In the mind.

On my last drive up north I was reading The Sun, a publication that has been in my life since I was a child. Since receiving my very own gift subscription, this magazine has followed me through ten different addresses, nine new tattoos, the time I cut all my hair off, when I met Elizabeth, Patchy Sanders, the time(s) I cut half my hair off, when I returned home after 10 years of being away, when I adopted my dog, and almost every drive north to Toolik.

Although this reflection could open all sorts of interesting paths to write down, I opened this little thought train with The Sun because a reader contributed a quote in this most recent issue that struck me:

“What is heaven? What is hell? In the mind.” – Jack Kerouac

Kerouac very succinctly described a concept I have been considering and turning around and examining for months now. Although this idea was first introduced with my dive into meditation, it has more recently surfaced because of experiences with my current partner.

Jason and I often see situations, conversations, and shared experiences very differently. In brief, he often views an interaction in a practical, logical way, while I see our interactions in an emotional, subjective way. We can be in the same room, having a conversation, holding hands, by all appearances having the “same experience,” yet when we reflect later we may have interpreted that interaction in completely different ways. What is most striking to me is when I have viewed the interaction as incredibly connecting, or incredibly disconnecting, while he may have viewed the interaction in a much more neutral way.

This recurring pattern got me thinking about personal realities. How diverse are the realities we carry with us in our minds? Can we ever really see an experience the same way as someone else? Perhaps most interestingly to me, once we realize how unique and subjective our personal realities are, are we ready to bear the weight of that responsibility? In other words, can we be fully ready to assume all responsibility for how external occurrences affect us? Can we take responsibility to work diligently on altering our personal reality to one that is harmonious, peaceful, content, and serves our community/world? Can we live intelligently?

It can be easy to blame the outside for what’s rising up on the inside, but it leads to a flat, static living. What would happen in your life if you developed full awareness that you are the only one steering your ship? What would happen if you established full certainty that it is only you creating your happiness, your misery?

I suspect a dramatic blossoming!!

Photo credit here.


Chance favors the prepared mind.

Quote from Pasteur.


This made him understand, he said, that we cannot hope to capture anything in life. It is best just to let go and see what comes to you instead.

From The Sun magazine, although I can’t remember which story or which month. It’s written on a card that sits in my office that I just remembered was there.

Put another way:

Your job is just to observe, and let Dhamma (The Truth, The Path) do the rest.

From SNG.

Since coming home after my most recent 10-day, this idea of letting go, unclenching the fists, dialing down the effort, nurturing faith that life will present to you what exactly you need has been on my mind. Many experiences have been presented to me already in the past two weeks, to hold and turn over and examine and wonder over. Imagine an active passivity, where you are intently interested in life yet you do not direct its flow. The world is too vast to continually pick over. You can succeed and find fulfillment in simple observation of experience.




The heart wants what it wants –

Or else it does not care –

– Emily Dickinson, 1862

Such a simple quote from a letter to a friend, yet it rings true, doesn’t it? A deep, heavy ring. The heart can be so passionate and fervent in its wanting, but to everything else it is silent. These are the words I feel as I go into my sit today. I’m certain my mind will be buzzing throughout the next ten days with ideas I want to share here. Until then! May all beings be happy.



My thoughts on being a human

I wish someone (you) could really see what it is like to be me. I think it may be impossible to describe in words, so I’m going to try. For you, for me.

The last time I was in Onalaska I really realized how human I was, in a new way, when I was thinking about the inevitability of my own death. Why am I alive, why do I know life, if only to die? And why do I know death? And from the darkness of my mind I felt my own heart beating. My brain knows I will die, yet my heart keeps beating in spite of. Something about that innate dichotomy feels very essentially human.

As I grow older and gain more experience and hurt and love and meditate more [side note: often the last thing I want to do in the entire world is sit to meditate, even though it is the purest medicine I can conceive of…perhaps this will make it on my Human list (see below)], I feel my human life becoming more real. Right now, as I sit at the cabin owned by my future sister, with a hot woodstove and yellow down booties and tea that was once to hot to drink, with dog hair on the rug and nascent knitting projects and outside the leaves are dying, my life feels more real than it ever has. It’s as if there is always a dusty, greasy glass pane suspended in my field of vision, and every new experience of pain or joy comes with a rag in its ephemeral hand to wipe away a little more grime. Slowly I see my humanity for what it really is.

Perhaps ironically, my recent scientific endeavors have opened me up spiritually. To say there is nothing spiritual in the communication of neurons and in the tireless workings of our cells’ organelles is blind and sad to me. Magic that we can’t even begin to grasp is occurring furiously, continuously, in our own bodies. Furthermore, the miracle of abstract, novel thought arising in my brain and translating from my central nervous system to my skeletal muscles to write these words is ungraspably grand. Even wilder, the magic of my conceptual mind is conceiving of the magic of my conceptual mind. Please think about that.

In the spirit of list making, here are some examples of what I consider pure Humanness.

  1. A lifetime of the same repeated mistakes, especially in the face of “knowing better”.
  2. Dreading the “sit” until you sit and it’s like pure spring water flowing into your dirty veins until it gets hard and you spend the last fifteen minutes waffling about whether to get up prematurely and make coffee.
  3. The unique and strange satisfaction of popping a pimple when it was really ready.
  4. Feeling so lonely and lost you can’t move. Or you don’t stop moving in an attempt that the lost loneliness can’t find you.
  5. Driving across town to buy a $3.49 bottled sparkling water from Arkansas when you live in Fairbanks, Alaska. Other species don’t do this.
  6. Watching the inner workings of your mind unravel at 3 pm on a Thursday while deciding which shape of pasta to buy and calmly pondering if this is what going insane feels like.
  7. Asking the same boy out again even when it was pretty clear it didn’t work out the first time but maybe there’s a chance now? Also see: hiding uncertainty, fear, and confusion behind respectful, mature, and honest communication with the opposite sex.
  8. Guilt and shame.

I feel like I present myself as capable, hard-working, driven, strong, independent, and successful. To really know me, you need to know that I’m fragile, scared, habitual, and self-serving. Being a human in remarkably messy. I want to see you as a messy human being. I want to love you as one too. Please show me your heart mess and if I’m feeling brave I’ll show you mine.

I’m just trying to continue on with both eyes open.

Klimt, The Friends, 1971

The basic point of it all

Pema Chödrön:

The basic point of it [meditation] all is just to learn to be extremely honest and also wholehearted about what exists in your mind – thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, the whole thing that adds up to what we call “me” or “I”.

Nobody else can really begin to sort out for you what to accept and what to reject in terms of what wakes you up and what makes you fall asleep. Non one else can really sort out for you what to accept – what opens up your world – and what to reject – what seems to keep you going round and round in some kind of repetitive misery…

…Because we are decent, basically good people, we ourselves can sort out what to accept and what to reject. We can discern what will make us complete, sane, grown-up people, and what – if we are too involved in it – will keep us children forever.

This is the process of making friends with ourselves and with our world. It involves not just the parts we like, but the whole picture, because it all has a lot to teach us.

From The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness.

Photo credit.

Perfect in my imperfect perfection

A human life can be difficult to organize into neat patterns.

However, one aspect of my life I find quite easy to cleanly delineate. I see a reliable, undeniable pattern in which I experience a profound level of peace, ease, and self-gentleness for a time before an experience comes along that tips me off the cliff into deep darkness. This does not correlate neatly with my monthly cycle. Besides the inevitability of the fall, there is little rhyme or reason to timing or what kind of experience will cause the shift. I am not a moderate person in this way.

I felt myself coming out of a deep darkness yesterday evening. Besides patiently waiting it out, there is little I can do in terms of self-care to crawl up the cliff and back to the meadow. It is like every deep darkness comes to me so I can learn something about human beings, about myself, about wise living. This time, my lesson was regarding imperfection.

My desire to be perfect is nearly all-encompassing. I desire even to be perfect in my imperfections, as if I had intentionally planned out all the yucky stuff in my life and nothing about me is an accident (is anything an accident?).

If you know me personally, you probably know that I meditate regularly and take my practice very seriously. It is my life’s largest treasure. This effort brings me enormous benefit, but it can also hinder me in some ways, at least until I realize that I’m self-hindering and learn from that experience as well. Because the practice is fairly demanding, I find myself trying to attain perfection in my practice. Never missing a sitting, never opening my eyes or moving while sitting, tailoring my daily schedule to sitting, dedicated sobriety, a strong desire to “do it all myself,” etc. I was sitting last night with a new friend and this hideous monster from the deep darkness I had been calmly staring in the face for five days softened and melted into a voice reminding me that I can be imperfect. I can make goals that I immediately give up on. I can make the same unhelpful decisions on the daily until I breathe my last. I can engage in laziness against my better judgment. I can be a mediocre friend, coworker, gardener, and bicyclist. I can let myself be afraid and not expect that to ever turn into bravery. Life still proceeds without my permission. I am still lovable.

Perhaps that is actually my greatest desire, to be lovable. It’s okay to forget that I am lovable, it’s okay for you to forget, because you will remember. Even if it’s only the sudden sun on your face after a day of rain, you will be reminded that you are loved. Enjoy the light, observe the dark. Every moment is a precious jewel of discovery.

Photo courtesy of