Thursday, November 11, 2010

Finding Out What It Means (To Me) / Goodbye Florida

Hi Friends,

Here's one from the back catalog. I tried to write about this a few times back in America, but I think it's a little bit easier here with some distance and perspective. This is gonna be my last Ma/Ashram story, but it's a little different from the others.

Before I left the Ashram back in May, the last thing Ma said to me was "I hope you learn Respect. Go with God." (It might have been learned, past tense, hard to hear in there, but I don't think so.) It stung when she said it, too. Tone of voice, and whatnot. She'd told me "forgiven and forgotten," and that seemed like neither. Inconsistency! Flaw! Failure! Ouch! It's so hard to convey, or maybe just to trust that I have conveyed, that everyone around me was saying "Ma is Perfect, and Ma's Love for you is Perfect, and any imperfection between you is yours." I understood that I'd hurt her, but here she'd voiced forgiveness and yet still hurt me back. In the context of the Ashram, my ability to be hurt by her was my fault. Her actions are Perfect.

But as hard as it is to believe that - it was hard while I lived there, and it's only harder now - there's some truth in it. There's some truth to be had in seeing things that way. Ma, who probably loves me, took our final moment together to teach me:
1 - That I still need to learn respect
2 - That I react with anger to the observation that I need to learn respect.
And she's onto something with both of those. I've gotten a little less reactive about it since then, and maybe even more respectful to boot, but it's still true, and it still smarts.

To elaborate: it's happened a few times in my life that authority figures have taken me in, and been kind to me, and rejected me again after some period of time, showing the kind of woundedness that comes of feeling that I hadn't shown them proper respect. Nowhere else to such extremes as with Ma, but enough that I can notice the pattern there. Enough that I can still see, in myself, the certain something that chooses poorly how to act towards my betters. I've certainly thought I respected them, and I've certainly admired them, and I always thought my willingness to confront them and doubt them within the context of my admiration meant that I respected them, but in fact, I don't think I really knew what respect was. I'm working on it, but I'm still not sure I really know what respect is, in regard to one's teachers and betters. I'm not sure I see whatever one needs to see in people to treat them respectfully. I can fake it a little bit, but the thought of faking it right makes me exhausted.

But let's dispense with reaction before we get to response. This is a big confession. Some big feelings come up when I really own what I just said to you. Disrespect is on the Cardinal Offense list! Cause for Immediate Disqualification from Goodperson-hood! 

Disrespectful=Bad, Bad=Awful, Awful=Utterly Undeserving of Love. And nobody likes hearing they're utterly undeserving of love. And on the other hand, looking at respect, and trying to imagine acting respectfully, felt smothering, overwhelming, like a total abdication of self. I wanted to scream and throw things. The same inner two-year-old who threw a tantrum at Ma reared his head again when I considered becoming respectful.  

The first couple months of Respect work were just about undoing that chain of equations and breathing through the hissy fit. It took a lot of sitting with it, just facing my virtuelessness, facing the need to do better, before I could say,
 "Great! We have identified a legitimate problem in an otherwise excellent Yotam. Solutions?"

There's something amazing, something liberating, in discovering that you're Awful and getting on with your life.

Like any other great fear, the fear of being a Terrible Person is better faced than avoided. Now that I've got that over with, I can quit avoiding and move on to integrating.

My step-mother, Eve, helped me with this a lot. She really held the space for me that it's okay to have flaws, it's even okay to have my flaws, this flaw, and that eventually I should think about getting past the accusation and taking this opportunity to grow.

So let's grow, shall we? What is it about me (this is a rhetorical question, don't worry) that manifests in my respectlessness to my betters? What virtue lurks in that vice, and how can we release it? From my ungoodness, how can I become better?

I don't have definitive answers on that, yet, I'm sorry to tell you. But I've got a couple thoughts on the subject.

Respecting somebody's strengths, I think, hasn't been my problem. Ma, or the other teachers I'm thinking of - I think these people are awesome, and I'm pretty sure they each know it. My problem is respecting somebody's weaknesses. It takes a certain kind of affection, a certain kind of distance and perspective, a ... um... a something, to see the limits of your admiree's comfort and ability, and stay within them. To say "This person doesn't have a lot of time, or a lot of attention, or a lot of willingness-to-be-yelled-at-in-public. Why don't I not demand this precious resource from them?" The hardest one for me, probably, is respecting the limits of their knowledge, and accepting the validity of a teaching that may not be perfectly complete.

I learned a lot about vulnerability in Maine, and the bonds between our vulnerabilities and our strengths, and hopefully I'll get to talking about that at some point. What I think I'm saying here is that respect involves honoring the person's strengths, sure, but also honoring the person's vulnerabilities. It may not be fun to even witness that your admiree can be vulnerable, or to exercise the attention to consider their vulnerability, but this is one of the difficult early steps of becoming respectful.

It's also not sufficient to wait for someone to say "Hey. You're transgressing my boundaries, friend. Please honor my vulnerability." This is the excuse I always gave, that I was trusting people to tell me when I'd  overstepped, but by the time you overstep, it's already too late. You gotta see it before you cross it, and hence the spect part of the word. You also gotta see their way, and I think that's where the re comes in.

So that's boundaries. But what pushes me across it, right? Why transgress at all? What's so important to me, I throw a tantrum when I think I'm deprived of it? I think in these cases, with my Teachers, it's been about wanting to know what they know. I've been impatient with the slow process of growth, wanting deep down inside me to get inside these people and extract something critical, something critical to my purpose in life, critical to my being here. "Why?!?!?" was my question each time, and they each said they couldn't answer me, and I kept trying 'cause I was sure that they knew. It's my inner student who's still two years old, crying and screaming when he doesn't get what he wants. Naturally, eventually, certain people get fed up with that.

I still feel that way. I'm still anxious to figure it out quickly. I still panic at the thought that without one more little question, one more blip or bibble of attention from some master, I might not get where I'm going in time to... save the Universe, maybe? Or whatever my job is?

Studying vulnerabilities in Maine, I got to really look at that panic and relax it a little, and say "What I don't learn today, I'll learn tomorrow. What I don't learn this lifetime, I'll pick up in the Bardo, maybe." I still want to know, I want to know, but I'm working on trusting that I will know, or I do know, or I don't really need to know, and it's just a desire, and it's just a desire.

So those are my thoughts, and it's clearly something I'm still working on. In a way, I feel like I've just written 1000 words on my taste for live puppies dipped in orphans' stolen candy, like I've revealed something unrevealable, worse than my dieting or my pot-smoking or my blasphemies against Science and God, something irredeemable, something that excludes me from the basic cooperation of society; my skin crawls with that feeling, and I don't think it's true. I'm working on it, and I'm getting better, and in the meantime, I'm still a basically decent human being, and better to face it down now than wait until it's my kids' problem.

One more thing about respect, and vulnerability, and that burning desire to know something incommunicable. A lot of great Teachers don't really know what they know, you know? They know what they're teaching, but there's something inside them they really know, the background to everything they can see and state clearly, the indefinable sands inside them provoking their pearls. When you ask a great teacher "Yeah, yeah, yeah, but how do you know? How did you get to that knowledge?" I don't think they can answer that. I don't think they're very comfortable around it. I don't think they can ever put that fundamental something in another person anyway, and I don't think they like being asked to. It's just how they see the world. If you ask somebody why they see the world like they do, they'll tell you it's the world's fault, not their own, and they couldn't hardly say anything else without undermining their own credibility. 

I want my own something, I want my own... thing, I've been pestering my elders and betters for the foundations of their wisdom, and naturally they don't really like it when I do that. So I'm coming back around to this thought that I should let the knowledge come as it cares to, relinquish willfulness to rest into willingness, and trust that I'll know enough, I can still learn just enough, even without bullying and badgering those who know more than me until they don't want to talk anymore.

May it be the will of God in Heaven that I get over myself, and start treating people the way they ought to get treated.

I've thought a lot about Ma since leaving the Ashram, and since I'm all out of Ma stories I want to find some kind of (respectful) way to put a cap on the whole crazy experience there. But I don't know what to make of it, really, and I may not know for a long time. Ma is amazing, and powerful, and I'm moved and grateful for the work that she did for me. She really changed me, from the inside, and people could see it when I left that place. She does that for lots of people, and the love her students feel for her is not fake, and not wrong, and not in the least undeserved. On the other hand, I'm really uncomfortable with the presentation of Ma as Perfect, Ma as The Mother, Ma as categorically more than human. I don't know how to live in that universe. There's no room for a Goddess Incarnate in my ontology, and I don't understand her. 

Somewhere near the first hand, Ma's teaching is a path of transformative discomfort, and maybe I shouldn't be so attached to my ontology and understanding everything. Trying to understand Ma is just one more manifestation of ego, one more sign of disrespect. It feels violent, at times, but Ma has never shrunk back from violence in the pursuit of her students' transcendence. 

It's becoming clearer to me now why Hindu gods have so many arms: on yet some other hand, I'm not sure the dialectic of violence and devotion is really right for me in the long run. I've defended it to others more than once, but it's... I don't know. It's not for me, I think. It's hard to create a space where that kind of direct spiritual surgery doesn't lead to infection. I have to wonder if there's a gentler way to get the same transformations. Again, I'm really grateful, and I'm better than I used to be, thanks to Ma. Her last teaching to me was a kick in the teeth, but I'm still learning from it today. I just don't think I could survive doing all of my spiritual work that forcefully.

At the heart of it, between all these hands, I don't really belong there, and it's not supposed to make sense to me. Ma's first responsibility is to the students that live with her. Many have been there for 35 years, and those who haven't hope they will. Ma has taken responsibility for these people's well-being, personal and spiritual and karmic, at great personal cost to herself. Visitors like me can gain a lot from a dip in and out of that world, but it's not for us, and we're not meant to understand it all. What she's cooking, there, isn't really my dinner. So it's not my place to complain that it tastes funny.

Goodnight, Friends. Happy Weekend!