Thursday, March 26, 2015

The White Expanse

This piece blew us all away in class. 

It's very tricky to lean into a full-on metaphorical image like this. Though Tod said it happened without his thinking about it, and without planning, his practice has allowed him to stay very close to surprising connections. He says he didn't even realize it was him until teh part about "the other members of his writing group." 

The imposter syndrome - feeling a fraud is well-depicted here. Also, the more nuanced but super tricky feeling that anything we do well must be cheating, not worth reading. If the writing comes easily, if, for instance, we build fictional worlds easily with barely any effort, then that must be bad writing, or we are just tricking everyone into thinking we are a good writer.

How to overcome this? Practice. Regular and compassionate. Consistent. And companionship.

Tod's writing:

He sprung into the white open expanse of his blank notebook page as if he was diving into a swimming pool of milk.  When he surfaced, breathless, blinking away the liquid pearls from his eyelashes, he was astonished to find that he’d written an entire story.
            The story was about a man who wrote stories, but hadn’t always been able to do so because the stories got stuck on their way out, they spoke in languages the man didn’t understand, so he didn’t know how to write them down, how to spell them.  It was a matter that came before the actual craft of writing itself, because he had to learn the language the stories were speaking.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Yup. There's no mincing around it. 
This is what has been coming up lately, in my life, in my wife's life, in my students' lives. 

When I don't get done what I set out to do (PS I had unrealistic expectations)...
When I make a mistake - or even moreso, a series of mistakes - while teaching or in public...
When I choose to sleep in instead of meditating...
When I procrastinate...
When I feel sexually aroused in a situation I suspect I shouldn't feel that way in...

I feel ashamed.
A heavy brick in my belly.
A punch to the gut.
Not a voice, not an inner critic, nothing that conscious or obvious or literal.
I don't THINK it, I FEEL it. In my locked up hips, my tightened legs, my triggered wrists.

More and more I am convinced that this is what Writer's Block, what creative resistance, what perfectionism, what procrastination ALL ARE - shame. Which is the cause and which the effect? Shame is like the fuel that powers the freezer that keeps us locked in one place. Not exercising, not writing, not exploring, not asking - all because some part of us, deep inside, believes we are unworthy. Anytime we make any kind of perceived error, it goes right into the evidence bin - not only have we done wrong, we are wrong.

For a long time, I have contended that Brene Brown's teachings on vulnerability and shame (click here to watch her stunning TED talk) are a perfect compliment to Shambhala's teachings on Basic Goodness (an article here demonstrating how the two are linked). Shame is our biggest block, our most underground and dug-in belief that we are not good. If we believe this, we can't believe we are basically, fundamentally good. We can't believe in bodhicitta, that we are all born awake and with full potential.

Shame is endless in its layers. Luckily my faith is also endless in its depths. Every time I find a new layer - this last week it was seeing that during a live online class I felt ashamed of myself because of technical errors beyond my control! - I react, I work with my body responses (through TRE or breathing) and then I slowly unpack all that was going on there. It can take months or just a moment. Over time, it gets easier to see, and easier to let go of the belief in shame, let go into the belief of my own - and others' - basic goodness.

What do you do when you encounter shame? How do you know it in your body? Do you know it? Does it have a voice? A story? Or is it more undercurrent? What is your relationship to shame and vulnerability?

And if I catch you using these questions, or my exploration, to compare yourself to, and shame yourself with, I'll come right over there and hug you and hold you while you cry. 

That is your punishment. I will mete it out mercilessly.

As Sakyong Mipham likes to say: "Be careful, or I am going to get gentle with you!"

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Former Friends

Photo by Mandoline Whittlesey

Today I woke haunted by those who are no longer.           
People who passed through my past
ghosts before they were gone:
a Jessica, a few women named Amy, one Virginia, and many more.
As if they are states I once visited
but no longer possess a visa for.
They litter my contacts in voicemail and email:
I type in someone new,
and there they are, their former selves
smiling at me.

They are not smiling at me.
I am not smiling at me.
Last night I dreamt of a host of them,
a gaggle of them approaching me in anger. I felt shame like a virus,
gangrene infecting my leg, bacteria spreading
organically, as if this is always
how it ends.

I know forgiveness.
I know how to give it for another.
Where can I cauterize my self-inflicted wounds,
these dangling ends that stir in me
amoebas of what could have been
invisible spikes
of what I thought
was a beautiful and safe cactus?

My own mind became dangerous, found land mines
in these interactions. I cannot seem to let the hair triggers go
drop the reflex to defend
let myself really never understand
let myself know that I will never really know.