Sunday, May 22, 2016

Keine Rechts Oder Links

Jesus said "don't let your right hand know what your left hand is doing" which never made much sense to me. I understood it related to not needing recognition for the things you did like "the Pharisees of Jesus time". These religious men supposedly would make a show of doing good for the recognition of others. The idea was that if you did things to be noticed, your motives were wrong. Humility, proper motives, got it - but it didn't hit me till today that it really means not recognizing yourself. When you exist unattached, simply in the moment doing what is natural, you don't regard your actions because they are automatic and do not need to be recognized. You quit having to check up on yourself. 

I'm not so good at floating on my back but the few times I've been able to pull it off I noticed that it wasn't a struggle once I found the right posture. You just rest in the buoyancy trusting the process but unattached to the momentary outcome. When your habit is presence, it is mindless and peaceful. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Switching Eyeballs

After working hard for several months the last week has been spent unwinding. I've been binge listening to the second season of the podcast Serial (highly recommend) regarding the saga of Bowe Bergdahl (the soldier that walked off post in Afghanistan and consequently was captured spending 5 years in Taliban custody). Episode 7 delves into who Bowe is and what about his perspective on life prompted triggering the DUSTWUN. Many people do not understand his actions and are even saying that he was mentally unstable / incapacitated at the time of his departure from his assignment. Listening to him describe a childhood of being homeschooled, spending most of his time alone, having a system of discipline that was unpredictable - those were all familiar to me. When others talked about Bowe they said that he was unwavering when he believed something was right even if he was the only one who thought so. He believed that if you saw something that could be done better it was your responsibility to try because "how can you call yourself a good person if you do nothing?"

This kind of perspective is difficult to live with in a world filled with people who ignore the flaws in the system. Instead of pushing back most conform but when you have a belief in honor, conforming goes against your principles. Bowe hoped to find someone to follow that he could respect (and I would imagine camaraderie as well) in the military. Instead he found infantile leadership and that he didn't fit in - Bowe while an exemplary soldier was a different breed. He wanted to ponder life, learn, be the best he could be instead of playing video games, getting hammered and objectifying women. It's hard being caught in a place you could do well in only to find it completely pear shaped because of lack of conscious thought and no one seems to care. It's maddening and you think "I need to do something".

One caveat regarding people who see life this way is that it is attached to everything. Things that might roll off of other people accumulate in a tally for those looking to do better. The constant analysis of your environment / situation makes all the errors compound giving a much higher sense of urgency and dysfunction to the situation for you than others may feel. But in a way the analysis is also true. When you don't fit into the system because you can't see things the same way everyone else does, there is a legitimacy for the elevated stress level. Your senses are taking in how you don't fit in which is generally not a calming feeling.

According to Bowe, the Coast Guard bootcamp is one of the worst and he actually got himself discharged three weeks into basic training. (The internet seems to say that the CG boot camp is not extremely tough physically but is one of the hardest psychologically.) My parents met in the Coast Guard: Dad was a pilot and Mom trained the new recruits. It was the late 70s early 80s and not many women were in the military. My mother was the only one of the four women to make it through basic training. I heard her say many times as a kid "the cadets were more scared of me that their drill instructor". That should give you a pretty good idea of who my mom was. Or sort of. Just before the Coast Guard she got "saved" and began questioning her life. After being discharged she began to feel that all her angry feminism was wrong and that she should follow a man like the Bible said. It was a stage play called Insanity. Before they said it in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, as a kid I had remarked "the man might be the head but the wife is the neck that turns it." I saw so many women rattle the cage of their willing subjugation usually getting what they wanted through manipulation. That was who I spent nearly every single hour of every single day with for the first 16 years of my life. It's like being in your own kind of prison camp held captive by the people who are supposed to have your back. Listening to the story I've thought "that could have been me". I came very close to joining the Army a few years back and am thankful that I didn't.

I was one of those annoying kids who asked a lot of questions because I had an insatiable desire to know why things are the way they are. My mother actually banned me from sitting in the front seat of our station wagon because I loved to push all of the buttons on the console to try and figure out what they did. "Don't push buttons that you don't know what they're for. What if one set off a bomb?" That chastisement always seemed ludicrous to me - I was smart enough to assess things for their potential of harm and knew the probability of screwing with the climate control was highly unlikely to have a negative outcome - sans my mother that is.

When my sister tried teaching algebra to me I was stymied because she had very little idea why math worked. For the most part she just memorized the steps and said that's what I needed to do. After restarting my second algebra book three times upon reaching the middle and not being able to remember what I had memorized, I gave up figuring I was too stupid to get math. Sometimes when people explained things to me it made about as much sense as that chick finger spelling into Hellen Kellers hand untill that one day it clicked. I've been in the dark waiting for that proverbial light to click and something makes sense.

My entire life I've struggled with taking everything way too seriously, over thinking everything. I know how it seems when you are doing the best you know how and the people in charge have no concern for you, only focusing on what you did wrong. You learn that you can't trust people who only find the bad in you. The head of Bowe's division screamed at them for not shaving while being caught in the middle of a shit-show-rescue. It became one of the tally marks Bowe made that precipitated going AWOL. Experience has taught you that these kind of people don't have your best interest at heart and it's easy to get paranoid.

Through my childhood, we did some weird experiments insisted upon by my mother - mostly health food type shit, but the rest were attempts at finding a brand of religion that fit them. The first thing I remember going away was the "christian rock". I was reprimanded for dancing around the living room to it as maybe a 7 year old, told that it was "the devils music" and that we would be throwing it out. Next we rounded up any toys that were construed as "demonic" - cabbage patch dolls, transformers etc, and got rid of them. There never was any movie or TV watching except for a few times when my dad would watch This Old House on the old TV in the basement. A lot of uber religious organizations seem to like appropriating elements of Judaism because they believe it's magical or something. All of us siblings were tasked with cleaning the house, doing the laundry and cooking. "Honor thy father and mother that your days may be long and prosper."  Saturdays usually were spent volunteering with church or working on projects around the house - fixing one of the cars, remodeling or something of that nature. Our homeschool program espoused honoring the "Sabbath" which they regarded as Sunday. Of course the "real" Sabbath is on Saturday so my mother struggled as to what the right day to honor it was. I guess they somehow decided they were honoring the spirit of the idea by doing it on Sundays but I digress. Fake Sabbath was spent at church in the morning and evening, the afternoons were supposed to be rest or read-your-bible-time. We didn't buy anything on Sundays and we were not supposed to play.

Most of my life I didn't believe what I was being sold. I mean I tried to because it was what I was told was right but I knew I didn't "get" god or life any better than algebra. Christians, "good christians", take communion and get baptized but there was a caveat - if you did those things as a charade, you would be damned to hell. It sounds silly now but trust me, as a kid who grew up pretty isolated, I believed it just like folks used to believe the earth was flat. So I held off many times from taking communion and didn't get baptized till my teens. There wasn't any god I could feel in me and despite my best efforts I felt like a bad person.

I remember being at after church parties at some members house, usually with a pool, and wanting to go have fun but knowing I wasn't supposed to. I would sit there and invariably someone would ask why I wasn't playing and I would be embarrassed. If I told them my parents wouldn't let me they would probably talk to my parents and then I would hear about it. Mostly I mumbled "I just don't want to". Twice I pushed it and asked my dad if I could play and he actually said yes. Actually I think he hemmed and hawed and then said "I guess so..."  I clearly remember both times being told on the way home how we had done wrong. When you can't be human it's hard to live in a world populated by humans. When you aren't allowed to interact with life you get good at watching it go by an analyze it. I think the analysis is because we are trying to figure out how to assimilate into the world or figure out how to make the world understand us.

The other day my partner and I watched the first few episodes of The Story of God with Morgan Freeman. I've know that what you believed about life effected how you live but after seeing numerous religions and realizing that what you believe effects EVERYTHING, I thought holy shit! My problem with feeling at a loss with life is because of what I've believed. Sitting at the DMV I began writing down what I have come to believe so that I can meditate on it. Most important is what we believe about ourself but that's usually hidden deep below rapid fire subconscious patterns that take something drastic to break open. 

One of the comments about Bowe now that he has returned back home to await trial was to the extent of "Bowe has accepted the fact that he sees the world differently than other people but is still trying to make peace with it". That's the process I've felt myself in for the past year or two. I've come to understand that there is no assimilating - but it has been a struggle to accept it because it seems to mean that you will always be alone and struggling. Till reality shattered, you thought you could make sense of life and find a place to call home but despite your best efforts you are stuck facing the truth - this isn't your time zone.

Trees of the same type can be vastly different in structure depending on the environment they grow in. You might see similar bark, leaves or needles etc but what you can't see is the past of the tree. Where is has tunneled roots searching for water or the strength of the fibers as they grow more densely to withstand the wind. While weeding our garden today I considered how all of the plants could not be the other no matter how hard they tried. Each has it's unique genetic code and all it can do is soak up sunlight and flourish. The Bible says to "know them by their fruits" which always seemed like the starting bell to the holier-than-thou olympics. But it's just a fact - a plant or tree can only grow what it's genetic code is and that's what it's fruit will be. There is the exception of grafting. I think through extreme circumstances a different strain of life is grafted onto some people. When others see you, you look like the normal tree but your fruit is some cross pollinated wacky shit and the internal structure is vastly different.

A podcast called The Moth helped start to change my life a few years ago. Listening to people tell true stories from their lives helped me see through their eyes and gave me compassion not only for them but also for myself. I can't say what should happen to Sergeant Bergdahl but I feel like I totally get where he was coming from and could easily have been in his predicament. Hearing the hatred many people have for Bowe made me want to share my experiences to say "you just don't get it". I don't see this guy as a weak piece of shit. He got his ass kicked in Coast Guard bootcamp, sucked it up and made it through Army basic (that takes guts IMO), and survived 5 years of captivity. His roots go deep because they had to and that should be respected. Most people you can comprehend with very little information because you've shared a similar life but then there are some you need to switch eyeballs with to understand.

Regardless of what the military or the public decide, Bowe is going to have to come to terms with himself. I don't think he is crazy whatsoever but simply sees life very differently and no one recognized it as a factor. When you realize that the world isn't what you thought, it's a shock that you can't ignore.  We have to quit trying to look like the other trees so we aren't confusing people. It's like they took a bite of an apple that tastes like a lemon. Shouldn't be a surprise that no one is thrilled with the experience. The telling of Bowe's story in this podcast was like peeling off the deceptive skin revealing the true flesh. There's nothing wrong with being different. A tool box full of screwdrivers isn't as helpful as one with an assortment of implements. Life is a drama and we all are actors. Your character might have a shitty back story but it's okay. None of us get a choice in how we enter the world and the intervening years till we wake up - it's just a story but it's not who you are. All you can do is exist as you without concern for the story, surrendering to the moment and just let life play out. 

Thank you Serial for the hard work you all put into the series. The amount of effort this required almost exhausts me to think about! I am thankful that there are people telling some of humanities stories so that we can come to understand and accept each other.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Trying Too Hard

It has come to my attention recently that I have been trying way too hard. Since as far back as I can remember I have always been acutely aware of many of the parts of me that were broken and needed to be fixed. Believing I could find the answers if I worked hard I searched and tried whatever seemed to be the most expedient means of repair. Healing and growth isn't something you can rush though and if you do, you end up with less than stellar results. As the saying goes "Rome wasn't built in a day", so our lives aren't fixed overnight. Even the idea of being "fixed" is a fallacy. When you focus on working towards a "better state" you begin to live in the future sliding the weight of value from now to something non-existent as of yet. A lack of contentment with what is now, creates a void the future promises to fill. Then there is the other extreme of trying to cram everything into the present because the future isn't guaranteed which is the existential equivalent of gluttony. 

Contentment doesn't equal complacency. Contentment is surrender to what is at the moment dancing your moves to the music of the scene. If you are in the wrong place you will know it and move on.  We are all characters in a drama with our backstory written for us. The problem is that we take that backstory as something that defines us when the truth is that it doesn't define, only reveal who we are.  

When actors are preparing for a role they try to find what motivates their character. What is the subtext that every bit of the life on paper filters through? Being conscious of the thoughts that go through your head is a fantastic way to delve into that subtext and find what motivates you, what you believe about yourself. Living in the now frees you from fighting, instead making way to live naturally from your heart. That's where I've been fucking up. Or maybe not. Maybe that's just part of the journey to humble me. 

I've been trying too hard to figure out what my heart is saying so I can science the shit out of it and know I'm doing the right thing. You can't dance when you are simultaneously analyzing your previous movement and freaking out about what you're going to do next. It involves commitment to the present moment like racing a car at 200MPh. 

A few weeks back I was about to find myself in a social situation that seemed like it would be uncomfortable. It hit me - I don't need to feel bad for who I am nor do I need to compartmentalize it. Each moment in life presents the question "how will you respond?" When we realize our power to choose to stand or run from what we feel uncomfortable with, is the moment you understand that the back story doesn't matter - it's each moment by moment choice that reveals you. 

Mothers Day was last weekend and I debated whether to send something to my mother for a few days. That may seem harsh but we have had a tenuous relationship, one that has made the road I've traveled rather difficult. I wouldn't be here without a mother so at least I could honor that. In a flash I had a mental picture of me riding a donkey, a real ornery pain-in-the-ass donkey from the hospital to where I am in life now. Some people believe that we choose the life we will be born into but I don't know how much stock I put in that. Karma seems more accurate to me. All of life is a mathematical journey; our choices either weave towards balance or imbalance. When you hold no attachments (including to your own survival) it is possible to be authentic all the time.

Indulging the idea of reincarnation for a minute, maybe I had an easy journey in a previous life on a donkey that was kind and tame but I thought it was my own will and effort that had this effect and became prideful. Who knows, but from my experience, every bit of life is a donkey taking you somewhere, offering a lesson - this is the situation, how will you react? 

The universe speaks to you all the time if you listen. Unfortunately I've been listening in bursts and then running with the notes instead of realizing that the class never ends.