Hunger is the worst of diseases ~ the Buddha

Friday, June 21, 2013

In Watermelon Sugar: The MettaSeed-Spitting Contest (Willy Wonka, Chögyam Trungpa, and "I," with recipe)

I guess you are kind of curious as to who I am, but I am one of those who do not have a regular name. My name depends on you. Just call me whatever is in your mind. (Richard Brautigan  In Watermelon Sugar)

Well, gentle readers, if I made a practice of calling things whatever was in my mind, I'd never get the words out--there are too many in there. This doesn't mean I'm very smart; it does mean I know a lot of words, that they get in the way. 
And, mindful of this quote: it's whatever's in your mind that will flavor the way you read it. 
I may not always be able to come up with the precise word for things, but I'll trip over my tongue trying--and worst of all, render myself unable to taste anything that's happening right now, in the process. This is the danger of a crowded mind. Discursive thought closes down the taste buds before real taste can bloom inside them. 

Maybe this is one of the reasons we don't speak in meditation. So we don't inadvertently open our mouths and taste something going by, another distracting flavor we will then feel the burden to parse(ley).

I remember reading Richard Brautigan's In Watermelon Sugar for the first time when I was 20 years old.  He was one of my first exposures to metaliterature: literature aware of itself.

Notice, I didn't say self-conscious. That one, I already knew.

I notice a strange, nostalgic, war-story quality to these words as I type them.  A story about a story about myself which I am telling. "Metaliterature" sounds academically cheeky and termy and maybe snobbish and strivey, and that's not my intention, and yet--it's all of those things, and none at the same time.  

It's just a word, I say, wet-my-whistling in the dark. Metaliterature. 

Words are our best guess at naming things to keep them under some sort of control--trust me, I've been using wordplay to harness my surroundings to feel safer for years. I have generated my own private  thalamus thesaurus dedicated to feeling-synonyms, which is lovely to flip through and find just the right word to etymologize, parse, and even chant, all in an academic excursion not to feel the feeling the word embodies.

I'm actually 99% certain (without documentation), that the deepest and oldest part of our brain, reptilian and survival-oriented, is actually a storage unit for sticky letter-formations which we create in our personal limbic labs, designed to bandaid over the fear.
But then we get stuck on the bandaid, cause the bandaid's stuck on ME--the conditioning of the self; we get stuck with whatever's under the bandaid that was trying to cushion the hurt, even long after that specific wound's all mended. They don't go anywhere. Sticky protection piles mount, sometimes very slowly, layer by layer, until you can't help but trip over them every time, just trying to get by. 

I'm also pretty sure that the brain stem is, primarily, a glorified linguistic chute. It's what the words go up and flail in, enlarging themselves when you feel you're in trouble, like Augustus Gloop going up the pipe. And when you try to fight them as phenomena, as just another sensory experience--tell them No! DON'T drink the chocolate! Don't go in there!--they get stuck, instead of just passing through. I know this because it happens to me about 91% of the time (which is way down from 100%, with 2 years of meditation).
In my experience, the really big complicated and frightening words seem most apt to get stuck there--and then, building pressure, they finally push through but then, out of sight, they get lodged firmly in the lowest realm of the brain anyway, trapped two floors down from the frontal cortex where they could do you any real, reasonable good.
It's Wonka-y.

If you watch this clip, you will be fascinated. 
A little later, Willy Wonka calmly addresses Mrs. Gloop's concerns:
"Oh, the pressure'll get him out. There's pressure building up behind the blockage. 
The suspense is killing me--I hope it'll continue."

I use Roald Dahl's books with everyone I've ever taught, Kindergarten through college--especially Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Mostly, probably really mostly, because I learn something new about myself every single time I teach with them. Willy Wonka is the fictional character "I" most identify with. I was once Wonka for Halloween, velvet overcoat and all. I was believable. Why? Because I believed the story:
The Wonkaesque creative overload, the need to make things just because you thought them up and because you probably can. Getting stuck in the mire of your own sweet creations."Sure, you can execute every idea you ever have if you kill yourself," my darling husband says--which may be the point, killing the Self.
The driving, striving need to make EVERYTHING you ever think up, no matter who's onboard with you--or overboard, in the chocolate soup.
And, deep Oompa-Loompa truth, disguised as a song: that your creations are not actually yours, that you cannot control them--or other people's responses to them--once they take form.
They change other people. They change you. You can't hang on.
It shatters like a psychedelic lollipop.
The more you hang on, the stickier it gets, and the more likely it's going to get stuck in the pipe--because it's ALL going up there anyway.
So let go--which sounds spun-sugar simple, but is toothache hard.

I actually don't really like candy (which makes this mettaphor go down easier, since I'm not all that attached) but I especially do not like candy that is supposed to taste like fruit: meta-flavors which make you only consider the taste of the real thing, and then miss it terribly. Certain flavors seem to engender this tendency more than others. By far the worst offenders are banana, cherry, and, absolutely the worst is...watermelon.
It's meta-candy. Named for the thing it will force you to consider. And yet it's not the name itself. Or even the fruit itself.
The experience of tasting the meta-candy forces us to say its name and consider what it's not, but you remember what it is because you tasted the real thing at some point in the past:

If you are thinking about something that happened a long time ago: Somebody asked you a question and you did not know the answer.

Cosmic Now and Laters are legendary for producing this effect, by the way.

That is my name.

Think of all the names we give ourselves to describe ourselves in every single moment but this one, kind and more often, unkind!: I use butcher when I'm harmful or cruel, baker when I manage, in the end, to pull together the recipe for forgiveness and plate the love, candlestick maker when someone shares that something I've said has been helpful, pointing them back to their own ghee lamp in their particular chocolatey darkness. 

That space in which we don't know is really important. 

That's why I gave a lot of space to that line.

Perhaps it was raining very hard.
That is my name.

If all we are, as the Buddha said, is at the result of all we have thought, well-- I am exactly the result of all of these thoughts.
A brain stem clogged with Gloop designed to protect us, which has now outlived its usefulness?  Isn't that the the be all, end all?
This insight rains down-up on me, Roald Dahl-style:

Augustus Gloop! Augustus Gloop! 
The great big greedy nincompoop!
Augustus Gloop! So big and vile
So greedy, foul, and infantile
Come on!' we cried, 'The time is ripe 
To send him shooting up the pipe!
But don't, dear children, be alarmed;
Augustus Gloop will not be harmed,
Although, of course, we must admit
He will be altered quite a bit.

And it will alter you, these understandings in the body, if you let them. Only the trick is, that you don't have the kind of control you think you have, once it's set to go off in you.
What do you think meta-bolism is? 

Still, we try to control it. We forsake the experience of living, of picking what's there growing wild, in favor of scrabbling to find the word to describe the experience. 
Thinking about your own thinking has a stuckness to it, but here's the transformative piece (and this works for anxiety, fear, anger, ____ [insert whatever you're working with]): 
If I am thinking about my thinking, then I am not my thinking.
Just let that sit on your tongue a second.
If I am not my thinking, then there is a space between myself and the thinking. I am not that.
It's the ____-ing  about the  ____-ing  formula that makes this particular recipe for suffering.
In a way, we are all writing about living, for example, every time we tweet or update our Facebook statuses.

Or somebody wanted you to do something. You did it. Then they told you what you did was wrong—“Sorry for the mistake,”—and you had to do something else.
That is my name.

I'm doing something different when I meditate (meta-tate).

I wouldn't call metaliterature my "primary area of interest"--or even a possibly dissertation topic--I would just call it what's happening here right now.  That's the definition, in my mind, but still it's not its name.
That's why it's mettaliterature: the words that bestow circular, lovingkindness back on the writer.
It's self-reflective and washing out as rain (for me) and transformative for everybody involved. 
I'm a person writing about my own thinking, about my processes, about my cooking. But mostly, it's a story about a story. It's a lost nursery rhyme, a hopscotch chant, in Oompa Loompali.

Perhaps it was a game you played when you were a child or something that came idly into your mind when you were old and sitting in a chair near the window.

We make up the words we need. We set our "terms"--do you see? 
The methods maven in me has come to see that I no longer care what its called (well, okay except when I really do, being so attached language), I just care if it's useful. Does it work?
Ava came up with the term Ivyprofen to cure poison ivy (maybe it works on strhives).
What is behind the word, behind the naming, striving, hiving, the incessant hiding from the thing itself?

That is my name.

Or you walked someplace. There were flowers all around.
That is my name.
Perhaps you stared into a river. There as something near you who loved you. They were about to touch you. You could feel this before it happened. Then it happened.

Lowercase r realization. Garden-variety, transformative aha.

That is my name.

It's just a big loop. This is story about story, in one way or another: reading, writing, considering. It's a feedback loop. So, here we are: in this kitchen, in a metaphorical eatback-feedback loop. 

Now, if we just kept suffering, endlessly, if there were no possibility, even melon-thin, to transcend the suffering, then that would be saṃsāra: the over and over birth-death-life of absolutely everything--literally and metaphorically.
However, the Buddha was clear that there is way out of these realms--six, with different samsaric flavors--of suffering. 

For today, let's just consider the human realm. That's where Willy Wonka and yes, I, have Brautiganed us. 
A big part of this human realm suffering is…intellectual stuffing--not to mention the passion of creative stuffing. Right now (and this is in addition to six other books, which is just plain-yogurt-silly, isn't it? Who could digest all that at once?), I am reading The Sanity We Are Born With: A Buddhist Approach to Psychology, and let me tell you that Chögyam Trungpa's got me, completely cuts through me, like a melon knife:

"Passion is the major occupation in the human realm…There is a heroic attitude, the attempt to create monuments, the biggest, greatest, historical monument. This heroic approach is based on fascination with what you lack…The intellect is most active in the human realm. There is so much going on in your mind as a result of having collected so many things and having planned so many projects.The epitome of the human realm is to be stuck in a huge traffic jam of discursive thought [emphasis mine]."

Mettathud & Sweet Melon Spit.
There is an effortlessness, a simplicity, and a dancing game to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche's teachings which is very sweet and easy in the mouth. Also a rascaly, seed-spitting contest quality--maybe at you, at times (and that is also Wonka-like). But that's all fine because you're outside on a warm day in the sunshine, and you don't mind because they're seeds; it's not like they really hurt when they land. They're not hard. And if you (I!) could just stop taking yourself so, so seriously, you'd relax and seed it's all meant with love and with fun--with JOY, And you can just run over to the spigot and hose off before you go back inside to your pristine and dark house.
If you want. Any time you want to go back in the cave--I mean--house.
We ALL have watermelon seeds stuck to our skin anyway, drying and clinging to us, that we don't even realize have been spit from somewhere/one/thing else. So get over it. We all look equally silly. The trick is to Buddhist seed-spitting contests is to be completely aware of this and 1) not prefer to look any different, and 2) understand that although it's not really a contest, you still have to play your part.

Slowly, the wheels go round and round,
The cogs begin to grind and pound;
We boil him for a minute more,
Until we're absolutely sure
Then out he comes! And now! By grace!
A miracle has taken place!
A miracle has taken place!
This greedy brute, this louse's ear,
Is loved by people everywhere!
For who could hate or bear a grudge
Against a luscious bit of fudge?

The cogs and the blades of my blender start going. A non-recipe comes to mind. I don't know why this method works for me, but it does: transform the words to food, transform my own suffering.

You don't need a fancy NutriBullet or a wordy recipe for this. I promise.

Just blend freely, upwards and out:

watermelon, cucumber, ice, lemon (gentle basil twist)

Forget anything added. Forget the sugar (I did). You don't need it. You just have to let go of thinking you need that specific ingredient. That's the thing with methods.

You can do it yourself, said the Buddha.

Do you know what I love most about melons? They taste like clarity sounds. And clarity carries you forward, up, out of the vortex.
It gets you unstuck. By grace. By absolute, sweet, succulent grace.

Ava, age 9, has a list of research questions she's generated on the "experiment fridge" (the one in the mud room), and one of them is "Is watermelon classified as a succulent?"
She asked this again today.
"If it isn't called one, it should be. It's what it does."
A succulent carries water inside itself, and so, transforms itself, by nourishing itself.

"Across the desert lies the promise land."--Willy Wonka
And it's a succulent.

That is my name. That is.

That is mettaliterature: in reading ourselves with love, aware of the Self, we are freed.

An acknowledgment and a Fun Fact Bonus!

Acknowledgement: Speaking of seeds and of finding the words, I was deeply moved and influenced by a talk titled "Clarity and Freedom Can Illuminate Our Relationships With Others" I heard via Dharma Seed, given by meditation teacher Gregory Kramer. It was a limn-line for me, for which I am grateful. It plumbs the depths of not only language, but the urge to communicate. I loved it. It was meta-utlity, at its finest. He goes into the heavier, geeky stuff I love--the physical ways sound transmits in the body and through it, but most of all, he talks about this urge to vibrate, to communicate. Willy Wonka might have understood his wish for the tension and suspense to continue, in the context of Kramer's words: "Without tension, there's no vibration…No seriously, it's hilarious, but it's also remarkable."

Fun Fact!: I would highly recommend reading In Watermelon Sugar today, if you read it in the past, especially if you're a big fan of dystopian lit and counterculture. If you do, you will notice that central to story's tension is the grasp and hub of this particular commune…called iDEATH.
iKnow. Crazy wisdom, huh?
In Watermelon Sugar was written in 1968.

That's just the prescience of mettaliterature, connecting the shell of the words to the timeless, maha moment for Us.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

On Letgomens (bodily signs that you will get the chance, imminently, to practice letting go) & Let It Bee Balm

As I look up from a triple-jeweled newel post, towards a scaffolding of summer, looming as-yet-unfilled, it's still relatively quiet here--about 2.5 hours till my kids are home for the summer, for good. I like this play on words (as my visual prompt: "Damien watched it all go over the edge" may not immediately suggest). 

A Letgomen--the bodily sign that you will get the chance, imminently, to practice letting go--is still a form of reactivity. And all reactions--no matter how subtle--are clues to the places we are still clinging to something. They point to our uncooked and rawest of spots. 
Practicing letting go of everything except what is actually here never fails to reveal one of my most unevenly cooked spots. 
I have to let go of certain beliefs about how wonderful my life would be if I could just "be" by myself. If I could just go to the forest and meditate.
As if my life wasn't this life right here. As if there could be a peacefoodlove kitchen without the peace that comes out of the love of those I cook for.

I love my children. They're not evil; they are good scientists, and they live in the still pretty-much country, so they're being raised to delight and instruct themselves by experimenting with their surroundings (often on rooster-time).

Me: Why is there a gyroscope in the freezer?
Them: I'm trying isolate and stop time at its center.
Me: Okay.

The PTC "gene" is actually a complex
ability to taste bitterness. It should give us a
selective advantage over non-tasters. 
Points for creative solutions to life's nagging questions, and there really, really is and can be no Damien Blamien on my part, as the realization that the apple doesn't fall far from the me hits like a Newton-of-bricks. 

But it's often quite messy, and frankly, the methodology isn't always completely clear to me, as I wade through a lake of toilet water (not code for "perfume") someone has been ph testing, or a 5-lb bag of flour someone else has volcanically erupted and then just left, like a glutenous crime-spattered scene across the cabinets, to go out to play. 
Or, as I am meditating on the kitchen floor and must trustingly stick out my tongue to be tiny-paper-strip-tested for the PTC gene, as I've been told, "I don't need you right now Mom, I just need your tongue. You don't even have to open your eyes." 

Again, delightful, but messy and unknowable in a way, say, being a tidy, solitary forest monk might not be. 
And since the mess we don't know--especially the messes we inflict on ourselves--is far worse than the mess we do, I can tell you that my Letgomen-o-meter is going off right now because things are about to change. Any post-semester/personal writing/reading/cultivating calm (from the hours of 6 am until 9 pm) is about to be replaced by SUMMER VACATION.

Which should be called "Summer Stay-cation" because that what I have to do: figure out how to stay with discomfort of knowing that although I love my children and look forward to being with them this summer (the first I have had to just "be" in ages), 

I feel the blooms falling rapidly from the rose of time's expectation (mostly about how much I was going to get "done" before this moment). 
And we all know (in our heads, anyway) that poultry is done and people are never finished. 

I think there should be a Buddhist Vegas Casino called The Lotus, with thousands of clocks ticking against a backdrop of empty and silent slot machines (and maybe as entertainment, just a bare stage with a giant metronome in the darkness), just for practice with this particular concept.

Although currently this farmhouse is not an MRI-enabled facility, I feel confident in my hypothesis that the Letgomens light up the amygdala like a 4th of July flambé. Change--or here, the mere promise of change, which is of course present in every moment--is felt in the body. Anticipation (positive or negative), dread, all of it I feel in my gut (surprise!), sucker punches to the old solar plexus, the delightful and mettaphortunate slang for which is, ahem, the "breadbasket."
But then I also experience the Letgomens in specific satellite locations: fear, frustration, powerlessness, and rage as a too-full deadweight in my throat--as if my gullet is a boa constrictor trying to swallow itself; while grief and loss are subtler, painfully shallow-breathed gnawings under my sternum.

It may not seem like a good idea to dwell in the body like this, but friends, since you are human, it's the only place to be.

Isolating your Let go-tos is a very useful practice. Because, as Ajahn Amaro once pointed out wisely (and it sounds even wiser with his British accent), "You can't really sustain a good fret if the body isn't backing it up."

This means that if you can locate your physical fear [insert other distressing feeling], uncouple it from your mental fear, and then work with unwinding just the physical sensation in the body, the mental part (really!) floats away, flotsam and jetsam style, in the sea of awareness. Then there is peace. 
I cannot stress (ouch--poor choice of words) just how useful this practice is, how effective, and how sanity-stoking and cortisolace-soothing it is.
It's still a new practice for me. Like 48 hours new, so I will have to keep you posted.

And now, in keeping with time and our not really religious, only temple of the body-mind theme: some Jesus Jones:

I was alive and I waited, waited
I was alive and I waited for this
Right here, right now
There is no other place I want to be
Right here, right now
Watching the world wake up from history

I saw the decade in, when it seemed
The world could change at the blink of an eye
And if anything
Then there's your sign... of the times

There in your own body, if you're awake, is your sign of all time: the gastric sine wave plus the sigh.

Okay, now I have one hour left. The neighbors texted me (note: I wouldn't have this helpful functionality in a cave) to see if I could meet their daughter, a lovely now-sophomore who has Down's Syndrome, off the bus which drops at the end of the lane I see from my kitchen window. She loves to come to our house and eat and talk. I've often seen her wander over and happily talk to our garden, to our plants, or to animals, to bugs, to sit in the sun, pick a berry, unaware. Make that exactly aware--just unaffected by me or anyone watching.  There is no "waiting" for her. She just is. We all come and go. Experiences come into her sphere, no matter where she is, and then she lets them go for the next ones. It's fascinating. I feel sad when she leaves, partly because I know she loves me, but I am not missed when she leaves, partly that she takes this quality with her.

It was lovely to spend just 20 minutes or so with her, but I will tell you my Letgomens were kicked up and here's why: I was observing all of this, and I was still thinking about how I wanted to get back to the kitchen and write about letting go of the way things aren't (instead of actually doing it), clock-watching to see how much time I would have left after she left, before my own kids got off the bus.

And the answer is: the exact same amount of time I have right now. 
I can feel amygdalucky that I can see this, or I can feel fried before the summer even begins.

Now, my children are home, beaming, dirty, hurtling, hugging, loving me, chattering about how wonderful if will be to be together all summer, claiming they want to live with us forever, and could they please have a cherry popsicle, 12 straight pins, and 4 T. of vinegar?

My Letgomens start going: my throat aches and chokes with the time that they will not want to live with me forever, or ask me to gate-keep life's experiential materials, a time when there will not be another Summer Vacation together.
I had to stop just now, and unwind and unwrap these painful sensations from my most frozen cherry popsicle places--even though the moment I am about to describe has already passed. It's not real. 
Now I go on with my understanding. 

"That time" doesn't exist right now.
The time to borrow a cup of sugar is always now, both ways.
We do Thich Nhat Hanh's Hugging Meditation. There isn't anything else to do just now:

Breathing in, I am so happy to hug my child.
Breathing out, I know she is alive and real in my arms.

This is all we can do with the Letgomens. They point to what's alive and what's real.

This aliveness, this body-sense, transforms the discomfort to something red and soft, going amygdalub-dub in the emptiness.

Go out and smell the Let It Bee Balm. 
(Also known as Bergamot Juste)

The group will be divided on this Omen allusion, and this is okay with me. I've lost Facebook Friends, Roman Catholics, and Countrymen over far less caustic points of misunderstanding. 
Because it is deeply uncomfortable for most people to stay neutral and aware during any of the following:

1. Apparent vilification of children by someone you expect to be maternal, nurturing, and slaving away over a cool compassion, at all times.
2. Anything that seems like it's even tangentially religious (like the B-word, Buddhism), even when it's not. 
3. Conversations with references to films. 
4. Any and all allusions to discomfort, especially when it points to your own. [OTTO (age 7):  "WHY do we have to sit with discomfort at the table?!--can't we just do the sitting part?]

See how the common theme to all 4 is "Not What It Seems?
Letting go of what it seems and shifting to what is really there--clarity--may be the easiest-hardest thing I've ever done.
And I predict this is the summer of clarity.  
Bring it om.