Without An Image


As I head towards my 61st birthday on October 31st, I have been stripped of all I know myself to be. I see clearer than ever before the core of my life. I’m not sure if this is what occurs at this age because there is not much time or energy to become this or that. All I know is my world has ended; meaning how I’ve seen myself in the past has come to a halt. This year as I mounted my work in the way I am used to doing, using the marketing tools they say to use, offering events and classes, or any work within the boxes of my life, all seem to collapse into nothing. In essence, what I have experienced from the end of 2012 and experiencing now is the end of old ways of living for me. The experience is sobering and filled with anger and grief. I can no longer reach out bringing in this and that to do. I must be still and wait for what wants to come in this dynamic and cosmic existence.

I have spent my entire life taking on outer appearances. As young children we are taught in this society to do such and to do it as soon as we can. It is difficult and maybe it is impossible to not take on a box to live in or have someone put you in one. But it is not impossible to step out of it once you realize that it has brought your high creative/energetic frequency down and your energy with it. Over the years I have tried to compartmentalize what I “thought” was my true nature and then attempt to achieve and work within those boxes. I have been an author, a Zen priest, a drummer, a diviner, a non-profit organizational manager, a spiritual and academic teacher, a visual artist, a student of this or that, and on and on, knowing all along these ways of living for me were not complete paths or accurate descriptions of how I experienced life. And while these positions have served me, the true essence of my work was lost in preserving the image of these positions in life rather than sustaining an alignment with my heart. Instead of remaining with the heart that is connected to the energy of life, I listened to the mind that said, “You can do this and that. Go girl.” With a sense of power and control of my life, my sincere journey of passion and expectations led ultimately to disappointment and feelings of poverty or lack. I did not come to Earth embodied as a priest or author, etc. I could not see the expansive unfolding of life that had nothing to do with my mental or physical capacity or abilities. What was I trying to accomplish? In a primal way, I was attending to the woundedness both personal and systemic in our society. In an altruistic way, I was trying to claim my purpose, my reason for living. Yet, it was not possible to “claim” a purpose.

Fortunately, openings/gifts of light come even while we are busy trying to create them for ourselves. I ask: What new came into my life that I could not accept or was afraid to turn toward? I have received glimpses usually while I am divining others with the Black Angel Cards, an oracle that came to me in my sleep or when I am writing or speaking sometimes. In these instances a settled feeling comes over me and I am no longer concerned with what is lacking or missing in my life. I am full. I am full of joy. What I am addressing here is that something ethereal presents itself and it has nothing to do with the world I walk in. Suddenly, I am without an image, without a name or title that I can point to and claim.

The experience of one’s created world folding in on itself is confusing and painful. When I spoke of this experience and feeling completely lost, it was suggested that I read The End of Your World by Adyashanti, a spiritual teacher that I had been introduced to many years ago. I knew by the title of his book I should buy it within the next twenty-four hours. I did. And I’m so glad I did. He explains this feeling of one’s world ending as an experience of spiritual awakening. It was the best explanation of my experience whether it was a spiritual awakening or not. He says, spiritual awakening can be disorienting to the human structure. He says, with awakening the stakes go up.

I quote from his book (page 2 -3):

Adyashanti’s words: We realize [in spiritual awakening]–often quite suddenly–that our sense of self, which has been formed and constructed out of our ideas, beliefs, and images is not really who we are. It doesn’t define us; it has no center…Ultimately all of the images we have about ourselves and the world turn out to be nothing but a resistance to things as they are [in our lives]

My mind: What? I’m not “me” or the “me” I have constructed is an act of resistance? It is my own trying to take control of things in my world?

Adyashanti: What we call ego [or “me”] is simply the mechanism our mind uses to resist life as it is. In that way ego isn’t a thing as much as it is a verb. It is the resistance to what is. It is the pushing away or pulling toward. This momentum, this grasping and rejecting, is what forms a sense of self that is distinct or separate, from the world around us.

My mind: In essence we seek to stand out or become an image by pushing away some things and gravitating toward others.

Adyashanti: With the dawn of awakening, this outside world begins to collapse. Once we lose our sense of self, it’s as if we have lost the whole world as we knew it.

My mind: Oh, I’m not who I think I am. Ouch!

Adyashanti: At that moment–what we truly are is in no way limited to the small sense of self that we thought we were.

My mind: And having a big sense of myself is still the ego. Having no sense of myself, no image is tough and weird. How do I see the world without an image from my world to perceive it by?

Adyashanti: “Your world” is not your world; it is only our perception. So while it may seem negative at first, I think it’s much more useful to talk about spiritual awakening in terms of what we lose–what we awaken from.

My mind: Whew! I think I need some popcorn.

Upon finishing Adyashanti’s book I went on to read Pema Chödrön’s new book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. She teaches that our discomfort arises from all our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of okayness.” I cannot run and put ground under my feet in this groundlessness. To do such is to resist change. If I resist it I will suffer.

Both of these teachers, Adyashanti and Pema Chödrön, and many indigenous teachers of the indigenous traditions such as the grandmothers’ council have long sensed the collapse of our “worlds.” Our dependence upon who we think we are has fueled all the war and hatred thus far. If we think we are the power then we will turn against ourselves. This is happening as I write with some U.S. legislators who have walked away from their work, misusing their tenure, and turning their backs on the people of America they profess to stand for. So, I am grateful for these teachings of the earth to surface again and again.

I must be still and allow what needs to flow through, flow through me, without interruption of my grand ideas. May I forsake the preservation of all images when my heart is called in the direction of truth.


Posted in dharma-notes
5 comments on “Without An Image
  1. Mushim says:

    Beautifully written and profound as always, Zenju. Nine bows. And I love your inner dialogue with Adyashanti. I want some popcorn too. And, happy birthday! May the coming year bring good health, joy, and success in all your creative endeavors. You deserve all of these things.

  2. terena says:

    thank you for this. Timely as usual. I’ll look into the book.

  3. deb'e says:

    Thank you for this.

  4. Cheryl says:

    This is amazing for me to read and here is why…
    Sometime last august I was having a difficult time as my partner of 3 years was having an intense desire to move back home to TN to be with family and yet my family was here in Oregon. such agony ‘i’ was going thru.
    I had signed up for your newsletter some months before because I was thrilled to have found a Black queer buddhist nun ! (my partner and I had been studying buddhism together for sometime)
    In aug 2012, u posted a clip on relationships by Mooji and my whole life changed from then on!
    Upon seeing him it was like ‘There u are! i’ve been waiting for you! where have you been and why did it take u 50+ years to find me? 🙂
    Since then I have been on this path to finally find the truth of who I am. Read Adya’s book several months ago, and because more has been revealed decided it was time to check it out again and so currently have it on reserve at library. I would like to strongly recommend “I Am That” by Nisargadatta Maharaj.
    All I can say is so much of what you said has also rang true here, as the ‘roles’ fall away.
    Blessings to you.. should u be so inclined feel free to email. <3

  5. Pat says:

    My Sister –
    Although I rarely comment, I read each and every well written and thoughtful post and I eagerly share them with friends.

    This particular post moves me so deeply that I am prompted to let you how much I value you and they way in which you share your journey with us with deep sincerity and humility. Thank you for your work and for your transparency.

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