Tag Archive | Clarity

Clarity, Clarity

Just to establish a baseline of my health before I leave Michigan, I got a mammogram two days ago. Yesterday morning, bright and early (before 9 am), the diagnostic center calls me to set up a follow-up mammogram and ultrasound. I set them up for about 2 or 3 weeks from now. These appointments have to fit in with everything else I am handling.

I’ve been wanting to be out of this never-ending position of taking care of the two of us for a long time. I may have my way out now. Who knows? It may be nothing.

I am now looking at my life and what is (and is not) worth fighting for. I am absolutely physically and emotionally exhausted. Am I willing to fight so I can continue functioning for two? Uh…no. I am going to continue paring down the possessions and fixing the house. Regardless of who lives (or not), doing these things will make things easier for the survivor down the road.

Also, I can start reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead for myself (and not just in relation to Barry) and start preparing myself accordingly.

I don’t know what comes next, but I feel clear as to what I am (un)willing to invest my time and energy in. Clarity is a precious thing.

Clarity’s Cost: Comfort

My life is taking a different direction now than I thought it might. For the first time, I have a sense of clarity about what to do and why. I am being driven by necessity and safety.

There is a hole in my living room window. I don’t feel safe sitting in my chair at the window as I have for years. (Turns out it was a BB, but a BB to the brain would still have been problematic.) So I had my chair removed. I had been planning on getting rid of my chair when Barry passed anyway and the chair is in sad shape, so I moved up the date for chair removal from “someday” to “now.” There is now more space in my living room. I feel like various problems (safety, space, etc.) all got solved at once.

And so now I have nowhere truly comfortable place to sit in my own living room. I don’t plan on fixing that issue. This is the best way to not sit and watch TV and waste my life I can think of.

I know I have to get rid of the vast majority of Barry’s modelling stuff. And I do a little every day. Progress is being made.

Monday, I got the gutters cleaned. Things are getting done. Perhaps I have had a spiritual breakthrough.

I’ve never had this degree of clarity. I have spent my life being continually overwhelmed. I still feel a little of that, but not like before. I feel like I have my marching orders for who-knows-how-long. Others can approve, disapprove, or whatever, but people not supportive will play no role in my future.

Do I know what I am doing? Not in the slightest, but I’m learning as I go. The fastest way to destroy any positive momentum would be to go to the furniture store and purchase another recliner. I could sit back, relax, take a nap….Wait a minute. Where did 2015 go?

No, that is not a valid option. Pick again.

Letting Go Every Day

“In the practice of the Tao, every day something is dropped. Less and less do you need to force things, until finally you arrive at non-action. When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.” Tao Te Ching, chapter 28, Stephen Mitchell translation

This is what I’ve been living lately: dropping something every day. It sounds so easy, so deceptively easy.

I’m still fighting the weird spiritual battle of putting forth a herculean effort and not getting much accomplished, at least on the surface. I’ve been making appointments to get things done to the house to prepare it for sale—and I somehow always get canceled on. It is as if I am surrounded by a big spiritual black hole where time, effort, and energy go in and zilch comes out.

My solution? Do what I can. Every single day. I’ve been rooting around and looking for things to get rid of or organize. For example, I just cleaned out my car’s trunk, getting rid of the remnant of a bag of salt, pitching a few items, and dust-busting. Also, tomorrow the trash gets hauled away, so tonight I am looking for enough crap to fill the Granger container, given that we use less than one entire bag of trash per week.

“So what?” You may ask. By doing these “little” things, I am making my life easier for when, probably quite suddenly, things speed up for me and the timing of events is completely taken from my hands. If things are going to move excruciatingly slowly for the time being, I shall use that to my advantage as much as possible.

“Less and less do you need to force things, until finally you arrive at non-action.” To me, this sounds deceptive, as if you might finally get things the way you like them and can relax at last. That impression is the exact opposite of reality. Reality is change; change is reality. Anyone unwilling to deal with change is refusing to deal with reality. I am not talking about forcing things to happen because I am unsure if that is even possible. I am talking about accepting changes and not resisting them, riding on the wings of change, if you will.

I cannot force things to happen, but I can gradually eliminate all obstacles and sharpen my mind for the next phase of my life. I can just see it. When the next phase starts, people are going to say I am so lucky to be so ready. My attitude will undoubtedly be along the lines of, “Seriously? Lucky?” I’ll just laugh, remembering the truth of 2013-2015.

Simplistic versus Simplicity

Ignorance v Awareness

Inattention v Knowledge

Laziness v Spirit of Helping

Deception v Honesty, Sincerity

Easy for Us v Easy for Them

I found this contrast online simply googling the word “simplicity.” It popped up in the “images” section. I traced it back to “presentationzen.com”. It is perfect.

I have always sought simplicity, and then rebelled against the simplistic viewpoints I have encountered. Pretending climate change is a hoax is not simplicity. It is ignorance of the mind-bogglingly complex interconnections of the real world. It reminds me of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” debacle of the 1980s. Simplistic attitudes address nothing.

Of course, I found this nugget of perfection on a Zen website. Zen is real. Zen is in-your-face. Zen confronts you with who you are, not the pretty images we all try to project.

The most telling contrast is “Easy for us versus Easy for them.” Ask any programmer and they will tell you that the most complex thing in the world for them is to make a product “intuitive” and user-friendly. Like “the natural look” in makeup, a lot of work goes into its appearance of easy flawlessness. To make something look simple and Zen requires a great deal of up-front thought, planning, and preparation.

Anyone can take something simple and make it look complicated. It takes a genius to make something complicated appear simple. I had an anthropology professor like that. Sitting in his classes made the material seem strikingly obvious and left you feeling like, “Why do the other instructors make all this easy stuff look so hard?” Arthur Helweg (of Western Michigan University) is a genius. That’s all. In my opinion, he is on the level of Steve Jobs.

Leave it to our corporate, consumeristic culture to co-opt, bastardize, and taint the beauty of simplicity. Entire magazines are published to help people look simple and eco-friendly. The people in their articles wear $500 pairs of shoes as they tout the advantages of “simplicity.” It is difficult to imagine them missing the point to any greater extent. Meanwhile, McMindfulness overruns corporate America, encouraging workers to pay closer attention to their jobs. If they are not careful, these workers will start seeing through the meaninglessness of their jobs and start finding ways of making their lives genuinely simple.

I guess the reason the image of the contrasts struck me so hard was my attempt to live more simply and how demanding and relentless simplicity, harmony, and Zen truly are. Talking about them are easy, while doing them is something else. Making time for Zen is challenging. Staying on top of demands is never-ending.

I realized a week or so ago that part of my desire to “live more simply” is nothing more complicated than a yearning to be free of my current responsibilities. There is a limit to how simple my life can become while taking care of a sick husband. Also, the weather has made me want to hibernate until spring. The Weather Channel showed a map of the world’s temperature deviations from normal. The Eastern U.S. and Greenland were blue, indicating cooler than normal temps, and the rest of the world was various shades of red and orange, revealing the truth of global warming. In Michigan, many of us don’t even want to open our front doors because it is so bitterly cold. Nodding off is so easy—and tough to justify in a world gone haywire. “Keeping things simple” may be more fantasy than reality at this point in my life.  I reject both needless complexity and stupid simplisticness. Funny how it doesn’t feel like I am trying to strike a balance. Or be inordinately contrary. But it sure looks that way.

A Mind Obsessed by Compulsive Thinking

“For minds obsessed by compulsive thinking and grasping, you simplify your meditation practices to just two words—“let go”—rather than try to develop this practice, and then develop that, achieve this, and go into that. The grasping mind wants to read the suttas, to study the Abhidhamma, and to learn Pali and Sanskrit, then the Madhiyamika and the Prajna Paramita, get ordinations in the Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana, write books and become a renowned authority on Buddhism…” [emphases in original] Ajahn Sumedho, “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry”, p. 134, Jack Kornfield
This is part of what I want to avoid in Buddhism, having already “been there, done that” as a Christian. Part of me wanted to go back to some imaginary original purity. That’s how I ended up Greek Orthodox. The New Testament was originally written mostly in Greek and I wanted to be able to read the text as first written, not some dubious American translation. I took three years of modern Greek, which does enable me to understand the Greek NT surprisingly well (as well as being able to recognize some Russian words, due to Russian being invented by the Greek evangelists Cyril and Methodius).
I went to all that trouble for what? To be trapped in a patriarchal religious system inimical to independent thought and questioning. I intellectually and emotionally regressed to a frightening degree. I shudder at my infantilization. I am still crawling out of that hole.
I am now (and always have been) looking for transformation. Letting go is a spirituality all by itself. It is profound and immediate. It’s not easy, but it is effective. We can only do our best to be responsible. At some point, letting go is the only option.
I understand the whole “spiritual bypassing” concept. Don’t we all want to avoid our issues? At the same time, being obsessively intellectual quickly gets annoying. It only reinforces the very part of the personality that needs antidepressants to cope. Being intellectually impressive to others is small consolation for an enduring lack of peace.

Living as Letting Go

“Learning to live is learning to let go.” Sogyal Rinpoche
I am trying to throw myself into my current situation, that of taking care of my husband as best I can. I no longer feel as obligated to act as though everything is normal. Normal is so yesterday.
I feel like I am starting through the birth canal of my next phase. Things are going faster: more clarity as to my part and feeling less resistance regarding the progression of his demise. I don’t feel the need to push. Life speeds up of its own accord. I have felt stuck a long time, but not as much now.
I just finished “Being with Dying” by Joan Halifax, Roshi. She emphasizes the four abodes of loving-kindness, joy, compassion, and equanimity. Her method is all about not-knowing, bearing witness, acceptance, listening, that kind of thing.
I live my life and deal with the immediate pressing concerns of eventual death. Then I go to the mall (or anywhere, almost) and wonder about whether or not these other people are aware they are going to die. Watching TV can be weird, with its emphasis on pleasure and trivialities. Even commercials for schools come off strange because the whole concept of “career” can be irrelevant when making payments on your own grave marker. (Barry and I will share a grave marker and I started making payments in June.) Now, it’s more like, “I want to have a positive impact and do a job that is enjoyable and aimed at my strengths.” My “life goal” at this point, and this is a little sad, is to pay off my student loans someday. Life-and-death issues are in my face and I have little tolerance for the trivial anymore. A day or two ago, I looked at a catalog and thought, “I could use that item. Would that item be worth giving to someone else when I am done with it?”
Maybe I am bad at “living in the moment”, but I am now looking at longer and perhaps more eternal time periods. I don’t want to buy something I use once and send to a landfill. Knowing that I will be forced to surrender everything eventually, I want to pass on something worth someone else having.


“Seeing into darkness is clarity.
Knowing how to yield is strength.
Use your own light
and return to the source of light.
This is called practicing eternity.” Tao Te Ching, chapter 52, Stephen Mitchell translation

Given my dreams of being in rooms without functioning lights and leaving the darkness of emotional and spiritual regression behind, this verse is refreshing.

The Tao is about harmony, not domination. We need only to return to our own disowned light to re-achieve harmony.

We do not need to seek coherence, but to only let go of things that do not have it. The old Zen aphorism applies: Let go or get dragged.


“Anyway, the point is that the path of Zen goes from here to here and what we learn to do is be what we are – stay put, in other words. Does that mean that the practice suggestion is to sink, soak, slobber, and slump into a melancholy stuckness? No way! Sit up in it earnestly. Does that mean that the practice suggestion is to fight, figure, fidget and find just the right spiritual technique that will free us from stuckness? No way! Sit down in it earnestly.” Stuck! Oh, the Path of Zen,Posted by: Dosho Port September 29, 2013

This instruction is purely obnoxious to those who think meditation, religion, or anything else, for that matter, is for “getting somewhere” that they are not now.

This instruction is about settling, down not for. If something in your life is not working, then by all means, take steps to remedy it. Meditation is likely to offer insights and/or clarity for the path of fixing things. But as long as the mind is uncontrolled, it can be difficult to know what is needed, let alone the equanimity to pull it off.



Acceptance of All

“Accept everything that arises: Accept your feelings, even the ones you wish you did not have. Accept your experiences, even the ones you hate. Don’t condemn yourself for having human flaws and failings. Learn to see all the phenomena in the mind as being perfectly natural and understandable. Try to exercise a disinterested acceptance at all times and with respect to everything you experience.”

Venerable Henepola Gunaratana: Chapter 4: Attitude

From Dharmaweb

This is one of those “easy to say; hard to do” concepts. I don’t even have to do anything wrong to have shame triggered. It is so annoying. Sometimes I love being me and other times I hate my life. The problem with shame is that berating yourself for having it only entrenches it further. So there I am, trying to just simply accept feeling shameful and trying not to create further internal drama.

Emotional entanglement, I see now, is never positive. It just doesn’t help. The more wrapped up in something I become, the bigger the object I will have to let go of eventually and the longer it will take me to sort things out to get some clarity.


Mental Solitude and Functioning

“The solitary mind is one which can have profound and original thoughts. A dependent mind thinks in clichés, the way everybody else does, because it wants approval. Such a mind understands on a surface level, just like the world does, and cannot grasp the profundity and depth of the Buddha’s teaching. The solitary mind is at ease because it is unaffected.

“It’s interesting that a mind at ease, which can stand on its own, also can memorize. Because such a mind is not filled with the desire to remove dukkha, it can remember without much trouble. This is one of its side benefits. The main value of a solitary mind is its imperturbability. It can’t be shaken and will stand without support, just as a strong tree doesn’t need a prop. Because it’s powerful in its own right. If the mind doesn’t have enough vigor to stand on its own, it won’t have the strength and determination to fulfill the Dhamma.” All of Us Beset by birth, decay, and death by Sister Ayya Khema


When I started letting go of what everyone thought about me, I thought, “Crap. What am I going to do at school? How will I function without caring what others think?” The answer surprised me: better than ever.

My recall started to astonish me. I would ask myself a question and, within a few minutes, the answer would come. Sometimes, I felt like, “From what depths was that just pumped? I can’t believe I knew that.” Without so much worry and confusion gripping my mind, its ability to formulate solutions and remember important details increased exponentially.

So much in life demands clarity of thought. I just went to the cemetery to start paying on the opening and closing of my husband’s casket—even while he is alive. It hurts my heart to do it, but it needs to be done and needing the cooperation of people would serve only to slow down my doing what needs to be done. He will die. As will I. One thing at a time.