Life Outside of the Cave (a.k.a. Everyday Reality and Dirty Laundry)

by Lisa Tran

Recently at a dinner party, I was being intensely irreverent as I said something challenging about monks, or the monastic life. I think it was, "I'm so over monks. It's so much easier in a cave. They should try sex and kids." It was in the midst of talking about my new life as an "insta-mom". My fiancé's three kids entered my life this past year and out went my ivory tower spiritual idealism. Shit just got real.

Before going on, I want to point out that I have family members who've chosen the monastic life, and like any path we choose, the only thing that seems to matter is whether the path has heart. My irreverence can hold broad perspectives. As in, I'm not truly over monks! And yes, I'm aware that my generalization of monastic life was facetious. Time spent deep in contemplation, free from the world, can be beautiful and full of awareness.

Prior to meeting my fiancé, I spent a few years single. I lived in a tiny little cottage by the ocean, with my tiny little dog. We had long walks on the beach. We had luxurious evenings curled up with personal growth and spirituality books. I meditated all the time. I could choose social time or quiet time. I had broad expanses of time to integrate life and to be with myself. 

I look upon these years as important "cave years." I tasted the nature of myself without much influence. I wandered shadowlands and dreamlands. I came to know myself without the other. And that is one part of knowing the self. The inward path.

The outer path is to come to know yourself through the other. Through your love for them, and your resistances. Four new beings in my life has been quite the initiation. I can say that they each represent different age ranges, different aspects of the masculine and feminine, different gifts and shadows. This family has offered me a deep engagement with the Self, as I've come to experience myself through my interactions with each of them.

I have come to understand that you can only truly learn through direct experience. During my time in the Cave Years, I explored concepts and theories. I dreamt of what I yearned for. But direct experience takes you, forces you into the present moment, if you are willing. And it's in this present moment reality that you come to truly see how you show up in the world. What you hold as beliefs, truths, fears – these will surface in the direct experience of your life, especially through relationship with others.

The enlightened life is probably somewhere between the intensity of doing and the emptiness of nothing. It is a place where you can be yourself in the midst of doing, in the midst of others. It is being able to hold presence, a sense of openness and relaxation, as life revolves around you. A place where you can observe as you interact, so that you can act with conscious choice instead of react. A place with broad expanses of space, even as you share this space with others.

I am nowhere near this nirvana! But as I jump into the wild terrain of learning how to be with younger souls, I can use my years of inner work and contemplation to track myself, to track how I show up, where I lose my presence, where I am triggered, what is easy and what is not. This is my deep practice, to track how I am being, to develop awareness. Then to do the work of balancing the self, mapping out new territories of my inner world. 

The ideal life is probably made up of caves, sex, work, partners, people, kids, whatever you want to create. It is in the balance of things. Let experience in to help you gain self awareness and growth. And seek out cave time to breathe, to see. 

Transitions Are Doorways to the Self

by Lisa Tran

Change is the single absolute in our impermanent reality. But when change comes, especially the shifts that alter your sense of identity and day-to-day life, it can feel final rather than a transition into something else. In fact, if you resist the change, you miss the transition entirely and wind up stuck in the deep end.

I've been in a deep phase of change in many facets of my life, including becoming an "insta-mom" to my fiancé's three children. A life that I've dreamed of and longed for is coming to fruition. And with all the good, I was also lost in the seas of change. I've had moments where I couldn't find myself. Because the part of myself I was looking for was changing. And I was trying to live my new reality with old rules. Whoops.

Someone I dearly respect told me that in this time of great transitions, I am learning to see myself as I've never experienced before. Oh! That turned on a great lightbulb. Change gives us new experiences, and new ways of coming to know ourselves. It requires an "I don't know" mind, and the willingness to lean into fears and anxieties that arise. 

The gold in change is actually fear. Most change will deliver a healthy dose of fear, because the ego prefers stasis and generally dislikes the unknown. This is why our reactive response is usually resistance to change, even in the best of times. But if during change cycles, we welcome fear and simply sit with it, and learn to name the fear, then we find the key to transitioning through the change. Releasing your fear is the key to letting you flow through change.

Developing presence in the wake of fear is the practice. Don't try to fix your fear. Ask yourself to sit with the fear, feel the emotions, and in time, more and more space will wrap itself around your fear. And within this space, clarity will often deliver itself. If the fear is truly a humdinger, then have someone else hold space for you. I have many people in my life who can do this, and their help has been the true grace that has helped me embrace change.

The Imagination Experiment

by Lisa Tran

I’m in the deep midst of an imagination experiment. I’m doing this to see how big I can really let myself play. How much do I hold back? How much am I letting myself have what I want? Where are my mental limits?

Start by listing a couple of things you deeply yearn for. Then start letting yourself have it in your imagination. Commit to daydreaming everyday for seven days.

It’s funny. Initially, you think, well since I’m just imagining, it’s easy. I can make up whatever I want. But really see what you can pull up in your mind’s eye. Can you fully let yourself have what you want? Do you feel safe enough, even with yourself, to admit your heart’s desires? How crystal clear is your envisioning?

I found that I was definitely holding back. Only giving myself tiny little snippets in the beginning. I was a shy director, embarrassed even! I have been practicing every day, deeply, for weeks now. And finally, the visions are getting more rich, more fun and playful, bolder.

In the practice of making dream movies in your mind, you are learning how to open up to what your heart desires. You might run into limits initially, where you try to dream up something and an inner critic starts to throw tomatoes on your screen, or tell you that you are being silly and can’t have what you want. Learn to observe this critic, love him and make him feel safe, and then tell him to shut the f*** up. Quiet on the set.

Learn to envision with all of your senses: see, hear, taste, feel, smell it. Really, truly let yourself have it. Heart desires want to be known like this. And let loose. Tell the judge to go away and just play. It doesn’t matter if it feels frivolous, play IS supposed to be carefree. Once you unleash yourself, once you stop holding back, your heart’s desires will show you how much fuel they have. They will pull at your imagination, pluck you into a daydream in the midst of your days.

The stories tell us to dream…so start practicing.