In our Trillium Awakening path, we describe one of the early stages of the awakening processes as the rot, coming to the end of fixing strategies that we have followed in the hopes that we would somehow be better than we are.
We tend to dismiss the efficacy of fixing strategies because they distract us from the core wound, our existential, sense, shared by all humans, that there is something missing from or wrong with us. Instead of fixing, we focus on greenlighting, saying yes to all that is within and without, and from there, in the space that is created, we begin to integrate those aspects of ourselves that may feel wrong or bad.
The larger problem with fixing strategies comes from the word’s original and literal meaning: to fasten securely in a particular place or position. So essentially, when you try to fix yourself, you’re just keeping yourself stuck in some place from which you are ultimately trying to escape! What could be more counterproductive?
The more we focus on what we feel is wrong or missing with an aim to changing it, the more difficult we ultimately make it to accept. The more attention we bring to it, the more resistant it becomes to being integrated. Our resistance to acceptance is a kind of calcifying, we shore up the undesirable trait or conditioned response, and it gets stronger and harder to release. Attention to change underscores a deep sense that we are not okay, lovable, complete. When we try to fix ourselves, the very goal we seek gets harder and harder to achieve.
In Greek mythology, the gods are always trying to capture the human experience. Their immortality is a zero sum proposition. Nothing is ever lost, so nothing is ever gained. To be human is to be a constantly evolving mystery. When you deny the perfection of that mystery, you might as well stick your Self onto a pin and put your Self into a box as a perfectly preserved specimen. You kill off what is always emerging. Let go your desire to fix yourself, and fly free into your true and total nature.
Home alone this weekend while my beloved is off at the Evolutionary Collective Retreat we were both meant to attend until our dog, Padme, dislocated her hip on the way to the kennel, I’ve been following a deep imperative toward comfort. At the same time, I’ve been heavy-hearted and grieving—the missed trip, my absent beloved, and the much loved dog, eleven years old and without a serious illness in her life, undergoing her second surgery in a month to correct the effects of what appears to be a congenital defect in her hip sockets.
After I took her to the vet, I did some grocery shopping, and a sort of comfort imperative showed up. I bought a chicken to roast. When Sugandhi is here, we keep to a vegetarian diet, and chicken is not my meat of choice normally. But there they were, locally produced, organic, already dead, and emitting a vibe that said: you need me.
Late this afternoon, after some Googling, I settled on roasting the chicken with the baby potatoes I’d bought the other day, some carrots, garlic, and onion. It came back, cooking like this, even after many years. Rub with salt and refrigerate. Rub with olive oil, more salt and pepper and paprika. Put a lemon in the cavity. Toss the vegetables in oil and scatter them in the pan. Bake for 90 minutes in a hot oven.
Then came collard greens and a pumpkin pudding made from a can of sweetened organic pumpkin bought by mistake. As the scent of the chicken wafted into the house, and warm from the wood stove and the oven, the lights golden, the dog sleeping, I realized that I was making a sort of ersatz Thanksgiving feast for one.
Following that was the realization of how much I have to be thankful for. I have all these resources. Money in the bank, a warm, safe home, love, companionship, health, all undergirded by a sense of well being that allows me to feel everything that arises when and as it does. The dog is aging and our time together is growing short. I’m missing out on the retreat, and the Bay Area, and our beloveds there. It’s cold, and gray, and winter is surely coming bringing snow and ice, and the challenge of “walking” a two legged dog who is used to spending hours outdoors on her own. I’m alive. I’m awake to all that aliveness means. I’m grateful. I’m blessed. I’m here in this moment allowing it all to mingle together like scent and spice into a deep comfort. What more could I want?
Sometimes you come upon a book, an author, by happenstance. My partner saw a book in a giveaway pile at the library, and the title caught her attention: Our Souls at Night,by Kent Haruf. She brought it home with a pile of other books from the library, but the title caught my attention, so I picked it up and looked at it.
It’s a very slender volume and has a pleasant, somewhat benign cover. I started to read. How had I never heard of Kent Haruf before? Where had he been? Where had I? It turns out to be his last book, Ken Haruf, at 71 dying of cancer, writing about two elderly people who find each other in a small town in Colorado and in each other find solace and companionship.
There’s something about aging that tenderizes us, our hearts, and this novel about elderly people coming together in this way moved me deeply. A widowed woman approaches a neighbor, a man also widowed, and asks him if he would like to sleep with her. Just sleep. To lie together in bed at night, side by side, maybe holding hands, and talk until they sleep. It takes him aback, not surprisingly, as it took me aback, but he agrees to give it a try. Slipping secretly through the back alley to her door, he is informed that he should come to the front door. The woman is not afraid of who sees or what they might think. The novel unfolds in ways that are surprising and at the same time, given the characters and their situations, predictable. But not predictable like the outcome of a poorly conceived thriller. Predictable in the way of life’s unfolding.
Discovering Ken Haruf has been a gift of deep proportions. On the basis of Our Souls at Night, I tracked him down online and discovered that he’d written a trilogy of novels all set in the same small, fictional town in Colorado, Holt. The series contains Plainsong, Eventide, and Benediction, three books that follow a cast of characters across time in this small Colorado town. I started at the end, with Benediction, because it’s what the library had available. I will read my way back to the beginning, to Plainsong. It feels right, somehow, to start at the end, at the (impending) death of “Dad” Lewis, the return to town of his grown daughter , Lorraine; the Johnson women, mother and daughter; Bertha May and her orphaned granddaughter Alice. To all the heartache of being human. Of loving and losing and continuing to love. Families, stray children, the night sky, life itself.
I’m only about one third of the way into Benediction, and yet its benediction envelopes me. The plain truth about our human lives, our broken hearts, our mistakes, and our glories. Ken Haruf lived and died in Colorado under its expansive skies and soaring peaks. He wrote about the place he loved and lived. I’m so grateful for the way fate brought him to me at this time in my slowly aging life. I recommend him to you. Let him lead you into the territory of the heart with his golden prayer in your ears.
It’s ironic that the thing most people want more than anything is also the thing they fear more than anything: intimacy. Intimacy requires us to risk opening ourselves to another, saying what we want, what we feel, and what we fear. The more we let fear separate us from our truths, the more power it has to separate us from those we love. We can’t be intimate with secrecy. We can’t be intimate with silence steeped in lies. Every time we refuse to truthfully answer questions about how we feel or what we want, we add another layer of separation between us and our loved ones.
I read somewhere recently that anger is the guardian of fear. I think that fear has a phalanx of guards. Glibness, optimism, transcendence, sarcasm, shyness, stoicism. There seems to be an almost infinite number of disguises for fear. We develop early on an awareness that our tender innocence is vulnerable and easily wounded. We learn to withhold, dissemble, retreat, or even attack when we are hurt. And the catalog of hurts begins early and grows with us. Paradoxically, we feel unsafe as children because we are surrounded by those who also feel unsafe and who deflect our and their own vulnerability with fear’s many disguises.
As adults then it’s no wonder that we have to unlearn the patterns of deflection that shaped us throughout our early lives. When we enter into intimate relationships, those old patterns, slights, and buried fears awaken. Once the glow of first meeting and new love ignite into passion and from passion settles into familiarity, the literally familiar becomes the coals on which we begin to cook. She reminds you of your mother. He channels your father. It’s difficult to see the face of your beloved through the lens of your early wounding. So you strike out, or retreat physically or emotionally, and a small door closes in your heart. Over and over, these small doors close until your heart is a shuttered and impregnable thing.
The only way to be fully intimate with another is to be fully intimate with ourselves. We have to be willing to open the old, stuck doors to our own hearts, release what’s hidden there. Let it flow freely through and from us until it finds its level and becomes us. Door by door.
I’m writing this from my own lived experience, what I have witnessed in myself and others. I learned and lived the lie of a sunny disposition in a childhood where tears and melancholy were not welcome or tolerated. I created a story to accompany the lie. I projected this elaborate falsehood into every relationship of my early adult life. On the surface, it was attractive and accepted, but it was not durable, and it ruptured every time a partner reflected the familiar patterns of my youth. The other problem was that it cast a distorting glare like a fun house mirror. If I was so sunny and easy going, then why did my partners sense turmoil?
The milestones of my journey to embodied consciousness realization were years of short term serial monogamy. Relationship after relationship, I strove to find the fit for the hole in my Being. It was a long, lonely, heartbreaking saga, fumbling in the miasma of mutual isolation.
Okay, yes, there were periods of joy and ease glimmering over the shifting sands of my lack. I had to rot out of this search. I realized when I turned fifty the mistakes I’d made, and I began to search in earnest for the truth of my Self. The details of that journey are recorded elsewhere. It was Love, of course, that tireless and exacting master, that finally led me to the one with whom I could build a space of risk and revelation.
Intimacy is not found. It is built one revelation at a time. When I reunited with the love of my life after eight years and committed relationships with others, we thought that we had matured to the point when we could love each other freely and honestly. We were wrong.
Five years in, she told me one winter morning, “I can’t do this anymore.” The “this” she couldn’t do was not be herself to be with me. It was an excoriating breakup for me. I felt like Gilgamesh at the death of Enkidu and went on a search through the dim, dark places of my heart to find relief. It cauterized my Being. Luckily, I found some heart-centered Buddhist teachers whose retreats gave me a safe haven to drop into the mess of my emotional life. It was not easy. Each retreat gave me another opportunity to be with my Self in an unadulterated way, and the few, brief vocal check-ins with the teachers helped me to see that it was not something that I could fix. I simply had to live it. I became, in a small way, like a monk, living my dharma day by day and waiting to see where it would take me.
Fortunately, enough happened that when, the following fall, we found ourselves at the same events, talking briefly each time, and she could sense the change in me. We decided to just spend time together and not try to be in a relationship. By early the next spring, we found our way to the work that would awaken us fully to our true nature, then Waking Down in Mutuality. And after an event one night, sitting in her car in the cold dark, she said, “if we’re going to be together, we’re going to have to be completely honest.” I felt such a deep relief at those words. Something in me recognized that this was the only way to be intimate with her.
We had both done some work on our patterns, and as we continued to do the Waking Down work, we had ample opportunity to see, feel, and Be our conditioning and by doing so to slowly integrate it. At one point, when we were living on opposite sides of the country, on the telephone one night I told her a secret from my childhood that I had never told another partner, something that felt deeply shameful and that had plagued me for nearly all my adult life. I took that risk because I had enough experience with her, enough trust in the container we had built, that she would not judge me, and her response gave me succor and healing.
So when I tell people that the only way that their relationship is ever going to go someplace, go where they think they want it to go, I am not speaking idly. We all have our wounds, our fears, our feelings of worthlessness. Poets have written this over and over across the eons. We have to open the door, me, then you, then me, then you, over and over and over again until the light of our love illuminates the dark corners, and we know ourselves loved.
This process is never finished as we ourselves are never finished. Conditioning runs deep, and it wants to come up and be seen and allowed to relax its grip on us. Romantic relationship gives us a place to rest at the same time they activate our wounded nature. If we take the risk to love, to reveal ourselves, to build trust, we can know an intimacy with ourselves and another that we can find nowhere else except maybe in God. And how much more lovely to know God this way, in the life shared with one who can hold us and be held by us no matter what. It’s worth the risk.
I’ve been on a two week long journey into embodiment and pain. The source of the pain is unknown. Did I injure a muscle skiing the flat and reasonably unchallenging Nordic trail where I celebrated my first ski of the year? Did a follow up ski a week later reinjure it? Was it activated in some way by a massage I had, or yoga? Am I simply experiencing my body’s slow and inevitable decline, or genetic history of spinal degeneration?
To question is human. We want to know. Why? How? When? As if their answers will give us some purchase on the slippery ground of Being. It’s easy for me to rest in Being. I’m a recovering Transcendent, so the old pattern is there to accept what happens with a sort of fatalism, to try to impose a patience on the effects of life.
In this case, though, the pain got the better of me. I have used the word “excruciating” more times in the last 15 days than in the last 15 months. On a scale of 1 – 10, my pain has at times hung in at around a 12. Finally, I went to the “doctor,” actually a Physician’s Assistant whom I trust and respect. Time for answers. She ordered medication and X-rays, a first step toward finding out the cause of the pain.
The X-rays found no breaks or herniated disks. Somehow, the pain got worse. It was difficult to move, to turn over in bed an impossibility. The toes on my left foot started to tingle and go numb. I woke on a recent morning and felt completely done in. I went back to the doctor to go over the results of the film and let her examine me further. This is a very kind, patient person with a deep source of empathy. I felt so vulnerable in my pain. She prescribed another medication that “50% of people found helped nerve pain,” and upped my allowable level of Ibuprofen. I took a pain pill and headed home.
My days in this limbo of not knowing are punctuated by pill intervals. The medication helps immensely and fortunately does not have a significant negative effect on my thinking or sense of well-being. In fact I have experienced long periods of bliss and ease when the pain is present but like a ghost of itself, a mirage that slowly reasserts its grip on my body.
I find myself ever present. The pain increases, then decreases, then increases. I do laundry, read, drink coffee, work online. I grieve a little each day that finds me indoors instead of out on the beautiful, beloved ski trails of my home. I think of my mother, severely limited by chronic pain for the last twenty-five years of her life. I remember my occasional impatience with her. I wonder if I am slowly moving in her direction. I cry when I think of her and with the frustration of the gnawing pain in my leg that comes back online as the drugs wear off. I rest in that feeling, let it sing its song throughout the finely tuned cathedral that is my body.
For me, on my path of awakening, embodiment has been an edge. I was trained by my father, dead at fifty-seven of lung cancer, who used to say, “It came by itself; it’ll go away by itself.” And by my never-the-less long suffering mother, whose favorite response to pain, sickness or difficulty was to “persevere.” I remember when she sent me an article about meditation and pain management years ago, long before her death. I embraced this idea that we could get out of our suffering, out of our bodies; that this was noble. That equanimity was the ability to transcend our humanity and respond to life with serenity, no matter what.
Ha! That will only get us so far. Life is a beautiful and horrifying venture. We are typically born in blood and pain, and we are likely to die in it as well. Along the way are poignant stops that bring us great blessings and joys and then the unfathomable grief of their loss. We must allow ourselves to live the full spectrum of this truth. Anything else is a lie, and we will leave this body and the life it has either enjoyed or endured without having known our full potential, without having known God, Love, Truth. Whatever we call it, the only way to know it is to let ourselves descend fully into each experience, to make room for it, to live it to the fullest of our ability. This is the path to wisdom; this is the path to living a life in and as consciousness in whole Being realization. This is the path to awakened life.
I continue to follow life’s path of mysteries and mishaps with an open heart and trust in Being. There’s no right or wrong way to Be. We are as we are in the moment, in pain, in bliss, in emptiness, in love, in anger. The fabric of Being is rich and varied. Let it enfold you, and see what I mean.
It’s such a blessing to have a free day, a day in which the movement of Being is unfettered and flowing. Today has been just such a day, off from work, a morning unscheduled. I woke at 7:30 to the bright cold, laid and lit a fire, meditated, ate. I split wood and kindling, ate lunch, brewed and drank coffee. Read.
Recently I read an article in National Geographic about the three happiest places to live. In each, Denmark, Costa Rica, and Singapore, the common denominator was a governing infrastructure that guaranteed physical well-being: work, income, housing, healthcare and access to food. I do not for a moment take for granted their role in personal happiness, my own included, although our government does not guarantee these to us, not in practicality. I have been blessed to work in my field for forty years, to come to a point of financial security and simplicity such that I am now able to support myself working part-time. I have investments that, potentially at least, should guarantee me a fairly secure elder hood. I trust that this will be so.
What I am feeling into today is the way Being shows up when we have the freedom to rest. When our immediate needs are met, and we are able to live in the flow of what arises. Today, it is ease and well-being, physical strength necessary to keep my home comfortable, the food to sustain me, shelter that is able to withstand the weather. I have love, companionship, and a direct line to the Divine Nature that is in everything.
It is not always so, not completely. Some days, I struggle with the demands of earning my living, warming the house, driving the car, being with others. Nevertheless, the direct line to the Divine Nature is always present. Sometimes it shows itself in the natural world; sometimes it is in the kindness of strangers; sometimes it simply arises out of the smoke and ash of my own emotional discomfort. It’s like my heart beat. I’m not always aware of it, but it’s always there, steadily keeping me alive, upright, awake, aware.
There are spiritual teachings that encourage us to subdue difficulty, to repeat the mantra this, too, shall pass. Teachings that encourage us to find our bliss, transcend the body, to treat death as a non-event, in which grief is a weakness, a belief in an illusion. I know that these sorts of teachings have their place; they made up some of the paving blocks on my path. But coming to the place of Sahaj Samadhi, the simultaneous realization that I AM THAT, and that I am also this body, both awareness of consciousness and its lived expression, has changed all that.
I’m discovering a new and deeper understanding of the nature of embodiment. It’s been slowly coming forward in me as I continue to navigate my embodied conscious awakening. My knowing of it is rooting itself deeper and deeper into my very cells, each one an arising of Consciousness. There is no separation between Me and Myself. I know myself in, as, and through, this body. It is a highly sensitive receptor of stimuli. My yoga training gave me the language of the koshas, the sheaths of the body: Pranamaya kosha, energy; Manomaya kosha, mind; Vijnanamaya kosha, wisdom; and Anandamaya kosha, bliss. They are merged into the skin, nerves, muscles, tendons, organs, bones, and blood of me. In any given moment, I am knowing myself as Consciousness through one or more of these sheaths. When I’m relaxing in the morning sun, I may access most of them; when I’m reactive to slights, disappointments, delays, I may access some. But I am always accessing them; they are the network of my aliveness to which I am fully awakened.
The Dharma of Trillium Awakening is, in a way, a Tantric Dharma. It is an outpouring of harmonized masculine and feminine energies. It is not transcendent. It is embodied. To fully know ourselves, our Dharma says, we must come to a place of “radical embrace” of all of our parts. Radical is the right word for it, drawing its meaning from the word radix, or root. We must come to the root of ourselves, and be willing to not just tolerate, or accept, but embrace what we find there.
This can be a slow process. Everyone’s awakening is different. Everyone’s conditioning is different. The shell that separates us from our true nature may be more or less dense depending on a multitude of factors. But once we catalyze the process, we can be sure that it will take us with it to the eventuality of a deep knowing of all that we are.
If you’re reading this, then you may already be in its embrace. Maybe you are one with it, and maybe you are wrestling. But you know its hold, and you can be sure that it is not going to let go. This is a beautiful thing.
With some luck, you have a good roof over your head, food in your belly, meaningful work. You are free to explore the regions of awakening without worrying about your physical well-being. You can rest in Being and let it unfold itself in you like the kaleidoscope it is. You can become its unfolding, multicolored, infinitely changing self and know it as the Self, your true and total nature.
In Vedic astrology, my chart has two exalted planets, Jupiter and Saturn, the Guru, and the master of difficulty, delay, and setbacks. It's a powerful combination as it requires me, or maybe predisposes me to seek the wisdom of what is difficult. Recently when the Cassini space shuttle beamed pictures of Saturn, I was thrilled to have their up close views of that majestic planet. They revealed what is typically unseen.
When he was in Kindergarten, my nephew Stephen, when asked why fell behind in his school work, said, "There's a lotta things out there and they all gotta move." There are a lot of things out there. The universe is teeming with the unseen, both manifest and unmanifest, beings and fields of energy. This is the creation point of the Feminine mystery. It can be very subtle, but it is ever present. When we contemplate, meditate, or pray, it's this mystery that responds. It shows up in intuition, synchronicity, coincidence. The knock on the door, the lump in the throat, the gaze that finds ours across space. When we find ourselves moving in harmony with what is happening, we are in the arms of the Feminine. This is true free will; we follow where we are led.
When we relax into the Feminine, we create a receptacle, a place and a way to hold what arises. We are receptive and vulnerable without being passive. We create the space, set our intentions, and focus our awareness on what is arising. It's a stance of being rather than doing. Yet it can be difficult to differentiate between these, between the healthy Feminine and the healthy Masculine, which are only facets of Being, dancing, interacting forces. For me, the symbol for Ying and Yang is useful here, the way the dark and the light flow against each other. Or the nearly permeable boundaries between colors in a rainbow. Where does one end and the other start?
Holding the Feminine is like that. The healthy Feminine shows discernment when we heed our intuitions, when we lean into the rub between idea and reality, when we allow ourselves to feel what is painful knowing that it will stretch us beyond our comfort zone AND that we have the resources to remain grounded in consciousness even as our hearts are breaking.
There is so much that is unseen, in our own bodies, and lives, and in the world around us. A woman in China holds her new baby. A man in Norway gazes out a hospital window. Your neighbor is answering a phone call that will change her life. You cannot see them, but they are there: love, loss, birth, death, mercy, cruelty, generosity, manifestation of your deepest desires and fears.
When we risk resting in what is, we are rewarded with the experience of life. When we resist, we limit our ability to know deeply the texture of human existence. Resting opens us to pure feeling: joy, love, grief. Resisting hardens us into deflecting shells. We fear that we cannot contain it all. It will overwhelm, even annihilate us. So we turn away, close our eyes, ears, hearts. We harden ourselves with the belief that it makes us safe.
Meanwhile, life continues to unfold, blossom, ripen, fade, and die over and over and over again. You are big enough. You contain multitudes. There is always more room to receive, but only if you allow yourself to relax and expand. To stretch until it hurts and then resting, stretch again. This is the Feminine principle at work, like birthing; once it begins, we cannot choose to stop it. We must open to it to bring it into the light. Once there, it can be seen, known, familiar, more manageable. Breathe into your own dark, tender places. What do you find there? Can you open to it, speak it, know it? Can you relax into the mysterious embrace of the Feminine?