This wise woman is in the exhibition of my photos that is up in Deluxe Cafe this week. I'm so grateful to my friends who installed it for me, and to another friend who emailed me to tell me that she had been in there yesterday and overheard at least two separate conversations about Afghanistan, inspired by the photos.
Another wise woman came to visit me over the weekend. I went on a two day meditation and dream-tending retreat. I wasn't especially interested in the dream-tending, but I wanted to find a meditation retreat somewhere within easy traveling distance of LA and I found this one at La Casa de Maria spiritual centre in Montecito village, near Santa Barbara.
I couldn't have chosen a better retreat for me at this point of my life had I spent months researching. I've needed to refresh my seated meditation practice and renew my commitment to regularly sitting. The meditation teacher, Radhule Weininger, studied in Sri Lanka 30 years ago and has maintained a regular practice since then. Most recently she has been studying with Jack Kornfield, of the Spirit Rock centre.
I was hoping to make it there while I am in San Francisco, because Jack is a psychologist as well as a committed Buddhist and I see these two aspects of the current studies converging. Well, maybe I will make it to Spirit Rock to hear some of Jack's teachings. But if I don't I will be satisfied with my weekend of teaching from Radhule. She is also a practicing psycho-therapist and what she offered me was a non-dogmatic approach to Buddhist teachings combined with a respect for, or at least an open-minded curiosity about the teachings of Western psychology.
I've been fairly cynical about much of what we are taught in the traditional clinical psychology papers. The obsession with the individual seems to me to be both Euro- and androcentric. Freud and Jung developed these theories about the human development process which assume that individuation and independence are the goals and that development of ego and self is essential for 'healthy' adulthood.
Radhule showed me a different way of approaching those teachings. She starts by saying, lets not get into dogma. Then she suggests that there may be somethings to learn from many different wisdom traditions, including even those of Western 'science'.
I have a tendency towards dogma. I like to be right about things, so I work and study hard and when I think that I'm wrong then I work and study harder in the hope of finding the right answer. In Buddhist teachings I have found much that seems experientially true to me. This has been great for me, and without a doubt the combination of my yoga practice (especially 'pranayama' or breath practices) and my efforts at seated meditation practice held me through the most difficult, chaotic and frightening times in Afghansitan.
As powerful as they have been in my life, I don't want to become dogmatic about these teachings. So it was timely for me to meet Radhule, a wise woman who reminded me of the gentleness, openness and curiosity that can guide our journey.
But even Radhule was not the wise woman of the title of this post. Nor were the amazing group of wise women, most aged over 50 and filled with the wisdom of a life lived mindfully. I met another wise woman this weekend. Someone I haven't been getting in touch with very often lately.
The dream-tending part of the retreat was not of great interest to me initially. I just wanted to have company and guidance for seated meditation to 're-start' my practice.
But Radhule and her husband Michael have a hypothesis, based in their combined experience as psychologists, that the combination of mindfulness meditation and dream-work can produce powerful results.
I haven't been remembering my dreams much lately, so when they gave us each a dream journal at the beginning of the weekend and asked us to write down our dreams each morning I didn't think I would have much to write. On the first morning I didn't. My journal entry for that day reads like a really bad idea for a story:
"Something about a dog, a part where J wants to keep the puppies and I think we should let them go to the man who really wants them. A part where my family comes over with dessert and champagne to celebrate something. At the very end I walk up to meet L and he's standing there with K. They say 'lets go for lunch and listen to the Dixie Chicks'. So we turn to go".
But after a day which included several sessions of seated mediation, some mindfulness meditation and some guided practices of loving-kindness meditation, I went to sleep and dreamed. The next morning as I wrote out my dream I recognised her. She came in my dream in an unusual form (in the form of an ex-boyfriend) but I recognised the wild, wild woman.
As soon as I recognised her I felt regret and some guilt that I had been neglecting her. She wouldn't look at me, wouldn't talk to me or even notice me. I approached a friend in the dream and was about to ask what I could do. He said "He (she) is taking back the months that you have stolen from him". I understood.
She is the wildest, wisest, bravest of me. She is also the writer in me. She comes closer to me when I sit quietly, as in meditative practice. Or perhaps she is always close but when I sit quietly long enough is when I can see her more clearly.