Friday, April 14, 2017

Forgiveness at Kripalu with Byron Katie - Day 5

I wrote down eighteen things that Byron Katie said.  I did this whenever something rang particularly true or insightful for me.  As I review this list back in my apartment and far from the wonderland that is Kripalu I find a few of them I want to share with you as I close this series of posts about this experience.
"Victims are violent people."
This is deeply, truly, insightful.  Sit with it a bit, I think you can find your own explanation (if one is needed).  Be mindful when relying upon those who believe a story of victimhood.
"It is not done until it is done, and until it's done it's a thing."
This would make an excellent song lyric.  What this goes to is self-doubt, that is, trying to decide if you still have work to do on something you believe.  Katie gives an example from her own life when she demonstrates the work.  She has been over and over and over and over and over this situation.  She really seems to have long forgiven the person involved when she discusses it in retrospect.

Yet, she told us that every time she uses it as an example, going back to her thoughts about this situation in her mind as she works the process, she learns something new about herself.  We all witnessed her having a new personal revelation about this situation during this event.

Her story concerns events in her life that happened decades ago, I am avoiding going into details here because she requests that public sharing of information about what happens during the events be minimal (a boundary I may have already strayed across in earlier essays, before I knew it was there, but oh well), but I did witness a genuinely new self-revelation on her part during her demonstrations of the work using this example.

So, it's still a thing for her, even after putting the situation through this process countless times.  It's not done.

You know when something is done.  Trust the quiet and gentle voice which tell will tell you so.
"I don't trust this mind, but I trust what comes up for me when I sit in silence."
This was a personal revelation for me.  I don't trust my mind, I don't actually have a lot of confidence in my opinion about most things.  I long ago recognized that I am pulled to believe something is true with far too little evidence that it is actually true.

I came to the event knowing that.  I didn't know what to do instead.  How do I find my wisdom if I can't trust what I think?  This quote is important guidance.

Ask an experienced meditator and they will probably confess that one of the unexpected benefits of meditation practice is that things will occur to you as you quiet your mind which otherwise aren't being heard over the monkey-mind chatter the rest of the day.  For me, these are most often things that I have forgotten about, or need to attend to.

Now I see that I don't necessarily need to be in a quiet room staring at a wall to access this well of wisdom within me.  As with most things, I just need to get out of my own way here, quiet my mind for a bit, and let things happen.  This is very helpful to me.
Student: "I love you!"
Katie: "I love that this is happening for you!"
The room erupted in laughter when she delivered this line, but it wasn't derisive or shaming laughter, and the student laughed heartily along with us.  It's a great response to this situation of having someone say these three words, which mean something different to everyone who uses them, when one can't genuinely reply the same (perhaps because the words mean something different) way.  I have found myself in this quandary from time to time.

She responding from a genuine and truthful place, that's the answer.  I don't what specific words I will use the next time I am faced with this quandary, but I do know how I will respond.

At the close of the time I spent working with Katie one-on-one, she said "It was really a privilege to do the work with you." She kissed my cheek and gently held me for a bit.  I felt loved in that moment, but I think if she told me the same three words she tells her grandchildren our exchange would not have felt as genuine.

I responded the same way. "It was a privilege working with you, thank you."  I felt as if I was the most important person in the room when she worked with me.  I don't mean I was high on some idea, we were strangers to each other.  I mean I had her attention, she was listening to me, she was thinking about what I said, and her responses were carefully considered,

When working with the entire group, there were several occasions when she seemed to not hear a question and instead talk about something else she had on her mind as a response.  In one case, even after several tries, she didn't really answer a question, and when she moved on she thanked the student for the patience shown to her.  It seemed to me that she understood she wasn't understanding and accepted that as the reality in that moment.

I understood what the student was really asking, and it was a question I had as well.  I think I wasn't the only person in the room who felt that way, because when the student described being confused by her answer the entire room erupted in laughter.  We were all confused!

Katie is beautifully human.  She doesn't always get it right.  I noticed that I trusted her a little more because of the way she was as she never heard this student's question.  Even when she missed something, she did it in a genuine and human fashion and I felt closer to her because of it.  That surprised me.  I'm taking that as a lesson for myself.

On this final day we did exercises specifically targeted at forgiveness, and she made very effective use of music during the session.  Very popular songs were used, you've heard them many times, so have I.  Beyond that, I have studied these songs as a singer and guitarist attempting to add them to my repertoire.    I know these songs, I have heard them over and over for decades.  They are chart-toppers, iconic cultural touchstones.

I never heard them the way I heard them today, and that was because of her timing and context for using them.  That surprised me.

I left this event a different man than the one who arrived for it.  Thank you for reading about my experience.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Forgiveness at Kripalu with Byron Katie - Day 4

Sorry for the poor quality of the edited photo, but I was moved to give of a glimpse of what this all looks like.  We are in a hall that resembles a church chapel, Byron Katie is on the stage in a chair, wearing a microphone, and there's a live CC camera on her which projects a larger image on that screen behind her.

I sit near the back because the front of the room is all people sitting on the floor on cushions.   I sat that way for meditation practice for years and I never really found how to do that for much more than twenty minutes without having circulation problems in my lower legs.

Fortunately, zen practice is rarely longer than 40 minutes without having an opportunity to stand, so I made it work for a few years, but I finally gave up and sit meditation in a chair.  Since we are sitting for three hours at a time for this work, I sit in a chair.

Katie Byron has an iPad on the table next to her, and there's a person off to the side in the room taking dictation for her so she can refer to what people said as she lectures.  Much of the work is going over simple declarative statements made at the beginning of the process.  I have found, along with everyone else, that as you progress through this process it is very hard to remember these seed sentences.  Apparently, that fact doesn't improve with practice, she needs notes.

It's clear now that she is following a structured curriculum, but she does it in a way that it seems like she is just in dialog with the audience.  There are two or three people running around with microphones, and the protocol is to raise your hand, be recognized, stand and wait for someone to hand you a microphone before you say anything.

Her teaching style is Socratic.  She opens each session with an invitation for questions.  She seems to trust that the questions will lead to the items she has on the curriculum and it seems to work.  Today we really focused on forgiveness specifically.  She "lectures" in this way for about half of the three hour session then she asks everyone to pair up with a partner for the work for the other half of the session.

The first day we paired up by just turning to people close by.  As the program has progressed, she began to intentionally pair people who feel more experienced with people who feel less experienced.  She invites the people who regard themselves as experienced to stand and then she invites the people who regard themselves as less experienced to point to someone standing.  She has also done this in reverse, that is, having people who feel less experienced stand and ask the more experienced to point to them.

Sometimes this means I got paired with someone right next to me, other times it meant I got paired with someone across the room.  I am one of those who regard myself as more experienced, but really the experience I am drawing upon is as a meditator, as a psychotherapy client, and finally from the hours and hours of experience I have had listening to her doing the work with others on podcasts.

Meditation is the most important of those skills.  Why?  Because a quiet mind (and being able to recognize a quiet mind in others) is almost essential to getting anywhere with the work.  Ten years of zen practice have taught me to sit still, including cultivation of a (relatively) still mind.  In the work, one must be able to sit still with a horrifying thought like "I wanted my husband to hit me."

Just as with meditation practice, sitting with a thought doesn't mean I agree with it or approve of it.  I don't agree with everyone in my Buddhist sangha, for example, I can still sit in meditation with a Trump supporter, for example, while otherwise wanting to strangle their stupid little neck.  So I can sit with a thought like "I wanted my parents to be unfair" without believing or accepting that it's true.

This is what I am finding is my most valuable new skill.  I've learned that "trying on" thoughts is like trying on shoes.  One can't really know that a shoe fits by looking at it.  One has to put it on and walk around a bit before knowing if it fits.  Similarly. one can't really know if there's any valuable information in a thought if one outright, prima facie, rejects it.  One has to be with it like I can be with a Trump supporter in the zendo.  Give it space to exist in an open mind for a bit of time and trust that realization of any useful information in it will arise (or not) on it's own.  If there's nothing there, on to the next thought, just like you move on from trying on shoes that don't fit.

This process demands stillness and I feel that I have a significant advantage over people who do not meditate because stilling my mind is routine for me.  I do it every day.  I have a lot of practice.  I can bring my mind to stillness whether I'm excited, upset, sleepy, distracted, or in an unfamiliar environment.  I almost feel as if people should have some experience with meditation before attempting the work, but clearly there are many who don't and do fine.

The work IS a kind of focused meditation, but you will have to take my word for that (or read up on it in Byron Katie's books or website) because I'm not sure how to explain it beyond this.

I had two different partners today, but unlike yesterday, neither of them internationally known spiritual teachers.  The morning person was less experienced than the evening person, but both sessions were really, really significant and powerful for me and for my partners.  Today, I came to terms with an issue I have been struggling with for 27 years, too personal to blog about, but I will be taking action on this problem on Friday morning, my first chance to do so.  I now know exactly what I want to do, why, and why I haven't done anything about this for the last 27 years.

No kidding.

The other issue concerned a very troublesome resentment connected to my professional life I have harbored like favored child for about five years.  I also have a plan to deal with it (and the person connected to it) head on, but that will have to wait until I get back to work on Monday.

I will be leaving Kripalu tomorrow a different man than I was when I arrived.

My afternoon partner and I had a long discussion about how to discuss this event with others.  We both agree that the descriptions that come to mind sound tired and cliche':  "I changed my life.  My thinking has been completely transformed.  This is the most amazing thing I have ever done" etc.  Ack, gag me with a spoon.  No one's going to hear things that sound like promotional blurbs for a multi-level marketing seminar.

But, that's the truth, so we decided we just have to live with it.  Personally, I'm just only going to discuss it in detail with people who genuinely ask (or people who click to read this blog).  Casual inquires will be met with casual responses like "I had a great time.  I found it very valuable.  I learned a lot."  All true, but those statements utterly fail to adequately describe what happened to me.

One thing that truly, deeply shocks me is that this event has caused me to once again consider termination of psychotherapy.  About three years ago I put the question on the table for myself and seriously contemplated it.  I no longer have the symptoms I began therapy to address (compulsive overeating).  I am no longer dangerously undermining my life with unexamined habits.  My therapist and I have long acknowledged that I don't "need" therapy.

I chose to continue therapy beyond that point because I find value in my relationship with my therapist.  She knows me very, very well.  Her advice is consistently on-point.  I can rely on her to listen to me and tell me what she honestly thinks, particularly if she thinks I will find her input hard to hear.  She is quite knowledgeable and experienced in both listening and giving advice.  She is sincerely interested in my life and my desire for self-knowledge.

Most importantly, I know that if I get seriously confused or in trouble with something going on my life someday that she will be helpful.  I was afraid that if I let her go I would someday again face something I can't handle alone.  She is a reliable partner in my life-long journey of self-discovery.

But, I recognize that two of the breakthroughs I had in the last two days concern issues that I have been stuck on in therapy for many, many years.  I'm not sure how, and perhaps I will finish up with her by exploring this, but we've made relatively little progress on these two issues despite affirmatively working on them for years.  This suggests that she may be colluding with me on keeping me stuck, which also keeps me in therapy.

I don't mean to suggest she has that motive, not at all.  I expect when I share the events of this week with her she will be completely supportive once she recognizes that all this is genuine.  However, I used to be afraid that I might not be able to handle something in the future (presently unknown) if my therapist wasn't available.

No more.  I am now fearless in that regard.  That's absolutely incredible, one of those things for which I can't find adequate words to describe.

I don't have all my answers, I have not handled everything that bothers me, but I have a practice now.  I have a way to understand myself, and the fear of giving up my psychotherapist has vanished.  Poof!  I didn't even really realize it was there until it was gone.  Since it was precisely that fear that kept me in therapy, I am again considering termination of it.

That is 100% utterly and completely unexpected.  I did not even have that issue on my mind, in fact, I believed the opposite.  I believed that was a solidly closed question.  No longer.  I don't know what I'm going to do, but before I got here, the issue was closed for me, i.e., as long as I can afford psychotherapy, I would unquestioningly continue to do it.

Now, that seems disingenuous, not an authentic reflection of who I am.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Forgiveness at Kripalu with Byron Katie - Day 3

I've been writing down snippets of what Byron Katie says when something hits me in a particular way.  As I look over the list, I realize context is going to be important with some of these, like a joke, some of them you just had to be there.

Others need the context of a quiet mind.  I think my first one is one of those, so let's see how it goes.  Every block-quoted (indented) phrase was something Byron Katie said, as best as I could record it at the time.
"There are (emphasis hers) things that are completely horrifying, but eventually they're not."
This one goes to the "not always so" of Buddhism and it goes to the vital importance of discerning the difference between what you're thinking and what is going on in reality at the moment.  911 comes to mind as an example.  That day, what happened was horrifying.  It's not anymore.  Now that area of the world is a quiet tourist attraction.  It's a park.

My story (and yours too, probably) of that day is still horrible.  My memories are of people jumping out of buildings to certain death by a 100 story fall in favor of waiting for certain death by fire or building collapse.  That's horrible, but the events upon which my memories are based are not happening any more.  There aren't people jumping from impossible tall buildings to avoid dying in a fire in downtown Manhattan today.  Nothing horrible is happening.

This extreme example illustrates an important part of what I have learned here.  Much of what angers, frustrates and saddens me concerns events that are over.  Everything else which angers, frustrates and saddens me are things I expect to happen in the future.  Right here, now, as I sit in a comfy cafe surrounded by athletic women in yoga pants, nothing is angering, frustrating or saddening me.

Remembering the past and anticipating the future are both necessary to living.  The important thing to notice here is that they are not the same thing as reality.  Remembering the past and anticipating the future are not real in the same way that what is going on around you is real.  There's not much else to do about that, but noticing it is everything.

And that leads me into how my life changed today.

In the morning session, I checked my phone (on silent) to find that I had received a call from a work colleague.  My first reaction was "screw that, I'm on vacation."  It was in the dead middle of the morning session, Byron Katie was lecturing, I paid a lot of money and went to some personal trouble to be in this room hearing the lecture, so work can take a hike (I think my internal dialog may have contained more colorful language).

Beyond that, I guessed that I knew what my colleague was asking about, it concerns a tired, broken project at work that I have worked and worked on until I am blue in the face and management intransigence has stood in the way of a solution, and still stands in the way.  It was the last effing thing I wanted to discuss.

However, I was in this room, doing this work, and I realized that I was seeing this call in the context of my past.  I asked myself how I would react if I dropped my story about it.  I thought for a second, how would I respond if I dropped the story about what I should and shouldn't do for work?

Instead of doing that, going with my prepared habitual answer, let's drop this story about work being this or that, the person calling being this or that, and just respond to what is happening right here right now.  I asked myself, what would I do without that story?

It's a human being asking me for help.  There's no question how I would respond to this request for a return call if I didn't have all this history and story connected to it.  When people ask me for help I listen.  That's who I really am.

I stepped out of the session and returned the call.  I changed my mind.  I did a kind of experiment.  What might happen if I took the advice I had paid so much for today?  What if I put both feet into the work instead of observing others do and talk about it?

It turns out my guess was correct, the call was about what I thought it was about, and frankly, between you and I, it didn't feel like much of an emergency.  I answered the questions, shared with my colleague what I was doing and returned to the lecture after a brief stop by my room to take the meds I forget to take this morning.

When I returned to the lecture hall, the lecture had ended and everyone was paired off in an exercise.  I didn't have a partner because I was out of the room when everyone was paired up.  I had some course materials I needed to read, so I sat down quietly and pulled those out to begin reading.

One of the people helping conduct the seminar came up and quietly inquired why I was not working with someone.  I explained the above, I had to leave during a lecture and when I came back this exercise had already started.  I assured her I was perfectly content to sit one out if need be, it was my fault anyway.

This person asked me to sit there while she tried to help.  I went back to my reading.  A moment later there was a tap on my shoulder, I looked up to see Byron Katie, the leader, founder, author and mother of this entire thing.  She asked me why I was sitting alone and I told her the same thing I told the other person.  She motioned with her hand and said softly "come with me."

Oh shit, I thought to myself.  I'm in trouble.

She moved to an open area of the room, dragged two chairs together facing each other and sat down, motioning for me to sit in the other seat.

"I'll be your facilitator" she said.

Oh. My. God.  This is like the Pope randomly offering communion to a Catholic.  Here's the person whose work I have been studying like textbooks for years, putting into practice an exercise which had already brought many welcome changes to my life, whose voice I have listened to for hours and hours and hours of podcasts, and she's sitting across from me offering herself to me.  Can this really be happening?

The facilitator is the person who helps the client, the person doing the work, do it.  They sit across and follow a systematic protocol of questions.  Generally, people pair up, one person acts as a facilitator and the other as the client, then they switch roles.

"It's a privilege." I answered, she smiled.  I wanted to exclaim and I can't fucking believe this is happening to me! but I didn't.  I let her have her humanity,and just treated her like i would anyone else.

She asked me to take out my "judge your neighbor" worksheet, a standard tool of this process, and begin reading to her from it, which is the exercise, but as I've said before you can read about that elsewhere.

I had filled out the written part of the exercise the night before, and the instructions were to use what comes to mind, not your biggest issue, or why you came here, or whatever, just use what comes up.  I wrote about my father and my dissatisfaction with our relationship because I regarded them as low-hanging emotional fruit.

not dead yet!
I had long regarded my problems and situation with my father to be a closed book.  He died ten years ago, and while we had a kind of polite detente at the end of his life, our relationship was never warm or close.  What I brought specifically to the process was the fact that I never heard him tell me that he was proud of me, a fact of our relationship that I frankly regarded as outrageous and tragic.  It would bring me to tears to even discuss it.

I didn't regard this as a subject that needed examination.  My relationship with my father was what is was, and now that he's dead, what can anyone do about it?  I had no idea what I could possibly discover that was new here, I had only put it on the worksheet because it was what came up when I had been asked the night before to write about what came up.

Byron stepped me through the work, very much proceeding according to the protocol, and our discussion of my answers changed 57 years of perspective on my life right there on the spot.  All these years I had paraded this notion around that asking that once, just once, in the 46 years I knew him, why couldn't he say "Richard, I am proud of the man you've become."

Was this too much to ask?  One brief, single, solitary expression of admiration for his son?  After all that bullshit he put me through?

After doing the work, I realized, yes, it was too much to ask.  The details for the explanation for that are personal and mostly not relevant to understanding the work.  I realized that what had separated me from my father all those years, and was still doing so now, was my thoughts, my story about my complicated and dramatic family history.

When I dropped all that and looked instead and the facts of what happened and what didn't, absent all of my victim commentary, my father had actually been wise, supportive, connected to me, and generously allowed me to make my own choices about my life.

I had been unwise, dismissive, withdrawn and I actively shut him out, on many, many occasions, because of the story I had in my head about what his actions meant about what what he thought of me.  I made it clear that I did not approve of him, was not proud of him and I had a dismissive explanation for practically every gesture of love and support he offered me.

I cried, for the first time in my life, for the pain my father felt because I pushed him away.  I realized, for the very first time, that what I thought had happened between us did not actually happen.

T H A T   I S   F O R G I V E N E S S .

Forgiveness isn't giving up, giving in, forgetting or rational diminishment of a past pain in favor of a present connection.  It's realizing that what you thought happened didn't.

My father faced a terrifically difficult situation as I was growing up even without a problem son.  I offered him nothing, worse than nothing, I treated him like a pariah.  He provided me with everything he was capable of providing me in spite of my ungrateful and unskillful victimhood.

He had my mother to deal with, a sadistic Marine Corp general at work who had it in for him, a family that was unsupportive and frankly tried to undermine his success and his marriage to my mother.  He was a narcoleptic who went undiagnosed for most of his life.  Did I mention he was married (and divorced, multiple times) to my mother?

On top of all that, his son, his only child, decided that he wasn't enough, that in spite of what he could do he wasn't sincerely interested in being a father, and that he actually preferred the company of other people's children to his own.  I decided every disappointment I suffered at his hand was a way to persecute me, and I angrily turned all of my resources as a child to punishing him for all these imagined offenses.

So, was it too much to ask that in addition to being there when I needed something time after time after time, despite all this rejection from me, was it too much to ask for him to provide me with my Hallmark moment of parental approval?  Was that so much?  Was that too much to ask?  One single sentence?

You bet your ass it was.

This is what healing via genuine forgiveness looks like, and in spite of the fact that he died ten years ago our relationship is brand spanking new today.  I have forgiven him, and I can now bring the part of him that still dwells within me along with me for the rest of my life as a trusted and valued internal advisor and companion.  I look forward to travelling with my father, learning new things with him, and relying on his advice.

Byron Katie sat across from me when all that happened.  I looked into her eyes, heard her voice guide me as I healed, or began to heal life-long pain that reaches into every single area of my life.  My relationships, my work, my money, my health, my spiritual practice have all been touched by this situation and because of that, they are all now transformed.

That's the work.  That's what is does.  That's why without Byron Katie trying to do it, there's a large international community around the work: institutes, residential programs and retreats for teaching this process all over the world.  It works.  It's amazing.

Now, let's go back to the series of events that led to all this happening today.

Remember, I got a phone call from work while I was on vacation.  My first and habitual reaction was to not take it, to claim the license of vacation-hood to not respond to another human being looking for my help.  Normally, I would not question any of that, or my response.  I'm on vacation, work can wait, I don't care. They work me too hard, they don't pay me enough, they don't respect me, I deserve to have my vacation in peace.

That's a story.

Reality tells me something different.  I do care.  I acted out of who I am rather than my work story that I didn't care, or shouldn't care.  I simply responded in that moment according to my own attunement to my own life.  I was Hank's son Richard, fully present and accounted for, in that moment when I decided to return that call.

This is my gift to you for reading to the end.

Notice.  Pay attention to this:  Where did listening to my real life instead of my internal story lead me today?  To having Byron Fucking Katie as my facilitator in the work today.  To forgiving my father.  To unburdening myself from decades of pain.

How did I get there?  By questioning what I thought was true about my life.  That's all.  I just stopped and asked myself what was really true right now.

Top that.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Forgiveness at Kripalu with Byron Katie - Day 2

There are a number of people here who are acting (and doing so appropriately, I might add) as armchair psychotherapists and a number of people who are here taking advantage of the opportunity.  It's heartening to see people giving so generously of themselves to each other, strangers for the most part.
As I walk around during the working sessions most conversations I pass sound really interesting: "so I told my sister that if she slept with him again she'd be dead to me and...." or "what I realize is I've been the one terrorizing him, not the other way around" or "I haven't spoken to him in 45 years, but I'm calling him tonight."

There's not a dry eye in the house, and if there's one surprise that truly blows me away about Byron Katie it is how well she handles achingly profound emotional depth.  She takes people right to the edge of their personal cliff and then gently pushes them off, or more correctly, she stays with them and asks simple questions until they jump because they're curious what's at the bottom.  She half-jokingly refers to this work as "mental yoga," but I think it is more properly called emotional yoga.  Instead of sweating, you cry.

It's hard, hard, hard work to do.  It's exhausting.   My partner today had a story that rocked me back on my heels.  That's not easy.  I've heard many tragic tales.  I'm stunned by seeing this process in action in the lives of all these people I don't know and have never met before, and I came in expecting to be impressed by all this.  Those expectations have been far exceeded.  "Impressed" got passed up a while ago, "in awe" is actually not overstating it any longer, and I expect to go beyond that.

Perhaps the most surprising source of instruction has been simply watching Byron Katie herself.  She is able to attune to this moment, and to the person to whom she is speaking, more acutely than anyone I've seen since I last observed the Dalai Lama working with people in a similar way.  I'm not saying she's the Dalai Lama, but they possess a similar quality of making the person they are speaking to feel like the most important person in the room at that moment.

She's not "nice" in the sense that self-help gurus can be, she's not endlessly optimistic, doesn't preach positive thinking or affirmations.  She isn't exhorting everyone to feel good, or follow their bliss, or buy her books and go to her courses.  I haven't been drawn to have a personal encounter with her myself, she's not seductive in that sense, I'm perfectly okay with our distance.  Why?

I think it's because this isn't about her.  She's really good at lecturing about all this because she has lots of experience doing it, but the value I am getting from this conference isn't about being with her, it's about being with a bunch of people that are doing this work together.  

The biggest value in having her here is as a role model, in the way she deals with difficult people, answers questions and lets the air fill with a pregnant silence when she isn't quite sure what to say.  This is what someone who vigorously questions what they think about themselves looks and acts like.  She is solid, grounded, and present.  Whatever happens is going to be okay with her.

Several people have tried to do a kind of dharma battle with her, asking question after question designed to expose that whomever is asking can't really do this technique like other people can.  She doesn't have answers, but she has a response.  Each question begs another.  It's quite Socratic, the entire program has been a dialog with the audience, but it has systematically followed the progression of the curricula.  She's a master at this.

There are plenty of resources on the web for understanding the work.  One need not give anyone a penny to learn the technique.  Yes, your broke dumb-ass self can find everything you need because you are reading this.  You have the tools.  It is disarmingly simple.  I won't go into it here, or in these series of posts, because it's so easy to get that information elsewhere.

Questioning one's identity is very threatening.  I have shed an identity, or rather one was shed for me, when I went from 400+ lbs to under 300 in 2010 after the gastric sleeve.  I was no longer the fattest guy in the room, I've written about this in detail elsewhere, I mention it here because I know this territory.  

Doing this process and questioning the things you've decided are true about yourself and your life, if one is heavily invested in an identity (and almost all of us are), will cause you a great deal of distress. Genuinely shedding an identity is perhaps the most threatening thing one can do internally.

So, when you decide to leave the particular version of hell you crafted for yourself, and you start to question ideas like "I am a good Catholic" or "I am an abused child" or "I am a divorced parent" or "I am disabled" or "I am a recovering drug addict" or "I am a yoga teacher" even, your mind, your ego, will "yes, but" you to death.  There is nothing more threatening to the part of you that gets scared, feels pain, harbors grudges, and won't forgive than the idea that the story, the personal journey you navigated to get you to wherever you're stuck, might be wrong, or not telling the whole story.

Not that this part of you is *IS* wrong, deciding that something else is true is just another story, as useless to the task of finding peace as the story you've decide is wrong to get there.  That's the deepest wisdom in this technique.  There's no certainty.  The idea isn't to find answers, the idea is to realize, truly and deeply, that there are still questions.  You don't know what is true,  You only know your story.

When you get it, when you've had a true insight into all this, you will spontaneously burst out laughing.  The paradox, once realized, is absolutely hilarious.

What's my version?  You won't get it, because my words aren't enough either, but the closest I can get to the Big Joke is "we do all this to ourselves."

My God, that's fucking hilarious.

Forgiveness at Kripalu with Byron Katie - Day 1

The first and last days are really half days, so I cringe a little when fuss is made about "our five day commitment," but I do have a sense of taking a deep dive here into the subject of forgiveness.

Last night's opening session was led by a yoga instructor, though I encountered Byron Katie at dinner beforehand.  I was walking around in the cafeteria musing silently about how many of the women here look like Byron Katie, this one in particular, and then "that particular woman" said something to the person next to her.

Having spent many hours listening to her podcasts I recognized her voice immediately, it was like hearing an old friend, and there she was.  That's cool, I thought.  I had assumed she was not leading the first session because she wasn't here yet.  Nope.  This was by design.   Cool.

The first session was basically gentle introductory Kundalini yoga expertly led without any verbal references to Kundalini or yoga: stretching the spine, energizing the heart and 2nd chakra.  Then there was some intention setting and meeting people around you while effusive praise was offered for showing up.  The praise seemed a bit over the top, but maybe some people need encouragement.

The people in my little klatch were around my age, one man, three women.   Two were going through divorces, one was a complete novice, one was enjoying retirement this way.   One person in particular was on a high-risk high-reward mission, reconciling after a six month break up to try to put their marriage of 16 years back together, they both were at the conference, but separately, for now.   Wow.

My companion remarked that it looks like a social worker convention, and that's true.   Lots of women my age,  there's a vibe of friendly tolerance and good will.  I don't know much yet,  just no red flags so far,  and Ms. Katie seems as nice and genuine in person as advertised.

The food is awesome as usual, think super "clean," super healthy, food expertly prepared for an audience of omnivores, vegetarians, and strict vegans.  I want this salad bar in my house!  I am sharing a small simple room, but I have no roommate so far.  It is beautiful here, the facilities are excellent,  sufficient without being too bougie.

I will keep a daily journal here.   Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

My Asian thing.

If you know me personally, you probably know that I like Asian stuff, particularly from Japan. You may wonder about why, and let me assure you, so do I.

I have never been anywhere in Asia, so what I know of Asia is completely limited to the Asian things and people which make it to the US, but I'm as confident as I can be that if I can ever realize my dream of travelling there, I'm going to enjoy the visit.  People who know me who are also familiar with the region make the same assurances.  There's no long-lost part of my life that I need to rediscover there, I don't harbor such romanticism, but I do think I'd really like it.

It's also not quite correct to say that I like everything Asian, there are a number of things I find more in Asian culture which I can do without: the emphasis on youth in sexual attractiveness, brand-conscious consumerism, over-work, etc.  It's more accurate to say that many of the things in my American life which I decidedly prefer are often of Asian origin or derived from Asian sources.  I like the sushi, sumi-e painting, green tea, wood-block prints, bamboo furniture, zen Buddhist philosophy, meditation and yoga practice, haiku, calligraphy, pottery, rice, acupuncture, noodles, minimalist gardens, futons, and shakuhachi flute music which I have been able to enjoy in the Unites States.

I highly value the training in personal etiquette I received as an American zen student, which is largely derived from Japanese (and earlier, Chinese) influences.  I am most comfortable around people who pay attention to what's around them, are mindful of their role as a group member, do not solicit personal attention, and draw inspiration from emptiness.  Of course, there are people with these qualities from all backgrounds.

This Asian preference directly conflicts with my self-image as a rational being with a reason for everything.  I have tried to explain why for years,  I've been fiercely honest with myself, I have questioned every assumption I can uncover, but to no avail.  I realized, in the end, like the mountains and rivers, it's just there.  There's no why.  I don't even know why this inability to explain myself to myself bothers me, but it does.

I'd like to understand my Asian preferences with a little personal fable like I was from Asia in a former life, or I have some future destiny there for which I now unknowingly prepare, but the truth is this is conditioned existence.  It's best to abandon the search for cause.  Ultimately this search for a rational root cause represents an unwise investment in an illusory self, it's really a kind of closeted arrogance.  Why should I know so much?

There's no directly observable evidence for a separately-existing, individually-identifiable self in spite of the fact that almost everyone believes in it.  It would have to be this perhaps illusory self that would have to possess this preference, and if it doesn't exist, does the preference exist?

So, it is what it is.  In Japanese I believe the phrase is "so desu ne."

Monday, January 23, 2017

Music review: SCAR LIGHT EP by Yuma Asami

This review is from a fan in the United States who does not read or speak Japanese, so there won't be any comment on lyrics or the liner notes, I have not yet asked my Japanese friends to help me understand them.  This review is about how her music speaks to me directly, without interpretation or lyrical overlay.

This is Ms. Asami's second release following her serious illness and it continues in the vein of renewal and recovery.  It contains a live version of her previous single which really highlights the power and maturity of her voice, so much more than the studio tracks, which seem engineered post-production to put her sound closer to a J-pop formula.  I hope I can see her in live performance one day, I like her voice so much more on this last track.

Overall, this EP is a major step forward for her musically.  Each track has an original feel, explores a different side of her talent, which is substantial.  This is truly a conceptual whole, not just a string of tracks released together for convenience.  It hangs together musically and tells the story of a young woman still coming to terms with the things that have happened to her.

SCAR LIGHT, the title track is up-beat and energetic.  I like her voice on this one too, she explores her significant vocal range and demonstrates her mastery of lyrical timing, her voice is a almost a percussive instrument on it's own.  The production is quite good.  I thought Re-Start, her previous single, was a bit over-produced, those mistakes aren't repeated here.  This is a highly professional pop music track, deserving of being the title of the EP, even though it is not my favorite track.

MY WAY ventures a bit more into being a dance track, it is quite upbeat and encourages movement.  The lead and coloring guitar work of her collaborating band is quite good.  The bridge is a pseudo-rap spoken interlude and provides a nice bit of levity to the intensity of the tempo, as if one needs a little break from the dancing frenzy the song otherwise inspires.

LET IT ROLL opens with a languid set of slide guitar work, and then jumps with a country feel into what sounds like story-telling to a non-Japanese ear. This is another toe-tapper which demonstrates again Ms. Asami's ease with musical performance and interpretation.  She makes performances like this one sound very easy to do.  There's a bit of chance for audience call and respond toward the end which should get her crowds going in concert.

TRY AGAIN is my personal favorite, it begins with a few contemplative chords, and then runs into a series of verses which include lyrics in English, but that's not why I like it most.  It's the chorus, a series of high straining phrases which drop into "keep on trying" and "try again," delivered with much sincerity, as if encouraging a discouraged loved one.   I find this song inspirational and I only understand a small portion of the lyrics.  The sound is up and hopeful, capturing the persistent optimism that has been a part of Ms. Asami's presence on screen since the very earliest part of her career.  In a way, this song captures what I like so much about her personality, she always displays optimism, kindness and concern.  You can find it in this track, that's why it is my favorite.

CERES is another favorite of mine because of the authenticity her voice registers as she sings more like a ballad crooner than a J-pop idol.  I hope this represents the direction her career is going, she really has a talent for authentic up-beat hopefulness and good cheer.  This track displays that as well as any on the EP, I think this one could stand as a single all on it's own, it feels a little buried at the end of this outstanding EP.

DON'T LOOK BACK opens with an urgency that distinguishes it musically from the other tracks.  She really has something to tell you here, and the message in the English lyrics is "Fly away,"  I presume from the things that hold you back.  It has the plaintive urging of such an imperative message and I am really happy with the relatively sparse production on this track, letting her vocal performance dominate.  This track is another example of the wide variety on this EP, she doesn't write or perform one kind of song.  This track has the feel of musical theater on Broadway in my home town of New York City.  It's a great way to wrap up this excellent EP.

Like I said in opening, this live version of RE-START which ends this EP is the best of any I have heard.  I am actually quite familiar with this tune because I sing my own version of it myself with English lyrics I composed.  This is a really nice recording with a responsive crowd.  I'm really happy as a fan, particularly one on the other side of the world, that she included this track.  There's much in this version that the more produced previous release lacks, in my view.  She seems to be taking control here, and her hand is steady and sure.

I bought the Premium package of the release, which included a bonus poster, a behind-the-scenes film production on DVD (fun for fans like me) and an admission ticket to her release events.  It also has a fold-out photo book, which is gorgeous.  Ms. Asami has always been very good in front of a camera and this package does not disappoint.

Buy it.  It's good.  It is available (and eligible for shipping to the US) on Amazon Japan.