Thursday, August 31, 2023

One Love

    We all function at 2 very different levels of consciousness (ways of being) on different occasions.
    How often do you recognize this in yourself?
    Why is differentiating between these important?

    Too often, most of us are striving to control our external world – ‘just trying to get by’ – not only in the present, but even in the future or the past! This feels stressful. No matter how well we manage situations, we feel it should have gone better, and there’s a nagging sense of lack or emptiness inside – ‘I can’t get no satisfaction.’ At this level of consciousness, we feel alone & at least somewhat alienated from everyone & everything else in the world. To some extent at least, most of us have been conditioned to perceive the world as uncaring, at times even hostile to us. As a result, this fear-based, survivalist (FBS) level of consciousness / way of being - often referred to as the ‘small self’ (Eckhart Tolle’s ‘pain body’) – dominates our way of being in the world.

    “All of us are prisoners of our early indoctrinations, for it is hard, very nearly impossible, to shake off one’s training.”
Jubal, in ‘Stranger in a Strange Land,’ by Robert Heinlein

    At times, however, you may feel deeply immersed, ‘at one with’ an activity - alone or with one or more people. There’s no thought of yourself, time, or anything outside of this one activity. You, the activity & other participants are a single, pleasantly flowing process, like a wonderful dance or joyous celebration. You feel gratitude, intimacy with everyone & everything. Psychologist Csikszentmihalyi named such common but sporadic, universal human experiences ‘flow.’
    However, when this sense of (‘true self’) Self becomes increasingly dominant in one’s life, spiritual teachers refer to this sense of unity or oneness as ‘Universal Consciousness’ in the process of ‘awakening.’

    Our deeper intelligence tells us that we're profoundly interconnected & interdependent with everyone & everything - AND - science shows that we're only truly happy while intimately engaged with whoever / whatever we're dealing with in each successive present-moment.
Killingsworth MA, Gilbert DT. “A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind.” Science 2010; 330(6006): 932.

    “When we quit thinking (excessively) about
ourselves & our own self-preservation
, we undergo
a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.”
Joseph Campbell

    "… the greatest antidote to insecurity & sense of fear is compassion. It brings one back to the basis of one's inner strength. A truly compassionate person embodies a carefree spirit of fearlessness, born of the freedom from egoistic self-concern."
The Dalai Lama

    How can we tell when we’re in fear-based survivalist (FBS) mode?
pretty fast & easy when we learn to focus on & thus refine awareness of our thoughts & feelings. Physically FBS mode feels tight & cold. Mentally / emotionally FBS feels insecure, repetitive, unpleasantly stressful & unsustainable. It’s easy to recognize the re-run of old internal conversations we’ve heard way too many times before: ‘I’m no good at this,’ ‘I can’t handle this,’ ‘When will this be over?’ ‘I hate this,’ ‘Are we there yet?’ ‘If only I could have x, THEN I’d be happy,’ ‘If only I could avoid y, THEN I’d be happy,’ ‘If only z never happened, THEN I’d be happy,’ ‘If only so & so could change, THEN I’d be happy,’ etc, etc.
worrying about ourselves almost non-stop, is simply failing to realize that far from being helpful, it is the cause of most of our unnecessary suffering.
    Even in the worst possible situations – the death by suicide of one’s child or the loss of one’s family, home & all possessions in fires or floods – the most healing thing people who’ve sustained such unimaginable losses can possibly do, is to help others who’ve just suffered these same losses. This is the all-important shift from preoccupation with self to concern for others.

    It’s impossible to be happy when we fail to be authentic / true to our Self, just as it’s impossible for a fish to be happy flopping about on dry land; or for a healthy eagle to remain stuck in a small cage. It’s largely up to us WHETHER we remain stuck in the rat race – OR – be authentic to our true nature. Re-discovering who we truly are is primarily an intuitive journey, not something we can think our way to. Thinking is based on theories & models of reality. Who we truly are must be directly experienced, in the moment
skillfully points us to directly experience our true nature:

    “I really try to direct people into just discovering there is a direct experience and then there is a narrative about that direct experience. Because we’re so attuned to the narrative (our internal conversations, opinions, judgments), we often follow the narrative as if it were reality, as if it were the direct experience. (BUT our narrative is based on our past experiences & how these have conditioned us to react. So, as Anais Nin has keenly observed, “We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.” ie we see & react to memories from our past, triggered by the present, rather than being able to directly experience & thus respond appropriately, to what we encounter right here & now.)  
    So even a superficial experience like feeling anger, or irritation not even anger. You feel irritation, we have a narrative about that. We’re righteous in our irritation because somebody cut me off on the freeway. Or, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t feel that way, I should let them do what they have to do. I shouldn’t feel this.’ And we get caught up in our internal conversation and we don’t get to experience the depth of what is here
    Even if it starts as something superficial, like an irritation, in the willingness to experience that without the narrative about that; without good or bad judgment; just to for a moment be absolutely, completely irritated. And without a narrative, irritation can’t last. But it can reveal something deeper – maybe it’s true anger, maybe fear, maybe bliss, and finally, maybe, this radiant, unspeakable, indefinable presence of your own being.

    Gangaji interview: - POWERFUL 81-year-old female spiritual teacher

    "Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire." Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Curiosity, Acceptance & Nurturing

"May I develop complete acceptance and openness
to all situations, and emotions, and to all people.
May I experience everything nakedly, completely
without mental reservations and blockages.
May I never withdraw from life or centralize onto myself.
May my heart be laid bare & open to the fire of all that is."

Reginald A. Ray
    Our acceptance & openness needs to INCLUDE the MANY daily random accidents, screw-ups & irritants like stubbing our toe, dropping, spilling & breaking things, losing keys / wallets / phones, burning & ruining meals, crazy random digital errors, loooong 'holds' on the phone, near impossibility contacting health-care providers, trades people & most companies ... We REGULARLY encounter a LOT of situations that very easily annoy, frustrate, irritate & anger us, even if / after we feel we've successfully 'dealt with' (fully processed) the real biggies in our life ie past major traumas.
    But our acceptance & openness ALSO needs to INCLUDE ongoing inescapable major traumas like chronic pain, prolonged disability, incurable illness & death of loved ones, friends and our self! These can & do cause "shipwrecks" - at least one of which is pretty much guaranteed if you live beyond 60. Do see :

    Aversion to all that we fear / dislike / can't control is common & understandable, but is at best only a short-term band-aid. Clinging & chasing after things we like, think we need or must have is also common & understandable, but easily becomes obsessive eg addictions, and there are many "entrepreneurs" to feed our hunger to escape (see the 2023 miniseries "Painkiller" on Netflix). But it's a meaningless delusion to see our identity just a meat-machine that avoids undesirables & chases after desirables. "The one who dies with the most toys wins" is desperately simple-minded.
     Our ONLY WORTHWHILE OPTION is repeatedly remembering our true nature and repeatedly embodying it by BEING a NURTURING PRESENCE to others & the environment no matter how annoying, great or persistent the challenge. This is simply being natural, true to whom / what we are - like birds flying in the air and fish swimming in water. 
    We see great nurturing when parents really know their children and spend quality time with them by providing all that they require to optimally express their natural talents and mature into healthy, balanced, self-sufficient, caring, intelligent, pro-social adults. 
    Nurturing has NOTHING TO DO WITH stuffing them full of candies & fast food; indulging them with as much screen time as they want; throwing money at them to blow shopping online or at the mall; buying them all sorts of toys & clothes - there is no quality time here - just spoiling and creating helpless, hopeless, miserable perpetual infants. The worst fear of wealthy parents is their kids "growing up to be assholes." This fear easily becomes a reality if parents don't have the wisdom & energy to spend quality time with their kids.

    EVERY stage of life has its own challenges. During our youth, we try so hard to learn and become competent & competitive to get by in this fast-moving world. During our middle years, we try so hard to establish a career, a home life, have & raise kids, pay our bills, maybe even live a little, put a bit of money away for retirement ... During our later years, we're dumbfounded that life went by so fast; if we're fortunate enough, we can help raise grandchildren; again, if we're fortunate enough, we have the inclination to devote our time & energies on NURTURING our own & loved ones' spiritual maturation / evolution of consciousness, rather than wasting our time wallowing about our progressively declining physical & mental health.

    “… for each & every one of us, we have circumstances in our lives that are chaotic, out of our control, outside of the box of what we think of as practice. And that is actually your deepest practice.
    The Buddha talked about this precious human birth. It’s precious for all of us, it has the most exquisite balance of dukkha (challenging situations) & easefulness. We’re not so overwhelmed by suffering that we’re lost and drowning, or we’re not so lost in the pleasure, either. It’s got this balance that keeps us needing to find a deeper happiness and having the resources to look.
    This birth the Buddha talked about as the precious human birth is rare and it’s precious. And it’s precious for all of us, even those of us who don’t have the conditions in our lives to go on many or any retreats.
    There’s something about practicing with the chaos of life, & the realities of our difficult, complicated relationships & situations that we’re faced with in day-to-day life that can move us very deeply and force us to feel things we might not otherwise feel. It also helps us see that it’s good to be alive and in the world and feel it and really land in this human experience fully and recognize it as a shared thing.”
 Cara Lai

     Four wise teachers & authors immediately come to mind when I think of inspiring survivors of major trauma. I've quoted them all in my quickly searchable blogs:
    Amoda Maa : “Embodied Enlightenment. Living Your Awakening in Every Moment.” Reveal Press, 2017.
    Isira : "Buddha on the Dance Floor." ‎ Living Awareness, 2014.
    Gabor Matte“The Myth of Normal. Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture.” Alfred A. Knopf, 2022.
    James Finley : “The Healing Path. A Memoir and an Invitation.” Orbis, 2023.
    James Finley on the alchemy of transforming the lead of trauma into spiritual gold:
    “(After graduating from high school, I escaped from a lifetime of psychological & physical abuse by my alcoholic father by entering a monastery. But there) I was sexually abused by one of the monks – a priest, my confessor, who Merton thought very highly of - everyone thought very highly of this person. And I had a breakdown. I became extremely dissociative, paranoid.
    I worked (looking after the pigs at the monastery). … The boar walked out on the ice, and it fell through the ice of this little lake in the woods, and drowned. I felt as I was walking around, I felt I was unraveling, and that sanity was like thin ice over icy-cold black water, and it was cracking, and if I fell through, because of my trauma history, I might never find my way back again. So I left (the monastery). I didn’t tell the abbot what happened. I didn’t tell Thomas Merton what happened. I didn’t tell John Hughes, who was a psychiatrist. I just left.
    So here’s a lesson. How can we learn to be healed from all that hinders us from experiencing the steady strong currents of divinity that flow on & on in the bitter-sweet alchemy of our lives? The alchemy is just not how phases of happiness can unexpectedly become precipitously sad – it was frightening. Nor is it something so sad that can suddenly break wide open with liberation, like an unexpected gift, or love, or presence, or a child. It isn’t just the rhythm of darkness and light, or birth and death, or the rhythms of your life, the rhythms of my life. Rather, the alchemist of old were trying to turn lead into gold. And lead into gold is how do we turn the unrelenting, unforeseeableness of life, how can we learn to experience the steady strong currents of divinity that flow on and on and on so unexplainably, that brought me and brought all of you up to this very moment that I’m talking right now? How has this come to pass? And how can I learn to find my way to this groundedness that’s always there? And finding my way to it, how can I abide in it? And how can I learn to share it with others?
    So I’d like to end with a story. … This hermit heard a knock at his door, and when he opened it, it was a mother and a father with their little girl. And the parents apologized for intruding on his solitude, but said to the hermit, ‘As you can plainly see, an evil wizard has turned our daughter into a donkey. And we would like you to pray over her, so we can have our daughter back.’
    The hermit said, ‘I see. Come in, come in, come in.’ And he had them sit off to the side, and he asked the little girl if she was hungry and would like something to eat. She said she would like that. And so he was talking to her while he prepared a meal for both of them, and they sat down. And he asked her about herself – about things about her life and so on. 
    And as the parents were watching how lovingly he spoke to the little girl, and how attentive he was to her, they suddenly realized the evil wizard did not cast a spell on their daughter, turning their daughter into a donkey, the evil wizard cast a spell on them to believe that their daughter was a donkey. 
    And so when they left, they were so relieved and grateful, having their daughter back, and the little girl was so relieved because it’s very hard to be a little girl when your parents think you’re a donkey, especially if because you’re a child, and to avoid the confusion, you start believing it yourself. There’s like a shame-based, traumatized place within yourself, that you don’t know what to do about it. 
    The deep healing that that little girl and her parents experienced in this story bears witness to the deep healing that I hope we are exploring together here today.
    James Finley "Becoming a Healing Presence in a Traumatized World" :
Another glorious morning shines down on us ...

Monday, August 14, 2023


     Don't most of us take ourselves & life far too seriously? We desperately want & work tirelessly towards having everything go well for ourselves & our loved ones. But despite all our best efforts, education & technology, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” As a result, it's very easy & very common to become hopelessly cynical - the corrosive effects of which are powerfully illustrated in the 2014 movie, "Calvary" (, available on Netflix. Two thousand years before Robert Burns, the Buddha taught about ("dukkha") the inherent imperfection of everything in the world, and how chasing after & trying to hang onto stuff just creates an extra layer of suffering, and how we can end such needless suffering.
    Kristin Neff PhD provides a short useful practice to deal more wisely with our own, everyone & everything else's imperfection:

     There are many reminders every day that, despite the fact that life at times does appear like "a real shit show," there is an underlying loving intelligence to life, with a wild sense of humor. This message even comes through at the very end of the otherwise dark movie, "Calvary." Of course it's not possible to have this rather startling insight while we're chasing control with every fiber in our body, nor while depressed over the fact that a lifetime of frantic chasing failed to deliver.
when we start to recognize the important yet very narrow role of our frenzied survival & procreation activities, that some of us become able to hear the whispers of our far more evolved intelligence.
near death experiencers - Natalie Sudman in particular - and others, have suggested that we knowingly volunteer for specific, sometimes very challenging roles & situations in life, for agreed-upon reasons, with considerable humor! BUT most of us completely forget about what we signed up for, causing a lot of unnecessary confusion & suffering.
highly recommend watching Natalie Sudman's video AND a detailed reading of "The Bus Stop Conversation" both at:

"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

"Lighten up!"

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Beyond the Material

     We're hard-wired to survive, as long & as well as possible. Like a possessed workaholic, our left brain obsesses about surviving & winning in this material world.
ALL of this turns to dust - all at once as in a fatal heart-attack or car crash, or slowly, incrementally as time & illness take back every bit of our hard-earned physical & mental capacities. Aging is a relentless, increasingly difficult 'school of hard knocks,' even if we're relatively fortunate!
left brain's sole function is controlling the material environment. It CANNOT understand NOR cope with loss of control, at least partially explaining the ever-rising rates of depression, anxiety, addiction, violence, suicide, etc.

    Dying on the cross, “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ' ” (Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46)

     True love and prayer are learned in the hour when love becomes impossible and the heart has turned to stone.” Thomas Merton

    WHEN we realize the USELESSNESS of being lost in suffering, anger, regret, frustration & impatience - we CAN grow infinitely WISER with age AND spontaneously re-connect to our true nature, source & destination.
AS our material world & 'small self' evaporate, can we fully appreciate our Divine True Nature.
    Please read / watch Amoda Maa's SUPERB teaching "Suffering as a Doorway to Liberation" :

    “Emptiness is two things at once:
     the absence of self
     and the presence of the Divine.
     Thus as self decreases,
     the Divine increases.”
                            Bernadette Roberts

    "A man cannot enter into the deepest center of himself & pass through that center into God unless he is able to pass entirely out of himself & empty himself & give himself to other people in the purity of selfless love." Thomas Merton, quoted in M. Basil Pennington. "Centered Living: The Way of Centering Prayer." Galilee Trade, 1988. 

    “It is the perspective of the sufferer that determines whether a given experience perpetuates suffering or is a vehicle for awakening.”
Mark Epstein

"Death is not extinguishing the light;
it is putting out the lamp
because the dawn has come."

Rabindranath Tagore

Fleeting moments of near perfection