Awareness & Silence

"Burnout" 
7" x 10" mixed media on paper
I hit my head a couple of weeks ago. Besides the fact that I am now aware that your eyes can indeed roll like a Looney Tunes character, I also gave myself a mild concussion. That's bad enough. But I also struggle with Lyme-induced chronic migraines that sometimes incapacitate me. So cracking the back of my head on a 2 x 4 is an unfortunate injury.

At the time, I was reading "Not Always So" by Shunryu Suzuki. Spring and autumn are the times when I practice Zen meditation the most. Those seasons seem conducive to the inner serenity I can achieve with Zen teachings. It was not lost on me that quite a few Zen masters achieved enlightenment after getting hit in the head - usually by a higher Zen master using a bamboo cane.

The senselessness that accompanies a concussion quickly taught me quite a few things. For one, the involuntary movement and rolling nausea that accompanied moving my eyes or head rendered all my distractions moot at once. There would be no reading, social media, emails, or text messages.

Looking at any screen longer than a few minutes shot my pain level into the stratosphere. I could not escape into shows or movies. Conversations also left me fumbling for words and confused. I struggled to stay away in the hours after it happened until I could be evaluated. The truth of the situation also stung. I probably would never have been injured in the first place had I not been pushing through burnout.

When I was cleared, I tried to sleep. And that was the most bizarre experience of all. That night I woke three times with sleep paralysis. This condition is not unknown to me. I'd experienced it quite a few times in my life, usually in times of high stress. This was different. I woke from REM sleep in bed unable to move with my eyes still moving back and forth in their sockets.

Training kicked in. I immediately relaxed my mind and observed my surroundings. The stillness of the night, the quiet. I was unable to hear anything besides my own heartbeat. I was unafraid, but I said to myself "move." My eyes ceased their movement. Stiffness left my limbs. I sat up slowly in bed, practiced deep breathing. Then I tried to sleep again. This sequence of events occurred two more times. After the third, I decided to stay awake. I practiced meditation for two hours to allow my head, neck, and eyes to rest. Then I went through my morning routine, unable to dress or style my hair as I usually do.

That morning, I looked in the mirror. I recognized this version of myself. I'd looked like this a decade ago before Lyme Disease. Riotous curls everywhere. A face free of makeup. Loose artsy clothing. The concussion had simply knocked all pretense about my personal identity out of me.

And we do have pretense, even those of us who consider ourselves well-adjusted. We dress daily with a kind of residual self-image, a projection of how we see ourselves internally or how we want others to see us. I would go so far as to say this projection is also armor, allowing us to block unwanted advances and experiences by wearing things that make us feel confident, beautiful, and/or at ease in our skin,

Waking from REM sleep those three times reduced all concepts about life into ghosts attempting to haunt the mind. Ideology doesn't factor into that experience. None of it even mattered to me. In that state, there is only life and death. Awareness and silence.

Over the next few days, the experience of awareness I had in that state stayed with me. I've felt this way many times during meditation. But never had I been aware while my body was fully asleep.

Even so, this state emphasized that accolades and acknowledgment are not accessories to inner peace. They are often caves in which the ego hides. While the crowd is cheering our brilliance, we don't have to confront our demons. We can pretend they do not exist. 

Injuries and illnesses of all kinds strip all this away. You can't outwit or run from them. You must acknowledge and surrender to something higher than you. Then you find the true strength to do what actually needs to be done rather than listen to the fear driving you to act out. This is the same kind of surrender we practice in meditation on our paths.

This world cultivates a type of inner contortionism that most religions and philosophies speak out against. We spend so much of our lives configuring ourselves to live up to external projections we don't need to embody. It took a literal knock on the head for me to recognize that I'd been fighting an internal projection of myself as a special needs parent.

I started straightening my hair after my autistic son began running his fingers through it one day to calm himself as a child. I also felt straightened hairstyles and business casual attire made me more formidable. Whether I was advocating for his care or defusing strangers convinced his public outbursts were the result of improper parenting, I was required to shield us both on a constant basis. At 15, he doesn't require this armor anymore. He's no longer a frightened kid constantly overwhelmed by sensory input. Instead, he can just be a young artist hanging out with his artist mom. 

So for this week, I'm asking you to think about your own armor. What aspects of your personality are weighing you down? What parts of your external image no longer resonate with who you are? As the Earth comes alive again, so do we. But new growth requires room to expand. It's time to time to clean your internal house.

That said, I don't suggest my Wiley Coyote method of attaining enlightenment on this issue. Check Youtube for my favorite Yoga Nidra exercises or retailers for additional books by Shunryu Suzuki to make breakthroughs of your own.

And remember to watch your head when you stand up as well. 😉

Light & Love on your paths.

Respectfully,
O.M.

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