Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Start Your Week Skillfuly


The original intent of the Sabbath was to have a day of rest from endless toil. In this day and age for most of us the labor we do is not as physically hard as it was for the people in the time of Moses. However since we have embraced multi-tasking our mental states continue at a backbreaking pace. It is our minds that toil endlessly. For our minds there seems to be no day of rest. Thus it is really advisable to set aside a couple of hours at the end of the week to regroup with yourself before you rush off into another round of multi-tasking your way through another week.

In September I will be offering a group on Sunday evenings that does just this. The following is a preview of things we will be doing. You needn’t wait until September to begin. This guidance is yours now and it’s free! Why not put it to use?

The following are two guided meditations you can do with yourself. In the first we put the cares of the past week to bed. Find a quiet and comfortable place for your body. Take three long deep cleansing breaths. Allow your breathing to return to normal and focus on your breath as it appears to you. You may find yourself focusing on the rising and falling of your chest, or the air as it enters and leaves your nostrils, or any place in between. Drink in this air as if it were a healing elixir because it is. Feel it permeate all parts of your body relaxing and nourishing them. Stay with this focus as long as you can until a thought arises about something in the past or future.

If the thought is from the past look at it as if it were a child you are responsible for taking care of. Pick it up and say, “You occurred so many hours (days, years) ago. Now it’s time for bed.” Then gently tuck it into bed. Next, proceed to review your past week looking for events, issues, or feelings that call out for your attention. Pick them up one by one and tuck them into bed. (Not your own bed of course. You don’t want to sleep with them. Put them in the bed of time passed.)

If your first thought was of the future pick it up and say “I see you now but such and such a time (when you will be able to take action regarding it) is the appropriate time for me to give attention to you. Until then, patience my friend.  You will just have to wait. I know you can do this.” And with that you place it in a container of your imagining. Make this container really nice, something you will enjoy seeing as you go through the next week. Then proceed to search your mind for future events, concerns, issues that are calling out for your attention. Repeat this process for each one of them, taking your time with each one. When you are done close the container. If it doesn’t have a lid as for baskets and bowls, cover it with a beautiful cloth. Having done this it is crucial you be impeccable with your word. If you told a thought you would give it attention at such and such a time you must do so otherwise these thoughts will keep popping out of their container. The clarity and firmness of your intent is what keeps them safely inside until the appropriate time.

It is best to do both meditations, past and future, though the order in which you do them doesn’t matter. Between these two meditations you can take a break but then restart with the breathing exercise. Your week is now laid out and organized. Thoughts from the past will not be haunting you. Concerns of the future will not be claiming your attention before you are able to deal with them. Your mind will indeed have obtained a measure of rest. And the rest of your week will be a lot easier.  

For Giving


I’m all for giving. Giving is an expression of gratitude and thus we get a taste of the elixir of gratitude when we give. Forgiving is also a way of giving, a gift you give yourself. With forgiveness the negative mind states of holding a grudge drop away and in their place is the bliss of freedom. My teacher taught me this little phrase to remember the mechanics of forgiveness: like thee, like me.

Forgiveness occurs when we recognize another person’s negative trait within ourselves. Instantly animosity vanishes. Instantly the negative trait vanishes. How is this possible? It occurs because we have stopped projecting our own negative traits outward. We have stopped seeing them in others. We have stopped being annoyed at seeing our own negativity upon the screen of an other. Forgiveness is the end of projection. It’s as if you pulled the plug of a movie projector. All the images vanish into nothingness. All negativity vanishes into nothingness. It can vanish so quickly because it was only an illusion.

We can sit in the movie theater of our lives and say “correct thinking indicates that my life is an illusion”. This of course has no effect whatsoever. The images keep playing. But when we experience that we ourselves are the movie projector the show stops. Even when we find that little bit of film inside us that corresponds to what we thought originated outside of us, we are suddenly blessed by a freedom from that little bit of suffering.

When you find yourself wanting to forgive or are unable to forgive stop looking outside yourself. Stop thinking about that annoying person. Look inside yourself and remember: like thee, like me.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Abandonment of Suffering


Abandon suffering. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? An easy do? No. Ninety-nine percent of our news is about people causing suffering for themselves, for others, for animals, for the planet… Why is there so much suffering in the world? And why can’t we seem to stop it?
The abandonment of suffering is the subject of the Buddha’s second noble truth “This noble truth of the arising of suffering is that it be abandoned.”  And of himself, he states “The arising of suffering has been abandoned.” The whole of Buddhism is a mind-training method precisely in service of this goal. It takes a lot of effort and a long time.
Why would we cling to suffering? Why would we persist in hurting ourselves and others? The answer is a bit ironic: suffering insures our self-identity. This is our most prized possession. What person willing lets this go? And yet a false self-identity is the root of the insanity of all inhumanity. Both Buddhism and A Couse in Miracles make it very clear that this is the case. In the Samyutta Nikaya the Buddha gives an analogy of a dog tied by a leash to a stake being like the mind of a person whose self-identity is tied to form, feelings, perception, fabrications, consciousness of sensations: “He keep running around and circling around that very form…that very feeling…that very perception…those very fabrications…not set loose from consciousness. He is not set loose from birth, aging and death; from sorrows, lamentation, pains, distresses and despair. He is not set loose from suffering and stress.”
Another thing that the Buddha abandoned was teaching theology or cosmology. It was his considered opinion, that these subjects are simply a waste of time and effort when you are suffering, not only that, they lead to pointless arguments which entail more suffering. There were great theological debates raging in Buddha’s time and he simply refused to join in. He caught some flak for that. Yet this was the brilliance of his teaching: he taught a method for the cessation of suffering and only that. Everything else, he reasoned, each one understands upon the cessation of suffering. In fact the cessation of the arising of suffering is a necessary condition of the mind for the attainment of such knowledge, before that its mere speculation which leads to misunderstandings.

There does come a point where a person weighs the evidence, clearly perceived and chooses to abandon suffering and with it all formerly cherished self-identifications are let go. This is the end of specialness, the end of ownership, the end of me-and-mine, the end of story. With the abandonment of suffering, comes a state of mind of pure harmlessness and a state of inter-being. There arises a mind that can say, like Jesus, “What you do for the least of these, you do for me.” This is because all interests are seen as shared interests. The “me” is no more special than the “you”. And with the abandonment of suffering comes a state of mind which can say “All things are well and all manner of things are well” (Julian of Norwich) because in such a mind there exists a profound state of well-being.

How Do You Know?


We as a culture believe in many invisible things. Among them are wind, electricity, gravity and love. For these things the word “belief” is perhaps not quite correct because we say that these things exist. Though invisible all of these things are known through their effects. In the case of wind, electricity and gravity these effects are measurable. No one has yet found a way to measure love but I doubt there are few, if any, scientists who have not felt the effects of love in their lives. Thus they would have to concur that love exists.
Thus invisibility does not preclude existence or even our ability to believe in something. Many people now-a- days seem to find invisibility a stumbling block to a belief in God. I hope I have shown that this need not be a problem when considering the existence of God. Like wind, electricity and gravity God is also know by effects and the qualities of those effects. The New Testament actually gives a definition of God. It is in 1John 4:8 “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” By this definition even atheists who know love, know God. There may be many people who reject this definition of God, and that is fine but as there are so few definitions of God out there I think it should be considered carefully. It is very possible that most religious doubts and arguments stem from differing concepts of what God is, yet who is stepping up to define what they mean when they say “God”?
Jesus used the word “Abba” (Father) when speaking of God. Jesus was a master of metaphor and analogy; clearly he was not referring to a biological father but to his Creator. A father is a creator to the child and likewise extends love and protection to his children, in most human cases. It was these qualities, creator, one who loves and protects, that Jesus was referring to when he said the word “Father”. What love is, what God is, is beyond the capacity of words to capture. Words can only be used as pointers toward an experience of love, of God. That is why Jesus used metaphors and analogies.
The people Jesus ministered to were like himself, ordinary people doubly oppressed by a foreign occupation and by a top heavy, spiritually bankrupt religious organization. Jesus met these people where they were. He talked to fishermen, housewives, farmers, herdsmen and made up stories using their activities to teach them how to reach God, this Father of his. He saw their spiritual poverty even though they might be complying with all the rules of their religion. He met them at the level of their spiritual poverty and at the level of their occupations and said “See, you can do this. It’s like sowing a seed or making bread…” This was the brilliance of Jesus’ teaching style. He used ordinary words and ordinary situations not only to point at something that is beyond words but to show the way to reach it.


Friday, June 7, 2013

The Nature of the Mind


The mind has two characteristics, that of abiding in awareness of itself and that of projection, or creation. The mind ceaselessly projects the creation of thoughts, thoughts about the past and future and thoughts about sense impressions.

When the mind projects itself into a world of form suffering necessarily arises because the mind has separated from itself. This is the origin of loneliness, the sense that something is missing. This leads to the seeking of fulfillment in sense objects. This is the tragedy of ignorance wherein the mind has forgotten it separated from itself. Pitifully it seeks fulfillment in its own creations, the objects of its own separation which only distract it from returning to itself. This search leads to everything from rampant consumerism to art, music and poetry, to science and the study of the phenomenal universe, and to all religions.

As if to compound the error the mind, having lost track of its true identity in itself, seeks a self-identity with the objects of its creation. To claim a self-identity with one or more of the minds creations causes suffering indeed. The mind’s creations live only by feeding upon themselves, thus they are in constant fluctuation so one’s self-identity is always threatened. Think about the life of a tree from seed to sapling to fruit bearing mature tree to firewood to ashes and smoke, or to a pile of rotten wood chewed on by beetles. In all it is simply a morphing of forms, as is the case with our own bodies, the sense objects we most strongly identify with. From birth to aging to sickness and death our body simply morphs until its component parts are recycled in the flow of changing forms we call life. This is not really Life. It is merely a procession of deaths. This is what Jesus meant when he said “Let the dead bury the dead.” He used this shocking statement when speaking to a man who was stuck in this procession of deaths and could not step outside of it to see his true identity in the deathless.


True Life is the nature of the mind when it abides in itself. This Life neither changes nor ceases. It is the constant source of all that was created and all that never was created and all that will be created. Quite simply the end of suffering is a shift in identification from that which changes, that which dies, to that which never changes, the unborn, the eternally constant that resides in us all, that some call God.

Working With the Mind


There are two commonly held beliefs that limit our ability to change our minds. Unfortunately these two beliefs are held by many practitioners of psychotherapy and thus they appear to be sanctified by that profession. These two beliefs are:
1.      You are a victim of your conditioning, i.e. someone else is to blame for how you feel.
2.      Telling your story or analyzing the circumstances that caused suffering will heal it.
 These are simply untrue. Bringing the past into the present is simply a way of reliving it. Sometimes it is necessary to tell your story when the past is incessantly pushing its way into the present. A witness can be helpful the way a relief valve is helpful for the build-up of steam pressure. However until the heat source is turned off steam pressure continues to build up and need release. In the case of emotional pressure the heat source is the belief you are a victim. The moment you take responsibility for how you feel you are no longer “victimizing” yourself. It doesn’t change what happened in the past. What it does do is open up the present as a gift for you to use as you wish, instead of mindlessly playing old tapes of the past in it.

In working with the mind belief is everything. Belief empowers thoughts. It keeps them going.  Without belief a thought system will grind to a halt like a car running out of gas. Telling your story can have the effect of reinforcing your belief in it. It is much more fruitful to find your current attachments to the suffering. These exist in the present and must be undone in the present.

All we have to work with is our own minds. No one else can enter our minds and clean them up for us. Perhaps a good way of viewing it is not to wonder who messed up our minds. Just decide it doesn’t matter. There is a clean-up to be done and we’re going to do it. I remember the time my apartment was broken into by a thief. I came home to find drawers turned upside down and stuff all over the place. At the time there was a sense of violation that someone had been into my stuff and taken my grandmothers jewelry. But that was because I was attached to my stuff. I identified with it. Now 40 years later where is all that stuff the thief messed up? Gone. Gone who knows where. And so what? It is no longer relevant to my current life at all. When I faced having to clean up my apartment I didn’t want the thief there to do the work of putting things away. He was clearly untrustworthy so why would I want him in my apartment again? I wanted to clean it up myself.

When someone steals your peace of mind it is equally foolish to want them to make it right for you, to want them to take back what they said or did, which is impossible because it happened, or for them to feel guilty for what they did. If you have tried this you know it doesn’t make you feel better. Chances are the one who has wronged you is still an unreliable character so why would you want them to fix your life for you? If your peace of mind is stolen only you can get it back. This is everyone’s challenge in the world.



Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Talking to Your Child about Spirituality



If you want your child to think exactly as you do then this article is not for you. All you have to do is tell them what to think. If however you wish to explore spirituality with your child and grow closer to him/her as a result, then herein lie a few suggestions.

Usually children are exposed to the religion of their parents through holidays, stories and religious practices and customs. Rarely, if ever are children asked for their own thoughts or spiritual experiences. Children however very often have their own thoughts about spirituality, questions or experiences they shy away from expressing because there is never a forum for that. It is my experience that thinking things through for one’s self and sharing one’s spiritual experiences is spiritually empowering. Far too often in practicing a religion we give our own power away to the priest, minister, rabbi or whoever. We want them to lead us to God or illuminate our minds. There is nothing wrong with seeking the council of those who dedicate their lives to spiritual pursuits, in fact it is usually necessary, but to expect someone else to do the work for us is counterproductive. It is a way of further separating ourselves from the truth we seek.

A way to open up a conversation with your child about God would be to ask: Have you ever thought about God? If your child’s answer is “no” then wait until he or she has begun to think about God. If the answer is yes, then proceed with a series of questions to draw out how your child thinks on this subject. The idea is to let your child know you are interested in listening to what he or she has to say. If your child asks you questions you can respond with: What do you think? If he or she really wants to know what you think he/she will ask again and at that time it would be appropriate to share your belief or experience. Children can ask questions that require us to think through our spiritual beliefs and grope to find words to express them. “What is God?” and “Why can’t we see God?” may need answers that use a metaphor or analogy. Above all if you don’t have an answer it’s best to say “I don’t know.” This leaves the door open for further exploration for both you and your child.

If your child expresses gratitude, wishes well to another, or feels sorry you can point out that these are spiritual experiences. Prayer is at heart a well-wishing as is the Buddhist practice of metta (compassion). These practices can be illustrated to children in very simple terms by giving concrete examples of how to apply well-wishing in your child’s life.
It is my opinion that there are no wrong answers to spiritual questions. At any given time there are only provisional answers which may change during the life long quest for spiritual knowledge. If your spiritual belief system has ever changed or evolved you know the truth of this.

The Universal Curriculum



That there are many religions and multiple variations within those religions is clear indeed. That there is a universal spiritual “curriculum” common to almost all religions is less apparent. This article will touch the tip of this iceberg of that commonality by comparing a five religions. Quite briefly it can be said that an underlying theme of learning to live harmoniously with others: how to respect others, share with others, and how to encourage others is the ethics embodied in almost all religions. That ethical goals are shared among religions is very significant because all of spirituality regardless of the different means to attain these goals, always comes back to them in the end. Each religion has its own vocabulary and belief system, and spiritual practices. These are the different means. Preparing a meal can be a helpful analogy. People have different food likes and dis-likes, some even have food allergies so of course the specific meal any one person would prepare would be different. However the nutritional requirements for any human body are basically the same. How one chooses to fulfill those nutritional needs through cuisine is a matter of choice. And so it is with religion, each religion can be seen as a different cuisine but the nutritional requirements, the spiritual nourishment needed is universal.

For the people of the Book, the children of Abraham, the Jewish-Christian-Islamic religions the last six of the ten commandments embody the ethics of those religions: honor father and mother, no murder, no adultery, no stealing, no false testimony (lying), no coveting. The five Buddhist precepts taken by lay people are to abstain from: taking life, from taking what is not given (stealing), from sexual misconduct, from false speech, from becoming intoxicated. Although the vocabulary is slightly different these two lists concur on four essential points, the intention to not kill, to not lie, to not steal, and to conduct one’s self appropriately in sexual relations. Finally let’s look at what the Yoga Sutras have to say: “The Laws of Life are five: nonviolence, truthfulness, integrity (which would include not stealing), chastity (correct sexual deportment), and nonattachment”. Again we find the same four ethical points in slightly different language.

It is interesting to compare the injunction of the Ten Commandment not to covet with the Yoga Sutra’s Law of Life of nonattachment. Both are mental states and they both refer to the same thing. Coveting is wanting something and being attached to something is also wanting it. One could say that nonattachment goes a step further than not coveting and if you limit not coveting to the list given in the Ten Commandments that would be so. However a broader definition of non-coveting could clearly be the same as nonattachment. I have always felt that because it is a mental state non-coveting actually covers the actions of not lying, not stealing, not killing and not committing adultery. If one is in a state free of coveting these negative actions are impossible.

And so here at the ethical beginning points of all these religions we find a universal curriculum. These religions begin with ethical injunctions and through their various practices they end with the embodiment of these ethical principles.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Overcoming the World



 
When Jesus said “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33) I really think he meant it. The way I understand this statement is that he was saying he was not ensnared by desires or aversions. He was complete within himself and needed nothing from the world for fulfillment. He was fulfilled in God. This is the only lasting fulfillment there it. This is the recipe for the end of suffering. The body may yet feel pleasure and pain but because the mind is released from desire and aversion suffering is absent.

 

The implications of overcoming the world are great. It would mean that God did not send His son to Earth to suffer the way we do. The rational for this kind of thinking is usually that suffering is necessary for compassion. But is this true? Let us hold this question open for a moment.  For Jesus to indulge in suffering would be dragging God down to our level.  And behind this thinking is a resistance to letting go of our suffering, a clinging to it as if it actually gave us something of value, perhaps the self-righteousness of victimhood. Instead let us consider that what Jesus did by overcoming the world was to open a door for us, that we too have the possibility of overcoming the world, so that we can aspire to live in a body without suffering. This would be lifting us up to God instead of dragging God down to us.

 

To understand how this is possible let’s look at a metaphor from physics called entrainment. The classic illustration of entrainment is the old clock-maker’s shop, filled with clocks whose pendulums are swinging. It was noticed that over time all pendulums adjusted their swings so that they all would swing together. This was called entrainment. Whichever clock had the strongest swing that was the one the others eventually followed. Likewise if the whole clock shop was already coordinated any new clock would fall into that pattern because the collective swing was so strong. This is similar to the tuning of a stringed instrument. A string which is plucked will set in vibration any other sting tuned to an octave apart. And so it is with humans. If there is a strong cultural frequency we will vibrate to it whether we are aware of that or not.

 

 

Enlightenment is when you have succeeded in tuning your frequency to divine Love and can hold that frequency no matter what other vibrations enter your field. You are no longer subject to the phenomena of entrainment. In this sense you have overcome the world as Jesus said. And when it is accomplished you stand as a beacon for others. By holding the frequency of Love, it is a boost to others, to their own efforts at accomplishing the same. This I believe is what Jesus did for us.

Ruler of Your Kingdom


 

Long ago and far away… not really but you’ll see…there lived a king who had three sons. He wanted to see which one of them would be the best ruler of the kingdom. He built each of them a McMansion in a different part of the kingdom. Then he called his sons to him. He explained that each of them had a new house and told each son of its location. He gave them each $10 and said he wanted them to fill their houses using ONLY that $10 and that he would be visiting each of them shortly. The sons set off each to his own house.

 

The first son arrived at his house. He wandered through its many empty rooms. He let out a sigh and sat down on the front doorstep head in hands. “It’s impossible.” He said. “I’ll never be able to fill this house using only $10.” The second son arrived at his house and had a similar reaction but not quite. He was a very busy, can-do person so he wandered toward the nearest town trying to figure it out. A truck passed him on the way to the landfill. “That’s it!” he cried. “All I have to do is persuade this truck driver to bring all the discarded furniture and appliances to my house for $10. Plus he’ll save on the landfill charges.” And that is what happened. The stuff that ended up there was broken and dirty and sitting in piles of disarray. The second son was not very happy with the result. In fact he decided to live in the pool house on a cot. “But” he said, “I have fulfilled my father’s requirement to the last penny.”

 

The third son arrived at his house and he too was impressed with its size. “This is far too big for one person” he thought. And then he thought, “I wonder who my neighbors are?” He too wandered to the nearest town. There he found a market in the village square. There were vendors of all sorts and musicians playing music. “Wow” he thought “I could invite all these great new neighbors to my house for a party to welcome my father when he arrives.” And so he set about introducing himself and inviting everyone to his house. Truth be told, he was so happy at the friends he was making, he forgot about the $10 and the requirement to fill his house. When his father arrived at the third son’s house he found it full of people eating food, full of children running through the house in laughter, full of the sounds of music and people singing.

 

Now which son would you want to be ruler of your kingdom, the one who gave up, the one who stuck to the letter of the law, or the one who made friends with his neighbors? We are the rulers of our own kingdoms, the rulers of our own minds. And in any given moment we have the opportunity to choose one of these three sons rule. We can give up, go through the motions of fulfilling our obligations, or reach out in joy to another person. And if perchance we find we’ve chosen a poor ruler for our kingdom, in any given moment, we have the chance to choose once again.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

When an Ancient Hatred Becomes A Present Love


When an ancient hatred becomes a present love that is true forgiveness.

 

Untrue forgiveness is what most commonly falls under the notion of forgiveness. How often have we heard it said I have forgiven my X (my parents, my sister, my in-laws, etc.) for what they did to me. The “for what they did to me” is the tip-off that a grudge is still being held. A person who feels this way has pardoned a criminal in their eyes. This person is still a criminal  for what they did in the past and the past still binds them both because it is brought into the present. How many times have you heard this: “What happened in the past is completely irrelevant now”?  Anyone who says this has released themselves from the past and stepped into the freedom of the present. In fact the things we have truly forgiven are forgotten, not because we can’t remember them if we wanted but because we no longer have the need to remember them. There no longer is a grudge to keep alive by remembering.

 

True forgiveness is a kind of transmutation of hatred into love. This is the alchemy of greatest value. How is this alchemy accomplished? One way is to take yourself out of the center of your awareness. This is not so easy to do because almost all our thoughts flow in an effort to maintaining the centrality of a self-image that is inherently false. That is why it takes so much effort, so many thoughts. Spiritual practices of all religions address this very need to take one’s false self out of the center of awareness. This is why we do rosaries or do malas; this is why we meditate; this is why we dedicate merit or pray.

 

This false self hides in many guises. It can seem to be another person. In fact we carry around false images of people in our minds all the time. Because these images are in our minds they are us, not the other person. I will illustrate with a story from my own life. Growing up I was terrified of my own father and I was not the only one. My brother and 2 sisters were terrified as well. After we grew up and left home anytime 2 or more of us siblings got together the first and only topic of conversation was how awful our father was. In a certain sense it was a “survivors” mentality, a confirmation that this really happened because part of the experience of childhood was being blamed for things we hadn’t done. I had to carry around within my mind the image of an insane father in order to verify my own sanity, or so it seemed. At a certain point my own family life fell apart in divorce. Amazingly one outcome of this life’s “failure” was that I formed an intension to heal my relationship with my father. Very quickly after this I realized that the image I was carrying around of him did not jibe with who was standing in front of me in the present. With this realization I was able to be present instead of being “past” when I was around my father. It was not always easy to be present with him and I would stay until I could not tolerate it any more but I kept going back. I’d sit and listen to him, simply that. My tolerance for listening to him grew and almost as if by magic he began to soften. Until in tiny bits and pieces he began to be able to hear something that I would say. Finally this ancient hatred did indeed become a present love and I now count my own father among my dearest friends.   

The Power of Dedicating Merit



There is a Buddhist practice where the merit of a spiritual practice is dedicated to others. It is simply the intension that others may benefit as well as one’s self from the self-healing a spiritual practice has induced. In my experience the power of self-healing is so great that it extends by itself quite naturally and often mysteriously to others. It is not necessary to form an intension to do so however it is a further blessing to do so consciously. Knowing that others benefit from our positive actions can increase our joy and motivation for doing them. I will tell you a story related to me by a dear friend named Nan. She was at one time working and living at a Catholic parish house although she herself was not Catholic. One evening all the others living there went off to do some spiritual practices and left Nan alone. The gist of it was that she was excluded because she was not Catholic. This induced a state of jealousy in Nan that was so intense she finally sat in front of her picture of Jesus and prayed for release of this jealousy. She vowed not to get up from prayer until this had transpired. Nan had some psychic abilities and that evening she “heard” this, that her prayer for release from jealousy indeed was to be answered and not only that someone else in that same city would be released from jealousy that night ask well. Nan arose from her praying with a light heartedness and sense of well-being.

 

In a past article I described how my relationship with my father was healed. There is more to this story. The repercussions of that healing eventually extended to my sister. My sister’s solution to her feelings about our father was to cut him off, to have no contact what-so-ever. This ironically was my father’s own solution to his feelings about his mother and now he was to taste the other side of it. For some reason I began to attend Al Anon although there was no one in my immediate family who was an alcoholic, or so I thought. I personally gained a lot by attending meetings. I began the process of learning how to undo the sense of victimhood. But there were other aspects to attending that I could not fathom. I sometimes would come home from a meeting and cry my eyes out without knowing the reason, or the same thing would happen after reading some Al Anon literature. One night it seemed I had no way of stopping the tears. Then one day out of the blue I got a phone call from my sister. She said she had just checked in to an alcohol rehab center; she would be there for about a month and she was afraid of becoming sober but she was going to do it any way. I was shocked. She then went on to say she had been drinking since she was a teenager. She had hidden this so well no one in the family had a clue that she’d been drinking that much or for that long a time. I promised her my mental support of well-wishing as she underwent this treatment ( prayer was not in her belief system at that time).

 

Her treatment was successful but although she was working the 12 steps, including the eighth step of making amends she felt for her emotional safety she had to keep our father cut off. And so it was for over 10 years. Meanwhile I was making progress in reconciling with my father. My sister and I would talk from time to time as her busy schedule permitted and I described to her how I had become friends with our father. She was actually able to hear this. Slowly though her own self-healing, my-self-healing and our father’s self-healing she has been able not only to reconnect with him but now even enjoys the contact. And my father is still reeling with a sense of profound gratitude at the reconciliation. And so I offer this as a story of hope and as an example of how self-healing is contagious. May the merit of our collective healing ripple out across our planet and beyond!

Mind Fasting for Lent


 

Lent is a time for giving things up and what better practice is there than giving up things that are hurtful to us like negative mind states! During Lent I have been conducting a weekly mind fasting group for the members of the church I go to, the First Christian Church of Ukiah. I thought I’d share with you a little about what we’ve been doing.

 

There are some things in this world we have a choice about and others where we have no choice. The most important choice we have is where we direct our attention. It is the most important because it can lead us to freedom. Initially we may have no choice about what we think. Thoughts arise in the mind unbidden however we can chose to pay attention to them or not. Redirecting our attention away from a thought takes away its power. It may arise again, and again but if we consistently redirect our attention it will dissipate and leave us in peace. This is called mind fasting. If you think this sounds suspiciously like meditation, you’re right! Why then call it mind fasting?

 

I picked up the term mind fasting from Thomas Hora who was a psychiatrist in NCY. The term highlights the mind’s the need to feed. It’s need for constant thought and sensory stimulation. This is why we all have TVs, is it not? The TV is an unending supply of sensory stimulation for the mind to feed on. Many people keep the TV on in order to get away from their own thoughts. They prefer the TV to the unending stream of thoughts in their own minds. In my opinion this is like feeding the mind junk food. If we turn off the TV we can begin to learn to turn off the flow of unwanted thoughts in our minds. Then we won’t be dependent on television to get away from our own thoughts. Fasting cleanses the digestive tract; likewise mind fasting cleanses the mind stream. Through mind fasting the number of thoughts decreases. There is actually some breathing space between thoughts. And eventually the quality of our thoughts improves to something that is healthy and nourishing to us. 

 

In redirecting our thoughts we need an object of contemplation to keep returning our attention to. One of the best such objects is our own breath. It is constant. It maintains our life. It is always with us and so we can always redirect our attention to our breath. Directing our attention to our breath connects us to ourselves. It draws us inward.

 

This process of mind fasting slows our thoughts down. This is of great benefit to us. It allows for relaxation. Thinking takes a lot of energy. Thinking creates a lot of stress. And so we can relax in the evenness of our own breath.  This is called unwinding the mind. Initially this may be all we attain from mind fasting and it is a lot but you should know a consistent practice over years can lead to the ultimate freedom from unbidden thought, a relaxation so deep you have yet to experience it and the end of searching, the end of suffering. However to whatever degree our thought slows down, there we will experience a taste of relaxation, and a taste of freedom.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Circle of Compassion


“The heart becomes wide by forgetting the self, and narrow by thinking of the self and by pitying one's self. To gain a wide and broad heart you must have something before you to look upon and to rest your intelligence upon, and that something is the God-ideal.”

-Hazrat Inayat Khan

 

Albert Einstein wrote about the delusion of thinking of ourselves as separate entities. He described this limited consciousness as a prison that restricts us to our own personal desires and to a limited affection for the people nearest to us. He said, “Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”

 

To widen our circles of compassion we can call upon the wellspring of love, joy and gratitude deep within our hearts. We can extend these qualities to others regardless of their relationship to us, regardless of whether they like us or not, regardless of whether we even know them or not.

 

The universe is like a dome. It echoes back whatever we think into it. If we throw dust at the sun, it simply falls back into our own eyes. This is a universal law of existence and it can be a great teaching device if we let it. The universe responds tit for tat. Some would call this is tough love. Perhaps it is, because it is Love indeed; there is no judgment, no condemnation, just a simple echo.



In the Gospels of Mathew and Luke Jesus says “Judge not, least ye be judged.” What does this mean? If we judge another in truth we are actually judging ourselves. This is the principle of projection. We judge others for what we dislike about ourselves. Judging others constricts the circle of compassion, imprisoning us in the tight little sphere of our own harshness. Putting others first is the antidote to egoic thinking. In attempting to do so all sorts of negative thoughts may arise, giving us a chance to look at them, disbelieve them and let them go

.

Hazrat Inayat Khan has written: “How beautiful are the words of the Prophet: 'The shrine of God is the heart of man.' How true that is! ... He who understands this can worship God even in man. For when he abides by this philosophy he will always be aware that in every aspect and at every moment he may be injuring or hurting the feelings of God, that he is in danger of breaking the shrine of God in breaking the heart of his fellow man. ... What does all this teach us? It is all a lesson in sympathy for one's fellow man, to teach us to share in his troubles, in his despair. For whoever really experiences this joy of life, finds that it becomes so great that it fills his heart and his soul. It does not matter if he has fewer comforts or an inferior position than many in this world, because the light of his kindness, of his sympathy, of the love that is growing, the virtue that is springing up in his heart, all fill the soul with light. There is nothing now that he lacks in life, for he has become the king of it.”

 

In other words such a one has opened wide the circle of compassion. When this happens a sweetness suddenly enters our eyes. All we behold is innocent. Innocent of right doing. Innocent of wrong doing. All is doing just what it is doing. This is tolerance. This is forbearance. This is Love.

Know yourself


Know Yourself

 

The sun lowered itself

And poured warm gold down the funnel of my ear.

It was said:

“Where are you going

With your jaw set in a firm straight line

And the hard light of determination in your eye

Where could you possibly be going?”

 

“Know yourself as a river

That never left its source

Never left its destination”

 

The first three lines of this poem describe how this poem came to me. It actually happened that way. The next four lines describe a habitual attitude about how to interact in the world that I had, the hardness of determination to do something and to get somewhere. Then the poem questions that: “Where are you going?” There are of course a lot of pat answers to that question but it was asked (and answered) in the comic sense of “Who are you really?”

 

Now we come to the last three lines of the poem. The first two words, “Know yourself” could be a shocker to one with the attitude described above. The whole point of being determined to do something and get somewhere is to run away from yourself. At the surface level of course I know myself. How could I not know myself? But then the word “know” when applied to myself is not really satisfied with a surface level answer. The question arises: “What do you mean know myself?” Then another little shocker comes into play: “as a river”. As a river, I am a river? To an embodied person a river is a little fluid maybe something with softened changing boundaries unlike me. But OK, it’s an object, let’s try this metaphor on for size. The last two lines: “never left its source, never left its destination” boggle the mind if it hasn’t been boggled so far. Well yes, a river is at its source always and at its destination always as well. I had never thought about it that way before. But me, how could I be at my source and my destination simultaneously? It must mean the Source and Destination are the same.

 

Now here certain scriptural passages come to mind for example this from the Gospel of Thomas: “The disciples said to Jesus, ‘Tell us, how will our end come?’
Jesus said, ‘Have you found the beginning, then, that you are looking for the end? You see, the end will be where the beginning is. Congratulations to the one who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death.’’ And in Revelation God says, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” And so we see that our Source is what we are seeking. It is our destination and we have never really left it. It just appears to be that way. When we rediscover our Source we are at home, at peace. This is the meaning of not tasting death, for there at the Source seeking is over and we abide in Eternity.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


The Little Musk Deer

 

From spiritual circles comes this story of the little musk deer. One morning a little musk deer smelled a beautiful fragrance. Where could it be coming from? He pointed his nose in the four directions and ran off in the direction he thought it was coming from. He dashed over streams, into a marsh, up over a rocky hill and back into the forest. He just couldn’t rest. He never seemed to get any closer to the source of that beautiful fragrance no matter how fast and hard he ran, until at last he collapsed in exhaustion. And then the fragrance became greater. “Oh my” he gasped, “It’s coming from me!”

 

This is the dilemma of all spiritual seekers, of all people actually. We are so sure fulfillment is outside of us, just around the next corner; we never stop to consider it lies within us.  We seek it in acquiring more stuff, in our relationships, in a spiritual practice or another talk by a spiritual teacher. In Zen it is said: Don’t mistake the finger pointing to the moon for the moon itself. In other words all spiritual practices are pointers toward that which is already within you. In A Course in Miracles Jesus says “Teach not that I died in vain. Teach rather that I did not die by demonstrating that I live in you.” The Living Christ is a state of Mind, accessible to us at any time we pause to tune into it. If we are aware of it continuously it becomes our living reality. The same thing can be said of Buddha mind.

 
In the book Broad View, Boundless Heart this story of is recounted: An American student of Buddhism, who later would be named Ajahn Sumedho, went to study with Ajahn Chah the renowned teacher of the Thai forest tradition. At first he was totally enamored of Ajahn Chah but eventually this wore off and he began to get annoyed at certain flaws he seemed to find. At last he could bear it no longer and asked Ajahn Chah for permission to talk to him about it. Ajahn Chah listened carefully and with compassion to this litany of complaints and when it was over he paused for a few minutes and then said: “Perhaps it’s a good thing that I am not perfect, Sumedho, otherwise you’d be looking for the Buddha somewhere outside your own mind."

The Charge

 

Charge can have several meanings. It could be the charge of the cavalry. It could be the cost of something. But the charge I am thinking about is more like an electrical charge. It is the emotional spark ignited when we get something we want. It’s that high after a shopping spree, or buying a new car or whatever. It lasts but briefly does it not? Then we are off seeking something else to get that charge again. It could also be the charge of sexual desire. Falling in love can often give us the greatest and longest lasting charge. Seeking love, itself can give us a charge and as long as we are seeking we are on fire with desire. Then either we get what we want and quickly lose the charge or we don’t get what we want and lose it. Either way we lose. Just listen to popular music of any decade; it’s either about find love or losing it.

 

Another way to get a charge is to have someone agree with you. How often does that happen? Yet another way is to win at something, or receive recognition of some sort from other people. Again the charge is so brief we are already looking ahead to the next game, or next award almost before the applause has died down. Is this a way to live a life, running from one charge to the next in a kind of addictive frenzy? Is a world like this satisfying or is it only the pretense of satisfaction?

 

Spiritual paths of all faiths are based on the need for a fulfilling life. They offer the ultimate in fulfillment- the love of God, or in the case of Buddhism it is phrased as Nirvana. This is supposed to be a permanent fix, the ultimate charge that never goes away but how many people actually attain this? Very few. That is why seekers in all religions end up settling for the everyday charges that go away quickly even in their spiritual search. This would be a totally dismal situation except for one thing. The realization of the futility of running after charges opens the door to a more sober minded search for lasting satisfaction.

 

You actually have to stop engaging in things that give you a charge, a temporary high. As you do this you may find delight instead, delight in common ordinary things, like the stillness when the refrigerator motor cuts off. Just noticing that can make you happy. And you can still be happy when it goes on again. That is step two, when everything is OK. These small things are the everyday practice of a spiritual life. They bring increasing happiness to your life and ultimately lead to an unbreakable sense of profound wellbeing.

Another Way to Play Scrabble

 

When thinking about the non-electronic games we play like cards and board games I find two puzzling aspects to them. The first is that we shuffle or otherwise hide information from ourselves and then try to find out what we had hidden. It’s the same screwy logic as hiding Easter eggs. Hopefully all the eggs are found (phew!). But in a card game the location of each card although guessed at is never exactly known until it’s played. The second puzzling aspect that is supposed to make the game fun is completion. Somebody wins and somebody loses. This holds true for every game that I can think of. Winning is supposed to be fun but losing never is. Are these games not a parody of the world at large? Look at the stock market- winners and losers every few seconds and of course the grand total at the end of the day. Even buying a loaf of bread is framed in our minds as either winning or losing. Hey! The bread was on sale. I got something for free! Or it could be “Oh my God. The price of bread went up again”, i.e. I lose. Is either of these states of mind worth having?

 

Let’s consider a different way of playing games and a different way of thinking. For this I must give most of the credit to my Auntie, who loved to play scrabble. In her later years I used to go over to her house and play with her. Neither she nor I was interested in keeping score- too much work. My Auntie’s idea of winning was to get all of your pieces on the board. Of course that only came into play at the very end of the game. The fun for us was in all the interesting words that came up. I even got her a scrabble dictionary. We found some really strange words in there! Anyway the goal of the game slowly evolved into getting all of the pieces on to the board. This quickly led to co-operation between us. We would even look at each other’s letters and when our turn came we would try to create a word that would help the other uses her difficult letters. It became a game of shared interests, of a common goal. The words that came up were amazingly varied and new. The games were never boring but always challenging and fun.

 

How would this look in the bigger context of the world at large? Goodness knows there are challenging problems enough in this world. We see some of this in volunteer efforts. People are very generous helping others after a devastating weather event. But can we extend this spirit of generosity and cooperation even further to our everyday actions? What would it be like to make things just a little bit easier for the person next to you at work, and they for you? And at home too often the chores are just that- chores. What if they became opportunities to spend some fun time with each other? Make them into a game of shared interests.

The Christmas Presence

 

Yes there are Christmas presents. The real gift however is the Christmas presence. Can you stop and feel it? You won’t find it in the boxes of stuff covered in paper. You won’t find it in the twinkle of strings of LED lights. They might remind you of it though. They might remind you of the vast and brilliant white light inside of us. But you might find the Christmas presence in the twinkle of an eye, the twinkle of that vast and brilliant light flashing forth in the eye of one truly happy person. Let that person be you!

 

Sit for a moment in these long dark evenings and ask to feel the Christmas presence. It is a full body experience of wonder and of awe. A wonder so complete there is no room for anything else, not one shred of doubt. It is a complete falling in to divine love. That’s where the wonder comes from. It is the only possible response of a full and open heart to a love that vast. It is not the wonder born of surprise or novelty. It is a wonder that never wears off, a wonder ever new. The Christmas presence is an experience of wonder and of awe. It is not an awe that is impressed with power, nor envious of power, nor even humbled by power. It is an awe that comes from knowing a power beyond all powers. Such is the power of divine love.

 

Yes, sit for a moment and ask to feel the Christmas presence. Having felt it you will know completion. And the pleasures you seek in Christmas presents will seem like pale and stale trinkets before it. There’s no harm in Christmas presents unless you use them as a substitute for the Christmas presence. Please do not cheat yourself this way. Please do sit and taste the Christmas presence this winter instead.

For the Love of God

 

They wrote love poems to God: Lalleswari, Mirabai, Catherine of Sienna, Bibi Hayati, Teresa of Avila, Rabia of Basra, Mechthild of Magdeburg. These God intoxicated women of Hindu, Muslim and Christian faiths broke free of the confines of their cultures and poured out their love of God into their writing. And here is a taste of the banquet:

 

At the end of a crazy-moon night

The love of God arose

I said, “It’s me Lalla.”

 

The Beloved awoke

And we became That.

And the mind’s lake is crystal clear.           –Lalleswari (Kashmir, India 1320-1392)

 

 

I give my heart without fear to the Beloved.

As polish goes into gold, I have gone into him.     –Mirabai (India, 1498-1550)

 

 

What is the mind to do

With something that becomes its own ruin:

A God that consumes us in His grace              –Catherine of Sienna (Italy 1347-1380)

 

 

From the moment of time’s first drawn breath

Love resides in us

A treasure locked in the heart’s hidden vault…

 

What can I do but thank you one hundred times?

Your face illumines the shrine of Hayati’s eyes

Constantly present and lovely.                            –Bibi Hayati (Turkey 1800’s)

 

 

The ecstatic death I know.

What can touch His exquisite form

Is not anything that can be seen

How does a soul make love to God?                -Teresa of Avila (Spain 1515-1582)                               

 

 

My eyes kept telling me: “Something is missing from all I see.”

So I went in search of a cure.

The cure for me was His beauty.

The remedy was Love.                                       -Rabia of Barsa (Iraq 717-801)

 

 

Effortlessly

Love flows from God into man

Like a bird rivers the air

Without moving a wing

Thus we move in His world

One in body and soul,

Though outwardly separate in form.      

                                                          –Mechthild of Magdeburg (Germany 1207-1282)