The C Word

I just got back from a meditation place in the city.  My first time there.  It was a sit, and then a dharma (dhamma) talk on long-term conditioned patterns.

It’s a good thing to go to a talk like that when it’s only Wednesday and you’re already at the screaming point with yourself.  Because, like it or not, I have not banished, welcomed, accepted, healed or whatever my feeling of wanting to CONTROL things.  People, mainly.

The teacher called it a kharmic knot, with threads of emotions like fear (could control possibly have anything to do with FEAR?  I mean, duh) and judgment and past experience or pain or cultural conditioning.

I have to say, it is hard to be funny at 10pm writing about CONTROL.  Because OH MY GOD, I am so controlling I try to make sure my life doesn’t hold anything that will turn that dial in me so I am just wanting to tell everyone what to do and call them out on everything.  And I’m good at it.  I can actually build a life in which that doesn’t get dialed up very often.  Then I think I’m like so spiritual because I’m not controlling any more.  Which is just the worst kind of bullshit.

Here is the truth.  Of course I get these attacks of self will when I don’t get what I want.  But I have actual healing about that.  I watch the temper tantrum come on, and then maybe it gets hold of me for a little while, and if it does, I can just apologize and move on.  The temper tantrums don’t stay all that long.

The part I am just totally clueless about is when someone acts according to a set of rules I don’t agree with or don’t understand.  Think about that.  When does anyone else act according to the Lyralen Kaye rules of conduct?  Which, by the way, I inherited from my German mother.  It has several thousand volumes and I don’t know why it is that my mind seems to know a rule for every occasion, but there it is.  Pop: rule.  I don’t remember her telling me at least half of them, but somehow I think she must have.

So, there goes the world, not following my rules. People are late and don’t call.  People say they’ll do things they don’t do.  They email about emotional issues.  They break legal contracts.  They decide what you think without asking you.  I mean, the list goes on.  And here I am, working on collaborative projects with other human beings.  And regularly being driven crazy by everyone I’ve ever known.

I used to think that everyone else was getting along fine and it was just me, but then I found out we all drive each other crazy, and when I get all sharp and biting because someone is late for the fifth time, I get to drive people crazy, too.  Or when it bothers me and I just pretty much go away.  Other people love that one.

At the meditation session tonight, a man asked about control.  And the conversation ended up being about the nature of being human, and how you feel control come up, and if you’re Buddhist you try to investigate it and see the truth of it, and you try to do this with some kindness for yourself.

I haven’t done that yet–all I’ve done is be really nasty to myself for wanting to control people, because I know doing it, or attempting to do it will both make me miserable and be fruitless.  So I can guess that when I investigate I’m going to find hurt–because when people are late, or don’t show, or don’t keep promises, I think I do feel hurt and fear.  But I haven’t investigated it yet, and so far what I’ve found with Buddhism is that when you start feeling what’s happening in your body, you find the story you tell yourself about what you feel is totally and completely WRONG.  Like, I can tell myself that I feel hurt, and then I can remember some thing from my life that explains it, and then I’ll really feel hurt because that’s the story I have and we all know narrative is powerful.

So, I’m a control freak who hasn’t yet investigated her feelings and is probably wrong about them anyhow so I might as well go meditate because then at least I won’t be bothering anyone.

But, if I’m practicing some very small amount of metta for myself, I have to say that today is a very hard day every year, and control comes up around the grief, and really, I am a kind woman whenever I can be.  Which is, probably, pretty often.

Put it on the scale.  I am now a very kind control freak who has a little metta for herself for not knowing what she feels until she investigates it.

I can live with that.  Which is good, since I don’t exactly have a choice.

Everything Is Everything. Or, Buddhism Meets Baruch Spinoza.

I have decided it is useless to pretend about, well, pretty much anything.  So, this blog is so little about film-making even though I’m making one.  It’s more about how to live a life.  In this case, mine.

But, I am making a film.  Which worries me.  I am such an impractical idealist with such high moral standards.  I tend to make up for that by being ridiculously over-competent, but still.  The challenges to those moral standards frighten me.

Here’s how it goes.  Last week was a big film week.  Through Father Paul Bresnahan, I booked a presentation at nAGLY, which is a support organization for queer youth.  Everything is about fund-raising now, but I wasn’t about to fund-raise youth.  I thought I’d just go and talk about being queer, and having been bullied, and my life-long obsession with homophobia, the nature of love and spirituality.  What I know about teens is that they always know bullshit and they hunger for truth.  So I thought I’d offer my truth and hope to connect.

It was fantastic.  The youth were so smart, and struggling to understand their place in the world, and hungry for any movie that told the story of their lives as queer people, and so hopeful that I could maybe provide one of those stories.  I felt so humbled to be allowed in.  Into their world, and their felt sense of themselves, and the way they related to each other.  I asked them to like the FB page, but that wasn’t really the point.  The point was moment-to-moment experience.  The point was being with the truth of what is.  It was only two days after my visit to Meditation Land, so what did you expect?

Anyhow, later in the week I went to Provincetown for the film festival.  There was a point on Saturday when the rest of the team were off watching movies and I was alone at the table.  And I just let go of making the festival work for us.  I sat there, and I could smell the sea, and feel the wind on my skin, and this feeling of peace just ballooned out of me.  I picked up my cell phone and dialed into a webcast on guess what? Spirituality.  And immediately people started coming up to the table.  Some of them wanted help deciding on movies.  Some of them wanted to know about Ptown.  One of them seemed incredibly interested in investing in the movie.  I really liked her, and I can’t stand pitching to people if I don’t really feel that the project is a match for their beliefs.  So it was just fun to talk and to connect.  The rest of the weekend was like that.  Meeting people I liked.  Having interesting talks.  Many of them seemed interested in the movie.  But you know, we’ll see.

Fund-raising.  I used to raise money for the big left wing organizations.  I did this over the phone and they trained us not to even say, “How are you?”  I couldn’t believe that.  You weren’t supposed to give the donor a chance to hang up.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you might have noticed that following the rules without thinking about them is just not something that I do.  So, I didn’t follow that rule.  In fact, I always said, “How are you?”  I’d say, “Hi, I’m Lyralen, I’m calling for xxx.  How are you today?”  And I actually wanted to know.  I wanted to know who I was talking to and what kind of day he or she was in.  I tried to listen and be respectful.

I was one of the five most successful fund-raisers in the company.  I did my best work for the organizations I believed most in, and I connected with people about how much we both cared about the cause.  Fund-raising never made me feel dirty.  I remember a friend said, “I hate those calls.  I can’t believe you do that.”  I said, “I raised $10,000 for people with AIDS this week.  What did you do?”

So, I think it’s just like that.  Fund-raising has to be moral.  And if connection is spiritual–and I think it is–it has to be spiritual.  It has to be genuine.  Like, come along for this ride if it’s right for you, if you love the story, if you care about gay marriage.  I think it’s so necessary to ground down into that, because when you want people to help you, you can lose focus on connecting and just get into will.  Trying to make people do what you want.  Which in my book, isn’t moral.  Period.

I think making a film should make me nervous.  Like, writing the business plan, I started to think about my investors.  I thought about owing them honesty, and a fair and good business deal, and a budget that would make it more likely they’d make their money back.  That might mean some sacrifices, but I want to feel really good about this.

Truth is, my favorite restaurants have not only good food, but nice people working there.  My favorite companies are socially responsible.  And the thing is, Buddhists teach you to do no harm.  To leave no footprint.  We made a verbal contract to not kill even one mosquito while we were on retreat.  It makes you think about lovingkindness.  It makes you want to saturate your life with it.

Of course my dark side is alive and well.  Duh.  I’m a human being.  But if I can see it, accept it, not let it determine my actions, well…

I am not in control.  Everything is itself.  Baruch Spinoza created pantheism, the belief that God is in everything.  Buddhists believe in treating everything in the world as God, even if they don’t ascribe to a monotheistic or even theistic world view.

I don’t believe in God.  I believe in the I-Thou relationship, in which I try not to forget your humanity or my own.  And I forget for tiny moments, and then have to remind myself.  I am lucky if you let me in, even for a moment.

Like I said, I am an impractical idealist.  But really, if you write a film about the nature of love, and the main character believes that love is expressed in action, in behavior, in being better, you kind of have to at least try to live up to that.

I hope I can.  Every day of my life I have hoped that.  Even on the worst days.  So must we all.

Silence is not the point, Part 2.

I write this particular entry with the full knowledge that it will prove me certifiable.  Of course, when I told the story to my meditation group, they all seemed to know what I was talking about, so it’s like we are ALL certifiable.

Here goes.

So, meditation is a lot about recognizing that our minds are constantly constructing the world.  That’s what they’re supposed to do.  We get input, and then we attempt to interpret it and make sense of it.  Of course, we’re mostly incorrect.  Or, we’re always incorrect in some way.  The degree to which other people agree with us soothes our unconscious knowledge that we’re incorrect.  This is especially true when we are flat out wrong or in denial.  That’s when we really look for agreement.

Of course, since I’m constructing as I say this, who knows if it’s even true.  I say this even though I think my constructions are really cool and I often don’t care if anyone agrees with me or not.

However.  At the meditation retreat I started having a relationship with a chair.  Which is to say that I WANTED to sit on a meditation cushion.  It makes me feel all spiritual (another construction).  Plus, meditation cushions are cool.  I didn’t want to give in to aching joints, which mean that I am AGING BY THE MINUTE.  But, finally, I sat in a chair.  Of course, I put a meditation cushion on the seat of the chair, which made it kind of like a baby’s high chair and I could see over the heads of everyone else.  Which shouldn’t really matter, since supposedly we all had our eyes closed anyhow.

A woman walked into the hall, looked at me, looked at the chair behind me, picked up the things off the chair behind me, and put them down on the floor with some emphasis.  I constructed that maybe she didn’t like my high chair, but I didn’t dwell on it, because, well, I was about to meditate and see if my back hurt as much in the chair as on the cushion.  (It didn’t.)

The next time I came into the hall, about an hour later, the chair I’d sat on last time had been moved.  There was now a big empty space where my chair had been.  Of course, I was aware of the whole construction thing, so I did remember to wonder WHO had moved the chair.  Maybe not that woman.  But I also thought, “Oh my God, are we going to get into chair wars in Meditation Land?”  I looked at the space, then saw that a chair was so far back in the line it was practically in the closet.  I moved it back to the space, adjusted the chairs so everyone had room and sat down where I’d been before because though it wasn’t very Buddhist to be attached by the space, it was right near the window so I got to feel the breeze blowing over my skin while I was meditating, which made the meditation much more enjoyable.  Until the lawn mower started, but that’s another story.

Silence is….golden?

Then we learned Metta Meditation.  This is lovingkindness (all one word in Buddhism).  We started out by focusing on someone for whom we had a pure love without lots of conflict.  I did my friend Don Foley.  I know I’m safe writing that because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t read this blog, and anyhow, if he did read it, he’d be all sweet.  But I’m still not going to tell him.

We continued on to give lovingkindness to ourselves, and I, like many others, started crying.  Then we kept spreading the lovingkindness out to the world.  It’s the kind of thing that makes you feel incredibly open and vulnerable.  It feels good, but, you know, you wouldn’t want to go to Thanksgiving dinner with my family in that state if you know what I mean.

Afterward, I went to the participant refrigerator to get some protein.  I had put all my labelled stuff in the far back corner because I brought too much and I was taking up disproportionate space about which I felt guilty.  So I open the door and my stuff isn’t on the bottom in the back any more.  It’s nowhere.  Then I see my yogurt in the middle of the top shelf.  And my fish oil is now in the door.  I can’t find my eggs anywhere–it turns out they’re in some compartment.  And I’m like, “Does someone just not like my name?  Is the back of the frig prime real estate?  I mean, what the F***!”  I put my stuff back together on the bottom shelf and then went up to my room.  I was really freaked out.  I’m like, “I come to the meditators for a little peace and I have chair wars and frig wars?”  I’m also like, “Why does this kind of thing get to me so much?  Why can’t I just not take everything so personally?”

Give me a little credit.  That lovingkindness stuff is really intense.

So I go to my room, get in a restorative yoga pose, and breathe.  After about 20 minutes I feel almost normal (whatever that means).

And I go down to the frig and there’s a note on it that says that they swapped refrigerators and apologize for any inconvenience.  36 hours later I notice the new frig opens on the opposite side.  I guess I just wasn’t all that mindful about the sensory world and doors following Metta.

I mean, I had a relationship with a chair and a frig and I misinterpreted them!


My mind is a mind!

Which is to say that I construct insanity!

I am now going to go meditate and do more restorative yoga so that I can notice my mind is a mind that constructs insanity.

I advise you all to do the same thing.  Then we can make jokes about how crazy we all are.

Though I’m not sure I needed meditation to teach me this in a general way, it sure does make my insanity specific.  Which I might enjoy.  In hindsight.  Someday.

Silence is not the point.

Having just returned from the 10 day silent meditation retreat I can definitively say that silence is not the point.  I can even say that as I suspected, it wasn’t even very hard.  We got to talk every other day in our group meetings anyhow, and twice in the 10 days in meetings with the meditation teachers.  Anyhow, I liked the silence.  It is amazingly easy to get along with other human beings if you don’t have to talk to them.

What was not easy in any way was the meditation.  We woke up every morning at 5:15am and the first 45 minute sitting meditation was at 5:45.  I tried it once, got dizzy, left the hall, and went back to bed.  But no worries.  There was another sit at 8:15.  And another at 10am.  And another at 11:30.  2:15, 3:45, 6:15, Dharma talk at 7:30, chanting and another sit at 9pm.  In between each 45 minute sitting meditation was a walking meditation.  At 3pm every day was a movement/yoga meditation.  There was a lot of meditation.

What to say about it?  Well, the obvious.  My back hurt.  My shoulders hurt.  My knees hurt.  In between my should blades hurt.  Sometimes my neck hurt.  I twitched, fidgeted, did stretching on the stealth, listened to song lyrics in my head.  (Steely Dan, in particular, seemed appropriate.  Over and over again, “Bodhisattva, won’t you take me by the hand.”  And then, “Free your mind, and the rest will follow.”  No other lyrics.  Just those, over and over and over again.)

Eventually, I surrendered to sitting in a chair.  So much for my Joe-Meditator-I-Can-Take-It status.  Gone.

That might be the point.

I began to follow the meditation instructions.  I sat as still as I could.  I tried to get concurrent with my sense doors, to be inside my moment-to-moment experience.  I experienced bodily sensations like tornadoes or swirls from Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings.  I heard cars passing, the unpredictable notes of birds chirping, lawn mowers, the breathing, sighs and stomach rumblings of other meditators’ stomachs, not to mention my own.  I lay my awareness next to physical sensations that sent me whirling into grief.  I watched my breath rise and fall and then take sudden dips.  I licked my lips and felt my tongue like an unruly and slippery animal, my lips tingling, the back of my teeth smooth and hard.  I breathed and breathed again.  I watched images appear in my mind, frightening and nonsensical and amusing.  I got lost in thoughts about work, or marriage, or the future, or the past and pulled out to start hearing the birds and cars again, or to start feeling the burning of my sit bones on the chair cushion.

I lay my awareness next to anger, and pain, and hurt, and grief.  I watched them pass.

It wasn’t boring.  It was amazingly difficult and suddenly peaceful.  This uncomfortable body.  This unruly and wild mind.  This light inside.

The point, the Buddhists’ say, is to know the way things really are.  To know the truth of things, which we can only know through our senses.  That everything that lives, dies.  That impermanence is the rule of life.  That suffering is.  That our mind constructs realities because that is its job, but its stories aren’t true stories.  When we free our mind from stories and cravings and aversions, we can know liberation.  We can be freed from suffering.  We can know peace.

I would like peace.

Of course, to be a true Buddhist I would probably have to give up swearing, so I think ultimate enlightenment is out of the question.  I mean, I really love the word fuck. I love it’s many uses as every possible part of speech.  I mean, fucking coming on, you beautiful total fuck, are you really going to fuck up this lovely spiritual blog by fucking your way through this sentence?

It seems I am.

Seriously, I have never been so stirred up, felt so safe, been held in such kindness.  I mean, I can’t wait to go back and suffer again.  And contrary to any appearances in any above paragraphs, I do feel calmer.  I mean, I actually chewed my food at both breakfast and lunch and have refrained from multi-tasking most of the day.  I LOVED that retreat.  Spiritual rigor, mental training, kindness, morality.  Sign me up.  Again, and again.

And, while I was gone, it seems the team went to Pride, created buzz, and talked to people about investing.  This weekend, it’s the Provincetown Film Festival for more of the same.

I plan to meditate while the booth is slow.  Come and see.  You can place bets on whether it’s my knees or my back that’s giving me the greatest sensory experience of unbelievable and utter PAIN.  You can bet on whether it’s my right foot or my left that’s currently fallen asleep.

Really.  It will be fun.