Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sitting Here

First, a word on vocabulary. I find myself using terms that I used to giggle at as too "New Agey". You know, terms like "make space for" and "just sit with it" and "explore the edge of that feeling". But now that I know what people mean by these terms, they do seem useful! I have learned a lot from teachers who told me to sit with my anger, or make space for the feelings of someone I'm talking to. But I know that jargon also alienates. So please know that I am using terms that I think are the most descriptive in order to aid understanding, not close myself off in a special club. I think everyone has their own unique way of seeing things, but I also think that we must have some way to communicate with each other. The way people of different faiths use terminology, especially in a situation of interfaith dialogue, is fascinating. Please share your own descriptions with us by posting a comment.


So, since I wrote the first part of "Thoughts in Ruku'" in my journal about a month ago, I have been seeing things a bit differently. At that time, it seems that I was walking a tightrope and could fall off on the side of good or evil if I so much as sneezed. Now, I am trying a different strategy.

Throughout my life, I have loved planning. I make to-do lists and to-write lists and my-life-will-be-perfect-tomorrow-if-only-I-follow-this-list-lists. But I noticed that some of the most fun I had making lists was when I was doing the opposite at the moment; for example, when I settled down with a bag of candy to record the resolution that from tomorrow I would stop eating sugar. And sometimes from such extremes come good results. Sometimes the best way to swear off of donuts is to make yourself sick by eating too many of them. But for me, a lot of the fun in making plans was that they always existed in a pristine future, untarnished with the difficult choices of today. That future never fully materialized. And when it didn't, I felt like a failure and figured I might as well go back to the candy.

Now, for some reason, I'm sitting in the present moment, watching myself do things good and bad, and my brain does not flee to the projections and the perfections of tomorrow. It doesn't judge myself too harshly for watching a movie instead of writing on my blog.

I'm experimenting with feeling the present, and feeling out how to make small tweaks in the moment to change things for the better. It doesn't always work. Okay, who am I kidding? It seems like it rarely works, thought there might be some subtle process I'm missing. It feels like when I was learning to drive a stick shift with my dad. He would tell me what to do with the brake and the clutch and the stick and then--clunk! clunk! clunk! stall...--clunk! clunk! clunk! stall... Over and over, until suddenly, I'm in first gear! I'm sailing along, I'm--almost at the edge of the parking lot! Ah! Clunk clunk clunk! Stall... There was no way to know it immediately. His word was that sterile perfection that did not translate well into the skill I was learning in the now. And how I hated having to muddle along! But eventually my hands and feet got the hang of it, and the VW Bug made peace and stopped trying to buck us out of its seats, and I learned how to drive a stick shift.

I hope that by staying present now, I will be here to make those imperceptible adjustments that will allow me to get closer to my goals, whether they be about candy or God-consciousness, and that I will be more open to the wonder and the humor and even the sadness and anger of the moment.

In my previous post, I felt I had to tiptoe across a balance beam over a marsh. Now I'm just slogging through. I feel like I'm reaching for yet another sublime metaphor. But I won't do it. I'm not sure what it means. I feel the muddy water sucking at my shoes, and the mosquitoes are dancing around me. There's a chorus of frogs on my right, and the call of an unknown bird to my left. I take a deep breath of humid, earthy air, and smile.

Thoughts in Ruku'

There's a hairsbreadth of difference between losing yourself to the expansive glory and letting yourself be lost to the invading darkness. It's also the difference between night and day.

The mind that can perceive the wonders of the blazing sun before it can suddenly become all too conscious of its own shadow stretching out behind.

And sometimes the sun is what harms and the cool darkness heals.

The angels and the devils are both lurking. And I am glad.


These thoughts came to me while I was in the position of ruku' during the ritual or salat prayer. In this part of the prayer, the Muslim bows from the waist and recites prayers to God, such as "Glory be to my Lord, the Exalted."

In the repetitive words and motions of the prayer, it is easy to get distracted, and ironically, sometimes what distracts me most is the conscious voice that emerges, telling me how focused I am for once! When I congratulate myself on being focused, it means I have come out of focus.

For me, it takes courage to leave my insights behind sometimes and rededicate myself to God, believing that if the knowledge I have gained is useful, I will remember and record it later, but now there is only room for One.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Naming and Unnaming

When I was little, I didn't think in words. I felt in concepts, immediate relationships, rapid-fire realizations that I lived in real time. When I was maybe eight years old, I could feel my mind changing. Words crept in, and I fought to hold back the tide, lest the flood destroy the magic I was a part of. I wasn't strong enough, and now I sometimes think in words, but this tide of words ebbs and flows, sometimes drowning me, sometimes pulling back to reveal my former clarity.

In college, I studied linguistics. I learned that many people believe that language, in the form of structured and shared words, is essential to our humanness, even to our intelligence, to our ability to understand higher concepts. This struck me as ridiculous! Though others felt this way, I had the opposite experience. To me, words covered up reality, made my mind sluggish. It was as if I used to have a bird's eye view of the world even while living down in it, but now I have to stumble through mazes of words, the hedges high on either side, before finally reaching the end and coming to some small conclusion.

Lately, I have read books that articulate what I have been trying to explain to people all my life. These authors have helped me to better understand this challenge. The challenge of unnaming what had been named, packaged, and filed away. The challenge of forgetting labels in order to remember something truer and more immediate. In The Holy by Daniel Quinn, for example, a boy is told that the secret will open to him if he can get to know a cactus so well that he forgets its name. What seems an impossible task turns into a life-changing experience when the boy finally sees the cactus as a being pulsing with life-energy. He is finally present and can experience the life around him, rather than feeling that he understands it so well that he doesn't need to truly see it.

When you can see the world in this way, magic pulses all around you. It's in the air and in everything, even in yourself. But we must be careful not to force it. I think trying to over-theorize and force things to be a certain way from a certain mindset is part of the word-thinking--at least it is to my mind. And I do think that people's minds are different. I really admire those who have a way with words, even in their heads. But for me, with words, something is missing. And I can't force myself to see the magic. It is as if I work myself into a frenzy sometimes, wanting to see the beauty, and when I don't, I relax, and sometimes, there it is. It sneaks up behind me and sprinkles pixie-dust on me until I realize I am flying. So often gentle nudges work better, or stilling my mind, rather than overloading it with what I want.

The world is so full of this magic to discover, and I pray that we never give up on it.