Monday, March 29, 2010

True Compass....

Those who know me very well, know that I am among the truly 'geographically challenged'....Do not take me on a road trip and ask me to read the map for directions. Do not give me directions to your home and ask me to turn South, North, East or West on any given street...just tell me to take a Left or Right turn, here or there. I truly marvel that people, cut from different cloth than myself, actually know the Four Directions in relationship to where they presently are. I do, however, have my own True Compass. Some call it 'intuition' or more emphatically that 'still small voice' or the prompting of the Muses. I do so enjoy how those 'vehicles' of divine mystery come unbidden. Whether those messages are something I agree with or understand or feel capable to do and especially whether they sometimes take me to 'destinations' of very perplexing or dark places, they alight anyway. My Writing Muses are somewhat mischievous...they usually start their banter when I am driving my car. Once their prolifically engaged dictation begins, it simply comes too fast for me to keep up with and retain to write down another time. I have, for years, kept a Muse Notebook in my vehicle. I have become very adept at writing furiously while stopped at lights or after exiting highways (contrary to my original destination) to just try and capture the 'musings'. Some of these field notes make it to paper. Some don't make it to the next stop sign.

As a freewheeling writer I expect these predicaments. I pretty much live my life 'left of center' so I do not begrudge the Muses their own left of center style of dictation. There is always that flabbergasting component to some of what 'comes across the wires.' Of course, there is always the potential to have my 'own wires crossed'; who can really approve or disapprove or know for certain what wants to 'come through'?

For better or worse, I mainly trust my True Compass. Hindsight, as they say, is always easy. Accepting life's quick swerving choices with cliff-hanger decisions at any given moment is auspicious at best and foolish at worst.

Fortunately, it appears that some decisions I have made--or not made--ultimately seem to make sense in the long run. Or they don't. Quite possibly, my many faceted dyslexias are my basic nature. Maybe it serves me better than I know. Hopefully, I can continue to believe that life, so lively and strange, has all the mystery in it that I need this lifetime when my emotional/psychological/spiritual coordinates seem askew.

I am sure I have gone both full-bore and half-tilted into purportedly wrong directions--when I thought I knew best--or couldn't or wouldn't come alongside of the Muses. Funny thing, with a mechanical compass you can always get back to True North. So whether or not my North is your South, my West your East, I can rest in the knowledge that although virtually lost, I somehow seem to arrive at where I'm going. In other words, I am a firm believer in my ineptitude and the Muses long as my True Compass goes on working, my soul will surely find its way.

Gracie Garp

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Dharma of Moving....

Since I arrived in Boulder, I have moved nine times in eleven years. Some of these relocations have been welcomed but most have been dreaded....

As a practitioner of the Dharma, I have come to accept that this upending of my nest has become one of my 'practices'. All of the moves have been shrouded by my propensity to look upon the next upheaval with extraordinary hope or fear....

To be honest, more often than not, I took on the search for a new residence with panic and dismay while clinging to the mandatory hope that I would find something charming. Keep in mind a 'cozy home' has certain specifications. Fortunately, I've had mostly 'good karma' finding a new abode.

There has only been one move that landed me in a residence haunted by bad vibes ('Silence of the Lamb' basement cellar) and crushingly too uncozy for me to be readily willing to accept my fate. All my delusions of assuming I knew what was 'best' for me, were met with being at the mercy of the Abode Muses. The entire year that I lived there, my spirit felt incarcerated. I never brought one fresh flower into that home and never cooked a meal....and this was, for me, a total confirmation of my being bereft of whatever good graces move me to do either. The lesson? Hmmm, hard to say. The most I could make of it was that it was excellent Bardo practice; a good 'death before dying' meditation.

This summer I will face another move....Yesterday, I stumbled upon a wonderful Dharma Teaching:

"Don't look back,
Don't look forward,
Don't alter your basic existence,
Don't be afraid
There is no other instruction!

Don't prolong the past,
Don't invite the future,
Don't alter your innate wakefulness,
Don't fear appearances
Apart from that, there is not a damned thing!"
--Patrul Rinpoche

The invitation is there for me to not hope for a chateau nor fear a dilapidated hovel. 'Don't fear appearances'?....I'm sorry but ranch-style homes and mobile homes scare the crap out of me. Patrul's instruction puts me smack into 'middle-ground' territory--not too tight, not too loose; the ultimate aspiration to be here now...with whatever arises.

I have no idea how this next move will play out. For all I know, I may be led to move to Mozambique or reside in a trailer park festooned with plastic pink flamingoes on the front lawns of my neighbors. Could it be that if I put aside my aversion to plastic flamingoes (trusted my Inner-Plastic-Flamingo) to have its way with me, that another kind of wisdom could show itself? Is there really wisdom to anything the color of beige? Are there gems of life buried beneath my constrictive ideas of what is considered beautiful, charming, suitable? Could I really live on tract-housing grounds and not solely identify with all that is has come to mean for me: banal ugliness, catastrophic visual purgatory, death knoll of creativity; the ultimate finale for having reached my limit for the tolerance of 'different.'

Interestingly, one of the bedrocks of the Dharma is the notion of 'impermanence.' Nothing lasts forever...not the good, the bad or the ugly. In between the cracks of my rigid ideas of what I need or want is verdant soil awaiting my 'not' planting my small and limiting seeds of preferred expectations. Both Beauty and the Beast have their basic goodness, their being two sides of the same coin...their being one and the same.

Could it be that a plastic pink flamingo is in fact my next Teacher; the latest one, the newest one? You will have to excuse me but I have to go. I need to comb some neighborhoods and find that flamingo. I need to find that flamingo and make friends with it--

"Let everything happen to you,
Beauty and terror.
Just keep going.
No feeling is final."

Gracie Garp

Monday, March 15, 2010

Empty the bowl....

Fortuitously, some eight years ago, at age 49, I found myself crawling on my proverbial hands and knees into the Shambhala Center Shrine Room.  Out of necessity or, was it just auspiciously timed, that I was able to finally listen to, and act on, my curiosity towards  a more Buddhistic/Taoist/Eastern way of 'understanding' not understanding. And, that there is nothing to understand.  Whatever the motivation, it was apparent that I had run the gamut on over-filling my bowl (my life beliefs) with thoughts saturated by 'my little kingdom of ignorance.'  If I had now come to yet another fork in the spiritual-quest-road, this time looking for  Enlightenment, I had to first learn that the big E is not a noun but a verb...not a destination but a full embrace of the journey of not needing to arrive... 'not knowing' and contrary to my former beliefs, not needing to know. This was not going to be easy for me.    Empty the bowl.

I did not mean this new found realization in any kind of self-depracating context.  I was admittedly tired of creating Suffer-Suppers...gorging on the notion that if my sustained happiness was the only true indicator to gage my worth, value or supposed success, that I was failing at it miserably.  When I first heard that the Buddha's First Noble Truth is: Life is suffering, I was tremendously relieved.  Suffer-suppers are just part of the deal, like yolks at the center of eggs.  Suffering, not as a punishment but just a state of being human. big deal.  Not big deal.    Empty the bowl.

At this juncture of my writing, I have gone back to count the use of the words I, me or my.  It totals 18.  That's a lot of Me-My-I.  That's a whole lot of Self concern....a whole lot of (if you embrace Buddhistic notions) "Thoughts Without a Thinker."   This Self/No-Self and Emptiness is Form and Form is Emptiness stuff, at first, drove me crazy.  It did not however, drive me to drink but drove me instead to the cushion to meditate.    Empty the bowl.

After decades of being non-plussed by 'stillness', I now couldn't think of anything nicer to do than 'sit' in stillness and do no-thing.  What I had never understood nor experienced (outside the mindfulness practice on the cushion) was the incredible amount of energy available in stillness; the galaxy-like and heretofore unexplored internal spaciousness in between all my mind chatter.  The intermittent 'gaps' between my lightening speed thoughts were brief but undeniable.   Empty the bowl.

                                                                                                                                                                 The first time I heard the Buddhistic notion of : exchanging Self for Other...I thought this was going to be another call to sacrifice myself at the altar of martyrdom.  I didn't yet realize that there was no-self to sacrifice.  No dualism: the one who does the Suffering and the one who does the Saving. That the Self they were speaking of was the Self that is not separate from Other...that we are all inextricably tied (interdependent) with all things, no things and everything.  The John Lennon: "I am you, and you are me, and we are all together" comes to mind... " Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"---becomes: Lucy is the sky, the sky is diamonds and the diamonds are Lucy....All One.    Empty the bowl.

Finally, in all this, my verbiage, my writing, my meandering thought streams and purported conclusions...I can now take them all in with an inhale and let them all go out with the exhale and-- Empty the bowl.

Gracie Garp

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What's In a Name....

So, the story goes, that when my mother was pregnant with me there was, on both of my parent's part, a desire to honor the other by naming me either Richard, if I was a boy (after my father) or, Tanina, after my mother, if indeed I was a girl.

After my mother devoured a pound of pasta, she went into labor.  A girl-child was born.  My father, deliriously happy, got his wish: naming me Tanina.  My mother, on the other hand, well versed in ultimately getting her way....had, the first moment that she was alone (my father having gone home), called for the nurse to bring in my birth certificate.  Her request granted, she trimphantly wrote in her choice for my middle-name: Richard.

When I was young, when asked the question: "Where are you from?", without hesitation, I would reply: "Italy." ( I truly did  not understand that I was an American, having been so enculturated and  drenched in the virgin-olive-oiled Sicilian culture).  I also answered the question: "What is your name?", with the answer: "Tanina Richard", not knowing that most girls did not have a male's middle-name.

Without realizing it, the name would give me some kind of carte blanche into the realm and freedom of androgyny.  It also won me annual State Fair teddy bear prizes (of which I always won two) when the Fair's traveling psychic would try and guess my name (s). They never got the first name right...Tammy? Tara?Teresa?  For which their wrong guesses won me the first bear, and much to my delight, I knew the second bear was a shoe-in when I asked them to psychically zero in on my middle-name: Rosalyn? Ruby? Rachel?

I had been given a name that blessed me with an initial innocent indifference to social norms and freedom from the confines of gender-rigid beliefs or actions.  I believe it served me well.  I had no hesitation in fluidly traversing the supposed boundaries of what 'boys did or girls did.'  I simply gave myself permission to try both, be both or blend them, at will. I simply took it for granted that everyone knew they were both endowed with male and female qualities, to be explored and freely played with. Dress codes went out the window. Wardrobe options were endless. Named into androgyny gave me an immense amount of freedom of expression.  I also believe that my early-on experiences of being allowed to defy conventional norms, played heavily into my vast exploration (no holes barred) of any, and all, self-defined, creative outlets.

At nineteen, when I took on the 'role' of being a wife and young mother, I saw it as the most divine creative art project ever assigned.  I could scarcely believe that I now had the good fortune of creating 365 different recipes a year... I recently unearthed a box containing numerous ring-bound folders -thoroughly stained- that contained hundreds of recipes that I had carefully pasted into them, to assure my ongoing exploration and intention to almost never having to make the same meal twice!  With my viewing life as an ongoing art project, there were no rules to obey when deciphering how much creativity I wanted to bring into exploring 'the art of mothering' and rearing of tiny creative bundles of joy.  I saw the whole experience of mothering as one huge white canvas.  The mediums one could apply were endless...The world was my 'oyster on a half shell' and my life just one large coloring book waiting to be colored in... outside of the lines.

Gracie Garp


Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Donation...

"You are your parents' donation to human evolution."                                            
                                                      --Robert Ornstein                                                                                                        

Lawrence and I would agree: when we pass on, we will have made a considerable (divine) donation to human evolution: Justin and Taylor

Our children's legacies will live on beyond our own and, for that, we are immensely grateful.  Justin and Taylor surely have their foibles, imperfections, glories, and gaffs--they are full of human nature.  They are not mannequin-templates of us as their parents and we would not have wanted it otherwise. 

Undoubtedly, they both have some of our mannerisms but they are truly unique, authentic unto themselves, and very available to be of service to their fellow (and fellowess) travelers.  I marvel at their ability to embody and embrace and trade-off their gender roles.  They live in congruence with their emotions:  they laugh when they are happy and they cry when they are sad.  

They freely scatter the moonbeam and stardust qualities of their personalities.  I don't believe either of them have ever felt compelled to present a persona of who they are not...they are comfortable in their own skin.  They have mastered the wisdom of not repenting for the sins they did not commit.  With reckless abandon they trust their free-spirited natures.  They carry their weight in not being afraid to be  busy-bee hard workers or risk-taking entrepreneurs.  They wound themselves and others; they are not afraid to say: I am sorry.  They help elders cross busy intersections.  They are loyal friends and confidantes. They risk being the fool in the face of staying with their own values and personal integrity.  They make devastating mistakes and learn from them...they make more mistakes and learn from them again.  They hug men and women alike.  They have both lost their beloved pets and have each built the sweetest shrines; boxes filled with the sacred ashes of both Marco and Friday--

They know the pain of coming from a broken home.  They know the travails of joint custody (when they were younger); they schlepped their things back and forth between their parent's separate houses for years on end. They hated it.  They love throwing dinner-parties and a mean left-hand punch if anyone threatens those they love.  They can be counted on to watch each other's backs.  They are the best of friends to each other. They know how to fight and make up. They vehemently disagree with each other and also know how to agree to disagree. They share. They say 'no thank-you' when asked to do something that would have them cross their own boundaries.  They don't apologize for what they believe in.  They both voted for Obama.  Neither claims a religious affiliation; both have extraordinary spiritual paths.   They play hard and don't take skips in line.  They would give  up their place in line to benefit someone less fortunate than themselves.

They know their parents are not perfect.  They know, first hand, the necessary losses of believing otherwise.  If need be, I have no doubts that they would 'take turns' changing our diapers, wipe the dribble running down our chins, take us on outings, help us remember all that we may have forgotten, tie themselves to a mast in a dangerous sea-crossing before allowing either of us to languish in nursing homes, span any bridge to help us get to the other side and respect and protect our last wishes....Neither of them have had children of their own--yet.  When they do, the donation they will make will be obviously considerable---they have already made a large downpayment on further benefiting the next generation by loving so unashamedly, so unconditionally, the humbled donors who gave them life.  The donation their parents made, without ever being able to imagine that the donation their own children would give back to them could never be repaid.

Gracie Garp



Monday, March 1, 2010

The Sacred and the Profane....

In September of 1984, I find myself in the (first of it's kind) class and 12 Step meeting for Adult Children of Alcoholics. My sister had called me, a month previous, to tell me that there was now a name and concept for our heretofore unnamed cognitive, emotional, spiritual (and whatever else you can think of) delayed or stunted developmental growth.  We were both now adults but who could have imagined that growing up with an alcoholic would 'inform' our perceptions of ourselves and our world?

It certainly helped explain a lot of things: just how I found myself, at 7 years old, a 'little adult'---no kidding, I could cook, at 9 years of age, cornish hens (stuffed), with Italian beans, and butternut squash after school, in time for dinner and before the homework that never got overseen.  I could be counted on to drive a car at 15, if the alcoholic needed a ride to or from the Midwestern tavern, or write my own absentee notes to miss school after a night of all manner of mayhem.  I was later to learn that mayhem had a different definition when you were the child of an alcoholic.

It wasn't long before I learned some of the Precepts of 12 Step Meetings and the lingo: Higher Power, One day at a time, Codependency, Restoring sanity and Powerlessness.  I was to learn that this was primarily a Spiritual program...and that without a Higher Power, I had a slim chance in hell to "Recover" and discover the Sacred availed to me by 'following the Steps.'

I attend a Meeting where the topic is Higher Powers.  The dozen or so attendees are to go around the room and share (which is always 'optional) anything they want about their notion of their Higher Power. One woman shares that 'trees' are her Higher Power. Another calls her Higher Power: Jackie.  She explains that "when in doubt" she acts like Jackie Onassis to give her a sense of dignity and strength.  It is my turn to share... "Hi, my name is Tanina and my Higher Power's name is: Fuckface."  There can be no 'cross-talk' at these meetings so instead of words exchanged, I hear gasps!  No matter.  I am pssssed off at the "god of my understanding."  This is also a 'Program' of what they call: rigorous honesty. If my honesty bends them out of shape, that's their problem.  I have my own business to take up with this notion of  surrendering to a 'power greater than myself', that I've surmised long ago was either ignorant, careless or not the adult child of an alcoholic.  Trees and Jackie are not going to quite cut it for me.  I need to rage and bark at the moon, if I'm going to honestly express my dismay over what I've been raised to believe is a loving god.

Flashback: I am a nine-year-old secretly sneaking off to a Catholic church, each day after school, to beseech the mysterious trinity to intervene on what looks to be an imminent divorce for my parents.  This clandestine date with the father-son and holy ghost, goes on for weeks.  Of course, I am promising the moon and the stars of 'good behavior' if I might be spared the terror, travesty and embarrassment  of being the first of my peers to come from a broken home...and it is surely broken.  The day the divorce decree is final, I 'march' into the church.  I don't kneel this time but take a defiant stance and lambast the 'betrayer.' Hmm...promises of extremely good behavior is not enough for this heartless and maybe
pick-and-choose kind of god.  Jesus, Joseph and Mary are now on my shit-list.  "Okay, Big Guy, let's see what you do with a reformed believer, a Joan of Arc style avenger."

Actually, this self-induced excommunication, was going to be the precursor to finding my own way spiritually.  I had my own suspicions very early on in my childhood experiences of 'religion.'  The beach, nature, drawing and coloring seemed to bring me closer to the "creator" than any communion wafer swallowed or catechism class that I had been forced to attend, lest I burn in  hell with all the other sincerely loving individuals who, unsuspectingly, were going to find themselves really surprised when entering Dante's inferno.  It just didn't make sense: the non-catholic milkman seemed kind enough to help hoist me through the milk-shute that cold January day when I had been once again locked out of the house;  my social studies teacher, jewish by birth, who took me privately aside to assure me that he would not fail me if I was having trouble at home...I had the capital-T kind of trouble at home.  Oh, well, I could just hold the teacher's and milkman's hand when we were thrown down into the abyss of 'eternal punishment.'  I figured they were a better bet than the neighbor (a professed church-goer) who constantly invited me to sit on his lap when the rest of his family was out of the room.

I never did complete The Steps but did soften up on 'the old guy' and decided that the 'goddess of my understanding', my Higher Power, was named: Grace and Mercy. Today, being more of the 'buddhistic persuasion', I now embrace what is called My Basic Goodness and the Sacredness of the World.  I have dropped the good versus bad, the heaven-bound or hell-bound, the perfect versus imperfect.  I don't look to a belief system for confirmation or condemnation. The one thing I do aspire to is: To not be so heavenly minded that I am no earthly good.

Gracie Garp