Thursday, May 29, 2008

The best promotional material possible

I long ago figured out that the best way to spread word about my classes isn't fliers or listings, though those work sometimes too. The means that turn out the best results (sorry for such business-y language) are word to mouth, testimonies, friends telling friends, emailing the both of us at once; friends seeing friends change over time.

Then, there are the "closing exercises," like this week's, which are comprised of people's responses to each other, reflections over the course of the class (9 weeks) and gratitude. I like to think of these as my "exit surveys". : )

Some of my favorite quotes/ideas from this week (with 35 students I didn't fit it all in!):

-A woman talked about how the classes are a good place to be reminded that we all want to be good human beings. In another class, another woman was confounded to hear this - "You mean not everyone knows that?" "No. I said. Not all the time. It's hard to remember that when fighting with someone, for instance." The same woman also pointed out that no one there is seeking 401k's from the class, and I joked that, quite obviously, neither am I!

-One woman said the best compliment about me I think I've heard in a long time - so subtle and side entrance-y, but true: "They say wisdom comes with age, and I certainly hope that that is true. But the fact is that wisdom doesn't always wait for age"

-Many people spoke of the joy of sharing silence, the role of witnessing for others and how that has helped them to witness for themselves more. My joy at hearing this, this is the merit I dedicate at the end of the class, is incomparable.

-The idea of churning/stirring and how that can drive one to write, but writing during peace is significant, too. One woman spoke of how the class is like a buoy for her - she can dive down into dark places, but knows that something will be there once a week to pull her back up for air. Before, she said, she would stay down there far too long, submerged in emotions.

-We continued to talk a lot this week about what one person called the "moving shapelessness of the unknown, turned into a human form" - the larger creative universe/force out there, far more creative than we are, that we all channel together.

- One woman spoke to how the class encouraged "outside the box thinking" and how she enjoyed that "one need not fit in, outside of the box."

-"Positive feedback just seems to bubble out of me, here"

-"Everything sounds like a mantra to me, lately"

-"As usual, I am thinking 'What kind of fucking assignment is this?'" from one student who never resists telling the truth, much to my happiness and joy.

-A student mentioned a friend who was so interested in becoming a novelist that she took a creative writing class in college and got a "D". She left the class and never wrote again. In response, this person wrote: "maybe more would write if we didn't take it so seriously."

-"Writing is no longer a punishment, but a reward"

-"This doesn't fit into Dr. Spock descriptions of growth, but is necessary none the less."

-"Samsara on a sandwich" - how it feels to gossip, knowing that it does no good...

And so many more...thank you, my students, who are, after all, my teachers, too!

Monday, May 26, 2008

I Don't Mine

This week's "topic" for classes is "What *Can* You Take With You?". I woke this morning with "Can't take it with you" running through my head and I wanted to consider what it is that folks do take along, from lifetime to lifetime, creaturedom to plantdom, humandom to sentient specks in the airstreamdom.  The quick and dirty answer, to me, seems to be the universe of creativity, the deeper well beneath us which is constant and full, larger than us not out of some kind of SUV superiority (and their sales are on the decline with rising gas prices, by the way!) rather, just out of a "natural hierarchy" as Chogyam Trungpa would put it - we are the four out of a million visual bits per moment we can digest - or, we think we are only that, anyway, that plus the constructed whole we make from those parts and then some - and underneath, emanating far more and receiving back the core of our actual lives, often bigger than even we can see, is that - that universe, that creative force, what some call god, some call spirit, and what I tend to just call "universe".  As John McQuade, my Miksang teacher, puts it: "just rely on the universe to do its thing - it is far more creative than you will ever be. Let the universe take a photograph of ITSELF." As Natalie Goldberg puts it "A moment so great that you were able to get out of the way enough to write down". None of this is meant to be derogative toward that ego, that personality, that bit more than the parts that makes the whole - we need who we are, and when it's not getting in the way, it's quite lovely, actually. However, when it comes to creativity, which I suspect is far more of our lives, in the natural science of nature all the way to creating the things we call "art"; when it comes to creativity, the universe has it together better than four bits a moment, so we best move out of the way.

My Marquette students would balk at this - I can hear them in my head. "What about reason?" Yep. Reason helps us drive a car. Reason has helped us get this far and this far is nothing to not write home about. But what about beyond reason? Even Einstein didn't think that reason was everything. I certainly don't denigrate it, but there's no reason to believe reason every time anymore. 


"Sleep comes, it's like a dream...I don't mine." Listening to Psychedelic Furs again a bit lately, and thinking of my teenage years. The period especially, the "blue" period as my therapists would call it, between the deaths of my parents. What is mine of that period and what is not? So much of adolescence felt like a dream, still does, and does now to many teens I know. A very lucid dream. The kind of nightmare when you wake, realize you are dreaming, and are awake in the dream knowing your are only asleep, but not really awake, and won't until the dream has let you go. Hard to own things in that space, this unowned space, where the universe is in pure creation, psychological shaping, and control is lost, reasoning lost, to the whimsy of wired together memories. Like those braces connectors so many of my friends had to wear - wired heads worked mouths closed over the sleeping hours so their inherited teeth could straighten their speech upon waking. I feel like I am still straightening my speech sometimes, frozen in a postmortem scream at 19. That sounds so dramatic, and I apologize to the invisible "you's" for doing such imagery in a period when I don't feel that way most of the time. But the fact is that it has been the long slow orphan thaw since then, and only just now does it feel like I can begin to own what happened and when, distant enough, my own voice full and rich, used to lull others into contemplative states. 


The other facet of the assignment is this: "Who benefits from this class?". It's a bit of a trick question - the trick question we've been playing this whole session - if you say you, it can't not benefit others; someone else means secretly you as well. The bodhisattva question, the tonglen question, the question of deep interrelatedness that doesn't go beyond reason - no, reason is perfectly capable of handling it, as reason itself was created and can handle any creative adaptations. No, the question is this: is there anything we take away that is just for us or just for others? As Chogyam Trungpa puts it - "No privacy". This idea terrified me when I first heard it, new to - and quite enjoying, thank you! - boundaries at the time. This is not what *I* think he means, though. Rather, that what you think is yours is just as much the universe's as it is yours and vice versa. John calls it "anorexia by choice" - that the world is rich, just outside our door and we refuse to go out and glory in the gore and beauty of it. Refuse. Outright. 

So "I Don't Mine", as the Psychedelic Furs put it. Not because I don't want to benefit, but because when I privately close class each night or morning myself, turning off the lights, whispering the Dedication of Merit to myself, I also think of how so many teachers have put it to me over the years, and I slowly, slowly seem to see this understanding, bigger than reason and even creativity: "if you want to be happy, think of others; if you want to be miserable, think of only yourself." Why? Because there is no "mine". This isn't about self-deprivation. It's about reality.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Creation and Destruction

I have been thinking about certain words we use, certain binaries/dualisms we rely on a lot in life, and two of them have come up in class, as well, this week, as if to further my inquiry in a group setting filled with curiosity: accidents versus synchronicity, and strengths versus weaknesses. In life, it has seemed to me that we rely on these being not only opposites, but also places of blame and credit. For instance, if something horrible happens, it's an accident, but if something wonderful comes out of the blue instead, it's "synchronicity." As well, if something we do out of habit seems to contribute to our own well being or others' in a direct and measureable fashion, it's a strength, and,well, you get the gist.

One student addressed this directly in her writing this week when she got the quote from The Book of Qualities by J. Ruth Gendler (which I used as a prompt for the week): "Confusion is very accident-prone. He lives from crisis to crisis." She spent her writing time exploring what this means - what does confusion mean, and when is it helpful, as opposed to direct honesty, for instance. Others who got that quote this week really looked at why confusion happens, and how helpful it can be; an indicator that things are about to clear up, a little indicator from the universe of its own form of resistance. Confusion, for one student, brought up how she can more finely see the distinction between what is an accident and what is synchronicity - when she bumps her legs against the tables of friends' houses she is staying in now that she has broken up with her partner, is that an accident or assistant? The bruises remind her of her confusion and are a helpful (if slightly painful) indicator of where she is at right now and that that isn't going to change that quickly. Why do we judge confusion and accidents, "negative happenings" so closely, so critically? I think it mostly comes from a wish for distance - aspiring to believe that the universe "did these things to us" renders us victims, that we, ourselves, would never invite something horrible to happen, karmically or even just out of sheer inattentiveness, much less that the not paying attention could be an indicator in itself.

Then there are the strengths and weaknesses. We got into a longer discussion about the idea that your strengths "come from" your weaknesses, this week in one class. All of a sudden I said outloud something that had been percolating in me for a long time- "What if our weaknesses are only weaknesses because they are our strengths but turned inwards against ourselves?" So, for instance, say I really like chocolate (let's just say for sake of example, it's not real, of course, and here's my addy where you can send me chocolate...). Not a "problem" until it causes undue weight gain or eating problems or pimples - basically, excess, which is a desire, not inherently a bad thing, turned in on itself and into something else. Not that anyone would call loving chocolate a strength, though, so let's pick something more contentious. Anger. Anger isn't a bad thing on its own. Needed, often clarifying. But when used for its own ego aims - to manipulate, to disrupt, it could be a weakness. When used to compassionately understand someone else's cause, it could be a strength...

Anyway, all things to consider. Thank you classes as always for teaching me so much!