The Letters Part 2

Subject: William Norm Blake the Flinstone

Sent: 01/20/97 8:37 PM

Hey NoRmBeAr

wassup? Did you see the Flinstone's movie? I remember being squeezed into the front row with many screaming children behind me. Plus it was a bad movie. In other words I didnt like it. But does that mean that I hate everything? I dont understand how you could love everything... like what if you were being tortured? Or what if it wasn't even physical torture- more of having to sit through a boring lecture in school? When I get into a bad mood, or I get into a nothing is interesting and I hate life mood, nothing can get me out of it except for time- do i not understand myself or something? when Im in a bad mood, I hate everything- how do you love everything all of the time? How do you understand yourself? I never could. I totally agree with the person like me idea. I do it all the time. A person like me would wear these clothes. And have these friends. I try not to do it but it seems that's all high school is all about. But some of the things the person like me likes I really do like. And i dont think i could enjoy watery gruel. How do you get yourself to like watery gruel? I was reading a book this year for my class - The Stranger by Albert Camus - and they guy in it could enjoy himself anywhere, either at home or staring at the sky out of his jail cell. I could not understand that.

So anyway, I went to Vermont this weekend on one of those organized tour bus ski trip deals and had a wonderful time skiing- I never thought I could like skiing so much. It was freezing so the first day we took a two hour lunch break but sunday I put on more and more layers and we stayed out longer - I reafirmed my beleif that confidence is everything, attitude is the most important thing to learnig something. for years ive hated skiing cuz my legs always hurt and i was always scared of going fast. but my track coach gave me pointers over the vacation and it gave me the confidence i needed- I was jumping over everything on sunday :) what a rush anyway, i gotta go to bed. we unfortunately have school tomorrow

love laura bear

Subject: Moods and watery gruel

Sent: 1/23/97 9:19 AM

Hello, Laurasnowbear,

I'm glad you're enjoying skiing. The image of you jumping over everything makes me smile..

I wish I had time to write you a longer email, but I'm supposed to have some photographs in a show in February, and I'm still working on them in my computer. I'm running out of time, so I've got to stay focused. Hopefully I'll have the computer part of the photos done soon and I can take some time while I let the service bureau and print lab do their part.

In the meantime, while I don't have time to talk about the things you brought up specifically, it seems that some of the things I've been writing for the latest installment of my web page may be relevant, so I'm passing some of them along:

"Eve has always complained that my saying that I'm not a person, that personhood is an illusion, is more confusing than illuminating. I look and act like the kind of entity that most people call a person, so what do I mean? How is a non-person different from a person?

Persons think and make decisions. (At least they think they do.)

Non-persons know that thinking is a process that is done by brains, but that persons are not brains--they are in brains.

So what is the relationship between persons and their brains?

There is a story about blind men trying to figure out what an elephant is. One feels the elephant's leg and says, "An elephant is like a tree."

Another feels the side of the elephant and says, "An Elephant is like a wall."

Another feels the elephant's tail and says, "An elephant is like a broom."

You get the idea.

If we think of the total activity going on in our brains as the elephant, then consciousness is a blind man trying to figure out what the elephant is like, except that the proportions are more like those of a flea to an elephant.

I told the story earlier of how I used to sing while driving across the Bay Bridge, and how I couldn't be equally conscious of the singing and the driving. There are many other examples that make it clear that what we are conscious of at any one moment is only a tiny fraction of the whole.

An example that is always available for each of us is our body. That most immediate of all our experiences can never be felt as a whole. Close your eyes sometime when you're eating and notice the amazing things your mouth does with your food--swirling tastes and textures; a hurricane, crashing waves and avalanches of sensation--and where was the rest of you while you were watching your tongue do its dance? Where were your feet? Where was your left little toe?

We never experience our whole body at once in detail. The alternatives seem to be between a vague, amorphous sensation that there is something there, to detailed perceptions of tiny parts. The idea that we have a body is constructed by the brain from observation of all the parts individually, accumulated over time. If you could eliminate memory, just for fun, so that you were only aware of what you experience moment by moment, you would only be aware of bits of sensation floating in space--one second there would be part of a hand, another second a foot, with no connection between them. You would not even know what they were if you couldn't connect them to past experience.

What I'm saying about the way your brain works is not something you have to take on faith or to debate in terms of what is reasonable. All you have to do is pick any two distinguishable parts of your body and try to feel the sensations coming from both of them at once--its a simple matter of observation to discover that you cannot.

Even though we can never feel the whole body at once, it doesn't take a lot of faith to believe that it is always there, even if we are not feeling it. No one has ever idly wondered what their left foot was doing and found it wasn't there. In fact, various parts of our body are frequently drawing our attention, justifying our overall impression that our bodies are complete, even though we can't be conscious of them in detail as a unit.

You can see from the example of the body that memory is crucial to our sense of wholeness. It is memory that allow us to string together a series of momentary and fragmented sensations into a sense of the body complete in all its parts.

We have been looking at the sense of touch, here, in talking about feeling our bodies. There are parallels between touch and our other senses, too. The more we learn about the way the brain constructs our picture of the world from the information brought in by the senses, the more amazing it seems. We probably know more about vision than any other sensory modality, and the feat performed by the brain in that department is awesome. I will give you just one example to whet your appetite:

three black squares

Close one eye and look at the center square, then move your face slowly toward the screen (or page) until one of the outer squares disappears. You will have experienced what is called the "blind spot". It is a place on each retina where all the nerves in the back of the eyeball come together before starting back toward the brain, and at that point there are no rods or cones to react to light.

We never notice blank spots in our vision because our eyes are constantly making these jerky little movements called saccades, bouncing from one point to another in our visual field, and pausing momentarily at each point to send a burst of information to the brain. While they are moving between points they are sending no information at all so that, in effect, we are blind in between pauses. Several experiments have been designed, using computers and sensors that detect eye movement, that play on this recently discovered facet of our vision--just reading about them is downright eerie.

All this brain research is incredibly interesting, and all of it reinforces the point that I am most interested in making about consciousness, that we can only be conscious of a tiny little bit of what is going on in our brains at any one moment--it is like a flea's-eye view of an elephant.

There is a lot of debate currently about what consciousness is and what it is for, whether or not it might even be unnecessary, a sort of evolutionary freebie. I don't want to get into that debate right now, but I do want to make the point of how narrowly focused consciousness is. Just that one fact about consciousness has profound implications for who we are, and that fact can be confirmed by anyone who takes the time to try the trick of focusing on two distant parts of the body at the same time.

My second wife and I were sitting on a beach in Oregon once, and we had eaten some pretty powerful acid. We were talking about something sad--I forget what--but I remember the feeling of sadness was overwhelming. We were both crying with tears running down our cheeks--so very sad. And then one of us said something--I forget what--and the next instant we were laughing our asses off. Nothing had ever been so funny.

The contrast between those two emotional states, and the rapidity with with which we made the transition between them, made a lasting impression. I learned something about the brain that is true whether it is drugged or drug-free.

Our emotions are tiny parts of the elephant that is our brain. When we are in the midst of sadness, we think that the elephant is sadness. When we are in the midst of joy, we think that the elephant is joy. The brain contains both these emotions, and every gradation of feeling you can imagine. Everything you have ever felt is available in some part of your brain. All it takes for you to experience an emotion is for consciousness to make a return trip to the particular crossroads of neurons and neurotransmitters that define that emotion.

Emotions have no doubt been useful in some phase of life on this planet. I'm sure a clever evolutionist could come up with a plausible story about why they evolved, with testable hypotheses and all the trappings of science. (Perhaps someone I don't know of already has.) They have played a major role in the drama of human life--in fact, there would be no "drama" without them. We need not, however, be victimized by them.

There is a saying in AA: "Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional." Sooner or later all of us will stumble against one of life's sharp edges--pain is inevitable. But if we have learned to see the vastness from which our momentary conscious experience is drawn, we will not mistake the part for the whole. We will not see this moment's pain as the definition of who we are."

So much for the "canned" part of this email.

Just one more thought: The only way one knows that watery gruel is not the most wonderful food in the world is by comparing it to other things we have eaten, and our reactions to them. This comparison is not mandatory. We have the option of focusing on what is happening in this present moment without comparing it to anything that has ever happened before. Most people don't know they have this option, or how to exercise it. Zen is about learning how to pay attention to what is happening at this moment without comparing it to anything else, and about experiencing the joy that is always available no matter what is happening--even if we're being tortured by a boring lecture.

Enough! Its Photoshop time. Take care, enjoy yourself.

Love, Norm

sedementary slab

Elephant Wall, Too

Subject: sorry sent it a little early

Sent: 01/26/97 3:13 PM

heylo normbear

that's so exciting about having your photos in the show! if you can somehow scan them or something id like to see them :) thank you for the response on the email even though you didnt have time to actually write all thte stuff. you answered my questions anyway i cant wait for the 3rd installment! sorry i just sent the mail by accident, you will get a whole letter and a half from me this time - maybe that's better than just one.

So i just handed in my big cahuna final project for art english (as that class is known) but i will continue to read about zen . i went to a bookstore on friday and i couldnt believe the huge section they had on zen books! they had little lao-tzu pocket sized books and the te of piglet and zen comic books (which looked interesting) - an unbelievable bookshelf full of it! zen must be popular or soemthng. i tried out the just focusing on the here and now and i found out i must be the most un-here and now person i know. not only did i experiene that "spinning off into my other thoughts" feeling, but i found that in everything i do, even conversations with other people, im always focusing on what will hapen next, worrying aobut what to do next etc.

ive also been feeling really moody lately and ive been trying to focus on something "present" to get me out of them but its so hard.

well, ive gotta go- im haveing a not really watching the superbowl party with all of my girl buddies see you later keep me updated abut your show

love laura

Subject: hellooooo

Sent: 02/01/97 10:20 PM

hello norm and eve bears i found this story on the web under "zen koans" i enjoy it for some reason

A Buffulo Passes Through the Enclosure

Goso said:"When buffulo goes out of his enclosure to the edge of the abyss, his horns and his head and his hoofs all pass through, but why can't the tail also pass?

Mumon's comment: If anyone can open one eye at this point and say a word of Zen, he is qulified to repat the four gratifications, and, not only that, he can save all sentient beings under him. But if he cannot say a word of true Zen, he should turn back to his tail.

If the buffulo runs, he will fall into the trench; If he returns, he will be butchered. That little tail Is a very strange thing.

love laura

Subject: big cajuna magnum opus

Sent: 2/1/97 4:46 PM

Hi Laurabear,

It seems like it has taken me a long time to get back to you--life has been very busy and involved lately. I took the negatives to the print-maker yesterday, who said they won't be ready till the day I'm supposed to take them to the gallery, which means I'll only have a few hours to frame them--no time for mistakes. Fortunately, it is not a big deal--"there are no big deals"(that's an AA quote). The gallery is an artists co-op in Berkeley, so you don't have to sell a lot of stuff to keep getting in shows, like you would at a commercial gallery. You just have to pay your dues and produce acceptable stuff. It lets me write off my expenses on my taxes, and I have actually sold a few. I can send you copies of the ones I just did, I think; I'll have to check up on what kind of format aol uses for image files.

I hope that you wrote your big cajuna final project on your computer, so you can send me a copy. I'm very much interested in seeing what you've written.

Those darn moods are the most difficult things! Let's see if I have any helpful hints.

I forget where I read that monks and nuns of various sects (even Christian), avoid referring to themselves as "I", as a way to minimize being ego-centered, and would instead refer to themselves as "this poor monk", or some such. I was trying to think of a way to use this technique, and, since I'm not a monk, I hit on using this Chinese expression, "worthless rice bag." It was a little awkward, though, and after I'd said to Eve a few times, "this worthless rice bag thinks...", it got a bit old and cumbersome. Somehow I got from that to the idea of speaking of myself in the third person, at least in my private commentaries on my life, so that when I found myself depressed, for example, instead of thinking, "I'm depressed", I would think, "HE's depressed." You wouldn't think such a small thing would make much difference, but I found that I identified much less with my moods, and I had more of a sense of humor about them. It's hard to take your mood so seriously if you say, "Oh, he is just SO depressed."

Then I started doing it to Eve. I would come in and find her in a state about something, and I would say, "Oh, she's VERY upset." Its funny, but if you say to someone, "You seem to be depressed," they often either get defensive, or else they become even more convinced that, yes, they are depressed, but if you put it in the third person it sort of flips a switch and they automatically become more objective about it.

It has gotten to be a routine with Eve and I, and we each comment on our own behavior in the third person. Eve said once, "Its fine for you, you have multiple personae so you only do it around me, but I only have one persona, and now I'm doing it around other people, too, and they're starting to look at me and make comments." Use with caution.

Another aspect of moodiness, sometimes, is the feeling that something about our life or present situation is not right. Things should be different; we shouldn't have to do this or that or the other thing. Once I was whining to my AA sponsor about my third wife--something she was or wasn't doing, I forget--and he said, "You don't have a fucking clue what your marriage is supposed to be like." (Have I told this story?) At the time I thought he was being a bit extreme--surely I must have one or two ideas about it that weren't totally wrong. But since then I have decided that he wasn't being extreme enough: I don't even have a clue what my LIFE is supposed to be like.

Remember the story about the horse that ran away? It could be that some situation that, at the time, seems incredibly boring, unnecessary, or even painful is the necessary prelude to something wonderful. There may be one little tidbit of information in that boring lecture that seems totally inconsequential at the time, but you may find yourself in some future situation where that little bit clicks, and you have an insight or understanding that you wouldn't otherwise have had. There is no way of knowing in advance what might be useful. Which is not to say that we can't be selective, but if we find ourselves in a situation we're committed to in one way or another, like school, we don't have to make ourselves miserable by dwelling on our ideas about what would be more fun or appropriate for a person like ourselves to be doing.

No matter what kind of situation we find ourselves in, we can turn it into an "FGE". In AA, a fairly common lament is, "Oh great, just what I need: another Fucking Growth Experience." (Those AA people are so rude;) It is in the kinds of situations that annoy, bore, or upset us that we have the opportunity to acquire some useful information about who we think we are--we come to understand ourselves. We can learn to say, no matter what our current predicament seems to be, "This is the perfect place for her to be at this moment--what is the source of her objection? What can she learn?"

Of course, situations don't have to be awful for us to learn from them. Eve and I were trying to decide the other night whether to go to an Italian or a Chinese restaurant. It ended up being Chinese, and while we were sitting there, she said something like, "I realized in making the choice, that it was really determined by a combination of biology and conditioning." So we talked about that some, about how whether or not one likes certain Chinese or Italian dishes is determined by the interaction of your taste buds to certain foods under certain conditions, and that one really has no choice about liking or not liking them, one just does or doesn't. Neither does one have any control over which dish sounds better on any particular occasion.

There may seem to be a contradiction here. First I tell you that you can like watery gruel if that is what you're eating, and then I tell you that whether or not you like something is beyond your control. We don't have any control over our preferences--they are dictated by biology and our conditioning, our history--but the very understanding that we don't have any control over our preferences gives us a new perspective on our history. This new perspective can free us from our emotional attachment to our preferences, from identifying our preferences as WHO WE ARE. Our preferences can then become simple historical facts--sometimes appropriate to the situation, sometimes not.

Which reminds me of a Mazu story: Someone asked him some profound question once, and he answered, “Sometimes I make ‘him’ raise his eyebrows and blink his eyes, sometimes I don’t make ‘him’ raise his eyebrows and blink his eyes. Sometimes raising the eyebrows and blinking the eyes is right, sometimes raising the eyebrows and blinking the eyes is not right. How about you?” (You gotta love the guy : )(TRANSMISSION OF LIGHT: ZEN IN THE ART OF ENLIGHTENMENT BY ZEN MASTER KEIZAN, translated by Thomas Cleary, North Point Press,1990, p.155)

Old Mazu had no idea HOW he decided when to blink and when not to blink--he just knew that sometimes it was right and sometimes it wasn't. The difference between him and an unenlightened person is that he knows he doesn't know. He doesn't have the delusion of being in control. He doesn't identify himself as being the kind of person who knows what is right and what is not right. He isn't "attached" to knowing.

Supposedly, the first words the Buddha uttered on achieving enlightenment were, "All beings are enlightened. They just don't know it because of delusion." Later on it was said, "Enlightened mind and unenlightened mind are the same mind." The only difference is that the enlightened know that they are the flea, not the elephant; the "guest", not the "host". Knowing that one is the guest frees one from the responsibilities of being a host, and this freedom is what Zen is about. Which is why Zen is popular. It doesn't matter what your circumstances are, whether you're rich or poor, loved or unloved, famous or nobody, you can be happy. All you have to do is look inside. Another AA saying: "Happiness is an inside job."

Eve just passed on your post. What an athlete! I'm totally pleased with your performance, and with your encouraging Barbara--that's bodhisattva territory.

I hope you were serious about wanting our old posts. Do you have a way to save them? Or print them? Let me know if you want them on paper. (I'm not sure I got them all in the right order.)

Enough. I've got to call the railroad and see if I'm working tonight.

Take care of yourself, you animal : )

Love, Norm

sunset over hot springs

Aftermath

Subject: hullabalooza

Sent: 02/06/97 12:06 AM

yo normbear!

thank you Mucho for the old mail- i messed up and deleted everything you sent, and i never keep my responses cuz i thought aol did but it turns out they only do that for a week. your email was great- i keep thinking i will never learn more but you keep surprising me. i passed on the idea of being in the third person to some of my email friends but somehow im not sure they will understand me.

When you talk about FGE's, I like how you can question yourself in the third person- "what is HER trouble" but you say that growth experiences make you understand yourslef. But since we shouldnt think of ourselves as people and we shouldnt identify ourselves by our moods, we come to understand the person who we think we are? i am almost understanding this.. but i need some help.

No cajuna final project as of right now. Maybe later, if you really really want to see it. I'd feel embarrassed (or she would)- i didnt do it justice. i wanted to, really, i had all these grandiose plans of comparing what you said about Zen and life to stuff in Franny and Zooey and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but i ended up starting to type the day before it was due and the paper was not as good as i wanted it to be.

I love the idea of how we have no clue what our lives are supposed to be like. But how do we get over the desire for our lives to be different. Like I am convinced that the person who i think i am would be cooler if i say, did things more spontatneously instead of being all safe and planned about it. sometimes when im (she is) in a bad mood i think that and it makes me feel worse. So if we are in a bad mood about something we would really like to change about ourselves - we know that we arent Supposed to be anything yet we Want to be it - how do you change a desire?

What you said about our preferences really reminded me of existentialism and death. do you know anything about existentialism- we spent a whole lotta time on it earlier this year. so you were saying that its fine for us to have preferences, but they are not who we are, just historical facts that can help us with a situation. once we "get over" these preferences, realize that they are just preferences, we are freed from them. that is what existentialists say about death - once we "get over" death, accept that we will all die someday, and we realize that is is just death, we are freed from our fear of death and can do anything. i might be getting that wrong, cuz it seems a little fuzzy as i am writing it, but i think i have some idea.

What is a Baddhivista? You said my helping Barbara was his territory. My friend Ann gave Barbara a little quote book of zen sayings and we were reading it on the bus to the armory (where we run). i loved all the stories- those are the best part. our new goal for winter track is to break the school record for the 4x800 m. we each have to run a 2:38 which means i have to bring my time down at least 5 seconds. i already am on the team that broke that record sophomore year but it would be cool to do it again - sunday is a maybe break the record day...

send me the photos if possible!! say hi to eve and trains and toes :)

love laura

Subject: good luck!

Sent: 2/7/97 3:13 PM

Hey Laurabodhisattvabear,

I like your spelling--Baddhivista--but it would be hard to find in the dictionary. A Bodhisattva is someone who is on the verge of nirvana (which takes you right off the planet), but foregoes the final plunge to help other human beings. So any time you help someone you are doing a bodhisattva kind of thing.

In watching the way we react to situations we come to understand the person we have always thought ourselves to be, and where the ideas that make up that person came from. We come to see that the ideas about who we are were passed on to us by parents, society, teachers, etc. We also come to see that our perception of who we are varies from situation to situation. In one situation we are a track star, and the things that are relevant to that situation come to the forefront, while parts of us that are relevant to art English--books we've read, thought we've had--don't apply. Of all the things we've been taught to be, we can only be conscious of a tiny fragment at any one time--the flea's eye view of the elephant--and that's who we think we are at the moment.

But who we really are is the whole elephant. You can't see all of an elephant at once, and you can't think about all of who you are at once, or be all of who you are at once, or even feel all of your body at once. Our ordinary way of looking at ourselves is not capable of comprehending who we are, and so we think of ourselves in fragments. This fragmented view of ourselves--this failure to comprehend ourselves in our completeness--snowballs into all the complications, problems, and pain in our lives. The beginning of the solution is just to pay attention to what is going on in our minds from moment.

You said in an earlier post:

" i tried out the just focusing on the here and now and i found out i must be the most un-here and now person i know. not only did i experiene that "spinning off into my other thoughts" feeling, but i found that in everything i do, even conversations with other people, im always focusing on what will hapen next, worrying aobut what to do next etc."

You have had an incredible insight in seeing this about yourself. Most people go through their whole lives without realizing that they are never really just present with what is happening at the moment. They take it for granted that the way they experience life is the only way possible, so it never occurs to them to pay attention to what actually goes on.

On the one hand, being able to think about the future and make plans is a wonderful ability we human beings have; as is the ability to think about the past and figure out what went wrong. The problem is that if you couple either one of these abilities with fear and anxiety, it goes spiraling out of control.

So how do you get rid of the fear and anxiety? You learn to trust the elephant--the whole elephant--and you remember the story of the runaway horse, that we don't know how things are going to turn out.

Remembering the runaway horse is the easy part. It is more difficult to learn to trust our own brains. The key (IT thinks--I actually use "it" more often than "he"; getting around the gender identity thing) is to realize that we have never been in control to begin with.

All the ideas we have about ourselves are just memories in our brains. Our brain uses these ideas to orient itself in its environment, as long as it thinks they are relevant and useful, but the feeling that WE are in control of our brain is just another one of these ideas that we have about ourselves. When we learn to pay attention to what goes on in our minds--to these ideas, how they arise in different situations, where they come from--we realize that this particular idea ain't true. There is thinking going on in our brain, but we don't know how it works--the flea's eye view only sees the results; it doesn't see how the neurons interact with each other, it doesn't control the way they discharge neorotransmitters.

We are not the thinkers we thought we were--the planners, the decision-makers, the lovers, the haters--we have never been in charge of our own brains. "WE" are artifacts of our own brains--a collection of ideas--and the artifacts don't run the show. And yet--and this is the part that makes me go cross-eyed and goose-bumpy --if "I" think I'm running the show, my brain thinks I'm running the show, too. "I" am my brain's idea of who it is--AND IT IS MISTAKEN! You would think a brain would know who it is, until you realize that it learns by getting feedback from the environment, and if the environment teaches it that it is a person, that is what it thinks--at least until it learns better. Once the brain realizes that what it has called "I" is just a collection of ideas it has about who it is, there is a reorientation process to go through. If "I" is just a collection of ideas, what kind of sense does it make to say, "I like something." The collection of ideas that makes up the "I" is not capable of liking something; in fact, there is no place in the brain that knows why it likes something.

The eyes take in a bunch of information about a photograph, for example, and the visual cortex processes the information. Neither the eyes nor the visual cortex (a pretty large part of the brain), know what they are looking at, but the information is sent out to all the parts of the brain connected with vision, and recognition sets in: "Ah, a photograph." By now a whole cascade of interactions is taking place involving memories of past photographs--the whole history of the brain's reactions and feelings about photographs, art, galleries, photographers--along with feelings about life itself, beauty, etc., etc. An incredible amount of processing takes place, and in the end, the result of all that processing is translated into the flood of neurotransmitters that results in the body having a pleasant sensation, which prompts the nerves controling the facial muscles to flex some, relax others, so that a smile is produced. All of it together is connected to the language processing part of the brain, which produces the heretofore appropriate string of words, "I like it."

If you were to start saying things in public, like, "This brain/body likes this photograph," or, "This brain/body likes pizza with peperoni," you are going to get some possibly unfavorable reactions. And its a lot of extra, awkward words to say.

It is probably best not to mess with linguistic convention in this way. What is really important is to realize that this handy way of speaking--"I like/dislike this and that"-- doesn't do justice to the way things actually are. The way things actually are is incredibly more complex, mysterious, and wonderful.

There is nothing in our brains that is capable of knowing who we are in other than a socially practical way--the elephant is too big to be seen with the only way it has of looking at itself--consciousness is too small a window. Not knowing who I am means that I don't have an identity to defend or protect, and I don't know what identity would be "best" for me anyway.

Of course I have an everyday, working identity--I don't forget that I drive trains for the railroad, or that Eve and I are engaged--but these are "who I am" just for the sake of practicality, not in any profound sense.

Now the unity thing and the not-knowing-who-I-am thing are oddly related. The brain has to give up trying to figure out--in words--who it is and what reality is, in order to experience the unity thing. As long as it is attached to having an identity, it is condemned to see itself as separate from everything else. It has to be open to the possibility that it is just one with the fabric of the universe, that whatever it is is determined by the interweaving of the threads of the great pattern of things. Once one has experienced the unity thing, one has graphic support for the realization that has been arrived at by the ordinary means of looking at what goes on in one's head--that whatever one is, it is the unavoidable consequence of being at a particular place in space and time.

I would like to be able to say these things in a way that is perfectly clear and comprehensible; I would like to be able to minimize the difficulties in understanding these rather convoluted ideas. Your questions, and the ones Eve keeps asking, keep me focused on the things that aren't clear, and the more I try to explain them, the more I learn about the whole thing. We are all students in this together, and we all have a contribution to make--don't underestimate your part.

A line in your last post reads, "But since we shouldn't think of ourselves as people and we shouldn't identify ourselves by our moods..." it reminds me of a saying from AA: "Don't 'should' on yourself." I hope I haven't given you any ideas about what we should or shouldn't do. I have tried to give you an idea of what you might find out for yourself about the way things ARE--not how they should be--if you look, some kind of a map of the territory, but I hope you won't take my word for it. Who is Laura? Where does she come from? As you watch thoughts come and go in your mind, what does it tell you about the way your mind works?

I've just finished reading a book that might be more helpful than anything I've written to you. Its called, THE WORK OF THIS MOMENT, by Toni Packer. She's been asking these questions longer than I have, has a lot more experience in talking about them, and her answers and mine are very similar in essence. I know you're probably too busy with school to take on extra reading, but maybe I'll send you a copy before summer vacation.

Good luck on the track, hope you break the record.

Love, Norm

bay laurel

Dew of This Moment

Subject: Toni Packer

Sent: 2/10/97 9:11 AM

Hi, Laurabear,

Hope you had a fun weekend. It occurred to me that Springwater Center, where Toni Packer teaches, might have a web page, and it does. There are links to a talk given by Toni at a retreat last fall, and a letter to her with her reply, all well worth reading, and only a mouse click away.

I'm in a rush today. The prints are supposed to be ready, and I've got to frame them and get them to the gallery, then sleep and go to work at midnight. Hope I can get them to you soon.

Take care of your sweet self,

Love, Norm

Subject: Re: Toni Packer

Sent: 02/11/97 10:38 PM

hey normphotobear

i dont have much time to respond to all youve been sending me, but i finally understand what you were trying to get across- at least about us not being a person, "I" is just something we are taught to be. I have never heard of that idea before and it really fascinates me! When did you finally figure this out? the zen dudes? That guy's book that you read over and over (im sorry what was it?) As for me, I still have to learn to trust the elephant though... i still think "I" is in control.

I have started trying to apply this to my everyday problems. For instance, I have been going through this painful ordeal with two of my friends, Ann and Carl. They were going out and then they broke up and then Carl was going through some tough times and we sort of got together over vacation but then Ann came back (mainly because of me because she realized what she was missing) and they are now going out again. They are both really sweet and they both wanted to make it as painless as possible for me but I was and still am having a tough time with the feelings my brain is having of rejection and i am really "should"ing on myself about not doing anything with Carl in the first place, etc. I was trying to see how what you said fit into my being a nonperson, and how it relates to the situation, and some things fit. Like at certain points i really dont care about the situation and im fine with it, but at some points it makes me depressed- so that is just my brain doing your "bad acid" thing, like going from the sad part of the brain to the happy part for no reason. "i" am not in control of that process- but how do you make your brain get out of that sad part of the brain? it really is a sucky place to be in. And I am all sad because I have no one else to be my boyfriend, and i feel sort of like i was used (but not really) but that could be that i have been taught all my life to think like the fleas eye view that being used and not having a boyfriend are bad things but i think im missing something. Also the thought that im learing something or that there is some great "horse story" consequence to this whole mess is not a very comforting thought. Its not an immediate solace.

I sorta checked out Toni on the web- i read the letter and the response but i read it too quick. i really didnt catch what toni was saying. i like it when you explain- you use animal stories and direct language. Ill have to go back and read it over when its not 1230 am.

oh yeah, the reason im writing to you so late is cuz (trumpets sound here) we broke the record!! :) By a good margin too- a lot larger than i expected. I got my personal best time by at least 3 seconds which is pretty hard in an 800 and everyone else on the team did way above what was needed to break the record and all got personal bests too. you should have seen us before the race, however, i had to run anchor and i dont even remember watching the first three girls run their legs cuz i was sitting there whimpering to myself. i dont even remember running..

so ill leave you and i hope you get back to me soon now that you framed your photos and stuff like that. say hi to trains, eve, toes, mazu, and every flower you see from now until lunch :)

love laura

Subject: Love and lions

Sent: 2/12/97 6:18 PM

Hi Lauraracingbear,

Congratulations! The image of you whimpering to yourself before your leg was so endearing, my heart just melted. Sweet human being.

And LOVE! Poor Baby, that is a very hard one to deal with, take it from a guy who has been married three times. I struggled with wanting to be wanted most of my life. All the smart women turned and walked away, saying, "This guy is way too needy."

You've got everything against you on this one--genes, hormones, society, media forever, peers--everyone and everything says THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT! If you ain't loved you ain't nobody. Talk about suffering!

It sounds like you're trying really hard, and you've got some good tools, but for me, the only thing that really solved the problem was that feeling of being enmeshed in the universe--the unity thing. The letter to Toni about the water buffalo and the lions is a very graphic example. From a conventional point of view one might like it to be different--couldn't we put the water buffalo to sleep or something before they eat it? But you are well on your way to seeing the larger view; the perspective from which all our suffering is a spin and a swirl in the dance of the universe. It is so incredibly huge and wonderful.

I spent the day updating my web page with the NEW PHOTOS! Each of the two has its own page with details of construction, etc. And now its way past my bedtime, but I wanted to get a line to you--more later.

The flowers were all swaying in the breeze, whispering, "Oh, if Laurabear could only see us now." The whole universe is crazy about you--hang in there.

Love, Norm

magenta flowers in front of lichened stone

We're Crazy About You

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