I have always kept a stack of books beside my bed, sometimes neatly arranged on a bookcase or table, other times piled on the floor next to a mattress. As a very young child these books were a thick volume of Mother Goose rhymes and the poetry of A.A. Milne, both of which I knew by heart, every word in every rhyme memorized and treasured. As I lay under the covers at night reciting the words of these dear works the soothing rhythm of their lines enabled me to break through the fears of the day and enter another world. They became the mantras that enabled me to enter a new world of dreams and forgetting.
Coming from a family of readers, observing my mother, with her legs tucked up under her, deeply absorbed in reading, I intuited that books were important, containing something compellingly irresistible. At the same time I saw that they had the power to remove a person from this world, to envelop them and take them away to another world where they could not be reached. Growing up in a family of such readers, the escapist kind, produced a hoard of bubble beings, each of us floating through life safely sequestered inside our own little bubble, with little interaction or spoken word, the draw of the written word always more enticing than actual personal contact.
As I grew older the books advanced with me, the nursery rhymes giving way to Little House on The Prairie and Black Beauty, both of which I secretly cried over, safe in my bubble where I was free to compassionately and empathically absorb and embrace the trials and tribulations of the characters. Fiction and non-fiction, mysteries, classics, historical novels, fantasies; you name it, I read it. By the time I was in my late teens and early twenties the stack of books on the floor of my room in the apartment I shared with two other young women in New York City ranged from some battered and yellowed paperbacks by and about Edgar Cayce that I had found in my grandparent’s attic, to the early works of Carlos Castaneda, and some books on the power of prayer that my grandmother had shyly presented me with one day. My two roommates, gaily flitted off to yoga and meditation classes, lapping up the energy of the times while I sat in my room and read these books, trying to figure out what they meant for me, taking my time to absorb them, studying them and eventually finding my own way to what I needed out in the world.
Now as I look at the books I have on my bedside shelf I recognize the seeker in me, having stayed connected to that which would both catapult and accompany me on my inner journeys as well as my journeys in the world. I have taken my time, the time I have needed, recognizing and finding in the works and adventures of others just the words to send me in the right direction so I could break through the barriers that stood so seemingly solidly in place, as I had once done as a small child lying in bed incessantly repeating the rhymes of comfort and transformation. I have learned that when the time is right, when everything is aligned, I will be shown where I must go next. Of course, it is not just in books and words that we are guided, but in the challenges and synchronicities in life. Even if one is not a reader, but totally absorbed by the outer world the same alignments, signs, and guidance will be present when the time is right for us to take a plunge in a new direction and break through the barriers that seem so solidly constructed.
For me, those barriers have most often appeared in the form of words, just as the key to breakthrough has also most often appeared in words, both my own words and those of others. The words we grow up with, the commands and demands of our parents, our teachers, our bibles and catechisms, become the mantras that replay and hold us captive, until one day we decide, by fate or choice, that it’s time to resist them, to reject them, to turn them off and to look in a new direction for new words of guidance. This day may come slowly and methodically or it may come over us all of a sudden with a big whack over the head. But when this day arrives, when we begin to question the repetitive, incessant dialogue inside our heads, wondering who said that to us, or how we could ever have held such a belief, we are choosing to break through the barriers that have kept us confined in a limiting and unsatisfying world.
When this moment comes, whether because the right words have been read or spoken, or because life has just delivered another blow, or because there is just no other choice to make, this is the moment when, as don Juan suggests, infinity calls. This is the moment that Pema Chödrön in her book When Things Fall Apart recognizes as the catalyst. “Instinctively I knew that annihilation of my old dependent, clinging self was the only way to go,” she says on page 14. This is the moment when Carl Jung asked his unconscious for a sign and he received the vision that would eventually send him on his deepest explorations as recounted in The Red Book. And this is the moment of invitation into recapitulation.
Carlos Castaneda recounts his own adventures into recapitulation with don Juan in The Active Side of Infinity, which I have been using as a resource for the past few weeks in my essays on the recapitulation process. On page 168, don Juan introduces Carlos to the idea of the mind as a foreign installation, and suggests that Carlos note how, in undertaking recapitulation, his true mind is emerging. Don Juan says to Carlos:
“The haunting memory of your recollections could come only from your true mind. The other mind that we all have and share is, I would say, a cheap model: economy strength, one size fits all. But this is a subject that we will discuss later. What is at stake now is the advent of a disintegrating force. But not a force that is disintegrating you—I don’t mean it that way. It is disintegrating what the sorcerers call the foreign installation, which exists in you and in every other human being. The effect of the force that is descending on you, which is disintegrating the foreign installation, is that it pulls sorcerers out of their syntax.”
The mind as foreign installation is what I am referring to when I write of the incessant dialogue, the mantras of old that feed us and, yes, even nurture us through most of our life, until the moment arrives when we question their advice and even their very presence. This is the moment that our syntax, the world as we have always known it, no longer fits who we are or how we perceive or experience ourselves. This is the moment when the mind, old conjurer that it is, confronts us with its old mantras, seeking to draw us back into its comforts, but we know, with utter certainty, that we cannot go back. When Pema Chödrön is confronted by her husband asking for a divorce, her syntax shatters. She writes:
“I tried hard—very, very hard—to go back to some kind of comfort, some kind of security, some kind of familiar resting place. Fortunately for me, I could never pull it off.”
When we are confronted with the shattering of the foreign installation, the mind as it has been constructed throughout our lives, when we are thrown into free fall, into a place where nothing is familiar, and we feel like we are being annihilated or disintegrating, we want desperately to reach back to something that will anchor us. But as we grasp for the old syntax we find that the world that once served us so well is gone, that it no longer holds what we need. This is when we enter into a new phase of our recapitulation. This is when we enter the moment of choosing to change not only ourselves but our entire outlook on life, accepting that we will allow our entire perception of the world, as we know it, to disintegrate before our eyes and allow our mind, that foreign installation, to go with it. This is the moment when we experience our true mind. When we allow the old mantras to cease comforting us and look for what the next moment offers, fully aware that we are electing to take a journey of disintegrating change, we have finally gotten to the place that don Juan refers to as thus, on page 182 in The Active Side Of Infinity:
“He explained to me the intricacies of choice,” writes Carlos. “He said that choice, for warrior-travelers, was not really the act of choosing, but rather the act of acquiescing elegantly to the solicitations of infinity.”
“Infinity chooses,” he said. “The art of the warrior-traveler is to have the ability to move with the slightest insinuation, the art of acquiescing to every command of infinity. For this, a warrior-traveler needs prowess, strength, and above everything else, sobriety. All those three put together give, as a result, elegance!”
When Carlos struggles to make sense of his experiences in infinity don Juan suggests the following:
“It is unbelievable, but it’s not unlivable,” he said. “The universe has no limits, and the possibilities at play in the universe at large are indeed incommensurable. So don’t fall prey to the axiom, ‘I believe only what I see,’ because it is the dumbest stand one can possibly take.”
So, if we ponder that axiom for a moment, ‘I believe only what I see,’ and ask where it comes from, who planted it in our mind, who first spoke those words to us, or where did we read them, we might, if we are being true to ourselves, realize that those are words of the foreign installation. Because if we are indeed warrior-travelers in infinity, we know that our experiences supersede every idea that our mind has ever had or put in place.
Our true mind knows that anything can happen, that everything is possible and that once we acquiesce to the solicitations of infinity that old mind cannot hold up, under any circumstances. It will no longer give us what we need or want. It is then that we begin to look beyond the old mantras and the old comforts for something else to lead us. As don Juan, Carl Jung, Pema Chödrön, and Carlos Castaneda recognize, this is the moment of disintegration leading to new awareness. This is when we know that the only way to live is in the moment, soberly acquiescing to and learning from what infinity offers us.
On a final note, as I discussed today’s blog with Chuck this morning at breakfast, I found that I could not find the words to describe to him what I was going to write about. Spoken words have always been so inaccurate and fleeting to me, sent out on a puff of air, unclear and often jumbled, not yet fallen into just the right alignment. “It will all come together as I write,” I said to him. As I have honed how I use words, over a lifetime of career and personal writings, I know that the moment when it all comes together is largely directed by a force outside of me; creative energy perhaps. As Pema Chödrön’s teacher, Chögyam Tungpa Rinpoche, said to her once: “Relax and write,” so do I know that, once I acquiesce to the process, the process has a way of taking me where I need to go.
And so now here we are already past noon and I am looking over what I have written. I humbly offer these words that have fallen into just this essay today, coming together outside of the conjuring foreign installation of the mind that attempted to explain to Chuck earlier in the day what I would be writing about. Here it is now, come, in the end, from somewhere else; infinity perhaps?
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Sending you all love and good wishes,
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