I’ve sifted through time,
right here to this spot,
influenced by every drop of sound
that has hummed itself in range of my countenance.
I am the manifestation of my mother’s walk to sobriety, and subsequent hard work,
my father’s grounded nature and integrity,
my best friends growing up,
like Jamie, who I lost over a boy,
and all the boys I crushed on and left for other boys;
my paternal grandmother’s adoration of babies
and my maternal grandfather’s sense of placement and orderliness;
and Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” song,
which served as my personal anthem, drumming me on my journey west away from home,
days before I would turn 19.
This one life, amid all my musings and ramblings and incoherent tangles of thought,
has been so artfully crafted and groomed by an endless sea of moments and influences
that it becomes impossible to discern where “I” begin and end –
as with any minor adjustment to my life,
I would be someone altogether different.
Tag Archives: zen
This morning I started reading Zen is Right Here, which is compilation of short teaching stories and anecdotes of Shunryu Suzuki, who’s often called Suzuki Roshi. It’s a great read so far and I’m very much enjoying it – I also especially appreciate how short the stories and anecdotes are, as I wasn’t looking to launch into a long and heavily involved book.
From the book:
A student asked Suzuki Roshi why the Japanese make their teacups so thin and delicate that they break easily.
“It’s not that they’re too delicate,” he answered, “but that you don’t know how to handle them. You must adjust yourself to the environment and not vice versa.”
– Page 64
I’ve been thinking lately about the importance of recognizing and holding both elements of sameness & non-sameness, when it comes to our relationships and interactions with others. Too often, we’re stuck in operating from the perspective of either one OR the other, rather than being able to blend both together. In other words, we either think: Yes, we’re all the same! We all have the same woes and struggles and the same desire to be happy. There is no separation. Or, we think: I’m right and that dude’s wrong! I’m like this and that person is like that and we’re on opposite/opposing sides, we are sooo different.
I feel as though this is a tricky topic to address. Many of the teachings foundational to mindfulness, or the Buddha, are of a rather complex nature and extremely easy to misunderstand or misinterpret. One of the biggest factors in this complexity is our western mindset. Our common cultural tendencies for goal-setting, intellectual processing, needing to see results, and our propensity for ego development, mental dispersion, and emotional disconnect. All of that is to say: This post might be a bit of a schlog to read, for a few different reasons.
I’m reminded of a great quote from Albert Einstein: If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. I love this insight and try to keep it in mind when writing, giving a talk, offering a consult, or helping to lead or guide a group. This post, however, may wind up being a clear indication that I need to further my understanding :)
Let’s see if I can whittle it down: If we think we are all ONLY the same, we lose sight of the variety of experiences, causes, and conditions that impact and affect others. If we think we are all ONLY different, we lose sight of our shared humanity, and reduce greatly our capacity for developing understanding and compassion. Hmm. That actually turned out pretty well as a simplified account of my own thoughts around this particular subject.
Non-duality is rather a tangled mess for our western minds to wrap themselves around. To deeply understand that life rarely, if ever, consists of a “this” or “that” arrangement takes a fair amount of time and practice, in order to untangle our thick web of misperceptions. We have a wealth of strongly held notions in regards to the many pairs of duality that we often get so stuck and mired down in: right/wrong, good/bad, yes/no, republican/democrat, happy/sad, same/different. In reality, the truth of life’s very essence most often resides in a mixture of both dualistic pairs happening at the same time. Rather than a situation or occurrence fitting neatly into the box labeled “right” or “wrong” the chances are more likely that it could fit into both boxes, simultaneously.
Ah, the great confusing beauty of the teachings around non-duality!
Spurred by the feature article in the current May 2017 edition of Lion’s Roar magazine, entitled How to Meditate Like the Buddha, which highlights eleven leading Buddhist teachers answers to common questions, I thought I would try my hand at answering one of the questions that were posed. Here goes:
Q: Will Meditating Change My Life?
A: (in my own words)
Yes. And no. (Classic Zen response, right?)
In the sense that meditation has the capacity to open new mental pathways, expand our perspective, and deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us, yes, meditation has the very real potential to change our lives in a variety of beneficial ways. To be clear, though, it will only change our lives to the degree in which we actively, diligently, and appropriately practice it.
However, meditation will not change anything in the Being Human department. We will continue to interface with everything related to our human manifestation, regardless of how much cushion time we log: aging, illness, death, sorrow, loss, anger, standing in line FOREVER at the grocery store, tax season, paying bills, challenging co-workers, world politics, and so on.
While the physical happenings around us won’t change, what CAN change is our relationship to them – our inner experience and attitude, the way in which we interact mentally and emotionally with those physical happenings. Developing a meditation practice allows us to create spaciousness, stillness, and quietude in the otherwise extremely full, cluttered, and chaotic atmosphere of our mind’s landscape. And from this creation of space, we have the opportunity to respond with more ease, understanding, and compassion in our everyday lives – which changes everything.
In the interest of buoying my new practice of Mindful Morning Saturdays (MMS), through the art of sharing my experience in written form, this is yet another installment to help me along.
This morning I especially enjoyed reading the Discourse on the Eight Realizations of the Great Beings, as part of my MMS sutra readings. The sutra starts: Wholeheartedly, day and night, disciples of the Awakened One should recite and meditate on the Eight Realizations discovered by the Great Beings. It then lists them in the order shown above and goes into short detail about each one. The concluding sentence of the sutra states: If disciples of the Buddha recite and meditate on these Eight Realizations, they will put an end to countless misunderstandings and difficulties and progress toward enlightenment, leaving behind the world of birth and death, dwelling forever in peace.
The Sixth Realization especially stood out to me. It seemed different than the other Realizations and it got my internal gears moving. Here’s the whole paragraph from the sutra:
The Sixth Realization is the awareness that poverty creates hatred and anger, which creates a vicious cycle of negative thoughts and actions. When practicing generosity, bodhisattvas* consider everyone – friends and enemies alike – to be equal. They do not condemn anyone’s past wrongdoings or hate even those presently causing harm.
* Bodhisattva: Literally “enlightened being,” one committed to enlightening oneself and others so that all may be liberated from suffering.
For the past few years I’ve been replacing the idea of New Year’s resolutions, which I’ve never cared for, with the development of new mindfulness exercises. I’m currently working with a number of new mindfulness practices to incorporate into my daily and weekly routine, which started at the beginning of the year. It’s worth mentioning, however, that typically I wouldn’t encourage the cultivation of so many new practices all at once, unless a practitioner has invested time in building a strong, diligent foundation in mindfulness, as trying to take on too much too fast is an easy undertaking, and an easy undoing of our stability.
My new practices include:
– Saying a short verse to myself upon waking up each morning
– Uni-tasking while brushing my teeth (verses multi-tasking)
– Saying a personalized closing verse to myself after breakfast each morning
– Jotting down observations I make in a small notebook when I’m in my car at red lights, or in other such instances where I’m stopped and waiting (at the bank, for instance)
– Mindful Morning Saturdays, where I devote the hours of 5:00-8:00am as a concentrated time to practice mindfulness (I read passages in our chanting book, do sitting meditation and three touchings of the earth, practice the 16 Qi Gong stick exercise routine, practice mindful eating of my breakfast, and watch a portion of a Dharma talk video online)
– Paying special attention to my preferences: what they are, how they show up in my life, looking deeply into whether they are helpful or harmful