No-Self Versus Selfless

(This post is not about something I know. It’s about something I’m chewing on. The words end up contradicting each other in some ways. But somewhere in those contradictions is an important truth. Warning: this is rambly and probably not always understandable. I’m also sure there are nuances that didn’t make it on the page. It’s a mess. Welcome to my mess.)

There’s this thing I’m learning in Tai Chi. It’s about concealing my physical center. Once my opponent finds my center, they can manipulate it. They can use it to force me to move where they want. They can drive into it with force and cause damage. So I practice concealing it. I know it is well hidden when I can’t feel it myself. Then I feel like I have no center. I feel like a ghost. That’s the word my Sifu used too last time I went to Push-hands class. He said I was a ghost. No-self. Good luck trying to push the wind. Before you arrive I have already gone. Everywhere you look, I am already gone. It comes and goes. It’s hard to keep it going more than a few seconds. I’ll get better with practice.

To attain this loss of self, you need to know exactly where your self is. Otherwise you’re like a child who hides by covering their own eyes. It doesn’t work at all. You have to find it before you can lose it. Where is it? What is its shape? What does it feel like when it’s discovered? You let it interact with things. You feel it bump into stuff and you say “There it is!”  Then you learn how to avoid bumping into stuff. When you no longer feel the bumps, then it feels like it’s missing. You have entered the flow. “Go with the flow” seems like a simple piece of advice, but it’s so hard to achieve in practice.

It is kind of a mystical subject, because you don’t really feel at peace when you’re always bumping into things. On the other hand, it can be scary to not bump into things because every time you do, there’s that feedback, “Here I am!” Without that confirmation are you still here? Are you still you? We label the feedback. Some of it is positive and some is negative. We try to bump into good stuff and avoid the bad stuff. We bump back, harder.

So, last Friday I was on the treadmill. I was learning to conceal my center while walking. Is my gait smooth? Or is it catching? If someone pushed me would they be able to link up the connections? I found more than one center. Sure there was the main one, but there were other smaller ones, also vulnerable to being pushed. I attempted to conceal those too.

Then I noticed Khunm observing me practice. We got into a conversation about how this relates to Names. In Kemeticism, we know that Names have power, and it’s good to keep yours concealed so that others do not have power over you. I pointed out that when my center is concealed, it reminds me of the Nun, of not having a Name. The Nun and the Nameless do not have a great affect on the world. Your Name also gives you power to act upon the world. That’s why it’s good to have one, even if it can be used against you. It’s leverage. It is good to know the shape of that Name and how it interacts with the world. When used properly, using it is as effortless as a well-fitted key turning a lock. It’s good to fade into the flow, but you also need to know when and how to use your gods’ given Name within the world.

We had talked earlier about how getting stuck causes damage. You tense up to avoid bumping into the bad thing. You grab and fight to hold on to the good thing. In both cases, your center is revealed and open to the incoming force. That which doesn’t bend will break. Resistance meets power equals heat, which can burn. He told me this as he examined the cracks and burns in my own shell. I need to pick my battles more wisely. I need to stop bumping into quite so many things. I need to use my Name for its intended purpose instead of using it like a dull rock to blindly bash into stuff. (Especially if I’m bashing myself!) Bashing into things is sometimes effective, but it’s also self-destructive. Planning a better angle of attack is usually more effective. In other words, it’s a sword, not a hammer, dipshit.

We hear about non-attachment and no-self and selflessness in context with spiritual things. Most of the time, I don’t think we really understand what those things mean. Selflessness has a connotation that you have given yourself away to someone else, maybe to your god, maybe to the people around you. I tried that with Ra. It didn’t work out very well. His Name then eclipsed mine, but my Name isn’t Ra. Something was lost in that exchange. My Name has value. Every Name has value. It is a thing created in the world that the world has need of. I might not understand that need, but who am I to judge? I don’t think that giving away the self to someone else, even a god, and thereby negating your Name is the real point here.

Non-attachment sounds like not caring about anything. It sounds like apathy. I don’t think that’s it either. My Name contains the ideas of love and hate within it. But do I have to own the things I love? Am I obligated to the things I hate? If someone loves or hates me, do they get to determine my reactions? All they have to do is say the magic words to steer me from my path or send me into a rage. Are my buttons that easy to push? Taking control of my own reactions doesn’t mean I don’t care. I will let my fear/love/hate/sadness pass through me. I don’t deny it exists. I just try not to get stuck. (People hate it when you don’t jump the way they expect when they try to push your buttons.) But no, it’s not apathy. I tried that before too. It was a mistake. You spend so long trying not to show emotion, and then you realize you’ve stopped feeling them too. Feel and release. That is non-attachment.

None of these things are easy. This is not just “think happy thoughts.” For some reason we respect physical effort and the development of physical skills, but we think that mental skills come automatically.  I have no idea where we got the idea that our minds are obedient little slaves that roll over whenever we read a new book or hear a new piece of advice. When has that ever worked??? Who started spreading that myth? Once the myth is debunked we go the other way and think, well my brain just does whatever it wants, so there’s no point in trying. These things I’m talking about here are skills. Skills are learned. Skills are practiced. Skills require time and effort. Practice does not make perfect. It makes small incremental improvements with a staggering series of backsliding. Also, your practice and your improvement aren’t going to look like everyone else’s. When it comes to sports, I don’t have to explain practice and differing ability and the relationship thereof. Those concepts don’t go out the window when we’re talking about the mind.

Divinity

I lit the candle, which heated the incense. I put half a beer and a chocolate chip cookie on the shrine. I said my Hotep Netjer*, and started up the music. I’m back doing shrine, but it’s nothing fancy.

I sat down and soon got the impression of Heru-sa-Aset sitting across from me. He wasn’t doing anything fancy either. He appeared in my mind’s eye as a young skinny guy wearing a white kilt and the double crown. Basically just enough for identification purposes. For those who have been curious about deity communications, this really wasn’t much different from having a conversation with an “imaginary” friend. How do I know that it was really Him? How do I know I wasn’t just talking to myself? I don’t really. I just roll with it. If the info is good, I go with it. If it’s unclear or obviously wrong, then I brush it off.

First we talked about the issue some have with the power balance between gods and humans and the “work with” debate. He pointed out that it doesn’t really matter if he’s bigger than me or not. What really counts is that I’m the only one who can handle my boat. My boat belongs to me. The gods can’t steer it for me. They might help smooth my way or point me in a better direction, but ultimately, it’s up to me. Our relationship is not equal. I’m the captain of my own ship, as small as it may be. I could stick my fingers in my ears and not listen to him at all if I wished, but experience has shown that I’m generally better off when I work with my gods than against them. No doubt, they do have more influence over the weather and sailing conditions than I do. It’s still my boat though. It’s my journey, not theirs.

After that, we talked about my fear of greatness. I could have been a professional concert musician. My tutor, who was a professional musician, said so. Right now, I have access to some of the best Tai Chi instructors in the country. I do have talent, and that’s not an idle brag. So, why am I not doing anything with it of note? Why do I turn away just when it starts to get good?

I sat there in the candle light and gazed at the empty space supposedly occupied by a god. He waited patiently for an answer, a real one. “I don’t want them to own me,” I finally told him. How many times have I heard “if I had your talent, brains, etc…I would…” Well you’re not me, so kindly fuck off. I wasn’t interested in the same things they were.

“So what were you seeking?” he asked.

What was it about immersing myself in music and finding a pure tone that meshed with the music of my friends, my band? What was it about feeling the smooth transitions of weight and form, discovering the inner secrets of this body? What was I looking for? Why do I study the world around me and try to understand everything? Why am I here? What sustains me?

“Divinity,” I told him.

Greatness has never been my goal. Divinity can lead to greatness, but greatness by itself does not lead to divinity. It can become an obstacle if followed for its own sake. I saw how I’d been mislead. How discounting my own feelings had left me stagnant. I forgot what brought me to those things in the first place.

I said I wanted to be a mystic, a monk. I tried to find the definitions of these things and what I read didn’t make much sense. Are you a monk if you seclude yourself from society and practice aestheticism? Are you a mystic if you go on astral journeys and talk to god? No, not really. It’s not the outer practices that make the difference. They’re just tools to be used as needed. The real thing is something you cannot see. It doesn’t matter where you search. It’s everywhere.

Divinity is light and love and fellowship. It is also darkness and pain and anger. As a polytheist, I see all of these things reflected in my gods. You find divinity by saying “It is here!” You don’t find it when you say “It is not there!” You find it in every creature, every thing. You find it in yourself. You find it in your love and in your hate. You find it in those whom you love and also in those whom you hate. You find that it remains, at the core, unchanged by love or hate.

“We are a way for the Universe to know itself.” -Carl Sagan

But it’s still your boat.

 

* Hotep Netjer em shabu en imenet her iabyt. “May Netjer be satisfied with the repast to the right and to the left.” -The Ancient Egyptian Prayerbook, Tamara L. Siuda, p.84

Out of the Shallows

He called me shallow. Instead of rolling my eyes and ignoring him, I’ve tried to understand what he means. Among other things, I think it means that the work I need to do is going to be more below the surface. It means that my normal cleverness and logic will not be of much use.

It’s one of those things where we both know what it takes to get better, but there’s a large gap between knowing and doing. It’s like trying to float down a river, but your hull keeps getting stuck on things you can’t see. How do you solve that? Get down in the water and guide the boat while taking a chance with the river’s inhabitants? Dredge the river? Watch the water intently and try to decipher the subtle language of ripples and currents? Some of all three probably.  However it happens, you have to resign yourself to the idea that progress will not be as fast or as easy as it looks from above.

I’ve done shadow work before. I have a pretty good idea of what’s hiding in this particular river. I’m even pretty good at swimming. I’m used to the unnerving screech of submerged branches against the hull. I cringe, reposition my weight, and keep going, while hoping that the scratches weren’t too bad this time. All in a day’s work, right?

Every obstacle we get past is one less in the way. With that attitude I can almost look forward to them. That doesn’t mean that getting over one sand bar means sandbars are defeated forever. I guarantee there will be more. But that one, on that day, is over.

But there is more to this than defeating the negatives. The more water there is, the easier it is to navigate. We’re less likely to get stuck on every little thing. We pray for rain. We try to keep the boat in good shape. We practice and build up our skills. We look at the map and take note of what progress has been made. We learn to appreciate the river itself.

He told me to cut my hair short. I used to associate putting my hair up with getting things done. Now it’s always up. He told me to build virtual homes and landscapes. I always put gardens in. I don’t think it matters what it looks like or who sees it. Embedding the concept of building in my subconscious is what he’s after. Life, beauty, light and shadow. What do I create? What do I want? What do I need? How do I start over again? (We seem to be going for the benevolent mad wizard aesthetic.)

I managed to get Clifford off the cliff and into the boat. I have a feeling that if I can get him to reestablish his place in the Duat it will end up being both freaky and fun. Expect gardens, and fire, and water, and probably some bending of the laws of  physics.

The Dance

Don’t invite anyone in unless you know for sure you can trust them, obviously.

I go to my room and shut the door. I turn the music on and take my place. My eyes are closed. I listen to the music beat. I hear the notes call, but I don’t move.

I remain still. I wait for him to understand my patience.

I feel his breath within me, small and quiet. I listen.

Slowly, my hands move. Slowly, he listens to the music’s call.

Everything is small, as listening turns to understanding. The music begs me to move, but we do not rush. We wait, for hands to float, for hips to sway. We ride upon the music together.

Then we dance.

His body talks about the burning sun and sand. I see the adobe houses. He does not take No for an ending. I feel him call for the black earth to grow underneath them. He dances for the people. He dances for their arts and livelihood.

The music changes. I see feathers on his arms. He flows with white fire. He hears her call. He listens and responds with life and hope.

Now it moves faster. The fire grows hot and the hunt begins.

My muscles shaking and trembling I collapse on the bed. I drink water. Then I return to the floor.

The music has changed again. “This one is yours, Lunatic. Show me.”

I trade the tightly controlled movements that made my legs shake for something freer. I move around swiftly with no real reason or care. I dance about my frustrations, uncertainties, and doubts. I dance out my love and my worries, and can I ever make it right? I want to make him understand what it’s like on this side.

Then it’s over. I lay on the bed and stare at the ceiling. I know my muscles will be sore. That will be my offering, as if the entire thing wasn’t already an offering. As if my every day of living wasn’t an offering. I feel him wrap his wings around me. Until next time.

Chop Vegetables, Build with Water

I’ve been spending time with Clifford lately. Clifford is not his real name, but I needed something to call him. Clifford is the big one. He’s my life’s work, or maybe I am his. He was the first Heru I ever met, Heru-on-the-cliff. He is a branch off of Heru-sa-Aset, who became Horus, who became that broken mess of a god who watched it all fall down and drown under tons of blowing sand. What good is a king when the country is gone? The Apocalypse has already happened as far as he’s concerned. Of all the great and mighty gods out there, how did I end up with this one? That’s a stupid question. Remember the post about shards? Mine came from Clifford. If I was in it for the ego boost, I really should have “chosen” someone else.

What am I going to do with Clifford? What is he going to do with me? I invited him into my house (More like kidnapped and dragged back, but he let me do it.) awhile back, and I remember seeing him there, dressed in casual jeans and a button down shirt with his dark curly hair, chopping vegetables at the counter. He seemed quiet and interested in grounding himself in mundane tasks. What was he thinking?

I jumped inside his head recently. The clothes, the vegetables, they were just empty gestures, but he wanted to appear “normal.” His mind was deep and quiet, and not very human. (It was this same inaction and passivity that allowed me to drag him away from his cliff. He didn’t lift a finger to stop me.) He saw me desperately flailing around, trying to fix things while having no idea what the hell I was doing. He thought I was a lunatic, but that wasn’t necessarily meant as an insult. I caught on to his word game. Lunatic came from “moon sick,” being affected by the phases of the moon. Heru’s wounded, and healed, left eye is also the moon. I see what you did there.

He also said that my thoughts and ambitions were too shallow. Too shallow how? He saw me as this chaotic flash of colors near the surface, while he sat below the ground like the giant magma chamber under Yellowstone. Up here on the surface, all we’re able to see is the occasional plume of steam. (To think that I “dragged” him anywhere! Ha!)

So answer me this, if the gods were there the whole time, biding their time underground, then what’s with the whole depression act, Clifford? Obviously I’m still missing something.

We’ve been dealing with themes of destruction of home and rebuilding. He can’t go back to his wasteland because I planted trees there and told him not to go back. He remodeled my apartment, and I’ve been having trouble getting back there. Fair is fair I guess, but there’s more to it than that. He wants me to explore these lessons further. I started playing Landmark again, which is a building game like Minecraft, but with better graphics. I had been working on an ocean resort, but then he told me to delete it and start again somewhere else. He wants me to practice this. Build, destroy and build again. Another place, another cliff, this time with a waterfall. More green, more gardens. Playing with light and shadow. Why destroy? He doesn’t want me to get attached to the wrong things. The right things will come back in the next build. What is worth rebuilding and what isn’t? We’ll study this together.

 

Momma Aset

“You are insane, my son. I’ve always known that,” she told me.

It was a relief to hear her say so. I waste so much effort pretending not to be, especially to myself. “It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an I.” I don’t know where that quote originated, but I’ve seen it floating around and it always seems relevant.

My “I” is not very strong. Maybe that’s not completely true. When I complained about being weak, she argued. Afterall, I am still here. I just have other, stronger priorities. When I open my heart to discover what it really wants, I find the Netjer, ALL of Them. It is a love that is too big for my body. It is too big for my “I.” I inhale Ra’s fire and I want to bring that warmth to all of them. Then I ask, “What’s that burning smell? Oh, right, it’s me.” Aset cools me. She cares more about my “I” than I do. I cannot and do not want to live without them. Somewhere in my soul is a memory of that nightmare when they faded from sight. Die for them? Kill for them? Whore myself out? Why not?

But Aset says no. At least, not that first one.

Back in college I had a dream where I was at a party. We were celebrating Gandhi’s enlightenment and ascension. I found him sitting alone on a blanket and he looked sad. I asked him what was wrong. He said, “My mother won’t let me die.” No ascension for you then. I understood how he felt. There was the story of Aset and baby Heru when he was poisoned. She stopped the sun in the sky to make him live. I imagined Horus in those later years watching his family fade away and secretly hating her for the magic that would not allow him to join them. “My mother commanded me to live,” he told me.

But they’re not gone. I can feel them. This new seedling is small, and I don’t know if it will live, but that is how all seedlings begin. It seems healthy and that gives me hope.

Aset loves me in the same way that I love Them. Years ago, I prayed to a winged blue goddess. Part of me knew it looked like her. Part of me wasn’t willing to admit the connection, so I called her by a made up name. I kneeled before her with my fist over my heart. I told her everything. When nothing else in my life made sense, I knew that the blue goddess loved me.

When the sunlight burns too hot, she cools me. Ra is the crown and Aset is the throne. I am not myself without either of them. She asked me to wear her pendant so she could keep me cool. The necklace broke a few weeks ago. I replaced it with another one with a falcon head. Wasn’t it time for my own god to take care of me? Wasn’t it time for me to take care of myself? Meanwhile, my energy started running wild again. Sunrise felt like torture in a way that it hadn’t in a while. I’m wearing Aset’s pendant now. I thought I could handle it on my own. I tried covering my heart, denying it. I wanted to pretend that “I” was strong enough. But, I’m not. I still need her. She lets me follow my heart. She helps me handle Ra’s fire without tearing myself apart.

So Mom, what do you think? Can we do this? Will you show me how to breathe fire without tearing myself apart? Can we keep them warm?

In Gods We Trust (?)

Lately it seems that trust in deities has become a hot topic. Should you trust your gods completely? Should you work on your negotiating skills and (try to) read the fine print? Should you not trust at all because they’ll probably screw you over no matter what you do? These are not easy questions to answer.

Most of us carry on with the belief that deities both care about us and know more than we do. Like parents, they may ask us to do things that we don’t like, but they do so with a greater understanding of the world we live in and the possible consequences of our action or inaction.

Then we must wonder if our assumptions are true. Do they really know what is best? Do they really have our best interests at heart, or only their own? Even if both of these are thought to be true, the way in which the gods present the relevant information, or no information at all can try the patience of a saint.

What is a mortal follower to do?

I’ve heard plenty of stories about followers being tricked by their deities into one thing or another. I also hear that most, but not all, of these stories work out for the best in the end. Maybe the deity really did know what they were doing. Maybe they really did have the followers best interests at heart as they led them across the metaphorical hot coals. I also hear that communication is a huge issue, that if the deity had actually explained and asked nicely first, things would have been different and less bitter. “Perfect love and perfect trust” sounded like a nice idea back when I was starting out, but in actual practice it doesn’t seem very practical.

I have been all around the map on this issue with my experiences with Ra. He hurt me badly years ago, without asking first, without any explanation, and while I was actively screaming at him to stop. I hurt myself while trying to fight him off. And yet, to this day, without a direct explanation from him, I go back and forth between calling it abuse of the worst sort, and thinking that maybe he had a good and justifiable reason for it. It actually is possible that he thought he was helping. Maybe he actually was helping. The only thing he has ever said on the subject was, “The Thunder Beings made you strong enough to accept my gift.” Frying me from the inside out was a gift? Maybe it was, but damn it hurt.

Needless to say, this led to a huge ball of trust issues. He kept asking me if I trusted him. He wanted me to trust him. Nope. Couldn’t do it. I could work with him. I felt obligated to because I swore an oath sooner than I should have and without fully thinking it through. Well actually, I went ahead with the oath because it felt like he already owned me so what difference could it make? The difference is that I didn’t feel comfortable just walking out when I really wanted to.

In the process of working with him, I learned more about him. I understood him more. I understood both his strengths and his failings. He really believed that I could do good and amazing things and he wanted to help me do them. I realized that he did not have a good grasp of what my limitations were. I also realized that I really wanted someone to follow who validated me, and I was slower to say no than I should have been. What good is a safeword if you don’t know when to say it? Not that we had one of those. The god did care about me, but he didn’t understand me as well as I thought. Still I opened up to him. I let him in more and more. I tried to overcome my misgivings. That didn’t end well.

Now I’m giving it another try. He knows that if he screws up again I will leave. Heru will back me up. Djehuty will back me up. It’s good to have powerful friends in these circumstances. Certain things are not his to touch. I had to decide what those things were. I had to stick to them even when I wanted to surrender again like I used to, because doing that would not help either of us.

And now, after the lines have been drawn, now that I know he will be held to those lines, now that I feel confident enough in my own judgement to defend those lines, now I trust him. You see, it wasn’t just about him behaving himself. It was also about me not giving away more than I could afford to give. It also helps that there are others who can step in if something goes wrong. I trust him more now than I did before, because I’ve made a decision about what he can have and what he can’t. I’m not going to offer everything and then feel betrayed when he takes it.

Relationships like these are complicated. I’m not judging anyone for how theirs has turned out. I’m not saying that drawing lines in the sand will solve everything. It probably won’t. My solution was a bit more complex than I’ve laid out here, and I have no idea what it will look like a year from now. Will it actually work? I don’t know. He does have the power to screw me over again if he so chooses, lines or no lines. The difference is that now, I’m more likely to trust that he won’t.

I’m actually pretty excited about working with him again, because despite our past issues, I still think he’s pretty awesome.