News from Nerdville: Or the Process of Absolute Happiness

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It’s a big day here in Twisp.  The couple of miles of Route 20 that comprises “town,” is clogged with foot and vehicular traffic.  The weekly market ran two extra hours from 8 to 1 instead of 9 to 12. The parking lot at Hanks, the local supermarket, is packed, and gas prices seemed to have inched up a bit since mid week. Wonderful. Twisp is an idyllically scenic town that thrives on tourism, and Memorial Day weekend, as in many such places, is the real start of the season.  It’s great to see our local community benefiting from summer tourism.

It’s a big day here, inside me as well.  Yesterday, a long time dream came to fruition with the offer of a job that makes it possible for me to finally join my beloved here on a full time basis and more or less support myself.  I’ve been praying for this daily for the last year: please provide the means.  A number of doors in the maze of job seeking opened and led to dead ends.  Each one was a short lived thrill of expectation and then an equally short lived disappointment. As I wrote in an earlier post “Has God been Co-opted?” patience is trusting in God’s timing, trusting in Being.  Each of those potential positions was showing me something about myself, how far I was willing and able to stretch, to lean out from my safe and reliable perch as a tenured college professor and pick the higher hanging fruit of change.  The job that I’ve been so lucky and happy to get is just such a plum.  I haven’t signed the contract yet, so I’ll keep things a little vague for the moment.  But suffice it to say that it’s a job in private sector elementary education in a school that is well established as a provider of what I’ll call “whole being” education: inter-disciplinary, collaborative and life based with lots of space for exploring the vast and ever changing outdoors in each season.

When I applied for this job, I had a completely incorrect expectation, which I know is a redundancy.  I made the usual projection my own ideas and sentiments into and onto the unknown reality of the job.  I applied for it as one more opportunity to get here permanently, and even though I got a response from the Board a couple of times before I left Pennsylvania, I had no real “expectation” that I would get an interview let alone get the job. And yet, here I am.  It’s as if the job was waiting for me.  The school, the board, the children were waiting for me.  At the first interview with two board members, I fell head over heels in love with the reality of the position, with its numerous challenges and uncertainties and with its radiant possibilities.  Love at first sight even at a little less than half my previous salary.  No problem!

The reason I’m home here today on this spread of land that backs up to countless conservancy acres in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains is that my partner is away in Seattle at a two day retreat with our beloved Guru and teacher Mata Amritanandamayi Devi known as Amma, “the hugging saint.”  Even though Amma’s organization does what it can to keep down the cost of attending the retreat, which is not for profit, it nevertheless still costs money to produce, and it was money that I thought it better not to spend. It’s not that I don’t have the money; I do.  It’s in my savings account biding its time until I need to buy a ticket to fly east in June to see my family and get my car and winter clothes and then drive the 2300 miles back home.  It’s waiting for the final course in my Waking Down mentor/teacher training, Advanced Mutuality Skills in August.  Its waiting for need to arise, which is different from desire.

Daniel Odier says quite a bit about this in his commentary in the Yoga Spandarika.  He says that the Tantric masters asked about the “whole of human passions . . . How to make it so that all is used, nothing is denied, nothing is rejected . . . so that we will not find ourselves one day face to face with our own demons, who always come back in hordes to destroy the quest?”   He says that for the Tantric, there is “no place for sublimation.  There is simply the act of looking deeply at what is there and of allowing whatever has remained buried to come up out of the ground and open like a budding flower.”

So not going to the Amma retreat is not a renunciation and does not feel like a sacrifice.  It’s an opportunity for me to look at an old pattern, one that says, “oh, what the heck!  I’ll just spend the money and go,” and  let it breathe freely and find expression in the comfort of staying home.  He says “One day, confidence begins to bloom, then flowers.  We then lose the idea of separation, and we get a taste of totality, space . . . a process that never stops evolving over the course of a life . . . process that is this absolute happiness.”

This process is deeply alive in me these days.  Today in particular I feel a simultaneity of excited joy, spaciousness and expansiveness. I have no needs.  I hung a closet rod and put my shirts on hangers.  I moved my altar from one side of the room to the other. I made and drank a smoothie.  The birds are singing.  It’s otherwise absolutely quiet, and the hills are at work being hills.  There’s a way in which they anchor me, drop me more deeply into my body.  Slow me down.

One more quote from Odier:  “When we talk about awakening, it is nothing other than . . . to discover , in a more or less permanent manner, [the] comprehensiveness of the universe, which is wholly contained in our consciousness . . . infinite fluctuation . . . never a beginning, nor an end.”  This is the process of absolute happiness. Be still and know that you are God.

 

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Blue Star Bucks

You can tell a lot about a town by its coffee culture. Where I have lived and worked on the east coast, it’s easy to find whatever you like from corporate coffee to privately owned shops with well made, hand crafted drinks. I was partial to Green Bean in Gladwyne where their beans are roasted at the Chestnut Hill coffee roasters. Their coffee has a caramelized flavor and nutty aroma. Of course there’s also a Starbucks pretty much ten minutes drive in any direction, and like many sub/urbanites, I have their app on my phone, and a stop at Starbucks if it was convenient was part of my routine.

But every latte I drank in every coffee shop over the last few years that I’ve been a bi-coastal dweller dividing my time between points east and Twisp Washington has been a search for the kind of perfection pulled and poured into every shot at Blue Star Coffee Roasters.

Blue Star, named for state highway 20 where their local store is located, roasts their own beans on the premises and date stamps each bag. At $3.50 for a large latte–no extra charge for soy milk–it’s not only the “Best espresso in America” according to a 2012 taste off in Seattle; it’s the cheapest hand pulled shot money can buy. Their coffee cards are stored on a Rolodex on the counter and hand stamped by the barista, who also hand picks his or her own wardrobe instead of the uniforms worn by his or her corporate counterpart. Yesterday, I asked if I was able to put money on my card, and the barista rang it on the register and hand wrote the amount on the back. Ironically, the total with a large soy latte and an equally large molasses cookie from the Okanagon Bakery was $25.25.

If you’re as old as me, then you might remember the darkly futuristic ditty by the same name (minus the dollar sign and decimal point) recorded in 1969 by Zager and Evans. It seemed fitting to me as I savored the fruits of Blue Star’s old style, human scale operation.

It’s all well and good to want to make millions of dollars and to create jobs and contribute to the fair trade coffee growers of the world. But world dominion comes at a price. There’s no substitute for the local, human, hand crafted. It is a small world, after all.

Has “God” been Co-opted?

“Patience means trusting God’s timing!”  These words are currently emblazoned on the sign in front of the Calvary Baptist Church in Twisp.  It really struck me today driving past how closely aligned they are to my own tag phrase “Trust in Being.”  In fact, I find myself quite frequently nodding my assent to the signs they have posted there, resonating with their deep truth.

Not surprisingly, there is a vast ideological landscape between me and the Baptists.  Or me and any organized religion.  I’m what retired Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong calls “church alumni.”  And yet, as time goes by and I undergo my own deep internal healing around the nature of the divine, the ideology moves further and further from the map, at the same time closing the driving distances between me and other “believers.”

I grew up in a beautiful Episcopal church in Glassboro New Jersey, St. Thomas’.  The church dates back to the end of the 18th century.  It’s a charming stone building with stained glass windows and old style wooden pews with remnants of graffiti dating to its early days. The church sits in a grove of old growth trees and has a small cemetery, and I can easily conjure up the feeling of the place in each season: midnight mass at Christmas with its candle light and incense, Easter’s altar piled with lilies, its cool interior in summertime and the clusters of fallen leaves in autumn.  A lot of important things happened on my inner journey in that church, things for which I had no language in childhood, nor really any support.

It wasn’t until my awakening that I rediscovered my devotional nature.  At a workshop with Waking Down teacher, Krishna Gauci, after a gazing exercise, I felt a profound and familiar awareness in my chest as if my heart had enlarged and with it the volume of blood it pumped so powerfully; it wracked my chest, and my shirt visibly rose and fell with each beat. It was the same feeling I used to get at communion. Feeling into this, the tears poured forth bringing with them a slew of embodied memories of my childhood devotion. When I was in high school, my family took a vacation to Bavaria where my mother had grown up, and her uncle took us to every church in driving distance.  There, I met many forms of the crucified Christ including one in chains that was said to bleed once a year on a holy day.  I hung postcards of nearly every one in my basement bedroom.  There was an eros to it, a feeling of what I now see as mystical communion, a desire to be one with His suffering.

By the time I graduated high school, church became optional, and my attendance fell away.  As I moved through college and into graduate school, I found myself at odds with the doctrine of organized religion particularly around sexuality, which severed the ties that had been so conscientiously nurtured.  They lacked the depth of feeling and discernment to continue to seek within the bounds of Christianity for succour.  Instead, like many of my generation, my gaze turned to the east, to yoga, and west, to “sex and drugs and rock and roll,” so that by the time I landed in middle age, I was suddenly aware of a spiritual hunger so deep and unexplored that it could no longer be ignored.

In spring, Waking Down founding teacher, Saniel Bonder offered a telecourse called Christing 2.0 that drew heavily from the book The Meaning of Mary Magdalen by Cynthia Bourgeault. And one night’s discussion addressed a variation onthe question I raised in my title: has Christ been co-opted?  Many of us were feeling a renewed ownership of Christ and as a result of Christianity.  It’s given me a new vigor for this old love, a new language and relationship with the Christ as a central figure of western spirituality.

The nature of God is unfathomable.  It doesn’t care what we call it: He, She, It, God, Being, the Absolute.  It contains everything and is contained by everything.  In this moment and these days, I feel a continual deepening of trust in that which is.  Call it God. Call it Being.  But call It.

Controlled Burn

Yesterday, the forest service started a controlled burn somewhere in the Okanogan Forest that surrounds the western end of Twisp River Road where I live.  It was a high moody sky already yesterday afternoon, a little muggy with the smell of rain in the air.  By the time I finished having coffee with a friend at Blue Star, cool winds were tousling the pewter clouds, and the smoke from the burn was a concentration of grays tinged with black up over the hills.  It did rain a little, and the temperatures fell back down into the 50s by night fall. This morning, the air smells like Gouda cheese or a wet camp fire, or a little of both.  It’s not unpleasant, but it’s different from the sweet clear spring fragrance of lilacs and greenery that usually greets me.

Controlled burns are essential to forest management.  They take out what would be fuel once the dryer weather and fire hazards of the summer season start.  This morning, this feels like a good metaphor for spiritual work.  I’ve been reading the Yoga Spandakarika: The Sacred Texts at the Origins of Tantra with commentary by Daniel Odier. The Spandakarika, which translates to “The Song of the Sacred Tremor,” says in verses 4 and 5: “All the relative notions tied to the ego rediscover their peaceful source deeply buried under all the different states.  In the absolute sense, pleasure and suffering, subject and object, are nothing other than the space of profound consciousness.”  

In his commentary, Odier says “For a Tantrika, an emotion–for example, sadness–is a prelude to joy. The idea that the world was created and that one day it will be destroyed is unfathomable because we see the creation/destruction process as a perpetual cycle.”

Over coffee yesterday with my friend, we were talking about relating with difficult people, and she said “it’s all just patterns.”  And my whole Being nodded vigorously with this.  What’s so beautiful about the Spandakarika is its focus on the spherical nature of things, what Odier describes as “the manifestation of any emotion and its withdrawal.” The way the world is always being created and destroyed over and over in the vast imperceptible ages or yugas described in the Vedas.  Or the geological and biological history of the earth.  Or look at the film from the Hubble telescope trained in on a piece of “blank space” the size of a grain of sand.  You’ll see a mind-blowing illustration of “the space of profound consciousness.” Focus your own inner Hubble on the vastness of your consciousness, and see what worlds it contains.

When we commit ourselves to a deep and ongoing investigation of our nature, we’re bound to discover the need for the occasional controlled burn.  The old patterns that are still with us, lurking under the upswept branches of our highest selves, are fuel to both fire change and inflame our emotions.  While we’re still in this relatively moist spring, before the dry heat and volatility of summer, turn the magnifying class of investigation on the twigs of your unresolved issues, and let the burn clear some space for new growth. 

Mundane

Water glitters.

Last night, the full moon
lit the sky like God’s eye.

It’s May, the river
is high and brown
with white caps
where it hits
now buried rocks.

It boils along its S turns
to meet its lover
the Methow
five miles down
where they couple
loudly all day long.

The cottonwoods shine,
wet paint, metallic
thread in the brocade
of pines that jacquard
the hill.  And to the West
the Sawtooths lose a layer
of snow every day.  Cavities
of brown pock the white.

I’m trying to tell you
there’s nothing
to write.

The Mother Experience Project

A story of infertility and in vitro fertilization.  The daughter who died in the womb.  The daughter born six weeks early.  “Trying to keep her safe in a world I couldn’t control.” The mother dying of cancer and blaming her daughter. The dancer, the hooper, the Circle Game.  The mother who lived in a Shanghai paradise and as an illegal immigrant cleaning houses and mucking stalls to raise three daughters.  These are some of the threads that ran through the ninety minute slate of performances, poetry, memoir, music and dance, at the Merc Playhouse in Twisp, Washington tonight to honor mothers and mothering.

The performance organizer, and one of its participants, Rose Weagant, opened the night with an overview of the dominant images of women with which so many of us were raised.  Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella, Belle.  Virginal heroines, orphans of dead mothers, whose stories not only end in but end at marriage. And evil step mothers killed off by their victimized step children “in the name of justice.”

What struck me about the performance was how rare it is to be offered so much authenticity about women’s lives in one sitting.  It was a richly nourishing experience that provided a deep immersion into the meanings of mothering from both sides of the womb.  Each woman’s story, and the two songs offered by the one male performer, presented a different facet of what mothering costs and what it bequeaths.  The challenges, as nearly every piece said, are ultimately gifts.  Over and over, woman after woman, this was a dominant theme.  I’m paraphrasing, but it resonated so deeply with earlier posts here, one speaker said that when we lean into sorrow and difficulty they get easier, not harder.  Under the stories of loss, abuse, misunderstanding, and estrangement was the truth: this has made me who I am.  I’m her mirror image, one said, and a mirror image is its opposite.  So much perspective about perspective.

Mother’s Day started in the US when one woman decided to honor her own mother in 1908.  Over the years, it’s blossomed into many things, a boon for the greeting card industry and florists, a wide array of traditions from fancy brunches to picnics in the woods.  We spent the day gathered with family and younger friends, mothers and fathers and half a dozen children who took a two hour hike in the Cascade mountains above Mazama.  The two grannies opted for a walk along the Lost River and a short, exquisite lie down on a bank of pine needles watching the clouds shift and vaporize and listening to the river’s icy rush.

I called home this morning and spoke to three generations of mothers in my family.  Mine, my sister and my niece expecting her first daughter on her own birthday in August.  She still sounds like a kid to me on the phone even though she’s twenty three.  She’s loving this experience of her pregnancy even though it’s had its own set of challenges.  She described the baby’s movement in her womb “like a wave in my belly.  Like a little animal living inside me.”  I remember when she was born, my niece.  I remember each of their births, my two nephews, their cousins, and the children and grandchildren of many of my friends.

When I was a child, I remember asking my father once why there wasn’t a “children’s day.”  And he said “every day is children’s day.” How right he was. Without mothers, none of us would be here.  Of course, we wouldn’t be here without fathers either, and their day is coming soon.  Father’s day usually falls right around my birthday, so that will be another post a month or so from now.

In the interim, I am honoring all mothers everywhere: the divine feminine force that births all that is.

 

Subhaga and Mother

Mom and me on Easter 2014

 

Mother

You welcomed me into your body
disguised as I was
in the seed of my father’s love.
I must’ve seemed incomplete
as a dream
those nine months,
a comma in the sentence
of your new marriage
a coming.

But I was ongoing;
only waiting
for this precious gift
of your making
to bottle me
like a jinni.

I was already old,
already formed
the way breath
waits in the air,
has been waiting
since it rose from water.
When I left you,
I was your daughter.

 

Yoga and Great Relief

Today was the first day of my new yoga teaching gig at the Studio on Glover Street in the heart of  Downtown Twisp.  I was pretty psyched about it.  Expectant.  I had my people post flyers around town and had announced it on FaceBook.  The Studio added the class to its Web page.  It seemed like everything was in place.

My beautiful Beloved and I arrived at 9:45 so I could set the bhav or attitude for the room.  I had brought a small picture of my guru, Amma, and turned on the yoga playlist on my iPhone.  Then I stood by the door to wait.

it reminded me faintly of the old days when I gave parties, and I would ask some friends to gather a little early to keep me company while I waited to see if anyone was going to come. If the house and food and drink and music would magically transform into the alchemy of “party.”  Which in the complicated mathematics of the self equals “success .”

As I stood by the door this morning gazing through the red sheer curtain that screens the studio from the street, I felt that old worry. And it metabolized as disappointment. The hands on my watch swept slowly and inexorably toward ten o’clock. My Beloved sat meditating on her mat.

I felt a wash of old uncomfortable feelings: disappointment, unworthiness, embarrassment. At the same time, I remembered when I started teaching the yoga class I’ve taught in Philly for seven years. How many Thursday mornings I felt like the old Maytag repairman, waiting for someone to show up and leaving after half a hour when it was clear that no one would. Or one person would come and how long it took me to feel comfortable with that.

Developing a following takes time, especially being the new yogi in town. My Beloved sat serenely waiting for me to start. I sat on my cushion and closed my eyes and said the words I have said nearly every Thursday for the last three years that I’ve been teaching Yoga for Great Relief: we’ll start with a short closed eye meditation followed by gazing and then I’ll make a few comments and open up for sharing.

The meditation did its usual magic bringing me a deep sense of Being, and the gazing brought us into a communion. It drew me into the font of consciousness, the gateless entrance to what is.

When I began to speak, it was of the feelings that were alive in me, the percolating and shifting flow of those old familiar feelings. Speaking transformed them and cast them in the light of Wisdom.

Being human means being hard wired for self-preservation. And yet, this essential system often becomes our default, a pattern in which we keep our selves coiled in contraction as a way to keep safe from what might cause hurt. Being human means constantly surfing the edge between the finite and the infinite. That requires awareness. How does it feel now? Can I be with that? And Hatha yoga gives us a chance to cultivate and deepen that awareness.

And so we began. Breath, movement, effort and relaxation. And by the end, as we sat quietly after chanting to seal in the practice, I was home again in the great relief that this practice offers. Resting in Trust in Being.