Friday, November 11, 2016

Practicing in Difficult Times: An Audio Encouragement

At the request of many, an audio blog has just been posted.


Right-click to download

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Really Big Idea

Several years ago while sitting an idea dropped in. It was a really big idea. It was such a big idea that it qualified as a vision; a vision that appeared instantaneously and so full-blown that I could elucidate an astonishing number of details on the spot. It was quite stunning—and fun.

The picture returned with some regularity over the next several days, and I enjoyed the details that were added with each appearance. But then, like a dream that slowly becomes a nightmare, with insistent repetition it began to dominate the space in the mind that had previously been occupied by other awarenesses.

This process was not unfamiliar. Over the years, when an inspiration for a project or a book dropped in, there would be a fairly consistent “revelation” of material and process until clarity was achieved, and I could implement whatever was being called forth. There have been times when these “creative impulses” have been so insistent that I’ve needed to metaphorically stack them up, requiring each project to wait its turn to come to the fore. If a project fell out of the queue before there was time to execute it, there was usually a sigh of relief. Plenty more where that came from, it would seem.

But when I tried the “get in line” approach with this vision, the images simply became more insistent. By this time the whole thing was completely ridiculous, and in a classic appeal to the powers that be I begged for mercy. “I don’t know what wires have been crossed in the Universal Communication System, but this vision is not for me. I can’t do this. You have the wrong human. I don’t even know anybody who could do this. I don’t know anybody who knows anybody who could do this. Please check the records and see if the right person can be tapped.”

All became quiet and that seemed to be the end of it.

And then I was at a conference in Dallas and it all came rushing back in.

Walking through a predominantly African American neighborhood, aware of bright colors, the music, the sounds of laughter…. Here it is again. A theme park. Africa Around the World.

What’s your pleasure? Would you like to see Josephine Baker performing in 1920s Paris? Maybe you’d like to start in Harlem for the Harlem Renaissance, or perhaps the New Orleans of the 1940s for some blues and jazz, or head down to Mississippi for some time in Robert Johnson’s world.  How about Trinidad and Tobago for some early calypso?  Jamaica for reggae?

Possibly, after all the music and dancing, you’d like a more serious look at Africa’s contributions to our modern world: coffee, mathematics, and modern art? Ubuntu? You would certainly want a tour of the history of Egypt, a chance to visit the varied cultures of African countries, the fight to end apartheid; and here at home the history of slavery, the Civil War, the underground railroad, the Civil Rights Movement, and so very much more.   

But I don’t think this vision arrived just because it would be a gloriously exciting theme park. It would provide much needed employment for countless talented, ambitious individuals. It would be an opportunity for people who would never have a chance to meet and appreciate one another in other circumstances to do so.  It would showcase talent, inspire young people, foster respect between the races….

I would devote myself to this vision in a second if there were any possibility at all that I could advance it. I know I cannot. But here’s what I realized I could do: Write this up and send it out into the world. Maybe you, reading this, are the person the vision was meant for. Maybe you know someone who knows someone for whom this vision might be destined.

In my heart of hearts I think the vision is trying to find Oprah Winfrey, for whom it would be a grand legacy, don’t you think? But who can say? Certainly not I. I just hope this beautiful vision finds its home, and the world can benefit from all the beauty, imagination, creativity, inspiration, and joy that is Africa Around the World.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Seven Steps to Practice Integrity

When I was told about a seven-step process one of the monks is using to deepen daily practice my response was, “Oh, we must make this available to as many practitioners as we can.” Hence, the following.

The Scenario: There is something it is your responsibility to do. You failed to do it. It could be anything big or small, from not picking up the milk for tomorrow’s breakfast to not picking up the kids from school. It was yours to do and you didn’t do it.

Step 1
As it drops in that you didn’t do it, there’s a moment of “ugh” as you see clearly what happened.

Step 2
You recognize this as an opportunity to bring awareness to a process. Here is a real-life event, and you know real-life events are our best opportunity to see how suffering happens. (If this would not be your experience as “Step 2,” please know it will be as you practice the steps being described.)

Step 3
You choose not to go to a child’s place of feeling bad, of trying to hide what you’ve done, of hoping that no one notices, or of making excuses. You don’t blame someone else or see yourself as a victim.

Step 4
You use the tools of Awareness Practice to explore the process. How did this happen? (You don’t go to conditioned mind to “figure this out.” You stay present and allow conscious compassionate awareness to drop in insights.) Does this kind of thing happen regularly? Do you often forget to do something that it’s your responsibility to do? Again, no “noodling;” just paying attention, trusting Life to inform you.

Step 5
Whether or not you have clarity about how this happens, you look to see what might support you in being successful in the future—all the standards: post-its on the bathroom mirror, the steering wheel; an email, text message, voice mail reminder; recordings that you listen to every day, etc. The essential question you ask to receive insight on is: What is the change in behavior that will allow me to go beyond this process of forgetting to do what I’m responsible for doing? Again, you wait for the clarity of a deep, intuitive understanding to drop in rather than turning to the voices in conditioned mind.

Step 6
You communicate. If someone else is affected by what you’ve done, you let them know and you take responsibility.

Step 7
You make a recommendation to resolve the issue and rectify the situation—if that is appropriate. (I’ll drive to the 24-hour market and pick up the milk. I’ll tell the kids how sorry I am, reassure them of my love, ask for their understanding.)

Without self-hate, without beatings for oneself or blaming of others, it is possible to express that what happened was not intentional. “I didn't mean for it to happen, and I'm working diligently to see it doesn’t happen again.” And taking responsibility for what happened is not the same as believing what happened was a mistake. These situations are how we grow past karma and learn to choose unconditional love and acceptance for ourselves and others.

In a recent email class we were asked these questions:
1) What is the energy of non-resistance, of accepting what is, without trying to control, fix, alter or change it. 
2) What does it feel like to experience the storm of identification or the peace of center as simply aspects of the spiritual journey, to eschew avoiding one and craving the other?
3) What is the energy of being open and welcoming to all that Life brings, to be able to receive any aspect of Life “as a gift from the guide beyond.”

This 7-Step process is a marvelous “how to” in our practice of “using everything in our experience to see how we cause ourselves to suffer so we can drop that and end suffering,” a valuable aid in “emptying our cup” in 2016.

In gasshō,

Monday, March 23, 2015

Third Spirituality and Money Blog

I sometimes get information that my approach is hard, that things I say are harsh.
While I don’t idealize sugarcoating, I never mean to be cold or unfeeling. In the world of waking up and ending suffering, it’s not helpful to “pretend.” Egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate pretends (to be nice, be polite to people’s faces) in order to stay safe, unseen, hidden. It’s the quintessential puppet master, pulling strings just out of sight. That has no place in awareness practice.

Communicating clearly, offering clear information, is kind. Bodhidharma was called Grandmother because he was so compassionate, never hesitating to hit someone along side the head if they were lost in conditioned mind!

Walking the path of waking up and ending suffering, we choose to take advantage of all information we find in our path. If it’s in my path, it must be for me. Because we’re practicing to see karma/ego ever more clearly, nothing is perceived as too harsh. Only ego reacts in defensiveness.

Early in my tenure at the monastery where I trained I received a huge “spiritual opportunity” when I asked my teacher, in a rather large group of people, a “why” question. I never knew so much could be said about why without ever addressing the why! It was brutal. If I’d wondered before what of me was authentic and what was ego, that question would have been answered through those grueling (what seemed like) hours but must only have been minutes. It felt as if at least 100% of me was being crushed, sifted, and discarded. Much later I realized the authenticity was there, not at all concerned about ego’s mortification, right ready to bring me back to the next opportunity. Praise be!

Oh, and I never asked another why question. I got the lesson.

My point? If we are to be free, we must go through and let go all of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate’s resistance. I don’t want to, I don’t do that, that’s not me, I don’t feel like it, it’s crazy, I’m too tired, it’s too hard, it’s scary, I can’t and all that digging-in-heels ilk must go. They must cease to be a part of our reality. No longer will they pull us up into conditioned mind, siphon off our energy, and make us believe that ego’s whining is our whining.

People suffer over all sorts of life content, as we all well know: relationship, money, jobs, security, future, anxiety, not enough, benefits, depression, the past, health, appearance, sex, worth, etc.  There’s endless agony as the voices of self-hate drag a person from one misery-producing “thing” to the next. “How will I?” “But should I?” “What if…” “I’ll never…” “You didn’t…” “Well, you should have…” Conversation after conversation with one focus and one outcome—suffering.

In practice we have many, many opportunities to confront the voices and get out of the conversation. Some opportunities we’re allowed to participate in, some the voices say no to. Ah, yes, it is voices saying no. We’re brainwashed into believing “I make the decisions in my life,” but in a lucid moment we know believing that is silliness. The voice in the head calls the shots. Moderate resistance means I probably get to do whatever; a lot of resistance means I don’t. No matter how long I’m willing to pretend authenticity is making my choices, sooner or later I’ll have to admit I’m a slave to the voices in the head.

I started this series of blogs writing about money and money karma, but we’re expanding beyond that because money is only one piece of content, interchangeable with all content. Given that, here’s the straight scoop. Not mean, not sugarcoated, just the “how it is.”

If we are suffering over something and we don’t want—which includes we are afraid — to address the cause of the suffering, we need to face that we’re choosing suffering and we need to stop complaining.

If I’m choosing suffering, I might as well acknowledge my choice and accept that I choose to suffer rather than having to go up against egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate in order to end the suffering. No pretending here. No saying one thing and doing another. I don’t want to face those voices when they start shrieking and threatening so I’ll just do what they say. My choice.

This could be a quick way out of the conversation in the head. The conversation is about what’s wrong, yes? If I admit I’m choosing what’s wrong because I don’t choose to end what’s wrong, what’s there to talk about?

Of course, the voices will switch to “Well, you should,” but we know what that’s about, yes? So, we can just sigh, look aggrieved and acknowledge, “Yes, I probably should, but I don’t choose to.”

A tangential, yet significant, point we do well to consider as conditioned human beings is this: In believing I am ego and ego is me, I am agreeing that the conversation in the head is me talking to me. In agreeing to that, I am agreeing to indulge the suffering drama in the head—and the ruined life it results in—rather than face the fear of “not being me.”

One advantage we have in practicing awareness is that we know—at least intellectually—that we will stop “being me” one day anyway. We’re going to die.
The old expression “you can’t take it with you” applies to money and possessions and can give the impression there’s a “you” that’s going somewhere and will have to face what you can’t take with you. Good to clear up that misconception for ourselves as soon as possible!  If there is no I and there is no me, which an awful lot of our spiritual heroes have strongly encouraged us to prove for ourselves, then it’s unlikely any “one” is going to make the journey and the main thing we won’t be taking with us is I/me!

The “would you rather be right or be happy” got very popular because people can sense the truth in it—though most people still choose “right.” In awareness practice the question is even more direct: Would you rather suffer as an ego or be happy?

I’m still looking for those folks who want to take the next year to see and see through the whole mess, those intrepid spirits looking to face and face down egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate once and for all. Not someone who’s just curious, might be interested, would like to find out more…. Nope. Not that person. This is the “I’ve had enough; I’m in if I die in the effort.” Those are the ones.

As someone who is already doing the year-long “getting past money and all other karma” retreat said, “I have wanted to face this (ego torture) all my adult life; I just never had the courage or the support.”

It’s available now.

In gassho,

Sunday, January 25, 2015

What Is and Is Not Spiritual: A Series of Mini-Blogs #2

Zen Awareness Training is a dialog. We encounter something—guidance, teaching, a practice structure—we notice the voices go crazy, a clue that there is something to look at; we sit with it, see what we see, and then share that with the teacher or facilitator to invite what they see. In the back and forth of processing, clarity is arrived at and the “barriers to love” are winnowed away.

Thank you to all who responded to the last blog by calling or writing in. Here is another installment in this continuing conversation.


An outraged individual wrote to me recently (returning rosary beads and key with the letter), comparing what I’m saying currently with money and spirituality to Jim Jones getting people to drink poisoned kool aid. I am so wrong, so irresponsible, so spiritually incorrect that I have become a danger to good spiritual people everywhere, based on the projection that I’m motivated by my own financial gain.

Oh, my.

In reference to saying yes to everything Life offers, one of the questions put to me by this unhappy individual was, “Do you really believe egocentricity doesn’t have ‘yes’ in its vocabulary?” Of course it does. Egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate IS the divided world of opposites. It IS duality. It has “yes” and “no” at the ready. “Yes, you should get a big pile of junk food and watch tv all evening; you’ve had such a hard day.” “No, you don’t need to meditate or record and listen tonight; you’ve had such a hard day.” But what Life doesn’t seem to have is “no” in its vocabulary! Life’s no is still a yes: “Yes, it won’t take care of you to eat food that doesn’t nourish you or to allow distraction to occupy consciousness.”

I love religion. I love spirituality. I love awareness practice. As with most people in love I tend to focus on the “objects of my affection” almost exclusively. And, carefully scrutinizing as I do, I can’t find a single example of any originators of the religions, spiritualities, and practices I love encouraging us to choose content over process. No one says there is content—money, sex, possessions, politics, family, health, relationship—that “trumps” the process of love. I find nothing that says we can decide what something is and what it means and then use that decision to judge or hate.

Moses gave us the Ten Commandments. Have no other gods, no graven images or likenesses, don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, remember the Sabbath day, honor your father and your mother, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t covet. Jesus encouraged people to love God, love one another, and not judge. The Buddha gave us the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Mohammad taught Muslims to worship God, be gentle, forgiving, honest, generous, reverent, and grateful. And, as we know, the one expression of the teachings that all religions share is the Golden Rule: treat everyone (and everything, if you’re Buddhist) as you wish to be treated. (I think it’s really important to note that none of those folks encouraged us to use self-hate as a path to spiritual perfection!)

I offer the example of the outraged individual as a place we’ve probably all gotten to, and not just once! We’re so caught up in ego’s righteous indignation that it never occurs to us to question what we’re being told by conditioned mind, what we’re assuming, and what ego is projecting.

I know encouraging people to go up against what ego is hiding with such ferocity will not enhance my reputation in some circles. But would we really not choose what it feels Life is calling us to do because someone might judge us? Might disagree? Might hate us? I hope not. As Rumi wrote, “Live where you fear to live.”

Only ego gets outraged. Only ego is certain of right and wrong and whom to judge and what “simply must not be tolerated.”

So, while this might seem a bit of a divergence from our last blog focus, it actually brings me back to the final question in that blog: What are you seeing about what you’re allowed to have and what you’re not allowed to have? About what is spiritual and not spiritual? About what sets off the voices in the head? About what makes your stomach clench up and everything in you scream, “Nooooooo!”?

This will quickly take us to the next questions: Why must you be controlled in that way? Are you dangerous? Can’t you be trusted to be good, to do the right thing? Do you project others can’t be trusted? Do you project others will believe you can’t be trusted? Do you not deserve to have? What triggers the fear reaction?

These are questions offered in the hope one or more will spark an insight that can take us to the next point of inquiry.

If you’d like to talk about this with me, please call Open Air.