Quick and Easy Guide to Happiness

Here’s my guide to happiness for the every (wo)man:

Aim for bliss.
When bliss isn’t possible, aim for joy.
When joy isn’t possible, aim for gratitude.
When gratitude isn’t possible, aim for contentment.
When contentment isn’t possible, aim for peace.
When peace isn’t possible, aim for love.
When love isn’t possible, aim for compassion.
When compassion isn’t possible, aim for hope.
When hope isn’t possible, aim for forgiveness.
When forgiveness isn’t possible, go on a run.
When running isn’t possible, go take a nap.
If you can’t sleep, indulge in simplicity and give yourself permission. You have a right to be free.

I think it works pretty well. Just have to remember it. Ha.

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Our Mother, The Bag Lady (Anonymous)

The wrinkled hose,
The run-down shoes
The rose upon her hat…
There she was; I watched her,
As on the beach she sat.
Her world she carried in her bags
That she’d placed by her side…
Mountains high and valleys low
And seas with scudding tide.
I swear I heard the sea’s roar
And smelled the forests green
I felt the wind’s chill;
I saw the snow;
Then knew that I’d been seen.
She looked at me with dark, mad eyes;
I knew now what to say
To displaced,
Dishonored Gaia.
She got up and moved away.

– Anonymous

The Witch Speaks

Well, Mischa, my in-house literary critic, is convinced that I wrote this poem because I’ve been studying the chord structure behind Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ on the piano. I think it’s because I’m trying to give a voice to my critical parent archetype. Agree to disagree. 😛

I know of my effect on people.
The flowing power from my lips
raw, unbroken lines of law
that dictate universal awe.
Softly I fix streams of truth
that feel hard once born from my womb
I thought I was being gentle
but no degree of sweet singing chord
can soften the blow of the mirror
as it shatters on their heads
and Truth, in all its whimsical words
in all its paradoxical fractals
and reverberations of joy and hate
vibrates plainly from their wounds.
O, how awesome is this vision I see
how dangerously it forms decree
a word of G-d inspired from this moment’s wisdom.
I know of my effect on people
the seers who cannot see
the artists who have no art
the singers who choke on words
when light flows in front of them and shows them my sight.
I know of my effect on people.
The warmth I feel when
at last the word is rendered
by a listener who so eagerly
has been waiting for a song
a fortune, a heavenly hint
they take in such earnestness
and such honor I see from their hearts,
such wisdom I too cannot handle
I too cannot see
He who Prometheus swore upon
They are the victors moving history
I bow to them amidst the rough
and they glitter in their honesty
like stars who have seen the start and end of time
and sing a wordless, chordless song of
all the history there ever was.

Dirty Laundry – A Facebook Poem

I wrote this poem as a caption for my painting.  I was surprised at how much people liked it. I decided to keep it here for safety.
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Feeling whimsical and frustrated at the same time
Feeling wrathful and knowing I should be a good person
Wanting to be the best I can, but taking life a little too seriously.

I decided to play the artist for a day and splurge at Blick with some acrylics
I got a call from my sister, who called me a mean name
I believed, in a moment, it was my fault
I was a little sister again.
Good thing I went to KidzArts when I was 8.
They taught me how to make colors from acrylics.
One should never mix with black, they say.
That was a bad thing to do.
I felt bad in that moment.
I threaded velvety black into the sticky green paint.
I called it “Salad Bowls” to keep things light.
But compulsively wrote this strange faux-poem on Facebook, in a moment of mischievous over-share.
Here’s my Dirty Laundry.

Nina Simone, Soul Sisters, and Emotional T’ai Chi

Since my last post I haven’t really done much, but mentally, I feel like I’ve been around the world two or three times. That’s the beautiful problem with my introverted intuition and thinking. It goes so far from home and returns only to wonder what transpired while I was away. I am supposed to report my progress to my amazing INFJ coach, but all I can return with is a kind of blank stare and a strong desire to be able to communicate better.

The last time I met with my coach, she caught me and my impulsive family-analysis tangent, challenging me to really ask myself what I wanted. Of course I had no idea – I was in that place – that place where my family life becomes the platform for all of time and the nature of life. That place where my identity hinges on the dissatisfaction of being a child. That place where I am not really me at all – I’m the problems that others generate around me.

I didn’t want to accept my coach’s words, particularly because I can feel the hurt from my family so badly. That part of me feels resentful and angry for carrying the burden of my two older sisters and parents. Mental health is a big problem in my family and has spanned across generations. My mother’s side is made up of intuitive feelers with a love-hate relationship to the New Age movement that has only culminated into dysfunction.

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I found this rock in the park the day after meeting with my friend. It spoke to me. (See below.)

I tried to think of something I really want, and all I could think of was material objects. I don’t have my own desk or workspace and I want more art in my room. I pushed myself to follow through and get those things for my home, but they were pricey and made me feel antsy as I spent all that money. I told myself to wait and figure out the money stuff later, when I was less anxious. Over the weekend, I bought a really pretty black desk for myself at Target. On Tuesday, after class, I sat down with a documentary about Einstein and physics (for my introverted thinking child) while I put together the desk. The space was beginning to form.

The class that I’m referring to is a class that I’m teaching about the spiritual quest and Sukkot and all that wonderful Jewish business that I love and hate at the same time. I have had the extraordinary luck to meet another Jewish INFJ that isn’t as young and confused as I am. We take Wushu together and so I reached out to her to teach this class with me when my old co-teacher dropped out.

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Is it just me, or does that rock in the picture above have a pattern that looks a lot like this Chinese character for metta (lovingkindness)?

I could tell she was an INFJ immediately from her heroic use of Introverted Intuition pared with amazing extroverted feeling. Teaching with her is like making my poetic visions become reality. Our conversations together are amazing. It’s the first time I feel like I can talk intensely about life with someone without thinking in terms of ‘solving problems’ or ‘forcing happiness’ into a place where it plainly doesn’t belong.

After a morning coffee meeting with her, I got an email telling me that I didn’t get a job I applied for. I’ve written out how I don’t care about that job and how I suspected I wouldn’t get it, but I could feel the sadness and anxiety returning.

In the spirit of my friend’s very sisterly energy, I felt like I deserved to take care of myself. I started to construct an Active Imagination conversation out loud.  I chatted with my hero for advice, my good mother for comfort and praise; I tried to reconcile the child’s hurt feelings and negotiate with the animus. My spirit told me that it wanted more money so it could express itself. I told my spirit that we would never be able to really express ourselves in a full-time job with tons of travel. My spirit told me that it still felt worthless. I told my spirit that it would see its worth through painting, and that together we could really see our worth if we weathered through this. I stopped at an art supply store and bought acrylic paints, while calling upon my inner workhorse to get us home safely.

My coach has talked about my inner workhorse before, and in the past it looked like the ghost horses of the dead kings in Lord of the Rings. But at this moment, it looked like the happy horse of the Chinese Calendar. I was born in the year of the horse and this year is the year of the horse.

After passing through the most dangerous part of the city, I finally reached my home street. At the corner there was a surprise waiting for me. Someone had decided to dump all their furniture out for free. There was a beautiful painting of nature, a desk chair, a giant mirror, a bedside table – all things that I have felt like my animus was nagging me to buy. At that moment, despite the heatwave and the lack of food in my belly, the animus jumped out and helped me to carry loads of heavy furniture into my car by myself. I snagged the things I wanted.

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My first painting is titled “Green is a Good Color”.

When I got home I felt on top of the world. I had promised myself I would paint with my new acrylics, but I could tell my boyfriend was anxious about me not getting the job. I asked him why and he admitted the money thing was still getting him too. The high from the moment encouraged me to work it out with him painstakingly.

The conversation was difficult and we still aren’t totally coordinated with our tracking, but it completely melted the stagnancy of our relationship and moved us forward. I knew that my inner cast of characters had to work on their relationships with Mischa as well as myself. Finally, when all was said and done, I made a beautiful painting, which I’ve posted here.

(We had met with a couples coach over the weekend, but the conversation only became inspiring after the call. It was like a symbol of intention for us that we followed up on.)

I told my INFJ friend about this incident the next day, since we teach on Sundays and Tuesdays and plan in between. She was very excited for me and my painting. One thing I like about my new friend is that she doesn’t take care of me, but she inspires me to take care of myself. When I feel frazzled, she knows it whether or not I want to hide it. On the flip side, when I want to take care of myself, she wants to as well.

We planned out an amazing class for Tuesday, which we orchestrated beautifully. The theme was forgiveness and the Jewish New Year. We took a beautiful blue scarf and string lights and recreated a river so that the students could toss their sins away. Before the class started, I felt jittery and fearful that my friend could sense how scatter-brained I was, but a couple interesting things happened. First, a student of mine came to talk to me about a girl who is being mean to her. I gave her a heart-to-heart about the burden of being empathic and how to assert herself. At times in the conversation, I felt doubts in my advice because she was pausing a lot. Finally, we decided to sneak into a room with a piano and she sang for me. Her voice was amazing, and I’m a music snob.

During dinner (which we share with the students) we were eating Panda Express and this student got a fortune cookie that said “You seek council from someone very wise.” She showed it to me, and I was amazed, because I had gotten the vibe that she didn’t totally feel heard by me.

I decided to get a fortune cookie myself, just being whimsical, and so after our amazing class, I opened it up. It told me to stop being so suspicious of others. I realized with a smile that I was being suspicious that my INFJ-friend felt uncomfortable around me.

I decided, after reading my fortune cookie that I would settle the night somehow. We pulled off an amazing class and yet I was only just starting to appreciate it after I gave myself permission. We decided stop at a tea house and call upon the gods of chamomile, lavender, and one of those mind-bogglingly good conversations that a person rarely gets in life.

During our chat, she gave me a special necklace that she had once been instructed to pass on to her soul partner. She realized in our conversations that that partner needed to be a sisterly parter rather than an intimate one. I decided in exchange to give her my own special token, a small clock I once grabbed from my grandmother’s apartment after her death. After our exchange, it felt like I had finally learned what archetypal sister energy feels like. It’s a combination of respect and warmth, but lacking hierarchy and neediness. The boundaries are firm and happy to be there.

Being with my new INFJ friend was very helpful when I decided to try and understand why my coach was taking the position that she was. I realized that people like my INFJ-sister are the true relationships I seek in life, and that the obsession with family only comes from a place of wanting to feel the untarnished archetypal energies of a family in the spiritual sense of the word. I have wanted to feel a true sister all my life, but sister for me is a difficult word. My sisters have mental and physical illnesses that prevent them from capturing the warmth that I experience with my friend. My parents are similar.

My coach gave me a good lead, telling me to read James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code. Hillman doesn’t look too favorably upon excessive attention on family dynamics, which I think is a healthy perspective to balance out my rampant oscillating mind. Reading Hillman made me think more about the strange voices in me that are called upon when I interact with certain kinds of music and poetry.  Thanks to Hillman and my INFJ-sister’s giant embrace of self-care, I had the bright idea of linking intimacy with Nina Simone songs and let me say, it was a bright idea. I’ve never felt that kind of exchange with Mischa before. (Wink, wink.)

The day after my meeting with my INFJ-sister, my real sister called me to tell me she had finally met a ‘normal’ guy and fretted about how she’d never be normal. I tried to use the same techniques I use with my students – complete mindfulness of speech and attitude – but when I expressed gratitude for her openness and willingness to share her soul, she accused me of psychoanalyzing her.

That’s fine. I know the word ‘soul’ can be a turn-off.

But it gets worse. I called her up the next day, because she wanted to make travel plans with me for a family reunion we are having in October. When I told her I needed to make plans for both me and my boyfriend (who is basically part of the family after 6 years of relationship with me), she flipped out. She told me that she wanted us to be “single” together (even though I haven’t been single in 6 years) and was angry I was taking him. I think in the moment what ran through my head was “Mischa and I are practically married – I really don’t understand why my sister can’t see that. Why would she ever think I wouldn’t bring my boyfriend?” I remember pausing after she screamed at me and then I said, “well, that’s how it is.”

“Do you hear yourself?” She kept asking. The more that she asked, the less I could hear myself. I felt a violent force come over me as I screeched back. “I can’t talk right now” was what I heard, but she heard something radically different.

My sister, who can transform me so quickly from kind mystic to evil witch, decided to call me a cunt behind my back after that sticky interaction.

The C-word is a horrible word for me. Throughout my life I’ve been called a c-word by the worst of people. The bullies in junior high called me a c-word. My roommate’s boyfriend in college, for instance, was lying in her bed naked and drunk one night, while I was trying to sleep for an early class the next day. I told him to leave and he called me a c-word.

In a way, just like all bad things in life, the c-word is actually quite helpful. Nothing smells of ridiculous more than a person so cruel that they are willing to use that word. When I actually deserve criticism, it usually sounds very different. But the c-word tells me that its owner has tipped over the edge into delusion.

When my sister used that word, I of course reacted wrathfully in the beginning. I spun out of control. I was heinously angry. I sat down to write a long letter to my oldest sister in hopes that we could team up. I ranted and raged to my boyfriend, who felt confused in his attempts to take my side but also support my growth and clear vision.

The first night of affliction, I worked it out with the help of my INFJ-sister’s energy and the kindness of my boyfriend. While raging in response to my sister’s words, I held my INFJ sister’s necklace and became regrounded when I recalled her energy and the way she crafted poetry to express the mucky parts of her soul. This strategy worked for one night – I deleted my email to my oldest sister and had a heart-to-heart with her about how to appropriately respond to the Borderline behavior. I wrote a beautiful poem about my reflections on my sister’s actions (posted below).

Like a wild boar
thrashing angrily in mud
blood pours from scratches
born from wooden splinters
from the gates of prison
he learns he is a pig
small and ripe
he has no tusks
he has no horns
he squeals loudly
and all the animals tremble
as he calls in the storm.
He knows he will die tomorrow
He knows not how death will treat him.

Death stands beyond the gates.
Once he shook his head
despairingly.
He remembers a time when
he played games with pigs who squeal loudly.
A bolt of lightning
a grinning farmer
these were his omens.
Yet today he stands in stillness.
The thrashing sounds surround him.
Death sheds no tears.
He stands wearily while watching squirming flesh.
They approach him frantically.
And in his cool, quiet sphere,
he wonders if the fires of hell
burn solely because pigs thrash.
What disappointment awaits
the screaming cries of pork.
He is not so exciting, death.

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The little turtles are sitting spot in the center of the photo.

Meanwhile, Mischa read my oldest sister’s response to the email more carefully and pointed out how wise it was. I read through it myself and was startled by its ability to be neutral and still call out the truth. I felt humbled in that moment, because I was parading around on a high horse, trying to make alliances and instigate more. I let go in that moment and felt truly, genuinely happy.

The next day, my confidence was still high but was being tested. I found out that my oldest sister had in fact gotten that email edited by my mother, who is in the same mental category as my middle sister for me. I was so disappointed by that detail. I wanted to know that my oldest sister could be that way without the help of someone who tries to pacify everyone. Luckily my positive interactions had encouraged me to go the park and enjoy my meal with Mischa. I was learning in that moment – learning how to eat again, learning how to be a human again. My sister called me again, and I could see how massive this struggle was for me. I had to stare at turtles to maintain my composure as I wrestled with my sisters’ angels.

Despite the pain of those couple days, I was doing exceptionally well. I started to read Hillman’s work and his metaphors about growing down into life felt like a physical reality for me. I could feel the ground more beneath my feet. Martial Arts went well. I couldn’t stop smiling the whole day and channeled a kind of authoritativeness that I rarely can tune myself to.

However, I still felt unsettled. My aches and pains were starting to creep back into me. I knew I needed to take care of myself, but the trickster was back, making me procrastinate and get caught up in things like returning stupid things to the store or read mindless computer articles.

This morning, the trickster had his ultimate revenge. I set my alarms to wake me up in time for T’ai Chi in the park, but I did it in an unreliable app on my phone. The alarms never went off and I slept right through it. I had to go to a piano lesson today, which always sets me on edge because I don’t have a lot of confidence in my piano playing let alone my ability to teach. I know I’ve been unconsciously fretting about this lesson for quite some time with a strong internal belief that I’m failing somehow. I had posted something on Facebook during my good-mood period asking other teachers for help, and their responses did validate me but didn’t get me good insight.

I should have known that my introverted feeling witch in me came back to test me once again. She had been waiting, reading to pounce on something. I of course turned to my close friend in Burma, an ENFP that I think I torment a little too much, and basically recreated the witchy behavior my sister had been using against me. I trapped him into a conversation about my sister and as he gave me his perspective, I attacked him. I was so angry that I even cried.

But I had to go to my piano lesson!

In a last ditch effort, I decided to take a bath with epson salts and aromatherapy oils. I closed my eyes and tried to begin an active imagination dialogue. My perspective was shifting, but I think something in me didn’t want me to recognize what I did to my friend until I could resolve the piano lesson.  I realized in the bath how my introverted feeling witch was in fact the same essence as my inner rager. That’s a little monster that lives in me and creeps out when people are being pushy and telling me to do things that I know are bad for me. Usually I just suppress it until it transforms into a figure that beats me up. In relationships where I am allowed to express myself, however, it keeps its form as an attacker.

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Clarity comes to me amidst the blur…

When I realized that these characters were all the same, I recognized how much my ruminating doesn’t actually help me that much. When I analyze things, I disguise the true figure behind my words (my emotions). Some people benefit from this, but I’m just not such a great thinker that I can separate my emotions from my philosophizing.

After leaving the bath, I was still feeling antsy and upset. I knew that I could handle this lesson so long as I had the right energy about me. Time and time again that’s all this boils down to.

I did some deep breathing and turned on some Bossa Nova (Baden Powell to be precise). I allowed myself to drum away on my steering wheel and tried to summon up all the happy universal energy that I had been in for the last couple of days. The student lives near Malibu, which gave me a chance to look at nature and see the beautiful mountains around L.A. As part of a previous plan, I brought play-dough to the lesson and a cool lesson strategy emerged that worked quite well. So long as I was playfully engaging in extroverted sensing, I could weather through this moment just as I did the other moments.

The success was irrefutable. Everyone was happy coming out of that lesson.

But it was when I came back home that interesting realizations started to form. On my drive back, I was listening to this Brazilian music and I suddenly realized that my animus is like a jaguar more than it is like a Golem. My relationship to my cat says it all. She is a mean cat, but that’s what I love about her. The way she can go from being adorable to biting someone in a matter of seconds cracks me up. Her bloodthirst is something I am all too familiar with.

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Water talks to us through light.

Driving back home, staring at the Pacific Ocean glittering in front of me, I felt the universe was putting furniture on another corner for me. Beauty had been restored and brought me to my computer where I apologized to my friend and remained very open about my witchy behavior.

I looked on Facebook and I realized that my middle sister had posted some cute links on my page and gave her own response to my question about the music student. I knew she was trying to trigger me again, since I had been lucky enough to find a good resource for families dealing with Borderline’s affect on people. She was rebounding.

I sent my oldest sister a photo of all the messages from middle sister and she texted me back with similar information. Apparently my middle sister had written an apology note on a napkin and gave it to my oldest sister’s new boyfriend at work in a very public space. My oldest sister asked me what the plan was.

“Well, she’s scrambling right now. If we respond to her at this moment, it will be like giving the cat a treat after it bit you.” I was emerging from a space where I had to work with my animus, and it felt very appropriate to bridge that metaphor of a jungle cat to my sister. I thought of T’ai Chi and this post, which I had read earlier this week during my happy period.

I did some T’ai Chi myself, in that moment. “The plan is to be aware of her calls for response and when it happens, swish and flick. Every time she tries to get good or bad vibes from you or me, I want you to do something really nice for yourself that you don’t share with anyone but your VIPS.”

Take  the energy and let it flow.

My oldest sister responds, “So what you’re saying is….were hoping for attention from Middle for an excuse to get a massage?”

“That’s precisely what I’m saying. Go play Nina Simone’s Wild is the Wind while you do the dirty. It’s amazing. Lolz.”

“Hahaha.”

When you let synchronicity be the guiding light for your life, a silly week of emotional drama feels so much more magical. INFJ OUT.

Beautiful Quote by Alexandra Horowitz

“We have not just emotional reactions to music, but physical reactions to sound. In Homer’s telling, choral singing kept the plague at bay. Roman writers claimed that a short flute piece could relieve gout discomfort. And David’s harp was famously used to loosen the grip of King Saul’s mental illness. For myself, use a few chords played by Art Tatum will calm me right down. Of natural sounds, those that are “self similar” are more likable: the sound of water running; the susurration of a breeze in the canopy of a tree…Those who regularly walk in the forest may come to know each tree by its characteristic sound, be it a sob and moan (fir), whistle (holly), hiss (ash), or rustle (beech)…These sounds share something with fractals: we hear them as the same when played at different speeds or different loudnesses. Something about them deeply resonates with us.” 

-Alexandra Horowitz, On Looking 

A response to a friend

After a wonderful response from my friend, I had to write my own response. It was an enlightening process.

Hey friend,

I love that line you said in one of your emails – “Some say that sensitive hearts hurt too deeply to love. I say it’s through mutual discovery of our collective sensitivities that we build something real. ” That’s very beautiful. I feel like it will mean even more to me in the future. I can’t quite put words to that feeling, but yeah.

Now to address your more hard-lined comments, which I do appreciate a lot. I need that honesty for clarity’s sake. Too much agreement is a dangerous road for me.

It’s actually kind of tricky because I really DO agree with everything you wrote. I want to establish right here and now that when I use blaming style words, it’s just a way to help me facilitate understanding because suppression is what I’m so used to. On the surface it feels like I don’t want to blame M for my emotional discrepancies and so I’ll just tell myself I don’t. But after spending all my life thinking that there is something wrong with my emotions, I’ve realized that’s the deeper source of hurt for me and to lie about not-blaming him is to lie about the entire experience. You can’t just invalidate away your emotions. They are a little more tricky than that.

While I intellectually agree with all components of what you said, I still have an emotional landscape that feels different from how I think. You said it yourself, that my spiritual ‘gifts’ come from my own form of attachment. Well attachment is really different for every person, and I found that I was attached to distancing myself from other people, turning into a psychoanalyst, and when that failed, Zen-ing out for lack of a smarter response. Now I realize that Zen can both be the ultimate manifestation of my personality problems and my personality victories and so it’s a really dangerous road for me to walk down.

When I was at the orchestra, I listened to dharma talks and meditated every day. When my boss yelled at me, I would just placate my mind by paying attention to the body. And my anxiety would come back worse than ever as a completely physical feeling of the esophagus closing up and the heart being pierced violently.

I realized that growing up I had done this quite a bit. When people told me that I was too intense or when people were emotional around me, I would teach myself that my emotions were irrelevant and would try to skirt around their existence by focusing on the physical realm on the far left or intellectualizing them on the far right of the spectrum. Either way, I wasn’t validating myself. I wasn’t telling myself to stand up for myself. Instead I was telling myself that I wasn’t allowed to stand for anything at all. And as I got older and was acquainted with the concept of ‘value’, I found that it meant nothing for me. It was like a koan.

I always knew deep down that there was something dangerous in how naturally Buddhist philosophy came to me, but that actual act of vipassana meditation felt like a violent assault. The minute I turn inside the anxiety gets so, so unbearably loud that it can make me verge on having a panic attack. And even though I know what the ‘appropriate’ buddhist response it to that, it just doesn’t help me get better at meditation. I’ll keep avoiding it. I’ll set 1,000 different reminders on my phone, on my walls, everywhere, and still I avoid it. And when I sit down and actually meditate, my brain is so all over the place it’s as if I become unconscious. The voices are eager to talk loudly to me.

When I went to the metta retreat, a monk mentioned that sometimes Buddhism isn’t enough for a Western audience because we have a very negative self-concept that haunts our culture, and I think that’s a generalization worth exploring. He also stressed that Westerners who can’t handle vipassana should do metta practice. I agree to a certain extent – you need to send lovingkindness to all parts of your personality. Even the shitty parts. That’s what the whole concept of the shadow is in Jung. Recognize that the shadow gives you depth and suddenly you gain radiance.

Unlike meditation, which just ended up hurting me in the long run, my Jungian work has made physical, positive impacts on my life. I have more friends now, I am able to compartmentalize better, and best of all, I’m willing to accept that the little inner conformist in me might need to be challenged by forcing me to think head on about my biggest attachment in the world – my relationship with M.

I think the true delusion is thinking that you can breathe your way out of a trauma that has existed your entire life. How can we possibly fathom the degree to which our minds have been muddled? I think there is a journey every person has to explore to know the answer to that question. So my fears about M become more of an ominous message that I might be putting off a part of my journey of individuation by staying with him. This is especially because he is very inflexible with the way he has structured his life. He must stay in this area for about a decade to get his pHD. Then he must go to whatever city he gets a job in. And whenever I bring up that we might spend time apart, he thinks I’m trying to break up with him.

As an aside, in the end I think the real problem with my message is that I conflate emotional intimacy with sexuality. I think the lines were blurred for me from an early age. My mother is very forthright about her sexuality. She doesn’t see how privacy and sexuality go hand in hand. And when I think about what I truly want, a kind of pseudo family where I can explore the universe mentally and maybe even physically, there is a voice in my head that says that if I go about doing that I will betray M somehow. We are too tied up with money, sex, routine, and more. I think that Buddhism isn’t the most feminist religion in the world because it treats a masculine complex – trying to control the world too much – with feminine traits – being more passive. I’m not sure how much I should buy into those gender roles, but I will say that the more I have allowed myself to think along those lines, the more I’ve been able to be accepting of myself and understand myself fully.

When you say that women ‘like to be told what to do’ I say ‘yes no shit’ because from year 1 we are told not to trust our own inclinations about things, to assume that we aren’t being ‘accommodating enough’ that we are not valuable to exist in our own right and thus we shouldn’t trust any natural judgements that come up. So we don’t know what the hell to do and need someone else to come along who we trust to give us a clear line of direction.

Though I can articulate this feeling to you, it doesn’t mean it goes away. I don’t gain confidence by saying ‘women need more confidence’. It doesn’t mitigate the horribly negative complex of feelings that arise whenever I say ‘alright, good job Mira, you identified it, now move on’. My own voice isn’t my own voice. When I tell myself what I should be doing, it’s usually a combination of voices that are a host of different ambivalent emotions and even if I meditate to death, they still exist when the trigger still exists. The trigger = making a choice about the future, the response = feeling scared, inadequate, unsure, questioning, doubtful, afraid to harm others, etc. Worst off is the voice in me that doesn’t like to stay put. As I unconsciously force myself to stay put and that voice becomes more and more uncompromisingly angry, it becomes more and more difficult for me to simply relax or simply quiet the mind. Forcing myself into meditation, right now, doesn’t quite work.

And I’m not just saying this out of convenience. I have allowed a bit of this philosophy to shade how I interact with other women and things have drastically improved. I have noticed women looking up to me, feeling like they are allowed to be around me more. I think it’s because there is something in the gender identity that is being overlooked and is critical. It’s a find subtle-ty, but it’s an important one. I would recommend, if you are really interested, to go look up Jung’s concepts of the animus and anima. I can’t believe how much I find the animus acting crazy in me, and once I understood that, I felt free enough to take my own opinion on spirituality instead of just forcing myself into horrible meditation experiences again and again.

That doesn’t mean that down the road I won’t be able to embrace the no-mind philosophy of Buddhism. I know deep down that this is a place I always return to. But I get worried at how my brain reacts to that style of spiritual practice. I find myself unconsciously rolling my eyes when I see that I always have a Buddhist response prepared and ready for every kind of emotional experience that crops up in me. It is a very naggy-sounding voice, the Buddhist voice in me. I hear myself saying right now “Well you are attached to the idea that the anxiety will go away. If you meditate more on nonattachment, you will understand the true nature. You don’t get it yet, so stop trying to get it.”

But then I hear another voice that says “What if anxiety and my lack of self-compassion actually has something useful to tell me? What if I become friends with my anxiety and self-hatred by listening to what it has to say and then contextualizing that in the history of my life? What if I actually validate my thinking mind and believe in my ability to navigate the complex waters of the masculine world, eventually leading to action?” Something about that feels a little more pro-life. Something about trusting the visions I get regarding the way of the world feels more aligned with the universe than negating them.

Engaging actively with my unconscious mind and my imagination does make me feel stronger. Of course my spirituality comes from attachment! Buddhist spirituality comes from a kind of attachment to the idea that one can become unattached! All spirituality is based on human attachments to the experience of human life. We try to decipher meaning from madness. We cannot function without making sense of it all, either by paying attention to the breath and making an entire life philosophy about how that is the right way, or by putting names to the voices in your head and calling them the gods.

I see so many people go to meditation retreats and end up turning them into therapy sessions. They are hurt and bruised and they are looking for that kind receptive energy of the monks to heal them. But they are not actually increasing their own receptivity. In fact, many of them are seeking validation and it’s a kind of validation that they really need! It’s a kind of leaching, sure, but I think damn, thank god there are Buddhist out there to be the mothers we never had. I don’t think man, we should force all these people to become mothers. In fact, I wouldn’t want those people to mother me, because I sense their need to be mothered and know from experience that a mother who mothers for some sort of internal problem is going to leave some bad roots in the soil.

Now I could right now bridge all that I’ve said and make Buddhism win in the end. I could tell you that I’m in an intermediary process and that Buddhism ultimately says the truth, but in the spirit of feminity I’m going to tell you I don’t know. I know that right now what is needed is something other than Zen Buddhism. I still meditate every day. I still go practice no-mind in the dojo and I still listen to my favorite dharma talks when I really need them.

But let’s entertain the idea that Buddhism is not the be-all end all. That there is another practice out there that is spiritual and embraces the ego. That’s why I love Taoism. Taoism says ‘Do what is efficacious now.’

And speaking of mothers, my mother is here, getting antsy because I have poured out my soul once again in letters to you. G-d damn it R! You break my ego defenses! The ultimate compliment. 😀