Category Archives: presence

The High-Wire Act Between Wisdom and Delusion

Recognizing how narcissism blocks the uniqueness of our Being.

Recently, the theme of narcissism has foisted itself into our collective conversation.  According to Webster, it is defined as: “Excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance.”  We can perhaps come closer to understanding the term by delving into its synonyms: self-absorption, self-love, self-obsession, self-centeredness, conceit, egoic … But we can’t stop there, because, wrestling with narcissism is part of the human condition.

There is an in-depth book about “Transformations of Narcissism in Self Realization” by A.H. Almaas called “The Point of Existence.”  In it, Mr. Almaas discusses narcissism as identifying with a part of our experience and not being able to connect to the fullness of Being.

Mr. Almaas points out that there is a spectrum of narcissism that ranges from what is deemed healthy to pathological, and that being human, we are pretty much all subject to being on that spectrum.  So, it’s possible that, at any given point throughout our day, we can over-identify with the thoughts we are having, with our social status, with our current emotion, with our body image or a pain that we are experiencing.

Narcissism can make life, “all about me” and in doing so, it ironically robs us of experiencing who we really are, as well as diminishing the richness we are offered in each moment.

Over the weekend, my wife Julia witnessed an interview with a young man who had just written a book and given a TED talk. In the interview he was trying to explain that “he did not believe in” and “wasn’t looking for” inspiration.  He stated that he was his own source of inspiration.  He explained that everything essentially originated with him, that things weren’t interesting in themselves but it was the way that he looked at them that made them interesting.

Julia and I discussed this last declaration, turning it over and over, examining what drives us to feel we are the source of everything we see. Life is often a game of semantics. For example, inspiration and intuition are concepts that can be intertwined. If we are creatively prompted from within, our ego will often want to take credit for everything. Could all of us find ourselves, at times, doing a high-wire act between wisdom and delusion?

The paradox, for me, is that wisdom can be found both by going within and trusting our intuition, as well as being able to listen and honestly observe what is taking place around us. Thinking that we, as separate individuals, have it “going on” above everybody else, is a form of delusion, whether we acknowledge it or not.

I wasn’t there to hear the above-mentioned interview, and cannot presume to know what is in the artist’s heart.  I can certainly relate to artists who are so tuned into the process of creating, that everything around them becomes interesting because they have an internal commitment to wonder.

I believe that we each have a unique perception of the life-force that flows thorough all things. If we lose sight of the fact that we are that life-force, currently inhabiting a body, then it becomes very easy to become convinced that we are separate from everything else. Because we are aware of the life-force that is connected to all things, our ego can convince us that we alone are the source of everything we see. When that happens, our unique take on things usually gets blocked by our need to be “special.”

We recently enjoyed an interview with the world renown cellist Yoyo Ma, who refers to himself as a Citizen Artist. He told host, Krista Tippet, that playing music wasn’t a competition but an opportunity to share and create a moment between the artist and the audience with the objective of making that moment special.

Most people would agree that Yoyo Ma is successful and at the top of his field. Yet, Yoyo Ma considers the moments shared by him and his audience to be the real goal. In fact, making those moments as special as possible, for him, is the point of playing music in the first place.

I would say, beyond his incredible dedication to his craft, it is Yoyo Ma’s ability to be present as presence that makes him both unique and universally appealing.

Perhaps inspiration comes to us as we let go of our over-identification with our experience or our need to be special.  Perhaps, it is in allowing ourselves to be here fully, and be fully with what is, that what we are able to share becomes worth sharing.

This is a moment to moment dance that we get to choose, both individually and collectively. As human beings, we wrestle with narcissism. Still, we all have immediate access to the presence within this present moment that invites us to be fully who we are, and which opens the door to an infinite variety of uniqueness within every interaction.

Recognizing that our ego is a part, but not the whole of our existence, we can begin to open up to the wonder this moment affords us, even on the high-wire.

Not Fade Away

 

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My friend Angie sent me this link to a talk by Mooji, a master teacher she really connects with.

https://youtu.be/U7bOwDH4XCY

I found a moment to listen while I was sorting socks on my bed. Tuning into what he was saying, I put the socks away and lay on the bed.

“What if for a moment, you cease trying? No effort, but take it seriously. No identity, no reference to past, no intention about the future, no definition about anything. Let’s try it and see. Your mind will say, “I want to “do” nothing.” I’m not talking to him now. You are not waiting, leave everything. Not concentrating, no effort. You’re not in any gear, you don’t touch name, you don’t touch gender. No waiting, no expectation. No imagination, no time is there, no interpretation. Not suppressing, stay as you are. Nothing to manage, nothing to heal, nothing to fix. Be conscious of your consciousness.”

I had a saxophone teacher named Saffron who taught me music theory. She would say, you have to learn all this but when you are playing you can’t think of it, you just have to be there. My recent meditation practice has been so structured, with so many things to think about, this invitation to not think, to not imagine, or hold onto identity clicked into an expansive consciousness that has always been present. It was all around me, I was a part of it and expanded without effort into a heightened state of being. Mooji continued,

“You do not wish to bring in any corrupt state or belief into this. You are determining your reality. You are determining whether a thought is going to distract you so that you forget your Self , so to speak and enter into fluctuating states again. And even if that happens are you able to bring yourself back to your Self again, as it were, In a flash?

…When you identify “I” as a person, you welcome the whole family. “I” will bring the cousins, the uncles, the aunties, and the drunk friends. Thoughts will not have the potency, the virility, the audacity to confront you, they cannot intimidate the pure Self, they can only intimidate the idea you have of who you are, your self- image. The whole thing is spectacularly fantastic.”

What he was saying went deeper than words and it was spectacularly fantastic. It was clear, it was freeing and quite a tremendous rush.

“Can it fade? Is it merely a feeling? If it’s a feeling it will come and go, it’s not really a feeling…

Is it belief? Belief changes us.

Is it something you have to keep up?

Is this true? Ask this not from the outer place but from the inner place.”

The next day I got up and was still in it. I felt I had woke- in. I went to Brooklyn and sang for a preschool and we had the best time. I took the train back and was still in it. My heart was singing and I thought, “This could be it. I may have this now forever.”

By that evening “Mr. Mind” had taken back over and I was so disappointed that my thoughts took the elevator down to the basement.

The next morning while driving to NJ, Julia and I listened to Terry Pratchett and I reveled in the unique liberated fun he offered us. Then I was able to see the snow as we drove along in its intended splendor. I was singing for families that morning. They were so joyous and danced; everything was sweet and rich again. I was aware of how grateful I was for my life.

So, I hadn’t become enlightened but I was still connected and had access. I had just let my thoughts bite me.

“The thoughts will try and bite you but your real self is unbiteable.

There is an idea that in order to live in this world I cannot stay in my heart, and that is not true.

Look not just with your mind but with your fullness. It is closer than intimacy, there is no distance.

Don’t talk about the self, be the self.

Why this loyalty to that which does not serve you?

You are determining your reality. If a thought is going to distract you and enter into fluctuating states again.

You have to be willing to burn this forest down, the forest of misconceptions, false identity. Why this loyalty to that which does not serve you?” – Mooji

May our training allow for a sincere letting go, so that we are able to experience the love that as the song says will, “Not Fade Away!”

The polishing within

mirabaimoonJulia and I had the honor of being a part of our friend Mirabi Moon’s kirtan CD Bridge to Where You Are, and getting to join her for her CD release.  Before the concert we were eating a light dinner and I got to talk to our mutual friend Jim, who joined Mirabi on her last visit to India.  He was telling me about the pollution and the poverty of Delhi as well as going to visit Neem Karoli Baba’s home and ashram. Baba was the influential guru of Ram Dass, Krishna Das and others.  Jim told me that he went into Baba’s room and felt the love and joy palpably.  There was a definite shift in the energy.

Now, there are people who would tell of this experience and place the emphasis on them noticing the shift of energy.  “Notice how I was the one who felt the love and joy in this space, I am really something that I was able to pick up on this.”  Jim is not that way.  He is unassuming, quiet, gentle and real in a sweet grounded way. When he told me, I believed him.  Jim is like the untitled, unannounced guru, who manifests an enlightened quietude with a smile and the ability to listen to you without interruption.

We started talking about meditation and he said what was important was polishing the connection between you and your source.  If mediation allowed you to do that, that was the thing, if playing music did it for you, then that was the thing.  He said most people are actively seeking other people’s opinions for guidance or validation when everything is inside. Polishing the connection is all that matters.

The next night I spent time with a veterinarian from Argentina who grew up seeing headlines about the Jewish Problem in the newspapers, published by the local Nazis. He came to this country and incurred grief for being ‘Hispanic’.   He laughs about it and maintains his wholeness.  He turned me on to Harold Land, a saxophone player and a recording he did with Clifford Brown.   These were folks who polished their connection through their instruments to be sure. What struck me about my friend the veterinarian was that he was fully himself without apology or any discomfiture.  While he was humorously incredulous about the state of the world, it didn’t diminish his presence or push him off his center.  There was no need for validation as he told me his stories about meeting the Art Farmer, the trumpeter.

He laughed and said the Spice Girls made more money than Clifford Brown, Art Farmer, many other great Jazz greats and even Bach combined.  Yet, here we were listening to Clifford Brown, not the Spice Girls.  Genius will prevail is essentially what he said.

Later, Julia turned me on to a video of Bill Murray being interviewed and when asked what he wanted, Bill said that he wanted to be here more of the time.  Essentially, he was saying that he wanted to be present and if it were possible to become enlightened but he never actually said that.  Yet listening to him hint at it, the energy raised up right through the screen.

The next day I discussed all of this with Julia and reflected that I also desire to be present more of the time but also admire and long to be more consistently comfortable being who and where I am.  In my desire to be the bridge between communities, I get lured into seeking the approval of those either in front of me or those I admire.  If I am with a Jewish beloved leader, there is an undercurrent driving me to prove or show how Jewish I am, as if I don’t believe I am measuring up to what other people are doing.  The truth is, our own path is not worn by many feet.  If we are truly on path, we are forging it and while I want everyone to love me, the polishing is within.  If I am in a space of being love, then I do not need that validation or acceptance.  I am loving and accepting and that becomes the bridge between communities.  I am not the conduit but the love generated, within my connection is.

Open your heart to the whole of love

Celebrate each moment that occurs in which we are able to bring a heightened sense of wholeness to others around us. This is not to aggrandize our ego but to recognize that we are a part of the process.  To face ourselves completely is not to be destroyed but relieved that love is real.

My friend Jordan Anderson, musician, composer, actor, director, writer, has just graduated Lewis and Clark college. He has been gracious enough to share his beautiful short about a theater class where the teacher treated those she worked with, not as students but as whole people. The young lady who narrates, describes how being treated as a whole person made her want to bring all of herself to the table every day.
 Open Your Heart by Jordan Anderson
I found this work especially intriguing as I had just been reading a chapter of Krishnamurti’s Talks with American Students in which he discusses how fragmented we are. We have several images of ourselves and those around us: we are students, we are teachers, we are husbands/wives/family members/musicians/poor/rich etc.
We are trying to conform to someone else’s authority, trying to get our act together, over time.  His suggestion is feel the fullness of being now, by being love.
Not the love spoilt by Hallmark, or the love of our nation, our religion, orientation, our spouse, significant other, family, friends,  work, ego, money, self-image… but love itself. 
He is suggesting that we feel, as Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull would say,
Thick as a Brick“. In this way we are whole and not relating to ourselves or others as symbols based upon our past experiences, but fully alive, right here, right now.
“Love is something always fresh, new, young, innocent.”- Krishnamurti
 
Enjoy your memorial day, and while we honor the past and those who have brought us here, let’s be willing to be wholly here and enjoy the feast before us.