The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The universe provides

In meditation this morning, I realized why I've had so much difficulty getting to the next level of my journey. The ego-walls I constructed as a child to protect me from bullies, the fear of rejection by the male (no father), and the fear that I could not achieve my dreams (cultural rejection) were insanely strong. That little boy, in many ways, was stronger than the man I've become. Makes sense: he was closer to being "real." He was nearer the truth. And the ego itself has a thousand thousand distractions. Imagine a miner sitting on a "mother load" that is thirty feet beneath him. He digs for ten feet, gets discouraged...and moves to another hole. Does this five, ten, fifty times. If he had ever remained in one place, he would have reached the gold. But it is so seductive to shift around, try something new, start a new hole. We do this in careers, relationships, with physical training programs. In "Mastery" George Leonard talks about this. That few people ever reach Mastery because they can't bore through the "boredom" and "dissatisfaction with slow progress" and don't understand that when progress slows, it's often because we've begun to do the REAL work. This is where the rubber meets the road.

As often happens, when I hit a truth I need to look at, one of my friends will drop me a note, describing their own travails. In answering them, I am answering myself. This was waiting for me this morning:

Dear Steve,

I've been having a strange experience with meditation lately. It
feels good and yet I run from it; my consciousness shifts with
jarring suddenness like waking from a bad dream. I don't really know
where to go with it.

A few months back I'd been enjoying "happy liver" meditation. I'd
seen the author of Eat, Love, Pray on tv talking about a man who had
told her that the secret to meditation was to smile; smile from your
scalp to your toes, smile until your liver is smiling. So I would
sit and I would smile, not a "feeling fabulous smile for the camera"
smile, more of a subdued "don't worry, be happy" smile. I would
smile until my troubles sank out of me and I would think "my liver is
smiling". One of the great things about ending with the thought "my
liver is smiling" was that I could induce a state of calm in myself
with those four words. My husband and I would be on the verge of
some petty squabble and I would think "my liver is smiling" and I
would just release all of that tension and fear. I would remember
that there is no threat, I have nothing to fear and I would gain that
emotional flexibility necessary to deal with whatever was really
needed and not get caught up in pointless bickering. Then I stopped
meditating 'cause there's always something more important to do,
right? And I started losing my "happy liver." I'd be under some
stress and say to myself "my liver is smiling" and from somewhere
deep inside I'd hear the voice of an organ with its hands on its hips
saying "I don't know where you've been lately, but this liver ain't
smiling." I'd lost it.

So after seeing you (recently) I got back on myself about meditation.
I saw a tee-shirt ages ago that said "If you have time to masturbate,
you have time to meditate." Well, honestly there have been plenty of
times in my recent life where I don't have the time or the energy for
either, but there's something to the sentiment. It doesn't have to
be an elaborate ritual, I don't have to have a big chunk o' time set
aside. So I steal moments and sometimes I get enough to matter,
sometimes I don't. It doesn't hurt to try. So when the kids are
outside playing, or I'm waiting for the dryer to finish so I can
rotate laundry, little opportunities like that, I meditate. There's
a lot more little opportunities in the day than I would've thought.
Only now I'm not doing the "happy liver" I've gone back to "I am... "

Only I think the two are merging. I follow the curves of each link
in the "I am" chain. One day it will be relationships "I am X's
mama, Y's mama, Z's wife," et cetera. Another day it's my
resumé " I am a housewife, nanny, instructor for the developmentally
disabled... " It's like a great big bowl filled with little slips,
like fortune cookie fortunes, each one a different part of my
identity. But a couple of times now I've gotten to the bottom of the
bowl, no more slips, no more words. The only answer is this warm
feeling-- it's like the "happy liver", and prolactin (the hormone
that makes frazzled, sleepless moms feel all calm and content when
they nurse), and finding that perfect spot in the bed on a morning
you get to sleep in, all at once. It doesn't feel wise, I don't feel
"enlightened". I just feel sated. And for some reason I find this
feeling very jarring and meditation ends almost as soon as I realize
there are no more slips in the bowl, there is no more bowl. It's not
a great connectedness to all things, it's just a being okay with
whatever connectedness is or isn't there.

So is a smiling liver an adequate answer to "Who am I?" Not that
I've been able to just sit and be in this warm feeling, but should
that be my goal? Is this non-verbal outcome a new destination, or a
new wall between myself and my destination? It makes me antsy, I run
from it when it happens and yet those are the meditations that seem
to give the most general clarity throughout my day. It's just not
familiar territory for me. Any thoughts?


You’re doing fine. Fantastic, in fact. Don’t try to get to “Enlightenment.” You can’t get there. The farthest you can get is “Awake.” The best state to aim at is “Adult.” “Adult” is the precursive state you’re looking for, and from my perspective, it is approached best by looking for light and clarity in the three major arenas. There are doubtless other paths, but I am certain that dealing with your shit in the arenas of body, mind, and relationship will turn all the lights on in your inner house.

THEN you can see what is real, and begin the next step. Until then, you’re just getting ahead of yourself, a virgin who has never had an orgasm trying to understand tantric sex from the ads in the back of men’s magazines.
When you get to the bowl, and it is filled with “slips” and then the slips are gone, and then the bowl is gone, you will glimpse a truth. The ego, at this point, will try to back you away from it. Instead, apply this “emptiness” to the three Gateways. If you are empty, there should be nothing stopping you from achieving a healthy body—it is just clay. Nothing stopping you from feeling absolute love for your partner—they are your mirror. Do you not love yourself? What reason is there not to? There ARE no reasons. One might ask what reason there is to LOVE self, either, if there are no reasons. The easy answer is that Love is what is, but that would be a dualism as well. You just have to stay there, contemplating Self, until you get it. And the third Gateway—mind/career. You should either love what you do, or do what you love. Anything else is a waste of your precious time in this world.

The ego has many many tricks. It will present false bowls, like a magician showing you the false bottom of a cabinet within which hides his assistant. Keep going. Further. Further.

How? By having delicious goals, tantalizing and motivating, clear, time-bound goals in all three. Goals that make YOU dance with anticipation. That are worth awakening early and staying up late for. Long and short term. Do NOT neglect the physical, Crystal—that’s where your shit is really hiding. You’ll know the “bowl” is emptying (at least to the next level) when you have lost the weight. Until then, it is a magician’s trick.

But trust me…this is the work, darling. This. Right here. Right now. Every damn day, cleaning the mirror, emptying the bowl, opening the Gates.

You’re doing excellent, excellent work.


Daniel Keys Moran said...

Pardon my bluntness --

I don't think I've ever meditated more than I've masturbated. In my 20s I did a lot of both, but really, at least then, the payoff from masturbation was almost always higher than the payoff from meditation, and I'm not talking the orgasm. In the last 25 years I've lived with my primary sex partner about 22 ... in my 20s and early 30s we'd go at night and then I'd get up early enough in the morning to get in the shower and take care of business again -- or I couldn't think straight all day.

I can go 2-3 days at this point in my life without engaging the equipment -- and still be functional and focused. (Though Day 4 starts to remind me of what being 20 felt like....)

I must say that, aside from the wisdom of experience, having that drive decline has been the best part of aging. I wouldn't want my young man sex drive back if it were offered to me -- though I'd take that guy's knees, if offered.

No disrespect intended to meditation. The single most useful intellectual/emotional moment of my life came while studying Zen, 20 or so years back now --reading the book "Living Zen" and came across the phrase "You are eternally the real, and there is nothing to acquire." Hit me like the proverbial brick, spoke directly to my feelings of disconnect and alienation and since that moment I've never suffered from those things the way I did back in the day. Meditating upon that idea in the weeks that followed -- really, a great sense of wholeness and completeness that I'd always felt I lacked, prior to that, and eventually caused me to cut back on meditation -- I meditate maybe once a month these days, and don't feel the need for more. (Which doesn't necessarily say there isn't a need ... but I lack urgency about it.)

Sex with someone I love, to quote I think Woody Allen ...

Anonymous said...


I loved your example of the miner digging many ten foot holes when the motherload is 30 feet down. I completely understand the temptation to move around, however, how are you supposed to know when your 30 feet above the motherload versus 30 feet above more stones and earth? When is it time to quit and move to another area? Obviously quiting at 29 feet deep is bad when the motherload is at 30 feet, but what if you get to 100 feet deep and still haven't found it? When is it time to move on from the career/relationship/physical discipline?

Gene L.

Steven Barnes said...

Perhaps it shows my own blind spot, but I can't think of a reason not to be balanced. Can't think of a reason I wouldn't want to be healthy in all three arenas. Please, if you can think of one, tell me. Living this way can be a real pain in the ass.

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