A few weeks ago I saw this book on J’s coffee table and asked if I could borrow it. I had no idea what it was about other than lucid dreaming. This book has catapulted me into many new ways of thinking. This is partly because I have been seeking a new way of being. I have been fairly miserable for most of this year, and felt that new ideas, new thoughts and a new version of me was much needed to escape the despair.
The book begins with a introduction to the basic precepts of Tibetan Buddhism. I am not interested in dogma or any religion but was open to seeing what these ideas were. It said that people are caught up in a duality of grasping (desiring things) and aversion (avoiding things). I’m not keen on binary systems but I decided to do an experiment and go through a day observing how often I try to get something I want and how often I avoid things I don’t want.
I discovered something surprising which is that I spend a good deal of my time avoiding things. Even something simple like walking down the street because an exercise of avoidance. The script in my head goes something like, “There’s a person down the street approaching me. Should I look at them? Should I cross the street so I don’t have to deal with them? Should I say hello?” I feel anxious and wish the person wasn’t there. This happens A LOT because there are a lot of people in the populaton-dense Bay Area. I realized I spend SO MUCH ENERGY on this nonsense because I don’t feel safe in the world. Not in the sense that any physical harm will come to me, but in the sense that I distrust people.
This leads to a physical posture of holding my shoulders in, a sort of folding in on myself, that protects nothing but probably became habitual because of my angry mother (or “yelly mommy”). To counter the posture and the feeling of hiding and protecting myself it evokes, I have been trying to feel and openness in the center of my chest. I have a visual image (okay, this will sound corny or hippie) of butterflies and songbirds flying out my chest. I have been working on my posture for decades. The most effective method I have found to date was the Alexander Technique. In the last couple of days, I have found that thinking of openness has improved not only my posture but my ability to be in the world while exerting less energy, which just feels good.
Tibetan Yogas also recommends a method of meditation where you focus on an object. The book recommends the Tibetan letter A but I didn’t have that handy so I thought I’d just look out the window at a tree across the street. I’m a lousy meditator — too fidgety — but this method of visually focusing on something seemed to work very well on my initial tries. I then extended this idea to focus on something when I am walking around, such as a cloud near the horizon or a tree down the street. This focusing on an object had an amazing effect. First of all, it made me realize that most of the time when I am walking around I don’t really see anything. I’m lost in my thoughts and can barely notice the world around me. I have tried to counter this by touching plants along the way but that has only had a minor effect. Somehow focusing on one thing at a time (a time being a few minutes) made me get out of my thoughts and into the world. More importantly, it had this very interesting effect in that, by focusing on one thing somehow I could see everything. All of a sudden my peripheral vision just came alive and I saw things I never saw before even though I have walk these same streets many times. A palm tree here, a blue house there, a view of the hills — these things were always there and I had never noticed them.
As if all this weren’t interesting enough, the books also approaches lucid dreaming in a way completely opposite of the book Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming. In that book, Laberge (the author) recommends questioning yourself throughout the day with the thought, “Am I dreaming?” and then doing the same tests you would do in a dream to see if you are. The point is to prep your mind to be aware if you are dreaming while you are dreaming. Tibetan Yogas, however, instructs the reader to tell oneself that one is dreaming while awake: to tell yourself you a drinking a dream cup of coffee, driving a dream car, etc. The point here is to realize that the world is not real and only a projection of one’s mind.
I agree that the reality of the world can be challenged in many ways, but I suppose I’m not receptive to discounting the exterior world as being completely a projection. I do think realizing that one’s thoughts and feelings about the world are fabricated in one’s own mind, and can be challenged and altered, is an interesting and helpful idea to explore.
To that end, another experiment: I’ve noticed when I’m talking with someone, I will often have emotional reactions to what they are saying, often negative, which I then have to hide. In addition, these reaction cause me to not listen as well as I get caught up in my own thoughts. For the last couple of days, I’ve tried to let go of these reactions. If I feel angry or annoyed or upset by what someone is saying, I don’t ignore those feelings but try to just let them pass through me (for some reason I envision shaking them off the ends of my fingers. I’ve no idea why).
All these experiments are very exciting to me. I’m always trying to improve myself. By “improve” I mean become a kinder, more generous, and more compassionate person. I feel that these experiments of the last several weeks are very helpful in moving in this direction. I don’t know how many of these things will stick with me, it’s just too soon to tell. I do feel that these experiments are helping me to get out of the stuck and somewhat miserable mindset I have been in.
And to think I haven’t even gotten to the lucid dreaming experiments yet!
I’m visiting E in Minnesota. Yesterday we drove an hour and a quarter to a soccer game T was playing in. This game was part of the state finals. T’s team is doing very well and actually has a chance of being state champions.
The drive out through the countryside of Minnesota was such a change to our little peace of paradise in the Bay Area. Mostly flat, it was real Midwest farm country. I saw millions of stalks of corn, field after field after endless field with an occasional farmhouse or agricultural equipment supply company. We went through a small town that had some very wonderful large houses. Why did this town exist, out here amidst these farms? How did the people have enough wealth to built these homes? No one knew.
As you know, I couldn’t give a shit about soccer or any sport but I am interested in watching T and J play. They are both excellent athletes. This particular game, played while the sun slowly, slowly set was quite a spectacular one for T, who is a goalie. The other team had a very good offense and shot many goals. T managed to block almost all of them with a skill that was really stunning. Clearly his team would have lost if he wasn’t their goalie and everyone knew it. At one point he jumped so high I exclaimed, “God DAMN!”
I wonder what is like to be 17 years old and feel like a rockstar? I wonder how they affects your life? I suppose it depends on the successes you experience in the years to come. It must be a particularly glorious feeling though.
Then we drove back as the twilight changed into night. I could no longer see the cornfields but could dimly see the woods and some meadow. Unlike our Northern California landscape that make me feel like lying down on the grass and living there, these scenes did not invoke a desire for the wild in me. They seemed lonely. And somehow I could feel that the ocean was very far away.
E had decided that she is going to play hookey tomorrow so I supposed this week will be a real vacation as there will be minimal productivity. As I lay dozing on the beach yesterday there was part of me that thought about all I could be accomplishing, art-wise, if I had stayed home instead. Then I thought, what the fuck, and we got ice cream cones.
I’ve been noticing for a while that the vast majority of people I know who gravitate towards New Age thinking (also known derisively as “Woo”, “Woo-Woo”, “Crunchy”, “Granola”) in the U.S., besides being mostly white, tend to be women. I hardly ever come across a guy who wants to know my sign, although apparently this was a popular pick-up line several decades ago, as in “Hey baby, what’s your sign?” Many women I know feel that astrology is a legitimate science and it is of great interest to them in quickly understanding the people around them.
There’s this idea that women are more intuitive and touchy-feely then men, and believing in things like astrology, affirmations, visualizations are seen as proof of this idea. Like most ideas about gender, the behavior is an taken as an indicator of what’s innate rather than what is taught or what behaviors develop as an adaptation. Women, who continue to be second-class citizens in our society, need to use more tools than men to navigate a world that seeks to disempower them. Astrology is a tool that women use to decipher potential relationships. Can I date them? Can I be friends with them? Can I work with them? If you don’t have a good natural radar for these things, using a tool like astrology may help a woman feel more confident going forward with potential relationships. In reality astrology may be shoring up any feelings someone is having about a new person, such as “I really like this person, but I’m not sure about them. Maybe their sign will give me more information.”
In my experience, astrology is highly mutable. I have never felt that anything that I have heard or read about me reflected who I was in any way (other than one book a friend insisted on showing me saying that I had a strong affinity for animals). Yet when I tell women this, they say “Oh, that’s because you have to know your rising sign/ moon sign / have your chart done.” And even of those details of my chart have long ago been given to me (I was more open to this when I was in my teens and twenties), and I still say it doesn’t reflect me, I am told that the problem is me, not the “data”.
I no longer get annoyed about this type of thing. Well, not much. I know these women are just trying to survive in a world that limits them. To me it’s not science but pseudo-science; to me, it’s grossly inaccurate. To other people, it makes life comprehensible
I have similar experiences with affirmations/visualizations. The U.S. corporate-focused system is not conducive to any creative people. In my experience (yes, this is all anecdotal) creative men are more likely to throw everything they’ve got into succeeding at their art early on. If they don’t succeed to the point of being able to make a livelihood, they put it aside. There’s more pressure on men to be the breadwinner and make a living, which is tied to their identity as a man. If pursuing their art isn’t going to work financially, they can take solace in their identity as the good provider. In reality, many women are the breadwinner and often the sole provider, but I don’t see them taking this on as an identity of strength as men do.
In my experience, I and women I know tend to pussyfoot around (no pun intended) in a less black & white way, but end up feeling dissatisfied anyway. This is what I’ve done and seen other women do. It’s less likely we will only do our art and risk starvation; it’s just too damn risky as a women to leave ourselves with no income. Yet if we give up our art there isn’t another identity such as breadwinner to encourage us to conform. We waffle around, working part-time, working on our art, never really getting to succeed greatly at either. We end up feeling frustrated. We feel we have a message to convey but no way to convey it.
Affirmations and other types of positive thought exercises are a way for a women to try to feel she has more control over her fate. And they certainly don’t hurt anything, right? Sort of. I’ve seen women go from posting them everywhere (on post-its) to complete nihilism. I think there is a backlash in believing too strongly in false systems or ideas, for when they fail, one can be plunged into despair. This happened to me in my youth, when I went to being a religious fanatic to atheist in short order. That is not such a bad thing, but I did have a spell of terrible depression before I got my footing again.
The Universe & the Goddess
Another aspect of women who subscribe to New Age thinking is that they want to distance themselves from the patriarchy but still have a desire to believe in a supreme being or some sort of consciousness ordering their lives. It’s too difficult and painful to believe that everything is random and chaos, for any of us. Well. Except Carl Sagan, perhaps. However, if you don’t want to believe in God, you can just change the gender and Voila! Now you have a deity who is not part of the patriarchy, the Goddess. We can point to historical and pre-historical goddess religions and symbols that indicate that Goddess beliefs preceded God by eons. But how does that make is more legit? People used to believe that the Sun revolved around Earth too. I’m not trying to oversimplify or ridicule people’s beliefs. I’m trying to say that it is fine to believe in deities in whatever form you wish. It’s when that very deity is held up as The Truth, and “facts” are used to show that it is “true”, that I begin to have a problem.
Life is hard, scary, chaotic, bewildering. I sincerely believe whatever gets you through the life, whatever beliefs or ideas ease the journey, are fine. I also believe in trying to face up to the doubts and fear behind creating these beliefs are very important.
*apologies to Carl Sagan for the title
It’s 2:40am. I’ve been awake for about an hour.
I can see the stars out the window — what a mechaya*. I can’t remember when I last saw the stars in the middle of night. We’ve been inundated with the most relentless spring fog ever for weeks and have had night after night of a gray blanket to look at, close overhead.
To think I’m looking at infinite space instead of 1000 feet up just fucking thrills me.
In addition the mockingbird is singing, which always amuses me. He sings and sings and sings in the darkness. Soon it will be summer instead of spring and the time of birdsong and fields of wildflowers will be over. I’m enjoying this last burst of music as the spring melts into the warmness of summer.
My life is completely unstable and uncomfortable these days (hence the insomnia). It’s nice to have these moments when I can enjoy reality, from one bird’s voice to the vastness of the universe.
*(yiddish for joy, but translates to “to make life”)
The fence gently holds you, separate but not apart. No boots will trample you. No dogs will foul you. Surrounded, you’re free. Your thoughts bloom as wildflowers, insects, kestrels and bluebirds some of which fly away and are forgotten. Calmly, patiently, you rest as you reclaim yourself to your self. I’ve circled you so many times, creating a spiral through time. With each pass you have told me this: although my soul is infested with weeds, I can be restored to my real self. Just as the people tend you, gently, you are tending me. The fence that keeps me from lying in your grass also keeps my dreams, safe.
My life, filled with people I love to spend time with and things I love to do, is very, very busy. My schedule is bursting with things I want to do, so much so that at times I feel anxiety about getting it all done. I have many goals concerning my art, my work, my learning to fly a plane, my band, my speaking French and more. I didn’t realize until today that all these goals are only of interest to me. I know that seems obvious, but there you have it. It somehow never dawned on me that nobody really cares if I achieve any of these things but me.
I spent this last week sick with some undiagnosed incapacitating illness. I had a week that was full of these I “had to” do, and none of it got done. Each day I had to cancel plans, lessons, or meetings hoping that maybe tomorrow would be better. But tomorrow would come, I’d still be terribly sick, and I’d do the whole cancellation round again.
I know that I often think, when returning from vacation, how overbusy my life seems and how I should tone it down. I’m sure I’ve written here about it before. I think this was the first time though, that it really hit me on a gut level: this overbusy shit is bogus.
Maybe all these goals are a bit absurd. What does it matter if I get a gallery show this year, or next year, or the year after that? What does the time really mean in terms of achieving the goal? I keep settings up these deadlines, but they are all artificially contrived. They are all invented by me, and it really doesn’t matter if or when they happen. Having all these deadlines just makes me anxious, plus I’m always evaluating (perhaps judging) my progress, which is another energy drain. Look, things are going to get done or they won’t. As I saw from my week of being sick, nobody cares if my stuff happens or it doesn’t. Nobody. They just care if I’m happy.
Also, maybe I just can’t keep in touch with everyone I want to be in touch with. W. said recently that he was trying to “free himself from friends”, a phrase I could only hear him say. He has a point, though, as absurd as it sounds. Sticking close to the good and important friends and maybe letting some others slip away isn’t the worst idea. In my case, it may be an idea whose time has come.
Here’s my post-illness resolution. No more fake, self-created deadlines. I’m just going to enjoy what I’m doing and try letting some things slip through the cracks, let some things take their course, and others take their time. I bet, just like this last week, it’s not going to matter at all other than I might be a whole helluva lot calmer.
I’m in Québéc for the Winter Carnival. The temperature is hovering around 0 degrees fahrenheit, sometimes a bit above and sometimes a bit below. Everyone knows I hate winter. Mostly everyone knows I refer to snow as “sky vomit”. Just what am I doing here?
I’ve talked about my friend I. before (here and here). Since we first got back in touch five years ago or so she has been bugging me to join her here for a fun-filled trip. I protested, and protested and protested. But I. was so persevering and convincing I finally said, “What the hell? I’ll go.”
I did like the idea of spending a vacation with her, having an adventure with her after all these years. Two friends of her would be joining us, and even that — a vacation with complete strangers — I accepted.
When I told people I knew I was doing this, they were dumbfounded, or confused, or mocking. Some people accepted my premise that I would approach it like an anthropology study.
And now I’m here. I have to tell you, some parts of this is really hellish, and then some parts are great.
The hellish part isn’t actually the frigid cold. It’s that I didn’t realize that when I signed up for this trip, that I was signing up for a tour bus filled with a gaggle of retired people and a relentlessly talking tour leader. On the the eight — count ’em, eight — hours up here, I had to play bingo, watch a movie about Québéc which showed all the things we were about to see in person, watch an incredibly trite Hollywood film, and other delights. Here in Québéc we were shuttled around in a huge herd on this bus, this huge, huge bus and oh! It’s just awful.
Today my pals decided to break off from the herd and that’s when things started to improve… for a bit. It turned out that they wanted to break off to go shopping. LOTS OF SHOPPING. I said, hey, why don’t I just meet up with you ’cause you know what? I HATE SHOPPING. They said okay, let’s meet up in an hour and a half and then we’ll go tubing. I really want to go tubing.
I walked down to the frozen river for a while and thought about my messy life while watching giant chunks of ice flow by. Then I went to an independent bookstore and drooled over the all the books in French. I was so happy to be free! Free! Of the herd and on my own to walk down the slushy sidewalk and get a little lost. It was so great to not no exactly where I was and I briefly fantasized about disappearing forever.
Then I met up with them. You know what? They had decided they didn’t want to go tubing after all because they wanted to do MORE SHOPPING.
I kept standing outside the shops, waiting, waiting, waiting and finally said to I. if you guys want to keep doing this, just tell me and I’ll go meet up with you somewhere else. Somehow this snapped her out of the stupor and she said no, let’s go for a walk instead.
I’m writing this in the hotel which has a little private office for anyone can use. I’m in here all alone. It’s wonderful.
There’s some great irony because currently I live alone and complain a lot about how I don’t like it, how I hate sleeping alone and waking up alone. Yet. Let me say that all this togetherness, especially while doing things I don’t want to do, is far, far worse.
And the good parts? Maple taffy made on snow. My god is that something crazy. Hearing French everywhere. I do have a weakness for that language. Even better is that I get to speak it a little bit. Another fun moment is when I went on the ice slide. Shit was hella fast.
But of course, the best part is being with I. There’s just something about her that makes me smile. I guess it’s the same thing that could make me take this trip, something so unbelievable not me, and still have some good laughs. There’s something about my friends, each one, that always seems extraordinary to me. I. is no exception.
I remember thinking as I sat in the bathtub a couple nights ago of when I used to sit in the bathtub in a tiny, dark apartment I had in North Beach just before I moved to the Filbert Steps. I only lived there for six months but it seems that a lot happened there. I remember my life was kind of messy and unformed at that time. I had just moved back from my sentence in Minnesota, was reconnecting with friends, and having weird sexual liaisons. Although I thought I was being kind of stupid about some things, and even reckless, I didn’t judge myself the way I am judging myself now.
I saw myself as evolving, and that was a key difference. I seem to have an expectation that because of my age, I should have certain aspects of my emotional and psychological life solidified. This concept persists even though I still allow myself to be a beginner at many things, almost incessantly, almost pathologically. It’s an interesting dichotomy that I allow myself so much leeway in learning new skills in the external world, but not in learning new skills in my internal world.
I guess that’s partly due to this current change being so painful, and somehow painful changes devolve into self-blame and criticism.
Clearly the part of me that loves exploring the world, learning new things and seeing life as an adventure is the same part that takes emotional risks. It’s just that emotional risks can have a bigger fallout and that can lead to self-recrimination.
It doesn’t have to. I’m trying to see this as an evolution or at least a metamorphosis. It might not feel so great when a caterpillar becomes chrysalis soup. There may a be a fragment of thought of “Oh great, what the hell was a thinking. Now I’m a goddamn liquid.”
Yep, now I’m a goddamn liquid.