the bubble bath

I inventory this moment
niggling irritants like transient itches
the lay this day feels stodgy with vectors
finding excursion within

“…the ability to return voluntarily on a regular basis to that deepest level of reality – the Tao – as if it were a rejuvenating spiritually scented bubble bath.”

I slip out of mind
down body
somewhere near the heart
in the corridor of breath
posture vertical
anchors below, infinity above
the sides expand embracing
the horizon

a space in the between

exploring an unfolding
deep familiar longing
sinking further down into

tinged now with anger
enough bullshit!
cutting and
slicing at every clinging
cord fastening, securing
swimming free
of that floating island of garbage and tinsel
slum dreams of hope
no spiritual bubble baths here
only directions
the mind doesn’t fanthom
found in the body
beneath
disposable debris of thought

On the Potency of Ravens

You a writer? Or pretend to be? Isn’t that what writers do? Pretend?

Well, yeah, but they have to write also.

Why?

Because it’s part of the pretending, it kind of makes it more real and has its own shape of things.

Are you talking about poetry?

Yeah, but any writing too. Opening a channel between thoughts and physical expression. Sometimes thoughts stay in line, other times…

They start imaginary dialogs?

For one, yeah. But seriously, how else can you use thought to explore something? Because it’s hard to hold big ideas or sprawling ruminations in the head. And then things like “ruminate” pop out and need investigating, street omens, one of those stutters in the stitch of time… I discover “rumination” listed in the pathology section of psychology on wikipedia…

Extensive research on the effects of rumination, or the tendency to self-reflect, shows that the negative form of rumination (associated with dysphoria) interferes with people’s ability to focus on problem-solving and results in dwelling on negative thoughts about past failures. Evidence from studies suggests that the negative implications of rumination are due to cognitive biases, such as memory and attentional biases, which predispose ruminators to selectively devote attention to negative stimuli.

This. This use of “self-reflection” in psychology is fascinating because it is mindless. Or rather, not the mindful definition of self reflection as a pure awareness without judgment as in meditation —but rather as a faceted awareness, an awareness of one self distinct from another self; both within us. In fact, a common hypothesis in psychology is we each have many selves. Some at odds with one another. Taking turns being in charge.

So rumination, as pathology, is one of our selves screwing with another of our selves with trash talk and scary stories. And the gnarly parts thrive and grow through being observed and, more importantly, reacted to. If there were no shocked, angry or anguished “reflector”, it would lose psychic energy, to be replaced with another grab for attention by other complexes. But if the observer were simply awareness itself, with no position or preference in negative or positive, it would take a lot of fun out of the torture. By accepting it completely.

The Perfect Man uses his mind like a mirror – going after nothing, welcoming nothing, responding but not storing.
― Zhuangzi, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu

This also reflects a curious property of attention. Attention paid to specific thoughts amplify them. Attention withdrawn, distracted or distributed, weakens them. Balanced attention leads to and restores equilibrium. Balanced attention neither focuses upon nor withdraws from any thought or feeling. It merely stays present and to see what happens. It may even be eating popcorn. It’s like an ET landed in our brain, or a Stranger in a Strange Land.

In tales of lore, Odin sends out two ravens every day: hugin and munin, usually translated as “thought” and “memory.”

Hugin and Munin fly each day
over the spacious earth.
I fear for Hugin, that he come not back,
yet more anxious am I for Munin.
– Odin as Grimnir in Poetic Edda

I suspect hugin and munin are not thought and memory, as commonly translated, but attention and awareness. Awareness as self-remembering. And Odin uses these two magical abilities, the only true abilities we possess and share:

  1. To direct attention, which he worries over the control of, but most importantly…

  2. Remembering ourselves and being present to what’s happening right now. Which is the only way we notice when we’re asleep and how our attention is being directed “for” us.

Awareness and attention. Expand attention to bliss out in open awareness and flow or vegetate. Or contract it to a point and hold it to train putting energy into containments of thought. Focusing on breath, mantra or kasina are punching bags for manifesting and steering mood and energy states. Work on steering first. It’s fun. Plus we finally get to drive!

Now where was I…

Heretics of Mindfulness

A fellow amigo, rocker of boats and raconteur writes a wicked blog over on Grachalacha and posed some provocative points related to a previous post here.

In the mindfulness haze that has taken pop psychology by storm (yeah, I butcher metaphors —there will be pieces strewn everywhere!)… some of us have a few basic questions about all this “awareness” as the answer-to-everything-doctrine being bandied about. We keep our voices low because these aren’t PC questions to the gurus and zeitgeist of our times. These happiest monks in the world, neuroscientist geeks of enlightenment or non-dualists on YouTube staring at us deadpan, saying nothing, smug in their ineffable states of “being.”

Let’s uncork this. This will be a non-linear ride, so hang on to your llamas. What?! What kind of heathen has no llama!? Come back with a llama!

Regarding this universal-awareness-as-who-we-truly-are, some of Grachalacha’s observations were:

  • Why would we ever forget such a thing in the first place?
  • Why would it take conscious attention and volition to bring us back into this desired state?
  • If this desired state lapses incoherent with our conscious, present mind – then how and why did it ever get separate from us?
  • Was this desired mindful state ever one with us in our present in an effortless way? If so, when was that? If not, why not?
  • What is it about where or how we live that possibly disjoints us from our mindfulness? Is this incoherence more due from causes within us or without? What’s the distinction?

Like the Christian fable of the fall, we have a story of separation. A fundamental flaw in our spiritual constitution that needs atonement. While the Christian crowd pins hope on obedience and faith, the awareness crowd plays a different mind game. Like: we’re not really separate, we’re all one, ego is an illusion. So it’s ok, relax, we’re already there. But why then, at the pub, aren’t I relieved when you go take a piss, being as we are all one and everything? Well, the sage answers, it’s because we’re experiencing the world through different eyes because the multi-verse is “playing” hide and seek with itself. Okey…  but then what’s next? Someone claiming everything came from a big explosion of nothing? How clueless can we (pretend to) be? Seriously?

What we have here is a problem with ideas and the limits of thought. Particularly with language. Language can fabricate conundrums just because a word seems to make sense. What’s the temperature of this molecule? Sounds reasonable, but it makes no sense. Temperature means how hyper a group of molecules colliding together are, it is meaningless to apply the term to a single molecule.  The very structure of language is also based on some ancient, out-dated philosophical assumptions. Some dating back to Aristotle, like the law of identity:

  • a=a
  • something has to be either a or not a
  • something can’t be both a and not a

This becomes semantic distortion in daily grammatical constructs like: you are either a success or you are not a success; you can’t be both a success and not a success; so which are you? Huh, punk? Sorry, sometimes my words do my thinking for me, and that essentially is the problem.

So this concept, “awareness”, gets batted around in the ball pen of language as if were some property of a thing. Like red on an apple. But the experience of awareness is something different. And a little taste of meditation, sampled correctly, reveals a distinction that can be game changing: we can be aware of our thoughts without thinking them. Awareness is not just another thought.

What the heck does that even mean? It means (it doesn’t really mean this, these are just a bunch of words that might evoke something that recreates meaning in you)… IT MEANS, that when we (aka this awareness) separate a little from our thoughts, for a short period, could be a few seconds… we sometimes make an earth shattering discovery that we aren’t our thoughts. Although usually we are. And right after we discover we aren’t —we’re mugged, duct taped and thrown in the cargo of another train of thought passing by. Sometimes we free ourselves, minutes or hours later and get back to “meditating.” Some people just give up and become hobos.

But some never had this experience of separating the two. Snarky schools of awareness call these people sleepwalkers. All they will ever know, or be, is their incessant chains of thinking and feeling which is merely a summary of where and when they were born and what they’ve experienced since. They will never observe their thoughts run themselves, without them, one colliding off another like billiard balls. They may even assume they have agency in their lives. And it’s hard to awaken people who are dreaming they’re already awake.

This dream of being awake carries into the realm of ideas and we can talk about being awake, analyze what it means to be awake, all because it is fascinating trivia to the mind. And all while we are deeply asleep.

So what’s the big deal about awareness, anyway? If I’m just aware that my thoughts are thinking themselves, that feelings come and go, that everything is transitory, how am I any better off? Just let me sleep, dammit. Or at least talk about sleeping in a more favorable light.

And the thing is, I don’t know how it works for someone awake all the time. But for someone who wakes up now and then it’s a curious affair.

On the one hand, having extra space in the head, does nothing to change or control the thoughts. And if it does, it’s not awareness, it’s a thought messing with another thought. So there’s nothing that needs to be (or can be) done, ego-wise. Nor is there anything not to do, so the ego keeps on doing its ego thing, but awareness is not enmeshed as it was before, neither is it sitting in some crow’s nest looking down on it all, everything is “flowing” through it, in it… everything is heightened…and while nothing needs to change, everything subtly shifts. It becomes a state that’s lacking something: a certain…craving. A certain dopamine janxed orientation that whispers: this moment is amiss, is not enough, there is more, there must be more! And when that neural earwig stops being our default state, which is wind in our sails when we’re on the thought trains (I warned you about the metaphors), without that dopamine spin, we find our natural state now has something added as well: an exquisite balance in the now,  that doesn’t care what the self is doing but which illuminates everything it does in a curious way.

So. many. words. But if you bob to the surface of awareness like this, poking out of the thought-stream, there’s a certain feel. Though feel is the wrong word. And there is no right word.

But why would we ever forget such a thing if it was our natural state?

I believe awareness has the ability to inhabit things. It can inhabit them so completely it forgets it is not the thing. I believe this simply because of how it seems to work in meditation. And in dreams. When we awake from the dream, we realize we were dreaming. Seldom do we realize it when we are in the midst. Sometimes I’m even explaining to others, in my dream, about the nature of dreaming, without it occurring to me, that I’m in the dream. I can almost hear their snickers.

This raw awareness, when not enmeshed in thought, is the same essence we’ve had all of our lives —it hasn’t been affected one whit by any of our experiences. It may be the only thing we take with us after we die. Not our memories, just it. Though I think there will be a shit storm of a show right after death —when we are confronted by jamborees of our unhinged lived experiences. An event the Tibetan and Egyptian Book of the Dead try to walk us through so we don’t freak out and make bad choices and maybe, with guidance across the threshold, can have a final chance to escape the gravity of recurrence. Journeys with hallucinogens may also be valuable preparation in this respect.

The Tibetans have a sleep practice, maintaining awareness 24×7 through even deep stages of thoughtless sleep; and I think as long as I forget myself when I sleep and wake back up in the morning, then the self I’m living is not the Self that will remain long after I die. My self is still largely too invested in story, most of the time.

Which kind of begs the question, what’s this little, temporary self to do? It obviously can’t bootstrap itself into enlightenment through sleepwalking, and while we might drowsily observe what’s happening a few times, why are we trapped like this in the first place? And the intellectual answer may be that “we” aren’t trapped at all, never have been, although most of us probably awake between lives rather than during them because we paid for the luxury tour, the full immersion that promises the real thing. Or we’re in that stage of evolution, like with the bicameral mind, where we hear these voices but don’t yet realize they are our own. (And is asking the “purpose” of evolution like asking the temperature of a molecule?)

There are things our little selves can do. Dangerous things, subversive things, that might just blow up the whole expensive expedition for ourselves (and others.) Or jump us further along the arc of evolution than our society, and perhaps nervous system, is currently setup for. By this I mean magic. Playing with the illusions we are apparently caught in and finding out that they…wiggle. At least this gives our ego something to do besides spinning its wheels. The danger is that it could mistake the wiggling for some awesome super power it’s achieving (and how cool is that!) rather than a dismantling of beliefs in a chimerical reality where it is an impostor. The advantage of the magical approach, the way of the serpent in the traditions, is that it’s incremental. It doesn’t require the huge leap across an abyss that awakening does. More on wiggling in another post.

But a brief aside about this from Michael’s post as well:

“The practice of remembering to be mindfully aware — this itself can lead to an endless progression”

There’s an old adage in computer science that everything can be solved by abstraction except the problem of too many layers of abstraction. Awareness of being aware is the path of self-inquiry, a different branch of meditative technique than focus or mindfulness practices. In theory it could recurse, but in practice being aware of being aware is usually where the buck stops. To be aware of being aware of being aware is usually just an awareness of the thought about being previously aware. But don’t take my word for it, try it and come back with an experience. Merely holding “aware of being aware” will throw you into a very different space in the labyrinth. It seems to setup a standing wave that’s hard to hang onto for more than a few seconds. And things start crumbling.

Speaking of abstraction and levels… Gregory Bateson, a brilliant biologist and profound thinker, had an intriguing theory about levels of learning:

Level 0 – Causality. No learning takes place; a similar stimulus results in a similar response; Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence.
Level 1 – Linear learning… Pavlov’s dog…learning through conditioning that x means y; a quantum leap from level 0
Level 2 – Deutro Learning, or learning to learn, applying what we learned in one context to another; another quantum leap, employing the the very idea of learning recursively (reflexive thought, the bicameral mind?)
Level 3 – Is never found in dogs and rarely in humans, although dolphins have been known to exhibit it, it’s outboxing the contexts themselves to change the approach

Bateson believed level 3 was rarely found in individuals but rather in larger adaptive systems and, like zen, answered questions that were unsolvable in Level 2 using mechanisms that didn’t exist there.

Level 3 may be where magic and awareness converge. It may be that place that out-boxes thinking and makes thoughts into versatile tools rather than flypaper for awareness.

And, finally, as an ordained minister of the Church of Dude, I’m obligated to bring this all to close, for now, with our traditional blessing…

This has just been, like, my opinion man.

 

Small detail. Great importance

During my avid martial arts phase I was blessed to train with some true masters. And often on the razor’s edge where something may be working —yet for minutely wrong reasons— they would straighten me out. A technique I thought I understood would reveal hidden facets or covert flaws that, once corrected, took it to another level. Without such a guidance the technique would not have developed to its full potential. Or at least its potential attainable with my limited skills.

When I left Japan, my teacher told me the path was mine; I’d learned all I needed to continue, the rest would be revealed in practice. Budo. The way.

Last night my dream reminded me of something discovered only through practice. It was a small detail of great importance.

I have been exercising more daily mindfulness. For a few reasons, but one of them was in the hope it would carry over into my dreams. That I would become mindfully aware while dreaming. And last night it worked. I was watching a comedy act in a club. The comedian wasn’t funny, but hey, I wasn’t there to be entertained, I was practicing my “mindfulness.” Mindfully listening to the comedian, mindful that I wasn’t enjoying it very much, and aware of thoughts and dialog happening in my head without getting caught up. Yet the critical missing piece: I wasn’t mindful of the dreaming.

A minute but crucial detail. And a subtle flaw in implementation I often gloss over in daily practice. A flaw of omission which became readily apparent when put to the test in the dream world.

Mindfulness has become the darling of pop psychology. But a teacher in the older traditions once said something, almost as an aside, that is not usually reflected in the contemporary self-improvement approaches. He said it’s not enough to sit and be aware of our thoughts and feelings, we must also be aware that we are doing this. That we are in this place, aware of this awareness of things. When we do this, awareness becomes less of an “I” or a who and more of a “what.” As in, “what the heck is this no-thing that is aware?” Because it seems very strange to call it “me” which is just a collection of things that this no-thing is aware of and untouched by.

Words are poor containers for this point, but the point was this: simply noticing thoughts and feelings can be a type of introspection rather than a type of awareness. And introspection is just another flavor of sleep so one cannot expect lucidity from its practice. Introspection could just be an identification with the idea of detachment. With an idealized “objectivity.”  In contrast, there is an alchemy that comes with awareness of being aware.  “Self-remembrance” as fourth way1 practitioners call it. The mindful dream that was not lucid seemed to be speaking directly to this flaw in my practice.


  1. A great book on the fourth way is Self Observation: The Awakening of Conscience: an Owner’s Manual by Red Hawk. 

An Artistic Life

artistlife

In my dream an old musician told me his secret to life. He said: react to things as an artist. Here’s what I think he meant.

Normally we react to events and situations based on past experience. And usually we are quick to classify and bring to bear our summary encounters and limited purviews of personal history.

To react as an artist means opening to the moment. Not just connecting the dots deterministically and robotically. The older we get, the more autopilot seems to engage. If we’re not careful, pretty soon we’ve got everything sorted and nothing really informs us, or enlightens us, or moves us. We can travel long intervals unaware we are still at the wheel.

To react artistically, engages different parts of mind than the bookkeeping of our habitual conditioning. To play with the potential of a moment opens to a larger  field of inquiry. It’s a not so subtle difference between creating and manufacturing. Every widget is not the same. And we may have to discover this by stretching our imaginations rather than pushing shapes into slots.  Then our experiences become invitations to unfold creatively. Then we can peek into, behind and around things and ferret out umbral dimensions of illumination, connection and enchantment. Some claim this can be done with nothing but a grain of sand. Or maybe a wildflower in a pinch.

what if you knew

What if you knew
taking.that.next.step
meant you could never
find your way back
—what must be true
(to take it anyway)
what if you had
to leave (even yourself)
behind
in the way
(you currently cherish)
would a
promise of salvation
be enough
(when nothing
remained you?)
what if we
aren’t talking
(about death
but) of transformation
would it be
any different?
(to be whole?)

don’t pray for an easy life …

With age, a certain rigidity often creeps upon us. A crossroads we meet somewhere in midlife —sometimes much earlier. We start either shutting down ways of seeing and doing things or we start relaxing into new experience and potential. We end up becoming everything figured out/we’ve paid our dues/get-off-our-lawn types or we begin lightening our accumulated baggage to reach something beyond our limited and conditioned selves. And let go of our self-inflicted suffering.

 

The Bamboo That Bends Is Stronger Than the Oak That Resists.

Regardless of our personal histories, whether flogged with hardship or kissed with fortune, some brace against the world like an oak in a windstorm, defending the turf of their hard-won self, and others flow like bamboo, bending in the wind, retaining only an essence of unshakable being.

If one would be the bamboo, rather then the oak, the two most important life skills to cultivate are:

  1. The ability to fully experience negative and uncomfortable feelings without avoiding, denying or resisting their presence. Without feeling they need to be managed, contained or that they reflect anything in particular about self-worth or capacities. They come and they go.
  2. The ability to keep a separation between identity and beliefs and ideas. What we believe or think is not who we are and doesn’t need to be defended when questioned, slighted or attacked.

Conversely, if we want to be an Oak, fighting for our turf and self-importance, then simply reverse the formula:

  1. Suppress, ignore and avoid any unpleasant feelings with whatever works: alcohol, food, addictions, escape, faith, rationalizing, etc. Keep a lid on them. Deny even having them because admitting, much less experiencing them, is weakness/sin/disaster. Comfort is the highest good. Or revel in them, vent them on others and allow them to define us. Hang on to them and don’t let them go, use them to justify and martyr ourselves. Use them as a barometer of our value as a person and the worth of others.
  2. Take anything anyone says about our beliefs or ideas personally, become offended if they believe differently. Be assured that those not sharing our perspectives on life the universe and everything (i.e. 42) are what’s wrong with the world today and make it our personal mission to fix ALL the things. Or at least, complain about the sheeple that don’t share our illumination and post memes on social media about their ignorance and lack of common sense.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi

 

What We Wish For

Friends and family are busy pursuing careers, preparing for careers, recovering from careers. Some battle vicissitudes of mind and body. Some caught up in travels, causes, or raising families. And some, all the above. I find myself in a singular position among my compadres it seems. A brief hiatus. Or waystation perhaps.

It’s like I’ve joined an academy or monastery on a distant continent. Where the tapestry of my day consists of meditation, exercise, fasts; an immersive study of artificial intelligence, the physics and aesthetics of sound and design of neoteric instruments. The study of foreign language, chess tactics, writing, magic, and art. And the pursuit of 100 designs (#7 currently) —trinkets and wares made to sell, or give away, from the back of a nomadic gypsy junk tacking in the winds and waves of digital seas.

This curriculum is punctuated, during the day, with walks down ancient streets of colonial architecture, laid upon indigenous pathways and cobblestone trails along sacred rivers. Casual lunches and sidewalk cafes. Night time breaks with wine and Netflix, reading on the couch or romantic dinners out.

When I was young, I used to dream of entering such eclectic schools of magic and science (long before Hogwarts.) Be careful what you wish for, you just might end up there.

Inner Witch

I would like to make contact with my inner witch
(long pause)
about time
how can I free myself from this trance of normalcy?
talk to me
I get stuck
because you think you’re the only one in here
so, just remember?
can you?
sometimes. how can I be more awake to magic?
look within
do you have all the answers?
I have no answers. does a map have answers? or merely directions?
can I put this on my blog?
why don’t you put it on a post-it on the back of your forehead
funny. ok this will be my art project for the day

[Exploring Jung’s active imagination tool to facilitate communication between different parts of the psyche … and who knows what else?]

paseo de la mente en la tarde

Tracking the course of a casual internet afternoon at home for posterity —after the fact— to investigate where time was spent and where the path led. Nothing really exciting here, but I’m often curious about how people spend their time. Which might be kinda creepy if I didn’t share sometimes too. So a “stream of time” journal post instead of stream of consciousness.

Sat down with a cup of coffee and began.

Watched the documentary: The Sacred Science. Was a little surprised they were using Toé (datura) to treat the Parkinson’s patient, so did a little research which led me to research more on Mucuna pruriens  mentioned in the article for its effects on dopamine and which I’m using for some dream experiments.

I didn’t like the flute segments in the documentary and I wondered how it would sound if I captured some of my own flute playing on my Zoom H2n as a microphone source on the PC. Which I’ve been meaning to try for some time. So I did.

Read neuroscience article on Reconditioning the Brain to Overcome Fear  whose byline claimed was using artificial intelligence and brain scans to unconsciously remove fear from the brain. So for an experiment, first they “installed” fear in volunteers by pairing an image with an electrical shock. Then they used brain scan data and AI to recognize the pattern which fired in the brains presented with the shocking image. They found the fear pattern often recurred in resting patients without the memory arising to conscious (a type of subconscious rehearsal) and when AI detected the pattern, they immediately gave subject some money (positive reward.) After a few of these “why the heck are you giving me money?” episodes, they retested with the actual image and found the fear response was significantly mitigated.

Curios if dreams might work the same way, dealing with the patterns metaphorically in simulations?

Read an article about a Harvard psychologist’s technique in her book “Presence” for dealing with anxiety. Another pitch for techniques that deal with the unconscious to alleviate problems. The technique: write down some core value in life and a time in one’s past when one felt this way. Meh. Fluff. Seems like a way to reinforce ego strength which is a two edge sword and is often the culprit in anxiety rather than the savior.

Read review on Perfecting the Past in Spanish and bought the book for the kindle. It’s exactly what I’m wrestling with now in my journey into Spanish.

Read article about using the tools and methodologies we use to understand the brain to understand the game Donkey Kong and how it failed. There was a project in 2014 called BRAIN, imaginatively enough, which thought mapping all the connections between the neurons in the brain in real time would give us an absolute understanding of the mind. This week they figured out that this approach might have some basic flaws. They couldn’t even tackle how the rudimentary processor used in the Commodore 64, which they could map completely, didn’t provide a foothold for predictive understanding of the software running on the processor (I.e. Donkey Kong.)

This reminds me of some insights by Gregory Bateson in his mind-bending book “Steps to an Ecology of Mind” and his discussion of logical levels, warning people that a chair is different from the set of all chairs. One, for example, you can sit on.

Investigated the Deep Learning nanodegree program on Udemy. A 17 week course is being taught by Siraj Raval who is very, very good at planting new material in your brain where it takes over the front lawn with crazy alien offshoots. The course is $400 and I have to decide before January 20th. So tempting…

Read a review of a McKee seminar and his book, Story, Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting… and its application to psychology and life. Still processing this one.

Listened to some frogs singing in Borneo.

Now time for a break from the classroom. Hope you’re having or had a good weekend!