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.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

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


I love Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. (He said a lot of amazing things, much of it offensive to a lot of people.) He’s been a part of our practice right from the beginning, his primary contribution usually being the opening to a conversation about money and spirituality. I’ve always introduced him as the owner of 80 Rolls Royces, but it turns out there were 93. Eighty Rolls Royces made people crazy; what’s 13 more!

I’m hoping we can take 2015 to look deeply and closely at all that lies behind the outrage and judgment that roars up when people are confronted with something like a spiritual teacher owning 93 Rolls Royces. (It does seem a bit over the top, doesn’t it? I suspect he could have accomplished the same result with just one Rolls Royce.)

A little about the format here before we go on. If you’d like to approach these blogs as a mini-workshop, I invite you to stop to consider the preceding paragraph, and then jot down your answers to the following questions.

1) Let’s forget about the 93 number and just go with: What arises when you consider a spiritual person owning a Rolls Royce? Take your time to let all the responses come in….
2) If a spiritual person owns a car, what sort of car should it be? Look closely…
3) Do you have a belief that money corrupts, and that the only way to remain “pure” is not to have anything to do with it? Again, take just a moment to consider whether or not you believe that… 
4) What is your reaction when yet another scandal breaks, revealing that a religious leader has been personally benefiting from their “ministry”? That donations are paying for a lavish lifestyle? Take another moment to write down additional insights…

Now, consider:
Do you see a connection between your answers to these questions and what you’re allowed to have and what you’re not allowed to have?

It seems that many people are conditioned to believe that spirituality and poverty go together. Not just that people who take a vow of poverty should be poor, but that all spiritual people should be poor. To paraphrase Rajneesh, people live in such an intolerably impoverished mindset that they console themselves by making that mindset the spiritually correct way to think.

If you want to talk about what you’re seeing, please call Open Air on January 13.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Yes Blog

Leo Tolstoy said, "I often feel that a plain truth wants to pass through me and demands to be expressed by me, but that I still have not been able to cast it in the most intelligible form. This truth is stupidly simple: it is better for people to live not each for himself but for all, as God wants it. Maybe I’ll be able to say it..." 

I know that feeling well. Such a simple “truth.” So difficult to communicate—and to live!

When we’re confronted with a possibility, egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate often goes into a debate of should I/shouldn’t I? In awareness practice the guidance is simple: always say yes.

 We say yes because of what we’re going to see from the process of saying yes.

What we are saying yes to is the revelation, the clarity, that will be glimpsed through the yes and in the aftermath of the yes. We are never saying yes to the content. The clarity we receive is through the process of letting go all that stands in the way of being at one with Life in each moment. Yes is the oneness; no is the separation.

As Rumi said it, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

With some regularity in a workshop or retreat a participant will say to me some form of, “I’ve been in the present and the present is miserable.” My response is, of course, “That’s not the present we’re talking about.” What the person has done is look to conditioned mind for an experience of present moment; then, conditioned mind read off a list of everything wrong in their life, concluded for them that the present stinks, and let them know that if the Buddha’s present didn’t stink, well, that’s just more proof that “there’s something really wrong with you.”

When Joseph Campbell talks about following one’s bliss or we talk about being lit up, being happy, or having fun, those are not the bliss, light, happiness, or fun of ego-identity. We’re not talking about finally getting that job or partner or child or house or car and feeling “Thank goodness, it’s about time my life turned around, now I can start living the life I’ve always wanted.” That’s not bliss. That’s not being happy. That’s a temporary visit to the “Oh, goody” side of the duality of I win/I lose. It’s the rush of being on the up side of ego’s dualistic teeter totter, and though the voices of conditioned mind can often convince a person that “this time it’s gonna last,” in our more lucid moments we know the drop is coming.

We are conditioned to believe that our life experience, how we feel, is the result of external circumstances. “When I get X, Y, or Z, I’ll be happy.” “I can’t be happy unless _____ happens.” But that is simply not true. And, again, most of us in moments of clarity know that.

Bliss, happiness, wellbeing, satisfaction, gratitude, joy is a “place,” a state, an orientation—it’s what it feels like to be at one with Life.  We “pursue” that state not by attempting to fulfill ego’s desires through saying yes to ego; we fulfill our heart’s desire to return to oneness with Life by saying no to ego. 

In a moment of removing attention from ego-identity’s constant demands, the barriers fall away and we are HERE. We are present in Life without even the thinnest veil of an “I.”  The veil drops and there is only THIS. Only NOW. No me, no it, no past, no future—not even a thisherenow! Just ….

“No” keeps the veil in place; “yes” drops the veil.

Our egocentric, karmically conditioned habit is to encounter something (read, heard, seen, noticed being dropped into awareness), look to conditioned mind for an opinion, get a no, and say no to this new encounter.

As we know, ego-identity maintains itself in opposition to Life. It is the illusion of being separate from Life. “No” is how it does that.

How, then, will we get to the bliss we “say” we want? (Say is in quotes because the primary way suffering is maintained is by believing what ego says we want and failing to notice that ego says yes to everything that will prevent the fulfillment of that desire and no to everything that would lead to the fulfillment of that desire.)
Living in the gratitude, joy, and satisfaction the heart desires is as simple as a yes. The secret to having all we “truly” (truly is in quotes because it’s pointing to what authenticity is moving toward) want is a simple yes. Yes to everything. Yes to every suggestion, idea, possibility that Life drops in our path.

Each time you see/hear yourself reacting to something “new” coming your way with a “no,” stop, remember what your heart desires and turn that no into a yes. Do the voices immediately go into violent revolt? Are they screaming about how you can’t do that and what an awful idea it is and how you’ll be sorry? Or, perhaps they’re making a cogent argument that “that’s really not you, you’re not that kind of person, you really don’t want to say yes to that.” Good. You know you’re on the right track!

Life is a workshop. Well, actually, it’s a very long retreat. If we’re paying attention, as the old sage told us, everything will enlighten us. If we live in the “no” of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate, we will just suffer through it. (One big hint here is that “no” requires a lot of arguing and case-building in conditioned mind, whereas, once you get the hang of it, a yes just produces a smile and a little thrill of excitement, knowing the next workshop is beginning.)

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a little caution that egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate will attempt to use this to its advantage. It would like to convince you that saying yes means quitting your job or leaving your spouse or buying that big house you really can’t afford. Please don’t fall for that. (Of course, you can always say “yes,” knowing you’re not actually going to do anything crazy!)

As a Sangha we have a wonderfully simple, safe, risk-free way to practice yes—with practice. Meditate, Record and Listen, call in to Open Air…. When ego says “no,” (you don’t have time, you’re too busy, you’ll make a fool of yourself, no one wants to hear from you), turn that no into a yes. If you have doubts, ask. I’ll be happy to assist in getting clear as to whether you’re getting a reaction from ego or a response from the heart. And, if you get a great storm of “NO!” at that suggestion, you’ll know it’s a YES!

In gasshō,

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ego as Spiritual Guide

The person who does spiritual practice “on their own” has ego as a teacher and guide. That can sound extreme, which it is, and it can sound like an advertisement, which it is not.

At some point while training in Zen Awareness practice, I got it that anybody could be my teacher. Anybody. I knew that as long as I didn’t agree to “guidance” in conflict with the Precepts, I’d be fine. The secret to the whole process is not finding someone wise to follow; it’s in becoming wise enough to follow.

I read that Thomas Merton struggled against the direction of his “superiors,” and speculation was that his willingness to submit to the guidance of those who were his intellectual and spiritual inferiors made him the saint he became.

I’ve “joked” for years that our difficult decisions would be easy to make if we were willing to stop someone on the street, tell them our story, ask what we should do, and do what they said. Of course I’m not joking; it’s just that the suggestion is so appalling to conditioned minds that only as a joke can the idea enter at all.

The ego is quite content to “practice” awareness as long as it’s not threatening. To “understand” how things work, to gain insights, to learn what enlightened masters knew is all perfectly acceptable. But when it comes to the serious side of life—children, health, money, career, retirement—ego needs to be put firmly in charge of the decisions. After all, something could happen. Something could go wrong. A mistake could be made.

All this letting go, accepting what is, trusting, facing the inevitability of death is a wonderful theory, but it’s not going to fly when push comes to shove. On a bright sunny day, with a full stomach, after a good night’s sleep, cash and credit cards safely ensconced in the wallet, it’s lovely to be open, expansive, and generous. But when there’s an unexplained pain, an accident, a loss, a frightening diagnosis, the closing down and tensing against feels automatic. The mind races, the heart pounds, the body contracts. Survival. It’s not even a conscious thought. The system just lurches off frantically in search of the thing that will make me safe.

Promise me something. Tell me what to do and sound like an expert when you say it. Be the authority I can believe. Save me!

Egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate “lives” for those moments. (Consider it’s trying to manufacture that urgent, threat-to-survival scenario throughout days when absolutely nothing threatening is happening. Be careful, watch out, what about…, what if….) When something “legitimate” happens, there’s a near-hysterical ramp up of fear, anxiety, and worry.

Urgency is the single most powerful weapon egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate has in its arsenal. Get a human being in a state of urgency and that human will do just about anything the voices of ego-identity say to do. Panic and unconsciousness go hand-in-hand and are potent fuel for a rapid descent into suffering.

It’s true that every moment of life is our best opportunity to wake up and end suffering, and some best opportunities are better than others. Those “big jolt of fear, giant resistance, dig in the heels and hold on (or push away) for dear life” times are the best of the best. Sadly, almost everyone misses those best of the best opportunities to awaken and end suffering because those are the very times the conditioning is strongest to look to ego-identity for information and direction.

For those of us practicing awareness, that “legitimate” moment is our signal to stop. Just stop. Sit down. Breathe. Attend to the breath until calm is restored. Pick up the recorder; talk to the Mentor. Get that repetitive, fear-mongering voice in the head outside the head. Breathe. Listen to the wisdom, love, and compassion that’s available. Make no decisions in a state of urgency. Realize the yammering voices in the head are not urging “good” decisions. Take some time. Trust life. Look to the heart. Remember what’s important.

If this were the end of my life, how do I choose to be?
May I live each moment in that way.

In gasshō,