One More, With Feeling

Another stormy San Francisco morning. I love the sound of the wind and the rain. Wooden chimes hang on the fire escape outside the kitchen window, and I imagine that their low castanet sound will trigger a sense memory in the future, when I have left this apartment and am longing for my days in this magical city.

The band has been on hiatus for a few weeks, and while I have a bunch of music stuff to write about, on my mind this morning is still the big picture stuff. You’ll have to indulge me in yet one more such post until I get back to writing about learning Zeppelin songs.

I’ve been in a funny state. I’m drawn like a moth to a bug zapper when it comes to world affairs. I know too much of it is causing me so much stress, and yet I feel not just drawn to the light, but as if I am not doing my part if I don’t sizzle on that thing until I collapse into a twitching mess.

I spend time paying attention, forming opinions, imagining the worst, signing up and donating and being vigilant, and then I have to go sit in meditation and let peaceful awareness carry all the stress away. I fall into the place beneath anxiety, beneath fear, beneath anger and sadness and that river of thought that carries me constantly to the worst case scenario. It’s a still place. I think my whole life I ran away from this place, seeing this infinite, quiet plane as boring, or worse, like death. How we get attached to our misery. How we get attached to our pain and our sad stories and our neuroses and our worry. I see how comfortable it all is, and how when I let go, how my ego, this Clementine who walks around the planet, thinks she’s going to die. Well, she does die a little, all that suffering dies just a little bit each time I sit on my little bench, with the pug snoring next to me, and I fall into this silent, open place, and just be still.

In this place, I can’t help but watch compassion fill me up and fall out of my pores. Compassion when I think how delicate the human being, with the tangled nervous systems and overtime brains. I was born with a relatively mild temperament and a lucky upbringing. How are people who are more sensitive, more injured, more fragile doing right now? If I feel so manic and so freaked out so much of the time, how is the rest of the world doing? How on Earth can I make it better?

What I have come to notice, is that when I sit in stillness it is easy for me to manifest compassion for humanity. The struggle happens when I turn that feeling toward Clementine. The other side of compassion is guilt. Guilt for indulging in a solitary creative path, rather than living a career of service. Guilt for anything I have done to contribute to the damage to the planet. Guilt for the injury, the harsh words, all the behaving badly that I’ve inflicted on the world and that has perpetuated more pain. I find it so difficult to have compassion for her.

So what do I do. I sit. I sit and watch the guilt rise up. It feels like a choking feeling, so I just invite that feeling in. Let me just feel it fully. I detach myself from any story behind the guilt. I don’t try to explain my actions, or excuse them, or see them as any use. I let the story go, and I just allow the sensation of the guilt to overtake me. I can take it, I remind myself when a heavy pain enters my joints and chest. I just keep inviting it in. And I watch.

Sometimes when I do this with emotions, especially with shame, a thought will come to my mind: this will kill me. I will die if I experience so much pain, so much regret, so much sorrow. Isn’t that why we are always pushing these things away? It’s too much. I’m going to die if I let myself feel all that built-up pain.

Well, I guess the ego does die a little when we let go of the hold these emotions have on us. I guess Clementine stops identifying with them. I guess I then get to spend more time in that infinite plane. That peaceful, open awareness that expands beyond this place, this life. That plane that fills each of us, and lies waiting for us to discover.

When I allow myself to experience an emotion like this, it’s funny how it lessens in intensity. It’s funny how I just can’t hold on to it forever. I start to find places in my body where I don’t see the guilt anymore. My fingers seem pretty happy and tingly on my left hand, so I guess I’m not composed entirely of the emotion. I guess there’s some part of me that is just relaxed and peaceful. I’ve been pushing away feeling this emotion because it is so painful, but the funny thing is that I get a sense that all emotions want is to be recognized, to be allowed to rise up, and when I look right at them, they dissolve.

When I’m sitting in meditation and an emotion rises up out of nowhere, out of no thought or story, it’s as if a storm is passing through my body. Maybe first my stomach feels heavy, and I’ll watch as the heaviness starts to spread. I can usually name it: “Oh, here’s sorrow. Let me invite it in. Let me feel it fully.” It can shorten my breath to experience these things; tears come, and I fight to not fidget. I’ll watch the mind try to come up with stories, with reasons for pain. The only thing to do is keep falling into that still place, that quiet that lies beneath, and just observe. If I react, the emotions dig in. If I just observe, they rise up like storms that demand attention, that sway the trees and crash the jetties, and then leave behind the clear single note of an infinite bell.

My new thing is that I actively try to greet people I pass on the streets with a smile, or with a hello or a good morning. I stood in the park and felt myself in each person, from the old ladies doing aerobics to the yelling homeless guy on the corner. I felt myself in the couples on benches, the yuppies with dogs, the dogs. With a breath I felt compassion and peace blowing through my body and spilling into the park, a wave caressing the nervous systems of all in its path. We are together.

This is all I have. I will march and be vigilant and angry and worried and yet so far all I can come up with to try to help is this. To say: at the base of yourself is a vast field of truthful, peaceful energy. A place beneath the story and misery that holds you back. A place devoid of the fear of being open-hearted. A place non-reactive to perceived slights and injuries. A place that has let go of cynicism, no matter how fun. From this place, we come up with true solutions. Here we open to all possibilities of togetherness and compassion and are fearless to say, there is another way to create this reality. Be fearless with compassion! Look for ways to be of help and purpose with no reward. The reward, believe it or not, is stillness. Real peace. Real happiness.

I keep imagining the population of America surrounding our government buildings and just love-bombing the hell out of all those humans inside. If I can sit quietly, and in doing so find this infinite compassion for the person I’ve fought with my whole life, this Clementine, then why couldn’t I convince the people with direct power to affect change to change things for the better? Why couldn’t we just change someone’s entire path with enough acceptance and forgiveness, and assist them in creating a legacy in which they were the heroes? Because when you think about it, there is a very small group of people making these decisions in the world. They could, right this moment, rid the world of war. Rid the world of oppression. It is not difficult. We could say, “Your legacy will save the planet and create a new paradigm for humanity in which peace and prosperity washes over the world like a warm rain.” Who could resist being loved by all the world?

Well, why the hell not. War begets war. Oppression begets oppression. After about 6,000 years of civilization, I’m certainly ready to let it all go. There is enough money for everyone. Enough food, enough technology, enough energy, enough compassion and love. There is. When I fall into my heart, fall into this infinite plane, what do I really need? Take it all. Let me show you what I see.

Well back to the rainy day, and the snoring pug. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” I love those words.

I have recorded a 30-minute meditation, which you can listen to at any time, here. I recommend listening with headphones on, in a nice comfortable position, where you can just be quiet for a while.

I wish you peace and stillness, moments in which you just take a breath and feel the wind on your skin, a sound you love in your ears. No matter the storm, there is always a clear light on the other side.


You can hear me read this here:

8 thoughts on “One More, With Feeling”

  1. The way I feel and see, there’s a lot of healing insight in this; “the funny thing is that I get a sense that all emotions want is to be recognized, to be allowed to rise up, and when I look right at them, they dissolve.”

    And, indeed, the essence of guilt and shame seems to be the idea of “I should me *something else* to be OK, what I am is not acceptable.” Same goes for certain breeds of hatred and blaming, “THEY should be *something else*, what they are now is not acceptable.” These emotions can have a huge motivational power propelling change in ourselves or in the community. But these emotions can also be a great paralyzing force, consuming our energies and creating division and distrust and distance.

    Now, of course, the rational mind would say that if we deeply accept everything and everybody the way they are, then there is no more progress, no more need for improvement. But that is what we are conditioned to think, I’d say =) If we think about a butterfly egg turning into a larva turning into pupa turning into a butterfly – does this metamorposis happen because it is a shame to be a larva? Does a pupa feel guilty for being a pupa, wanting to transform into an adult butterfly to get rid of the guilt? Probably not. Yet these changes take place, the life cycle flows on.

    I don’t know, but I have a vague feeling that maybe it could be the same with us humans, too. Some of us might be spiritually on the larva -phase, some retreat into a pupa phase, some are still eggs. Some are part a butterfly, part a pupa. One morning one feels like a graceful butterfly, then a random little incident sends one back into an egg -phase. It is okay. It is fine. Shame and guilt may be emotions to guide larvae behavior, and that is how it should be. Yet, once one just accepts those emotions, allows them to rise, recognizes them, embraces those emotions with calm acceptance -they dissolve. A butterfly is born.

    Sure, each of us may wander many times waving back and worth the egg – butterfly moments. And just like you say, shining the warmth and deep acceptance around us, that is a sure way to help other eggs to turn to larvae to turn to pupas to turn to butterflies. Or dragonflies. Or whatever, the surprising amazing spiritual transformations beyond shame and hatred.

    It is the ancient call of the dance of kalapas. It is the love, the beauty, it is written in our very DNA, there is no stopping it. It is the light and love growing from within. We re-find it, we shine it in our daily lives. Things change, we change, transformations take place.

    Let it be light, love, beauty and compassion, beyond shame and hatred <3

    1. Erkka, you are so incredibly eloquent and thoughtful, always. Thank you so much for always taking the time to take whatever I write so much further. Thank you for being the butterfly you are!

  2. That is beautiful. In these times of uncertainty, hatred and strife, a simple message of peace and love like this can make a huge difference. Thank you <3

  3. Clementine,
    Your last two posts are full of your points of view, experiences, ideas and questions. I found that I had to print them out and re-read a few times just to take it all in. So many different things one could talk about. You ask ‘How on Earth can I make it better (referring to the world)?’ My response would be that one person cannot change the world but that person can change their part of the world. Later in the post you describe exactly how you are doing that by greeting the people of your community and putting yourself in their shoes so to speak. Connecting with people of your community, even in the most basic way, can be a beginning.
    I just wanted to expand on some of the points and ideas you are developing:
    Yes, ‘…a very small group of people making these decisions…’ and power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The socio/economic system that we live in is corrupt and unsustainable. To put it in spiritual terms; its yin & yang are totally out of balance (yang dominates the yin). We will not find solutions to our problem within our current socio/economic system. Our government and both political parties are corrupted by corporate interests and corporations have been allowed to aggregate too much power. Two good reads that I can recommend is: The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartman & Shrinking the Technosphere by Dmitri Orlov.
    But getting back to that small group in power, there is a hierarchical structure in our society that puts those people at the top. Before humans adopted agriculture humans were organized around small groups, in fact we have spent most of human history like that. These small groups (hunter-gatherer societies) were egalitarian and lived by the rules of nature, which is they did not do things that negatively impacted their environment. When agriculture was established there became food (or energy) surplus which did not exist before. Control of the surplus meant control of people and thus a hierarchy was established where a few people were in control. Jane Goodall inadvertently proved this point with chimps. Her research team had the idea that if they stocked a bunch of bananas and what not then they could keep the chimps around more often for study (because they would at some point wander off to search for food). As soon as they did this the chimps formed a hierarchy for access to that surplus and violence increased. When food is just scattered about the environment nobody is in control of it thus no hierarchy forms. If you take a hard look at any war in the news (or history) you will find that behind any rhetoric the actual impetus for the conflict is over some resource (or economic advantage) and at the top of the hierarchy some few are benefiting at the expense of many. So one question would be can we have an egalitarian society and an energy surplus or do we have to go back to hunter gatherer status. One answer might be to keep communities at Dunbar’s number of 150. That is explored in another book: 150-Strong by Rob O’Grady. Apparently communities of 150 or less usually do not form political hierarchies. Food for thought.

    1. Thank you so much for this Chris! So interesting about the chimps and how agriculture changed things. I like to think that there must be an as-yet unexplored way of creating societal structures that depend on advanced sense of certain core beliefs around the value of human life, the purpose of a life, the way we find happiness in life and our connections to individuals and the whole. I like to believe humanity is getting smarter, as we start to get glimpses of what it might mean if we let go of some of the meta-concepts we accept about human behavior, and start cultivating a different way of being in the world from a young age. I think this is happening already, at least it certainly seems that way when I hang out with young people for any amount of time. I certainly have no answers, but I so love imagining all the possibilities! Thank you for enjoying exploring these things with me! All the best.

      1. You very welcome and I certainly enjoy your blog posts. Just wanted to add to your comment: ‘certain core beliefs around the value of human life’, indigenous tribes that still exist today and the societies before the establishment of agriculture had these values and the values pertaining to living in harmony with nature. There was no concept of genocide and the cultural narrative placed community over the individual, no land ownership and no domination by one gender or the other. Once the agrarian way of life was established the cultural narrative changed too. The religions changed, agrarian people suddenly adopted evangelical type religions whose message was to dominate and ever increase in number. There was now ownership of land and accumulation of wealth by a few. These new evangelical religions introduced male domination of society. So the point here is that the cultural narrative is at the heart of the problem. If our cultural narrative is based on domination as our modern culture is, then that leads to conflict and suffering. If our cultural narrative were to be based on respect for human life and living in harmony with nature then we would have a sustainable way of life.
        Like you I do not have answers, but certainly enjoy discussing the various dimensions of the topic. Looking forward to your next blog post.

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