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Friday, March 4, 2011

What Anne Lamott has to say

I have not been a huge reader, which embarrasses me a bit, coming from what it's probably fair to say is a literary family. I have savored a relatively small number of works and authors instead of devouring large numbers.

Anne Lamott has been one of my all-time favorite authors since I read her famous 1993 best-seller, Operating Instructions.  In this work, poignant and raw depictions of her struggles as a single, not-so-together new mom are offset by all the wickedly self-deprecating humor.  As in all her books I've read, it could all be hopeless, were it not for the fact that she always manages to find some scrap of spiritual hope and truth to hang the mess of the story on. This theme does not feel contrived or born out of conceptual understandings, and it isn't used to sugar-coat the struggle, but she seems to turn all the lost-ness and teeth-gnashing into something touchable and helpful for us all.  I think she writes her self down, as honestly as she can.

I found something she said in an interview a few years ago about writing that seemed to be a little kick in the pants by the Holy Spirit today.  Sort of a, "hey kid, who loves ya?  Keep using those keys, why don'tcha...leave the what-is-the-value to me."  I thought it might be good for someone else to hear out there, too, so here you go.

"I think writing about spiritual themes is not really different from writing about secular or matters of family and loss and love and the ties that bind. Probably everything I know is in "Bird by Bird," so all I could add is it really holds true for me that old book with its banged up not-very-technological tool what I know is that when it is time to write again, which I hope will be next week, I'll use the one-inch picture frame on my desk and only try to see as much as I can through that, whether I'm writing about God and/or politics and I'll try to practice the spiritual principles of being firm but friendly, like Dr. Spock urged us to be with two-year-olds, and I'll let myself do a bad job. I'll speak to myself the way I'd like to be spoken to, I'll practice the Golden Rule as I'm working with myself to get some new material begun.
With spiritual stuff it's very easy to feel very shamed and very fussy and sentimental or desperate but I love love love coming upon other people's spiritual take on things, so that's what I urge people to keep writing and to find their voice. They can't tell their own spiritual truth in my voice or Jack Kornfield's voice or Natalie Goldberg's voice, or any other voice but their own. It's some of the hardest work we do, but it's also got that great payoff that when we find our voice and when we hone it and when we sing it, it puts us in touch with our human spirit in a way that almost nothing else can."

So, Sing It, Baby!

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Thank you, Friend.

You are my Path.
Without You, how could I ever find my Self in this dream?

When I see that I judge you, You show me how I crucify my Self.
When I see that I have believed you judge me, You gently show me the insanity of fearing my Father.
When I step out of Stillness and try to "teach" you something, You only quietly laugh
and remind me "i" know no-thing.


When I look at You with gentle, eager eyes
like I have been wandering for many lifetimes in a desert alone
and I have never met a Friend before You --

Or like I am uncontainable Mother Joy
holding a sleeping newborn baby for the first time
-- I must be so warm and Still for You --
Your Light pierces my darkness and my fences crumble.
I am blissfully unleashed into You.

How can I extend my gratitude to You?
I could kiss Your feet a thousand times,
Or write You a hundred poems.

You are to me what I made of my Self.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Through Your eyes, made Loving
first, by my Wanting
then, by all my honest Looking

I find my portal Home.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The inner monastery

I've been reading Monica Furlong's biography on the writer and famous Trappist monk, Thomas Merton.  Her story reveals an intensely vibrant man with a burning passion for the spiritual search, who also lived with a painful, black crippling despair that seems always to be nipping at his heels. I don't think that's an accident. Who but the suffering of us would want to do the undoing work necessary to enlighten our minds?

This sophisticated, artistic, intellectually-gifted man, chose in his early 20's to join the most extreme ascetic Catholic tradition as a way to give his life meaning and stability in devotion to God.  Although he was a prolific and talented writer throughout his life, he struggled with this aspect of himself and continually debated whether keeping this part of "Thomas" was an unhelpful indulgence or not. I find a bit of solace in the fact that a part of him remained suspicious about his own impulses to express, even after so much experience and success.

The mirror of Merton reflects what I've been looking for, I realize:  Some stability in form and function to serve as a forcing function and backdrop for seeking the Truth, like a rock foundation high up on a barren, remote mountainside. I've been wanting some vocation, location, relation that will allow me, require me, to do the only thing worth doing.  But his story reminds me, too, that a) healing is not for sissies, and b) where ever you go, there you are.

I've taken this theme into my nighttime dreams, where I've been dealing with monasteries lately.  In one notable dream, my whole head of hair actually fell out, symbolically, in my hands as I brushed it from my face, so that I suddenly had a very monkish appearance.  When I asked why this was happening, I was told in a pun, "Your world is making you pull your hair out."

Yes, my world and the story of "Laura" within it, has made me very frustrated over the years, enough to make me "pull my hair out" or worse.  Eckhart Tolle reminded me via my iPod the other day that "every story fails eventually."  I have empirically tested this one for several decades and with many stories, and I can say without doubt he's right on the money.  I found myself letting out a nice, big sigh of relief, of letting go even more deeply, as I heard him say it.

The world we seem to live in is based on variations of a "2 + 2 = 5" equation.  That is why the dream reality we're believing in never adds up.  It's liberating, albeit vast and scary, to accept this deeper and deeper. I feel like shouting from a mountain top, "Put away your calculators and slide rules and fancy math, folks!  Stop trying to make it work!  Stop trying to manifest more abundance, save your drug addicted son, or create Peace in the Middle East! And for goodness sakes, stop beating yourself up for failing at these things. The good news is -- it's a hopeless case!"

It is unlikely that I will ever be popular.

It's also unlikely that I'll become a Trappist or any other kind of nun as the world defines them. (If you knew my life, you'd know the understatement that this expresses.) If the dream world we think is reality must fail us, we naturally gravitate to the monastery for safety, but let's not confuse the issue by thinking we need to find it in the world that doesn't add up.  Merton believed we could redeem the world if we were close enough to God, but I don't.

2 + 2=5 will never be true, no matter if it gets printed as true in a thousand math books. And monasteries and other worldly structures and organizations and teachers will keep failing us as stories. That's their purpose as set up by the ego.

On the other hand, we could also use them to return us to the inner world.  In fact, that is their only True Purpose.  

More and more, I feel my Path is making me into a facsimile of a monk without the vestiments.  The need, craving, to withdraw from the ways I identify myself within the story grows stronger.  One of my "symptoms" I'm not proud of in this phase is my sudden distaste and judgment (I admit) for what I call all the "Hay House gurus" out there, commercializing what can never be put in a box, with words that feel mostly empty.  As egos, we are constantly saying, "look at me! I am important!  I exist!"  And I'm very aware that the only reason I am picking on these brothers in my mind is that they are showing me my addiction to my own made up self.  I can count a thousand ways I try to be important every day, including, sometimes/often, this blog. 

My mind, then, is my monastery. The crooked path leading up to it is simply the remembering of what I truly Want.  More and more, I retreat there in the stoney, blessed silence and let the dark painful structures I have interposed between me and my Self be revealed. In this chapel, I am never alone. The Holy Spirit awaits me there, as a gentle Light to guide all the looking we'll be doing together.  Though formless, I still feel His quirky little smile, which seems to say, "It's about time. You've finally decided to quit doing things your way and follow Me."  I don't feel chastised by the rebuke, but I do feel a bit silly.

After letting me bask a bit, the Holy Spirit inevitably comes around to saying, "Ok, Let's look at all this 'serious business' that seems to drive you to anger or painful despair, shall we?"  I am never mocked, but I am never taken seriously either. Day to day, I find myself making a quick escape to the monastery to roll up my sleeves and get to work at the Looking business when I think I've been judged, criticized, dismissed, or otherwise attacked in some way.  It happens less often, but the numbing sting can still be great. I feel like I'm beginning to own, cherish, my debt deeply for the first much do I owe my brothers in great gratitude for all they reflect to me that wishes to stay hidden?  Everything.

As hate gets transmuted into unabashed gratitude, the ego doesn't know what to do, and I can feel a shaky weirdness as walls, so familiar that I assumed they were my safety, begin to crumble.  Ego would much rather be punished, even murdered, so it can exist as "real" than be dismissed so easily with a gentle smile that says, "yeah? sin, guilt, fear, pain, suffering, murder, hate, revenge, jealousy, bodies, specialness, death? Is that all you are worried about? Well, big deal. Have some tea."

Big deal, indeed. There I am again...feeling a bit silly.  Feeling silly seems to be a major theme lately.

And then I'm back to sipping at my cup.

On Waking Up is back: A New Beginning

I started sharing ideas at On Waking Up in 2010, almost 7 years ago now. Prior to that I'd studied A Course in Miracles for many years...