Saturday, January 23, 2010

Self-Hood and No-Self - or who's in there anyway?

(Picture taken by my mini-computer.)

It's raining, raining - turning all that snow into sullen gray mush. (It will all freeze solid tonight, though.) It's actually quite dangerous walking around out there, as some of the sidewalks are water on top of ice.

I've been thinking about "self-hood" and the idea of "no-self" in Buddhist thought. The aim of mindfulness training is to extinguish the illusion that we are someone in particular, rather than an endless series of conditioned actions and reactions. Coming to this awareness is coolness instead of heat, openness instead of constriction. But it doesn't feel all that appealing to me, or rather, flies in the face of the effort to find voice and establish a sense of personhood that many, especially women, have been engaged in. (And which is the sub-text of many blogs - why else the frequent memes of "25 secrets" and such?)

Perhaps we need to have a solid sense of self before we can let go of it?

Another stopping place in my mind for this Buddhist understanding is the insight from parenting that the person-hood of my children was there from the beginning - they never felt like unfolding buds of potential humanity, but as fully present selves at whatever stage they were. And it always seemed to me that they had a strong engine of internally-generated action, rather than being molded from the outside.

How can we love each other as random collections of conditioned action and reaction?

On this point, I rather prefer the Judeo/Christian/Islamic understanding of the creation of individuals as unique and lovable. There are other Western doctrines I'm not as fond of, certainly. (And I readily confess that this "no-self" concept is much more complex than I'm presenting it.)

At least Siddhārtha Gautama kept it clear that none of his doctrines were themselves actuality - just pointers to experiencing and understanding from the inside. That I can completely agree with.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Thanks, blogging companions

I've had the happy fortune to have had two days largely spent in rest and reflection, thanks to the car acting up and my trusty mechanics at Gorshe Auto not having time to work on it today (AND it being a holiday from work). Today I read through the blog entries for the year. I hadn't realized it had been a year - one that started with a secret blog (on spirituality), which I merged later on after I started this one, in a lighthearted mood one day. As I remember it, starting up the first one was a pretty big deal at this time last year - a ray of light and hopefulness in a fairly bleak period of time. I'm glad I loosened up, though, and found a balance of daily life along with more intense reflections.

It's been a highlight of my year, writing this blog, and especially finding others out there in the Hamlet of Blogville to be blogging companions.

What did I learn from re-reading my blogs?

How many weeks blurred by in a workaholic fog . . .

How I celebrated my elderly dog, Rufus, creaking along for so many months in his late life, and how hard it was to let him go . . .

How much fun it was to buy my new pocket-sized Nikon and try it out (reminder to self: I should carry it around more of the time, to catch life happening around me). . .

What fun it was to travel, and to share the beauties of my home state of Idaho (and more here) . . .

How besotted I could get over a curly young pup . . .

And, perhaps most importantly, that writing is a form of mindfulness for me, and it helps to bring me most fully alive. Also, that it is writing in the context of a community, especially a multi-generational community of women.

Here's to a new year of blogging. I might even try writing some more static sketches to post in my "other" blog, "More about me (than you wanted to know)."

Flash! Just found that this blog is now the first hit when I Google "is there anyone else up there" . . . fame!

Bye for now - and thanks!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Now, in the new year

(Sound track today: Graceland, by Anonymous 4. Sorry - I don't know how to post sound files, but there are samples at the link.)

I've just spent an hour or two rereading a series of writing exercises I did a bit more than a year ago. This was a process outlined in a book I found in a church basement sale (where I also got four little matching bone-china plates with vines etched around their rims): Writing the Mind Alive: The Propriaceptive Method for Finding Your Authentic Voice.

In brief, the method involves a 30-minute span of time, writing while listening to music by Bach, a candle flame burning nearby, employing an approach of writing-while-listening to the thin trail of the most authentic possible inner voice, asking (and answering) from time to time the question, "What do I mean by . . . ".

What I wrote about, over and over (through the four months that Peter and I did this exercise sporadically together, often late in the evening, at the dining room table) was my long-standing question of life purpose, or purposes, I guess. I reflected on the core tension of my life, haunted by a yearning to be a writer but instead plunged into the more public/pragmatic work of raising a family, working with students and student services administrative apparatus, along with part-time teaching. Throughout has been the quest for a spiritual path and commitment to my Quaker community - which is another way of saying, a search for the Divine.

In the wavering but faithful light of these months of reflective, candlelit writing, it became clear that the compartments of my life were still one life, and at the core was the question of attention - of being aware, of being wholly present, in whichever activity I engage in.

Today, I made the decision to stay home from Meeting or shopping or other errands that would require me to drive, as the pump that supports the power steering in the car is beginning to fail. I'll take the car in to be fixed as soon as I can. I had a fearful fantasy of having the power steering fail and trying to wrestle the un-powered steering wheel on my way to or from activities today, and decided to let the car sit.

Perhaps what I really needed, this last weekend before the spring semester starts at the University, is to finally take some concentrated time reflecting on this year's turning from the deepest dark to the slowly strengthening light of a infant spring. Now that I am really "pushing 60" - or at least willing to accept it - what might change? Is it time to let go of the tensions that held me for so many years: the pull between creative introversion and competent outward activity? What's next?

Part of me, inevitably, feels this reflection is self-indulgent - well-known voices from childhood onward, no doubt, pushing me to productive activity, instead of wallowing in whatever feeling or fantasy has captured my attention. But long years of the inner-outer dance have taught me of the importance of pulling myself out of the usual round of activities, of taking some time to gather the threads together, to recognize patterns, to discern the next steps.

Writing does seem to be part of the enduring pattern. It is one way I have of celebrating the gifts of my life - the weak but growing sunlight on the tired snowbanks outside; my family of origin (some now down in Baja, Mexico, basking in the stronger sun); my tawny, curly, inadequately trained little pooch; my life companion upstairs napping. Both the inward quest and the outward bustle are gifts to me, in their faithful constancy. Music is a gift. Friendship - a gift I don't reach for enough. The gift of sleep. The gift of reasonable health and strength. All of it - given over and over, changing and slipping away, renewed past hope. The life I am carried along by, more than orchestrating. I do create within this life, but I am also more a witness to its flow, its unexpected or long-predicted turns and tumbles. So let me let go of fears to flow most joyfully, most open-heartedly, in this cascade of time and turning years.

Here's something from Gloryland - sums it up: "SAINT’S DELIGHT" (lyrics Isaac Watts.

When I can read my title clear
To mansions in the skies,
I’ll bid farewell to ev’ry fear,
And wipe my weeping eyes.

I feel like, I feel like I’m on my journey home,
I feel like, I feel like I’m on my journey home.

Should earth against my soul engage,
And fiery darts be hurled,
Then I can smile at Satan’s rage
And face a frowning world.

I feel like, I feel like I’m on my journey home,
I feel like, I feel like I’m on my journey home.

There I shall bathe my weary soul
In seas of heav’nly rest,
And not a wave of trouble roll,
Across my peaceful breast.

I feel like, I feel like I’m on my journey home,
I feel like, I feel like I’m on my journey home.