the circle game

“…the seasons they go round and round
and the painted ponies go up and down
we’re captive on the carousel of time
we can’t return we can only look behind
from where we came
and go round and round
in the circle game…” – Joni Mitchell

SUES dharma wheel

As a kid, I didn’t do well on amusement or playground rides that went in circles.  I recall being held by the arms and swung in a circle by others but can’t imagine why I let them. I am predisposed to nausea and dizziness…even now blood pressure issues, hormonal swings, and a propensity to ear stones keeps me in a nearly constant state of vigilance for dizzy spells. I dread that feeling, the room spins, and the nausea that follows almost more than anything else.

Perhaps it’s that feeling of complete disorientation, vulnerability, and fear that holds the key to my practice, and search for the dharma (the truth about the way things are and will always be in nature and the universe).  I know that challenging situations and people are my greatest teachers. I believe they are coming at me so relentlessly in recent years because I have not yet learned what I need to learn about surrendering to the circuitousness of life.

A new friend created the Dharma Wheel above for me…what a gift!  I particularly love how the center evokes the warmth and brightness of the sun.  The eight spokes remind me to practice the eightfold path. I am really struggling with truthful communication without harm.  While I believe my intent is positive, clearly it is not always experienced as such by others…and I am simply too attached to the idea (my ego!) that they will experience me otherwise.  

But it seems my real attachment is to the hurt of my past.  In a Tricycle teaching by Tsulrim Allione in an adaptation from her book Feeding Your Demons, this former Tibetan Buddhist nun explains that demons are not ghouls waiting to harm us but rather the core of our ego-clinging.  I followed her five step instruction of finding my demon in order to feed it what it needed and ultimately integrating it as an ally.  I was surprised at how quickly and assuredly my demon provided me with profound insights.  

When asked what my demon wanted from me, the answer was to be left alone.  Likewise the response to what it needed from me was to be allowed to die.  The demon assured me that it would feel free and at peace as a result.

So how has it served me to keep this wounded soul alive for so long? I have been compelled again and again to hold her up as a victim, demanding she be seen and her hurts revenged.  The minute anyone disregards or attacks me, I immediately pull out this painful past and parade it over and over again in my mind.  No rest for the demon, no rest for me.  Completely irrelevant to the external world.  

In the exercise, as I envisioned feeding the wretched soul of my demon as much nourishment and nectar as she could take in, she transformed into a tiny, translucent and luminescent being.  I took my tiny Thumbelina lovingly into my heart and learned she would always be there to warm and protect my heart, I just needed to breathe mindfully into my heart to access this demon turned ally.

I realize this may sound kooky to most people.  Yet it’s a powerful thing to own these attachments we have that cause us and others such suffering.  What the mind creates, the mind can transform.  Assaulted by nearly constant pain, I’m willing to commit to whatever practice or process carves out a new path of being…knowing the circuitous nature of the universe will likely keep bringing me back to that pain until one day it won’t hurt quite so much.


Strangers Non-Fiction

A recently discovered joy for me is talking with strangers.

For as long as I can remember, I have always been uncomfortable meeting new people. Awkward about what to say, uncertain how to act. Looking for an out.

So much energy put into what essentially was a play in one act that no one even came to see.

Miraculously, that has taken a complete 360 since gaining a loving acceptance of my introverted ways. Introverts are not shy, and we want to connect with others. It’s really hard to feel seen when it seems so effortless for so many others. I have always been in awe of those people. Parties are the worse.

Something about growing up in a large family perhaps. Hard to stand out, hard to be heard, hard to feel special. So much competition. So many incredibly wonderful siblings, each special in their own ways.

In recent years, as I have worked at my Buddhist practice and awakening, I’ve discovered that my real joy is one-on-one with someone. As a writer, I am drawn to stories in people.

When I was doing clinical training to be a psychoanalyst, those stories were heartbreaking. So much suffering, most of it caused in their own minds by how they perceived challenges, disappointment, judgments and worse (based on childhood introjects and the repetition of false stories we tell ourselves over years). The college students I counseled taught me how to set my own suffering aside in service to someone else. I was in awe of the depth of their pain. I was invested in their well-being, and so my own ego and countertransference was still baggage to be dealt with.

Just as it still sometimes does with friends, families, co-workers…the people I know. The people strangely it’s sometimes hard being my true self around. The people with whom I desperately want to be my best. An important group, perhaps too important, and just like a large party it can be overwhelming.

Talking to strangers, I’ve discovered, can be more than a simple delight. For me, it is truly a lifesaver during difficult times. There are often so many small, yet profound gifts even in a 5 minute exchange. Most miraculously of all, I find I can be my true self with no effort at all. And I know within a few seconds whether this is a person I simply smile and say hello to or someone with whom I connect deeply though may not even get their name.

This past weekend in Boston for the Marathon those strangers were a lifeline to myself and to humanity. The man I chatted with while waiting for our organic smoothies. He had that special air about him, a joyous and generous soul like my friend Peter. I decided to talk to him. He had so much to share with me about his wife and the book he just bought her, “The Confidence Code.” He shared his observations about how women, no matter how successful and wonderful they may be seem to lack that sense of themselves. His wife, a senior manager at an airline often comes home saying she’s not sure she can keep doing what she does, yet she had been doing so successfully for years. He said it’s similar to what African Americans experience (and he would know). I could relate. He read the book first to make sure it was good before gifting it to her. I said she is lucky to have a husband like him…and he looked deeply into my eyes and said “No, I am the lucky one to have her.”

This conversation along with the one with an Oregon couple who love their rescue dogs as much as I love mine…an elderly street jazz saxophonist whose dissonant notes I complimented and learned a bit about his travels back in the day…and many others. Simple and real exchanges of kindness, intelligence, laughter are precious moments that help me feel truly connected and renew my faith in humanity.

And the opportunities are all around us.  namaste