Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Love Like That

After all this time
The sun never says to the earth
“You owe me”
Look what happens 
With a love like that
It lights the whole sky

When I’m at my mountain cabin, I often sit by the creek. I just watch. And listen. And breathe. Everything is so beautiful. Water dances along. Trees stand impossibly tall while the tiniest moss flowers dot red on boulders. Bugs flit in and out of shadows. Birds light near then startle warnings of the stranger sitting still.

All of this beauty, just there. So overwhelmingly generous. It makes my brain explode and my heart burst open. Until there is nothing left of me but tears of humble gratitude.

How could I ever have a mean or selfish thought in the face of a love like that?

While I was up at the cabin recently enjoying my solitude, my son had a crisis. His TV broke. If you know my son, you know that he would rather have his hand cut off than lose his TV. His autism does not roll with such things. I have no phone at the cabin, so he went to plan B and called his sister. Although she had a child to get to bed and work the next morning, she did not hesitate. With her son tucked in and her husband at home, she spent several hours getting a new TV hooked up for her brother. She made it back home after midnight and was up several hours later to start her busy day.

When I found out what had happened, I thanked her. “You don’t need to thank me.” I said I owed her one. “You don’t owe me anything. He’s my brother. I was happy to help him.”

A love like that. It lights the whole sky.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Ground Beneath Our Feet

The ground beneath our feet
That we think strong
Is but an icy crust
Lightning cracks race
Pop and thunder
We dare not move
It matters not
We will fall through
Into our destiny
And remember once again
That what dies
Was never real
And we are 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Thinking about Thinking

I think; therefore I am. ~Descartes

There is no such thing as a true thought. ~Adyashanti

These two quotes represent contrasting concepts of thought. The first reveals thought as the source of our very existence. The second knocks thought off its pedestal.

We reflected on these statements during the last in person gathering of the No Way CafĂ©. We found the topic difficult to discuss. It’s hard to consider the nature of thinking because we are thinking as we do it! So I apologize in advance for what might be confusing and a bit convoluted. But I wanted to extend the invitation to join in the conversation.

Most of us live in our thoughts. When an event occurs, our minds quickly begin a process of labeling and evaluating. We tell ourselves a story about what happened. The story is heavily influenced by our past experience. Feelings might arise. We interact with or react to the event based on our stories and the feelings they evoke. In this sense, we exist within the story we have created.

If several people are present at the event, each will have a unique story and therefore a unique experience of the event. Some experiences might be similar, if based on similar thought stories. Others might be dramatically different. But none will be identical. Our thoughts give us identity, and they also separate us.

So while we might identify ourselves with our thoughts, does that make them true? We might say, this is my truth (as if truth can be possessed), as distinguished from your truth. Truth becomes, like our thought stories, an individual matter. We all exist in the closed spheres of our individual realities, which we often believe are universally true, but can’t be. If my thoughts are unique to me, then they cannot be universally true.

Sometimes our thoughts are not even individually true. Remember that our thoughts are not the event itself. They are separate from the event and may or may not have any relation to it. Recently someone did something involving one of my kids. I interpreted the act in a certain way, based on my difficult history with this person. Feelings arose. I rehearsed many responses in my mind and had feelings about those, too. But I held off on any actual response. I could see that I was having a hard time discerning an appropriate response because I was so caught up in my thought story. I asked a neutral third party to sort things out. Evidence showed that the person’s act was reasonable and well intentioned.

Wow. My thoughts were not true at all. Not only that, but even after I found out they weren’t true, I was still very attached to them. My feelings based on the untrue thoughts were still swirling. I realized that I secretly wanted the thoughts to be true so that my feelings would be justified. I wanted this even though it caused me distress and what really happened was much better for all concerned. Once the thought story takes hold, we get very invested in it and closed to other possibilities. Why is that?

And what happens before it takes hold? If we go back to the event and look closely, we will see that there is a moment, an almost imperceptible nanosecond, before our thoughts begin. In that moment there is only the event and our awareness of it. Many of us are never aware of this tiny space. The shift from the event to our thought story about the event is too fast. But if you have ever had a shock of some kind, you probably felt that momentary delay between the event and your thinking about it. When we are shocked by something our minds can’t label right away, we might feel disoriented, confused, even sick, like the ground just fell out from under us. Our minds frantically scramble to find a label, to start a story, to get us back on what we sense as solid ground.

To the extent that we identify ourselves with our thoughts, this delay between the event and our thinking about the event is terrifying. In that moment there is no separation into our individual thought stories. There is no “I,” no separate ego living in a thought created reality. It threatens our very existence because within it there is no thought, and therefore, to paraphrase Descartes, I am not. No wonder our minds scramble to jump into the safety net of our thoughts.

But what are we missing? What happens within this nanosecond of pure awareness? While our mind is rushing in to label and evaluate, our spirit enters a vast emptiness filled with wonder. Within this fleeting moment is an eternity of infinite possibility. We are in harmony with the universe. We are one with the event, with everything, because at that moment we are everything, without the separate existence created by our thoughts. We might only glimpse it, but if we watch for it with a little willingness to tolerate the absence of our thought existence, we might find ourselves amazed. We might find truth.

Perhaps both the above statements are accurate. “I” am because I think. Yet no thought is universally true. That doesn’t make thought bad. It just makes it thinking. And it opens up the possibility that there is something true besides thought. Hmm, now that is something to think about!

While reflecting on this topic, I ran across the following passage which seems to capture this conundrum.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking...and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man. ~Romans 1:22-23

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Deep Calls to Deep

We are dream walkers
Dream selves in our dream world
Searching for what is not here
But something hears the call
That comes quietly from the dark
In the silence
Deep calls to deep
Like a moth to the flame
We are drawn to what appears as death
But in truth IS truth
In time, in time
Deep calls to deep 
...and deep answers

Monday, February 8, 2016

Invest in Loss

Invest in loss? That does not sound like wise financial planning or a promising career strategy! Yet it is a slogan we practice with in martial arts, passed down by tai chi master Cheng Man Ching. What does it mean? 

In the martial arts context, it means being willing to lose in order to gain skill and knowledge and ultimately, mastery. As Professor Cheng explained, if you allow someone with superior skill to attack you 100 times, you can study his technique. Out of the 100 times, you might “lose” 99 times, but you have watched and learned. When your partner attacks the 100th time, you are prepared. You neutralize the attack and your partner is defeated by his own energy. 

For example, yesterday, I was sparring with an advanced student who is always able to move past my defenses and get me in some kind of hold. Because I embrace the principle of investing in loss, I always ask to spar with him, and I always ask him to do the same thing. When he moved in yesterday and got me in the hold, without even thinking, my body moved to break the hold and strike him. We were both surprised! He gave me a high five and there was much laughter and celebration. 

Almost without my knowing it, all this time I was gathering information, experimenting with different responses, and learning what didn’t work. And when the moment was right, success simply happened. 

The coolest thing about this training slogan is that investing in loss applies to life beyond martial arts. There is so much we can learn when we are not attached to “winning.” I find that this principle has begun to permeate my life, sometimes with surprising results.

For example, the other day, someone was upset with me. I started to react to what I believed was an unfair accusation, but instead, I paused. I listened to what the other person was saying. As she vented her indignation, I realized that she was ascribing thoughts and motives to me that existed only in her imagination. I listened more deeply to the underlying fear that created the story she was telling herself.

Because I was willing to “allow” her attack, I learned something about her that opened the door to true communication. Without attacking in return, I was able to be still and to let go of the need to be right, or “win.” I could listen and offer compassion instead of threat. She eventually saw for herself that her distress was unrelated to me. I became her ally instead of her enemy. We parted with connection and friendship instead of separation and pain.

We’ve probably heard the saying “The best defense is a good offense.” Perhaps, instead, the best defense is no offense.

If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo. ~Bruce Lee

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Winter Jewels

Snowflakes feather float
On path and bough
Twinkling diamond stars
More precious rare
Than any gracing throat or ear
What wondrous gift is this
So freely given
That I should be 
So bounteously blessed

Monday, February 1, 2016

Boldly Going Nowhere

Remember the intro to the Star Trek series? Their mission was “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” Yesterday I pulled up behind a car at a stop light and laughed out loud at their bumper sticker – “boldly going nowhere.” 

We always think we are or ought to be going somewhere, don’t we? We might say about a young, talented person, “Mark my words, that young person is going places!” Or we might bemoan our current position. “I am stuck here. I’m not getting anywhere.” Our language reflects a belief that staying where we are is not a good thing, that what we want is “just around the corner.” 

In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy sings about a place that she dreams of “over the rainbow.” But do you remember how the movie ends? When she clicks her heels together and repeats the magic words, “There’s no place like home,” she finds herself back on the farm and realizes that everything she really wanted had been there all along. 

In tai chi class the other day, the teacher, who has a third degree black belt in kung fu, reflected that for years he sought to increase his martial arts skills through outer movement – learning more techniques, gaining strength, kicking faster, punching harder, jumping higher. Then he reached a point where the outer activity began to lessen while the inner activity increased. Now, he says, his most powerful martial arts practice is standing meditation. 

The renowned Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says that one of her favorite sayings is “Sit! Stay! Heal!” I get that. Well, first, I’m a dog person, so I think that’s funny. But I also get it because I’ve found in recent years that when I’m distressed or agitated, when what I most want to do is escape in some way, the best thing for me to do is sit down on my meditation cushion and just breathe. 

A few days ago I was very upset about something someone had done. I was quickly hooked by the situation. I fed my anger with judgments, and rehearsed how I was going to let this person “have a piece of my mind.” Interesting saying, that. Why would I give someone some of my mind? Can I afford to lose any more of it? And if I just change the saying slightly, I am giving someone my peace of mind. Hmm...

With a harrumph and a snort I plopped down on my cushion and started to breathe into my belly. Grumble grumble breathe. Grumble grumble breathe. Gradually, I began to detach from the situation. And before long, I was, if not peaceful, at least calm. And I was able to wait until I could discern what an appropriate response might be, if any.

I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to go to many wonderful places, and to do many exciting things, but sometimes the wisest course is to go nowhere and do nothing. And that is indeed bold.

Without going outside, you may know the whole world
Without looking through the window, you may see the ways of heaven
The farther you go, the less you know
Thus the sage knows without traveling
He sees without looking
He succeeds without doing
   ~Tao Te Ching