Table of Contents

Meditation vs. making progress

Spontaneous meditation. I was born knowing how to make progress with love. I make progress any time I pay attention to the world, allowing it to act on me. As a child, wide open, I paid attention to the world when it reached out and grabbed me in some way, which was a lot of the time, especially at first. I don't remember most of that but I do remember some of the more vivid moments, moments I now call spontaneous meditation. Decades later, in college, I started learning about meditation: intentional practices supposedly aimed at making progress with love. It took decades of struggle with those practices for me to begin to see that my early spontaneous meditations were the real thing and the intentional practices mostly a waste of time for making progress. But they did have other uses. Recreational drugs put an end to spontaneous meditation when I moved to Kenya at age fourteen. I've never seen anything religious about making progress. It's practical.

The taint of holiness. I got interested in holy stuff very early on. The First Methodist Church of Marianna was where I first made the connection between church and art: I got to sing and do craft projects. I got into children's choir when I was six, and I channelled El Greco in vacation bible school. I never saw a connection between church and my early spontaneous meditations. Those weren't holy, they were magic. But then so was singing and jewel tone cellophane. But I didn't care for the jealous god that even bland Methodist preachers subscribed to, and I was done with church for good by the time I was twelve. I didn't make the break for a couple more years. Moving to Kenya gave me the breathing space to do that. As soon as I did that I started finding god in art again, in the form of poetry. I got back into holy stuff in college via tai chi. I liked tai chi but I didn't love it. I did it because it was good for me and it felt nice, at least at first. Leela had of course foreseen this, and soon gave me help in the form of increasingly severe knee pain, not during but after I practiced tai chi. The year after college my girlfriend and I got all holy via new age religion and the meditation it came packaged with. But the holy forms of meditation I tried out were never what I loved doing. There was no love, just duty. Orthodoxy. This thing I was supposed to do. The big exception was the dance assignment TH gave me while I was still living in Tallahassee. I loved that. I poured myself into it and I started making serious progress. But it was a one-shot deal, designed to fill in a missing piece. It wasn't ongoing. I did fall in love with running, but running turned out to be bad for me, ultimately self destructive. I got the same kind of warning I did with tai chi, only this time it took surgery to fix. None of the meditations I tried had love in them until I found dancing. Now I have three entwined meditations I dearly love: dancing, living my daily life exactly as Leela tells me to via muscle testing and body sensing, and this writing. My three arts.

Louisiana. I remember three powerful spontaneous meditations I had as a young child in Louisiana. These are 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 spontaneous meditation with my dad. I was an energetic little boy, always exploring and getting into things, often including 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 the back of the pew in front: hymnals, offertory envelopes, and those 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. Spontaneous meditation faded in Marianna because of my age. Children are open to love and connection until the ugliness of human culture shuts them. And schoolwork. Learning to read and write doesn't fit meditation. It puts words and ideas front and center. Words and ideas are what I have to get over to meditate. It just doesn't work to try and get over something when you're learning it. Words have their uses. You can't have culture and art without them. I was having rich experiences with my dad that prepared me for future meditation. Like hiking to the river. And digging into rooting.

Asheville. In Asheville spontaneous meditation started coming back to me. I'd started integrating words with my nonverbal core by writing poetry and prose vignettes. Thinking and Leela were no longer necessarily at odds. I had many moments of spontaneous meditation during this part of my life. I've written about a number of these world-stoppers:

Kenya. In Kenya, alcohol and pot conspired to shut down my spontaneous meditations 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 transcendent moments, like when I encountered a cobra in the coffee, 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. The meditations Leela comes up with, spontaneously or via painstaking guidance via muscle testing and body sensing are more effective 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: the simple pleasure of being. I wrote my first website about that pleasure. I found that pleasure whenever I tuned into my natural breathing rhythm and really 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.