The Eden Project

Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the time I am being carried by great winds across the sky.  ~Anonymous Chippewa

I read this line yesterday as I sat on the edge of Lake Atitlan and found myself feeling somewhat heavy.  Reading this, I took a small, energetic step back, and I suddenly realized the incredible privilege, freedom, and opportunity that this life is, particularly this moment in time.  I felt the true meaning of keeping the heart open while in pain, smiling at my friend’s recent joy at my confusion and suffering.  Paradoxically, growth comes when we suffer, for suffering quickens consciousness and generally requires the enlargement of the personality to assimilate the pain. Secondly, the radical encounter with the Other (in the form of a love relationship or with God) can also pry us out of our ego-bound position. A metanoia or a transformative experience.

Today was such a beautiful, expanding day for me.  I attended three hours of Kirtan (devotional singing) in Tzununa, a small village outside of San Marcos. My friend Jenna ( I happened to be her first yoga teacher in Thailand 5 years ago!) lives in a small sustainable community called Karuna. They offer this practice every Sunday, with all proceeds and donations going to the village children in need.

There has been a tension around my heart recently – which I could feel loosening as soon as I jumped into a tuk-tuk cruising past my house with two beautiful new friends I just met on the way to the same event.  We sang for hours, and my heart ripped open the moment we began chanting the classic Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soham.  The backdrop of Lake Atitlan supported us as we poured our hearts and voices into the sacred mantras – sending them outward for the healing and benefit of All Beings. I wondered why it took me so long to find this practice since arriving here at the lake, recalling how profound this practice was for me over the years of living in Thailand.  I have found it now and have realized that its happening several times a week at different venues❤

Recognizing that a great wind across the sky is indeed carrying me, last night I reread the book “The Eden Project” by James Hollis, which I highly recommend after any painful breakup or relationship ending. Hollis explores this idea of the sacred Other and the going home project that many of us attempt while in an intimate relationship. His words to describe it:

The going home project is deeply programmed in us from our traumatic onsets. But, as we see all around us, it remains the chief saboteur of intimate relationship. Thus, we are all caught between the deeply programmed desire to fuse with the Other and the inner imperative to separate, to individuate. This tension of opposites will always be present. Holding that tension, bringing it to consciousness, is the moral task of both parties in any close relationship, a task that requires conscious effort and heroic will. When one has let go of that great hidden agenda that drives humanity and its varied histories, then one can begin to encounter the immensity of one’s own soul. If we are courageous enough to say, “Not this person, nor any other, can ultimately give me what I want; only I can,” then we are free to celebrate a relationship for what it can give.

I have repeated this pattern many times over the years. Throwing my projections onto the Magical Other and then left in confusion when these projections collapse. The fantasy is something like this: Someday, amid the humdrum of life, the fated, fabulous stranger will drive into your life, grant you transcendence, and then go off forever, leaving you to the ordinary but soul afire. No partner, no matter how worthy, can compete with that fantasy. One of Rumi’s famous poems starts with: The moment I heard my first love story, I started looking for you… Hollis again:

Only when one has suffered the collapse of projections onto the Other, or tracked the symptomatology to its lair, may one begin to recognize that the enemy is within, that the Other is not what he or she may seem, and that one is summoned to a deep personal accounting before one can begin to clear the terrain for true relationship. One does not come to such recognitions easily, without having suffered failure, shame, rage or humiliation. But in such dreary states may be found the beginning of insight into oneself, without which no lasting relationship may be achieved.

As if heeding this advice, Rumi continues: . . . not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along. All of this is to say that once again, the call to personal responsibility in my trauma, pain, and longing is here. To seek and find wholeness and worthiness within. And when this is indeed done, the possibility of a deep, transcendent relationship may be possible. Hollis again:

Using relationships as an escape from one’s personal journey is to pervert relationships and sabotage one’s calling. To care for the other as Other is to open to pain as well as joy. Both emotions can be transformative. Though we may not hold or reify either, both may engender largeness of soul.

If we genuinely love the Other as Other, we have heroically taken on the responsibility for our own individuation, our own journey. This heroism may properly be called love. St. Augustine put it this way: Love is wanting the other to be. One of the best formulations of this relational paradox is expressed by Rainer Maria Rilke: I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.

And with this, I prepare to jump again!

Rationality versus Intuition

A major reason I began this pilgrimage was to perform a reset in my life, to sell my possessions, abandon my apartment and live as simply as possible. The physical and material aspects of house-cleaning, while not easy, are much easier than the psychological and intellectual ones. You can throw out an old couch but can you throw out a way of thinking? An opinion? A habit? I believe you can, and as I find myself away from home for over 5 months, I have found myself successful in some of this cleaning. This process stems from my Zen Buddhist practice and the concept of returning to a beginner’s mind.  A beginner’s mind being one always coming out of the moment, in the present, not relying on the storehouse of memory, society or intellect to act. To see directly into relationships as if a pure mirror, without the haze and dirt that inhibits and hurts these relationships. I of course mean relationships to people, but I am also talking about relationships to nature, to objects, to thoughts and of course ourselves.

For me, and for many of us, we over-rely on our intellect to guide us in this uncertain world. We often distrust our intuition, our heart or small signs that come to us through the universe. A friend of mine recently said to me, “Men tend to make daily decisions rationally and the most difficult decisions intuitively while women tend to make daily decisions intuitively while making the most difficult decisions rationally.” While this is highly generalized, I can say it is for me, true. Or more accurately, I used to make ALL of my decisions rationally and/or practically, often completely ignoring my intuition. That sort of decision making has kept me in relationships longer than I should have been, sent me on a life path that was not aligned with true self, kept me in a job I was disinterested in because it was the most practical thing to do.

Before this trip, and definitely on it, I find myself beginning to fall on the other side of the coin. For me this is often scary and uncertain. Intellect allows us to put nice little boxes around decisions, to weigh the pros and cons, to move forward with a sense of certainty. Intuition is a curious thing – showing up in dreams, small signs throughout the day and in partial concepts and emotions, never painting a complete picture. When one moves forward with an intuitive decision, they are placing great faith in the unknown, in themselves and their ability to listen to their heart, gut, or the universe depending on where you think intuition lies. I can tell you for sure its not in your head!

Recently I have not felt the creative urge to write, to blog or even to read. I’m playing in the space of intuition, scribbling little notes in my notebook, questioning EVERYTHING I have ever thought or believed. I’m struggling to take off the chains of the past that I’ve allowed to define me. Yes, my name is Keith, I grew up here, went to school here, had this training and this job, lived here, traveled here, etc, etc. BUT, that is not who I am, right now. That is the path my body and mind have taken to reach this particular place in space and time. I’m not suggesting ignoring the past, but when someone asks you, “Who are you?”, don’t take that question lightly. Great masters have sat in caves for a decade holding only this question. Or more modernly, a quote from the book, Fight Club: “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world”.

Not only do you create an idea of who you are, but your friends, your partners and your families often heavily reinforce this. An astrological reading I once received informed me that this is especially difficult for me – that people in my life often see me as an image of the past, that I can struggle to redefine myself around those I spend a lot of time with. Who knows if its different for me than anyone else – but I am aware of this difficulty. I find myself wanting to surround myself with people who DO allow their own images of me to change, to shatter old boxes and those that give me space to grow. I think about this a lot. Only the enlightened can truly see other individuals as momentary manifestations of a divine force, not images from their own memory and opinion. The rest of us, as it is human nature, tend to create images of those close to us, its easier and safer (If a masked man comes at you with a baseball bat, you may want to rely on a few stereotypes). BUT, when a loved one says or does something that is not part of your image, we struggle, we say “I don’t know you!” That is really like saying, “You are not acting in a way consistent with my image of you!”. Often this image is our own projection from the past of what is right, what is wrong, a belief that our path in life and view of truth is the same as everyone else’s. I’ve written about how one of the things I struggle most with while traveling is not finding people to connect to. As I write this blog, however, I realize that this is because it is easier and more comfortable to sit in other people’s boxes at home than to express yourself anew all the time. So we all end up creating these images and boxes and never truly communicating soul to soul with those most close to us. More recently I’ve been on a few guided trips where I was able to spend time with the same people for a couple weeks. I truly enjoyed the opportunity to talk, to share, to experiment in this space of a present relationship, one without a past. Yesterday, I said to someone, “I can’t believe how much I shared with you, I would often not share that much with someone from home”. Why not??? Because it would force me out of that comfortable box! Well, sorry everyone, but I won’t sit in your box anymore.

So let me pose the question – who exactly are YOU?