the muslim nun

so I introduced my dad to Darkest Dungeon and he really likes it, he’s played more than 250 hours of it…

but he still calls it “deepest dungeon” and never calls the characters by their actual class names. So far we have:

  • clown boy (jester)
  • beak dude (plague doctor)
  • knight (crusader)
  • thief (highwayman)
  • gypsy (antiquarian)
  • Viking girl (hellion)
  • wizard muslim (occultist)
  • battle nun (vestal)
  • dogwalker (houndmaster)
  • whipping boy (flagellant)
  • crossbow guy (arbalest)
  • old guy (man-at-arms)

the only one he can consistently remember is the leper, and he keeps asking me what the caretaker can do and when he gets to use him as a fighter.

Let’s Talk About Blue Diamond

Her design is very striking. There are several layers to it:

1. Justice. Lady justice is often pictured blind and unable to see, which both Blue Diamond, her Pearl and Sapphire share. She also instantly orders Ruby to shattered for her misbehavior- justice.

2. Mysticism. Covering your eyes in fiction is often also related to religion- as the eye of Horus, eye of God, as well as many religious figures like Mother Mary, devout Muslims or nuns, ect covering their heads. The fact her face is draped in shadows adds to this– she is mysterious and larger than life, God-sized.

3. Order. The color blue itself has many associations but  “It is often associated with order and stability,” stability in particular demonstrates her role as a diplomat. She is trying to avoid conflict via wisdom and preserving the status quoa.

4. Her Gem placement is on the chest, which is associated with things like the S on superman’s chest or ‘getting something off your chest.’ Centered and brighter than the rest of her, her gem is is a symbol of balance (central) and honesty (contrasting her overall mystery).

5. Her seating is of course leaderly, close to Abraham Lincoln’s stance as a giant statue or Zeus. Meant to inspire awe and her separateness from the masses. The draping of the cloth also draws the viewers eye back to her and her importance.

What she is not: SU has an excellent habit of not demonizing the enemy, she is not straw man vicious or ahem, a cartoon villain. She’s associated with religion and a type of prettiness, not just thunder clouds, ugliness or skulls like other bad guys on TV. This elaborates on the world building and gives the show a sense of 3-dimensions, and setting it up for nuance to the story.

Any-thing that we can think of—a person, a city, a piece of furniture, a body of water, a tree, an animal, a rock, a mountain range, a feeling, a thought—is an ungraspable, changing event—a verb rather than a noun. It has no actual, solid boundaries—only apparent, provisional, conceptual ones. In reality, every apparent “thing” is fluid, porous, impermanent and ever-changing. Every “thing” is interdependent with—and made up of—everything it is not. Our experience of any-thing is an event in consciousness made up of changing sensations, perceptions, thoughts, memories and mental images.

When any of these apparent “things” ceases to exist, what is it that has disappeared? How real, how solid was the now-absent form? And in what way is it still present as whatever is appearing right here, right now? When we die, what dies? What remains?

I would say that when a person dies, a certain pattern of energy dissipates and dissolves, as when a whirlpool or a wave collapses back into the body of water out of which it emerged, or when a river returns to the sea. The shape of that wave or that whirlpool or that river was consistent enough in some way to be a recognizable form that we could name, but that form was actually nothing but continuous change inseparable from its environment. There was never any clear or solid boundary where the wave or the whirlpool began or ended. The water itself was undivided, seamless, whole. And when the river merges into the sea, no separate river remains, and yet nothing has been lost.

After death, the body decomposes, nourishing and being eaten by other life forms, and gradually it disappears altogether. If cremated, it turns to ash and that ash is gradually absorbed back into the earth. Even if a body is embalmed and put into a casket, eventually it will all disintegrate, as will the mountain ranges that seem so solid and enduring. Eventually the sun will explode or flare out. No-thing is permanent, not even our planet or our solar system or this universe. When a person dies, the pattern of energy that we call the body disintegrates and dissolves, and likewise, the pattern of energy that we call the mind (the particular habit-patterns of thinking and perceiving created by the unique causes and conditions of each particular life—the individual stories, memories, ideas and beliefs) also dissolves. In fact, the conditioned mind dissolves many times in an ordinary day in the sometimes unnoticed gaps between thoughts. Everything we think of as “Joan Tollifson” or “John Doe” or “Sue Smith” is actually insubstantial and eventually evaporates completely like a mist. No-thing remains.

So is there nothing that survives death? Is death the end? The end of what exactly? What exactly is it that dies? What is it that was born? Can we actually find this form that is supposedly vanishing? In Buddhism, it is said that the true understanding of impermanence is that there is no impermanence, because the flux is so thorough-going and complete that no separate and enduring “thing” ever actually forms to even BE impermanent. The unbroken wholeness, the seamless unicity, the boundless flow is never born and never dies. This groundlessness or emptiness (empty of enduring or separate existence) is our True Nature. It includes everything and is bound by no-thing. It is the unborn, unconditioned, undying, living reality that we are and that everything is. And when we are awake to this, the fear of death is gone.

Death is actually moment by moment. No-thing ever really persists or exists (stands apart from the whole) except conceptually as an idea (and to some degree as an unexamined, conditioned perception colored by thought). But because we identify the unbound awaring presence that we actually are with a particular bodymind, and because we think this bodymind is a separate fragment in a fragmented world, we fear the loss of “me” (the separate self) — or, if we’ve bought into some religious idea of the afterlife, perhaps we fear the continuation of “me” in hell or in some less fortunate reincarnation. Or maybe we fear that “me” will be dead but somehow still alive—buried alive, as it were—unable to get back to the soap opera of “my life” to find out what happens next! But can we find this “me” even now? Is it anything other than an ever-changing flow of thoughts, mental images, memories, perceptions, sensations?

What is aware of all this? Is that awaring presence bound in any way? Is it limited? Does it have an age or a gender or a shape or a size? Does this unfindable Ultimate Subject ever die? Is it ever born? Isn’t this our deepest reality, most intimate and utterly impossible to doubt?

This awaring presence includes and transcends the wave-like activities we call “Joan Tollifson” or “John Doe” or “Sue Smith” or “planet earth” or “the city of Chicago”.

When we look closely, we can’t really find a beginning or an ending to this event we call “Joan Tollifson.” The beginning seems to go back to the Big Bang and the ending of any form seems to expand outward forever like the ripples in a pond.

We can’t deny that there is something we call “Joan Tollifson” or “my kitchen table” or “planet earth” or “the city of Chicago.” It would be absurd to deny that any of these things exist in any way whatsoever. But when we look closely, we discover that no-thing is as solid or as enduring as we thought. What seems to persist is actually the IDEA of “Joan Tollifson” or “my kitchen table” or “planet earth” or “the city of Chicago.” But when we turn our attention from the abstract concept to the living reality itself (the bare actuality of sensing, perceiving, experiencing), we find that all of these apparently persisting forms are actually ever-changing, always new, and inseparable from the consciousness in which they appear. They are made up of consciousness. Everything turns out to be an impermanent, fluid, changing, momentary, dream-like event that cannot be grasped or pinned down.

This “body” is actually porous, permeable and inseparable from everything it supposedly is not—inhaling, exhaling, feeding, excreting, talking, listening, acting, being acted upon—a ceaseless dance of microscopic, macroscopic and subatomic events. The “mind” is a similarly impermanent, fluid, changing process that is actually porous, permeable and inseparable from all the other minds that it supposedly is not (see my post from Dec 2 for more on that). So where exactly in all of this interdependent, porous, changing fluidity is this solid-sounding, apparently-persisting entity called Joan Tollifson? And what is aware of all this? What is beholding Joan and the entire universe? Is that awareness encapsulated or limited or bound in any way? Is it dependent on this form?

What exactly is the city of Chicago? Is it the people? The land? The buildings? The culture? The weather? The more closely we look, the less we seem able to pin down. Planes take off and land, people come and go from the city—some are born, others die, visitors come and go, residents move away and others arrive, buildings come and go, city laws and ordinances change over the years, trees sprout up and others die or are chopped down, bird migrations pass through. On one side, Chicago is bordered by Lake Michigan—but where exactly does the city end and the lake begin? The tide comes in and goes out, the land dissolves into water. In stormy weather, the waves have been known to crash in over Lakeshore Drive—where exactly is the boundary-line? And where exactly is the boundary between Chicago and neighboring Evanston? There is a legal line marked by a sign, but in the earth itself, in the soil, or in the air, there is no discernable boundary at all. And if you don’t see the sign, you won’t notice any immediate difference as you cross over that conceptual boundary-line. In reality, Chicago and Evanston are one, seamless, undivided event. Only on the map does Chicago look like a clearly defined entity with solid boundaries. In actuality, it is something much more fluid and porous and mutable—undeniable, but impossible to grasp.

And just as each person has a unique personality, each city on earth has a unique personality as well. Chicago has a flavor that is quite distinct from the flavor of San Francisco or New Orleans or Cairo or Stockholm or Bombay or Islamabad. And yet, what exactly is that flavor, that personality? Again, we can’t ever pin it down.

Every resident of the city and every visitor has a completely unique experience of what they call “Chicago.” One neighborhood of Chicago can be quite different from another. When I last lived in Chicago, the neighborhood where I lived was Hispanic in one direction, Pakistani and Indian in another, Orthodox Jewish in yet another. Walking around in my neighborhood, you’d see men and women in Orthodox Jewish attire, you’d see women in full burqas and saris, you’d hear different languages being spoken. In my apartment building, we had people from all over the world—we had Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Catholic nuns, people from Africa, Mexico, Cuba, Eastern Europe, Pakistan, India. Many decades earlier, when my mother spent part of her childhood in this “same” neighborhood, it was very different. Different ethnic groups lived there, different buildings were there, different cars, different music was playing. Where in all of this diversity and change is “the same neighborhood” or “the city of Chicago”? Will the real Chicago please stand up!

Likewise, everyone who meets “Joan Tollifson,” meets a completely unique person. Everyone sees Joan differently. And the Joan you encounter in the morning may be someone else entirely later in the afternoon. And Joan’s Joan is yet another version, also very mutable from one moment to the next. Which is the real Joan or the real Chicago?

I’ve always been amazed by the fact that we can see the back of someone’s head, someone we haven’t seen in twenty or thirty years, and yet instantly we can recognize them. There is a certain pattern of energy, like a wave or a whirlpool, that we recognize, something that seems to persist from childhood into old age. And yet, on close inspection, the shape of that wave or that whirlpool is continually changing and there is no clear boundary where it begins or ends. The water that makes it up is circulating and moving freely beyond the boundaries. The old person is clearly not the child, and yet, some pattern continues, even though in reality, even that pattern is not solid or unchanging. But because of this patterning and our ability to think and conceptualize and draw abstract mental maps, “the person” seems very real and solid and persisting and clearly delineated—and in a certain sense, they are. When someone dies, we can’t deny the loss. And yet, what exactly has died?

We identify with the idea of being some-thing or some-one in particular. And while that thought-sense of being a particular person is part of this whole happening and part of how life is functioning, if we look more closely, we find out that we are much more (and much less) than this imaginary person living in some imaginary city going through some dream-like drama that we call “my life” or “current events.” On close inspection, all of that loses its solidity. We can’t ignore this apparent relative reality, but we can wake up from the trance of mistaking our mental maps for the living reality itself, the trance of believing we are a separate fragment in a fragmented world that exists “out there” in some objective way, the trance of separation and encapsulation.

There is something here right now that includes all of this but that isn’t bound by it. Something that is at peace even if the whole world blows up. Something that is unborn, undying, unconditioned. Something that doesn’t depend on any particular events or outcomes in order to be okay and complete. Something that is subtler than space and yet more real than anything that appears. Something that is actually not some-thing at all. I’m not talking about anything mysterious or foreign. I’m talking about the very heart of this timeless presence that is Here / Now, the awareness of this presence, and the Unnamable that remains when even this first sense of being present and aware disappears, as it does every night in deep sleep. What remains? This is the essential nature of Here / Now, what is at the core of every sensation and every experience—this is what we might call unconditional love, uncaused joy, real beauty, true peace, primordial awareness, God.

To be awake to this is to be free from the fear of death. Being this, abiding as this, is perhaps the best gift we can offer, the best way to bring peace and love and compassion into this dream-like troubled world. The words are never quite right, but they point to what is beyond words and at the heart of every word. May we all find that peace, that joy, that love that is right here at no distance at all. May we be what we truly are.

—  Joan Tollifson