Saturday, December 26, 2020
Tuesday, December 15, 2020
Sunday, November 29, 2020
Saturday, November 21, 2020
Monday, November 9, 2020
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
This movement takes the density or blockages that have been loosened up by the tapping, and clears them from your thymus and surrounding area. (Again, the heart benefits as well.)
Friday, October 16, 2020
Thursday, October 8, 2020
Friday, October 2, 2020
Thursday, September 24, 2020
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
Our western culture highly values yang energy. Idle hands do the devil’s work, make the most of every minute, increase productivity, we can rest when we’re dead, time is money, move up or move out – these are just a few familiar sayings that reflect this preference.
There is nothing inherently wrong with yang energy. On the contrary, it is a necessary and natural aspect of life’s rhythm and harmony. It is the manifesting energy of all creation. But it is not the only energy. Its complementary energy is yin.
Yin is still, receptive, dark, nurturing. It is the womb from which creation emerges. It is the fertile earth. It is the energy of gathering, returning to the source, the energy of harvest. Its season is fall.
This year in my area of the world, wildfires are racing across the land. Nature’s expression of yang energy is exploding with the hot dryness of a rainless summer, ignited in unstoppable fires scattered up and down the west coast. Smoke hangs thick over my house, keeping me inside, while friends not far away have had to abandon their homes to take refuge from the inferno.
We sometimes describe such fires as raging. I can’t help but wonder if these fires in particular, and global warming in general, aren’t reflections back to us of the imbalance we have created by such a devoted enslavement to yang energy. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the yin organ of fall is the lungs, the organ most directly vulnerable to the fire and smoke.
Nature seeks balance. First the pandemic kept us home, and now the smoke keeps us inside.* Growing still, turning inward, where yin energy welcomes us, and encourages us to rest, to contemplate, to listen, to receive. The fires won’t last forever. Hopefully, neither will the pandemic. When we emerge on the “other side” of all this, may we find a more sustainable balance in our lives and in our world.
*I write this post as one who has the luxury of sheltering in place, in a safe home with plenty of food and water, and lots of time to sit and wonder about the questions I raise here. This is not true for everyone. The circumstances that give me this opportunity for reflection call firefighters to the flame, risking their lives, and cause others to flee to safety, while volunteers step up to serve. Heroes of all kinds abound in crises such as the ones faced this year with the pandemic and the fires. I am not one of them, and I am humbly grateful to those who are.
Monday, September 7, 2020
If people are not afraid of death How can death be used to threaten them
These opening lines remind me of the story of the monk who was threatened by a marauding soldier with a sword. When the monk sat there calmly, the solder yelled, “Aren’t you afraid? Don’t you know I can run you through with this sword without blinking an eye?”
The monk replied, “Don’t you know I can be run through with your sword without blinking an eye?” At the point, so the story goes, the soldier released his sword and dropped to his knees, begging to be the monk’s disciple.
The chapter goes on to say that if people are afraid of death, they act out of fear. To put it another way, they are no longer in alignment with the natural flow of energy in the universe. They are no longer acting in harmony with all of creation. Acts of fear are often attempts to control our circumstances or other people. They are often met with resistance as fearful people vie for the upper hand, the classic power struggle.
The chapter finishes by observing that those with the upper hand then use their power to force others into compliance. This is not the way of nature. It is like trying to usurp nature’s power, or, to put it in other terms, it is like playing God.
And, as many of us have learned in our lives, such attempts often backfire, bringing more harm than good to all concerned.
Whenever I find myself in an anxious or fearful state, my first impulse is to try to control something or someone in order to relieve my own distress. I can usually find some justification, for example, thinking that circumstances or someone left me no choice. I can usually find some pure motivation, for example, thinking that I am improving the situation or helping someone. But really, if I’m honest, I’m trying to make myself feel better or safer or happier.
And how does that work for me? Hmm, usually not so great because I’m basing my sense of well being on things I can’t really control, like circumstances and other people. So even if I get relief in the immediate situation, the underlying impermanence of, well, everything, leaves me on some level still unsettled.
What if, instead, I addressed the underlying root of all my unease – fear. What if I made my peace with the fluid movement of all creation, always changing, always manifesting and returning in cyclic rhythm. What if I found this natural energy wondrously magnificent instead of scary and threatening. What if I allowed it to move freely in me and through me, and gave up the exhausting and futile quest to be in charge of everything and everyone.
Might be worth exploring....
A moment of Radical Acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom. ~Tara Brach
PS -- As an example, I continue to struggle with the new Blogger interface. I just spent 20 minutes trying to get things spaced the way I wanted. Hmm, perhaps I need to practice some radical acceptance....
Friday, September 4, 2020
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point. ~C. S. Lewis
As the tectonic plates of culture alternately drift further apart and then crash into each other with increasing violence, I am reminded of blog posts of the past, written in times of heart pain and despair over the fear and separation manifesting in our world.
When I went back to read these posts, my first thought was that nothing has changed. Those posts could have been written today. Specific circumstances and events might change, but underlying it all is the same need for a better way.
We are, I think many would agree, at a testing point. We are called now to be this time’s “righteous among the nations.” To march together across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. To be the small but mighty child in the crowd who sees through illusion and says that the emperor has no clothes.
We are called not to accuse but to model, not to condemn but to lead, not to fight but to free, not to know but to understand, not to inflict but to heal, not to win but to unite, not to hate but to hold.
What does that look like? It looks like listening to our own inner guide, leading us on our own path. It looks like inner alignment that manifests in everything we do or think or say. It looks like integrity, being fully integrated in body, mind, and spirit.
It looks like courage at the testing point.
The way we seek is not out there but within.
Monday, August 10, 2020
You think you know yourself until things start happening, until you lose the insulation of normality. ~Robert Wilson
The photo above shows a label on the side of a jigsaw puzzle box. I was immediately intrigued.
“Specification colors and contents may yary from illustration, pls in kind prevail.” [sic]
If I consider just the first part of the sentence, does that mean that the puzzle inside the box might not be the one illustrated? Could it be a different puzzle altogether? Maybe the same picture but with different colors? Or could it possibly not even be a puzzle? A total surprise? Not at all what I thought I was buying?
This year might have well come with such a cautionary label. I laugh now at my January post about 2020 being the year of perfect vision. I suppose in some way it is that indeed, showing us with sometimes shocking clarity some things we may not wish to see. But that is not what I meant when I wrote that post. I thought I was “buying” a very different type of year, a year of insight, wisdom, enlightenment. And above all some peace, especially after the intense last two years in my personal life.
Instead, this year has, for many of us, stripped away the insulation of normality. And we are discovering that perhaps we don’t know ourselves as well as we thought we did. The year of perfect vision has brought us face to face not only with the world around us, but with ourselves. And who is it that is staring back?
Perhaps our reflection varies in “specifications, colors, and contents” from the illustration of ourselves that we have painted and displayed to others, and most importantly to ourselves. What do we find when we open the box and take a look inside?
Maybe this is where the second part of the label comes in. “Please in kind prevail” could mean lots of things. I’ve had a fun time exploring some of the possibilities. But I this context, I like to think that it means to have an attitude of tolerance, acceptance, forgiveness, and kindness, when things or people, including ourselves, are not what we expect or want them to be.
This might involve venturing beyond our comfort zone, questioning our underlying assumptions, willingness to tolerate uncertainty, humility to surrender to the unknown, courage to keep our hearts open when fear wants to shut them up tight.
Perhaps this little puzzle box label is all the wisdom we need in this year of perfect vision. If we can see and manifest kindness in the midst of chaos, then surely we will prevail.
My religion is kindness. ~the Dalai Lama
Friday, August 7, 2020
Saturday, August 1, 2020
Friday, July 24, 2020
Monday, July 20, 2020
What is the difference between an enlightened person and an unenlightened person?
The unenlightened person sees a difference.
I read this joke recently in Miracles Magazine. I wanted to find the source for it, so I Googled the question. And what do you know? I found LOTS of answers seriously offering a variety of litmus tests to distinguish enlightened people from unenlightened people. Wow, I thought. The joke is the truest answer of them all. All I could do was shake my head.
A few years ago, I went to a presentation for a popular method of meditation. I already had a meditation practice, but a friend had gone and recommended it, so I was curious. The presenter was a slick salesperson, and peppered the promotional speech with possibilities of enlightenment. Just sign up, give them a lot of money, practice your mantra, and lo and behold, “enlightenment just might happen.”
As people rushed to sign up, I asked what I thought was an obvious question to someone who had practiced this method for many years. “So are you enlightened?”
He paused, raised an eyebrow, and replied, “Well, isn’t it obvious?”
“Yes, I suppose it is.” I thanked him for his time and left.
At a time when the divisions between us seem wider than ever, I have struggled to find our commonality. Where is that universal spark of divinity that shines in all our souls? I confess I find it more easily in some than in others, and yes, most often in people who think like I do. The Bible tells us to “judge not,” and A Course in Miracles teaches that all judgment comes from a fear-generating, mistaken belief in separation.
I believe that, and yet I found my patience growing thin, and words – judging words, criticizing words, words of frustration, exasperation, despair – started popping up in my thoughts. So I did what I have learned to do when I am losing my way. I sat on my meditation cushion and asked for help. And waited.
The answer came to me phrased this way: Everyone is just the way they are.
Hmm, okay. Obvious. Not helpful. Or is it?
I kept repeating the sentence. And like a mantra that promises enlightenment (ha!), it opened me up inside. A deep welling up of compassion flooded my spirit, compassion not just for some of us, but for all of us. Everyone. Even me.
I understood. I don’t have to agree with everyone, or like everyone. I don’t have to stop advocating for justice. I don’t have to stop having uncomfortable conversations. I don’t have to accept violence. I don’t have to be silent in the face of hate or ignorance. I don’t have to stop my own process of self reflection and accountability.
I just need to recognize that the spark of universal energy that shines in me does indeed shine in all of us. Just the way we are. If I lose that deep connection with all beings, then all my other efforts operate only on the surface, in the realm of duality. Healing is never ever achieved by separation.
A blogging friend once posed the question: Are we our brother’s keeper? Yes, I replied, because we are our brother. All of us. Just the way we are.
They want us to be afraid.
They want us to be afraid of leaving our homes.
They want us to barricade our doors
and hide our children.
Their aim is to make us fear life itself!
They want us to hate.
They want us to hate 'the other'.
They want us to practice aggression
and perfect antagonism.
Their aim is to divide us all!
They want us to be inhuman.
They want us to throw out our kindness.
They want us to bury our love
and burn our hope.
Their aim is to take all our light!
They think their bricked walls
will separate us.
They think their damned bombs
will defeat us.
They are so ignorant they don’t understand
that my soul and your soul are old friends.
They are so ignorant they don’t understand
that when they cut you I bleed.
They are so ignorant they don’t understand
that we will never be afraid,
we will never hate
and we will never be silent
for life is ours!
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
My grandson and I watched an animated movie recently in which a main character was a star celebrity athlete who couldn’t stand to lose. So much so that he returned to his small home town to humiliate and defeat the one person who ever beat him, and to buy up the town in order to destroy it. After the movie, we discussed what that overpowering urge to win, and the corresponding rage at losing, meant to that character – the benefits he got and the price he paid for them.
That led to a conversation about games and competition in general. I commented on the way that my grandson seems to approach games. He plays to win, but he is a gracious winner when he does, and a gracious loser when he doesn’t. Moreover, he is quick to help another person who is lagging behind. For example, in a recent checkers game, he was beating me soundly, but paused to point out a move I had overlooked, one that cost him one of his pieces. He also mentioned his friend who, while they were playing a video game, congratulated my grandson on a good move even though the move was to his friend’s disadvantage.
I asked him what motivated him to take this approach to competition rather than the approach taken by the character in the movie. He didn’t hesitate:
“It’s more fun.”
He looked at me like that was obvious and didn’t need further explanation.
Okay, so there you have it.
Take someone who doesn't keep score, who's not looking to be richer, or afraid of losing, who has not the slightest interest even in his own personality: he's free. ~Rumi
Friday, July 10, 2020
Saturday, July 4, 2020
When people do not fear power
Great power appears
These first two lines have been translated and interpreted so many ways, it’s difficult to find any footing in a particular meaning. Like many passages in the Tao Te Ching which seem to address governance, this couplet could refer to actual political government, and could also refer to the way we govern our own individual selves internally. I tend to lean towards the internal application of these passages, because harmonious external governance is rooted in harmonious internal alignment.
With that in mind, the power referenced in these lines is not necessarily the external imposition of superior force, but could mean the power inherent in all of us when we allow the limitless natural energy of the universe to move in us, through us, and manifest outwardly. This is not the power of individual will, but rather the power of all creation when our own individual will is surrendered in alignment.
The power of this universal energy is blocked by fear. As Marianne Williamson said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are powerless. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Thus, great power appears when fear is released. Sit with that for a moment.
The chapter continues by observing that this power is not oppressive. It does not interfere with or disrupt or burden people’s lives, but rather operates in natural harmony with the people’s homes, families, and activities.
Thus the sage is self aware without seeking recognition
Loves herself without arrogance
Moves freely without attachment
Here is a description of inner balance and freedom. When I read this I get a sense of someone who delights in life, walking humbly in service to others, appreciating the miracle of each moment.
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly. ~ from Micah 6:8
Sunday, June 28, 2020
The last several days, I have been caught up in a spiritual tantrum. A patient friend listened to me rant about my frustration.
I’m not feeling very kumbaya. I don’t want to cultivate compassion or acceptance. I feel judgmental and angry. I don’t like people very much right now. I’m mad at the universe for its relentless offering of opportunities to practice. My personal life, my family’s life, friends' lives, and I don’t even know what to do with all the global angst and suffering. I am tired of practicing. Practice, practice, practice. I am bone tired, soul tired, heart tired. Energy exhausted.
After giving voice to my meltdown, I didn’t feel better. I felt worse. After releasing all that pent up churning, I went home and plummeted into sadness, crushing, heart breaking sadness. I sank into surrendered silence. Breathe. One breath. Another.
Then Practice spoke to me:
That’s okay. You don’t need to practice right now. Stop struggling. You are wearing yourself out. Needlessly. I will carry you. I will get you through this.
Oh. I realized practice is not a discipline. It’s a relationship. A healthy relationship of give and take on both sides. A relationship of trust and familiarity. And love. The deeper I go with my practice and the more consistent I am, the more I learn to trust that in tough times, the practice sustains me. Indeed, it does carry me and get me through.
I had forgotten. Wow, forgetting used up a lot of energy. I felt a bit foolish. But accepting of my foolishness. What’s that? Compassion peeked out and smiled. And okay, I might have felt a little bit kumbaya.
Behind the hardness there is fear
And if you touch the heart of the fear
You find sadness
And if you touch the sadness
You find the vast blue sky
Friday, June 26, 2020
Thursday, June 18, 2020
Lately, however, I get the sense when asked, that people are sincerely asking how I’m really doing. And when I ask, it is with an openness and a willingness to listen. Times have changed.
My most recent answer is that I’ve “gone to ground.” That phrase usually has a connotation of hiding, especially when being chased, as a fox might hide in a burrow when pursued by hunters. I don’t have a sense of hiding, and I don’t feel chased, but that phrase popped into my mind as a perfect metaphor for how I am experiencing life right now.
Layer upon layer. Cope with this. Holding steady. Well, how about this? Tougher, but okay. Very good, and now this. Hurting.... And boom. Crushed.
How to breathe through all this pain. Go to ground. Get out of my head and into my body. Move. Breathe. Be still. Go to the earth. Lie in the grass. Watch hummingbirds. Sit by the creek. Bask in the sun. Walk in the forest.
Our battered minds cannot encompass all this suffering. But our hearts can. Our hearts can expand infinitely to hold the entire universe. The earth and the heavens fill our empty vessel with all creation. We are strong. We contain multitudes.
Going to ground revives me and renews me. I touch the earth and it holds me, nurtures me, inspires me.
I am ready.
Thursday, June 11, 2020
The words are spoken in silence
Heard only in the heart
Do not doubt what they reveal
More real than any heard in mind
Trust the truth of what is known beyond knowing
And do not be misled by thought
That seeks to hold illusion
Be thou thus ignited
With what has always burned
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
Reason says, the world is limited in six directions
There is no way out
Love says, there is a way
And I have traveled it many times
I’ve been reading a book titled Shadow Mountain, by Renee Askins, who was a central figure in the wolf restoration project in Yellowstone. One of the biggest hurdles was the forceful resistance of ranchers and others who feared the impact of wolves on livestock. In writing about this standoff, Askins says:
We needed to understand the opposition better by really listening to their concerns. Although many ... would call that accommodation, I called it compassion. I really wanted to obliterate the “us against them” model ... by recognizing human concerns rather than enemy positions.
I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to put someone in that “them” category, and about the effects of such a label on my willingness and ability to listen. And even when I do listen, I catch myself listening from a perspective that seeks to reinforce my own position, to protect myself from having to question my own assumptions, to avoid having to acknowledge things I’d rather not face.
In other words, I’m not really listening.
Years ago, I was having an intense, emotionally charged argument with someone. I wanted so desperately for the other person to understand my position. What that means is that I wanted the other person to agree with me, to see that I was right. What that means is that I did not want to be seen as the “bad guy” in the situation. The conflict escalated as we continued to state and restate our arguments.
It appeared that there was no way out. We were both reaching exhaustion when I suddenly had what seemed to be an out of body experience. I had the sensation of switching into the other chair, looking through the eyes of the other person, seeing myself and the situation from his perspective. And what I saw shocked me. He was absolutely right. I was making a decision that hurt him deeply. I was indeed the bad guy.
What happened next was that I felt tremendous compassion for him. And for me too. I could acknowledge the impact my decision had on him. And how hard it was for me to face that. We connected through our shared pain.
I wonder how much of our insistence on labeling someone as “them” is about wanting to feel better about “us.” That is very human, isn’t it? And yet all our justifications keep us trapped. Meanwhile, love beckons, whispering, “This way. This is the way out. Follow me.”
Go out into the world today and love the people you meet. ~Mother Teresa
Friday, May 29, 2020
Saturday, May 23, 2020
Understanding that we do not know is wisdom
Believing that we know the unknowable is suffering
First year law students often arrive expecting that they are going to be told all the answers to legal questions. After a few weeks of hearing professors say, “That depends on ...,” they begin to suspect that the professors know the answers but for some pedagogical or sadistic reason are keeping the answers a secret from the students. It takes a while to convince them that legal analysis does indeed rest on a number of factors and variables.
Oprah Winfrey’s magazine always ends with a column titled “What I Know for Sure.” I used to joke that I was in awe of Oprah because she knew something for sure at least twelve times a year.
Buddha understood that attachment or desire is the root of suffering. One of the things our brains are wired to desire is unchanging certainty. So strong is this craving, that our brains will grasp onto a false answer rather than tolerate the discomfort of not knowing. Once securely attached to an answer, the brain resists the trauma of releasing it even when a better answer is presented. I have seen my own brain do this. It’s kind of amazing.
And it leads to suffering. Because on some level we know that we are floating in an ocean of mystery paddling a leaky raft. Our soul swims lazily alongside, beckoning. “Come on in; the water’s fine.” And we just paddle harder.
Until we don’t. Until we are so tired of the suffering we cause ourselves, that we are willing to dive into our fear because we are less afraid of the murky depths than of staying where we are.
And guess what. The water is fine. And so are we.
You know nothing, Jon Snow. ~Ygritte, Game of Thrones
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
During a recent conversation with a martial arts friend and mentor, we were discussing our practice. Although we are at very different levels (he is light years ahead of me), we both find ourselves in a time of transition, partly affected by the shutdown and interruption of our usual routines, but that is not the only impetus to change. I was describing my sense of “where do I go from here” lack of clear direction. Did I want a different teacher? Did I want to learn a new form or a new style or a new weapon?
Describing his own shift in practice, he explained that he had dropped the notion of a specific teacher or learning a particular style. Instead, he was going back to fundamentals and exploring wherever his curiosity led him, following the guidance of his body’s wisdom after years of practice. Striking out on his own, everything felt fresh and exciting again. He said without apology or need to justify, “This is what I’m doing.”
Wow. I loved that statement. The simplicity and honesty of accepting ownership and responsibility. The self awareness and permission to not know, to explore, to be curious. To turn inwardly and listen, rather than to continue seeking “out there” for direction and guidance and instruction.
I immediately recognized what he said as the inspiration I was looking for, and I embraced his statement as my own declaration. My practice was reinvigorated, fun, and empowered.
And, as with all martial arts lessons, I quickly appreciated how the idea spilled over and permeated the rest of my life. Going back to basics, trusting our inner wisdom, listening rather than imposing. As MSI wrote, “Life becomes extraordinary in its simplicity – the response to everything that comes to us is the same: acceptance, compassion, and unconditional love.”
“This is what I’m doing” is a call to mindfulness, whatever our activity, a reminder to be aware, to be present, to not be so distracted that we miss our life. It is an assertion of responsibility for ourselves and our choices. It is liberating and empowering. It is grounding in a time of uncertainty and anxiety. It is a reassurance that we are enough.
So as we go through our day, let’s pause and listen, and choose. Then say with confidence, “This is what I’m doing.”
For in the sacredness of every moment, Divine Grace is telling you alone all that is required. ~Jean-Pierre de Caussade