A Still Mind | Birthday Reflection

Birthday Reflection

April 02, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

On the eve of my 42nd birthday, I'm in a reflective mood, and I wanted to write a brief update. It's been quite an amazing year so far, with many ideas and insights and realizations. I've had much to share, but never seemed to get it down in writing. Life has been surprisingly busy, with less time than I would have planned for some of my usual activities, like photography, writing, and projects around the house. But it's been very rich.

At the time of my last entry, I had been feeling a need to express myself creatively, and was beginning to explore what form it might take. I settled on music, or so I thought, bought some new tools/toys, and tried to write and compose some new songs. Nothing came of it for a while. Then, while working on a song idea I've had for years, a different song came to me. It's based on a poem by the 18th/19th century Japanese Zen poet Ryokan. I'm still working on the words, and they've only been coming slowly, but I'm excited about finishing, recording, and presenting this song. Stay tuned . . .

I've also been taking an Improv (as in comedy) class for the past two months, and plan to continue for another couple of months. This has been a powerful and surprising experience. I started with a day-long workshop back in October of last year, and found that in addition to being a lot of fun, Improv was a great addition to my awareness practice. It was fascinating to notice what thoughts and feelings came up as I played different characters and acted out different scenes. In one way, the acting thing bothered me, though--it's all about pretending to be someone you're not, taking on the identity of a fictitious person. I was surprised to find that the Improv and acting process helped me to see how arbitrary all identities are. The identity that we tend to grasp onto and call "I" is no more real than any of the ones we might play on a stage, and I've been letting it go more frequently.

I also found that many of the issues that one struggles with in everyday life appear during the class. This happens for everyone in the class. I wrote a Haiku based no my experience of this phenomenon:

Improv stage creates
a microcosm of life.
Who is the actor?

Some people are unaware of how their Improv performance reflects their life. Some run from it or try to avoid it. And some of us are determined to understand and grow from what we see. What came up most strongly for me was a difficulty initiating in a scene--deciding who the characters were, defining their interaction and relationship, and creating the details of their lives. It hit me hard because it brought up the anxiety I feel in everyday life when I try to initiate something--a conversation, a relationship, an activity with another--especially in an unstructured setting. I found myself becoming frozen and tongue-tied on stage, feeling as though something were holding me back. And it hurt to realize how much difficulty I have doing this in "real" life. The class has been a great place to continue to practice and explore this.

Through music and songwriting and my Buddhist group and Improv and Contra dancing and visiting family and my daily meditation practice, I have been seeing ever more deeply the subtleties of the mind and the sense of self that grasps onto thoughts. It's nearly impossible to explain, and even more difficult to summarize briefly. But I'll try . . . more often and for longer periods of time, I notice thoughts arising in the mind, triggered by things I see and hear, by body sensations, by past memories, by smells and moods and other thoughts. More than I used to, I see these thoughts as thoughts, and nothing more. I see the sense of identity that forms around the thoughts, feelings, and moods. I watch it all as it happens, as the sense of self forms and dissipates, or changes entirely as new thoughts arise, triggered by yet another set of stimuli. It sometimes feels as though I'm in an in-between state in which I get annoyed or upset or anxious or relieved or pleased or exuberant or any of a hundred other things; and at the same time watch, from the knowing perspective of awareness, those thoughts and feelings and sense of self forming in the mind. There is a sense of the presence of awareness more often, along with an experience that I can only describe as a deep inner silence.

So I enter my next year with all of this in mind, in process, and in awareness. I have many hopes and dreams for the future--too many to enumerate. Most of them have not changed much, despite all of the growth and understanding and wisdom and compassion. What they all boil down to is the desire for a life that is comfortable and pleasant nearly all the time. This includes everything from never getting stuck in traffic to having my injured knee heal to having the perfect forms and forums for creativity and expression to not being anxious or worried or disappointed to finding my perfect match and making a life with her. What has changed--and continues to change--is the expectation and demand that life be anything other than it is right now, and the grasping to a belief that happiness comes from making life the way I want it to be.

Life will change, and with continued attention and skillful behavior, it is more likely to change for the better. But neither life nor any part of life will ultimately be satisfying. Not to the sense of self which clings to the idea of a satisfying life. What is the ultimate satisfaction? I want to make a statement about awareness, and that deep inner silence that can only be experienced, but not expressed in words. But if I put a neat cap on it, what would there be to explore and write about over the next 42 years?


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