Let it go

Non attachment is a concept that rises to the top of my consciousness every time I sit down to write one of these posts. I suppose that is appropriate because attachment is the root of all suffering and I am interested in the prospects of ending suffering. I have found in my experience that the reason for my suffering very rarely has anything to do with what is actually happening at any given moment in life.

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When I was a trial attorney, I suffered a great deal imagining situations that never transpired, projecting my fears of being unprepared or  public speaking or failure onto myriad moments that, objectively speaking, were actually quite peaceful.

Moments of potential stillness, where awareness of details like my breath or the awesome radiance of the human eyes around me, the sound of laughter, the feeling of vulnerability and humility, the simple awareness that I am alive, that I am here, conscious that I am having this experience rooted in mystery and wonder, with this capacity to create beauty with love, always has the potential to bring me peace and completion.

Instead I too often allow the loud and persistent story-teller in my head to scream so loudly and stomp so heavily that I’m literally hypnotized by it, rendered inert, unable to snap out of its suffocating grasp, forgetting to breathe and listen and see and feel.

I do the same thing as a writer. Every moment is alive and buzzing with infinite potential, the world is literally a ball of clay that molds according to my intention. But nothing happens if I’m rendered inert by my captive attention to the screen of the mind, the inner hater and doubter.

That ball of clay will just sit there always buzzing with infinite potential and I will sit by its side looking off into nothingness and not breathing and then I will die.

I think it was Picasso who said “The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away.”

Creation without attachment

Like the Japanese monks who write haiku, place them in a bottle then toss them to the sea, the Tibetan monks who labor meticulously creating complex images and patterns out of multicolored sand then just sweep it all up and pour it into the river.

I create because when I create that loud and obnoxious voice with the megaphone is locked out of the room and I am here now operating according to my design in the same way water flows across rock and trees reach for the sun.

Being attuned to the truth of the moment and attempting to capture it with words, I am tuned into the only thing that is real. The only thing that is permanent and infinite is now.

The only a-hole that benefits from praise, accolades or riches is the a-hole I locked out of the room because he’s holding me back.

Well he can’t hold me back anymore.

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The Power of Mantra

I was taught at an early age to say the Gayatri Mantra every night before going to bed. I had no idea what it meant, but I understood it as a declaration of gratitude for things like health and abundance and an expression of hope that such blessings continue.

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I eventually read an English translation that I did not find particularly inspiring or moving* but I continued to say the mantra sporadically and mostly selfishly throughout my life when I wanted something from the universe like safety for my family when we traveled or success at trial or even a 49ers victory.

Now I am finding myself using this mantra to help tether my wandering mind to the present moment when I meditate.

The mind is pretty powerful and mine might be unusually neurotic. Sometimes focusing on my breath or the expansion and contraction of my diaphragm or the sound of the birds or the leaf blower across the street is not enough to contend with my mind’s incessant barking.

But forcing myself to sit in one spot, consciously breathe and repeat this mantra over and over again makes the daunting task of staying in the moment easier. It gives my mind something to do that is repetitive and rhythmic. It settles it down.

The purpose of meditation is to identify reality with the now, the sensations and feelings of presence and not the streaming ticker that constantly passes across the mind’s screen. Allowing the stream of mental chatter to take over, we get lost in the bullshit.

The bullshit becomes our mantra

The worries, laments, projections, should’ve/could’ve/would’ves, the daydreaming about what we want for our future, the regret of what we’ve done in the past, all of this endless chatter becomes our mantra and robs us of the experience of now (also known as life).

If we are going to occupy our consciousness with words, let them me words that reflect what we want manifested. The content of our consciousness is what determines the content of the reality we experience on a daily basis.

What we think we become

When we allow our mind to become untethered to the present, we are not deciding what we want to occupy our consciousness. We are allowing things that thrive in unconscious states like fear and ego to thrive. We should repeat only the refrains that we want to constitute our reality, mantras that reflect our true values and help to bring about the state of mind required to actually be here and bear witness to life.

*I read a translation of the Gayatri Mantra today that did inspire and move me and I think having some deeper connection to the meaning of the mantra will help even more. Read it here.



A Lesson from my Four-Year-Old

“Gratitude is the least of all virtues but ingratitude is the worst of vices.” – Thomas Fuller

Another thing I found intriguing about the Salinger documentary was his relationship with author Joyce Maynard. After I finished watching the documentary, I googled Maynard and learned about her life and her writing. Then for no reason at all, as part of my unconscious addiction to technology, I opened up Instagram and saw that my friend Becky just posted this.

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Synchronisitc shit right? I had never even heard of Maynard prior to that night.

I woke up the next day for some reason with a terrible attitude about the prospects of spending my morning at the behest of my preschooler Sasha’s strict agenda of coloring, games and puzzles. All I wanted to do was work on my book and get my writing career off the ground so I can get a phat advance and buy a house in a beautiful place and become who I am and stuff.

Stay-at-home parenting is definitely a grand opportunity to practice mindfulness and selfless love but it can also be really shitty and boring and lonely.

So I had this terrible attitude and drudged through the motions, savoring every slug of my coffee and doing my best to enjoy listening to the Disney Pandora station while coloring in a picture of a Minion.

My boss Sasha is turning five in a week and has been planning her birthday party for the last eleven and three-quarter months. She has instructed us to reserve the local park, invite everyone from her preschool, rent a bounce house, get a Frozen cake and lots of yummy food. And somewhere along the way she decided to tack on a visit from Jasmine.

We are not material people but her birthday only comes once a year, it is a day she takes very seriously and anticipates everyday and she is our only daughter who we love and adore and who fills us with joy and love. So we booked the park, ordered the cake and the bounce house and invited all her friends.

But when my wife looked around for Jasmine, all she could find were ladies that looked nothing like the real Jasmine and charged an exorbitant rate to wear a cheesy costume and read the kids a book.

Plus neither of us are thrilled with all this homogenized princess-worship taking place among young girls (aka Target’s contract with Disney).

We figured the park and the bounce house were enough and decided to tell Sasha that Jasmine’s magic carpet was in the shop and would not be able to make it. Kate broke the news to Sasha and it made Sasha cry.We both felt horrible and so we agreed to just do it.

I told Sasha the good news and the first thing she said was “But I want Elsa. I don’t like Jasmine.” Then she started saying that the boys at her party wouldn’t like Jasmine. Then she wouldn’t walk anymore and sat down on the side walk in protest.

Are you freaking kidding me?

I explained to Sasha how this made us feel sad and disappointed. I told her she should be grateful that we made her wishes come true. I told her it is not acceptable to ask for something and then be ungrateful when you get it. It took her some time but she eventually understood and expressed gratitude to me (or maybe it was just guilt).

But then I felt like a total hypocrite because I realized I had been just doing the same thing. Everything that I was sore about this morning, doing art with my daughter, the opportunity to write and revise a novel, the opportunity to quit being a lawyer, these are literally the things my dreams were made of. I live in a beautiful place already.

I already am who I am.

I can’t tell Sasha to be grateful. I just have to be grateful myself. I have exactly what I asked for and I need to get my ass off the sidewalk, keep walking and say thanks.



 

 

The Writer in the Woods

“I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.” – Alan Watts

I watched a documentary last week about J.D. Salinger, the reclusive genius behind The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger might be the most famous author in American history yet this was the only novel he ever published. It is is a book that has inspired millions around the world, one that gave voice to a sentiment felt by many but spoken by few, a cathartic experience for young people trying to find their way in the world and a sobering look in the mirror for those already entrenched in the grind of phoniness.

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sign posted in front of Salinger's NH house | photo by Edmund Fountain/Valley News

 

I first read The Catcher in the Rye while I was an unemployed law school graduate looking for work anywhere I could find it because I had student loans and bar loans and there were way more lawyers than there were law jobs. I read it and I enjoyed it but then I poured everything I had into finding this elusive, magical job, securing my chain to the conveyer belt that was moving forward, progressing aggressively toward advancement and elevation so that maybe one day, if  I worked hard enough, I could actually enjoy my life for a few years before I died.

Having unclipped myself from this conveyer belt a couple years ago to raise my kids and write a book, I was inspired by Salinger’s ambition and persistence, two qualities essential to succeeding as a writer and really at anything. I was astounded by the number of rejections he received from The New Yorker before one of his short stories was finally accepted. I was impressed by his dedication to the craft of writing itself, the pursuit and creation of truthful characters and settings and stories that people can identify with and have empathy and compassion for.

I was intrigued by his rejection of fame.

As a new and unknown writer, I often daydream about fame and recognition and look forward to that day that I can enjoy that private fist bump, that “yes! I fucking did it!” feeling that accompanies some external recognition that what I am doing is in fact significant and worthwhile and valued. I imagine delivering the “I told you sos” to all the haters and doubters in spirited and colorful ways. I visualize accepting an award and looking in the camera with tears streaming down my face and saying “dreams really do come true.” I daydream about it and know I will find some ego-level satisfaction from success in the form of fame and fortune, but this is not why I write.

I write to speak truth.

Salinger holed himself up in his writing studio for decades meditating and churning out stories and novels and ruminations on Buddhism and Vedanta. When he finished a manuscript he just put it in his safe. He did not publish anything. He could have typed the word apple 90,000 times and it would have been a bestseller the next day. He wrote diligently and profusely and published nothing for forty-five years and then he died.

These works will be published according to his trust in a staggered fashion beginning in 2015 and for the next several decades. He was reportedly moved by the notion advanced in the Bhagavad-GitaThis is something I believe. In fact, I tweeted it over a year ago.

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Salinger didn’t tweet it, he lived it. Unlike him, I have yet to write a world-changing, generation defining novel that can bankroll me for the rest of my life. Well maybe I have, but I’m working on it still. But seeing this legend, this icon, this superstar reach the pinnacle of writing success then abandon it and write only for the sake of writing, without attachment, knowing that it will only touch the souls of readers when he was removed from the situation as an ego, as an anointed and unwilling spokesperson for a generation, this was inspiring to me.

It was a powerful illustration of why we ought to create art.

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The Beginning of the Rest of the Story

Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone.” – Alan Watts

Welcome to the first post on this blog. I formed the serious intention a couple years ago to stop practicing law and focus my efforts during the time I was not taking care of my two small children on developing myself as a writer.

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photo by Thomas Nugent

I started a blog called Place{Thought}Story with my friend and we wrote and edited several well received pieces that did exactly what I wanted them to do in the world. I received more than enough affirmation from the universe that writing was in fact my true calling and that powerful, game-changing results stem from the radical act of speaking truth.

I realized during the course of writing articles and essays for P{t}S that they were part of a larger narrative of my personal coming of age, my spiritual maturation and that the best possible format for this type of story was a book.

So for the last year and a half I have not shared my writing with the world and have done my work quietly and privately, struggling and suffering alone at my desk or in my chair in the woods with the hopes that one one day when my message is crystallized to me, I can then share it with the world and thereby make it a better place. And by that I mean a world filled with more presence, more consciousness, more gratitude, more authenticity, more love, more creation, less consumption, less pretense, less ego, less attachment, less suffering.

I want all these things for myself and I want all these things for the world and so I intend to create it, to manifest it, to write it. I made the decision to write a coming of age story before I was even close to coming of age with the hopes that in writing the story that I want for my life, I would make it so. After all, our lives are our greatest creative act and our intention is what creates our reality.

I finally reached a point a few weeks ago where I was ready to share my book with a few colleagues and friends – artists and writers – to get an idea of how it affected people whose opinions I value, people who occupy themselves with some of the same sort of ideas and practices that I am trying to advance with my book. I also knew I needed some unfiltered, candid editorial feedback because this is my first book and really my first serious foray into creative writing. I never took creative writing in college and never even wrote a short story, let alone a novel/memoir.

So I reached out to a professional editor that was referred to me by my wife’s former co-worker. He’s been described as a legend in the publishing industry and has edited Hunter S. Thompson, Toni Morrison, Tom Robbins and many other award-winning and best-selling authors. My intent was to simply get an idea as to what kind of money I would have to spend for the services of someone with this kind of track record.

I wrote him an e-mail and told him what my book was about. He wrote me back and said it sounded interesting. He told me to send him the entire manuscript that he would read free of charge then let me know if he thinks we’d be a good fit. So without thinking about it too much I sent over the same draft I had shared with my colleagues and then promptly lamented my haste when I discovered a spelling error on the second page.

He wrote me back a few days later telling me that he just finished reading my book with tears in his eyes. He said he was impressed with the ambitious intentions of the book, its struggle with profound spiritual and philosophical issues and the potential denouement for the characters I created. He said what I’ve done so far has resonated with him professionally and personally.

Reading those words was probably the greatest moment I’ve had thus far in this process and I’ve read them so many times I was able to just write them verbatim from memory.

But then of course he said that the book needs a complete rewrite. He said I need to reconsider where the reader enters the narrative arc and how said arc unfolds. He said the characters need more development, the voice needs tightening and refining and several scenes need to be added and others deleted entirely.

I met with him in Berkeley and the first thing he told me was that writing a good book is incredibly hard and that even the most seasoned best-selling authors sometimes take five or six years to write a book. My book, he said, was particularly complex and ambitious.

He said a writer needs two things to succeed.

1) conviction (in the importance of what you want to say) and

2) humility.

“Oh you’re just getting started,” he said when I told him I’ve been at it for a year and a half.

Hearing this broke my heart.

As much as I tell myself in affirmations to renounce attachment, I want to make writing my career and the thought that I may have years ahead of me before completing this book was a slap in the face from which I am still recovering.

But his feedback was golden. He left me with a structural blueprint to use moving forward in revision and I know exactly what needs to be done to maximize the potential impact and appeal of this book.

“Don’t rush it,” he said as I thanked him and shook his hand.

The last thing I want to do is rush it. I do not want to spend hours setting up a glorious fireworks show and have only half of the fireworks go off. I want to blow people’s minds. I want to fuck people up. When people finish reading my book, I want them sobbing in recognition of the raw beauty and frailty of our shared humanity, inspired to move forward in their lives in a more present, conscious, authentic and creative way. And that is just going to take some more time.

That doesn’t mean I have to wallow in solitary confinement in the meantime. I have suffered enough for my art and I know community will help me enjoy it more. Real and authentic community, online and in everyday life, anchored by humility, vulnerability and the heart-warming and empowering realization that we are not alone.

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