Friday, December 30, 2016


"A human being is part of the whole, called by us 'universe,' a part limited in time and space.
We experiences ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.
Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in all of its beauty.
The true value of a human being
is determined primarily by the measure and the sense
in which s/he has attained liberation
from the (separate) self....
We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking
if humanity is to survive."

Albert Einstein

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

the Backward Step ...

     "Learn the backward step that turns your light inward to illuminate your self. 
     Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will be manifest. 
     Coming, going, the waterbirds don't leave a trace, don't follow a path. 
     No waves, no wind, the empty boat is flooded with moonlight.
     Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. 
     The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. 
     Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. 
     The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass."  


Monday, December 26, 2016

WHO is Suffering?

"Titles" by Leonard Cohen
I had the title Poet
and maybe I was one
for a while
Also the title Singer
was kindly accorded me
even though
I could barely carry a tune
For many years
I was known as a Monk
I shaved my head and wore robes
and got up very early
I hated everyone
but I acted generously
and no one found me out
My reputation
as a Ladies' Man was a joke
It caused me to laugh bitterly
through the ten thousand nights
I spent alone
From a third-storey window
above the Parc du Portugal
I've watched the snow
come down all day
As usual
there's no one here
There never is
the inner conversation
is cancelled
by the white noise of winter
"I am neither the mind,
The intellect,
nor the silent voice within..."
is also cancelled
and now Gentle Reader
in what name
in whose name
do you come
to idle with me
in these luxurious
and dwindling realms of Aimless Privacy?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Be a Light

"Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.
Help someone's soul heal. 
                                  Walk out of your house like a shepherd."                               


I have just three things to teach:
Simplicity, Patience, Compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.    

Tao te Ching (trans. Stephen Mitchell)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Opening Up to Life

     Be still, be quiet, and pay attention. This practice sets up the conditions for revelation. What you have been longing for reveals itself, and you know that it has been there the whole time. 
     This practice is simple, but it’s so easy to get distracted by all the busyness of our lives and of our minds. Stopping and being still doesn’t always seem possible. 
     So we might decide that it’s a good idea to go somewhere and sit still with a bunch of other people. Silent, teacher-led meditation retreats are available in many places these days, and if you have ever attended one, you already know how powerful and challenging they can be. And you know how they can contribute to your own realization of the brilliant offerings of the world.
     Melissa Myozen Blacker

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Power of Non-separation

     For many reasons, we as a society have lost our connection to, or perhaps only forgotten, our own depth, and therefore feel little or no deep connection to our own life, others' lives, and the life of the universe. We've forgotten the essence of vitality, wonder, mystery. We're scrounging for crumbs under our own table on which a mighty feast is spread.

"One of our people in the Native community said
the difference between white people and Indians is
that Indian people know they are oppressed but don't feel powerless.
White people don't feel oppressed, but feel powerless.
Deconstruct that disempowerment.
Part of the mythology that they've been teaching you is that you have no power.
Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit. Power is in your soul.
It is what your ancestors, your old people gave you.
Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth."            
Winona LaDuke

We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won
As we sailed into the mystic

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Leaning Into Reality - All of It

     Fear of change is universal. At some level we all realize that everything is constantly changing, quickly, unpredictably and essentially uncontrollably. That is truly terrifying!
     Constant change (anicca), including aging, sickness & death, is so frightening that most of us simply can't face it, and thus suppress the whole idea, distracting ourselves with anything & everything: shopping, multitasking, compulsive texting, overeating, substance abuse, gambling, sex, workaholism, cults, ... 
     There are innumerable dysfunctional support groups for the many who cannot face existential realities. Why dysfunctional? Because trying to avoid reality doesn't work & only makes it harder when life hits you between the eyes to wake you up.

     “I’ve had to learn to lean into all I don’t understand, accepting that I am changed by what I hear. In all, it’s been an exciting journey, one that’s made me more alive.”
      Mark Nepo. “Seven Thousand Ways to Listen. Staying Close to What is Sacred.” Free Press, NY, 2012.

      Life "asks us to ('lean into') look at, listen to, develop curiosity towards, take responsibility for our own suffering. When we don’t, we blame others or external factors (project, externalize), and suffering becomes endless. Meditation is a way of really settling into the moment, and sustaining long, long stretches of awareness so we can know and understand ourselves, and see where delusions arise.”      Ajahn Viradhammo

Friday, December 9, 2016

Less Noise, More Meaning Please

     Identification with, and radical allegiance to a caveman leader or any cult-like group are attempts at instantly manufacturing a noisy ego, by those lacking self-esteem. Such allegiances are fear-based, so the ensuing rationalizations are funny.
     “People ... would rather believe in some other reality, even if it is only an illusion, so long as it makes them feel bigger.” Suzy Kassem 

     "The more you listen, the more you will hear. The more you hear, the more and more deeply you will understand, and the more wisdom, harmony, and balance you will bring to your life and world. As you practice mindfulness it is inevitable that you will encounter many aspects of your life and your world that are unsettling or challenging to face or embrace. It takes courage to create and sustain your mindful practice, but staying with it gives you the strength, compassion, and courage to cope with whatever life throws your way. Imagine how different our lives and world would be if we and others were to learn to listen more deeply to ourselves, each other, and the world around us!"
        Joel Levey, Michelle Levey. "Mindfulness, Meditation, and Mind Fitness." Conari Press, 2015.

     Though referring to creativity in visual arts, Keith Haring may just as well have been describing religion / spirituality:

     "When it is working, you completely go into another place, you're tapping into things that are totally universal, completely beyond your ego and your own self. That's what it's all about."  

Mob Mentality at a Soccer Match

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Opening to Reality

     [We] will not perish for want of information;
     but only for want of appreciation … What we lack is not
     a will to believe but a will to wonder…. Reverence is one
     of [our] answers to the presence of mystery …               Abraham Heschel

     “I’ve had to learn to lean into all I don’t understand, accepting that I am changed by what I hear. In all, it’s been an exciting journey, one that’s made me more alive.

      With each trouble that stalls us and each wonder that lifts us, we are asked to put down our conclusions and feel and think anew.”

         Mark Nepo. “Seven Thousand Ways to Listen. Staying Close to What is Sacred.” Free Press, NY, 2012.  

Monday, November 28, 2016

Skillfully Responding to Aggression

     Fear, anger, & impatience to achieve a goal, which upon deep reflection is usually seen to be self-serving rather than altruistic, seem to cause violence.
     The ego is, according to Buddhist understanding, the very last thing we release before full awakening. The Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, Mandela, Martin-Luther King Jr. etc all seemed to have been consistently nonviolent, despite severe provocation. 

     A couple of old stories:

     “Once upon a time there was a conquering army going through villages, killing and pillaging as it went. The soldiers caused terror in the hearts of the people in the countryside, and were especially harsh with the monks they found in the monasteries, not only humiliating them but often subjecting them to terrible physical torture.
     There was one particularly harsh army captain who was infamous for his cruelty, and when he arrived in a certain town, he asked his adjutant for a report about the people who lived there. His inferior reported: ‘All the people are very frightened of you and are bowing down to you.’ This gave the captain great pleasure, of course. Then the adjutant continued, ‘In the local monastery all the monks have fled to the mountains in terror. Except for one monk.’
     Hearing this, the captain became furious and rushed to the monastery in search of the monk who dared defy him. When he pushed open the gates, there in the middle of the courtyard stood the monk, watching him without fear. The captain walked up to him and asked in his haughtiest voice, ‘Don’t you know who I am? Why, I could take my sword and run it through your belly without blinking an eye!’
     ‘And don’t you know who I am?’ replied the monk, gently. ‘I could have your sword run through my belly without blinking an eye.’ It is said that the captain, recognizing the greater truth of the moment, sheathed his sword, bowed, and left.”


     “A big burly samurai comes to the roshi (Zen priest) and says, ‘Tell me the nature of heaven and hell.’ 
     And the roshi looks him in the face and says; ‘Why should I tell a scruffy, disgusting, miserable slob like you?’ The samurai starts to get purple in the face, his hair starts to stand up, but the roshi won't stop, he keeps saying, ‘A miserable worm like you, do you think I should tell you anything?’ Consumed by rage, the samurai draws his sword, and he's just about to cut off the head of the roshi. Then the roshi says, ‘That's hell.’ 
     The samurai, who is in fact a sensitive person, instantly gets it, that he just created his own hell; he was deep in hell. It was black and hot, filled with hatred, self-protection, anger, and resentment, so much so that he was going to kill this man. Tears fill his eyes and he starts to cry and he puts his palms together and the roshi says, ‘That's heaven’."

     A skillful, evolved person may be able to disarm an aggressor, causing minimal harm, and ultimately even bring about benefit. If indeed "I am that" - how else are we to respond? If your left arm went into a spasm, wouldn't your able right arm treat it kindly?
     Coming from deep inner peace, awareness, silence, stillness, timelessness, patience, equanimity, and compassion, will result in a radically, qualitatively distinct response to aggression than when we were reacting from a fearful self-preservation reflex against "the other".

     An exceptional true story about the wise use of true power:

Thus shall ye look on all this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in the stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.
Gautama the Buddha

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Power of Self-knowledge and Self-awareness

     “Prioritizing self-knowledge and self-awareness is not for everyone; although, I would argue it should be. Some people don’t seem to care about who they truly are or about the stuff within themselves. Others are just plain afraid of what they might find. Some people simply don’t value self-awareness as a worthwhile pursuit. But indeed, knowing ourselves is highly valuable. If we know who we are, we can become thriving human beings who can contribute our skills, strengths, and virtues – which we are aware of – to the world. Without self-knowledge, how can we possibly place ourselves in the right relationships, in the right environments, in the right lifestyles, and among the right friends, or choose the right career path? We can’t, at least not easily. When we are not living optimally in the right environments for us, we are drained and we become a drain on the system. We get sick, we don’t volunteer to help others, and we fail to thrive in the deepest sense. It can also be a huge source of existential anxiety and depression. Without self-knowledge, we may also flounder without direction, or we might mistakenly follow someone else’s direction instead. … Self-knowledge is a prerequisite for living a good, productive, and meaningful life, which ultimately benefits us and those around us.”
       Mandy Wintink PhD. “Self Science. A Guide to the Mind and Your Brain’s Potential.” Iguana Books, Toronto, 2016.  

Frida Kahlo - Self portrait with thorn necklace and hummingbird 1940

Monday, November 21, 2016

Personal Guidelines

Come from Gratitude
To be alive in this beautiful, self-organizing universe -- to participate in the dance of life with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it -- is a wonder beyond words. Gratitude for the gift of life is the primary wellspring of all religions, the hallmark of the mystic, the source of all true art. Furthermore, it is a privilege to be alive in this time when we can choose to take part in the self-healing of our world.

Don't be Afraid of the Dark
This is a dark time, filled with suffering and uncertainty. Like living cells in a larger body, it is natural that we feel the trauma of our world. So don't be afraid of the anguish you feel, or the anger or fear, for these responses arise from the depth of your caring and the truth of your interconnectedness with all beings. To suffer with is the literal meaning of compassion.

Dare to Vision
Out of this darkness a new world can arise, not to be constructed by our minds so much as to emerge from our dreams. Even though we cannot see clearly how it's going to turn out, we are still called to let the future into our imagination. We will never be able to build what we have not first cherished in our hearts..

Roll up your Sleeves
Many people don't get involved in the Great Turning because there are so many different issues, which seem to compete with each other. Shall I save the whales or help battered children? The truth is that all aspects of the current crisis reflect the same mistake, setting ourselves apart and using others for our gain. So to heal one aspect helps the others to heal as well. Just find what you love to work on and take joy in that. Never try to do it alone. Link up with others; you'll spark each others' ideas and sustain each others' energy..

Act your Age
Since every particle in your body goes back to the first flaring forth of space and time, you're really as old as the universe. So when you are lobbying at your congressperson's office, or visiting your local utility, or testifying at a hearing on nuclear waste, or standing up to protect an old grove of redwoods, you are doing that not out of some personal whim, but in the full authority of your 15 billions years.

Joanna Macy 


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Membership's Benefits ... and Drawbacks

     Sometimes we enthusiastically join, support and become strongly identified with certain groups. How completely we become identified with & transformed by the group depends on us, as well as the group. Our level of psychosociospiritual development determines the type of group(s) we wish to join. There's a very broad range of groups from which to choose: from sports teams, charities, political parties, professions, unions, the armed forces, religions, nations, ethnic groups, to outlaw gangs, etc.
     Not surprisingly, we're in a very different place in our life if we choose to join & identify with, say the Hell's Angels instead of Save the Whales. Besides different activities, one group may demand strict obedience ("dogmatic"), while another may be laid back & informal ("liberal"). Interestingly, many of us, at a certain point in our lives, are strongly drawn to dogmatic groups that completely take over our thinking, behavior - our whole lives. The very same person who's a peace-loving humanitarian in their 60s, could have, in their teens, enthusiastically enlisted for combat duty to fight "the enemy" of the day.
     When we feel lost, empty, like a nobody, marginalized, hopeless, angry, without any sense of belonging, as soon as we join a dogmatic group, we instantly feel proud, connected, accepted, have both an identity and a home. A dogmatic group has a strong distinctive brand, and we're thrilled to be branded, wear the uniform, fly the flag, repeat the slogans. For many, this means a radically-improved quality of life. There's no looking back at what we might have given up - our immediate assumption is nothing, since they had nothing. Group-think is demanded and easy to go along with - easier than thinking for oneself. One develops very strong, almost unbreakable emotional attachment to such groups. Many dogmatic groups explicitly teach that leaving the group has catastrophic consequences for the individual - shunning, court martial, eternal hell-fire. So reason is rarely successful against such powerful emotions to extricate oneself (or another) from dogmatic groups. Members tend to be paranoid, and may respond violently to any criticism - feeling as if their very life were being threatened.
     But human evolution of consciousness is an entirely natural process, whereas the core basis of dogmatic groups is a set of fixed ideas - dogmas. Most of us simply outgrow dogmas. 
     "Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to their beliefs, ideas, or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas or values. (But) humans strive for internal consistency. An individual who experiences inconsistency tends to become psychologically uncomfortable, and is motivated to try to reduce this dissonance, as well as actively avoid situations and information likely to increase it." 
     So as we mature psychosociospiritually, cognitive dissonance increases. The question then is how much authenticity can I tolerate suppressing while I'm with my dogmatic group? This is a wrenching, quasi-life-or-death decision - a form of ego death, since the group for many of us is/was our core identity. But living a lie - a "divided life", is for some of us, deadening, soul-destroying.
     When we quietly observe the mind during meditation, we notice a huge amount of self-talk - mostly transient, unnecessary ego noise. Our real identity is beyond all this noise: words, concepts, including all dogmas. When the noise from our own or our group's ego settles down, we touch authenticity, freedom.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

When Everything Appears Hopeless

It's worth remembering the Japanese proverb: "All human affairs are like Saiou's horse," inspired by the story: 

"Who Knows? The Farmer's Son: Fortune or Misfortune?"

One day in late summer, an old farmer was working in his field with his old sick horse. The farmer felt compassion for the horse and desired to lift its burden. So he let his horse loose to go to the mountains and live out the rest of its life.

Soon after, neighbors from the nearby village visited, offering their condolences and said, "What a shame. Now your only horse is gone. How unfortunate you are! You must be very sad. How will you live, work the land, and prosper?" The farmer replied: "Who knows? We shall see."

Two days later the old horse came back now rejuvenated after meandering in the mountainsides while eating the wild grasses. He came back with twelve new younger, healthy horses which followed the old horse into the corral.

Word got out in the village of the old farmer's good fortune and it wasn't long before people stopped by to congratulate the farmer on his good luck. "How fortunate you are!" they exclaimed. "You must be very happy!" Again, the farmer softly said, "Who knows? We shall see."

At daybreak on the next morning, the farmer's only son set off to attempt to train the new wild horses, but the farmer's son was thrown to the ground and broke his leg. One by one villagers arrived during the day to bemoan the farmer's latest misfortune. "Oh, what a tragedy! Your son won't be able to help you farm with a broken leg. You'll have to do all the work yourself. How will you survive? You must be very sad." they said. Calmly going about his usual business the farmer answered, "Who knows? We shall see."

Several days later a war broke out. The Emperor's men arrived in the village demanding that young men come with them to be conscripted into the Emperor's army. As it happened the farmer's son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg. "What very good fortune you have!!" the villagers exclaimed as their own young sons were marched away. "You must be very happy." "Who knows? We shall see!", replied the old farmer as he headed off to work his field alone.

As time went on the broken leg healed but the son was left with a slight limp. Again the neighbors came to pay their condolences. "Oh what bad luck. Too bad for you!" But the old farmer simply replied; "Who knows? We shall see."

As it turned out the other young village boys had died in the war and the old farmer and his son were the only able bodied men capable of working the village lands. The old farmer became wealthy and was very generous to the villagers. They said: "Oh how fortunate we are, you must be very happy", to which the old farmer replied, "Who knows? We shall see!"

So the moral of the story is: When something good or bad happens, you can never say for sure how it will turn out in the end. Some bad events turn out for the better, and some good events turn out for the worse. So it's best not to party too hard when things are going your way, nor beat yourself up too badly when they are not.

Adapted from:


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Look in the Mirror!

     It feels good to belong to a group that professes comforting values (especially when mere membership advertises some version of heaven). But because of our evolutionary history, we have a strong 'negativity bias'. And so behavior, which reflects actual values, can starkly contrast professed values. 
      The more fear, anger, greed & hatred we harbor, the more likely we are to elect a nasty brute who shares our actual values: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil, because I'm the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the valley."

     "Every nation gets the government it deserves." Joseph de Maistre 

     "The truth is, going against the internal stream of ignorance is way more rebellious than trying to start some sort of cultural revolution... The inner revolution will not be televised or sold on the Internet. It must take place within one's own mind and heart... Waking up is not a selfish pursuit of happiness, it is a revolutionary stance, from the inside out, for the benefit of all beings in existence." Noah Levine

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Growing Up

“Real faith means holding ourselves open to the unconditional mystery which we encounter in every sphere of our life and which cannot be comprised in any formula. 
Real faith means the ability to endure life in the face of this mystery.”            Martin Buber

"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, 

beyond us all, beyond the heavens, beyond the highest, 
the very highest heavens. 
This is the light that shines in our heart."          Chandogya Upanishad

"Everyone must decide whether to walk in the light of creative altruism 

or the darkness of destructive selfishness."             Martin Luther King Jr

Montreal - artist unknown

Monday, October 17, 2016

Don't Let the Sound of Your Own Wheels Drive you Crazy

We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity.
Life is eternal.
We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share.
This is a precious moment.
It is a little parenthesis in eternity.

Paulo Coelho

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Preliminary & Ultimate Objectives of Practice

      Our task is to discover a freedom that's independent of all circumstances & times.
      Kornfield J, Breiter P. "A still forest pool. The insight meditation of Achaan Chah." Quest Books, Wheaton IL, 1985.

     As such, the object of the path is awareness and not clinging to anything. But initially, our objective is not clinging to that which is unsatisfactory, stressful and doesn't belong to us.                                Joseph Goldstein

     So what can we hold onto?

     “If you let go a little, you will have a little peace.
      If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace.
      And if you let go completely, you will have complete peace.”

        Ajahn Chah. “The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah - Single Volume.” iBooks.

See also:

Rays of light are ephemeral; other things less obviously so.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Opening, Intimacy, Meaning, Mindfulness, Happiness, Authenticity

     "Mindfulness is a phenomenon generally understood in cognitive terms, although it has a holistic impact on an individual’s being. Meaning in life is seen as a construct that expands beyond what a person does in life (meaning through doing), but it also depends on each person’s relationship with her or his essential being (meaning through being)." 
      Bellin ZJ. "The Meaning Connection Between Mindfulness and Happiness." Journal of Humanistic Counseling 2015; 54: 221-35.
     Essential intimacy with "self", others, & life:

Opening to Nature through the Mind-Heart of a Four-legged

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Goal of Buddhist Practice

     Nibbāna (full enlightenment or awakening) – the goal in Buddhism - as described in a Saṁyutta Nikāya Sutta below. This state is beyond the ordinary (conditioned) mind's capacity to conceive.

     “It is the unformed, the unconditioned, the end, the truth, the other shore, the subtle, the everlasting, the invisible, the undiversified, peace, the deathless, the blessed, safety, the wonderful, the marvelous, nibbana, purity, freedom, the island, the refuge, the beyond. 
     Having nothing, clinging to nothing, that is the island. There is no other. That is nibbana. I tell you, the total ending of aging and death.”

Insight Meditation Society, Barre, MA

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Who or What are We?

    If and when we reflect on our identity, we get scared, settle for the first idea that pops into our heads, then quickly escape to an easier topic. 
     This fundamental error is "premature closure" - jumping to simplistic, wrong conclusions. So we live our lives assuming that we're far inferior to who / what mystics & saints have always told us we actually are:

"We are luminous beings. We are perceivers. We are an awareness.
We are not objects. We have no solidity. We are boundless.
The world of objects and solidity is a way of making our passage on earth convenient. It is only a description that was created to help us.
We or rather our reasons, forget that the description is only a description and thus we entrap the totality of ourselves in a vicious circle from which we rarely emerge in a lifetime. We are perceivers.
The world that we perceive though is an illusion. It was created by a description that was told to us since the moment we were born."

Don Juan

      “Silence is the basis and the background of everything. We are an expression of this primordial silence and stillness. But the habits of our mind overlay this simple truth and keep us from experiencing ourselves as a full-spectrum human being."                   Sharon Landrith

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Education for the Heart-Mind

     Effective physicians know how to genuinely connect with their patients on a human-to-human level. How much the physician genuinely cares for the patient's well-being is clearly felt by the patient. This therapeutic alliance in turn positively affects the patient's hope & expectancy.
     Educators have a very similar high calling. Educators have a great influence - positive or negative - on their students.
     We all must take the influence we have on each other very, very seriously.

First Day of School   by   Sheree Fitch

Here, take my child.
He has a fistful of crayons,
Is ready to begin
To enter the halls that smell of chalk dust and lemon oil.
He wants to colour a picture.
Help him to see that the colour he chooses,
The pictures he makes, are beautiful…..
Before you ask him to paint the Sistine Chapel.

Here, take my child.
She knows one and one makes two.
I want her to learn to add,

Without being subtracted from.
I want her to multiply her abilities,
But not if it divides her against herself.

Here, take my child.
He has a book he wants to read.
Let him read it first,
Tell you why he likes it,
Before you ask him to read a book
You think he should read…..
To be up to “the level”.

Here, take my child.
She has written a poem:
“dandy lions are golden buttons in the grass”
Smell those dandelions, see the image,
Before you tell her dandelions are weeds or
Dandelions is not spelled correctly.

Here, take my child
but... TAKE CARE.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Centering First Before Doing

Lately I've been fascinated by the skillfulness of Bill Morgan's teachings on cultivating a "holding environment" for ourselves at the beginning of each meditation:

Joanna Macy's advice below for all of us (not just "activists") resonates strongly with our need to repeatedly center. If we are to decrease suffering & increase benefit for ourselves and others, we must remember to first return to our true home - loving awareness. Only then can we speak and act authentically, with integrity, in the world.

"The activist's inner journey appears to me like a spiral, interconnecting four successive stages or movements that feed into each other. These four are:
  1. opening to gratitude,
  2. owning our pain for the world,
  3. seeing with new eyes,
  4. going forth.
The sequence repeats itself, as the spiral circles round, but ever in new ways. The spiral is fractal in nature: it can characterize a lifetime or a project, and it can also happen in a day or several times a day. The spiral begins with gratitude, because that quiets the frantic mind and brings us back to source. It reconnects us with our empathy and personal power. It helps us to be more fully present to our world. Grounded presence provides the psychic space for acknowledging the pain we carry for our world.

In owning this pain, and daring to experience it, we learn that our capacity to suffer with is the true meaning of compassion. We begin to know the immensity of our heart-mind, and how it helps us to move beyond fear. What had isolated us in private anguish now opens outward and delivers us into wider reaches of our world as lover, world as self."

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Reality of War

     "Of course, war and the large military establishments are the greatest sources of violence in the world. Whether their purpose is defensive or offensive, these vast powerful organizations exist solely to kill human beings. We should think carefully about the reality of war. Most of us have been conditioned to regard military combat as exciting and glamorous - an opportunity for men to prove their competence and courage. Since armies are legal, we feel that war is acceptable; in general, nobody feels that war is criminal or that accepting it is a criminal attitude. In fact, we have been brainwashed. War is neither glamorous nor attractive. It is monstrous. Its very nature is one of tragedy and suffering.

     War is like a fire in the human community, one whose fuel is living beings. I find this analogy especially appropriate and useful. Modern warfare is waged primarily with different forms of fire, but we are so conditioned to see it as thrilling that we talk about this or that marvelous weapon as a remarkable piece of technology without remembering that, if it is actually used, it will burn living people. War also strongly resembles a fire in the way it spreads. If one area gets weak, the commanding officer sends in reinforcements. This is throwing live people onto a fire. But because we have been brainwashed to think this way, we do not consider the suffering of individual soldiers. No soldiers want to be wounded or die. None of his loved ones wants any harm to come to him. If one soldier is killed, or maimed for life, at least another five or ten people - his relatives and friends - suffer as well. We should all be horrified by the extent of this tragedy, but we are too confused.

     Frankly as a child, I too was attracted to the military. Their uniform looked so smart and beautiful. But that is exactly how the seduction begins. Children start playing games that will one day lead them in trouble. There are plenty of exciting games to play and costumes to wear other than those based on the killing of human beings. Again, if we as adults were not so fascinated by war, we would clearly see that to allow our children to become habituated to war games is extremely unfortunate. Some former soldiers have told me that when they shot their first person they felt uncomfortable but as they continued to kill it began to feel quite normal. In time, we can get used to anything.

     It is not only during times of war that military establishments are destructive. By their very design, they are the single greatest violators of human rights, and it is the soldiers themselves who suffer most consistently from their abuse. After the officer in charge has given beautiful explanations about the importance of the army, its discipline and the need to conquer the enemy, the rights of the great mass of soldiers are almost entirely taken away. They are then compelled to forfeit their individual will, and, in the end, to sacrifice their lives. Moreover, once an army has become a powerful force, there is every risk that it will destroy the happiness of its own country.

     There are people with destructive intentions in every society, and the temptation to gain command over an organization capable of fulfilling their desires can become overwhelming. But no matter how malevolent or evil are the many murderous dictators who can currently oppress their nations and cause international problems, it is obvious that they cannot harm others or destroy countless human lives if they don't have a military organization accepted and condoned by society. As long as there are powerful armies there will always be danger of dictatorship. If we really believe dictatorship to be a despicable and destructive form of government, then we must recognize that the existence of a powerful military establishment is one of its main causes.

     Militarism is also very expensive. Pursuing peace through military strength places a tremendously wasteful burden on society. Governments spend vast sums on increasingly intricate weapons when, in fact, nobody really wants to use them. Not only money but also valuable energy and human intelligence are squandered, while all that increases is fear.

     I want to make it clear, however, that although I am deeply opposed to war, I am not advocating appeasement. It is often necessary to take a strong stand to counter unjust aggression. For instance, it is plain to all of us that the Second World War was entirely justified. It "saved civilization" from the tyranny of Nazi Germany, as Winston Churchill so aptly put it. In my view, the Korean War was also just, since it gave South Korea the chance of gradually developing democracy. But we can only judge whether or not a conflict was vindicated on moral grounds with hindsight. For example, we can now see that during the Cold War, the principle of nuclear deterrence had a certain value. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to assess all such matters with any degree of accuracy. War is violence and violence is unpredictable. Therefore, it is better to avoid it if possible, and never to presume that we know beforehand whether the outcome of a particular war will be beneficial or not.

     For instance, in the case of the Cold War, though deterrence may have helped promote stability, it did not create genuine peace. The last forty years in Europe have seen merely the absence of war, which has not been real peace but a facsimile founded fear. At best, building arms to maintain peace serves only as a temporary measure. As long as adversaries do not trust each other, any number of factors can upset the balance of power. Lasting peace can only assuredly be secured on the basis of genuine trust."

       Dalai Lama  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Nothing to Achieve, Nowhere to Go, No One to Be

     Buddhist understanding can sound very counter-intuitive & counter-cultural. 
     Nevertheless, as we mature with our practice, we come to understand as if for the very first time.

     "To reach truth 
      is not to accumulate knowledge, 
      but to awaken to the heart of reality
      Reality reveals itself complete and whole 
      at the moment of awakening. 
      In the light of awakening, 
      nothing is added and nothing is lost."           Thich Nhat Hanh

 "Anesthesia" - an excellent 2015 movie, available on Netflix

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Spiritual Capital & a Meaningful Life

     "Spiritual capital is the wealth or power an individual or organization has, based on their deepest meanings, values, and purposes. It is reflected in what that individual or organization exists for, believes in, aspires to, and takes responsibility for. We build spiritual capital by asking spiritually-intelligent questions, such as why do I exist, what is the purpose of my life, what do I really want to achieve? If the spiritual capital of a collaboration is high, that is, if a group has a common aspiration for its existence that they take responsibility for, then their collaboration will be an organic synthesis of the people participating. 
     If the spiritual capital is low, it means you either don't know what you aspire to or you don't aspire to anything very high. It means you don't know why you exist or you just exist to make a profit. It means you don't think about what you take responsibility for because you're caught up in your immediate goal, your short-term thinking. 
     Spiritual capital, if it's low, can tear a collaboration to pieces. Spiritual capital, if it's high, is the glue that holds it together."                                                       Danah Zohar

See also:

Sculptor: Marcel Gagnon, Sainte-Flavie en Gaspe, Quebec, Canada

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Safety, Comfort, & Trust in Meditation

      “… a more inviting way to enter meditation includes first learning the art of feeling good intentionally, in the present moment. We need to feel enlivened early in meditation in order to want to stay with it. Mindfulness needs to feel refreshing to ensure the future practice of mindfulness. If we are as unhappy in meditation as we are at other times, except being more aware of the unhappiness, where is the incentive to continue? 
     In my experience, the more reliable way to introduce safety, comfort, and trust in meditation is by evoking memories that elicit the feelings needed to create the foundation for our practice. Trying to think our way into feeling good is futile. Relaxation is one of the most fundamental aspects of the internal holding environment.”
       Bill Morgan. "The Meditator's Dilemma: An Innovative Approach to Overcoming Obstacles and Revitalizing Your Practice." Shambhala, 2016.

     Remembering a childhood experience was a powerful opening for the Buddha:
     “ ‘While my Sakyan father was busy and I (as a child) was sitting in the shade of the a rose apple tree, then quite secluded from sensual desires, secluded from unprofitable ideas, I had direct acquaintance of entering upon and abiding in the first jhana-meditation, which is accompanied by thinking and exploring, with happiness and pleasure born of seclusion. Might that be the way to enlightenment?’ And following that memory came the recognition: ‘That is the only way to enlightenment.’ ” MN 36

     A powerfully-reassuring childhood memory may even be somewhat hazy - like this:
     Perhaps my father, a certain aunt, one of my grandparents, or perhaps even a composite of these nurturing caretakers instilled within me a deep, quiet sense of certainty, that no matter how bleak and miserable life might be, even for decades, ultimately, everything will resolve in a decent, loving way. Perhaps that's why I value persistence so highly. I don't hope, but intuitively know that mystics and saints see things clearly.
     Recalling this feeling is a powerful way for me to start meditation. 

     Find your own reassuring childhood memory.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Toe-crunch Hello!

Last night, walking barefoot in my dark living room,
My right foot kicked the sharp corner of our coffee table.
Instant crunch-pain.
Unexpected immediate recognition:
Nothing personal,
Simple cause & effect,
No emotional reaction,
No suffering.

One moment ends,
A completely fresh new moment begins,
The great river of causes & effects flowing on.

Simple spontaneous experiencing -
Causes & effects flowing.
Impersonal - no reason or benefit for emotional reactions.
How foolish to want reality to be different?

Conditioned mind-body fascinating -
but not really 'me' or 'mine'.
Craving, aversion, delusion, suffering,
Fizzling, fizzling, fizzling ...

Gaspe Laundry