Assimilating Vipassana

Last week’s post brought to a close the story of my first Vipassana meditation course and the first nine months of my life. It was a story — told in three parts and beginning here — about trauma, catharsis, and synchronicity. In the spirit of compensation for that longer story, here’s a haiku version of how and why I currently practice Vipassana. Perhaps down the road I’ll be able to flesh it out.

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A Sword In My Side: 3

Everything Unresolved Is Recreated

This concludes a story that begins here.

Come Out Steaming

It’s Christmas Eve, 1995. I’m alone in a rental house on Inverness Ridge, an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, where I was born 50 years ago. My wife Joyce and our 11-year-old daughter Lauren have joined my parents, my sibs, and their families for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. It’s part of a long-planned family reunion. I haven’t joined them because outwardly and inwardly I’m unable to do so.

Classic signs of the flu set in this morning: congestion, fever, fatigue. But these are symptomatic of a deeper dislocation. A week and a half ago, on my first 10-day Vipassana course, I was plunged into psychological crisis. Since then I’ve been tumbling through a bewildering array of insights, anxieties, communions, and paranoia. Given the traumatic aftermath of the course, including my dissociated flight to San Francisco, it’s somewhat surprising that I haven’t ended up in a psych ward.

Continue reading A Sword In My Side: 3

A Sword In My Side: 2

Everything Unresolved Is Recreated

This is Part Two of a three-part story, told from the perspective of how I experienced it twenty-five years ago this month, in December of 1995. Part One can be found here.

A Frightened Octopus

I’m sitting in Light Morning’s community shelter. It’s December 18th, 1995, and I have just returned from my first 10-day course at the Vipassana Meditation Center (V.M.C.) in western Massachusetts. When the course unexpectedly turned traumatic on Day 8, I stopped eating or drinking anything. Now my mental status is becoming marginal.

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A Sword In My Side: 1

Everything Unresolved Is Recreated

The following story has three parts. It’s told from the perspective
of how I experienced it 25 years ago this month, in December of 1995.

* * *

After the trauma had served its intended purpose, I would come to believe that the path I was traveling needed to unfold as it did. The hard-earned clarity of hindsight would show me clues I had missed and traces of long-dried blood on the tracks. But we don’t see what we’re not ready to see. Or shouldn’t see. Foresight would have made me run from the pain that awaited me. And from the improbable healing that pain would bring.

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Healing Deep Within: 2

Recovering From the Wounds
of an Abusive Childhood

Part One of this three-part series, which includes Marlene’s harrowing account
of the abuse she received as a young girl at the hands of her mother, is here.

Reaching for Blackberries

Marlene’s high school photo

I went off to college in 1958, at the age of 18, filled with excitement and enthusiasm. Even though my mother, Leona, gave the Dean of Women a fit, and some weekends at home were the usual hell, I was finally out of there. Free at last!

Or so I thought.

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Liminal Gifts: 3

This is the final post in this series.
Part One and the introduction are here.

The Gift-Giver

Each of the first two posts in this series revolves around a strong medicine dream. But where do dreams like “Down Under” (here) and “Harvesting the Moment Points” (here) come from? They’re certainly personal. I’ve already shared visceral associations with the imagery. It’s quite improbable, then, that anyone else could have dreamed either of these dreams, any more than they could have my face, my voice, or my fingerprints.

Yet strong dreams can also be more than personal. Other people’s thoughts, words, and images sometimes come alive within us. That’s why poets, painters, and storytellers ply their trade. That’s what makes conversation and communion possible. That’s why myths and scriptures resonate. They help us approach the threshold between the worlds from one side. But what awaits us on the other side?

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Liminal Gifts: 2

This is the second of three posts in this series.
Part One and the introduction are here.

Discerning Callings

I’m sitting in the Roanoke City Library re-reading portions of Citadel of God, an historical novel about Benedict of Nursia. I’ve lucked upon one of the few armchairs scattered among the stacks. Some newspapers had been laid across it, but I put these aside and become immersed in the life and times of the man who helped birth western monasticism.

A woman in well-worn clothes walks by, glances at me, then sits down briefly on the floor a short distance away. Some of Roanoke’s homeless people take refuge in the library when the weather turns cold. I wonder whether she’s the one who had marked the chair with the newspapers.

Later I lay the book down on my lap and stare into space, thinking about the monastic components of Light Morning. Then my gaze turns to the large bookcase across the aisle from where I’m sitting. The title of one book comes into focus: Callings. I’ve just been reading about how Benedict, a young nobleman living in the waning days of the Roman empire, followed a series of inner callings to leave Rome, live as a hermit, and later become the founding abbot of the Monte Cassino monastery.

I stand up and take the book off the shelf. The author is Gregg Levoy. I open it to the inside front panel of the dust jacket.

“How do we know if we’re following our true callings? How do we sharpen our senses to cut through the distractions of everyday reality and hear the calls that are beckoning us? …How do we distinguish the true calls from the siren song? How do we handle our resistance to a call? What happens when we say no? What happens when we say yes?”1

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Liminal Gifts: 1

This is a revised version of the third and final reflection paper I wrote for an 18-month School of the Spirit program called “On Being a Spiritual Nurturer.” My application for this program is here. The first paper, Two Roads, starts here. The second paper, Medicine Wheels for Story Orphans, starts here.

Between Two Worlds

This paper explores the probability that we are a species poised between two worlds. It suggests that on the threshold between sea and land, inner and outer, heaven and earth, we receive liminal gifts from a mysterious Gift-giver. For this is what liminal means: on the threshold. Although the luminous offerings we find on such thresholds are not always easily received, they are the ultimate source of our charisma, our callings, and our special friendships.

* * *

In the middle of the night I’m walking along a beach on the North Carolina coast. Bare feet on wet sand; the soothing sound of surf to my right; the long row of beach houses to my left. Some are dark. Others have a lamp or two still burning. A few are decked out with security lights.

“The inner light alone makes us feel secure,” I muse. “Security lights feed our fears.”

Moonlight on the beach

The mid-September night sky is clear. The waning gibbous moon behind me casts the distinct shadow of a walking man on the damp sand in front of me. It mimics me perfectly.

Sirius has climbed above the eastern horizon, faithfully following Orion, Taurus, and the Pleiades. Moonlight plays across the surface of the receding waves. Looking more closely, I smile to see the faint reflection of Sirius there as well.

The waves keep breaking; I keep walking. Slowly I slough off the constraints and conceits of this present time. The beach houses, lights, and power lines fade away, leaving a solitary human doing what our species has done for thousands of generations – walking at night by the edge of an ocean, hearing the same sounds, seeing the same constellations, marking the same phases of the moon.

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Medicine Wheels for Story Orphans: 3

The Myth-Spinning Mind

After trauma had pummeled George Fox, Carl Jung, and J.R.R. Tolkien into becoming story orphans, after they could no longer find meaning or purpose in the outside world, they turned to an inner world. There they encountered murmuring voices, kaleidoscopic images, and transformative visions. They journeyed, in other words, into the magical realm of the myth-spinning mind.

Then they had to make sense of what they saw, felt, and heard in this extra-ordinary reality. They had to put their strange encounters into perspective, to translate and incorporate them into the context of their times. The new stories they were later able to tell were surprisingly well-received.

Continue reading Medicine Wheels for Story Orphans: 3

Medicine Wheels for Story Orphans: 2

This continues a three-part series of posts which began here.

Shifting Paradigms

Just as the loss of story is essential for children outgrowing shoes or adolescents going through a rite of passage, so may collective upheavals be natural and needful. Thomas Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,16 defines paradigms as broadly agreed-upon theories. Examples of current paradigms include the heliocentric theory, the germ theory, the theory of plate tectonics, and the theory of quantum mechanics. Prevailing paradigms get so firmly fixed in the minds of their adherents, however, that they often seem less like theories and more like reality itself.

Thomas Kuhn

Yet everything changes, and the human capacity to conceive the inconceivable is overrated. Anomalies start to appear even in well-established paradigms. Soon they multiply, until the paradigm becomes so riddled with inconsistencies that the map is no longer a reliable guide to the territory.

Continue reading Medicine Wheels for Story Orphans: 2