First rule: The answer is always “both.” (And “neither”–because why not?)

We create our own patterns and coincidences. We assign meanings to what would otherwise be (or seem to be [it doesn’t matter which]) random events. And that instinct is essential and, if this is the right word, archetypal. And, if we want to, we can learn how to practice this instinct deliberately and inventively–because, for one thing, that’s where the art comes from: that primal instinct to create meaning from seeming randomness. I think of it as “The Pirate in the Bathroom Tile.” (“You mean the Mexican pirate?” Becky asked when I told her this. “Yes!” I said, so happy to be understood.)  You can also call it “The Face on Mars” or “Jesus on a Piece of Toast”, or whatever you like. The real word for the tendency is “pareidolia,” I think. You could look it up.

[9/30/14 note to self: Edit to fiddle with the idea that apophenia is a wonderful tool in the “harnessing of serendipity”–once I understand what, exactly, I mean by that.]

Practice. Create rituals out of simple things: washing dishes, taking a shower, building a fire, taming a dog, taming a person, allowing yourself to be tamed by everyone you meet, so that, to whatever degree we can, we can all feel loved and safe. Live deliberately–if only because it keeps you from bumping into the furniture.

Watch for mandalas–they’re everywhere, and they help seduce us toward eternity, which is, so far as I can tell so far, the placeless place we’re in already.

There are a million ways into zen, scattered throughout the flood of sensations that immerses us right here, right now. The trick is to recognize those ways for what they are, and then to follow, oh, even just one of them inward. Keep following, keep immersing yourself, keep witnessing more and judging less, and eventually you’ll reach a point where, at least for a moment or two at a time, you sort of disappear. And that’s really cool.

Nirvana is, I guess, an absence of self. But I’m starting to think you can also define it as the (placeless) place where you become all of your selves at once.

Self-imposed rule: I’m allowed to want something to the exact degree I’m willing to let it go.

It might come down just to this: do the wise thing. That’s it. Because we almost always know what the wise thing is. We just do the dumb thing anyway, and the whole time we’re doing it we know it’s dumb. Sometimes you can even hear us muttering to ourselves, “I can’t believe I’m doing this stupid, stupid thing again.” So there’s your answer, there’s your practice, there’s your secret: stop doing the dumb things you already know are dumb. Do the wise thing, if you can. And if you can’t, do only whichever dumb things you don’t yet know are dumb.

Shorter version: Insofar as you can, make only new mistakes.

Don’t be afraid of the future. Love it fiercely, love it blindly, the way you loved your babies before they were born. Because why not?

For all we know, we’re still in utero.

I am always–and maybe only?–at my best when I have no other choice. (Update 11/10/13: the trick, it seems to me lately, is to choose to have no choice…) (Update 2/27/14: And yet of course I have no choice–choice is only a rule of the game I’m playing. Choice invigorates the air inside this dream I’m in. It helps me forget the dream’s frustrating trope: that I’m running as fast as I can, but not getting anywhere.)

Our minds seem designed to judge the world through (what seems to me) the relatively primitive art of comparison. That is, we can “understand” things only by contrasting them to other things. We grasp at every thing, every event we witness, but can receive it only in relative terms: bigger, smaller, fewer, more, similar, different, better, worse. Maybe that’s one reason it’s so hard to break out of dualism, so hard to get to the truth that seems so crazy to us: that really there are no “opposites”–and, in fact, no “separate” things at all. …I think, I think, there may not even be things. How would our minds know, after all, without a purely frictionless “nothing” to compare our sticky “thingness” to?

Carry in your mind an encyclopedia of apt metaphors. We can only really talk to each other in fables, after all. We can only really understand each other by comparing something we’ve witnessed with something the other may have witnessed too. (11/10/13: that other, richer kind of understanding must come some other way–through silence, maybe, or the feel of one heartbeat upon another, or a whole tribe huddling each night around the same big campfire, each of us seeing  its flames, logs, embers, sparks, from our own unique angle, but all of us staring into the same mystery and feeling the same steady warmth.) (2/27/14: in the end, I think, there’s no way–not even silence–to tell the truth about everything/nothing. Even to become the truth doesn’t explain it. Even your desire to explain wrecks any chance of ever doing so. The truth is–maybe–that we already know the truth. We breathe it in and out and in every day, but usually without noticing.)

Until you’ve been hurt yourself, you can’t easily feel compassion for another’s pain. Luckily, our lives deal out opportunities for pain as often as they possibly can.

Any moment now, I’ll be dealt my next come-uppance. My next “fierce grace” (Ram Dass). My best–perhaps my only?–teachers are the ones who, time after time, remind me (with a sudden or slow tightening of the handy scarf that circumscribes my throat) of how fragile, how already going and already gone, are the things I cherish most. The only amazing thing here is the way I keep forgetting–the way every loss still takes me by surprise.

The road to Find-Out is scary. The trick of continuing may simply be this: not to be afraid of being afraid. (Props to Franklin Roosevelt for that one.)

Keep penetrating, keep connecting. Go forward. Practice. There’s no contest. There’s no right or wrong way. There’s no failure, no success.There’s not even an ending, at least not one we can readily know about.

Safety is vital. You can’t go anywhere or do anything or think straight or feel peace, unless you first feel safe. The physical world, of course, is both “safe” and “dangerous,” alternately or sometimes at once. But if you cultivate within yourself what can soon become an obvious awareness that, deep down, you’re capable of accepting whatever happens, then you can become safe from the inside out. (11/1013: and, if you can somehow allow yourself no choice but to lay your heart forever raw and open, I think then you may become capable of actually and indiscriminately loving life’s “whatevers”. At the very least, you can allow yourself enough perspective to find them fascinating, enough love to find them bearable, enough patience to wait out what hurts, enough grace to rejoice in what’s miraculous, and maybe even enough wisdom to feel all these different responses at the very same time–which I think must be the point where you yourself, as a self, begin to disappear.)

The trick, in short, is not minding.

Surrender. Plunge headlong into the abyss. Chances are you’ll be able to haul yourself out again when you need to (and you will need to). And even if not, the fall itself would be worth a lifetime of merely peeking, meekly peering, over the edge.

Odd but true: Somewhere down the road of all this, all you’ll really want to do is love everybody. It will be, eventually, the only compulsion you have left.

Never be ashamed of your own essential foolishness. What else can you be, after all? You wouldn’t be out here, stumbling along this road, if you were already home.

If we nurture the world, the world nurtures us back, whether it means to or not. The gifts you give the world give themselves back to you. Your very life becomes your reward for having lived it well. (11/10/13: a lot of times you will learn all this only a very long time after the period of your giving and your pain. Sometimes, I imagine, you never learn it. And an awful lot of the time, you have to look really hard to find a single hint of it. But it’s still there–the miracle, the reward, the equanimity and spaciousness; and once you see it, you’ll have to work very hard to “not-see” it next time, so you might as well just allow it to remain in your field of vision on a moment-to-moment basis.)

Sometimes it helps to remember that a lot of what happens to us is none of our business.

When in doubt, do less. Widdl, for short. I use that word–widdl–a lot. It doesn’t mean, “do nothing.” It means only what it says, “do less.” …And less. …And then a bit less. No worrisome need to disappear entirely–so far as I can tell. To become nothing–that self-defeating self-obsesssion–is a wonderful experience but a crazy goal. (To have a “goal” at all, no doubt, is crazy in itself.) But anyone can do less. And then less. So, simply:  widdl. {You can also “widdle,” in the sense of “urinate.” Both are very useful occupations, and, now that I think of it, are interesting metaphors of each other, maybe?}