A lovely, hacky, critical look at the Burning Man “celebration.”
Whole evenings turn into tiny moments,
that is adulthood.
Whole books turn into one sentence,
that is wisdom.
If there be righteousness in the heart,
there will be beauty in the character.
If there be beauty in the character,
there will be harmony in the home.
If there be harmony in the home,
there will be order in the nation.
If there be order in the nation,
there will be peace in the world.
~Confucius, “The Great Learning”
I recently discovered mold in my apartment. I suppose that’s where this all began—my hunt to deep clean, organize all that which has laid stagnant in my apartment for who knows how long. Too long.
Sifting through old graduate work, I found a letter written by a colleague in response to a presentation I gave on dualisms and the split between humans and nature, connecting it to my own personal story.
He wrote (sometimes in broken English as he is a native Asian):
“I really really appreciate all the trouble you’ve gone to, to tell the truth, your presentation sounds like a ‘tricky.’ You have experienced a lot of things. You have interested in many cultures. As you said, Eastern culture including Buddhism. You told us about farming. You touched a lot of materials. That’s you.
Of course you’re young. You can make mistakes. And you can confuse between comfortable science and inconvenient sacrifice. I can feel that by seeing you. You can do everything. You have a innumerous possibility. So I hope you keep your purity even though you will experience a lot of frustration, failure.
Brian [our professor] said, ‘We can make mistakes. That will give us a future.’”
I imagine my 28 year-old self standing up there, stumbling upon the correct words, confused about myself, my path, and hurting from all of the mistakes I’ve made. I’m sure I was up there blaming the split between humans and nature while underneath it all I was actually causing unnecessary suffering unbeknownst to myself.
I feel humbled and comforted to have friends walking beside me.
My colleague ended with:
“I believe in you. Someday you will be a good leader in this society. I’ll pray for you.”
I’m reminded of Matthew 5:19-20—
Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of Heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of Heaven.
I pray that our mistakes become our greatest allies. Or maybe I should rephrase that. I pray that my mistakes become my greatest allies.
Well, I’ve officially discovered hell.
Trapped in my own home, city, body, mind, old habits, ways of being. Trapped in a holding pattern. Trapped in it, alive, in the world, in the now.
Well, the good news, I don’t have that to fear after death. That’s not necessarily true, but what is true is I see clearly with my own eyes how we Christians have misunderstood death, misinterpreted hell.
The sounds, the pounds, in my head and all around.
Welcome new world. Welcome.
“Though I’ve never been through hell like that
I’ve closed enough windows to know
You can never look back.
We are who we are
On our darkest day
When we’re miles away
Sun will come
We will find our way home.”
~ Fun, Carry On
In “How to Live a Life of Peace,” Sakyong Miphan Rinpoche writes:
“The world is becoming ever more crowded, speedy, anxious, and intense. Under such conditions, our tendency is to become less compassionate, more aggressive, and more prideful. I feel that cultivating peace is the only way that the human race is going to survive.”
“How do we live a life of peace? By first discovering our peaceful nature. In ‘peacefully abiding,’ or shamatha meditation, we train in continually bringing our focus back to an object such as the breath…
Peaceful abiding meditation is not escapism; it is realism. Only the foolish think that they can find salvation outside themselves. When beings don’t trust their own nature, they become agitated. That turns into blaming others, which becomes vengeance and destruction. Even if we destroy something, in the end we are just left with our own mind. The path of peace is one of exertion and diligence in working with the mind.”
In the past I was a nomad. I was young, unsupported, and immature on the spiritual path–I had not yet gained the tools to face and work with my own mind. Yet I was sensitive. I’ve always been sensitive and attuned to my own rich inner life and its connection with the outer world. In my nomadic life, I lived alone and traveled from city to city, moving when my outer life became too challenging. My inner life projected outwards, manifesting thoughts and creating my reality as, “I don’t like these people. This city is too crowded. This city doesn’t have enough trees. This city has too many trees. That person looked at me funny. I think that person wants to hurt me,” coming full circle to, “I don’t like these people.” Where I then moved.
Some of those thoughts might be true, some of them not.
In his book, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, shaman-in-training (if I can boldly say) Carlos Castaneda describes the first lesson from his teacher, don juan. It was a simple lesson–that Castaneda discover his seat on the floor. There was only one spot that was unique, one where he could be at his very best and it was his task to ‘feel’ his way to the right one. Castaneda spent an entire evening of trial and error until he finally exhausted himself to sleep.
When he awoke, don juan congratulated him–
“[O]nly a fool could fail to see the difference.”
The connecting point between Sakyong Rinpoche, myself, and Castenada lies in the shared word, “fool.” As I mature, develop my practice, and discipline my mind, I realize the subtleties and complexities of the modern, individualist mind. As an American who grew up hearing, deeply believing, and eventually living by the clichéd phrases, “follow your dreams,” and “you can do anything you set your mind to,” I understand the importance of don juan’s message.
Sometimes the discursive thoughts one experiences during meditation are there for a reason. Meditation is a very personal practice and it is up to us individually to discern the difference between the mind’s innate wisdom and discursive thoughts. For me, I’m experiencing a stuckness between two worlds. When I meditate, the thought patterns, images, and feeling tones of my job and my experience of it tearing me apart are the discursive thoughts that I am repeatedly forced to recognize, and let pass by. But they continue to arise–these same exact thought patterns and cycles. The more they arise, the greater the charge resonates in my body. They are arising now not only as thought patterns, but as thought patterns manifesting a negative bodily charge.
So, I am in a pickle.
The easy answer is, “quit your job.” I’ve tried. But I am in a sticky financial situation and in the middle of meeting with my boss to put in my two weeks I shut down, told some strange, incomprehensible story making the situation worse. The other easy answer is, “stop meditating,” but deep down I know that is not an option.
Taking lessons from Castaneda as he discovered his spot on the floor, I know I should trust my ‘feelings’ at work–the uncomfortable contractions and negative self images that arise both while I’m there and while I’m away thinking about being there. But it’s not that easy. Like a trickster figure, they change! At work, one moment I’ll be experiencing a crushing pressure and dark figures and colors and then within an instant, these feeling tones and images are released! For an instant I experience peace, a peace that is addicting. My mind is a nasty good player. Wait, is this addictive peace that which Buddhists describe as ‘attachment?’ Is it these that keep us (me) on the cycle of samsara or am I just talking b.s.?
It’s embarrassing to play the fool, but more embarrassing not to be able to support oneself financially. And why am I so terrified to find a different job? Writing is keeping my mind off of ‘discursive’ thoughts for the time being (are they discursive?), and I am appreciative of that.
So I thank you for listening to this chatter.
Wishing you a peacefully abiding mind and being.