• Karl Thunemann

An Encumbering Penumbra

As I neared completion of my epistle on the Meditation of the Bubble, a glowing sense of anticipation engulfed me. Finish this one, start another: After the Bubble, I would proceed to the Meditation of the Safe Harbor. I had learned both meditations from Lawrence LeShan’s book, How to Meditate, about 40 years ago—and my recollections of both were still imbued with a fond sense of discovery and protection.



I am so inspired by images of boats: They cluster in my safe harbor, no matter what I do


But when I actually turned toward Safe Harbor, I was shocked to find a blockade preventing me from even glimpsing it.


An unsettling anxiety swept over me. Despite my warm feelings toward the Safe Harbor—and my conviction that I had worked closely with it for some time—I had few specific recollections about this meditation. This drove me to revisit LeShan’s instructions for it, which only darkened the fog of my disorientation. LeShan declares that his instructions are deliberately vague.


No wonder I was so lost! All that I recalled was very verbal. Internally I had pictured myself at the tiller of a sailboat searching for my safe harbor in a small archipelago vaguely resembling the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound. In short, I violated the very spirit of the Safe Harbor—I gave it a specific verbal and geographical map. After pondering this discovery for some weeks, I have forgiven myself. You might recall my writing earlier that my Bubble Meditation itself became very nautical. I placed myself at the bottom of a lake, and over a few short years I overcame my fear of water and boats and learned to swim. This success must have colored my pursuit of the Safe Harbor.


I needed a Safe Harbor—but from what?  Though I felt a profound sense of loss dating from childhood, I could not quite put a label on it.

LeShan discourages going nautical in the Safe Harbor, but I must have skipped over this. I needed a Safe Harbor—but from what?  Though I felt a profound sense of loss dating from childhood, I could not quite put a label on it. Of course, there were my father’s harshness and my shame at having cerebral palsy, but there was something deeper which had no name and therefore could not be acknowledged. The Bubble Meditation had given me such a sense of rebirth. If I could not verbalize an answer to this meditation that seemed so closely allied, I would have had to own how far short of enlightenment I really was.


Now, decades later, it has gradually dawned on me why I had been unable to do this meditation as prescribed. At the time I was still more than a decade away from a series of dreams that would spell out an experience that was acutely menacing. The dreams were as specific as they could be—but as is so often the case with dreams, they left much to the imagination. At least they were “illustrated.” I’m no artist, but my crude sketches of the dreams directed me to a particular time and place,  I fleshed them out by following several paths: three years working with a psychologist who specialized in post-traumatic stress; learning to explore the past through devotions to Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god (and later, to Kwan Yin, the Chinese embodiment of compassion); plus a spate of meditative practices, including one derived from the work of Brene Brown; consulting a woman who styled herself as a medical intuitive; projecting myself as my own psychologist, and studying James Hillman’s Healing Fiction, by which I constructed a working theory about the trauma that had spurred my vivid dreams. I still have no actual memory of the events evoked in those dreams, just a theory born of connecting these enigmatic dream images to experiences in later life, and a patiently constructed conjecture about the corporeality suggested in those dreams. I often remind myself that it is only a theory, and occasionally events compel me to tweak this “healing fiction.”


That leaves me with something from the unconscious, and I speculate that it might be related to the intrauterine event—stroke-like, to be sure—that left me with my mild case of cerebral palsy.

So what next? I once again experience a yawning chasm lying in wait beneath me. This could be interpreted as a repudiation of my explorations over the past twenty years. They have yielded no fruit. I must be an inept meditator. I should give it up, and console myself with a cruise to Alaska or season tickets to the Seattle Mariners. But intuitively, I know this is not the case. I am no longer traumatized by those dreams. The chasm that daunts me today is new, or at least different.


Well then, what is it? Three candidates suggest themselves. First, it could be mortality itself. I consider this only briefly, as the dreams that I suppose address mortality are usually consoling, even inspiring. Then what about the prospect of dementia? Both my parents died with Alzheimer’s disease, and my older sister as well, within the past year. I do dream about dementia, but it no longer conjures the terrifying abysm that used to haunt me.



Then how about a safe arbor? I know this slightly distorts the term, but please – recognize my prosaic license!


That leaves me with something from the unconscious, and I speculate that it might be related to the intrauterine event—stroke-like, to be sure—that left me with my mild case of cerebral palsy. I have read nothing to verify this notion but think about it: the fetus may not yet be viable; it may not have the capacity to recall what has happened; it also lacks the ability to reflect on the experience, and yet it—I, to be sure—experiences pain. It—I—still yearns for a safe harbor. I admit the possibility that—having occurred prior to consciousness—its resolution may occur only in the conclusion of consciousness. But I hope for something more immediate.


So, I will search for this safe harbor in the coming months. The search will be verbal, of course. Having come this far with me, the reader will understand that inevitability. Let me couch this search in the language of loving/kindness: May I discover a safe harbor strong enough to protect me from this unknown and unconscious sense of the abyss.

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