Some Notes on Effacement


The glory of an impeccable moment alone is sacrificed here for the sake of beauty shared. This photograph represents a moment when the course of my life on this day brought me to a silence that was not the silence of a dog eating a carcass, or lack of words. A silence of what is. A silence of being breathed.

Never mind the perfection of this moment in the symphony of the day, which was more Stravinsky than Bach. My head was lifted by the Breather to witness this. A purring cat named Spot I was busy petting had nudged me out of the story line enough to allow. I was astonished at the beauty. It was a love letter. They are all around me, those ambassadors from absence imploring me to leave for home. Sometimes as a bird song, or taking on the form of an absurdity, objects that seem to defy gravity, or sounds with no sensible origin. Sometimes it is much more direct. This seemed like one such private moment.

Often I can’t bear the beauty alone. I have to share it even when I suspect it is not the right thing to do. I am guilty of casting pearls before swine. And being swine before pearls.  Yet right/wrong thinking is useless. I have seen that the only possible way through is in self effacement – and I write this in that spirit. Understand that the beauty of this photograph is tainted, it reflects a cast shadow – my own.

Self-effacement has traditionally been thought of as a means to transcend the body and its habits into the realm of spirit. It is a terrible thing to witness, when conditions are ripe for it, how one has been eating clay when light and water and real substance is so constantly offered. How one has interpreted kindness as maleficence and maleficence as kindness because of the sickness embraced as part of the illusion of time and bodies and stories, all of which are meant to wash us clear to absence. Hello, I must be going.

But the fact that some traditions have a history of torture chambers in the name of their particular brand of self-effacement as they interpret it from a source they may be far away from gives it a bad name. Effacement can be thought of in birthing terms. The cervix becomes effaced, thinning in preparation for the baby’s exit. The new moment of creation from absence to presence comes into being using me, you, and your unspecified pet as a vehicle. The thinner the medium the better. In this way even the proverbial bear shitting in the woods can be sacred.

How does self-effacement work practically in the birthing perspective? It often takes on the form of silence. I will give voice to yet another silent moment here, now that it has sufficiently passed to offer an example.

I was talking to someone that I’d just paid a debt off to. The conversation was off the topic of the debt, talking about my Flamenco classes and the upgrade I needed to make in music for them. I said that first I had to pay off my auto repairs. It was said lightly, as a note of what I wanted to do for my class. In a particular tone of voice that spoke more than the words he said, “Like everyone else.” These three words felt loaded with his personal suffering.

This person had gone on two vacations over the course of two or three months, to his time share rental, smiled through a newly crowned tooth, eats meals of meat in a house he owns on an almost daily basis, had just funded two parties and purchased a major luxury appliance. By contrast, I make many meals of canned organic beans I buy for 99 cents at the Grocery Outlet. Plantains I get two for a dollar. Eating is often painful because a tooth I have that anchors a bridge is rotten, has been for years and needs to be extracted, but I can’t afford it. So I use oil pulls to handle the toxicity quite successfully. Vacation is a foreign word. I traveled to the Bay area a couple of years ago when I was graciously given the opportunity to study Flamenco with a great dancer. My parties consist of buying a piece of fish from the health food store when I get some extra cash, and if I am house/cat sitting, sharing a bit of it with my friend Spot.

I am given the grace of many things. Presently I am in a beautiful environment as you can see from the photograph. The things I do to earn money are to my aesthetic. I have two nice rooms to live and work in. My friends help out enormously because despite my simple life, and my constant efforts, ends don’t quite meet.

But in that moment I felt such a – vibe – coming through those few words, I have to admit. A vibe of consumerism which carries with it the potential for a particular kind of self pity. With all this man has, still he had to use the moment to express what he did. I assume responsibility for feeling what I did. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was in that moment to simply dismiss it and move on to a better topic. Once alone, I processed the exchange. There is a feeling of unfairness that must be overcome in order to be true to myself. I had to self-efface to a place beyond this feeling. Because my life is as it is. I have done so much excavation work and followed disciplines in an effort to change the story line – until I realized that changing the story line was not the thing to do.

With some effort I was able to see that I don’t need or want the same things. A shift has happened to me that shows me I don’t want what I once thought I wanted. My heart is in love, but I don’t have a name for what it is in love with. It makes my life, that is, the story line, quite miserable often. When I seek satisfactions it is like I am dead and trying to live in a body that I can no longer claim as my own. Even things that I once considered refined have been exposed as coarse. Whatever the beloved gives me, that is what I can have. And trying to explain the subtleties of this – and its all subtleties, is next to impossible.

My friend is a good guy and leads a different life. The reductive life does not speak the same language as that of consumerism. Judgmental thinking is futile and just in this little event we can see how difficult it is to conceive of what it would take to know world peace. I look to self-effacement as a possible way through. And silence was the way in that moment. It could be that another moment of self-effacement would demand my speech. One of the lessons I am repeatedly given from different angles is that I am not my preferences. This means that even though I may prefer to speak or not speak, that preference does not necessarily indicate alignment with the truth of what is at any given moment.

So much of our conditioning is geared towards consumption and accumulation. And being the alpha of the situation. What we really want in our hearts is not consumable. It has more to do with diminishing returns. Well, that seems to be the case if you are what Rumi called a Lover, and I don’t have a better word for it. But it is this kind of  accumulating conditioning that creates rules and systems one applies toward getting something wanted, even reward in Heaven. The thing about Lovers is that they are considered alive to the degree they can die.

Effacement is a thinning out process, it allows birth by getting out of its way. Birth and death bear a definite relationship, don’t you agree? The veil between worlds is thinned then parted for entry or exit and unless you are made of stone, this can be felt. One can create conditions that might be more or less helpful to the process of effacement, but the minute we move into a right/wrong thing a shadow is cast. This is the stuff out of which war, spiritual torture chambers, and the shopping mall is made.

I know of someone who accumulates all kinds of food processing appliances upon embarking on a new project of weight loss. They lose money to gain things to help them lose weight that they gain stressing over the money they lose. But this person will not sacrifice their own story, will not do the self-effacing work – that is, will not open up to reveal a new self by getting to the fundamental issue behind the consumption and control. I see this because I have been guilty of consumerism of clothes and decorations all designed to keep me from looking at what I have despised about myself. We are conditioned to reach for more over the true solution of choosing less.

The diminishing process has the constancy of change. That’s why rules and systems are useless, for the most part. Another small example – I caught myself while driving in a thought loop of worry over my finances. No surprise here. I then sought to remedy this by reciting a gratitude list. A thing that has worked for me in the past. To this the Beloved responded with mockery and disdain. I took the cue and saw how I was using gratitude as a trick to obtain a state that I felt was righteous. The habit had presented itself to seek the right way of thinking to get at “the Secret” of manifestation of things – money, comfort, security. I forgot to be. It is not about fixing the story. Its about authenticity in being, apart from story line and conditions.

The effacement of a Lover has a language and that language is communicated through mirrors. I see my own shadow in the witnessing of others. In self-effacement one’s mirror gets polished. And in this polishing, one learns the language of mirrors.

I don’t say as much as I used to. Still, its often too much. It is rare for me to not feel as though I am in a foreign country where I don’t know the language very well. I used to be quite articulate, and now I mostly feel like a walking avalanche. I have a lot of learning to do about the language of mirrors – and silence. But sometimes its just too beautiful to bear alone. And sometimes in my own kind of greed I have to capture a moment and share it, perhaps avoiding an intimacy of stillness and silence that I can’t bear yet. This was such a moment.This too shall pass.


About gracekellyrivera

I am a perfumer and an artist of multiple disciplines located in California.
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