Junk food for the soul. The spiritual path is extraordinarily demanding. Leela demands I give all I have to give. As I began surrendering to her in 2006, examining how I spend my time became an ongoing task. I started looking for ways to make everything I do count toward making progress, or at least not count against it. I started looking to root out activities of no value, things I do just to kill time. Thoreau nailed it: As if you could kill time without injuring eternity. Anything I do that is just for distraction, just to fill the void of an empty life, has to go. I can't afford to waste any time slacking off if I want to make progress with love. Making progress requires everything I have to give.
It's not that simple. Leela assures me I can safely apply that caveat to absolutely everything I think I understand, and then apply it again to my new understanding ad infinitum. I've had to reevaluate my use of entertainment over and over again. When I was still in my failed marriage it was simple: watching TV and reading novels were consuming vast swaths of the time I needed for inner work so it all had to go. After I moved out I stayed with that for years. In the crisis that led to my homelessness I found comfort in watching a few documentaries about the world around me and listening to classical music. In my new home I found a new rhythm: watching online content Leela approves via testing. The interplay of muscle testing and body sensing is different than what I'm used to. A certain movie or series will test strong, but then I'll start to feel a negative response, usually anxiety. Now I have to test whether this is useful anxiety, helping me discover something about myself and come to terms with it, or simply unnecessary anxiety and I need to quit watching whatever it is. I easily embraced abandoning movies, even thrillers, mid-plot. To the point where that became an enjoyable frisson, my personal triumph over the industry's fierce determination to keeping us rubes watching.
Filling the void the right way. After Leela spoke to me in 2006 I started examining my use of free time. I'd been reading novels, watching TV, and browsing aimlessly online to fill the void in my empty life. So entertainment had to go, all of it. It felt wonderfully liberating to stop, TV in particular. Leela began sneaking entertainment back into my life fifteen years later, after I got through my remedial work and moved into my new home. It would become a vital tool for making progress, but not one I could easily accept. I had become dead set against entertainment. That's the attitude I had needed to root out my bad habits, but my situation was changing. So Leela was crafty about it, suggesting I renew my old love affair with classical music. In the summer of 2020 I was miserably lonely. I had just broken up with Ruth. The pandemic had put a temporary end to partner dancing. I disliked my housemates. I found comfort in listening to the classics, digging much deeper than ever before. For the first time ever I fell in love with a contemporary composer. I started listening to chamber music and studying up on it, trying to become an ennobled listener. Listening to classical music was a refined form of entertainment I could accept without my thinking interfering. I was simply enjoying and appreciating art, letting great art touch me deeply. Soon after I moved into my new home Leela started guiding me to watch videos. I thought of it as a much needed break from the intensity of the inner work I was doing. As it turns out, getting a break is only part of the picture. The shows she has me watch sometimes exacerbate the stress I'm feeling, keeping me a little off balance and uncertain. Being not quite at ease is highly conducive to making progress. Comfort fosters complacency; making progress is never comfortable.
Entertainment and wisdom. There's an old saying: if I take one step toward god, god takes a hundred toward me. I was always suspicious of that idea. It sounded too easy. Then I discovered what my one step was: everything I can possibly do. If I do everything in my power, Leela will do the rest. But I have to do my part, and that means no wasting time. I can't make progress if I'm slacking off, taking it easy. There's no room for that on the spiritual quest. So once Leela spoke one of my first steps was giving up all forms of entertainment. At the time that seemed monumental. I had long been addicted to reading for pleasure, for instance. After my adventures in reading as a child and adolescent I settled comfortably into literary fiction. Rushdie and Márquez were my top storytellers in the early years of this millennium. After I got married my wife helped me develop a TV addiction, watching one, then two, then three or more hours of prime time drama most nights. Leela led me, step by step, to give it all up. The books were the hardest. Getting rid of my books took me more than thirty years, starting in 1979 when I ditched all my theosophical books in preparation for the big move to Boulder, and ending sometime around 2012, when I got rid of the last holdouts, consigning the last books I made by hand to the recycle bin. After I surrendered my life to Leela entertainment has slowly found a place in my life again. She's been patiently teaching me to be a discerning consumer of cinematic art. She had me start watching streaming movies and miniseries to keep the psychological intensity of making progress from overwhelming me by giving me a breather when I needed one. Now that I'm well established in my new home, living a life where every detail is aimed at making progress, streaming dramas have taken a bigger role, teaching me specific life lessons. Immersing myself in fictional drama helps me learn about stress: how much of what kind is helpful, when and why does the stress become toxic, and what's the best way to neutralize the toxicity. Leela's choices are fine tuned to my capacity. She has me edging anxiety. I usually have two movies or dramatic series going. One that's relatively easy for me to handle. One that's right at the edge of what I can bear. It sometimes takes me three or four sessions to make it through a one hour episode. Real world drama is what gets me, mostly police procedurals done artfully. The movie Melancholia, for all its madness and apocalypse, was easy going for me compared to real life drama.
Direct experience vs stories. My direct experience consists of everything I sense directly, not through media, via my eyes, ears, taste, smell or touch. Stories are not part of my direct experience. Like thinking, stories are a double edged sword: absolutely crucial and potentially disastrous. My life would be immeasurably poorer without stories, but thanks to mass media and the Internet I am deluged with stories, far more than I can possibly use. If I want to make progress with love I have to find the right stories and protect myself from the flood. Stories are not part of my life; they're mental projections. Especially the news: all the stories about what's going on now somewhere else. News stories are not part of my life. They are all unreliable. For any news event I can find thousands of stories. I will pick a story that fits my preconceptions. Other people will pick other stories. All of the stories are equally unreliable for my uses because I wasn't there. The senses are notoriously unreliable, but I have to rely on them to survive. If an event is in my life, I get the information I need via my senses directly, not filtered through anyone's agenda, political or editorial. The real thing, up close and personal.
Music. Music is a special case, because of what it is: sound waves. Sound waves can come from a musician directly or via technology. Once there's amplification, the sound waves are no longer direct. Recording and broadcasting technology have made it possible for me to have an experience of music at home that's better in some ways than hearing it live. Luddites will blather on about the superiority of live music, of vinyl, blah blah blah. There will always be luddites dragging their knuckles I mean heels. Nobody but other luddites cares what they think, thank god.