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Founder's Musings

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 rephrase it. So 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 hilltown, 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...


—Jean-Claude van Itallie 

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