23 Apr 2014 Leave a comment
A friend of mine who is in AA gave me a good quote when I described my problems with envy: “Bless them. Change me.”
She also reminded me of a Buddhist truism: “You not responsible for first thoughts.” This helped me a lot because I have a mind conditioned by the past causes and conditions whose first thoughts are about my lack of what it appears others have. Naturally, this is not easy to admit and easy to have shame about, but that truism removes my embarrassment of and frustration with my “story,” created in childhood, that I am not enough and do not have enough, but others do.
23 Apr 2014 Leave a comment
20 Apr 2014 Leave a comment
Originally posted on Walks with Yogi:
“What is commonly called ‘falling in love is in most cases an intensification of egoic wanting and needing.”
I have to admit that I was always attracted to men for whom looks mattered a lot. Even in old age, I tend to fall for that. I was never beautiful, but was still considered reasonably attractive, maybe even pretty, and since I was young, I caught the attention of a few of those types of men. My looks mattered to me a lot, so we had that in common. As a child I learned: The beautiful princess could love the ogre, but even the ogre would not love less than a beauty. The difference was they did not hate their bodies or looks; their focus was on how hot women were or were not, while I hated my body and sought their approval. I did not apply the same…
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20 Apr 2014 3 Comments
The mind must be monitored and inventoried like an alcoholic in recovery or a Washington lobbyist: It never goes away until it gets what it wants. And what it wants is to be in control at all times. But control is not part of the deal of being a human being. We may rightly try to confront injustices, but some things can only be seen, noted, and accepted for what they are.
—Stephen Altschuler, “Sitting Practice Redux”
03 Mar 2014 5 Comments
If you live in St. Petersburg, Florida you might have heard of Salt Creek. What you’d know is that it is a narrow, shallow stretch of polluted water south of downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. It empties into the large Lake Maggiore several miles further south. You might say that Salt Creek is a wilted flower in the backyard of Bayboro Harbor, which is planted with yachts, and snazzy sailboats. Kayaking in Salt Creek is not recommended. Not if you are seeking a pristine nature experience near the city. However, if you want to know a secret, you might want to join me. Remember this, appearances are deceiving.
Get in the kayak at Bayboro Harbor in Tampa Bay on whose banks sits the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, turn right past the towering Coast Guard vessels and leave the sparkling skyline of downtown St. Pete and the bright white anchored yachts to your back. Once past the Fish Tales restaurant, the creek meets you, becoming a narrow waterwau. In no time at all, rusty cans appear trapped in the mangrove roots, and your paddle lifts a plastic grocery bag, then hits muddy, bobbing soda and beer and booze bottles—a true cornucopia of trash fills this little creek.
Salt Creek has been used and abused for decades, by industries that spit smoke and toxins, and people who tossed litter from cars and boats. It looks deserted, but it’s not. It’s still home to birds, mangroves and an occasional raggedy, creased-faced hermit-sailor repairing his ancient grimy motor boat. The creek, also known as a swale which is a narrow shallow marshy place, meanders along looking droopy and depleted . It appears down for the count, yet, invisible to our eyes, this dirty little swale is still doing its job, fueled by an invisible energy; it collects rainwater and eroded soil, and creates a microclimate for plants, amphibians, birds and anthropoids. The swale may look ragged and homeless but in truth its function and beauty are only hidden, not gone. In the same way, the unruly looking mangroves with their propuglates sticking half in the water and half out, belie their vital role.
The mangroves might tell you to buzz off; they will not give in. Even when they are demonized by those well-meaning folk who blame them for overcrowding what could be an urban kayak trail– as if the mangroves and not the swill that is allowed to accumulate are the problem—they are not impressed.
It’s as if they are ignoring any rubbish we toss at them. In fact, they thrive despite the old condoms, and rusty cans in the boggy Salt Creek. You can almost hear this symphony of symbiosis played by the swale and the mangrove. The swale and its mangroves survive all matter of insults by an invasive species, human polluters. The Oil Company that built on its shore, the Milk Company that crowded its banks, the careless drunks in their gasoline spewing boats, the Moonshiners who hid there in the twenties—the mangroves outlived them all. The creek looks injured, yet the mangrove keep nursing it, cleaning its water, exchanging nutrients back into the muddy bottom, housing the egrets, the cormorant, the osprey, the pelican and the roseate spoonbill, buffering the creek’s banks from eroding storms.
A swampy stench mixes with the gasoline exhaust of the nearby marina and yacht repair yard. It’s hard to avoid thoughts of dying things. But this is only the surface truth. A deeper truth is hidden from us by the mangroves and the swale.
Back in the kayak, we float under the pretty little stone 4th Street bridge until we are blocked by a thicket of mangrove branches. We find ourselves in a cool, dark mangrove tunnel on this sunny warm afternoon . We must duck our heads, and bend down in our kayaks. The twists of their black branches suggest gracefully woven baskets , but they are muscular, like protective arms hovering over little Salt Creek and its inhabitants. If we were adventurous, we could find a way under and through the branches to go further, but on this day, we turn back. We’ve seen enough for now. We’ve learaned what is hidden by the trash and detritus.
In Ukraine after a nuclear accident in Chernobyl twenty-seven years ago, scientists expected the land, its plants and animals to be mutated at best or dead for centuries. They were in for a great surprise. They did not know what the mangrove, the egret, the snook fish, the snails or the swale knows.
“…. According to all the population counts performed by Ukraine and Belarus over the past 27 years, there is enormous animal diversity and abundance. The prevailing scientific view of the exclusion zone has become that it is an unintentional wildlife sanctuary. This conclusion rests on the premise that radiation is less harmful to wildlife populations than we are. “—Slate
“… the biologists are still puzzled as to why the plants can so easily shrug off the deadly effects of the radiation, when it’s so hazardous to humans (the accident caused just 57 direct deaths, but thousands of cancer deaths were blamed on the incident for years after). The favored theory is that plants can “remember” prehistoric Earth conditions, when the fledgling planet was bathed in an air of harmful radiation.”—Wired, UK
After the deluge of human ignorance and error, the plants will return, then the insects, and after the insects will come creatures. Eventually even we may grow out of the mud again. So now you know the secret kept by mangroves and snails, herons and swales. Mangroves, like the lotus transform dregs into mulch, mulch into life, life into beauty. Like the lotus that grows only in the muck, the smelly swamps, like the lotus the mangrove rises and Salt Creek flows sweet and slow.
03 Mar 2014 2 Comments
If somebody is a problem for you, it’s not that they should change, it’s that you need to change. If they’re a problem for themselves that’s their karma, if they’re causing you trouble that’s your problem on yourself. So, in other words when Christ is crucified, he says “forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing”, they’re not a problem for him, he’s trying to get them out of being a problem for themselves, because he’s clear. Your job is to clear yourself. In ideal situations you would clear yourself within the situation, but very often it’s too thick and you can’t do that. Now, what you do then is you pull back and you do the stuff you do in the morning or at night before you go to work, you do the stuff on weekends, you do the stuff that quiets you down and then each time you go into the situation to where you have to work, you lose it again. And then you go home and you see how you lost it, and you examine it, and then you go the next day and you lose it again, and you go home and you keep a little diary “how did I lose it today”, and you saw that, and then you go and you do it again, and after a while as you’re starting to lose it you don’t buy in so much. You start to watch the mechanics of what it is that makes you lose it all the time.
If I’m not appreciated, that’s your problem that you don’t appreciate me. Unless I need your love, then it’s my problem. So my needs are what are giving you the power over me. Those people’s power over you to take you out of your equanimity and love and consciousness has to do with your own attachments and clingings of mind. That’s your work on yourself, that’s where you need to meditate more, it’s where you need to reflect more, it’s where you need a deeper philosophical framework, it’s where you need to cultivate the witness more, it’s where you need to work on practicing opening your heart more in circumstances that aren’t optimum. This is your work. You were given a heavy curriculum, that’s it. There’s no blame, it’s not even wrong, it’s just what you’re given. You hear what I’m saying? It’s interesting. Can you all hear that one?
-Ram Dass, Summer 1989
26 Feb 2014 Leave a comment
One of the best brief explanations of the Four Noble Truths I’ve heard.
24 Feb 2014 4 Comments
“What is commonly called ‘falling in love is in most cases an intensification of egoic wanting and needing.”
I have to admit that I was always attracted to men for whom looks mattered a lot. Even in old age, I tend to fall for that. I was never beautiful, but was still considered reasonably attractive, maybe even pretty, and since I was young, I caught the attention of a few of those types of men. My looks mattered to me a lot, so we had that in common. As a child I learned: The beautiful princess could love the ogre, but even the ogre would not love less than a beauty. The difference was they did not hate their bodies or looks; their focus was on how hot women were or were not, while I hated my body and sought their approval. I did not apply the same high standards to them; I was once in love with a man whose face was marked with a large genetic “port-wine” stain on one side. Another time, I was with a man who was decidedly overweight. Both times, the fact that I loved them made them appealing in my eyes. I didn’t really “see” the birthmark or the large belly. For me, people become beautiful when you love them. Conversely, beautiful people can lose their looks as you realize you only valued their beauty.
Other times, I chose men who found me attractive, with whom I had “chemistry.” Disasters all.
As I age, I am noticing how much love has to do with bodies. This has to do with how our egos have arranged the world and call it “natural”; young bodies are meant for procreation and historically, the supple, attractive body attracted the male for procreation. There wasn’t much necessity for “love,” only lust. Old bodies, done with procreation would “naturally” not induce lust, and therefore would no longer be “loved.” If you started out young together as a couple and made it through the disillusionment after the lust eventually passed, then you are probably still together, and finally having a relationship based on more than your bodies–in other words, a good friendship.
In times past (even in the 1950s) you chose partners that would produce attractive, healthy children. Even if you didn’t want to get pregnant, your body was evaluated as good or not for child-bearing. Usually this was subconscious on everybody’s part. Bodies were loved more than anything else about a person because nobody wanted ugly or “weak” babies. Lust was the most important requirement for child-bearing. It was all very Darwinian. But we accepted that we were just like the animals and so this was all nature’s way. And it was. For the cavemen and cavewomen.
Now that we don’t mate only to have children, we still base our selections on that old genetic model, but we want more and wonder why it doesn’t work out too well with a 50% divorce rate. My unpopular theory is that men and women have been getting it wrong now that we have evolved from being primarily reproduction partners. However, even friends tell me my theory is not realistic, they insist there must be “chemistry” for true love to exist. I tell them that “chemistry” is blind and friends (without chemistry) would make the best lovers, and best life partners. That “chemistry” seduces us and confuses love with sex.
So, later in life I developed a theory– an unpopular theory because most people are attached to the idea of “chemistry” and absolute necessity for lust. Before I tell you my theory, let me describe a relationship:
In this relationship the man and woman have spent a great deal of time understanding each other. They talk about their hopes and their demons, they enjoy discussing ideas. They laugh together, a lot of the time. They comfort each other after heartbreaks. They feel comfortable with each other and not pressured to be other than who they are, or look better than they do. They share values and admire each others’ character. In fact, what drew them together were common values, interests and kindness—not looks. They laugh at each other’s foibles and weaknesses, and challenge each other in supportive ways.
Does that sound like a profoundly good relationship?
I recall that not long ago I asked a friend what drew him into a relationship and he told me that it was something mysterious, undefinable, and that this was just how it was and should be. He claimed there was no accounting for why we fell in love. That he was drawn to a woman by some unnameable energy. (I will spare you my cynical joke about what I think was that mystical “energy”). Of course it is the sex vibe that usually what starts the relationship engine running. It’s not love that is blind, but sex.
I know another man friend who simply cannot resist the power of beautiful, young women. He knows they will eventually find him too needy and reject him, but he is addicted to their beauty and sexuality. Meanwhile, there is a woman in his life whom he considers his best friend, who understands him like no one else, who cares about him deeply, who supports his emotional/spiritual growth, whose company he enjoys enough to get together with her often, whose counsel he seeks and is comforted by. Yet, because he does not lust for her (she is not the “beauty queen” type he is attracted to, he relegates her to platonic friendship and continues to mourn his lack of a love relationship. He knows he is suffering, but cannot get past it even though love is already at his side, looking directly into his eyes. It’s not love that is blind.
We usually end up with that person we lust after and pushes our buttons, because that is how the ego has it set up: First you do things unconsciously based on your upbringing/culture/sex/education, then hopefully, in the next relationship you do the same thing,s but mindfully with compassion for yourself. Finally, as you start to catch the ego at its games, you start to act from insight rather than conditioning.
When we become mindful and more awake to the causes and conditions of our pasts, we can even turn addictive relationships (that may have started with lust primarily) into our sadhana, our spiritual practice. My buddhism teacher says ” love is understanding” which is another way to say that we can learn a great deal about how to truly love if we see the person before us and not the illusion of the person. True love then might look a lot like deeply caring, compassionate and non-judgmental friendship.
But I guess that not exciting enough for the ego. Unfortunately, the ego is crazy about desire, but not love.
21 Feb 2014 3 Comments
This is from Tricycle online and describes where my path is leading me. It’s a relief to stop searching for “happiness” whenever I can do that. The article is by Ken McLeod.
The happiness of the three worlds disappears in a moment,
Like a dewdrop on a blade of grass.
The highest level of freedom is one that never changes.
Aim for this—this is the practice of a bodhisattva.
The pursuit of happiness for its own sake is a fool’s errand. As a goal it is frivolous and unrealistic—frivolous because happiness is a transient state dependent on many conditions, and unrealistic because life is unpredictable and pain may arise at any time.
The happiness you feel when you get something you have always wanted typically lasts no longer than three days. Bliss states in meditation are similar, whether they arise as physical or emotional bliss or the bliss of infinite space, infinite consciousness, or infinite nothingness. These states soon dissipate once you reengage the messiness of life. A dewdrop on a blade of grass, indeed!
The quest for happiness is a continuation of the traditional view of spiritual practice—a way to transcend the vicissitudes of the human condition. Valhalla, paradise, heaven, nirvana all hold out a promise of eternity, bliss, purity, or union with an ultimate reality. These four spiritual longings are all escapist reactions to the challenges everyone encounters in life.
Take a moment and think about what you are seeking in your practice. Is it a kind of transcendence, if not in God, then in a god-surrogate such as timeless awareness, pure bliss, or infinite light?
Are you looking for an awareness so deep and powerful that your frustration and difficulties with life vanish in the presence of your understanding and wisdom? Are you not looking for a ticket out of the messiness of life?
If you think of freedom as a state, you are in effect looking for a kind of heaven. Instead, think of freedom as a way of experiencing life itself—a continuous flow in which you meet what arises in your experience, open to it, do what needs to be done to the best of your ability and then receive the result. And you do this over and over again. A freedom that never changes then becomes the constant exercise of everything you know and understand. It is the way you engage life. It is not something that sets you apart from life. How else is it possible for people who practice in prison or other highly restricted environments to say that they find freedom even within their confinement?
Life is tough, but when you see and accept what is actually happening, even if it is very difficult or painful, mind and body relax. There is an exquisite quality that comes from just experiencing what arises, completely, with no separation between awareness and experience.
Some call it joy, but it is not a giddy or excited joy. It is deep and quiet, a joy that in some sense is always there, waiting for you, but usually touched only when some challenge, pain, or tragedy leaves you with no other option but to open and accept what is happening in your life.
Others call it truth, but this is a loaded and misleading word, carrying with it the notion of something that exists apart from experience itself. Truth as a concept sets up an opposition with what is held to be not true, and such duality necessarily leads to hierarchical authority, institutional thinking, and violence.
In this freedom you are free from the projections of thought and feeling, and you are awake and present in your life. Reactions may still arise, but they come and go on their own, like snowflakes alighting on a hot stone, like mist in the morning sun, or like a thief in an empty house.
What is freedom? It is nothing more, and nothing less, than life lived awake.
All suffering comes from wanting your own happiness.
Complete awakening arises from the intention to help others.
Therefore, exchange completely your happiness
For the suffering of others—this is the practice of a bodhisattva.
Forget about being happy. Put it right out of your mind.
When you say to yourself, “I want to be happy,” you are telling yourself that you are not happy, and you start looking for something that will make you feel happy. You go to a movie, go shopping, hang out with friends, buy a new jacket, computer, or jewelry, read a good book or explore a new hobby, all in the effort to feel happy. The harder you try to be happy, the more you reinforce that belief that you are not happy. You can try to ignore it, but the belief is still there.
Even in close relationships, spending time with a friend, even while helping others or doing other good works, if your attention is on what you are feeling, on what you are getting out of it, then you see these relationships as transactions. Because your focus is on how you are feeling, consciously or unconsciously you are putting yourself first and others second.
This approach disconnects you from life, from the totality of your world. Inevitably, you end up feeling shortchanged in your relationships with your family, with your friends, and in your work. Those imbalances ripple out and affect everyone around you and beyond. The transactional mindset of self-interest is the problem of the modern world.
If you were to let go of the pursuit of happiness, what would you do? To put it a bit more dramatically, suppose you were told that no matter what you did, you would never be happy. Never. What would you do with your life?
You might pay more attention to others. You might accept them just as they are, rather than looking for ways to get them to conform to your idea of how they should be. You might start relating to life itself, rather than looking to what you get out of it. You might be more willing to engage with what life brings you, with all its ups and downs, rather than always wanting it to be other than it is.
This is where the practice of taking and sending comes in. Take in what you do not want, and give away what you do want. Take in what is unpleasant, and give away what is pleasant. Take in pain, and give away joy.
It sounds a bit insane—emotional suicide, as one person put it. But it counteracts that deeply ingrained tendency to focus on yourself first and everyone else second. It uses the transactional attitude to destroy itself, because you give away everything that makes you feel happy and you take in everything that makes others unhappy.
In the traditional teachings, you coordinate taking and sending with the breath, taking in the pain and suffering of the world as you breathe in and sending your own joy and happiness to the world when you breathe out. Do this with every aspect of your life—the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. Extend it to everything you experience, internally and externally. When you see other people struggling, whatever the reason, imagine taking in their struggles and sending them your own experience of peace, happiness, and joy. It does not matter who they are—the rich, the poor, the ill, or the criminal. If they are struggling, take in their struggles and send them the joy, happiness, or well-being you do experience, have experienced, or hope to experience. If they are in pain, take in their pain. Send them your relief and ease. If they are causing pain, take in the emotional turmoil or the willful ignoring that leads them to inflict pain on others. Send them the love, compassion, and understanding that you have received or would like to receive.
Do not edit your experience of life. Whatever you encounter—a homeless person shivering on an icy concrete doorsill, a friend whose partner has just left him for someone else, a relative who struggles with chronic pain, news of famine, war, or the devastating effects of greed, corruption, or rigid beliefs—whatever the pain, take it in.
Do not be miserly. Give to others anything and everything that brings you joy. Are you successful in your work? Give away your success. Do you have money in the bank? Send the joy of financial well-being to others. Do you enjoy your intelligence, your ability to think clearly and solve problems? Give them away. Are you talented, musically, physically, or artistically? Give away your talent. Do you enjoy friends and companions? Give them away.
With every exchange, touch both the pain and deficiencies in the world and your own joy and abilities. Take the pain and send your joy.
Does this practice lead to happiness? Not at all; but it does help you to understand the suffering and the struggles of others. Whatever ups and downs and joys and pains they encounter, you can be present with them because you know life is not perfect and you do not expect it to be.
As my teacher once said, “If you could really take away the suffering of everyone in the world, taking all of it into you with a single breath, would you hesitate?”