After having posted here each Wednesday for 56 weeks, my well-established habit unraveled. I lay the blame for this lapse squarely at the feet of Bob Dylan. Having recently completed “A Sword In My Side,” the synchronicity-laced account of my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course (which begins here), I turned to “The Lofty Chronicles,” a series of stories about child-led learning in the early, pioneering days of Light Morning (which begins here).
But then in April I was seduced by a treacherous impulse. In one of those predawn moments of seeming lucidity, I was given the title for another post – “Practicing Vipassana at the Gates of Eden.” It was to be a deeper exploration of why I sit for meditation each day. And it would utilize lyrics from “Gates of Eden,” a surreal song that Bob Dylan wrote in 1964. Instead, the impulse led me down a long rabbit hole of hallucinatory lyrics, multiple drafts, and missed deadlines.
That post still wants to be written; I just have to ripen into more of a readiness to write it. In the meantime, the “Seasonal Images” for spring and summer have been patiently waiting their turn. The continuation of “The Lofty Chronicles” is also pending. So today, as the autumnal constellation Orion rises in the still-dark morning sky, I return from an unintended leave of absence from this website and resume my habit of posting here each Wednesday.
An earlier version of this story was first posted to Light Morning’s website in the Autumn of 2002
Terrell Jones, a good friend and a fellow Vipassana meditator, died at his home just down the road from Light Morning in mid-August. Many of us in this area are indebted to Terrell, not only for introducing us to Vipassana meditation, but also for modeling an exceedingly rare quality — a learned ability to die well; to leave with awareness. As a small token of my appreciation, here are several stories about my Vipassana relationship with Terrell.
Last week’s post brought to a close an account of my first Vipassana meditation course. It’s a story about trauma, catharsis, and synchronicity, which begins here. As compensation for this longer story, below is a haiku version of how and why I currently practice Vipassana. Perhaps down the road I’ll put some flesh on these weathered bones.
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.
This is Part Two of a three-part story, told from the perspectiveof how I experienced ittwenty-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.
The following story, in three parts, is told from the perspective of how I experienced it 25 years ago, in December, 1995.
After the trauma had served its intended purpose, I came to believe that the path I had traveled had to unfold as it did. The hard-earned clarity of hindsight showed me clues that I had missed and discernible traces of long-dried blood on the tracks.
But we don’t see what we’re not yet ready to see; or shouldn’t see. Foresight would have caused me to run from the pain that awaited me, and from the improbable healing and commitment that that pain would bring.
This is the final post in this series. Part One and the introduction are here.
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?
This is the second and concluding portion of Two Roads, which began here.
Time slides by. It’s December, 1995. Twenty years have passed since Season of Changes was published and Wax Statues was germinating. I have just returned from my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course. And I’m coming apart at the seams.
In the summer of 2018, I began an 18-month program offered by The School of the Spirit, a ministry “rooted in the Quaker contemplative tradition of the living silence.” My application to this program, which was called On Being a Spiritual Nurturer, can be found here. During that year and a half, we were to write three “reflection papers,” on themes that were largely self-chosen. This two-part post is my first paper.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood…” Robert Frost1
Two strands of what might be called destiny have shaped my life. Both have been with me since birth. One is from my father’s side of the family and concerns the Religious Society of Friends. The other is from my mother’s side. It pertains to a visionary community called Light Morning, which has been my home for the past forty-five years. These two roads have sometimes intertwined. More recently, they’ve been pulling me in opposite directions. But whether conjoined or in opposition, the Quaker and Light Morning force fields generate deep undercurrents of uneasiness whenever I consider just how strongly family, genes, and/or fate have determined the trajectory of my life.
This is the second of two posts containing my application to the School of the Spirit for its program On Being a Spiritual Nurturer. The first post, and a fuller introduction, can be found here.
A well-chosen question can have quite an impact. Several years after moving to the Blue Ridge Mountains, I was gifted with such a question. It was posed by Douglas, the same friend whose birthday would later coincide with the Testing the Water retreat in Roanoke.
It was a sunny afternoon at Light Morning. We were sitting on a grassy knoll called Temple Hill, close to where Douglas now lies buried. High above us, a raven traced a lazy circle in the sky.
“So why did your Virginia Beach guidance,” Doug asked, “say that the Essenes were to serve as a model for your community?”