist.  All the places I’ve lived and been had one thing in common: I was there when I was there.  My inner Buddha nature remains the same no matter what is going on around me.  The snow will melt, the rains will come, and I will see that statue again, looking on in stillness at all who pass.