The Charcoal Heap.

"My thing...what I hope to do all the time, is to be so completely myself...that my audiences, people who meet me, are confronted. They’re confronted with what I am, inside and out, as honest as I can be. And this way they have to see things about themselves, immediately." - Nina Simone

It takes power and confidence to be able to embody yourself as fully as Nina. To be so unshakeable, so clear in what you offer the world, that you awaken self-awareness in another. But behind such a remark is a lifetime of growth - and the first thing one must contend with is the predicament of life. In a beautifully abstract sense, the poet Kozan Ikkyo sums it up:

“Empty-handed I entered the world.
Barefoot I leave it. My coming, my going,
Two simple happenings.
That got entangled”

When you see someone powerful like Nina, know that she hasn’t untangled the two simple happenings. She’s just learned to accept her own tangle. She stopped resisting who she was, and learned to work with it.

“Cicada shell:
Little did I know,
It was my Life” -Shuho

Imagine you arrive at the end of your life, all the while having waited for something special to happen. Yet in the final moments, you understand that you had it all along. The specialness you sought was ever-present in the mundane. The cicada shell you thought you’d evolve out of was actually all there was. This poem by Shuho was what’s known as a death poem - written at a time when his death was imminent, and he knew it. Don’t overlook the cicada shell of your life.

The Zen master Dongshan writes of something similar:

“Everyone longs to leave the mundane stream, yet finally you return to sit in the charcoal heap”

The journey isn’t about going beyond the world and never returning. It’s not about hating your faults, or hiding your insecurities. It’s about sitting with them, loving them, and living with them. Stop searching for something special, and accept that we’re all sitting in a messy charcoal heap.

A good place to start this journey inwards is with the basics. In one of the most famous scriptures of all time, the Bhagavad Gita, it is written that:

“Success in meditation, Krishna says, comes neither to those who eat or sleep too much nor to those who eat or sleep too little. The body should be neither overindulged nor treated harshly”

A spiritual text telling you to sleep and eat enough! And it makes sense, how can you accept your deepest emotions if your belly is talking to you all day? Now from here, consider the power of these Five Instructions from the Tantric Yogini Machig Labdron.

“Confess your hidden faults.
Approach what you find repulsive.
Help those you think you cannot help.
Anything you are attached to, give that.
Go to the places that scare you.”

With these five suggestions, Machig is wasting no time. She wants you to immediately excavate the dark and hidden corners of your psyche. Do it slowly, gently, and properly. Approaching what repulses you, doing what scares you - acquaints you with the undeveloped parts of yourself. And the more you confront what’s inside, the more open you become to life. When this happens - you become a cosmic mirror, bringing out the best in everyone you meet.

Finally - if you ever feel encumbered by the prospect of self-discovery, think it’s too intense or difficult, I urge you to remember that:

“Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly” -G.K. Chesterton

It is as it is.


Links to Start Where You Are

Learning to live happily in the present moment

Common Myths and Tips about Sleeping (would highly recommend his book Why We Sleep)

Learn a new stretch or mobility exercise

The Final Instructions of Machig Labdron