There Is No Spoon

Deer Buddha

Recently, I participated in an online retreat with hospice chaplain, Amita Llamo.  Her book, DANDELIONS BLOOMING IN THE CRACKS OF SIDEWALKS, Stories from the Bedside of the Dying reveal the power of simple human kindness and the wisdom of beingness, even as we are faced with our own death.  Especially as we are facing death. While I enjoyed her book and wished I had read it (or something akin) prior to my father’s death 2 years ago, it was Amita’s 5-year meditative retreat that had me signing up for her Zoom retreat.  Amita shared with us her wisdom from this extended time spent in prayer, meditation and introspection.

Over 2 and 1/2 days, Amita introduced us to the concept of 4 worlds that exist simultaneously on Earth.  The first world, where we all live, is the world of form.  Everything measurable and quantifiable lives here.  You can describe it, taste it, weigh it, name it, see it… you get the picture.  The 1st world is every THING.  The 2nd world, is the world of relationships, how we connect to others, other things, the environment, ideas… it’s the world of concepts.  Many of us live here in our heads (maybe even more than our senses) and navigate back and forth between world 1 and world 2 and never go beyond the two worlds of things and concepts.

But as we get to world 3 and 4, we find worlds that are not generally “lived in” but merely touched in moments I will explain later.  Here we are limited by language and words to describe something that is not describable.  So, bear with me as I attempt to use first world words onto 2nd world concepts to illustrate 3rd and 4th world phenomena.

The 3rd world is the world of energy as it exists between form.  As an artist, I would call this negative space… everything that is not a thing.  I hadn’t considered that this negative space was an energy but it makes sense to me.  This energy can be found with a simple exercise: close your eyes and bring your hands together, but not touching, as if in prayer (palms together). Focus on the space between your hands, holding them apart about 5 or 6 inches.  Now, slowly, push them together and feel the space between your hands as they get closer and closer.  Do the same in reverse, pull them apart and see if you can feel the energy elongating from the compressed feeling when they were close together.  If your mind is quiet and you can focus on this exercise, you can feel the energy, almost like pulling etheric taffy.  Try it and see!  This is the energy of the 3rd world.

The 4th world is the collective whole of consciousness and divinity.  Amita described it as a cycle, and used the cycle of water to help us understand.  Water comes down as rain or is transformed into snow, which melt and flows into streams and rivers, eventually making its way to the ocean where it evaporates, transforming again into vapor which then makes clouds and the process begins again.  This cycle is inherent in all things and all non-things.

We reach world 3 and 4 in moments of Grace.  It can come upon you in deep meditation, or after sacred ceremony.  Some find it using psychotropic drugs or plant medicine, yogic breathwork or shamanic practices.  Grace can be found along the bedside of the dying or the birth of a child.  It can be found in the heartbeat of a horrible car accident where time stands still and suddenly you know more than can possible be imagined just seconds before.  Perhaps you have felt a glimmer of grace in a dream like state and it follows you into your waking world as you open your eyes onto the new day. Grace takes many forms but you know it when you feel it.

I have felt many moments of Grace and have glimpsed the 3rd and 4th worlds enough times to know these states exist and are as real as the laptop before me.  My chosen path is the path of meditation, which is why Deer Buddha, is the title painting for this blog post.  Both Deer Buddha and Sacred Cow (from the last post) came to me in a moment of Grace. I truly adore meditation as a path to Grace as it’s far sweeter and easier than sitting at the bedside of the dying or tripping out on acid.  Meditation is a gentle path to these worlds of energy.  I think, perhaps, that as an artist, I tap into these energy worlds and allow ideas and imagery to come through and then, in manifesting this creative energy, I bring these visions forth into the 1st and 2nd worlds.

As I align myself with these energetic worlds, there are more and more synchronicities and moments of divine Grace.  In lifting the veil, I raise my own energy.  As many other spiritual teachers have said, a rising tide lifts all boats.  In lifting my vibrational energy through the manifestation of creative spirit, I raise the energy of the collective.  As do all artists and creative souls; art is a spiritual practice!

In the 1999 movie, The Matrix, the hero, Neo, is on a journey to truth.  At one point, he meets a young spiritual acolyte who is bending spoons with his mind. Spoon Boy says to Neo,

“Do not try and bend the spoon, that’s impossible.  Instead, only try to realize the truth… there is no spoon.  Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.”

The first time I heard this, I sighed in awe at the profundity of that simple message.  Change your mind and change your reality. But in the movie, Neo is not in the physical world, he is actually in a simulation.  For him, in that world, there is no spoon.  But when he leaves the world of the mind, he returns to a place where spoons do in fact, exist. We are faced with an existential dilemma, is there or isn’t there a spoon? Well, yes, in the many worlds idea of Llamo there is and there isn’t a spoon.

Many on a spiritual path are heavily invested in the physical world and miss the depth of existence by not being able to experience nor even imagine a state of Grace.  Some seek to live in worlds beyond the physical and strive away from where they are now.  They live in the future or ruminate over the past, disregarding the present.  They long for something new, different, better, pleasurable and move away from discomfort.  Buddha says that longing and desire is often the cause of much suffering as we fail to accept and allow and surrender to the reality, we live in.  Even longing for enlightenment is a desire that can cause suffering.

But if we look towards embracing all the 4 worlds, not just the manifestation of the physical world, nor only the etheric world, we begin to see the fullness of all the layers of reality.  We learn to recognize truth and see things more clearly.  All worlds are interconnected, and we are here to experience the many worlds in their own way; though we live in the physical, we are in the world, not of the world.  Sometimes we may even lift up the veil and see, there is a spoon AND there is no spoon. Both are true.

Dancing Green Woman
(She lives in another world)

Secrets and Lies

20181227_222912

This is Bailey.  I painted Bailey as a Christmas/Birthday present for his owner, even though Bailey has been gone for some time now, this piece was a loving testament to a wonderful dog.  Bailey’s owner shed a tear or two, it was a wonderful surprise; her husband had arranged with me this summer when he saw my body of work and knew at that moment just what to get his wife for the upcoming eventful day.

We communicated in secret, sending texts and photos; I kept him apprised of my progress until I reached a point in the process where I ask my clients, “Do you want to see any more or would you like for the rest of the painting to be a surprise for you as well?”

He opted to be surprised.  Just the few initial sketches and the start of the color blocking was enough as he wanted to see the finished piece all at once. He wanted in on the surprise.

When I ask this question of my clients who commission pieces, the answer is always the same.  After the initial start to the painting (which perhaps confirms their faith in me as the right person for the job) they say the same thing, “let me be surprised.”

Now, I realize, there are quite a few shows on TV where the “big reveal” is an anticipated moment.  It becomes the crux of the whole program; Fixer Upper comes to mind as the designer/construction team of Chip and Joanna Gaines show the shocked, awed and always, thrilled, homeowners the fabulous renovations on their newly remodeled home. And then there is the whole Publishers Clearing House thing where they come to the unsuspecting winner’s front door with a big check and a flotilla of balloons, everyone is always ecstatic in their joy at receiving big checks! I think perhaps the thrill of Christmas morning is banking on this surprise factor in a very big way.

People love surprises; the surprise element adds to the excitement of the moment.  The sideswipe of a positive shock often results in shrieks of joy, wild jumping in childlike abandonment. Surprises create a heightened emotional component, and from a neurological perspective, heightened emotions cause the brain to remember the event. Which is what the surprise giver was probably after in the first place.

BUT, while people love pleasant surprises, they hate unpleasant surprises and they hate them even more if they are unanticipated and shocked… the definition of a surprise, I suppose. I used the word ‘sideswiped’ in the above paragraph to heighten this factor about surprises: it’s the suddenness of change that amplifies the surprise and whether that is a pleasant or unpleasant incident, either way, it will be remembered, you can count on that.

When planning a surprise event/gift, one must be able to keep a secret.  Keeping gifts a secret, planning the moment to “pop the question” or perhaps pulling off a surprise birthday party entails quite a bit of secret keeping; one would spoil the event without the deception needed for this kind of surprise. Generally speaking, most people forgive you for keeping these kinds of secrets as the intention is to heighten the positive experience of the moment.  Secrets, like surprises can be kept for good.  But secrets can also be kept out of fear, or even with malicious intent.  Some may be kept out of a sense of protection for others, out of love.  Some secrets are kept for privacy, the keeper isn’t ready to share their personal shame with the world.  However, secrets kept out of fear, such as family secrets of shame and guilt, or even the ones designed to prevent pain of revelation are destructive and toxic.  Secrets can be used to manipulate others, as they take away the others ability to make informed decisions.

Besides what secrets do to the ‘other’ they also do things to the ‘keeper’. Tendrils of fear seep into the psyche of the secret keeper and undermine their very self esteem as their integrity suffers a blow from the internalized keeping of pain. The pain of guilt and shame, jealousy and anger often poison the secret keeper as they hold their knowledge and try to justify why they should hold it.  This is where denial steps in.  As we deny the secret event, our mind will twist and turn and try to create a safe place where it can rest easy from the pain of the secret. We tell ourselves stories to make it okay inside, and these stories, sidestepped away from the truth, are the seeds of lies.  We begin to believe those lies until we can’t tell the difference from the truth of a matter or from our own version.  When we fabricate our own version of reality, we lie.  We lie to ourselves and we lie to others.

Lies are toxic to a relationship.  Even the smallest of lies become the seeds of mistrust.  When people lie about small things, inconsequential things, one wonders how they can be trusted at all? Trust is a precious commodity, once broken, it takes a long time to repair. Small lies are the fractures, large lies become those sudden sideswiping surprise moments that take your breath away as your reality crumbles into a broken pile. But small lies add up, and as my mother used to say, “a fracture is a break held in place, but it’s still broken.”

If the lies we tell others are toxic to our relationship with them, what then do the lies we tell ourselves do to our own psyche?

 Lies told to ourselves undermine our mental health and our ability to forge healthy relationships and hinder our personal and spiritual growth in life. It’s as simple as that.

One of the 5 precepts of Buddhism is ‘do not lie, nor speak falsely, but manifest the truth’. I believe this is also one of the 10 commandments, ‘thou shall not bear false witness’ seems to cover the concept of telling the truth.  While both these ideas have noble sentiments, it is only with further thought and realization of the damage we do to ourselves and others by lying that change will be made.

When considering secrets and lies, one must weigh the prospects of the outcome of speaking the truth. It is not always best to speak the truth, even if you know what the truth may be. Buddhist philosophy reflects the idea, when speaking, one must ask themselves, is it true?  Is it kind? Is it useful?  Is it the right time? Will it matter? To say ‘no’ to any of these questions will guide you in your efforts to honor your integrity and build your self-esteem. To lie in order to cover up shame and guilt however, is to chip away at your own foundation of nobility and honor.  It’s these kinds of chips that keep me from sleeping at night; I seem to awaken in the middle of the night whenever there is a falsehood festering inside.  Even when it’s someone else’s lies.

Recently I awoke as I realized a loved one had lied to me. Earlier in the evening, I had been taken aback by the realization that they’d held back information I was looking for; and I’d missed the lie buried within the exchange.  My subconscious however, remembered, and I awoke with the recall that I’d asked several times for disclosure and was told, outright, they had no knowledge when in fact, they did.

And just like that, my trust is broken.

And though my trust was fractured, my ability to forgive is intact. I can forgive because I understand something about forgiveness: it’s not for them, but for me.  I forgive as I understand the pain and the shame and the guilt and all the human reasons why they held back and why they lied.  I understand that lies have been a part of their life for a long time, denial of reality and of truth has been woven into their psyche as a survival mechanism. When you live through drama and trauma, your mind comes up with all sorts of ways to protect itself. Only through deep introspection and inner work can you awaken from the trap of denial. I know this trail, I’ve been on it myself, so I forgive because I understand.

I forgive, but I do not forget.  To forget is another form of denial, my learned forgetting trapped me in toxic relationships as I did not learn the lessons of lying.  I’ve had the lies of others destroy several key relationships in my life but I’ve finally reached the point where I have learned my lesson.

I can still love the liar, but not the lie.  I can forgive the liar, but no longer put my trust in what they say. I can speak my truth, in the way that serves and causes the least amount of harm, but I have to include myself when considering harm.  To harm myself by withholding my own truth from myself, is to cause harm. As my meditation teacher said, ‘You can forgive and still call the police.’ Forgiveness means understanding, but it doesn’t mean allowing yourself to be a part of the wrong-doing.

Now, even though I felt left out and taken aback by this reality, I am grateful it happened. I needed to see this. I needed to see it because I’d not been looking at this loved one clearly, I had a narrow view of their humanness based on what I wanted to see.

How do I proceed from here?  I still love them, but perhaps my trust was misplaced.  We are all human, struggling with our own issues in our own time, at our own pace.  I am reminded that situations that trigger a response based on past traumas are opportunities to learn and grow, but only if you are aware.  To see the secret and lie one must be aware it is there to begin with.  And while there is room for secrets in your life, lies are another matter altogether.

 

Three things cannot be long hidden,

The Sun, The Moon and The Truth.  ~Buddha