Sunday, October 19, 2008


It seems I’m dying again.

* * *

This morning, before getting on the current flight to Charlotte NC, I had a few minutes between packing and the time I needed to leave for the airport. The dog wanted some company in the backyard, so we went out together. He sniffed his way around the usual scent paths. I wandered up to the tangle of blackberry canes at the back corner of the yard. The bird netting lay where we’d put it months ago to protect the ripening berries from the flocks of starlings and the endless appetites of squirrels, but instead of covering the tops of the canes, now it was embedded deeply in the thicket. Lots of canes had grown sunward, thin tendrils that easily grew through the netting, now branches several feet long and a couple thickened enough to tear through a strand or two of the net on their own. The netting did serve its purpose – I’d guess this year we picked about 70 lbs. of blackberries.

I began pulling the netting off the canes. I lifted, unsnagged, ripped, and generally hand-worked the netting away, one cane at a time. It’s a task I left too long one year, and when the sticky, wet snow of autumn came early, it stuck even to the fine netting that covered the canes, the weight of the snow flattening both netting and canes into a broken mess that took the canes a full year to recover from. So this warm, sunny morning halfway through October, I looked at my watch and settled into the task.

As I attended the canes and nets, I found two stems of berries that I’d missed before. They were overripe and sweet, fermented enough to be fragrant. They stained my fingers and tongue.

I resumed de-netting.

Pulling the last of the netting from the canes, I wondered whether it was too early to prune them. I usually wait until a warm day before or after Christmas. Sometimes I’ll weave a wreath from them. But this time, as I thought about them and the pumpkins that have begun to appear in doorways in our neighborhood, a vision/notion of a cane-man began to form. A scarecrow with tangled weavings of blackberry canes for a head, for hands. The tiniest tartness of the last berries still on the tongue.

The canes now free, I bundled the black netting, rolled it tighter, and took it to the trash cans in the garage.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sunlight, Autumn, and Darkness

A couple of weeks ago, the array of life labeled as sean shifted from one pattern to a different one. Each pattern is a familiar counterpoint of the other.

Sometimes, I love brightness and sunshine.

Let me amend that – sometimes the array that is sean responds most strongly to the sharp clarity, warmth and vibrancy of sunlight. I drink it in, elated, brimming, joy-filled at the seeing it enables.

But in my life, the inverse of loving sunshine is not loving darkness. It’s hating – hating darkness, being dissatisfied with sunshine, frustrated by my own incompetence, disappointed with what I get from loved ones, angry at opponents. If I loved darkness, I’d be set. But that isn’t the way my experience has worked.

But in the midst of hating darkness last week, I was blessed with a few minutes of clear sight. As so often happens, it was not my own sight, but my teacher’s.

* * *

Here’s the question she put to me: “Why is it I can be open and kind to yoga students who respond to my actions with defense mechanisms appropriate to their level of development and experience, while I respond to my family members with contraction and dissatisfaction when they respond to my actions with defense mechanisms appropriate to their level of development and experience?”

The question didn’t draw me out of depression – not immediately. My usual experience with depression is that it just takes a while. But her question did, suddenly – startlingly – turn the light of awareness onto my own responses.

I’ve mentioned this most recent experience of depression to several people now. Each has asked me, “Did you see what triggered it?” That’s good cause-and-effect, scientific thinking: find the cause, eliminate, avoid, or counteract the cause, and by so doing, change the effect. But here’s the thing: depression doesn’t come via an announcement. It doesn’t arrive via a physical manifestation, like a big zit appearing on my forehead, a piano falling from the sky. I don’t blame my friends for asking the question the way they did – talking about “depression” as if it were a thing separate from experience, from existence, actually encourages that sort of thinking. But for me, depression is an after-the-fact label that I apply to sift meaning from the perpetual swirl of thoughts. The labeling is an exercise in mindfulness. So there is no separation between experiencing the dimness of autumn’s lessened light and the lowered energy it engenders in my body-mind. They both, simultaneously, are. But depression is a useful mindfulness label nonetheless, because it allows me to perceive the texture of the mind behind the thoughts. And that influences both the sorts of experience/thoughts that can display on that canvas, as well as the mind-channel/ruts that are more likely to arise from such a matrix.

So what manifested this time? A kind of tired-of-it, no-ideas-left brittleness of mind arising as our family struggles to sort out how to take teenaged boys into their school studies in ways that are either beyond their capacity or their desire. A weariness with the constant need to interpolate my world view to my loved ones’. At its most fundamental level, it was “Damn it, I want something other than this!” Which, with a bit of perspective, translated into “Damn it, I want, and wanting sucks.”

As I said, the question my teacher framed didn’t dispel the depression immediately – it just enlightened the darkness a bit, providing a rudimentary ability to see what was going on as simply what was going on. Why do I readily accept my yoga student’s defensive responses, but not my family’s? Easy: because I’m not teaching yoga for what it will get me, but for what it may give them.

So when did I assign my family to the “get-me-what-I-want” category and remove them from the “give-them-what-they-need” category? Once the question is phrased right, it answers itself.

Bless you, my teacher.

* * *

It’s finally autumn here in Denver. The leaves are changing. The sky is clouded. Sun shines fewer hours. The air and the earth absorb less heat, and they emit less heat. My mind moves from expansion to contraction. My heart is inclined to follow my head until it is lent fire from another. Then it kindles, glows, warms.

Fires, like minds, need tending.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Earth Air Fire Water

Mother earth lends me her body.

Father sky lends me his breath.

I’ll return them in a bit, no overdue notices, no late charges.

* * *
The garden is mostly past its prime.

The left-behind zucchini are fat, ignored, baseball bats. The tomatoes are fading, a few green ones still hang in the cool fall air, like people waiting for the last bus of the night, not knowing it’s already left.

The carrots, though – the carrots are big and sweet and crunchy. I pull one, leaves eighteen inches long, the orange root, about six. I brush off most of the dirt and bite into it.

I’m eating Colorado’s thinnish air and Colorado’s overbright sunshine and Colorado's last-winter's snowmelt and Colorado's dirt, all woven into carbohydrates and proteins as the genetic windings of a carrot seed instructed and as the sprouted plant could manage.

Two weeks ago, I picked the last of the blackberries. They, too, were woven from the same Colorado air and water and earth and the fires of a far-off sun, but on a different loom, a different warp, a different weft.

The tomatillos came back this year as volunteers from the ones we left for the birds last year. We got more this time than last.

I crunch the carrot. The bits get small enough, and I swallow. Swallowing raw carrot always feels like giving up – in my mouth, its roughness never feels quite done. I leave it to digestive fires to get what they can from it.

They’ll unweave the weavings, some. Unbuild the complex sugars into glucose that can oxidize with adenosine triphosphate to power muscles. Free the vitamin A from the cell walls where the carrot used it as a sunscreen; leach it into my bloodstream; bathe the cells, one and all, allowing those with vitamin-A-sized holes – the retinas have lots. They'll harvest the carotene, embed the molecules into particular proteins, and put them to work processing photons into electro-chemical signals that can trigger nerve fibers. Those, of course, run into a brain and a mind that has come to think certain orange-colored taproots are worth munching.

And so Colorado earth and air and water and fire come to see themselves.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Off the mat -- Dreaming up obstacles

In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali lists seven different practices that “settle” consciousness. One of them is reflecting on insights culled from sleep and dreaming. (I:33, 38)

I’d have to be pretty oblivious not to note the trend in my dreams the past couple of weeks:

  • Driving into the wilderness on a familiar road, I find the way getting unexpectedly steeper and steeper. Finally, I have to stop and retreat to keep the SUV from toppling backwards and down.
  • Practicing yoga, my poses are disrupted by some thing’s fingers and then hands pressing up, through the floor and the carpet, like weeds. As I continue, the weed-hands continue to emerge – arms, obstructing the poses, entangling my limbs.
  • Searching in the basement of a building for a way into the inner-most part. When I finally find the way, it is doll-house-sized, and absurdly smaller and more narrow than I could possibly fit. Nonetheless, I start trying to puzzle out how I can get in.

* * *

Yesterday, I read this, from a dharma talk by Adyashanti:

Ego is a movement. It’s a verb. It is not something static. It’s the after-the-fact movement of mind that’s always becoming. In other words, egos are always on the path. They are on the psychology path, the spiritual path, the path to get more money or a better car. That sense of “me” is always becoming, always moving, always achieving. Or else it is doing just the opposite – moving backward, rejecting, denying. So in order for this verb to keep going, there has to be movement. We have to be going forward or backward, toward or away from. … As soon as a verb stops, it’s not a verb anymore. As soon as you stop running, there is no such thing as running – it’s gone; nothing is happening. The ego sense has to keep moving because, as soon as it stops, it disappears, just like when your feet stop, running disappears.

When we really let it in and start to see that there is no ego, only egoing, then we start to see ego for what it really is. This produces a natural stopping of a pursuit toward or a running away from something. This stopping needs to happen gently and very naturally because, if we are trying to stop, then that is movement again. As long as we try to do what we think is the right spiritual thing by getting rid of ego, we perpetuate it. Seeing that this is more of the same egoing will allow stopping without trying.

Emptiness Dancing: Selected Dharma Talks of Adyashanti, Open Gate Publishing: Los Gatos, CA, 2004, p. 106

And last night I dreamt this: Driving through the red-rock deserts of western Colorado and eastern Utah, I’m trying to get to a destination, and my car breaks down at sunset. I decide to proceed on foot, but it’s moonless and dark. I go to store after store, looking for one that has flashlights for sale. I can’t find one. As I’m walking from one store to another, I catch sight of a man with a twisted, spastic body, lurching inch-by-inch across a parking lot on the knee of one leg, the heel of the other foot, the elbow of one arm, the hand of the other. He’s glistening with sweat. I don’t stop to help because, I think to myself, “he seems to be making decent progress.”

* * *

The truth waits for eyes unclouded by longing.
--Tao Te Ching