The Letters Part 4

Subject: flowers

Sent: 03/22/97 3:58 PM

Hey Normybeartakescareofararepear

Hows CalifornI.A. doing? I got into BU yesterday- but that was way at the bottom of my list. No word from Berkely or stanford : ( What you say in your letter makes so much sense- when you are explaining that you don't need Eve to like you because she doesn't factor into your non-existent identidy (because you are a computer that doesnt understand itself, not the monitor), but then when I try to apply it to any situation with any relationship that I am in it gets tangled. Im trying to help my friend to deal with a painful breakup with her boyfriend- how can I say to her that he doesnt form your identidy, you can choose to be happy with or without him any time, without her physical and mental pain and anguish pointing otherwise. So you committed to Eve even if she changes into an abusive unloving person? I guess that situation would make your brain come to a decisoin process that maybe its time to leave eve? The way you say you are commited and always are able to choose to be happy with the present situation means that (maybe?) you will never try for something new or better or off the beaten trail - like Im sure i would probably be satisfied at any college i end up at next year. but what about my other idea of taking a year off? If I am always happy in my situation then I wont want to do "better" things like volunteering overseas for a year or something. I guess "better" is what society and community service organizations want me to believe is being a better "person like me", but I think it is common sense (maybe?) that if i would volunteer it would be less selfish than going to college just to be able to earn more money ? selfish without there being a self to be selfish for i mean - does selfish even exist in this way of thinking? You say: "If things seem right, I do them, whether they fit the image of a guy like me or not" - but there is no "I" to "do" anything- are you saying you dont weigh any decision carefully, you just "do them" if they "seem right", on any whim or mood(area of the brain) that your brain might be in at the moment? What if nothing seems right? The guy involved in the breakup says he is in love with two people at once for different reasons- he would hurt one of them in any situation in which he might choose one of them, maybe both of them. what is right? I think I am almost there...or am i totally missing the point? Does love even exist under your way of looking at things? A different kind of love? I know that I probably ask the same questions over and over ... I am so sorry if i am boring you. There was probably something wrong with that last statement too : "I am so sorry if i am boring you" - its just so hard to change my whole system of thinking - you dont know how much I turn these ideas over in my head. whenever some situation inspires me, i try to write it down to bring it up with you. I think ive come a long way but i have more to go.

This month has flown by! How is your vacation coming? I have less than a month til spring break plus we get a bonus 5 day weekend for Easter next week! Are you getting all your projects done? Sorry it took me so long to write, now that i have no school work i do lots of other fun things and i never am home - i hope to hear from you soon.

love, :) laura

ps - i was just reading the begining part of your letter over. are you saying that we should just trust our brains to make the decision even if "i" am not sure its right because we dont know how our brain came to that decision? i guess this relates to what i was saying before about the whim thing. Is this the end to second guessing yourself?

insect-chewed foliage

Insect Art

Subject: beliefs

Sent: 03/26/97 12:36 PM

Heya Normabear

Now you are a woman bear- with just one magical flick of a letter..

I guess this could be classified as a late night thought as I am writing it late at night. My brother, I think this is right from what I have heard from him, has this belief that one day he will magically meet the woman of his dreams and they will live happily ever after, or at least things will be "better" because he will be in love. I have always thought that I was missing something from my life because I don't have a best friend who lives next door who I was inseperable from when i was little and now we are so close that we can do anything together etc. I get depressed if I think my friend is not "best" enough. If I think about it, we both have learned these things from outside sources - TV and the ideal movies probably, plus all the pop songs on the radio for my brother. If I think about it, I can see that my next door best friend is pretty far fetched, and so is joes and both are probably unattainable. Believing in these things makes me feel empty because I don't have them, not believing in them makes me feel empty because there is nothing really to believe in. I know there is no "I" believeing in anything, but somehow that thought doesnt make my brain switch into continual happy mode. I'm not sure what my question is, but maybe you could comment if you have time? It never ceases to amaze me how well your letters are thought out and organized- I will try to make mine better too.

I got into Berkely! The mail came on saturday. I thought I was going to be more excited than i actually was.

Say hi to the Universe for me - I just saw a map of the universe in 3D - pretty cool stuff if you ask me. love laura

Subject: flowers and beliefs

Sent: 3/27/97 9:59 PM

Hi, Laurabear,

There is an old story about a rabbi in the old country. Every day this Cossack would see the rabbi walking down the same street at the same time, and one day it occurred to him to ask, "Hey Rabbi, where are you going?"

"I don't know," the rabbi answered.

"I see you every day going down the same street at the same time and you tell me you don't know where you're going?"

"I don't know," said the rabbi.

First the Cossack was annoyed, then he was angry, and finally he took the rabbi off to jail. As he was closing the cell door, the rabbi said softly, "I told you I didn't know."

In the ultimate sense none of us know where we are going, but if you are talking to a Cossack, it is expedient to speak in terms that he understands. This is what the Zen folks call "acting according to circumstances."

So it may not be helpful to talk to your friend in the terms you and I talk about. Most of the people I interact with are locked into the system, and what they want to hear is, "How can I turn this situation to my advantage within the given social structure?" The closest I can come to actually speaking in terms of the truth is to suggest, usually through humor, that there might be a broader perspective from which to view their predicament. It is a tricky situation, and really, most of the time I can only nod my head and reassure them that it will all work out in the long run.

Decisions, decisions! What if THIS happened, and what if THAT happened, what would you do then? It can get very complicated if you are trying to make a decision based on the idea of being a person within the given social system. The value system is pretty complex, and the kinds of rewards you may get within one frame of reference (helping others) are difficult to compare to those within another frame of reference (economic success). If you were making a lot of money you might be able to help more people than you could if you were acting as an individual person in the field. If you were famous you could publicize issues in a way that an unfamous person could not. The variations are endless, and how can one decide what the BEST course of action is? No matter how carefully you weigh the decision, there is no way to add up all the pluses and minuses, and in the end you are left with, "it seemed like the right thing to do at the time."

So how does the idea of being a non-person apply to all this? If you get into the habit of watching your brain react to various situations, you begin to notice how its reactions are based on its idea of who it is. One of the first ones I ever noticed was that I would get a feeling of superiority when I saw someone driving a car with a crunched-in fender. It was a non-verbal reaction--just a sort of mental smirk--but once I noticed it I had to ask myself, "what is going on, here? Why should I get this feeling of superiority under these circumstances?" In thinking of myself as a person within the system, I found that I was constantly trying to position myself to advantage: am I better than this person? Worse off than that one? If I saw someone in a better car than mine, I would find myself thinking that they were probably shallow, defective emotionally, etc., etc.--somehow they had to be inferior to "a guy like me." That kind of thinking, with the accompanying emotional ups and downs, goes on constantly when you think of yourself as a person within the system.

Once you get tuned in to these kinds of responses, the emotions become your first clue to the fact that you are thinking in terms of "gain and loss", as the Zen folks say. I still, on occasion, get a little momentary twinge of resentment if someone doesn't treat ME with the proper respect, usually followed by an inner giggle of recognition that those reaction patterns are still there: "Oh, my, he was TERRIBLY upset there for a moment."

In the end it seems that emotions are primarily a way of reinforcing behavior that fits into our programed identity as a person. The more familiar we become with our programmed reactions to situations, the easier it is to feel that those programmed emotions are not OUR emotions--they are not who we are. If someone says I am cool, that they like me, I realize that they are talking about the way their programming of who they are reacts to how they have been programmed to perceive me, and the same goes for someone who reacts in a negative way--in either case they probably don't have much of an inkling of who I am. More than likely they don't understand why they are reacting the way they are, and in any case their reactions have nothing to do with who I essentially am--there is no need for me to react to their emotions with emotions of my own.

And there, perhaps, is the key word--"own." Nothing that I have or am "belongs" to anyone. The emotions that I have don't belong to anyone, my body doesn't belong to anyone--"I" didn't do anything to acquire anything that someone with a "normal" perspective would consider mine.

Jean Klein has a wonderful passage on this: “You live in contraction, thinking of yourself as an individual. Where do the terms ‘me’ and ‘mine’ find meaning? When you really look into yourself you cannot say the body belongs to you. You are the result of two people and each parent had two parents and so on. All humanity is in you. You are what you absorb. You eat vegetables fish, meat, and these are dependent on light the sun, warmth. The light is related to the moon and the stars are all related. There is nothing personal in us...”(WHO AM I, p.20)(remember? I think I sent you a longer passage that this is the start of.)

So when you stop being attached to your reactions and emotions, when you come to see them objectively, they cease being the weighty factors in your decision-making that they otherwise are. You stop identifying with your decisions as belonging to you, and you realize that they belong to the universe. The words you are reading are the product of all the forces in the universe, and their effect on you are the product of all the forces in the universe, and when you realize that none of it belongs to anyone, that it all belongs to this great incredible whole, then that realization is a product of all the forces in the universe, and it leads to further interactions with the universe as it unfolds in your immediate vicinity. Your brain still weighs decisions, it still says, "What do we do now?" but you see this process from a broader perspective. Instead of saying, "What do I want to do?" I am more likely to say, "Which way does the universe seem to be leading?" It is still impossible to consider the ins and outs of every possible path, to make a so-called "rational" decision, but giving up the idea that the decision is MINE takes a lot of the pressure off--ultimately it is impossible to make a mistake.

You ask, "Does love even exist under your way of looking at things? A different kind of love?" There you go, answering your own questions. What most people are feeling when they think they are experiencing love is self-centered--it is based on how the other person feels about them, or on how they think they would feel if the other person loved them. It is all based on having the idea of who I am reinforced by someone else. When I realize that who I am is not personal--it doesn't belong to me; I did not make it or earn it--then if someone likes that or is attracted to it, they are liking or being attracted to the universe. That is nice, but it doesn't belong to me. I can enjoy it in the same way that I enjoy the sunshine or the flowers, but the sun doesn't know it is shining on me, the flowers don't know that they make me happy--and it doesn't diminish the joy of any of it that it is impersonal.

(I have by now gotten your second email since my last. I've been out of town almost continuously for several days.)

When we first realize that our beliefs about life and friends and love are fantasies, it feels like we are losing something. It can be a devastating experience--perhaps what one guy meant by "the dark night of the soul". But the truth is that those fantasies are based on very narrow conceptions of life and happiness, on what Jean calls the "contraction (of) thinking of yourself as an individual." In fact, those very fantasies that we cling to are like a prison cell, and outside the confines of those little ideas is a world that is infinitely more wonderful and mysterious.

A guy named Rumi put it like this:

Think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo. You might say, "The world outside is vast and intricate. There are wheat fields and mountain passes, and orchards in bloom. At night there are millions of galaxies, and in sunlight the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding."

You ask the embryo why he, or she, stays cooped up in the dark with eyes closed. Listen to the answer.

There is no 'other world.' I only know what I've experienced. You must be hallucinating.”

(THE ENLIGHTENED MIND, edited by Stephen Mitchell, Harper Perennial, 1991, p. 102)

There are a couple of books--there are lots, really, but two really good ones: THE ENLIGHTENED MIND, and THE ENLIGHTENED HEART, both anthologies by Stephen Mitchell--if you had time to read them I would send you copies. The passage by Rumi is from one of them. They helped me through my own black hole, and they might or might not help you to see beyond the loss of your fantasy friend to the incredible world there is to be gained.

A sample from old Wu-Men:

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

(THE ENLIGHTENED HEART, edited by Stephen Mitchell, Harper & Row, 1989, p.47)

Hang in there, Laurabear, it does get better.

Love, Norm

p.s. Hey, are you smart or what! Everybody wants you to go to their school. I used to wonder why, if I was as smart as everyone said, why I wasn't happy? But being smart is helpful, I think, even though sometimes it may take us the long way around.

p.p.s. I've been thinking I might upload our email exchange to my web site as the next installment. Eve thinks our letters should be in a book... Here are some options for you to think about: 1) Upload them as is, with no editing except maybe for the names of your friends, but you could be identified as Laura ____, if you like, 2) same as "1" except without your last name, 3) ditto except you would be totally anonymous, or 4) I could edit your letters down to just the essential questions, with nothing left of the original flavor at all. My service has started giving me statistics on how many "hits" the site is getting, and where from. So far its about 30 some-odd people a week, from all over the world--Russia, Japan, France, etc. I've gotten a couple of email responses from people. Its just possible that all this could become fairly widely read, eventually, so keep that in mind. My first choice would be #1, but there are privacy issues, and while I might be willing to bare my soul to the world, you might not be. You might not want your high school thoughts following you the rest of your life. It might even be something you'd want to talk to your parents about. I won't do a thing till you've had time to think about it and let me know.

More love, Norm

stones in a stream

Stone Clouds

Subject: lotsa stuff

Sent: 04/06/97 6:29 PM

HeYNorMbEaR

My name? Up in lights? Or on your web page? If i fully understand and live by all that youre saying then option 1 would be what i would pick because i wouldnt care what people thought of the non-me right? You would change the name of my friends right? I guess its all good - maybe you should just use my first name... what if my friends were somehow at your site (i even told a couple of them about it awhile back) .. i dont know if they would like to recognize theselves. Maybe you should do it this summer, when I'm away from them all.

When you solve your problems that way- by realizing you are not a person, the thoughts in your head are only the monitor, the real decision making goes down beyond "your" control, therefore you arent guilty or rsponsible for most things you do -are you joyful or just content? Whenever I look at something the way you decribe, it ceases to become as big a deal, but I can't go the next step of "choosing to be happy". I am too aware of myself at that point.

What about feelings you, the concious monitor "I", don't know where they are coming from? I was feeling stressed the other day and I had no idea why. I couldn't tell myself it was just me thinking that I was a person, feeling responsible for something that I was giong to make a mistake about cuz I didnt know what that somethiing was. no matter how i thought about it, i couldn't make the feeling go away.

I figured it out, though. At least I know what I'm stressed about now - I have to figure out what I'm doing next year, and if it's college I have to let them know by the end of this month! I got rejected from Brown and Stanford, waitlisted at Amherst by the way. So it's a choice between Wesleyan and Berkely. What you said about not making a mistake about going to college or not, being able to do what I feel is right wherever I am, makes sense, but I can't get rid of the feeling that I can make a mistake in this situation. The world is forcing me to make a decision by a deadline, find a place where I'm going to be happy, whether at Berkely, Wesleyan,or some other place, even though I know that "I" could be "happy" anywhere, just my brain isn't choosing for some reason - I am holding it back with my not trusting the elephant. Every time I mysteriously add up all the pluses and minuses, make a decision, usually it's Berkely, I start conciously arguing in the monitor of my thoughts- "but Berkely's too big, they'll treat you like a number, you haven't thought of all the possibilities and are going on an impression only, you haven't even looked into other non-college options for next year". I'm constantly worried that I'm missing something. I tell myself to think of it your way, but then I come back at myself saying that way you are happy anywhere, you never want to change the situation, even though I know I am thinking of myself within a social structure to turn to my advantage. It's just what I've been programmed to do I guess.

About what you said that you noticed yourself mentally smirking about your car compared to others, I've been noticing stuff like that so much now. It happens so much in high school- people are constantly asking each other what the other did saturday night to mentally compare themselves to see if their night was more exciting, people are changing friends to get themselves in a better social position, people are asking each other what colleges they got into to see if they got into a better college. It's very hard not to get caught up in it all. And what do you do instead? It seems like every time I think of myself as having friends, I say uh oh, am I just selffishly reinforcing the idea of a "self" by choosing these friends? And it seems more and more that I am. So what do i do instead? Sometimes I really like having friends- they make me "happy", I like being in the social situation/order with them, I like getting email from them cuz that shows they care about "me". But then again, there are those times when it is not as fun.

Also when you describe how when someone is attracted to you, they are attracted to the world because you enjoy the world. So how come it doesn't work in reverse - I can't see loving everybody, the same way as I would love say my fiancee. It almost works, but I think I enjoy the company of someone else over the bright sun on a spring day. When you say that you don't need beautiful lovers, material things to make you happy, what does make you happy? What's the difference between a really cool car and a patch of wildflowers - they are both things that make people happy.

The story of the rabbi- when do you know when to tailor yourself to the world? I guess thats yet another decision.. Ok, I think that is enough. I have been thinking all week about this stuff, it's infecting fmore and more of what I do. At one point the thought of "I" when I was thinking seemed weird, but now I think Im back to thinking of myself as an I. maybe that will change.

well, hope to hear from you soon say hi to all the world and especially eve and your favorite train - do you have a favorite? are they different like cars?

love, laura

Subject: more and more

Sent: 4/13/97 2:46 PM

Normbear!

I know I have been asking too many questions lately, it's just that Ive been thinking...

What if everyone in all the world thought as a nonperson- not as a part in society? It would get rid of social classes and racism and all that right? It would also do other stuff- becasue it seems like everything from friendship to jobs is based on some "position" in some social structure. When you are happy do you feel kind of "stupid"? all the intelligent books that we are reading seem to be based on figuring out identidy and are also kind of depressing. Have you ever read City of Glass or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead?

today is such a nice day - i went to borders and bought music and then me and my brother went to this cheapo huge pharmacy type place that we have never been to and scored incredible deals on candy bars and stuff - its amazing what stuff they have for one low low price :) and then we went to a one dollar store - joe got cologne for a buck - pretty disgusting.

seeyou :) have you kissed your train today? laura

Subject: Fwd: quote of the day Sent: 4/14/97 5:03 AM

i sent the wumen quote to a lot of people including a college guy who sends out a quote of the day to all his friends or email buds and he sent the one i sent him that you sent me today - allright!

seeya lauraz

Subject: less and less

Sent: 4/15/97 10:21 AM

Hi Laurabear,

My computer is broken and in the shop. I'm writing you on Eve's computer while she's in the shower, but I'll have to let her have it back soon.

That's great about the Wu-Men quote--an ancient Chinese guy in cyberspace!

On Happiness and Stupidity: A guy even older than Wu-Men, Lau Tsu, said, "I'm like an idiot my mind, is so empty." (TAO TE CHING, Stephen Mitchell, Harper Perennial, 1988, v.20) And then there is a saying from AA: "Which would you rather be, right or happy."

If we think we are in a good position to take advantage of the system as it is, if we think that we have a crack at the money, houses, and lovers, then we are inclined to want to preserve it and continue to work on our position, our strategy. We have to find out that those things in themselves are no guarantee of happiness, that no matter where we are in the system, happiness is within us--it doesn't come from outside. Then whether we continue to operate in the system or not is optional.

More later... Eve's out of the shower, so its my turn, then on to the dentist.

Love, normbear

beach at low tide

In Position

Subject: Re: less and less

Sent: 4/19/97 5:58 AM

hi normbear,

did you get my letter? my really long letter with all the questions i sent a week ago?

heres some more stuff that i typed out while writing my ap euro paper (multitasking).

people and literature are always talking about "finding you", the inner identidy. is this all a load of bull? sometimes it really does seem that some people have found their innter identity - the people who stand up for something when they believe that it's right. leadership type people. they seem to be sure of themselves in at least one subject - the one they lead in - although they are probably not so on the others. i know this is all thinking like a person who thinks that they are a person. there are some things that i feel im sure about - like abortion. im pro choice. and im just about sure that no amount of fetuses will tell me its murder etc. i even get emotional when people feel the other way and start arguing against them- is that a sign that im reinforcing my personhood? thats what you said emotions are awhile back

so i get what you say about playing the game right for awhile doesnt work because you start looking for a rule. when i wrote that to you i was feeling cool with everybody- like everybody was all friends so i asked you- but what if i like hanging out with my friends and having a good time? well you told me that things can turn around and they do. example i just got off the phone with Carl. i feel kind of like he always comes out ahead when we talk, like ahead in the social scale of things. i think i used to feel more connected with him but now he seems to be drifting to a new set of friends and i always end up feeling a lot lower after i talk to him. this is all wrong though. i am still thinking of myself as a person within the social system - that's why i feel lower than him. its cool to figure this all out after i talk to him, it makes me feel better to think that im not part of a system that would make me feel "lower" than him, but what do i do for confidence while its happening? when i talk to him i automaticaly become a person and become the lower person he thinks i am. my friends are all wearing these bright yellow rain pants to school tomorrow to symbolize our trip white water rafting (we all got them) and they tell me to wear mine. one moment im terribly embarassed visualizing people staring at me in my bright yellows and then when i feel no self out of system i dont feel bad at all. right now im in no self land but that would probably change the first person who looks at me weird. just like Carl looking at me while we talk.

i forwarded what you said about love reaffirming ones own self to my freinds who were breaking up, Ann and Carl. they both told me it made them really happy -and Ann doesnt seem so distressed about Carl anymore. and she forwarded it to the other girl involved. maybe it solved the problem? who knows?

so for some reason ive been vaguely depressed about life. i feel like its one big chore that i sort of like to live sometimes and then its great but now when im in my low point i feel like its a chore. like going away next year is a chore - i stayed over in a college dorm room and i felt very chore like going around and meeting people and asking people where they are from and answering questions abut going away next year and going around findng fun stuff to do. i was amusing myself on this beautiful campus with all these nice people and im still unsatisifed i know im sounding like a rich spoiled bitch who has had everything and is still not saitisfied. which is what i am. i have everything going for me right now and yet im not satisfired. no matter how i try to look at it your way, it doesnt work. and last week i was feeling close too! i wrote about it to you didnt i? and i am being very honest right now which leads me to the next thing - i dont knw how to be honest wth myself sometimes. i know you told me once honesty with youreslf was the best thing , but i dont know how to be honest. it took me a long time to figure out what was depressing me. i know there is not a me to be depressed but thats hard to remember.

i feel like im whining. the other day was such a beautiful day and we were having a nice workout and the music was playing so nice and lovely but i always have something within me that forgets to enjoy it and sends my mind spinning off on horrible tangents that distract me from the present that it just goes to show i simply dont know how to hve fun. or i forget myself for an hour and then i remember something bad and i stop having fun again. or the laughter starts feeling forced. or i get stressed about something. or i feel guilty that someone else in the group is not having as much fun as i am. am i hopeless? this is all examples that fit with or whose answers probably lie within what you have told me over the course of our emailng so you are probably like why doesnt she learn already.

sorry about the computer- next time try not to take it bungee jumping so much norm i heard that really messes it up :)

seeyalater, lauradepressedbear

Subject: More or less

Sent: 4/19/97 9:30 AM

Hi Laurapoorbabybear,

I'm not teasing you, I really am sympathetic about what you'r feeling. You're going through a major transition, and it is inevitably disturbing.

I did get your other big letter, and I would love to have time to reply at length, but I'm overbooked, as they say, and am working against deadlines--still on Eve's computer.

Having conversations with people is probably the most computation-intensive thing our brain does, and we automatically revert to habitual modes of operation just to keep up with the data flow. Its great that you can remember to re-orient yourself afterwards--darn that stupid Carl anyway :) It takes practice, forming new habits, but there will come a time when you can sit, calm and serene, while the world crumbles around you.

I got a new installment up on the web page just before my computer crashed. Some of the ideas you will recognize from our email, but some might be new and hopefully helpful.

If you can listen for a space between the words going through your head, you will find that the world looks incredibly different in that space--when we don't compartmentalize it into a bunch of categories that don't come near expressing the incredible reality of it. In time it will get easier to see the world without words as it contrasts to the tangled web of language, and while we can't do without language, we don't have to be hemmed in by it. "Red", the word, doesn't come anywhere near to red, the experience.

All the things that you find chore-like are only chore-like because your brain has defined them that way. Its intentions are good--it is trying to preserve its idea of who it is in the face of a scary transition. No matter how dissatisfied you may be with the world you're in, it is familiar--"the evil we know versus the evil we don't know". But the world beyond the system we use to orient ourselves with is marvelous beyond comprehension--"mystery upon mystery, ever more wondrous."(THE BOOK OF SERENITY, translated by Thomas Cleary, Lindisfarne Press, 1990, p.207.)

Sometime when you're brushing your teeth, pay close attention to the how the brush feels doing all those things in your mouth, and then notice how your muscles are controlling the movement of your hand, and then notice how your feet are feeling the pressure of your weight on the floor. There is more going on at once than we can possibly pay attention to, and the more we get out of our habitual way of categorizing things and dismissing them as not relevant to "the system", or "the current big deal", or "who I am", the more we realize how incomprehensible it is just to be alive and conscious; what a precious opportunity it is that with stars being born and going supernova, black holes sucking in everything in sight, elements being formed in the heart of the sun, here, on this planet, there is a particular organization of matter that can be aware of scratching the end of its nose!

Hang in there. It gets incredibly better.

Love, normbear

dried seaweed on beach

Hanging In

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(The End of The Letters Part 4)

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