Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Land of Broken Dreams

The Land of Broken Dreams, But In A Good Way...

As you know I've been working on "second generation" devata issues and the binaryplus that they create. That is the god, goddess, both, neither, more, plus, less that follows from the fact that the second generation is made, it cannot initiate itself without the previous generation.

This second generation's previous generation inhabits the Shiva/Shakti mythologies, and begins the processes that reconfigures their identities into more complex comminglings of feeling and form. Thus we come to Nataraja and Ardhanaresvara, Durga mingling into Sivakami, etc.  The process by which these characters arrive at any realization of their own brokenness is incomplete.  We suffer with them because they often don't know, can't know, deny the process of self-interrogation because they too find it difficult and painful to admit.

But the next generation---Pillaiyar, Muruga, Ayyappa---must take this to an entirely new level, or should we say depth. Because they have to go down first, into the realms that made them in order to make more of themselves. They all live in the land of broken dreams. Even lands of broken dreams. This is something we all do.

The Land of Broken Dreams is the realization that your parents were human, frail and flawed no matter what they were. That they had dreams that went unfulfilled, shadows that went unexamined,. Their hearts felt deeply but didn't always know what they felt or were self-denied or unaccepted.

To accept being accepted for who you are is part of how we reconcile with having coming from that broken land and the consequences of being the broken, extra, and missing piece of _their_ dreams even before we become our own.

We don't begin that process of self-acceptance until we go _there_, to that land---and that is a sojourn, not a destination. We are looking for the unfinished and incomplete that never finishes or completes. To receive ourselves is to offer ourselves without the guarantee that we will be accepted by others, even those we love.

It's not a "bad" thing that our dreams are broken though it can be painful and hurtful---so it can be bad. But it is destabilizing, often confusing, always complicated. And either way, whether we like it or not, the break is the way in, it's the serpent's path to the deeper seas that lie within the ocean of the unconscious. We're not going to avoid or transcend being broken or breaking more in the process of looking more deeply.

We're going to have to look back at how we were made---with and without our consent, in some place and time in history, in all the facets of life we don't control or invent. We're going to have to take the sum of matters into the present and notice how the present will not allow us to reduce it to the moment, to one thing.

The present is not the moment. The present is moments, for we are plural selves, complex entities who live in one body at a time but in many realms of experience and forms of consciousness. Don't get all mystical on me because I just said that. (And I haven't suddenly redirected to some kinda' unicorn yoga.) I meant that we have rich capacities of imagination and untold stories that are hidden in our unconscious. That's all I got or want.

The point here is that the past is not fluid because it is shattered bits, some lost, some found. The present is complex because we want to reduce it but find out it's moving, dynamic, and unstable for better and worse. The future, now that's what's fluid, that can move like the sarpa but only if we recognize that love is yet another form of the ahi, the angst, the anxiety who is the serpent within. (Ahi=angst=anxiety=snake=naga to make the English to Sanskrit cognates clearer, right?) So it is in these matters we come back to sammelana, the processes by which we mingle, cook, alchemize, and otherwise describe how to become more by engaging the Land of Broken Dreams.

Breaking into our broken dreams is no small matter. It's called yoga. It's the long way home to the Land of Broken Dreams. So how's dem'apples?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Dreaming of the Moon, A Saturday Sermon

It is 50 years ago today that Neil Armstrong took that one small step. Where are we America? Where are you?

We rage inside for the outrage that surrounds us, how can we feel otherwise? An imperative of character has been summoned in an age in which darkness has found its true champion. Once noble ideals are not less noble but for those whose abuse and misuse occlude the light. It's important to recognize evil when we see it. It's important too to have a reply, an intention, and something to _do_. 

We are still called to do "the work." By that I mean to continue to learn how to be more human, how to make every breath another chance to uncover who we are, who we want to be. For each of us that means our own task, our own circumstance and opportunity. It means making the most of what we have before us.

Sure that's all more than a bit soporific, I admit. But it's 50 years ago today that human beings touched the moon. That took some dreaming, hard work, imagination. It took the resources of a nation's worth of people who were struggling at the very same time with their ideals of justice and decency and human rights. Are we still dreaming of becoming something better? Let's think for a minute of all the things it took to accomplish such a human adventure. 

Now, what will it take to push through the anger and fear that might consume us before we reach the place where there is yet more light? The light we seek is a present, it's available and real, it's inside us. The truest light casts the deeper and longer shadow because it reveals what is yet to be accomplished.

We never find more light without going through those shadows. When we face shadows will find more determination and courage because we're closer to the heart, to the core. In light and dark is theeffort that reveals our humanity. Our anger will not magically disappear but fear will no longer cripple us. Instead, we'll find more to imagine, more to dream, and we'll insist on decency, integrity, and compassion. 

We will do the work, not just keep busy. Whatever it is that you love that lifts your heart and at once causes you to wonder, to doubt, to be challenged so that you come to unknowing, go there. Don't wait. Do it everyday. Make the time. And then make yourself a gift to others. 

I'll let young Seneca finish this maudlin sermon. But maybe, in the moon light tonight, you'll remember something of what he says about a life well-lived. And we'll think about something good we can do that reminds us that being human is enough good. Choose your path and do that. "Finally, everybody agrees that no one pursuit can be successfully followed by a person busied with many things—eloquence cannot, nor the liberal studies—since the mind, when its interests are divided, takes in nothing very deeply, but rejects everything that is, as it were, crammed into it. There is nothing a busy person is less busied with than living: there is nothing that is harder to learn. Of the other arts there are many teachers everywhere; some of them we have seen that mere boys have mastered so thoroughly that they could even play the master. It takes the whole of life to learn how to live, and—what will perhaps make you wonder more—it takes the whole of life to learn how to die." (from Chapter 7, De Brevitate Vitae)

Friday, July 19, 2019

Affirmation Begins the Alchemy to Betterment Be Present, Look Forward, Don't Relent

It is the summer of our discontent. Let's be honest. There is more to come.  The picture you see here is a summer sunrise in North Carolina.  Let's not forget the beauty in the midst of all this ugliness.

Words matter. Intentions reveal themselves in actions. And we must neither relent in our criticism nor allow ourselves to be dispirited or overwhelmed. There is real toxicity in our world. America is truly at a turning point and we must engage. Yoga is the word we use for the deep engagement that invites us to alchemize that toxicity into something far better, more empowering and inclusive.

We who are not that crowd are not only outraged but rightly frightened, disgusted, and afraid that this is a growing pathology, that we are not going to defeat it, that the world is burning in every way. We must not tire in trying to articulate our aspirations and ideals along with our genuine fears and trepidations.

That is the war I want to fight. That is the demon we must defeat. It will not die. It will rise again. But we will be there each and every time it appears and become that Kali Durga who knows what must be done. She knows too that Her own vulnerability is at the core of Her self-recognition, that even She, the great Goddess contends with every possibility. This makes Her not those demons.

We too need light and an awareness of human shadow, including our own. This is never once and for all. It is a process that demands vigilance, persistence, and humility. We don't want to be that horror and ugliness but anyone _could_ be that. Courage alone will not protect us. Courage is what we will need to create decency, honesty, and the virtue that can protect everyone.

It's frightening when you realize that many of these people in the Trump mob don't believe their intentions, feelings, understandings, and behaviors are sick and sickening. They don't even know that they don't know what is stirring inside them. Toxicity has no limits and those without meaningful boundaries will only create more.

If we can hold fast to the idea that there is a lot inside that we _don't_ know and that we must be vigilant to our emotional intelligence to stand a chance to survive and respond appropriately. We must resist from a position of humility _and_ strength of character, not too confident but not the least bit timid.

The fear, anger, and, yes, the hatred we feel is real, it's honest because we _feel_ it in our bodies and minds and hearts. But when we accept and look to affirm the reality of these feelings then we can alchemize them with courage, compassion, and decency.  Don't dismiss or by pass these negativities.  We will not transcend them.  We not be forgiven them.  We must learn instead what we can and must do about them.  We also have the goodness and the good company we need to grow and evolve.

It's only when we deny the negativities that they can grow. The light does not dispel the darkness but reveals the shadow. And when we see both light and shadow then we can evolve and become who we want to be. When we insist that the shadow and the darkness keep the company of goodness, we can look more deeply into the soul, we can become our better angels. This is no easy task. We can learn together because that is how we will learn. With each other.

We must stand for goodness and know when to dodge fire. It's a dance to try to be good and do good but it _can be done_. That is what we learn from Mandela, from Dr. King, and others, all of whom were deeply flawed persons but who held up the possibilities of human decency.

When Appa invited me to live in his home and be a part of his family, he wasn't trying to show me perfection or represent some fantastical spiritual claim, like guru or siddha or sage. He was inviting me to take up the difficult tasks that urge us to love, to be good, to tolerate and understand that everyone has gifts and that the best among us will fail even when we try not to. We've all known such persons who call us to our better angels. But truth to tell, that is what we are all being called to be right now.

These are troubled times and the world needs _you_ to be that goodness you are. I feel confident you will try, that you will be better than all of the fear and hate and anger. And that's what keeps me going.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

"But who are the gods?", The Company You Long to Keep

I've been paging through notebooks today, remembering conversations with Appa. It's one of those days in the year where I like to remember the sound of his voice. Of course, that'd be everyday but today's a little different. I made a point of trying not to miss the Gurupurnima. I would drop everything to go to India for this day. I read from this diary once at summer camp when my old friend Primo asked to come into my office at home and have a look. This is some of that.

Appa would talk about the conversations he had that made him think and feel and reflect again. He never tired to telling me how life is fragile but that our soul is not. Our soul is made of courage, which is itself no virtue but a gift of life to life. How is that? Because our soul emerges from the deepest desire _to live_, to carry forward, to dream, to gather something of value from the gift of embodiment.

I have very few recordings of him because he preferred that I take notes. But I have dozens of notebooks. You had to coax him sometimes to explain a bit more---he was keen on you figuring it out yourself. But sometimes sutras would open up into ideas that could just change everything. These comments come from a long conversation about steadiness, uncertainty, fear, and how we know when we have met the gods.

"It is not what I say that will have its effect on you. It is what you have heard. You may write some of my words but it will be in your memories, and that will go far more deeply. You should take notes but not because you need to be afraid that you will forget. What is true will reach more deeply than all of our abilities to remember in words, no matter how we record them. What matters most goes inside and that is where the next conversation happens, the one you will need to have with yourself. So, try to remember that when you take notes or when you return to your notes later."

"How do we hold steady in the presence of uncertainty? Doesn't uncertainty undermine our steadiness?"

"Uncertainty is no adversary but it has some dangerous companions. When uncertainty makes fear a partner then the two of them can't be seen as two. Their oneness will cause them to haunt the soul rather than enter into the conversation. Fear's dominance leaves us feeling alone because it is fear's job, it's purpose is to enter into these conversations. But then we allow the heart to hide behind these important human experiences, like uncertainty. Uncertainty that acknowledges fear's presence means that fear can no longer hide, that it can no longer act like some monster coming from out of the dark. But you have to call upon your friend uncertainty to invite fear into the room, into the light of awareness. Fear prefers the shadows where it can stalk you. But fear is not the enemy. Fear becomes the enemy when we refuse it, when we fail to admit that it is part of these other experiences too. Fear will try to contend for being first with you, it will come out from those hidden places because you did not consider it a guest. The soul is the sovereign who must invite fear to be a guest at the table, not its lord. It's rather easy to treat fear as an adversary. That is because you gave it no seat at the table for the greater conversation. You don't believe it belongs there. But uncertainty knows better when it is in the company of the soul, in the presence of the gods."

"Fear tells you to fear who you are. It tells you to distrust your soul. But the soul knows fear because when courage is present then fear will not be left alone to do its mischief. When fear is alone we will become fear. But when the soul speaks out, and invites all of its guests, there is no such aloneness, isolation cannot take hold, there is instead a larger conversation with all of the aspects of the self. That is what soul is, it is that conversation you have inside with the gods..."

But who are the gods?

"The gods are who you are, who you want to be, what you can be, what you could be. They reside in the questions you want to ask even though you might be too afraid to ask the most helpful questions or don't know those questions. So the gods appear as courage, as the heart's true questions. Fear will create a false boundary while the gods provide a true support, the steadiness you need to stand in uncertainty. When you can stand there, then you can take the next step and the next---from that place where you hold steady in the presence of uncertainty. This is how you get to soul questions."

"Fear loves uncertainty because that is how fear becomes certainty. But the soul reaches out to you when you step towards those voices inside, where the gods are. Those are your voices, and they aren't what I want you to be or your parents or what society says you should be. Those are the gods' voices that not more or less than you asking for more from a world that promises little but may give you the chance to ask for what you want from life."

The Guru is Not the Answer A Note on Gurupurnima, Celebrating the Fullness of the Teacher

I had known Appa quite some time when we came upon our first Gurupurnima, the full moon day of the Sanskrit lunar month of Ashada, usually July. We had met about half a year before this first occasion for celebration of the Guru's moon, the full moon, the symbol of fullness itself.

What could that possibly mean when there is always more? There's no doubt that I went to India looking for something better. Different ways to think about life and more examples of how people have lived, loved, lost, and found their greatness. I wanted answers.

I was, of course, looking for a guru, not only someone who could teach me the material---the languages, the content, the subjects---but someone who could give me those answers. I had only the vaguest notion that the guru stood for greatness. But what is that?

By the time of our first celebration of the teacher's fullness (literally, purnima in Sanskrit), I had been turned inside out.  I had come to see "fullness" not as perfection or finality but as a willingness to test, to experiment, and to learn by spreading out in all directions, with every difficult question.

I had been shown in the humility and decency and seriousness of my teacher that there is such a thing as truth, good character, integrity and gravity. Gravity is another cognate word to guru. The guru is the heavy in the room. And of these things I never needed persuasion or dissuasion---because he _tried_ to live this way all the time. That means, as far as he could. Humanity is no impediment when admitting success is admitting limitations. It wasn't perfection. It wasn't success in every instance. It was character building an edifice with provenance and progress as its guide posts.

Appa taught me from our very first days together that the best among us will insist on admitting their moral failures and ask how they can learn from them. That we are never, ever finished learning and that learning to learn is among the most difficult things to learn in life. Other matters come naturally, like love. But those too will invite the companions of learning. We don't learn to love or grieve because we will. Both will come. We learn that to love is to grieve and that when we learn to grieve we can learn how to love more deeply.

The test of truth is always a test of character. Words matter. Intentions matter. Actions matter. How do we decide what matters? How do we trust? When should we? The guru is not the answer. The guru resides in the questions, the best kinds of questions we ask. And those questions lead us to still better questions. That is the guru, Appa said, who "fills" (purnima) life by inviting us to mean what we feel in our hearts to be true. That is no small task, it is not only instinctive.

It means teaching us how to take the questions that live inside us as human beings all the way to heart, how to bring them with us as we journey home to the depths of soul---Who are we? How are we made? Who do we want to be? How can we make ourselves? Who can we be? What could we be? The guru is the word we use to tell us that this is a serious and daunting task, bringing these life questions into every breath, every instance of life. That's why the word meaning "weighty." We're going to need stories, myths, rituals, celebrations, trials, experiments that succeed and fail, conversations and arguments, and it's all going to take time.

We will surely grieve our failures and losses but will we learn to love more deeply for it all? We will accept too that life tests our character, invites us to questions that invite us to celebrate such a fullness? A fullness that is never finished? Such fullness is made of light and shadow, of success and failure, and of the values that insist we create value for more than selfish interests. Today we celebrate those efforts, rededicate to those inquiries, make the experiment to love a standard of goodness. That is why we celebrate this weighty task, this fullness of heart that we never stop seeking.

By that time of our first Gurupurnima Appa had made it clear the heart of his teaching about teachers. We need to learn when it is wise to defer to a teacher but only when that teacher insists we refuse submission. We are not sheep, the guru is no shepherd. Defer but never submit. Never abdicate your own responsibilities to question, to doubt, and to hold to all to fair and honest accounts. Learning how to learn is the principle task of the teacher. Ask every question, not just ones that are "acceptable". Follow the evidence wherever it takes you, even if that upsets your every "truth." The guru is not the answer. It is in the nobility of the honest question and the gifts we must accept to learn.

Remember always, he would say, that truth is unfinished, provisional, incomplete but that it is no less worthy of our deference when it serves to explain natural efficacies and leads us to greater social justice. Be keen to look for the seam, evolve the serpent's vision (sarpadrsti) he called it, because that is the opening, the sliver of in-between, the fullness of possibilities, the moonlight of awareness peering into value, it looks for the exception, admits the possibility of movement, change, and growth. We'll need some luck. We'll need more courage and persistence that we have yet imagined. We'll need our wits, our imagination, and our heart creating more, together.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Some Hard Truths About "Hope" Or Why Demons are Demons

Some Hard Truths About "Hope", Or Why Demons are Demons

I went to school with journalist Chris Hedges. He was principled, serious, dedicated, and ambitious. I was plowed into three Sanskrit, Tibetan, and linguistics classes a semester and leaving for India every five minutes, he was being an activist. We were schooled in different worlds. Here is what Chris writes, "Hope posits that people are drawn to the good by the good. This is the secret of hope's power. Hope demands for others what we demand for ourselves. Hope does not separate us from them. Hope sees in our enemy our own face." So, obviously I disagree. Here's why.

I have long admired Hedges' commitments and largely agreed with his politics, though I would consider myself more likely to compromise with the bad guys because that's what we learn in Hindu mythologies. The likelihood of defeating the demons depends on one's understanding that you cannot count on them, that they will cut a deal and betray you, that they are unreliable partners. You can't get rid of them. You can't really defeat them. They are part of the story of reality. Some people just want to see the world burn. Nihilism and narcissism are pathologies as real as any goodness.

The gods, like the demons, are vulnerable to pathologies and the unfed shadows that haunt our inner houses. No one is invulnerable or immune. Anyone can fall. It takes determination, character, seriousness, and real desire to do the work just to stay the course of goodness. Complacencies will destroy you. It's a long path home and getting there is going to take far more than hope and a lot less wishful thinking. It's gonna be hard and it's never going to stop.

You _have_ to cut a deal with the demons so that you can marginalize their power, hang them out to dry as far as possible. Put them on the margins, take away their power, treat them better than they would ever treat you, but know that they are incorrigible. They are an illness that cannot be cured; they are pathological. I hope that Trump has at last made this case plainly enough: there is no hope for this kind of evil.  As Trump himself has said of his supporters, "“Nobody gave them hope. I gave them hope.” Yup. This is precisely the problem.  Hope is as much an instrument of deception, manipulation, and mendacity as it is anything else.  None of us hopes for this or wishes it were true, unless of course you are a demon bent upon your own narcissist pathology.  Some people will do anything for power, even work for Trump.

The outcome is that it's folly to hope they will take your offers, trust them, or believe that you really have them convinced. You want to believe that you have them by the shorts but they always (always) come back. The illness not only cuts deeply, it is part of nature itself. Some things are inimical. Sickness is as real as health. Hope is a kind of self-satisfying story, a delusion that we sometimes claim to survive the horror. We _like_ hope and it can work to inspire us and keep us together---but it is a maya, a kind of useful fiction when it comes to demons. The horror is real and it doesn't always win but hope for demons is, well, a mistake. So that's the thesis, you are not obliged (ever) to agree.

Now back to Hedges. And here's the line by line in reply to the quotation. Sorry, truth hurts like love: it comes with grief as its companion.

Hope has no secret power that changes the demons and good does not draw others to good if they are pathologically evil. Hope's secret power is not to draw beings to goodness. Some will not accept the offer because they cannot accept being accepted. Hope's secret power is that it is a tool of survival to make us feel better about the pathologies that we cannot change though we would hope to change. Hope has no principled effect on the demons because it is but another consolation, albeit sometimes a useful one. Hope's demands are not met when the demons are demons because they cannot hear nor care to hear its "demands." We may need this maya for our purposes but its got little impact on the demon because the demon _likes_ its pathology. The demon _is_ that pathology and embodiment is part of the factual world. Evil is sickness, sickness is yet another fact we must endure and understand and deal with. The difference between the gods and demons is real and hope closes no gap. Rather it allows us to live with the difference so that we know what to do: give ourselves some sense of the positive and make sure we don't attribute it to the pathological.

When hope sees in our enemy our own face we step over that threshold from hope to self-delusion because we are seeing what we want rather than what is. The threshold of difference between the way the world is and how we wish it were is not filled with magical hope: it is filled with a more honest interpretation of human beings. Who we are, who we can be, and what we could be: a dose of hope to keep us sane but a clear stance in the world in which the gods and the demons stake out their contrary interests.