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