Friday, January 24, 2020

On Wilier Writing (and Wilco)

Alice in Wonderland, José de Creeft (1959). Central Park, New York City

I’m experimenting with a new form of writing. It reminds me of when I was living in India. Between 2006-2010, I felt safer to write and expose myself because I was quite literally 10,000 miles from California, my largest reader base. Distance gives a sort of psychological protection. When I returned to the U.S., I returned to writing from a different voice – yes, a strong voice – but one that didn’t feel as risky. I rarely wrote about my own direct life.

Last week, I took a risk by writing about my experience at the New York Public Library and my spiritual encounter with J.D. Salinger. This may not feel like a stretch to others – just reporting on the facts, of what I witness, stringing together the pieces of art and literature, non-duality and spirituality. But what I’ve noticed is that when I write from the heArt, it is vulnerable. When I write about things that blow me out of the water, whether an encounter with my spiritual teacher, or a piece of art, I feel vulnerable. I’ve let you see me – the personal me.

Once upon a time, many years ago, at a house party in San Francisco's Mission District, I was trying to explain this level of vulnerability in being a writer, to a Harvard-educated woman who is an actual crossword creator of The New York Times puzzle. While a different sort of writing, this woman knows her words. So, we had words.

She said to me, “The more personal, the more universal.” It struck such a strong chord I inscribed that line in my journal, and it traveled with me to India, where I tried to go as deep as I could in my “Bindi Girl” spiritual travel blog, to convey my experiences to the folks and readers back home.*

The Mad Hatter 'n Me, Central Park
Words with Wilco

Over Christmas on holiday in Hawaii, I read the book Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) by the musician Jeff Tweedy, founding member of the indie-alt country-rock group Wilco. I’ve appreciated Wilco ever since seeing them live at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, on tour for their 2004 album A Ghost Is Born. I can still hear the beautiful guitar ruckus of the encore song, “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” smell the pungent herb wafting thru the airwaves, my SF buddies and I rocking out at the top of the outdoor concert forum under a clear moonlit sky. Music-loving heart exploding at the unleashing of distortion at all the right moments. Nights like that never leave us.

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco
Memoirs and autobiographies are my favorite genres – and rock and literary (and spiritual) memoirs are at the top of my list. So when I read Tweedy’s memoir, I was delighted to receive his wisdom on writing techniques, especially the following passage in which he describes how he learned to get to the juice, to pen the lyrics that make an impression and stick with us, even when we don’t know why:

"When I write in this mode, I write for myself first, pretending that the audience isn’t even there, and will never be there. I can get things off of my chest, I can invent versions of myself that are better than I believe I am . . . or worse, are even downright awful and murderous. I can expose shadow selves that I believe I should keep my eye on. I can admit things about myself without really having to take ownership of anything. Having it all feel private and insular creates a sense of authenticity I’m not sure I’m able to explain in an understandable way. It’s a trick I play to coax myself into being okay with exposing things that feel powerful and intimate because they’re the types of things people often hide about themselves, or even from themselves. This style of writing felt new and exciting, and even more so when it came to perfecting the songs and recording them." -Jeff Tweedy, Let's Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc.

Woohoo! When I read that passage, I immediately highlighted it in my Kindle and noted to self: Yes, it’s time to get back to that kind of writing. Can I do it? Can I really do it? Write unedited and share it publicly? Pretend that no one is going to read it?

Well, since we’re publishing this on the Internet, no filter, I may not let it all rip, but I will certainly try…

NYC Taxi Cab Winter, 2020
Erin Reese is a modern psychic, non-dual teacher, author, and intuitive consultant based in the SF Bay Area. Erin has a Master of Science in Counseling and has been reading the Tarot for over thirty years. She works with personal clients, business executives, artists, and musicians all over the world.
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Monday, January 20, 2020

What Is Wicked, Anyway?

I want to share with you the delight of seeing Wicked on Broadway in NYC last week. It’s still with me. Have you seen it? Spoiler alert.

First, I treated myself to eighth row seats in the Orchestra. On a Tuesday night, these weren’t so costly and I’m telling you – being up-close brings a power, and skin-prickling goosebumps. I’ve learned this over the past ten years. I save my pennies and invest on acts to get up close. I go to less shows, and the ones I go to, I’m RIGHT THERE.

The truth is, like the keynote song of the show, I’m “Defying Gravity.” My heart is soaring. I can’t get the song out of my head...

So if you care to find me
Look to the western sky!
As someone told me lately
"Everyone deserves the chance to fly!"

And if I'm flying solo
At least I'm flying free
To those who ground me
Take a message back from me

Tell them how I am defying gravity!
I'm flying high, defying gravity!
And soon, I'll match them in renown

And nobody in all of Oz
No wizard that there is or was
Is ever gonna bring me down!

~ “Defying Gravity,” Wicked 

Like all good art, Wicked has got so many layers. Paying attention, we see commentary on being an outcast – which can be applied to racism, prejudice, looks, gender, what we value as beauty, image – you name it. There are political references in the show. Being controlled by the man behind the curtain (Oz) who of course has no real power. There are comments on the wisdom of animals – sentient beings who are at risk of “losing their voices” – which can be applied to any human animal who is losing their voice because of appearance, of being differently-abled. The list goes on and on, really.

But the most striking aspect of Wicked to me is the truth that one’s “do-good” actions are often motivated by image, as in the case of Glinda the Good. And the paradox: the people-pleasing, popularity-seeking do-gooder actually creates more problems and disaster for those around her. The witch labeled “wicked,” Elphaba, realizes that there is no real good deed. That even by trying to help the animals, her paramour, her friends – there is an ultimate powerlessness in the world. An inability to control the outcome.
Hannah Corneau prepares for her role as Elphaba Thropp in Wicked, NYC

This is the main crux, the double whammy of Wicked. It forces us to ask ourselves, what is wicked, really? Is the shadow really evil? Is the dark really the problem? What happens when we vilify that which we are averse to? Can we see how it creates an even bigger crevasse, a gap that perpetuates the disgust, the hatred and ill will, often to the point of total destruction (“ding dong the witch is dead”)?
When we look at reality as a whole, we see that it is all perspective. It is good and fine to try to do right by others, for others, but let’s check the motivation: do we have an expectation of how things should look, how they should turn out “for the better”? Or can we simply accept that we can do the best we can, understanding from the point of view of Totality, we ultimately have no idea what is going to happen.

We remember that there are an infinite number of causes and effects occurring simultaneously, and there is no separate volition. It is all interconnected. When this is realized, we understand and embody the wisdom of seeing there is no ultimate reason to impose unnecessary shame or guilt on ourselves or others; additionally, we aren’t entitled to taking full credit for any positive outcomes either. We understand that it truly is as it is, as it is. We find peace, there is acceptance, and the heart is changed for good. 

Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a skybird
In a distant wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?

But because I knew you

Because I knew you

I have been changed for good

 ~ “For Good,” Wicked

We are not separate.

With love,

The Bow Bridge, Central Park, NYC
Erin Reese is a modern psychic, non-dual teacher, author, and intuitive consultant based in the SF Bay Area. Erin has a Master of Science in Counseling and has been reading the Tarot for over thirty years. She works with clients all over the world.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

J.D. Salinger, Advaita, and the New York Public Library

Live from New York, it's Tuesday night...

I’m working remotely from the Big Apple this week, alongside my beloved, on a trip that is part-biz, part-pleasure.

Yesterday we visited one of my favorite places in New York City: The New York Public Library. Honestly, I think I’m drawn to it primarily because of the two lions that guard the entrance. Their names are “Patience” and “Fortitude.” When I lived here in 2003-04, I worked very briefly in an office that overlooked these lions – and boy, did I need those two character traits to survive my time in the Big Apple. I’m super glad that I stuck it out.
After picking up a brand, spanking new NYPL library card (a non-NY resident is entitled to a card, which lasts 90 days before it must be renewed) to increase my e-book loaning options, we wandered around to gawk at the gorgeous main reading room and painted ceilings. Like my favorite building in Washington DC, the Library of Congress, this library has incredible scenes painted above that simulate being launched into heavenly realms.
I was thrilled to find out about a free exhibition lasting for just one more week: on J.D. Salinger! The Catcher in the Rye (1951) is one of my favorite books. I also loved Franny and Zooey (1961), which is markedly Zen (I can’t wait to reread it). I love reading books that I missed or underappreciated in high school, as an adult. I get so much more out of them.

Salinger was a genius. I am excited to read more about his life (already reserved his e-book biography with my library card!). I knew he was a total recluse for most of his life, and I think there are so many questions as to why. This exhibit clearly showed me one aspect of the bigger answer.

Salinger’s books, notes, manuscripts, photos were all on display. One thing stood out from the objects, which hummed with a high vibration. Salinger was a staunch Eastern philosophy devotee not primarily of Zen but of Advaita Vedanta. Non-duality. Advaita means “not two.” The premise that all is one. That we, as the appearance of an individual, separate self, are not separate from the Source, from All that Is. That we are, in fact, the Source, and the end of suffering lies in the dissolving of egoic identification.

There was a very sweet, rotating bookshelf on display at the Salinger exhibition. The description next to the case explained that these actual books were the ones that Salinger wanted to have by his side at his very last days. Among the few hundred titles of classics of literature, Eastern and Western philosophy and world religion, as well as natural health and healing, was a plethora of non-dual texts. I was humbled and touched when I saw dozens of books by my own master advaita teacher, Ramesh Balsekar, and Ramesh’s teacher, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, staring right back at me, alongside several by Sri Ramana Maharshi and Sri Ramakrishna. 

I’ve got much to read about Salinger’s spiritual depth and life after literary fame. I’m excited. I feel I’ve met a kindred spirit.

When I lived in India, I would go through spells of reading classic literature with great concentration. I’d take a break from spiritual texts and hunker down and focus on a notable work from Henry James, Mark Twain, Sylvia Plath, Lewis Carroll, Emily Brontë... It is amazing how much overlap there is between a spiritual text and a classic piece of written art. After all, it is what makes it classic: it touches the Truth, brings it into the human element. Whether literature or a gita or a bible or a sutra, it is imbued, illuminated story. It is the finger pointing at the moon, directing our ignited, emotional hearts to the true nature of reality.

My partner and I received darshan (receiving transmission through a person's presence) at the end of our spontaneous Salinger pilgrimage. I had felt something alter in the airwaves as I’d seen the charismatic presence of a very tall, lanky, and strikingly handsome man in his late 50’s entering the hall. As we collected our coats, readying to leave the exhibit, the friendly attendant whispered to us, “That’s his son, Matthew, right there.” 

And there he was – the bloodline of J.D. Salinger himself – his son – gracing us with his presence, in this sacred chapel of the of the revered and awesome New York Public Library.
In other news:
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With love, joy, and great appreciation for YOU!
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