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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

musings of a braided stream

I've been staring at the screen here for a few minutes now. What to write about?

One of the books I'm reading right now is The New Larousse Encyclopedia of the Earth. I've finished the chapter on "Running Water" and have started the chapter on "Oceans and Lakes". In his discussion of running water, Bertin describes the different kinds of streams--for there is a great variety of types of river. In Buddhism, the mind is sometimes likened to a river, the stream of which shows many different manifestations, from rushing gorge to placid pool, without changing its essential nature.

Right now I feel that my own mind is like a "braided stream": a river that, having dropped a great deal of sediment on a comparatively flat ground, has broken into multiple intersecting channels, weaving across the landscape. There doesn't seem to be a "mainstream", just lots of parallel channels moving along together. My mind lacks its usual focus; it feels dispersed and unenergetic.

Astrologically this corresponds with a major transit of the planet Neptune, which is running over my natal Venus and square to my natal Mars. Neptune is a boundary-dissolver; it represents the yearning for perfection and bliss, which cannot usually be attained in the limited frame of an individual body and mind. Therefore Neptune symbolizes the desire to merge with something greater, to lose one's burdensome identity, to recover the lost bliss of the womb, before separation was discovered.

The transit of Neptune to Mars is always difficult, since Neptune represents the urge to give up and transcend ego, while Mars represents our selfish side: how we seek to assert our individuality and satisfy our personal wants. A common Neptune theme is sacrifice, giving up something we value without getting any obvious personal benefit in return. Our Mars nature generally finds this idea most unsatisfactory.

To a great extent, life is about giving things up. For one thing, being born means that death inevitably awaits us; we will all have to surrender our lives at some point. But along the way, other things have to be surrendered. Scott Peck talks about this process in his famous book, The Road Less Traveled. What we surrender in the process of maturing are the beliefs and goals of our youth. He provides a list of six or eight typical ones. One is the adolescent belief in omnipotentiality--the idea that I can do or be anything I want. As time goes on, we make decisions and close off avenues. When I was 10 years old, for instance, it may have been possible to aspire to be a professional athlete or a chess champion. Now, even if I wanted those things, I couldn't have them.

Omnipotentiality is not a reality in any case, I don't think. It was probably never an option for me to be either an athlete or a chess champion, not just because of lack of native talent, but even more importantly because of lack of desire. I didn't want those things. Fantasizing about them is like a giraffe fantasizing about being a cheetah. If you're a giraffe, you've got to go with that--there's no choice.

Surrendering such beliefs or fantasies is, I suppose, technically, disillusionment. We use the term in a negative way, usually--but what's so bad about losing your illusions? What do we have against reality? Isn't that just a drug-addict's view of life?

In Buddhism, disillusionment is seen as a good thing. Chogyan Trungpa Rinpoche, in teaching the practice of meditation, never made any promises to his students, except perhaps two: boredom and disappointment. Every student could look forward to those. We generally avoid those experiences like the plague, but Trungpa Rinpoche was enthusiastic about them both. Why? Because they're anti-ego. They're exactly what ego is continually seeking to evade and prevent.

But this is also the message of Neptune. If you identify with your ego and its desires, you're going to suffer anyway. If you can see your ego and its wants as not a big deal, then you suffer much less.

Easier said than done. Like many people, I tend to take my desires and hopes seriously, and feel about surrendering them the way Charlton Heston felt about surrendering his gun: you'll have to pry them from my cold, dead hands...


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