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Archive for June, 2011

I put Kuan Yin on my computer desktop. A beautiful purple picture of the goddess….  I surrounded it with a purple gradient and there she sits.  The first day I tried to strike the same hand positions, since a friend had suggested that iconography was meant to be instructive in this way.  I would have sworn she smiled at me when I tried. I don’t mean that to be silly at all….  in that second, just as someone rang me on my phone, I thought she was smiling at me.

Since this, I have felt almost as if she watches over me all the time. Money seems to come from nowhere, a lot of new opportunities show up for me. Maybe my questions are being answered. I have been writing on the backs of the paper prayer sheets we use here in Taiwan. I don’t know if anyone ever does that, but I just write my question again and again, as beautifully or as rawly, or as simply or as ramblingly as I feel I must, “Who am I?” Now, this isn’t to make a mantra of the question, but it is to spur myself to trust the universe to answer it! To wake myself up to my own desire to know it, which I am afraid is a naive desire. When I finish two dozen of them, I will burn them at the chimney of the Temple of the Boddhisattva.

Some of my questions are already getting answered.  Long ago someone related the story of his long exchange with a zen master.  The master had told him that Karma was also an illusion, and it was kind of like how you wake up in the morning, and you go to the job you had the day before, and do some of the same things….  And I had been wondering, how do I come to see this for myself? In fact, I’ve asked the same zen master the same question, but he has yet to get back to me.

Yet last night I read someone paraphrasing something Sadhguru said, “Your likes and dislikes are your karma.” That’s it! Equanimity towards likes and dislikes, or at least seeing the impermanence of them is the key to seeing the illusion in them….  they are obviously dross.  “If I cut your hand off, would you still be you?” “If you had never had your favorite pet as a child, would you still be you?” “If you had never known your favorite pass-time, would you still be you?”

As I chat on the Skype phone, or type back and forth with friends, I see Kuan Yin’s beautifully placid smile. I find myself reflecting it back, bringing some equanimity to situations where I might otherwise get sucked into a maelstrom, even lending me more wisdom than I really possess. I swear she smiles a more brightly at times, filling my heart with clarity and equanimity.

I have returned to questioning “who am I?” Until recently I’d lost faith that the question could be answered, and I found myself stuck in ruts for months. Instead of plunging into the unknown for days to finally emerge with new knowledge, I just had the slightly lock-jawed and bitter taste of stagnation….

But in writing on those golden prayer papers, I have been emboldening myself to ask the question again, looking inside to grasp the answer. And I find myself standing at the doors of silence again. That question, of all of them I am aware of, brings me to the sense of impermanence and lack of inherence more clearly than anything else.

The feeling I get is of settling into a place that is both familiar and alien, where I seem to be nothing at all, and no moment holds any sway whatsoever except this exact one, where I seem to calmly observe everything fading like the trees in Autumn, or the setting sun. . . I even know what it is to sink into this entirely, yet I do not.  However, instead of mourning my fearful toe-dipping, I am simply realizing that it doesn’t matter if I hang about here at the threshold awhile longer….  the opening of the door is inevitable, and I care about nothing as much as the answer to Maharishi’s question: “Who am I?”

When I feel empowered, clear-headed, and open to possibility, I look out to make a move towards something, or even ask the boon of KuanYin, who seems to follow me most of the time.  When I’m innocent or naive enough to feel that ANYTHING is possible, it’s obvious that I don’t actually know what I really want, the only question that seems important is to find out who I am.  Otherwise anything else I seek is just a waste of my time…  But am I courageous enough to keep asking?

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Everything’s working out for me.

I had initially told my employer I could stay for one more year. I’d thought it through carefully and come to the conclusion that the money was good and I could keep pumping my business ventures. But when it came time to sign the contract, I got sick about it.

Actually, the truth is, from the moment I told her I’d do it, I had this feeling of loss of good breath, like I was literally, subtly suffocating. Then when the day came to sign, I felt like shit. My heart was pounding, I kept having to go to the bathroom. I just couldn’t do it. Contextualize this within a year and a half that’s been mostly in good states and you’ll see how much this was fucking up my groove.

So I decided to try to make the move South, to the middle of Taiwan, a much nicer place. But I needed to know if the money would work out. I’d already asked MaZu if my business would still be prosperous if I made the move to TaiChung and she’d said yes, but I wanted to be sane about it all.

So, I put the numbers down on paper and realized that I had plenty of money. In fact, if I am a bit careful about my spending during the month of August, I’ll be able to complete my contractual payment obligation to my Engineer, visit Thailand for more or less than a month, and land back in Taiwan with about four times as much cash as I started with this last time I landed here.

So, I told my employer today that I just wasn’t willing to sign on for another year. I apologized if I’d misled her and I explained that I was getting burned out and I was trying to make the best decision for my own sense of well-being. She actually said if I ever change my mind, she will be happy to sign another contract with me. Wow…..  a better outcome than I could have reasonably hoped for.

What do I notice with all of this? I had grown stagnant in ways I hadn’t imagined. And the need to organize things and pare stuff down is already breathing energy back into my rutted oxcart.

I plan to do a 10 day long Vipassana meditation retreat in Thailand, and I’m nervous about whether I’ll have the courage and the metal it takes to actually get the practice to work. Some part of me flirts with certainty that I’ll end up in the bottom 10%, some lack of courage or wherewithal preventing me from getting much out of it, forever thinking of it as “meh” while my inner knowing of my own failure in the matter gnaws at me forever — only to go back and try again years later, and get only some scant success with it then.

But I’m hoping that’s not the case. As much as all this fear of failure and inadequacy is bugging the shit out of me, I’m excited to move towards some progress, at least waking me up to an extent. Insight, clarity, growth and inspiration are worth a lot more than money in most cases.

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So I was considering what to do with my job situation. I asked my supervisor for an opinion in order to strike up a conversation to keep the lines of communication open in case I wanted to sign another contract with them. Also, I needed to know something about the number of vacation days on the contract which, as it is written, is quite ambiguous. Depending on the interpretation of that, I was ready to sign up again immediately.

She was initially almost in tears asking me if I was going to marry my girlfriend. This threw me a little off, because I thought my supervisor had gotten over her attraction to me and just considered me a friend. I made a pretty dismissive comment about the idea in order to calm her down and then proceeded to talk to her about the amount of vacation time I would have.

Now, I’ve been in friendly enough terms with my supervisor that she already knows I want to take a ten day Vipassana meditation time. Also, she knows I was speaking with a Zen teacher a well. What was interesting was the amount of condemnation she ended up heaping onto my wanting to do these things. She is, herself, a Buddhist and had scheduled a meeting with a famous teacher on the South of the island during Chinese new year. Instead of attending the meeting, she cancelled it and rode horses all week long.

Now, what’s interesting is the elaborate reasoning she comes up with about my spending time meditating. The thing is, she does it in a way that appears quite well-meaning, and remarkably sincere. Her favorite is, “you probably already have the answers” to which I responded, “yes, perhaps, but I am looking for a teacher or some time to spend to help me see them for what they are” and she goes on that I’m impatient (to which I respond, I’m not hurting to wait, but I’m also not trying to waste any time) or that I’m being selfish (to which I respond, I am kind to others, but it seems that if I’m completely lost, I may not even know what kindness IS) or that I think too much (but anyone whose spent time meditating has discovered that yes, you think WAY THE FUCK TOO MUCH, and meditation is the only hope you have to get that chatter to cease)….

How sincere and reasonable she is in all this, enough that I found it unsettling. Mind you, it didn’t seem like “attacks” or anything at the time. I am sure that in her mind, it’s all kindness and “realistic” ways of thinking of things (as if pragmatism demands selling one’s soul to join some world of conformity). I was thrown off by all this until I remembered the beginning of the conversation. Then I remembered that she is in love with me and wants me to stay near her, and every things she says is to serve that purpose. Does SHE even realize this?  My guess is no.

Pretty much everything is a tactic, a ruse, or a strategy. Even being honest just gives one a personal sense of justification, and a socially granted one as well. Ghandi, along with plenty of Jewish scholars and Christian theologians, pointed out that Jesus’s ideas about turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, and giving someone who sues you for a cloak, your shirt along with it might have been very strategically useful for the oppressed Jews of his time. I’m not saying that it’s ‘wrong’ in any sense, to use whatever method one feels is most congruent and effective in order to finish a task, I’m just saying that it is what it is.

I teach kids. I see this every day. Doing well on a test gets appreciation and acceptance from teachers and parents, and a boost to mood and feelings of personal security and well-being. 99% of my kids don’t give a shit about learning ENGLISH per se. When someone sees a reason to learn it, like my student who loves computers and noticed that the BIOS is always in English, my job is easy and they learn quickly. Until they get inspired, I just manipulate social cookies to coerce and convince them to do what I want them to. It’s a sickening game sometimes.

“Following the rules” may be anything from a way to manipulate others into giving one what one wants to a way to feel justified in self-pity when things don’t go one’s way. “Nice” is a nice way to create a reality that believes oneself to be a “good person” or some such crap. At the worst, ones self righteousness is a game to build ones own ego without reproach because you can threaten anyone that gives you a well-deserved ass kicking else with state violence. The thing is, I’ve played all these games, and I watch kids do it, and I watch people do it, and I’m sick and fucking tired of it, in myself more than anybody else!

So, it’s hard as fuck to know what I’m doing right now. I’ve looked inside myself and seen the same thing. I, yes I, use an immense amount of sincerity as a means to an ends… I use a ‘pragmatic approach’ sometimes, or a ‘ruthless’ one, or ‘the one that fits the situation’ but it all seems to be ego-gratifying as well as basically self-serving WHATEVER I do. What I would give right now to know my own truest intention!

From a standpoint of innocence and pure intention, means is irrelevant. You are always choosing means anyways, to serve whatever intention you have. And until I am coming from a standpoint of innocence and pure intention, even honesty is a lie.

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I read an absolutely genius website recently: http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/FEARvsDANGER.html

This guy has the clearest ideas of real-world violence and violent human behavior that I’ve ever read. This reminds me of a lot of what we always say is “good kung fu.” I.E., there’s almost always a nonviolent way out, and why were you somewhere that violence was likely in the first place? In other words for violence to actually be “necessary,” you have to have made a series of complete fuck-ups leading up to that situation. Then, to actually “defend” yourself is usually to find the fastest path to escape.

Further, as I’ve always thought, there’s no such thing as a “fight” outside of duels and sparring. It isn’t a real barfight or street fight unless somebody is likely to draw a knife, gun, or bat or someone’s friend or associate is likely to draw one while you aren’t looking. No one is trying to “fight.” Either they are trying to warn you off with a threat display, they’re giving you an ultimatum (usually with some option to leave or exit without violence) or else they’re trying to murder you (because you declined their ultimatum or you already did something to ‘earn’ getting killed, like screwed their wife or screwed them in a drug deal).

But this guy takes it all a step further. He shows how people take the rules from their part of society and expect them to apply everywhere and in all situations, basically becoming bigotted pricks everywhere they go. Essentially people expect to break some of the ‘rules’ (screwing someone’s wife, going to a drug party in the ghetto) whilest assuming that other ‘rules’ will protect them (no one shoots people, no one violates my body without my permission). By this method, a lot of middle class men get shot and a lot of middle class girls get raped, simply by assuming their “rights” are god-given instead of society given.

He lays everything out so lucidly as to point to the simple truth: If you are oriented to reality as it is, rather than what you think it should be, you are always in a more powerful position.

This showed me that the way we’ve built up our society is good in some ways. I definitely like the fact that most of the time the greatest risk I suffer as a consequence of my words or actions is hurt feelings. That’s a safer world to live in than a barbaric one of constant possible violence. But we also effectively use this setup to manipulate situations to our benefit. At the end of the day, the person with the most savvy in whatever system they are in, is usually able to gain the most power, toys, money, or whatever….  and in the end, most people are playing to win.

Even playing “by the rules” is probably playing to win, through reputation, some sense of self-respect (boosting ego/confidence), social and personal justification, or else to marshall the rules in one’s favor as a protective measure (It’s nice to be able to manipulate social power in someone’s face while they cannot do anything about it because the “rules” protect your theivery, hate speech, backstabbing connivances, or stupid and self-serving actions). Most people surely hide their own attempts to “win” from themselves, because if they realized how twisted and ruthless their own games were, they might “lose” some of the psychological cookies that their social rules system gives them.

All this points me a clear direction: Know my intention, and act utterly in accordance with it…  hide nothing from myself — my sense of ‘fairness’ seems to mostly be a strategy from my childhood to manipulate those around me, so set it aside entirely and play ruthlessly, simply, absolutely to succeed. My “morals” will never be a stand-in for innocence.

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