Bob Wants Two Presidents
March 9, 2021
Bob, a hard-working kindly neighbor, stops his pick-up on the snowy rural dirt road where I am walking.
"Hi Bob,” I hail him. “I hear you voted for the trumpet in 2016. What do you think of him now?"
Bob hesitates, finally allows, “I’m disappointed.”
I smile, “Relieved to hear you say it.”
Bob, pensive, strokes his neatly trimmed white stubble. “Gotta say, though, we should have two presidents, one for business and one for everything else.”
That says a lot about Bob. He’s a good guy, spiritual. He went around the world one year with his new young wife, Eileen. He brought me back a lucky object from India. But Bob is also a business man with a heavy investment in machines, and he wants his.
In a world where we’ve lost contact with the spiritual dimension, the Watery Serpent, as Continuum Movement’s Emilie Conrad put it, the waves and undulations of our etheric bodies, in a world where, as Nietzche put it, “God is dead,“ in a world where we no longer silently sense the living Goddess in our belly -- what’s left?
“I want mine,” is left. Survival of the fittest on a planet overpopulated with humans is left. “What keeps a man alive? He lives on others … he eats them raw if he can…” Mack the Knife belts out in Brecht-Weill’s Three Penny Opera.
There are 5 billion more humans inhaling the planet’s oxygen than when I was born. Commercial exploitations of Mother Earth become her deep festering wounds.
Far easier for a government-industrial-social media complex to fool and confuse 7 billion people than to fool and confuse 7 million. Governance of huge populations is necessarily an abstract, business, distant, lending itself to chronic corruption.
We’ve likely ended what seemed like an endless era of Earth’s comfortable habitability for humans. Earth felt like our natural home -- till now.
On this planet hurtling through the empyrean, time/space has taken on different qualities – bleaker, colder, slower, vaster. Plague reigns. We are each more isolated.
As ancient glaciers melt in Tibet, unprecedented snow storms strangle Texas, enriching unbridled utility companies. Here in early March in the Western Massachusetts hills, old snow piles high over everything. Mid-morning, it’s zero degrees F and the front path is icy, the snow-laden hemlock branches preternaturally still. No wind. Last night at 4:00 iA.M. I woke to the sound of gales howling and shrieking like hungry hyenas.
In 1940 at the age of 4, i was a Belgian refugee with my family fleeing Europe. I feel nothing in my lifetime has occurred of the traumatic magnitude of World War II -- till now. This plague isolates us. It has killed half a million so far, more the poor and minorities.
What is the connection between what we want and value -- and the plague?
No, Bob, we don’t need two presidents. One decent leader with feelings will do. No need to conquer and control with one hand, while giving to charity with the other. Let’s share. Lets be frugal together with the planet’s resources. Let’s sense from a deep place within ourselves, and love each other. Especially, let’s love our children -- all children -- unconditionally. That alone can change everything.
Yin and Yang
March 21, 2021
Here's what Alice said in Wonderland, “I give myself some very good advice but I very seldom follow it...” Or, in my own case, I give myself contradictory advice which leaves me impaled on the horns of intellectual dilemma...To do this, or to do that...To have this for lunch, or that – Do I need to exercise a lot today, lift weights – or is that too yang? If I don’t exercise enough, though, I won’t be able to sleep. I torture myself with all these thoughts – trying to balance between yin and yang, in terms of food, or in terms of exercise or..or...or...
All my life I have tried to solve things, to defend myself from attack, with my intellect – set up a good regime, then follow it.
I discovered three weeks after my mother died, that I had the discipline to stop smoking. “You were perfect when you came out of me, “ my mother had remarked watching me smoke a cigarette near her hospital bed. So I stopped – three weeks after she died in May, 1963.
I discovered that once I decided what was good for me, I had the discipline to execute the action required – to stop smoking, to eat this particular diet, or that one, to live where there is clean air, go to bed early etc etc That worked for most of my life. I had discipline over body and mind for half a century – psychoanalysis twice, once involving dreams, devotion to an enlightened master, a playful one who lived in my house for a year, joyfully dancing with Sufis for hours on end—
This karma caught up with me. I was grounded, operated upon, irradiated, took toxic Western drugs, was tortured week after week by medical ignorance.
So I can’t get away with just having discipline anymore – with just doing the right thing for myself and for the world, with discipline. Now it’s not clear of a day if I should lift weights today, rest today, if I'm affected so strongly by the cold or am merely thirsty. Do I take melatonin tonight again? Or is it melatonin making me feel eerily cottony all over? Shall I eat more starch to put on weight? eat more protein and raw fat to build muscle, eat raw, eat cooked today? or both? Do I ask others to help me decide? If so, which others? Who?
Now it’s a day to day affair -- balance and imbalance, a lot of self-forgiveness, and tolerance of a shifting chimeric endangered world.
I know that just being rational won’t get me through. We have to make friends with our unconscious, examine it again and again, come to trust it eventually, to trust physical sensations coming from a deep place in the body – not merely trust good ideas.
Ideas detached from our own sensations and love of life have gotten us to where we are – emplagued.
So slow down, listen, breathe in more deeply, breathe out more fully, know that what you know, you know now in this moment, breathing in, breathing out...
Beauty and Balance
March 31, 2021
Each piece of art I live with, the objects, make a hole in my universe of obsessive thought. It is not escapism to tend the flowers in my greenhouse – to grow a flower in a pot, to cut red geraniums from my greenhouse to put in vases which I keep in the same spots around the house. Red geraniums – significantly for me, like the ones my mother had growing in pots outside her bedroom on the tar paper terrace over the sun porch. She could lie on a chaise there, read and not be disturbed. Red flowers vivify a wintry landscape of the mind – they keep me going. Sometimes hours go by while I clean something, or rearrange things, or polish a piece of prose that probably doesn’t matter.
Is that good or bad?
I try to achieve a balance between this and that, yin and yang, without too much judgement if possible. I make optimistic affirmations – expecting the best. "Hail to the jewel on the lotus of the heart; om mani padme hum. I am safe, I am protected. The universe will provide all I need.”
Are there hard and fast rule to follow always? Not really. Would that there were.
You are courageous, by the way, to meditate. You are bucking our fast wordy society, daring to abide in a quiet place of less or no judgement, even for a few minutes. Congratulations. Now go further. Meditate physically, with your moving body, aware of your breathing. Fearlessly, or even with a little anxiety, allow your center of awareness to drop down to a level below, to the next safety net.
It’s useful to think of your energy as flowing horizontally like a constantly weaving unwinding ribbon – even a beautiful one -- or you can allow your energy to drop down vertically into a deeper place in your body.
Be aware how shallow breathing can unconsciously maintain you on a conventional horizontal. It takes conscious effort to stop talking, say, even if you haven’t formed a perfect thought or statement and you want to, um, rephrase it. So um, listen to the occasional sounds you make to keep everything under your control – and, I mean, um, and, you know… and even habitually moving at the same pace – even dancer-like moving – can keep you in control of the floor, so to speak, in control of your listeners. Unconsciously you maintain a ribbon-like constant horizontal of breath, tone, sounds and words emanating from shallow breathing and from a chronic body tension which is the opposite of spontaneous play.
You keep yourself going on the habitual horizontal because it’s scary to jump down a rabbit hole – notice the direction – down. We usually think of spiritual as “up,” but in this context Its “down” -- into the body, allowing yourself to come from a lower chakra.
In the ancient Mysteries, you had to go down, descend, however fearfully, in order to grow spiritually. “He descended unto hell, and the third day he rose again from the dead.“ We dare to drop down into deep uncharted waters, to be moved by those waters, allowing its eddies and waves to transport our body into new perceptions, new explorations of reality. That can only happen by abandoning how we usually control our world – by pausing the constantly flowing ribbon of how we unconsciously present ourselves -- except maybe while dreaming, drumming and in other bardos.
During slow spontaneous moving, as in Continuum Movement in Santa Monica with Emilie Conrad, or joyfully belly dancing for hours at Sufi Camp in New Mexico with Adnan Sarhan -- my presentational mind finally took a breather. Ooof! What a relief!
Of course you have to trust that you’ll be safe, buoyed by something when you drop down into the rabbit hole, trust that the universe will provide a safety net when you lose some of the tension in your body, when you stop trying to control everything even unconsciously in a habit of anxiety on a horizontal ribbon -- but rather allow your body and breathing to respond, maybe even pleasurably, to surprise, not deciding ahead of time what is an appropriate tone – making sounds, maybe in voices you never knew you had or dared to use because when you were a child no-one praised you for those crazy sounds you’d make, or allowed you the freedom to play in those voices.
I listened to a recording I spoke a couple of weeks ago, vocally riding the waves of what came up in my mind. I was amazed to hear in my recorded voice similar intonations to those I often heard in recordings of Joe Chaikin on stage. Joe, whom I loved, was a remarkable actor – confident and clear. Samuel Beckett enjoyed Joe’s acting of Beckett’s characters Joe let himself channel. The authority in his voice – the clarity, the dramatic deliberateness, the surprising originality – came as a result of allowing himself to “channel." Joe intoned Beckett’s characters' words as a result of feeling their feelings.
How do spiritual teachers know what they know, and how do they know when and to whom to say what they know? My teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, enlightened master – where did his confidence come from? How did he know just what I needed to learn from him in any given moment we were together? I wondered that one evening while Trungpa was living for a year in my farmhouse here at Shantigar. I was barreling down the stairs to meet with him. How come I’m so open to listen to him, to accept whatever he offers, I wondered. He was sitting in the armchair behind the coffee table in the living room. I bowed my head. He smiled at me, asked casually, “How come I always feel so spacious when I’m with you?” What? Had he read my mind? Was he teasing me? Or is that truly what he was feeling? Doubtless all were true.
Dr. Phuntsog, great lady, the Tibetan Buddhist doctor who lives and teaches in Conway, a nearby hill town, obviously trusts herself to be in balance, no matter what, even in plague time. She has skillful means to express love and apply her medical knowledge appropriately with each patient -- in a barley soup she cooked and brought over to share, in her soothing hot oil massage. She is not afraid to be personal, or to drive up a muddy to a remote farmhouse to practice Tibetan medicine. This is the other side of the world from where Dr. Phunstog was born in Tibet. She drove here in frosty winter forty minutes from Conway to help me, to skillfully give her loving attention. She touched me, literally. I cried. Family had finally come.
There are no permanent answers, no rule book reliable in every situation. Instead, by not trying too hard but practicing in the moment -- there can be an awkward balance between yin and yang, between sacrificing and being of service while maintaining dignity -- sun energy and moon energy both, breathing in, breathing out