Sunday, January 25, 2015

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

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

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


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

Oh, my.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



  1. Cheri asks such an important question- "what are you afraid of? "
    We all do so many things out of fear .

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  3. For a day or two I had a similar inner response to the person that was outraged - it was lovely. Conditioning was discrediting all the good you've done, saying that you were playing with fire, saying that what you were doing was dangerous and wrong and saying that by going into the business venture you've embarked on with other members of the Sangha you would destroy everything you've built. So it was fun to watch that - I see that happening whenever people don't fit with conditioning's ideas of good/bad/right/wrong. It's an awesome thing to be able to watch. In it, you get to see pretty much the ENTIRE thing that you signed up to see when you agreed to live for awareness practice. I wish you did more things that conditioning would find outrageous - I want to see more and more and more. It's really the test of love, the test of sanity and the test of life. When things don't go the way "I" want them to, when people don't behave the way "I" want them to, when "I" don't like what someone else is doing because it's "wrong, greedy, selfish or evil" - how do I respond? Do I let the burn that conditioning is feeling take over me or do I sit still and let the fire turn to cool? And once the fire turns to cool - do I see clearly what just happened and realize that all that's really happening is that conditioning is having a hissy fit that makes no sense at all? Because that's what I saw! Once I got past conditioning's inferno - I got to the heaven of clarity and realized that your idea is genius!!! Can't wait to join you in it! :) Gassho.

  4. I so appreciate your willingness to share this incident, and to address these issues. It speaks very highly for your work and your integrity. Thank you.

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  6. I have been looking at this very closely because as a young practitioner I thought that embarking on a spiritual practice meant developing a very rigid set of beliefs about what was "good" and "bad," "right" and "wrong," "spiritual" and "not spiritual." I thought that I was doing the right thing to because these beliefs were designed to make me be be the kind of person who caused the least amount of harm and suffering to others, which I believed was the point of religion and spirituality. Unfortunately what actually ended up happening was I was completely scared, miserable, discouraged and suffering MYSELF for years on end that I could barely be functional. I was constantly projecting into the future and onto others and I believed I had to regulate myself to be the right person and do these things so I would not cause others to suffer. Once I started to truly engage in awareness practice, I started to realize that I didn't have to make myself be anything and that I couldn't. The mind that I was using to live my life could not understand the experience of love, giving, compassion, etc. and therefore it could not make those things happen for myself or others. I started to realize that those things arose NATURALLY, when I stepped out of the way, when I stopped engaging that mind. I'm getting to where I don't have to force myself to stop doing things that cause suffering to others, because once I realize what that is what I'm doing and I step out of conditioned mind and into present awareness, I don't want to do that thing anymore - even things that I thought I loved. I have found that it is not true that you have to control yourself and that EVERYTHING is available in present awareness, there is nothing off limits because it is "bad," "wrong" or "nonspiritual." In regards to my fears, it is only conditioned mind that would hurt myself or another and it is only conditioned mind that could make something NOT serve life in present awareness, that would decide something about something and make it "bad." Hope this makes sense. Thank you Cheri!

    1. What wonderful insight to receive. Gassho Jessica.

    2. Thank you Jessica. This makes all kinds of sense when conditioning is out of the way.

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