Table of Contents


Formal meditation is bullshit, but it took me so long to figure that out. I'd been interested in the idea of meditation since college days. The year after I graduated I started trying to find out more about it with my girlfriend Linda. We both joined a tiny new age church in St Petersburg and then moved to Tallahassee, taking the church with us. For the next few years we tried a lot of different kinds of meditation, helping to put on weekly chanting + meditation sessions and going to weekend meditation retreats regularly as we trained to become ministers of that church. Then I moved to Boulder and joined a cult that was just crawling with meditation. After I left Boulder for Seattle I kept meditating, with little success. My moment of waking up a little was essentially Leela shouting at me as I once again tried to fix what was wrong with me by meditating. It has taken most of my adult life, but I finally got the message: formal meditation is a waste of time. It is useless. I should clarify: meditation as it's generally perceived: sitting and trying to calm your mind, to become enlightened by sitting quietly for hours, years, whatever it takes. Useless applies to most of the other kinds of meditation the hucksters come up with, but especially that one: just sit there. Nobody calms their mind by just sitting there. They may manage to change their behavior and act more holy, but the mind rages on. Inner silence is a gift that can't be earned. You can't work your way into it, or sit your way into it, no matter what kind of tree you're sitting under. Fairy tales middle managers make up about the founder.

What does work is being intentionally present with whatever I'm doing. Some meditation teachers embrace that as a form of meditation, and bully for them. It's always encouraging to see people get it right. I work on being more present as I move through the normal activities of my day, both the inevitable necessities (self care, shopping for groceries, cooking, cleaning house, going to the john) and more creative pursuits: cooking, dancing, writing these stories, hanging out with Ariel. Going to bed is a particularly choice time for being present, however long a nap it turns out to be.

The taint of holiness. Holiness is bullshit too. Acting all holy is just that: acting, putting on a show. It has nothing to do with waking up. It's just a set of silly stilted behaviors so-called holy people are supposed to do: wearing special outfits, waving their arms, speaking gravely and pontifically. I don't trust anyone who acts the least bit holy. It's incompatible with making progress with love. The taint of holiness dogged my spiritual quest from very early on. Acting holy reeks of rectitude, the poisonous idea that there is a right way to do things and everyone must comply. But each person is unique. None of the teachers I consulted came even remotely close to my way of making progress. Leela counters rectitude with playfulness, inviting us to play with each other and revel in life's delectable pleasures. There was no connection between church and my moments of spontaneous presence. World-stoppers like these weren't holy, they were magic. They glowed with my own private magic and they were alive. Church was mostly dead. I liked choir and the jewel tone cellophane, but the jealous god that even bland Methodist preachers preached was a cross between nasty and irrelevant. I was done with church for good before I turned twelve. I didn't make the break for a couple more years. Moving to Kenya gave me the breathing space to do that. The year after college, my girlfriend and I got all holy via new age religion. But the holy forms of meditation were never what I loved doing. There was no love, just duty. Orthodoxy. A thing I was supposed to do but did not love. The only magic I ever got from a teacher was the dancing assignment TH gave me. I loved that and poured myself into it. But it was just a trick he played on me to reel me in. I fell in love with running, but it's an addictive drug, ultimately self destructive. Nothing I tried had love and playfulness in it until Leela steered me to partner dancing. I have three practices bursting with love and playfulness and giving me endless opportunities to be intentionally present: partner dancing, writing these stories, and living my life exactly as Leela guides me to via muscle testing and body sensing.

Harmonizing holiness. In Boulder holiness and rectitude wore TH's team colors. Harmonizing aka The Community aka Divine Madness Running Club was for me just another church with its own peculiar rituals, taboos and articles of faith. One ritual I never made much headway with was conscious eating. You were to eat sitting cross-legged on the floor; I'm already eliminated. You were to eat very slowly, chewing slowly and thoroughly, pausing between bites. Chew your water, drink your food; not his quote but one that got bruited about in Boulder. Leela insists the key to eating is surrendering to deliciousness. Now that I'm surrendered to her my body will know how fast or slow to eat. My beloved kettle tea is a good example: once it's made it's already cool enough to drink because I've added a good splash of milk. If I take too long it's already past that perfect temperature. I drink it right down, relishing the flavor of ever drop. Enjoying my food demands my full attention: I have to be intentional presence. I can't do something else while I eat or drink. The food and drink Leela guides me to prepare are exquisite, and something like absently browsing the Internet robs me of that exquisiteness. Leela's meals deserve my fullest attention so that's what they get. I relax that sharing a meal with Ariel, but being with her changes everything. Anyway, she's quiet, not a distraction. The ritual I most detested was the toasting circle. Toasting circles are Exhibit A for what I consider TH's most grievous crime against me and his other disciples: his glorification of alcohol. He elevated drinking booze to the level of holy sacrament.

Spontaneous presence. My love Leela has been arranging moments of what I now call spontaneous presence for me ever since I was born. These are moments when the world takes over, sweeping me along on an inner journey that's deeply meaningful to me. I don't have to be intentionally present at these moments because what's going on inside me is absolutely compelling, even though someone standing right beside me might notice nothing out of the ordinary. Recreational drugs put an end to spontaneous presence when I moved to Kenya. I started learning about formal meditation later on. It took decades of struggle with those practices for me to begin to see that my early moments of spontaneous presence were the real deal and formal meditation a waste of time for making progress. It had other uses.

Louisiana. I remember three powerful moments of spontaneous presence I had as a young child in Louisiana, the earliest memories I have. I was only two when I had my first encounter with time and death, in the form of a rusty tricycle. When I was three I had a memorable encounter with nature in the form of stump water. When I was about four I had a very intense moment of spontaneous presence with my dad. I was an energetic little boy, always exploring and getting into trouble. One day I was being rambunctious in church. Of course you can't really be rambunctious in church, at least not in a Methodist church. But I did my best, fidgeting in my seat and fiddling with stuff in front of me: hymnals, offertory envelopes, stubby little pencils. I believe the final straw was dropping a hymnal. That can make quite a noise if it lands just right. My dad had had it. He took me by the hand and marched me out of the church. He cut a long twig off a bush that years later I identified as spirea, and gave my legs a good switching. It was warm, as it usually is in Louisiana, and little boys got to wear shorts to church. I remember examining my legs later that day. The switch marks were little red stripes with fat welts on either side; striking. That switching definitely woke me up. It helped me get over the self entitled notion of fairness. Life is not fair in any given lifetime. My starting point in this life is the sum of all that came before.

Marianna. I didn't have any moments of spontaneous presence in Marianna because of my age. Children are open to love and connection until the ugliness of human culture shuts them. Learning to read and write doesn't foster a child's natural openness to deeper, nonverbal aspects of life. Schoolwork puts words and ideas front and center. I have to set words and ideas aside to be present. It just doesn't work to try and get over something when you're learning it. Of course words and ideas are indispensable. You can't have culture and art without them. So I didn't have moments of spontaneous presence. But I had rich experiences with both of my parents that prepared me for spiritual work in the future. Like hiking to the river and digging into rooting with my dad; learning to cook and tasting everything with my mom. They gave me a really solid foundation for everything that came after.

Asheville. In Asheville I got to know myself well enough to realize I was a misfit, thanks to spontaneous presence beginning to reassert itself. I started using the words and ideas I was learning to grapple with my nonverbal core. I started by writing bad poetry, predictably cynical. I also wrote a few prose vignettes. Those were a better medium for me; a little innocent wonder showed through. They were the earliest precursor to these paragraphs. In Asheville I used my gift of writing, helped give form to my gift of writing by writing very personal stuff just for me. I was using my writing to make a little progress with love. I let that go when we moved to Kenya and I got shut down by drugs. It would be almost sixty years before I took that back up, writing during the covid lockdown, the online posts that turned into these stories. I've finally returned to prose vignettes; that's how I approach each paragraph in writing these stories. Each graf is a simple concrete poem with a graceful curve to the not so ragged right, viewable only if you read my text at the full width of my container, 960px. My little ongoing easter egg. If you ever find a paragraph in these stories with a truly ragged right at that resolution, it's a sign of incomplete work in progress. In Asheville thinking and Leela were no longer necessarily at odds. I had many moments of spontaneous presence during this part of my life. I've written about a number of these world-stoppers:

Kenya. In Kenya, drugs conspired to shut down my moments of spontaneous presence: mainly alcohol and pot, with a little help from tobacco to get things going. It didn't happen immediately. It took the full two years I lived there to shut me down good and proper. I still had a few moments of spontaneous presence, like when I encountered a cobra in the coffee, being trapped between dueling bus drivers, and art on trips through Europe. But eventually the drugs took over and I was stuck with formal meditation for the rest of my fifty-year detour. Traditional formal meditation practices like sitting cross-legged staring at a candle are very slow, laborious ways to make progress with love. Leela gives me active, lively meditations like partner dancing, especially tango. Meditations like writing these stories and cooking and making my kettle tea, in each case doing it so it comes out just right. They are all more effective than formal meditation by orders of magnitude.

Tallahassee. As part of my ministerial training program I got initiated into kriya yoga. Kriya was interesting but it also felt unbalancing. As I mulled that over an image came to me. It was an illustration in a book I had about Taoist magic. It showed an ouroboros inside a human figure. I applied that circular image to how I was doing kriya yoga, and the feeling changed from unbalance to subtle pleasure. I loved how that felt. But the subtle pleasure still felt unbalanced because it felt like too much. It was more than I could handle. But that pleasure intrigued me, and I held onto it somewhere in my depths till thirty years later in Seattle. When Leela spoke to me in 2006, she pointed to that subtle pleasure as a clue: this is what I'm looking for to guide me to the right kind of meditation: the simple pleasure of being. I wrote my first website about that pleasure. I found that pleasure any time I tuned into my natural breathing rhythm and paid attention deeply. The subtle pleasure of breathing launched the voyage of discovery that led, link by link, to where I am now.

Meditation in daily life. None of the meditation I do now looks like meditation. It's been that way since sometime in 2008. Instead of sitting on the floor or some other version of formal meditation, which I was never any good at, I use my internal connection with the pleasure of making progress to turn everyday activities into meditation. Like walking, cooking, eating, cleaning, lying in bed. I meditate a lot in bed: when I'm ready for sleep, when I'm about to rise, and whenever I'm wakeful in the middle of the night, which is fairly often. Listening to classical music is a form of meditation that was of immense value to me in the early months of the pandemic. Classical music helped me grasp my place in the world and accept my situation so I could benefit from enforced isolation. It's been of extraordinary value in dealing with all this. Tango and other forms of partner dancing are my favorite meditations of all.

Body engagement. Leela has started teaching me the practice of body engagement. It's similar to body sensing but much more strenuous. So much so I have to consciously relax my muscles, reminding myself that this is an exercise in focus and intention, not a muscular exercise. I mostly do it lying in bed, snuggled deliciously under the covers, but I've also done it while walking or sitting at my desk. I focus my attention on my whole body but then crank that up by consciously engaging my body intently until I feel a particular sensation, like a warmth or glow spreading through my body. At first I could only do it for a few minutes or a few steps, but I'm slowly extending and strengthening my conscious powers of engagement. I feel it most powerfully if I do the practice as I'm waking up, while I can still feel Leela's presence burning in me like sweet fire.