stalking the numinous niche

This confession was originally posted on my blog this unlit light in 2011.  Recently I’ve been reminded about the little cache of my writing that quietly rests over on that blog and it’s been suggested that I share some snippets here for readers.  I figured that when the time was ripe to do so, I’d get a prompt.

It came a few days ago, over lunch with a couple of dear friends.  We were talking about the way humans seem compelled to “find their tribe.”  To join forces with those of like mind, to feel a sense of belonging and validation.  I had to admit that I’d never found a tribe or group that didn’t end up either disappointing me, or spitting me out for disappointing them.  If I had a tribe it would be in the league of the Rank Outsiders, the Solo Fliers, the Holy Rejects.

The conversation got me reminiscing about my mid-life preoccupation with finding where I fit.  It wasn’t so much about finding a tribe as finding my so-called niche.  It went on for the first half of my life and only disappeared (taking the need for company with it) when the split between the niche-less one and her experience zipped itself up. It had a lot to do with acknowledging what she loved to do (play with colour, texture, visual language), because in that encounter she unfailingly disappeared into the unknowable: into her numinous niche.

I have no idea how it happened. Love has a mind of its own; it slowly seeped out of the studio and spread itself at her feet.  Her niche turned out to be nothing more nor less than the full monty life movie, otherwise known as… S U C H N E S S – to the [n]


Lawrence Carroll, Untitled, 2015


My Niche is The Unknowable – April 22, 2011

About thirty years ago I confessed to a kindly iridologist that I felt I had failed to find my ‘niche’ in life.  He peered into my bright blue eye-maps and remarked that it was strange, because everything he could read there indicated that I was a highly capable person who could find a niche in many avenues of expertise.

It worried me, that feeling of being niche-less.  I was in awe of those who seemed, from a young age, to know exactly what they wished to do in the world and set about achieving it.  And it wasn’t helped by those who knew the potential here and kept asking when I was going to fully explore (exploit?) it.  I was in my mid 40s and still wondering what I would be when I grew up.

I had all the right tools: a reasonably sane brain, a good education, some skills as an educator as well as in the area of art and design, but my life-path seemed like a meandering groping from one neti-neti to the next.

I tried being a teacher, a broadcaster, a fashion designer, a wife, a lover, a wandering yogini, a ‘professional’ artist.  All those niches ultimately failed to fit. The role that held the most promise was that of the artist, but the funny thing was that whenever the flow of genuine creating was going on in the studio, I wasn’t there.  I mean, ‘artist-me’ was AWOL.  In its place there was a spacious, ownerless activity unrelated to all my small ideas of what should be happening.  And the moment the ‘artist-me’ tried to examine this mysterious activity it would vaporize.  It was ungraspable and unknowable.

Later I would find a philosophy that made sense of this mystery – it is spoken about by sages and artists alike as the movement of pure nondual Awareness. But back then it was a total enigma to me; it put the fire under a lifetime’s exploration of creativity. And it eventually delivered me to the niche I had given up any hope of finding.

My niche turned out to be that ineffable intimate Awareness itself.  And the amazing thing is that it always had been!  It had been my preoccupation for decades, yet I had failed to recognize that it was a valid contender for the niche stakes.  I had conceptualised the niche-notion, irrevocably keeping it at arm’s length and ensuring the survival of a niche-less seeker trapped in time.  Truly, I can be quite slow

When the penny dropped, a lifetime’s worth of seemingly incoherent bits of ridiculousness fell into place.  I fell about laughing like a lunatic.  The absurdity and awesomeness of it!  The beauty and simplicity and grace of it!

Like … landing on a bed of rose petals … sinking into their silken perfume … resting, at last … knowing that this simple at-one-ment always runs below the surface of experience, ALL experience … knowing that you never have to leave … even if it were possible!

– miriam louisa
(With minor editing to accomodate a further seven years’ worth of lightbulb moments.)

Artwork: Lawrence Carroll Untitled, 2015
Artificial flowers, pigment, stain, housepaint, dust
7,5 x 218 x 185 cm

memo to mind

Dear team-member:


It has come to our notice that you’ve been indulging

in speculation, prediction,

definition and generalisation


what it will be/is like after “awakening” occurs,

how to recognise an “awake” human being,

and even the degree of your own “awakening.”


 In other words, you’ve been snoozing on the job

and entertaining yourself in an indisious dream

in which you assume some kind of god-identity

and dish out judgement.


Not good teamwork, comrade Mind!


Speculation only serves to separate,

and we all know this team is a seamless unit;

seamless, spacious and silent.


What is your life about, anyway?
Nothing but a struggle to be someone.
Nothing but a running from your own silence.
– Rumi


We note that you get very edgy around silence.

(Your earnest claim of being no one

shatters silence as effectively as any “struggle to be someone.”)


Arthur Boyd, Sleeping Woman with Dragonfly and Watching Figure, c.1964


Dear comrade,

have you noticed

the iridescent miracle

hovering at the window of wonderment?


Are you aware

of the Beloved’s presence,

eyes bloodshot from its sleepless lifelong vigil?


Have you marvelled

at the way the life-stream flows on, inevitably,

without minding (without minding).


– – –


Please reconsider your function and report back.
Thank you.  You are a valued member of the team.


Arthur Boyd (1920 – 1999), Sleeping Woman with Dragonfly and Watching Figure c.1964
Pastel on paper, 48.5 x 63.0 cm

Apologies to Arthur Boyd for hijacking his artwork for poetic purposes.


following fear into the star-stuff of my cells

Frederick Walker, The Woman in White, 1871 Tate Gallery


This post is an attempt to explain why I’m a dedicated follower of fear.  For as long as I can remember (and that’s probably way further than your lifespan dear reader), I’ve been keenly curious and unafraid of a good adventure.  So it’s surprising that I was so slow to arrive at the threshold of my body’s dark knowledge.  Needless to say, the Shadowlands had good reason to be well-hidden from my agenda…
But once the bellyflop into the deep occurred, the implications of the free-fall of fifteen years ago could at last percolate down and settle in the cells.  I am writing this in the midst of another dive – a somatic meditation retreat, which I think of as a pre-death trauma detox.  For the most part I’m avoiding the screen, but this pressed to be posted.

We hear it so often:  To be happy, to be spiritually liberated, to be … (insert personal agenda), we must choose between love and fear.  And the ominously silent insinuation is that choosing fear is definitely not the way to go.

My platitude-sensitive antenna start to hum; a dictum like this is demands scrutiny.

A good place to start is by being clear about what one actually is, i.e. the nature of one who could claim to make such a choice.  If there’s still a belief in a separate, solid-state self, (which is a bit like admitting that you believe the world is flat and climate change is a myth), then you’ll believe there’s someone who can make a choice of this kind.  You’ll believe that this mental object called “me” can adroitly and wisely select between other mental objects (fear and love) in order to become a happier mental object.  To the imagined self – the chooser – love and fear are inescapably conceptual.  And what follows won’t make a smidgin of sense.  (Click X now.)

However, if you’ve sniffed out the falsity of an independent me thing, you’ll find it slightly incoherent that these two concepts, with their inherent duality, are so commonly presented as an either-or option.  It sounds like an invitation to reconstruct a fresh version of a self – one that will either make the right choice (good work!) or get it wrong (see how hopeless you are?).  You’d be right to want to sniff out the truth of the matter.

Let’s start with love.  Having experienced the mind-shattering absence of anything that could exist as an independent ghost-in-the-machine, you’ve already noticed the sweetness, the benevolence that floods into the space vacated by that phantom.  You’ve realised that that very sweetness is the Love (big L) you always imagined was elsewhere.  (Hiding behind the façade of your spiritual teacher, your partner, your lover; waiting at the end of your seeking, your arduous practice-project…)  You’ve woken up to the fact that it’s always been there;  that it’s your inescapable fundamental state and that it has no opposite, only a limitless wardrobe of apparent disguises.

Repeat – Love has no opposite.

Which means: Fear is not the opposite of, nor an alternative to, Love.

So let’s look at fear.  We’re told that humans are born with just two innate, hard-wired fears: fear of falling, and fear of sudden loud noises.  All other fears are learned, and these are the ones I speak of here.  I’m not talking about natural, normal reactions to any kind of physical danger.

I experience psychological fear as a contraction within my body.  It’s a tension, a more or less subtle holding-on – sometimes so subtle that it escapes awareness – those who have encountered the consequences of heart tension know about this.

Unlike the changeless Love discussed above, which isn’t an experience but the space in which experiences arise, any experience will always have an opposite.  If the cramping experience had an opposite, what might it be?  Wouldn’t it be the absence of any contraction triggered by recent or ancient memory?  Wouldn’t it be an open and accepting gesture towards my life?  Towards whatever the universe is throwing in my face right this minute – regardless of how it conflicts with my stitched-together idea of how it should be?

Fear is a re-action posing as a new sensation.  When I learned that after the age of six or seven we never experience a new emotion, but endlessly experience a replay of those established in infant-hood – albeit dressed up in fresh scenarios – I was shocked.  I realised that since I’m well over the age of six, any experience of fear will always be a re-action.  A re-enactment.

Another shocker came with this:  98% of what the body knows is unavailable to our conscious awareness.  Meaning that – for the most part – I don’t know what I’m afraid of and why.  Which makes it tricky to talk about “not choosing fear” – let alone being “honest” with myself.  Gulp.

The primal imprints of my early experience were laid down in the cells long before there were words to describe anything, and proceed to map out my experience, decade after decade.  Without my conscious awareness having a clue.

And so it goes for all of us.  Until something moves us to inquire.

What moves us?

Since we’ve awakened to our abiding nature as Love, we must concede that Love moves Itself.

There’s nothing personal involved:  It happens by itself.  It happens for itself.  And it happens exactly when It wants to.

It delivers an impeccable invitation to enter into an unabridged encounter with things we’ve been working all our life to avoid because the associated pain was/is unbearable.

If fear is in my face it’s because Love is fishing for a lost child’s pain – a pain unique to this matrix of experience and potential, yet universal to all humanity.  And since Love is inescapably present as the shining awareness that knows my fear, I can turn towards this fear (or grief, or rage) without ever leaving Love.

I say, “Welcome!” to fear.  I plump up a cushion for it in my heart.  I stop.

I notice the instant impulse to act out habitual, conditioned re-actions.  I desist – or at least press the pause button.  I’m interested;  having been informed that we are ignorant of the knowledge hidden in the cells, I’m curious.  Who wouldn’t want to explore?

I turn towards the sensation that is visiting me – in dreams, meditation and daily interactions.  I turn my breath, my awareness, my sensitivity and my curiosity its way.  I don’t give it the label “fear” or spell out a story about it.  I refuse to be tempted to fix it or lean into it or accept it or imagine any outcome.

So here I am, just looking, with the impartial gaze of whole-body awareness.  As though I’m looking through the eyeballs of each of the 37.2 trillion cells in my body.

I watch what happens.  I pay attention when those long-stifled echoes from the emptiness of my body begin to whisper.

Love clears its throat.  And when it knows I’m truly committed (not furtively checking out the exits) it speaks loud and clear.  Its language is felt rather than heard, sensed rather than known.  It reorganises this neurological field and in so doing recreates my relationship to the world.

And further – since it’s evident that my body has no borders – it completely recasts my relationship with and as the Cosmos.  Slowly but surely, I come to view this work as an offering made by the Cosmos for the benefit of one’s fellow-beings, the Earth, and the Cosmos itself.

Out of my mind
and into the star-stuff of my cells
I’ll follow the angel called fear
so resplendent in her costume
from Love’s limitless wardrobe.

The angel called fear.



Image: Frederick Walker, The Woman in White, 1871, gouache on paper. Tate London

Gautama saw this star


Clifton Mack: Jurlurrunha - Morning Star


Woken by a shift

in the Earth’s breath,

I sit in silence –

the pre-dawn hush

and my green tea for company.


In the east,

over the Pacific,

a bright star soars,

shaking off the shackles of night.

Its brilliance beggars belief.


I blink, I bow, a thought flashes:

Never forget that

more than two millennia ago

Gautama saw this star

and knew


{ as do you }


that nothing needed to be

understood, learned or believed

felt, integrated or expressed

fixed, healed or overcome

dropped or avoided

actioned or attained,

in order that his body’s naked awareness might meet itself

as the morning star.


{ Halleluja! }


the morning star rises

Image: Painting by Clifton Mack: Jurlurrunha – Morning Star
Clifton Mack is an elder of the Yindjibarndi people whose country is around the Millstream Tablelands in Western Australia’s Pilbara district.

zen moments of the senior kind

Happy Hermit


The continuation of the spiritual journey really depends on how crazy we’re willing to be.
– Reggie Ray

I had no idea I’d end up this crazy. Or this contented. Or this fulfilled. Don’t ask me about happiness – it’s a sub-category these days. Imagine being happy to be unhappy? Imagine being contented to feel like shit? Imagine being at peace with pain and weariness? Imagine being ok with depression, flatness, confusion? If this isn’t your version of liberation I totally understand. (We all start out on this journey imagining ‘waking up’ will magically erase all discomfort from our experience.)

But this absurd liberation lives here, and this is what the crazy cow offers tonight: five three-liners of the slightly nonsensical variety. They like to think they are haiku, but would duck and hide in the presence of ‘real’ haiku. Apologies for my warping of noble zen aphorisms, koans and haiku. I mean no disrespect; after all these years they are deeply embroidered in the fabric of this brain and have a life of their own.

My sanity does too. Where the hell did I put it?

old flesh, old bones

on the zafu, aches come and go

just like I used to


weary old mind

data flows in, data drops out



music to my ears…

the sound of someone else



puddle on zafu

old cow’s melted-down stories



relentless koan:

what is the sound of my neighbor’s dog





About the image.  This delightful brush drawing comes from the cover of an exhibition catalogue: L’Au-delà dans l’art japonaise. Paris 1963. Nowhere in the book does it mention the name of the artist whose work is featured on the cover. My instincts tend towards Sengai… what do you think?


have you got a minute?


I’d like to invite you to sit down
right now,
for just one minute,
and not entertain one thought.


Can you do that?


Can you feel the coolness
that wafts through your entire
when you stop thinking?


Not “stop … and”
not “stop … then”
not “stop … so that”
but just stop.




Everything you’ve ever longed for
is waiting for you
in that pause.


The cogs and gears of the “me project”
grind to a halt.
The engineers maintaining the scaffolding of the self
take a smoko.
The universe itself sighs,
so gladdened to see an earth angel
hold the claws of thought apart
for even one minute.


And every cell in your always-fully-awake body
lights up with a smile: “Now, at last,
we can bow before our own experience
and dance our destiny!”


You can do it.


It’ll only take a minute.


One thought-free minute equals one minute of full wideawakeness
or, one minute of intimacy with what the Buddha knew.
(Did you know that?)


You just need to want to meet the Truth of your life
more than you want to entertain a thought about it.


[entertain: v.t. Maintain (correspondence, discourse) Concise Oxford Dictionary]

Calligraphy by Jakusho Kwang, Roshi

it was a damn good deal

Ceramic sculpture by Haejin Lee


Until I woke up
to my unconscious insatiable insanity
it was the tireless weaver
of the fabric of my life.

It wasn’t enough to have mentally unpicked
and clearly seen-through
the myth and mirage
of the solid-state ‘me’ story.

Unconscious residue of that ‘me’
I thought was done and dusted
remained, and so, another unpicking began
– a second-level unpicking if you like.

Waking up to what one isn’t is utterly mind shifting.
It’s tempting to rest in the inevitable sweet relief;
it’s tempting to assume one has attained
the ultimate wisdom.

Yet, although thought likes to tell itself otherwise,
the thrust of cellular conditioning forges on
below the limn,
obvious to everyone but oneself.

I am driven by curiosity –
especially concerning creativity and freedom.
What might I not know about this multi-layered energetic playground
called my life? An investigation was called for.

I saw how the old unconscious imprints
ran deep; how their effects can’t be denied
yet are avoided, by-passed, rationalised
by a self-idea facing sure extinction.

Have you ever unpicked knitting?
You take the single thread responsible for the fabric’s form
and simply pull. The stitches unravel with ease.
If there’s a knot, you tease it free.

Just like that: I grasped the master lie,
and pulled. Stitch by stitch the network of neurology
unravelled. Each stitch was an imprint of pain:
fear, anger or grief.

Separation ceased as each imprint was fully felt
without one word being brought to the alchemy.
(Commentary, analysis, explanation
are neither required nor helpful.)

The howling insatiability that fuelled
my craziness was slowly sated. An incomprehensible
fulfilment surfaced that has no idea what words like
sanity or insanity might mean.

These days I find it absurd to claim that I am
anything – even “That”, or “Life”, or “Nothing”.
To say “I am” is a lie, yet as a sage once observed,
“the universe is myself”.

The universe chuckles to itself:
“It was a damn good deal – an imaginary ‘me’ for an immensity!
It only cost me everything … and everything
came back, marked perfect, wondrous, eternal.”


“I am not, but the universe is myself.” – Shih-T’ou, A.D. 700-790

Ceramic sculpture by Haejin Lee