“Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch.”
“Havens are high priced. The price exacted of the haven-dweller is that he continues to delude himself into believing that he has found a haven. It seems that unless one looks more deeply at the phenomenon, that most people are able to delude themselves and get through their lives quite happily. But I still believe that the unexamined life is not worth living: and I know that self-delusion, in the service of no matter what small or lofty cause, is a price no [one] can afford.” James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name, More notes of a Native Son. From the introduction.
Contemplation on the Summer Solstice
A year ago several folks in this community gathered for a virtual retreat called: “Coming Out of Our Caves.” At that point in time, the pandemic seemed to be lessening, after three months of building to a crescendo in April of 33,000 cases per day in the United States. By June, new cases had dropped to around 22,000 per day and seemed to be gradually decreasing. That was before the July peak of 66,000 per day and then the penultimate peak of 245,00 per day in January 2021. A year ago we were talking about getting out and about again, not wearing masks, and reflecting on what COVID and the past year had unearthed:
– the Orwellian transformation of America at the hands of the mirror beings of America’s shadow self.
– the waking up of Americans to the previously whitewashed murders of black men by law enforcement.
– the subsequent waking up of Americans to systematic and systemic racism and white privilege.
– the unwillingness of the fourth estate to break free of it’s addiction to the crack of scandal and lies.
– the devastating effects of the pandemic on every aspect of our being.
– the deepening inquiry into the meaning of freedom.
There was a sense last Summer Solstice, as there is now, that we had been through a deep canyon of despair and were turning a corner towards a “haven” of freedom. In the retreat we looked at what we would bring into the long days ahead and what we would lay down by the side of the road as compost for new growth.
It turned out to be the beginning of many ends instead of the beginning of new beginnings.
Baldwin writes: ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.” And especially in these times it is necessary that we turn an eye inward before turning outward with a purpose or message. Often the Summer Solstice is celebrated as a time for expansion and expression with bonfires and Dionysian revelries. But perhaps there is another more penetrative perspective. Perhaps this is a time to look within, at the results of the past year’s expansions and contractions, and bring to consciousness, not just the changes that have experienced but an awareness of the new and old habits and conditions that will affect our moving forward; to use the awareness to prepare for the inevitable dimming of the light.
“But!” I think, “I have spent more than a year going inward, forced into isolation, sometimes grinding away at myself in loneliness. Do I really need to go inward now? I am free finally! I want to go out, expand, explore, …” “I gotta get out of this place is it’s the last thing I ever do” (Thank you Mann and Weil)
Of course! But the question for me now, is how. Knowing that this sense of expansion and desire for freedom will pass; knowing that it is impermanent; knowing that when I go into life ignorant of the causes and conditions that preceded this moment, that I will cause and experience suffering; knowing all this, how will I bring the self awareness that was cultivated in the claustrophobia of the pandemic into consciousness and presence as I go out into the world; as I come out of my cave to find my “haven”?
Perhaps this is the time to reflect on those experiences and habits while looking at the Solstice from a new perspective: Summer Solstice as the culmination of the conception of light that was born at the Winter Solstice, and now is at the beginning of the diminishment of that light, on it’s journey to it’s inevitable nadir. In this way it seems similar to a buddhist perspective on birth; that our birth is the culmination of incarnation from the seed of eons of “I” consciousness or karma and also the beginning of its decay and inevitable death.
This appears to be a cycle, but as I look more deeply, it reveals itself more as a kind of conspherical spiral activity, expanding into contracting, with each experience revealing a greater understanding of reality as it is. This is mirrored in what appear as thoughts arising and falling away, or as our emotions building up to crisis and fading to nothing, or as goals, dreams, convictions, and relative truths that all follow the same pattern. Yet in our practice together over this year, we have seen that thought, feelings, and actions do not necessarily dissolve after a peak, but expand in all directions revealing more spacious and imperturbable truths. When I look back at this year I see what appear to be endings of ideas, habits, activities, feelings, etc. When I inquire more carefully I see things that I thought had died or dissolved away, as integral aspects of this present experience.
In the past month as I anticipated the opening, I started craving for something to do. Searching for where I would go, what I could become now, grasping at this transient experience of potential freedom. While doing that, I got caught up in the tomorrows and the clinging to future opportunities and the grasping for more. I maintained an overlay, like a mask, of kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity, but my habitual conditioning of needing to excel, to be more than just this, to jump into the newly reopened world, brought significant internal suffering that also afflicted those around me with doubt, anxiety and irritability.
Thankfully, I hit a dense wall of unknowing, of pauses, of inaction, forcing me to slow down, to go back to the rhythms of practice, study, work, companionship. Thankfully I have a spouse who is willing to ride these waves with me without judgment, and a teaching that is always expanding to include “even that”.
So, now as I write this, the events and experiences since last Summer Solstice weave and morph together, like the models in the opening of “the Game of Thrones” series, revealing not only a map of how I came to now, but a whole world of explored and unexplored inner castles and outer capacities. As I move outward in this desire for the haven of freedom , I hope to maintain this in-quiry. I hope to cast aside the impermanent “crutches” of expectations, grasping and clinging and carry a medicine bag filled with the remedies and potions compounded from an “examined life”.
I dedicate this practice, these teachings, this life and all past and future lives, to all beings, buddhas, enlightening ones, teachers seen and unseen, known and unknown, heard and unheard. May all my thoughts, words, and deeds be in fulfillment of their teachings and the end of suffering for all beings, in all times, in all directions.
Warmth and ease all around!
Solstice Meditation Practice
Join me and a few more folks for meditation practice this Sunday, June 20. We’ll have some time to check in before and after each sit. (all times Pacific Standard)
7:00 AM : Tonglen: Giving it all away.
12:00 Noon: Calm Abiding
5:00 PM: Cultivating Loving Kindness, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity
Join us for one or all practices. You are also invited to maintain Noble Silence for all or part of the day, contemplating the past year and the coming openings.
ZOOM Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82867383142?
I look forward to sitting with you!