The importance of stories. Stories have always been profoundly important to me. I've always gone to stories for help in struggling with the meaning of life, the place of love in my life, who and what I am, what a good life consists of. All the really deep, juicy questions and concerns that science is no good for because they don't exist in the observable, measurable world. All the things I now think of as Leela's qualities. My passion for stories led me to poetry as an adolescent, and it led me to major in comparative mythology as an undergraduate. Stories make it possible for me to grasp unthinkable things, like nondualism and seeing through time.
The world is a story Leela is telling. It's her work of art. We humans are just bit players in this vast drama, but we have a potential other players don't, as far as we can tell: we can start waking up, start making progress with love. Waking up lets us play an active, creative role in the drama instead of being mere automatons driven by thinking. We can start having fun with the cosmic game rather than just getting beaten up by it over and over again. We can change our roles for the better via the spiritual quest. A key element in my spiritual quest was learning good stories to live by, shaking off poisonous, self defeating stories like drinking and drugs are cool. Or at least harmless if not overdone. Drugs poison me. End of story.
Leela is a story I'm telling myself. The story of Leela is a good story to live by. Grasping the world and everything in it as a playful goddess who demands the very best out of all of us despite everything transforms the intolerable situation we find ourselves in into a fascinating chess game I can study and get better at. It lets me embrace nondualism without having to struggle with it intellectually. What Leela has taught me about reincarnation and time goes even deeper in transforming the intolerable into an opportunity for growth. The story of Leela is my way of aligning myself more deeply with the world exactly as it is. She made it easy for me to fall in love with the world because she is the world.
Older than we are, new as today. Stories and storytelling are older than humanity. Paleolithic art dates back at least 45,000 years, maybe much further. That makes it much older than humanity as we know it. Art tells a story; that's what it's for. If art tells its story with beauty, grace, elegance we call it good art. Stories aren't limited to what's true but the ring of truth makes a story compelling like nothing else can. Something deep in a story resonates with something deep in me. Human culture is all stories. Culture has always been held and passed on by stories: from the oral tradition to the written word to everything that came after, right on up to the Internet and its social media. Good storytelling and bad.
Stories as food. I learn about the world two ways: my own direct experience of it and stories about it. I rely on stories to expand and deepen my understanding of the world. All of human culture and learning comes to me via stories. So without stories my learning would be severely limited. I'd be starting the human adventure all over again rather than taking my place in it. Stories are like food. There is a vast array of stories to choose from. It's critical I choose the right stories, stories that will nourish me, keep me healthy, and support my spiritual quest.
The place of stories in making progress. I can't make progress with love by reading stories. Only my actions can do that, how I live my life. But the right stories can show me new possibilities and help me find my way to the spiritual quest. Stories can be an invaluable help or an impassable barrier when it comes to making progress with love. The value of a story for making progress is in the dynamic tension between the ring of truth and human triumph. Stories with no human struggle, no triumph or transformation are just empty calories, junk food for the soul. Stories that glorify drug use, failure, misery and despair are pure poison. Much, maybe most of human misery is self inflicted in the form of negative emotions: awful sensations that result from obsessive thinking patterns rather than real physical or psychological harm being done to me. I can't overcome negative emotions directly, but I can work on calming negative thinking patterns via meditation. Meditation undermines obsession. I learned that the hard way during the first summer of the pandemic. Fighting my way out of being sad and lonely was a meditative exercise that was tooth-grindingly difficult and extraordinarily effective. I had to change the story I was telling myself, and I found I could. That exercise opened the door to being happy being alone, a great treasure.
Magical thinking usually means the delusion that I can magically change the world. That I can have a bountiful harvest if I make sacrifices to the gods, or become prosperous via prosperity affirmations. I haven't been guilty of that kind of delusion, but I have told myself the wrong stories at times. The stories I tell myself affect me deeply, for good or ill. All my life I've told myself stories that aren't based in reality. They're interpretations, sometimes dubious, that do not stick with a scientific view. Instead they take a religious or spiritual view of the world. For me, nature wasn't just forests and streams. It was a place of magic, crackling with invisible life and energy. It made me feel more alive to be out in it. That made it a good story to tell myself. Leela with her qualities of love, wisdom, meaning, truth and the ability to see through time, that's my kind of magical thinking. It's all outside the realm of science. Vital as it is, science is lousy as a tool for finding meaning in life because there is no meaning out there. I have to create it. The danger in magical thinking is in overthinking it, getting carried away, getting too literal about it all. I went homeless a couple nights to get over some bad magical thinking.
The truth about me. As I write these stories, digging into my past to get the full value of it, I discover over and over how everything in my life has been part of my spiritual quest, though I usually didn't know about it at the time. That's especially true of my big mistakes, like drinking. My progress has increased dramatically since I began surrendering to Leela in 2006. These stories all eventually tell the truth about me because Leela is in charge of the storytelling. However, as I struggle to write these stories I write plenty of things that aren't true. Leela helps me do that. She helps me get the lies I'm telling myself out in the open so I can see them for what they are and let go of them. Wrestling with the lies I tell myself is a crucial task in making progress with love.
Plot. The story of my life has a relatively simple plot, a story arc that all these separate stories fit under. I was born in 1951. My life was going well till it got derailed by drugs: alcohol and pot. That happened in Kenya, in the mid 1960s, when I was an adolescent. My life then took a sad detour. It went underground for more than 50 years until I stopped drinking in 2016 then got all the way clean of drugs at the end of 2019. The story of my life up to then is the story of my escape from alcohol and then addiction. For me alcohol and other drugs are incompatible with making progress. I'm different.
Comeback. The life that went underground in the mid 1960s resurfaced in 2020 just as the pandemic was beginning. What's interesting about my life is how all the tales from my underground years are about making my way back above ground, back to love, back to Leela. These stories are about how with her help I still made progress with love all through those underground years. Making progress with love is the only thing worth writing about. It's the only thing that gives life meaning. Love affairs don't, much as I like to think that when I'm feeling sad and lonely.
Help from the pandemic. Leela made sure I was awake and free of drugs just in time for the pandemic. The pandemic has been very helpful, forcing me to do things I don't see how I could possibly have done otherwise. It deprived me of partner dancing for almost a year and a half, forcing me to get in shape via hard core walking, which in turn forced me to get over my fixation on minimalist shoes, with Leela's abundant help. It forced me to renew and deepen my love of classical music. It gave me a double dose of being alone, preparing me for the next critical transition in my life: living alone. A thing I didn't even realize I'd been missing since 1979. I broke up with my sweetheart right before the pandemic hit. We'd been together almost ten years. Our love affair began to crumble, at first imperceptibly, when I quit drinking in 2016. By 2019 we were struggling. The pandemic forced me to be alone and stay alone. It took a flirtation with homelessness to boot that to living alone. I discovered a fundamental truth: feeling sad and lonely is an internal matter. I knew that in my head, but it took a pandemic to drive it deeper, into real knowing. I'm mostly in control of my internal world, with Leela's help, thanks to my stubborn persistence with the spiritual quest. I have persisted in meditation, at first spontaneously, all my life. Despite what seemed like little or no progress once I kiboshed spontaneous meditation by poisoning myself with booze and pot.
Pay attention. Leela wants me to tell my stories to call attention to attention. Nothing is more important than attention. My story is a story of paying attention. I can't make progress without paying attention, without being silently present. Attention is the greatest secret, and the one I'm least capable of writing about.