Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Heart Never…

Just about every difficult or disastrous situation has occurred because at least one person involved either didn’t know egocentric karmic conditioning was not their authentic nature or was fooled into believing it was for long enough to do something unfortunate.

It’s extraordinarily difficult to get, to experience, that the voice talking in your head is not who you are. In fact, it takes a lot of looking to realize there’s a voice talking. “I don’t want to, I have to, I need, I don’t feel like it, it’s too hard, I’ll do it later”…sound so very much like they must be me, it’s just me thinking. It requires a lot of close attending to catch on that there’s “someone,” who actually feels most like “me,” who is listening to the voice talking.

People are conditioned to take ownership of and responsibility for all sorts of things that have nothing to do with them except they all happen in the same body/mind. Opposite opinions arise constantly, we feel one way and then another about any number of topics, one day we feel agreeable the next we don’t, and yet we go right on saying “I,” as if we are one consistent entity that is thinking of and expressing these disparate notions. This is the world of duality, and the way a “self” can appear to be separate from every “thing” else is if that illusory self takes up, and argues to maintain, opposing positions. I think X, we don’t agree, you feel Y, but at least we’re in accord that they really are delusional.

There’s a handy little tool we can apply to see if we are close to center or have been bamboozled again by egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate: We can look to see if there’s an argument in progress.

Are you arguing for or against something? Are you arguing inside your own head or with another “outside” person? Is there a voice in your head arguing that there’s something wrong with you? If there’s an argument, you can know it’s egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate doing the arguing, no matter how convinced it wants you to be that it’s “really you.” How can we know that? We can know that because the heart never argues, and the ego never stops arguing.

Isn’t that a handy little check-in?

In gassho,

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What We Are Up To

[This is, verbatim, an email sent on December 7 to our current email class, “It’s Time to Feel Good.” The focus of the class is to make a recording of the loving encouragement of your internal mentor to keep your commitments to yourself. The commitment participants have in common is to record (R) and listen (L) to the recording as often possible. (One class member suggests we’ve coined a new verb, R/Ling.) The point is to drown out the voices of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate, which usually dominate our internal dialogue, with what we know to be true.]

TTFG Dec. 7
What We Are Up To


I sensed in the most recent batch of responses a creeping reassertion of the slimy, slippery, sneaky tentacles of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate, and it occurred to me that perhaps it’s time for a review of just what we’re up to here. Please, if you are not feeling those creeping tendrils, do not think I’m addressing this to you—though it’s always helpful to be forewarned, n’est-ce pas? Sooner or later, they will creep.

Remember in What You Practice Is What You Have how often I came back to “one process does not lead to another”? Another way to say that is “the outcome is the same as the process.” In conditioned thinking you can “do this and get that;” which is a lie. In truth, if you do this you’ll only ever get this.

In other words, you do a process as a practice because what you get is the process that you practice. (Ha, this really IS Zen.) Or, one doesn’t lead to the other; one is the other.

The value of Zen awareness practice—when you do it!—is that you don’t question the process. You just do it. (We must keep in mind here that Zen awareness practice is completely voluntary. We sign on. We ask to do it because we want to end suffering and believe this is the way to do that.) So we do the practice. No if, ands, or buts. What you do in awareness practice is to do what you’re given to do. You don’t evaluate it, you don’t decide to do it based on how you feel about it or whether it feels good or you like it or you can see the value in it or you want to—you just do it. Because you said you would. Because you decided to. Because you committed to do it.

The opportunity with that commitment is to look at what prevents you from keeping it. Overcoming the resistance that arises is what the practice is about. Overcoming that resistance is what will free you. The fact of the matter is that your commitment could be to wake up every morning of your life and pat your nose 3 times—it doesn’t matter. All that matters is doing what you committed to do. It has nothing to do with whether or not what you’re doing is beneficial, though in this case, practicing awareness, is far beyond merely beneficial. The point is that in the process of doing whatever it is you’ve committed to, the fighting it, resisting it, whining, arguing, complaining—whatever you’re indulging while doing the practice—is how you get to see everything that is between you and whatever it is you want for your life; everything that stands between you and life itself because all of that resistance is egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate, the only thing keeping you from the life you know is possible for you.

Through keeping this one commitment—to talk to and listen to the unconditionally loving, wise compassionate guidance of your authentic nature—you will learn how to keep a commitment to whatever you choose. I am suggesting to you that the ultimate commitment is to live life, not egocentric karmic conditioning, and that’s what this process will allow you to do.

This is how you train yourself in practicing keeping commitments. In this discipline you learn to physically execute what you authentically commit to. This is how you get out of the world of karmic conditioning. You have to do the process because the outcome is inherent in the process. You don’t do the process to end suffering; by doing the process you end suffering—the outcome is the process.

I will love to read (in 50 words or fewer) what happens as you consider this.

In gassho,

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Talk about Snakes…


There’s an Old Zen Story about the monk who wakes up one morning with snakes crawling all over her body. She, understandably, became immediately hysterical. When those called to her by her wild shrieking attempted to tell her there were in fact no snakes, she became even more upset. She was inconsolable. The head monk called in the local physician who suggested drugs to calm her down. She screamed louder at the thought. Next a therapist was brought in, but unable to communicate at all through the yelling and thrashing, suggested that perhaps the doctor was right. Finally (finally?!) they decided to send for a Zen Master. The master arrived, sat down quietly in a corner of the room and began to meditate. Eventually the monk was drawn into the stillness and slowly calmed enough to tell the master what was happening.

“They’re all over me,” she moaned piteously. “There are hundreds, maybe thousands of them, they’re everywhere. What can I do? Please help me,” she pleaded.

The master nodded thoughtfully and then told the monk, “I will help you. But first I must go to a far city; I will return in two weeks. Until then you must do two things.” “Anything,” cried the monk. “I will do anything.”

“Very good,” said the master. “Until I return you must, first, watch these snakes very, very carefully. Observe them minutely. Note their color, sizes, shapes, textures, patterns, and facial features. See everything there is to see about them and, second, do not mention them to a soul. Say not a word about them to anyone.”

When the master returned two weeks later, the head monk ran through the gate excitedly calling, “The snakes are gone! The monk is cured!”

I had quite a difficult situation arise this week. Nothing like waking up with snakes all over me, but one of those circumstances that can try one’s practice. The temptation, for me anyway, when that sort of thing happens is to talk about it. I’ve heard there’s a culture somewhere that, when there’s a death, assigns “telling the story” to the person closest to the deceased. The individual tells the story over and over until there’s no more emotional charge. Or perhaps until the facts have integrated enough that the person is free simply to grieve and begin to accept. Who knows?

I’ve long suspected that, depending on the situation, telling the story can be more a matter of “adding fuel to the fire” than taking steps to let it go. There can be that little spin, the right choice of words to elicit the desired response. Each telling can add another layer, voices might slip in, there’s a touch of added emotion, some memories surface from similar situations… And, yet, without any outlet it can feel as if the energy, remaining contained, festers.

What is a person to do? Yep, you guessed it—a person can pick up their recorder and have a very helpful talk with the Mentor. The story can come out. The story is heard again and again, if one so chooses. Information, encouragement, clarity, wisdom, compassion can come in from a source with no investment in anything other than the end of suffering.

The result of this choice to turn to the Mentor via the recording and listening was a letting go personal best for me. I highly recommend it. It is such a savings in time, energy, money, and effort. We have “stop, drop, and breathe,” and now to that we can add, “stop, pick up the recorder, breathe, hit record, and talk.” Okay, it’s not as catchy—but it’s equally powerful.

In gassho,

Friday, November 19, 2010

Picking Up the Pieces

This is from one of the monks. It is helpful for dealing with old emotional wounds.

Picking Up the Pieces

My favorite lesson from studying Buddhism has been this: You are not special.

We walk around convinced that we are different, that our challenges are greater than others, that other people just can't understand. They can understand. They're dealing with the same challenges, and believing the same lies about them.

Those lies serve a purpose. They prevent us from sharing our insights about the problems, and thereby protect the source of those problems. When we stop believing we're special and different, then we can begin helping each other overcome the challenges we all face.

In that spirit, I offer a bit on one of my own challenges. I suspect many folks will recognize themselves in it.

Frequently as I go about my life, the memory of some painful experience will pop up in my awareness. My immediate reaction is to get away from the pain. I want to separate myself from the experience, to get outside of it, to put up a barrier between myself and that past trauma, so I alienate myself from both the initial experience and the experience of remembering.

There is a belief that this is a necessary process; if I just relive the misery of it often enough, surely I will avoid that sort of pain in the future... right?

This is a very clever lie, and it serves to maintain the system of suffering. If I believe that it is not OK to have been the person who experienced that pain, then I can set myself apart from it. I can bury my head in the sand - pretend it isn't happening. As long as I am pretending I am not the sort of person these things can happen to, I am not in a position to address the conditions that lead to experiencing that pain: I am primed for a repeat of the experience.

If instead of believing that it wasn't OK, I accept that I was a person who experienced something traumatic, then I can see the memory for what it is: A record of a time that has passed, and no longer has the power to hurt me. If I look more closely I see that the pain I feel today is the pain of alienation. When I was pained, I longed for escape, and so I tried to push away the person who was hurting. Later, as the experience resurfaced, again and again I practiced pushing it away until the pain of alienation was greater than the pain of the experience itself.

The pain I feel today is all smoke and mirrors. It is a construct of little pieces of me that I have cut away in my desire to escape, and the stories I have told about losing them. All of that is in the past.

Today, when I look closely, I can see the trick that is being played. I can retake those bits I have pushed away, accept that I was once someone who was hurt, and follow the memory all the way back to that moment I have tried to avoid. There, aware and accepting, I can see that the pain that was need no longer be, and let it lie in the past. This done, the construct falls apart, the sting is taken out of the memory, and that which desires my suffering has one less tool to work with.

Today I can see something else. The system this process serves to maintain is clever, but mindless. It must again and again cause me to feel pain, and so it will forever serve up every memory I might wish I could forget. The great opportunity is this: So long as I am looking closely when it happens, this system which works to make me suffer will dutifully seek out and bring to me all of the places I have been hurt. I need only reach out and collect those pieces I have lost. In its desire to cause my suffering it will serve to make me whole.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

"I can't do this!"

See if this is at all familiar. There is something in your life that you are really unhappy with. Could be anything. Could be a job, a relationship, where you live, your weight or level of fitness, finances…whatever. And you’ve been trying to be okay with this whatever-it-is for a really long time.

I’m not talking about the habitual daily ploy of “I don’t like” that conditioned mind is using all the time to maintain dissatisfaction and the illusion of separateness. I’m referring to a cyclic process of descending to a place of “I can’t do this,” followed by a “pep talk” from conditioned mind that convinces you that, “Yes, you can because you have to. You have responsibilities, bills, people to care for. Besides you can’t just quit your life! That would be crazy. You’ll starve. You’ll die a street person with a shopping cart full of junk parked next to you in the gutter where you’ve fallen.”

After that little pep talk, you, as the old song says, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.” You use the tools of practice, reassuring yourself that you can do it, you just need to work harder. “Supportive” voices tell you that if you were really doing spiritual practice you wouldn’t be having this problem, and you bravely soldier on toward the next round of, “I just can’t do this.”

A monk recently sent me this:

“There is an old saying, often attributed to Mark Twain (like so many others!), 'To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.' This is the essence of projection. We take our conditioned understanding of the world and we project it onto every experience we have. In this way, no matter what is going on in our life, we have an experience that perpetuates the patterns of thought we have been conditioned to. If we are conditioned to be angry, the whole world is an opportunity to be angry. If we have been conditioned to be victims, the whole world is trying to victimize us.

The truth of the matter is that not very much of any significance happens to the vast majority of us. We wake up, we eat, we pass waste, we sleep. In between we do some things that allow us to keep the process going. We are, after all, islands of curiously persistent chemistry. Like all other life forms, we are spectacularly well suited to our way of going about this. In addition, we have the wonderful knack of being aware of the process. On its own, the experience of going about our lives is one of joy and contentment.

Ego, however, wants none of this. Ego wants to be a star. Ego takes the essentially meaningless events of life and projects onto them a conditioned drama in which we are the center of attention. In short, Ego makes up a life, and convinces us we are living it.

Consider: You are the star of one show, a supporting character in several more, and an extra in 6.7 billion others. The overwhelming majority of the time that you make an appearance in any life, you are little more than a canvas on which another ego paints a bit of story. This is an indisputable fact of life.

Ask yourself: what does it serve to have a problem with that?”

A very good question, indeed, the answer to which can take us in at least a couple of interesting directions. One possibility is to eliminate the drama ego imposes on our lives through its endless melodramatic projections of misery and despair. This approach would look something like, “Well, this seems to be what I keep choosing in my life so I’m just going to accept my choice, admit this is what I truly want, and enjoy the consequences of the decision. I continue to choose that food, that person, that story, that job, that activity and, therefore, I will acknowledge that is what I want more than I want an alternative and that will be that.” Or, you could decide that rather than allowing “your,” or someone else’s ego, to paint a story on the canvas that you’ve assumed is your life, you will start listening to the deeper wisdom, the gentle longing, the sweet tug toward what your heart wishes for, a possibility that continues to appear to you in all its clarity right before the first voice tells you, with that edge of panic, “You can’t do that! You have to do what you’ve always done. You have to keep doing what makes you unhappy, that’s the responsible thing to do.”


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It Is Time to Feel Good

This is encouragement to sign up for the new email class, “It’s Time to Feel Good.” It is time to feel good. It’s long past time to feel good for most folks, and the only thing standing between a life of suffering that is not wanted and a life of freedom and well-being that is wanted is the resistance of conditioned mind as it tries to maintain its control over a human’s life. “You don’t have time.” “It’s too much money.” “You can’t afford it.” “You won’t do the work anyway.” Look to see if, without that conversation, you would want to have some additional, powerful support for yourself going through the holiday season and into a new year.

I’ve introduced this new work of “what you practice is what you have” with something akin to mild trepidation and a whole lot of excitement. This is as close to “it” (as in “this is it”) as I’ve managed to articulate. It has been received by our Sangha pretty much as I had anticipated; when at center people are eager and enthusiastic, and when identified with egocentric karmic conditioning/self hate, there’s the standard resistance. This we can work with. We all do, all the time.

What I was really curious about is how this new approach would be received by the larger community of practitioners who use our perspective in combination with other approaches. I knew I wouldn’t have to wait long, as most of the people I meet at events, workshops and retreats participate in all kinds of other practices—the curse of so many options!

The response so far is very good. At a recent workshop a participant expressed amazement at the depth of her response to the work. This is someone who has done a lot of practice—and a lot of practices—and figured she’d done just about everything and knew how it all worked. She found herself stunned that so simple an act—being coached, mentored, inspired, reminded, and encouraged in her own voice—could produce such a profound experience of compassionate acceptance within her for her.

I could never understand why so many people are programmed to “hate the sound of my own voice.” Now I get it. With that programming, people are unlikely ever to be open to hearing compassionate words from the one person truly capable of loving them unconditionally.

Just as I did with the work of There Is Nothing Wrong With You when it was first introduced, I want to guide folks through this practice here at the beginning. Over the years we will all become familiar with how it works, but in the beginning karmic conditioning can throw up roadblocks and confusing directions likely to impede progress unless those efforts to sabotage are thwarted. I am devoted to thwarting sabotage!

It’s time to feel good, folks. Let’s.

In gassho,

Monday, October 4, 2010

Only Don’t Know


In a conversation I had with a friend, he said, “I’m trying to figure out your mood; what your energy is doing.” (That’s California-speak for, “How you doin’?”)
Me: “Why not see what your energy is doing instead of projecting onto me?” (We have that kind of relationship.)
He: “Good idea. Here’s a better one: How about if I don’t “figure out” what either mood is? Why should I allow conditioned mind to frame and label everything, then get me to believe I know what’s going on?”
Me: “Great question!”

What followed was a lively, rather profound exploration of the relationship between what is in the moment and the multi-layered process of interpretation used by conditioned mind to set up the suffering world of “I/me/mine.”

From awareness practice we know, intellectually at least, that labels are not things. To help us see how we confuse words and concepts with the thing itself, Alan Watts offered that great image of a hungry person walking into a restaurant and eating the menu. When asked, “How are you feeling?” most people will answer with a word or words that they believe express a state of sensations/emotions. If the person says they feel anxious or depressed or afraid, we don’t actually know much of anything about what they feel. We’re meant to project our own experience of a state we call by the same label and everyone can go on pretending we know what we’re talking about. (Not hard to understand why people so often feel misunderstood.)

This habit of looking to conditioned mind to tell us about the moment we’re arising into is, of course, the source of suffering. If one is not here, right here, eyes wide open, nothing else going on as the moment arises, one has no way of realizing that all those interpretations an egocentric karmically conditioned mind are putting forth are not true. One tiny flicker of assumption, based on a word that suggests a concept designed to create an illusion, and the hapless human is light-years off into an imaginary world of made-up nonsense that will result in nothing but suffering.

Karmic conditioning is ceaselessly seeking to reinforce its own imaginary reality. In each moment it projects and the unconscious human believes. We’ve all heard those examples of the hungry person driving down the street only seeing restaurants, or the person with a near empty gas tank seeing nothing that isn’t a gas station, or the very clear, “when a pickpocket sees a saint he sees only his pockets.” What’s less obvious is that a person who is karmically predisposed to fear sees every situation as dangerous, a victim always feels mistreated, the entitled expect to be first in line, and the arrogant assume the best is their God-given right. Each of us assumes that our assumptions are reality and that what conditioned mind is presenting is accurate. But of course neither is true.

Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn was famous for using, “Only don’t know” to point people toward his “don’t know Zen.” Not knowing, knowing that we don’t know, knowing there’s nothing to know and there is no one to know it is a very helpful understanding, But just as important as the “don’t know” in this good advice is the “only.” Only. Solely and exclusively. Nothing else. Just that. Everywhere, all the time, “don’t know.” Do not think you know and do not try to know. With that focus it gets harder and harder for egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate to build and maintain a world of suffering for us. Instead of just going along with the same tired old program, we can ask, moment-by-moment, “Is that so?” “How do you know that?” “Who says so?” “What if that’s not true?” “What else is possible here?”

In gassho,

Friday, September 24, 2010

It’s So Simple, Really.


For whatever combination of unknown reasons I’ve had the opportunity to give a number of interviews lately. They allow me to do something I really enjoy, which is to pare down my expression of practice to the bare essentials. This isn’t a workshop or retreat with a theme that I try to adhere to, a series of exercises and experiences designed to provide a participant with a particular perspective. This is an hour of “so what is Zen awareness practice and why is it important?”

After one such talk the interviewer and I agreed that while it would be lovely if our exchange were helpful to others—and we really hope it is—it didn’t matter because we, at least, got to where we wanted to go through the process of conversing. Focusing, asking, looking, responding, seeking clarification, finding words to express brought each of us, through the direction of our attention, HERE, where we want to be.

We have fingers crossed that the new book is going to arrive in time for the Bridge Walk. This afternoon I’ll record the guided imageries that go with the book. This one captures, I think/hope, as perfectly as June and I can manage, the essence of Zen awareness practice as offered through A Center for the Practice of Zen Buddhist Meditation (yes, that’s the official, legal name of this organization). The book lays out those bare essentials I’ve been speaking about in the conversations with the interviewers (and pretty much anyone else who will stand still long enough for me to tell them.)

What are they? There is nothing wrong. Period. LIFE is all there is. Separation is an illusion. There is nothing real that suffers. We can stop identifying with the illusion of a self that is separate from life, from its imaginary suffering existence, and end suffering in any moment we choose. All suffering happens in a conversation with the illusion of egocentric karmic conditioning/self hate. Drop that conversation, turn your attention to HERE/NOW and you are free. (You will be the judge as to its efficacy, but the unique aspect of this book is that it lays out the “how” so clearly.)

The Buddha taught it. Jesus taught it. Sages and awakened adepts around the world throughout recorded history have reinforced this understanding: Just as life is, life is perfect. Just as you are, you are perfect.

How can you know that? Stop indulging egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate. Get out of that conversation about what’s wrong and what’s lacking. Get HERE/NOW. With fresh eyes and mind, SEE! You will know.

Yes, you will see that there is nothing to know and no one to know it—and you will know that! It’s quite magical. It’s the mystery we keep hearing about.

The fact of the matter is, when you’re looking through the magic it is crystal clear that there is nothing real in the universe that wants you to suffer. There’s nothing to fear, nothing to regret, nothing to feel bad about, nothing wrong and nothing lacking. Turn your attention to “yes” and “thank you” and feel life’s joy. Might sound corny—if you’re listening to conditioned mind—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

In gassho,

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Awareness Junkie Man


My grandson sent this to me recently:

It is our nature to be powerful, joyful, vibrant, full of energy, and in command of our experience. Conditioning can only control us AFTER we have been beaten down into a weakened state.

The great trick of conditioning is that once we have been beaten down by outside forces, conditioning convinces us to use our own strength to keep ourselves down. This is the only way it can have any hope of controlling us.

Exactly so.

It is because of conditioned mind’s single-minded effort to redirect attention to maintaining its position of control over the life force that animates us that, in our practice, we encourage an even greater diligence in keeping attention and awareness here/now with life. To that end we offer a wide range of practice supports—most free of charge—that those wishing to wake up and end suffering can avail themselves of. Practice Everywhere reminders (which come with technical assistance for anyone new to this sort of thing), Daily Peace Quotes, Transform Your Life (the perpetual calendar of quotes and awareness exercises) is now available as a free iPhone app, Open Air talk radio’s thousands of hours of archives, The Voices cartoons, Peace Practices, these blogs… Then there are things like Reflective Listening Buddies and at-home working meditation retreats, the 30-day retreat in the back of Making A Change for Good that have a small cost.

In short, there are enough practices to occupy a person’s attention around the clock, enough fun, interesting objects for attention to keep the willing practitioner grinning constantly. (The grin, of course, is what happens when a person is living Here/Now.)

But, sadly, people—good, sincere people—continue to get talked out of availing themselves of all those grins and instead allow conditioning/self-hate to use the strength of their very own life force to keep them in bondage.

I don’t know how many of you have a sense of what the monks do day in and day out. If you’ve been around for any length of time you probably have a strong sense that they do a lot. They do. They work 24/7 doing their own practice and offering practice to others. Briefly (keep in mind that these are only the big rocks in their job descriptions), Michael is in charge of all things food, Amy handles the logistics of practice (who is where when doing what), Sequoia does communication between practice central and the rest of the world, Melinda facilitates and combines psychotherapy with Zen practice, Dave oversees practice, training, the Monastery itself and too much more to imagine, and Jen is in charge of keeping and coordinating the big picture of every aspect of practice(!), our financial wellbeing, and the Africa Vulnerable Children Project. This leaves only Alex. What in the heck does Alex do?

Like everyone else, Alex has a long list of services he performs, but what he brings to practice is a willingness, enthusiasm, and creativity that keep us all inspired. If you’ve seen him you know that he is always “decorated” with the various reminders he wants at the front of his conscious awareness to keep him inspired. There are pictures of the children he’s partnered with in Kantolomba, the Peace Quote of the day, the exercise from Transform Your Life, and whatever else he’s currently working on. He’s done the 30-day retreat from Making A Change for Good repeatedly since the book came out. He draws a Voices cartoon every week. He’s invented an iPod shuffle earbud reminder system that will be unveiled next month with the new book What You Practice Is What You Have. The guy is non-stop! Oh, and he’s that great singer on the Open Air commercials, the author of “Stop, Drop, and Breathe.”

But here’s what has inspired me to write this blog: He, and his alter-non-ego Awareness Junkie Man, are launching a campaign to raise $5000 for the children in Kantolomba. If that money comes in, Awareness Junkie Man (complete with goggles, cape, and, we fear, tights), will walk across the Golden Gate Bridge on October 2 at the 9th Annual Bridge Walk. This I want to see!

So, I am proposing a matching grant. I will match donations up a thousand dollars that come in by the 21st. Are you in? http://www.livingcompassion.org/donations

Oh, and one other insight I had this morning. Tomorrow is the last day to get a t-shirt for the Bridge Walk. This one is a stunner (drawn by Alex), and we want everyone who would like one to have one. If the voices are telling you you can’t afford it, here’s my offer to you. Email the registration office at registration@livingcompassion.org with your name, address, and t-shirt size, and I will cover the cost for you. (In case anyone is having a suspicious moment, these funds are not coming out of donations. I have a part-time job.)

I hope you will join us in person, in spirit, or both in making this Bridge Walk the biggest and best ever. A lot of great people and really adorable children are counting on us. http://www.livingcompassion.org/bridge-walk

In gassho,

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Just Keep Going

In many ways this August 2010 trip to Zambia was the hardest one for me. Being there is always physically challenging—malaria medications; the need to be covered with insect repellent; scarcity of fresh fruits and vegetables; the standard difficulties with water, electricity, and the internet—but the poor air quality this time took the challenge to a whole new level.

When people have no way of dealing with trash except to burn it, and when a huge percentage of the burning trash is plastic, the result for the environment and lungs is disastrous. When those circumstances take place in the hottest, windiest season of the year, we get that “whole new level” I mentioned. So, when the day arrived for my departure, while it is always sad to leave good friends, I was ready to get on the plane that would fly me away to the marginally more agreeable atmosphere of the Johannesburg airport.

We have a departure tradition in Ndola. The traveler checks in the requisite two hours before the flight, after which we adjourn to a nearby coffee/tea establishment to go over last-minute details. Alas, the computers were down and all tickets were being written by hand. By the time I got my boarding pass, there was barely time to say a hasty farewell and make it through the rest of security and immigration before queuing up for boarding.
Ah, here we go!

The airlines in that part of the world have a few traditions of their own. One I find most (yes, the word I keep coming up with is “challenging”) challenging is spraying the interior of the plane before take off and/or landing. I understand that there are all sorts of challenging (!) critters who would stow-away and set up housekeeping in new locations without that spray, but goodness, it is unpleasant to be closed in a small compartment, breathing air one intuitively senses just isn’t good for a human, reassurances from the airline to the contrary.

Moments after the plane had been sprayed down, the captain came on the PA to announce, in that tired or bored voice people assume when they want to sound reassuring, that there “are a couple of problems with the plane.” A couple!?! My row mates began telling stories of these kinds of situations leaving Ndola, specifically involving the very plane we were on, which had come in two days before and promptly been grounded for mechanical problems. OK. This might not go as planned.

He announced we would be deplaning and returning to the terminal, while the airline either fixed the problems or brought in another plane from Johannesburg. The seasoned travelers on this route groaned simultaneously and announced, “That’s it, we’re stuck, we won’t get to Jo’burg tonight.” I, too, was groaning, but inside the conversation was more along the lines of, “No, this is not possible. If that’s true I’ll lose my entire itinerary. This is not happening!”

As we stood to deplane, the Captain came on once again to announce the door would not open! Not a problem, there’s a door at the back, we’ll just bring stairs…

Imagine this next part happening at the speed of “I am perfectly willing to accept whatever happens, and I am going to do absolutely everything humanly possible for me to get to Jo’burg and make my connecting flight”:

I’m first in line at the desk.
Airlink: We don’t have any information.
Me: What’s that plane on the tarmac?
Airlink: That’s a Zambezi Air plane.
Me: (Internally, “Yikes.”) Where’s it going?
Airlink: Johannesburg.
Me: Can I get on it?
Airlink: Don’t know. You can ask them.
Me: If I can get on that plane, can I get my luggage off of yours?
Airlink: Yes, if you can get a ticket, we’ll get your bags.

Hyper-speed. Found an adorable fellow who was immediately sympathetic, walked me to the Zambezi ticket counter so I wouldn’t get stuck behind official lines, and explained the urgency of the situation to his colleague who hopped on writing a ticket (no computers, remember). “Will I make it?” I ask. “I think so,” is his less than reassuring answer. What seemed like hours later, I had a rather expensive replacement ticket for the one going nowhere. Back to Airlink with my shiny new ticket. “Can I get my bags?” The woman from the ticket counter stood up and I followed her out across the tarmac, while she yelled at young fellows to open up the plane and offload the luggage. There my bags were. Back we trudged, sweating profusely in the scorching sub-Saharan Africa afternoon sun.

More forms and conferencing and explaining and my bags were checked to Jo’burg. After profuse thank-yous, some discrete tipping, and hugs all around with my new best friends (amazing how going through an emergency bonds people!), I was once again on my way through the rest of security and immigration to queue up for boarding. I felt, and I suspect looked, as if I had just run a summer 10K—perfect way to start 48 hours of travel!

On that flight I reflected on the relationship between acceptance, maximum effort, and letting go. I remembered a call years earlier from a monk who, driving up to the gate of the Zen Monastery Peace Center to leave for an appointment, came upon a huge tree that had fallen, blocking the road completely. “Guess it’s God’s will that I not go,” was the comment. “Perhaps,” I replied, “but I suspect it’s also God’s will that you go get a chainsaw, cut up that tree, and clear the road.”

Seems to me we never have to decide anything, even in circumstances such as these. Our job, our opportunity, is to show up with all the trust, willingness, and courage we can muster. Life will take us where we need to go.

When we decided to purchase the property for the Monastery, we had many uncertain moments, most of which resulted from having no money. How was this going to work? Would we be able to find the money? What if we couldn’t come up with all we needed? Much “sitting still with” was required. Finally, in one of our discussions, Sr. Phil said, “Well, how about if we just keep going until something we can’t get past stops us?”

Good plan. Here we are 23 years later, still going!

In Gassho,

Thursday, August 12, 2010

From Zambia - Conditioned mind’s self-improvement plans


Yesterday the leadership team from the Cooperative in Kantolomba came to Castle Lodge for our first big powwow of this trip. At these meetings we always attempt to look at specific issues and big picture items.

The Cooperative, quite on their own, came up with the year 2030 as their target date for Compound-wide sustainability. Not just the forty or so families involved directly with Living Compassion, but the entire thirteen-thousand-soul population of Kantolomba Compound. To choose 2030 as the sustainability goal for our primary group would not be impressive, but 2030 as the sustainability goal for the entire Compound is an outrageously ambitious proposition.

As we’ve read and listened to conversations among development people, we’ve learned that two things are important: 1) metrics (exactly how much of this, how fast, verifiable and preferably replicable, and 2) a solid exit strategy (we want to go in there, get it done, and get out). Sitting in that meeting yesterday I had a couple of, for me, helpful insights and a few peaceful chuckles.

Egocentric karmic conditioning, as we know, is very serious—about itself. Who it is, what it does, and what it thinks is terribly important and meaningful. That perspective goes a long way toward keeping other illusions-of-selves-separate-from-life focused on believing this illusory world of ego is the only reality and must be the recipient of all time, attention, and effort. This should not be a surprise to us.

I bet each one of us can find our own “personal” relationship with that very same process. There is something about you that has been identified as a problem or simply in need of improvement. A plan is formulated. Expectations are established. A timetable is created. Standards are applied. And, where has that landed us?

If we’ve fallen for enough of conditioned mind’s self-improvement plans (in which “it” puts forth a plan to improve a “me”), we get it that the whole process is never going to achieve the stated goals because the whole process is set up not to achieve the stated goals but to achieve a set of “unstated goals”—failure, guilt, blame, recriminations, discord, and suffering.

We have several guiding principles in our practice, familiar sayings designed to assist us in navigating our way through the landmines egocentric karmic conditioning unwaveringly directs us toward.
~~It’s not what; it’s how.
~~With the ideal comes the actual.
~~One process does not lead to another.
~~You will do for the love of others what you would never be willing to do for yourself.
~~Here/Now/This is all there is.
~~There is no self and other.
~~There is nothing wrong.
~~What you have is what you do.
~~The quality of your life is determined by the focus of your attention.
~~What you practice is what you have.
~~The person who realizes intrinsic enlightenment in the morning does not mind dying in the afternoon.

2030 may arrive and some or all of us may be here to see it. Does that matter? Not a whit. All that we have, all we will ever “have,” is This/Here/Now. We have the amount of air we have in our lungs and the amount of love we have in our hearts. That’s it. If we waste a single second of this most precious gift of conscious, compassionate awareness we call life in order to try to fix or change something, we are in danger of missing the point entirely. In other words, “Always we hope someone else has the answer, some other place will be better, some other time it will all turn out. This is it; no one else has the answer, no other place will be better, and it has already turned out.” -- Lao Tzu


Monday, July 26, 2010

The Two-Sentence Rule

The quote today, July 26, in Transform Your Life, “I respectfully decline the invitation to join your hallucination,” by Scott Adams reminds me of a very helpful “encouragement” we have in our practice: Don’t participate in any internal conversation more than two sentences long. Another, similar, guideline is: Spiritual practice does not begin until the beatings stop. Together these constitute a powerful set of reminders for who we are and how life works.

There are several basic understandings that are extremely supportive of a spiritual aspirant working to escape the “convincing’ arguments egocentric karmic conditioning puts forth for keeping one’s attention on “something wrong and not enough.” The first thing we need to get—as an intellectual understanding that moves as quickly as possible to the level of intuition and onto clarity—is that life is not dualistic. The conditioned human mind is dualistic; life is not. Life contains the human being with the ability to experience life as dualistic, but that’s not the same thing as life is dualistic.

How can we picture this? Imagine that life is a giant empty “container” the size of infinity. Now, of course, the difficulty in that endeavor is that conditioned mind, with its dualistic perspective, draws a line around the edge of infinity and wants to know what’s on the other side of that line. (It doesn’t actually want to know anything, but that’s the kind of remark that can derail a line of exploration such as this; conditioned mind will always consider it worth a try.) So, let’s put that aside and imagine our infinity has no edges, there is nothing beyond it, it is not contained in anything else—it is all there is.

“Inside” that infinity is everything that has existed, does exist, and will ever exist throughout time and space for eternity. There is nothing outside That and that That is This. Let’s say we call This the Ground of Being or Brahman or True Nature or God. Can we then see that there is no other or opposite or “separate”? There is only One and That is all that is.

It can feel when viewed through a conditioned mind by the illusion of a self that is separate, that we are having this discussion outside That. But of course we’re not because that’s not possible. There is no “outside”!

So, that’s very helpful to practice with, to move along from intellectual understanding to intuition or insight to clarity. There is nothing wrong. There are no mistakes. There is no “them.” There are no good people and bad people, no right/wrong, no past or future. This is it and it is us and we are it.

To help us get to clarity about that fact, we can practice the “two sentence rule.” Egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate keeps the illusion of duality alive in a conversation about what’s wrong, loss, lack, deprivation, fear, urgency, the past, the future, using judgment and comparison as its tools. Its method is conversation, a conversation in the head of a human who is vulnerable to being caught in a dualistic belief system. Without that conversation the illusion of a dualistic reality cannot be maintained. Why? It cannot be maintained because there is no illusion of a separate self creating and sustaining that imaginary reality.

The Practice: Conditioned mind starts a conversation that will quickly build to the “something wrong/not enough” perspective it must create and maintain in order to support the illusion that it is real. We, practicing attending to waking up and ending suffering, listen just long enough to get a sense of which story is being spun with an intention of drawing us into unconscious collusion. We recognize the ploy and turn our attention to Here/Now/This, the breath, the space between the thoughts, returning to an experience—even if fleeting—of the infinite container in which all arises.

Within that breath, that letting go everything as This, to be This, it is quite easy to respectfully decline all invitations to join in any hallucination the illusion of separation might currently have on offer.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Letting life live me

My practice, and the one I encourage others in, could best be described as “learning to let life live me.” The quote “don’t seek after enlightenment, simply cease to cherish opinions” has long been a guiding beacon on that path. Letting go, getting out of the way, saying yes, receiving, accepting, allowing. This life belongs to life. “I” get to enjoy it for as long as life animates this form, and when it no longer does I will no longer be. Simple as that.

Recently I’ve been enjoying realizing how perfectly meditation practice teaches us the how of letting go and letting life live us.

As we know, the only thing standing between a “me” and a peaceful, joyful life is egocentric karmic conditioning’s “better ideas” about how life should be. Those interfering better ideas are difficult to recognize, harder still to let go, when we’re busily going about the day. But when we sit in meditation we can practice being open to everything that is, just as it is, in a safe, “manageable” environment.

For instance, a thought--the result of a sensation labeled anxiety--arises about something I need to do. If I’m up and moving around in life, that combination of thought and emotion can launch a flurry of unconscious activity leading to more unnoticed sensations, thoughts, emotions, behaviors—and suffering. But here I am sitting in meditation. I can watch the whole thing arise, linger, and pass through, knowing I’m not going to follow any conditioned patterns of behavior because my commitment is to staying here paying close attention for this period of practice.

There’s a sensation somewhere in the body that carries the label “pain.” I get to practice being with those sensations rather than allowing conditioned mind to take the label and run with it—run away from the sensations and the body having them. I can stay with the body, exploring what feeling feels like when labels and stories don’t get to replace experience.

Practicing in this way lets me see the process egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate employs to take the life force away from life and to use that energy for its own suffering purposes. I get to see how I have been conditioned to abandon myself each time a story arises that “this is too hard” or “I don’t like this” or “I don’t want to do this” or “this is scary.” Sitting there, present, alert, attentive, willing, committed, I can recognize that’s not “me” talking about “too hard/don’t want to.” That which has made this commitment to meditate, to wake up, wants me to live without suffering, knows stillness as home, is life and revels in the delight of being present with itself. And I get to see that THAT is all of me.

As the awareness of what is animating a human being becomes more obvious, the enthusiasm for following an illusion of a separate self around through life dwindles rapidly. Shall I choose to have my life guided by unconditional love or a cruel and hateful conversation? Doesn’t require a lot of discernment.

Faith and trust grow with practice. We can relax into life’s utterly impersonal unconditional love. We can feel the stress of trying to figure it out, trying to get it right, of believing we should know or that there’s something to know or someone to know it drain from our body, mind, and emotions. As we learn simply to be in meditation, we know how simply to be in life…and that is worth practicing!

In gassho,

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

We are in love.

Last evening on Open Air I heard myself say a sentence I really like: “We are in love and we can fall in love with the love we are in.” We are in love. As fish are in water, we—and they!—are in love. This notion of “being in love” caused me to think of the Garden of Eden tale.

If we read from Genesis in the Judeo-Christian bible we find this creation story:
God charges Adam with tending the garden in which they live, and specifically commands Adam not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve is questioned by the serpent as to why she doesn’t eat from that tree. Eve states that the commandment not to eat of its fruit says that even if she touches the fruit she will die. The serpent responds that she will not die, rather she and her husband would "be as gods, knowing good and evil," and persuades Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve eats and gives the fruit to Adam, who also eats. At this point the two become aware, "to know good and evil," evidenced by awareness of their nakedness. God then finds them, confronts them, and judges them for disobeying. God expels them from Eden to prevent them from also partaking of the Tree of Life. The story says that God placed cherubim with an omni-directional "flaming sword" to guard against any future entrance into the garden.

When I look at that tale I get to:
1) This, our very world, is the garden and the garden is love.
2) We, as human beings, have the ability to experience ourselves as separate from life, outside the garden, cut off from love.
3) Rather than that ability being an example of our inherent evil, it is a beautiful gift enabling us to feel lost and then know the joy of feeling found. We believe ourselves to be unloved and unlovable only to realize we are unconditional love.
4) Once we realize who/what we truly are, we can see that there never was an entrance or exit to the garden, we have always been in the garden, there is nothing other than the garden, and we have always been living in love—we just didn’t know it.
5) When we have that knowledge we are free to be love, which is when we fall in love with the love we are in, and, yes, if that isn’t God-like, I can’t imagine what is!

Rumi said:
“A lover’s food is the love of bread,
not the bread. No one who really loves,
loves existence.

Lovers have nothing to do with existence.
They collect the interest without the capital.”

When we are in love with love rather than with an object, in love with the process of love rather than the content, we can feel that we are always in love, a love without conditions. How can we practice that? We can practice turning our attention away from the conversation in the head aimed at reducing the unconditional to conditional, be with the breath of being, and recognize that as love.

In gassho, in love,

Monday, June 28, 2010

Aphorisms and Truisms Self-Hate Can Use

Reading the Practice Everywhere tweet “Better to be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubts,“ caused me to reflect on how many of those kinds of insidious messages most of us have been given. From standards such as “children should be seen and not heard” to vague information that what you’re feeling and the amount you’re feeling is wrong/bad, we have managed to take in an impressive amount of “negative intelligence” under the guise of truisms or words to live by.

A few more that occur to me:

A fool and his money are quickly parted.
A friend in need is a friend indeed.
Better to be safe than sorry.
All good things must come to an end.
All's well that ends well.

I’ve tried to see how we get information such as “those feelings” are “anxiety” and anxiety is a bad thing. I can’t recall hearing anything specific but somehow the message gets transmitted loud and clear. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if we had been encouraged with something like, “Oh, those are sensations; they’re how human beings feel life. They don’t mean anything in particular. You have to pay close attention because they change with every situation and you don’t want to miss any messages from life.”

A variation on the value of truisms I wish someone had given me is along the lines of, “maybe yes, maybe no” from the story of the old fellow whose only horse runs off. The neighbors say, “What a terrible thing to have happen to you.” He responds, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” The animal returns in a few days bringing a small herd of wild horses with it.
“Isn’t that wonderful,” say the neighbors. “Maybe yes, maybe no.” His only son goes out to break the horses, is thrown and his leg is broken, rendering him incapable of helping with the work. “Isn’t that terrible,” say the neighbors. “Maybe yes, maybe no.” The army comes by looking for able-bodied men to fight the most current war. “Isn’t that…” You get the picture. Bottom line point is that we simply do not know. Ever. Anything.

How about this: As you recognize the vaguely unsupportive to downright self-hating “truths” that torment you when you’re not attending closely, post them to this blog, and we will create a great list of “conventional wisdom” that is not wise at all under a heading of Lies to Ignore.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Problem with Believing We Know

To the illusion of separation, to the “I,” the world of duality is assumed to be all there is. In a dualistic reality of right/wrong, good/bad, suffering/liberation, I must strive to be the right, good, liberated person. Anyone who is paying attention knows the futility of engaging in this struggle.

Two concepts that students of Buddhism learn early on are that desire/wanting is to be overcome and non-attachment is what we’re working toward. We learn this, accept it, know it, and believe it—which is part of the problem. Dualism raises its head in the world of spirituality when we try to overcome attachment and desire while amassing the right information and beliefs. (I am showing great restraint here because pretty much every word I’m writing “should” be in quotation marks.)

The difficulty is that “overcoming” and “amassing” require an “I” to do them. The “I” must divide life up into thises and thats in order to determine what is a good thing and what is a bad thing, and the whole world of suffering is created and the illusion of a self separate from life is maintained.

There is nothing to overcome and nothing to amass, nothing to believe and nothing to know, nothing to resist or avoid. And, most important of all, there is no one to do any of that. (If you heard a voice in you head say something along the lines of, “Oh, yeah, I know that,” that’s the “I” I’m talking about!)

Life is quite relaxing when we stay with attention/awareness, here/now, and let life do its part—everything else! But when egocentric karmic conditioning gets hold of the teachings, the dharma, it can try to turn them against us, causing not only suffering but much confusion.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

There’s a Goat on the Porch

Quietly eating my lunch, I look up to discover a goat on the porch. We stare at each other for a moment, me trying to take in this very unusual event, she doing whatever processing she’s doing. I observe that she’s very short and quite wide, with lovely horns and a very gimpy right front leg. Oh, swell. Not only do I have a goat on my porch, I have a pregnant, three-legged goat on my porch. This was not in my plan for the day!

Fortunately there’s a dog yard, large and secure, that I can put her in while I attempt to find her people. Leading that goat to the pen quickly put me in mind of those “herding eels” or “nailing jello to a tree” images. No sooner had I closed the gate behind her than she commenced in earnest her efforts to get out. She climbed, she crawled, she butted, she bellowed; at one point she launched her little round self over a loose part of the wire, doing a decidedly inelegant belly flop outside the fence.

As I’m chasing her around, trying to corner her long enough to get a handhold on her horns I tell her, “I’m just trying to help you. You may not be aware of the fact, but I happen to know mountain lions roam these hills. A fat little goat would be a tasty treat for a mountain lion.” My reasoning falls on deaf ears; all she wants is out. She has no idea where she’s going when she gets out, she just wants out.

I can see my own life in that; I can see a lot of people’s lives in that overwhelming desire to “do it my way.” I often refer to it as a “devotion to bad decisions,” but I think its proper name is karma.

If there’s no larger perspective, all that’s available to us is egocentric karmic conditioning’s perspective. What dominates our experience is all that “no, no, I don’t want that, I want that…” energy coursing through the body.

Years ago I heard someone say that the curse of intelligent people is their need to have their own experience. Smart folks are not going to take someone else’s word for anything. We want to find out everything for ourselves, prove it to ourselves, make up our own mind, and make our own decisions. But going to egocentric karmic conditioning to have our own experience is not producing what we think it’s producing. (This in no way contradicts the Zen admonition to not believe what the teacher says but rather to find out for yourself. That’s encouragement to go to conscious compassionate awareness for information, not a karmically conditioned “authority.”) I recently heard a young woman, aged twenty years or so, say to her friend, “I’m so glad I’ve past that age of just believing everything.” Oh, my dear, I thought, if you only knew where that belief has landed you!

People often say to me, “I have trouble with authority figures.” “Yes,” I respond, “the authority figure you’re used to accepting inside has trouble with what it perceives as external authority figures.” I’m suggesting that the internal authority figure is the one a person “should” have trouble with. It is the source of information that results in about 99% of the suffering in people’s lives.

“Doing it my way” can often masquerade as independent freethinking, an expression of who I really am. But when I watch that little goat, hell-bent on following the information she’s getting, regardless of circumstances, irrespective of her own best interest, I recognize all of us when we are operating out of unconscious urges and unexamined desires.

The whole thing was a marvelous projection exercise.

It causes me to appreciate once again the Buddhist approach to karma and the Buddha’s admonition to work out our own salvation diligently. Our lives really are up to us. We get to do things our own way, live out bad decision after worse decision, choose experience after suffering experience until we’re ready to give up the ego’s “better ideas” and give our lives back to life to live. It’s a very good deal.

Epilogue: Forty-eight hours later she seems to have forgotten she ever lived anywhere else and has settled into a quiet routine of tree-trimming and snoozing, undisturbed by anything except her duties as guard-goat, alerting all to the arrival of unfamiliar noises. I am striving to emulate her let-go-the-past-be-here-now orientation to life.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Real Comfort

Last night on Open Air we had what I found to be a fascinating discussion that, heavily paraphrased, went a little something like this:
B. I know I should practice, but when I come home from work I’m tired. I just want comfort.
C. What does “comfort” mean?
B. Watching television (which I don’t own because of this), reading novels (good ones!), eating…
C. So comfort means going unconscious?
B. Yeah. And, it doesn’t really take care of me; I know that. I wake up the next morning feeling bad. Waking up in the morning to a clean kitchen takes care of me. Waking up to a sink filled with two or three nights of dirty dishes doesn’t take care of me.

Who can’t relate to that? I’m tired. I’ve been doing stuff I really didn’t want to do all day. I don’t want to do any more hard stuff. I just want to relax, do nothing, eat something that tastes good but doesn’t require a bunch of preparation, and zone out.

Nothing wrong with any of that, is there? There’s no reason not to follow that program every evening of one’s life, except for that little detail of “it doesn’t take care of me and I wake up feeling bad in the morning.”

Last week in a conversation, one of the monks and I were marveling that so many people desperately cling to lives they devote all their resources to escaping. A person who cannot come to the Monastery because of a perceived deprivation in the monastic lifestyle pursues endless distractions (and suffers the resulting beatings by self-hate), based on an inability to tolerate the life they could not possibly give up!

So, there’s B going to work each day, doing work that is unfulfilling to the point that the rest of her time must be spent “recovering from” the results of the hours she has endured. She can’t attend to herself because all her ability to attend has been used up in surviving the workday.

I loved this exchange with B, as I love all interactions with Sangha, because it’s so very clear what’s going on when we get to see how someone else is falling for the lies and cons of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate! With B we get to explore one of the BIG LIES conditioning uses to keep people in service to it. Here’s the belief: “I need to go unconscious, turn my life over to conditioning to make it through the day. My work is not what I want to be doing; I just need to survive it so I can get to something for me.”

Of course there are too many lies in that for one little blog, but the biggest of the big, the one we all fall for, stumble over, and suffer with is: there’s a “me” this is all being done for.

I grew up hearing one of those jokes that ended with the person who was believing they would “get their reward in heaven” learning that it would be “a bale of hay, you jackass.” Kind of captures the relationship a lot of humans have with karmic conditioning. That reward is always out there somewhere. Just slog along through another day you don’t enjoy, this is leading to something…sometime…somewhere. The despair begins to set in when it dawns that the trudging is unrelenting and the reward nowhere in sight.

Blessedly, the answer is so simple—and even easy! (Plus we hear it repeated really often.) The answer: Make this moment the reward. Life is love. Not some of life, some moments of life, some times when things are going well. All of life is love, unconditional love. Spend each day in love. Give the one person whose worth you know intimately—you—the life that person deserves. Don’t entertain conversations in your head that disparage the person you have the golden opportunity to love unconditionally, an experience of unconditional love that will transform your life.

Is there a “how” in all this? You bet!
1) Remind yourself how you want to treat the human being left in your keeping.
2) Write that down.
3) Phrase those as sentences you can easily remember and repeat. Example: I’m glad we’re doing this together. Great job. You did that really well. You know, I really like you. Record this and listen to it often.)
4) Put the kind of effort into this relationship you would put into a relationship with someone you really like!
5) Make this relationship your top priority.
6) Always choose loving your person over the demands and dictates of karmic conditioning. Never, ever lose sight of this one—it’s critical.
7) Protect, honor and celebrate your person.
8) Approach a day with yourself with the same enthusiasm and excitement you would have for a party or a vacation.
9) Practice relaxing together. Learn to have fun in everything you do.
This is, after all, your life!

Sound hokey? Only to egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate. And, it doesn’t actually sound hokey to conditioning; it sounds like something that will put it out of work—and out of the house, too! Real comfort consists of being embraced in the unconditional love that animates all. Each of us gets to bring that comfort to one person—the “me” who has been promised so much and worked so hard in hopes of receiving. Now is the perfect time to fulfill those promises, and you are the perfect person to make that happen.

In gassho,

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Having That Which Animates You as Your Most Intimate Relationship

A while back I suggested what I called the "ingredients for a satisfying life."
They are:
1) Dedicate your life to something you consider worthy.
2) Celebrate your contributions.
3) Have That Which Animates you as your most intimate relationship.
4) Know how to give your attention to what you choose.
5) Keep your word to yourself .

I spoke about the first two and promptly forgot to return attention to the following three. Fortunately, life, in its infinite wisdom and compassion, never lets us lose sight of anything really important to us. (Egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate has learned to mimic this trait by dedicating itself to attempting never to let us lose sight of anything that is really important to it!)

I realize what I’m going to say next could sound iffy, but, you know, if I let that stop me I would have said very little over the past years—perhaps not a bad thing. Nonetheless, I have and I will continue to, so here goes.

It’s not that I choose illness. As with most people who prefer having more that they want to do than will ever get done, have endless interests and pursuits, love feeling energetic and active, I avoid sickness assiduously. But when it comes, I confess I have learned to enjoy and appreciate it. Being sick is a bit like going on a vacation with practice.

Several days ago I developed symptoms of either a cold or severe allergies. Over the years I’ve realized that going to bed at the first sign of illness really works for me. I don’t pass around whatever I have, and I can usually get through colds and flu sorts of things in about three days. If I fight it, it fights back and I get the standard ten days or two weeks, which just seems like too much of a good thing!

This one went straight to the chest, and before long I was having trouble breathing. Not dangerous-trouble-breathing, just take-a-breath-and-collapse-into-racking-coughs trouble breathing. Under normal circumstances this could be annoying, but since I was already on my mini-vacation with practice, it was fascinating. (The real blessing in these mini-vacations is that there’s nothing else to do but pay attention.)

I began to watch for the exact millisecond when the cough got triggered. I found if I went slowly enough I could get past all the danger points and take full breaths without choking or coughing. This, of course, brought me to a place of great joy: It was impossible to do anything other than attend to the breath for each complete cycle. A moment’s lapse would be followed by collapse-into-choking-and-coughing. How perfect is that?

Since it was not possible to be concerned about anything, complain about anything, or even attend to anything other than each millisecond of the breath, there was nothing to interfere, even at the subtlest levels, with right here/right now. Breathing fully with absolute attention makes stress impossible. There’s no room for egocentric karmic conditioning to get a toe in…not even with that “incessant nattering” it likes to offer as “innocuous noticing.”

And the best part of all is that the spaciousness—created by the lack of intrusion by an illusion of a self separate from life—can be filled with awareness of That Which Animates. There’s nothing interfering, nothing blocking the wisdom, love, and compassion that we recognize as our authentic nature when we stop doing anything else.

Then I lost my voice. Bliss!


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Duality and the Power of Participation

Yesterday I received an email that contained this: "The word "participatory" comes close to defining the highest good in African society. It is the core meaning of the word ubuntu and is enshrined in the Xhosa proverb, ‘A person is a person through persons.’ Ubuntu affirms the organic wholeness of humanity: that one realizes one's full potential only through other people. Life together is the quintessence of an African understanding of what it means to be human.”

Later I had a conversation with a psychiatrist who will interview me about depression on her radio show tomorrow, May 26. She said she had read The Depression Book and is eager to talk about the use of exercise in moving through and beyond depression, something she said was certainly not part of her medical training. I asked her if she’d read There Is Nothing Wrong With You. She said she read it several years ago, and we spoke a bit about the relationship between self-hatred and depression. My comment was, “How could anyone go through life listening to constant criticism and abuse without being depressed?” She told me that when she asks patients questions of that nature the response is invariably along the lines of “Look at how I am. How could I not hate myself?”

The juxtaposition of ubuntu with the isolation of self-hatred and depression caused me to reflect again on the critical necessity of recognizing the illusory nature of a self that is separate from life. Until we get it, grasp it in that life changing oh-I-see-and-the-seeing-has-opened-my-eyes-forever way, it is not possible to move out of a primary I-truly-believe-this-is-who-I-am relationship with egocentric karmic conditioning. And, without seeing though the illusion of a separate self, it is not possible to step free of self-hate or to experience ubuntu.

The great news for us humans is that the door conditioning has labeled exit is really the entrance and the entrance is really the exit. Depression is a perfect example. I am depressed. I have no strength or energy for anything. The voices that talk to me alternate between reporting how awful I feel and beating me up for being a person who feels so awful. I feel awful and clearly it’s my fault. This can continue unabated for a very long time because nothing interferes with that loop. The conversation robs me of energy; the lack of energy supports the conversation in that the conversation matches perfectly the sensations in my body—or lack thereof! It all makes perfect sense.

However, if I get up and start moving, the sensations in my body change. Now I’m getting different information. The voices of self-hate will attempt to push me back into my chair, predicting yet another failure, reminding me of past failures, etc., but the sensations in the body are no longer supporting that conversation. If I keep moving, the sensations will continue to change. After a time, the sensations in the body are so altered that only a great deal of effort on the part of the voices can siphon off the energy released through the exercise and return me to a state of depression.

How do I keep that from happening? Ubuntu. Participation. All of the misery-producing experiences of a human being happen in isolation—isolation from everything except the voices of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate that have made their way inside a human’s head.

This world of karmic conditioning is often called “the world of opposites.” Usually that term is meant to refer to the fact that conditioned mind is maintained through duality—hot/cold, yes/no, us/them, right/wrong, etc. I like to use it to indicate that just about everything karmic conditioning comes up with is the opposite of what is so, that what we’ve been taught to believe is the opposite of what is true. This even applies to the notion of duality itself. Hot and cold are not opposites; they are two ends of a continuum, two sides of a coin that do not exist without one another.

Once we understand what’s actually happening, we can free ourselves! All we need is to understand the principle, and what has stopped us will free us. There is a little trick here, which is why it’s so important to grasp the principle: Only from center can we see this and accept the solution.

So, the application goes like this: I’m told I have no energy, cannot move, cannot do what I need to do. That belief keeps me in an immobile state, which reinforces and perpetuates the belief. From center I find the willingness to get up and move. I go in the direction opposite to that belief, feel better, have more energy, and can do what I need to do. From center I replace the voices of self-hatred with voices of compassionate support. From center I can see that staying in isolation and not participating keeps me vulnerable to voices that prey on me when I am alone with them. So I go against the voices, reach out, get involved, participate with others who are practicing waking up and ending suffering.

The moral of the story: Explore the opposite of what you’re being told. Keep in mind that in the world of karmic conditioning, the exits are marked entrance and the entrances are marked exit. Once you understand this trick, you can out-fox conditioning. You can go where you’re being told you cannot go and do what you’re being told you cannot do, sprinting past the gateless gate. And you’re free.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Smitten with Directing the Attention

I know, I know, I’m a veritable broken record (do we have an image to replace that one now that there’s at least one generation with no knowledge whatsoever of a record?), on the subject of directing the attention. Having facilitated workshops on “What You Practice Is What You Have” for the past year or so (not to mention “the quality of your life is determined by the focus of your attention” before that), and now working on this follow-up to There’s Nothing Wrong with You, which is also titled “What You Practice Is What You Have,” I find myself utterly besotted (in the best possible sense) with the practice of directing the attention.

There is everything to recommend it and nothing against it!

1) It’s practical. When you need to stay attentive to something or someone--at work, in a challenging conversation--you can do it.
2) It’s entertaining. You can make up all sorts of little games for yourself such as turning your attention to particular colors or objects and using them as reminders to turn your attention to the breath, to yourself with a kind word, etc. (Some of you may be recognizing Practice Everywhere about now.)
3) It’s relaxing. With your attention going where you choose rather than habitually to the stressful conversations of conditioned mind, stress and tension no longer have access to you.
4) It’s efficient. When it’s time to meditate formally, you are way ahead of the game by having practiced being present all day long!
5) It’s fun. Life is fun. Conditioned mind and the voices of self-hate are not fun. When you give your attention to life, your fun quotient goes way up.
6) It’s kind. When you are not lost in an unconscious relationship with the negativity of egocentric karmic conditioning, you become a pleasure to be around. You are a gift to the world.
7) It’s simple. Anyone with sufficient capacity and willingness can do it. “Now, I will turn my attention to…” No complex rules, no standards—easy.
8) It brings immediate gratification. Each moment you are HERE/NOW is a moment of wellbeing. Practice directing your attention ten times today and you have ten experiences of wellbeing. Tomorrow twenty, then thirty, then much of your day, then most of your day…
9) It’s a guilt-free pleasure. You can be enjoying this little awareness game all the time and no one will ever know what you’re doing. They will just enjoy you more because you’re more pleasant to be around.

I feel quite confident there are more good reasons for the practice of consciously directing the attention than are occurring to me just now. Perhaps if you know of additional benefits you will send them along? When you send them, I will turn my attention to them, enjoy them, and have the joy of another moment or so of wellbeing. Oh, and I will feel grateful to you for them…another moment of wellbeing! If financial institutions operated this way, we’d all be rich as Midas—but truth be told, I much prefer being rich in the joy of wellbeing.

In gassho,

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Restful Nature of Awareness Practice

In the night I woke with a profound, obvious, and very helpful realization: awareness practice is the most restful thing we can do.

I’ve been traveling a lot the past several weeks, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, and approached getting home with great excitement and enthusiasm. This is the perfect time to be where I live: perfect temperatures, weather, colors, sounds, and perhaps happiest for me right now, no biting bugs.* This great excitement of coming home translates into a lot of energy, which is a big piece of the awareness in the night.

With all that energy, I began immediately to tackle the business of life: sort through and open the stacks of mail, clean out the inbox, empty and store the suitcases, do the laundry…in short, “catch up” with regular life. What I hadn’t seen until my 1:00 a.m. epiphany is the unacknowledged message that while I’ve been away doing what I was doing somewhere else, I’ve gotten behind at home, and once home I need to scurry to get caught up to the point that it seems I’ve never been gone.

I’ve known about this scam for years, seeing it pulled on lots of other people! I would encourage retreatants to take time off when returning from a long retreat, allowing themselves a rest after doing the hard work of letting go karma. This was proposed in opposition to conditioning’s perspective that “you’ve been on retreat vacationing and now you need to pay the price.” At the very least, I would remind departing practitioners not to get caught up in the mail. Mail--postal, e-, or voice--is conditioning’s way of tracking us down wherever we are and luring us into the distractions of society.

I know this! What fooled me completely was the combination of all those “right” feelings. I was taking care of business, loving being where I am, enjoying doing what I’m doing, being responsible—a good citizen in every way. Surely there cannot be any harm in that.

And, the answer is no there isn’t any harm in any of it. But on a very deep, subtle level there is disappointment in my failure to keep my commitment to my heart.

Truth is, I don’t want to give any of that excitement, energy, and enthusiasm to anything other than what takes care of my heart, which is practice. Is taking care of the things that support my life other than practice? No. But when there is all that energy built up from doing practice, which is what I’ve been doing for these many weeks in the form of leading workshops and retreats, I want to give that energy to deepening the intimacy of my relationship with life, not dissipate it in chores or even in what I’ve been conditioned to think of as rest.

After that energy has been given over to fueling more present, focused meditations, when being here/now has been the recipient of the excitement and enthusiasm, after silence and solitude have a chance to replace the noise of human busyness, then, and only then, will I turn attention to the activities of daily life. And, what I know from experience is that rather than the energy I returned home with being dissipated in doing “stuff,” I will return to daily life rested, rejuvenated, inspired, and ready to participate fully in whatever life has next in store for me. That’s what practice gives to me. But only when I give myself to it.

*On the last leg of this journey I did apply one of the practice tools I’m most fond of to great effect. Clearly the insect population at the last retreat had been left to their own company too long. The welcoming celebration for my arrival was truly impressive. In a matter of moments, just about every part of my body—they are not slowed at all by clothing—was covered with red, swelling, itching welts. I decided that each time I was aware of one of those welts itching, I would use it as a reminder to turn my attention to the life experience I choose to have. Blessedly it works and the result was lots of reminders and lots of good practice!


Monday, May 3, 2010

Only 100% will do

Since our discussion about overcoming the conditioned belief that egocentric karmic conditioning is stronger or more powerful than our ability to remain committed, I’ve been looking at similar scam people are often conned into falling for. It’s a variation on the con known as “the numbers game.”

In this variant the person is made to believe that nothing less than 100% success, 100% of the time is worthwhile. The way it works is something like this: You decide you are going to make a change, usually a change in behavior that will benefit you. Let’s say you decide to stop eating sugar. (Keep in mind this process is most commonly applied to endeavors such as meditation practice, exercise, healthy eating, getting enough sleep, not using intoxicants or drugs, as well as habits such as punctuality, swearing, or procrastinating. In short, anything that will give more life to you and less of life to egocentric karmic conditioning.)

You make your plan (if you’re like most folks, failing to see who/what is making this plan), marshal your forces, and begin with resolve and conviction. You know that eating sugar is not good for you, makes you feel bad, compromises your immune system, is associated with all sorts of health issues, and it is way past time for you to end this toxic relationship!

I suspect that if we could be hooked up to the right machinery we would be able to watch the resolve begin to diminish as soon as the program starts. The current store of sugar isn’t even out of your body before egocentric karmic conditioning begins its campaign of sabotage. “This is going to be too hard.” “You’re not going to be able to do it.” “You’ve tried this before, you’ve always failed, and you’ll fail this time.” The anxiety grows and a little more life force is drained off to fuel the voices.

You make it through a day! The voices start up. “Pasta digests as sugar.” “Drinking coffee is the same as eating sugar.” Perhaps you defend yourself. “But I didn’t have any candy!” “I didn’t have any soda.” The voice snorts derisively. “So what? There’s sugar in everything. You’re never going to make it.”

Sound familiar?

The story goes from past failure to projected future failure, all narrated by the Anti-Coach: You can’t. It’ll never work. You won’t be able to.

Before long a person just gets worn down. All that excited, empowered resolve is siphoned off to feed the stories of defeat. It doesn’t matter what you actually managed to accomplish—you didn’t meet conditioning’s standards perfectly, 100% of the time, so none of your efforts count.

What is a poor human to do?

For starters we can play our own version of the numbers game. But before we can begin our game we need to really GET it that there is no finish line for conditioned humans. Life is a moment-by-moment proposition. The Alcoholics Anonymous motto of “one day at a time” is truly courageous and optimistic. To keep a commitment not to give in to the temptation of an established habit/addiction is huge! We hear that one year for a human is the equivalent of seven for a dog. In that same way, one day of not succumbing to the demoralizing, designed-to-defeat harangues of karmic conditioning is equal to one month of non-harangue time—at least one month! Maybe one year. Maybe one lifetime.

Once this is understood we can use the understanding to our advantage. As soon as we truly grasp the magnitude of what we’re up against our score-keeping will change dramatically. For instance, on the calendar you keep with you always (no person sincerely attempting to wake up and end suffering will ever be without one), you will track your successes (yes, only what you deem a success, since we have no interest in what egocentric karmic conditioning would identify as your failures) in a whole new way. You will check in every fifteen minutes to see how your new relationship with sugar is proceeding and you will write your successes in your calendar in big, bright letters.

As we can all predict, the voices will scream bloody murder, a sure sign you’re on the right track. “You can’t do that!” “That’s insane!” “You’ll never get anything else done.” “You won’t be able to remember.” “That’s impossible.”


Isn’t it interesting that there’s always enough time and energy to obsess about sugar, to get sugar, to eat sugar, to be beaten up for eating sugar, to feel bad about eating sugar, to plead and bargain and be miserable, but there isn’t enough time or energy for bringing conscious, compassionate awareness to the human suffering in the grip of that addiction? Seems suspicious to me.

Will you have to do this keeping track thing forever? No. But you may choose to. Once you realize what a great support for being with yourself in conscious compassionate awareness writing your successes in your calendar is, there’s no telling what pockets of suffering you might want to apply it to.

The Buddha often encouraged us to use little moment-by-moment daily life choices and decisions to turn toward freedom and away from suffering. In this way, he said, we can become good in thought, word, and deed, one tiny act at a time—like filling a bucket with water one drop at a time.

So, imagine… your body is empty… an empty vessel ready to be filled… and you are going to fill it with goodness, kindness, presence, attention, awareness, compassion, acceptance, love, caring, generosity, gratitude, and all other good things… one drop at a time. Each time there is a thought, word, or action that comes from anything we might place under a heading such as “Loving Kindness,” another drop goes in the vessel. Doesn’t matter how large or small the act, even a smile, a thank you, or a flicker of conscious noticing counts. Drop, drop, drop… Isn’t that wonderful? It goes very well with, “stop, drop, and breathe,” doesn’t it? Yes, every conscious breath counts as well! How long will it take for you to realize you are filled with goodness?

Oh, do you suspect you will hear voices shrieking their protest? You bet. So what? The Buddha wasn’t talking about emptying the bucket. And, besides, this is our numbers game and we make the rules. What we say counts, counts. And for us only goodness counts.

In gassho,

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.