I’ve been studying Buddhism off and on since I was 18. None of these ideas are new. But now I feel like I understand it for the first time.
These days I’ve been trying to cut through some of my personal confusion by getting back to the most basic elements of my life and my mojo, which is mysticism and writing craft.
I’ve discovered the audiobooks and ebooks of Pema Chodron. Pema Chodron is a Tibetan Buddhist nun in the teaching lineage of Trungpa Rinpoche. Because of my cultish past history I have issues with male spiritual authoritarian figures. I don’t trust them. I find them harder to listen to the more sure they are of what they have to say. But women are different somehow. My heart and mind are still open to them. American born and bred, Pema Chodron, besides being the wise and funny and cuddly grandmother we never had, is an exceptional explainer of basic Buddhism to the western mind.
When I was a young man I thought I had to search for God, as if God were something that could be found. Since then I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things. It’s as though now my actual search is not for God, but rather for my own humanity. Mysticism fundamentally denies the duality of a creator and a creation. The premise of mysticism is that there is no creator or creation, but only pure universal unmanifested consciousness manifesting itself in forms of energy, including ourselves. Enlightenment in the way that Pema Chodron is presenting it, addresses that other duality that we never hear about, which is the duality within ourselves that sets up a defensive barrier between the world of consciousness manifesting and our experience of consciousness interacting with it.
Enlightenment is being defined in Pema Chodron’s books and lectures as the expression of a fully opened heart and mind, experiencing the reality of our life just as it is, and the reality of our character just as it is. It’s not about trying to change your life, or make yourself happy and never sad. It is about changing your stance towards reality itself. It’s elegantly simple and yet completely bottomless in attainment. In this way of looking at spirituality, the quest is, incrementally over time through mediation and the cultivation of compassion, to let down all your defenses and experience happiness and suffering head on without grasping onto one and avoiding the other. Not to be divine – but to be at last fully and bravely human. This takes a great deal of courage.
The other book I am rediscovering these days is the ultimate book on story craft, the formidably huge volume “The Making of a Story” by Alice Laplante. This four pounder is the most comprehensive and detailed book that I know for the beginner and experienced writer on all aspects of the craft of writing fiction, and especially short fiction. It’s my personal Bible.
What I find these female authors have in common for me is that they represent the “ineffable”. Ineffable means something you can’t put into words. Like say –what is the color blue? Or what is God? Or what is a good story? The feeling of being fully present right where you are, the root of enlightened compassion, and being in “the zone” where the conscious and unconscious come together in a creative act such as writing represent experiences of depth and soul that can’t be put into words, only experienced just as they are. They come from the same place in our souls.
As I grow old, I grow old, wearing the tops of my trousers rolled and dare to eat a peach even though the Mermaids won’t sing to me – like forget it, little buddy - I find that what fascinates me are those things which can never be consummated. Enlightenment and story craft are these mountains that can be climbed without ever reaching the summit. The boundless adventure is knowing that the summit will always be out of your reach.
Yet you climb.