This Past Week: Quickening comes in threes

ONE
This past Tuesday Oct 10, while at work, we were told at the end of our daily meeting, that two of our supervisors had resigned, effective in two weeks. I was hired into this job I love doing, into the world of interpreting and translating in a hospital, by one of them.  I had not met the second supervisor until earlier this year, but she is also a sweet soul. I wondered if this the was equivalent somehow to two quickenings in terms of this piece.
.
Fast forward. As they were telling us at the meeting that they would both be leaving a wave of numbness rushed to protect me from feeling pain or anything else, and to hold me propped up as if from within. At first, for some seconds I thought that only one person would be  leaving. But, the heart that had been momentarily wrapped in the numbness, knew better. I stayed there watching the racing thoughts go through me like needles burning their way out… watching as small tears wanted to pour, and the pressure settled on my throat and upper chest. I stayed with it… I told my supervisor that I didn’t have to like the fact that she was leaving. She asked me if I could at least accept it. And that was easy to answer. It was a simple yes, simply because I want her to be happy, whole, with a sense of moving forward. I just sense that for her, staying is not the option that would allow her to be satisfied. The week kept moving…
TWO
On Thursday Oct 12, my paycheck for two weeks came for around 700 low-dollars, and one of my childhood friends called me to tell me that she is really ill. On that phone call, she also thanked me for the long friendship we’ve shared. In essence, she said goodbye to me.
.
I am not sure why, but my friends call shifted something in me. It was a knife parting, cutting through, a veil. I wanted to be near my friend but I could not. We live in different countries, and I could not afford the trip. In the midst of the sadness and fears I was experiencing, I understood, with the clarity of freshwater that lets you see deep within a lake or pond, that I want and need to be able to at least care for myself, undergo surgery, or treatments, or make a trip if it were needed to be by a friend’s side.
.
So, I decided to grow up: I would/will go back into teaching if necessary so that I can have a steady check and be covered by insurance, regardless of the fact that I would still much rather stay working as an interpreter/translator. I also decided to grow up and speak truth, be genuine with the director of my department. I would let her know directly that I wanted to help her rebuild, create something new, and I would tell her about what I bring to the table (without tooting my own horn, just my truth). And then, I would ask her if I should wait or if I should shift gears completely in order to teach again. I am happy to say that this conversation took place.
THREE
As a Dominican I grew up believing that hard things seem to always come in threes. So as soon as my phone conversation with my friend ended on Thursday, I wondered what the third thing would be in this triad. And for a while I thought it would have to be the low paycheck I received and the discomfort of being again in that place where money is an issue. But either I was wrong, or there are two triads going on for me at this moment. The latter does not seem likely, though it is not impossible either. The triads are usually signaled by 3 events or experiences that shatter parts of ego-monkey-brain, break my heart or do both.
.
BOTH. On Friday 13th another friend had invited me to a talk, and I decided to go. The friend that invited me was there, and I am thankful because it makes it easier for me to have the anchor of someone known. Childish. And yes, judgmental  but that is Monkey-Brain raising its head. I am shy and awkward in social and/or new situations.
.
In the midst of the awkwardness I was feeling, my eyes caught something that again called forth the protective wave of numb. And, I remember how I started telling myself in that instant that I had not seen anything, that I was inventing things. However, I also willed myself to look over and over again, in order to see. I was not prepared for what I saw. And I was thankful for being able to access the wave of numbness that allowed me to momentarily remain in place. In dissociating myself from pain, at least a part of me can remain and do what I need or want to do, and even enjoy it.
.
The space where the talk took place had a simple huge decorative cage, very similar to the huge cages (almost floor to ceiling) one of my friends has for the 15 to 20 odd birds she keeps indoors, inside the house. I remember staring at the structure when the first presenter began to talk, and wondering what it was. But since I could not conceive of a bird cage in that space, it did not register as such.  I could not see it, very much like the natives in the Americas could not see the conquerors’ ships in the horizon for they had no conceptual formation, no words in which to wrap said ships. I kept listening to the speaker, and letting my eyes move between her face, the flowers, the lights in the room, and the people in the room. And then her part of the presentation ended and we moved to another area where the next speaker had set her space.
.
I had a chance to sit close to my friend aware of the wave or wrap of numbness that still enveloped me. The wave describes what it feels like to be in the active process of becoming numb. The wrap describes what it is like to be aware of what’s going on around me and within me. It allows me to think what is numb and not feel it. It is as if the thoughts and my interacting with what is around me cover the pain/fear/sadness/joy, or whatever I could be feeling full force. And then, I saw it! I actually looked at the cage and recognized it for what it was. I saw it and for an instant I was mystified by my previous inability to see it from the other side.
.
As I felt bombarded from without by repetitions of what had originally disturbed me, and from within by the thoughts that poorly masked my feelings, I was at least able to stay with the parts of me that remained present and aware. What I had seen was simply tenderness. That’s all. It was a tenderness that I perhaps wanted for myself but seeing it, admitting that I wanted it, and feeling envy was too much to grok. So I stepped out mentally. Well, a part of me stepped out.
.
I am aware that I called forth the wave that became the wrap that allowed me to step out. I am grateful for that ability. And I am sad. I am sad not because of what I saw, since I also remember the sense of feeling joy that someone could feel that tenderness, and that it was reciprocated. I am sad, not because I faced the death of seeing the tenderness as “not for me”, “not mine”; nor because I saw envy rearing its ugly head again in my life. After all, envy is just klesha, and it’ll go back to where it originated.
.
These were small hues of the larger sense of sadness I felt/feel and the anger aimed at myself for knowing that for years I have carried and held myself captive in a personal cage of sorts. I sustained the cage(s) in which I have hidden most of my life. The sadness and the anger is due to understanding that from within my cage I forbade myself 1) to feel, 2) to show what I was truly or completely feeling to anybody, and 3) from trying to share feelings, or felt-thoughts verbally except with very few people. The sadness is that I never allowed for depth to truly touch me.
.
Looking Within. Since I became a Buddhist, dismantling what keeps me from truly loving and/or accepting myself and any-and-all others on my path has been my guide, and my path itself. I believe it is necessary to look at my cocoon, where I close up or call forth the wave/wrap of numbness and in so doing move towards expressing my true-feeling heart.
.
I am content in the knowledge that I see a difference in me since I started on this path. That I see growth, regardless of how small that growth feels or is. My karma and kleshas burn when I look into their seeming darkness. And because of this, I may choose to not be near the tenderness that so hurt me recently because I am not part of it, or because I cannot give it. And I may also choose to be gentle enough to not completely isolate from others or wall myself off, and to at least speak-write about my path instead of simply continue to feed a cocoon that would separate me from being present to my life.
.
Growth and Karma: In writing I can allow myself to feel the yucks of envy, sadness and anger, and thus the wrap that numbs is not as tight, and I can process parts of this week quite soon after the triggering events. However, I am not blind. This tendency to wall myself off, and to ward off touch from people I love is ancient. In my family of origin, in this lifespan, two messages were clearly seared between my ears: The first one was, I am hurting him/you for your own good, because I love you. And the second one was, you should not open your heart, nor love your friends or others outside of the family so easily, because they will hurt you. I honestly do not know how to not buy into these false messages because their roots run deep, and I am susceptible and easily caught in their web. So I lay down my shield, my walls, again and again, little by little. And I pray that I can learn to feel tenderness without fear and anger, and that I can learn to bestow it and accept it without recoiling.
.
With this piece I have briefly opened the eyes of my heart and its wings. And while I truly do not know where this will take me, I know that I am grateful for the teaching(s) that allow me to see the gem within my heart, and to those that teach me, though I don’t always like the lessons as I am learning them.  Burning heart. Sad heart. Common denominator: Heart.  May this writing be of benefit to others on their paths.
Advertisements

The edge: looking at some of the _isms that inform the creation of ‘me’…

The ground for writing this entry, is the soft-inquisitive and tender heart that yearns for understanding. But there is an edge brought by the tenderness and the discomfort I feel/felt. I believe there is potential for growth and finding lightness and joy in exploring this edge. I pray for clarity and courage. The beginning of the path, is simply to write the piece and to be with it, with the understanding that this piece began to write itself through me when I decided to go to my center this past Sunday. The path is to feel the tender heart and to see where it leads in its search for a life guided by compassion.
.
I was both positively touched and also somewhat bothered by the talk/meeting I attended. The topic was Difficult Conversations, and it is part of the move to bring in and work with social injustices, and issues pertaining the inclusion and exclusion of people we consider “the other” as we set out to manifest Enlightened Society. Enlightened society is, or rather happens, first and foremost as an encounter between two people, in dialogue, and in the felt presence that occurs in the space-between. This entry is indirectly a result of my own personal search and the sense that something deep within snapped some months ago, allowing certain voices that I thought were long silenced to the surface of my mind-heart, and asking to be heard/seen primarily by myself. So, not everything is completely articulated, since I suspect there are things that may not have surfaced. And I apologize for that.
.
Breathe. I also feel the need to add the following note to perhaps better situate this entry. I left Academia, before entering the last stages of my doctorate in education. In my last year of graduate school, right at that moment when I was  thinking about my dissertation and and who I would want in my committee, and while straddling between two departments (Education and Anthropology), the grant that funded the education degree in which I was involved, was cut. I would have needed to pay the rest from my own pocket. So, at that time, I tried to figure out ways for me to complete my degree. And in the time period of searching for ways to do this, two events or stories/narratives informed and helped galvanize my decision to leave the program, at least for the time being. (I witnessed a friend’s dissertation defense which was very disheartening and I also witnessed the faculty egging us, the students to “grill” a prospective professor while presenting a lecture, which was part of her interview process). I searched for a job, found one, and for years, I had put aside the kinds of academic oriented literature that would speak about heart, solidarity, equality, teacher identity, teacher-student relationships, institutional powers, color and race in the school system, consent, age and aging, gender, sexualities, rights within education, feminism, voice and voicelessness, liberation theology, to name a few, because I felt that the American academic world I had witnessed served mostly to strip this literature of its power to 1. guide decisions to be made from the heart, and to 2. inform our decisions of how to be in order to better explore our humanity, and what it means to be human beings in the context of education, and the world at large.
.
Fast forward. Around perhaps two years ago, perhaps more, a group was created in our Shambhala center to explore issues of diversity, inequality, identities, and other issues around which we tend to segregate/isolate/exclude other humans, and/or ourselves at times inadvertently.  I participated in the meetings, because I was, and I still am, interested in the dialogue (Paulo Freire’s notion) that can foster deep understanding, and the depth that can stop me/us in our tracks toward further cocooning and aggression. But I remember only  one particular phone conversation as having the potential for that depth to arise. This is to say that most of the meetings left me feeling deflated, sad. And for what it’s worth, I am grateful for that one phone conversation. Time passed. 
.
Fast forward again. Last Sunday. Another iteration of the diversity group held a meeting, at what seems an auspicious time: the current American presidency scares me; I feel a palpable threat of nuclear war (North Korea); there have been multiple natural disasters; and, the lids that had been imposed by means of conceptual political-correctness are now falling or breaking allowing fears and resentments previously hidden in the hearts of people of the worlds in which I/we live to surface. So, I went to the meeting. I believe that the work of the group at my center as well as the Sakyong’s initiative to do this work throughout Shambhala is necessary. So it is in light of this, that I wonder why I left that space on Sunday with a feeling of same-ol’. Why did it feel like a repeat of previous meetings? Am I that self-obsessed and cynical? Is my heart so closed that if it’s not my way I will not play? At least I have heart enough to wonder. Keep going.
.
Sanity. The very small part of me that understands about the Basic Goodness of myself and others, says: “No. Your heart is not that closed. Just the fact that you are willing to “look” is an indication that it is not.” If I listen to this, I can then take my edge, my discomfort as an invitation to explore (albeit shaking with fear of what I might encounter) the depths of my feelings in writing, without the safety net of another human being within an encounter, or dialogue. Breathe. I don’t want to offend my friends / my teachers, especially those who are brave beyond measure and have begun their own search and put the diversity group together. With that pre-apology I will attempt to further articulate what bothered me, in the hopes that I can contribute something of value, or at the very least, clarity. Breathe.
.
Today. I surprised myself by going online this morning and spontaneously searching for “bell hooks and whiteness”.  I surprised myself even further by reading a full article on a website:
http://thefactsofwhiteness.org/whiteness/   It’s been years since I had willingly and spontaneously delved into reading critical thinking and theory. It felt good.
I confess that I was saddened by the contents of the article; I was moved; I was interested; it lent me space and clarity. Within it, I found two embedded quotes that just grabbed me directly, one from author bell hooks, and the other by Foucault. These quotes, wrapped within the thoughts of the writer/creator of the website lent further clarity and fire to my own thought process and feelings regarding our meeting. Here are the quotes as they were embedded in the article on the mentioned website:
.
          ...”next to testing rituals, next to the testimony of witnesses, and the learned methods of observation and demonstration, the confession became on of the West’s most highly valued techniques for producing truth. We have since become a singularly confessing society. The confession has spread its effects far and wide. It plays a part in justice, medicine, education, family relationships, and love relations, in the most ordinary affairs of everyday life, and in the most solemn rites: one confesses one’s crimes, one’s sins, one’s thoughts and desires, one’s illnesses and troubles; one goes about telling, with the greatest precision, what is most difficult to tell.” (Foucault: 1990, p.59)
.
and
          ‘As I write, I try to remember when the word racism ceased to be the term which best expressed for me exploitation of black people and other people of color in this society and when I began to understand that the most useful term was white supremacy’. (hooks, 1989, p.112)
.
I was struck by the notion of confession in Foucault’s quote and how it applies to our groups’ meeting. I was struck because, I have frequently felt that the power of confession is constantly abused in the west, having become almost a part of speech. Confession of wrong-doings and/or restatements regarding systemic privileges when devoid of 1. regret/remorse, 2. vulnerability, 3. the vow to not repeat the aggression/transgression being confessed or, 4. the time-space in which to feel the heart from where the confession arose, has the potential to become yet another cover/lid/bandaid. In confessing, we  have somehow gotten used to uttering words decrying our privileges or our mistakes in a voice that mostly reflects discursive thought, i.e. sheer surface mental energy. And I fear this. And on the other side of confession, the listener too often jumps to put the speaker or person confessing in the Shambhala cradle of loving-kindness too soon, before s/he has had the time to feel and share the heart behind her/his words and in so doing, perhaps reach the space where resolve can come forth.  I can only guess at the reasons why we do this as listeners in the context of racial/ethnic/sexual-gender related conversations. I can only guess at the reasons why we feel we have to cradle the person confessing before s/he “has reached heart”. And my guess is that we do this in part because we are afraid of our own discomfort, and because perhaps we might habitually fear retaliation, especially if the speaker represents the most empowered group.
.
With bell hooks’ quote, I had what I can only describe as a gestalt-moment. In that moment her quote was rendered as follows in my mind-heart:
.
I try to remember when any or most _ism(s) ceased to be the term which best expressed for me exploitation of  __people in __society and when I began to understand that the most useful term was unquestioned supremacy’.
.
Breathe. I was and am grateful for this brief and relative easy access to clarity. This time I did not have to struggle for years to find out what bothered me and touched me. Instead, this tiny bit of clarity arose, albeit tainted by the fear of worrying about whether or not I might hurt or offend people dear to me. But there is greater good, I think, in just saying this and then letting it be.
.
Fears. I fear the degree to which there seems to be an unquestioned supremacy, a lack of willingness to even begin to contemplate that we all embody parts of this supremacy (Paulo Freire’s Oppressor and Oppressed), and that we all speak within the framework of an unquestioned discourse of supremacy. I fear the degree to which said discourse has the power to deafen and blind us to the reality of exploitation and oppression of people within our schools and many other institutions that we hold dear. I fear looking at what the term exploitation means to me, because most of the people I know (myself included) have remained within said institutions and watched our hearts wither as we participate in the silence that harms. I fear the darkness I feel in my throat as I write these words, and I fear that I will lose the lightness or felt sense of basic goodness which guided to start this piece in the first place.
.
I fear that as a group we might not be able to reach depth. I fear that the needs of our moderators to keep the group contained within the framework of oneness, sameness, or equalities while exploring the ignorance of our long held and unquestioned assumptions, will preclude the possibility of reaching depth; that we will end perpetuating, by our not exploring, further __isms as we reify them, or as they become taken and reified by individuals or smaller groups as attempt to reclaim their sanity and identities.
.
Fearlessness. I believe that as Buddhists I/we need to engage in the exploration of our human tendency to seek comfort by solidifying or reifying identity related concepts. It seems to me, that any reification, any concept reified in the name of name of reclaiming our sanity, any solidified perpetuation of a habit will amount to nothing more than that, i.e. another temporary reification that will necessarily create the exclusion of others, which to me is the same as creating “the other“.
.
The fruition of this piece is hopefully clarity, understanding and reflection that bridges the gap between the edge of my discomfort and the possibility of remaining present to further these very much needed conversations. I am not advocating further silence, or stopping this exploration. What I would like to experience in the context of meetings such as this, is a sense of deepening (emphasis on the _ing active, progressive, developmental, ongoing quality of the word). It seems to me that true inclusiveness can only happen in the willing heart, in the heartfelt moments cushioned between the space that exists within polarized tensions or expressions of tensions, and within time suspended, the fourth moment, the now. The teachings ask us to look at anything and everything that happens in life, so that we learn to open our hearts over and over. The teachings asks us to look deeply. Always. But depth is relative to each heart. I hope I have not offended anybody.
.
May this entry contribute to clarity. May it be of benefit. May I be pulled by the proverbial pony-tail into learning and opening my own heart.

Letting Myself In: Writing

I had not published anything to my blog in 2015 and right at this moment, I feel that I want to add some of the unpublished writings, and perhaps some images from this year, before it ends. Overall, it’s been a hard year, not bad, just powerful and intense. Perhaps this is why I could not make myself do one more thing. Perhaps it was fear, laziness. Maybe even a combination of all these… I am not really sure. But this has been the year of voluntarily putting myself on the spot in many ways, as if to say: Wake up!! The world needs you to be awake…!! And there were also many things that simply came my way, like most things in life, as if for me to learn to stay as grounded as possible with anything and everything. Perfect training ground life is!!! (A Yoda moment.)

Here are some of my year’s highlights: This is my second year as a teacher in a different school district; I declared bankruptcy in the first quarter of the year; I moved to a new apartment a week or so before the end of last school year (May 2015); I started working out in June; went to Maine and Canada; I became a Vajrayana student on my path; I have continued editing as a freelancer; I started playing the guitar and getting my voice more or less ready to sing again; I have made new friends and reconnected with old ones…

I guess 2015 has been the year where in many ways I’ve begun opening my heart again. The thing is, that once one of my heart’s doors open, other doors open as well…feelings arise, and my path becomes clear: the task is to remain as soft and as open as possible, while participating fully in my world(s) at the same time. And to my amazement, somehow more seems to fit in this heart-mind of mine than I ever thought possible: love, falling in love, tiredness, creativity. And I am grateful.

I am grateful to my Guru-teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche; to all my teachers, whether obviously Buddhist or not; to the teachings…

So I’ll start uploading to my blog sites some of the pieces, notes, poems, photos I have from this year.

Evernote helps you remember everything and get organized effortlessly. Download Evernote.

Wassail 2012

     So today, Sunday December 16th, is the 2012 Wassail celebration. We sing, we dance, we read poetry, we reflect. For many years I have contributed a song or two. The money the event makes goes to children in Africa. People’s of different cultures, faiths and levels of faith come together to celebrate. And in the light of the killings last Friday, and of Perceiving Ordinary Magic, the book written by Jeremy Hayward that I am currently reading, I wonder: what is it that we celebrate exactly? Perhaps it is  the notion that we can choose to weave a story of humor, warmth, kindness, cooperation, and lightness to guide our actions for one night. Or it could also be the notion that to actually perform tonight we need to let that humor, warmth, kindness, cooperation, and lightness guide us through many nights, months of rehearsals. Or perhaps it is the inquiry, the ongoing question of, how can I be in the world around me so that others can see the beauty of this humor, warmth, kindness, cooperation, and lightness, and the power it bestows to the heart that in doing so, has no choice but to open?

     In my reading of Jeremy Hayward’s book I find myself stomped, frozen. My monkey-brain thinking-mind is slowly relaxing to the idea, that as humans I/we fight when we believe we are cornered, that our survival is somehow at stake; but I/we do not really know what is the I/we that survives (or not); and what life –when defined as more than just a struggle–is. I am beginning to relax with this idea, but it still brings me the sadness of believing that as humans we frequently choose to believe that we are being cornered and/or under threat, even when we are not.
      I find this time of the year, December to be specific, to be a time for looking and feeling deeply. This has always been so, for me. I think that having been brought up in with the Catholic traditions as understood in the Dominican Republic, having been born in NYC in December, and always having had what I call a Sci-Fi philosophical bent contribute to my always questioning myself and the validity of imposing what I believe on others. And I am not just talking about the particular labels of my/our faith, but about all the beliefs I / we carry without being aware that we do.
     I guess that while while I have always had the tendency to “look” within myself, deeply, I am now also being asked or guided by the magic of my teacher(s), not just to keep on looking and experiencing my world(s) as it/they seem(s) to be when seen through my beliefs; but I am also somehow being asked to “hold” those beliefs as nothing but colored lenses that while allowing me to see through, may or may not affect my interpretations. I can summarize what have been the extremes of my own particular interpretive bents, i.e. the way I (have) interpret(ed) events, theories and everything in my very narrow field of awareness as follows. One one extreme, there is an anger-laden sadness. On the other, anger-burning bubbly joy. And while preferring the world interpreted through the bubbly joy, I am also conscious, that for me, both of these extremes are, at their fullest, aggressive.
     
     Gratitude. I am thankful to all the teachers that I have had, and the ones yet to come, for through their help I have begun to be aware of what lies between my extremes.  This gratitude brings a more workable and less aggressive sense of space to my life. I am grateful to all the coincidences and efforts needed to bring about events such as the Wassail, as an example that we can indeed choose to not live our lives from the narrow and constricting point of view of life as a threat, competition or rat race.
     Prayer. I pray that other humans arrive soon at their own workable and less aggressive sense of space in their lives, because perhaps from this larger-shared sense of space together we might be able to bring about more of the humor, warmth, kindness, cooperation, and lightness needed to touch and open the heart.
     Aspiration. And finally, I allow the child and the adult within to aspire or dream, that I and any other human can ease or relieve the pain in at least another being’s life, so that we inch ever closer to the possibility of living from a place in the mind-heart where the principles of true harmony and discipline guide us in how we rule our world.
      This is perhaps not a very coherent piece of writing. It is however, what it is: writing from my heart-mind, whispers from the child within. Wassail!

A poem: Súplica

Many years without truly sharing my poetry with anybody, due to fears…the poetry writing muscles have become rusty at best. Poems used to be almost a way of speaking between me and many of my friends, and I consider myself lucky to have had friends for whom this was also true. I started writing in the D.R. around the time when I was 13. I slowly stopped after my return to the US, after completing Peace Corps service. The voice died.

I didn’t want to speak/write anymore and hear myself mostly bitter, angry…I didn’t want my feelings/thoughts to be corrected because I wrote with an accent. But I guess, more than anything, I didn’t want to experience the cold silence of someone reading the words that had come from my heart, and having nothing to say to me, or worse, nothing to share. It felt very lonely…I had seemingly landed in an environment (academia) within a culture where words related to feelings were considered sappy, mushy, non-accurate, weak

However, my own silence is apparently meant to be broken, or at least be punctured by whispers from this heart perhaps poorly carried by these words.

[Written during the Harvest of Peace celebration…a rusty effort perhaps, but a sincere feeling…I guess, this speaks to a kind of yearning…I was afraid of sharing this poem…therefore, here it is.]

Súplica

O Teacher come and let me know that it is your voice that I hear.

Teach me to listen to all of life as carrying the whisper of the Teachings,

the comfort to all my tears.

O Teacher come…I am foolish and I am blind.

With this human, frail and mortal body possessed just by human sight

I can’t always tell the difference between the shadows and the Light.

O Teacher come…

Let me feel the smell of fire and water, wind and sand…

Let me sense your presence in decay, rocks, wood and rust…

Help me know that with these scents, your sweet perfume is close behind…

O Teacher come as lover, teacher, healer, food and wine.

Let me taste your lips, kiss your feet,

embrace the body though which the Dharma courses,

the Mirror through which all perceptions change

And without worldly efforts, become Divine.

 Rita