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Crazy Train

I’ve been meditating, contemplating, praying, journaling, painting… and asking the Universe to help me loosen up, see what is around me, and get some fulfilling, lucrative work going. A few weeks ago I just put it out there – I want to teach. I taught my last class at the university I adjunct at last fall, and it’s been crickets since then. With only a Master’s degree, I fall somewhere in between someone with a PhD and a janitor in qualifications. Enrollment has been down, so adjuncts at my school have been hurting. But on some level I tend to get caught up in the “good things happen because I’m doing it right” and “good things don’t happen because I’m doing it wrong” trap. A mental distortion I’m quick to point out in others but slow to recognize in myself.

Anyway, last Thursday the Universe ponied up and I got the call to teach a class for the fall. In a week and a half. That I had never taught before. Yikes. I’ve done this twice before, but usually with at least a month of lead time. Luckily, the topic is Marketing Communications, a field I spent a long time in and feel relatively comfortable with. That said, there are more complications. The first night of class is on the second day of my family vacation. So I need to figure out how to do an online class. Lots of boring but time-consuming logistical complexity entailed with that. Plus, the day after I get back from my vacation, I am supposed to do a training session at a non-profit in town on a completely unrelated topic and I’ve been kind of blocked up about how to approach it. So, now I have a week to figure all of this shit out. While maintaining my normal over-committed schedule and praying (please please Universe) that nobody in the family gets sick, including catching that 24 hour stomach bug from hell that is going around.

So, I’m writing in my blog. Procrastination is part of my process. No, really. I am also epically sleep deprived since my kid has decided 5:30am is a fine time to wake up, and I’m trying to wean off the sleeping pills I’ve been taking since she was born.

Do I sound stressed out? I’m a little stressed out. But I have to say, being stressed out about teaching a class is my favorite kind of stressed. My husband will attest that I’m a happier person when I’m teaching.

Meditation – I’ve been doing it consistently. I was really attached to the Shamatha form for a long time, but during a fit of crazy, I signed up for a 20 day yoga challenge, a 21 day meditation challenge, and a 28 day meditation challenge. The upshot of which meant exposing myself to a lot of styles I wasn’t so familiar with. Both meditation challenges were Vedanta based, so that was interesting. I’ve really just done Buddhist meditation, and they similar on the surface but different underneath. In a nutshell, it seems like Vedanta (and Kundalini Yoga) meditation are more about tuning into a universal frequency that is blissful and supportive. In the process, it is easier to accept what is going on in my body and mind with more compassion. Buddhist meditation is more about just sitting with and accepting the present moment, whether it’s blissful or painful or tired or happy. I think both are really valid, good practices. I tend to alternate between them, depending on what I need. If I’m keyed up and jittery, Shamatha is more helpful since I’m not going to be letting much in when I’m all armored up. But when I feel vulnerable or depressed (sometimes I call it porous), the practice of connecting to something greater can be (and has been) really powerful and healing.

Anyway, I could go on for a while but I think I had better crack open that syllabus and start figuring out what the hell I am doing. Have a blessed day!

Through the Looking Glass, Part the Second

For the first part of this story, check out my guest post on The Pagan Princesses where I talk about my first brush with the divine, from the perspective of five years after.

Godess Durga painting

Durga, Mother of the Universe

In recent years, with the advent of my marriage and the birth of my child, it seemed as if I had backslid in my spiritual development. I stopped meditating regularly, and just kind of coasted on the faith of what I had experienced before. But during my pregnancy, and when I was suffering from postpartum depression I felt profoundly isolated and alone; I felt abandoned. I still thought God was there, but it was as if It couldn’t reach me, or I couldn’t hear It.

Now I am again at a crossroads in my life. Stress and questions about my identity have driven me back to meditating, back to actively seeking. Five years have passed since my spiritual awakening, and while I still have faith that what I experienced was authentic, that sense of being connected to the source of being has faded leaving only memories and occasional flashes of insight.

As I rediscover and reconstruct my faith, it is clear to me our experience of the Eternal changes as our lives change. When I had my awakening I was unmarried, childless, and between careers. There was a lot of room for God to slip in and make Itself known to me. The Buddhist practice of non-attachment also seemed to make a great deal of sense when my life was in this in-between place.

Now I am a mother, and am totally, inexorably, tethered to this world and this life by my child. Accepting impermanence is so much harder when there is someone in the world whose existence is so crucial to me. When I first started meditating again, I couldn’t understand why it was so difficult. Why was it so hard to let go of my attachments for a little while and just breathe? It is because there is someone in my life whose breath is more important to me than my own. To get a little Pagan on you, I have passed from the Maiden phase of my life into the Mother phase, which I believe is by its nature profoundly attached. In Buddhism, non-attachment means accepting things like sickness and death. As a mother I find that pretty much impossible. I cling; I worry. I entered this phase relatively late, with a strong sense of identity — which motherhood blew to bits. What is the tradeoff for losing my ability to detach? Love. Mind-bending, terrifying, overwhelming love. The ability to love with a ferocity and depth and selflessness I did not have before becoming a mother. And I think that accepting my love, rather than my fear, is the path I need to follow to reconnect with my Spirit.

As I revisit the teachings that resonated with me before, I am also exploring the polytheistic aspects of Hinduism. The Hindu religion is incredibly diverse and varied. Sri Ramakrishna, a Hindu prophet or “Avatar” from the late 19th century was the father of modern Vedanta. He was one of those people with a direct line to God, which made him a little crazy. He was able to reach the divine through almost any path. He could meditate on Kali, or Christ, or Krishna, or just on the breath itself, and ecstatically merge with God. (He also thought he was a monkey for a while. I’m glad I’m not a prophet.) So as I reconcile myself to the changes that motherhood has brought, I find myself looking more to the Hindu goddesses for identification. In the West, female archetypes are very strictly broken up into Maiden, Mother, or Crone. They tend not to share traits – you are in one phase or the other. Remember when Hillary Clinton got all that flack for not wanting to “stay home and bake cookies”? Our society is not so great at accepting that a powerful, intellectual woman can also be a nurturing, devoted mother.

Saraswati

Saraswati, Goddess of Knowledge, Wisdom, and Music

The Hindu goddesses are much more complex. When I contemplate Kali, Durga, or Saraswati, I feel more at peace with the multiplicity of my own experience as a woman. I also have taken some inspiration from the Princesses and spent more time communing with my grandmother who passed away shortly after I was married. I’m learning that fluidity and flexibility are traits of the Goddesses, and my birthright as a woman. I find the fullness of contemplation is as useful as the spaciousness of meditation, and I can pass between them as I wish. Goddesses are all about transformation, and I am starting to allow myself to transform.

I will enter yet another phase of my life in the coming year – I am starting a Doctoral program. And while I can’t always look into the sky and see God, certain things resonate in my body and heart in an unmistakable way. This path, the path of the scholar, feels incredibly right to me. Looking into my daughter’s eyes or holding her hand feels as if a hot, beautiful, painful beam of light is penetrating my heart and connecting me to all the mothers and daughters before me. Meditation soothes my soul helps me be more compassionate.

The emptiness of Shambala doesn’t resonate with me as much as the fullness of Vedanta, although the practice of Shamatha meditation is still a good exercise for my busy mind. The Mother phase of my life seems the most tied to gender. I think God is still speaking to me, but that voice is now more female and urges me to embrace my own womanhood fully. Her voice sounds a lot more like my own. In Hinduism, there is a branch called Shaktism, where the highest form of Brahman stems from the feminine instead of the masculine. It is still practiced widely in India and elsewhere, and I find this idea entrancing. In the end, I hope I can be a little like Ramakrishna – that I can find Spirit through many different paths, depending on where I am in my life. That I can be a little less rigid, and a little more fluid with how I connect to my source, and to the people I love.

Suffering and Compassion

Due to some interesting tricky circumstances in my life of late, I’ve given a lot of thought to who I really am, and what I really have to contribute. Being a business owner takes tremendous energy, and selling my services and expertise takes not only energy, but conviction. Without conviction, it sucks your will to live. Seriously.

For me, conviction comes from being as authentic as humanly possible in how I present myself, what I have to offer, and what I value I believe it brings. Maybe there are people can sell anything to anyone, but I can’t.

Getting to this point is the result of many years of soul-searching, study, and most importantly, making lots and lots of mistakes. Often, those mistakes cause me to suffer. Sometimes things I totally can’t control cause me to suffer. And sometimes my own way of dealing with the world causes me to suffer.

I worry a lot. I worry mostly about how other people feel, and how what I do or say affects them. I worry about the things I can’t control like sickness and death, and the things I can, like money and relationships. Worry is really just another word for fear. I experience fear pretty regularly. Being me, and not anyone else, I have not idea of the amount of fear I feel is “normal” or not. I suspect that feeling it is, but admitting it is not.

I’ve found that some people react badly when I’m transparent about the fact that I experience fear or anxiety. I find this strange. The leaders I most admire are the ones that are open about their frailty, their weaknesses, and their fears. I feel I can trust someone who admits they are human, admits that they make mistakes. I don’t trust the people who say they have the answers to questions that only I can answer for myself, and people who claim to know more about me than I know about myself.

I guess what I’m trying to say is I believe that fear, which is a form of suffering has value. We live in a society where emotions like fear, shame, sadness, and despair are considered undesirable at best. But these emotions are part of the palate of our experience. Imagine if food was only salty or sweet. Would we enjoy a lemon bar if it wasn’t a little sour? Or a grapefruit if it wasn’t a little bitter? If music was only consonant and harmonious, we’d be listening to the Grateful Dead for all eternity, and Stravinsky never would have composed The Rite of Spring (that actually sounds like the third ring of Hell to me).

And so I believe it is with suffering, and yet we brand those who can’t hide or escape their suffering as depressive, codependent, reclusive, or anti-social, as if we ourselves do not all experience those feelings too. How much harder is it then for those who seek help coping with suffering to find the courage to ask? And how narrow is our definition of what is healthy? I sometimes think that while diagnosis of mental disorders is immensely helpful for alleviating suffering, it also has been misused as a way for us to externalize emotions that are inescapable and innate to the human experience.

I’ve run across a number of people in my life who essentially told me that I suffer/think/fear too much, and to get over it (often with dire pronouncements about my fate if I fail to take their advice). And then they told me exactly how to do this (usually by emulating them). I have always found these exchanges disconcerting and kind of scary. I try so hard to be empathetic and open that sometimes I let people in way further than is healthy for me, and when I get scared sometimes I can temporarily lose my ability to draw healthy boundaries.

This has happened a couple times in recent years, and in spite of the fact that I have much better boundaries and self-esteem than I used to, it’s still thrown me for a loop. It’s gotten me thinking about my emotional world and its value to myself and to others. There is no doubt, I tend to worry, and when things upset me I often hang on to them for a while. If I’m feeling anticipatory of some unpleasant event, I’ll imagine possible scenarios even though I can’t predict what is actually going to happen. When something bad happens, I’ll often replay it mentally, imagining how I could have prevented or changed it. When my feelings are hurt, they hurt a lot, and it sometimes takes a while for the physical symptoms to leave my body. Basically, I feel things very strongly.

But here’s the thing: I don’t think that feeling things strongly and struggling with fear is bad or wrong. Is it pleasant? No, not really. But does it have value? Absolutely.

The fact that I struggle with these feelings and behaviors means that I experience them fully. I don’t just taste fear, I chew on it, go for a swim in it, and take it out to the movies. I know the dimensions and colors and smell of my fears, and that means that when I see someone else suffering from fear, I know how hard it is for them, and I also have faith that they can get past it. Because I do, every day. Every time I fully face my fear, or guilt, or shame, or sadness, I get a little nugget of compassion for myself. And those nuggets become the ground upon which I continually realize how little separates me from other people. We all suffer. The First Noble Truth of the Buddha is suffering. And without suffering, there would be no compassion, and no joy, and no love.

So the next time someone tells me I’m neurotic, and difficult, and that I should just “get over it” or “let it go”, I’m going to remember all my feelings have value. I’m going to remind myself to have faith in my internal process. That fully experiencing uncomfortable emotions is courageous, not weak. That compassion, one of my core values, means connecting to others through our shared humanity, which includes suffering. And that my ability feel compassion for that suffering is a gift, not a disease.

Desperately Seeking Solace, or What I learned from Buddhism

This is a long rambley entry, so bear with me (or skip it.)

There is a lot to be learned from Buddhism, and it would be impossible absorb it all in one lifetime. Since I’ve moved away from the secularized version that is often practiced in America, and more towards Vedic, or Yogic traditions that form the foundations of both Buddhism and Hinduism, I’ve thought a lot about what didn’t serve me when I was practicing in the Shambala tradition. Namely, what I saw as a nihilistic need to regard a mystical experience of God as a crutch, and some ethical problems stemming from guru worship.

Recently I’ve started to realize how much I have integrated into my world and self-view, and how it has helped prepare me for this next phase of my own spiritual journey. At the same time, I’ve begun to observe a pattern among my friends and peers in the 35-45 age range, and my Buddhist studies have helped me frame them.

Things change. I can’t ignore it anymore. What’s more, I’m old enough that things are starting to fall down faster than I can build them up. I may build a successful company, and I may write books. I may start a family. But I can’t not get sick, I can’t not age and die, and I can’t keep those I love from experiencing the same things. I couldn’t keep Simon from dying, and though the death of a dog may not seem that big on a universal scale, it shook my foundations. If Simon could leave, so could everything else.

Yes, everything is impermanent, and no, just trying to get used to that idea is not enough to make it tolerable. Not for me, anyway. So ultimately, I needed more than Buddhism (or at least the version I was studying) had to offer. I suspect that a lot of people my age are struggling with this transition, from the attaining/building/growing phase of life, to the beginning of the slowing/ending/dissipating part of life.

I’ve sought solace in relationships for a long time. Friends, lovers, family, pets; I’ve sought peace and balance, love and acceptance from other beings. Buddhism says that this seeking is itself a cause of suffering, and that when we cease seeking, we can find our own innate place in the universe. Only last year, after losing my certainty about my career (after I left my last job), and my dog Simon was I able to admit that I didn’t know where I was going. That was really hard for me, because while I’ve never been one to join groups, I’ve always needed to identify myself with a verb of some kind: Student, Musician, Designer, Manager. I didn’t know anymore what word to use to identify myself, or what words I might use in the future.

It was in this place of uncertainty, when the some of the things I clung to were no longer there, that I was able to start listening to my higher self, or the collective unconscious, or God, or whatever I choose to call it on any given day. Whatever. I could feel this connection and recognize it consciously at the same time, and I couldn’t do that before. Why is this so important to me? Because life (and Buddhism) had taught me that nothing is stable, that things fall apart, and that clinging to them doesn’t change a damn thing. Buddhism helped me realize that most people struggle with this, whether or not they know it. But my core, or soul, is always there no matter how much things change.

Some people I know just keep speeding up. They’re the ones who have always been achievement focused, and have never really given themselves the option of just saying, “What the fuck am I doing?” and putting on the brakes for a while. If it worked before, and it’s not working now, just do more of it. In these people I recognize the same aversion that I see to sitting with my mind quietly and seeing what arises, rather than trying to plan and control everything. It’s funny how society brands depression as dysfunctional and those who experience it as less successful than those who just never stop. One way or another we all need a mental break sometimes. I think often depression is just our body-mind’s way of letting us hibernate and germinate ourselves so we can deal with whatever just happened, or what comes next.

Others have gravitated towards ideologies, or organizations that have cult-like qualities, be they for work, self-improvement, or religion. Where the power of groupthink seems to momentarily free them from the fear of the unknown, but the anxiety that drives them is still readily apparent. This too, I feel like I’ve dabbled in myself. I certainly felt for a while that in Shambala, perhaps I’d found a belief system trustworthy enough to leave my critical mind at the door. That didn’t work out so well.

Others have done what I was forced to do, and now am trying to sustain. Slowed down a bit. I still struggle daily with feeling as if I need to do more, be more, accomplish more. But on the other side of the equation, I can’t really understand who I am and who I may become if I’m always running towards or away from something. I’m not saying I’m good at doing things slower, far from it. But between the two polarities of the drive of individual accomplishment and the pull of groupthink mentality, it’s the only place that makes sense to me.

Buddhism prepared me for this place. I learned how to meditate, I learned to observe how the qualities of emotions and thoughts change when we observe them. I learned that there is no “being good at” in meditation, and that it’s just as valuable when it’s frustrating as when it’s transcendent. I started to learn to listen and be, instead of talk and do.

It seems as if we’re all finding ourselves well out of the barely post-adolescent mental state that is our twenties, and we’re all trying to figure out what that means. We’re losing grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts, and all the wisdom that we lose with them. We’re creating new generations. We’re trying to figure out what is really important to us, and what doesn’t seem to matter so much anymore.

I know now that peace and contentment are way more important to me than excitement and drama. I like solitude and quiet a lot. Rather than condemning those who join religions, I believe in some form of God. I’m not so quick to judge people who believe different things than I do – spiritually or politically. I’m more interested in the creative process and less interested in showing off the results (though I think I will always be kind of a show-off). I’m more interested in healthy, strong relationships, and less interested in flattery and adulation. I know the difference now between real courage and empty bravado.

So what do you think? How are you dealing with this transition and how is it going? How have your values changed in the last few years? How are you finding meaning and fulfillment now as opposed to when you were younger? Drop me a line sometime and let me know.

Spirituality and Chocolate

One of the things that confirmed my former distrust of religion took place when I was in the second grade. My best friend was a little girl who lived near me. She and her parents were very Christian, and my parents were very not. I didn’t ask my friend about what she believed, but I knew that I, and my family, did not hold the same beliefs. My friend decided one day that she couldn’t reconcile the fact that we were best friends and that I didn’t believe in God. She told me that if I didn’t start believing, we couldn’t be friends. With infallible seven-year-old logic, I told her that that was absurd, and it would be like me telling her she had to stop believing to be my friend. This did not go over very well, and we stopped talking for a few days. Her parents subsequently convinced her that she should make up with me and stop pressuring me to have the same beliefs as her.

Until recently, I have steered very clear of discussions pertaining to religion with people who adhere to a specific church. But in the last few months, since my own spiritual awakening, I have cautiously stuck my toe back into the theological discussion pool. This is because my own experience has caused me to reframe how I interpret a lot of my past experiences, and to reconsider the judgments and assumptions I made about others’ beliefs.

The first few discussions I had were very validating and open exchanges with other people whose path to spirituality had also been fairly winding and not always conventional. But more recently I’ve had some conversations with people who are stricter adherents to one specific religion or another, and those conversations have been frustrating and confusing.

Let me preface this by saying that I experience what many call God as a universal consciousness that, if I clear my head enough (or sometimes even if I don’t), I can recognize is part of me, and that I am a very small part of it. The sense of “I” that separates me from everyone and everything else seems less substantial than it used to, and I also am capable of feeling more compassion and acceptance of myself and others than I did previously. Most religions, including Christianity, have something to say about God as the unnameable, unfathomable source of all existence. They also usually say, at some point, that God is love, and that God is accessible to everyone without any external help. So I think that the major religions have much in common, and are different culture’s ways of interpreting what is a universal experience. That is why the same themes, archetypes, and stories show up in totally different regions at different points in history.

So to me, and many others, one religion does not invalidate another. Experiencing a profound sense of connection to the Virgin Mary does not mean that someone who connects to Ganesha is wrong and is worshiping a false God. It just means that the Virgin Mary is a symbol that resonates most closely with your experience of Spirit, while Ganesha is what provides that connection for someone else. Others connect to spirit through nature. Some religions don’t anthropomorphize God at all, claiming that doing so may limit our ability to experience spirit.

The thing that is really giving me trouble these days is this very idea, that one path to spirituality is “better” than the next. And in this age of diversity and political correctness, it is rare that someone would come out and say that their religion is the only way. But I’ve had some conversations lately where that has been the not so subtle subtext.

So substitute “Chocolate” for your specific religious institution of choice, and the conversation goes something like this:

Me: I’ve discovered ice cream lately. Boy, is it great! I’ve tried several flavors, and I like home made vanilla the best so far.

Them: I was raised with Hershey’s chocolate ice cream, and it makes me really happy. I don’t know that much about your vanilla, but I’m sure it’s fine.

Me: I don’t object to chocolate, there are qualities I enjoy, but vanilla is what really works for me. I’ve also tried coffee and pistachio so far. I’m going to try some other flavors too, and see how I like them.

Them: But Hershy’s chocolate is the original flavor, you can’t really like ice cream unless you like chocolate.

Me: Actually, there were flavors before chocolate that shared similar qualities, and all ice cream is made of the same basic components, they just have different flavors.

Them: Just try some more chocolate. I’m sure you’ll come to love it the way I do, and then you’ll understand. All those other flavors are just poor imitations, you can’t really love ice cream unless you love chocolate ice cream.

Me: Check, please.

After a while, I find myself wondering why the fact that a different flavor of ice cream (spirituality) is most appealing to me (after a lifetime of searching for one I like) should be so difficult for someone else to accept. The conclusion I tend to jump to is that the fact that I believe in something that on the surface seems different (or really just less clearly defined and dogmatic) is unsettling to them and may call into question their own beliefs. Which is weird to me, because I can’t imagine telling someone that their connection to God isn’t as strong, or valid, or advanced as my own. That would just be lame. I’m not questioning the validity of their relationship with God, why should they question mine?

And to get back to the chocolate metaphor, who can say what anything in this world smells, tastes, looks or feels like to another. One of my ex-boyfriends was red-green colorblind. He literally and provably saw the world differently than I did. Does that make what he saw a lie? Of course not. What I respond to and how I experience the world is not exactly the same as anyone else, and is not subject to debate. It just is. Perception by its nature can not be anything but individual and subjective.

So I guess I’m a little sad that I haven’t been able to have a more constructive conversation regarding religion so far with people who are less universalist than I am. But I’m also kind of amused that in some ways, those conversations have born a striking resemblance to the one I had with my friend in the second grade. I’m just glad that her parents’ take on their religion left room for people with different views, so we could still be friends.

Life Lessons

I’ve come down with a crappy cold, it seems like just yesterday I had a similar bug. But so it goes. It’s given me some time to just chill out and stop running around like a crazed weasel. The weasel-go-round has been pretty non-stop since we got back from Hawaii, and I’ve given myself precious little time to just be. Be married. Be peaceful. Be quiet. Already.

So I’ve had time to read a book that one of my friends gave me for my birthday called Eat Pray Love. This is an awesome book. If you’re in any way a spiritual seeker, or if you’re in any way a woman, this is a great book. It’s an autobiography of a year of travel and spiritual seeking, and the author is painfully honest about her own shortcomings, her frustrations and personal pain. It’s also really funny in parts, and very inspiring. So many of her obstacles remind me of my own, and of how much the universe has to teach us if we would just shut up and listen for a minute.

So that’s my New Year’s Resolution for this year. Shut up and listen. This book reminded me that we don’t find meaning or God or connectedness through ruminating about the past or imagining the future. Those activities have their place, but the most powerful and poignant experiences are found right now. So I’m going to listen more. Listen to silence. Listen to those around me. Listen to myself. Listen to my dog.

This does not mean that I plan to cure myself of my endless diarrhea of the mouth (or of the keyboard), or that I will transform from an analytical, inquisitive person into a Zen master. I have no plans to stop being me. I’m just going to listen a little harder to the world around and inside me to determine who me really is, and maybe to help her expand a bit.

I told you there'd be more

One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is a woman in a film that one of my professors showed us. She had advanced leprosy, had lost facial features and limbs, but when someone asked her how her life was, she said she was full of joy because life was beautiful and God was with her. At the time it was incomprehensible to me, I saw it as delusional – a defense mechanism against the harshness of reality.

But now I think something else entirely. Life can be physically and emotionally ecstatic when we’re connected to ourselves and to our source, and I think that we are capable of remaining connected even when we’re in terrible physical, emotional, or mental pain. Even if my foot is aching, the rest of my body can still feel good. Breathing feels good. My aching foot doesn’t nullify that experience. Some pain is probably more insistent, but I think it’s amazing that this woman whose life was unbelievably terrible by most “standards”, had an ecstatic experience of life.

I think that pain is most frightening when we are cut off from our source (which I can only reach from within myself) and feel totally alone. Some people find that suffering strips them of belief – if God loves them, why do the innocent suffer?

Innocent or not, I have experienced emotional and mental pain, all the more because I didn’t believe in anything beyond my awareness. For me the key word is “believe”. I did not reach this different place in my spiritual journey by changing my beliefs. My experience of existence changed. I don’t believe in God, I am experiencing God. For me, experience is not contingent upon a belief or lack of belief. Hopefully this means that as my awareness expands, I don’t have to fight my own self-imposed boundaries. I don’t believe, I experience. That means I also don’t have to argue with anyone else about the validity of my experience, since it’s entirely subjective. If I share my experience, some people will find it interesting, some will label me deluded, and with others it will resonate. This doesn’t change my experience, and it is not meant to change anyone else’s.

All the same, I wonder if belief is easier to maintain during difficult times. I’m finding that when I’m stressed out or depressed, my connection to spirit is tenuous at best. I find myself grasping, trying to re-capture the sense of happiness and peace I’ve experienced lately. It turns out that a shift in my perspective does not obliterate all of my baggage in one fell swoop. Damn.

Instead of grasping, I’m trying to remember a few basic things: I can only find peace within myself, it does not come from externalities. I don’t have to cling to suffering, I can let it go when it’s told me whatever it’s there to convey. I can let go of the illusion that I can control things that I cannot. The ego is a tricky thing — it sneaks back into the equation when you’re not looking, and convinces you that your limited awareness is the sum of reality.

Last week I got into Baylor Law School for the spring. My ego, tricky little bastard that it is, told me that this meant I was destined to go there, and that everything was working out because of my newfound spiritual resonance. Silly rabbit. Then I found out that Baylor was giving me exactly nothing in scholarships, and to pay for it I would have to max out my student loans for thee years and take out additional supplemental loans. The degree would cost me 90k. Suddenly Baylor did not look like my pre-destined path. And my ego decided that it must be because I did something wrong – didn’t study for the LSAT enough, got over-confident. It felt like my fate was rejecting me, and it stung.

But here’s the thing: it’s always a trap when you think good things happen to you because you’re good, and bad things happen to you (or someone else) because you (or they) are bad. If the Universe is guiding us through multiple incarnations to enlightenment, as the Upanishads say, or God has a plan, as many Christians believe, the point is we’re really not going to see the point when we’re up close to it. Our egos like to feel like they understand, that they’re in some kind of control, but they’re not. My ego wanted to believe that Baylor was the plan, because my ego really dislikes the unknown, but the flip side of that over simplification is the emotional smackdown I end up taking when things do not go as I desire them to. I feel that, as the Upanishads say, God or Self is beyond duality, and our egos are all about duality. Something I need to remember the next time I convince myself that suffering=punishment and pleasure=reward.

Pema Chodron says that life is a big, smelly, interesting mess of experiences, and that none of them, whether they are pleasant or painful, are intrinsically bad. They’re just the stuff of life. Literally.

bonus blogging

I’ve been re-watching Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth via Netflix. It’s like church for me. If church was like this, I’d go every week. Campbell’s ability to see the forms that project the shadows on the wall, his talent for finding the same metaphor in every culture and every era is amazing. And what has been interesting about watching this the second time around is how many of his themes and metaphors fit naturally into the issues that concern me the most in organizations and modern corporate life.

This set of interviews was done in the late 80s, and talks a lot about how Campbell was a big influence on George Lucas and the Star Wars (original) trilogy. He discusses how in western culture, dragons are metaphor for intellect without body connection – a state which results in unchecked greed and insatiable hunger. He also thinks that Darth Vader, a man who has almost completely disconnected from his body and the natural world in order to maintain power, is a metaphor for oppressive systems that dehumanize us.

While I think Campbell saw this as metaphor for oppressive governments, I think the corporation has become one such system. Though it’s made up of people who are probably largely ethical and decent, we all get paid to work for the profit of others, and the concerns of those “others” must transcend our own connection to what is natural and right for ourselves and those we love. I’ve struggled a great deal in the past year with the fact that what might be the ethical or loving thing to do in a personal relationship is often considered unprofessional in work relationships. Campbell’s framing of the dragon or system as that which removes us from our bodies, and so removes us from our eros; our vital, living presence in our own existance, seems incredibly apropos of what the corporate system is doing to our humanity as a society. Why else does company after company, even the ones touted as the most ethical, get caught in governance and ethics scandals?

How can an organization that is structured to subjugate the needs and concerns of those who run it be anything other than dehumanizing, if that which makes us human is that which allows us to have compassion for ourselves and others?