Tag Archives: self

The long journey out of the self…

Today David over at The Endless Further has a wonderful post up about the magic found in poetry, please check it out if you have the chance.

image of Roethke sourced from jungcurrents.com

It got me thinking about one of my favorite poets, Theodore Roethke, whom I haven’t dealt much with in years. Roethke is from my hometown of Saginaw, MI, and there are places he mentions in his poetry that were literally my old stomping grounds:

Out Hemlock Way there is a stream
That some have called Swan Creek;
The turtles have bloodsucker sores,
And mossy filthy feet;
The bottoms of migrating ducks
Come off it much less neat.

I used to dig in Swan Creek for golf balls to sell to golfers at the nearby hole-in-the-wall course. My father went through the ice of the creek as a youth while snowmobiling. It is a beautiful yet unassuming body of water. It really is just a creek. Creek creeks creek.

Upon digging around for some of my favorite works of his, I ran across the following two gems, and couldn’t help but be struck by the similarity to some of the old Chinese Ch’an masters works. The first poem is titled Journey into the Interior

In the long journey out of the self,
There are many detours, washed-out interrupted raw places
Where the shale slides dangerously
And the back wheels hang almost over the edge
At the sudden veering, the moment of turning.
Better to hug close, wary of rubble and falling stones.
The arroyo cracking the road, the wind-bitten buttes, the canyons,
Creeks swollen in midsummer from the flash-flood roaring into the narrow valley.
Reeds beaten flat by wind and rain,
Grey from the long winter, burnt at the base in late summer.
— Or the path narrowing,
Winding upward toward the stream with its sharp stones,
The upland of alder and birchtrees,
Through the swamp alive with quicksand,
The way blocked at last by a fallen fir-tree,
The thickets darkening,
The ravines ugly.
The first thing that jumps out is right there in the first line, “journey out of the self”. The rest of the poem goes on to describe the traps and hazards our phenomenal mind throws at us in our attempt to escape its binding reach.
 
Another that I stumbled upon was In a Dark Time:
 
In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood–
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.
What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks–is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is–
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark,dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

To me, this is all about finding the true self, making sense of the observer watching the observer phenomenon, feeling trapped that there is no hope, no way of getting to the Source.

Roethke suffered from depression not long into his life, fueled by the tragic deaths of his uncle and father that both occurred when he was 15. This colored many of his later works, though it is for his lighter, “greenhouse” poems that he is more well-known. These poems revolve around his direct experience and contact with nature and the beauty he found growing up around his uncle’s greenhouse in Saginaw (only a couple of miles from my childhood home). At the young age of 55, Roethke died of a heart attack in a swimming pool on Bainbridge Island, here in Washington. According to wiki the pool has since been covered and a Zen rock garden has apparently been placed on top. His remains are a stone’s throw from many of my great-grandparents and their siblings.

I’m not claiming that Roethke was Zen, or a Buddhist or anything of the sort. If anything he seemed to be a sort of pantheist or transcendentalist or something of that sort. But the problems that he digs at are universal, and strike at the heart of Zen. His desire to find pure Mind and make sense of it all mirrors the path of the 10 Ox Herding images well.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the magic that Roethke helped bring to the world. Cheers.

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The path of least resistance

Scott River, CA

It’s always about what’s easy. Simple.

The path of least resistance allows us to glide, duck, and doge our way through life.

Never touching those things that are most important.

It’s easy talking to a stranger online. It’s easy to rip apart their beliefs or way of thinking.

It’s more difficult to touch deeply the ones we love.

Being cruel, distant, shut off. These things are easy.

They require no thought, no attention.

They are easy because the path leads outward toward others, but never inward towards ourselves.

Inside is the resistance. Obstacles.

Roadblocks waiting to be tore up.

Tear them up! Be brave! Breathe deeply! A voice calls out.

But it calls to us from the resistance, the loud static noise of our inner-selves. It’s noisy there.

Go have a cookie. A beer. Go watch TV. Forget about your worries. Rebuke him! Another voice calls out.

That voice is clear. It has a smell. A taste. Pleasure over pain.

Satisfying results. The voice is appeased.

The path of least resistance.

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Elephant stampede! Crafting an online identity…

I have a post that’s been published on elephant journal! Check it out here. And a little teaser blurb:

And that’s why we love the online world and our online identities. Because they are easy. And they allow us to present ourselves in the best possible light, always making the right decisions. It’s easy to represent myself as a local-phile. It’s easy to represent myself as a serious student of the dharma. It’s easy to represent myself as someone that has a solid understanding of ‘x’, because everything I would need to know is a few clicks of the mouse away. It’s easy to represent myself however I choose; all I need is the right anonymous avatar and handle.

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My punishment became my path?

Reminiscing the other day, I remembered that one of my Father’s punishments for me was to ground me. Basically, the idea was that I when I came home from school, I couldn’t watch TV, play outside, talk on the phone or do anything other than chores, homework, eat dinner, and stay in my room. Sweeping the dust and pushing the dirt for punishment? WTF?

Upon remembering this, a few things came to mind.

1) Our society has gotten to the point where unplugging one’s self from the stresses, distractions and attachments of the world is punishment. The reward is a life full of suffering, delusion, and distraction from the true nature of reality. How can we expect to advance as a society when this is the way we encourage each other to live?

2) What would I be like today, if being alone with my thoughts (cultivating mindfulness), and playing outside, adoring nature were my rewards, and plugging into the TV and video games had been my punishment?

3) How truly attached to my “things” I was to get so upset over not being able to use them for a couple of hours! This life of attachment and distance from one’s self is addicting, more powerful than any drug that grows in the ground or is made in a lab.

Okay, enough of that. Time to go play Call of Duty.

Cheers.

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Dig it

We all have something that digs at us,
At least we dig each other
So when weakness turns my ego up
I know you’ll count on the me from yesterday

If I turn into another
Dig me up from under what is covering
The better part of me

I didn’t at first pay much attention to these lyrics by Incubus, and then just a couple of lines jumped out at me the other day. “So when weakness turns my ego up, I know you’ll count on the me from yesterday“. What a lesson in impermanence. Sometimes we do seem to change from day-to-day (because we do). I’m not the same person now that I was before I started writing this post. It has already changed my perspective, my experiences, even my body. We may change in the eyes of others from one meeting to the next, but we hardly notice these subtle changes in ourselves.

If I have a bad day, someone might wonder “what happened to the Adam that I know?” And their point is actually more valid than they realize. What did happen to that aspect of me that seems so lost now? “If I turn into another, Dig me up from under what is covering, The better part of me” This is what the quest of Buddhism is all about. We won’t find our Buddha nature outside ourselves. It’s right there inside, covered up with attachments, delusions, and whatever else Samsara happens to throw our way.

Of course, I don’t think Brandon Boyd was singing about his Buddha nature, but he does subtly touch on one point I feel is important; it’s that he’s asking for help. He needs for that person that he cares about to help him uncover his better self. I think it would be very hard to simply go it alone in Buddhism. I’m not knocking people who practice at home or anything. What I’m talking about is the help we receive from our sanghas (online or in person or whatever). It’s in our blog discussions, in our in-person meetings that we get help from others in getting through to our Buddha nature. We might not even notice it at the time; but when we discuss the dharma, even in passing, we are helping each other on our path to enlightenment. So keep the posts and the comments coming bloggers. Keep broadcasting podcasters. Keep teaching the dharma venerable masters. Keep discussing the sutras over teas and biscuits sanghas. It’s helping us all dig at the better part of us. Cheers.

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What happend to the beer I brewed?

So about a year ago I brewed a very tasty Belgian Golden Strong Ale. I drank just about all of it, but saved a 22oz bottle for my wife. She was pregnant while the beer was good for drinking, and I wanted to leave her some to try. So the other night we popped it open and she loved it. I had a small bit in a glass as well. I had no idea where this beer had come from. This was not the beer I last tasted 6 months ago!

 What happened? Time. It was the same beer, from the same batch I brewed a year ago. But this was so much better! So much more refined. Better head, richer flavor, a full and complex aroma. All it took was time. You see, there is still a bit of live yeast that travels into the bottle, and when you add the priming sugar, this yeast eats the fresh sugar and carbonates your beer. But this also finishes the process. With time, all the flavors you had hoped for develop, and you end up with (usually) an awesome final product.

 Awhile back I bottled a batch of American Brown Ale. It’s been bottle conditioning for a few weeks. So what makes this beer an American Brown? There’s a list of parameters that it falls into based on color, gravity, flavor, bitterness, aroma, etc…. It’s just an easy reference to classify the wide array of combinations you could come up with. Humans like to classify things. It makes it easier to communicate, and we are social mammals. There’s nothing wrong with that.

 The problem arises when the classifiers take the place of the true object you’re trying to classify. For example, saying that “I’m a college student” or “I’m a delivery driver” is inherently false. These classifiers are not what you truly are, but just a description of one aspect of your life. Your true self is ever changing, ever in motion, and ever evolving. Your true self is not your occupation, skin color, or hair style. These things are simple human attachments and qualifiers, nothing more.

 Ever bumped into someone you haven’t seen in years? Like 5, 10, or 20 years? It’s almost as if you’re bumping into a different person, isn’t it? You even have to re-introduce your self in a way. Why is that? Time. Impermanence of self. I talked before about finding self. But, where the hell is it? It doesn’t seem to remain constant, does it? Are you the person you were 10 years ago?

 I’m not. In fact, I’m thinking of holding a funeral in his honor. He will be missed by some, (though not most if I remember correctly). But that person no longer exists. Goodbye. I won’t be seeing you. He’s taking the spiritual equivalent of a dirt nap.

 So, if there is no constant self, what the hell are you? If there is no constant beer, what the hell did I just brew, and what’s gonna happen to it? Let me first say that I haven’t a clue about whether or not there is a “soul”. I’ve never seen, heard, or touched one. I’ve yet to hear a concrete explanation as to what it is, what it’s properties are, where it resides, what it’s purpose is, and why I don’t know it exists. So let’s just forget about that, shall we? Maybe that’s for another brewing session. So who/what the hell am I? Well, I’m not any of the superficial me. I’m not really the physical me. The physical me is changing at a rate and quantity I can’t even begin to fathom. Do you know how many of my cells have lived, multiplied, and died in the time it’s taken me to write this? That’s way to big a number to play “99 bottles of beer on the wall” with.

 So, ok. I’m not really the physical me, since it’s in such a rapid state of change that pinning me down would be nearly impossible. Like my beer, the hundreds of thousands of yeast cells living out their natural life cycle are what is making up it’s physical properties, and it’s in a constant state of flux.

 With all of this physical chaos, it’s no wonder my mind is a mess. Hmmm… maybe I’m my mind. My thoughts. Nah, that’s mostly ego, and the mind’s survival mechanism playing itself out.

 Am I my traits? No, because those change as well. I can remember how much of an asshole I was 10, or even 6 years ago. Thankfully, with the help of time and graduating from the school of hard knocks with an AA in skating by, I was able to realize that being a jerk off wasn’t what I wanted from myself.

 This isn’t getting me anywhere. What about the beer? OK, when I brewed the whole batch, it was all the same. Only time made the difference. It was tasty, effervescent, probably the best beer I’ve ever had. But only after a year or so. The first versions I drank weren’t quite as good. But it was the same damn beer.

 OK, what’s different from me now than before? I’m slightly more responsible, much more handsome, quite humble, and generally a much calmer person. But all of these things I’ve learned over time. It was my past experiences that shaped who I am today. Remembering them helps to provide an anchor to these past experiences, so I may draw upon them to better myself in the present moment. Getting closer now….

 So, my past experiences, thoughts, feelings, these are what have helped shape who I am today, but they are NOT me. The “me” of a year ago is no longer. The “me” that started writing this blog no longer exists. So, again, where/what am I? What about that yeast that’s in the bottom of the bottle, “finishing” the beer? What is it that is “finishing” me? Is it my past experiences? The knowledge that I’ve gained? My emotional self? Maybe my evolving ego and mind?

 What I have come to believe is simply this:

I am the impermeable Adam. I exist in the moment before I realize I exist in the moment I exist in. It is when I realize that I exist that the person who existed in the moment before has departed. It is effortless, mindless awareness that allows me a window into myself.

 And then Attachment.

 Attachment has made you believe you are that selfish person you were 5 years ago when you didn’t share that cab with that stranger you were standing next to who was going to the same neighborhood you were. Attachment has made you believe you are a fat person. But you are not a fat person. You are a person who is fat. You exist independently of your weight issues, your impotence, your compassion. You are impermeable. The words your mind uses to describe you are subjective and not absolute. They are not universal law. You are subject to change at your own discretion.

 Knowing that there is no constant self is liberating. You no longer fit into a frame or mold. You are no longer the person your mind has created. It is also a little weird. If there is no constant self, what is it that is changing?

 Back to the beer. What has changed? The beer is still only water, hops, barely and yeast. That’s it. The only thing that has really changed is a bit of biological process, and my own subjective qualities I’ve placed on the beer. Kinda like myself in a way. A few cells die off, a few glands secrete some juices, and I construct a model of who I am in my own mind. This is me. I’m not a home brewer. But I do home brew. That’s the difference. Cheers.

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Transfer of Essence

Today I transferred a batch of ale into the secondary fermenter. The reason you do this is to separate the beer from the yeast cake. Beer is made up of 4 main ingredients: Water, barley, hops, and yeast. The yeast is what transforms the sugars in the barley into beer. Without yeast, you’d have terrible tasting, acrid, cloudy water. Yeast really is the life of the beer. So why would you want to separate the beer from the yeast? Good question.

Too much of a good thing in this case can have unpleasant results. After a few days, the active fermentation has subsided and most of the yeast has settled to the bottom. Fermentation will continue however, but not like it did at first. After a few days, you need to separate the beer from the yeast. I have a 6 1/2 gallon carboy that holds the beer at first, then I transfer to a 5 gallon version. If you don’t do this, the beer will have too much yeast flavor and sediment. It will be cloudy. So for a more refined product, this is a necessary step. 

Personally, I’ve taken this step myself. I transferred myself once upon a time. I lived in Michigan for the first 20 years of my life. My family was there. My schools were there. My friends were there. The “nurture” part of my self was constructed there. My ideals, outlook, inner voice were all a product of my environment. It was my yeast. 

After about 18 years though, my yeast began to settle. It wasn’t sustaining me any longer. It didn’t provide me with what I now needed to finish the process of self. For this, I needed to seek another container. Another environment. A new opportunity for nurture to shape my essence.

 I’m still not sure what the last straw on the camel’s back was. You see, it wasn’t my friends. It wasn’t my family. It wasn’t my job or my apartment. It wasn’t any of those thing that were stifling me. It was me that was stifling me. You see, even when you transfer the beer, millions of the yeast cells still travel with it. So some degree of fermentation still persists. It was this part of me that I couldn’t remove that was stifling me. Causing me to mentally suffocate. 

I hated this part of myself. It was lazy. Apathetic. Unemotional. Detached. Depressed. Irresponsible. The list goes on. I realized that even if I removed myself from the container that created this self, part of that self would travel with me, like the yeast.

 Yet if I could leave some of that part of self behind, was it possible to leave it all behind eventually? To no longer be burdened by the self that I was? I had to try. So I left. I left that container as abruptly as I had entered it 20 years prior. This fresh start would be what I needed. Heading west where the air was fresher. The ideas were fresher. My essence could be fresher. Yet there was still that part of my self that was traveling with me. What of it?

 There is one cardinal rule when home brewing. Above all, make sure everything is sanitized. Sanitation is the most important step you can take to ensure a quality product. It only takes a little bit of wild bacteria or yeast to enter your beer to ruin the whole batch. Ruin the whole purpose. Fermenting ale is about one of the most perfect habitats for bacteria. It’s the perfect temperature, there is plenty of food, it’s safe. When you transfer the beer, you are leaving your beer vulnerable to contamination, which is why sanitation is key.

 On my travel I broke my phone, and scattered the pieces. I left no trail as to where I might be headed. I only brought the clothes and books I really needed. I avoided strangers. I avoided contamination. This journey taking me to my next container was an important one. I needed for it to be free from anything that might contaminate my newly found self. It would not take much to ruin a trip like this. A call home. Befriending the wrong types of people. Getting caught up in the drama of the strangers the accompanied me on my journey across the country. Taking a bus was risky enough.

 So now years later, after I’ve fit into the new container, I have to wonder. Is is really a new process that my self is going through? After all, when the beer is transferred, some of the yeast goes with it. So it isn’t really a new fermentation taking place, is it? It is really the same fermentation that has transpired since the beer was created. There are really only two differences. First, there is the new container. Smaller, more tailored to the final outcome. I have to imagine this is where my self is currently at, in this new container. Second, the saturation of the yeast. It’s easy to see the layer of yeast in the primary fermenter. You can see the process that has transpired over life span of the ale. You can clearly see what effect that original, life giving yeast has had on the beer. Now (after the beer has been transferred from the primary) the beer isn’t so inundated with that which made it was it is today. Now I am detached from the environment that made me, me. Yet part of that self is still present, and that might be the real problem.

 The past and your original nurturing environment is a quick anchor to who you believe yourself to truly be. We all have this aspect of self. It’s the “I” we refer to in our minds when we speak about ourselves. But this is not the real “I”. The true self is the one in our minds we refer to when no one else is around. It’s the real “I” that we cannot lie even to ourselves about. No matter how much bacteria we allow to creep in, no matter how many containers we transfer ourselves to, we cannot escape this “I”. The self. It has always been there. This is what drives some to a life of addiction. They try to cover up the real self with superficial highs. Some of us are trying to escape it. Others are ignoring it. But none of these are healthy or rational options. The only sane thing to do is to accept your self. Fully. Unconditionally. Your self is perfect. It is with this realization that one can begin to truly transform one’s self. Once you can accept your essence for what it is, you can really bring about change in your life. You can get rid of all the bacteria you’ve let in. You can begin to see the container for what it really is: just an empty space that is incomplete without that which fills it. You are not your laziness. You have become lazy out of fear of reaching your full potential of self. You are not beautiful. You have attached beauty to yourself for fear of your true self being ugly. 

I suppose the hardest part is finding that true “self”. The real “I”. We enjoy contaminating ourselves. We’re afraid to face who we really are. I don’t know why this is. Maybe it is a survival mechanism our ego has developed to keep us focused on anything but accepting ourselves and each other for who we truly are. Our mind and our ego like to make us believe it is something that it is not. Our mind likes to think our self is Bad, or Good. Perverted or Pious. Lethargic or Ambitious. But our true nature, simply put, exists. It is. It cannot be good or bad. Those are human attachments. The beer is not how it tastes. That is not what the beer is. The beer is just the beer. It is water, barley, hops, and yeast. And it’s quality does not lie in any of those individual parts. It cannot. For beer is made up of four parts. The quality (or lack thereof) can only be seen or perceived when the sum of all those parts is present. Your quality or lack thereof is only seen when the whole you is present. It is not seen in your liver or teeth.

 So we must take a knife and cut away all of the layers of false self we have covered our true self with. We need to find our true quality of self again. We have built layer upon layer of false self that focuses on the individual parts. Your hair. Your teeth. Your ego. Your attitude. Your intelligence. None of these things separately make up the self. Not one of these things determines who you truly are. Because when we are able to find our true essence, and accept it, then we can truly enjoy our self. We can be at peace knowing we are perfect just the way we are. That the essence of who we truly are cannot be contaminated. It cannot change depending on the container. It simply is. When we reach this realization, we can then begin to deal with the individual parts as individual parts, and not the self.

 As for the beer, well, it is simply those four parts. It’s essence lies when those four parts are combined. If it becomes contaminated, it will still resemble beer. It will still look like beer. Although it’s true self might be hard to taste, it is there in the bottle, waiting to be discovered. Cheers.

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