Gratitude Is My Experience

August 17, 2034

A Memoir (yet to be lived)

I’m seventy four and I’ve lived joyfully for fifteen years.

I remember vividly that morning exactly fifteen years ago, when my eyes opened to a grey New Hampshire sky. I woke up a little later than I would usually, after a surprisingly restful night. I lay in bed, happily thinking about — nothing. The crickets were loud and the noise a of semi on nearby 202 soared over their chirping like a wailing guitar. I lay there comfortably for a little while and then I got up, looking forward to my morning meditation on the porch.

This is when it occurred to me that something was “off.” There had been no resistance whatsoever to waking, no burden on my chest, no quarreling with myself about getting up or not, no not wanting to face the day. Now I noticed this profound sense of content flowing through me, a feeling of joy and well-being beyond words which hasn’t left me since. For a second something stirred in me, wanted to rebel — wait, where’s my burden, why is noting weighing on me, what is wrong, what am I kidding myself about? — but then those thoughts quickly melted away into a smile and a warm feeling in my stomach as in a delighted response to remembering a childhood friend. There was noting to worry about. Rain started falling gently on the dark, green leaves of the mature summer forest.

I went about my business that day, as I have done every day since, simply engaging with what called for my attention next — without resistance. Making tea, sitting silently in meditation, walking those few meditative steps on the porch with a lively sense of oneness with the earth. Then I sat down at the desk to begin my workday. Few thoughts interrupted work, though I’d occasionally stop and wonder what was happening? Where is the resistance? Why am I happy? Then I’d smile, sigh, enjoy a tingling in my feet, and continue to write.

As the day unfolded, I noticed other strange changes. That is, I noticed familiar things not happening that had been part of my everyday experience for much of my life. I didn’t feel overwhelmed, for example, by the tasks on my to-do list, or distracted by incoming emails. I just did what I did, and then the next thing. And when I got sleepy late in the morning, I didn’t second-guess myself but lay down on the floor for twenty minutes, profoundly enjoying the support of the floor and dozing off a for a while. Then I got up and resumed work, refreshed and with renewed focus.

When, by lunch time, I still hadn’t experienced a moment of resistance, loneliness, unhappiness with my fate, or fatigue, I called a friend and asked her, jokingly, if she thought something was wrong with me. “I’m so happy,” I told her, “will you come and pinch me so that I’ll wake up from this strange dream?” We laughed and then she said that my voice was different. She couldn’t say exactly how, it seemed to her like a lack of something that was usually in my voice.

“I’m no longer a victim,” I responded to my own surprise as she was trying to describe what she was – or wasn’t – hearing.

I was no longer a victim of life’s strange twists and turns — and I haven’t had that sense at all since. Maybe that’s at the heart of what changed that day. Things simply happen. Not that they are not sad, and sometimes difficult, or challenging. That didn’t change. But my response completely changed. The best way I can say it is that things were not happening “to me.” They were simply occurring and I responded — I still do, gratefully so every day, fifteen years later. And happily so, joyfully.

That was at first the most “disturbing” thing. How could I be suddenly happy in a world that hadn’t changed at all, in a world full of misery? But, see, that question did not have any traction anymore and quickly faded away due to a complete lack of doubt. Doubt was gone! I’ve been living with a profound sense of trust ever since. It’s not that I think everything is or will be “fine”. It’s actually rather a complete lack of thinking or evaluating situations in this way and expecting a particular outcome. It’s more a sense of trust in the moment, which is always unknown and mysterious. But not questioned. I do still prefer outcomes that are beneficial for people, for the environment, for the earth, outcomes that bring ease and healing. I sincerely hope for that and work toward that. But I do not dwell on or get weighed down by how things are going. I may be sad, deeply sad, for a while. But it’s a very different kind of sadness. It doesn’t linger. It’s more like a thunder storm which then is followed by renewed life and joy to be and to respond as best as I can — neither knowing nor doubting but listening and engaging.

Without guilt. Oh, yes, I almost forgot that feeling. Guilt used to reign my life. I barely remember it now. It’s hard to believe but for much of the first fifty-nine years of my life the very sense of happiness seemed to be an indication of wrongdoing, of disregard. To live was to be guilty, my sheer existence was proof of guilt. I always lived with an undercurrent of thinking that I shouldn’t really exist and I suspect that is, in part, why I became a Buddhist – I somehow hoped that I could meditate myself into non-being. And then, that day fifteen years ago, I suddenly didn’t need to apologize for being or for feeling good. This was very strange at first and it took some time to get used to the fact that it was okay to be happy. But even then, it was only moments of questioning followed by a wave of warmth and release through my chest, washing away any doubting my right to live a happy life.

I’m still surprised by my happiness at times. But only for moments. Then a smile emerges on my lips as I remember the man I was so many years ago who thought that life was against him, and I joyfully go back to engaging with this wondrous world.

Reflection

This body needs to express itself.

This heart wants to communicate.

Not into thin air but with you.

It wants to be received.

 

It wants to arrive somewhere, with someone.

Not on the white of this screen,

though moving its fingers on the keyboard, it feels,

is an arrival also, a somewhere to go and being received.

 

Moving its fingers along the music through space,

It touches air, a you as well.

For moments, it has arrived.

Then, it looks for human eyes looking back.

 

It longs to be seen.

It longs to be touched.

Grateful to the keyboard, to the air it breaths,

It knows it needs human touch, the touch of kin. You.

 

Glad for the music streaming through headphones,

It wants to hear your true voice, singing to it sweetly.

It wants to sing with you, my dear.

 

Tired of itself, it wants to escape that narrow world of self reflection.

Then, when its hand touches its cheek

It knows there is no I but experience only.

Communion.

 

And when it looks at its reflection again, reluctantly,

It suddenly sees across the mirror into a beautiful world.

It was touched deeply by the buzz of a fluorescent light.

An experience of pure love.

It is utterly surprised.

 

Fifty-Eight

Willard-Pond-Reflection

He was left alone in that womb
With no means to reach out
To her who was carrying him
No means to comprehend
Why she would not hold him close and dear.

She knew he was there
But did not know how to welcome him in
She who loved him because he was
Could not bear to know him near

Imagination was his refuge
He clung to it for dear life
To this day he is bewildered
When it doesn’t turn into reality
Shattering his world

He is still waiting
Expecting her to hear his silent call
And come rushing in with her tenderest love
While she has long since left

True comprehension still eluding him
He lies curled up
Waiting
In an ancient cave of his own making
A cocoon spun from fibrous expectation

It once saved his life
It still feels like home
A home outgrown
The contractions have begun

 

Being Present – Make it not about you

Note to self:

Next time you ‘meditate’,
Next time you ‘do mindfulness’,
Make it not about yourself as in:
I am present – or: darn, I just wasn’t.
I am thinking – or proud not to.
I am distracted.
I am hearing.
I just had a good meditation.

Notice instead what else is present as well.

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Can you feel the floor under you?
He’s right there, keeping you company as you practice.
But also generally doing his own thing,
Whether you’re there or not.

Can you feel the air?
She’s right there when you’re thirsty for a breath.
Do you feel how intimate you are when you let her in?
Sharing yourself with her deep inside.
Without her presence you wouldn’t be.

The air delights in all manner of relationships.
Can you hear those sounds traveling through her?
There they are if you’re ready to hear.
They don’t come out of nowhere.
So many things are calling – they too are present.

Have you noticed these thoughts popping up?
Odd presences, uncalled for but strikingly persuasive.
Do you feel the likes and dislikes
Sparked by your encounters?
These feeling tones are present too.
Be respectful.

How special are you really when you’re present?
Everything else is too – in its very own way.
Grasses, goats, and skyscrapers.
Spaces and people.
You are present among others.
Are you ready to take part?

Open your senses and you will be amazed to notice who’s already there.
Basking in the warmth of the late summer sun on a granite boulder
You’ll hear the buzzing of a fly
And with a sigh of relief you will realize that
All of this is really not so much about you.

Nowhere Where it Isn’t Crying in You

Reflections on an Inspiring Quote

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“It is not first this, then this, then that – the whole person comes into motion.
There is nowhere where it stays as is, when I begin to allow movement.  
There’s nowhere, when you have to laugh, where you don’t laugh.  
Or you are only partly involved with laughing.  
Nowhere, when you are crying, where it isn’t crying in you.  
Does that make sense?  
In other words, to give myself to something means not to go point by point.”
Charlotte Selver

Before you read on I suggest you pause, read the quote again, and let it sink in.

What is your response?

Here’s what happened with me: “Yes! What a powerful, awesome statement. This is how we ought to live. Fully alive. “Nowhere, when we laugh, where we don’t laugh.”

And then: Oh, no. I don’t live up to this at all. After all these years of practice, I am still not fully involved. Rarely is my experience even close to this. I need to work very hard to get there.

And then: Wait! Just because Charlotte said this, is this really what is supposed to happen? This may have been Charlotte’s experience but is it mine?

Nowhere, when you are crying, where it isn’t crying in you: The fact that this has ultimately not been my experience, has probably saved my life. There have been times when I was so depressed that it seemed like there was nowhere in me, where I wasn’t experiencing depression. Life became unbearable. But then I discovered (thanks to Charlotte’s practice of Sensory Awareness, nonetheless) that there were places in me that weren’t at all depressed. I noticed that my feet felt usually very good, even when I thought I was ‘completely’ down. Not a shred of sadness in my left foot, no tears but only sensations, pleasant ones to boot: tingling, subtle adjustments towards the floor and – as I continued feeling – triggering a sigh and a deep breath which gave me much-needed space in my chest. No depression in my lower belly either but warmth and softness.*

What’s more, when I continued to feel what was going on in and around me, I noticed that what felt so unbearable was only taking up relatively little space in a bigger context, while the rest of me and my surroundings felt quite different. It just ‘shouted’ so loud, I couldn’t feel anything else. This recognition didn’t mean that all was well. There was still tremendous pain. But by having a larger context and places to ‘go to’ that were not infected by mental illness, I was able to hang on and find my bearings again. This is no recipe for all and for any circumstance, to be sure. But it has been – and continues to be – tremendously helpful in my life.

I have no desire to fault Charlotte. What she said in this Sensory Awareness Leaders Study Group in 1987 is something to deeply explore. This inquiry can be of tremendous value and will lead to important discoveries. But it is not something to blindly believe or to attach our hopes to, maybe not even something to aspire to. That’s for each of us to find out.

“Trust your nature more than a teacher. Teachers are dangerous.”
Charlotte Selver

In my work on a biography of Charlotte Selver, I have become very interested in finding out ‘what actually happened’, when I hear or read something. In my research I have noticed that surprisingly often what people say or write about someone is stated as though it  happened just that way, when indeed it was a story that had been passed down ‘the line’ much like in that beloved telephone game. That is not to say that it, or something like it, didn’t happen. It may well have but then again, the original ‘experiencer’ might not recognize our account of it.  I have also learned that writing about someone (even myself) is at best an approximation. Even when we quote them verbatim, we might still miss their point, and can probably only make our own. And that is okay, too, as long as we aware of it.

So, in the interest of full disclosure: The first quote is verbatim, from a transcript of an audio recording. In that sense, the quote is ‘accurate’. But it is also taken out of the context of a two-hour session and the particular chemistry of the time, place and the group of Sensory Awareness teachers with whom Charlotte worked. And – I was not at that workshop to witness how it happened. All that said, I intend to use the quote unquestioned in a chapter titled How Does a Movement Begin? It fits perfectly and it seems to belong in the particular context.

The second quote is from my on class notes, taken during a workshop with Charlotte in 1991 in Austria. I took the notes in German: “Vertraut eurer Natur mehr, als einem Lehrer. Lehrer sind gefährlich.” I wrote this down right after class, so chances are this is what Charlotte actually said – or approximately. But I cannot reconstruct the context and can’t really recall that particular class. I wonder what other participants might have jutted down or remember.

* See “Beauty and the Beast

** Photos are like quotes: They can inspire and move us. They can also be deceptive. I took this picture in Charlotte’s living room, probably during a break or at the end of a workshop she gave (aged 100!) I don’t quite remember, though I do remember taking pictures while we had tea with friends, fellow Sensory Awareness leaders. It was not a photo session and Charlotte didn’t like to be photographed. I don’t remember why she held up the gong striker but probably to threaten me because I took pictures. Then again, maybe she was posing. In any case, I am sure we laughed. Charlotte could be very funny and silly. Were we ‘all laughter’?

Anxiety, Trees and Clouds

With lots of resistance to feeling it, I wonder why I would resist the presence of anxiety but not the tree’s presence across the field. Granted, the anxiety is very unpleasant* but it is it really unbearable? Don’t I perceive it just as I perceive the tree? Is it essentially different? It is here and it won’t go away, not now or anytime soon anyway. Can I turn to anxiety just as I would look at a tree? I quickly realize that by focusing in on the pain my resistance grows. I just can’t be with it in this way. It is too much, it is too painful. Forcing to meet it head-on does not help.

This is when I actively begin to notice things I am seeing through the window. They are there too. What if I spread my attention, noticing non-threatening things, going from tree to tree, occasionally weaving in the sensations of pain and anxiety?

Just like this tree is here, this cloud, this chair, anxiety is here. It is just one of the things present. Would I want for the tree to go away? Would I want this cloud to change? That pain is here just like everything else is.

Letting my gaze wander I keep saying out loud: Here is a tree, here is a house, there is a goat, here is anxiety, here is a treetop, there is a cloud, there is a wall, here is this pain, here is a tree, here is a fence, here is resistance, here is the vibration of my voice. The wind blows through the leaved branches of the maple tree. Breath blows through the tightness in my chest.

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Autumn over Norway Pond

By and by, anxiety becomes part of the landscape. It is simply what it is, no need to resist it, no need to take it personally. No need to zoom in on it in a vain attempt to blow it out. The ground under me holds it just as it holds me. A sigh of relief, when I feel that support. I don’t have to hold that pain, the earth does.

The pain doesn’t disappear by this recognition but I feel supported and ready for the day.

* Is this accurate use of language? Can anything be inherently unpleasant? The sense of unpleasantness is not in that thing but a response in the perceiver. That’s not inherently bad either and can be very good for survival. However….

Allowing

The first autumn winds are blowing through New Hampshire and the sky is of a deep blue. The crisp air clears my head too. This is not something I was looking for. I simply notice a sudden clarity in my head and how refreshing the wind feels on my bare skin and how this spreads through me. What happened ‘by itself’ I sometimes try in vain to achieve through Sensory Awareness*.

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I have been very interested in ‘allowing’ lately. We are often quite obsessed with trying to change what we believe needs to be different – including ourselves. As Sensory Awareness ‘experts’ we might work hard to try to ‘allow change’. But what if the conditions are not such that change is possible?  Can I allow for something to be as it is? How would that affect my quality of life?

Much of the time I might go as far as ‘accepting’ something but really only under the condition that the undesired will eventually – soon! – go away. Such ‘acceptance’ is really a subtle form of aversion and might even stand in the way of change. To engage with things as they are is different. We may still not like them but as we become participants instead of victims, we might – for moments – be free of the desire for things to be ‘better’.

When we are able to let go in this way, when our attitude towards things and events changes, we often experience beauty where just a moment ago we could only see misery. And sometimes, sometimes, it just happens that something gives way to change – as if by itself.

* Substitute with your preferred system of inquiry and “present-moment-work”, such as mindfulness meditation.  ‘Sensory Awareness’ here refers to a specific practice. For more, go to http://www.mindfulnessinmotion.net.