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.


This is NOT about Covid 19

sacred cow

My latest painting: The Sacred Cow

Well, here we are.  We seem to be experiencing a world wide phenomena most have never seen before.  It’s remarkable, amazing, frightening, overwhelming, unprecedented and yet, somewhat predictable as the world has seen pandemics before.

BUT, I’m not here to write about Covid 19 and the Corona Virus. I want to get back to blogging.  After 2 years of sparse contributions I’m ready to return to sharing my art and my thoughts.  If you recall, I said “see ya later” to the blog when I started to write my memoir following my hike down the Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.  Well, I finished the book, and several rewrites/edits. I was shopping for a professional (read objective) editor and an agent to help with that when Covid hit my corner of the world. Book on hold, I hunkered down and hung out with the newly retired husband.  We worked on various home improvement projects and considered ourselves fortunate to have property where we can walk and garden and be outside in a gentle way as the rest of the world seemed to explode with a level of angst and anguish and fear.

Now, in the past few years, along with the writing, I began to go on meditation retreats of different kinds.  I went on a yoga retreat, a woman’s medicine circle, a couple of silent vipassana style retreats, a big, splashy new age retreat as well occasional stay-at-home retreats where I meditated in a small yurt on the corner of the property for days at a time. I even hiked another 60 miles solo on the PCT where I realized it just wasn’t the same and there were too many people on the trail to suit my need for solitude.  In the past week, I’ve completed a 2 ½ day on-line retreat via Zoom meetings. What a world we live in now!

All this retreating and self-reflection along with the writing project stirred up deep seated traumas that needed to be witnessed (by ME) and healed. I am stronger and happier for having taken the time to clean out the cobwebs as well as fix the broken parts of my foundation so that my emotional house can be strong and withstand the next thing life had to throw at it.  When Covid hit, I was struck with an initial sense of fear (a normal reaction) but my training and inner work helped me to settle down relatively quickly  and be in a place of peace as I live each day as they come and try not to predict or look too far into the future.  Will we face financial ruin?  I hope not, but I can’t do anything about it, we made our retirement funds as safe as we could. Watching the news is anxiety provoking, so we limit our exposure and between the two of us, we’ve come up with a “safe word” to remind the other when we get worked up about how a global health crisis has become political fodder and other inflammatory issues, the stress of this is not good for our immune systems.  Will we catch the disease and will it be fatal to my asthmatic-over-60-year-old husband?  Maybe, but we are in a quasi-quarantine and do all the surgical-clean procedures if we ever have to go out and bring things home (which we mostly don’t). I’ve done all I can do to make sure he’s protected, as well as protecting myself.  Worrying anymore beyond this won’t help and so I surrendered to the present and that’s pretty much where we live, in the present moment.

But not everyone lives in there and when confronted with a friend’s personal issues that had her flashing her anger onto me, I puzzled over her reaction and knew that there was a lesson to be learned.  Somewhere.  During a meditative moment where I studied a tree outside my window in depth, the lesson emerged and I’d like to share what I wrote in my journal.  There is a lesson here for all of us and it’s not just about navigating difficult times but about accepting what is right in front of us all the time.

April 16, 2020

We were asked (in the online retreat) to observe a natural thing and look at it until we saw more than what could be seen and knew more than we had known.  I stared intently at the willow that holds my bird feeders.  I took stock of its obvious qualities, length, shape, color, various dimensions. I looked at it with my “artists eye” and saw the negative spaces between the branches the way some turned up and down.  I saw the joints of the branches, the knurled look of older fingers, the supple greenness of new growth. I noted lichen growing on elderly parts and flourishing on the deadwood.  I saw where bird feet had worn bark smooth as they perched, taking advantage of my offered seed and suet.

I began to look at the fractal patterns, the new growth was a repeating pattern of the growth that had come before it.  Not yet twisted and tempered by time, the new branches, while straight, still contained the essence of what they would become.

And then I applied the fractal metaphor to my own life.  The bumpy encounter with my friend came to mind.  My usual methodology of “talking it out” had been closed to me so I found myself tracing the issues back in time.   It was there, in those fresh, new, supple branches of early development that I saw the fractal pattern that would now be the hallmarks of our older growth.

If relationships are like trees, then there are many, many varieties and species. Some, bear fruit and are nourishing, while others provide respite from summer heat.  Some age gracefully while other may fall apart, their time on earth a foregone conclusion, serving a purpose that is brief though no less important. All trees have their place, to appreciate the fractal nature of life allows each to be what it is.  Nothing more or less.  And thus, rather than lamenting that my willow-like friend will never be the sturdy oak of my aspirations, strong and reliable, knowing that she is more like the willow, I can relax and allow, finding beauty and peace in all forms of communion with others.