Chogyam Trungpa’s Saddle Analogy

I just love this passage from Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery by Chogyam Trungpa.  To arrive at this place he describes, within one’s self, must be to arrive at a place of deep, deep peace.      

“In the saddle, as long as you have good posture and a good seat, you can overcome any startling or unexpected moves your horse makes.  So the idea of the saddle is taking a good seat in your life.  

You belong here.  You are one of the warriors in this world.  So even if unexpected things happen, good or bad, right or wrong, you don’t exaggerate them.  You come back to your seat in the saddle and maintain your posture in the situation.  

The warrior is never amazed by anything.  If someone comes up to you and says ‘I’m going to kill you right now’, you are not amazed.  If someone says they are going to give you a million dollars, you think ‘so what’.  

Assuming your seat in the saddle at this level is achieving inscrutability, in the positive sense.  It is also taking your seat on the earth.

Once you take your seat on the earth, you don’t need witnesses to validate you.”

– Chogyam Trungpa

 

 

Depth Perception

Turning ourselves inside out takes courage, and a willingness to accept ourselves as we are without blurring the lines of what-is with the stories we tell ourselves.  Transformation is difficult because what the ego labels as “truth” in any given moment is subject to change.

The mind has a way of taking you down whatever road it finds most comfortable – in other words, whatever mirror reflects the ego’s current beliefs, that’s the mirror it looks at.  The ego must surround itself with those reflections in order to strengthen and qualify its current version of the truth, its version of what is real.  It’s as if the mind picks up a handful of – well, whatever it can get hold of – and calls it “the truth”, labels it “the world”, classifies it as “the way things are”.

Yet it seems that truth is highly subjective.  One person’s truth might contain grains of another person’s truth, or fragments of a larger truth, or be shared among large groups of people.  But any one person’s individual version of truth cannot help but be small, narrow and limited, because as individuals we cannot help relating all information back to ourselves somehow.  We are unable to perceive things as anyone other than ourselves, and we cannot process information with any perception other our own.  Not to mention the fact that our field of experience is a field of opposites because we live in a dualistic world.

No one’s truth has anything to do with anyone else’s, and yet we are all headed for the same ultimate, inevitable truth of death.  As Prince sang in his song Controversy in 1981: “life is just a game, we’re all just the same”.

So, can we not be a ghost of ourselves?  Because all the ghost does is forever haunt the same old unresolved house of all the thoughts, emotions, and beliefs we once had.  Resolving emotions doesn’t mean abandoning the house, though – it means repairing it before you move out, fixing it up better than it was, and then leaving it behind like an insect larva shedding its exoskeleton so it can grow and assume a new form.

To loosen our grip on what we feel so certain is the truth would be to allow ourselves to change, to become “unstuck”, to actually go ahead and love the hardest person there is to love: ourselves.  And instead of playing it safe and always only being one version of ourselves, we may as well be all of it: our whole self, every part that’s ever been, and every part still to be discovered.  Could it be possible to make contact with the deepest parts of ourselves?

It’s a scary prospect, a stone our controlling ego would rather leave unturned.  We may not meet the world’s approval of what we find there.  We may be judged, disliked, even hated by those who choose the easy path of judgment over the strenuous path of understanding.  Why take ourselves to an uncomfortable – painful, even – place, and try to stay there?  The mind would much rather lounge in the warm glow of synesthesia – a stimulating confusion of the senses – than to broaden its understanding of itself.

Yet it is possible to open more fully.  Go on now.  Shine a light in the darkest corners.

A Passage On Writing From Natalie Goldberg

Excerpt from “Thunder and Lightning” by Natalie Goldberg:

“I never escaped being a monk!  The morning gruel, the frost on the bell, bare feet on frigid floors, all have been mine.  Except that my meditation position has been a bent body hovering over a notebook with only my right hand moving across a blank page for hours at a time.

I know no one wants to hear me say how hard writing is – quit while you can.  In the Japanese monasteries they warn you not to come in.  In fact, you have to prove your sincerity and mettle by sitting outside the gates day after day before you can be admitted.

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi once sent an energetic but uppity San Francisco Zen Center student to a monastery outside Kyoto.  They had him sit for five days outside the wall, and then he was called in for an interview.  The teacher handed him a paper and pencil: ‘Write your name.’  He did what he was told and handed it back.  The teacher looked at the paper.  ‘Please continue to sit.’

After five more days, he was called in again.  ‘Write your name.’  He wrote his name and once more was sent outside.

The eleventh day, the twelfth day – the same.  On the thirteenth day, the Zen teacher again asked the young American to write his name.

He picked up the pencil, put it to paper, paused, looked up, looked back down, looked up at the teacher.  ‘I can’t.  I don’t know how.’

‘Good.  You’re ready to enter.’  ”

 

Lavender

I don’t know who was doing the witnessing –

the lavender plant, or me.

I only know that its divine presence shone forth,

that in its presence I moved closer

to an experience of the sacred.

So, rather than passing it by, I stopped.

I stopped and spoke to it.

Not an audible speech, but a soundless one.

The cathedral whisper one uses

when one recognizes divinity.

I danced with the lavender too,

but not the dance of the body, no,

the motionless dance of the witness,

the acknowledger,

of awareness at rest in itself,

of recognition.

 

Net Man

My grandpa was a net man.  Never mind how well I knew him.  Never mind how often I saw him.  Never mind how much I loved him.  The point is that he used rope, wove nets with his hands, hands I loved so much I never knew how to say it.    

My grandpa was a net man, a talker and a storyteller.  His life was woven with stories as much as it was with rope.  He told the stories in his deep, rich, southern voice, a voice I loved so much I never knew how to say it.  He talked about picking rows of cotton as a farm boy in Georgia during the Great Depression.  He talked about walking down to the bar to sling his drunk mother over his shoulder and carry her home. He talked about WW2, how a bomb came down the ship’s smokestack, how he was sent to pick up body parts and stuff them into a bag. 

But mostly he talked about his shrimp boat and the Gulf of Mexico.  He talked about Campeche, Veracruz, Havana, Brownsville, Key West, abandoned boats with blood-spattered decks, and hauling up nets.  Sometimes the nets were full of shrimp, he said.  Sometimes the nets were full of shrimp mixed up with seaweed and trash.  Sometimes they contained nothing but oddities and junk, and sometimes they contained nothing at all.      

My grandpa was a net man.  Never mind his T-bone steaks.  Never mind how his short fuse in youth alchemized into the easy way he had about him later in life.  Never mind that his boyhood nickname was Junebug.  Never mind that he urged me to eat a Scotch bonnet off his pepper bush, and I did, and he laughed and laughed.  Never mind the time he unrolled a giant map of the Gulf and told me all about it with a sailor’s mind and a sailor’s memory.  The point is that he had – as we all do – an unknowable wildness.  The point is that for 92 years he touched people’s lives without even trying.  The point is that now he really has crossed the Gulf.  The point is in the still of the night he left the world, and by left I mean he’s gone, and by world I mean all of this.  I mean the crescendo of his life swept back down in a broad arc, I mean mass overtook energy.   

My grandpa was a net man.  He had been a shrimper himself, and worked with the nets.  So when he opened up a shop in Key West and became a net-maker, he knew what to do.  The shape, size, and kind of net he made depended on where the shrimper would be trawling and what type of boat they used.  He worked the rope not only with his hands, but with an understanding of what was needed: the understanding that comes from time spent close to the heart of the work itself.  

The nets were dragged along the ocean floor by the trawlers, and before that they drifted down, down, down through the briny water.  But before that they had to be made from rope, the rope that passed through the fingers of my grandfather’s hands – hands I loved so much I never knew how to say it.

   

 

A Letter to Grandma

Dear Grandma Betty,

I hope I can maintain an honest assessment of who you were, and not get too wrapped up in memories seen through the milky windowpanes of linear time’s narrow corridor.

You wore your heart on your sleeve.  You told it the way you saw it and made no apologies.  You were born on July 31st.  You repeated yourself an awful lot, and passed that particular trait on to your son (my dad) and your grandson (me).  You liked taking people out to lunch.  And you liked to talk…….a lot.

I remember meeting you for the first time.  The pine boughs were swaying in the wind and it was summer when you came to the little house with the wood stove in the Oregon countryside, where my mom and I lived for 4 years and I rode my bicycle to school.  Your voice with its syrupy southern accent – and your spirited personality – seemed so huge to me that I thought I felt the house shake through the soles of my worn-out sneakers.

But the biggest parts of you were your heart and your stubbornness.  I didn’t know anything about you yet back then, but I could see right away that you were ruled by your heart, because of the way you were so kind to my mom.  I was protective of her, and so I watched, and I listened.

It must be nice to have set down your suitcase of earthly burdens, grandma, but I miss your stories.  I miss your grouchiness, your laugh, the way you pronounced hurricane ‘herrican’.  The way you always used southern colloquialisms like ‘he was mean as a snake’ or ‘that girl would argue with a fence post’.

Sometimes a weariness comes over me when I think of loved ones lost.  There are so, so many.  And yet in a way, they’re all still here, they’re all….close.  So I’ll say to you what I’ve said to them all, in one way or another, over the years:

to all those I love, and have loved, on either side of the transcendental veil – may my love be a lantern to help light your way.  And may yours help me light mine.

Fudge

C.M. Rivers

I came across the recipe in your old index card box, alphabetically misplaced between Fruitcake and Fritter Batter. “I miss you”, I said aloud as I measured out the sugar, butter, salt and evaporated milk. The cat looked at me expectantly, thinking – as he always does – that I was speaking to him. I combined the ingredients in a small pot, boiled and stirred them for five minutes. Outside, the sun tried its best to shine down on weeds turned brown from ice and frost.

I followed your handwriting with my eyes, blue ink letters across a 4 x 6 ruled index card. You had good penmanship, easy to read. The card must have been white when you wrote on it, but now it was a nameless color.

Remove from heat. Add marshmallows, semi-sweet chocolate, chopped walnuts, vanilla extract. “I wish I could hear your voice again” I thought…

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