One of the things that attracts me most to the teachings Chogyam Trungpa is his insistence all life is sacred. In this view, whatever we are doing - cooking, cleaning, shopping, lovemaking, fighting, gardening, working, playing - whatever we are doing holds the power of wakefulness. When fully embraced, all our lives contain within them the appropriate and necessary opportunities we need to open, learn, and live.
I find this compelling. That entertaining a house guest might be an instant of holiness, might offer the “appropriate and necessary” next step in my journey? Well, a more vibrant connection with this understanding is something I long for. I want to know in my bones that this life and this moment presents exactly what I need to become whole. I want to know and embody this. I want to trust and live this.
Much to my surprise, this blog seems to be offering such an opportunity. Whether I am listening to the Beach Boys or reading The Meadow, reflecting upon the Occupy movement or considering a recent lapse in meditation practice, blogging here gives me a chance to engage and share what is happening in my life. As I do this, something very interesting occurs. I feel myself opening a little, welcoming parts of my being that have long been ignored, neglected, and outright denied.
There is transformation in this process. I feel altered, which should not be too much of a surprise. The act of speaking and being heard - or, in this instance, writing and being read - has long been known to possess this sort of power. Consider, for instance, the following:
Here in Canada there is an entity known as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). For over 100 years, from 1870 to the 1990s, roughly 150,000 First Nations people in this country were separated from their families and cultures in order to be ‘educated’ in centralized residential schools. For many this experience was harrowing. Beyond enforced isolation, many indigenous children endured horrific abuse at these institutions.
The effect of these schools has been long-standing and pervasive. In the words of one survivor, “We carried this with us all our lives. We drank hard, fought hard and many of us had a death wish.” In an effort to facilitate the mending of such wounds, the TRC has been holding hearings from coast to coast. At these, the still living students of residential schools are given a chance to speak publicly of what happened to them.
The assumptions driving this process are clear. The collective silence that has surrounded residential schools in this country maintains - and perhaps even worsens - the wounding of survivors. In contrast, the opportunity for these individuals to honestly offer personal experience and have this openly received by others is potentially restorative. In breaking silence and sharing one’s truth lay the possibility of healing.
While reluctant to liken what is offered in this blog with what so many First Nations children endured, there is some ground for comparison. Following the admonition that arose less than twelve months ago - “Start a blog” - I have found a means of sharing a wide range of life experiences. While some of these have been deeply troubling, others have been of a very different character. What all share, however, is a proclivity to be held in silence. A silence that, for me anyway, seems especially evident in ‘meditative’ contexts.
An unfinished blog post sits on my desktop. Entitled ‘Dropping Storyline’, this wonders if the popular meditation instruction to ‘Drop the storyline’ - let go of any narrative we hold about our lives - possesses a little-discussed shadow side. Certainly the admonition loosens our grip on the tales we constantly tell ourselves and this is helpful. At the same time, however, ‘Dropping’ asks if this also encourages a dangerous tendency among meditators.
Rather than raising life experiences such as childhood trauma at one extreme, enthusiasm for Bruce Springsteen at another, under the influence of ‘drop the storyline’, we might push these parts of ourselves aside and remain silent. Judging these inappropriate in our lives as meditators - just more discursive storytelling - we (pretend to) ‘drop’ them. In so doing, we unwittingly kneecap our journey. We rob ourselves of an opportunity to discover first-hand the power of experience directly engaged and openly shared. We undermine life’s inherent movement toward healing and wholeness and health.
‘Storyline’ was, I thought, pretty good. While writing, however, I became uneasy. It was as if Chogyam Trungpa had appeared over one shoulder, shaking his head. “Something’s fishy,” he insisted.
And something was fishy. I wasn’t writing about what was really happening anymore. While the subject matter did relate to personal experience, the questions and insights raised were extrapolated from this. The writing stood at least one step removed from the immediacy of my life and, as a result, offered more ideas than experience. It was smart, it was perceptive - but it didn’t really connect with the stuff of right now.
What is the stuff of right now? What’s going on for me? What is waiting to be embraced and, through this, offer its transformative potential?
I feel like hell and I don’t want to write about this anymore. I have shared my struggles several times in recent posts and, while this has been amazing practice, I am fighting to believe “several times” is enough. I don’t want to admit napping instead of meditating when I didn’t slept the night before. I don’t want to acknowledge tossing three bags of compost into the garbage because I was too depressed to give a damn. I don’t want an awful lot, it seems.
A memory arose during practice today. One of my schoolyard tormentors came up from behind and began twisting the hood of my jacket. Not knowing what else to do, I tried to laugh his assault off. This was a classic ‘possum’ move - maybe if he thinks I don’t mind, he’ll stop and leave me alone. It didn’t work; the coat tightened about my neck. I remember the fringes of my vision darkening. Then my head got light. Next thing I know, a couple friends are standing over me. The bully is nowhere in sight.
I don’t want you knowing this. This feeling arises not out of any sense of personal discretion but, instead, from an impression I simply shouldn’t share in this way. Maybe that instruction - ‘Drop the storyline’ - contributes to this; it does strike me suspicious how rarely personal wounding and/or passion is openly acknowledged in the world of meditation. I do not, however, think it is the central force at work here.
Simply put, I feel there is something wrong with these experiences. I feel there is something wrong with me for having them. These beliefs do not stop with what I have described above. I feel there is also something wrong, for instance, with my passion for Julia Roberts in the movie Notting Hill and Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap, the early music of R.E.M. and the very best of Glee. In all of this there is a sense of flaw or fault that aches like a wound, something I cover over and protect with a generalized silence.
As mentioned, this pattern is especially notable in ‘meditative’ contexts. Here I seem to have concluded such matters are not the proper stuff of ‘spiritual’ people like myself. Consequently, when in the shrine room I remain largely mum regarding these aspects of my life. Sure I’ll talk about stability and insight, but the sadness that winds through many of my days or my enthusiasm for the Gilmore Girls? I don’t think so.
At the same time, though, I keep thinking about the message of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings: there is healing in speaking and being heard. And I keep thinking about Chogyam Trungpa’s insistence all experience is sacred.
As I do this, I realize my continuing reluctance to share myself beyond the bounds of a very limited sense of appropriateness keeps me fractured and compartmentalized. More, I realize I am using my ongoing involvement with meditation and my status as a ‘meditator’ as a means of maintaining - and perhaps worsening - this condition. Rather than bringing me closer to the confident wholeness Chogyam Trungpa seems to enjoy and the healing release Canada's residential school survivors are finding, ‘holy silence’ holds me at an increasingly painful distance.
I want to know whether sacredness can really be extended to everything. Is the Starbucks I am sitting in sacred? Does the paranoia I was gripped with this morning have the power to transform? Can the same be said of all those other things I keep at arms’ length, banish from the shrine room - from singing ‘River Deep-Mountain High’ with my daughter to wanting to kill those inhabitants of my past who have done me harm?
For such answers to emerge, meditation no longer seems enough. Though the practice remains central in my life, I feel a need for something else, something not quite - well, not quite so damn silent. Echoing the insight of the TRC - and yearning to feel the power of its truth and reconciliation process in my own being - I need a forum that allows me to learn how to speak and be heard. Something that dissolves the distance I feel, and encourages me to inhabit and express from the everyday heart of my life.
In this light, maybe that almost a year ago voice is an early reply to the questions I feel so strongly called to explore. “Start a blog,” I was told. This has not been an easy task. I have felt at times foolish, arrogant, embarrassed, afraid. But in these three words there has been a great deal of wisdom and power and compassion. Have I found healing within them? Yes. Have I found sacredness? There is a sense of Rinpoche smiling as I consider this possibility. A hint, I suspect, of the answer.
There is a coda here. Though I have had in the back of my mind a sense that the inspiration unfolded above is not solely about me, that it also reflects a yearning for others to become more open and at ease with the fullness of their lives, this is not explicitly stated anywhere. Interesting then, that the following arose fully formed a few minutes ago:
Sometimes shrine rooms are places of profound silence and this is good. On other occasions, however, this same silence serves to perpetuate long-standing patterns of fracturing that ultimately undermine our basic aim: to become whole. My hope is we can find ways to offer both in spiritual communities: a deep silence that allows us to plumb the depths of our fundamental nature, and an open forum for speaking and hearing that lets us realize in a direct and personal way that all experience - every nook and cranny of our lives - is holy.
NEIL MCKINLAY - MEDITATION | COACHING | INTUITION - WWW.NEILMCKINLAY.COM