Sunday, May 31, 2015

Do You Feel Right?

     Perhaps we have two basic modes of being in this world. In one, our natural state, we are unconditional love. In the other, self-concern dominates. 

     Certain people, animals, places, events easily open our hearts, so that we, as individuals, essentially disappear, transforming into loving energy, freely, selflessly flowing into, nurturing our loved one. This is where empathy, respect, forgiveness, gratitude and joy also happen.
     Other people, animals, places, events easily trigger self-concern. When "me, myself & I" dominates, our hearts are closed unless there's something in it for me. Then a bit of "conditional love" sneaks out - but it's essentially a business transaction. Fear rules here: "taking care of #1", "greed is good", "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth", cynicism, restlessness, revenge, depression, anxiety, loneliness, paranoia.

     It can take a lifetime to realize that "taking care of #1" can't ever truly satisfy. As we mature, we gradually realize that we only feel right when we are being egoless unconditional love. Our true nature is unconditional, transcending words & concepts.


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Wisdom Beyond Apparent Opposites & Paradoxes

     “Vedanta allowed Huston to see each religion as a particular ‘color of the spectrum’ emanating from the same white light of mystical insight. Even when speaking about God specifically, Satprakashananda had taught Huston that there is no conflict between the traditions. Each god and goddess is only an emanation of the Diving Ground, the Godhead behind all the gods, and each religion’s god is only a specific culture’s interpretation of the personal-God principle. In Vedanta’s universalism, where the world’s gods are ultimately masks on the face of the one pre-cultural Sacred, Huston found a theology flexible enough for him to support the world’s religions collectively while also moving easily back and forth between them as different paths up the same mountain.”

     Dana Sawyer “Huston Smith: Wisdomkeeper. Living the World’s Religions. The Authorized Biography of a 21st Century Spiritual Giant.” Fons Vitae, Louisville, KY, 2014.

Friday, May 29, 2015

To Be, or Not to Be ...

     "Being is that which disturbs our insistence on remaining in the life-numbing realm of our secret desperation. It is the itch that cannot be scratched, the whisper that will not be denied. To be, to truly be, is not a given.
     Most of us live in a state where our being has long ago been exiled to the shadow realm of our silent anguish. At times being will break through the fabric of our unconsciousness to remind us that we are not living the life we could be living, the life that truly matters. At other times being will recede into the back-ground silently waiting for our devoted attention. But make no mistake: being — your being — is the central issue of life."

        Adyashanti "The Way of Liberation" 2012 ebook,

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Just an Interest OR a Real Commitment?

     "Being a spectator is easy and safe; being an active participant in your own awakening to Truth is neither easy nor safe. The way forward is unpredictable, the commitment absolute, the results not guaranteed. Did you really think that it could be any other way?"

        Adyashanti "The Way of Liberation" 2012 ebook,

Monet's Garden

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

To Question Old Answers

     "Many people think that it is the function of a spiritual teaching to provide answers to life’s biggest questions, but actually the opposite is true. The primary task of any good spiritual teaching is not to answer your questions, but to question your answers. For it is your conscious and unconscious assumptions and beliefs that distort your perception and cause you to see separation and division where there is actually only unity and completeness."

        Adyashanti "The Way of Liberation" 2012 ebook,
Public Gardens, Halifax, NS

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

On the Nature of Dialogue

          * Dialogue starts from a willingness to be tentative about what you know.
* The focus of dialogue is on what is, rather than on ideas and opinions.
          * You can participate by verbally or silently sharing perceptions.
          * Dialogue is letting the issue unfold in affection and mutual respect.
          * When a reaction arises, neither suppress it nor defend it, but suspend it in the mind and in the group, keeping it constantly available for observation and questioning.
          * Dialogue is being together and seeing together in an unfolding relationship.

          Krishnamurti Foundation of America                     

Monet's Flowers

Monday, May 25, 2015

Nature or Nurture?

     “… mysticism [is] the critical means of gaining insight into life’s essential mysteries. … science’s particular tools cannot access the full spectrum of what we are, or of what the world is. … we have a noetic, experiential capacity for accessing knowledge, a mystical function of our being that directly accesses a truth unattainable by scientific or analytical means. There are methods whereby we can expand our minds, expand our consciousness, to the point where we can apprehend metaphysical dimensions of what we are (and of what the world is) that escape an exclusively rational or quantitative approach. … awakening to these noetic dimensions, as had been achieved in earlier generations by mystics in all cultures, is not only our innate human capacity but also a necessary step in our evolution as a species. 
     … Maybe people were assuming that their consciousness was fixed by its very nature when in reality it was only fixed by nurture, based on social conditioning and the momentum of everyday habits; maybe there is a wide band of possible experiences that we shut out daily because of that conditioning and the weight of our personal assumptions.”

       Dana Sawyer “Huston Smith: Wisdomkeeper. Living the World’s Religions. The Authorized Biography of a 21st Century Spiritual Giant.” Fons Vitae, Louisville, KY, 2014.

Rhone Valley, France

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Awareness is Not for Wimps

     “Wasn’t it true that there was a place in all of us where we kept our secret under lock and key, vain animals capable of strange, petty, sometimes violent unpredictabilities? ... We all had our secrets, and maybe the most terrible of them was that we weren’t exactly who we thought we were, who we said we were, who we dreamed of being, that we were divided and at war and half made of self-mythologies, too. Sometimes on that staircase spiraling up from the darkness, we met ourselves coming up into the light, not recognizing ourselves or what we might do next.”

       Michael Paterniti “The Telling Room. A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese.” The Dial Press, NY, 2013

Public Gardens, Halifax, NS

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Our Confused Urge to Purge

     Don't we just love to hear an intelligent, devastating critique of a person or group we hate? Yes! It makes us feel so right, smart, good, holy; and makes "the other" look so wrong, stupid, bad, evil!
     It's easy if people we hate are different - not one of us. As Homer Simpson famously said "He's different - I don't like him!" We can even create differences to suit an agenda, as was apparently the case to divide Rwanda into Hutus & Tutsis. Religious belief is trickier, especially among those with essentially the same religion, but we've succeeded with a vengeance in this as well - Catholics vs Protestants, Shia Muslims vs Sunni Muslims ...

     Reformers within such groups, who believe that butchering each other may not be the best, most evolved, or sustainable approach, are often branded as traitors & heretics, shunned or even killed. Whistleblowers in large companies or governments fare no better. Why?

     Because we hate to face, much less to clean-up, our own home. It's so much easier to find fault in other individuals & groups, and then eradicate all our problems by declaring war on ... anything but the real problem. Eradicate whoever / whatever we project our own shadow upon, then everything will be perfect. "And how's that working for you?" Dr. Phil might reasonably inquire.
     We must recognize that we're still surprisingly primitive & tribal. The present state of the human race reflects the very early level of our individual psychosocialspiritual evolution. Each of us has a lot of growing-up to do. 
     This requires a complete turnabout, an inversion of sorts, turning our world right-side-up. Whenever we get very righteously energized to denounce or attack (verbally or otherwise) a person or a group, let's remember to look within - what dark aspect of ourselves are we trying to disown?
     Studying oneself, with steady awareness & gentle acceptance, is a continuously humbling experience. It makes one less & less judgmental of others, and more & more grateful to all those who put up with us while we were even less civilized than we are today. 

     "Be kind, for everyone is carrying a heavy load."

Near Mahone Bay, NS

Friday, May 15, 2015

Information, Progress, & Speed

     “In his 1936 essay ‘The Storyteller,’ (Walter) Benjamin posits that the storyteller, as well as the story itself, has lost primacy in a world that craves information, progress, and speed. The teller of tales is therefore left ‘remote,’ an endangered species. The storyteller, in the oldest sense of the word – ie the one who imparts counsel or wisdom, who carries forth the tradition of tales – has been eclipsed in Benjamin’s mind by the stultifying demands of modern life. ‘Every morning brings us the news of the globe,’ he writes, ‘and yet we are poor in noteworthy stories. This is because no event any longer comes to us without already being shot through with explanation. In other words, by now almost nothing that happens benefits storytelling; almost everything benefits information.’ ”

        Michael Paterniti “The Telling Room. A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese.” The Dial Press, NY, 2013.

Les Deux Magots, Paris

Thursday, May 14, 2015

What's in a Story?

      “A story is time itself, boxed and compressed. It is the briefest entertainment and simulacrum of real life, which is big and messy and requires a strange kind of endurance. The story is stylized for that flash of laughter and pain, thwarted desire and odd consummation, while life waterfalls with it – all of it – every day; prodigious, cloying, in decay. And when the story is finally over – even if the protagonist survives a spray of gunfire and goes on living – it’s over. Meanwhile, life carries on, river-swift.”

       Michael Paterniti “The Telling Room. A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese.” The Dial Press, NY, 2013.

Agricola Street, Halifax, NS

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Human Flourishing via Meditation: More True Happiness, Less Suffering

     "What is wisdom? Aristotle wrote about wisdom … as practical decision making that leads to human flourishing. And human flourishing comes from practicing the virtues, so making decisions that are virtuous is wiser than not. Decisions that involve generosity, honesty, humility, and courage are more virtuous and thus wiser than decisions that are self-interested, stingy, duplicitous, or cowardly. We can practice making our decisions based on virtues. We can practice making better decisions by learning from experience, but to do so we need to change the way we pay attention to our decisions. How do we change the way we pay attention? It is important to develop the skill of attention.
     A gunshot will grab your attention without any effort on your part. And you can pay attention to a task you have to do and you can try harder to focus on it when it gets tedious, but we all know the limits on our ability to do that. These experiences suggest that attention is just a part of us like any other part of us (number of eyes or fingers) and there is not much we can do to change the way we use attention.
     But there is good evidence to suggest that attention and our use of attention can change and improve with practice. To develop the skills of attention means to increase the capacity for holding things in mind while thinking (working memory), to improve noticing, and to increase our control of attention. For example, some research has demonstrated that practice in playing certain video games can increase your ability to use attention practice in meditation can as well. While the effects of video game playing on increasing attention may be controversial, there is good reason to think of attention as a skill of selecting information, shifting your mind among relevant information, holding information in mind while thinking, and avoiding distraction.
     How does attention help make decisions wiser? We make a lot of our decisions without a lot of thought. Deciding what to have for lunch does not involve the same kind of thinking as deciding to change jobs. But even when we think we are thinking hard about a decision, we can be limited by habits of previous decisions. We often skim the mental surface of a problem, not stopping to be curious about what lies beneath. Some research has suggested that this might be good -- fast and unreflective decisions seem to lead to better decisions sometimes. Looking at problems and decisions through a narrow and shallow focus of past habits may work for some things, but it will not develop the skill of wisdom. If you do not see the virtuous options because you have not thought about them in the past, you may miss them. If you cannot think about a problem from someone else’s perspective, you may not consider everything necessary for a wiser decision. When we are distracted, we miss bits of information we should use in helping us decide, and improving the skill of attention, reduces such distraction. Increased attention allows us to consider more aspects of a complex problem leading to a wiser decision. Practicing the skills of attention over time, resisting distraction, holding goals in mind, and controlling what we attend to, can help all of us make wiser decisions."
       Howard C. Nusbaum "Thinking About Wisdom as a Skill"
Howard C. Nusbaum
Shutterstock / Dirk Ercken

Sunday, May 10, 2015

When All Else Fails, Bear Hug Therapy

     "One afternoon, among the small group of people waiting outside the home where the Dalai Lama was staying, a visibly disturbed man shouted out to him. His Holiness walked toward him and patiently listened to the man rant about the pointlessness of living. The Dalai Lama then urged the man to think about the good things in his life, and the importance of his presence in the lives of his loved ones, as well as the good things he could do with his life by helping others. Nothing worked. So, finally, His Holiness stopped talking and gave the man a huge bear hug. The man sobbed loudly, then became calm and relaxed."

       From A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives, by Thupten Jinpa. Reprinted with permission of Hudson Street Press in Tricycle, Summer, 2015.

one of Monet's poppies

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Deep Engagement with Matters of Ultimate Concern

     "You can be musically tone deaf and have no understanding of music, just as you can be spiritually 'tone deaf' and not understand what people are doing when they engage deeply with matters of ultimate concern. But that deficit is simply an individual’s own lack of awareness, not the absence of this fundamental domain of human life. In this regard, the religious dimension of human culture is no more optional than politics or an economy. That was Tillich’s point, and even if all religious institutions are currently inadequate to dealing with these issues, the human questions themselves don’t go away, just as widespread political corruption doesn’t get us out of politics. Instead of denying or ignoring the religious dimension of life, we should seek to find ways to cultivate and develop it, so that in our time it can be rediscovered and reenvisioned."

       Dale S. Wright. "Religion Resurected. A secular Buddhist, recoiling from the ills of both theism and atheism, suggests that we move beyond both." Tricycle, Summer 2015. 

His work was his prayer - Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Inside Out

     Many people come to realize that all conditioned phenomena are marked by anicca, anatta & dukkha. For some it's a total "shipwreck" - a total collapse of their world. Many become cynical, bitter, hedonistic, or catatonic, frozen in their tracks, or suicidal.
     Completely giving up on the reliability of all external sources of happiness - AND, at the same time - opening up, loving unconditionally, being wholeheartedly engaged with whatever phenomena always awaits ...

           There is a crack in everything
           That's how the light gets in.             Leonard Cohen "Anthem"

Monday, May 4, 2015

Unconditional Love & Mindfulness

     "Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) aims to develop an affective state of unconditional kindness to all people.
     Compassion mediation (CM) involves techniques to cultivate compassion, or deep, genuine sympathy for those stricken by misfortune, together with an earnest wish to ease this suffering. 
     Both LKM and CM are centrally related to, and include the practice of, mindfulness, as noted by many scholars and practitioners from varying traditions, including Theravadin, Japanese, and Chinese Zen." 
        Hofmann FG, Grossman P, Hinton DE. "Loving-Kindness and Compassion Meditation: Potential for Psychological Interventions." Clin Psychol Rev. 2011 November ; 31(7): 1126–1132. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2011.07.003.

What Barrier?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Individual Liberation AND Social Transformation

     "As we start to wake up and realize that we are not separate from each other, nor from this wondrous earth, we also begin to realize that the ways we live together, and the ways we relate to the earth, need to be reconstructed as well. That means not only social engagement as service, but finding ways to address the problematic economic and political structures - the institutionalied forms of greed, ill will, and delusion - that are deeply implicated in the eco-crisis. Within such a notion of liberation, the path of personal transformation and the path of social transformation are not really separate from each other. We must reclaim the concept of awakening from an exclusively individualistic threrapeutic model and focus on how individual liberation also requires social transformation. Engagement in the world is how our personal awakening blossoms. 
     It just so happens that the Buddhist tradition provides a wonderful archetype that can help us to do that: the bodhisattva. We overcome deep-rooted self-centered habits by working compassionately for the healing of our societies and the healing of the earth. This is what's required for the Buddhist path to become truly liberative in the modern world."

       David Loy. "Awakening in the Age of Climate Change." Tricycle, Spring 2015.                     

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Life on the Razor's Edge

     What the heck does that mean? How about being fairly continuously aware of Ezra Bayda's "anxious quiver of being"? Can you acutely feel all sorts of needs - AND AT THE SAME TIME - know perfectly well that none of these can possibly satisfy? What about acutely feeling all sorts of aversions - AND AT THE SAME TIME - knowing perfectly well that avoiding these can't possibly satisfy either? Now what? 

     You've become fed-up with distractions, diversions, addictions, delusions! Self-centeredness has finally lost its allure.  
     The real world awaits. The heart-mind opens - outwards - to what is.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Ego is the last to go ...

     We're usually far more eager to claim ownership of a concept or the messenger, than to really understand and embody the message.

     There's an old story of several blind men coming across an elephant. Based on which part of the animal each had their hands on, each of their descriptions was completely different. The fellow holding the elephant's ear vs the one holding the foot, the belly etc. Yet they were all correct - partially.

     But most of us would rather grab hold of & claim as ours anything, even a partial truth, than to open up to & become porous to all of reality. Just more useless attempts at creating & maintaining a solid sense of self - ego.