Monday, January 25, 2021

The Spaciousness Between the Thoughts

I’m going to lose my mind….

In awareness practice we hear: I don’t know; there’s no such thing as control; mistakes are not possible; thy will be done; not my will, but thy will. These familiar teachings seem to point in one direction, don’t they? Might we sum up that direction as “It’s not up to me”?

But wait. Wouldn’t that mean I have no agency? What about responsibility? Don’t I have a responsibility, an obligation to do the right thing, be a good person? Isn’t that what religion/spirituality is all about?

Reading the teachings of one of my favorite saints, I came across this statement: That Which Is (Life, True Nature, Authenticity, the Universe) is the deity of the mind.

That Which Is is the deity of the mind. What does that mean? I had to think about that! Before too much thought had happened, it began to seem that the real deity of the mind is thinking. Is that possible? More to think about….

As I considered this, I began to wonder if that statement is true, and if true, about the sincerity of the mind’s devotion to its deity. This suspicion quickly led to more suspicion. It’s easy to see thoughts. Easy to see thinking. But what about the mind? What is the mind? Is there any such thing as the mind aside from thoughts and thinking?

Ah, perhaps now we’re closing in on other familiar expressions: the space between the thoughts, thisherenow. That seems to be what’s “in” the space between the thoughts—though as soon as I try to think about that, it isn’t.

It occurs to me that while That Which Is might be the deity of the mind, the mind is spending an awful lot of time worshipping what seems more like ego than Authentic Nature.

Now, looking straight at it, with no thoughts or thinking, there doesn’t seem to be anything there. Just that gap.

I look around. Is there any problem? No. Anything wrong? No. Do I feel alive? Yes? Do I have life force? Yes. Am I happy, peaceful, content? Yes.

I try a little thinking. Yep, a problem is offered up for consideration. Yes, there’s something that needs to be fixed, worried about. Ah, yes, something that needs to be thought about.

What about that life force, feeling alive? Nope, not aware of it while I’m worrying those problems.

Attention back on the gap, the thinking mind is nowhere to be found—as long as I don’t think about it!

I don’t know; there’s no such thing as control; mistakes are not possible; thy will be done; not my will, but thy will; the space between the thoughts; thisherenow—all pointing to “It’s not up to me.”

In the gap between the thoughts, that all makes perfect sense. In fact, it’s downright obvious! What’s “missing” in that gap? Me. There’s no me. There’s only That Which Is and no me to think about it.

Yes, indeed, I’m going to lose my mind. I want to lose my mind.


Monday, August 31, 2020

To Kill a Mockingbird

 This is a challenging time, even for those of us who are privileged. If we still have a job and a place to live, no one in our family has sickened or died from covid, we’re able to teach our kids from home, the kids have the technology to learn from home, we can shelter at home, and fires or hurricanes or floods haven’t destroyed our home—it’s a challenging time. For those going through any of the above the world can quickly move into the realm of overwhelming, terrifying, or what can feel unendurably depressing.

When we add to that—for those of us in the U.S.—a country pulled apart by racism, violence, fear, and hatred stoked by inflammatory political rhetoric, it can all begin to feel hopeless.

I hear from people regularly that staying informed about what’s going on is more than they can stand. “It’s too upsetting. I just want it all to go away. I don’t want to know what’s happening.” And with that comes guilt. “But I’m fortunate. I’m not suffering horrific circumstances. How can I turn my back and ignore what those less fortunate are required to endure? I feel so helpless. I don’t know what to do. There’s nothing I can do…”

Ah, but there is. What we can “do” is to let all of this misery change us.

If you and I have ever talked, you know how often I talk about being “guided.” I say it that way because it’s far more comprehensible than what, in my experience, is really going on. It’s not actually a matter of That Which Animates (Divinity, the Higher Power, True Nature, Authenticity, Source, Spirit, God) guiding us; That is us.

When we learn to hear the “still, small voice” communicating “God’s will,” we realize that “communication” is not sporadic. Authenticity isn’t talking to us sometimes. In fact, Divinity isn’t ever talking to us. The communication is direct. True Nature is not “giving us guidance” in the form of words we can understand. Life unfolds. When we’re HERE we experience Life unfolding as what we call intuition or insight. Because it’s a matter of being, our understanding is immediate. No words are necessary, but we’re accustomed to words and thus that’s how we receive the information.

Lots of spiritual types are familiar with peak experiences or ah ha moments. The lights come on. There’s a flash of intuitive understanding. “Yes! I see.” Then we begin to babble about “what I just got.” Takes us a while in practice to get it that “I” didn’t “get” anything. Takes even longer for us to be able to breathe through the moments, let them go, and not allow ego/conditioned mind to make any of it mean anything.

All that to say That Which Is is us and is living us. What we hear incessantly in awareness practice—there is no “I,” there is no “me”—is the absolute, gospel truth. The ego is an illusion created and maintained, through an even more incessant conversation, in conditioned mind. As we turn attention away from that ego maintaining conversation of I, me, my, mine and turn attention to the present, to thisherenow, we realize the only thing missing HERE is ego suffering.

When we’re with Life, listening for and to Life’s “guidance,” we encounter some, what can seem odd or even inexplicable, “things.” In my experience all is revealed over time, and what hasn’t yet been revealed just hasn’t had sufficient time.

This happened for me when it “dropped in” to read To Kill a Mockingbird. Hmm. How interesting. The “I wonder why” that follows these kinds of intuitions no longer comes from a curiosity about the motivation of the Intelligence That Animates, but from a curiosity about what I’m going to receive from this gift.

I don’t have a lot of time to read, but I’ve found I do well with listening (mightily reinforced by my experience with Recording and Listening), and so I began to look for a recording of the book. The one I found is read by Sissy Spacek. Perfect. A wonderful Southern drawl to read a book about the deep South.

About halfway through the book I began to suspect this might be the greatest spiritual practice book ever written. By the time I finished that suspicion was confirmed! Here we are offered most if not all of what we struggle with as human beings: a lack of understanding, unexamined beliefs and assumptions, unowned projections, egos fighting for survival that are willing to do anything to prevail, and the innocence ignored and blamed for all the suffering.

Here’s my proposal: How about everyone who chooses to participate listens to the book (I highly recommend listening) with this assignment: See how you are every person in the story.

The world, society, how people are, and what people are capable of can seem overwhelming, frightening, depressing, and hopeless because those people are “other.” Not like me. Not like us. I don’t understand them and the insecurity terrifies me. As the new/old Chinese Zen story encourages us to consider, “maybe yes, maybe no.”

For those of us who want to play, we’ve scheduled a workshop for Oct. 4 to explore the wonderous gift of allowing the clarity of That Which Is to change us and in so doing free us a bit more from the suffering grip of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate.

Watch for a notice of the workshop details.




Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Really Tricky Place in Awareness Practice

I had a conversation recently with someone who didn’t get the real point of doing the Huber Cure. He thought the Cure had only to do with eliminating illness, and I realized I have not been clear that the benefits of the Cure are twofold. (The Cure is an approach to illness that has a person go to bed at the first sign of symptoms and stay in bed until all symptoms have passed. For those unfamiliar with the subject, there is a blog named The Huber Cure, December 2011.)

Benefit #1: It’s a kind way to be with the body and jumpstart the healing process. It is not popular. It’s astonishingly effective, and it is not popular.

Benefit #2: The Cure is one of our best opportunities to see the battle ego wages for attention, revealing how ego works to take us out of the present, out of what’s actually happening, what’s good for us, and what supports us in order to drag us into its world of should/have to/gotta DO.

The fellow I was talking with didn’t recognize watching that process unfold for the opportunity something like being sick is. To him being sick was just a matter of “I can be in charge of how I feel and how to take care of myself. I don’t want to go to bed and do nothing when I feel like I have enough energy to do something.” He saw it as just content. He saw it through the lens of the conversation in his head.  

He couldn’t see being sick as an awareness practice issue. But it is. It is an awareness practice opportunity par excellence. It is the equivalent of one of Gandhi’s “experiments in truth.” It is a chance for us to use something “low stakes” to get good at something that will end suffering. When we say “end suffering” that can seem very big. And, it is. But we can hone our skills at ending suffering in small daily situations—if we choose to.

Here’s another low stakes example: I’m deeply attached to drinking coffee in the morning. Not just generic coffee, “my” coffee, the way I like it, when I like it, where I like it, and, yes, out of the cup I like! So what? It’s not a big deal. Why not? It’s what I like, I can afford it, it’s not hurting anyone, it’s a completely harmless enjoyment.

All that is true. It’s not a big deal unless I want to wake up and end suffering.

If waking up and ending suffering is what I want to do, that “harmless enjoyment” is a perfect opportunity to see the incessant pull of ego toward the fulfillment of karma.

By paying close attention I get to see that ego—an illusion of a “self,” a “me” that is separate from Life and that solidified its takeover of “me” around puberty—is invested in that coffee being consumed because that’s how ego controls me.

Ego, an illusion masquerading as “me,” sets up my life with all these things that supposedly “I want” such that I fail to notice that when I’m HERE, present, with Life, I don’t really care about them. What does desperately care about them is ego, not because ego actually wants them but because they are an expression of ego’s power over me, proof that I will want what it tells me to want.

This is subtle stuff. No doubt about that.

There I am, going along practicing awareness, and I’ve realized from a stepped back, disidentified perspective that I’m not what you would call casual about that first cup. I see that if I don’t have it, and on time, I get grumpy. Heck, I get downright mean. So I decide I want to see what happens to me if I don’t drink that coffee I like so much. I say, “I’m going to take a break from coffee for a while. I’ve become attached to it, dependent on it, and I don’t like that. Maybe I’m addicted. Wonder if I’ll get one of those withdrawal headaches….”

After entertaining a few thoughts about not drinking coffee, ego starts agitating, questioning, arguing for, making cases against… and I get convinced that I (real person, me) authentically wants to drink that coffee. “You don’t need to stop. That’s silly. You love coffee. There’s nothing wrong with it. Why do you want to deprive yourself of something you love for no reason?”

When I treat that conversation in my head the way I normally do, as if it’s “just me thinking,” my response is something like, “I just want to see what happens.” BUT when I don’t make coffee, make tea instead, and the voices scream, “No! I hate tea. I want coffee!” if I’m not paying attention I’ll think that’s “just me” pitching a fit. Identified with ego, I believe that’s me ranting and raving and carrying on. If I have not moved into an observer role I think it’s me complaining and kvetching, victimized and despairing.

And this is the really tricky place in awareness practice. If I don’t have it in the front of my conscious awareness that I, the authentic human being, the one who wants to awaken and end suffering, is the one choosing this experiment, then I’ll believe those voices are me, I’ll toss the tea, brew the coffee, and never hear ego breathe its sigh of relief.

While it’s true that this is a subtle place in practice, what’s going on is not subtle at all. Ego/I is pulling out all the stops. It’s screaming, whining, moaning, arguing (think a 3-year-old being told “no more candy” or a teenager being told they can’t go to that whatever with their friends).

I have a sad, horrible image for this particular juncture: a great fat worm on a fishhook. It’s writhing hideously, wiggling, twisting, bucking, doing everything it can to get off that hook. That is exactly what ego is doing in its efforts to get its way. And, if I’m identified with ego, I feel just like that worm. I hate it. It feels awful.

All the sensations in the body are hysterical. It feels like my nerve endings are going to crawl out through my skin. I’m flailing around. I’m in agony! I WANT THAT COFFEE! I WANT THAT CIGARETTE. I WANT THAT CHOCOLATE. I WANT THAT SUGAR. I WANT THAT DRINK.

We’re talking detox here. But the difference between a program where the addiction is removed from you until the physical craving (that worm on the hook) calms down, we are the addict, addicted to identification with ego. And the detox facility? The conscious compassionate awareness that is assisting a human being to end suffering.

The pull to giving up and going with what ego wants is nearly irresistible. That’s why almost nobody makes it past an ego addiction that ego is determined to maintain.

However, if I can stay in the position of observer, stay in awareness, be the witness to the process, I am going to come out on the other side as a much more awake human being. Not only will I have a different relationship with that specific content—I can now drink coffee or not drink coffee and the choice truly is mine (as long as I’m paying attention and not falling again for an ego con!)—I have a completely different relationship with the process of ego addiction (again, as long as I’m paying attention and not falling for an ego con).

This takes a lot of resolve, a lot of interest in freedom, a lot of willingness to save a suffering person. What’s involved here is choosing this “workshop,” choosing to face down a low stakes ego addiction when I don’t have to. (Can I not use my favorite pen? Can I take a different route to work? Can I enjoy doing a task I usually hate? Can I use being late as an opportunity to slow down and be polite in traffic? Add you own….) We’re not waiting until the doctor says, “If you don’t stop that you’re going to be dead in six months” to go against feeding our addiction to ego. We’re doing it on our own terms because we choose to.

You catch a cold and it flattens you. You want to stop eating sugar. You want to meditate for a few minutes every day. You want to stop yelling at the kids or going crazy in traffic. You want to get fit. You want to be able to sit through a meeting and pay attention to what’s being said. You want to make and keep a commitment to yourself for something that will be good for you.

We must choose freedom from ego’s tyranny when we don’t have to.

Unless we see through this process, unless we get it that the voice talking in the head, the voice of ego, is NOT “me,” we are doomed to live for “it” and not for ourselves.

It’s true that for a lot of people there will be a periodic spark of clarity, the realization that “there’s something I could do to get out of this.” But when identified with ego, it’s going to be a brutalizing process, on a large scale in big life circumstances or on a small scale in everyday life. Either way, brutal is brutal, and once we know we don’t have to be made miserable by a “force” that has nothing to do with us, we tend to be more committed to tossing the parasite out.

As I get to the place in practice where I know moving into an observer position is always possible, I recognize that movement as something I can choose. Now it’s a whole different situation because I’m required to remember. I have practice and Sangha and supports in place so I’m going to remember a lot sooner, and I’m going to up my chances of moving into an observer position so I can watch what ego is doing. Yes, I may get identified with ego as I’m watching it, but then I remember I can disidentify and step back, can become the witness, and as I watch what ego is doing—and how I’m in relationship to it—the whole process becomes clearer and clearer.

What I see from the perspective of observer is the three distinct points of view: 1) the human being, 2) egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate, and 3) the Unconditional Love that animates the human being. I can see how ego moves in and “takes over” the human being. (Think Body Snatchers, or how a crowd can be whipped into a violent frenzy by hateful speech.) When the human being is taken over, the human body becomes the “vehicle” for ego to act out its attention-snatching antics. Seeing that moves me into what we might call “an identity with Unconditional Love” that makes me want to save/protect the human being.

As we continue to observe, we have a growing sense that “this human” is moving from “taken over by ego” to “one with Center,” and it’s that movement from “reinforcing karma” to “ending karma” that a human being is engaged in. With awareness practice we are making that process conscious.

In Gasshō

Saturday, July 14, 2018



In 2013, as a Sangha, we let go feeling bad. We began practicing with the awareness that feeling bad only wastes time, obscures clarity, and feeds ego. Rather than feeling bad, we choose to be here in whatever situation we find ourselves, ready to receive the clarity and insights Intelligence offers. In this way we can learn to free ourselves from the habitual, karmic behaviors that cause us to suffer.

In 2018, let’s make the next move to “Our goodness is established.”

For the sake of this conversation, let’s call All That Is, Life, the Universe, God, Whole Mind, Awareness, Consciousness, the Divine, Presence, Authenticity, etc., GOODNESS.

It’s an all-encompassing GOODNESS so we’ll keep it in caps for now. If we write it as goodness or even Goodness, egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate will close in around it and cause us to forget that this is a synonym for All That Is.

Within GOODNESS is a small “ability to believe oneself to be separate from Life,” which we call egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate (ego or conditioned mind for short).

Ego’s process is to pull attention away from the nonseparate reality of GOODNESS and pull attention into the imaginary “world” of egocentric karmic conditioning/ self-hate.

Imagine looking out onto a vast vista. Attention is on awareness of the scene. Then you focus on a tiny rock at your feet. The tiny rock occupies attention and you may or may not be aware of what surrounds the rock. The vast vista is no longer available to you. Is the vista gone? We “believe” it’s still there, but until we turn attention to it, it’s not there for us. When you’re focused on the vista, does the rock exist? Once again, we believe it does, but that’s not our experience until we turn attention back to the rock. In exactly this way we are pulled, by a shift of attention, out of the vastness of GOODNESS and into the tiny, imaginary world of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate.

That imaginary world is the world of opposites, of duality (right/wrong, good/bad, should/shouldn’t, will/won’t, us/them, beautiful/ugly, like/dislike, happy/unhappy, important/not important, valuable/worthless, light/dark, hot/cold—and at least ten thousand more!). Not only is the “world” of opposites imaginary, duality is imaginary. There is no such thing. A continuum gets us closer, but even that fails us ultimately as we realize everything simply is what it is. Which, interesting as that may be, is beside the point.

The point is that when attention has been pulled into ego’s faux reality, we are moved back and forth from one side to the other of an incalculable number of dualities, depending on what we “do.” If I say the right thing I’m on the “good” side of the duality and I feel “good.” In the next moment I may be jerked to the “bad” side of that duality because thinking I’m so good means I’m arrogant. (I hope you’ll stop as we go along to have your own experience of what you’re reading.) 

Believing ego’s imaginary world to be real, we suffer. Believing “I am ego/ego is me” (though never with the conscious awareness that would cause us to question that assumption), we are stuck colluding with and defending ego as it runs roughshod over our lives. I’m told I said something rude. The recipient is offended. I feel awful. I must apologize. I go to the person I offended to express my regret. I make excuses, try to explain what happened, declare I would never intentionally do such a thing. Throughout this extravaganza it never occurs to me to question the veracity of what I’m being told, to question feeling bad, to wonder how all that happened, to realize I didn’t know that happened—to realize I wasn’t there! I was unconscious when it happened.  

Believing ego is me, I take credit and blame for everything ego does. I “live” in a constant conversation in conditioned mind about what “I” do and how “I” am.  Ego cannot exist in the present so attention is pulled back and forth between pairs of opposites in the past and in the future. (I shouldn’t have done/said/been that, to I should do/say/be that. Put the “shouldn’t” in the future and the “should” in the past and sense the limitless permutations.)

Believing ego’s imaginary world is the real world, we completely lose sight of GOODNESS. GOODNESS becomes goodness, the opposite of badness or wrongness in the illusory, conditioned world of ego.

What else is possible?
--We can realize that every conversation in the head, every duality, all relationships with past and future are taking place in the imaginary world of ego.
--We can realize that our actual experience of ourselves is as the awareness that is observing what ego is saying and doing. You are not the author, the orchestrator, or the speaker—you are listening. You are watching. You’re being told that you’re thinking those thoughts, but a short time of looking
will prove to you that you are not. You’re aware of what’s going on in conditioned mind, but you are not doing it.
--Once we realize we are not ego, not doing what ego is doing, not to blame for what ego is doing, we can begin to experience ourselves as the expression of Life, the GOODNESS, that we are.

The astounding benefit of this clarity is that we can stop colluding with and defending ego. Coming from Authenticity, we can observe what ego is doing and happily report on it! Not that we’re going back to reporting on what’s happening in conditioned mind (“the voices are saying….”), but we can see what egocentricity has caused us to do (because we have a habit of being distracted by its shenanigans and going unconscious). And we can now, having acknowledged what we’ve seen, begin a practice of aligning with GOODNESS/Life in the present and choosing from HERE.

An example:
I am addicted to ___________, I have a habit of ______________, I have a tendency to _______________, I act ______________, I don’t ______________, I know I should __________ but instead I _____________. (Hopefully you can find yourself in there somewhere.) And I feel bad. (Yes, even though we let go feeling bad years ago, I still do and I feel bad about that.) I am caught squarely in egocentric karmic conditioning and am suffering with self-hate.

As soon as I recognize where I am (identified with ego) and what’s happening (I’m believing that the stories I’m being told by the voices in conditioned mind have something to do with me), I can remember that what this human being is authentically is GOODNESS. That is what a human incarnation is. A human incarnation is a unique expression of Life, of the GOODNESS That Is.

(Conditioned mind can understand none of this, yet the Heart intuits!)

We don’t need to improve, change, fix, criticize, compare, judge, or in any way be involved in the false world of ego in order to get out of the false world of ego. You won’t one day become a good person who is no longer bad and therefore not subject to self-hate’s beatings. There truly isn’t anything wrong with “you.” All that is happening is that attention has been pulled away from its Home (GOODNESS, Whole Mind, etc.) and is now residing in that infinitesimal, imaginary world of duality called ego. Once attention is there, it seems as if that tiny figment is a whole real world. Move attention back to thisherenow, and ego disappears into the imagination from whence it came.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Conscious Compassionate Action Movement

This past weekend we had a renewal of Precepts retreat at the Monastery. There were folks who had accepted the Precepts in the last few years and some who have been committed to living the Precepts since our first retreat at the Monastery nearly thirty years ago.

During the retreat we look at and talk about each of the Precepts. This year had a new twist. When it came to “Not to publish other people’s faults” and “Not to extol oneself and slander others” and “Not to be angry” people began to talk about the Precepts relative to current events in the United States.

What the conversation roughly boiled down to was: “I get so upset when I hear about what’s happening politically that the only way I can not get angry and not be critical and judgmental is not to pay any attention to what’s happening in the world.”

Oh, my. Score a bunch of points for egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate!

Where to begin?

First, we have the assumption that the “goal” of awareness practice is to feel the “right way,” and whatever we need do to achieve that goal is the right thing to do.
The equanimity the Buddha points us toward is not a synonym for ignorance or unconsciousness. Our aim in practice is not the successful meeting of ego’s standards for proper behavior. If I’m upset it is my best opportunity to “be with” that upset, paying very close attention, until I’m able to untie that karmic knot and be free of that upset. In one of our books we use the image of putting your head in the sand and failing to realize your bottom is waving around in the breeze! Little kids close their eyes and claim, “You can’t see me,” but that doesn’t mean we can’t see them!

If we make ourselves feel better (be the “right” person) by ignoring what’s happening to everyone and everything else, we play perfectly into ego’s hand. All our attention is on the voices in conditioned mind telling us what to do, what to say, and how to be.

The voices of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate yammering on incessantly in conditioned mind would have us believe we have two choices. 1) Be involved and be miserable, angry, upset, and depressed, or 2) ignore everything and live in “the little bubble of safety” (as I’ve heard it called) I can create for myself.

I would suggest Zen Awareness practice offers us a third, powerful alternative—conscious compassionate awareness. Or as we sometimes refer to it: Presence.

We must not be surprised that egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate has a plan for this as well. It takes the form of “You need to embrace in compassion those you find so upsetting.” To that I would say, “Yes, just as soon as you reach Buddhahood.” Jiyu Kennett would say, “With the ideal comes the actual.” Between now and reaching the ideal we can practice here in the realm of the actual!

What does that look like? The voices would have us believe that being upset is proof that we’re the wrong person. “You’re angry. It’s wrong to be angry. You need to feel bad.” But what if what’s being called anger is actually a pushing back in an attempt to protect against deep hurt? What if what’s going on is that you care so deeply, feel so sad and helpless and hopeless at what’s being done to people and creatures and the planet that not defending against that pain feels like you won’t survive?

If you can relate to that and really don’t want to fall into any dualities, how about this as a possibility? Every time you encounter something that feels cruel or hateful or dangerous, instead of turning away turn toward that and acknowledge the pain you feel. Just acknowledge it. Let yourself feel it directly. If you’re afraid of what you feel you can acknowledge and feel that too. But above all, remind yourself that what you’re feeling is your caring. You’re feeling your connection to all beings. You’re experiencing the truth of “nothing happens to you that doesn’t happen to me and nothing happens to me that doesn’t happen to you.” We are not separate.

(A reminder: This would be greatly aided by a practice of Recording and Listening.)

Now, when you’ve let that in, when you’ve felt the pain and seen all that arises for you in being present for all you’re experiencing, ask yourself this question: “What do I want instead for the world?”

In the beginning this might be quite an exploration. As time goes on you’ll be clearer and clearer. Do you want kindness? Compassion? Love? Respect? Appreciation?

The next step is where we enter “A Conscious Compassionate Action Movement.” Now we get to offer the world what we want for the world. What we offer could be as simple and immediate as doing chores with a cheerful attitude or applying the golden rule to driving. The point is, instead of furthering the illusion of separation, we want to stay in the process of caring and connection. We can find a person, a place, an organization, a cause, or a need to which we can contribute. Maybe it’s as simple as a thank you, a smile, a kind word. Maybe it’s volunteering for something you feel is important to support. Taking food to a shut-in, offering respite to a family with a sick child. Perhaps you want to join a group working to accomplish something you can see will make a difference you want to see made, signing petitions, collecting signatures, making donations. Perhaps you help people get registered to vote, call folks to encourage them to vote, drive people to the polls.

Remember, it’s not what, it’s HOW.  All my spiritual heroes took an interest in the world and worked to bring lovingkindness, compassion, goodness, and generosity to the world. Did they do it through hating and judging the people who were acting in cruel ways? No. They also didn’t do it through an attitude of, “I just want to be a good/right spiritual person, not getting upset or feeling angry, so I’m going to go find a cave and wait this out.”

What do you say? Shall we take all that “feeling bad” energy and turn it into the goodness that we want for the world? Shall we prove Margaret Mead correct once again and  “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has”?  Shall we refuse to hide out, attempting to avoid the ugliness and instead choose Unconditional Love for the world and ourselves?

If there’s interest I’d love to continue this as a discussion. I bet among us we have thousands of ideas of ways to contribute and plenty of support for making the contributions.

In gassho,

I Never Really Embraced This Process.

A few retreats ago I had a conversation with an old, old-timer who was sliding into yet another depression. These are not the “I’m feeling down” brand of depressions, these are the ones for which medications, even hospitalizations, are prescribed. Through years of practice, medications and hospitals are no longer needed, but the depression, often more the threat/fear of depression, remains.

“What are you hearing?” I inquired.

“I just feel so sad. It feels as if I’ll never get over being so hurt and sad about my childhood. That little child who was so mistreated is still so sad.”

(Now, as many of you doubtless know, I don’t buy this for a minute, and the person I was talking to knows that, but the identification with the story was so complete there was no ability to entertain even the possibility of something other than that story being “the truth.”)

“Well, how about this?” I suggested. “Do you have a picture of that little person? A picture of you when you were that age and experiencing that abuse?”

When I got an affirmative I asked if there was interest in and willingness for helping that child. “Oh, yes,” was the immediate reply.

“Okay, here’s what you do. Step 1: Take out those pictures and put them where you can see them all the time. Make some copies if you need to so you can have one on the bathroom mirror, the dashboard of the car, by your bed, on the back of your phone; everywhere you can think of to make this child a constant part of your daily life experience. Step 2: Begin to talk to her. Tell her you like having her in your awareness, that it’s fun to see her face, that you like having her around. Begin to include her in what you do—folding the laundry, cooking, going for a walk, taking a bike ride. Talk with her about what you’re seeing, take pictures, draw pictures, make recordings. Yes? She’s your companion. And, as you do this she will become more real to you as an actual person rather than the subject of stories in the head. Soon she will begin to communicate with you. Okay?”

Once again a willing “yes.”

“Good. Now there will be tremendous resistance to this from the voices in conditioned mind. So, to head them off, will you text me each day and give a report about how the two of you are doing?”

“Yes, I will.”

For one month I got a text every day giving reports on drawings and bedtime stories and recovered memories and making recordings and listening to them….

A few days ago I got this text:
At first I thought this project was to ‘rescue’ a sad, hurt child. But she’s not sad AT ALL and the hurts pass so quickly. I NEVER REALLY EMBRACED THIS PROCESS UNTIL NOW.

And this morning:
I woke up this morning really wanting to live Life today. Happy danced through my morning check-in even.

This from a person who, before beginning this process was facing another historically suicidal depression.

If you are not “really wanting to live Life today, if you’re not happy dancing through your morning check-ins,” please “REALLY EMBRACE THIS PROCESS.”

Instead of leaving somebody in the grip of the unconscious self-hatred that perpetuates an illusion of separation and results in suffering, move into conscious compassionate awareness and embrace that person into Presence.  The karmically conditioned impulse is to stay in identification with ego, dread and resist the experience we are having, wish it were different, and want it to go away rather than doing the work that transforms the experience.


Thursday, February 2, 2017

2017 “Project Joy” Kickoff Blog

After the Video Kickoff Workshop, I decided to write a blog addressing how we can practice in times that could seem to make practice irrelevant. I became even more committed after hearing from a few folks in the aftermath of the election that they’re struggling with a recent Peace Quote:

Everything in the world is good, is holy and beautiful. If you see something evil, think that you do not understand it in the right light. Throw the burden on yourselves!
- Swami Vivekananda

Perhaps the most difficult task for us spiritual aspirants is to understand intellectually, and then to “grok,” that ours is a nonseparate reality. The difficulty is that the shift from separate to nonseparate is the movement from the dualistic world of the intellect to the intuitive, experiential world of spiritual understanding.

The Buddha teaches that suffering is a fact of Life, there’s a reason we suffer, there’s a way to end suffering, and it’s possible to end suffering in this lifetime. He tells us that hate will never overcome hate; only love will overcome hate. We are to radiate boundless love to the entire world without ill will or enmity. Just as a mother would protect her only child with her life, we are to cultivate a boundless love toward all beings. 

If we accept that as true, what are we to do if someone is not meeting our standards, is not being the way we know they “should” be, is in our view cruel, greedy, selfish and scary?

Aldous Huxley masterfully demonstrates what he and others called The Perennial Philosophy by quoting mystics from every religious and spiritual tradition describing the same experience. None of these mystics were speaking of dogma, though they spoke in the language of their tradition. They described their practice and what they realized in moments of union with the Divine.

Here’s a bit of Huxley’s synopsis of what he calls the Ground of Being or the Divine Ground (also called That Which Is, That Which Animates, the Mysterious Fact, Buddha Nature, True Nature, Authenticity, God):

Any event in any part of the universe has as its predetermining conditions all previous events in all parts of the universe. (As we say it, you are the sum total of everything it has taken to produce you since before the beginning of beginningless time.)

1. The phenomenal world of matter and of individualized consciousness—the world of things and animals and even gods—is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their being, and apart from which they would be non-existent.

2. Human beings are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known.

3. Humankind possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner human, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a human, if s/he so desires, to identify with this spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.

4. Humankind’s life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify with the eternal self and so come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground of all existence.

As the Buddha phrased it, one who experiences oneself in all of Life sees oneself in all beings.

My teacher used to marvel that people would settle for believing something (that unity with the Intelligence That Animates is possible) that can be known. That we are each and all manifestations of the power of Life that shapes all life is something we human beings can “know,” not intellectually, but experientially. Wisdom animates all of us and is the force of this power, the mystic energy pouring into the field of time and space.

Conditioned mind, the mind that thinks, believes, and assumes, becomes so involved in concepts, in ego-driven fears and doing that the energy of wisdom cannot flow. The energy is blocked and we are tossed into a faux “reality” of ego’s making, lost in an incessant conversation of what I need, what I want, what I’m afraid of, how it should be, what’s wrong—and the suffering is ceaseless. 

The Buddha taught that it’s possible to “cultivate the conditions” for wellbeing. It is the conditioned habit of attending to unwholesome states of mind, to the negativity of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate, which is the primary obstacle to awakening. Our practice is to replace that by attending to what is wholesome, to what is so in the present. The Buddha identified some wholesome acts: taking action, bearing witness, not knowing, generosity, stillness, compassionate speech, and not opposing evil.

Attending to “what is so in the present” is extremely challenging for conditioned human beings because the assumption is that “what is so” is what “I” (the illusion of an ego that is separate from Life) perceives as so—and that is not so!

And, here’s where it gets even stickier: Our practice is to first embrace all that arises as we perceive it. We are learning to change our perception from ego’s “how it should be” to Life’s “how it truly is.” We are practicing turning attention away from the beliefs and assumptions held in a dualistic conditioned mind and to witness Life from the awareness of wisdom, love, and compassion rather than the limited perspective of “me.” 

So was Swami Vivekananda being hard on us? Was he being judgmental and harsh, blaming us for what happens to us in our lives? Is he saying that what’s happening in the world right now—what we perhaps see as cruel and hateful—is good and holy and beautiful and there’s something wrong with us if we don’t see it that way?

Looking at the world from a dualistic viewpoint, there seems to be much more cruel and hateful than good and holy and beautiful. After all, there are real victims. Not everyone has the same chance. It’s easy to be grateful and optimistic if you have all the advantages. What about the people who don’t have enough to eat? What about those living where bombs are falling? From ego’s perspective—looking at content rather than process—surely that appears to be the case.

Years ago I read a story told by Peace Pilgrim: When the Allied troops liberated Buchenwald concentration camp, the scene they encountered was hideous, heartbreaking, and unbelievable. As they moved through the camp getting medical care to the survivors, they were assisted by an energetic fellow with long, drooping mustaches. No one knew who he was, and there wasn’t time for introductions, so among themselves they just referred to him as Wild Bill, after Wild Bill Hickok. When everyone had been given all the care they could be offered at the time, some of the soldiers questioned Wild Bill about who he was and how long he’d been in the camp. He told them he’d been there from the opening of the camp. They were amazed, even doubted him, as he was robust and in both good spirits and good health. This is the story he told: He was an attorney living in a small town in Poland with his wife and five children. Because he spoke several languages, when the Nazi’s came through they used him as an interpreter. He was kept alive and made to watch as they killed everyone in the town, including his wife and children who were placed against a wall and shot. In that moment he “saw” the horror that ignorance and delusion can inflict, and it came to him in a moment of awakening that he had two choices. He could either live with the hatred he felt in his heart and become like those who had just destroyed all he loved in the world, or he could live the difference he was able to see and choose to love unreservedly everyone he encountered for as long as he lived. From that clarity he cared for his fellow prisoners, offering what help he could, until the liberators arrived.

If you don’t see God in the next person you meet, where do you hope to see God?
--Mahatma Gandhi

So, where does this leave us? How do we apply our understanding of this possibility? How do we live the difference we know is possible? We can take action as the Buddha encouraged. We can bear witness. If we choose, we can let our legislators know our wishes. We can call, write letters. We can be generous, get involved with groups working toward change we’d like to see in the world. If no one is taking on something we care about, we can start a non-profit to address the need! In a word: participate. Participation does not require us to hold opinions (as the Hsin Hsin Ming warns us “do not chase after enlightenment, only cease to cherish opinions”) or to use language that lacks compassion or to identify “evil” and then oppose it. We support and aid. Above all, we hold everyone and everything in the unconditional love and acceptance that we all wish for ourselves no matter how wrong-headed we may be in any given moment!  We can he humble enough to realize and admit that we don’t know, and that complaining and criticizing is not a path to liberation encouraged by any tradition!

I don’t know about you, but I often wonder if the reason we get so upset when we witness negativity, when we hear judgmental, intolerant, and hateful words and see those same attitudes in behaviors is because those “external” words and behaviors put us in touch with the same in us. I could only laugh when it dropped in how prejudiced I am against prejudiced people! What I’d been clinging to is that “they” are prejudiced against the wrong people (innocent people), while I am prejudiced against the people who truly deserve judgment! Really? Doesn’t take a lot of scrutiny to get to “it’s not what, it’s how.”

When lost in the “I’m right” of the dualistic world of conditioned mind, we all believe we are correct in our assessment and those other people are simply stupid, deluded, wrong, or probably evil. They think that about us, we think that about them, and the world of egocentric karmic conditioning chugs happily along.

As students of awareness, seeking clarity and liberation, choosing lovingkindness and compassion, we can get as engaged, active, and involved as we like—and we can do that from love. The burden I suspect Swami Vivekananda is asking us to throw back on ourselves is to find in our hearts the unconditional love that is the difference we know. When we find that love in our own hearts, we realize that is the love that animates all beings, and that we each have the opportunity to choose that love in each moment—even as Wild Bill did, in truly horrific circumstances.

We have no ability to influence that choice in someone else; we do have the ability to make that choice for ourselves. If we don’t choose, how can we blame anyone else for not choosing? There’s much debate about the origin of the quote, but the sentiment is sound: If not me, who? If not now, when?

In gassho,