Thursday, October 22, 2009

Krishnamurti and shame

The beginning part of this blog post really is just because I love storytelling and always wanted to write about these weird dudes I once knew, but it has no relevance to the meat of this post. Alright, honestly, I just wanted to use the words: viovode and hanta virus.

Almost a decade ago, I lived a few doors down from a guy who ended up becoming someone who challenged and intrigued me intellectually and spiritually. He was an art student and film maker who practiced ahimsa in his life. It was inspiring to watch this man live in a completely sustainable way in the middle of the city. Except when I watched him stand very still one day as three mice ran around his kitchen. He stood very still, because he didn't want to disturb the feasting mice. I hate anything that scurries, so I slowly walked backwards out of the room and watched from a distance. I absolutely think most rodents are assholes. Still, he stood still until one ran in a bag, then with the movement of a ninja, the man-child scooped up the bag and took him out to his front step, thanked him, and set him free.

Hey, I don't kill spiders or other creepy crawlies, but rodents spread hanta virus. They poop in things. I have tried to rationally explain why we can not share space, but the mice just ignore me. "Squeak, squeak, bitch." For the attitude alone, I pondered ways in which to keep mice out of my house, and connected most with this suggestion from a friend: "Okay, first, find out where they are coming in. Then post a dead mouse on a little stake next to a sign that reads, 'All hope abandon, ye who enter here.'" Barring stooping to the level of sociopathic Wallachian voivode, I generally would stomp around cursing at them. It was all very passive-aggressive. I feel very fortunate now to live a home where I have never encountered a rodent.

After a few months of living there, another guy moved in with him. He was sort of this warm, normal looking dude who made unusually long eye contact. Hands down, I can say this vagabond was one of the smartest guys I ever met. He has a sort of far-out mystical quality. He came to Philadelphia after wandering through South America for a year. I couldn't ever tell if he was insane or holy. I also could never tell how long the filmmaker and the mystic knew each other. It seemed like they met, and then that night the hobo mystic lived on the floor in a sleeping bag. They had a very comfortable way of being around each other.

I very much enjoyed talking to both them about anything. I was attending college again after taking five years off. I studied Religion this time around. They often showed up at my apartment right before dinner time, and asked for dinner. I was a vegetarian at the time, and could easily make extra for them. I know it must sound like they were unwelcome in their beggary, but quite the contrary, I enjoyed not eating alone. I thought of them as sort of mendicant ascetics. They were appreciative. Kind. They did the dishes. Of course, one night they plunged my rice steamer into the sink, but it came from a good place. From what I could see, the mystic never worked and the film maker paid rent, bought them each a cup of coffee at a local cafe where they would sit and played chess most of the day, and stocked whatever food was in the house, which apparently mostly fed the mice. His student loans income was mostly spent keeping a roof over their head.

At any rate, they invited me over one night to watch this scratchy strange videotape. It was J. Krishnamurti and David Bohm having a conversation*. Krishnamurti is such a cool cat, if you don't know who he is. He basically was selected at a very young age to be the leader for the Theosophical Society. Raised to be the new World Leader, he took over the Order of the Star and the Theosophical Society at age 30. In his first speech, he disbanded the entire religion and said this:
I maintain that truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path.
He continued writing and speaking, though he rejected being followed like a guru. He really is incredible and wise, and I often turn to him when I am looking to reconnect with kindness and compassion in my life. David Bohm is a quantum physicist. So the philosopher and the physicist dialogue. What is fascinating about this conversation is that Bohm , who I think read his first Krishnamurti book in the late fifties, completely saw his theories of quantum physics illustrated in Krishnamurti's philosophical work. I think the conversation I watched was from the early 80s or late 70s.

At any rate, they talk about everything, but one thing I remember from the conversation was this idea of psychology. We are programmed. That negative programming from our childhood is literally mapped to affect every cell of our body. They talked about how difficult the work of changing the programming is, but how important. Changing that programming, basically, can change the world and the future of mankind. The larger conversation was about violence and suffering in the world. A question was asked if psychologists are concerned with mankind on the whole, or merely the individual. If we deal with negative programming and remap the consciousness of someone suffering, why is it remapped with selfish arrogant thoughts? Like, for example, if we are told as a child that we are stupid, we are remapped by psychology to repeat, "I am smart." And basically, he said, that is the same thing as telling someone they are stupid. They are both lies. Wouldn't the more revolutionary, world-changing, important thing to do is to map, "Intelligence isn't important. I am not I. I am part of a larger world consciousness, or larger intelligence." In the end, the two were discussing changing the world one consciousness at a time. It was the Cold War, and nuclear holocaust was still very much on the table.

I do hope I am remembering that correctly. It was a long time ago and many glasses of wine were consumed that night. The three of us, the filmmaker, the mystic and I, stayed up until dawn talking about this conversation. One question I left that night repeating--could I remap my own negative programming with revolutionary thoughts of compassion?

I have started seeing my Buddhist therapist again. And this time around he is really trying to get me to face the shame and guilt of Lucy's death. And yet, facing the shame feels so...uh...ridiculous. Let's break this down: I feel shame and guilt that Lucy died in me. In lieu of any other explanation, I blame myself for her death. Rationally, I can write down and explicate all the reasons why this is not true, yet I still feel it. This emotion is not rational, but it isn't just going away because I don't believe it to be true.

In so many ways, I feel like I have made huge strides before now learning to live with this shame. Simply by dint that I am not letting it control my eating or decision to reproduce, I feel we are at a good place together. And yet, the therapist is making me sit with the shame, feel it, comfort myself. Holy crap, it is like standing on hot coals. And I'm not really sure how identifying the shame, bringing it to the surface, sitting with it is supposed to help me. I am very comfortable burying it in the deep recesses of my brain, because that is the way I know how to function. If I can't change the shame, I can't rationalize it, I can't abandon it, I feel like we have to learn to live together. For me, making it live in the shitty part of me where it rears its ugly head only when I am down feels like a fair compromise. Burying it seems better than treating it as a house guest that keeps insulting me, eating my favorite food and then leaving the wrapper on the counter. And yet I recognize that the word bury never connotes a healthy response to an emotion.

As I have been thinking of all of this, I was reminded of these Krishnamurti conversations. Meditation changes the world. Maybe that is how I hold myself. But meditation in the midst of chaos feels impossible. But I keep thinking that maybe this is the time to remap my insides with something larger than just my survival.


  1. As I was reading the bit about your shame that Lucy died inside you it was like a key turned in my brain. I realised that one of my primary emotions when I tell people about Iris (a stranger asking how many children I have, for example) is embarrassment. I'm embarrassed to tell them something sad, embarrassed that I'm still sad...

    Thanks for the revelation, Ang. As always I love the stories xx

  2. I am absolutely ashamed and embarrased to tell people about Florence too.
    Like you, I can rationalise it, but I still feel it's my fault.
    I cried on the phone to my Mum shortly after Florence died, "I feel so ashamed".

  3. Have you shared this question with your therapist? I wonder what s/he would say? This is a big question, Angie, and I'm not sure I have the answer. Except that I don't think that feeling of shame, of self-blame, will ever completely leave us. It comes up in me regularly, though it doesn't make me feel shame. Only the question of whether I had something to do with it. It's something I've learned to carry, to be with. A strange part of me that is now kind of familiar. I feel responsible for my living child's struggles, too, which is something her father doesn't really understand. Maybe it's a mom thing? I don't know... maybe that feeling of responsibility has to do with our connection to the much bigger state of the world, and isn't an altogether bad thing? If we don't feel responsible for others, healing on a global level doesn't feel truly possible... So maybe it's our compassion that is connected in a strange way to that shame and sense of responsibility?

  4. Thank you for sharing these parts of your journey. I feel so comforted knowing other mothers feel this guilt; I cannot believe I didn't know that my baby had died as I was labouring. How could I be a good mother and not realize that my child had passed from this world within me? And wondering if I had brought my labour on a few days earlier, as I had with my older children, rather than resting up for a natural start to the birth would have saved him. Did my son die because of my selfishness in wanting more rest? I loved your story of the mystic and the filmmaker - and the mice.

  5. I so appreciate the way you make me laugh, and then make me think terribly hard. I've got the irrational guilt, too. I don't know if acknowledging it helps or not, but I hope it does, eventually.

  6. Are you sure you're only XX years old? You have wisdom beyond your years and this space reads as if you've lived a thousand lives.
    Like you and everyone else here, I have the deep shame and regret. And like Jess, also the embarrassment, too. I feel like such a failure that my one big job in life was to get her here alive and well and I failed, miserably.
    Thanks for being you Angie and for sharing these little gems from your life. I for one, love when you wax lyrical about rodents. That you got the words rodent and asshole in to one sentence is pure gold to me!

  7. Amazing to see those old memories resurfacing and making a new kind of sense. Maybe Krishnamurti would say there is no shitty part of you. Regardless, I so deeply admire and rejoice in this work that you are doing. Thank you so much for explaining it out in the open like this.

  8. Just brilliant Ang... I just cannot manage to come up with any other response right now. My brain is mush and needs to lay on a pillow. I will be thinking on this on my long trip in the a.m.

    Goodnight Angie..
    So much love to you

  9. The image of you with your 2 friends reminds me of something Kerouac :)

    The guilt is one of my issues too. I have no reason for Mayas death and I know that nothing I did caused her death, BUT, sometimes I still feel guilty - she died on my watch. It's something I think I will just have to live with.

    Thanks for the insight.

  10. i don't think I want to face my shame. Won't it just go away? You are braver than I.

  11. Okay, you're not going to believe this, but last night at our grief counselling session we had a conversation about reprogramming. The conversation came about in the context of discussing the problems we've had with Tim's parents (who live entirely in their heads, disconnected from their own emotions, and who have reacted to us with what feels like anger but is most likely fear of their own feelings - basically they have high IQs and EQs of like zero). The conversation started out about how we need to stop meeting his parents with our own anger, because it is only leading to resistence and if we support them, they will stop resisting, which will ultimately be more supportive for us. Then somehow we got to talking about Tim, and how despite his upbringing, Tim is not only very aware of his own emotions, but he makes an effort to understand his emotions and how his emotions impact on relationships - BUT he has still been programmed by his parents and hence the discussion about reprogramming. Somewhere in that conversation, our counsellor asked Tim if he ever thought about the fact that he was sent to his parents to teach them.

    This all got me thinking about emotional/spiritual growth and the lessons in grief. I actually thought about you as an example of someone who has actively searched for an embraced the lessons and grown through your experience, and how I want to do some more work, because well, if she had to die and I necessarily have to be changed by this experience, I want to be changed for the better. I then thought about how my efforts, and Tim's efforts, will impact on our relationship with his parents.

    You just connected a few dots for me though. Obviously we can't actively "teach" Tim's parents anything, but by actively improving ourselves, there may be lessons there for my inlaws too. Our personal growth, will not only benefit us, but them and others.

    I think for right now I'll stick with working through the grief before trying to open pandora's box and dealing with the deeper reprogramming, but thanks for connecting the dots and making me see the bigger picture.

    Although, perhaps I shouldn't thank you because now I suppose I can't just stay angry with my MIL and SIL can I?

  12. your stories are just fabulous. so funny, introspective and visual.

    i have been dealing with a lot of what you shared here. the guilt and shame(like all of us here) for making the choice to have a homebirth which may or may not have been the reason for silas' death, and the reprogramming from childhood. i've been talking about that stuff with my therapist a lot lately and its been so interesting for me to consider how my past plays a huge role in how i'm dealing with this loss.

    losses like ours bring up so many other emotions and feelings then just the regular old stuff that goes on in life in general. in the end, i know i will have learned more about myself and what i am capable of as a human being then i could have ever imagined. and i've come to realize that dammit, i refuse to hide my head in the sand.

    i've also been working on a meditation practice for months now and i'm stuck. but i know i'll get there when i get there.


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