Saturday, January 24, 2009

Morning, awake

At any moment, there is present within us a clear, thin quality of bare awareness. No matter how deeply possessed by physical pain, there is still a quality that simply knows the pain. No matter how consumed by ecstatic pleasure, there is still a quality that simply knows the pleasure.

This quality has both the thinness of single microscopic thread, and the vastness of a whole cloth. It is both detached, and at the same time fully interested and present for all things. It has a pleasant coolness, but is at the same time comforting and warm.

Aware of pain and pleasure, it neither hurts nor thrills. Aware of both hatred and hunger, it neither yearns nor despises. Aware of basic physics, it neither pushes nor pulls. Aware of body, aware of thought, it belongs neither to the body nor to the psyche. Aware of the coming and going of all things, it isn't born, nor does it die.

A glimpse of this quality is very much like awakening well rested on cold Sunday morning long before dawn, when the senses are keen and you find yourself with a crystalline perception of the creaking of cold timbers, the throb of the furnace, the sounds of early morning birds and the newspaper delivery man crunching through the snow in the front yard. Nothing has changed, all the challenges and pains and pleasures of the world remain, but at this moment there is nothing whatsoever to be accomplished, nothing to be done but to lie still, rest there, and be aware of it all.

The spiritual life in the final measure isn't about some kind of muscular, mystical transformation. It is not an alchemical process but a geographic one. We don't transmute lead into gold, we just open our eyes to stoop and pick up the nugget. Hunger and hatred, passion and pain, birth and death remain: those are simple realities of physics. But they manifest within the landscape of awareness. We don't become aware or achieve it; we travel to it, we awaken to it, because it was there all along.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Citizens of 4F, January 16, 2009

Another bitterly cold morning in Minneapolis, the third in a row. This one's 21 below zero. Across the bus, I see a young woman who is engaged in an elaborate toiletry ritual, applying her makeup with equipment drawn from her purse. This seems so odd to me on a cold, cold day when no one really cares what they look like, that I can't help but steal glances at her.

This isn't a simple touch-up of lipstick. She has a metal eyelash curler she uses to perform repeated surgery on her eyelashes, then goes through a very elaborate and complete ritual of mascara and eye liner and several applications of skin makeup, applied with careful caution while studying herself in a small hand mirror that is bouncing about with every movement of the bus. I am incredulous to see, as a finale, that she reaches up beneath her sweater to vigorously apply deodorant to her armpits. The entire process, curling eye lashes to treating the armpits, takes a full 20 minutes of bus ride.

Inside, I find myself slightly offended by this lack of respect for fellow passengers. I dislike that she has subjected us to this spectacle, one which most people would practice in the privacy of their own home. By all appearances, there is no developmental problem her that indicates the girl doesn't understand the social niceties. She seems to simply not particularly care that she is showing us this private activity.

My inner dislike of what I'm witnessing is something I recognize as unhappiness, although of a mild form. Examining the sensation, I realize that what make is making me unhappy is the personal disagreement I feel. I would like to negate what I'm seeing. I dislike it. I take issue with it. I'd like her to get off the bus, to leave this space. I don't want her to be.

Compounding this is the the fact that I also don't much like the fact that I'm quietly, arrogantly, judging this girl so harshly. My own judgmentalism is unpleasant to me, and this all by itself slightly increases my quiet unhappiness with the entire situation.

Then, though, I find myself becoming interested in the whole 'nowness' of the thing. I find myself curious about this girl—what must her inner world be like, for her to apply makeup and personal hygiene products in front of complete strangers on a crowded bus? Is her own workplace so oppressive and judgmental that she dare not venture in without being in full makeup? Is all this evidence of arrogance, or is it instead profound insecurity?

I"m also a little fascinated by the inner sensation of my own personal judgment, my own disagreement with the circumstances the world has presented me with today. The unhappy feeling is interesting, in some ways—it feels a bit like a negative electrical charge, or like magnets of similar poles thrusting against one another.

In the interest, in the curiosity and attention toward things as they are, I find that the rejection of things has now eased and is replaced by a more accepting feeling. And in the acceptance there is no longer unhappiness, but instead a feeling that can only be described as contentment and even a quiet happiness. It is faint, but none-the-less there. Unhappiness has given way to happiness.

This ebb and flow, this dance of happiness and unhappiness, is present virtually all the time, I realize.

Upon leaving the bus, a blast of cruel cold air feels for all the world like the burn of caustic lime.

This time, it's not so easy to find the acceptance.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Happiness Defined——and Briefly Explored

Happiness is a lot like pornography.

It was a Supreme Court justice, I think, who famously observed during a high-court hearing that, while he didn't know exactly how to define pornography, he darned well knew it when it saw it.

Happiness strikes me much the same way. We all recognize the quality of happiness when it comes upon us, but pinpointing its definition, or arriving at a rational explanation of its causes, is maddeningly difficult.

But some kind of definition is necessary, and so I'll propose the following:

Happiness is our subjective and personal sense of peace, contentment and well-being.

And with that, we're off to the races.


I was decidedly not happy yesterday morning when I awoke. My immediate mood was one of resentment and irritation. The first memory that came to me was of tearing apart the house the previous night in a vain effort to uncover the vast mouse civilization my wife was sure infested us (she'd seen a mouse scurrying across the basement earlier). And also quickly in my mind were the previous day's battles with several employees who have been stubbornly clinging to very poor work habits. Fully a dozen people had sought me out the previous day, either to complain about something or demand that I accommodate their needs with some action. The upcoming day promised much more of the same.

I very much wanted to be left alone yesterday, and was quite aware that this wasn't in the cards in any way, shape or form. Altogether, I found myself in a mood of pronounced irritability and resentment over the demands that other people were making on my time and attention.

The mood lasted a good part of the morning, and although the unhappiness I felt wasn't of a very pronounced level, it was most certainly there. I was not a happy fellow.

Yet as I looked closely at the mood and the unhappiness I believed was being caused by it, there was quite an obvious truth to be seen. The anger and irritability I was feeling did not inherently create the unhappiness. My unhappiness resulted largely because I felt an intense resistance, fear even, to the mood of irritation. It was resistance that made me unhappy, not the mood itself.

This is a bit of my own karmic legacy, I suppose. When I was a little person, angry people were dangerous and threatening to me, and as a result, to this day I have a very intense distaste for anger within myself. Quite frankly, my own capacity for anger frightens me, and I'll do almost anything to avoid it.

My morning unhappiness seemed to be largely the result of my inner war, my rather panicky need to deny my irritable mood of the morning. Unhappiness was the result of my judgment regarding reality, not so much reality itself.

As an experiment, I opened the gates to an inner pasture and released my irritable bad mood into the expanse of the pasture. I allowed it the freedom to roam. I stopped fighting it, in other words, and simply gave it some space. Gradually, as the morning wore on, I found that my unhappiness diminished greatly, and even the irritability itself began to relax and lay down in the pasture to sleep.

I don't know that I was necessarily happy by noon, but I surely was a great deal happier.

So for myself, anyway, I conclude that unhappiness on this day perhaps had less to do with actual conditions, and more to do with inner disagreement, inner conflict. Unhappiness seems to be largely the result of inner judgment and conflict, while happiness is fostered by self acceptance.