05 Dec 2013 Leave a Comment
No Easy Answers
People come to Buddhism looking for answers, but Buddhism is not about giving you some easy formula. It’s all about you needing to question yourself. When you think you’ve got it, that’s when you especially need to question it—and if you don’t question it right away, you’ll run into situations that will make you question it, if you’re fortunate. Life is always throwing monkey wrenches into the machinery of your calculating mind.
- Reverend Patti Nakai, “Get Real”
01 Dec 2013 10 Comments
I sit on the seawall and follow a beam of sunlight down into the green-gray water. A school of pompano dance below me. As they dip, turn and dive and slide through the water, the sunlight illuminates their shiny skin, then bounces and bends on my retina to reveal their black striped backs.
Light, like the ocean, moves in waves from dark to dawn, keeping time with the tides. Light slips through clouds, falls as sunbeams, reflects eons recalled by stars. Light plays in magnetic fields, melting and merging into blue and green and white auroras. Light speeds into timelessness, its particles touching each universe it encounters.
In his wonderful short story, “Father Returns from the Mountain,” Luis Alberto Urea writes about perceptions, as the light in a diamond and a mirror, “The truth is a diamond, or at least a broken mirror. There are many reflective surfaces, and we observe the ones we choose. We see what we can.”
We see light through our eyes, and sometimes behind them. Who knows what more might be seen through the bright diamond planes of our consciousness?
We only think we sit or stand still, and yet all the while we are dancing, bending, stretching in and out of light particles. We walk on light waves and through them. We observe what we choose. We see what we can.
Don’t be fooled, though by light’s transparency; it has a substance and weight. Science tell us that light is more than dispersed ephemera. It has, in fact, solidity, as it consists of both waves and particles. Yet, like breath, there is nowhere light cannot enter. Everywhere light and breath move together, essential, inseparable partners circling the earth. Like breath, I’ve taken light for granted. And why not? Why question star shine, sunshine, oxygen? However, during a recent session of Kryia yogic breathing I entered light. Yes, that’s right. I did not see light. I entered it via breath. Believe me; I was as surprised as you might be!
I arrived at Wings Bookstore for a meditation with few expectations, except for perhaps a bit more insight into a bit more truth. I looked forward to being instructed by a yogi from India since I’d had a profound experience of deep joy and peace years ago after attending a large group chanting and meditation, led by another yogi visiting from India.
Wings Bookstore, on 4th Street in St. Petersburg, features new age books, music and items like yoga t-shirts, and crystals that shimmer in display cases. The six of us who had come for the after-hours meditation gathered in the space between the display cases and a coffee and tea bar. The yogi, sitting on a cushion on the floor was dressed simply in a Western style shirt and khakis. He appeared as pedestrian as the rest of us. We meditators sat on chairs or cushions in the darkened room as the yogi spoke to us in a deep, soft Indian accent, describing this particular meditation process. Then we began. Eyes closed, and open-minded, I followed his instructions: when to breathe slowly and deeply, when to breathe rapidly.
After a series of fast and slow breaths that at first felt like mere physical sensations, came the shock. I gasped, but knew no one had heard me because this was an internal gasp, an internal reality. A vibrant deep purple appeared before me behind my closed eyes, a purple pathway that seemed as real as the floor beneath my feet. Waves of breath had carried me out of the bookstore and I had arrived at as if at the rim of the Grand Canyon—a place spacious and borderless where I was the awestruck tourist. I knew I was still sitting in a chair in Wings Bookstore, yet I was also moving along a well-lit path into an enormous canyon-like expanse. I wanted to leap with excitement, but was also acutely aware that I needed to keep still, that no arrogant, pushy tourists were allowed here. I could stay in this Grand Canyon Galaxy as long as I left the maps and cameras behind. I sensed an invisible tour guide leading this journey, and whatever that was would brook no interference by my analytical, controlling mind.
I was drawn along the path of radiant, sunlit purple that led to the infamous, over-exposed “white light.” But I tell you there it was, bright as hell! And, yes, sweetly compelling. Thank God there was no angelic chorus and no white-bearded man in robes, only a center of clear light like a broad flashlight beam. This was a location consisting entirely of light. I wanted to explore this vista and to travel further. I could barely contain my delight in being privy to such a place, such an event. What joy I felt to be delivered here so effortlessly–as if I had been granted a special permit. Yet, the dangers were clear to me: my own greed, my desires for more. I knew without any doubt that my grasping would immediately shut the doors of my perception. The message was clear that the power of breath and light had transported me here, and the controlling mind was an interloper, a trespasser.
I recall having the urge to stay in this new land, to understand this place, but I also sensed the experience slipping away, beyond my control. I still marvel at this journey into light. Now, during meditation, when I close my eyes and focus my vision, I am still able to locate a familiar brightly lit purple circle but it comes in and out of view, and I am not transported, nor do I expect that to happen.
We see what we can.
When I think about light and its power, other realms and realities, I recall a story by Dave Eggers about a dog who also entered light, who discovered something important about light. The dog’s name was Steven and after he died in the story he said this, “The one big surprise is that it turns out God is the sun. It makes sense if you think about it. Why we didn’t see it sooner I cannot say…Why would there be a god and also the sun? Of course God is the sun. Simple, good. Everyone in the life before was cranky, I think because they just wanted to know.”
We see what we can.
17 Nov 2013 Leave a Comment
After the First Step
Free of stress and comfortable are two very different things. I think a lot of times people come to meditation to get more comfortable, and a lot of teachers are happy to teach them just that. But if you’re looking for deeper levels of happiness, if you’re looking to become totally free from stress, getting the mind comfortable is only the first step. It would be a big mistake, though—and a big waste—to get comfortable and then tell yourself that things don’t really matter, that everything’s just OK.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu, “The Committee”
Not about Comfort
A central component of spiritual life is recognizing that practice is not about ensuring that we feel secure or comfortable. It’s not that we won’t feel these things when we practice; rather, it’s that we are also bound to sometimes feel very uncomfortable and insecure, particularly when exploring and working with our darker emotions and unhealed pain.
- Ezra Bayda, “The Three Things we Fear Most”
Surprisingly enough, when I look at our “dark side” with acceptance and compassion, I find it is not nearly as uncomfortable as I thought it would be. My habit was to attempt to rid myself of my “flaws,” but that effort just seemed to make things worse; I felt shame and guilt for not “fixing” myself properly. When I looked mindfully, meaning without harshness towards myself “flaws” often disappeared in the clear light of awareness. Of course, I still carry long-held habits of judging myself and others, but now I can gently put aside the judgments that arise aside with less and less effort.
15 Nov 2013 1 Comment
It’s easy to have think that when we are on a “spiritual path” that we will always behave like saints. But a true path requires us to not hide behind any masks, even masks of serenity. In fact, a mask of serenity can be the worst sort; it keeps us from growing and changing since we are trapping ourselves in notions of who is “good” and who is “bad” according to how “nice” they are. If we lovingly accept our stumbles and unskillful behavior, we can lovingly accept the same in others. Conflict is the place we will most often walk with clumsy steps. I find it’s important I not blame myself for my reactivity and lack of mindfulness during conflicts. Who’s to say what I need to learn from my wrong turns? As Carl Jung said, “I would rather be real than good.”
Learning how to negotiate conflict demands that we become more present, more
- Diane Musho Hamilton, “Transforming Conflict”
- 10 Spiritually Transmitted Diseases (humansarefree.com)
13 Nov 2013 5 Comments
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
–Mary Oliver, “When I Am Among the Trees” from “Thirst,” (Beacon Press, 2006).
11 Nov 2013 2 Comments
I wish I had written this marvelous poem a friend posted on Facebook today (thanks, Petey!). This describes what it is like when I live mindfully. It is like practicing continual reverence.
Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, Record Keeper
of time before, time now, time ahead, pray. Bow down
to terriers and shepherds and siamese cats.
Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.
Pray to the bus driver who takes you to work,
pray on the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus
and for everyone riding buses all over the world.
If you haven’t been on a bus in a long time,
climb the few steps, drop some silver, and pray.
Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM,
for your latté and croissant, offer your plea.
Make your eating and drinking a supplication.
Make your slicing of carrots a holy act,
each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.
Make the brushing of your hair
a prayer, every strand its own voice,
singing in the choir on your head.
As you wash your face, the water slipping
through your fingers, a prayer: Water,
softest thing on earth, gentleness
that wears away rock.
Making love, of course, is already a prayer.
Skin and open mouths worshipping that skin,
the fragile case we are poured into,
each caress a season of peace.
If you’re hungry, pray. If you’re tired.
Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day.
Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.
Pray to the angels and the ghost of your grandfather.
When you walk to your car, to the mailbox,
to the video store, let each step
be a prayer that we all keep our legs,
that we do not blow off anyone else’s legs.
Or crush their skulls.
And if you are riding on a bicycle
or a skateboard, in a wheel chair, each revolution
of the wheels a prayer that as the earth revolves
we will do less harm, less harm, less harm.
And as you work, typing with a new manicure,
a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail
or delivering soda or drawing good blood
into rubber-capped vials, writing on a blackboard
with yellow chalk, twirling pizzas, pray for peace.
With each breath in, take in the faith of those
who have believed when belief seemed foolish,
who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.
Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace,
feed the birds for peace, each shiny seed
that spills onto the earth, another second of peace.
Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.
Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.
Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child
around your VISA card. Gnaw your crust
of prayer, scoop your prayer water from the gutter.
Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling
your prayer through the streets.
pray for peace – ellen bass