Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Starting A Blog

‘Stupid.’ That’s what I thought. As in, ‘That is a stupid idea.’

Let me offer some context. Work has not been going well. Having weathered the economic storms of 2009, then watched business blossom in all three service areas - meditation, coaching, and intuitive guidance - through 2010, I thought I was in the clear. But this year has been cloudier than expected. In fact, it has been downright stormy: classes cancelled, venues closed, clients slowed to a trickle. These last four months income has not met expenses. It doesn’t take a genius to figure where this is heading.

Clearly I need a livelier livelihood. But I am not at all certain how to do this. Do I look for new ways to grow what I already do? Do I add something to the existing mix? Find a wholly new line of work? Maybe I should just wait out the current lull, hope livelier times lay somewhere up ahead? I don’t know. And in not knowing I feel stalled. Like an old jeep bogged down in knee-high mud I find myself stuck in place, spinning my wheels. I feel I have done all the thinking I can do on this subject - though such a fact does not stop me from doing more - and need to try something different. So I have been praying.

Every night and most mornings, I have been calling out. “Please,” I repeat again and again. “Please.” I am not certain who or what the object of these cries is. In a way, such details are unimportant. I am appealing beyond this ‘I’ - beyond this limited sense of me-ness - that feels so stuck. I am asking for help. Call the recipient of these pleas God or Spirit, the universe, the lineage, at some level it all seems the same. I have been knocking on the door of mystery and waiting because I don’t know what else to do.

Sometimes I lay in bed listening. Wind rustles through leaves. Raindrops splatter loud on dry earth. The occasional car hurries by. I wonder what any of these might be saying. Are they my answer? Is this how it comes, coded in the everyday? In need of some sort of special understanding? Then, one night, a voiceless voice offers wordless words: “Start a blog.”

It is a bit of a shock realizing how much agenda I have laced into my appeals. Though I didn’t know it at the time, it seems my prayers have been offered with a fair measure of expectation weaved through their words. “Please,” I pleaded. Translation? ‘Give my life purpose.’ ‘Open new doors.‘ ‘Bring some insight.’ I see this sort of thing all the time when teaching meditation. “What did you expect?” I will ask when a student expresses surprise. “Expect? I didn’t expect anything,” they reply. “I just didn’t think that would happen...” Now too, apparently, with me. What I had not expected is precisely what arrived: “Start a blog.”

I dismissed the message.

This is a game I suspect many of us play quite frequently with friends and family. “What do you think?” we ask showing off a new shirt or hairstyle. “It’s okay,” the other shrugs. Then we stand there, frozen for a moment, looking at them before emphasizing, “No. What do you think?” The other in this exchange, if they have been at all successfully socialized, slowly nods with understanding. “Oh. I love it!”

So I dismissed the message and proceeded to wait for something more to my liking. But more likable never arrived. Those three words kept sounding in its place: “Start a blog.” Undeterred, I went right on pushing back - resisting, denying, ignoring to the very best of my ability. The effort required by this manifested throughout my body. I became increasingly tense, anxious as the battle continued.

I was not sleeping well through this and one night I ended up in our living room window. Perched on a wooden chest, my back against a wall, arms about my knees I gazed out at the world beyond that glass for hours. I like the view from there: low hills rolling in the distance while, in the foreground, a high cross rises up before our neighborhood church. I watched this cross vanish into summer darkness through the night. Then, much later, saw it slowly emerge as the first hints of day began to illuminate its contours.

Throughout this passage, I thought a great deal about the answer I had received. To be more precise, I thought a lot about how stupid the reply was. As in, ‘That is a stupid idea.’ This is a familiar monologue. It is not unusual for inspiration to arise in my life, only to be quickly shot down by something like this. Repeat such a phrase enough and said inspiration will surely be wounded, which is probably the point. ‘That is so stupid. That is so stupid. That is so stupid.’ Eventually, even the voice of the gods fall silent.

Understandably, this dynamic did not bring any new clarity to the question of work. In fact, by the time dawn was near ready to tease our cross into resolve, I felt more lost than ever. Yet this, curiously enough, was precisely when I noticed something. It is a phenomenon I have observed many times before. I remember seeing it driving to early morning swim practice over the years. With the city asleep around me, eyes still sticky with slumber, I noticed again and again that the quality of night’s darkness shifts just before the sun appears. The world remains shrouded for the most part, but a backdrop of barely there light begins to percolate through the situation, hinting at the day, the world about to be revealed.

As I said, I have noticed this before. What was different this time, however, was the realization I could look into this transitional moment between night and day, dark and light. I could look into this moment and see. John Cowan has written, “in many cultures magic occurs ‘betwixt and between’ and under conditions that are ‘neither this nor that.’ Magic,” he tells us, “is transformation, change, and alteration in the predictable flow of life.” He goes on to affirm that we can place our awareness in these transitional spaces and directly experience their transformative - their magical - power.

Sitting in our window near dawn, I felt drawn into the neither this nor that moment around me. As its transitional character began to open, both time and space altered. Suddenly, it is October 1987. Bob Dylan stands onstage in Locarno, Switzerland. His career, by this time, is a mere flicker of its former glory. New albums are immediately dismissed. By his own admission, old songs - those incomparable songs - allude him. One can see this in concert: He often stands squinting beyond the mike as if trying to find a thread that’s been lost.

On this autumn night the air is chill with moisture. I can feel its cool against my skin. A thin shirt sticks to my chest. Tangles of hair press against my face, plastered by steaming sweat. Trees stand shadowy on the other side of the audience. They seem to be watching from their distance. Watching. Waiting. Wanting. Grey mist creeps forward from their darkness and gradually obscures the crowd, the faces.

In Dylan’s own words: “It’s almost like I heard a voice. It was like it wasn’t even me thinking it. ‘I’m determined to stand, whether God will deliver me or not.’ And all of a sudden, everything just exploded. It exploded every which way...After that is when I sort of knew I’ve got to go out and play these songs. That’s just what I must do.”

Years ago, my teacher Reggie Ray, offered a summary of Chogyam Trungpa’s teachings. Trungpa Rinpoche is considered an important player in the transmission of Tibetan Buddhism to the western world. Wikipedia describes him as a “major figure” in this process. In a North American teaching career lasting seventeen years, he gave thousands of talks across a impressively broad range of subject matter. Reggie, himself one of Rinpoche’s most devoted students, summed up these teachings as follows: “Trust your experience.” That’s what he said. “Trust your experience.” Seventeen years’ instruction drawn from one of the world’s most significant wells of spiritual knowing boils down to three words: Trust. Your. Experience.

This is what Bob Dylan seems to have done after hearing that voice. Following that show in Switzerland, he recommitted to performing and rededicated himself to those songs. He did this because something other than himself - other than the limited creature known as ‘Bob Dylan’ - told him it was what he needed to do. “That’s just what I must do,” he said. In spite of the fact that, on one level, it might have been way easier to walk away. “Pack it in,” as he says he was considering.

So I have started a blog. From one perspective, this is all it is: a blog. One of what must be thousands of such entities, perhaps millions, floating about the internet.

From another perspective, however, this is much more than a blog. It is an act of trust in experience. It is a leap of faith demanded by a strange string of words that arose in a most insistent manner as I prayed for guidance and direction. I can’t make any claim toward understanding what these words mean but then, as with the matter of who or what I have been praying to, I’m not at all sure this is important. Craig Smith, another of Chogyam Trungpa’s students, speaks of the gesture inherent in each moment of our lives. This gesture is the act, the step, the risk each instant asks of us, calls us toward. This blog, then, is also this: a gesture.

And it is a question. Perhaps, more accurately, it is a series of questions. How does a person who routinely dismisses the whispering voices he hears, come to trust such experience? How do I come to trust the guidance of rustling leaves and splattering rain? Or the understanding expressed in a tensing body? Put another way, how can I receive the wisdom around me, whatever shape it may take? And how does my engagement with certain areas knowing available in this time - my training with Reggie, of course, but also psychology, mythology, indigenous spirituality and others - both help and hinder this process?

Maybe in a different time and place such answers would be ready for me, waiting within a cultural matrix whose primary purpose is to support the realization of human fullness. Maybe. But, for better or worse, I do not find myself in such a context. Instead I find myself lead to a place where I ask these questions. Teetering on that brink, who knows what might show itself in coming weeks and months? Perhaps what I must do lay waiting only for me to air these questions, to start this blog.

And so, I begin...


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