Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Being and Doing

We believe there is so much to do, so much to accomplish and so it feels given the pain and suffering in the world. But what if you stopped. What if you stopped trying to get somewhere or trying to obtain more of something you felt you did not have. What if you stopped trying to solve the world’s “problems” What if you just simply stopped? Who would you be? Who would you be without the constant movement of action? Would there be something still present that animated you? Could it be the basis for a different kind of action? This action would not stem from someone trying to enhance a self image of himself or come from a self trying to obtain salvation. It might come from a place of total surrender. It would come from a place where there was perhaps only the movement itself and less, if any, mover.

More and more at work I find myself “taking” a moment to simply be. I just listen. Around me I hear the hum of the air vents, the rattle of typing keys, the chattering of voices near and far, the rustle of tin foil from someone’s lunch, the padding of footsteps on carpet, the running of water, and underneath it all, a silence from which this all emanates and into which it all recedes. Is that not life? I mean that both metaphorically and literally. It is metaphoric in the sense that it points to how everything that comes into existence will eventually return to nothing in much the same way that we are born, live and die. But it is also literal too because if you think there is more to life than the very simple hum of air vents and the rattle of typing keys, then perhaps you are overlooking the incredibly proximal, inherent beauty and magnificence that exists in everything without exception. You are divorced from life in a sense. Life at it very most profound is in the smallest of things: the cough of your cubicle partner, the scraping of the fork on the glass plate, the closing of filing cabinets -- if only you are able to end the search for "it" to be different. It's taken the universe billlions of years to produce this very moment you are experiencing, why not embrace it. Truthfully you cannot really be divorced from life anyway because you are life but in those moments when you are searching for something more than what is simply here, right now, you are off in a fantasy, and while fantasies can be a lot of fun, and have a place, ultimately they cannot deliver. They leave the taste of longing.
What we each want and which many spend most of their lives looking for unsucessfully is closer to us than anything we can ever imagine. We couldn't be without it if we tried but we can easily obscure it or dampen our ability to contact it. Always it is there. We are never without it because it is who we are in our essence. It is our own felt sense of being. I am reminded of
Psalm 23: which I finally understand.

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name' sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou annointest my head with oil; My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.

I have a friend who is taking a few days off from work to go to Haiti. I think it's amazing and celebrate her compasssionate decision. She was saying that it had been difficult to talk to people about her decision to go because people expect that her focus will be on the medical aspects of the people's suffering but really she was going to "bear witness" to the suffering. She spoke of an image of being in white robes and simply sitting with people in pain. This struck me as so incredibly powerful. Yes, people need medical supplies and clean water and food, and new homes. Any "enlightentenment" or "awakening"or so-called spirituality that does not acknowledge and address the real conditions and suffering that bodies experience forgets its roots in compassion and is missing an essential part of what is ultimately the foundation for the transcendent: the grit of sweat, tears, dirt, disease, pain etc. At the same time however, it is folly to demean the power of simply being with suffering as it presents itself in these bodies. Being the space for suffering as it shows up is incredibly powerful. Being - truly being with -is a powerful action in its own right. As passive as it might appear and whether or not it generates any words, gestures or physical action - being is capable of wonders. We are far more than our physical bodies. Presence reminds us of that. The mind will say that unless this happens or unless you do that you cannot be happy. It would have you believe that peace is achieved exclusively through political action. The mind will flit and float, jump from topic to topic, give all kinds of reasons and counterarguments and act as if it can sort all of this out if only it had enough time or energy or intelligence. It cannot. It cannot solve the problem because what it needs is something beyond itself to see itself. It's like you cannot see your own face except through mirrors or reflections. The mind is not capable of seeing itself either, but consciousness or awareness can. That which is able to witness the movement of the mind is not the mind. It is beyond the mind. And it is there that peace resides. The peace I am talking about here comes from the stillness of resting your mind. It comes from tuning in to what is present so superemely that all else falls away. We often approach life like consciousness is a tool of the mind - We act act as if we can find the answers to the most profound questions of our existence, or cure the wrenching longing and hunger that plagues our souls by simply finding the right algorithm or imitating the right behaviors of our saints and saviors but that will not "save us". The mind is a wonderful tool through which consciousness expresses itself. Peace is always present. We need only tap into its stream and we become moved by its current. How do you tap into the stream?

The meaning of life is always as close as your own nose. But you have to become very quiet inside to hear it. What does that mean?


Find a quiet room and sit or lie comfortably. Become very quiet inside - what happens if your ears listen for the sound of the cells moving around inside your body? What happens if you try to listen to the component parts of the cells, like the mitochondria or nucleus? What happens if you go even smaller to the coming together of the chemical compounds that constitute your body? Focus, can you "hear" your atoms or their protons, neutrons, and electrons? Can you "hear" a silence beneath those things? What happens if you expand outward to the sounds of the room? Beyond the room? Into the house or building you are in? All the way up into outer space? What happens if you listen for the Andromeda Galaxy our nearby cousin? You don't have to force anything. Let the sounds come to you whatever they may or may not be? Is there a silence beneath any of the sounds? Lastly, pull out a favorite piece of music. Instead of listening to the actual notes, listen for the arising and falling of the notes and to the rests, and silences in the music.

How do you feel? What has happened to your sense of self? Who are you? Where are your boundaries? Did you feel the same when you were listening to the miniscule as you did when you listened to the vast? -- How do you feel after listening to the music? Was listening to the music the same as usual? As always there are no right or wrong answers, only observations.

Being is the god-thread that runs through everything, constitutes everything. In fact the vastness of being is so great that it cannot be expressed or even truly contemplated - it can only be pointed to in its beauty. However, if you are still, you can tap into it and you realize that though the forms of this world appear different, at their heart they are the same. This is not something conceptual. It is not something you do with your mind. It is something that must be felt/experienced/realized. Tapping into it you recognize that only love is real. What would happen if you let life live you? What would happen if you gave up trying to be anyone? What would happen if you gave up controlling your world and simply enjoyed the ride? Who are you anyway? If only love is real then is there anything really to fear? If only love is real is there really anything else to "do" then just sit and smile at each other?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


When you come death, may you be recognized and celebrated.
With your seductive face, gentle whispers,
and your unspoken promise
Let there be no fear as your steady hand
unlocks a new mystery
A mystery so vast and unfathomable that to begin to speak
of its depth is only to play the first note
in a never-ending symphony.
In you life joins hands.
May you be welcomed as a friend
for indeed you have been a companion to life
None is promised even a moment.
To exist, that is our gift.
All is so precious
The days I have shared
have been more than enough
Just this, Just this, Just this.

I witnessed from a distance a friend stoically rooted
to his family, community, the earth,
take your hand as you guided him across the threshold.
He faced you with such courage and compassion
And though his physical body shriveled as the cancer ravaged his insides
his belonging and his wholeness expanded beyond measure
We are not what we seem. There are no limits.
We all glowed in that presence.
And yet we grieve in that absence.

Death you will come for us all
And for all our scientific advances
The hour of your touch still eludes.
When the hour of your beckoning comes, may it be known that
the meaning of life, is life itself, no more, no less
May that which is here, revel, knowing that the love which came
through this, is this, played enchanting cadenzas while it lasted.
And may that which still plays be comforted by the cycle
of beauty in the inherited melody currently sung
but one day relinquished too.

Friday, August 6, 2010


I love to wait. I love waiting in lines at the supermarket, I love waiting for the computer to boot up, I love waiting at red lights, waiting for the train or elevator to come or waiting to pull into a parking space. Why do I love waiting, because it’s a chance to come home. If I have been away, and not present, rather than see the time as “wasted” time and trying to rush into whatever is coming next, I find that any time I have a moment where I need to wait, it is good to relax back into the expansiveness of who I am. Why would I want to rush to the next moment? What could possibly be wrong with this one? The discontent that comes from waiting exists only if you think there is something better that you should be doing. That is a fast ticket to a life unfulfilled. Your life could easily be “over” while you spend it trying to get somewhere better. In that scenario you are constantly rushing to the next moment hoping to find what you are looking for, not realizing that what you are looking for is right here with you all the time. If you can’t enjoy this moment you are not likely to enjoy the next either. While you are waiting, celebrate the fact that you are alive in this moment right now.

If you are discouraged or impatient when your waiting involves other people, in addition to missing the opportunity that the present moment offers for fulfillment, chances are you are seeing the other people as obstacles in the way of you getting to where you need in a timely fashion. This is a distortion of reality. Traffic provides the perfect example. I once heard Tara Brach remark how we think that – “traffic is the other people on the road”. It was an apt observation. Traffic somehow does not include us. But of course to the car next to us “we” are traffic. Is it true that those other people are really obstacles or has our focus become so narrow that we can only see ourselves and not our connection to the others around us? They have as much of a need to be traveling as we do, but in traffic, cars will jockey around you just to get a car length ahead. In traffic, when you are impatient with the other drivers, has your “I” suddenly become much more important than all of their “I”s? Does it feel more important that you get to your destination than they get to theirs? Do you believe that you or your needs are more important than the person in the car next to you? Of course if you are rushing your pregnant sweetie to the hospital in traffic – it may actually be truer that your need is more urgent at a relative level, but most of the time is it true? How do you feel when you think about your needs being more important than others? Most of the time you are waiting discontentedly on others, it is the ego’s way of strengthening itself. There is a substantive “I” which feels separate and victimized by having to wait. However, as you reinforce your sense of a separate “ I” against the world you increase your tension and suffering, and obscure your vision of the one reality. It hurts to feel separate. It hurts because ultimately it’s a rejection of what’s true and it because you are ultimately rejecting a part of yourself.

The next time you are in traffic, if you are unable to simply be, try this tonglen meditation, offered by Pema Chodron. Pema Chodron is a leading exponent of teachings on meditation and how they apply to everyday life. She is the resident teacher at Gampo Abbey Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the first Tibetan monastery for Westerners. The beauty of such a meditation is that it diminishes the feeling of separateness. It is a way of connecting through the difficulties and challenges that we all face. Through compassion you sense oneness.

Have you ever waited in a line and had a group of people start talking about “ can’t this line move any faster” or “Why does this store never have enough cashiers” or how the train is never on time and is late again” I find that it happens quite frequently. When people are complaining yes, they are strengthening their ego and sense of self, but they are also trying to create a community. The ego is trying to reduce its feeling of aloneness but goes about it in misguided ways. It attempts to seek out “other people” and align itself with some, while judging the others. The person who is in the same situation waiting, is of course “good”, while the person behind the counter is “inferior”. This buoys the ego’s sense of self and gives a temporary feeling of relief but ultimately encourages more separation. The ego hopes to reduce its sense of separateness but to judge is to separate. It’s as if the ego says “Those people behind the counter are not like “us”, they are deficient – “we” would never act like that, but secretly the ego fears the uncertainty that it could act that way and that it could be left alone. Sometimes the ego does not make an enemy out of a specific person but out of the situation or a vague other, ascribing the horrible delay or problem to the company, or entity. Of course this strategy is still doomed too because it is still based in resistance to the moment. The line will either move faster or it will not and you can choose to be stressed about it or not. You do have a choice. You can sit in the traffic and be happy or you can sit in the traffic and be upset. The world is a mirror reflecting yourself back to you. When you are upset at something that appears to be external, what is going on inside yourself to make it feel that way? What do you gain by getting upset? The ego gains an image as a wronged self -- a temporary and unfulfilling refuge. It is no substitute for discovering presence and residing in that sacred spot

The other day the metro was running late. A woman seated next to me was visibly frustrated. Perhaps she was late for a meeting, perhaps she was trying to rendezvous with her child, perhaps she just wanted to get to work at a certain time. In any event, it does not matter. She suffered and continued to suffer throughout the train ride because she was having trouble accepting her circumstances. She was not able to enjoy the moment. There was very little she could do to control the trains but if she had been able, she could certainly have enjoyed the fact that she was alive.

There is a zen story that I have heard repeated in several places that goes something like this: once this young monk was chased over a cliff by a pack of hungry tigers. On his way down the monk managed to grab hold of some branches protruding from the side of the cliff. He held on for dear life as there were jagged rocks many feet below him. As his strength waned he also discovered some strawberries, which he proceeded to eat, happily remarking “what delightful berries”. The essence of this story lies in the monk’s residing in the now. Even though death is imminent he is able to enjoy a moment to eat a strawberry.

We do not have to be confronted with death to actually live. Cherishing each moment as if it were your last is a good way to live fully. The peace of heaven is available to us right now by simply learning to be. The more you can tap into and befriend whatever is arising right now the more peace will be a part of your life.

As the woman exited the train I voiced to her that I wished she had a good day. I hoped in my heart that whatever was troubling her subsided. I hoped that she found peace that morning.

Experiment: The next time you find yourself waiting, notice what goes on inside? Is there resistance to the moment as it is? Do you want to be somewhere else? If so, why? Are you content to simply be where you are? If you do find yourself getting impatient, notice it and use it as an opportunity to look inside at why this moment does not feel sufficient? What is missing in this moment? When did your impatience arise? What are the thoughts that appear when you are waiting? Can you notice your thoughts about other people? Are you feeling open or closed? How expansive does your heart feel?

Yesterday I waited a lot. I was supposed to board a plane but thunderstorms delayed our flight. I waited in lines for hours. I waited for my plane take off. I was curious to see if my thoughts and affinity for waiting would hold true when I had to wait for a ”long” time. I actually did enjoy my time in the lines and airport. I found myself talking to people and laughing at the situation. I often closed my eyes and just absorbed the sounds around me. Sometimes I took in all the colors and shapes in the room. It was nice to just pause and be excused to simply be.
Of course waiting provides a great moment to simply be, but those do not have to be the only times when we connect deeply to the life that animates us. The more we can be aware of that life, the more we can be the witnessing presence that allows things to arise and fall within its field the more peace and joy will be uncovered.

So the next time you find yourself waiting, experiment with embracing it as a natural moment to come home,and let me know how it goes.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

You Take My Breath Away

Last night I witnessed the most magical thing; the summer night sky twinkling with the light of what felt like thousands of fireflies. It filled me with such wonder and awe. A short, but booming thunderstorm had passed through the area earlier in the evening and now it was dark. I went out to get something from the car, happened to look up and found the sky glimmering in and out of existence. I stood silently observing for a little while, drinking in the beauty, until the list of “things to do” came crashing through my brain again. But I went inside retaining a little bit of that expansiveness that I had just a moment ago touched.

How many miracles do we miss each day simply because we are not present to receive them?

It felt to me like I chanced upon another dimension of existence. I was transported beyond myself. Yet how many other nights had I missed those very same fireflies? The fireflies sparkled many nights before, but I never saw them.

Because we are caught in our heads much of the time, we forget to relax back into ourselves. We forget who we are. Our connection with divine becomes obscured. There is so much beauty to behold. There is so much for which to be grateful. The beauty in the world is almost overwhelming. It is literally everywhere. One just needs to open up to it. You can take anything and if you "try" to give it love, try to see its beauty you will open to "each other" in profound ways. In reality, you are just reclaiming a piece of yourself that you had perhaps overlooked or forgotten. The world exists as a mirror to show you your own beauty. If something is ugly to you do you find yourself opening or contracting? What does it say to about you? Could there be "ugliness" within you? Are you seeing clearly? Are you able to be the space for whatever shows up? Take anything, a rock, a shovel, a chair, a piece of art, a red light, a spider, your toilet. It literally can be anything because everything is worth loving and you are love. Love includes all. It excludes nothing. We think that some things are worth loving and other things are not. But is that true? Examine it for yourself? When you give something love, you expand. Try it for yourself? People think that when they love someone or something, that it is the other thing that they love. And that is true to some extent. What they often do not realize is that the love is within themselves the whole time. We resonate with the outward flow of love through us. It is the contraction of love that often hurts. It is the closing down which is painful. When we surrender to the flow of love, when "we" disappear and only love is present, the divine is experienced. It is but the flow of the essence of ourselves towards another part of ourselves. Lila. The enlightened "know" that to reject anything, to resist anything, is to create suffering. It is to essentially to cut off the flow.

Experiment: Sit quietly for a few minutes. Pay attention to your breath or a candle or the sounds of where you are. After you have settled in for a few minutes, take any object in your surroundings and give it love. It can be something you love dearly like your favorite pair of blue jeans or something neutral like a stool, or something you don't like, like smoke. "Try" to give it love for a few minutes. What does that mean? Well, let your heart decide exactly what that means. As you give it love, observe your thoughts about that object as you bring love to it? Observe your own emotions. Try to bring your attention to your own awareness. Do you find yourself judging the exercise? Did it feel mechanical at first? Did it feel the same at the end of the exercise as it did in the beginning? Do YOU feel the same at the end of the exercise as at the beginning? Did nothing happen?

Again, as always, there are no right or wrong answers, only inquiry and observation.

Another way to open to the beauty of the world is through our bodies, through our senses. We have been given these extraordinary bodies which are capable of so much. So often our senses are employed passively. So often we do not bring our awareness to the richness of truly experiencing the world through these modalities. Instead, we remain lost in our heads. We touch things but do we really feel them? We eat things but do we really savor them? We see things but do we really even look at them? What is the experience of truly being with something? What happens to you? Appreciation, love and gratitude appear when you start using your senses. You can quickly short circuit your thinking mind by attending to any sense with your whole being. In fact, bring your whole self to anything you are doing and see what happens.

Currently I find myself thinking of the lyrics of the soundtrack to a favorite movie when I was a child, Born Free. It always made me cry. It always touched my soul. In particular, the second verse "Born Free and beauty surrounds you, the world still astounds" you is resonating as I again watch the fireflies majestically take their place in the sky tonight.

What was the last thing that took your breath away?

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Negativity comes in many forms. The varieties and permutations of negativity are as numerous as there are people. Sometimes it is a miniscule irritation at something that happened or should not have happened. Sometimes it’s a burning hot flame of rage. Sometimes it’s a more like a pervasive grime that coats one’s life. It is not necessarily deeply troubling, but life feels like a daily grind. One’s perspective is tinted by a sheen of muck. Sometimes fear is the negativity that manifests. It could be a fear of failure, a fear of being misperceived, a fear of not getting what we want. The various shades of negativity are as endless as the stories that create them.

Every form of negativity is a form of resistance. Every form of negativity is based in a story that has a central character struggling. But what happens when you remove the person in the story? What happens when there is no more narrative? Lets look at fear for a moment. What is it? From a biological standpoint, it is probably the secretion of certain chemicals in the body in response to some external stimuli. Our adrenaline starts pumping, our hearts start racing. The fight or flight response has been triggered. This is very useful when a disgruntled sabre tooth tiger is staring you down, but is perhaps less so when that trigger never subsides and you respond to every psychological challenge by running or fleeing. There is room for a more liberated approach. Without the story about the fear it is just a set of facts and sensations that are happening; a heart racing, blood pumping, adrenaline rushing. It is the negative story which gives those facts and sensations a "negative" connotation. We could use those same facts and tell a story about a running race and it would have a completely different meaning.

So are we to blame stories? Not quite so. That would just be another story. Stories are simply our ways of parcing out reality. They are quite helpful as long as we do not mistake them as the full truth. Stories are never completely true so it is delusive to search for our ultimate meaning in them. It is more useful to look to stories as a guide to how the outer world is being reflected by our inner world at that moment. We are held hostage by our stories when we cannot see that there are many perspectives and that the ultimate truth, in fact, stands even outside of all of those perpsectives.

Our negative emotions can teach us valuable lessons if we let them. Anytime there is negativity it is an opportunity to look into how we have been hooked into believing something false about ourselves and the world. What are we defending? What are we trying to hold up? What is beneath the fear? What are we afraid of? What are we believing that enables this negativity?

Experiment: Identify something that you are a little bit afraid to do. It should not be something that terrifies you or that you know you "cannot" do. And it should of course be safe. It should, on the other hand, be something that produces a certain degree of anxiety or fear. One beautiful example I am going to borrow from someone who writes on the ET TV Forums. As he was about to leap off a cliff into deep waters below, he kept approaching the cliff and then backing away. Each time he would get close to the cliff edge, he would try to be aware of the feelings, and sensations in his body at that moment. He became keenly attuned to what that experience of fear/anxiety felt like in his body and experience. You can do the same thing, even if it does not involve literally jumping off a cliff. Find something that causes you anxiety and just before you are about to undertake the activity become deeply present and witness the sensations in your body. What are you feeling? Where are you feeling it? What is happening to your body? Are there any thoughts that are accompanying your fears? What are they saying? Feel the difference between almost undertaking the fearful activity and moving back to what is comfortable.

In actuality, for this, it matters not whether you carry out the activity. The purpose of this experiment was to witness and truly understand what your own fear feels like rather than just react as your fear. I would be interested in hearing from you about how the experiment went. Please do write a comment.

Its nice to talk abstractly about negativity and all but don't terrible things happen? Isn't there pain and suffering and misery? These things are negative. How can you say that when there is negativity we have been hooked into a falsehood about the world?

It is a paradox that is difficult to articulate. Let me give you an example from my own life that begins to illuminate what I mean. In my last blog, I wrote about my struggle with mental illness. It has been difficult and painful at times. Yet despite this pain, or more aptly perhaps because of this pain, I sought an end to my suffering which led me to eventually "awaken" Sometimes its as if suffering enables us to see beyond the one who seems to be suffering. In my life, my mental illness has at one level been "negative", at another level it is simply a part of my experience and I am grateful, for what it has taught me and brought me in contact with. If something bad helps you to understand your true purpose and essence - can it be called negative so easily? If it expands your ability to be compassionate is it "bad". Now of course I am "lucky", and the pain in my story is not as deep as many other people experience, but the mechanics are the same. Once you feel your essence, you understand that no matter what someone else does to you or what you experience that may be "negative" there is an untouchable sacredness that has always been with you, will not ever leave you, and cannot be taken away, and you are never the same. This sacredness is unaffected by anything that could ever happen to you. This essence is the real you and it is connected to and part of everything else for lack of better words. When that essence is fully grasped through and through it becomes clearer that the "negative" does not really touch the essence of us. And if it does not touch "us" then isn't it a falsehood? This does not mean that something will never feel "negative" at the time, its just to say that the panoramic perspective is available to us if we can access it. Similarly, please don't take this to mean not to alleviate suffering. I am now going to blatantly and knowingly contradict myself and say suffering is real. Language can be so limiting. At a relative level, suffering does happen and we should do our utmost to relieve it when we see it in the world but at an absolute level, things are simply as they are. True compassion enables us to see that on the one hand there is real pain and misery. In fact, if we look closely enough and do not turn from it -- it is heartbreaking. At the same time, the quivering heart is able to see the essence of all things; that which is beyond the misery it is also able to hold the suffering.

So what should you do when you encounter negativity? What should you do when the flames of anger begin to rise and writhe? What should you do when you are afraid?

If you are able, watch the negativity. Become curious about it. Give it compassionate space and treat it with tenderness. Look deeply into it. Let it be as big as it needs to be. Many people have learned to count to ten when they get angry. It gives them a chance to cool off before they do or say something they regret. It can be a good practice. But often times people continue to tell themselves the story of why this person or that situation made them angry, so instead of cooling off they are feeding the fire of anger. See if you can feel the anger without the story. Concentrate on how the actual feeling of anger lives in the body. See how angry you can get for a moment. Not with some righteous indignation over what happened to you, but to experience the raw and simple energy of anger. What does it feel like? What color is it? What shape is it? What is it doing to your muscles? What is happening in your throat? What is going on in your belly or your heart? Give the anger some compassionate space to exist.

Usually another feeling lurks beneath the anger. Usually we are protecting or defending something. Often we are masking fear or hurt - other "negative" emotions. For me, I know I have reached the bottom of any "difficult" emotions when I begin a particular kind of cry. It is a cathartic cry. It is a cry of reaching and understanding truth. It is accompanied by a sweet tenderness towards the whole situation.

Hastily, we are so apt to write off our "negative" emotions and reach for something "better" but true reality, true love recognizes that these so called negative experiences are just other colors in the rainbow of life. They make the picture vivid and vibrant. True reality embraces them simply because they are. We do not need to fear them. We do not need to run from them. We do not even need to change them. Nothing that is real can ever be harmed so we do not need to worry. That which we perceive as "negative" is just another tool to awaken us from slumber and show us our divinity. So rest in peace the next time something "negative" appears. It is another chance to see yourself and escape the dream.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


This entry is a meditation on patience. As dictionary.com defines patience it seems to me that from these definitions patience is about a generous quality of mind and spirit and it that can be cultivated. At its heart, patience is an application of love. Lets take apart the first definition. It seems to me that with patience there is a transparency of spirit. The little “me” that gets wrapped up in thinking that it’s been jilted by the circumstances is minimized or non existent. Patience comes from the vastness of being. The “power” of misfortune does not apply and even though something could be construed by others as provoking or painful or annoying, the patient soul meets these situations with equanimity. In this first definition the person who is experiencing misfortunes and pain could easily get annoyed or frustrated by the externals that are causing the pain and misfortune but does not. In fact, with pure patience the circumstances simply are. They are not unfortunate and not psychologically painful. With real patience is a tacit if not explicit acknowledgment that the situation and the observer are merged. It is an act of love. It is timeless and does not, as the saying goes, run out.

A common phrase when it comes to patience is “ I am running out of patience” as if it came in some limited supply, but really patience is endless. What keeps it from being endless for us is our running away from the current moment. What keeps it from being endless is a story we frighten ourselves with about the future. We either want the moment to be different than it is or we are worried about something in the future. Wanting things to be different than they are, as I have said before in this blog, and as others have said before me, is the root of suffering. Why are we worried about in the future? Can we know for sure that our nightmare of how things will turn out actually will? Why are we hurtling towards the future? What is wrong with this moment we are in? We can choose patience again and again and again in any situation. It’s like we are patience; we are timeless and eternal and capable of letting life unfold in each moment. But when we are impatient we are once again attempting to exert control over life. We are trying to steer things in a direction it is not yet or maybe never going. Impatience is a form of suffering because it is a denial of our true timeless nature.

When do you become impatient? What circumstances draw you out of presence and into your small self ? For me, impatience is the first trigger for larger, deeper emotions like frustration, or anger. Most of the time I can watch myself have an impatient reaction without being the reaction. What do I mean by that? I mean that I am able to see the impatience in me without necessarily responding to my circumstance from the place of impatience. I am able to pause and respond when the impatience has, like any other emotion, passed through me. Sometimes however, I become impatient and a story about my lack of time or my irritation grows, rather than quickly passing through me. At times like these, I suffer.

I became very impatient with my child the other day when I was trying to leave for work. I had asked him to draw a card for his grandfather’s birthday and he kept getting frustrated that he could not do it “perfectly”. After a lot of failed attempts and the clock ticking away, I became more and more curt with him. My tone of voice became more pointed and harsh. Finally, I hurried him into the car. I was irritated that I was going to be late. Underneath my frustration, I did not realize until later, was a false story with a future that frightened me. Only now am I able to realize that I had been feeling inadequate at work and I was worried about my son’s perfectionism. At the time, my worry about work became more important than my son’s feelings. When I realized that I was still getting nowhere by carting him off to the car and that his hurt had only increased, I regained my composure. In some ways I surrendered to the situation. I was going to be late but I could be late with a card for Grandpa or I could be late without one. I apologized to my little one and we went back into the house to give him a chance to finish the card. This time he finished it. He also reminded me of what forgiveness is all about. When we went back to the car, I was again apologizing for getting so frustrated with him, he told me not to worry, that I was a great Dad, that he still loved me, and that it was ok -- I had not done anything wrong. He is a wise, loving and precious little soul.

In this story I let my worry take over my mind. I spiraled into a space where I was not able to see how I was hurting my son’s feelings. The initial patience with which I was handling the situation “ran out” but the moment one’s patience runs out is the very moment when we have abandoned reality for an imagined future or past. Could I really know if I was going to be in trouble if I was a few minutes late? Is it possible that as I got more frustrated with the situation I affected his ability to complete the card? If I took a birds’ eye view of the situation what was truly important to me? This story demonstrates how impatience obscures our vision, clarity and compassion.

But we operate in the real world where time is important. There are deadlines to be met, places we need to be, things that must get done.

It is true that to operate in the world, things need to get accomplished. Sometimes at one level one really does need to be at work at a certain time and there is little flexibility. Sometimes we have deadlines. We need to accomplish. We could not survive otherwise. Ultimately though, we can choose to meet that deadline without an accompanying worrisome story about how the future will turn out. It is important to remember that how we accomplish something is at least as important as what we accomplish or ultimately even if, we accomplish. If we do something with pent up frustration, irritation or anger, the product itself is “poisoned” to some degree. We can aim to approach anything we do with clarity and acceptance. Does it really “help us” to be frustrated, irritated or angry about the situation? The situation simply is. It is our story that makes a problem out of it. When my son was taking a long time to draw the card for Grandpa – it was simply that – a child taking a while to do a card for his Grandfather. My mind added a frightening story about what that would mean. My mind created the frustration. But my frustration did not contribute to making the situation better. It only added a layer of suffering for both of us. It in fact, surely made things worse.

So how do you get rid of the impatience or frustration?

You don’t. Why would you? They are a part of your experience. Why would you want to rid yourself of experience? Love does not exclude. It is all inclusive and moves toward that which feels left out. What you can do is simply notice the impatience. What you can do is be with the impatience? What is the impatience trying to tell you? Develop a curiosity about the story that is underneath the impatience. What need is not being met? Why does the situation feel so important? Can you approach that place that needs something to happen quickly or that is getting frustrated with tenderness? Know that you are bigger than the emotion that is passing. Nothing that can be identified is you. You are vast and cannot be contained.

Patience is a quality of love. It stands outside time even though it seems like it is exclusively about time. It can be chosen again and again and again by being in the moment. Impatience tells you to run after the next moment because it will be better than this one but that is a falsehood that will lead to a life unfulfilled. This is it. This is all you will ever have. Catch impatience in yourself and trace it back to the place where you are settling for a limited self. Know that you are endless. You are love and love is not bound by time or anything. Each time you are impatient let it show you where you are still attached and feeling small. Let it show you where you are still opaque; clinging to an idea of how things should be. Then let go, surrender to what is and see what happens.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Our Stories

A story that I impose upon the events of life goes like this. I was raised Catholic in a loving and strict household. When I went off to college I wanted to be President because I thought it would enable me to help the greatest number of people. When I headed off I also knew deep within, that college would test the ideas that I had been brought up with. I wondered what I would be like when I had to think for myself. My sophomore year of college I took a course that exploded my mind. I had always been something of a feminist. In high school when we read “Lord of the Flies”, a story about little boys stranded on an island and the breakdown in civility that occurs, I remember being the only one to suggest that it would have been different if it had been all little girls on the island. My feminism is different now, but the class that exploded my mind, Political Thinking About Women, made me examine so many of my beliefs about how society was organized and how frequently the feminine was lost or devalued. Much of what I was exposed to conflicted with my Catholic upbringing yet it resonated deeply. I could see that it made sense and that this perspective was driven by love, compassion and a desire for justice and equality. I struggled to reconcile my Catholicism and my burgeoning feminism . I also met someone who would much later become my life partner. At the end of my sophomore year however, we parted as friends as she went into the world to pursue her own dreams of helping people. When she left, I was incredibly bereft and searching. She was perhaps the first person that I truly loved. My junior year I met another woman and I reinvented myself in the image of what I projected she wanted. In the end I lost touch with reality. I became mentally ill and had to be hospitalized. My friends found me one morning wandering campus mumbling to myself about marriage, Christ and the Resurrection. Since then I have had a number of other episodes in which I have lost touch with reality, even one as few as three years ago, though I have managed to avoid an episode for as long as 14 years. The psychiatrists have classified me as bi-polar.

So why do I relay this story? Why do I circumsribe the events of life with a narrative and labels that appear to give a cohesive understanding or picture? Well in this case, I do it because I want to suggest the opposite; that no one is fact their story. I write it but I am not identified with it. I do not see limitations to the completeness of who I am based on what has happened in life. They are just events that pass through a space that is much deeper, richer and untouchable. It may seem like once I am classified, once I am labeled, one can understand me, but is that true? In truth there is such depth to everything that in the realm of form we can only know very little about something. In the realm of stillness however, we can "know" the wholeness of something to its core. I write it to suggest that those who have struggled with depression or bi polar disease or any other mental illness or any other malady for that matter can know peace contentment and presence. The key lies in not being attached to the story and in remembering who you are at the deepest level.

It is easy to become attached to the particular label of mental or other illness that a doctor proscribes. And the reality is that we may be limited in what we are able to do by what the doctor says. We may have to operate under certain parameters such as being on medication or confinement to a wheelchair. Let those limitations awaken you, let them teach you wholeness by truly being with that limitation and seeing if in fact that very real limitation binds who you are at the deepest level. It is not what we do or do not do that makes us complete, or whole. Ultimately our actions do not even have the ability to make us content or happy. Happiness comes from the inside. You have heard it before, but what does it really mean. It means that peace, happiness and contentment are available to us in any moment, even the "difficult" ones, even in our worldly limitations. It is simply up to us to clear the layers between our open heart and the world which we are. Happiness, contenment, peace and joy come from remembering in every cell, our limitless "self" and embracing the moment we are in.

Experiment - Sit quietly for 5 minutes. At the end of the five minutes mentally list or even write down all the things that would make you happy if you had them. Now spend a few minutes going through what has actually made you happy in your life and list those things. Are they similar or different? Does it take much to make you happy? Look deeply, why do you think you were "happy" during some of the things you named? Try to get to the bottom of why? Was it really something the thing gave you or was it more about a simple connection and attention. Is that connection and attention only available when that something is around or is it something you could bring to whatever is before you? How does the space you were in relate to your happiness? Who are you without those things that would make you happy? What would happen if you embraced whatever is coming up for you in this moment with compassion? Do not worry. There are no wrong answers. This was just an exercise, hopefully playful, at looking at the conditions for happiness.

Stories are wonderful perspectives on truth. They are entertaining, lovely, riveting, wondrous, and at times helpful, and informative. They are like looking through one face in a diamond crystal. Some part of reality is shown but not all of it. To look through another facet of the diamond, another story, is to see another element of truth. Ultimately however, truth, which is who we all are, cannot ever be captured by a story. So liberate yourself from your story by remembering in each moment the full glory of your being.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Nights ago I dreamed that something was after my family. I even whimpered aloud as I once did as a little child. When I awakened it was clear that the nightmare had ended. It was clear that the absorbing story that frightened me just a minute ago, was not reality after all. It could have fooled me. It did fool me. The feeling was 0dd because in my life I have been so exceptionally content and happy. It was funny that "I" was not able to meet my dream with the same equanimity that I have been meeting the rest of life. I found myself marveling at this "other world" that managed to emotionally terrify me and handcuff my ability to be present. Yet in actuality the events were imagined. I was on edge. My adrenaline was pumping. It had all felt so real.

What if the world we live in is a lot like that? What if most people live in a dreamlike state; rarely aware of the true reality they could wake up to. Freedom is not the cessation of "bad" things from happening it is embracing what is happening simply because it IS happening. There exists a reality is below the surface of what passes for the real world and is a part of what we call the real world but in actuality it is more "real" than the things we touch, hear, see, smell or taste And yet ironically our access point to that richness of that reality is through thoses senses. We touch the divine through our bodies. Anything you have ever "experienced" of the divine or the formless has come to you through form by your senses. The dream world our minds recreate each moment is part of the real world. Yet have you ever awakened out of a deep slumber and for a few moments not had any part of your story come to consciousness ie) you were just present without referencing a who or a where or a what? Have you ever meditated and melted into a space where only the "isness" of the moment existed, where you were not thinking of a "me", where "every-thing" seemed to almost disappear. There is a richness to a world where we let things "be" as they constitute themselves before us in that moment. In our effort to control our world and rid ourselves of the fear of not knowing, we give a false consistency to the wildness of life, to the "suchness" of unmediated experience. We forget that the world is created anew through our own eyes each and every moment, that each and every moment anything can happen. So your father "always" criticizes the way you dress, and your best friend "always" gets withdrawn when you mention her relationship with her husband. How much does the fact that they acted that way in in the past - color your present moment with them? How much is your present conditioned by their "past' behavior? What would happen if you gave them the space to be whoever they were going to be in the moment you were interacting with them? What if you met them wherever they were and realized that you are both free to act differently at any moment and you both just might? You are not the accumulation of your deeds and no one else is either.

Forgiveness would be more prevalent. Forgiveness would come naturally because we would realize that we are each more than a tally sheet. It would come because we narrowed our lives to the present and gave ourselves the gift of relating to reality and not the "dream" world of what that person or situation was five minutes ago. Holding onto the past is painful. The present is always something we can handle. This does not mean that we need to put up with hurtful behavior, that we cannot remove ourselves from harmful situations, or that we cannot choose to spend time with other people, it simply means that the burden of attachment to something which is not now, is no longer there. Until you have forgiven, you are still in the dream world where at some level you believe you are a victim. Does that sound harsh? I do not mean it to be, I only mean it to help one free oneself. If you have not forgiven someone, then you are telling yourself a story in which you were wronged and that at some level things won't be ok until something else happens. Nothing ever needs to happen for you to be happy. Nothing ever needs to happen for you to be content.


What if you really did nothing. Spend 10 minutes alone quietly sitting on a chair or lying in bed when you are not too tired. Language fails here but "try" to do nothing. Truthfully, I find its more like relaxing into nothing. No worries, there is no wrong way to "do" this experiment.


What happened at the end of 10 minutes? Did your thoughts slow down? Did the "spaces" between your thoughts increase? Did you find your mind rattling on and on -- if so do you know how it started down that track? Did you find it hard to "do" nothing? Did you have a running commentary about how you weren't doing the exercise correctly? Did you fall asleep? Were you able to sit/lie for the full time? What constituted "doing" or "nothing" for you in the exercise? How do you feel? What were you able to sense during the exercise? What was your breathing like? Are you living your own life or is life living you?

The aliveness of the web of oneness can directly touch us in any moment that we are not ensnared in a believing a story about it. There is no magic to it. Just use your senses; your access point to the divine, to open to the world within the world, by experiencing without conceptualizing and by embracing the moment you are in. How will you know whether or not you are in the dream state? The more aliveness you sense in everything around you, the more your are leaving the dream world. The more your felt connection to that which inhabits the cosmos, the less you are living in the dream world.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Web Of Oneness

Have you ever met someone who glowed from the inside out? A few months back, I went into the pet store with my son to get dry cat food for our three, not so little felines. A woman in a wheelchair was returning some items and she had a little dog with her. She spoke to my son and I, and just radiated warmth and goodness. I don't remember much of what she said but I remember being awestruck by her kindness. In fact, it was not anything specific that she DID. It was simply her being that was so wonderful and powerful. I am STILL deeply struck by the power of her being. Most of the time we are not able to feel that in each other. But each of us is like that deep down, even if we let it get obscured by being too absorbed in the world. And most of the time we walk around in a trance of separation because we are unable to peel away the layers beneath that presence masquerading as a person that is sitting next to us. How would we act if we really believed that everything was truly one?

Take a moment and breath slowly. How would you be if you believed everything were one; that everything beside you was a part of that which was most beloved by you; that "YOU" were not limited to a body or your thoughts. What if everything was just a projection created by you so that you could see yourself and behold your own beauty in all its many forms. How would you act when that speeding driver cut in front of you? How would you act towards that homeless man out on streets in the cold? What would you do when your co-worker said something cruel about another co-worker? How would you be with your elderly parent ? Would you raise your voice with your child? How would you treat mother earth? What foods would you eat? After all, each of these seemingly different forms would be a part of you. I don't mean to suggest there are pat answers to these questions or even that one answer is correct and another is wrong. In some ways the actual answers don't matter. It is more to get in touch with the connection among all. If you can connect to that place - I wonder what kind of world would arise out of you.

For me, what happens is there is an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I am blown away by the fact that I am even here or that anything else could be either. I deeply feel the miracle of existence and the fact that everything I have ever done, seen, touched, felt, thought, possessed, enjoyed, disliked, or wondered about is dependent on every single other thing. This moment could never be without all the other moments that preceded it. I owe "my" life to each and every person as well as everything there is. What is, is because of the totality of all else. I am because of this desk. I am because of you and outward it goes. I feel unending gratitude for the chair that is holding up my bottom. I feel awe at the mind that created the computer that allows me to type what I am writing. I look out my window and marvel at the thousands of snowflakes - each different than the next and as the zen saying goes, falling into its own proper place. I feel grateful for my aching cold feet and warm cup of Chai tea.

We need each other. Like a heart needs the lungs and lungs need the kidneys and they all need the head, we all need each other. It is easy to feel isolated and disconnected. Many of our modern habits lend themselves toward alienation from each other and trances of separation. But occassionally we come across people who remind us of the goodness that we all are. They can be powerful forces even as they "do" very little. Sometimes all it takes to be that glowing person is a simple smile or being grounded in oneself. The ripple effect can be enormous because if you believe life is one infinite web, then a twang of one thread affects a multitude of others, and ultimately its all one.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Opening and Closing

Awakening is the process of continually opening. It is the process of love claiming all. It is paradoxically already complete and at the same time blossoming. In my own life it is interesting to see the places that I contract. It is interesting to note the places where I am not open or feel a pull to close. It is interesting to feel them in my gut or throat or shoulders. Sometimes I will try to defend a mental position as if that position were somehow imbued with a little part of myself, and I guess to my ego it is. It is also funny when I can look back and think - how odd that I took that idea or situation to be so serious. Two places that have been wonderfully illustrious to me recently have been my relationship with my sweetie and my work.

Oh, yes, I got a job. It is very intense at my new job. People's expectations of me are very high. During the day I am often knotted inside, too much afraid of the ways that I might fail. One antidote of course, is riveting myself on the actual task at hand. If I am knotted, I am likely too focused on the future and not enough in the present moment. It helps to remind myself to dwell there as often as I can. Sometimes just the sipping of a cup of tea at my desk can remind me to come home.

It is also interesting, to witness my identity dissolving. The dissolution is sometimes awkward and uncomfortable. The contraction inside, the knotted place, is oddly helpful, it shows me where my ego is still invested. My ego still finds it important to be seen as an intelligent, competent person. It still fears failing and creates a story of "but what if. . . ." But who would I be if I did not excel at my job? The contraction is the gap between the truth which my heart knows and the pull of the illusion which suggests that I need to be special through my intelligence to matter to the world. Does this mean that I should suddenly stop trying to excel at work or that something is wrong if one is smart or any other "desirable" quality. No, not at all, it simply means that to the extent I tie my identity to those qualities, when I am so much more than them, I will be closed off and suffer. Remember, you are both all and nothing.

I am glad that I no longer for the most part make an enemy out of my contractions. Instead I try to let them be or embrace them with a little love. A little empathetic curiosity goes a long way. Don't make a foe out of them. They are signals that can allow you to open further if you are willing to hear what they have to say. With my sweetie, I have discovered perhaps for the first time, the real beauty of relationship. She is a crystal mirror for me. She reflects back to me who I still believe I am. If we "fight" it is the perfect opportunity for me to discover where I am not transparent. It is the perfect chance to see where I am still invested in again creating a story of "me" or in being something special or of being right. We defend ourselves because deep down we are trying to convince 0urselves of something. One only defends, or attempts to feel special or needs to be right when one isn't aligned with the truth that they are. When we are aligned with that truth there is nothing we need to prove. My relationship with my sweetie is such a gift because it gives me such a deep opportunity to open, or to see where I still feel my limitations. Where in your life do you contract?

So what is "open"? What does it mean? Well for a definition I suggest you check in with your own heart. It is a good compass for what is open and what is not. When I am open such a sweet tenderness exists. Open is the outpouring of love. It is connection with and compassion for. It is alignment with truth. The invitation is always there but I am not always courageous enough to rest there. But even still, all is well for, love claims it all. It never goes away, even if you are not open to it and remained closed at that moment. There are always more chances to open, to love.