Love for a New Year

From Rumi:

 

WALKINGSTICK DRAGON

I want to dance here in this music,

not in spirit where there is no time.

I circle the sun like shadow.  My

head becomes my feet.  Covered with

existence, Pharaoh, annihilated, I

am Moses.  A pen between God-fingers.

a walkingstick dragon, my blind mind,

taps along its cane of thought.  Love

clings to no thought.  It waits with soul,

with me, weeping in this corner.  We’re

strangers here where we never hear

yes.  We must be from some other town.

Not being ready yet to welcome our lives unconditionally, let’s cultivate gratitude for the fiery love within that is already saying YES to it all.

 

 

Creation Delights in the Recognition of Itself

 

There is in the body a current of energy, affection and intelligence, which guides, maintains, and energizes the body. Discover that current, and flow with it unswervingly. Be aware of the spark of life that weaves the tissues of your body and stay with it. It is the only reality that the body has. It is like looking at a burning incense stick; you see the stick and the smoke first; when you notice the fiery point, you realize it has the power to consume mountains of sticks and fill the universe with smoke. Timelessly the Self actualizes itself, without exhausting its infinite possibilities. In the incense stick simile, the stick is the body, and the smoke is the mind. As long as the mind is busy with its contortions, it does not perceive its source.  When you welcome the supreme teacher, again and again, she comes and turns your attention to the spark within.

Everything is a Gift

In Zen, generosity is an important devotional practice. We can find a context for generosity–which can make our practice come alive–by contemplating one of our Zen ancestors, Dogen Zenji’s sayings from The Shobogenzo: “When one attains the Way, the Way is always left to the Way.” When the Way is left to the Way, there is no need to add anything, seek anything or move away from anything that is happening. We are totally immersed in the Way, with the vitality of awareness. The Way is also called the great emptiness or the great fullness. The great fullness is so full that we cannot find anything separate from it. We cannot find any thing at all.

Brother David Steindl-Rast describes gratefulness as great fullness. We are grateful that the Great Spirit shares its great fullness of life with us. What a relief not to have any place to put our ego, it has no seaparate existence of its own. The ego can be thought of as a cipher, huge as an ocean within us that sucks up all our energy. What a relief to release some of that pent-up energy and offer it to the buddhas. As profound as our offering, so inexhaustible is the gratitude of the buddhas for our willingness to share our lives with them. With enormous fullness, they receive our offerings.

When we realize this, in the depth of our being we feel that all of our experience is welcomed as expressions of the wholeness of life. Realizing we are always unconditionally welcomed, we learn to welcome life unconditionally. This realization of unconditional welcoming naturally goes deeper, becomes clearer, as we welcome the welcoming as gifts from spirit itself, from the wholeness of life. Our receiving the welcoming tenderizes us, makes us more pliant and flexible, and naturally more generous. As we begin to understand how everything is unconditionally and lovingly given to us, we begin to understand how to unconditionally give everything to everyone.

Of course there are some events we cannot summon up gratitude for; but these are truly opportunities to open up as much as we can to the great fullness. Regardless of our limitations, the buddhas are just as thankful for our best efforts. From the viewpoint of the buddhas, their fullness includes our limitations. We only need to cultivate the ability to see our catastrophes as opportunities. They are opportunities to remember the most important thing. My way of expressing the most important thing is to remember to receive the gifts of life as they are, and this includes the willingness to make efforts to help all beings. This is how we receive the power of our inconceivable life force, and simultaneously it is how we are re energized, refueled in our life. Spiritual energy comes from our spiritual aspirations, the true spirit of these aspirations comes from receiving our life as it is given to us in the present moment.

So we leave the Way to the Way. And we can be grateful that the Way leaves us to us. The sun is an equal opportunity provider, rising each morning, shining on everything with its peaceful warmth, revealing everything just as it is. Likewise the light of the Way shines equally on all its creations, leaving us to us. As we learn to expose ourselves more and more to the gifts of this life, we gradually realize our oneness. We realize that in leaving us to us, the Way offers us everything.

Let our gratitude extend to the opportunities presented by others. Let us see how upset and frustrated we still become when someone offends us in a way that pushes our buttons of pain and fear. Let us see how taking offense is the same as giving offense. So we can cultivate a spirit of thank-you-very-much for providing this opportunity, painful as it may be. And thank you very much, buddhas, for providing others with a chance to give us these opportunities.

Thank you very much, buddhas, for giving us a way to overcome our fears of exposure to the great unknown. Thank you, buddhas, for giving others the opportunity to receive the gift of our response. Confucius said “When you see virtuous behavior, emulate it. When you see harmful behavior, look at yourself.” May all beings learn to heed Confucius’s advice, and in their anger or denial, look to themselves.

Thich Nhat Hanh has a saying: The world of suffering and discrimination is filled with the light of the rising sun. Meditating with the light of the rising sun can be a wonderful opportunity to embody the depths of this saying. We can be grateful for our spirit of inquiry. We can be grateful for our willingness to embody the big questions of life, including our death. We are gifted with the ability to embody them in a lighthearted way, with our heart full of light.

 

Our Deepest Fear

 

I’ve been reading a bit about Krishna Das, the musician whose devotional songs have inspired so many people. His guru is Neem Karoli Baba, Maharajji, Ram Dass’ guru. He was gifted with a few days of precious time with him several months before his death. He related an encounter with Maharajji which speaks very powerfully to me of the presence of courage in the face of fear:

We were together with our eyes closed for a long time. All of a sudden Maharajji sits up, looks at me, and says, ‘Courage is a really big thing’. All I could think was, ‘What’s gonna happen? I don’t think I can deal with it!’

The other devotee present said, ‘Oh but Baba, God takes care of his devotees.’

Maharajji shot him a look, then looked back at me, and said, ‘Courage is a really big thing.’ And he closed his eyes again.

I had no idea what it meant. Not a clue. But there have been a few times in my life when all I had to hold onto was the memory of his saying that. There was no possibility of courage, no possibility of action, I was completely lost, completely drowning, but I had the barest memory of his saying that . . .

and it was enough.

When we can intimately relate with the experience of completely drowning with no possibility of doing anything, we’re touching our deepest fear, the fear of death, the death of who and what we think we are. We all have an intellectual realization that we’re going to die, but very few of us know it’s really going to happen, until some tragedy makes it painfully obvious that it actually is happening. The willingness to stay present with this fear, is the gift of courage. The power of courage is the power to transform fear into loving compassion. Sogyal Rinpoche, the author of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying said:

When we finally know we are dying, and all other beings are dying along with us, we start to have a burning, almost heart breaking sense of the fragility, and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, boundless compassion for all beings.

I had never fully appreciated the depth of my father’s Christian faith until he was on his deathbed in 1986. He gathered his four children around him, we held hands, and he offered a deeply heart felt prayer to our heavenly father thanking him for his love in life and in death. He said ‘I’m not afraid to die, it’s ok I’ve had a good life.’ I still cry sometimes when I realize that the power of his prayer isn’t in the past or future, it’s now. And through this realization I’ve learned a deeper appreciation of our living presence in this moment. The birth of our physical bodies happens now; the dissolving of our bodies in death happens now.

I was talking with senior Zen teacher Reb Anderson some years ago about death. He told me that his intuition is that whether there is rebirth or not after we die, the momentum of the practice continues. For me this means the momentum of our spirit of inquiry continues regardless of whatever we think happens after death. Reb said he realizes that because of sleep deprivation, rising around 4 am for the last 50 years, his life will probably be 10 to 15 years shorter than it otherwise would have been. He then told me, ‘That’s ok, I’ve had a good life.’

This gave me a still deeper appreciation for my father’s spirit of inquiry, I realized he also had a deep intuition of Sogyal Rinpoche’s saying about death’s teaching us about compassion. For him, me and my siblings dying along with him meant dying to the sense of separation from God’s love. His prayer was for us to surrender and receive God’s love as he had learned to do in his willingness to receive death. I’m grateful to have such a wonderful father, and to have such a wonderful Zen teacher, both of whom intimately know the compassionate heart of death. Yogananda said: ‘It’s ok to pray for things, and to be thankful for them. It’s far better to pray for God’s love, to pray for the courage to receive and give her compassionate love, and instead of thanking her for things, thank her for her love.’

Continual Prayer

Many senior teachers tell us that continual contemplative prayer, continual surrender to spirit without interruption or distraction is necessary for a full realization of our true nature. Ramana Maharshi said surrender itself is a mighty prayer. The prayer of surrender is the willingness to continually deepen our receiving our life force, receiving unconditional love that is freely offered from infinite consciousness. Of course our seeking minds take this surrendered prayer being constant as a goal for us to achieve. I spent many years beating myself up for not being able to accomplish the intention of being in the state of constant contemplation of the deep question ‘what is THIS?’, or ‘what is the actual substance of the presence looking out of our eyes right now?’

But then as Baker Roshi stated, in Buddhist philosophy the formulating and articulating of an intention is equivalent to accomplishing that intention. Applied to contemplative practice, this actually means that the essence of the intention of authentic spiritual inquiry is to simply be here now. Being here now is already always the case; before, during, and after we formulate the intention.

So we formulate the intention for prayer of surrender to the presence we are. This is enough, faith in just the awareness of being present is all we need. All else is mere imaginings of the mind. We need to drop all faith that is merely expectation of results. Constant evaluating like ‘Am I present now, can I notice just being present without clinging to desires of anything else other than just being present?’, is useful in that it reminds us of our intention. But trying to self consciously accomplish this intention through comparison of others’ accomplishments, or our own perfectionist standards, is based on our attachment to results.

Faith in just the awareness of being present is not a result, just as the awareness of being present is not the result of anything. They aren’t the result of any self conscious effort. Awareness is its own result in the sense of it having no absolute beginning or ending. Awareness is always present before the idea of a beginning can arise; it is the source of ideas of beginning and ending, but it is not bound by the ideas of beginning and ending. The absence of awareness, and the beginning of awareness itself are just thoughts in the mind, based on our attempts to define and limit awareness. As Nisargadata said, ‘There is no such thing as nothing, nothing is just an idea based on the memory of something.’ There is no such thing as the absence of awareness, the absence of awareness is just an idea based on the memory of the idea of awareness.

So rather than take the practice of continual prayer and surrender to spirit as a goal to attain, we learn to just pay attention to the constant prayer that is always here. It is simply the constant flow of our awareness, the constant flow of our experience. Continual timeless prayer is manifesting the source we are at every moment. We formulate the intention to surrender to the sense of ‘I Am’, and just notice the sense of ‘I Am’, without clinging to ideas of I am this, or I am that. This doesn’t mean to exclude the awareness of dishes that need to be washed, or to exclude the awareness of the details of child care that need to be attended to. The intention to surrender to the constant prayer of just being present, is surrender to the dishes and child care as just being present. We intend to see beyond the conceptual haze of our opinions and judgments about the details of our life, and just let our attachments to them be present.

This morning there is a cool autumn breeze as I write in my hammock. Many bright colorful leaves are effortlessly and joyfully dancing in the breeze as they fall to the ground. This free flow of our experience is like a constantly flowing river, and nothing can ever interrupt it. What could ever possibly interrupt or distract from the sheer joy of our alive being? When seen and experienced clearly and fully, our self conscious efforts to cling to our thoughts, to control our experience, are merely different expressions of the same delightful energy of the dancing leaves!

The mere witnessing of our self conscious attachments, is the joy of the constant prayer of surrender being present as the manifestation of the details of our life. Why not just allow the river of experience to flow by? In this way, we are learning to experience our attachments clearly, and to experience them free of our opinions about them. And we realize they have absolute value as expressions of awareness, of spirit itself. So rather than ignoring the details of our life, we feel energized and vitalized in their expression of the spirit we share with all beings, and we naturally want to care and express love for them as we would for our own selves.

In our contemplative practice, constant care and love for all beings is becoming one with our constant prayer for union with the divine spirit we are. This prayer includes the prayer for the union all of creation with the divine spirit of creation itself. We and all beings together are becoming the constant prayer of surrender free from all mental fabrication, and free to love and care for all beings.

The Pure Light

One important way to take our spiritual inquiry deeper is to ask, ‘What is the actual substance of this sense of a separate self?’ We will ask this question a countless number of times, each time will be in the midst of different circumstances. If we’re really honest with ourselves, we’ll begin to notice that we always respond with an attempt to conceptually grasp the question, and attempt to formulate an answer in our minds. This noticing begins to include noticing that the particular circumstances involved influence our attempts at asking and answering. For example, it’s 5 am on a dark Sunday morning, and I’m concerned about my 12 yr. old son Danny being too emotional over his chipped tooth.

I’m noticing that in fact I’m suffering emotionally over his emotional reaction to his suffering. This noticing is good and natural; I’m aware that I’m inquiring about the actual substance of this separate self colored by thoughts emanating with tinges of helplessness and inadequacy in my role of being father. Just witnessing the thought energy continually flowing, echoing, and dissolving in waves of discovery, I’m put in touch with the common source of all of my suffering. What IS its actual substance? I don’t know, and this not knowing is the absence of conceptual content, arising together, and one with an alive loving acceptance of all this experience.

So there is a shift from the boundaries of the one who is experiencing, to the vast expanse of consciousness, the eternal possibility, the immeasurable potential of all that was, is, and will be. When we look at anything, it is the ultimate that we see, but we don’t realize this because we’re attached to the idea that we’re looking at something else. Every mode of perception is subjective; what is seen or heard, touched or smelled, felt or thought, expected or imagined, is in our small minds only, and has no own being in the actual boundless reality.

Perhaps the hardest part of the path for students in our culture is learning to trust that our true nature is continually supporting and unconditionally loving us in our imagined struggles. Even the sense of ‘I am’ a separate person is composed of the pure light and the sense of being. Could it be composed of something else? The ‘I’ is there even without the ‘am’. So is the pure light there whether you say ‘I’ or not. If we become aware of that pure light, we’ll begin to see that we can never lose it. The overwhelming actuality of the presence of being, the awareness in consciousness, the interest in every experience – these are not describable, yet perfectly accessible, for there is nothing else.

Divine Spirit is Calling Us Home

Our spiritual ancestors tell us that we don’t need to try and attain enlightenment, all of us are already enlightened. In the absolute world where all separation isn’t real, there is no one more enlightened than you or I. And there is no one less enlightened than you or I. This is no less true in the relative world, where separation appears real. However in the relative world of self and other, of joy and suffering, there are different layers of belief in our ideas about enlightenment and delusion. The veil hiding our inherent joy in the freedom of our true nature obviously appears much denser and solid in some of us than in others.

I was having a private discussion with senior dharma teacher Reb Anderson about this very topic some years ago. I mentioned that when contemplating how to further deepen others’ realization, I was aware of a tendency to want to measure where I’m at, to measure how much can I be of help? He replied that right there, in that attachment to wanting is an attempt to unenlighten your Self. Sometimes it can be helpful to reframe our neurotic egotistical obsessions as attempts to unenlighten ourselves. This simply means we’re deeply conditioned to continually attempting to control and interfere with the divine life force always living in and through us, calling us home. And clinging to these self conscious attempts is what obscures the clear realization of our inherent freedom; this clinging is an attempt to unenlighten ourselves.

I was grateful for Reb pointing out to me the need to deeply contemplate and be aware of the components and implications of that self conscious wanting I was expressing. He pointed out that it is good that there was an awareness of the tendency. The pure awareness of the tendency is witnessing the wanting from a place that isn’t attached to the wanting, from a place that isn’t attached to the results of that wanting, from a place willing to just let the wanting be what it actually is. So the inquiry becomes what is the wanting really? What is the attachment to the wanting, and what is helpful as well as harmful about the attachment?

These are big questions, and any conceptual answers I talk about here are only true for me, they are only true in my mind. And they are only true in the minds of you reading them. They won’t necessarily be helpful to you. The main point for me is that it is important to be willing to more fully enter the questions, to allow ourselves to be more fully absorbed in the questions that are most relevant to each of us. This doesn’t mean becoming fully absorbed in the conceptual content of the questions, but to become more fully absorbed in the actual life of the questions which is free of all conceptual content. Excessively clinging to the conceptual content of our deep questioning is an attempt to deaden the aliveness of the questioning, an attempt to deaden the aliveness of our spiritual inquiry. We learn to allow the questions to stay fully alive by gradually learning to allow the aliveness of our yearning, the joy and sorrow, and trusting that our aliveness of inquiry IS divine spirit calling us home.

It is usually much easier for us to welcome our joy than it is to welcome our grief that comes up from absorbing ourselves in the aliveness of the big questions. We learn that attempting to cover up and deny our suffering will eventually lead to rude awakenings, and the more energy we put into denial, the more frequent and ruder the awakenings become. When we learn to be willing to embrace our grief, by just offering it to the mystery, offering to a higher power, we begin to realize that the deepest root of of our suffering is a profound sadness from the overall felt sense of being separate from our natural expression of unconditional love and acceptance. We begin to deeply realize that underneath all of our neurotic desires, is the desire for wholeness, our deepest desire is the desire for the innate wholeness we actually already are.

The great Indian saint Anandamayi Ma said the following about our willingness to yield to the Divine calling within.

When intense interest in the supreme quest awakens, ever more time and attention will be given to religious thought, spiritual philosophy, the remembrance of God as immanent in all creation, until thereby every single knot is untwisted. One is stirred by deep yearning: “How can I find Him?” As a result of this, the rhythm of body and mind will grow steady, calm, serene.

Suppose some people go to bathe in the sea and make up their minds to swim ahead of everyone else; consequently they will have to look back. But for him whose one and only goal is the ocean itself, no one has remained for whose sake he looks back or is concerned; (transcend and include, not exclude concern for others) and then, what is to be, will be.

Give yourself up to the wave, and you will be absorbed by the current; having dived into the sea, you do not return anymore (Attachments to the sense of a separate self just continually fall away). The Eternal Himself is the wave that floods the shore, so that you may be carried away. Those who can surrender themselves to this aim will be accepted by Him.

But if your attention remains directed towards the shore, you cannot proceed – after bathing you will return home. If your aim is the Supreme, the Ultimate, you will be led on by the movement of your true nature. There are waves that carry away, and waves that pull back. Those who can give themselves up, will be taken by Him. In the guise of the wave (sometimes in the wave of deep grief, sometimes in the wave of deep joy) She holds out her hand and calls you, come Come COME!

 

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9-11

The morning of September 11th 2001 is a day that all Americans remember where they were, and what they were doing when they heard the news that our nation was under attack. I was in a hospital room with my three day old first born child Nicky, getting ready to take him home for the very first time. Of course normally this would be a wonderfully joyous occasion, a lighthearted initiation into the rites of parenthood, a celebration of a new life for our family in the sanctuary of our home. The trauma of the shock of that morning easily comes back to me every September 11th since that day. I remember helping my wife into the car as she carried Nicky for the short drive home. Two and a half hours after the attacks, the Fort Lauderdale atmosphere was dark, deathly still, and oppressively humid. I felt like I was getting into a hearse instead of going to host a blissful coronation.

The question still arises, what could this mean for our lives that such a horrific event happened right in the midst of such an important event for us? My spiritual training has taught me not to get so caught in pondering the conceptual meaning of things; all things, all experiences are only true in the mind. Adyashanti said there is no such thing as a true thought. However perhaps almost all of us human beings experience at some point the profound transformative potential when shocked with the realization that the fear of the suffering of death arises together with the blissful arrival of new life from the deepest depths of the mystery of life. Death is part of life, and suffering is part of love.

There is a movie, Shadowlands, about C.S. Lewis, the famous Christian preacher, Oxford professor, and author of children’s books, that is very moving for me. He was a very deep thinker. In one of his literature classes, he talks of perfect love being perfect because of its unattainability. “The most intense love lies not in the having of it, but in the very intense desiring of it. Delight that never fades, bliss eternal, is only yours when what you most desire is forever out of reach.” In his sermons he preached that God wants us to suffer, for it is in our suffering that we learn to desire perfect love, love that we imagine is separate from and not part of suffering. He says this is how God teaches us that he wants us to learn to love and be loved in our deep desire for perfect love.

He meets his future wife, and her love for him reveals to her his deep childhood fear of love and suffering after his mother’s death when he was 7. She clearly intuits his defensiveness in his brilliance, and unconscious sense of superiority that alienates him from opening to an intimate relationship with her. It is only when she is stricken with advanced terminal bone cancer that he realizes she is the love of his life. They are married while she’s confined to bed, and then she goes into remission. However the doctors caution that this won’t last.

They decide to take a trip into the beautiful English countryside, and he realizes he’s found true happiness. He’s not worried about the past or future, he’s finally happy now in the present moment. His wife says, “You know this isn’t going to last. I know you don’t want to talk about it, but I need to talk about it with you”. He says don’t worry about me, I’ll get by somehow. She replies, “No, I think it can be better than that, it can be better than just managing.” He says, “Let’s not spoil the time we have.” She says, “It doesn’t spoil it, it makes it real. I need to talk to about it now, so I can be with you then when I die. What I’m trying to say is, the happiness now is part of the pain then. That’s the deal.”

When she dies, he’s quite angry and is forced to face his deep fear of the pain of loss. It’s so painful that initially he is unable to console his step son who has just lost his mother at age 7 as he did. Finally they have a deeply cathartic cry together, and he fulfills his commitment to look after him after her death.

The movie ends with him asking, “Why love if losing hurts so much? I have no answers now, only the life I’ve lived. Twice in this life I’ve been given the choice, as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”

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Guided Meditation on Breath

 

Breathing in, I know I am alive. Breathing out, I smile to my aliveness. Notice that we don’t have to try to breathe; the breath breathes itself. Just notice for a minute that if we don’t make an effort to breathe, or to control our breathing, breathing just happens anyway on its own. Just noticing the breath, it naturally slows down and deepens. Allowing the breath to breathe in, we can sense the subtle pressure of our breath is a loving gift of the life force, asking for nothing in return. Allowing the breath to breathe out, we can sense that our breath is our intimate connection with this life force, our true sense of being alive. The invitation is always here for us to surrender to this aliveness, to the let the breath breathe through us, to allow the life force to live through us.

Breathing in, we are aware of the loving acceptance of all of our sensory experience, sounds, feelings, forms, and thoughts. Breathing out, we are aware of all sounds, feelings, forms, and thoughts peacefully dissolving back into the breath itself, into the life force itself. This is our life, the flowing river of our sensory experience is one with the flowing river of our breath. So enjoy our breathing, rest and be taken. Rest and be taken on this ride of living experience, surrender to the flow of our breathing, the spirit of acceptance and peace, and know that we are loved.