"... If you were queen of pleasure,
And I were king of pain,
We 'd hunt down love together,
Pluck out his flying-feather,
And teach his feet a measure,
And find his mouth a rein ;
If you were queen of pleasure,
And I were king of pain"
- Charles Swinburne
In 2008 I picked up a book of Osho's after reading Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior.
As an atheist, nondualism made sense to me, and tantric buddhism felt like home. I remember a passage- which of course I can't find now- about moving into pain. Going deeper inside it, exploring it, never running from it. I loved that. I made that part of me.
It's full of meditation techniques- 112, actually. One of my favorites you do right before you fall asleep. You lie there, eyes closed, fully relaxed, and begin remembering your entire day, backwards. Step by step. Kissing your sweetheart, brushing teeth, making dinner together, the whole thing. It's strangely cinematic, gives you this incredible sense of the fullness of life. The heart spills over. He also recommended doing the same technique but going backwards over longer stretches of time- weeks, months, years. Your entire life.
Its fairly dense, not the kind of thing you should read all the way through right away. Better to read a passage, live with it a while, read another passage. Incorporating the pieces that move you. After a few years the book got packed up, and I didn't read from it any more.
This past weekend my Z mentioned Osho. It had been so long since I'd thought about him that at first I couldn't place the name.
"Meditation techniques, the book of secrets," Z said.
I almost jumped out of my chair.
"Bah, I love you, I love that book!" Later we're all at our house, middle of the night, I'm pulling it out again.
I'm reading it again, sitting again. I read a passage, and then meditate. Lately I've been disappearing entirely while I sit. And sometimes, visuals.
Last summer, I had an out of body experience that made me question my atheism. I became aware of something within me, separate of my flesh- a kind of watery, pulsing current.
It lifted -I lifted?- not terribly far, but enough to startle me. Afterwards the thought came to me, very firmly, that I ought to stop drinking caffeine, eating meat. Meditate longer, more often, to make myself 'resonant'.
You know, woo-woo type thoughts. Of course I didn't do any of that.
But after living with the experience a few days I did contact a few religious friends to ask them about their faith. At first they were hesitant to talk about it.
Andrew and I have always been such jubilant atheists, crass. We must have said things so many times, cutting off conversations.
(Sap drying on broken stems- ah, the associative mind!)
You feel so exposed, talking about these secret, important, so-private beliefs. Especially when you think someone is likely to scoff. They are so tender, these beliefs, these questions.
But now I wanted to listen, really listen. Lovely conversations.
One friend told me I should believe whatever I wanted to believe. "Don't you think it would be comforting?" she said.
"I guess I don't want to be comforted."
I wanted to know. Ah, but faith is trust. Trust in the face of difficulties, obstacles, evidence otherwise.
I'm open-hearted, you know, but not trusting, not by my nature or inculcation.
You can really only trust people who are brave. Most people, lovable or not, are cowards at the bone.
(Talking with GVG recently, wondering about the history of doubt. Centuries of conversations we wish we could overhear.)
Andrew's response to all this has been irritation, bemusement. He signed up with an atheist!
Isn't it funny how our lives rhyme with the lives of our parents? My mother is devout, my father's always had this fond skepticism regarding her faith. At times painful for her.
When I tried to draw my dad out about faith, his response was to shut down, too.
"You've taken biology," he said, irritated. End of story.
But there's so MUCH story to it- thoughts, experience, heritage. What did his father believe, I wonder? I'll have to try bothering him about it again.
When I thought about it, the only real conversation I can remember with him about faith was when I was in college. We were out on the boat, talking about (our mutual, then) absence of faith, which devolved into him telling me a story about how he'd sawed open skulls in med school.
He didn't expound on it much, but the implication was that there are no mysteries. Bone and ganglion, growth and death, yes. But no mysteries.
It is logical to believe we are no more than meat puppets. All this around us simply an enjoyable accident, meaningless except for the meanings we choose to give it.
And for a long time- since the sixth grade, when I looked at our priest and thought, 'huh, who the hell are you?'- that is what I believed.
But now I wonder.
Suppose everything is holy.
This passage in Osho:
"We are not normal and natural. We are absolutely abnormal, unhealthy, really insane. But because everyone is like us, we never feel it...
...if you take sex as you take your hands, your eyes; if it is totally accepted as a natural thing, then tantra will have an appeal... [but] Western psychology has come to a conclusion that the basic human disease is somewhere around sex, the basic insanity of man is sex-oriented....Man has gone wrong only because of his attitudes about sex. No attitude is needed. Only then are you natural. What attitude have you about your eyes? Are they evil or are they divine? Are you for your eyes or against them? There is no attitude! That is why your eyes are normal.
....Take some attitude- think that eyes are evil. Then seeing will become difficult. Then seeing will take the same problematic shape that sex has taken..."
An interesting exercise, yes?
I've been swallowed up in my manuscript. Foggy, distracted, happy I finished up another pass, going over it again. Feeling good about it, neglecting just about everything else.
Still keeping up on the journal but no time to polish it, to make it legible to anyone but me.
P.Z. West's first novel, EVENING’S LAND, is a Library Journal Self-e Selection, winner of the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Award and recipient of the Carol Marie Smith Memorial Scholarship for the NOEPE Center of Literary Arts.
Pauline West's books on Goodreads
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