Saturday, June 27, 2020

How Could Anyone Behave Like THAT?!

     Increasingly we find ourselves outraged, even disgusted, at other peoples' behavior. The ethics, morality, even "common decency" of people in leadership positions appear to be racing toward new lows. 

     “Healing is bringing awareness & mercy into that which we have held in judgment & in fear.Stephen Levine

     But only being upset about others' perceived imperfections, helps neither ourselves nor them. In fact, it simply fuels smouldering resentment within us.
     If we imagine having an only child or grandchild, whom we lovingly raised, grow up to be a really nasty criminal, locked away in prison after hurting many people, how would we deal with him?
     The easiest (primitive reptilian) reaction would be to scorn & abandon him. This would hurt him and us. 
     The most mature or evolved response, with greatest long-term benefit for ALL, would be our heart-mind perceiving some tiny spark of the innocent goodness he was born with. We'd then do our best to re-ignite that spark, to nourish & rehabilitate him so he could evolve, mature, flourish and lead a full meaningful decent life, and make amends to the people he hurt. Our nurturing response would be from unconditional love - love that is unearned yet equally deserved & tremendously needed by every one of us.
      Feeling lack of unconditional love is, I suspect, the underlying basis of all traumas. Trying to fill the resultant empty feeling inside through aggressive acquisition of things, people, experiences, achievements - "looking for love in all the wrong places" - is the cause of all "bad behavior" particularly addictions.

     "The truth is, what one really needs is not Nobel prizes but love. How do you think one gets to be a Nobel laureate? Wanting love, that's how. Wanting it so bad one works all the time and ends up a Nobel laureate. It's a consolation prize.
     What matters is love."       George Wald - Nobel prize-winning biologist from Harvard 

     “Not knowing we are loved and lovable makes the heart grow cold. And all the tragedy of human life follows from there."
       John Welwood. "Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships. Healing the Wound of the Heart." Trumpeter, 2006.

     I've heard a number of people, including those most affected by Hitler's atrocities, say that had they been born with the same genetics and exposed to the same environment as Hitler, they would have behaved exactly as he had. The logic of this striking statement is imho very strong, whether one is a devout secular materialist or strongly spiritually inclined. Perhaps most importantly, it gives credence to the idea that 'everyone does the best they can, under the circumstances.' This does NOT condone harmful behavior, which has to be quickly stopped & healed as well as possible. But it's best accomplished from a position of connection with a fellow imperfect human being, instead of disconnection, as if the offender were some alien life form.
     Whether you think you're an inherent part of cosmic primordial intelligence temporarily manifesting as a unique physical form; or the child of a deity in whose image & likeness you manifest; or a piece of meat that can accidentally think for a while; how else, other than genetics (nurturing of your ancestors) and your personal nurturing, can the huge variations in behavior come about, especially wrt morality, ethics, decency in fellow human beings who otherwise arose just like you? This should allow us to be far less judgemental of others AND ourselves!! If we can give ourselves some serious self-compassion, it's FAR easier to be compassionate towards others.

     The massive influence of "Nature & Nurture" (genetics & nurturing) does NOT imho negate free will. We are ALSO capable of nurturing ourselves eg through meditation (& other spiritual) practices. See:

     So it appears that we start life by being helpless, are nurtured to highly varying degrees, and mature in proportion to the nurturing we've received, modified by our genetics - eg our various inherited intelligences.

      “Psychologists reckon that 94% of us, most of the time, are driven by the negative motivations of fear, greed/craving, anger, and self-assertion; such negative motivations lead to negative and destructive behavior. It is the role of spiritual intelligence to raise our motivations to the higher ones of exploration, cooperation, self- and situational-mastery, creativity, and service.” Danah Zohar

One Breath

My tender heart trembles, Reacting,
the mind spins
this way and that... Looking for escape.
I cannot accept this. Feeling powerless Separate
I can't breathe....
This is the legacy of suffering
The wisdom, as always,
is about turning towards this pain. A deep, deep wound.
Admit it's there
Feel the feelings in this heart Listen
Don't look away
This is compassion for oneself.
And then,
with the steadiness
that comes from unflinching, Loving awareness,
Speak and act from the heart. Let it be known
Protect and Serve
Don't look away
This is compassion for the world.
True solidarity.
A radical acceptance.
That sacred space between the out breath and the in breath...
Death and Rebirth
No separation
This is a prayer for all beings        Mark Arthur, Black Buddhist author & meditator

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

What Best Serves?

     Many times each day, even hourly, a thought, emotion or body sensation will arise that we instinctively don't want! We tend to be much more clearly aware of such events while meditating. 'Not wanting' easily leads to an argument with reality - we assume, 'This is wrong! This shouldn't be happening!' It's perfectly human to instinctively pull away from unpleasant, towards the pleasant, and to ignore neutral stimuli.

     But our highly-evolved heart-mind knows that unwillingness to turn towards & relate with kind curiosity to ANYTHING & EVERYTHING, including negative mind states, is the major cause suffering. Arguing with, instead of accepting, learning from & wisely relating to reality is the basis of suffering. Things are the way they are right now, like it or not. Paradoxically, when we let go of resisting what is, it changes! See:
     Perhaps the most skillful way of deciding on any course of action is asking ourselves, 'What best serves this moment?' In other words, what would best nurture me in this situation? If my loving, wise grandmother carefully assessed my current situation, what would she advise me to do right now for my long-term benefit?
      Can we learn to adopt an active, empowered, helpful approach - one of wise nurturing - consistently (like a skillful gardener) aiming to provide all the causes & conditions for flourishing?  
     'What best serves right now?' Posing this question to myself I find to be very self-compassionate, encouraging & empowering.

     A part of us feels very young, afraid & helpless. Whenever we find ourselves embodying this fearful child 'part,' we feel alone & vulnerable in what feels like a hostile world. Due to past traumas, we instinctively react to triggers by freezing, running & hiding, or with aggression - the latter an overcompensation for our felt helplessness. This is our ancient 'fight, flight, freeze' instinct.
     But an almost silent part of us feels authentic, mature, peaceful, competent & connected with everyone & everything ('tend & befriend instinct'). When we embody this wise elder 'part' or our true Self, we feel a natural profound bond - 'interbeing' with everyone & everything (how our right hand relates to our left). We relate to ourselves & others with natural, joyful, loving collaboration.

    Useful details about "parts": Richard C. Schwartz. "No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma and Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family Systems Model." Sounds True, 2021. OR for a concise summary of IFS, see p172-176 in David A. Treleaven. “Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness. Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing.” W.W. Norton & Co, 2018.

     "To be enlightened is to be intimate with all things." Zen Master Dogen  

     The fearful child part in us feels as if there's always something lacking. It craves for 'the right condition' - people, things, experiences - anything at all, to fill an unquenchable thirst. No matter how hard it strives, it just can't.
       David R. Loy. “Lack & Transcendence. The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism.” Wisdom Publications, 2018.

     The wise elder in us feels at peace, grateful, deeply happy - independent of conditions. In this state of abundance (vs 'lack'), we only wish to share what is most precious to us: our ease & joy - by nurturing, by being of service, so that others too may flourish. This blissfulness ('heart opening') can be felt physically as warmth radiating from our body, especially the heart area.

     The most interesting & valuable thing is that we can intentionally cultivate our inherent ability to increasingly embody the wise elder state of being. And whenever we feel the fearful child being triggered in us, we can ask ourselves: 'What best serves me & others, here & now?' With practice - and sometimes with additional help from mental health professionals - the wise elder in us can more & more easily soothe the fearful child by holding it in safety, unconditional love & nurturing it. There is a bond of deep trust - unconditional love - between our inner child & our inner wise elder. This is where wise loving-kindness & self-compassion meet real daily life.

       Kristin Neff. “Self-Compassion. The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.” HarperCollins, 2011.
     All this can be accomplished by patiently practicing generosity, ethics & meditation. 
       Gil Fronsdal. "The Issue at Hand. Essays on Buddhist Mindfulness Practice." 2001.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Being Fully Alive

     Many Buddhists recite the Five Recollections every morning:
     1. I am of the nature to grow old; there is no way to escape growing old.
     2. I am of the nature to have ill health; there is no way to escape having ill health.
     3. I am of the nature to die; there is no way to escape death.
     4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
     5. My deeds are my closest companions. I am the beneficiary of my deeds. My deeds are the ground on which I stand.

     Many today would find, at least 1-4 disturbing or depressing. After all, we work so hard from early childhood on, to gain agency - as much control as possible over our external environment. We work constantly striving to make our immediate environment - our body, family, friends, home, car, office - as safe, healthy, pleasant & comfortable as possible. We want to hang onto the good stuff forever; we want to keep the bad stuff away forever. 

     “Everyone who is being overtaken by death
 asks for more time,
     while everyone who still has time
makes excuses for procrastination.”
       Cleary T (trans): "Living and Dying with Grace. Counsels of Hadrat Ali." Shambhala, 1996.

     At the same time, deep down we know that our ability to control most things is very limited & temporary. Everyone & everything is constantly changing, aging, getting sick & dying. It takes a higher-than-average level of maturity to let go of our "illusion of control," face reality squarely, and live our life with existential reality front & center. Psychologists have long recognized that a subconscious fear of death has a corrosive effect. 

     “Psychologists have conducted a great deal of research on our ability to consciously suppress unwanted thoughts & emotions. Their findings are clear: we have no such ability. Paradoxically, any attempt to consciously suppress unwanted thoughts & emotions appears to only make them stronger.
     Research shows that people with higher levels of self-compassion are significantly less likely to suppress unwanted thoughts & emotions than those who lack self-compassion. They’re more willing to experience their difficult feelings and to acknowledge that their emotions are valid and important. This is because of the safety provided by self-compassion. It’s not as scary to confront emotional pain when you know that you will be supported throughout the process. Just as it feels easier to open up to a close friend whom you can rely on to be caring and understanding, it’s easier to open up to yourself when you can trust that your pain will be held in compassionate awareness.
     The beauty of self-compassion is that instead of replacing negative feelings with positive ones, new positive emotions are generated by embracing the negative ones. The positive emotions of care and connectedness are felt alongside our painful feelings. When we have compassion for ourselves, sunshine and shadow are both experienced simultaneously. This is important – ensuring that the fuel of resistance isn’t added to the fire of negativity. It also allows us to celebrate the entire range of human experience, so that we can become whole. As Marcel Proust said, ‘We are healed from suffering only by experiencing it to the full.’ ” 
        Kristin Neff. “Self-Compassion. The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.” HarperCollins, 2011.

     “Age is opportunity no less
than youth itself, though in another dress,
     And as the evening twilight fades away
the sky is filled with stars invisible by day.” Longfellow

     Meditation practice has been described as practicing dying. 
     “You can develop centered awareness through daily practice. Going inside daily – in meditation, in contemplative prayer, in solitude, in communion with nature – brings clarity to your purpose, your gifts, and your passion. It also brings you face-to-face with your fears and vulnerabilities as, in quiet awareness, you incrementally engage the light side and the shadow side, subtly preparing not just for vital living, but also for your eventual death.
     When your final breaths come, you can accept the Mystery graciously, knowing the impermanence of the body and the eternal nature of consciousness. When the great darkness blocks out the sun, centered awareness will provide the calm courage to embrace the Mystery. And if you are blessed with another sunrise, your choosing to connect daily with the mystery will enlighten everything – a cup of tea, a stand of trees, a simple hello.”
        Crum TF. “Journey to Center. Lessons in Unifying Body, Mind, and Spirit.” Fireside, 1997. 

     ANY of us might be surprised to find that we only have a very short time to live. This has the potential to vastly accelerate our process of maturation. Like the more common, protracted aging process (see:, the accelerated process also offers two main choices: remaining traumatized, bitter, angry etc by impending death - OR - impending death acting as a catalyst, resulting in flourishing & thriving (post-traumatic growth)!!!

     "some have asserted that cancer may be one of the most challenging diseases to treat because of the various levels of human experience that it penetrates, from the physical, to the psychological, and spiritual. However, psychological reactions to a cancer diagnosis are not exclusively negative. For example, a diagnosis may actually provoke patients to begin an internal search for greater awareness and a sense of meaning and purpose in life. ... A psychosocial transition is a major life event that causes a process whereby individuals gradually change their worldview, expectations, and plans. ... people may make sense of their diagnosis by finding positive benefit(s) in their situation.
     Related processes have been studied under various names, including post-traumatic growth (PTG), stress-related growth, benefit finding, adversarial growth, positive change, thriving, personal growth, positive adjustment, and transformation.
     ... PTG is comprised of three broad categories: perceived changes in self, a changed sense of relationship with others, and a changed philosophy of life. The mechanisms by which an intervention may facilitate the development of PTG may be through taking advantage of the trauma-induced disruption in the person’s life to introduce a transition towards new beneficial organization compared to one’s beliefs before the trauma."
       Garland SN et al. A non-randomized comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and healing arts programs for facilitating post-traumatic growth and spirituality in cancer outpatients. Support Care Cancer 2007; 15(8): 949-61.

     “We suffer to the exact degree that we resist having our eyes and hearts opened.” Adyashanti

     “In our society, we put a lot of emphasis on doing. So it can be frustrating to be in a situation in which there is often not all that much to do, as in relating with the sick or dying. But fundamentally it is our being that matters, who we really are and how that manifests in whatever we do.”
       Lief JL. “Making Friends with Death. A Buddhist Guide to Encountering Mortality.” Shambhala, 2001.

     "Dying people usually ask two questions: 'Am I loved?' and 'Did I love well?' This is where people find the meaning and value in their life as they come to the end."
       Frank Ostaseski, founder of the Zen Hospice project in San Francisco, California

Tuesday, June 9, 2020


     "Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone." Margaret J. Wheatley

      “As human beings, we all … search for a sense of connection, pattern, order, and significance … the fitting, truthful relationships among things.” 

       Parks SD. “Big questions, worthy dreams. Mentoring young adults in their search for meaning, purpose, and faith.” John Wiley & Sons, 2000.

      “many people are scared to death of their deeper nature. … these people – more than the others … are longing to connect with their warrior’s heart and with the hearts of their fellow humans.” 

       Lesser E. “Broken open. How difficult times can help us grow.” Villard, 2005.

      “When we come to perceive our interconnectedness, we come to know that fundamentally we each want and need the same things – we each want happiness and we don’t want suffering. Then we begin to see through the veil of illusion that obscures our views to the point where we wind up justifying or even passively accepting the denial of civil rights. A true awakening would have us step back and expand our awareness that all living beings are impacted by our thoughts, speech, and actions. If we can develop this awareness, we naturally come to universal love and compassion for the welfare of all ‘others.’ We might even notice someone amidst our daily routine standing a little taller and straighter, and breathing more freely.

     We are constantly ‘voting’ with our words, thoughts, and deeds for how the world is and shall be."
       Das LS. "The Big Questions. A Buddhist Response to Life’s Most Challenging Mysteries.” Rodale, 2007.

      “all life is interrelated” … we are all “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Martin Luther King Jr

     “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . . 
     This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . .  And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
     Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other." 
       Thomas Merton, OCSO was an American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, mystic, poet, social activist, and scholar of comparative religion. 

Angels among us

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Healing & Nurturing

     Practicing “compassion-infused attention” makes sense and feels good, feels right. Our entire intelligence knows & resonates with the quality of loving awareness with which a wise grandparent "holds" her beloved grandchild. This holding is one of safety, unconditional love & nurturing. This wondrous ability, this ultimate superpower we all can not only access, but is our natural state, our basic fundamental nature - who/what we are without the added traumas & reactive defenses.
     Our authenticity is intimacy - the awakened state. Self-compassionate awareness of our traumas & defenses allows us to "re-parent" ourselves (by holding ourselves in safety, unconditional love & nurturing), & then, we are able to have the same compassion for the traumas & defenses of others. With very patient, skillful, wise meditation practice, and trauma therapy as needed, our personal drama becomes less & less of an emotionally-charged, quick-sand-filled swamp, freeing up a tremendous amount of energy & attention for us to thrive in a much, much healthier, more interesting, more productive & joyous life. 
     To the degree we are unable to awaken, we perpetuate suffering - our own & others' (the plague of inter-generational trauma, bullying, racism, ... genocide). To the degree we are able to awaken, we embody a "beneficial presence" perpetuating true happiness - our own & others' (the blessings of inter-generational nurturing, kindness, generosity, ... justice).
     "Cracked Up - The Darrell Hammond Story" is a powerful documentary about the devastating effects of early childhood trauma:
      “Any time you feel an intimate connection, there is always a
quality of compassion, caring, and love that comes with it.” Adyashanti

      “Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves.” Pema Chodron

      "Social transformation is about touching the heart of our own suffering, out of which arises an organic understanding that we would not want anyone else to experience such suffering and, therefore, we wish for their well-being." Rev. angel Kyodo williams

“Love & justice are not two.
Without inner change,
there can be no outer change;
without collective change,
no change matters." Rev. angel Kyodo williams

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Simple Intimacy

heavy snow

on the landscape



each breath
as if an act of caring


based on Bill Morgan's June 4, 2020 guided meditation:

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Intimacy with Reality

     Artists, perhaps especially poets, are thought to be more sensitive to & thus more critically aware of present-moment reality. The average person may have 'thicker skin' than artists, is less affected by, less keenly interested in, less able or willing to deeply feel what's going on, and therefore floats along with the momentum of the times 'comfortably numb.' 
     Though most of us are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with how the world is becoming, we're so addicted to comfort and so averse to unpleasantness, that we allow life's harsh realities to fester & grow increasingly out of control.
     Artists, like prophets of old, are supposed to wake us up out of our sleep, mass hypnosis, autopilot, ... Artists, by way of poems, paintings, movies, etc bypass our superficial self-centered mind's filters, and communicate directly with our hearts & bodies

"With That Moon Language"

Admit something: 
Everyone you see, you say to them, "Love me." 

Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise 
someone would call the cops. 

Still, though, think about this, this great pull 
in us to connect. 

Why not become the one who lives with a 
full moon in each eye that is 
 always saying, 

with that sweet moon language, 
what every other eye in 
this world is 
dying to 

"Love Poems from God."
Daniel Ladinsky ed., Penguin Compass. 2002

“Before loss there was love.
After loss, love.

Before grief there was love.
After grief, love.

Our essence is never in danger.

When all else falls away,
Our essence can shine.

So, what does love invite of us now?

Jem Bendell
from his video “Grieve Play Love”