The TAT Forum: a spiritual magazine of essays, 

poems and humor.

September 2014

This Month's Contents: Robin and the Black Dog by Gordon Gross | Postscript to last month's article, House on Fire: Urgency on the Spiritual Path by Mike Whitely | Video: Explosions by Christopher Frey | Two Poems by David Weimer | Quotes | Humor | Reader Commentary | A New Home for TAT |


Editor's Note
by David Weimer

I haven't been saying much lately. Sometimes I prefer to let the pieces and the images that appear in these issues stand by themselves.
Sometimes there isn't anything to say, even when the most important subject possible is right before us.

Welcome to the Forum.

Spiritual Magazine

Photo: Phil Franta


Robin and the Black Dog
by Gordon Gross

Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, during transformation it flows into another state.
~ Isaac Newton, First Law of Thermodynamics

The Black Dog

3 a.m. Hands are shaking, head hurts. I sit looking at the gun that lies before me on the coffee table. I pick it up and slide the loaded magazine into the handle. Tears stream down my face. I pick up a picture of my small boys aged 4 and 6 and look at it again. It is my talisman against the gun. Hands still trembling.

Still, I knew or thought I knew that the world would be better off without me. But there was that nagging ragged thought about what would happen to the boys if I were gone? Who would take care of them? I sat in the quiet of the night while my wife and children slept and continued the meditation. I had been up for months every night unable to sleep as unsettling thoughts raced through my mind. There was something I should remember, what was it? Unable to comprehend the dark meaning of the thoughts that flooded my consciousness I gave up and just sat watching them.

I was in the middle of an ugly divorce. I had changed the business I was operating to a different mode and my wife was upset. She claimed we didn’t have enough money and was anxious. We paid taxes on $150,000 income the year before so money wasn’t really an issue what was an issue was her perception of well- being. She had been on anti-depressants for 20 years and continually held an anxious and dark view of things. She had met another man who she thought was a millionaire. Her peers at work were all upper level executives that lived in 4,000+ square foot houses and drove Mercedes cars. Our house was half that size and one day she realized, that to her, size mattered. She described our 2000 sq. foot contemporary house on two wooded acres as a “hovel”. She wanted a larger house in the upscale Lochmere subdivision. As her relationship with her perfect stranger grew, her relationship with the perfect fool diminished. I became increasingly depressed as I realized there was nothing I could do to change it. I loved her but couldn’t abide her behavior anymore. I was miserable but there was little I could do to stop the impending divorce. I was worried about how it would damage our boys. Her mind was set on the path of happiness via a large house and more money. Mine was how can I change or heal this and prevent damage to the boys?

My boys were the light of my life. I was the primary parent as she worked absurdly long hours and I often took them to my work as I owned the company and let them run around or play with the toys I had there for them. She was working 70 hours a week and was seldom home for long. She got what she thought she needed from life at work. Since Alex was born six years before she had been engaged in an office affair and I forgave her feeling that it might settle in time. But it didn’t and now disaster was looming.

She worked 70 hours a week and I owned and was managing two businesses and pretty much the sole parent and I was stressed out to the maximum and then some. Our lifestyles had taken a toll and the stress became depression and gloomy thoughts pervaded my consciousness. I sat in the dark and quiet of the night ruminating on these things in great pain, unable to withstand the river of negative thought running through me and the thought that I really should just end it now kept surfacing. One pull of the trigger and the pain will all end. I picked up the gun felt its deadly weight. Put it down and then again picked up the picture of my boys looked at it and feeling compassion for them and shame at my selfish thoughts cried. Perhaps the bathtub and razor blades would be better? Or some oxycodone with a glass of wine? Then I would go back to meditating and listen to the incessant flow of mental debris that my brain was manufacturing.

Some months before as I realized I had been bitten by the black dog I went to a doctor who gave me pills…Unfortunately the pills didn’t really change anything. They can numb us or confuse us to the point of distraction but they can’t control or stop the dog. I took them and the occasional thought of suicide became immediately pronounced and extreme. The pills didn’t keep the dog away they brought it closer. The witch doctor told me, “Just give the medicine time."

“Time for what, to bury me?” I thought. After two months of intense suffering I threw them away. As I desperately thought about a source of relief I thought about my life and remembered my meditation practice that I had abandoned 10 years before.

When we were married twelve years before I had single mindedly set on a course of creating financial wealth for my wife and myself. Prior to that I had been a very spiritual person, meditated daily and paid attention to be mindful of such matters. I landed a job as a marketing manager of a large company and the time demands were extreme and I found my attention relegated to other matters. As years passed we decided to move away from Florida and so moved to North Carolina where I founded my companies and she found high level employment. I forgot meditation and the other life as I pursued the chimera of wealth to the exclusion of all else. Now twelve years later it all unraveled as we pursued happiness through materialism and getting more stuff and I struggled to stay alive. We both were the essential model of delusion in action.

Happiness was no longer on the table I was just trying to stay alive. When the dog arrives it is a very dangerous moment. As our brain functions change during depression some physical processes that control thought also change and we begin to believe that our irrational thoughts are rational and that we should trust them whatever they are. As I had these dark thoughts I soon realized they were dangerous, irrational and made me suffer. I began to seek help. Many do not and that is the first mistake a person makes when the dog appears. At first I was afraid to speak of it to family or friends because I was certain that people would think I was crazy and have me locked up. My paranoia was boundless. In time as the suffering surpassed the paranoia I confided to others and that was a great source of comfort to share it and realize that I was not alone.

Living with a partner who is involved in an affair only feeds the uncertainty, insecurity and paranoia. That part of the ordeal wasn’t imagined. She left her email open one day and reading a message to her lover was a knife through my heart. One thing I realized at that moment was that it was no longer about her or our deluded view of life, it was about mine. It was no longer about the marriage, that was dead. I was profoundly unhappy and in more pain than I could have imagined existed. This was pain that gnawed at the core of my awareness. I had been bitten by the dog and he was biting hard. I wanted out of the marriage but was torn by indecision and the thought of what would happen to the boys and how it would affect their well -being and happiness. The anxiety I was experiencing kept me awake at night and as the months wore on the lack of sleep was gasoline on an already raging fire. I tried sleeping pills but felt like I was underwater all day when I would wake up so I just sat in the quiet of the night from 11 to 4 every night, then I would sleep for three hours and go back to work.

After several months I became bored with the misery, anxiety, late night television and sleeplessness and one night it occurred to me I should meditate again. I used the long night hours and began the practice of letting go. I sat in the midst of that great river of thought and watched the thoughts pass by endlessly. As months passed I began to notice some space between the thoughts. The space and quiet in my mind expanded gradually until one night I was sitting intensely concentrating and suddenly and inexplicably I felt a great weight slide off me as a heavy blanket I had been carrying, fall to the floor from my shoulders. I was suddenly formless and on the outside of a small house and within the house I could faintly hear the thoughts my brain was making passing by as an endless procession. spiritual magazine

Photo: Phil Franta

In that moment I realized that I was not those thoughts or that tiny ego and this is what the brain does. It stores information and endlessly creates formations that we relate to the world from. The formations can be helpful or they can be harmful but they are endless like a kaleidoscope turning and creating ever new patterns from the same set of crystals. They are empty and carry no meaning or emotion except that which we assign to them. All thoughts arise from the same empty place. I was suddenly spacious and now knew that as my nature.

I also felt immense relief and gratitude for all that had happened and had come my way. I found a new perspective as much of my depression was from trying to control the outcome and not finding gratitude for what was good in my day.
The best part of the realization was that there was nothing more important to me than my peaceful spaciousness of mind.
In the morning I told my wife, "We should get a mediator and split up our property assets." We did and a month later she moved out. The abscess had broken. I began to clear immediately and found I could sleep through the night again. As she went out the front door of our house for the last time, she told me, "I’m going to live in a four thousand square foot house and have two Lexus cars in the driveway."

I felt profound compassion for her. There was no garden in her description of happiness. A year later her perfect stranger turned out to have schizophrenia and was actually broke and was dangerous when he was in one of his crazy paranoid episodes. Ironic how the mind tells us one thing and reality something else. She called me 18 months later and offered, "I made a mistake.” I agreed that she had. We went on with our separate lives. Ten years later she is still single and bought a smaller house that resembles a small McMansion that is somewhere near the exclusive Lochmere subdivision so I suppose her status and happiness in life improved a few percentage points after all. The boys have struggled with life as best they can but they will be alright in time. We all make adjustments; it is our nature to adapt. I have my ups and downs; that is also the nature of life. There are as many days as there are nights. The black dog shows up once in a while but more as a shadow at the window of my house rather than making himself at home and curling up in my lap. He is no longer welcome here. When his shadow appears I sit in silence and breathe. In the morning he’s not there….

The black dog comes in many sizes for some as an annoying lap dog but for others a rabid life threatening Rottweiler.

Robin [Williams] met the rabid Rottweiler. Ditto for me but, I was just luckier I suppose. When we do meet the dog there are several things everyone should know and do.

Discuss it with others. It is a deadly secret, don’t deny it or keep it.

Get outside and walk every day while breathing deeply and slowly.

At night take time every night to sit quietly and notice thoughts without attaching to them. When that does happen go back to noticing breath.

If you have any guns, sell them immediately. As soon as I sold mine I realized I had closed the book on that chapter.

Take time to talk with others every day.

No alcohol, chocolate, drugs, sweets or caffeine. They all feed the dog.

Give thanks for what is, for that always leads to something good.

There is no shame in suffering depression. Everyone alive has experienced it in one form or another. Remember, dark is ok, it is all temporary, there are as many nights as there are days in life. Enlightenment arises from our body. If this also arises from our body then ask, what is it?

We can’t control everything. I was leading a meditation one night and afterwards a young man came up and said he had just killed his cat that day because god told him to. He asked if I thought if meditation could cure schizophrenia. I told him to keep taking his medication but that meditation wouldn’t hurt. He kept coming back. But he was still suffering. I suffered with him.

*

The human shape is a ghost made of distraction and pain
sometimes pure light, sometimes cruel
trying wildly to open
this image held tightly within itself

~ Rumi

~ Email

Spiritual Magazine

Photo: Phil Franta


Postscript
on last month's
House on Fire: Urgency on the Spiritual Path
by Mike Whitely

I originally presented these ideas in a talk that was generally well received, but not completely. One longtime seeker with a decidedly scientific frame of mind was critical. He told me he had a negative reaction to the stories and to the idea of samvega. He said, “It’s almost like you take comfort in this samvega thing.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. Me?.....Seeking comfort? Me, the earnest and dedicated seeker committed to pressing on, fighting the good fight, etc, etc, etc. Seeking comfort? I defensively mumbled something to him about just reporting what actually happened but I left the conversation feeling dissatisfied. Clearly, comfort is not the goal, but on reflection I realized that he probably heard some sense of that when I was describing my state of mind after the traumatic insights. I felt empowered to take another step. I felt (and still feel) a clarity and confidence to just keep going and see what happens.

So, he was right. Coming across these ancient and modern Buddhist teachings on seeker psychology did bring a sense of comfort. Like a traveler stumbling around, lost in the spiritual forest, who comes across a fragment of an old map. And on the map he recognizes some of the steps and missteps that he’s taken as part of journey that many others have taken, some thousands of years ago. It’s just a fragment, so there is no guarantee that the parts of the path revealed will lead all of the way home. But at least you know that some of those who have gone before, and finished the trip, came this way.

Source: Affirming the Truths of the Heart: The Buddhist Teachings on Samvega & Pasada

~ Email

Photo: Phil Franta


Explosions

by Christopher Frey


Two poems
by David Weimer

On Human Achievement

He spoke of purpose and action. It made sense to us. We were young.
“There is hope between the raindrops,” he said, pointing to the stars and our
eyes.

Now, a wordless Buddha shuffles the halls of an Alzheimer’s home, and all
that he is remains.
“Do something,” a voice echoes quietly beyond, “futility is futile.”

*

Awhile

There is a whale under the ice,
And when it rests, the cracks seal and disappear.
So pound, pound, pound.

Unyielding, and always cold.
Sounds muffle above and carry below.

I am the ice that pounds back each blow the whael can deliver.
I am the cold sea, the deep ocean.
I am the whale.
I am the struggle between barrier and pounder.

All are welcome.

*

I came up with On Human Achievement in a graduate poetry class at the University of Memphis in January 1999. Richard Rose was still living and I hadn’t seen him for a while. I imagined him there in the Alzheimer unit in Weirton, WV, and thought about his whole life of days, months, years, of efforts and goals and opinions and all those TAT meetings I remembered listening to him talk. Do it while you can, when you can, was his life’s message to me. There is no justification for coasting; we never know what’s coming.

An old lady in my town of Flushing, Ohio who I did some work for told me that, too. She had a nerve/spinal condition that basically made her physically incapable and dependent on others.

“I’m glad I didn’t know,” she said, referring to herself from years before and to what was in store for her. I tried in the poem about Rose to capture my sense of the importance of doing something now; my sense of the value of this extraordinary man and my felt-sense of the universe that all these things exist within.

Awhile was written for the same poetry class. I had wanted to create a visual situation where someone or some thing had an undeniable incentive for action in a certain direction. An awareness of time echoes with the ironic title. We all have awhile. Under the ice, needing to get to air, we have a while. This was my impression of the compassionate cosmos, illustrated by a coldly indifferent ice barrier. This poem is basically a finger pointing at one aspect of living a life of commitment toward a total objective.

~ Excerpted from Portrait of a Seeker.


Quotes....

"You have no idea how it should be. It's just how it is revealed."

~ Paul Hedderman


Humor....


Reader Commentary

Thanks for the last Forum.

~ A.M.

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A New Home for TAT Moves Closer to Reality

Here is a quick update on the status of our quest for a new home for TAT. We've received donations and pledges from forty-two people over the past eleven months. Counting pledges and donations, we are just shy of 54% of our goal of $250,000. The plan is to begin property shopping in earnest when we hit 75% of our goal.

Our personal appeal to you:
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Help us to find a new home for TAT.

Please make your donation now.

The Vision:

retreat center · A small piece of property adjoining public lands.

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· Location within an hour and a half of a major airport.

· A reasonable distance from Columbus, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, and the DC Metro areas.

*

Our objective is to be of greater service to TAT members and friends by creating a spot on earth where people can do retreats and hold meetings; where the emphasis is on friendship and the search.

Our former home was on Richard Rose’s farm and was a sanctuary for many years, and a crucible. He once told me it was like the desert—where you go to meet God.

Many hands do truly make light work. We've had donations from $50 to $10,000. No amount is too small--or too large. The success of this endeavor depends upon a true community effort.

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