Fragments Found

To become whole is to search for all aspects of self.

Ram Dass, the author of Be Here Now, a highly revered spiritual teacher, psychologist and one of the founding fathers of the psychedelic revolution, died just before Christmas 2019.  I grieved the loss of a man I never knew, as Ram Dass had shaped the foundation and spiritual development of my twenties.  Eventually my copy of Be Here Now grew dusty on my shelf as I moved onto other things, though, as he moved closer to the next world, I rediscovered his work and found it much more meaningful after all this time. The book that resonated with me in my youth was now speaking to me in a different way; I now understood it from an experiential place rather than one of knowledge.  There’s knowing, and then there’s knowing. You can read and study and examine ice cream, but until you eat it and experience it, you don’t really know what ice cream is all about.

Re-reading Be Here Now was like that for me, in the years since my first exposure to it, I had experienced much of what he wrote about.  I was floored at how beautifully he put spiritual experiences and concepts into words. Be Here Now’s simple message, given to us from Ram Dass’s guru, Maharajji; was a treatise on living in the moment and opening one’s self to the unity of consciousness.  The book is still a powerful and seminal piece of work that resonates today. Soon after my rediscovery of Ram Dass, I began to listen to his lectures, thanks to an extensive audio library preserved by organizations, friends and devotees. I found his lectures to be as uplifting and wonderful as his writing and wistfully wished I’d been able to attend one when I’d had the chance.

For Christmas this past year, I received another Ram Dass book: Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing and Dying and find myself in the same position of recognizing his words as profoundly meaningful.  Probably because I am working on healing issues from my past, this passage struck a chord:

“The work of releasing the past is not easy, however, especially when our minds are preoccupied with ‘unfinished business’.  It is a paradox of mindful living that without having embraced our past, we cannot let it go; or, as a sage once said, “we cannot transform what we have not first blessed.” 

There is a great difference between wallowing in the past, turning each detail over in one’s mind until one is stuck there, and experiencing it with one’s present consciousness.

By embracing the past with the present, our minds are able to enter in a kind of choice-less Awareness in which past experiences can float up and pass away with no clinging or judgement.  When we do that, the memories get neutralized, they become part of the backdrop of existence and the energy that has become locked into holding onto the past is released. We feel a little freer, a little more alive.”

Ram Dass, Still Here

It’s not easy to do self-work.  Honest introspection can open painful moments, hidden traumas and reveal places where we have been less than our best.  But I’ve come to believe, as Socrates said, an unexamined life is not worth living.  From a young age, I’ve wanted to know ‘why’. I’m filled with a curiosity which evolved from “why is the grass green?” to “why are they angry?”  and from there to “why did I react/behave/think that way?”  Behind many of these questions was a sense of fear or pain rooted in the past and it’s taken some digging to get to the source. But I believe Ram Dass is onto something; by bringing forth these painful moments, we can transform them by using our present consciousness to shed light upon the past.

I engaged a professional to help me as I’d gone about as far as I could go on my own; it was time for assistance if I wanted to make greater progress. In spiritual circles, this work is sometimes called shadow work, looking for the cause of faulty thinking patterns and beliefs that may manifest in your present. The work I’m doing now is the work of integration, finding the bits and pieces from the past that are stuck in my inner-child’s mind, unresolved issues that need to be brought into the present and healed.  Ram Dass goes on to say:

“Although we may have changed tremendously with age, we carry with us the interpretation and emotion effect of past events as they occurred then.  Is it any wonder we feel fragmented?”

I was surprised that he used the word fragmented, as that was exactly what I’d been looking for in my past experiences, fragments of my soul I’d left behind when events happened.  I used a few therapy sessions to guide me, but as an experienced meditator, once I knew the path backwards and how to retrieve these fragments, I went looking on my own.  I’d journal about what I’d find and what each part brought back to me.  It has been, as he said, uplifting, freeing and I do feel a more alive.  Writing wasn’t enough for me, so I painted the process, once again pulling from my current experience the fuel to run my creative engine. I used my art as a way to heal and to manifest my new reality… a soul in progress, coming together.  Each time I look, I find something, another fragment that returns like a piece of a puzzle. As they come home and click into place, the image of myself becomes clearer. I wonder, once all the puzzle pieces join up, what is it I will see?  A new me, stronger, freer, more alive than ever.

Still, sometimes there are fears, but my therapist says I’m on a rescue mission. I say, it takes courage to face your fears. No matter how old you are. And courage, just like anything else, gets easier with practice.

Integration

Integration

Life throws you curves and the only constant is change. I know I’m not alone here, all of us are suffering in one way or another. 2020 has been a year like I’ve never seen… unprecedented in many ways. All these changes and all the upheavals have been hard on the collective consciousness and on my personal consciousness as well.

And so, I find myself in the studio painting. I paint to reconnect myself to the Universe and to sometimes keep myself from floating away. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but painting is like an anchor or a tether, it grounds my energy when it feels like I’m spinning out. Like I a took a turn too fast and lost control of the car for a bit; gravity has loosened its hold and things have gotten squirrelly.

Before the fires exploded in the West, I took out an old canvas from my storage rack, it was only partially completed with a desert landscape. I decided once and for all to make something of this painting I never finished because I didn’t like where it was heading. A lone hiker heading off into the desert, brilliant poppies in the foreground that were mere sketches, nothing fully fleshed out. Cactus poked up against a spring haze, purple rocks littered the trail. I never really liked it, so I figured I couldn’t ruin it if I plopped a big Hamsa prayer of protection right on top of the whole thing and played around with my Posca Pens.

I took something old from my past that bothered me and jumped right in, making it something new. Something vibrant, something with energy and life. First though, I had to make it about where I was now (I don’t live in the desert!). The best of my art is biographical, that’s where I open up my heart. So the cacti were hidden behind tall firs and oaks. The Hamsa hand covered up the hiker; I used oil paint with a fast dry medium to fill in the colors. I waited through the days of smoke and ash for it to dry and while I could have worked on it sooner, it was 14 days before I could get back into the the studio to work. And work through that feeling of skidding out of control.

It hurts my heart to see how polarized our country has become, small issues become conflated just as the spark of wayward fires have burned through thousands and thousands of dry forest and woodland. Just when I get used to one more shock of 2020, another one comes to the surface. The death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg took my breath away. She was such a hero to millions of women… it’s hard to remain centered amid yet another far reaching loss.

But eventually the smoke had cleared and rain washed away the ash and we were all able to breath again. I took my canvas and laid it flat, Posca pens made swoops and swirls, dots and spirals and connected the old with the new. This is the image of integration. Where we have been and where we are now, the all seeing eye of God, of the Universe, of love and peace. The Hamsa watches over us in a prayer of protection and healing.

The energy of reality is more than the form we see, it’s the unseen, swirling like a psychedelic dream, showing us that there is more to life than meets the eye. There are unseen forces at work, vibrating at a level few attain.

It’s my fervent prayer that all will be well, that the dream of democracy will not be burned out in a fire of polarized ideals and flagrant insanity that seeks to undermine the truth by spinning deceit and crying out in victimization. What you reap, you shall sow… our karmic debts are at hand and we seem to be paying a very heavy price. The physical world has laws… such as Newtons third law of motion: for each action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We can’t really escape that kind of lawful karma. To those unbelievers, I am reminded of what a spiritual teacher once said: your belief is not a requirement of the truth.

We are all connected by energy. By the air we breathe and the water we drink. By our very small home upon planet Earth… there is no where else we can go. To become integrated is to understand this on a deeply personal level.

We are all in this together.