Book Review by Mitra Martin
True Perception by Chogyam Trungpa
This book is a gentle guidebook to making your life an outrageous and peaceful work of art.
I first heard of Chogyam Trungpa when the movie Crazy Wisdom came out. Wow, what a soul, I thought when I saw it. The first Tibetan Buddhist to teach in the US, he was the founder of Naropa University and the network of Shambala Centers - and also a friend of poets and creative people like Alan Ginsberg and Joni Mitchell. He wasn’t perfect at all and I guess that’s okay too. I think it was nice for me to have a reference point, form having seen the documentary, for who he is and the calm bigly humorous way he speaks, as I read the book.
The book is made up of very short chapters, 2 and 3 and 10 pages long, very easy to read and yet very inviting to read over and over again. To mull over or write about in your morning pages. It feels practical, personal, not abstract-philosophical. I was many times very touched.
For me, my devotion to the art of Tango is immeasurably enriched by being devoted to connectedness in general, including off the dance floor. I know I’ve said this before. Living well and healthily, living in a way that makes space for connectedness, living and considering myself part of a whole thing, a community, that is vaster than myself and has its own logic - these are things that for me help stabilize the Tango connection. Exploring meditiation, and learning about the Buddhist practice of attention, is a new frontier for me in this quest for deep connectedness.
And the result of reading Trungpa’s words, for me, is that a light feeling of a life that is really free and clear of aggression - aggressive thinking, aggressive shyness, aggressive fear - has started to take root. I feel more aware of how weird aggression is and how much it has nothing to do with anything that I choose my life to be about. It’s like you can tune into a fine mist of calm being, and reading Trungpa made it easier to identify the weird sharp edges of alienated aggression that out of habit or some wild momentum want to poke you and wreck that finely knitted thoughtmist. But they don’t have to.
There seems to be this strange momentum to be so hard on ourselves, here in this mirco-world of Tango. To bury ourselves in the idea that we’re not good enough, that we need to work harder, stay up later, acquire more status, push the boundaries of our sanity, health, and well-being, to get a bit more of whatever it is will make other people want to dance with us. It is a sad and exhausting kind of self-aggression. As Trungpa might say, “it is rather pathetic,” or “you become a mean vegetable.”
What makes other people want to dance with us is - when we accept ourselves. When we are friendly with ourselves and aware of our own basic goodness. When we can let go of the crazy climbing, the desire to be first, best and only. When we try to see if we can simply make something that feels true. All this came into me more clearly through reading this book.
I think what he writes is so clear while also being very gentle, and he uses these odd surprising but somehow really normal images, his words have a soft sort of hilarity too, with an underlying zone of compassion of how hard it can be to be - us. To be humans wanting to do something, to be something, to connect what seems to be inside of us with what seems to be outside of us. And then, “Things don’t seem to be as heavy as we think they are, but they seem to be floating above the ground, and seemingly hilarious, funny, swift, and lucid.”
Have a seemingly hilarious, funny, swift, and lucid day. May you float. Love, Mitra