Tuesday, October 27, 2009
This Halloween I'm going to be sitting with Nithyananda. He's an enlightened master from India, and apparently has quite a large following. Some friends are coming from out of town to an all-day retreat in Queens, and have invited me to join them. This will be my very first guru sighting, so I'm all aflutter, and not quite sure what to expect.
Actually, this will be my second guru sighting. I stood in a very long line in Manhattan a few years back to see Amma, the hugging saint. The auditorium was completely packed with her devotees, and the entire production was hyper-organized, right down to the omnipresent boxes of Kleenex. I'd heard so much about the power of her hugs that I wanted to experience one myself, so I took a number and awaited my turn. She was perched in pink on an elevated stage amidst numerous screens and veils, and as I inched closer, my heart raced in anticipation of the coveted power hug. It started to feel like that scene in "A Christmas Story", when Ralphie's waiting in line to tell Santa what he wants for Christmas. The closer he gets to Santa, the thinner the kindness, and the more he's pushed around by Santa's helpers, who don't even pretend to be polite. That's how it was as I approached the throne of the great saint. One elf grabbed my shoulder, another yanked an arm, my knees were deftly bent, and I was pushed down toward Amma's lap as her great arm swooped up and around my neck, pulling me toward her in an impressive half nelson. I was then jerked from her grip, straightened, turned by numerous hands and swept along toward stage right, where something soft was poked into one palm, and a piece of candy in the other.
I regret to report that I felt no surge of energy, no wave of divine love; if anything, I was acutely embarrassed that my curiosity propelled me to be a momentary player in such a bizarre spectacle. But during the whole antiseptic procedure, which lasted all of a minute, I managed to get a closer look at Amma. It happened as I was peeled from her hug: I was inches from her face and I looked into her eyes, and what I saw there haunts me to this day. Her face was smiling, but her eyes were not. I saw in them pain, deep and unmistakable. It broke my heart and I so wanted to reach down and give her a hug, but clearly that wasn't about to happen, not if her efficient elves had anything to say about it. When I finally got back to my seat and opened my hand, there in my palm sat a crushed rose petal, which made me weep for Amma, the hugging saint.
But hey, what do I know, huh? She may be the happiest saint that ever walked the planet, and I the sorriest cynic. So I sincerely apologize if I've offended any of her devotees, and I should add here that she has my deep respect for the truly amazing work that she does in impoverished parts of the world. I just can't hear her name now without remembering those expressionless eyes, and wondering who the woman is, behind the smiling mask and pink veils.
So yeah, you might say I'm a bit of a cynic when it comes to this guru/saint stuff. I'm not against any of it per se, but I'm of the not-so-humble opinion that "the guru is in you", as the great spiritual teacher Yogani* so beautifully expresses it. Blind loyalty to a guru leads to cult-like behavior, and if a guru's teachings conflict with one's deep intuition, then it's the guru who should be suspect. As a friend nicely put it, I'm neither running to nor from Nithyananda; I'm simply keeping an open mind when I go to see him, and who knows? Maybe this is what I need to finally break through the layers of delusion and fully penetrate the ego. I've heard that Nithyananda embodies a great energy, and many lives have been transformed from receiving his darshan, or transmission of energy. While I'm not counting on ripping into pure consciousness and attaining Self-awareness, I've held off on a few purchases, just in case. Like, I really need a new hair dryer, since mine smells like a toaster every time I use it. I also need a haircut, thanks to the busted hair fryer, and I've been meaning to renew my subscription to the New Yorker ever since it ran out this summer. But I think I'll wait and see how things go on Saturday, because if Consciousness should use this occasion to burst through and shine forth, I'll no longer have use for such vanities.
Have a radiant Halloween.
* Yogani's teachings have been profound influence in my spiritual growth. A veritable encyclopedia of information regarding meditation, tantra, kundalini, and much more. www.advancedyogapractices.com
Above: A scene from "A Christmas Story", when Santa and his evil elves scare the bejeezus out of Ralphie.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Dude. Check this guy out. Total stud muffin, right? Can you guess who he is? No, silly, he's not my new match from eHarmony. I'm framing him for a client, and as soon as he pulled it out of the folder I knew who this guy was. Give up? I'll give you a hint: he has destructive behavioral tendencies. You might say he's a pretty straightforward kinda guy, not into playing head games, and tends to get right to the point. If you ignore him, he goes for the jugular. A little lacking in social skills, and bad table etiquette (note the blood around the mouth). Okay, okay, I'll tell you: he's my man Bhairava.
Yup, that's right. Bhairava, the destructive and wrathful aspect of Shiva. Bhairava, the ego-buster. Bhairava, who is the subject of a recent text drawing (Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, which I completed over the summer). Bhairava, who apparently has a big crush on me because he keeps making these unexpected visits and scaring the crap out of my ego. Bhairava, the God of tough love. He maintains a zero tolerance policy toward my sweet little ego, and ruthlessly shreds it to pulp on an ongoing basis.
The piece is framed and leaning against my wall, waiting to be picked up. I notice that my ego's been acting strange with Bhairava around, sulking around with its tail between its legs and giving the painting a mighty wide berth. I'm used to my ego struttin' around like a cowboy in heat, so it's sorta nice to see it cower and quake for a change. It tried to get me to turn Bhairava so that he faces the wall, but I refused. Nope, sorry, my dear ego; you've finally met your match, and it looks like he's not going away, so you might as well get used to him.
This is an unusual image; I've never seen a life-size portrait of Bhairava. The bulging eyes, dark skin, and skull caps identify him. Bhairava can see in every direction at once, and his gaze penetrates the dense, dark energy of egoic desire. Hence his recurring presence in my life. Well, I've been wanting to meet an interesting guy, so I guess I found him. That third eye is going to take some getting used to, and I'm not sure about those oversized gold hoops, but I've had to put up with worse. I just hope he doesn't snore.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Vanity of vanities, saieth the Preacher; Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
- Ecclesiastes 1:2
I've been experiencing the truth in these words of late; indeed, all appears to be vanity. I feel like an empty shell: a hollowed-out husk of the female human species, with scattered attempts at oral and visual hygiene. (Fresh breath, nice hair, clean underwear). I figure just because I'm feeling existentially bankrupt, that's no reason to make the people around me suffer. I do what I can, and leave the rest at the altar of good intentions.
Why am I feeling so bereft? Jeez, I don't know, but it's like no one's home. The perky gal who once boarded here has departed, the chambers have been vacated, and the corridors echo with an unsettling silence. I feel like a gutted blob of flesh, with an assortment of bones to prop it up for various occasions. "Going through the motions" is how I'd best describe my days, and I seem to do it well, as there have been no comments on my odd behavior. Which is a good thing, as I'd have a hard time explaining the source of my self-resignation.
As a kid I loved playing with my Barbies. Omg, give me a Barbie, a Ken, and a Skipper and I was lost in untold reveries. My flights of imagination kept me entertained for the better part of my preteen years, as I downloaded my adolescent dramas and fantasies into these flesh-colored lumps of plastic with cinched waists and movable parts. But like all teenage girls, I eventually got bored with it. The stories became transparent, real life started to get more interesting, and the Barbie-based fantasies were jettisoned.
That's how I feel now, looking at the patent transparency of my ego-centered life. The things that once fanned the flames of my passion have become vain enterprises. Creativity, ideas about art, spirituality, meditation - all of it feels utterly flat. Even the idea of "me" is a yawner. I'm tired of it. I don't want to defend an "I" anymore. I've always been so fully invested in this absurd notion of an "I", and it now feels as silly as the tooth fairy. At least she pays cash. What have I ever gotten from this ephemeral "I"? Has my clinging to it brought me any lasting benefits? A quick glance at my history reveals that my personal 'achievements' have been thinly veiled ego boosts, while any true advancements have been decidedly out of "my" control. It's as though the evolution and progress of Madge has happened in spite of, rather than as a result of, her earnest efforts. Hmmm ... one would almost think that it might be better to get her out of the way, if one was introspective.
But back to "me". Rather, back to the echo chamber that used to be "me". What's a working stiff to do? Actually, I think the fact that I'm working so much has something to do with all of this. This forty hour work week has worn me down to a nub. I have no defenses. Worse, I have no discernible need for such. I'm a sitting duck for anyone who'd care to take a shot, and fortunately for me, the line is short. I have no enemies that I know of, and am too wasted to carry a grudge. So maybe all of this is a good thing. Maybe in order to come to the end of "me", I had to exhaust all cherished notions of myself, and in so doing realize that there's no one to defend. What a concept! Nothing to defend, no one to bolster, nothing to fortify.
No one to defend.
Nothing to gain.
All is empty; all is vanity.
Above: Vanity: Ecclesiastes, Chapters 1-2, from the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 1. This is a work in progress; the Barbie mug was added for my amusement, and will be removed upon completion. She's kind of cute though, you have to admit.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
I just watched 'Jesus Camp', a chilling documentary about evangelical Christianity and its considerable persuasion in American politics. I started watching it last night, and got so upset that I had to turn it off, so I finished watching it tonight. Having participated in the evangelical scene for many years, it affects me deeply to witness the scare tactics that are used "in the name of the Lord". It's utterly heartbreaking to see these little kids bawling their eyes out, lifting their tiny arms unto heaven and begging Jesus to forgive them for their sins. What could a kid that age possibly have to confess? They're too young to have engaged in lewd conduct; too innocent to have done much more than stolen a cookie. Armed robbery, perhaps? Adultery? I mean, what have the Christian leaders conjured up in the kids' minds to make them weep with such grief and repentance?
Herein lies the crux of religion: manipulation through self-styled guilt. The evangelists have an easy job - all they need to do is plant the seeds of guilt by suggesting that the believer has an undisclosed sin that's separating them from God, and BOOM! the sin manifests in the believer's mind. Ah, sweet suffering. The mind has infinite capacity for self-sabotage, and it is upon this solid rock that the empires of religion have been built, over and over again. Not just Christianity, in all its myriad flavors of guilt and redemption, but every religion ever invented. Guilt without beginning and end; guilt simply for the fact that you were born. That cookie you stole from your bunkmate at Jesus Camp? Eternal hell and damnation, kid. Imagine telling this to a bunch of kids on summer vacation! Imagine watching them quake with fear until the tears stream down their faces, and then fall to their knees in repentance! And for what?? A stolen chocolate chip cookie? A frog stuffed down some girl's shirt? This is the stuff that summer camp is made of, you nimwits! Let kids be kids - the guilt will catch up with them soon enough.
When I was into the evangelical Christian scene in Southern California, I attended a series of churches, including Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa of the Chuck Smith fame. Massive church, with a full auditorium for three services each Sunday morning, a Bible study every Sunday night, and an intimate prayer group during the week. And this was all free will, folks. I was in my twenties, so there was no parental persuasion involved. I walked the walk, talked the talk, and my life was fully dedicated to Jesus. If I had difficult stuff going on in my life, it was assumed that my suffering was the result of some sin lurking below the radar ( or "pray-dar"); I was outside of God's will. Confess the sin, get right with God, and the suffering would end. As I write these words I feel myself heating up with indignation. Imagine the nerve to speak for God! And then there was the "name it and claim it" pastors like Robert Schuller of Crystal Cathedral, who taught that God wants to bless us with perfect health and shower us with material wealth. If you're seriously ill, or if you can't seem to manifest that shiny black Porsche, it's your own damn fault, and you'd better get right with God. Pure blasphemy! Not a trace of Jesus' message to be found in this spin of the New Testament.
In addition to watching 'Jesus Camp', I'm reading 'Leaving Fundamentalism', a collection of essays edited by a good friend of mine, Gary Dann. He and I were friends during this period of my life, and it was he who first introduced me to the notion that fundamental Christianity is based in fear and ignorance. Gary and I met at Trinity Law School in Southern California, where he was studying in earnest, while I worked in the library and took a few night classes in Christian apologetics. He has long since left fundamentalism, but remains a Christian*. I on the other hand have abandoned Christianity altogether, as it no longer has any relevance or credibility in my life. See, the ironic thing about fundamentalism is that it undermines itself by painting Christianity in broad strokes: either you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, or you're going to hell. I don't accept that Jesus is the only path to God, and furthermore find the notion of hell to be completely preposterous, therefore by their own rules, hell is exactly where I'm bound. Since I have but two options, namely, black or white, I was obliged (and eager) to discard the whole freakin', freakish thing. The evangelicals spuriously adopt Jesus' teaching in Matthew 12:30, which states that "if you're not with me, you're against me", and use it to silence those who would otherwise speak out against their self-serving interpretations of holy scripture. I am not in any way against Christians, but I vehemently oppose the notion that theirs is the exclusive path to God.
Far from living a life of misery in my separation from Christ, I am free of the twisted mind games that tortured my soul for the first thirty years of my life. The Spirit that lives in me was set free the moment I broke free from the tethers of Christianity, and has since remained anonymous, defying description of any sort. I experience it as a subtle energy, which is variously called Shakti, Holy Spirit, chi, kundalini, and so on. This energy has a Presence that looms large in my consciousness, showing up in my creative work as a serpentine line that winds and loops around the canvas. I've steered clear of any organized spiritual groups, as I have an aversion to the definitions that they tend to attach to God and Spirit. But recently I've found my path in advaita, or non-duality, and have discovered that I Am That which I seek. Imagine a spirituality where you're not presumed guilty! Where your inherent divine nature is a given, and where it is your birthright to awaken into your true identity! (Pass the Kleenex, please).
Why am I taking to the pulpit with this seething diatribe? I'm just so riled up after watching 'Jesus Camp', and angry that I've been silent about the fact that the evangelicals have messed up countless lives with their narrow interpretations of the Bible. Maybe it's time for me to speak my mind and weather the consequences. Spiritual manipulation is a wretched thing, and if I believed in hell, then there would surely be a designated place therein where the Bible thumping evangelists, who claim to be the mouthpiece for God, would be toasting their holy marshmallows for all of eternity.
Do I hear amen?
Above: A gripping scene from 'Jesus Camp'.
* G. Elijah Dann received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Waterloo and the doctorat en theologie from the Universite de Strasbourg. He is currently Visiting Research Fellow for the Centre for Studies in Religion and Culture at the University of Victoria.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
So Obama wins the Nobel. Like most people, I find it a little premature, but I guess those Nobel folks are forward thinking people. Based on the new, slightly looser standards of achievement, I think I should win a MacArthur Grant for the body of work that I'll be creating over the next decade. That half-million dollars would come in handy right about now.
My current text drawing is the Book of Revelation, and you can read about it here if you're inclined. While I maintain a neutral position on end times prophesy, I find it mildly fascinating. I'll stop short of calling myself an end times slut, but you have to admit that it's intriguing, in a train wreck sort of way. Revelation is the last book of the Bible, and it details the end of the world as we know it, followed by the Second Coming of Christ. I used to be a born-again Christian, so I have a pretty good idea of what the evangelicals claim to be coming down the pike. It's not pretty. And as some of you already know, Obama has been identified as the Antichrist. Winning (and accepting) the Nobel was yet another sign of his stature and might. Because of the great honor, his world influence will continue to swell, as will his power and charisma. You didn't think the Antichrist was going to have horns and cloven hooves, did you? How much influence do you think he'd wield if he had a mug like the guy pictured above? Sorry folks, but the Antichrist isn't going to emerge from the Dungeons & Dragons crowd. And then some people insisted that Dick Cheney was the Antichrist, but that was just too dumb for me to get worked up about. I mean, c'mon - give Satan a little credit.
So the stage is set, disaster is afoot, and the guy who's going to save us, in the short term anyway, is King Obama. The next thing that the Book of Revelation predicts is that he'll start to perform world-class miracles. We just saw the first one: namely, winning the Nobel. The next thing to look for is the world's financial institutions stabilizing, followed by financial restitution and security for one and all. Peaceful accords will be masterfully enacted between warring nations, the mark of the beast will be invisibly stamped on every unbeliever's head (watch out for those suspicious dentists who want to try out a new type of filling!), and artists will be paid handsomely for their creative endeavors. Just kidding on the latter.
Verily I say unto you that I'm not making this stuff up. It's no mystery to me why people believe it, because I understand the mindset behind it very well. It's summed up in one word: FEAR. So I really do get it, but there's one thing that I don't get, and never have. If all this final destruction and Antichrist stuff is predicted in the Bible, then the Christian evangelicals are required to believe it, right? If the Bible is to be taken literally, then you have to believe the whole thing, every jot and tittle, not just those portions that suit you. So why is it then that so many evangelicals are trying to prevent Obama from fulfilling his destiny as the Antichrist? Wouldn't you think they'd be stoked that he's finally in power? After all, it just means that they're going to be Raptured soon, and permanently reunited with Jesus. It doesn't make any sense for them to vigorously oppose the very thing that Christians have been jonesing for since Biblical times. If I was still of the Christian persuasion, I'd have elected King Obama into office long ago, worked on his campaign, and donated all my hard-earned cash, just so we can get this show on the road. After all, isn't the Rapture the Christian equivalent of enlightenment? Isn't reuniting with Christ nothing more than a metaphor for awakening into the state of non-dual Being?
My head hurts. Better get back to my texting...still only on Chapter Four. Wait up, King Obama! I'm texting as fast as I can! Don't perform any signs and wonders until I catch up with you, okay?
Friday, October 9, 2009
I think I've had a breakthrough of sorts. Or maybe it's a breakdown - hard to tell sometimes. I've given up on the idea of enlightenment. It feels so close that I can almost smell it. I've been having these moments of recognition, like when I'm on the subway, and I have this flash, and I realize that "I" am something else. Not what I've always thought I was. It's like someone else is seeing through my eyes, and I recognize with a fair amount of levity that the person I've always thought myself to be is an invention. I've created her, and am heavily invested in her success, well-being, and happiness, but that person is a creation of my ego. The "real" me is much, much deeper, wiser, and more profound than anything my ego could contrive. It's simply not that clever.
So I'm sitting on the subway, headed uptown to work, and it's crowded. Mostly suits, a few hospital workers, the odd blue collar, and then me, in my usual black habit. Always crowded, and as festive as a dirge. I usually read, but lately I've been observing. Not so much with my eyes, but with my heart. Seeing myself in my fellow commuters. This isn't an effort-based activity; it just happens, and I observe it happening. It's as though I observe myself observing the people around me. I observe myself feeling connected to them in an inexplicable way...and then...poof! It's gone. Whatever it was, it went back into hiding, and I'm back to being Madge, the construction of my ego, and a disconnected island amidst a sea of self-invested identities.
~~~~~~~~~~~I've suddenly had this deep understanding that no amount of meditation is ever going to get me where I want to be. There is no asana, no guru, no teaching, no pranayama, no tantric lover, no spiritual enterprise, no nothing that will ever get me what I want. I could spend the upcoming 3-day weekend meditating, fasting, and chanting, and I'd be no better off than I am now. So I officially give up! I'm done. Enlightenment is either going to happen or it's not, but it will surely be independent of any well-intentioned grasping on my part.
I mean, let's face it. Enlightenment happens where and when and to whom it wants. No one dictates to Consciousness where it will burst through the clouds of ignorance and shine. It seems to show up where the layers of resistance are the thinnest, but even that rule has its exceptions. So who the hell knows? The only thing I know for sure is that 1) awakening is the only thing that matters to me anymore, and 2) any efforts toward that end are futile.
Oddly enough, the futility hasn't generated despair. Indeed, I'm rather calm. Serene, even. I've reached this plateau where I've absolved myself of all guilt, and yet I admit my shortcomings. This is as good as it gets, folks - I can't do any better. Difficult words for a perfectionist, workaholic, and overachiever. Enlightenment is most elusive to the ambitious.
So what's next? Continued flashes of recognition? Will I just keep seeing myself all over the place? Is that it? Will I chew, but never swallow? I recognize my folly as clearly as I recognize my Self, and yet the radiance remains clouded in obscurity. So be it. "I" officially give up.
Have a great weekend. Do something fun.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
There's something that I don't understand. Maybe someone can explain it to me. All the advaita teachings say the same thing: we're already enlightened, and it's just a matter of awakening to our true nature. I believe this to be true, because something inside me (my true nature, I suppose) resonates whenever I hear it. There is a deeply felt recognition of the truth behind the words I AM THAT.
The teachings also state without ambiguity that the more you search, the more elusive "it" is. Makes sense to me! If I already am that which I seek, then attending a weekend seminar on "Finding Your Enlightened Self" seems a little unenlightened, particularly when the fee is way outside my budget. Or traveling hither and thither in search of a teacher; isn't that the same thing? Why do I need a teacher to tell me what I already know? Why would I go on an expensive retreat and pay a wad of money to hear someone tell me how to "get" enlightened, when I'm told that I already am? It seems to me that enlightenment workshops and non-duality retreats drive a wedge between what we desire (enlightenment) and what we already are (enlightened). In other words, they're antithetical to what they profess to teach.
So that's what I don't get: why there are courses and retreats on attaining enlightenment. It's pointless to seek enlightenment outside of oneself. You can only awaken in yourself, to your Self. Nothing wrong with a little instruction, I suppose. Read a book. Check out Rodney Stevens' blog. It's free! As it should be. But for all the millions of dollars that are spent in an attempt to find the key to enlightenment, you might be better off taking a trip to Vegas, where the return on your money will be much higher.