Surrender (#tbt)

I asked Nina Simone what it means to be free. “Words cannot do justice to the experience of freedom,” she said. She paused a moment, a hushed, contemplative silence, before saying “no fear… That’s freedom. That’s not all of it, but I think that’s the best I can do.”

What’s does it mean to you to be free?

I agree with Nina. Few things holds us back like our fear. In any given instant it may be the most powerful and palpable restraint on us, but fear is not the only thing limiting us. Freedom is unconstrained choice, and fear may not be what constrains us most. Oddly enough, comfort may be more confining.

I want to be happy. I don’t want to suffer. If I’m not careful these basic human desires can imprison me in my own privilege. If I don’t actively contemplate what I truly want, if I don’t mindfully investigate my motivations, relatively mild discomforts that I subconsciously avoid will lead me into a cage of comfort.

True freedom means seeing what I truly want, not just what is most comfortable, and making myself vulnerable to that discomfort, embracing it, shaping it and being shaped by it, and in so doing living realistically in a world of my own making.

This post is part of my Throwback Thursday series and originally appeared on 5/11/16 as part of  #MayBookPrompts. The prompt was “Fifty Shades of Freedom.”

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Tiny whispers in my mind:
"It, he, we, and also mine."
Everything I see I find
is a reflection of my shine.

Everything talks to me, and here I am with my eyes shut and my ears closed; scrunched up like an obstinate toddler willing myself not to know. Despite my best efforts, vague insights trickle through.

Sometimes it feels like that, but really it's the opposite. I don't control it. It's an internal struggle. Consciously, I try as hard as I can to hear, but I can't keep it up. The programming is too strong. It constantly resets to factory settings, wiped.

"Huh? What? Yeah, sure, great, sounds good." And on I go, still grinding the path of the status quo.

In the end, death shakes loose the leaves and we can finally see the bare branches that held it all in place. Or so I'd hope. Yet, maybe this is it, or maybe death is just another step in the same direction. Our whole life just one pace on the path back around. How many rotations till we get dizzy and fall, and, laying there in the saturated void, surrounded by the infinite possibility of nothingness, finally start to hear the echoes bouncing back at us carrying all of the information we need, trying to tell us the shape of the room we are in, but we never learned how to hear it.

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What makes a star a sun?
How we relate to it must.
Can there be more than one?
We’re all made of star dust.

What dulls our shine?
Is it our fear and hate?
We’re all of a kind.
Can we steer our fate?

Not like a cold, faint light,
That’s not your role.
That’s old, ain’t right,
I’ll treat you like our Sol.

Now we’re all the Sun,
A bright, resplendent hue,
And we shine upon
Each other pure and true.

This post is part of my Throwback Thursday series. It originally appeared on May 9th, 2016 as part of #MayBookPrompts, a series of daily posts inspired by book titles. The prompt was "A thousand Splendid Suns."

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To sit in a void, a hard vacuum, would burst my eyes and boil my blood, and yet be so desirable. I could struggle with the contradiction, but prefer to just accept it like the warm embrace of winter.

If you had no senses, what would be the character of your awareness, and then, suddenly, what would that first note, that first flash, feel like?

Would the void be better having had no experiences previous to it, would the contrast otherwise drive you mad, or would it be best enjoyed as a welcome respite after a full life?

Perhaps it would be ideal in the middle, the climax of the hero’s journey filed down into a flat nub of nothingness.

They say that only in absolute darkness do we truly see; our sight freed from the busy confines of shape and form. The most beautiful fireworks can only be shared secondhand in words imperfect to the experience. Like a dream, it quickly fades at the edges, articulable only in the broadest strokes of theme. Like a dream, the imagination sets itself free to wander in the dark.

And then there was light.

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Onomatopoeia (#tbt)

What constitutes pure silence? If a tree falls in the woods… If we build a sound detector with an auditory acuity far more sensitive than our own, and it tells us there is noise we cannot hear, is our silence broken? How much sound lies beyond the range of our relatively feeble ears?

Once, when camping in the boundary waters I came as close to true silence as I ever have.  As I pulled my canoe into a narrow inlet before a portage, I was struck by the quiet. It hit me abruptly and caught me off guard. A moment passed before I could define the experience. There was no movement. I stood still in the void, and it slowly filled. The sounds of my own body grew louder in the contrasting silence: the hollow drone of my own ears, the wispy rasp of my breathing, the wet gurgle of my throat and guts. Nothing had changed, but as my awareness widened I found myself again surrounded by noise. I shouldered my canoe and continued up the hill.

How much of our experience do we filter out and how much is lost to the noise of our lives? The first time I did a body scan meditation was at a weekend long introduction to meditation workshop. I had started meditating some months before that, but had never placed my focus on the minutiae of my physical experience. It quickly became one of the most uncomfortable experiences I’d had. I became aware of more and more sensations, more and more discomforts, until I felt my entire body awash; practically every inch, inside and out, aching, throbbing, or itching in some way. The instructor asked how the scan was for us. I told him it was horrible.

Imagine if we were always aware of those micro-feelings and sounds. We couldn’t function. Perhaps this is why my infant son likes white noise so much. It must be difficult adjusting to the hullabaloo of life.

Does silence exist? Likely only in the vacuum of space as even the colliding of subatomic particles must make some noise. Within our range of hearing is it possible to find silence?

As I reflect on this, I am lying down on the matted floor of the martial arts studio I teach at, my feet propped up on the wall 90 degrees from the rest of me. Aside from the passing whir of the occasional car, (and the disquieting cacophony of my body, of which I am mercifully unaware) it was quiet. I am taking the opportunity, as I stretch out and wait for students, to ponder this topic when YEEAH! I am suddenly torn from my quiet reverie by the arrival of the first two students, a young brother and sister, who proceed to tear about the dojang and emit a high pitched screech combined with the rapid pitter patter of bare feet running on pads.

I chuckle as other students enter and look at me bewildered by the sound these two are managing to produce. It was a study in the sound and the fury. I saw the grimaces on the faces of some of the newly arriving students as the young sister’s yowl pierced the air. It reminded me of that waterfall of discomfort during my first body scan. What is silence then? I wondered.

If we are always surrounded by noise, and we have the capacity to tune it out, perhaps silence is just a frequency of our own awareness. A place we must tune ourselves to. Mindlessness can feel like a kind of silence, but the barrage of the sounds we ignore continues to exert a not so subtle influence on us; like a grating irritation that causes us to snap and lash out without understanding why. True silence requires we come to peace with the fury that engulfs us, that we stand in it embracing and equanimous. After all, even if we were to find shelter in the soundless vacuum of space, the stimuli wouldn’t cease. The sensations of our body and the litany of our thoughts would keep talking to us.

This post is part of my Throwback Thursday series. It originally appeared on 5/7/16 as part of a #MayBookPrompts series of posts inspired by book titles. The prompt was “The Sound and the Fury.”

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Winding Road

The crooked line covers more ground.
I’ve always preferred the scenic route,
but I’m constantly more lost than found
and a straight line has no time for doubt.

I meander, sally, wander and wend,
always walking to another place
on this switchback path with no known end;
without destination you don’t have to race.

When there’s no objective you aren’t subject
to the beguiling finality of ambition,
and while it might seem a bit circumspect,
the world still turns when you’re in position.

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Eye of the Storm (#tbt)

How many hurricanes are your fault? Remember when you were on vacation in Jamaica in October of 2012? On the 22nd you were at the beach. You let a silent-but-deadly fart slip out, much to the dismay of the British couple sun bathing to your left, remember? Probably not. Well, turns out that little, farty atmospheric disturbance became Super Storm Sandy.

How many catastrophes resulted from your seemingly innocuous behavior? If everything is unpredictably conditioned on everything else, then why do we place such emphasis on right action? Hell, the worst thing I’ve ever done might save the world a thousand years from now.

If chaos is king, why aren’t we paralyzed by the tremendous risk of our every movement? My errant fingernail clipping might start a chain of events that results in the dismemberment of everyone I love.

Yet somehow we aren’t crippled by fear or consumed by relativistic self interest. There’s truth to the butterfly effect, but my lived experience demonstrates that it isn’t totally random. Our actions seem to ripple out and come back to us in ways that make sense. We reap what we sow.

Our own perspective makes this true, after all we filter and interpret everything we perceive. What’s interesting is that this doesn’t make it any less objectively true. Maybe it’s because we are social creatures, but our emotions and the actions they create are infectious. I have an eight month old son, and it’s dramatically apparent that we react to each other’s states. This causation also holds beyond social interactions. My behavior seems reflected back at me by my environment, like the new word that once learned you suddenly hear everywhere.

Maybe it is precisely because we live in an infinitely interdependent and chaotic universe that the results of our actions and their emotional underpinnings come to make sense. When the possibilities are endless, when the amount of information is unlimited, consciousness necessarily means creation because we must shape our world out of the endless existence which surrounds us. So next time you see a butterfly, decide what you’ve created.

This post is part of my Throwback Thursday series and originally appeared on May 6th, 2016 as part of a #MayBookPrompts series of posts prompts by book titles. The prompt was “Butterfly Effect.”

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