Jay Michaelson
You are God in Drag:
Notes from and after Retreat, p.2


When I think of putting these notes into Zeek, the mind races ahead and gets distracted. What happens? Two things. First, it closes itself off from now and goes into someplace else; into the magazine, or the website – someplace that isn't right here. Second, the mind becomes filled with aversive or attractive desire. I want the piece to be like this, I want it to be received like that. The writing of this piece becomes performative, and thus a critical part of myself (as in movie critic) is engaged, ruining the flow of experience. So I have to swear now that this will not be part of Zeek without extensive revision later -- revision which means that it doesn't matter how artfully I write now. (For example, the phrase "how artfully," like this parenthetical, was inserted weeks later.)

Breathe. Hold the sensation. Notice the feeling of that. Watch it and eventually let it go.


You can't simultaneously pursue enlightenment and interrogate it.


Back from retreat.

It's such a fragile truth - the simple pantheistic notion that, really, everything is just God. Or, everything is emptiness, if you prefer - that no thing, including the self, has separate existence. It's very easy to write down, and incredibly fragile. Learn it too quickly, and it's a cliche, or doubt arises, or, worse, it inhibits the actual experience (knowledge in the Hebrew sense) of it. Forget it after you really learn it, and you sink right down into the concerns of the small mind. Today, the knowledge is still present for me - I don't have to fake it, just cultivate a calmer mind state to allow it to penetrate in. Eventually it may not feel as natural, or maybe it will. But I can dip my toe into either side, feeling the world as it truly is, or as my mind is conditioned to feel it, suffer with it, dread it, love it, etc. All our minds are so self-centered, so self-certain that there is us and them. Without this yetzer hara, this will of separation, we could not survive or reproduce. Still it boggles the mind why it had to be so.

And the truth is so easy to forget. So we are told again and again and again: remember, remember, remember. All the Jewish religion does is remember. All the Buddhist path does is remember (in the Jewish sense: i.e., see anew, make real now, remove veils of ignorance).

"Be faithful to me, and I will show you love," God seems to say. What does this mean for me? On retreat I worked with the phrase for a while, but I think I'm only understanding it (or understanding it on a deeper level) now, off retreat. Be faithful to me – know that I am all there is, that "it's just Me" here. No inside, no outside. It does feel like a kind of faithfulness to keep that consciousness intact, or reminded often in ‘small moments, many times.' However it is faithfulness to a dear Friend, not a principle. Once it becomes a principle... well, all is not lost, but the heart of it is.

Much of the Jewish love language gets lost in what it says God is doing for us lovingly. "You have chosen us with love." Today we wrestle with chosenness, what that means, etc. But I think it's more fruitful to observe how our ancestors felt they were chosen with love. Every nation thought they were chosen. The point is that the experience was one of love.

And then every contemplative says they can't really talk about what it is they want to talk about. The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao. The indirect/absurd speech of the Zen koan. The unpronounceable Name. Negative theology. Neti-neti. You can just go across the board. Non-contemplatives may go and say that they know this or that, or perversely, that they don't know anything and therefore they must obey the Bible (or some other text) with literal, intense devotion – all the while trapped in the notion that there is a self obeying a text. But I don't know of any authentic writer of mysticism who can say with certainty that God/Being is this or that.

A funny thing just happened. I was searching for phrases with which to end the previous paragraph, and the first two were "...can say with certainty that ‘I know'" and "...can say with certainty that ‘This is It.'" Of course, both of those phrases flow immediately from the mystical experience. But what ‘It' is, or what the ‘knowing' is (it's not really an ‘I know') – no one can say. People get frustrated with this. Mystical obscurantism, vagueness. But it is not meant to be some sort of game or deliberate mysteriousness. It really cannot be said.

Moreover, if it is said, there must be a predicate noun or adjective attached, e.g. "God is love." That is fine but incorrect, because what about (a) everything else in the universe and (b) that which we suppose is beyond the universe, and thus utterly without linguistic or even conceptual expression. It's fine to say that God is this or that, but it misleads us into thinking that God is not something else.

Or that, when God says "Be faithful to me, and I will show you love," what is meant is that we will receive the love we want, from a partner or a parent or adoring fans who read our work. We will be shown the love in this pencil-holder, in the atoms of the snow, and in the embrace of all of these empty illusions rising and falling within Mind.

Secret teachings are not esoteric; they are experiential.


I've noticed a convergence happening between what I thought was esoteric Buddhist wisdom and what is, in fact, the most commonplace of advice. There is a little unease around that, since for many years I have disliked the "be happy and greet each day with a smile" school of self-improvement. I think the reason for that is that it seemed very disingenuous, and also an inauthentic response to a world in which vast suffering exists. If we greet each day with a smile, are we being honest with parents whose children die, or, more importantly, parents whose children are killed in wars that we might have avoided?

Greeting each day with a smile, or ‘seeing the good in everybody' also seemed personally dishonest. I am glad that my consciousness is more complex than that – that, some days, it greets the world with a smile, and other days the smile quickly turns into something else. That is my reality, I am glad it is my reality, and there is little that annoys me more than being told to paper over my reality with a banal cliche.

Seeing reality clearly, of course, is why I go on meditation retreats to begin with. It is, for me, the opposite of pabulum.

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Image: Jay Michaelson

February 2004

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You are God in Drag
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Abraham Mezrich

Shari Goldman-Gottlieb

Spam Poetry

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From previous issues:

Stones of Jerusalem
David Goldstein

Koby Israelite
Matthue Roth

The Ghost and the Machine
Jay Michaelson