Sunday, December 30, 2018

Fire in the Belly

I began this year thinking of it as the year of the heart. Heart energy had exploded open in my soul. I was aflame for the Beloved.

It was exciting, but hard to sustain. Fire, after all, consumes.

In martial arts we use the wisdom of the Chinese five element practice, which associates elements with various organ systems. The heart element is, predictably, fire. Fire is a rising energy, which draws upward and away from the kidney element of water, which naturally follows gravity and sinks. This separation isolates our energy centers and can drain vitality or create instability.

On the other hand, when we can harness that wild fire heart energy and bring it into our belly, what happens? Well, what happens when you light a fire under a pot of water (the water energy of the kidneys)? The water boils, creating steam, or vital energy. Now the two energy centers are operating in harmony to create tremendous internal power instead of drawing away from each other.

So how does one shift the heart fire energy into the belly? Admittedly, it takes a bit of imagination and practice. Belly breathing is a good place to start. And there are many qigong and taoist practices for guidance.

But my point here is not so much about technique as it is about concept. I don’t know where the phrase “fire in the belly” originated. It can sometimes have a negative connotation of unbridled ambition. But it can also describe the intense passion of a transcendent calling, the burning clarity of an inner knowing, the radiant glow of an unquenchable internal energy.

Fire does consume. And in consuming, it transforms and purifies. Whatever is dense or solid is burned away, releasing energy as light and heat. It destroys in order to create.

That is how I have experienced this year. The euphoria of the year’s beginning gave way to pain at times, showing me where I needed to release. And when I thought I had released everything, the fire sparked anew and showed me more. Liberation is not always a pleasant process! Yet as the fire in my belly burned on, I surrendered to the flame.

And it was good.

Gratitude to the year ending, and welcome to the new year.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Solstice Moon

Solstice moon shines full
In the darkest night
Calling the light to return
As winter settles in

Friday, December 21, 2018

You Got Me.... Do You?

When I’m sparring with my martial arts teacher and somehow manage to get him in a hold, he will pause and look at me. “Oh, you got me.” And just as I’m feeling smug, he simply melts away like smoke. While I’m left holding nothing, he says with a twinkle, “Do you?”

This year has been like that. A series of revelations that whatever I think I know or understand, I don’t. I thought I understood a situation. I didn’t. I thought I was being helpful. I wasn’t. I thought I had a particular relationship with someone. I didn’t. I believed something to be true. It wasn’t.

It was like the universe taunting me, teaching me.

Oh, you got this.... Do you?

Each revelation allowed me to release something I held onto. Each one went deeper, layer beneath layer. Then the big one, the one I had held onto my whole life. Still working on releasing that one. Whew, I thought. It all led up to this. When I work through this, I will be done. That was the grand finale of releasing.

Was it?

Recent months brought yet another deeply held belief into question. Really? I have to release even that?

Even that.

Then what’s left? Oh.... I get it.

Do you?

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Go Dark

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, 
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
     ~Wendell Berry

As we passed the equinox in September, I wrote about the season of darkness, about entering the mystery of darkness. As the days grew shorter, I did not mourn the light but instead embraced the darkness, accepting the invitation to dance in the unknowing.

At my cabin this weekend, I walked with the dog as the winter sun slanted through the trees. The cabin faces south along a creek, and across the creek a forested ridge rises. As we approach the darkest days, the sun barely clears the ridge in the morning and drops out of sight by mid-afternoon, leaving the cabin in shadow most of the day. Twinkly lights and a fire keep it cozy and cheery, but I step outside before bed to breathe in the cold darkness.

At home and at the cabin, I have been trying something new with my meditation practice. Since I awake early, my morning meditation is always before sunrise. I’ve been turning out all the lights to meditate in the darkness. And I’ve added a before bed meditation, again in darkness. I’ve been surprised by how much I like it. I’m much less fidgety, and my mind is calmer. It’s like I “go dark” inside, in harmony with the darkness outside.

In a few days, winter solstice will call back the light and the days will start to lengthen. But I will hold onto the darkness a while longer, embraced by the night, resting in deep stillness.

Darkness darkness, be my pillow
Take my head and let me rest
In the coolness of your shadow
In the silence of your dream
Darkness darkness, hide my yearning
For the things that cannot be
Keep my mind from constant turning 
Towards the things I cannot see
     ~60s song by The Youngbloods, lyrics by Jesse Collin Young

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Song of the Heart

Cranes dance
The song of the heart
Necks stretch and swoop
Wings open to love's embrace
Eyes aflame with passion
They dance with the Beloved

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 53

This chapter paints an accurate picture of the human experience.

If I have even a little knowledge
I will walk on the path of the great Tao
Straying from it is my only fear

This path is very smooth and easy
But people love to veer off on side roads

While the palace courts are splendid 
The fields lie fallow
And the granaries are empty

People wear elegant clothes
And carry sharp weapons
Eating and drinking to excess
Hoarding their wealth and possessions

This extravagance is robbery
The opposite of the great path of Tao

I can’t help but notice the relevance of this chapter to today’s world. However, before we “veer off on a side road” talking about current politics or world crises, remember that this was written at least 2,500 years ago. This chapter has always been relevant because it speaks to the timeless human condition. The first Noble Truth of Buddhism is the fact of suffering. However, that is not the end of the story. As the saying goes, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it’s not the end.”

All spiritual wisdom teachings offer a way to understand and engage with our human experience. (“Tao” actually means “way” or “path.”) All address this fact of suffering, and provide a framework for changing the way we relate to it, with the result that our suffering is eased if not eliminated.

A necessary component of this framework is an honest inquiry into the nature of our existence, and a recognition of our own participation in the reality that we perceive. Regardless of different concepts or vocabulary, the key is not so much the “answers” but our “willingness” to inquire honestly and listen.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” ~Isaiah 30:21

Monday, December 3, 2018

Your Breath Is Your Guru

Someone jokingly said to me recently, “You are my guru.” I laughed and responded, “No, I’m not anyone’s guru. Your breath is your guru.”

It’s true. And it’s that simple.

My shelves are filled with books on spirituality, mysticism, happiness, meditation, enlightenment, and more. I used to read them because I thought they held a secret, the secret, to all I ever wanted to know. I came to understand that I would never find what I sought in those books, or in the workshops or retreats that I attended. 

I would find what I sought only when I quit looking for it, when I realized that it was never lost. It is here, ever present. As close as every breath I take. And my breath, if I listen to its wisdom, will teach me everything I need to know.

Breathing teaches me to live now, in this moment. We all understand that breathing keeps us alive. So do food and water. But unlike food and water, breathing keeps us alive in the present moment and only in the present moment. I can survive for a while on the food I ate this morning. But the breath I took five hours ago, or even five minutes ago, cannot keep me alive right now. The breath that keeps me alive is the one I’m taking as I write this sentence. Another breath keeps me alive as I write this one.

Breathing teaches me about the oneness of all life. All things that live, breathe in some form or fashion. Everything that is alive right now is breathing. Not only that, but our breath gives life to plants as they use the carbon dioxide we exhale, just like they in turn exhale the oxygen we require. So not only is all life one, but all life is interdependent.

Breathing teaches me about impermanence. I breathed in when I was born, and I will breathe out when I die. We manifest into form, and we return to the formless. Each individual breath is a reminder. I cannot hold my breath to stop the cycle. Breathing keeps me alive only when I release one breath to allow another.

Breathing teaches me about my body. Breathing keeps me alive, and breathing in certain ways keeps my body healthier, mentally and physically. Breath is connected to many health and wellness practices. It is the original biofeedback technique. As we weakened over time our connection to our bodies and became more lost in our thinking minds, we changed the way we breathe. Relearning our natural breathing patterns restores the mind/body balance.

I love all my books, and I enjoy the workshops I attend. Now I see them as welcome reminders of what my breath was teaching me all along. I only needed to listen.

What lessons does your breath teach you?