Monday, July 21, 2008


Without noticing it, you too may be suffering from the myriad ways in which expectations can undermine your life. I call it the tyranny of expectations. They plague your daily life, causing you to be irritable, disappointed, and disillusioned. Many times they lead you to say unkind words, act unskillfully, or make poor decisions. Expectations are so insidious that you can persist in maintaining them even after you have clear evidence that they are unfounded.- excerpt from an article by Philip Moffitt

I read this the other day. Good food for thought. Expectations go hand in hand with assumptions, both more than happy to make asses of us all.

What are the expectations that I have that are sabotaging me? It is difficult to say, especially as I have to really think about what expectations I have of any type. Waking up tomorrow morning probably ranks up there pretty high. Not sure that I am blocked from making progress in life by that assumption, though. Some level of assuredness that tomorrow will in fact arrive with me as a passenger is required to have a certain base level of structure in my personal day. Without that faith, why clean the bathroom?

Here is a good one! I expect myself to be open to others. Am I? Nope. It drives me crazy when someone doesn't get it, whatever the 'it' is. This does not mean I want others to agree with me, only that I want them to show some understanding and growth in the subject (of course this is based on my opinion of what growth and understanding are). This is something that can make interpersonal communication difficult (the attraction of the blog- one way monologue).

How do you get rid of expectations? Is it even possible? I expect that it is.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I Am So Not Zen

Over the years, I have been a great many things. A bit like that Bugs Bunny cartoon where he and Elmer Fudd swim around in a sea of hats and take on the persona that each one represents. I have fewer questions, these days, but a deeper need to study them. So, I am exploring some of the many paths of belief. The most recent of these, is Zen Buddhism at the absolutely beautiful San Francisco Zen Center. I listen to their dharma podcasts on my Ipod, all the time.

As the title may suggest to you, I did not click with Zen.

There are so many rules. I get their general purpose, to keep you focused and in the present, but holy cow. Walk in the door this way, walk out that way. Turn clockwise. If this bell rings wait here, but first take off your shoes while you stand with your back to the mat. Sit anywhere you like, but not here, or here, or here, or here.... and whatever you do, do not sit on anything
brown. Sit this way, but not that way. If the 'senior Dharma student' enters the room....

I do not respond well to that much structure. Due to genetic programming I have to follow a rule once I know about it, but with that many rules, I can't breath trying to follow all of them (which is the focus of the meditation class I was there for, after all). Despite listening to a very good, and timely , dharma discussion with the Abbott, about acceptance of the situation at hand, I was very happy to get out of there.

Here's the kicker- during the meditation class, I had to use a second cushion in order to sit comfortably, and there was a perfectly good one right in front of me. The meditation instructor, a Buddhist priest, said nothing about it. When the dharma talk was a few minutes from starting, an older nun came to me and whispered that I was sitting on the senior dharma student's cushion. I apologized and got off it immediately. Apparently, both of my cushions belonged to the senior dharma student. So I put the other one where I had found it, thinking the whole time 'why didn't the meditation instructor say anything?' So then this nun tells me they need to be fluffed! OK. I fluff. An hour later, the discussion is over, I can't feel my feet because of the position I was forced into by not being able to replace either cushion with one that was sanctioned for my use, and not only has the nun who kicked me off my cushion (very politely) slept through the whole talk, but so has the senior dharma student!

I will sit on the seats at the back of the room if I go to a dharma talk again. I am definitely not cut out for Zen.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Too Much Information

Somehow, it has happened. I have read too much.

The list of books I have read recently has exceeded reason.

A New Earth- E. Tolle
The Power of Now- E. Tolle
The Seeker's Guide- Elizabeth Lesser
True Love- Thict Naht Hanh
Peace Is Every Step- T.N.H.
Meditation In Action- Chögyam Trungpa Rimpoche
Why We Can't Wait- Martin Luther King, Jr.
A House for Mr. Biswas- V.S. Naipaul
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay- Michael Chabon

The list of books to start is equally improbable

On the Road- Jack Kerouac
Underworld- Don DeLillo
The Dancing Wu Li Masters- Gary Zukav
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind- Shunryu Suzuki

There is a good possibility that I will develop some kind of syndrome from all of this. Too much thinking is bad, but I wonder if too much change in thinking could be the same.

Time to read 'The Dark Night' graphic novel. Comic books always help.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Who Am I?

Nature vs. nurture. The question of the century. Which is it? Is it either? Will my answer make the sign turn over while the bells wring or will the cosmic buzzer blow a raspberry at me?

My travels down the road of spiritual inquiry have brought me, today, to this question. How much of who I am on a daily basis is a result of the past and my accumulated experiences, and how much is simply who I am no matter what swirls around my life? What is 'Little Me' and what is 'Big Me'? There seem to be a lot of opinions on this.

Eckhart Tolle talks a lot about 'my story' and how we all allow ourselves to be self-defined by the accumulated events of our lives. His teachings are that the story may be very engaging, but that there is no way that the past can dictate you current moment. That using the stories of the past as your only means of living in the present moment is an illusion as the past is gone, and this moment demands to be met on its own terms. As an example, as a child I was introduced to an older man who wanted me to hold onto his genitals while he drove the car (I chose to sit in the back seat). As an adult, if I were to interact with all men as though they were about to ask me to be sexually inappropriate with them (no matter what the actual interaction was), I would not, in fact, be interacting with the man facing me at that moment. I would still be interacting with the man I met 30 years ago. This would be true for more positive interactions, as well. I loved going to the beach when I was younger because the freedom of the sand and the surf was intoxicating. When I take my children to the beach, I remember those days on the beach, and I try to reenact those events (from the past) for them, and ultimately, for myself. That interaction with past experiences that block our ability to act in the present is what Tolle would call the interaction of the 'little me'. I try very hard to keep 'my story' to a minimum- to be honest, the story has become increasingly boring and unnecessary. I am tired of it.

Buddhism has many things to say on the matter. When we forget, or simply do not recognize that there is no separation between us and the objects around us and that what we see is the illusory projection of form, we are doomed to reenact our mistakes and never rise to a place of lessened suffering. To ever get to a state of awakened awareness, one must learn to feel the presence of the 'emptiness' that exists beneath all physical entities and how that connects us to the earth, the universe and everything in it. That 'emptiness', which is not 'empty' in the sense of there being nothing there only in the sense that it is empty of the emotions that we call happiness, fear, sadness, elation.... and the physical forms with which we are familiar, is the foundation for life as we know it. It can not be destroyed, it can not be changed, it can not be negated. This is a surprisingly tough concept to accept, sometimes. We are so programmed to be 'individuals' and to be proud of our 'difference'. Anything that could possibly remove any iota of our difference is dangerous (the basis of the communist scares of the 1950's). Not only are we each different, but we are also constantly changing. That there could be any part of us that is unchangeable (and therefore, uncontrollable), is untennable- Of course, any part of us can be changed at any time, because we are completely in control of everything in us. And yet, if we drop the need to be in control, the need to change for just a little bit, there is great comfort in knowing that there is something within that is constant and strong and unyielding without need or impetus to 'evolve' or control. A part of us that simply exists for no other reason than to do so.

Then there are those who believe in the Descartes school of being- I think, therefore, I am. This was my school of thought for many years. A constant need for more information, new books, new ideas, interesting concepts to keep me occupied for hours and days at at time. College was a huge feed into this line of belief, for me. Sitting in one lecture and having information from another lecture suddenly 'click' with the new topic had a physical feeling for me. I craved it, I was excited and happy to 'get it'. I liked studying because it meant new information to assimilate and interpret and utilize and file away for later. It all felt like I was 'me' because my mind is where I felt 'I' resided. For the past few years, I have found my desire to engage my intellect has become much less forceful. There has not been the need to understand much, and this has caused me some concern. I have wondered if there is something wrong with me, but then Bono came up with the lovely lyric 'the more you live the less you know. The less you find out as you go. I knew much more then, than I do now."

There have been the various religious teachings that say that we are nothing but sinful bodies that must be resisted and denied. How does anyone live like that? I have always been flummoxed by the idea of self abuse in the name of God (or any kind of abuse, for that matter).

For myself, I experience my core self to be a constant. The 'eye' that has been looking out at the world from inside me is exactly the same as when I was little. The layers that surround it have changed some of their interpretations and interactions. What surprises me is how complicated it can all get when you don't pay attention to those layers, and how easily the way we, I, fall into communication based in an unintentional lie. How shocking it is to find the lie, but how lightening it is to put it down. So many layers over so many years.

How do we walk around with all of this hanging on us, or is that part of the illusion of life? Can we just put all of it down, because it isn't there in the first place? The Emperor's new clothes?

Does that leave me naked and blogging about spirituality? Not sure where to go with that...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Demons, Fire and Light

Riding back from lovely Coalinga, Ca (a place that can cure anyone of a desire for meat) the other day, James and I were listening to the radio. I was enjoying the 80's-90's feel of it, I knew the lyrics to almost all of the songs. 'Cult of Personality' by 'Living Colour' came on, and I started to sing along. I have heard this song hundreds of times since it came out, and I have always been taken by the lyrics. When it first came out, I was surprised to hear the band put Joseph Stalin in with Mohandas Gandhi. Kinda edgy.

A few days later, I found myself in a discussion with some friends about the colourful life of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of the Naropa Institute and Shambhala training. Through this discussion I was surprised to witness how much many people invest in the leaders of the different branches of Buddhism. Granted, Trungpa was an enigmatic individual who left a tremendous disturbance and impression wherever he went. There are many stories of his life and the colourful people in it. He has been accused of sexual inappropriateness, violence, fiscal malfeasance, lying... He was an open alcoholic, showing up for many public talks obviously drunk. He was wild, but he never made an excuse of it.

In listening to the song in the car, certain lyrics stick out as appropriate to Trungpa-

Neon lights, a Nobel prize
The mirror speaks, the reflection lies
You don't have to follow me
Only you can set me free

Did anyone ever really 'see' him, or did they simply see a reflection of what they thought he should or shouldn't be? Of course there were those who could not see beyond the behavior, and they tend to feel that Trungpa was a hindrance to Buddhism in America. However, there are just as many who couldn't see beyond his teachings. Some were so enamored of his words, that they couldn't see the danger in his behavior, and followed along with it, much to their detriment.

Isn't that what the 'cult of personality' comes down to? Someone who's personality and charisma overshadows all around them and thus distorts the vision of those they influence. Sometimes, to such an extent, that true interpretation of their thoughts and actions becomes impossible for those who can not get beyond the spell.

I have an innate distrust of almost all religious and spiritual leaders, so I don't really expect much out of them. There has never been a point where I have felt a need to know much about the lives of most leaders, of any type. Either what they say speaks to me, or it doesn't. If they have something I want to learn, I listen to the lesson and then move on with the process of understanding it if I can. Learning too much about the teacher seems to just cloud things up. If the purpose of a teacher is to point to the truth, then that is all we need them to do. Until this point, M. Gandhi was the only exception to the rule, but now I have to put in Trungpa, too

You gave me fortune
You gave me fame
You gave me power in your gods name
I'm every person you need to be
I'm the cult of personality

Do any of these leaders take what they end up with, or do we just give it to them blindly? I think it is more the latter, and if that is true, then why do we get angry at them for using what we give them? Trungpa's life, for me, seems more like the lesson than a lot of his words. He drank himself to death by the age of 48, but in the meantime, he started a movement that reverberates to this day, in some ways more clearly than it did when he was alive. He was a boorish lout, at times, but he also founded a University. He believed, and taught thousands of others to also believe, that peace is a place that we can put here on Earth, even though he obviously struggled daily with finding peace within himself. What an amazing lesson, from a man. Not a Saint. A man with demons and fire and light.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Heart (by feralkat)

A new post from our wonderful, feralkat!!


The heart can understand what the mind contemplates. The feeling of having an “open heart” is a recognition of the true essence of the moment. The heart can also close, and then the mind begins to construe thoughts that actually carry consciousness farther away from truth. You know how it feels, rumination in your belly, you know how it has a sense of urgency, it is like a veil over the truth the heart knows. When you feel the truth of your heart, your sense of awareness opens, and becomes boundless, becomes gentler, and any sense of deficiency is dissolved while filling up the spaces where the questioning mind leaves traces. Being is never made smaller when mind rules, only the idea that being is smaller impersonates truth. Behind that is the vastness of space and the realm of heart.

If the sense of yourself becomes contracted, smaller, limited, incomplete, you can feel that way and be led by those feelings. But when you feel the fullness of the heart it is like viewing a reality so vast that it stops thinking for a time and there is stillness, quiet, peace. The truth of what exists here and now.

If you know your heart, it will tell you by it’s movement whether a truth you are experiencing is erroneous. If you hold onto an erroneous idea, your sense of who you are will align with that idea as long as the idea is held. Ideas can enhance perception or limit it, but ideas closely aligned with truth are larger, exist beyond the constraints of one small mind.

The simple fact of existence is both routine and profoundly mysterious. Heart is there throughout, either expanding or contracting in a subtle sense that is felt through changes in both physical and spiritual being. You know when something touches your heart, you also know when something stimulates your mind. If you accept that you are perfect just as you are, the heart will expand and relax, if you listen to an inner dialogue that tells you that your being isn’t “good enough” the heart will close, and if you ask yourself, you will find you know exactly what that means.

Who “I” am is always changing, shifting, like the inhalation and exhalation of breath. A sense of neutral ground which neither expands nor contracts will not effect the heart, it is like no-mans-land. Open-hearted feeling need not be judged. It is appropriate to experience your heart opening when you touch upon a profound truth, it is also appropriate to experience your heart closing when you touch upon a limiting concept.

The heart is true in an instant, with no constraints on its sensibility, it will always reveal where truth resonates. If you tell your heart something that is true, it will respond, likewise if you tell your heart something that is not true, such as telling yourself you are inadequate or whatever, it will contract respectively. Judging is a way of dealing with the uncomfortable, and it is not a fault but rather a learned response to holes in your background, upbringing, education. Even positive judgments reflect the idea that we are limited, while the truth itself is unlimited. What really is important becomes evident, it depends on where you are coming from. For example, if you spent a good deal of life focused on thoughts and ideas, then when you experience true emotion it may feel like an awakening. In contrast, if you have been practicing meditation techniques for example, then the emotions such as anger or joy or whatever, can seem to be a contraction rather than an expansion. It is important to know where you are, and you can know by just looking, seeing, feeling, recognizing. No one but you can have your individual perspective, no one can duplicate your essence, just like no one can sleep or eat for you. (except your mama when you are an embryo/fetus). You can trust your heart. It is always accurate, and can show you how true any choice you make is, like whether to come or go, whether to buy that item or not, whether to eat another helping or not, whether to make friends or relationships with another or not.

Adding to this, is the store of unconsciously strongly held beliefs about yourself, about the state of existence, about values, etc. They create a perpetual motion that is pervasive. That’s why moments of clarity seem so rare, What can you do about it? Nothing, it is what it is, the most and best you can do is to embrace it. To have compassion, and to accept the grace of being.


Air Supply

Air. It is all around us, it enters us every moment. We hardly ever think about air, unless there is something wrong with it- today is a 'Spare the Air' day because the conditions are correct to let air pollution collect at acutely toxic levels. Even then, we only think about the impact of polluted air on us as individuals. We don't contemplate the air its self. The practice of mindful breathing has us focus on the feeling of breathing, or focusing the breath to parts of the body to achieve different outcomes. It is a wonderful practice that has done me a world of good. So now, with all the mindful breathing I am doing, these days, I am thinking about air.

While meditating the other day, it came to me that the breeze around me is that very thing I am trying to tap into- universal force. It made perfect, total sense. Air is invisible, we only ever 'see' the results of the presence of, or the lack of, it. When on the move, air is a powerful force that can move ships across oceans or blow houses down. Air can fit in any space, no matter the size, and you have to try damn hard to keep it out. We blow it into floaty inner tubes, and hold it when we drive through tunnels. We can't last more than a few minutes without it, and yet we take it for granted to the point of almost never noticing it.

The meditation I was doing was a healing one, of sorts, loosely based on the 'soft belly meditations' of Stephen Levine. I have some quite old, and now degenerating spinal injuries. The injuries themselves can be challenging enough, but over the years, my body has learned to store my stress in those spots, which compounds the issue. As I tried to envision my pain leaving my body with my breath (having wrapped it up with the breath I just took in), it occurred to me, that I was releasing my pain to the wind, the air. That I was allowing the universal presence to take my pain from me. At that moment, I knew that from now on, I would always be able to give my troubles to the wind, to blow them away (assuming I can let them go in the first place, which is why I am trying all of this new stuff).

As I 'gave my pain' to the wind, another thought came to me- I am considered to have 'chronic pain' (I loath the very sound of that!!!). Many, if not most people, who suffer with chronic pain get very little relief from conventional medicine, and usually end up with powerful pain medications that wreak havoc on the body over the long term (I will do anything to never be on any narcotic pain medication). So much of the pain that they feel is tied up with stress and depression. What if that pain that just will not go away is really the pain of the world? Pain from an over burdened Earth, polluted by the billions of people who demand their pound of flesh daily? All of us breathing it in, all of us breathing it out. Constantly recycling all of that energy. In giving my pain to the wind, do I have to make sure I do not contribute any more pain to the world so that the wind will always be able to blow my pain away? In the language of Ekhart Tolle, can I be the space for that pain so that one day, I can be free of it?

Today, as I rode my bicycle home from work, I found myself cycling into the headwind that seems to follow me everywhere. Trying to bike up the hills to my home, bent into the wind and tired, I started to beg the universe for just one block without the heavy resistance. So, of course, I got one doozy of a gust right in the kisser that nearly knocked me of my bike. I realized, I was getting some serious 'emptiness' thrown at me, and I remembered to give my pain, or in this case my fatigue, to the wind. But I also realized, I could breath all of that awesome spirit into myself and get my energy from that- breath in energy, breath out fatigue. Spirit in, spirit out. Universe in, universe out.

I made it all the way home (the last 4 miles of a twenty mile round trip commute) with no need to stop, not out of breath, full of the spirit of the wind. Full of the presence of the universe.

Notice the air. Spare the air. Respect the air.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Mile Rock Beach

This is a post I wrote on a discussion forum. I thought it would work well here. I have walked labyrinths many times over the years, but just recently started walking them as a formal meditation. I have found them to be very helpful in my practice, and for whatever reason, walking the labyrinth gives me great focus and a much deeper meditation experience. The labyrinth in this post is found at Mile Rock Beach near Land's End, here in SF. Labyrinths can be found all over the world, in multiple cultures and have a several thousand year old history. I highly recommend trying one (my kids love them!).

I took the kids to the labyrinth at Mile Rock Beach, here in San Francisco. You have to work to get there! Maybe a quarter of a mile of steep stair case and some mild rock scrambling. This labyrinth is situated on a cliff overlooking a sea lion and sea bird sanctuary, so as I walked the lab. there were flocks of pelicans flying just at the lip of the cliff (the edge of the labyrinth is only a foot from the edge!) It is made from the stones found around the site. Just off shore to the west is a light house with a fog horn that sounds every minute. To the north, the Marin headlands on the other side of the bay outlet to the Pacific Ocean. To the east, the confluence of Marin and San Francisco with the Golden Gate Bridge between them and Angel Island in the background. The sky was the most amazing blue with large clouds flying by, leaving shadows on the deep blue ocean. All around, crows and seagulls and pelicans drifting on the breeze. At the base of the cliff, a rock strewn beach with sea weed swaying in the waves.

The kids decided to walk first (my 3 yo kept trying to 'beat' them to the end). They were both so much calmer after. I really need to get them out to do this more often! When they were done, they decided to climb the rocks and off they went. It was my turn.

I have been pondering many things lately, as some here could attest to. I have had a difficult time trying to assimilate some concepts that something in me tells me I need to understand. These ideas we throw around about presence and the now are so much bigger than I had thought them to be. So much more foundation shaking, and frankly, I have been a bit blind sided by them.

Today's journey to the center of the labyrinth held at least some of the answers. I have been resisting the idea of emptiness being the foundation upon which our forms are projected. The idea of life as illusion... uncomfortable. Today I got a glimpse of the joy of this. Without the emptiness, without the foundation of all things, we could not have this incredible experience called life. We may create our realities through the mental projections we put out into the world, but emptiness (formless, presence, God, the Ultimate...) props up that 'illusion' by giving it structure. By giving me structure. While I may return to presence when I die, for now I am here, and I know that is to be in this place, in this time with this body. I know that I am here to experience all that form has to offer, to think all the thoughts that come into my head, to feel all the emotions that swirl around my heart.

There is no need to worry about egos. They are part of the ride. If I identify with mine from time to time, it's ok- it is, after all, mine, and it has been given to me for a purpose beyond over coming it. I know this.

I am solid. I am free.