Its a difficult time in the world. And its an easy time to try and find surety in aggression. This is a kind of reaction blindness. And when we react against reaction, its like blind leading blind – on steroids. But, when the going gets tough, perhaps the strong might become sane.
Our beautiful minds are vast and embued with great power. As such, they are a reservoir of great potential. However, we generally ignore this potential in lieu of problems we feel need to be fixed. The problem is these problems tend to birth more problems until our identity is fixed with fixing things. Our attention becomes focused in tighter and tighter loops and our life reduces into simple iterations of routine.
We are caught between the great human potential inherent in all of us and an existential sleepwalk that holds us in lock step. Imagine the power of the universe locked in our laundry closet. At some point something either breaks out or breaks down. But who has time to break down these days? So we soldier on, ignoring the gnawing until we collapse.
Depression is a common and even reasonable reaction to living a life on everyone elses terms. The root of depression may not actually be fear, but the anger we feel from shortchanging our lives because of that fear. Trying to get away from pain, we actually cause more pain. By trying so hard to be good, we end up living a false life. We have been duped by a cosmic shell game bartering reality for an anxiety dream. We cling to external things to help us fix the mess and in so doing forget the one person who can actually help us. The only person who can help. The one who has been there all along. We forget ourselves. When we shunt part of us away out of embarrassment, we become cut off from our inherent power. We begin to believe there is something wrong with us, and that we should be disappointed with ourselves and embarrassed about our depression.
In this way, our depression becomes solid. Our confidence erodes as we feel we are losing a battle. We fall inward and becoming so small the day itself feels too big. From this point of view, the potential of the mind must appear dark and forboding. In reaction to this fear, we shrink our awareness in an ostrich like effort to avoid pain. But, as we are occluding awareness, our fearfulness actually begets more fear. This denial of life not only robs us of joy, it also leaves us very vulnerable to manipulation.
Ancient humans fought for survival, hunted and gathered food. They died easily and lived short lives. Yet those lives may have had more contentment, community and connection than ours. Perhaps being disconnected from pain we are disconnected from an essential part of ourselves. We relagate pain into the darkness and take refuge in the light. We take solace in being right, even as a part of us suspects the opposite.
Our lives move more and more quickly these days. However, the nature we come from, is very slow. The earth moves at its own pace, in its own way. The same with the heart. The faster we move the less we are able to feel the earth beneath us. And this has to threaten a more ancient part of ourselves, a deeper and intuitive part of ourselves. Whether we are aware or not, this spiritual dissonance causes an internal friction. On one hand, we feel we should be doing so much more. On the other, we’re already working too hard. Caught in this zero-sum vice, our heart, art, compassion and the life part of living have become lost. Placing our hearts on hold, we barter creativity for security causing ourseves and others great pain.
This reduction of our life dampens something inside. We can choose to be mute only so long before we forget how to sing. We can stay hobbled only so long before we forget how to dance. We can shut down life only so often, before we lose our will to live. We have told ourselves no so often, we simply shut down in response. So we retreat in fear, collapse inward and, wrapped in the fabric of time and space, hide ourselves from ourselves by becoming consumed in ourselves.
Man, it’s actually quite brilliant.
Crushed beneath the weight of “me” our mind begins to compile a ledger of all the things left wanting, undone and unfulfilled in our life. Our life force turns inward and the mind turns vicious. The power and potential of our mind is turned against the only foe it feels it can defeat: itself.
But, there is a way out. And the way out begins with the way in. By sitting IN our pain, we can become comfortable enough with suffering to find the space within. There is always space. But, in our fear we cling to the familiar and play the same song with such volume we drown all alternatives. However, by training the mind to stay, simply stay, and hold space for our experience, we find we can sit with greater and greater challenges. Eventually, we find a profound stillness. It is within that stillness that we begin to see in the dark. In fact, we become so familiar with the terrain of turmoil, that we learn to walk in the dark. At some point, we may even learn to dance in the darkness finding grace in our simple tenacity.
You see, it will eventually occur to our wounded mind, that we are sill here. One we’ve abandoned hope and surrendered to the great despair, we see that being with ourselves is all we have. Ground zero. Right here, right now, just so.
Meditation practice will not cure depression. Nor should it. But, a consistent daily practice will strengthen the mind, giving us the bravery to enter the dark, the resilience to remain with ourselves and the wisdom to find the love we need.
The love we need.
The love we have been looking for all along. The love that no one else can give. The love we learn to give ourselves by simply being here. There is something supremely powerful about beginning to feel lovingkindness for our incomplete life, bruised heart and tattered mind. We can do this without turning the lights on, forcing a smile or turning the volume down. We can do this simply by being here, and not changing a thing. We can forgo trying to be good and simply be human. And humans suffer. When we connect to our suffering, we are connected to all of life, for all of life experiences suffering.
When we find love in the depths of despair, we find an Unconditional Love that compares nothing and accepts everything. Then we have a gift forged in the flames that no one can take from us. Our gift of unconditional love.
In the Shambhala teachings we say that practicing lovingkindness is to “place the mind of fearfullness in the cradle of loving kindness.” Learning to open the heart to the sadness of our spirit and finding the strength to hold space for our pain is a profound statement. And that profound statement is an acknowledgement of life itself.
Learning to hold ourselves with open arms, reduce the harm and find a connection to all beings is the way of the Bodhisattva. In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition a Bodhisattva is one who has vowed to forstall their own salvation until all beings are free of suffering. They have vowed to venture into hell to liberate all beings. We can find strength in this. There have been such people. And there are such people. Those willing to face the darkness and stay there until they get it. And then, be willing to look outward and bring that strength to the world. That is the way out. Benefit for the world. And, if not the whole world, then our world, 0r community. Someone else. Benefit to others is the best way to value yourself.
And, it is the way out that comes from finding the way in.
Following the election. Our world feels different. Maybe broken. It’s a good time to find healing and strength in love and sanity. It was hard to fathom. The People have spoken. Only not the majority. Rather, some people have spoken, rather pointedly.
Now, all will quiet. It will calm. We will likely not build a wall, or deport, indict or persecute anyone. Everyone will dial back to the center where this country finds ballast continuing nonetheless on a course the election has set. We’ll go back to our lives. And as we sleep again, 2 conservative justices, a conservative senate and an administration built of lobbyists and special interests will turn back time for women, minorities, policing, jails and healthcare. Sadly, no one will turn back time on our changing climate, which will likely continue on pace, with our country a world leader in its own destruction.
You may be frightened. You may be happy that all is turning back from the swing to the left the country has taken. You may feel vindicated. You may be angry. You may be hurting. But, please remember its okay to love, along with hurt. It’s okay to find stillness and feel strength. As we rage in our souls and pour our hearts into every moment, whether we accept, resist, or support the changes, we might also be kind to ourselves. It may not be an easy time to feel light, but remember, we are light. I think we can shine, regardless.
This is bravery in the face of the unknown. I believe that we can respond, and act without malice, and without aggression. The power we have lies in awareness. And awareness comes when we don’t follow blindly, but stay engaged and grounded in the present. I believe we can employ non-violent activism and remain in place, awake, if we begin by sitting in the silence of loving kindness.
Turning anger into love that is awake and active and engaged. Love is not compliance. It is clear seeing with the heart and the mind. But it is dependent on our stability of mind. Our warrior posture of awake. It is time for this. It is time to move from the ignorance of blind compliance, or the blindness of rage to holding our seat as warriors in our body, spirit and mind.
Let’s awaken our republic. Awake New York! Awake DC! Awake LA and Awake America. Gently, but resolutely AWAKE. What other choice is there. The Buddhist teachings say look at your world without disdain or bias. Meditation master, Chogyam Trungpa said “Look. Look at your world. It is your world. How can you not look.” His son, Sakyong Mipham has said again and again that the world needs us now. And to be brave, we must be “kind to ourselves and merciful to others.” From our seat of warriorship we can enact sanity in ourselves and very natural radiate that much needed sanity to others. So, we are shattered, and we are broken. But, rising up in hate and anger is the coward’s way. It is the way humanity has chosen again and again and regretted the results of the experiment each time. Instead, we can sit in strength and dignity of awake and choose sanity.
If survival is where humanity is meant to be going, then choosing sanity for ourselves is an important step. If, on the other hand, we are headed for destruction, well… then sanity seems even more important.
Movement in the air. Cat races to the windows. Spirits rise awakened from moldering sleep. Trees stretch orange arms to the brisk skies of autumn. School again. Turning again. Elections again. Life reawakened into the change of change. Liminal spaces. Shadows crossing across the heart.
There was another mass killing. Which one was that? The terrorist? The Muslim who sympathized? The Syrian who was left out? The Kid in the night club? The white kid in the theater, or the best friends at school? Its getting so hard to keep count. Kids killing kids, cops killing kids, cops being killed, improvised explosives and suicide vests changing the face of public gathering. The world is erupting. And with it, the cry to have more guns, and more war and more punishment. As though adding to the problem will somehow solve the problem.
But with all the pain, there feels like hope in the cracks of our chaos. With more pain there is, perhaps, more awareness. There is more here, in front of us, to see and to understand.
This is a great time to be alive. Yes. Not instead of the pain or despite the pain, but entirely because of the pain. Its a blessing that we are here to help and to repair and to work to bring this world back into harmony with the earth that has nurtured us. Its a blessing here in New York City to be among the fortunate, the privileged, the few who have the honor to make a difference. It is our great honor to serve. And it is great to give back. You see, we become weakened as we grab for more. We falter as we turn away. We fail as we try to win, and win at all cost. There is no wining that does not win for all of us. There is no sanctity except in the grace of living in a world that we support, and are supported by. And because of this, it is a great time to be awake.
The destination is now, and the time is here. We can make a difference, slowly and surely in our lives and now – more than ever in history – even small differences will be heard around the world.
America Awake is a call to (open) arms. Awake is a revolution whose symbol is not a raised fist, but an open hand. It is a philosophy of understanding. And, rather than re-knowing what we already know, reiterating what we’ve been told, retelling the obvious and restating that which was written in stone, in an age of stone, we can emerge into a new dawn, and simply have the courage to say . . . heck if I know. Lets start fresh.
How can I help?
What is happening now? And, how can I better understand the needs of my sisters, and the truth of my brothers, and the pain of a rainbow of every shade in between?
I pledge allegiance to the moment. And equipped with the immense power of wakefulness, vow to listen to the differences and to heal all damage. I pledge to cause harm to no one and bring the world together in a time of darkness. I pledge to never outrun my fear, but to open my heart to the transformative possibility of my pain.
Is that utterly ridiculous? I suppose so. Its certainly naive and simplistic. And, how cool is that?
– More bombing. More killing. More terror.
So many of us want to do something / anything in reaction to the horror of the Orlando killings. Some are calling to institute a ban on “Muslim” immigration. Others for outright attack upon other nations, their people or spiritual beliefs. There are 2 ministers quoted as saying the LGBT community got what it deserved. That’s the one that got me. So, yeah, now I’m blaming as well. Anyway you turn there is another convenient object of aggression. Its an age-worn ruse to blame an “other” in order to rouse our own confidence. But that confidence is no confidence at all. It is cheap and lazy ego pacification. We feel uncomfortable, because we are frightened. But, its easier to rush to anger than feel fear. Its a way of not staying with the discomfort long enough to learn what should be done.
People are concerned about their safety. And, while there are certainly threats abroad, we are vulnerable at home due to the proliferation of weaponry in our own closets. Most domestic acts of terror in our schools, homes, churches and clinics have been committed by American citizens, each fighting their own subjective wars. The LGBT community has been the target of much domestic aggression. In this most recent instance, by a troubled young man, born and living in America, who had frequented the club as a customer. He was described as suffering from mental illness, but somehow was able to buy 2 assault rifles as well as hand guns. He was influenced and inspired by radical Islamic Jihadism, yes. But, he lived here. He armed himself – legally – here. So, why not look to ourselves here? What culture has the kind of SELF-INFLICTED rampant violence now common to the home of the brave? If we are so brave why do we cow to the Gun lobby, the NRA and other agents of self interest? Why not be brave enough to clean our own home first? BAN ASSAULT RIFLES. Loosen the gun lobby’s political hegemony. Reassess the 2nd amendment in order to reaffirm its original intent: to protect – not destroy – the populace.
It was well into the 19th century, when the USA became one of the last countries of the first world to abolish slavery. While this was partly due to ingrained racism against these newly forced migrants, it had more to do with economic – and hence political – necessity. It took censure and sanctions from world leaders, and finally military strength from its own government, to pry America lose from reliance on slavery.
And, Americans killed Americans then. And, when the dust settled, the world had not conquered us. We had not succumbed to adventitious aggression from abroad. We actually became stronger, as we loosened our reliance on unfair, unethical and vicious economic practices and moved into accordance with civilized views.
Presently, we are held hostage by the economic strength and powerful political lobbies of the gun industry and its political allies. We are afraid to rock a boat that is nonetheless becoming obsolete. From the inception of our nation, elected officials have inspired the populace with great vision, while having to navigate power brokers that influenced currents below. This is no conspiracy theory. Its part of the power dynamic that has made this country very strong. But, it is the nature of power to protect itself. At some point, people being protected are in danger of that which protects them. The entrenched influence of the nation’s pillar institutions, while not generally the theme of political speeches, cannot be discounted. We can ignore this power, as we debate “issues”, we can work around the power, or we can try and expose the power, and weaken it. But in the end, we will always render unto Caesar, what is Caesar’s. We will pay for allegiances to past beliefs with our own health and our children’s future.
Until things change. As they always do.
As in the time of slavery, the sadly drudging movement of change has pitted us against the moral development of the modern world. Few, if any, of the 1st -or even 2nd – world nations live in the amount of fear from their own citizens as we do, in the land of the free. As a populace, we are so strangely ensconced within ourselves, that we do not see the incredulity with which most of the world has to the murders, violence and self-destruction within our society.
Practitioners of Buddhism, meditation or pacifism are accused of taking an unrealistically “peaceful” approach. But, peace is not unrealistic. Violence is unrealistic and unsustainable. Violence keeps things locked in tight circles of self-affliction. Love and release bring us closer to the truth. So, I don’t want to demonize the gun lobby, or create another enemy. There are many fine people who oppose gun restrictions for various reasons. What is essential, is that Americans begin to see the world as other’s see it. I hope for my clan is that we don’t buy in to the easy answers and find strength in hatred but, that we open our minds to working with what is.
But, to be honest, we cannot expect the nation to follow dictates which we ourselves ignore. Where are we creating wars simply because we don’t see a way to peace? Where have we become hostages to our own defenses? Where have we silently acquiesced to the succession of aggression handed down from mother to son to father to daughter? Where are afraid to stand up and actually see the situations that bind us, and in an inviolable act of love, release ourselves from that suffering? We do this by seeing. By standing up and seeing that perhaps we have become our own enemy.
Maybe its not what our country is doing to us, but what we have done to our country. And, without shame, or further aggression, maybe we can ask what can we change in ourselves to create peace in our world. Maybe our rights are less important than our safety, and the respect of our society. Maybe rather than bear arms we can promote our right to bare arms. To live freely in a feee society without guns, weaponry or defensive posture. Perhaps our bare arms can hold each other in the strength of love. Standing naked in truth, rather than draped in an ideology that lies on the surface of, and ultimately in the service of, big money and political influence.
Meditation is a practice that allows us gain agency in our lives. We are training to settle our mind in order to wake up into our life. As the mind is more attentive when relaxed, training to cultivate a relaxed attention allows us to more fully contact our life. We sit in a singular connection to the moment, grounded in the security of earth. From that base, the spine can rise to heaven, allowing the mind to open into the vast sky of awake.
We rise up to settle down. We wake up in order to rest in the moment. These seeming polarities describe what are actually complementary components of the practice. The Taoist Tradition refers to the “Yin” of relaxing into the receptive earth and the “Yang” of rising to heaven in attention. It is stated in the iChing that the alignment of the spine to the center of the earth allows us to reconnect to a universal sense of humanity. The Tao Te Ching posits that disconnection from the earth leaves us wandering as ghosts, blown by the vicissitudes of desire and past actions. At the center of the earth, humanity is connected, clear and complete. On the surface, we perceive difference, distance and disparity.
In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition meditation is considered a yogic practice. The posture is an asana with the main stretch being the upright spine. Imagine the tailbone as an ancient arrowhead pointed directly down, weighted deep into the earth. Its alignment is plum, neither sticking back nor curling forward. Then feel the spine resting on that base and reaching straight through the body, through the top of the head, describing a line infinitely into the heavens above. Relax upward into that stretch, as though a string was pulling you up, stretching the spine. This is the “Yang” alignment, a vertical stretch joining heaven with earth. It is awake, and tells the lower mind it may relax now, because someone is in charge. Our higher power is engaged and we are awake at the wheel of life. In just two minutes, it is said, our brain chemistry begins to change. We are, in effect, exchanging cortisol for confidence.
With that vertical stretch, the body’s organs and systems gently fall to the pull of gravity and relax into their anonymous work. Contrary to our conditioned thinking, it is actually more restful for the body to to sit upright allowing interior room, than to slump downward, constricting space and creating stress on the internal organs.
Now, without compromising the vertical stretch, allow the body to relax down and open. The “Ying” alignment is a continued opening and relaxing of the body. While the upright Yang posture aids wakeful attention, its attendant downward relaxation allows the mind to fall into the body and synchronize with the moment to moment beating of life. This horizontal opening awakens the mind’s receptive potential, as it opens out into a community of awareness.
In the practice of mindfulness awareness – or, as I call it, Mindful Awareness we develop a synchronicity to the parts. We combine the solar and lunar experience into a fluid synchronized dance of resting in the moment as we open to the experience. The Yang alignment develops mindfulness by rising to a specific detail of our living experience. It’s counterpoint, the Ying alignment, relaxes into acceptance and expands into an awareness of the environment. Yang establishes form and definition, while Yin accesses space and context.
The breathing binds these two components. With the breath we rise up and relax down. We gather in, and expand out. We take in nutrients and release toxins. We gather in the world, and then let go back into it. We bring the mind back to the breath again and again until the mind settles into a peaceful and stable connection to the present, joining heaven and earth.
As with any meditation practice the primary point is the effect on our life. With the posture alone, we are learning to wake up into relaxation, and to relax down into attention. We reduce stress and gain greater ability to rest in the present. SO, counter to our conditioning, we actually gain more focus in life not by focusing, or learning to tighten the mind in concentration, but by opening to our experience we can relax into resting in that experience for longer and longer periods of time. And, we always have the body, and its proper alignments – up and down – to bring us back to wholeness and balance.
And, as a tool the breath is perfect for balancing the yang and yin. For one thing, it is always there. It is reliably in the present. For another, it is lifting us up and relaxing us down into synchronicity with the moments of life. So, we can use this tool, anywhere as long as we remain alive. We can simply breath and with Mindful Awareness training, come to bring the mind and body back into balance by breathing into the tension, relaxing the breath into the body. The alignments will occur naturally releasing tension, and the stress of the stored tension, and breathe in nutrients to lift our mood and relax our mind.
In this way, we bring meditation to life. Training in body and mind awareness, so that we remain in balance with life.
Bartering Being Right for Being Love.
More bombings. More terror. Tuesday morning, on the eve of a solar eclipse, suicide bombs and automatic weapons took the lives of over 30 people in Brussels. After 5 people died in Istanbul the previous Saturday. The two recent attacks claimed over 2oo wounded. And there were others before. Large and small. High profile and low. A lineage of hatred ringing through the streets. Our streets. The streets of human hope, life and understanding. Its hard not to be angry and frightened. And so, its easy to react with hatred, passing down hatred through a succession of aggression. And many will do that. And, this is natural and, for now, unavoidable. But, there are some who will stand in the face of terror. There are those who will offer love and caring for the victims and a world torn by hatred. It takes great bravery to do this. My heroes are those who stand for love regardless. Who don’t fall for the easy action, and instead try and face the danger with an open heart and open eyes. It is imperative that some of us begin to understand this anger and offer kindness in its stead.
Facing terror with an open heart will seem naive to some. But, by opening the heart instead of shying away we are willing to try and see. By accepting with radical allegiance what has happened in hopes of understanding how to heal this and break the chain. We may not have answers. But, if we remain dedicated to waiting through the pain, perhaps we can one day find a way out of this. But, if not, and if this violence continues until it ends us, at least some will have given the love and care that is so needed in the midst of pain. Someone has to answer blood with heart, or we will never heal. And if we never heal, we will never grow beyond these cycles of self-interest and self-protection.
For those brave enough to face the terror, perhaps we can be still long enough to see its entire scope. While we revile terrorism for its animal cruelty and relegate terrorists to sub-human status, we have given ourselves the moral permission to place all our frustration, fear and anger onto a nondescript other. This momentary empowerment feels right. It feels strong. But the more we grip, the more vulnerable. By closing our mind in a vice, we are actually more vulnerable. We are vulnerable not only to danger, but to being manipulated by those who broker in fear and hatred. We all love the underdog in movies. We identify with native struggles, and those oppressed by stronger cultures. This “Robin Hood” syndrome is a very real human impulse. The United States itself identifies as rebels in it’s inception. But were the patriots we revere deemed terrorists to some? How was our own country viewed by the native people of this continent? How were we viewed by slaves torn from their families, shipped and traded like cattle to support an illegal economy? And how are we seen to young children growing up in the middle east with scant hope and little opportunity to realize their basic human ambitions? They are easily manipulated by those who profit from their anger, and frankly the first world is an all too easy target.
But, the truth is, we are all victims of aggression. There is poverty and disempowerment in the first world, as well. There are victims of abuse in our safe American homes who can so easily turn toward hatred to find a way from their pain. Hate on hate on hate on hate. Our lineage of suffering might look senseless and cruel from the outside, but it feels so heroic within. This hatred keeps us spinning, and in our spinning, we no longer see. We only grasp the closest ally, and follow the strongest current. In this way, we are all unwitting adjuncts to our destruction. And in the melee, we miss the reality, for it is a sad truth that in times of duress victims will kill victims. We are so caught in the bloodlust, we forget to see the obvious. For instance, an obvious thought is that terror costs money. Who has the money? I’m sure that few people dressed in a suicide belt come from great wealth and power. Where is the money that supports them? Along with pictures of the carnage, why are there not articles on who is financing and who is actually benefitting from terror? Where is the money? If we stop the money, and prosecute the pipeline of arms and resources, might we not slow the progress of hatred? Might we not be able to separate out the causes and conditions and begin to see how to untie the knot? Then those left in the trenches might be free to communicate and begin to understand what creates this hatred. Unfortunately, then we would have to listen to stories we’d rather not hear. We’d have to begin to see ourselves tin the other. And, that is so very much more complicated than blame.
No, its easier to stay with the simple. Its easier to build walls and blow up markets than to try and see what someone else sees. And because of this blindness, we are at the mercy of the momentum. We are pulled like bulls from our nose. We are lead to slaughter again and again. So, while anger is easily justified, some of us simply must try something else. Some of us must take the mantle of kindness and peace in the face of war. Some of us must stand to open our hearts, if not to the aggressors, at least to the victims. So it will be said, never forget, and please don’t let them have died in vain. And monuments will be erected. And those slogans will be used to rally further war. This is what has happened, and what will happen again.
But, our memories of the victims can also be used to rally peace. Don’t let the victims die in vain. Let their suffering pose an opportunity for us to bond in compassion and caring. Let us forgive the easy answers for the bravery of being love in this time of hatred. This will change the world.
And, if you think that this is naive, and an avoidance of the responsibility of action, then please show me how aggression has helped. Maybe sometimes it has. More often its probably just unavoidable. But, in any case, it has added to the myth of the preeminence of might. And, justified or not, this has obscured our ability to see past vicious struggles for survival to greater human understanding. If we choose love, we do something different. We take a moment to pause and for a brief, but very important moment, we break the chain. And that break proves that the chain is not unbreakable. And that gap might open the window to an opportunity to develop a new way of working with our pain. Maybe then instead of erecting statues to commemorate war, we can build monuments to peace. Instead of using victims suffering adventitiously to strengthen ourselves, we can share in their pain and create greater compassion and understanding in the world.
I do not have that understanding now. I am angry as well. I do not know what is right, or who is right or what is best. But, I know that I want to make a statement for peace, because peace is what is needed. Simply that. There are warriors, and their are healers. The world has always been this way. Let us not forget the healing. Let us not forget understanding. Let us not forget to sit in meditation or prayer and in honor of those who suffer, face the terror with love.