After volleyball, yesterday evening, Nick’s former roommate and current staff member at the residential drug rehab asked if he’d come back to the house and share with the group. So we did that, at the nice big house in the pines, maybe a dozen young men seated in a room plus me, Nick, and the bugaboos. Nick is an excellent speaker, with a knack for truly connecting. It went really well, and represented exactly the kind of “social” engagement I love the most — real talk about real stuff.
Afterwards, saying goodbye in the driveway, the friend/staff member said that some of the residents have been there for four months and still haven’t attended a single AA meeting, due to ‘Rona. Any group of people who want to quit, are willing to admit powerlessness, and are ready to surrender to a higher spiritual authority can call themselves “a meeting”, but it works a lot better if you have a broad smattering of experience in sobriety, across the group. Obviously.
So that was a mind-blowing thing we considered for some time, driving home. All the people, hanging on by a thread one way or another, already, before the lockdown, and then — just pushed off the cliff. Looks like comprehensive OD and suicide data for 2020 won’t be available for a couple years, but one California doctor said he’s seen “a year’s worth of suicide attempts in the last four weeks”, relative to his experience at John Muir Medical Center. A nurse from the same facility said, “I have never seen so much intentional injury.”
Teal Swan said, in her 2020 Forecast, “Feeling fed up will cause many people to dive even deeper into spiritual practice. But many will do so with the attitude of ‘escape’. It is critical that spiritual practice is not used as an escape hatch from life itself. Instead it should be used as a means of getting more clear and gaining more resources specifically in order to focus much more powerfully, effectively and fully into your temporal, physical life.”
It’s clear to me that a lot of the power struggles going on right now are profoundly not about me, or us, Americans, or even us as the global serfdom. So it’s a great time to return, or be again and again reminded to at least explore, what a spiritual practice looks like, in this current thought environment. I’ll be honest, I haven’t figured that out, but my brother and I were kicking it around a little. He meditated consistently over the last 6+ months, encountered an extremely destabilizing/upsetting situation in his own life in the last month, doubled down on meditation around that, achieved a degree of calm and relief juxtaposed with a new life trajectory, and has since found his free time largely soaked up by amazed inquiry into the maze of what’s not being said about all the stuff that is being said, relative to our current societal crossroads. He’s feeling fine about that — sometimes, I guess, specific spiritual “activities” give way to worldly enmeshment because, you know, worldly enmeshment is the matrix in which all our soul events occur, for a time, or cyclically, or overlappingly, depending on your impression of linear time.
For me, various habits or practices come and go — predominantly they go, lately it seems, with the exception of writing — and that could be better but it could be worse. The main thing I *try* to remember is to ask myself, periodically, what would my inner being do, think, or say? We generally don’t need to inquire what our personality level selves would do, think or say, because that’s almost always what’s already happening. Our personalities keep score, obsess about the past, worry about the future, and easily step into criticism of others based on, usually, our impression that they’ve decided to be critical of us. We get into these energy level Mexican standoffs with each other.
I do all of these things, all the time, so task failed successfully. Our inner beings are like incredibly wise Golden Retrievers who love everyone and everything, easily. So the question, what would my inner being do, say, or think?, can usually be answered with another question — well, what would a particularly smart Golden Retriever do, say, or think? Almost none of the things that I routinely do, say, and think, is the honest answer. Having one good question is, in my opinion, better than a rotating cast of answers, long-term.
Now, I’m going to say something that will seem to absolutely conflict with what I just established, but it feels relevant. I spent most of my 2018 fire season (152 straight days) envisioning what this tangible relationship to my own inner being can, or should, feel like, in between my job-related activities of slinging fuel, driving all around the country, and attempting to write hard enough to make it through six duplicates of government-issue fuel receipt tickets x 10,000 receipts, sometimes in the rain. The tendency to imagine my own inner being as a spiritually refined version of myself was tough, because outwardly, and often inwardly, I am placid, gentle, funny, and open to new ideas. My biggest frustrations come in the form of failing to rise to occasions of conflict quickly enough, or confidently enough. I’m easily able to access my inner Golden Retriever, in other words, but sometimes that’s not enough. Being harmless should be everyone’s goal, but not harmless like a vulnerable bunny rabbit — harmless like Ronnie Coleman, 8x Mr. Olympia and career Texas cop, responding to a domestic disturbance call. He didn’t have to hurt anyone, or threaten harm. Fucking look at him. Spiritually, there’s something to that — a sense of personal power, worn so well, that performance of it is unnecessary, and ready access to it is a given.
So, to put it another way, the inner being version of myself that I was imagining — an airier, fairier, more enlightened Hannah — and I always got a little hung up on what exact dress she was wearing; was it one I already owned or would inner being Hannah have a better one? And did she have bangs, or maybe fluffier hair? You can see this was problematic. It/she did provide me with more of the tools I already had, but failed to provide me with the tools I actually needed, in times of particular stress. I am conflict averse, which is an imbalance you can only lean into, for growth, because it’s going to happen one way or the other, thanks to that phenomenon known as other people.
So, near the end of the fire season, I had this personal epiphany: Gust Avrakotos. I’d watched Charlie Wilson’s War years before, and I’ve never been so entranced with a scene or a character in my life as I was by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Avrakotos, in this clip. It evoked every moment in my own life when I’ve known my power but remained mute, keeping my actual self at arm’s reach. Unlike March, I come in like a lamb and go out like a lamb, and the suppressed internal fuming that occurs as a result in the source of probably 99% my spiritual trouble.
It had just never occurred to me before that I could envision my own inner being…you know…as a character played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, for instance. Until it did. So in times of stress, where formerly I might ask myself, “What would my inner being do?,” and the answer would come in the form of Hannah being an even more radiant Golden Retriever — valuable no doubt but also something I’m reasonably good at — the answer began to come in the form of Hannah being more surly, more willing to go for the jugular, less giving of fucks, more smashing of figurative glass, and more willing to call it like I see it. For me, that’s the way forward and the way up, towards more harmonious *inner* equilibrium, which might involve the loss of some outer equilibrium.
And that’s an important point right there. Often, regaining and reclaiming our personal power involves upsetting others who’ve staked a claim in our remaining “low on the totem pole”. We all know this, instinctually, but we get it exactly backwards in practice — upsetting others on purpose AS a demonstration of empowerment. That really is putting the cart before the horse. The “others” in any scenario we’re examining through a spiritual lens are only symbols of our inner terrain, and how stupid would it be to antagonize an aspect of yourself on purpose? They’re you. They’re there for a reason, and that reason is to be listened to, understood, soothed, and finally integrated. But conversely, how stupid would it be to allow an aspect of your own inner terrain to antagonize you? An example of this would be the absorbed voice of your parents or detractors in your head, telling you you’re not good enough. The only power struggle worth our engagement is the internal one, which as the addicts and junkies have discovered, is best hacked through surrender to Higher Power first, which then translates to an improved and more appropriate vocabulary of responses to power struggles of the worldly sort.
The relativity of personal spiritual growth is what trips us up. If someone hits me, in whatever sense, should I hit them back? That depends. If hitting people back is the only response I have, maybe cultivate an alternative. If it feels impossible to stand up for myself, then hitting that person back is a great way to explore life beyond the doormat. For me, it makes more sense to envision my own inner being as Gust Avrakotos than airy fairy dress girl, because I tend not to hit people back as a default. Some people need to cultivate an inner being that looks more like a Golden Retriever, enjoying the car ride and jumping into puddles. It can and should change over time, as we reclaim and integrate more and more of ourselves, in response to that reliable catharsis known as “triggers”.
Spiritual gains are nothing if not slow. They can happen fast, but I wouldn’t count on it. What are some spiritual gains worth mentioning? How about authenticity, and the ability to monitor it first-hand and in real time, without relying on “external” corrections. None of us like external corrections, I’m gonna hazard, but most of us need them. Our myriad of external corrections usually distill down to one piece of feedback: you’re being fake. Fakery is a scourge, and represents the outer counterpart to inner loneliness, which has never been more epidemic.
An actually moral person doesn’t need strict religious commandments or secular laws guiding their behavior. Societal expectations might exist around them, peripherally, sometimes even contradicting their own moral imperative, but a person who’s clear on what’s moral versus what’s societal, however those happen to intersect, is a beacon of authenticity. Again, it’s not about the cart before the horse, either impressing or upsetting others on purpose; but neither is it about being averse to impressing or upsetting others.
Authenticity is the comfortable awareness of what our own standards of conduct are, the reasons for that, knowing we can and mostly do function at that level, and not making it about anyone else. It’s the opposite of being a “loose cannon”, although it can still be a cannon.
I get dumb ads in my social media feed just like everyone else, and for a terribly\e while, this particular one kept coming up, clearly aimed at women of the “hear me roar” variety. It was a tee shirt — or sometimes it was a cross stitch or poster, or oddly, text juxtaposed with an image of Frida Kahlo or Ruth Bader Ginsberg — that said, “Not fragile like a flower — fragile like a bomb.” Stuff like this is the exact reason I came up with my brilliant hashtag, #womenoppressingthemselves, which is still failing to gain momentum because no one likes it. Ideally, we are neither fragile nor bombs.
Perhaps ironically, I think a lot of us need to bring our standards down. There’s no point playing a level of the video game where you just get your ass kicked all the time. There’s no point adding more weight to the bar if you can’t even move it. And there’s no point advocating a set of principles you can’t even live by, one single day. We all have to start where we’re at, and the only reason we don’t is because where we’re at feels painful to admit. We should relinquish performance, when we can.
So to answer my own question, from a couple paragraphs ago — what are some spiritual gains worth mentioning? — I’d say, the maintenance of equilibrium (matchy-matchy) between our inner and outer worlds, FIRST. If it’s real in one, it needs to be real in the other. If it’s absent in one, it needs to be absent in the other. They can both be shitty; they can both be great; they just need to match, or else no one will trust us, because they shouldn’t, because we don’t trust ourselves. We shouldn’t be secret, mysterious, conniving, manipulative, or god forbid, fragile like bombs. And then SECOND and hopefully at the same time, the advancement of that equilibrium towards personal value fulfillment.
So let’s say for me: I’m aware I’m skewed towards being conflict averse. I balance that out by developing a close personal relationship to my own inner Gust Avrakotos. Now I’m less likely to be fuming on the inside and placid on the outside. It still happens, like thousands of times a week, but any movement towards homeostasis is the right movement. So far so good.
Now, at the same time, I’m trying to advance that whole jalopy towards personal value fulfillment. What does that mean? It means, for one thing, not involving myself in anything that regresses my hard-won homeostasis. So, like, I can’t be fake. Or, I can — that’s the whole problem — so, like an addict, I can’t construct an environment for myself in which relapse or fakery is easy or available. Advancement towards personal value fulfillment could mean really anything; what it can’t mean is degradation of our matchy-matchy, AKA integrity-slash-authenticity.
Given those parameters, then it’s our job to have fun. Not save the world; not go on a crusade; not gnash our teeth and rail at our fates; we should have fun, and light ourselves up like Christmas trees as often as possible. Our value fulfillment and our fun lie along the same trajectory so we can’t mess it up, if we just relax. I know this seems like a recipe for addicts to relapse and psychopaths to abuse people, but refer to Step One: matchy matchy. Or, as my mother used to say, “If you wouldn’t want it as the headline of tomorrow’s newspaper, then don’t do it.”
I think this adequately captures my impression of the proper general thrust of spiritual growth, inquiry, and practice, which is of course a journey with an ever-changing view. Physically, we all come from our parents, our families of origin, and our circumstances. Spiritually, we come from Source, we’ll return to Source, and meanwhile we’re not here to become more like others; we’re here to become more like ourselves.
If this is the case (make up your own mind), then it kind of doesn’t matter what exact tools we use, or when. Meditating, journaling, eating higher vibration food, reading a little spirituality every day — these are all examples of things that highly authentic people do, and no doubt some people who are fake as shit, too. So it can’t ever be about the trappings.
One end-note, or side-note, upon personal reflection: shortly after that crazy 2018 fire season, I aligned with a partner who is, for today’s blogging purposes, the physical embodiment of my personal Gust Avrakotos ideals. He’s a honeybadger. He’s shorter, younger, less mustachioed, and more muscled, but he’s that guy. I’ve noticed this doesn’t play well with some cross sections of my more typically woke social set (culturally woke, not spiritually woke), which also never tended to produce partners for me to date, unsurprisingly — hence my historic perma-single status. Nick’s task has been to become less of a loose cannon and more of a contingency-cannon, because he can’t not be a cannon. In situations where a different girlfriend might have asked herself, should he or should he not have done/said that thing to that person, I’m generally admiring that he simply can. Refining the whole process is his work.
Sometimes I’ve wondered, does this represent some kind of spiritual shortcut? I figured out who I more often need to be, but then instead of being that, I’m dating that set of qualities? It kind of doesn’t matter, because the set of qualities I’m already skilled at doesn’t feel compelling, in a potential partner, whereas the less accessible set of qualities, properly packaged, does. I haven’t received direct feedback, here, because people are too polite to say, but I have gotten the sense from a variety of situations that others find Nick too aggressive or opinionated for their tastes, or their impression of what my tastes should be. I think this has as much to do with our culture’s current rejection of masculinity, period, as it does anything else, but that also doesn’t matter. Gender trends go up and down like hemlines, that’s for sure. I think he might be hard-pressed to find another gal who doesn’t enter into reflexive power struggles with him, and I might be hard-pressed to find another guy who so easily evokes my natural feminine energies. Like most women, I can and have frequently had to engage my own masculine energies, in order to meet the world’s bullshit, and frankly I’d rather not. I’d rather be the garden than the fence.
Gender energies might be a blog for another day; for now I’ll call it a wrap and, incidentally, eat this wrap that Nick just handed me.