Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lattes and bliss washes

This is such a great question from Max. I want to address it because getting to the bottom of this issue has such broad application.

“I have a question: The first time I heard you talk about the center of the tongue, I went right there and experienced the 'bliss wash' you said I would, right then! Since that first time, I've never quite found my way back to that experience. It kind of reminds me of my first latte - how amazing it was! I still enjoy lattes today, but you could say there is also a ho-hum quality to the experience, too. Do you think that's inevitable? Or is the ho-hum quality a result of holding an expectation for bliss, maybe? Or just a matter of not being full there?”

Egocentric karmic conditioning is able to do much of what it does to cause our suffering because it has convinced us, in our conditioned habit of listening to it and believing what it says, that it is bigger and stronger than we are. Jen told me about a favorite “truism” in her family: “If you get a reputation as an early riser you can sleep until noon every day.” There you have it!

As soon as a person is convinced that, as a human incarnation, they are weaker than, inferior to, the voice of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate in the head, the stage has been set and the suffering can continue unopposed. It is critical that we prove to ourselves that that story of our inferiority is a lie.

I often suggest to people, as disidentification practices, writing lists of what they are grateful for or simply saying or writing “thank you” repeatedly. Just about as often the person comes to me with a report that “it doesn’t work.” “I tried it, but nothing happened,” is the explanation. “How long did you try it?” I ask. The look of confused disorientation on the face of the bamboozled aspirant tells the whole story. The answer to that “how long?” question would be either, “not long” or “not long enough.”

When something is new (as with the latte), being present for the experience is fairly automatic. Everybody wants to be there, egocentric karmic conditioning included. Of course the motivation for the attendance covers a range; life is there as life unfolds because unfolding life seems to be what life most enjoys; the human incarnation is there because being in the front row as life unfolds is the most fun and exciting place to be; and egocentric karmic conditioning wants to be there because 1) there might be mischief to cause and/or 2) this may open up possibilities for future mischief.

I think “been there, done that” became such a big part of popular culture because it perfectly captures what karmic conditioning has in mind for us. First time through, fun and exciting. Second time though, been there done that. Third time and after—boring. And there is nothing egocentric karmic conditioning fears as it fears “boring.” “Boring” means there is nothing reflecting ego, nothing making an illusion of a self separate from life appear to be real.

So, we are trained that once something becomes familiar or known we no longer need to pay it any attention. Why be present to an experience you’ve already had? What you want is something new…right? Wrong. Unless what you want is the something “new” of a tired, old conversation in conditioned mind about whatever it has convinced you that you should focus on instead of being present for what is actually happening where you are in the moment you are in.

People who love great music know that constantly having something new is not the experience they’re going for. They may enjoy a new rendition of a much loved piece or appreciate hearing new musicians play their favorite selections, but they cherish those favorites and they certainly don’t wish not to be there for the experience. (Truth be told, I suppose few people would choose not to be present for the experience they’re having. It’s an unconscious process that people get hoodwinked into going along with.)

So, yes, I think we can say it’s “…a matter of not being full there.” Our attention can be hijacked and hauled off by conditioning because we fall for the story—implied though rarely stated—that we don’t really need to be here for this, we know how it’s going to go. Of course we don’t know how it’s going to go, but the fact that that truth is brought home to us over and over again does little to interfere with our willingness to believe the voices when they lead us to believe we do!

What, then, is the way around this? In the inimitable words of Michael Jackson, “don’t stop till you get enough!” You stay with it until you eventually wear down ego’s ability to resist. And, here’s the great part about that—it won’t take nearly as long as those voices would have you believe it will take. In fact, as soon as you resolve to stay with it until you triumph, you’ve arrived. Egocentric karmic conditioning simply buckles when confronted with the strength of your commitment. Best of all—you only have to go through that face-down once to prove to yourself, and conditioning, that you are the boss.

Ah, the lattes there are to savor; the bliss washes to relish!


Monday, April 19, 2010


Letting the heart feel good…helping the heart to feel good…doing what makes the heart feel good… Until awareness practice, conditioned mind would have told me that whole notion is selfish. There’s so much suffering in the world; how can your primary focus be on what makes your heart feel good?

Yesterday was my birthday. I’m here in paradise not because it’s my birthday—which would be reason enough to be here!—but because it’s a relatively quiet, pleasant place to put some finishing touches on the new What You Practice Is What You Have book, before doing a workshop nearby. I awoke early to the sound of roosters crowing. A hen and her five tiny chicks were on the porch when I opened the screen door. Every day growing up I awoke to the sounds of roosters crowing. Some of my earliest playmates were hens and their chicks. It all felt complete somehow.

I was working on the unconditional love and acceptance part of the book, looking at how unconditional love and acceptance can never come from egocentric karmic conditioning, the illusion of being separate from life, and by definition conditional. Unconditional love and acceptance comes only from center, from nonseperate reality, from the oneness that is life.

I began to look at the ways we talk about the experience of unconditional love and acceptance. Happiness, peace, joy, satisfaction, wellbeing—all words we use to describe what I’m calling “the heart feeling good.”

The heart feels good only at center. Real happiness, happiness that doesn’t depend on “getting what I want” and will pass in a matter of minutes, exists at center. I suspect that everything we truly want is available to us only in the absence of “I,” ours only when we are not focused on being separate from the rest of life, but rather immersed so fully in life that there’s no ego left over to suffer.

Recently I was reading about a fellow who offers a program of things that take good care of a person. His daily schedule of care provokes questions along the lines of, “How can I do all this stuff to take care of myself in the midst of a busy life?” The answer is that all of it has to happen at center. If we were to do only those things that let the heart feel good, we would have plenty of time in the day for all we needed to do to take good care of ourselves and have the heart feel good. No “shoulds,” no “conversation from conditioned mind,” just looking to the heart to guide us. Would there be more things on our list we’d want to do? Of course! But living in “all the things I want to do that make my heart feel good” is very different from spending my life force on “trying to get all the things ego wants” or being drained by an endless battle within ego of “I want/you should.”

Lately I’m talking, and writing, about practice through the lens of “what you practice is what you have.” What we do is what we get. The focus of our attention determines our life experience. Being convinced that’s true, I’m going for the bliss!

There are two “bliss points” I know about in the body. There may be more, but I don’t know them from my own experience. These are not the same as the marma points of acupuncture, though perhaps someone very finely tuned would experience those as bliss points as well. One point is at the center of the tongue. You find it by finding the center from side to side, from front to back, and from top to bottom. You will know it when you find it; it’s like a “bliss wash” for the whole system. The second is behind the heart, between the heart and the spine. Again, be still and attend closely—you’ll recognize it when you make contact.

I’m betting you can see immediately the connection between “what you practice is what you have” and taking full advantage of enjoying “bliss points.”

Practice teaches us that only the unconditional satisfies. Only the unconditional makes us happy, let’s the heart feel good. The beautiful, awe-inspiring, drop-down-on-your-knees-in-gratitude awareness is that living in the unconditional is always available to us. In fact, it is all that truly is. We need only to stop turning away from it to realize it is ours.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Beauty of Quotes

A friend recently commented during a conversation we were having about this blog that it didn’t seem necessary to use other people’s quotes, that what I have to say is enough. I very much appreciated that comment and have considered it a good bit since. Why do I love quotes so much? What is it about quotes?

What I’ve seen is that while there are hundreds of quotes I’ve found and love from as many people, there are a small number of individuals—my spiritual heroes—from whom I’ve collected just about every word they’ve written. There was my big clue!

When the Buddha spoke, the wisdom behind his words transformed his listeners. A person, finally-tuned and ready, would be transformed simply by being in his presence. The words of the Buddha communicated the wisdom, love, and compassion of a being awake in nonseperate reality. The Buddha was an expression of the wisdom, love, and compassion that animates all. His existence demonstrated what is possible for those of us not so far along the path of awakening, assuring us repeatedly of our authentic nature and ability to awaken and end suffering in this very lifetime.

We conditioned humans are taught to focus intently on the content of life (the differences) while missing the process (the sameness). We will tend to see the Buddha as very different from ourselves, special, other, and in that way believe conditioned voices arguing that his attainment is an impossibility for ourselves. But, if we focus on process we begin to realize that the wisdom, love, and compassion the Buddha so beautifully demonstrated is being expressed all around us all the time. Once we know what we’re looking for, we realize we are feeling it all day, every day. We get confused because we think it has a particular form, shape, color, and texture; we don’t expect to find it in the call of a bird or the tiny, fragile bits of green emerging in the spring. And we certainly don’t expect to find it in the wrinkled face and gnarled hands of an old person or in the faces of the poor or the hungry. But it is there, too, and it moves us.

Which brings us back to quotes. Years ago someone used the image of a water well in attempting to explain the transmission of the experience of nonseperate reality that we experience as wisdom, love, and compassion in our lives. Water is water and it doesn’t matter who draws the water or where that well is located; all water is water and, depending on the purity of the source, will be pure and will quench the thirst. That well could be in Alaska or Afghanistan, China or Rio. The person drawing the water might be of any color or culture, might speak any language and call the liquid by any name, but the water is the same water, made up of the same properties, and will do the same good job of slaking the thirst. In just this way a person in any age, from any culture, with or without any particular religious or even spiritual affiliation, who, if just for a moment, experiences and then communicates the transcendent potential of a human incarnation, gives us the means of following the clarity behind the words back to the source of inspiration.

And so I give you Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, A.D. 120-180, emperor of Rome from A.D. 161, who wrote in his journal this conversation with himself two thousand years ago!

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself, “I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
----But it’s nicer here….
So you were born to feel “nice?” Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and the spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
----But we have to sleep sometime….
Agreed. But nature set a limit on that—as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota.
You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat. Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for the dance, the miser for money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts.
Is helping others less valuable to you? Not worth your effort?

Why do I love quotes so much? Because these quotes are from my teachers and guides. Because they express the awakening I live for. And because they expand exponentially the inspiring, comforting, encouraging presence of Sangha.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

There is nothing personal.

The following came in as a comment on the “Celebrating Your Contributions” post:

“Being kind to oneself” and yet “not to take personally the person making the contribution”: this is a tricky place for me. Doesn’t being kind to myself CONTAIN taking personally the person making the contribution? Don’t I WANT this person to feel good about their contribution? And isn’t that person one aspect of myself? To “not take personally” implies to me that I SHOULDN’T feel good about my contribution.

The writer is speaking to the heart of the spiritual conundrum we conditioned humans face. The whole issue of not taking ourselves personally can seem incomprehensible until we grasp one simple, extremely well-hidden piece of the puzzle: There is no such thing as an “I” to take a “myself” personally.

The assumption of “I, me, my, mine” is the primary stumbling block in our journey from identification as “an illusion of a self that is separate from the rest of life” to disidentification and awareness of the impersonal human incarnation. When we wake up, what we wake up to is the realization that there is no possibility of something being separate from life. Life is one thing. The illusion that there is an “I” that is the subject, with everything else as object, is created through unexamined beliefs and assumptions.

I was recently in conversation with a couple whose language provided what was for me a clear and extreme example of the “I subject”/“all other object” relationship to life. Each would speak about everything in their domain as “my.” He would talk about my swimming pool, my yard, my plants. She would do the same about the very same items, taking possession of each as hers. There was no sense of these things having an existence outside the ownership of the humans. Those roses only matter as they reflect on “me” and “my” prowess as a gardener!

In Yoga, one often hears the instructor guide students to turn attention to various parts of the body without ownership. “Feel the torso expand with the breath.” “Move the arms above the head along the floor.” In this way we begin to disidentify with an often harmful notion of the body as a possession of the mind, a mind that for many people is unexamined and misunderstood.

Once egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate is allowed to take ownership of anything (and that is the only “identity” that wants to have ownership of anything), that possession will be placed in a master/slave relationship in which ego has absolute authority over the fate of that possession. One of my favorite illustrative tales of this point involves (I think!) Robert Louis Stevenson. In my version of the story, Mr. Stevenson encountered a man beating a dog. When Mr. Stevenson intervened on behalf of the creature, the man told him, “That’s my dog and I’ll treat him as I want.” Mr. Stevenson replied, “No, that is God’s dog and I am here to protect him.”

Our conditioning to assume—there is no other word to describe the experience—the existence of a separate “I” is so deep that even after many explanations, even after we “get it” any number of times, it’s almost impossible for us to accept the fact as reality. But fact and reality it is. An “I” in a position of ownership and authority over anything is illusion. There is no separate self with the authority to judge, criticize, blame, and punish—or reward!

However, from center we can experience something like Mr. Stevenson and the pup: We can know, “This is God’s human and I am here to care for it.” From this perspective we realize that all of life belongs to life. We belong to life as surely as those roses, birds, clouds, and water. We are here as an expression of life. To the degree we realize that, let go an ego that has an illusory existence in an imaginary world outside the rest of life, and relax into letting life live us without opposition or interference, we are happy. To the degree that we want to be that illusion of a separate self, we suffer.

So, how can we feel good about the contributions of the person “I” call “me?” Simple. We feel as happy for and as good about gifts and contributions of this human as we do about the gifts and contributions of all humans—and of all of life’s expressions.

For more on this discussion, please go to the Open Air archives at and listen to the April 6 show.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Celebrate Your Contributions

"Oh, what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made personal, merely personal feeling. This is what is the matter with us: we are bleeding at the roots because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars. Love has become a grinning mockery because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the Tree of Life and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilized vase on the table." -- D. H. Lawrence

In our practice we are often encouraged to 1) pay attention to everything, 2) not believe anything, and 3) not take anything personally. Life is not personal, we are directed to consider. Even more difficult than that to wrap our conditioned minds around is the information that life is love. This, of course, makes no sense at all since much of life doesn’t seem or feel loving.

Every religious or spiritual tradition attempts to point out that we use one word, love, to represent both a dualistic and a nondualistic reality. For example, we use the word love to point at what is opposite to hate. That’s pretty iffy right there but we’re used to it, doing it all the time. We can love our children, our job, our house, and pasta without ever asking ourselves, “What does that mean?” And, we “hate” just as easily—companies and foods and groups of people—like those with opposing political views. These unexplored habits of thought and speech are fertile ground for egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate--what we haven’t considered carefully and come to terms with can easily be used against us. And is.

Growing up, “conceited” was about the worst things a person could be called. Yes, I’m sure there were worse things but not in my set. The guidance seemed to be “strive to be the best, ignore all success.” Who knows what the messages were meant to be, we never talked about any of it directly, but that’s what I gleaned. Do all necessary to get to the top while being humble and self-effacing. Oh, and navigate puberty with grace and aplomb.

Then I encountered an awareness practice designed to provide the experience of waking up and ending suffering that encourages people to be kind to ourselves, let go all self-talk that is critical and judgmental toward us, and “do unto ourselves as we would have others do unto us.” That’s a really hard sell. It just feels wrong.

But that moment of “but how can I be nice to myself when I’m so flawed” is the whole point of the whole practice! And the answer is one of the wickedly, delightfully paradoxical Zen conundrums: “You/I” can’t.

This is where we go from “love” to Love with an understanding that we’re moving from dualistic to nondualistic—there is Love but no Hate—and this enables us to celebrate our contribution without advancing a relationship with egocentric karmic conditioning. Only the Unconditional, All That Is, That Which Is, Authentic Nature, or “God” can truly rejoice in the efforts of we humans, and we must be at center not to take personally the person making the contribution.