You know how somebody’s always planning, there is this thing underneath it that’s quite beautiful and interesting. It’s like a message from the universe to you, a message from yourself to you about: this is what I’m afraid of, this is how I hold the world off. So you can just go towards that…
Happiness & Carts
S: I noticed that all my conditions are internal. They’re not external things that I feel I need to be happy, it’s the internal things.
S: Mine are all external. [laughter]
Allison: You two should get together.
S: Mine are like a child’s fairy tale, a kingdom where nobody dies, everyone’s happy, the dog doesn’t die… [laughter]
S: I notice I already have Deshan’s cart on my computer. [laughter] years and years of insights and compilations and psych studies and oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah… it’s not quite done.
Allison: It’s a lot lighter these days isn’t it? It’s easier to carry around.
S: I suppose… harder to burn. [laughter]
John Tarrant: I noticed that my thing is writing that came up, and I’m often thinking it would be really nice to be in a particular state of mind to write clearly. That would be my… and recently I’ve been writing… I haven’t gotten over that prejudice, that it’s good if I don’t have any distractions, don’t have a zendo to run, phone calls to answer. But I always have this thing, and recently I’ve noticed writing itself draws that, like if I really just fall into the writing, it writes itself, but if I wait to get into this state then nothing happens. So that’s something I hadn’t quite noticed until I did this exercise. Just doing the work, everything else takes care of – the Spanish experience takes care of itself.
S: I thought to…[inaudible] I needed to lose things, fear of humiliation, pain or death, my own species and failure. Then judgments of right or wrong and blaming someone other than myself, and reason why I can’t, am not able to do something, and then excuses why I can’t.
Allison: I was talking to someone this week about how they were telling me that before they come to see me they’re always planning. You know how somebody’s always planning, and they were trying to make that not happen, and I really like that part of my mind that’s planning. I’m interested – there’s some great… it’s not necessary to get rid of that part of the mind – it’s offering something to you but it’s offering not what you think it’s offering. You think it’s offering some kind of safety or a way that I’ll know how to be in the future, but it’s actually offering you right now what I’m afraid of. It’s got this thing underneath it that’s quite beautiful and interesting. It’s like a message from the universe to you, a message from yourself to you about: this is what I’m afraid of, this is how I hold the world off. So you can just go towards that…
S: Yeah, yeah.
S: I found that on the one hand it’s tempting to be mature and say that there aren’t a lot of materialistic things or totally self-centered crazy things that I want. On the other hand I found it really great to just sort of indulge and notice the things that really are like what would I really think I want or need. There’s something sort of fun about it and also just relieving because it’s like yeah I want all those things. Some of them are sort of ludicrous but some of them are not so ludicrous, but there was something interesting there because… I just feel like that’s a feature of the mind and that’s just there.
Allison: Well the fun thing about that is when we start to notice, okay we just let ourselves name all the things that we think we need to be happy, suddenly it does, it starts to unmake itself, because it’s just so funny. You go: really, I think I need this? I think I need that? It starts to lose its solidity and really start to be kind of just fun.
S: I noticed the things like always wanting a pair of new shoes for like everything that I do. [laughter]
S: This really hit home because one of my big anxieties about traveling is what do I put in my car to get from point A to point B, and it brings up a lot of anxiety, because I can’t really project that far into the future as to what I really need. What I usually do is I have my car and whatever fits in the car goes with me. [laughter] But that didn’t work on this trip because I only had a bag this big, and I always sit at home with a seiza bench, and I had asked Jamie if there were seiza benches and he said well we don’t really use them here.
So I went into a panic, I thought how am I going to sit for four or five days without a seiza bench, so the day before this trip I went out to my garage and I said to myself I’m going to build myself a folding seiza bench. [laughter] And I only had quarter-inch plywood, so first I had to laminate that together to make half-inch plywood, and then I had to cut the pieces out and put them together, and I only had cabinet hinges, I didn’t have door hinges, and because it was so thin, when I finally got the thing together and I sat on it, it started doing this…[laughter] So then I got pieces of wood to put on the side to strengthen it but it would still flop around, and so finally about at midnight… I mean, it was a gorgeous piece of sculpture, but it didn’t work as a sitting bench, so I finally gave up, I had to give up. I said why am I going to bring this dysfunctional bench that’s going to add weight to my luggage and all of that.
Then when I got here I went down to the art room and I found this wonderful little kneeling contraption that I’ve been using, and it was like: oh, the universe provided something that was way better than anything I could have cobbled together the night before, so that was that lesson, and the same with my medicine cabinet. I went through my medicine cabinet and I thought okay, what am I going to need, Pepto-bismol in case I have the runs, laxatives in case I was you know, constipated [laughter] I brought caffeine tabs to wake up and I brought sleeping tabs to go to sleep. [laughter] Then I also threw in some Alka-seltzer for an upset stomach and I figured this way I’ve covered all the bases. But when I got on the plane I had all this anxiety and I didn’t have anything to take for that, so [laughter] all my planning for this trip was totally for naught. So it’s good. When I go home I get to burn all my excess medications. It was a good exercise.
Allison: Yeah, you know we’re always planning and preparing for a future that never arrives, and that’s really the project of fear, the fear project, preparing for a future that never arrives. The future is always a surprise. The conditions are so immensely variable and utterly out of our control, and that’s the good news.
S: The thing is though, I grew up as a Girl Scout, and their motto is “Be Prepared.” And every day trying to get out of my house is like such an effort because as I’m going out the door I’m constantly grabbing things that I think I might need for the day, and it’s burdensome. It’s weighty. It weighs me down. I don’t like it. It just doesn’t work.
Allison: Thank you.
S: Funny, I started out with a list of things that I wanted to have – a loving and supportive wife that was always there for me. And maybe I’d like some really great neighbors that are all [inaudible]… after that I decided I wanted a magic hiking trail right from my backyard that changed to different interesting terrain every day and it only went uphill, so when I get to the top [inaudible].
Allison: I think we can arrange all that.
S: I found I had being able to go sit a Zen retreat sitting in my cart. If I can’t go to a Zen retreat every so often, then I’m just going to eat myself alive or something… And that’s funny, like why is that? It’s like this wonderful container, but… I don’t have any more to say about that.
Allison: I need to go to Galicia….
S: Things are going to be all right is, whatever that is.
S: I think I connected everything I wrote to the whole idea of being useful, and in terms of what was in my cart I noticed that whenever I start having an experience as I’m sitting… I’m sort of working on different courses right now, and I start – it’s like it becomes, part of me thing-ifies it and makes it into some way I can use it in my course, and it’s great. I get great ideas for courses, but I notice that I do that to myself also as I’m sitting, and I find something and I make it into something useful that I can use for myself in the next moment, and so it’s like I’m laying out this path in front of me before I actually know where my feet are going, and then it feels like this sense of being caught, like squeezed in this pre-made, pre-fab pathway… And then it sort of – as opposed to the experience actually finishing itself, it’s like I’m put down the brick…
Allison: Yeah. I noticed that this morning when I was thinking about giving the talk, that both of those things were happening for me. That when I noticed my mind was beginning to plan the talk, that I would feel afraid, and I would physically feel myself contracting, and it was really unpleasant. My heart would start to race and I would feel sick to my stomach. But then other times things would rise up themselves, and those were the pieces that were alive and interesting and just came to me, and they were striking, the two experiences, how they felt and what came up out of them.
S: I noticed that when I was writing the conditions I kind of felt like I was just making it up. I was like, I don’t know what the conditions are. But then I did, then I found plenty of material. I get fixated on stuff all the time, but it just made me realize that it sort of was either I had no conditions or I had like an endless that of conditions…
Allison: And sometimes we don’t even notice that we’ve placed these conditions. They’re kind of invisible things that we think we need. We don’t even realize that we think that until they get taken away, or we can’t get them, and then suddenly we realize, oh, I thought I needed that parking space to be happy. [laughter] And now I’m enraged…
S: I found myself in the tea shop with the woman, thinking about my cart and what’s in it and all the valuable things that I find, things that I know about that are in my cart. I’m trying to respond to the woman, and I’m sort of going through my cart taking stuff out and throwing it, like: not that, not that, not that. And I discover that underneath all of the stuff that I know about in my cart there’s the stuff that I don’t know about that somehow got into my cart, and I was comforted somehow by that. I also noticed a kind of sadness came up as I was writing, when I bumped into the stuff I didn’t know, because I realized that somehow I had just asked the woman is there a Zen teacher here and I’m starting to leave, and at some level I know that I’m missing something that’s right in front of my eyes, and that it’s related to having discovered the stuff that I don’t know underneath the stuff that I know, but it hasn’t quite sunk in yet for me. But I’m also aware that I do not want to burn up the cart. The time frame is just all over the place and I realize I don’t want to burn everything in this cart, because I don’t want to lose the stuff I don’t know. Then it was over.
Allison: That’s very sweet. I like that bit about you do an exercise and you don’t even know what you’ll find. You think you know – we think we know what’s in our own cart, what we packed, but we don’t.
S: I had to go through the cart to get there. I was thinking: This is making a mess and it’s going to be hard to repack, but oh well. [laughter]
S: I come to these writing exercises that have any kind of odor of therapy about it – it’s just me –and my hand wouldn’t let me write down words, wouldn’t let me do that, which is either zero or the moon, and I haven’t quite figured it out, for the conditions. So I’m still musing on it.
S: Not the sun?
S: No not the sun. It’s in my darkness.
Allison: I like the ambiguity of that, that question, you don’t even know what it is.
S: I think my conditions for happiness in Spain were written by American Express Traveler [laughter]. A great bottle of Spanish wine, paella, a wonderful woman to squeeze, bright sun and minus ten pounds.
S: I noticed that what was in my cart was the very things that I was using to survive this first experience of sesshin. That on the periphery of my experience I would either be barreling up and down the hills here or chatting madly and ecstatically with one or two people, but that of course you can’t sustain that when you’re doing six or eight hours of meditation, so what would come up would – like this morning was somehow the experience of being in just an ocean of sorrow and melting into it, and that my cart, I just didn’t have enough time with my cart. I couldn’t keep barreling up the mountains, or chatting with people. It’s just too silent. So then when I went to my conditions, of course the first two conditions were words and motion, because that’s clearly my security. but then as I started expanding the list, the list got onto things that are really important to me, like the answer to the endless conundrum that is my daughter and things like that, but then as I went on they became less and less… some of them sound perfectly reasonable, like projects, sensual gratification, companionship… then we move into world peace, broken appliances, broken body parts, and what I began to think of is the absurdity of where it was going is also probably connected to the absurdity of the motion and words that are constantly my two security blankets or whatever that end up not preventing the ocean of sorrow anyway.
Allison: That’s sweet. I notice that in me too, that the activity of trying to get the thing I think I need is actually a kind of anesthesia keeping me from experiencing the thing that’s here that I don’t want to be with right now. Yeah.
S: What was in my cart was kind of interesting to me. I kind of went in a different direction. I put: my body, my heart, my name, everything I ever wanted, a fawn, a cat and being loved as a child. Those were in my cart, which I thought was interesting I thought am I going to burn all that? …Feeling like I’m coming apart these past few days… feeling like I need to let it al go or something.
Allison: Yeah, so the things in the cart are these… contain warmth and companionship when that’s happening.
S: I put in my cart all the musical skills that I’ve acquired, and knowledge, any learning that I’ve developed about politics or world affairs, anything that I can claim that this is what I’ve done and I’m proud of…
Allison: Right, our achievements, our accomplishments. You know what’s really fun to do is to notice when you meet people, what’s the thing that you like bring up, casually. It’s really fun, because whenever I do that it kind of gives me this seasick feeling that when I know I’m doing it but I do it anyway – oh it’s just wonderful. [laughter] I know that one.
S: One more. I didn’t – I went after the conditions for happiness, which… I didn’t actually make a list of them, but where it led me was what were the conditions to not be afraid and that was the condition for happiness. And I don’t know what the answer is… but I’ll go follow that for awhile afterwards. But that seemed to be the condition that didn’t go away, that didn’t seem simple.
Allison: Yeah, for me personally fear is one of those, it’s just a paralyzing emotion where I just get blinded by it and I can’t see anything. I can’t see my way forward, I can only see the fear. So yeah I know that one.
S: But it’s hard to look at it without being consumed by it. Put some space between you and the fear.
Allison: I had rolfing recently and it’s very interesting. He did this work under my ribs, pressing his hands in here, and I was just overwhelmed with a sense of fear that was like some thick, black, dark place, and there wasn’t anything to do but just hold it in some sort of kindness and warmth and stay with it and not abandon it. And then see what it does, see what it wants.
S: I didn’t get to the part, I didn’t get to Spain. I did the cart, but I realize that one of my conditions for happiness seems to be fear. It seems that if I meet a challenge that scares me, that seems that it might be attainable but it scares me, I run towards it. And then I go through all the trauma of that challenge, and then because I know that when it’s over, I’ll feel really good. And it doesn’t matter if I’m successful, but when the pain stops, I get the little euphoria, and maybe it’s like a drug or something, but I seem to enjoy that experience of fear. I know that it’s, part of it is related to my childhood, because I trained as a gymnast, and every day we had to do scary things. Every day you’d have to throw yourself backwards into the air and hope you landed okay, and somehow I think I got conditioned to experiencing fear and to value the reward of what happens when you confront your fear and you live. You still get to live at the end, even if you didn’t succeed.
Allison. Well what’s interesting is to notice when you’re sitting in meditation, you begin to notice the kinds of patterns that… my mind does this, or I always bring the sorrowful piece in, or the angry piece in, and this is how I do it, and the awareness is some kind of – you don’t have to do anything about it. It’s some kind of elixir that you place your life into and you just see what happens. But I like that piece of – it’s an amazing thing and really a courageous step to set aside this amount of time to just be with yourself and not turn away, but to stay.
So I think that’s a good place to stop, and I just wanted to thank everyone for your warmth. I really felt that today, just warmth pouring out from all of you, so thank you.
July 2013 Retreat
071113 Allison Atwill