Monday, August 23, 2010

in 1989, I took a weekend trip to Boulder Colorado from my then home, Aspen, to take Level One of Shambhala training. I had read Chogyam Trungpa’s book, Shambhala, The Way of The Warrior during the first year of recovery after 14 years of remarkably consistant drug use. It was part of my “prayer and meditation” step (I think that’s the 11th step… it’s been a while since I went to any meetings).

Shambhala is a sort of secular Buddhism of the Tibetan variety, reworked for the Western Mind, so that we could integrate the practice into our incredibly backward ideas about spirituality (i.e., to infiltrate and undermine America’s religious puritanism—Actually, “spirituality” in the late Eighties was looking kind of exciting back in the late 20th Century). 

I had an interest in enlightenment, which in retrospect seems an amazingly horseshitty kind of pursuit…

Essentially, I wanted to learn to meditate some way other than the Zen practice I’d already learned. I don’t think I particularly liked the Zen teacher I learned it from… The secular component really appealed to me since I was having a hell of a time wrapping my freshly-recovering mind around the whole “Higher Power” idea without buying into anyone’s religion.

(Nowadays, I consider virtually everything to be “higher” in power than me or any other human… We just have higher egos, I’m thinking…)

Level One of the teaching involved a weekend of long sitting and walking meditation, group talks and brief, cryptic interviews. Although I may feign skepticism, the truth is, I learned a whole hell of a lot of things that really stuck, such as… 

Meditation wasn’t going to make my mind any quieter, but I was able to detach from all the internal noise a bit, and I definitely developed a sense of humor about my own thinking, which runs on and on relentlessly, as constant as Niagara Falls, and out of which comes a huge amount of good ideas and bad.

The ideas they offered to us in the evening talks included a few morsels of what I immediately recognized as just plain truth. They were all moments that I basically though, well, of course that’s true!

In other words, I pretty much bought it, hook, line and sinker. I still do…

I actually remember and retained virtually all of the teaching of Level One, partially helped by the fact that I took it again a decade later.

Two of the Big Truths I got, were that the authentic quality of the living, human heart, is “sadjoy,” both happy and heartbroken, and indescribably sweet. That singular recognition was like a massive flash of light that leaves an optical echo in your vision, but one that never fades. I imagine that very person I meet has that same quality underneath all their own chatter. I got that we all have this immediate potential of joy and sadness at the same time, and that in the absence of everything else, that’s what’s there: sadjoy. Heartbroken, sweet, happysadness. It gave me a sense of connection to everyone I still have….

…even if I am still occasionally full of shit…

The other piece was the concept of “basic goodness,” the authentic quality of all life, mine included. It is just basically, ambiently good to be alive. Life is delicious in itself. Good in the most basic sense. This was an awesome idea to accept into my personal philosophy. It really changed everything…

So. Sadjoy and basic goodness. After a few months of sitting practice, reading and taking more levels of the training, I don’t think was an iota more perfectly enlightened, and it’s not at all what I want anymore. I am too hooked on life to want to rise above it. It doesn’t feel like suffering to me… It feels like a fucking banquet. Well… not always. But more often than I think I ever hoped for.

What I want now is to be genuine. I want to be who and how I really am, and I know that involves tasting what life has offered me, and following my heart, although not recklessly… most of the time. I just want to be “true.” Coming out as gay when I was 17 was just one in a series of endless steps in that direction…

Here are a few things about me that I believe are true: First, everything I think is true about myself is subject to change without notice… Also, I’m mostly gay, and that feels right, even if my idea of what “gay” means has changed over time. I know that I have almost no shame about sex, that the early messages I received that my sexual impulse was okay stuck deeply with me. I know that I am in love with one person, and while I can’t exactly define what that means, I know it is true.

And I know that I still want to experience sexual intimacy, pleasure, connection, with many, many men. I’m willing to have faith in my own sense of trust in an individual and share a moment of raw physical pleasure, and it doesn’t subtract one iota from my love for my husband or anyone else. If anything, it increases…

My feeling about sex is bound up in my sense of life: Basically good. Sex is one way of experiencing the sweet pleasure of fleeting life, and the sadness of knowing I will ultimately have to say goodbye to it.

That is one of the foundations of my personal code of ethics, and I live it. I’m sort of an evangelist for basic goodness, except I’m not an evangelist, really. Am I?

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