Buddhism on Wings

or
How I Became Kinda Buddhist

Once upon a time, many ages ago when I was in my thirties, I was walking back to my office in San Diego on a blustery spring day. Stray scraps of paper were leaping and dancing in the gusty wind. It was a game to grab them as they passed by and then tuck them neatly in the next trash can. In the distance, one, about a half of a page, lifted lightly into the air. Something about it caught me—it swooped so low and twirled so high and with such lithesome grace, never quite touching the ground or the buildings. As I continued walking, I watched it, hoping it would come close enough to catch. Its wild gyrations carried it up almost to the roof level of two-story buildings before spiraling down—and rising again. It pirouetted at roof height right across the street before diving down and back the way it had come. With a sudden reverse, it swerved toward me… and gently settled against my chest.

I stood there, stunned, for a moment as it nestled there, held close by the breeze, until I reached slowly up and peeled it carefully from my breast. The first side was blank. The other side had been written on in hard pencil, not easy to read as it flapped gently in my hand. I smoothed it against a handy wall and held it there. It was a simple list of eight concepts, each with a few words of explanation after it. They were Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

I remember that the first was “Right View. To see things as they really are. To see the true nature of all things.” I don’t remember the exact wording of the others, but as I read down through the list, I became quite excited. Here, concise and clear, was a description of the path I’d been trying to follow in my own fumbling way. It was like hearing a huge bell ring, the kind that makes your bones vibrate. For several minutes, I just stood there on the street, reverberating. Carefully, I rolled the paper and carried it to my office where I sat and just looked at it until it was almost time for the next client. I can’t say I was thinking or reading— just there, gently humming like a Tibetan bowl being rung.

My office consisted of three main rooms—the front, public room where I taught classes and met individual clients for counseling, the middle room for healing and massage, and the private back room for paperwork and writing. I took the page to the back room and pinned it to the wall above my desk so I only needed to raise my eyes to see it.

Gradually, it became a habit to look at it whenever there was an important decision to make. The checklist helped me keep on track more easily. Then it seemed obvious to begin applying it more widely. Did what I wrote, the classes I prepared, my actions and reactions concerning clients and students measure up to those standards? One of the first things learned (from a Sufi) was that “right” in this context meant “most appropriate, most loving, most healing.” It was a constant challenge, and I fell by the wayside a lot.

About a half a year or so later, a fellow teacher was in the back room as we checked through some class plans. He saw the half-sheet and said, “Oh, I didn’t know you were into Buddhism.”

I didn’t know that either and told him so. He said, “But that’s the eightfold path, the core of Buddhism.”

I looked at it and shrugged. “I found this list and use it for a checklist for stuff. It’s what I’m trying to do. I didn’t realize it was Buddhist.” Though I loved and trusted the man, I didn’t feel like telling him about the paper whirling through the air and plastering itself to my heart. If that happened now, I’d think that Faery brought it to me, the spirits of the wind and air, perhaps, and would probably say so, but I was more shy about these things back then.

“I’ll bring you a book about Buddhism. You’ll like it.”

He did, and I did, and it was the first of a number of books I’ve read on Buddhism, mostly Zen, but also other branches growing from the root of the Buddha’s teachings. And I’ve also gone to a number of classes and meetings to try to learn more. Buddhism is vast. But I wouldn’t call myself a Buddhist. If asked and if I have to come up with a “religion” I usually say “Zen Pagan” and leave it at that.

As far as my current practice goes, I’m human and often mess up. I’m still not perfect at those eight simple guidelines. What is “perfection” anyway? The word itself may be a kind of a trap. Eight little guidelines for living and loving, for compassion and healthy relationships with self and universe. Just eight. Amazingly difficult. Subtle, too. They sound so straightforward — and they are, but things have a tendency to complicate in human minds. We seem to have to start from simplicity, go through a great deal of complexity until our understanding expands enough to move on to a higher level of simplicity. It seems like all these lessons are quite simple once we truly get them. And it also seems that once we truly get them, a little time passes and they start complicating again… because there is yet another level to reach that we couldn’t see before we got to this one.

Somewhere along my rather vagabond way through life, the original piece of paper disappeared. I’ve read a lot since then, and applied what felt appropriate. I made and still make mistakes; hopefully, I learn from them. Things are still checked by the “right guidelines” when there is doubt. You’d be astonished at how much time I spend on some of my responses on Facebook as I work through these. Some responses take days to get past the immediate reaction and into a space of reasonable clarity and “rightness”—as best I understand it.

There may be an end to developing wisdom, but I don’t know if humans ever find it or if we have to progress far beyond the limits of the human mind before we get there. In fact, it may be that the consciousness of the entire universe isn’t there yet. I wonder what would happen if the One became fully enlightened—reaching some state we can’t even begin to imagine. What would that do to us, the tiny cells in Its being? Or does enlightenment work the other way and we small cells have to each and every one reach that ultimate Beingness before the One can?

Meanwhile, I’m still working on trying to find the heart of simplicity in the seeming tangle of complexity. We learn interesting things that way. And I watch carefully what the wind brings me.

© Copyright 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Footprints in the Sand

The sole of the matter.

I’ve been thinking that this blog has been rather serious lately and I’d like to put something more faery frivolous in it, and this at least starts out that way.

I dreamed that I went to a town meeting. There were a couple of thousand people there. It was being held on the machair, a broad sandy beach with tufts of tough but richly nourishing grass on it. The tide was out, and between the low and high tide marks, the beach was very stony and harsh, unlike the firm sand of the machair higher up. The sea was restless. I was wearing my sandals with flowers on the soles, leaving lovely footprints in the sand, and was walking backward to watch the footprints. They made me feel blithe and whimsical. And happy.

A very old, large, ruined stone building stood on a dune nearby. It was scheduled to be demolished, although most of us wanted it to be restored instead — restored or rebuilt somehow. People were volunteering to help in various ways and offering to work on the building or to help reuse bits from it, saving the best parts. As they considered these things, some small groups sang or danced, some sat in circles, holding hands, while others wandered around looking thoughtful.

Somehow, I accidentally became responsible for all the wine racks from the building (house? castle? stronghold?). The racks were beautifully made of aged black walnut, and there were enough of them to fully furnish all the wine cellars of all the castles in Germany and have enough left over to fill the cellars of the Vatican and every monastic order in Italy. There were probably even more racks than that. Beautiful, strong wood for making furniture and — O, and wouldn’t it be lovely for making doll houses and faery houses and birdhouses? There seemed to be acres of the racks — they stretched as far as I could see.

There was a large, bulbous man who seemed to think he was in charge, though no one I knew seemed to know or like him or to care for his disapproval of all the suggestions offered. He demanded, “Young lady, what are you going to do with those wine racks?” There was a world or two of condescension in that “young lady” — he was many years younger than I. And somehow, I didn’t think he would appreciate the idea of doll and faery houses.

It was irresistible. I became very fluttery. “O, sir! I’m going to carve tiny figures out of them. You know — little humans and animals and other extinct creatures!”

“You cannot possibly use all that wood for that!” He actually stomped his foot in temper. Suddenly he became a judge, wearing robes and seated in one of those high, lectern things that judges use, towering over us all.

“O,” I waved my hands airily, “Do you think not? Then I’ll just have to find other people who’d like to do the same thing. I’m sure there are very many who would enjoy it, and then I’d only need to bring those people” (I gestured toward the imaginary crowd with one hand) “together with these wine racks,” (gesturing toward the racks with the other hand) “and poof! Problem solved! Voila!” I clapped my hands together happily.

“Young lady! You are not making this easy for me!” He pounded his gavel so hard he damaged the beautiful wood of his desktop.

I thought about this and his sarcasm and condescension in calling me “young lady” yet again, and smiled at him as if I were the small Shirley Temple showing off my dimples. I don’t have dimples and am of an elderly persuasion, and then said slowly, “Nooooooo… but I could if I wanted to. You just haven’t given me any reason to want to.”

His entire shiny head turned a brilliant scarlet, like a Christmas ornament, and he began to swell up, bobbing upward in his chair. It would make a terrible mess if he exploded.

So I woke up. And then I laughed and laughed.

There are lots of ways to think about dreams. They can be ways in which the unconscious (or subconscious) mind can tap into that non-local consciousness. Or they can be so simple as a chance to view everything in the dream as a part of yourself. Viewing yourself this way gives an opportunity look at the disparate parts, considering the symbolism, the interactions, the conflicts and resolutions, the ways in which the central “I” of the dream is being helped or harmed — or transformed.

For example, buildings in dreams may sometimes represent the body of the dreamer. Here the ruined building could be my body and the state of my health (which concerns me) or it could be my ‘body of work’ — the various (and often scattered) things that I’ve done, which I’m trying to organize and clarify so I can best work out what is important to focus on now. I suspect that it is both of these things, and in the dream we see this ruin that is maybe, perhaps, conceivably, feasibly, imaginably repairable. Or for all one knows, it might just be trash and scraps, some of which might be salvageable. In either case, body or body of work, it will take the cooperation of many aspects of myself to do anything worthwhile with the current mess. (I’m actually working on both things — O, and a third — trying to create order in my home, in my body, and in my work, but I’m not being very orderly about it. Being disorderly about creating order seems like a contradiction in terms.)

Many parts of myself seem easily distracted, but good-natured, while others seem cooperative and willing to help if only some agreement can be reached. One part, the bossy judge, seems only interested putting down the ideas of others. He offers no constructive suggestions and gets angry with the ideas offered. He wants to be in control and can always (or almost always) find a reason to disapprove of any action. One way of dealing with him is to make fun of him, but… that doesn’t seems to be working well and he is about to explode and make a big mess. This is a recognizable part of me, an internalization of a lesson learned wrongly, but early, that things must be kept under tight control, that action is not safe, that I can’t trust myself or my intuition to make plans and decisions, so I just create more muddle. I thought I’d long since overcome that attitude, and I know that it is not true, but obviously a trouble-making part of me still thinks it is — and I need to find a much better way to deal with it, hopefully a final cure.

I draw a Faeries’ Oracle card to represent the judge and get the Bodacious Bodach, a perfect fit — interfering, bossy, wrong-headed, but meaning to be helpful. I’m wondering what I can do to give him a way to actually be helpful. Perhaps that part of me might like to make lists and put thoughts into categories where they can be looked at in a more orderly way. Lists, plans, and maps can be very comforting, but are a bit boring to make. This suggests that the tediousness of it might well be worthwhile.

Later on, I pull a Medicine Card, asking what I can best do to help the judge be more comfortable. Grandmother Spider, sitting in the center of her own web, tells me that I need not only to be centered about my work, but also about all the other aspects of my life. I need to understand how they all relate to each other: gardening, house, meditation, writing and art, health, and everything. How do these different things cooperate and how do they conflict or get in the way of each other? I may need to draw a lot of Venn diagrams before I understand this.

I’ve no idea what the wine racks represent. Ideas and/or possessions that could best be repurposed (perhaps radically so) now? They are well-crafted, but not useful in their present form. The beautiful raw materials I have for making and writing?

“Footprints in the Sand” — why did I intuitively choose that for the title to this? Is that a part of the solution or of the question? Do I, in my heart, feel that none of it matters and it will all soon be washed away by wind and storm and tide? And where did the thought about “humans and animals and other extinct creatures” come from? I can guess — and have already decided that the only sensible way to live is to act as if there will be a tomorrow while focusing on the value of today. With courage and compassion, and, yes, hope.

What to do? What to do? What to do?

 

I Give You Fair Warning…

This Sunday morning, after nine hours in the emergency room Friday and a day of recovering Saturday, I am thinking about age and about who we become. I have been reminded of a quote from Joseph Campbell: “I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.” I remembered this poem, which I wrote some years ago, and I’m checking my list just to see where I am.

When I grow old, really old,
I shall be eccentrik.
I shall wear long silken skirts
that sweep in the dust
and keep Abyssinian cats.

I shall speak clearly to the cats, of course,
but to other people I shall speak
only in symbols, codes and cryptograms,
and let them think
that they understand.

I shan’t knit.

My garden will be wild and rich, and
I shall plant tall stones
in suitable places. I shall make
potions of flowers and light,
and I shall keep bees.

With my knobby old knees
and sagging breasts, I shall
dance naked under the Moon,
and I shall sing to Her
with the cats.

I shall carry a blackthorn stick,
and frighten small boys away from my apples –
they’ll like that —
and I’ll tell tales of the goddess
to small girls so they will know who they are.

I shall say outrageous true things
to people, anyone at all,
and make waterfalls and small pools
in wild places.

I shall have a deep, deep well of silence
in myself, and it will fill
with the love flowing through me
like a wild underground river.  My hair
will be very white and unmanageable –
rather like a dandelion.  My roots
will grow to the heart
of the Earth, and the horned god
will be a personal friend of mine.

That was then; this is now:
I don’t have the bees,
though I still want them,
and god/dess knows, they need
all the help they can get.
I have the dandelion effect
well in hand — it was inevitable
and I deserve neither credit nor blame —
but all the rest
is a work in progress.
I can say that I truly
have and I am
alive and gratefully
overflowing.

Photograph © 2011 by Tom Linton. All rights reserved.
Poem © 1988 & 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Simplicity & Complexity — Three True Tales

First a story from a friend, which reminded me of several things in a way that drew them together and helped me join the dots.

Chris Zydel’s Conversation with a student from her last night’s intuitive painting class:

Me: So how’s your painting going?
Student: Well, I decided that I wanted to paint this guy with a bald head.
Me: Yes?
Student: And so I painted him.
Me: So how did it feel?
Student: It felt great. But I don’t understand why I wanted to paint him.
Me: So you’re feeling confused.
Student: Well, not exactly. I mean it’s OK with me that I don’t know why I painted him.
Me: So what’s the problem?
Student: It all seems too easy.
Me: What do you mean?
Student: Well, I decide to paint this guy for no reason.
Me: Yes?
Student: And so I paint him.
Me: Yes?
Student: And I enjoy it.
Me: Uh-huh?
Student: Well, it just seems too simple somehow. Shouldn’t this be a lot more complicated?
Me: Why do you think that?
Student: Well, because LIFE is a lot more complicated. And you’re always saying that painting is like your life. I mean, you can’t just decide to do something in your life for no good reason and then just go ahead and ACTUALLY do it simply because you want to!
Me: (Laughing so hard that I can’t talk.)
Student: Can you????*

Chris’s story made me remember something that happened in one of my classes long ago. After about a year of attending my classes, a student asked me, “When are we going to start doing real magic?”

“Tell me,” I asked in return, “a year ago would you have thought reading tarot and doing healing and seeing auras were ‘real magic’?”

“Yes, but now I know how to do it.”

I just looked at her, smiling.

“You mean it’s all like that?” she wailed. “You mean all of it is just knowing how to do it?

I shrugged and let her stew for a few moments, then said, “There’s another way to look at it.” And I left her to think about that.

I don’t know if she ever really got it that everything is magic if only we open our eyes to see. Either it is all magic or nothing is. But that kind of confusion is what comes of people thinking they are not naturally magical people, when in fact we all are.

Simplicity. Complications. We are all born “simple” — basic, uncomplicated — eat, defecate, sleep, interact, love. When in pain, cry — but only when in pain in the present moment. Otherwise be happy and observe. Unfortunately, the more we observe, the more we tend to complicate things. Love and good feelings start to have rules — and a price. The infant’s first and built-in instinct/rule is “demand satisfaction loudly” and the second one is something like “please my mommy so she will do what I need” — and if mommy cannot be pleased, life quickly becomes truly difficult and complicated.

Every small child can learn the basics of hands-on healing very quickly and easily — at least, all the ones who are interested, providing they are taught very simply. Children trust their intuition about all sorts of things, and sometimes they are right and sometimes it all goes wrong. Children are innocent and ignorant, but humans have astonishing minds capable of great leaps of logic (and illogic, but we often don’t know the difference). As we grow and learn and conclude, we accumulate an incredible muddle of fact, fancy, and fallacy, all in an effort to make sense of the world around us and to see that our needs and desires are met.

As we get older we complicate our lives with the conclusions we have jumped to and the stories we tell ourselves why the world is as it is. Most of those stories are either wrong or incomplete. Eventually, we realize that something is amiss, and at that point, we either blame others or our circumstances or ourselves and we begin looking for a way to make our lives work better.

Some try to get rich, some develop such cognitive dissonance that they break down, some try psychology, some try religion, and some look at spiritual paths. The latter three all have some things in common and important differences. Here I just want to consider the spiritual paths.

Many spiritual paths ask that you begin questioning your assumptions, the stories you’ve told yourself about getting along in the world, the stories you’ve told yourself about you. They give you exercises and practices, and in doing them you discover new ways of functioning that break your old rules — and oddly enough, these new knackerty knotions work. They reduce inner conflict. They enable you to see the world more clearly.

Much of the spiritual path is about breaking down and letting go of our misconceptions and assumptions. Our opinions and beliefs get in our way, yet we find it frightening to let go of them and the behavior patterns that go with them. That is how we get stuck on our paths. We are very attached to our own opinions and ideas, and deep down, we believe that we simply need to follow our own rules better and we’ll be secure, safe, and happy. We believe this even when it is quite clear that what we have been doing isn’t actually producing those results. At this stage, we are like the pupa in the chrysalis, breaking down, dissolving, transforming. I don’t know how it feels to the pupa, but for humans this isn’t comfortable. Fortunately, we do get glimpses of the rewards as some of the old ideas fall away and life progressively becomes simpler and more joyful.

We learn that some things happen that we cannot control, no matter how hard we try or how good we are. We learn that no one person can meet all of our needs and desires. Sometimes what we think we want or need turns out to be less important than giving that up for a greater need — and we get a better understanding of what those greater needs may be. We find that judging the goodness or badness of others — and ourselves — is a waste of time.

In time, we learn that inner peace is more about being comfortable with not knowing than it is about thinking we have all the answers. In a way, we return to the innocence of the child — but where the child’s innocence comes from ignorance, this new innocence comes from wisdom. It is an acceptance that life is what it is. Sometimes we can change it; sometimes we cannot. Always we have the choice of learning from it or not, of accepting it or not, of being serene or not.

Eventually we learn that it isn’t all about “me”. And around the same time, we learn that all is one, and therefore it is all about ‘me’, but a me that we hadn’t guessed we were.

And the third tale — the tail of these true tales?

My students and I had just finished a series of healing classes, and were having our final exam. (Yes, I do that to my students, just to make them realize that they have learned something.) The question they each had to answer verbally was, “What have I learned in this course that, at this moment, seems the most important to me?”

People were answering very thoughtfully and fairly extensively about what new understandings they felt were actually making the most significant change in their lives and the present. We got around the circle to Warren Wise, who had been quite silent and was deeply buried in thought.

Realizing it was his turn, and looking just a bit stunned, he said, “I’ve learned that healing isn’t something you do — it’s something you are.”

I bow to my students for their teachings. I am so grateful for their wisdom.

*The first story here is © Copyright 2013 by Chris Zydel. All rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the author. You can find her at Chris Zydel’s Facebook page

The rest of this post is © Copyright 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

New Year Still Carrying the Old?

So we are past the end of the old year, beginning the new — and perhaps some of us are finding already that, in spite of good resolutions, we’re still carrying some of the old stuff we no longer want around. Emotional baggage. Anger. Grudges. Stuff. I have a magical chant I do in my head when this sort of thing comes up, and you might find it helpful too.

Xxx, I love you.
Xxx, I bless you.
Xxx, I release you.

(You replace the Xxx with the name of the person, the attitude, the object, the feeling — and it works just as well with your own name if you’re thinking you’d like to free yourself from some inner compulsion.)

Don’t be deterred by thinking you do not love them and that to say you do is a lie. Somewhere in you there is a core of pure, unconditional love. Somewhere in everyone else there also is a core of pure, unconditional love. You are just gradually awakening your awareness of that love and connection. It takes time; it takes repeats; it takes energy.

Some people think a letting go process is about “forgiving” but I always feel like there is a touch of arrogance in “forgive” — who am I to forgive anyone of anything when I’m not even qualified to judge them in the first place? Just letting go of my own anger or whatever I’m holding is the best thing I can do for them and for myself. As long as I’m projecting that miserable energy at someone, how can I expect them to like/be kind to/love me? How can I expect me to love me.

So simple; so powerful. Amazing results — when you do it long enough. It may take one time through or it may take many, a few at a time. It’s easy to tell when we’re done — there is love and blessing and freedom. But sometimes we think we’re finished and another layer of old stuff comes up. Not to be discouraged! We store memories in sets, one inside another, like the layers of an onion. What worked on the last layer will probably work on the next.

Please, just trust the process. And Keep It Simple, Sweetie! KISS!

© Copyright 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.