Silver spring

The participatory photo exhibit went well. I was kind of relieved to see a small group attending and I am happy to move on to other things. I got to ask a couple of people involved in film making how to proceed with the documentary, now it’s up to me to make it happen. I have all it takes – except the microphone, but it’s on the way. I’m stoked again. What I needed.

I’ve finished the full engagement bible and, again, it is implementation time. The toughest and the most desired.

Yesterday, in the Metro, a black boy sitting next to me was reading Krishnamurti on his iPhone, in French

As for me, I think I’ve had enough self-help for the moment (mind you, I might change my mind again tomorrow). Right now I’m treating myself to two books: Handbook of Native American Mythology” by Dawn E. Bastian and Judy K. Mitchell, and “The Illustrated Guide to Native South American Myths and Legends: Tales from the Aztec, Maya, Inca, and Amazon Peoples,” compiled by Geraldine Carter.

I have been fascinated by Native Americans ever since, as a kid, I discovered suitably themed adventure novels (in Polish, many of them by Polish authors). I soon realized that no happy ending ever came to stories of noble warriors and their tribes. They were always tragic. I remember that it made me sad and angry at the white man’s, my, destructive civilization. I think I never quite got over that anger.

I’ve often wondered how it is possible that, as kids, we are taught very clearly what is right and wrong by so many books and films: we learn that greed and war and destroying nature is evil – we all do! And then we grow up, rationalizing that, after all, grades, productivity, efficiency, jobs and economy and this thing called “progress” are the most important. We need to make more money, people! Screw the forests, we need to build highways; fuck the mountains, there’s precious stones inside them! And stinky liquid under the ocean floor! And gases trapped in the Earth’s belly! We’ll have fuel and fighter jets and space shuttles and no oxygen! Won’t it be grand. And so we deride the same values we should have absorbed and followed through, calling them “idealistic,” or “utopian,” or “unrealistic.” Is this a naive rant? Oh yes, very. And very, very true. And everybody and their gut knows this to be true. But there’s no happy ending for us either, I’m afraid.

This is what makes me wonder about the value of stories and “storytelling” as such. It’s one of the words used so much today, and it’s been commonly accepted that it’s good and important because hey, that’s how we think, that’s how we understand the world, right? True, no doubt. But, as Krishnamurti points out, if we look at our model of knowledge critically, including the storytelling part, we see that accumulation of facts and narratives did not make us a better humanity. It is actually this greedy, agglutinating paradigm that makes us continue in our suicidal ways. Maybe we don’t need more stories, you know? Maybe we need to really listen to some old stories, and really learn them, and live them through, in silence. Again, I realize I am contradicting myself here, because I carry on with this blog, and I have plans of writing this, and filming that, but really, I think I want to do all that mostly to validate my existence. To show that I have something to offer. I feel forced to show, to prove, to be deserving. I wish I could just sit down, shut up, and be, and I wish that were enough. But I’m not ready to be homeless.

I’m clearly oversaturated with language and verbalized thought processes. So why do I read Native American stories? I think it’s the mystery that attracts me. Elements that will never be known or explained; sequences that escape my logic; unfathomable, and yet strangely relatable, gods and goddesses with as much to lose as us humans. Just listen to this Aztec myth:


Itzpapalotl, the horrible “obsidian-knife butterfly” is a supernatural being who combines attributes of the butterfly, or soul, with the knife of sacrifice. The butterfly in many mythologies is the ghost of the dead, and in this ghostly creature it is associated with the horror of the altars of blood. She is one of the Tzitzimime – “the demons of darkness.” Her dreadful face is tricked out with the cosmetics of the Mexican court ladies – rubber patches and white chalk. Her claws are borrowed from a jaguar, and sometimes she is represented as having a skull instead of a face.

The Expulsion of Itzpapalotl from Heaven

Itzpapalotl was expelled from heaven because, as she pulled up some roses in a garden of great delight, the tree suddenly snapped and blood streamed from it. As a consequence of this action she was deprived of that place of enjoyment and was cast into the world. (36)

Simple, almost familiar, and yet so foreign. The above excerpt comes from the “Guide to South American Myths,” indeed beautifully illustrated. It’s the first time I’ve actually taken a close look at Diego Rivera’s murals. Genius.

All in all, fascinating as these stories are, the language used to transmit them in the books seems inadequate. Maybe it’s the oral tradition that dies in the writing. There is definitely a big SOMETHING lost in translation. Something eludes me, like a beautiful fish I see swimming in shallow water and cannot name, even though I Know it. Actually, I’ve decided, I don’t even want to know its name any more. Seeing is enough. The “Handbook” is on to something when it explains that

Long before Newton, Kant, Einstein, or Minkowski, ancient cultures around the world understood that there was a relationship between time and space. They understood that an event happening right here, right now could be imbued with a sacredness that not only set the event apart from the mundane, but also set apart the time and the place where it occurred. In the remembering of the event, whether by telling and hearing oral narratives, or by participating in or viewing various ceremonies, people were able to transcend the present and become part of the sacred. . . .

Native American people believe that time is cyclical and dynamic, and that this cyclical time functions not only in the spiritual realm, but in the day-today existence of all living things. One Hopi scholar has called this relationship “mythic reality.” In other words, the truth of this present, physical world exists simultaneously with that of the mythic, spiritual world. (36)

The past and the future coexist with the present. There was no bing bang. There is just this constant growth and death and overlap. And we within it. And I am just beginning to feel this pulse.

Malinche by Diego Rivera

Malinche by Diego Rivera



What is it that is aware?

“What is it that is aware?” is a question I’ve been turning under my tongue for over ten years now, without ever arriving at a reasonably satisfying answer. When I’d first heard it from an annoyingly admirable man, it was meant to encapsulate the essence of zen Buddhism and higher consciousness, and so it seduced me instantaneously. I kept it as a poetic souvenir and my life’s koan. It returned to me last night.

Over the past few months I have been binging on spiritual texts of all sorts, ranging from self-help, through mythology, anthropology, Jungian psychology and neuroscience to spiritual writings par excellence. Interestingly enough, I still haven’t touched the Bible, but yes it’s on the list.

I have also been trying to develop rituals that would help me write regularly. This blog is an attempt at one such productive habit. Every morning, I want to devote one to two hours to noting down my thoughts on what I had read the previous day, to track my own mental processes. I have some misgivings about this idea, and fears too, naturally, but here I am, more ready than not.

Currently on the agenda are transcripts of J. Krishnamurti‘s public talks, delivered in Saanen, Switzerland, in the summer of 1967, under the collective title “On Love and Loneliness.” In contrast to Alan Watts, another teacher popular at the time, Krishnamurti is no spiritual entertainer. He demands utter seriousness on the part of his audience, and often sounds impatient. There is no charm to his persona (a quality that Alan Watts oozes), and he may sometimes seem irritated at the inability of listeners to grasp his ideas, which he claims are not opinions, beliefs or judgments. He seems convinced to have found the truth, but also to know that truth is incommunicable, which is why his teaching method involves guiding listeners through stages of logical reasoning. He frequently insists on having everybody follow his line of argument with full concentration (or leave the tent), and stresses that not just listening, but full mental engagement is essential. The goal is to arrive at an understanding which is universal and yet absolutely, earnestly individual and particular.

The unity of all being, love as universal power, thought as source of attachment and misery, attentiveness to the present moment, and the necessity to quiet the mind are recurrent themes in Krishnamurti’s teachings. When listed in this manner, they could be attributed to any Buddhist guru, mindfulness coach, or New Age enthusiast, but Krishnamurti is no feel-good preacher. His dismissal of lowly forms of human activity, such as sex or entertainment, reminded me of Marion Woodman‘s characterization of the archetypally male energy:

“[T]he spiritual feminine is always grounded in the natural instincts so that no matter how spiritualized it becomes, it is always on the side of life. In this it is different from the overspiritualized masculine (in man or woman) which tends to seduce us into the sleep that ends ‘the heartache . . . that flesh is heir to.'” (Addiction to Perfection)

Granted, Krishnamurti’s vision of truth evokes anything but sopor, but it does seem rather heavy and ascetic in its disregard for instinct, drive and liveliness.

But what did I read last night? In the ninth talk on love and loneliness I found reiterated the question that has pursued me for so long: “Who is it that is aware?”

Advice given to meditation novices goes somewhat like this: to quiet the mind, do not try to suppress the thoughts that arise, but rather gently acknowledge and push them away, much like you would a balloon floating your way. Watch from the outside, see them as a product of your frantic ego that forever wants, and remembers, and plans, and attracts, and distracts, and rejects what is. Create an observer that brings benevolent awareness to ego’s selfish antics. It is not easy to achieve, but when it works, it brings calm and contentment. Krishnamurti, however, points to the paradox of dividing one’s own consciousness into the observer and the observed. For if the observer is outside the observed, where does it place her in the realm of consciousness? Says the teacher:

When we say we are aware, we generally mean the image becomes aware of itself in relation to the other image – which is part of awareness, but we have gone much farther than that. And we say that when there is this image there is a centre which observes, there is a division and hence a conflict. Where there is conflict there is no awareness at all. To be free from conflict one has to become aware and do so without creating another centre which is aware of the image that I have created about myself or about another. So, is there an awareness without the centre, of this whole of consciousness, with its boundaries, its limitations, its content?

I love this intimation of heaven, or oneness, or ocean of consciousness that belongs to no one in particular but always is, a promise of belonging. I dream of this awareness without a centre, a dissolution that is pure existence, which cannot be reached the way I keep trying to reach it, that is through mind.

I asked my aunt the other day how she understood “surrender,” which is one of the basic ideas in the Alcoholics Anonymous movement. She has been member of AA for many long years now and regularly sponsors (offers guidance to) inductees. She said, “It means admitting that alcohol is a power greater than myself, and that rationalizing only took me that far.” Apparently, the smarter, the more intellectual a person is, the harder it is for her to surrender. Highbrows may memorize the whole book, quote from it profusely in the meeting, and hit the booze right after. Their power for self-deception is as vast as their vocabulary. They often want to reform the organization, or to boss over it; they may claim they’ve understood it better than anyone since and so they proffer sophisticated criticisms with their own twist on the issue – but they do not make space for truth in their hearts. “Surrender” means shutting up, listening, and admitting that we are essentially no different, no better from others. That we are all one. It means humility and not striving to impress and achieve. It is the most difficult thing for the kicking and screaming ego, for the intellectual alcoholic, for me.

I am on a quest to understand something that escapes my grasp, and even if this is not the the right way, I will pursue it for a while still, just because I feel that I must. I admit that I binge on spiritual writings to fill my bottomless curiosity, hunger, thirst, and that I am still a smart ass. I will keep on writing and flexing for as long as it takes. Perhaps one day I will find a way of acting from the place of surrender. Bear with me. I will not take advice and I will go wherever I want to, because I don’t feel the difference between being lost and exploring.