Gang culture

Photography: Stephan Rebernik, Vienna

Photography: Stephan Rebernik, Vienna

I am sipping tea in the library, gazing with a mild, disengaged curiosity through a large timber framed window which is set into a limestone Gothic arch. The manicured monastery gardens exhibit a balance of the feminine sense of profusion with masculine order and precision. A path formed of naturally riven and misshapen local stone winds through the middle and leads down to the water gardens below. Two blackbirds dance erratically across it, as if pretending not to follow each the other.

My attention turns to the collective chatter that permeates the room with a respectfully suppressed energy, and a thought arises that I really ought to engage with someone. Such is the done thing here; the accepted etiquette that one signs up for when electing to participate in communities such as this. A moment of resistance comes as I anticipate a contrivance of dull intercourse with my chosen victim. A groupthink mentality persists, healthily so perhaps; it’s just Buddhist gang culture.

None of this sat well with me; I’m not a sequacious sort; I incline not to follow, being something of an autocrat for the most part. Forcing myself to exchange verbal notes of agreement with other gang members felt, to me, a painfully deadening trial. Ensconced in meditation cells as a habituated retreatant, I mercifully escaped the worst. Still, this lengthy period of my life, now long since having passed, was invaluable and taught me a great deal about myself, not all of which overly flattered.

So, being a gang member can have its uses, even to loners of my ilk who may once have inclined to trust guidance by their own dim lights alone. What an arrogant notion! Though how to break free of it? Rarely does escape come through an initial seeing of one’s own misguided assumptions of correctness. Quite often the approach is more tangential; connections mysteriously attract us; we may sense a bruising battle, yet intuit an awaiting victory. As gloved pugilists, we warily enter the ring.

Now we are gang members, in earnest pursuit of knowledge, or inner tranquillity, or perhaps a little saintliness to nourish our delicate ego. We’ve joined a yoga gang, a Jesus gang, a Flying Spaghetti Monster gang – all offer a supportive sense of communal endeavour. Buddhists regard such gangs as one of three vital refuges, along with the doctrine and its apotheosis. And yet whichever spiritual gang we join, variants of these three refuges manifest as necessary aids for the spiritual aspirant.

If we’re fortunate, then the gang we first choose may have the potential to facilitate fulfilment of our innermost callings; they may ultimately help deliver the knowledge or tranquillity we sought. For most though, a self-imposed probationary spell ends as new allegiances are forged with some more suitable gang. It may be that our bodies finally rebel at more torturous Ashtanga postures, or we sense that dead teachers can’t truly speak to us, or that Pastafarianism was our spiritual hors d’oeuvre.

Our gangs may offer up a mirror to our psyche; certainly, an authentic teacher will do so. In the immediate presence of a truly clear mind, our shadow nature is reflected back at us with unerring accuracy and, if necessary, with an excoriating compassion. The authentic teacher will only ever do this if the student is capable of absorbing such a blow; and until this point of maturation is reached, the gang member will be left choreographing their egoic dance to the strains of Leonard Bernstein.

It’s time to find a partner who will dance with me in mimicking the coyly playful birds outside on the lawns. Turning, my eyes, seemingly of their own accord, fix upon the piercing gaze of a figure on the far side of the library, one seemingly intent on a visual embrace. Now facing each other, our words sound eccentrically melodious, like those of blackbirds. Smiles form upon two ownerless faces in an unbounded awareness; the books are talking; the room is seeing me; the Gothic arch listens intently.

Such are spiritual experiences – transient, paradoxical, mystical yet mundane, holding a perfect ordinariness as demanded by unrelenting sentience. They occur in the intimate embrace of the unknown, in solitude as well as in company. For some, gang membership may conduce, if not to such experiences, then at least to a stripping away of the monoculture of egoical becoming. The collective endeavour, with gentle guidance from noble friends, may share in the birth of great gifts.

55 thoughts on “Gang culture

  1. There have been several gangs too within my own beliefs – exploring them, turning the pages, reading between lines. In my youth I delved quite deeply, and then drifted whilst I embarked upon life and family. Later the path led me to explore deeper still the workings of life and death; and the gang then seemed to fill in the gaps.

    Now I no longer belong to any gang, other than my own. Learning, experiencing, and going within to that one gang that is there for all to join. It has no rules, no dogmas, no expectations, other than what you give of yourself. Its core principle is simple too: it’s love, and living your life accordingly. And once that gang is joined by everyone, we then create peace.

    Lovely thoughts Hariod; I enjoyed reading about your gang culture. 🙂 xxx

    • Thank you very much Sue, for revealing to me a little more of your personal background and history. Whilst our friendship is still in its early and formative stages, I am very well aware that those timeless qualities of love, in the sense of compassionate understanding, and peace, which is the necessary correlation of love, are your own guiding principles, and of which you write so compellingly and authentically on your site.

      Thank you once again.

      Hariod. ❤

  2. Earthlings are prone to join gangs; only E.T. did not – he could not fit in very well! 😉 Truly, whatever we do in life, there are always the others, those we wish to be part of and those we do not. We are social creatures first and last. Nice piece of writing, and a gorgeous photo too.

    Thank you very much.

    Eve ❤

    • Yes Eve, it is true; whatever our interests and psychological constitution, there remains for most of us, at some point during our lives, a proclivity to associate and identify with certain groups of people. I hope my article does not come across as dismissive in regard to spiritual gangs, as despite the many and frequent failings within such groups, they nonetheless have the capacity to accelerate our understanding of ourselves and life, as well as providing a certain emotional solace in the company of like-minded individuals.

      Many thanks for your kind words and for reading this article Eve; I greatly appreciate it.

      Hariod. ❤

  3. I’m so glad I found your blog. I haven’t read many of your posts yet but what I’ve seen so far I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. The choice and placement of artwork is delicious and your words strike deeply. Thank you.

    • I am indebted to you Sarah, both for the gift of recently discovering your own exceptional artwork, and also for your giving of a little time to explore my writings. It is gratifying indeed to be complimented on my choice of accompanying artwork, and I attach great import to the selection and quality of these images. If I may, I will include here a link to an image of yours which may have appeal to Amanda, my friend and commenter just below:

      http://anglosaxonceltcreates.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/finished-dream/

      With much gratitude and respect.

      Hariod.

      • Wow! I’m honoured that you want to share my art with your friend. (Hi Amanda!) Thank you for that, Hariod, and for thereby introducing me to another new blog to explore (dreamrly.com).

        I’m not a writer; I find it hard work and therefore not enjoyable. I prefer to communicate instead through my drawings. I found it difficult to explain what this post meant to me without getting boring and/or too personal. Let’s just say I’m currently working through my own (Buddhist) gang life lessons.

        I’m grateful to Amanda for putting into words some of my own feelings about this post, although I haven’t been quite so lucky when it comes to teachers. I’ve met some but never for long enough to make much difference.

        I’m not a writer but I am a reader, and I appreciate good writing. It can be quite hard to find on the internet but it’s worth persevering to find gems like your blog.

  4. Well hello dear Hariod,

    While I hold a special place in my heart for the first post of yours I ever read, a little doozy about centering with the breath and present-awareness, complimented oh-so-well by an epic feast of Clarissa’s golden paintings, this post is up there on my personal ‘Best of Hariod’ playlist.

    As always the colors drew me in, delicious reds of the opening photo and the gorgeous and intense paintings of the amazing Clarissa, but learning more about you and your journey held my gaze.

    You weave a beautiful tapestry of poetic sentiment, present awareness, reflections on times since passed, and yes, a message of renewal.

    I suppose the part that stuck out to me the most was about the authentic spiritual teacher:

    “Our gangs may offer up a mirror to our psyche; certainly, an authentic teacher will do so. In the immediate presence of a truly clear mind, our shadow nature is reflected back at us with unerring accuracy and, if necessary, with an excoriating compassion.”

    My first true spiritual guide was this way. Half the time I thought this teacher was out to kill me, my poor little shadow and ego felt so exposed. Yet, the grounded compassion and the unconditional love I received as I learned to truly accept those parts of myself, was one of the greatest gifts of my personal journey so far. The love and compassion I received from this everyday, salt-of-the-earth person, showed me a bigger compassion and a greater love than I ever thought possible.

    Thank you for sharing your story and your Buddhist background, with honesty and potent reflection. I experienced a sense of conflict and acceptance in your writing, a beautiful ‘holding the tension of the opposites.’ Much love as you continue your journey.

    Hugs,

    Amanda.

    • Well hello to you too my dearest dream-seer!

      Thank you so much for your very kind vote of confidence; I never have much of a clue whether any article will make sense or appeal to others, and so to hear that I’ve hit the spot with this one encourages me that I’m moving in the right direction. Whilst when writing in short-form it remains very early days for me, to hear that my efforts meet with the approval of a seasoned writer such as yourself is gratifying indeed – a thousand thanks to you Amanda!

      Actually, I wondered whether, when writing here about authentic spiritual teachers, my use of the phrase ‘excoriating compassion’ might serve only to perplex some. Perhaps it is so that until one experiences this for oneself, it is hard to reconcile the sense of loving gratefulness that can accompany what sounds like any such formidable an encounter. Quite clearly you know all about this from past experience, and I would venture to guess that at least some of these encounters of yours ended with a smile appearing upon your face – a very special kind of smile.

      You are quite correct that during my Buddhist gang phase – about twenty years in the middle of my life – there was at times a certain ‘tension of the opposites’. This stemmed mainly from my compulsion to relentlessly test the teachings against my experience – something which in fact was largely approved of within the upper echelons at the monastery I attended, and also within orthodox Buddhist scripture. As long as one remains respectful, then a certain contrarianism can be a very useful and potent dialectic in my opinion.

      Thank you once again dearest Amanda.

      Hariod. ❤

  5. There is a wonderful musical playfulness in your wording Hariod that I really enjoy. This page on ‘Gang Culture’ – It got me thinking about the gangs in my life – I hadn’t thought of it that way before. I like to look at things in a different way!

    Warm regards.

    Karen.

    • Hello dear Karen, how lovely to see you here once again. And thank you so much for taking the time to read this article and for letting me know that you enjoyed it. I try to inject a little of what you call ‘playfulness’ into my writing now and again, as not only is that part of my nature, but I think it’s helpful to lighten the tone of what rightly may be seen as rather serious content. It’s a question of trying to find the right balance, and I hope to become a little more skilled in this as time passes. In the meantime, your generous words are a great and most welcome encouragement.

      Warmest regards to you dear Karen, and I trust the muse remains by your side as always.

      Hariod. ❤

  6. Hello Ms. H! Your turns of phrase are delicious – then the pairing with the feast of art – I’m over my usual calorific intake – then you have me hungry for some pastafarian recipes – might that be your next book? You are touching on a life-long dynamic I pull up from memory of wishing desperately to be in the gang, yet constantly withdrawing when I cannot seem to fit my parts into the appropriate shape of such a construct. More and more comforts are found in the fairly large gang of just me. The crossing of paths here in spaces such as yours seem to be connecting points of recognition of an ancient language I’m remembering. At a workshop last weekend, I found myself not compelled to make the move across the room, and thus sitting still, I see learning occurring, to follow the flow from within that moves without expectation, connects as the elevator, the shifting boat, the corner traffic light organically puts me in connecting points not of my making. I am perhaps tangential to your main point. Perhaps a paintbrush is a clearer medium for me. 🙂 xo! Marga.

    • Aha, it is Marga the mind-quieter who is here, loosening her belt just a notch or two so as to allow room for a belly once again pregnant with poetic imagery – all improvised, of course! I always suspected you were a closet Pastafarian in fact, a Sumo baby with a penchant for divine servings of Gnocci – oh those heavenly little dumplings of yours Marga! ‘I cannot seem to fit my parts into the appropriate shape’ – well, why should a giant baby in the sky even bother attempting to do so? A Gnocci-gnawing, sky-dwelling, teacherly-type of big-babe like you has no need in the least to participate in the gang-thang; and I have that on great authority from the Flying Spaghetti Monster herself.

      Many thanks for paying me a visit Marga, and lots of love to you.

      Hariod. ❤

  7. Hello Hariod,

    This post for me touches upon the strange dichotomy one can sometimes experience between the inner life and it’s outward manifestation. Some of my most intense inner work has come as a result of personal experiences that were given the space to unfold within the committed shelter of a gang, but paradoxically, the gang was not first and foremost a social one. This wasn’t really a gang for getting together to chat, and when it became that, it was not the same. I don’t know if it may have been the same with your retreats. Doing such retreats alone is not necessarily the same as sitting in retreat in the context of a supportive community – a community that knows the only communication needed is that look across the room when the retreat has ended, unless you perhaps wish to share more. A community that enfolds the retreat is, in my experience, invaluable, and the retreatant that emerges to return to the larger community with the gift of self-discovery completes the circle.

    A great challenge for such gangs, in my opinion, is that the members evolve, often in various dimensions and paces, and it can be a challenge for any one gang to remain vital to each continuously transforming member. Questions of leadership and politics can arise to fill the gap. They can become diluted, unable to take the risks they once took, or infused with persons of different intentions and inclinations. It can be difficult to sustain the purity of things, and in hindsight I think what I can say about them is that when things click, they are miraculous, but just as with any other phenomena, they change. We can wish they would last forever in a particular structure or manner we experienced as potent, but they change and we change. It is the way of things, no? Aggregations have a beginning and end, though the invisible work perhaps transcends.

    We can’t force it; we are in the right place at the right time, and then we digress. But it seems the greatest gangs transcend faces and identities, are like bodies replaced with fresh cells all the time. They are fertile places for people to find temporarily what they need, to find the structure and shelter in which that intensely personal process of discovery can unfold.

    Michael.

    • Thank you Michael, for adding with your typical generosity such a rich contribution to this discussion on spiritual communities. So much of what you say here I could well have added myself had I not wanted to keep the body of text fairly concise. In any case, it is not for me to colour-in all the spaces, even if I had the capacity to do so, and I fully acknowledge that we all will have had, or are currently having, differing experiences. It is therefore very pleasing that you should contribute so fully as you have, and I am grateful for learning a little more about your own past in respect to this matter.

      You asked about my retreats, and whether they had any social dimension to them. Many years ago, and extending for a period of some twelve years or so, I would stay in a monastery on retreat for a period of a week, and do so six or seven times a year. These were meditation intensives, with eight separate hours of practice, the remainder of the time being spent in isolation in a cell, apart from any additional walking meditations in the gardens. The entire week would be spent in silence and whilst avoiding eye-contact with both other retreatants, and recluses. Oddly enough, and as I think you will understand, there very often was a strong sense of communal endeavour, mutual respect and goodwill amongst all engaged; though each retreat had a slightly different character overall. So in fact, despite the absence of dialogue, or contact of any kind, these retreats did indeed feel like spells of intense and very immediate connection with others.

      Your second point concerns the necessarily present churning that exists in most such communities. In Orthodox Buddhist monastic orders, the ordained recluses commit for a period of, typically, between two and seven years; though many will extend these commitments well beyond those time frames. Whenever a long-established recluse disrobed and left the monastery that I was affiliated with, or even when a highly respected lay meditator moved on or died, there was only ever a very brief period of adjustment before the dynamic of the group, having subtly shifted, established a new stability. So as you suggest, the best gangs do indeed transcend any need to sustain within themselves particular members; though this will always require good leadership and protocols, such as those laid down in the Buddhist canon for example.

      Thank you very much for your insights and contributions dear friend.

      Hariod.

      • Thank you for this lovely commentary, Hariod. Speaking of gangs transcending the need to sustain any particular members, I witnessed a moment this past weekend that touched me for whatever reason, and dovetails at least peripherally with the many levels of this theme of groups and group identification, etc.

        As a remote viewer of English football, I have admittedly little to no understanding of its nuances, but I watch a game or two a month and managed to watch the Chelsea – Manchester City game this past weekend. I had no idea Frank Lampard had left Chelsea after thirteen years, and when he came on as a substitute for Manchester City with ten minutes left and scored against his former club to tie the game, then chose not to celebrate the goal, and then was greeted by the resounding cheers of all those fans from his old club after the game, it was quite a moment. It really moved me at that point in time for whatever reason.

        Given my limited portal, I could be way off base, but it struck me that Lampard was perhaps similar to other athletes in other sports, perhaps like Derek Jeter or Cal Ripken in baseball, who played more or less unselfishly and represented a community day in and day out with heart and class, and thus evidenced an archetype that transcends gangs, even as it takes the gangs to make it visible. It is ironic, in a way, how competition has a way of revealing a certain greatness. When the greatness comes, it outshines the gangs altogether.

        Sometimes I glimpse more beauty and grace in rock concerts and sporting events than in a hundred spiritual gatherings (of the Tartuffe sort).

        Michael.

        • You make a very interesting and relevant point Michael, in bringing to the discussion the idea that there are those in our midst whose actions, whilst still in compliance with the strictures of a particular gang culture, somehow signify something greater than that which merely qualifies and validates their membership. Relating this to the Buddhist culture that I am familiar with, then there is a stage of insight and, dare I say, ‘progress’ wherein the aspirant becomes what is known as a ‘Sotāpanna’, or ‘Stream Winner’. Herein, such a person has actualised their first glimpse of the unconditioned, and also has relinquished other fetters including their former adherence to rites and rituals. Whilst certain protocols and standards of ethical conduct are sustained by such a person, they are no longer in the service of any rigid and, in effect, selfishly motivated moralism; and there is the realisation within them that purity of mind is not a matter of keeping up appearances, so to speak, but rather that the appearances sustain themselves in a newly-won virtue and understanding. In effect then, they become the very personification of Buddhist gang culture, rather than merely mimicking or echoing ideas about that culture; the essence of the doctrine flows from the cranial confines of intellectualism and seeps fully into their bones, as it were.

          Thank you once again Michael, for your generosity and much valued insight.

          Hariod. ❤

  8. Dear Hariod,

    Such an interesting post. Yes, we can learn from gang members, but as someone who finds gangs disorienting, distracting and disturbing in person, I resort to internet gangs. Perhaps it is the Asperger’s. I must say I envy you your life experiences and learning. So precious.

    xxx Ellen.

    • Thank you for your kind words and contribution Ellen; I greatly appreciate hearing your perspective as ever. You raise an interesting point: the relatively recent phenomenon of internet gangs. One wonders how efficiently these may operate in the arena of communal spiritual endeavour, though I have no view on this myself. The great boon of them of course, is that the time and cost of travel are eradicated, and I would be interested to hear in future of your experiences with online satsang Ellen. Perhaps you will write about this on your site at some point?

      With all best wishes as ever.

      Hariod. ❤

      • Hariod, you are too kind. I think you used the word arrogance in trying to ‘do things’ without a gang. I believe it is much harder to be on your own, if not impossible. But sometimes it is not arrogance, I think, but am not sure. It may be disguised arrogance to be so disturbed en masse or in a gang, so as to defeat the whole point of being there.

        I remember I did a biofeedback test once, to feel alpha waves, which as you probably know, are associated with meditation. I did okay with the meter when alone in the room with the machine, but once I heard people even approaching the room, not in it, the needle started jumping all over the place, indicating non-alpha and anxiety. This is why long ago, I stopped going to church. But I miss the sermon and must search out sermons on my own.

        You bring up an excellent point. Since I have never been to Satsang except once in Siddha Yoga, I do not know the answer. But I suspect that by doing Satsang online, I am missing all the group energy and certainly missing being in the energy of the guru. I long for it so much but am quite sure I could not be at peace if there physically for many reasons. I am considering doing an online retreat with Mooji in real time. He says people can feel the energy if doing online Satsang this way. I long to be physically near him but that probably won’t happen in this lifetime – would it were otherwise.

        You must be well aware of all this in all your experience.

        Thank you for being so kind.

        *♡* Ellen.

        • Dearest Ellen,

          You have identified an egregious failing in my article, which was for me to have left open the suggestion that spiritual development can never occur as a solo endeavour, whereas it of course can. The reference I made to arrogance I do believe is valid when applied to the many, and it certainly was to myself when I first sought to explore subjectivity, the self and so forth. The intended meaning here, and in the article, is that until the point arrives when we realise we need both a systematic approach as well as a degree of guidance, then necessarily a certain arrogance obtains, in which we assume we have the capacity to either progress far, or even complete the job, unguided and by means of anything other than books and our own subjective inclinations and tendencies.

          As to your own situation in this regard, then clearly the Asperger’s puts particular constraints upon this matter; though whilst not being with that condition myself, I can certainly identify with your reluctance to engage communally, and this I hope came across in the article. I enjoy small social or communal gatherings, but am less comfortable when the numbers increase; somehow the psychological space seems to be inversely proportional to the number of people present. In fact, I can quite understand why Mooji feels online satsang is beneficial for some, and in the past might have chosen such an alternative myself had the internet then been available. I take your point though Ellen, about possibly missing the energy that comes from direct contact.

          Hariod. ❤

          • Dearest Hariod,

            It certainly was not my intent to point out an error in your post. In fact, I feel quite intimidated by your posts. I am a beginner at this Buddhist thing and know nothing. You have decades of experience and a clarity of style and thought that often sails above my head. I was merely saying about my struggle with being physically in gangs.

            I am hoping that being online in real time for an online retreat with Mooji may impart some energy. Being a Reiki Master and doing distant healings, I almost do believe what I have been taught in studying Reiki, that energy can be felt and transferred from a distance.

            Anyhow I send much love and feel much respect for you and your writings and your compassionate understanding. Not many understand Asperger’s. I totally sympathize with your reluctance to join big gangs.

            xx Ellen.

  9. This is so beautiful, Hariod. Leave it to you to weave such gentle texture around the idea of gangs and completely flip my perspective.

    You mentioned your retreat time in the monastery was in the past? I’d love to hear more about it. The setting, or at least your presentation of it, sounded gorgeous.

    Thank you, as always, for sharing your mind-scape.

    Lauren. ❤

    • I am so gratified to receive your kind words of encouragement Lauren. I must confess, I don’t always feel altogether certain that I’ve struck the right tone when I write these short-form articles, and neither do I when I title them. Perhaps ‘Gang culture’ is a touch provocative a term to use for spiritual communities, though this is no reflection of any jaundiced view on my part concerning them. My own experience was never anything other than thoroughly positive, despite occasionally having some mildly adverse reaction to following instruction, and which I touch on in the above article.

      You kindly asked about my association with the Buddhist Monastery, and I have provided a little detail on this in my response to Michael above Lauren if it may be of interest. It was a long time ago now though, and whilst I still maintain connections with a handful of former recluses and lay meditators, I feel no desire to revisit the whole matter here on this site other than in the very superficial manner that I have in this article. All I would add is that it was an Orthodox (Theravadin) Buddhist Monastery run in accordance with the Pali Canon’s Vinaya Pitaka which lays down the monastic rules of conduct for monks and nuns.

      I do maintain daily contemplative practices to this day, and whereas previously and for some twenty or more years I was sitting for four hours a day, and eight whilst on retreat, now I just sit for a single hour. In truth though, this rather obsessional adherence to seated practice was far more a reflection of my own lack of perspicacity than any highly-honed skill! Seated practice is about quality not quantity, as you will know of course; and I firmly believe that carrying our practice out into daily life is where the real challenges lie – this is why I take an interest in your own writing Lauren.

      Hariod. ❤

      • I thought your title was absolutely perfect, poetic and fitting. It sang, flowed and made me think, then left me smiling. A true mirror of your work.

        And, thank you, Hariod, for saying that you enjoy my work and that I bring practice to life. I frequently feel I fall short of this, so it’s wonderful to hear – especially from you. Though I do believe that your sittings are equally as challenging and commend you on your daily practice. And it’s not only on the cushion that you’re working, this I know from our exchanges, your words here on the site and your gifts to all of us.

        Thank you, Hariod, thank you.

        Lauren. ❤

  10. I am impressed, not only with your post, Hariod, but with your sincere and admiring community, which leaves gang culture far down the mountain. Even so, I envy you all. I seem to have always needed such a sense of community and yet never found it, though often almost did. Perhaps it wasn’t meant for me, or at least not during this life-time. Now, it’s too late.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you very much for reading this article and for adding a comment of your own Jean. May I ask of you, what had you thought might have been the benefit for you in participating in a spiritual community? When you say you ‘have always needed such a sense of community’, do you really refer to a need or is it more of a desire?

      With much gratitude and respect to you dear Jean.

      Hariod. ❤

      • Thank you, Hariod, for even paying attention to my song of woe. I’m sure we all have our own. What possessed me to even share it, I don’t know.

        But, to your question; what had I thought might have been the benefit for me in participating in a spiritual community? Togetherness. I know that we’re all in this together, but knowing it and feeling it are, at least for me, still different. And it was, and probably still is, an unmet need.

        My life has always seemed to be to serve others, one way or another. And, this is good. I am blessed in that I did and do need that sense of fulfillment. But, it could never be enough, and now it is too late. I could not leave my service to Spirit to satisfy my own soul, for it would be at too high a price. Oh, the decisions we must make in this physical world. I hope it’s easier in spirit.

        Please don’t respect me, for I am learning so much from Spirit. I owe him, almost my life, for the privilege, surely totally unearned, to be able to play at assisting him (until he finds someone more qualified and willing).

        Love,

        Jean.

  11. Dear Hariod,

    Very late to the game, or gang, again!

    Thanks for sharing your experience at the monastery. I am attracted to this subject, and perhaps like some others here, my experience has been a long trail with mixed nuts that bear much fruit, including the shedding of parts of myself along the way.

    I am a great joiner, but an equally great leaver. It’s all good, or serves some purpose at the time of both entry and departure.

    Like some others here, I am attracted to quiet places and gatherings of what I have often hoped were a meeting of like-minded souls. Somewhere along the trail, I have abandoned the desire (or has it abandoned me?) for sameness, or otherness, for whoever happens along. We walk together for a while, some whiles longer than others. Now, I feel much more attracted to difference, and to try to understand and appreciate an expanded diet of communion.

    Your resistance to gangs and collective wear is certainly appreciated by me. Stubborn, I can be, and often find that I need to try to soften some of the edges and just try to meet people where they’re at. That is a very recent revelation! It’s kind of a social judo, non-resistance to how people show up. Relationships, at any rate, are hard work.

    I currently work at a Benedictine monastery which tends to attract, even among the lay people, those who like quiet beauty and a nice place to walk the grounds at lunch time. The lay staff, myself included, are a very diverse gang. Within my department alone there is one Buddhist, one atheist, two non-practicing abstainers, one monk, one sister, and then me – the one who resists all definition.

    But, I was raised Methodist, became a Congregationalist at 11, a Baha’i at 15, flirted with the Church of Ananda for two years in my 30’s, joined the Portland Friends of Jung in my late 30’s, became Catholic at age 47, uncatholic at 52. Four years later, I am still floating around in the twilight which is probably where I belong. 🙂

    I love the WP gang and know that my deepest needs to commune with others are satisfied here; it has also taught me a lot, humbles me, and makes me very grateful to participate with a very diverse group that also has a need to write as we do here.

    Thanks for all you do here. I love your writing and the great conversations that take place here.

    Hugs,

    Debra.

    • Dear Debra,

      Never mind your being ‘late to the game’; your presence here at any point is truly welcomed by me. And I willingly confess, a little bundle of humility necessarily attends when being visited by one such as yourself whose own writings I respect and admire so much.

      Your punning on the subject of ‘Trail Mix’ is well understood. I’ve known more than a few otherwise sane and rational folk who’ve confessed to me their temporary psychoses at the end of a silent retreat. The incarcerated mind has some weird and wonderful forms of protest so it seems!

      I love your expression ‘social judo’ Debra, and can certainly identify with it myself. In the past, I would perhaps have inclined more to a wrestling approach when forced to face some ‘social’ adversary; but like you, now it seems far less energy-sapping to go the wei of wu-wei. I once adopted a little trick of allowing all confrontation, or ego onslaught, to blow through me like a breeze through a net; and it seems to have become a naturalised (non)response now. Some of this though, is doubtless merely the ageing process; and I just can’t be bothered with all the crap!

      How wonderful to hear that you work at a Benedictine Monastery; I can barely imagine a more satisfactory environment to have as a workplace. As a result of my long association with a Buddhist monastery, I am now programmed such that a visit to a monastery of any denomination induces in me a concentrated peace that sends ripples of pleasure around the middle of my body. [See: ‘Pīti’ – Pali Buddhism] I love the places, though am under no illusion that the inhabitants are necessarily all sweetness and light – you will know what I mean I’m sure. 😉

      Finally, thank you so much for relating more detail of your fascinating background Debra, for taking a little time to read my words, and for commenting so fulsomely; I truly appreciate your generosity.

      Hariod. ❤

  12. You have explored these questions at the end of chapter six. I still wonder about my subjective perceptions and if through presence there is something of a more authentic, vast influence at work in me, and how I come to perceive life.

    • By ‘authentic, vast influence’ do you mean a God, or could it just be a lifetime of conditioning? The former conception necessarily remains dubious to us in some degree, though can provide great emotional solace of course. The latter conception is largely verifiable, either by direct observation or by means of inference. Am I on the right track here with what you are saying Gord, or have I missed your point?

      • Yes, it could be more a case of conditioning. When we can witness that how we live is from a conditioning, then we see this in both self and others. What consciouness is that, and is there judgement in that seeing? As you say, that may be more conditioning.

  13. Beautifully written as ever Hariod. You have me thinking of the gangs we join, form, finding friends in certain likeminded circles – even in the blogosphere we each end up with our own personal ‘gang’ in our place, our blog where we hold court to them and they do the same in turn. In such ways new friends are born, and chosen families appear in our lives. I shy away from groups generally, partially because I am not looking for anything. All I need to learn and find comes to me in time. I did not look for you and yet I’m here in your gang for example, with Hariod the grand autocrat! I jest a little there but I’m sure you get me. ❤

    – Sonmi wearing a Brownie uniform and smiling upon the Cloud.

    • I get you wispy one; and may I thank you for allowing me to sail aloft, up and onto your own gang haunt – this, despite my quite disgraceful displays of mischievousness there. 🙄 You have it right Sonmi; the blogosphere is as you describe it, and therein lies much of its appeal I suppose? I began this blog only eight months ago and was fairly convinced that readers, never mind regular readers, would appear only due to an unlikely divine intervention (me being so irredeemably sinful 😳 ) – my complete aversion to social media and self-promotion generally more or less ensuring that I got lost in the digital void; or so I thought. How gratifying it has been then, to make acquaintance and to gang together with beautiful souls such as yourself.

      ~ Hariod bearing gratitude and smiling upon The Cloud with you.

      • How lovely. ❤ I concur, and I too began my journey on the Cloud expecting nothing but tumbleweed to cross my path, and not minding the idea particularly as humans can be more than a little hard work at times. I often said to myself "I am not here to make friends, I am here to bloom with words and see what happens." I'm very happy that I have made friends regardless, especially with good sinful souls such as yourself *laughs a lot*, we match each other on that score alone, not to mention others. *spirits a hug over from the Cloud and herself*. Thank you.

        – Sonmi beaming upon the Cloud.

  14. Mystical and mundane; I enjoy this conceptual ‘see-saw’. Beautifully written; my mind is still digesting, but my heart resonated in direct time. Love the artwork choices next to your writing; they work incredibly well together. The perfect seasoning: 50/50 salt and pepper ratio.

    It’s nice to walk alone, and if someone happens to join it’s nice, and if they happen to leave, it’s nice. It’s always nice.

    • Many thanks for your kind words; they are valued and appreciated in equal proportion Jessie, which is much. Clarissa Galliano will be thrilled with your mention of her work, and she only recently sent me a message to similar effect on account of another’s kind words. To know that they come from another artist is as much an encouragement to her as your words are to me in my altogether more mundane endeavours. And yes, it is always ‘nice’; the only problem is that we so often fail to realise as much.

  15. Having just returned from a weeklong celebration with a large number of (non Buddhist) friends, your words hit home. How the ego wants to pretend that it functions alone. How miraculous when, despite the mind’s resistance, two meet, and listen, and move into the present together. Sometimes it does indeed take a gang. Thanks.

    • Please accept my thanks for reading this piece, and also for your gracious response; I appreciate both greatly. I believe you are so right to highlight the importance of listening, even when nothing is being said, in order to embrace the other in presence. We seem so fearful of voids in activity, in speaking and so forth, as if hesitant to face our own simple presence in being – what we are behind the words and the façades we cultivate. Thank you J.B.W.

  16. It’s been a while since I’ve tiptoed into your blog looking for something to stimulate my mind. Rather randomly I went to your tag cloud on the homepage and clicked “spirituality”, since that is what I was in the mood to read. A beautiful picture of children and gorgeous paintings throughout made me feel as if I’d picked up a book I was longing to read. You always give a reader so much to think about. It takes me quite a while to process it all, I must admit, but that’s good. I feel it stretches my mind just enough and then surprises me by stopping and stretching it in a very different direction than I had anticipated. You write so beautifully and with such depth. The comments your readers make are probably the most intelligent ones I see online, and I never fail to spend a lot of time reading them and wondering about the person. It’s all good. A great way to escape from the shallows of the public mind. Please let the artist know her work is loved. I’m sending you some loving-kindness on this beautiful March afternoon. ~ MK ~

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