Monday, April 22, 2019

Our Story is Incredibly Powerful

     Clinging to the story of our life & our self-concept can lock us into a single, narrow way of seeing, & behaving. This is common, easy, and sad.
     Amoda Maa invites us to a far richer, more vibrant life:

     “In awakening, we awaken out of the dream of separation, out of the dream of duality, that there is an abiding sense of peace there, and oneness, that the world disappears in that, because we come to rest in an inner space, and inner dimension of beingness that is beyond the world of form. But if that realization, that knowing, that seeing is to really be lived in our everyday lives, then it’s not about transcending the world, it’s not about avoiding the world of opposites, denying the world of duality. 
     And that’s where the questions really come in. How can I really live this truth in my everyday life when the world seems to create division, when the world still pushes & pulls and I experience the polarity of my feelings, my thoughts, my emotions? What has happened to the nondual state, that inner dimension of beingness, the formless? And do I have to keep returning to that through meditation or some kind of practice or through stillness in order to remember, in order to realign, in order for it to become the deeper, lived truth?
     If it’s to be really lived, if you are to be fully awake and fully human, then there must be a re-visiting or re-emergence into the world. There must be an inclusion of the world, which means that nonduality, nondual awareness, or nondual realization must be realized in the midst of duality. That means meeting the world as you perceive it, as you experience it, without the story of the world in it. What does that mean? 
     That means that the world that we see, this thing that we call the world, my world, the world, is not real, because everything you perceive & experience can only be seen & experienced through your own belief system, through your own conditioning. So we do not see the world as it is, but as we believe it to be. So however profound or transcendent awakening is, that does not magically erase all that conditioning, all that conditioned seeing.
     There needs to be a meeting of that, and seeing that what you see is colored by your story. The story comes in whenever we say, ‘It shouldn’t be like this;’ ‘The world shouldn’t be like this;’ ‘My experience shouldn’t be like this.’ Whenever expectation, hope, agenda, fear, come to the forefront of your experience, of your seeing of the world, of your meeting of the world – it’s those expectations, hopes, fears, shoulds & shouldn’ts that create the world of opposites, that create the divisions. The division is not in the world, the opposites are not in the world, although there is a polarity in the world of form. The opposition is in you. The division is in you. And this continues to operate even after awakening. 
     And so the invitation is to meet the world without a story, not by denying or avoiding, not by suppressing or turning away from your experience, but by being willing to meet the world in your vulnerability, as your vulnerability, to meet the world as openness, to meet the world as broken-heartedness, to watch how every vestige of self-defense or upholding the self either as special or as victim – as poor me, in response to the world you experience, is the very thing that is creating the division in you. To meet the world in your nakedness, is to allow it to break your heart open, to allow it to touch the core of vulnerability. Because when you do, the ego’s attempt even in spiritual awakening, to create a safe space at which you have arrived, where nothing can touch you, will be brought to its knees. And it needs to be brought to its knees, over and over again. It’s not about poor me. It’s not about meeting the world with the story of victim, which is a very tenacious story, in many different ways. Some people have it in the world of relationship & intimacy; some people have it in the world of work or creative expression; some people have it in the world of relationship to money, support & resources. Somewhere, each of us carries some degree of poor me. That’s the one to watch out for. To meet the world without the poor me, even in the midst of where the poor me wants to rise up, which is where we are hurt, where something touches us deeply, where we feel vulnerable, where we feel raw, where a feeling, a sensation, an energy, an experience reveals itself that we really don’t like, because it doesn’t match our idea either of how we should be – because it makes us feel not good enough, not perfect enough, not spiritual enough, not enlightened enough, not worthy enough – or our idea of how the world should be. And our idea of how the world should be is very linked to that because we want the world to show us that we are good enough, that we are lovable enough, that we are worthy enough, that we are spiritual enough, and so on. 
     That’s where division, that’s where the world of opposites continues to play itself out. So to meet the world, which is to meet your experience of the world, because there is no thing as the world out there. Everything is appearing in you, through you, as you. The world is in you, it is inseparable from you. The world is your experience, your direct experience. If your direct experience is one of division, of should or shouldn’t, of denial, suppression or upholding, then you are creating the world of division, you are creating the world of opposites. To meet the world without the story, of its should or its shouldn’t, of I need it to be this way, of I need myself to be this way or that way, is radical - it’s revolutionary
     Whether we’re talking about on the way to awakening, or after awakening when you have to come back down to earth and live your everyday life. It doesn’t matter which one we’re speaking of, it’s the same. It’s revolutionary. It brings an end to division in you. But it’s not a one-time affair. It’s not just a realization of that and suddenly you’re in a magical world where nothing touches you, you’re not experiencing those inner dynamics. It’s over & over again. It’s like a love affair. That intimacy is called for over & over again, in every experience, in every moment, in every interaction, in every relationship. By meeting the world in this way, by meeting your inner world, which is all there is, in this way, there is a purification of all that is divided in you. There is a purification of the world in you. And, it’s as if you start to ripen. You start to ripen like the fruit on the tree that needs the constancy of the sun cooking it up to come to its fullness, so they can naturally drop off the tree. It doesn’t have to plucked, or cut off. It naturally, at the right time, falls off the tree. It’s like a wine that takes time to mature in the barrel in order to taste good. It’s like the chickpea in the pot that needs to be boiled – to death, so they can then be absorbed & assimilated. 
     So your capacity to meet the world over & over again is the maturation process, is the ripening process. The world is not separate from you. The world is in you. Your awakening is not about removing yourself from the world, rising above the world, but by having the world totally absorbed & metabolized, metamorphosed through you into the nectar of love. It’s a love that includes all the details of your experience, but is not constrained by those details. That’s what I mean by finding or realizing or living the nondual within the dual – the nonduality within the duality. It is totally inclusive because there is nothing outside of you. But the story of you and your experience with the world is no longer wrapped around it. Because as each story wraps itself around your experience, there is separation, there is a boundary, a cloak around this experience and this experience. Suddenly you’re in the world of separation and opposition and that’s where the suffering is. Without the story it is all allowed, it all comes pouring in, you are totally given to it, you’re wide open, permeable, and the world and you become one, and that is love - love that is not conditional on your experience, not conditional on you being loving, lovable, perfect, enlightened, spiritual, successful, or anything else that you can name. This is an ongoing process - an ongoing process that is often avoided, or simply missed out because it’s not often spoken about. 
     What we speak about mostly is the awakened state, how to get there, how to experience it, how to point to it, and so on. Enough! Enough! How many times are we going to hear that? Maybe you need to hear it some more. But I want to talk about the other part, which is what I am talking about, which is the embodiment of it. Embodiment of enlightenment or awakening is not about enjoying the body; it’s not about tantra; it’s not about opening the senses; it’s not about yoga; it’s not about dancing. It can include that. Nothing is excluded from the human experience. The more we open, the more refined our experience, which then goes beyond the body. But the embodiment of enlightenment is not about that, it’s not about fixating on any of that. Of course it includes coming into our bodies, in the sense that many people live in their heads – or seem to, I mean I don’t know how you can just live in your head – that’s ridiculous, you’re still living in your body, but their experience is often cut off from the feeling in the body and so on. Of course it includes that – that’s primary. But I’m talking about something else, something a little further along the line. I’m talking about seeing every story you impose upon your experience. And it gets more & more subtle, more & more subtle. There is no arrival point that I know of where you can say, ‘It’s done.’ There may be periods of time where it feels in some way done, when there is such openness & grace. But do not rest there. Well, rest there for a while, but do not claim that as the final destination. Neither claim that as an accolade for the self. It’s very tricky. It’s very easy to fall into that. Because as soon as you claim it, as soon as you self-congratulate in that, you will be humbled, you will be brought to your knees again. It’s not a punishment, it’s grace. Because some subtle vestige of ego, which does continue to operate in human form, it doesn’t die, it transmutes, but it still has a tendency to claim its experience. We are self-reflective beings. We’re not earthworms with no capacity for self-reflection. We do have a neocortex & so on, so we can self-reflect. It is both our blessing and our curse. That’s how consciousness becomes conscious of consciousness – of itself. So it is our blessing in that sense. But it’s also that we’re constantly taking a snapshot of our experience, and it can be very subtle. So when we find ourselves at this openness, as if a river of grace is moving through us, do not believe it to be the end. Just be open. Just be humble. Just be curious. Because the human experience goes on, and on, and on, and on. And yes it gets more refined. The purification becomes more refined. And in that refinement, and in that subtlety, it can get trickier. And it requires your vigilance. Not a vigilance that comes from mind or willfulness, but from some deep, soft part of you that is given to truth, that is given to love, come what may, come what may.
     So do not avoid the world, do not avoid relationship, do not avoid work, do not avoid money, do not avoid the body, do not avoid your relationship to anything that is a part of the human experience, even if it appears unspiritual. Do not create that division. Once the wall between spiritual and unspiritual comes tumbling down, and perhaps is demolished once & for all, then life itself becomes your practice. Life itself becomes your guru. That’s not just a nice little phrase to say. I mean it! There is nothing but life that teaches you ultimately. Life is constantly, constantly offering you the opportunity to end division. Life is love, however horrific it appears to be. It does not mean that we just loose ourselves in the world of form, and re-identify with the world of form. It’s not about abandoning the inner sanctuary, the kingdom of heaven that is your true nature, that which is beyond form within you always. It’s not about abandoning that and going running back into the world and saying, ‘To hell with all that spiritual stuff. I’m just going to enjoy all this,’ or ‘I hate this,’ or whatever. It’s called being lazy. And getting lost again, and so the cycle begins. It’s about staying wide open, as the kingdom of heaven, whilst letting, allowing the world to appear in you. There’s a big difference between the world being out there & you getting lost in it, re-identified in it; or you running into the inner sanctuary & holding onto it; or sometimes running out & then running in – it’s called spiritual practice – it’s still a divided place. It’s about being open as this, which is always here, and letting it all appear in you, because it’s unavoidable, it’s going to go on appearing until you die, and then we don’t know. We’ll find out then. So that’s my invitation.”

       Amoda Maa "Meet the World Without a Story"

Amoda Maa "Meet the World Without a Story"

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Suffering as a Doorway to Liberation

     Amoda Maa's exceptionally clear, valuable (imho) 20-minute presentation:

     “One of the greatest obstacles to the embodiment of awakening – the full filtering into our everyday lives of the realization of awakening, of awakeness – one of the greatest obstacles to that is this idea that suffering comes to a complete end. It’s an idea that is very prevalent in traditional spiritual teachings that tend to focus on the transcendent, clear light of awareness, and also has filtered into many modern-day non-dual teachings, where suffering is seen to be an illusion. …
     Consider the possibility that the darkest places in our inner experience are doorways to liberation. Without the honest examination of that, in one’s own experience, awakeness cannot be fully integrated into the human experience. And this is perhaps true. And I say from a place of having spoken to many people, in many different cultures, in many different settings, from many different backgrounds, and from many levels of experience if you like, on the spiritual path. It comes up over and over again, in lots of different guises. Either prior to awakening, or post-awakening. Either way, it’s the same obstacle.
     The idea prior to awakening – that awakening will take away all pain, will take away all suffering, that we will live in some kind of unfeeling state, perhaps you could call that bliss, but it sounds like numbness to me – is a big illusion itself and interferes with the full flowering of awakeness. It’s the expectation that gets in the way. As long as we expect awakening to be a particular way, or to bring a particular state, or to make our lives conform to how we wish them to be, in order to take away any discomfort or challenge or pain or suffering that is currently being experienced, that very expectation is what stands in the way of the full bud of awakening bursting through and having the opportunity to authentically integrate into everyday life. So that’s the kind of clue, it’s the expectation, the agenda.
     Post-awakening, post-realization, when we’ve awakened out of the dream of separation, there can also be a hindrance in that any dark knots of energetic contraction that continue to appear, any challenging feelings, any pain, any physical pain, any emotional pain, if these still appear and continue to be experienced, there can be a subtle avoiding. And that avoidance creates or perpetuates an inner division, which means that we have not totally woken up out of the dream of separation. Inner division means that something is avoided, something is denied, there is still a subtle separation between the awake state and the often still-turbulent experience of living as a human being. It sounds in some ways simple, and you’ve probably heard some of this before – spiritual bypassing and all this – but to authentically examine oneself, where those vestiges of separation still play themselves out, where there’s still a holding on to some pristine state of awakeness, requires a real ruthless turning in & self-exposure, an honesty that is often quite painful. Because it’s very likely that even after awakeness has been realized, that the human journey still continues, that certain perhaps traumas, or let’s call them energies, coalesced energies, areas we have not previously met, continue to appear, not because there’s something wrong, but because they’re an invitation to an even deeper embodiment of awakeness. Every dark knot, every difficult feeling, everything we may call suffering, is the opportunity to sit inside it, to be crucified & resurrected. It’s the invitation for deep intimacy that is often overlooked with everything that appears as part of the human experience. Human experience is wavy – it comes in waves. It goes up & down; in & out; dark & light. Everything is included in that. It’s the opportunity for every vestige of inner darkness that remains, of inner division, of everything that has been denied, to be welcomed into the clear light of awareness, into the openness, into the vulnerability, into the tenderness, and deep intimacy with each moment as it arises
     That’s not to say that the story of suffering continues. The victim is no longer there. But what we may call suffering, as the exquisite agony of meeting pain as it arises whether that be physical pain, the pain of loss, the pain of heartbreak, the pain of failure, may still arise. And in the meeting of that in the awake space, it doesn’t stick. It pierces the heart all the way. It breaks the heart open. It’s exquisite. It’s bitter-sweet. But it doesn’t remain as a story of being a victim. It doesn’t remain because it’s (no longer being) denied and tucked into the shadows. It doesn’t remain to play itself out again. It’s as if that particular karma has been totally released [[imho - it has been 'physically processed' in real time]]. It totally dissolves. And that’s a purification that happens if we’re willing to meet everything
     Neem Karoli Baba said ‘I love suffering. It brings me closer to God.’ Suffering is a doorway. It’s not the end – it’s a means to an end. It’s the doorway. It’s the doorway to the kind of joy that is like a bubbling brook behind everything, beneath everything. A joy that has nothing to do with being happy or being sad. A joy that has nothing to do with things going your way. A joy that has nothing to do with what it looks like, or feels like in your imagination to be spiritual or to be awakened. Everything is included. Everything is embraced. And the grace of it is that the external world is likely to mirror that internal non-attachment, non-craving, non-aversion. It mirrors it by not recreating the trauma, by not recreating a story of poor me. There’s no self invested in the circumstances that appear, whether those circumstances are good or bad. There is no inner division in that. 
     In fact everything is seen as good. Even the most challenging experience contains the seed of light. That’s how we evolve, and grow out of the immaturity of believing that awakening or being spiritual should look like any particular fantasy we have around that. As we have the courage to do this, then everything comes rushing forwards, everything. Everything in our own personal history, everything perhaps from our karmic history, everything comes rushing in, because everything yearns to be met. Everything yearns to resolve itself in love – that love being the open space of acceptance, of allowing, of staying resolutely present, and unconditionally open to every nuance of your inner experience. In that way, awakeness can filter into every aspect of your life. Every interaction, every experience, every relationship, in the deepest intimacy of your own experience, that’s the place, that’s the place where a radical self-exposure is called for. An honesty to simply see where there is any avoidance, any turning away from, any strategy or maneuver to escape what is being offered here, in this moment, in each moment. In that way, suffering becomes the doorway to grace. Suffering is no longer an entrapment, no longer a limitation – neither something to be clung to as a story of drama or trauma, not to be avoided, not to be denied, not to be escaped from.
     In that way, the divided mind, the mind that divides its experience into good & bad, right & wrong, should & shouldn’t, awake & unawake, spiritual & unspiritual, the mind that divides, categorizes every aspect of its experience, is crucified. It has no escape route. All strategies, all maneuvers, all contortions, all acrobatics come to a stop. It’s not the suffering that stops. It’s the mind’s acrobatics that stop. And out of that crucifixion, you are resurrected. You are resurrected as the light which has no division in it. In that sense you are liberated from any notion of suffering. You are liberated from any notion of awakening. You are liberated from any idea of being spiritual. Life is fully lived, and yet you do not find your self in that. You are not invested in the circumstances of life, in the events of life, in the waves that rise & fall. In that sense, you live selflessly. To live selflessly is to have no expectation or agenda. To meet each moment in the openness of who you really are.” 
       Amoda Maa. "Surfing the Heart of Darkness: Suffering as a Doorway to Liberation."

Amoda Maa: "Surfing the Heart of Darkness: Suffering as a Doorway to Liberation."

Friday, April 19, 2019

Self-compassion, Wisdom & Leaning In

     One of my recurrent themes is the importance of shifting from avoiding (in all sorts of ways) our difficulties, and instead leaning into them with kind curiosity - with an open mind-heart, thus unraveling the energetic knots & shedding our armor of conditioning. This is a profound act of self-compassion, allowing us to mature, become whole, flourish, 'be all that we can be.'
     Here's Amoda Maa's insightful perspective on this theme: 
     “The feminine that I’m speaking of is not about anything in opposition to anything. It’s not got to do with the battle of the sexes, or the return of a feminist approach, etc. I’m talking about the infusion of love into humanity. And the infusion of love is what’s been missing. 
     And what I mean by that, if we go a bit deeper, is the capacity to turn towards gentleness; the capacity to turn towards the tenderness of the inner heart, which is not what’s been happening. Whether we’re on the patriarchal or matriarchal side, in some ways we’re still operating at the level of some kind of hardness. So I’m talking about the capacity to turn towards tenderness in response to our experience, and therefore in response to each other, and therefore in response to the world, which requires a shift from mind to heart, through surrender, not through knowing. 
     And so we can apply that to ‘spiritual practice’ or we can apply that to the totality of our life’s experience. And I get the sense that this frequency is beginning to filter in. I call it ‘feminine’ because it’s about surrender, but it’s filtering in through everyone, whether we’re male or female, whether we’re long time on this planet or just born, there’s a different frequency that’s coming through. I don’t speak about the feminine much actually. 
     By tenderness, I’m not talking about passivity, woo woo, or anything like that, it’s not got anything to do with the goddess archetype, it’s got nothing to do with archetypes, stereotypes, roles or concepts. The tenderness I speak of, if it’s going to serve any purpose, is a tenderness towards our inner experience. If we examine that, we probably can see how we are not tender towards our inner experience. Which means that when we have an experience we don’t like, that makes us feel uncomfortable, that makes us feel vulnerable, that makes us feel scared, that makes us feel unloved, that makes us feel alone, or anything like that, then we attempt to reject it, suppress it, deny it, constrict it, change it, maneuver it, squeeze it, spit it out, and so on and so forth. And that is not tenderness. That’s aggression. That’s violence. We are violent towards our own experience. 
     If you can stop that violence, and choose tenderness towards your experience, then you can forget about spirituality, you can forget about spiritual practice, you can forget about spiritual teachings, and you will live fully awake and fully human. Because that’s what it is – nonviolence towards our inner experience. Because when we’re violent towards our inner experience, what follows that is then ‘I’m wrong,’ or ‘they’re wrong,’ or ‘it’s wrong,’ and then you have become a victim of reality, and as long as you’re a victim of reality, you are separate, and when you’re separate you’re living in the dream of separation, and all horrors, all suffering personal & otherwise, arise from that. 
     So this point about tenderness is key, and way more powerful than the world tenderness implies. (People who commit terrorist attacks) are at war with their own fear. Everything violent arises out of fear. And that fear may have a thread, a root in a sense of injustice, in a sense of being abused, a sense of not being complete, whole, and safe and one and all of that. So it has a certain intelligence in it, but when we’re violent towards that fear, then it ends up as a violence towards that which appears to be causing that fear, and so then we have the terror, and the war, and the violence in the world. 
     But if we can turn that tenderness towards ourselves – those of us who have the capacity to do that, a vast majority of the privileged Western world, not all, but certainly a proportion – we do have the capacity to turn that tenderness towards ourselves, towards our inner experience. And that’s very often overlooked. And if we take that as the only spiritual practice there is, I would say that there would be a vast transformation.
     One of the things we’re so frightened of is the experience of loss, whether that loss is the loss of a loved one, or the loss of our own life, or the loss of whatever it is we’ve gained – success, or wealth, or love, or recognition – and yet, our willingness to be tender towards that loss is a very profound opening to what can never be lost, which is beingness itself. It’s like meeting death in everything. Being tender towards loss is again not investing that loss with meaning. It doesn’t mean that you’re bad. It doesn’t mean that you’re unloved. It doesn’t mean that your life is broken. And it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. We tend to invest loss with a meaning to do with ‘me.’ It’s all about ‘me.’ But to be tender towards that is to feel the absolute shattering of loss, and yet, for we don’t invest ourselves in that, or meaning in that, we discover there is nothing that can be lost.”

Amoda Maa - 2nd Buddha at the Gas Pump Interview

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Hold Back - OR - Lean In?

     At some point we may sense the surprising, reassuring similarity between the two greatest mysteries: birth and death. 
     Perhaps the next greatest mystery is the shift we may (or may not) undergo, from fearful (egocentric) self-concern to (allocentric, ecocentric) openness & loving curiosity about birth, all aspects of life, including death. Clearly this qualitative shift requires serious maturation in the form of self-compassion, self-acceptance, and acceptance of all manner of life's difficulties, complexities & apparent paradoxes (Culliford's or Fowler's 5th or 6th stage: or
     As kids, we may well have been exposed to the idea that there was a ghost or boogeyman under our bed. For a while, it's natural to avoid looking under the bed. Fear, avoidance, 'negativity bias' etc are powerful protective evolutionary forces at work in all of us. But some, perhaps most of us, get up the courage to face our greatest fear at the time, and look under our bed! Massive relief - we survive AND feel pretty damned brave for having successfully completed our first 'hero's journey.'

     "Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less." Marie Curie

      "It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live." Marcus Aurelius

      "The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek." Joseph Campbell

      "I was born
      when all I once feared
      I could love.”                                         Rabia Basri 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Listening in Silence is an Act of Trust in Life Itself

     Can I trust life enough to sit quietly and deeply listen to nature for a few minutes?
     Can I trust the universe not to fall apart for a few minutes during which I do nothing; go nowhere; be no one?

      Einstein felt the most important question a human being needs to answer is, "‘Is the universe a friendly place or not?’ ... If we believe that the universe is unfriendly ... peace will be elusive at best."
      Joan Borysenko. “Fire in the Soul. A New Psychology of Spiritual Optimism.” Warner Books, 1993.

7-minute Adyashanti video

Friday, April 12, 2019

Being Grounded

"Be patient with everyone, but above all with yourself.
I mean, do not be disheartened by your imperfections,
but always rise up with fresh courage.
How are we to be patient in dealing with our neighbour's faults
if we are impatient in dealing with our own?
He who is fretted by his own failings
will not correct them.
All profitable correction
comes from a calm, peaceful mind.”                  St. Francis de Sales

     The above words profoundly affected me this morning. Perhaps from a Zen perspective they were "a turning phrase." Who knows? I immediately felt as if my trunk was being held in a wonderfully warm, secure, lovingly nurturing basin - in a chalice of timeless, unconditional love. This transformative felt sense, like all other phenomena, will change. Though it's effect may persist, because perhaps it's a remembering & reconnection with the ground of being - of being grounded. Again, words are inadequate.
     The quote is a reminder of the central importance of treating ourself with the same unconditional love & endless patience we would bestow a beloved toddler or puppy under our care.
     The experience is a reminder that endless, patient practice - for an entire lifetime - keeps releasing, peeling away, physical, mental & emotional armors, energy blocks, and even attachments to our many security blankets, slowly but surely liberating us from the prison of our conditioning AND feeling rooted & competent in this material yet mysterious world.
     The physical location of this warm, reassuring gut feeling is the hara or dan tien, described in Japanese & Chinese wisdom / martial arts traditions as being 2 inches below the navel, right in the middle of the body. It's considered a vitally important power / energy center. Zen meditation is focused on the physical feel of the breath in this area - "cultivating the hara." In East Indian wisdom traditions, this is one of the chakras along the vertical core of the body, along which kundalini energy moves. Here, as in traditional Chinese medicine, the central theme is releasing / clearing energy blockages to allow the free flow of vital energy throughout the entire system.

     The following are long but IMHO very worthwhile interviews. If they don't resonate, no problem, they may (or may not) later - even decades from now:  
Bonnie Greenwell discusses kundalini energy:
Adyashanti & Francis Bennett (Parts 1&2) - discuss broader aspects of awakening:

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Wisdom for the Second Half of the Journey

     Our deepest yearning may be to live authentically. This important new book offers guidance to help "recover respect for that which abides deeply within."
     James Hollis “Living an Examined Life. Wisdom for the Second Half of the Journey.” Sounds True, 2018.

     “We are flung from the amniotic sea into this life – tied to matter, to gravity, to mortality. A fire burns in each of us, a tungsten intensity that flares and flames awhile and then departs. From whence and whither to remain mysteries. And who we are on this planet, and for what purpose, remains a mystery as well. Although the world is full of people who will tell you who you are, what you are, and what you are to do and not to do, they wander amid their unaddressed confusion, fear, and need for consensual belief to still their own anxious journey.
     Whether you show up as you in this brief transit we call life or are defined by history, or context, or shrill partisan urgencies substantially depends on you. No greater difficulty may be found than living this journey as mindfully, as accountably, as we can, but no greater task brings more dignity and purpose to our lives. Swimming in this milky sea of mystery, we long to make sense of things, figure out who we are, wither bound, and to what end, while the eons roll on in their mindless ways. It falls then to us to make sense of this journey.
     So what could be more obvious than point one: the choice is ours. And yet, is it? We survive in this life by adaptation. We learn from our world – families of origin, popular culture, world events, religious training, and many other sources – who we are, what is acceptable, what is not, and how we have to behave, perform, in order to fit in, gain approval from others, and prosper in this world into which we were thrust. Historically, all cultures have claimed that their values, their institutions, their marching orders come from the gods, sacrosanct scriptures and venerated institutions. These ‘givens’ are laden with presumptive powers and punitive sanctions for transgressions of any kind. A child raised today in the world of virtual reality and video games is just as susceptible to these acculturating and directive images. We become too often a servant of our environment, given our need to fit in, receive the approval of others, stay out of harm’s way.
     When I was a child in the 1940s, for example, there were pretty clear social definitions of gender, of social and economic class, of racial, ethnic, religious identity, and defined acceptable choices. To deviate from these prescriptive templates was to trigger sanctions of enormous proportion. The most common socializing sentence my contemporaries and I heard was, ‘What would people think?’ A familiar proverb in Japan declares, ‘It is the protruding nail that gets hammered.’ In the face of such sanctioning power, what child does not begin to adopt the prejudices of his family and tribe, fear the alien values of others, and stick close to home in almost every way?
     Since the 1940s and ‘50s, all of those categories, reportedly created by the gods themselves, have been deconstructed. While sex is biologically driven, gender is socially construed, and constricting definitions for men and women then have proved still another of the many frangible fictions. Today we know that the range of choices for any of us is infinitely greater. We know that all races are mixed, that genetically we track back to a few progenitors in central Africa. We know that religions are mostly mythosocial constructs that arise out of tribal experiences that are institutionalized to preserve and to transmit, and that the ontological claims of one tribe are no better, really, than the mythosocial constructs of other tribes. We know further that social practices, ethical prescriptions, are subjective value percepts and have no authority outside our tribe. Such a thought would have led any of us to the stake in an earlier era, and still will in many quarters. When an idea occurs as an alternative, forces within the psyche rise to combat it, for our egos are very insecure and prefer clarity, authority, and control at all costs.
     To say that any of us has a choice, really, is still a dubious statement. While we celebrate social license, revel in eccentricity, and accept changing social structures, reports from the behaviorists and the neurologists and the geneticists narrow the window of freedom more and more. In fact, the older I get, the narrower that window has become, despite having spent a life in education, in study, travel, and reflection. The powers of the unconscious cannot be underestimated. Our ego consciousness – namely, who we think we are, or what we believe real – is at best a thin wafer floating on an iridescent sea. In any moment, we view the world through a distorting lens and make choices based on what the lens allows us to see, not what lies outside its frame.
     The more conscious we become, the more we become aware of unconscious influences working upon our daily choices. Why did you make that choice and not another at a critical juncture in your life? Why hook up with that person? Why repeat those family-of-origin patterns? These are disconcerting questions, but unless we ask them, we remain at the mercy of whatever forces are at work autonomously within us. These confrontations with the ego’s fantasy of sovereignty are truly intimidating, but they remain a summons to greater awareness. How haunting is Carl Jung’s observation that whatever is denied within us is likely to come to us in the outer world as fate? (That thought alone keeps me at this work.)
     I am not in any way suggesting that our cultural values, our religious traditions, our communal practices are wrong; that is not for me to judge. Many of those values link us with community, give us a sense of belonging and guidance in the flood of choices that beset us daily. I am saying, however, that the historic powers of such expectations, admonitions, and prohibitions are to be rendered conscious, considered thoughtfully, and tested by the reality of our life experience and inner prompting. No longer does received authority – no matter how ratified by history, sanctioned by tradition – automatically govern. We are rather called to a discernment process. We are summoned to ask such questions as: Does this align with or make sense of my experience? If not, it may be well intended and right for someone else, but it is not right for me. Does this value, practice, or expectation take me deeper into life, open new possibilities or relationship, and accord with the deepest movements of my own soul? If not, then it is toxic, no matter how benign its claim. Does this value, practice, or expectation open me to the mystery of this journey? Jung said in a letter once that life is a short pause between two great mysteries. Beware of those who offer answers. They may be sincere, but their answers are not necessarily yours. Adaptive loyalty to what we have received from our environment may prove an unconscious subversion of the integrity of the soul.”
        James Hollis. “Living an Examined Life. Wisdom for the Second Half of the Journey.” Sounds True, 2018.

Jean-Pierre Weill - The Well of Being

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

A Deeper Reason to Meditate

     Most of us start meditating to get a better handle on stress - just part of our seeking agency over every aspect of life. Up till now, our focus has almost exclusively been on externals (things outside ourselves). Taming the external environment to our needs is the dominant theme of the first half of life - an important, necessary step. But we soon find that meditation involves a very different approach from what we're used to.

     “… of external facts we have had enough and to spare, more than the squirrel-like scholars will ever be able to piece together into a single whole, enough to keep the busy popularizers sprouting in bright-eyed knowledgeability the rest of their days; but of the inner facts – of what goes on at the center where the forces of our fate first announce themselves – we are still pretty much in ignorance…” William Barrett

      Around middle-age - when loved ones start to become sick & die - we may begin to realize that, despite all our striving, we have shockingly little control over the most important aspects of life. So for those able to age wisely, the theme for the second half of life shifts progressively towards discovering the internal aspects of life - a relatively mysterious dimension or level of consciousness that we've essentially overlooked - till now. 
     After a lifetime of manipulating the external mechanical world of solid objects ("hard science"), shifting focus to deeply investigate our inner life (metaphysics, spirituality) is the most radical challenge we've ever faced. See also:

     "Spirituality addresses qualities of the human spirit that include love, compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, a sense of responsibility, which brings happiness to self and others. It as well includes a basic concern for the well-being of others. And it has an emphasis on contemplative practices cultivating ethics, stability, and prosocial mental qualities." Dalai Lama

     Many cannot make this shift, because:
          • Our society's unspoken dogma is scientific materialism: the belief that physical reality, as made available to the natural sciences, is all that truly exists. As in religious exclusivism, all other worldviews are denounced.
         • The founders of major religions set out to train peoples' intelligences to deal with spiritual matters however religious organizations have severely damaged their own credibility, competence & relevance.
         •  Our identity - 'self-image' - is built around being specialized in & competent at controlling & surviving in the external world. Now, we suddenly realize that our control is declining & survival was never possible. AND we need a very different set of skills to start exploring an 'inner world' - a task for which we feel utterly incompetent!
     These & other factors leave many people - especially in the second half of life - feeling profoundly uprooted, adrift & helpless to address the now most urgent, meaningful & profound aspects of their life. 

     Of course turning science into a dogmatic quasi-religion, complete with 'religious exclusivism,' clearly violates scientific principles. Nevertheless, like partisanship, dogmatism is becoming increasingly common. 
     “... dogma ... a coherent, universally applied worldview consisting of a collection of beliefs and attitudes that demand intellectual and emotional allegiance. Dogma wields power over individuals and communities that is far greater than the power of mere facts and fact-related theories. Indeed, a dogma may prevail despite the most obvious contrary evidence, and commitment to it may become even more zealous when obstacles are met. Thus, dogmatists often appear to be incapable of learning from any kind of experience that is not authorized by the dictates of their creed. … The antidote is the restoration of an authentic sense of empiricism and a willingness to put cherished beliefs and assumptions to the test of experience.”  B. Alan Wallace PhD
     Perhaps more importantly, popular religion is qualitatively distinct from the practice & resultant direct experience of serious spiritual seekers, meditators, mystics & saints:
     “… the spiritual is inclusive. It is the deepest sense of belonging and participation. We all participate in the spiritual at all times, whether we know it or not. There’s no place to go to be separated from the spiritual, so perhaps one might say that the spiritual is that realm of human experience which religion attempts to connect us to through dogma and practice. Sometimes it succeeds and sometimes it fails. Religion is a bridge to the spiritual - but the spiritual lies beyond religion. Unfortunately in seeking the spiritual we may become attached to the bridge rather than crossing over it.” Rachel Naomi Remen MD

      "Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less." Marie Curie

      What does serious spiritual / meditation practice lead to?
      “My sense of it is that awakening (enlightenment) is the knowing in your cellular being that you are not the character you thought you were; that you are this pure consciousness that has created everything. Something like that. You can’t put it into words. So if that should happen, if that’s known, really known in your cells (not in your head, it doesn’t help much to just have it in your head), then that doesn’t go away. It’s kind of like knowing I’m a man or a woman. Once you figure that out, you don’t have to keep reminding yourself. It’s just sort of there. That’s the form you happen to have at this time of your life. It’s not an intellectual knowing. It’s not something you’re likely to forget. It’s a much more visceral or cellular knowing. The other aspect of it is that when you’re feeling it and it becomes more accessible to you, to fall back into that, there’s tremendous peace and tremendous acceptance of what is in the world. There’s no more resistance. One of the things you could say is no more division." Bonnie Greenwell PhD

     “There’s one proof of awakening & liberation: ‘Are you still in conflict? Do you experience emotional and psychological conflict?’ If you do, it doesn’t mean that you have to throw out everything you realize, but it means there might be more to see. That’s the liberation part – the disappearance of conflict – no more argument with yourself, no more argument with God, no more argument with the world, and no more argument with death. Then all the arguments are gone – now we’re talking about something significant.” Adyashanti

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Real Resilience

     We all would love to be resilient - not just a bit more, but resilient to the max. What do we really mean by that? Perhaps superheros like Superman or Spiderman fit the bill. But where do such ideas even come from? Is this just wishful thinking?
     We're constantly overwhelmed by news of disasters, natural & human-induced, past, present & impending. Due to our "negativity bias," fearful negativity unfortunately grabs & holds our attention infinitely more powerfully than do dramatic acts of human decency.
     Each and every day, the vast majority of us - billions around the world - work hard all day, doing our best both at work, as well as to look after our loved ones. This never makes the news.
     During catastrophic natural disasters, like the 2004 tsunami that hit Thailand, local people whose loved ones, homes & possessions had literally been just swept away, were selflessly helping others, even tourists - most of whom lost nothing more than luggage.
     After what seems like an increasingly frequent natural event - learning that one has only a few months to live due to incurable, late-stage cancer - roughly 40% of such people, experience post-traumatic growth. Instead of remaining "shipwrecked" following such a sudden, total demolition of their self-concept & worldview, they display the remarkable capacity - that we ALL share - to 'rise from the ashes' with a more accurate, infinitely more resilient self-concept & worldview. (See: and Elizabeth Lesser. “Broken Open. How Difficult Times Can Help us Grow.” Villard, 2005.)

     Human beings have an infinitely wide spectrum of perspectives, worldviews, self-concepts, capacities, talents, etc. During natural disasters there are many, many 'unsung heroes,' as well as some looters. Along with a few saints, and the vast majority of decent, honest folk, a small fraction of us are selfish, bitter & miserable, not just after a devastating diagnosis, but even under enviably favorable circumstances, including a long life. The human species is "like a box of chocolates"! But let's remember that we ALL have a wonderful capacity for amazing resilience.

“To live is the rarest thing in the world.
Most people exist, that is all.” Oscar Wilde

“Death is our friend precisely because it brings us into absolute and passionate presence with all that is here, that is natural, that is love.” Rainer Maria Rilke

“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty ‘yes!’ to your adventure.” Joseph Campbell

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

"Just Stories" - OR - Scripts ?

     "Einstein was asked what he thought the most important question was that a human being needed to answer. His reply was, ‘Is the universe a friendly place or not?’ And indeed, our answer to that question is the cornerstone on which many of our values and beliefs inevitably rest. If we believe that the universe is unfriendly and that our very souls are in danger, peace will be elusive at best." 
     Joan Borysenko. “Fire in the Soul. A New Psychology of Spiritual Optimism.” Warner Books, 1993.  

     Wisdom traditions suggest that we pay very close attention to our myths. Some of our personal & collective myths are far wiser, & serve us far better, than others. (Even when our personal / collective myth makes us miserable, 'it's human nature' to stick to it tenaciously - much like abused people are very reluctant to abandon toxic relationships.)

     “Why mythology? Because the right side of the neocortex, the higher brain, operates on stories and myths, not facts. The success of TV series like Game of Thrones, films like The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, and the Harry Potter books attest to our fascination with fantasy and myth. At the same time we tend to underestimate the power of myths, dismissing them as charming fables or entertaining tales. But as the scholar Joseph Campbell made clear, myths aren’t just plotlines for comic books and summer blockbuster movies. They affect us to a far greater degree and at a far deeper level than we realize. From a very young age, we fall under the spell of powerful myths that influence the way we perceive the world and, consequently, the choices we make every day.
     Mythologies represent the beliefs and values of particular groups or cultures. To a large extent, the guiding myths of the West differ from those in other parts of the world. Certain myths, however, seem to be universal, written on the collective human psyche and conveying archetypal energies that crosscut time and geography. The most enduring myths involve ordinary people embarking on heroic quests, often against their will, and overcoming apparently insurmountable obstacles to perform extraordinary deeds.
     The values and beliefs contained in myths are so strong that once you find your personal guiding myth, you feel compelled to change your life to conform to it. Change the myth and your values and beliefs change – and the facts of your life change accordingly.
     But you can only change your personal myth after you’ve upgraded your brain, because a broken brain automatically runs the old software, leaving you at the mercy of the four ancient programs of the limbic brain: fighting, fleeing, feeding, and fornicating. When we’re caught up in aggression, fear, or greed – or its opposite, scarcity – we’re unable to adopt new values and beliefs, even in the face of a serious crisis. Unconscious programming overrides our best intentions.
     At this point in our history, it’s pretty clear that the human species needs to be more collaborative, creative, and cooperative – qualities that are aspects of the archetypal mother figure. To bring balance back into our relationship with Mother Earth and with one another, we need to replace the masculine mythology of domination, conquest, and hierarchical power. And on a personal level, we need to overcome the self-focused, power-hungry, battle-fixated limbic mind-set.
     Updating your personal mythology means abandoning the seductive yet limiting beliefs that affect us collectively and create for each of us a living hell. Changing your personal myths requires interacting with familiar stories in new ways so that you can use those energies more wisely and efficiently. You could revise how you engage with your inner warrior, for example, by giving up violence toward yourself and others, and reserving your adversarial energy for only the most essential battles and the athletic field.
     We can become warriors who fight our own demons instead of looking for people to demonize and dominate. We can wage holy war on the infidel within – or even chuck the warrior energy altogether and see what our inner infidel has to teach us. In similar fashion, we could work with the pouting inner child who always wants things our way, or the jealous Aphrodite who demands that all attention and adoration be focused on us.” 
       Alberto Villoldo. “One Spirit Medicine. Ancient Ways to Ultimate Wellness.” Hay House Inc., 2015.