Today’s Lessons

July 18th, 2011

Get up and do something first thing in the day.

Be active.

Be motivated by love.

Don’t be silent anymore.

Simplify life — remove whatever and whoever does not inspire, inform, add personal value and friendship, or provide a needed service

Clean it up, and make it easy to keep clean.

There will always be more things to learn and do as the day progresses, but you have to start somewhere.

Meditation Garden — Inspirations

January 7th, 2011

meditation garden from http://www.talesoftheearth.com/

Because of their abilities to heal, sacred landscapes provide inspiration for the design of gardens in therapeutic health-care environments. Gardens designed for contemplation and healing are likely to be most effective and responsive to the needs of its users when the elements of the sacred landscape are applied. The following design elements constitute such a landscape:


Being of favorable context -
it is sited to take advantage of positive attributes,
and mitigate negative effects
receiving auspicious life-forces
given by the earth, sun and moon;
It is contained – a distinctive form in space,
a distinct space surrounded by form;
It is coherent – clearly defined and ordered
to help things make sense;
It is composed – enabling one to pay attention;
It has clarity – made simple in format
to help develop concentration and insight.
It is an artistic expression of contemplation -
quiet and light inside,
enabling one to listen to the heart sing.

Being of favorable context, the sacred landscape is located in an auspicious setting. It mitigates potentially negative effects, and takes advantage of the environmental attributes of its location, gifts offered by the earth, waters and skies, the sun, moon and stars.


“At a true site…there is a touch of magic and light.
How so, magic?
Here the breath gathers and the essence collects.
Light shines in the middle and magic goes out on all sides.
Try to understand!
It is hard to describe!”

So, I’m thinking of turning an available space in my back yard into a meditation garden… anyone have interesting inspirations, ideas for what should go into a meditation garden space, etc? I’m thinking California natives for the plants, and looking for good ideas for seating, lighting, arranging the space, etc… all thoughts, ideas, comments, photos of nice spaces, etc welcome!

You Learn

December 2nd, 2010

You Learn

You learn.

After a while you learn the subtle difference

between holding a hand and chaining a soul,

and you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning

and company doesn’t mean security.

And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts

and presents aren’t promises,

and you begin to accept your defeats

with your head up and your eyes open

with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,

and you learn to build all your roads on today

because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans

and futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn

that even sunshine burns if you get too much.

So you plant your garden and decorate your own soul,

instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure.

That you really are strong.

And you really do have worth.

And you learn. And learn.

With every good-bye you learn.

- Jorge Luis Borges

via whiskey river.

Soul Connection

October 30th, 2010

A soul connection is a resonance between two people who respond to the essential beauty of each other’s individual natures, behind their facades, and who connect on this deeper level. This kind of mutual recognition provides the catalyst for a potent alchemy. It is a sacred alliance whose purpose is to help both partners discover and realize their deepest potentials. While a heart connection lets us appreciate those we love just as they are, a soul connection opens up a further dimension — seeing and loving them for who they could be, and for who we could become under their influence. This means recognizing that we both have an important part to play in helping each other become more fully who we are.

Someone who loves us can often see our soul potential more clearly than we can ourselves. When this happens, it has a catalytic effect; it invites and encourages dormant, undeveloped parts of us to come forth and find expression. Indeed, we are often most strongly attracted to those who we sense “will make us live — and die — more intensely… Sister souls recognize each other.”, as the French writer Suzanne Lilar points out. A soul connection not only inspires us to expand, but also forces us to confront whatever stands in the way of that expansion.

– John Welwood, “Love and Awakening”

I’ve known two men who I loved deeply who both told me that they did not have souls. Yet there I sat, watching their souls shining brightly within them while they denied their very presence. It mystified me, that they were unable to even see what shone so brilliantly and obviously before me. Both of these friendships ended badly, with neither one able to acknowledge that they loved me, or at least that they cared for me as anything more than a friend. But both have gone on to have deep loving relationships with others somehow after my experiences with them, after struggling to attain any intensity or intimacy in their lives for many years.

This is a fairly common theme in my life, enabling other people to find their own depths and be able to begin to pull them out and into loving relationships. I’m going through another one of these periods with a good friend now, which is why I haven’t been blogging as much here.

I can only think of a few past boyfriends who didn’t go on in their very next relationship or one shortly after to find a deep love. It seems that even if someone can’t quite connect to my soul, I can often allow them to find their own. I used to think of myself as a sort of mirror, that acknowledges deeply what is within other people, and sometimes allows them to catch a glimpse of themselves. It is something I strive for now in friendships and other relationships, often not caring what they might think of me as a person, but only caring that they are able to, or sometimes forced to, acknowledge what is within themselves.

The more we bring forth and manifest our deeper potentials, the richer our soul — our responsiveness to our own experience, to other people, and to life — becomes. And the more we can serve as a channel for expressing the larger life of the spirit. The evolving soul is like a jewel that is continually shedding its impurities and growing more lustrous as it becomes even more translucent to the sun.

Although a whole range of larger human capacities is potentially available to everyone, each of us has special access to certain qualities, as well as unique aptitudes for combining and expressing them. Every soul has its own individual, jewel-like character, its own “suchness”. And we each have our own unique path of soulwork — how we need to develop in order to manifest this deeper potential. Two lovers with a soul connection recognize that they can help each other move forward along this path.

– John Welwood, “Love and Awakening”

The Dance of Awareness

October 4th, 2010

Awareness in life is not hoping you learn to dance — it is recognizing that you already are dancing. Life is the dancer, you are the dance.

2004:

It is true that being aware of how things happen makes one’s words more potent and one’s behavior more effective. But even without the light of consciousness, people grow and improve. Being unconscious is not a crime; it is merely a lack of a very helpful ability.

Knowing how things work gives the leader more real power and ability than all the degrees or titles the world can offer. That is why people in every era and in every culture have honored those who know how things happen.”Tao of Leadership

When I first started blogging about the Tao back in 2004, I was at the beginning of developing my full sense of awareness. But of course developing awareness isn’t something you can ever really finish; it is always a continuing process. Some moments allow us to be more present and aware than others, some people in our lives allow us to be more present with them than do others. This summer I had the amazing experience of being with a friend where we were both totally and completely aware with each other over several days, and it was a life changing experience for both of us.

I can still find it difficult to be around those who lack awareness, as I said when I posted this in 2004. I am pretty forgiving most of the time, though, and see it as a way to practice loving kindness towards those who are less aware. I often take the bodhisatva path of trying to wake others up, and walk with them for a while, but I usually revert to Tao eventually and am content to simply walk my own path.

2005:

Too many people seem to walk through their lives in a daze, not aware of what is going on around them at all, lost in their concerns over what has happened or will happen. We all need to be awake and aware to the possibilities of the Now –- and the consequences to the future of lacking that awareness.

I blogged a great deal about Tao in 2005, including most of Deng Ming Dao’s wonderful 365 Tao, which I sometimes give to friends who are in conflict. I have a good friend who is reading this right now, and I think it is beginning to help her. I credit this book with helping me the most with my own personal inner changes. If you want to see my real changes, it is in the contrast between the posts from that book and the political articles I was posting. In that year, I felt all the anger I had felt over our country’s situation shift into taking action to do something to change things. I worked a lot on political issues, but lost the anger I had felt and let it shift into movement. I began to understand that Tao is not only about acceptance of what is, but using the power of Tao to help create new or different situations. We are not helpless victims, we are the creators of our own world.

2006:

A person with true self-acceptance is “a person with full awareness of self in body, mind and spirit. This person’s center of consciousness (Hsing – “Heart Flower”) is in full bloom, ready to receive power from above, openly relating to and being reflected by others.”

It may seem clever to know and accept others
Yet accepting oneself is the way to Wisdom.
It may feel powerful to overcome others
Yet disciplining oneself is true Strength.
It may be noble to honor others
Yet respecting oneself is deep self-esteem.

Tao Mentoring

It has taken me a long time to fully learn to accept myself as I am. And it is a process I’ve repeated many times over. Each time I come to believe I finally accept myself, I find something I still want to improve. Meeting this balance between accepting myself as I am and knowing that I have even more room to grow is always interesting. It means not being complacent with where I am at, but always knowing there is more to know, more to see and feel and do, and that is ok.

But I think the key is really respect. Self-respect is not simply about accepting who you are right at this moment, but also respecting yourself enough to continually challenge yourself. Not allowing yourself to become complacent, thinking you are already the best you can be, but knowing there is more you can do and always being ready to learn and grow and change, truly opening yourself to the possibilities of life that are all around you.

This was one of my favorite posts, and one I return to often. I truly believe the key to being able to help others lies in acceptance of ourselves. In 2006, I developed the ability to really create change through simply being myself. I also blogged a lot about art journaling, and using art as a means to learn about yourself and perhaps visually see the inner processes that are usually hidden within us. It was a very helpful time for me, opening me up to new experiences and ideas and a great community of art bloggers.

2007:

We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement. All these trips we lay on ourselves never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of the eye from being fully awake.” — Pema Chodron, Start From Where You Are

In 2007, I blogged about yoga, including Rolf Gates’ wonderful “Meditations from the Mat”, and Buddhism, including much of the wonderful Pema Chodron . I spent a lot of time exploring different paths, but still found Tao to be the one that I kept returning to (well, return is the way of the Tao…) I did a lot of traveling and exploring, worked a great deal on politics, and really felt that our political community was moving towards creating change.

2009:

How much of the day are you aware -– just basically aware of what life is presenting -– rather than being lost in waking sleep, in being identified with whatever you’re doing, almost as if you didn’t exist?

To what extent do you blindly drift from one form of comfort to another, from one daydream or fantasy to another, from one secure place to another, in order to avoid the anxious quiver of discomfort or insecurity? How much of your energy is used to fortify a particular self-image, or to simply please others in order to gain approval, instead of devoting your energy to living a genuine life?” — At Home in the Muddy Water: A Guide to Finding Peace within Everyday Chaos Ezra Bayda

Oh soul,
you worry too much.

You have seen your own strength.
You have seen your own beauty.
You have seen your golden wings.
Of anything less,
why do you worry?
You are in truth
the soul, of the soul, of the soul.”

Jalal ad-Din Rumi

For me, spiritual growth has come in strange ways and from strange places, and I think that is how authentic spiritual growth progresses, from within, as we turn through the limits of our own being and try to become more. We find ourselves turning again and again within the limited space of ourselves, and finally realize that there is an enormous amount of space outside of ourselves. We then create mobius strips and Klein bottles, trying to bring this outside space within ourselves, an impossible task at first. We see the beautiful poetry of Rumi as he struggles with spirituality, the magnificent stories and tales of mythology, religion, and literature, all trying to move in these same paths.

And then one day, a small hummingbird sits in front of your nose, flapping its wings, and looks at you curiously, or you gaze into a flower and finally really see it, or someone says something that catches your ear and your mind at just the right moment, or a quiet meditation brings you to the place within yourself that just knows, simply knows, and you smile. You get it. You get that Mona Lisa smile on your face and just — become yourself.

And it happens over and over. We find ourselves, we lose ourselves, we find ourselves again, at another place on the spiral. The helixes divide, and come back together. And life goes on.

2009 for me was about realizing “there is nothing to achieve” — we are already within ourselves everything we want to be or could hope to be. Everything else is just ego. It’s the point where I really became comfortable in my own skin, even as I watch that skin age.

And then — my wonderful friend came along and exploded my world again with this question:

“How open to change are you?”

My boat strikes something deep.
At first, sounds of silence, waves.
Nothing has happened;
Or perhaps everything has happened
And I am sitting in my new life.
-– Rumi

2010:

Dogen reminds us that to raise the mind of compassionate awakening is none other than the whole of daily activity with no concern for one’s self, no thought of outcome, no sense of self-gratification. It means that whatever is, is the best that there is at this moment. Just this, wholly this, only this.

Engaging in the Way, in the life of continuous practice, means that we are constantly awakening with each new moment. Awakening is not a single event in time. Rather it is a continuous event through time. Basho wrote: Let me be called a traveler. He did not mention any destination. Just a traveler.”
- Joan Halifax via Whiskey River

“Being present in the motion, moment after moment, provides that secret chamber of awareness and gives the writer the chance to notice what is passing by before it is gone.” — Richard R. Powell, Wabi Sabi for Writers

So you may have noticed a lack of posting here lately. Well, much of my work has moved elsewhere on the Internet — into Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr — but much of me is now just off living my life, living in awareness, being where I am and with who I am with and doing whatever I am doing, but always Being. I made a vision board a year or so ago with the words “Go. Do. Be” on it, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I keep growing, moving, changing, becoming, being. Others may notice, or not, it doesn’t matter. I may change the world, or those around me, or not, it doesn’t matter. What matters, for all of us, is Awareness and Being.

That’s all there is, really. The rest is ego. Life dances. You are the dance, not the dancer.

Meditation

August 20th, 2010

Getting into some new meditation CDs and doing some guided meditations — anyone have any favorites that have been good for you?

Peaceful

August 6th, 2010

It’s always great when things that were going wrong with your world begin to go right again. I’m feeling really peaceful and enjoying the quiet of the moment and the peace I am feeling. In about a minute I’ll get up to feed the dogs, and they will fill the space with their energy. But this moment, just now, is peaceful and calm.

Hope all is well in your world, too.

Equanimity (Upeksha)

July 7th, 2010

Equanimity (Upeksha)

The fourth element of true love is upeksha, which means equanimity, nonattachment, nondiscrimination, even mindedness, or letting go. Upa means “over,” and iksh means “to look.” You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other. If your love has attachment, discrimination, prejudice, or clinging in it, it is not true love. People who do not understand Buddhism sometimes think upeksha means indifference, but true equanimity is neither cold nor indifferent. If you have more than one child, they are all your chil­dren. Upeksha does not mean that you don’t love. You love in a way that all your children receive your love, without dis­crimination.

Upeksha has the mark called samatajñana, “the wisdom of equality”, the ability to see everyone as equal: not dis­criminating between ourselves and others. In a conflict, even though we are deeply concerned, we remain impar­tial, able to love and to understand both sides. We shed all discrimination and prejudice, and remove all boundaries between ourselves and others. As long as we see ourselves as the one who loves and the other as the one who is loved, as long as we value ourselves more than others or see ourselves as different from others, we do not have true equa­nimity. We have to put ourselves “into the other person’s skin” and become one with him if we want to understand and truly love him. When that happens, there is no “self” and no “other.”

Without upeksha, your love may become possessive. A summer breeze can be very refreshing; but if we try to put it in a tin can so we can have it entirely for ourselves, the breeze will die. Our beloved is the same. He is like a cloud, a breeze, a flower. If you imprison him in a tin can, he will die. Yet many people do just that. They rob their loved one of his liberty, until he can no longer be himself. They live to satisfy themselves and use their loved one to help them fulfill that. That is not loving; it is destroying. You say you love him, but if you do not understand his aspirations, his needs, his difficulties, he is in a prison called love. True love, allows you to preserve your freedom and the freedom of your beloved. That is upeksha.

For love to be true love, it must contain compassion, joy and equanimity. For compassion to be true compassion, it has to have love, joy, and equanimity in it. True joy has to contain love, compassion, and equanimity. And true equanimity has to have love, compassion, and joy in it. This is the interbeing nature of the Four Immeasurable Minds. When the Buddha told the Brahman man to practice the Four Immeasurable Minds, he was offering all of us a very important teaching. But we must look deeply and practice them for ourselves to bring these four aspects of love into our own lives and into the lives of those we love.

Random Quotes

April 13th, 2010

The thought manifests as the word;

The word manifests as the deed;

The deed develops into habit;

And habit hardens into character;

So watch the thought and its ways with care,

And let it spring from love

Born out of concern for all beings…

As the shadow follows the body,

As we think, so we become.

Buddha (563 BC – 483 BC), Dhammapada

Forever is composed of nows.

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

I’m not only my spirit but my body, and who can decide how much I, my individual self, am conditioned by the accident of my body? Would Byron have been Byron but for his club foot, or Dostoyevsky Dostoyevsky without his epilepsy?

W. Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965), The Razor’s Edge, 1943

Last night I stayed up late playing poker with Tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died.

Steven Wright (1955 – )

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.

Hans Hoffman

via Random Quotes – The Quotations Page.

Reality is all in Your Head

April 12th, 2010

The key, then, to self responsibility is taking 100% ownership of our thoughts, feelings, and actions, while at the same time remembering that we don’t know much for sure.

It is quite immature for adults to stomp their little feetsies, and say, “I don’t understand, I don’t believe it, and I’m not listening to another word!”

Such an odd thing. People are stuck in a pile of shit, and insist that

a) it appeared by magic,

b) they had nothing to do with their being in it,

c) someone else is to blame,

d) someone else should dig them out, and

e) they don’t want to even consider how they got into the pile in the first place (as they place their fingers in their ears, and start humming.)

If I assume that what I know is provisional and incomplete (what Zen calls Beginner’s Mind…) then life actually becomes kind of simple. If I am standing in roses I can enjoy it, then move on. If I am standing in shit, I can extricate myself, and then devise a way to not end up there again.

The Point?

The entire universe is going on right in your head. You are creating everything through the stories you tell, and experiencing everything as you choose to. Your experience, your feelings, your thoughts, all are you — you are choosing out of many, many options, those specific things. If I have Beginner’s Mind, I can start again, and pick some other way.

via Reality is all in Your Head | The Pathless Path.

Center (repost from 2005)

March 31st, 2010

From a bud, only a promise.
Then a gentle opening:
Rich blooming, bursting of fragrance,
The fulfillment of the center.

True beauty comes from within. Take a flower as an example. In the beginning it is only a bud. It does not yet show its loveliness to the world, it does not attract bees or butterflies, and it cannot yet become fruit. Only when it opens is beauty revealed in its center. There is the focus of its exquisiteness, there is the source of its aroma, there is its sweet nectar. In the same way, our own unique beauty comes from within.

Our glory has nothing to do with our appearance or our occupation. Our special qualities come from an inner source. We must take care to open and bloom naturally and leisurely and keep to the center. It is from there that all mystery and power come, and it is good to let it unfold in its own time.

Just as a flower goes through stages — bud, open, bloom, pollinate, wither, fruit, fall — each of us will go through the obvious stages of birth and death. We aren’t of a single character throughout our lives. We change and grow. Our identities unfold and bloom. Unless we attain the center and keep to our progressions, we cannot ever reach true independence in our lives.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

Sometimes it is difficult to be patient with ourselves and especially with others, allowing them the time to grow and develop in their own way. We push ourselves, we push our kids, trying to make people be more mature than they are ready to be, or make ourselves do tasks we aren’t really ready to take on right now.

As a gardener, I know I can’t push the flowers to develop any sooner than they are ready to, or make fruit develop any faster. As a process management specialist, I know it takes time to understand the requirements of a project, to really fully develop the idea and the design of the programs, and to thoroughly test their functionality. One of my favorite project management aphorisms is, “No matter how many women you put on the project, it still takes nine months to make a baby.” People try to rush through their work, and then wonder why they have so many problems. They try to have a relationship right now, pushing for sex and/or marriage, when maybe it would be better to let the relationship develop over time and unfold naturally.

We are impatient people. We want it all, today, right now. We fuss and fume if we have to wait in line for a few minutes. We have drive-through food, drive-through banking, drive-through pharmacies, drive-through liquor stores, and would probably have drive-through sex if we could. Well, lots of people do have sex in their cars, I suppose.

How many people do you know who are off-center, off-balance in their lives? Probably most of them, working too many hours, not getting enough sleep, always complaining they don’t have enough time. Neglecting themselves, neglecting their families, and then being surprised when the divorce comes or the kids are surly teenagers who won’t talk to them and are off doing drugs or drinking.

We need to seek our center, find our peace, know ourselves and those around us as well as we can. We need to take time for ourselves, for each other. We need to open gently, to unfold, to bloom. We need to see the beauty not just in that bloom, but in those buds, in the faded petals, in the withered center, and then in the fruit of our efforts. Then we will fully understand our lives, and appreciate them, and those of others as well. Look at the beautiful blooms and admire them, yes, but admire also the form and grace of all the phases of life. Then, your life will be rich and full.

__________________________

My life has changed a bit since I wrote those words five years ago. Then, I was learning the Tao, taking it in, especially through the wise words of Deng Ming Dao. Now, I seek out others who know the Tao and get most of my inspiration from them, and try to inspire others as well. I’ve found my center, and am not easily thrown off balance, and when I am, I can recover pretty quickly.

But I still try to rush things at times, still find it difficult to patiently wait for things to develop as they should. I know how I think I want things to be, and am impatient when they aren’t yet that way. After all these years, I am still trying to learn patience. Perhaps I’ll have to turn to Buddhism to learn to truly live within the moment, though Tao has always pointed the way.  Or perhaps I’ll visit my garden today, look at the beautiful flowers blooming, hear the birds singing and remember… until I forget again.

At least I’ve learned to be patient with myself, and to love myself even when I am impatient.

Yes, We Did — and Yes, We Will

March 22nd, 2010

I’m glad to finally see the health care bill pass. While it isn’t exactly what the progressive community wants, it’s certainly a big step forward, and will provide health care for millions of people as well as make health care better for the rest of us. So it’s a big win.

And there were a lot of doubts about getting this far. I’ve learned one thing about Obama — he will make every effort to keep his word and do what he says he will do. He has great integrity, and that is certainly what I saw in him when I started working with the political community to get him elected. I’m glad for the work I did over those years, sad for the friends I alienated in doing so, but their lives will be better, too. Even if they don’t appreciate that. But I’m glad for the friends I’ve made, and how deeply those friendships run. I’m glad to have the life I have now, with true, deep friendships and relationships, and I would not have those things if I did not follow my heart and do what I know is the right thing to do.

These days, I’m starting to get kudos for the work I do in pet therapy. The thing is, I don’t do any of the things I do for the ego gratification, for the good feeling of people praising me for what I do. I do what I do because it’s simply the right thing for me to be doing. It’s the Buddhist idea of “right work” — once you know it’s right, you simply do it. There is no ego involved.

I think for many of us who worked so hard on the campaign, on the years of political activism, we don’t feel much except great relief that it is finally showing results and the job is getting done. We know we still have years of struggle ahead to continue making the changes this country needs. Some may feel pride, some are experiencing great joy today, but for those who really understand and believe in change, we know the real work is still ahead, and this is just the first big step. A huge step, and it marks the beginnings of a new age in America, yes — but there is still so much to do.

Yes, we did.
Yes, we will…..

“Every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself, about this country, where you have a chance to make good on those promises that you made … And this is the time to make true on that promise. We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true. We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to let whatever light we have shine.” — Barack Obama

Morning Inspirations

March 4th, 2010

“If your spiritual aspirations produce socially beneficial qualities in you such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, then they can be considered something more that a mere psychological defense. In contrast, if you are overcome by qualities such as impatience, distractibility, impulsiveness, demandingness, conflict, discord, and scorn for others, then you are growing weeds, not fruit.”
- Raymond Richmond (via Mike Garafalo)

I think I’ve been a bit distractible and impatient lately.Time to get back to patience and self-control for a while…..

“If you make room for the energy you wish to bring into your life, there is a much better chance of receiving it. Make a space at your table, both literally and metaphorically. Expect the fulfillment of your heart’s desire, and let your home reflect it.” — Beth Owl’s Daughter

I like this thought — that I ought to make room in my life for what I would like to show up in it. Not so much law of attraction, but just to clear the space for what I want in my life. Plus I enjoy physically clearing space when I’m trying to create new things. We just took out our front lawn in anticipation of putting in a more drought-tolerant, native landscape. So here we are actually clearing the space for something new to come into our lives.

“The symbolism we encounter in art and in our dreams serves to bridge the individual to the universal., the microcosm of our inner life to the macrocosm of existence… Symbolism adds to the beauty and the mystery of art and life. It captures the essence of our experiences. ” — Fred White, The Daily Writer

This gets to something that I encounter a lot — how to explain the things I am thinking to other people in a way that is universally understandable. So much of our individual experience is only relevant to our own lives, or the lives of those close to us, to the touchstones we have created for ourselves. To make those experiences understandable to others, we need a language or symbology we can use to translate it for other people.

Sometimes the imagery of religion or spirituality is confused with some mundane reality, and people get frustrated that they don’t have those exotic experiences that others describe. But many times, the reality is that the metaphorical language or symbols actually describe a rather common experience that anyone might feel, and people think they are missing it only because they didn’t get that particular symbol, like missing a joke because you don’t understand it.

The trick is to elevate this experience to an artistic level, rather than just the mundane level. It may not reach as many people as describing it in mundane terms, but it becomes a more enriching and transcending experience because of the symbology. We want to understand the everyday, but we also want to be inspired by the extraordinary. When you truly see the extraordinary in the everyday, your entire life is elevated to that new spiritual level. What great artists try to do is to inspire that experience in others, so that they too can “get” that the everyday is actually the spiritual experience. Georgia O’Keefe didn’t paint flowers, she painted her experience when looking at flowers.

Pointing the Way

February 21st, 2010

2010-02-01

Do not confuse the pointing finger with the moon….

Sharing Our Visions

February 6th, 2010

“Friendship arises out of mere companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” We can imagine that among those early hunters and warriors single individuals — one in a century? one in a thousand years? — saw what others did not; saw that the deer was beautiful as well as edible, that hunting was fun as well as necessary, dreamed that his gods might be not only powerful but holy. But as long as each of these percipient persons dies without finding a kindred soul, nothing (I suspect) will come of it; art or sport or spiritual religion will not be born. It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision — it is then that Friendship is born. And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude… In this kind of love, as Emerson said, “Do you love me? means Do you see the same truth?” — Or at least, “Do you care about the same truth?” The man who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance can be our Friend. He need not agree with us about the answer.” — C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

One of the formative lessons every writer (and editor) learns is that the adjective is the uranium-235 of language. Adjectives are to be treated as highly radioactive material: when used correctly, they can light up a city; used with laze, stupidity, and excess, they can turn you and your work into the artistic equivalent of Chernobyl. — Brian Donohue

It is well established that listening to action words such as lick, pick and kick activates the brain areas that control the tongue, hand and foot. Pulvermuller’s research goes a step farther, suggesting that the brain’s action system does more than respond to meaning — he believes that it contributes to it.

To test this theory, Pulvermuller ran a study in which he stimulated different parts of the action system using TMS while volunteers listened to tongue, hand and foot-related words. The level of TMS was enough to increase the neuronal activity, but not enough to knock out the region. He found that stimulating the hand region made people quicker to comprehend hand-related words, such as stitch and pick. The same was true for foot-related words, such as kick and run, when he stimulated the foot area of the brain. “We found it wasn’t just a one-way flow from the language system to the motor system. People actually use these brain areas to understand the word,” he said.

Showing that we use our “foot area” to know what “kicking” means may sound like a trivial advance. But it demonstrates scientifically what great writers have instinctively known all along: that we don’t just understand words, we feel them.

Words have effects, sometimes very physical effects. In sharing our visions of what we want our world to be like, in developing our friendships and other relationships, we have to consider the words we use with others and make sure they are the ones we intend. We also have to understand how others may be using their words to manipulate us. Remember that action words can strongly affect other people and that they affect you, too. If you want a peaceful, calm, Taoful world, then use peaceful, calm, Taoful words. And be aware when others are using words that create strong reactions in you. Realize you can control those reactions and think about your response before automatically becoming angry or annoyed. And that responding in a calm, peaceful way will change their responses to you in return.

Glimpsing versus Knowing

January 28th, 2010

satori-michelle-curiel
Satori — Michelle Curiel

Satori (悟り?) (Chinese: 悟; pinyin: wù; Korean 오) is a Japanese Buddhist term for “enlightenment.” The word literally means “understanding.” “Satori” translates as a flash of sudden awareness, or individual enlightenment, and while satori is from the Zen Buddhist tradition, enlightenment can be simultaneously considered “the first step” or embarkation toward nirvana.

Satori is typically juxtaposed with a related term known as kensho, which translates as “seeing one’s nature.” Kensho experiences tend to be briefer glimpses, while satori is considered to be a deeper spiritual experience. Satori is as well an intuitive experience and has been described as being similar to awakening one day with an additional pair of arms, and only later learning how to use them.

Meditation opens seldom glimpsed areas of our subconscious. When that happens, extraordinary thoughts and awareness come to us with seeming spontaneity. We realize truths that were opaque to us before; we perceive events that were previously too distant… All the power of transcendence is also within us. Tap into it and you tap into the divine itself.”
Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

Inner truth is only glimpsed by disconnecting the mechanism of interpretation. If we can withdraw the activities of the senses and isolate that part of the mind responsible for filtering sensory input, then we can temporarily shut off the ongoing process of interaction with the outside world. We will then be in a neutral place that is wholly turned inward. We are left with an absolute state, entirely without distinction or relativity. This is called nothingness, and it is the truth underlying all things.”

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

Once you realize that the true Tao is to be found within yourself, you shift your attention. Then worship becomes recognition. Your own spirit arises, and you learn to tap into it on your own. If someone had told you what to look for, you might never be sure of your experiences. What comes from outer suggestion is not the true Tao.

Glimpsing the source leaves no doubts.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

Tao is continuous, flowing, and changing, but there is no knowing it in a single view. We rely on composite images that we form in ourselves. For a beginner, glimpses of Tao will be random and fleeting. You will stumble on it from time to time, or you will see it in the brief spaces between events. For the mature practitioner, your composite view comes from training, technique, research, and the experience of self-cultivation. But even after years, it is impossible to take in the totality.

There is a way to know Tao directly and completely. It requires the awakening of one’s spiritual force. When this happens, spirituality manifests as a brilliant light. Your mind expands into a glowing presence. Like a lighthouse, this beacon of energy becomes illumination and eye at the same time. Significantly, however, what it shows, it also knows directly. It is the light that sees.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

My Favorite Liar | Zen Moments

January 14th, 2010

What made Dr. K memorable was a gimmick he employed that began with his introduction at the beginning of his first class:

“Now I know some of you have already heard of me, but for the benefit of those who are unfamiliar, let me explain how I teach. Between today until the class right before finals, it is my intention to work into each of my lectures … one lie. Your job, as students, among other things, is to try and catch me in the Lie of the Day.”

And thus began our ten-week course.

This was an insidiously brilliant technique to focus our attention – by offering an open invitation for students to challenge his statements, he transmitted lessons that lasted far beyond the immediate subject matter and taught us to constantly check new statements and claims with what we already accept as fact.

Early in the quarter, the Lie of the Day was usually obvious – immediately triggering a forest of raised hands to challenge the falsehood. Dr. K would smile, draw a line through that section of the board, and utter his trademark phrase “Very good! In fact, the opposite is true. Moving on … ”

As the quarter progressed, the Lie of the Day became more subtle, and many ended up slipping past a majority of the students unnoticed until a particularly alert person stopped the lecture to flag the disinformation.

Every once in a while, a lecture would end with nobody catching the lie which created its own unique classroom experience – in any other college lecture, end of the class hour prompts a swift rush of feet and zipping up of bookbags as students make a beeline for the door.

On the days when nobody caught the lie, we all sat in silence, looking at each other as Dr. K, looking quite pleased with himself, said with a sly grin: “Ah ha! Each of you has one falsehood in your lecture notes. Discuss amongst yourselves what it might be, and I will tell you next Monday. That is all.”

Those lectures forced us to puzzle things out, work out various angles in study groups so we could approach him with our theories the following week.

Brilliant … but what made Dr. K’s technique most insidiously evil and genius was, during the most technically difficult lecture of the entire quarter, there was no lie. At the end of the lecture in which he was not called on any lie, he offered the same challenge to work through the notes; on the following Monday, he fielded our theories for what the falsehood might be (and shooting them down “no, in fact that is true – look at “) for almost ten minutes before he finally revealed: “Do you remember the first lecture – how I said that ‘every lecture has a lie?’”

Exhausted from having our best theories shot down, we nodded.

Well – THAT was a lie.

via My Favorite Liar | Zen Moments.

Pratibha

October 11th, 2009

Pratibha It means vision, insight, intuition, inner understanding, unconditioned knowledge, inner wisdom, awareness, awakening. In Zen they use the word satori. It should not be confused with enlightenment or realisation. Patanjali in his wonderful theoretical textbook of varied yoga practices known as the Yoga Aphorisms or Sutras, sees pratibha as the spiritual illumination which is attained through yoga discipline to enable the disciple to know all else.

It is then the insight or illumination which is the open gateway to the final goal. It is the inner transformation which enables the aspirant to distinguish Reality from the sham. In some way it can be visualised as a bridge between the mind and the Real Self. It produces changed people and clarity of thinking as well as being an infallible guide in all undertakings. Some few people are born with it, but seldom to more than a small degree.

Even this can eventually be obscured by social life and its conditioning. It cannot thrive in a world where we permit others to do our thinking for us. The more it is used, the more it increases in intensity. Pratibha is not related to careful thought or deliberation. It is instant in operation and spontaneous in manifestation. For the average Zen student this was regarded as a sufficient attainment. Only those who seek Buddhahood and Enlightenment go further. But this is also a stage which, if once reached, requires no further guidance from a guru or master. Sometimes it is even spoken of as pratibha-shakti — the power of illumination. It is most easily developed by meditation or contemplation, and is independent of all religious patterns.

via Dattatreya.

The Joy of Service

September 24th, 2009

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy…my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment; and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.” — George Bernard Shaw (via Whiskey River)

“We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.” — Ben Sweetland

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” — Rabindranath Tagore

“Consciously or unconsciously, everyone of us does render some service or another. If we cultivate the habit of doing this service deliberately, our desire for service will steadily grow stronger, and it will make not only for our own happiness, but that of the world at large.” — Mahatma Gandhi

“Joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness” — Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

“Whoever renders service to many puts himself in line for greatness — great wealth, great return, great satisfaction, great reputation, and great joy.” — Jim Rohn

“The Master of Life’s been good to me. He has given me strength to face past illnesses, and victory in the face of defeat. He has given me life and joy where other saw oblivion. He Has given new purpose to live for, new services to render and old wounds to heal.

Life and love go on, let the music play.” — Johnny Cash

Visions (reposted from May, 2005)

July 13th, 2009

Neither drug-induced
Nor self-induced visions:
Pierce all visions,
To see the void.

Tao is not to be found through drugs or any external means. While you most assuredly will have visions, how will you know what they mean? No matter how vivid, no matter how seemingly profound, they must be understood in order to be useful. By contrast, meditation also brings visions, voices, feelings, and absolute certainties. But prior philosophical inquiry is essential preparation for these experiences. The practitioner can instantly fit new experiences into a frame of reference. There is no confusion, and one can distinguish the true from the false. After all, even the perceptions of meditation may leave room for doubt.

Not everything that one receives during spiritual inquiry is true. Some are deceptions, and one must be able to see through them. The form that visions take is a function of your own degree of mental sophistication. As such, they are still in the circumference of your mind. If you want to receive impulses from the true Tao, you should know that they do not come was visions. Receiving Tao is to enter into a state of consciousness. Followers of Tao may indulge in a spiritual vision for a time, but they eventually learn that there is something more important than the endless exploration of visions. The eventual object is to transcend all enslavement to perception. Only in attaining that state can one adequately judge reality.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

External visions and voices can be misunderstood. Even saints have misunderstood what God has said to them. Divine communications of an intelligible kind have to be filtered through the human psyche and one’s cultural conditioning. … Since one can never tell which percentage group a particular communication belongs to, if one follows these communications without discretion, one can get into all kinds of trouble. There is no guarantee that any particular communication to an individual is actually coming from God. — Open Mind, Open Heart, Thomas Keating

Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens. — Carl Jung

Because of the interconnectedness of all minds, affirming a positive vision may be about the most sophisticated action any one of us can take.” –Willis Harman

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” — Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)

I would give all the wealth of the world, and all the deeds of all the heroes, for one true vision. — Henry David Thoreau

“Seeing within changes one’s outer vision.” — Joseph Chilton Pearce

“Finally, I realized what makes my garden exciting is me. Living in it every day, participating minutely in each small event, I see with doubled and redoubled vision. Where friends notice a solitary hummingbird pricking the salvia flowers, I recall a season’s worth of hummingbird battles.” — Janice Emily Bowers, A Full Life in a Small Place, 1993

Ah, that last quote touches my heart… it so fits my own vision of my garden!

I tend to think of visions in terms of my perception of things I want to accomplish, more so than actual visions one might see as if in a dream. Meditation becomes a way to relax into a state of mind that lets you focus calmly and clearly on the life going on around you, and incorporate your own perception of what things ought to be like with the reality around you, rather than imposing your perceptions on the world at large. When I meditate, I can at times see colors and patterns, but I think of them more as optical illusions than anything else, things you see in a resting state or before falling asleep. I’ve had migraine headaches with the typical migraine swirl pattern, I’ve had cataracts and had them removed, so I’m pretty used to seeing things in different ways, quite literally.

I don’t feel especially enslaved to my own perceptions. I certainly know that others see things in different ways, and I know that the actual reality is different from those things I perceive, since I can’t see in infrared, although after cataract surgery, I do see some ultraviolet, which makes colors and things “brighter” than those most people see. I spent weeks just admiring blues and yellows before I got used to it, they were so vivid.

After a time studying Tao, you become less attached to your own perception of things, you own visions. You are more in tune with what is actually taking place, and you see the patterns of where things are moving. You can choose to align yourself with those patterns, or, if you need to break a pattern, you can keep still and let it flow around you. Sometimes you do get swept into the current of events, but even then, with the help of meditation, you learn to steer yourself back to the shore and regain control. The beauty of Tao is you always have the opportunity to at least be in control of yourself and what you feel. In fact, you learn to realize that is all you can possibly control most of the time! Meditation is sort of the key to developing that serenity that lets you accept life as it is, change what you can (yourself, mostly), and know the difference.

_________

I would say that what has changed since I first posted this is that I don’t really actively meditate anymore. Life itself has become the meditation, living within the moment as it comes. Yes, sometimes I lose my awareness, but eventually I get back to it again. I think once you stop worrying about being aware, it is actually easier. I know meditation is really useful for a lot of people, though.

Recognizing that dissatisfaction is mostly internally driven is a pretty important step to being able to change your circumstances. If you are doing something about actively changing an unpleasant situation for the better, you can at least feel good about that rather than being overwhelmed. And sometimes that means changing the illusion that you are powerless to control what is happening. Sometimes it means recognizing you have no control over a situation, or that you need more help to deal with it. In either case, being in a calm state of mind can help break through the illusions that are clouding your vision.