Waking in Depression: The Way In

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.

America Awake

2015-08-27 17.42.31There 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?





Wake Up and Relax

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.


Holding on to Letting Go

MIndful Awareness: The Precision of Openness
hands-silhouette-4x3We speak a lot about letting go. “I’ve got to let go.” “You should let that go.” “I’m letting go of letting go.” But, at the same time, we talk about mindfulness or holding to the present.  “I’m mindful of the moment.” “I’m mindful of my life”. “I’m doing a mindfulness retreat.”

Ah. And what did you learn on your retreat?

“I learned to be mindful of letting go.”


But, what does any of that mean? How do we let go and pay attention at the same time? And while we’re at it, how can you pay attention to moments that are rapidly slipping by, without holding on? Grasping and fixation seem posited as twin evils in the church of mindfulness. But, how do we pay attention without grasping on to something?

How can we be here now, when it is gone by the time we get there?

Developing mindfulness and learning to let go are only contradictions to the programmed, conceptual part of our mind. It is the mind with which we create value judgements that allow us to communicate with the world. However, in doing so we also build an identification upon these concepts creating a “Me”construct, which is a compendium of conceptual ideas with no inherent substance. They are simply labels used to identify ourselves to social ecosystems. These concepts reduce the complexity of reality into a two-dimensional flatland of opposites. Good and Bad. Right and Wrong. Heaven and Hell. And while that may make for great rock n roll, or action adventure comics, these dualities fail profoundly as an assessment of reality. To the open, relaxed mind trained in meditation, it becomes apparent that good and bad are just points indicating a spectrum. In fact, they are really just points in an infinite array of possibilities.

In meditation practice we actually do ‘let go’ in order ‘hold to’ the moment. We let go of our personal identification and its attendant gripping in order to rest the mind on the moment. By taming the mind with meditation practice, we slow down assumptive and presumptive mental processing. At the same time, we increase our objective awareness and begin to see the steps beneath the assumption. This fellow is a good man, and will make a great president. But, if we relax into this assumption, we may see that we don’t know this person at all.  We may see that our assessment is colored by our fear of certain beliefs he stands against. We may see that our assessment is persuaded by societal pressures. When we relax beneath the labeling process, we can see the energetic exchange below. Relaxing may be a more accurate designation for letting go. Wze may see that much of our thinking on the subject is prejudiced by fear and, in fact, we have little knowledge of either the person, or the office. By relaxing, we loosen the fear based grip. We can look more deeply and objectively at the situation. We might even go beyond thinking and feel into the situation.  Far from eliminating or eradicating the moment, we are opening to the moment.  With meditation, we relax past designations and loosen the grip of our our identification in order to access the moment more objectively.

Problems arise when people either believe their assumption of reality or go to the other extreme and believe they are letting go of the moment itself. This is the linear mind of opposites. There is this and that. We are either believing our superficial mental designations, or letting go of the moment into a blank space. In meditation theory, we talk about the middle way. In our flatland way of believing the surfaces, we think it’s either gorge or purge. We believe that a middle way is a small theoretical point on a line of opposites. In truth, the middle way is the spectrum of possibility available in the moment. The middle way is multidimensional and those dimensions become more apparent as we relax further into the moment.  We are letting go of mental judgements in order to fully realize the moment. Meditation can be seen as a process of training the mind to ‘open to’ rather than ‘close down on’ an object.

Mindfulness: Agency in the Moment

Mindfulness meditation is using an object of mindfulness to stabilize the mind. Mindfulness in action is being able to hold the mind to an object in space or a moment in time (actually, the same thing).  With mindfulness training, we are incrementally letting go of panic induced gripping in order to see beyond the constrictions of fear. Gripping is how we attempt to control an uncontrollable world. We grip onto each moment and then conflate a number of feelings, thoughts, memories hopes and fears into a very handy label in an attempt to control our experience. Hence, we would rather be miserable by our own hand, than open up to possibilities which may lead us to being miserable. However, we simply cannot control life by griping to it. We defeat the purpose and actually destroy life by gripping to it. A mind without mindful attention like being in a stuffy room. And meditation is like opening the window. Gripping to that moment is like slamming the window shut in order to keep the fresh air in. 

And then when the air is once again stale we will become miserable remembering what we once had. We will imagine a time when there will once again be fresh. We will be lost in the past and the future, we will scheme and cajole, bargain and manipulate, daydream and regret.  We will scurry into a cycle of schemes each triggered by the other. We will do any number of things, except open the window.

Until we it happen again randomly, on its own. This is likely, because the window represents our natural inquisitiveness. And, the space beyond the window, our very life. Whether we know it or not, we are naturally present in that life. But, although life is always out there, and the fresh air is limitless, when we forget we are alive in our life, we are effectively shutting it out. We are preferring the laundry in the closet to the trees, mountains and the rivers outside. So, windows open naturally all the time. Only, each time we ascribe a meaning to this and credit the book we read, the person we loved, or drug we ingested, we again shut the window.  We confuse the ‘finger pointing to the moon’ with the actual moon. We will lose the object to the method and surely the window will shut again. Then we may hate the book. We may toss the book across the room. And, in a borderline show of swinging opposites, switch our drugs and throw our lover out the door, as well.  

And, when we open the door to throw them out, and the fresh air gets in, we may mistake that again. It’s a common rookie error to blame the messenger. We’ll be at the bar and everyone we buy drinks will agree, all we had to do was get a new book. But, maybe someone who doesn’t drink will risk suggesting a way of giving up the control game in order to gain access to our life.  They may suggest an actual path to discovery, rather than a placebo or panacea.  A way of giving up control and gaining agency in our life. There are those darned opposites again. Giving up control, but gaining agency in our life.  We may actually learn about the window and our tendency to look at easy surfaces instead of the complexity of truth. We may learn how to open the window for ourselves.

In time, and perhaps more importantly, we will learn that we have been the one closing the window all along. The fact is, open windows are frightening. Anything can get in and close off our life again. And so we will seal the window shut ourselves just to have control. We will throw the lover out, in order to get a jump on them dumping us. We’ll stay in and read a book. An old book, of course. a nice musty one. New books all disappoint. They are not like they were back in the day. They are definitely not what they could be. We might sit a while and imagine the book we will write someday. It will be a book much like the way they used to be. And, WE WILL BE IN CONTROL.

Lucky for us, as the of fresh air of the outside life is our natural state, eventually some neighbor’s kid will toss a rock through the window. Or, maybe after repeated disappointments, at some point, it will click. We can learn how to open the window on our own. We can learn why we close it sometimes, but we can develop along a progressive path toward opening the windows more and more. And then, once the windows are open enough, we can enjoy closing them now and gain, as a respite from life. But we know it’s our decision. We have agency, and we have gained that, by giving up control. We can’t gain access to the mind by controlling it. We gain access by working with it. We can’t gain access to the moment by clamping onit. We gain access by opening to it. And when we’ve done that enough, we can choose to close off for a while. It can be our choice.

Awareness: Access to Life. 

cropped-10584450_10152364200277968_1913484645_o.jpgWhen we can train the mind to ‘rest’ in moments without gripping, we gain a deeper access to life. In time that resting mind allows us to naturally activate a different kind of memory. WE connect the dots – not conceptually – but in experience. Our ability to access the timeline of experience grows, and we actually increase the awareness of now. Now becomes a larger – and less defined – arena. In this way, non gripping mindfulness allows us to let go into a larger field of awareness. Instead of a pinpoint designation, “now” becomes a larger field of possibility, history and potential. Sakyong Mipham translates this as “Presently Knowing”. We are presently knowing our life when we are resting in the present, not carried away in judgments of good or bad, pulled by this and that. We may be aware of references from past experience, or a view of our future, but it is all regarded in the present, without conflating it into the personalized miniature of projection.

We have trained the mind to see what is, and trained our emotions and body to allow us the contentment to relax all gripping. With meditation, we train the mind to open to the moment and rest there long enough to let go into an awareness of life.

Mindfulness is the tool by which we open TO an event, rather than close in ON the event.  Thus letting go and resting on are complimentary, and necessary components of the path to awakening.  During the path of meditation, we train ourselves to let go of its stages even as we render them into language to better track the process. We come to understand that labels are provisional titles pointing to deeper interpenetrations of experience. In this sense, as it clarifies itself, meditation practice uncovers a fundamental truth below our conditioned existence.  In order to see beyond the limitations of delineation and gain a deeper, more organic connection to life, we train the mind to loosen its grip and feel below the labels. As the mind naturally becomes more present, and more comfortable with its experience, we gain an internal confidence in ‘not knowing’ and a willingness to lean in and investigate further. Eventually, we relax our grip on this and that. Which is to say, we release our grip on separating ourselves and everything else. Apparent logical discrepancies become complementary and reality becomes unified and possible.

In the seminal manual on meditation “Turning The Mind Into An Ally”, Sakyong Mipham refers to ‘resting’ the mind on an object. Of course, “resting” is itself a conflation and a designation. But it is more subtle and energetically accurate in terms of opening to and contacting the object. The more we grip, the more the object changes and the less we actually see the object. Complicating this our personal evaluations and judgements further confuse the process. When I say resting is more energetically accurate to mindfulness, I mean it is closer to what the mind does in order to see an object clearly. It is inquisitive. It opens to the object without preempting experience with assumption. Therefore, rather than ‘focus’ the mind on the breath, Sakyong Mipham urges students to ‘rest’ the mind on the breath, and to open to the experience of breathing. This points the mind toward looking beyond the conceptual index and into an actual felt sense of a purer access to reality.

When we rest the mind repeatedly on an object, gently training the mind to return again and again to present experience, we develop the confidence to further relax the grip of our personal identification and its attendant histories and associations. The process is like raising a child, I suppose. The more our personal agenda comes into play, the more the child resists and the less accurately we see the child. This engenders a certain panic that increases our identification and gripping. We begin to conflate a miraculous human being into a limited dimensional thing, a “child”,  a “daughter”, a “son” that belongs to us. And while those designations are provisionally accurate, they evoke all sorts of assumptions that may have little to do with an actual person. This becomes particularly complicated when we say “my” daughter.  We automatically assign personal judgements and assume patterns of  behavior. Much of it is well intended, but sometimes the more we love, the more we fear. And, the more it we are instigated by fear, the greater our tendency is to panic and grip. The more panic and grip the less awareness we have. Expectation is the death of accuracy. When we expect a living, changing, dynamic being to remain faithful to our provisional designations for their lives, we rob them of self-agency and the confidence needed to live an independent life.

But does this mean we just let the child “go” and refuse to guide them or protect them? This would not be a very mindful upbringing. The key is learning to ‘guide’ the process. We are not gripping out of personal panic and its attendant delusions of the ego, but are letting go into the process of ‘seeing’ who  this person is, and how to help them open to their true potential. In this way, we are actually paying deeper attention who the child is, rather than preconceptions of what she should become. Because we are giving the child space to be, we can better understand and appreciate the child.  In this way, instead of letting go, perhaps we are letting be. We are gaining distance in order to become closer. We are opening to life by resting our mind on the moment rather than stomping all over it, appropriating it, or truncating it into a label. Therefore, we discover that there is simply more to life than we can imagine. In fact, our imagination is limited in comparison to the true complexity of life. If we are open to discovery, we will use a gentle touch in our investigation, honoring both the perceiver and perceived in an increasingly informative exchange.

By doing this we are letting go of the “Me” construct and opening up to everything else.

Giving Peace A Chance

peace-3The city that loved Lennon came out to commemorate his legacy by creating a human peace sign in central park. John may have died here, but he also lived here and the activity of his heart continues. And people continue to love him, and his ideals. John wasn’t a saint. But neither are we.

He was brave enough to be who he was, and to tell the world what he felt. What we share is a need to live in a world that is safe and sane and our fear that that will never transpire. Our world seems to move simultaneously toward and from an ideal of world peace. There is so much possibility. But there is less time. And even less ozone. The wealth of the world is bound and diverted into inconsequence.  The Humanity that each of us is born with, and that is our given birthright, is subsumed by defensiveness, competition and material greed. And, yet we love and are loved. We are capable – all of us – of great things. It is our destiny to lead the world from harm, but we are frightened to do our part, and understandably so.

The Shambhala teachings encourage us not to run from fear, but to look into it as a means of connecting to ourselves and the present. nYx39w0CctUW4OxzXnPikPzQCEWeefR0FjjQev3uVhAWhen we deny our fear, and act out of panic with little regard for the world around us, it is a self-denial that leads to a schism in our being. Fear is human, natural and has great wisdom. However, if we are to move forward in life, we must not cave in to the fear but, as the teachings say, to use that fear as a stepping stone to greater openness. We can embrace the sadness, embrace the hurt, embrace the pain in what Chogyam Trungpa referred to as “the cradle of loving kindness.” Loving kindness is an extended hand, an open arm, and a giving heart. It is a physically open posture. It is not giving in to fear, by clenching around it. It is not lurching past trying to prove something to the world. “Placing the mind of fearfulness in the cradle of loving kindness” is opening to our pain, and having the courage to let it be as it is. Our pain is universal. It is the common language of humanity. We all suffer. By opening to our suffering, we can begin to understand the suffering of others. The Path, altogether, is the personal journey from boundaries to bridges.

Meditation is the core of a wisdom path. In the Shambhala tradition we instruct a grounded and honest practice called Shamatha. Shamatha is the cultivation of peace. It is the simple returning of the mind from disconnection to its rightful place in the present. It is the understanding that we abdicate our power when we succumb to fear, and let the mind wander toward distraction or temporary balm. The practice of Shamatha, or peaceful abiding, is to gently train the mind toward the courage of staying in the body and in the present. This calms the deeper and more reactive parts of our psychology. We begin to calm down as the urges inside us give way to surrender and ultimately insight. We begin to see how running away from ourselves is only creating more suffering. In this way, we begin settle further, and begin to develop true peace within ourselves.

The peace we develop through our meditation practice is unconditioned. It is not reliant upon externals. It needs nothing but the bravery to stay. It is the connection we have with our true warrior heart. It is the courage to be exactly who we are without apology. It is a calm that completes us as our understanding becomes manifest. We have travelled the path, we have seen and learned and felt the truth of our life. And, we have developed the honesty to know when we are here and when we are not. It is available when we see ourselves and are willing to rest in being here without struggle, manipulation or apology.

This peace is not devoid of panic. It is not separate from pain. In fact, it is because of our pain. It is the full acknowledgment of our suffering and a willingness to remain in any case. It has manifested in the core of our being. Inner peace. Our daily practice is giving peace a chance to pervade our system, to grow within us and to deepen into our core experience. We have the confidence to remain, unswayed by the turmoil of the world. We can then be its witness, and be witnessed. As thoughts of materialism, anger, frustration, panic and doubt arise, instevOtasP8TCXxaE-774Z5Mq3OClNIA_oTlDVIgS4CMe1gad of acting on them, we can bring them back to the steady rhythm of the breath. Calm our heart and begin to wake up to our world. This radiance cannot be denied. It is seen by others. And, in this way, we instill peace in our world. By learning to love ourselves, we can radiate that love to the world.

Lennon was a great sloganeer. And Give Peace A Chance was one of his most resilient mottos. It worked for me, because of the guileless and simple way of presenting the idea of peace. Rather than a banner of aggression, or a slap in the face, as it was used often in those days, it was a simple thought: Why not peace? It was almost acknowledging that it isn’t easy. It was acknowledging that we will, again and again, long to take refuge in aggression. But, why not try? Just try. When we are hurt, broken, doubtful, angry, lonely or sad we need look no further than simply loving ourselves in the moment, as we are. Giving peace a chance to grow. It might change everything. For each breath we return to, is another statement of willingness to be here, in the struggle, in the heart, in the present in the world that so desperately needs us. Giving peace a chance might change your heart. And that might change the world.

The Courage To Come Screaming In

The bombs rattled through the week.

John Lennon as a childThe worst bombing of the war. German hate rained from the sky. Slamming, explosive, percussive. This once proud port city, now battered in ruin. Mortar and brick reduced to gravel and dust And blood.  And, more pounding. More than sanity could endure.

And then, one night, abruptly a gap.

On October 9th, 1940, an uneasy calm fell over the night, and soon Mimi got a call.  Julia had given birth to a son. She came as soon as she could to meet her sister, and the boy who would change their lives forever.

I was writing in my girlfriend’s kitchen.  She and her children were visiting her parents in Shrewsbury and I had the place alone to finish a presentation for a class on “Myths and Legends”. It wasn’t a theater or radio class, and so held little interest to me. But, there’d be no passing without the project so, never one to easily relent to pressure not of my own making, I was stuck. The Pats were on tv in the other room. Game to the wire. I was writing at the kitchen table. Words cane out they landed nowhere, stubbornly refusing sentence structure. I would write, and then pace. Write and then Grab a beer, check the game on TV, then back sporadically to write words that meant nothing to any of the others on the page.

I heard Howard talking from the TV in the other room.  It sounded like something had happened. I walked in to find the score tied and John Smith lining up to kick with seconds left on the clock. Then the phone rang. I dont remember how it fell. There were shards everywhere. My girlfriend on the phine. “Did you hear?” The game was coming down to the wire, but the world was only hearing one thing. “John Lennon … shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival.” My girlfriend telling me he was wounded. More calls. Rumores, conspiracies, bargaining, denial, rage.  The game in overtime.  Howard reiterating “dead … on … arrival.”

I read my paper aloud in class that next morning, still drunk, with no sleep. I said there were no heroes left. No myths or johnlegends left.  Everything we believed had been shattered, slammed, broken and discarded. Did we have a God? Did we have soldiers to admire? Police to trust? Laws to believe? Reasons to be, other than to simply breath through another day of pollution in the stench of a dying world? Were we here to move through a rote existence as fodder for the grind? What was left for those with imagination? What was left for those who longed to believe? What was left for those whose spirit yearned toward a greater cause? Dr. King, John and Bobby, Malcomb X. Any ray of hope, condemned for the sin of shining.

The pounding relentless, percussive existence, the wars, the traffic, the hatred. People living on the streets of the most powerful societies on earth. People with so much, feeding off those who could not feed their children. All of us huddled together under the savage canopy of an unjust heaven. I looked up from my presentation and saw tears in my friend Keira’s eyes. Her over-mascaraed face streaming. Tears in a few others. Embarrassment and shuffling in some. The usual sleepy college drift in most. But, tears welled in me. And anger. Alive with the death of anger, I rained hatred and spoke more lucidly than I ever had in that class, the words having finally joined in a chorus of disappointment and rage.

I got a D on the assignment. It bore no relation to the class, they said. Nor were the teachers, both two generations older, particularly moved. Another of the punk generation, railing against the supposed ills of a society from which they nonetheless fed. The world was shattered that day. But they had grades to keep, and a reputation to uphold in this fucking school that taught the worst conformity in the guise of artistic creative expression. I walked broken through hallways unslept and unkempt hugging, crying, raging. There was a vigil that night. All of us packed into a cold wet night holding candles, singing his songs, which were our songs. There were punks, hippies, business folk, students and workers. I saw a man in a suit with his arm around a pink haired girl. It was a strange mix and spoke to the universality of love that comes from music, and came from this man.  There was a commotion behind me. I turned and someone’s dog was excitedly wanting to play, trying to pull his family away, unsure why he was at the park if not to play.  No one was upset, and we all took turns playing with the dog. It was incongruous to the mood and a perfect counterpoint to our feelings.

At some point I had sung myself out, was freezing and hadn’t found the solace I wanted. I just gave up and made my way to Alan and Donny’s and sat and stared at the television for a week.

b48e5a87fd31c4e0f2e32b1718b88d53It It seems strangely fitting that many of the progenitors of the rock generation were born in the rattle and rubble of  war. The worst bombing anyone had ever known. The relentless pounding of the cities, buildings shaking, the streets rattling beneath. Mick and Keith, Ray, Pete and Jimmy all born amidst the rubble and sludge of war. The rocks of war.  Kids who grew up in broken fields, playing in the rocks, eating rations.

England had nothing then. Well, nothing except a bumper crop of babies. Babies no one knew what to do with. So, they sent them to school. The good students were packed away to what was left of good schools, keeping the upper crust flaky. The lesser were sent to technical schools trained to support the rebuilding. And the rest, those whose minds worked in less linear ways, who were battered inside, were poor or sickly, or could actually draw were sent to art school. Sure. There’s no economy. Give em some quills and call it a day.

Rattled loose from the moorings the Rock generation came of age hiding transistor radios under tattered covers in bed, listening to transmissions from pirate stations that played music from America. Black music from America. The same music Bobby Zimmerman listened to under thicker covers in iron belt Minnesota. The same music stolen from the slaves, stolen from Africa, that Keith was hearing in Dartford, and Ray on Muswell Hill and John up north in the forgotten hash of Liverpool in a house called Mendips on Menlove Avenue. All lost in the trance of ancient drummers calling from the dark continents of the heart. Songs of pain and misery that rose up in the glory of God and love and sex and sex and sex. And, just as the boys were old enough to begin to stroke their own night rhythm, came a king from Memphis. And, that just shook their world open. And soon those boys would burst from their covers and reenact the percussive pounding of their birth. They’d steal and plead and cry to have some uncle, mother or friend fork up for a mail-order guitar. And out they rode into the night to bang their choruses of rage and love and hormones through garages, back lots and empty rooms across the country.

beatles_2240307b Rock was forged from the rubble of war, and would, in turn, unleash its pounding fury on the world. A music born of anger and fueled by the rebellion inherent in the self-hatred of a race born into an exploding world. And John was the heart of that rhythm. His Irish sea captain’s ferocious drive, the incessant strumming of his guitar. His ability to lead by the brute force of a will to survive. John butted his way through schools, and created bands around him to play skiffle, and a new music mash up of rhythm and blues, soul, jive, folk, skiffle, country, rock-a-billy, rock n roll and pop. His Beatles became the first and ultimate punk band. Leather clad, slicked hair, amphetamine fueled adrenaline, hammered into shape in strip clubs on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, where they learned to “mach show”, pete best hitting the bass drum on every beat in order to pound the rhythm into the hearts and minds and night. Coming back home after these excursions, they were welcomed and tempered by the girls who adored them and nurtured by their mothers – Pete best’s mom who had the club that they played their first domestic residency, george’s mom who would make them food and offer a place to rehearse.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition it is said that women, or Dakinis which represent the feminine principle, call forth the teachings, nurture them and bring them into corporeal form. When it comes to magic, women always lead. Men follow, grudgingly, to church, or war, to work and to the dance floor. The Dakinis loved John. They adopted him, and fed him and adored him and his band until the men had to join in, and the world around them could no longer ignore the din. Most of their contemporaries at the time regarded this period as their greatest. They hadn’t had a hit yet, but their reputation resounded before them.

When that fist hit came, the entire country opened to them. Three hits later, and it was the world. And, again it was the girls who screamingly heralded the arrival of a new wave of human thinking.

young-John-Lennon-BWBut, world dominance comes at a price. And the leather clad punk band gave way to cheeky lads in Edwardian suits. The tightly honed fusion of beat, and rhythm and audience, gave way to a screaming spectacle. “The fans gave their money”, George Harrison was said to quip, “but the Beatles gave their nervous systems.”

Other than delivering milk for his uncle, John had never really had another job.  He was a millionaire at 21. He was the oldest and first of his generation to open the doors of the heart of the world. Soon, the Rolling Stones, Kinks, and Yardbirds followed bringing American music to America and re-establishing British honor, financially and culturally. You cannot overstate the role the British invasion played in reestablishing Britain’s self-respect, economic stability and cultural integrity on the world stage. The Beatles were controversially awarded the MBE in recognition. They were invited to play for the queen, at which point Lennon famously quipped “would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands and the rest of you, if you’d just rattle your jewelry.” The world was in love and hate with his arrogance and brilliance. Though he did what he could to squeeze his enormous passions into a commercially suitable box, John continued to head butt his way through life accruing the adulation of fans, the respect of peers but also enemies, great controversy and death threats.

The band ended touring, and went on retreat in India with Maharishi Marahesh Yogi. That relationship was eye opening, and I think had karmic effects for the band, who were to begin disintegration into the separate facets of genius from which it was comprised. Lennon wrote some of his most wonderful songs there, and shortly after: “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, “Dear Prudence”, “Across The Universe” and most notably “Sexy Sadie” which was initially entitled “Maharishi” (“what have you done? You’ve made a fool of everyone”) and the line “you came along to turn on everyone” was perfect double entendre, and a beautiful example of his acerbic wit.  But, the band fell apart.

beatles-yoko-windowAnd, then came Yoko. And then came the most public courtship, relationship artistic statement, which became a life screaming out loud in public. At one point in the sessions for the movie “Let it Be” (then titled “Get Back”), Lennon sits with Yoko at his side, and asks Ringo to crash the cymbal to “give me the courage to come screamin’ in.” And then they began “Don’t let Me Down” a song which is a perfect example of the harsh, rugged savage grace of the man, still frightened, still honest, and despite being one half of the most successful songwriting partnership in history, willing to ask his partner for a cymbal to give him courage. I hear the Irish shanty troubadour in him. His relentless drive, imploring the world to listen.

And Yoko Ono, avant guard Japanese underground New York art celebrity either pursued, or ignored him; manipulated or liberated him; enslaved or nurtured him, became his port in the storm. They bonded with a fierceness that consumed both of them, and eclipsed his all boy world. He said, being with Yoko was like being with my mates, except we can go to bed together. In interviews with the two of them he is at one admiring, in love, amazed and also rudely dominant. He interrupts, criticizes, cuts her off, as well as agrees and supports her, sometimes in the same sentence.

07124_121440_lennonetonyhanley_05.article_x4He begins a life in public, in bed with her, in bags with her, merging art, pop, communication and activism. He is narcissistic, self-involved millionaire whose genius was to be as he was, and turn it all to promote the good in society. He had a political sloganeer’s knack for a great line, and some of them – “All You Need Is Love”; “Give Peace a Chance”; “Imagine”; “War is Over (If You Want It)” changed things at the time, and have lived with us for a long time. Lennon felt a responsibility to himself to live honestly. But, he also had a genuine love of the world, and the need to use his good fortune and high visibility to help that world.

john-lennon-yoko-onoIn 1975, that came to rest, as John settled in to New York City, a regular fixture on the Upper West Side. He turned his business over to his wife, who employed an astrologer to help turn his earnings into millions. Lennon believed in astrology, studied Tibetan Buddhism and UFO’s. They were passions of his, along with wife and child, his box of incredible weed and a television he would surf through endlessly in his Dakota mancave. Some say he remained a junkie. Others claim that those days ended with marriage. Some claim he was bisexual, or even gay, that he used people, that he squandered fortunes even as he pretended to care for the downtrodden. He was violent, chauvinistic, boorish and, at least when Paul met him at Woolton Fete in ’57, had bad breath.  What is clear is that he suffered from depression, and a need to isolate. The man never had a job, except to have every word he uttered become a significant statement. He never had a childhood, except the one he was never released from. He never had a life, except that of the biggest rock star of his generation. Whisked away into the bowels of the machine, he never knew normalcy. He was never able to process wounds and heal the hurt that remained so alive within him. So, was he a junkie? Or, was he scared of the world he had helped create, and lived in a cave of his own sequestering, only to emerge butterfly forth at 40 to begin starting over. And then 5 shots rang out and ended that.

The shooter crouched in military stance, about 6 feet behind him, and fired 5 shots into his back and, and as he turned, into his side. Any 4 of those shots would have been fatal. John was killed on his doorstep after he’s returned home from an interview to promote his newly released album. Killed just as he came out of hiding. As soon as he was free again. As soon as he could speak free of the shrouds of heroin, depression and secrecy.  As soon as he began “Starting Over”, it was gone for all of us.

I believed then it was an assassination. And, I believe that now.  I’m not a flake. I’m a triple Taurus, have a capricorn moon double-fantasy-3and practicality runs engrained in my DNA. But, I believe he was assassinated. Call me a stooge. I believe John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were murdered. Sounds like I’m nuts right? But, whether or not its true in fact, it says something very true about our view of society. We don’t trust it. We don’t trust ourselves. You can’t trust something you don’t believe.

What is it we believe?

In one of his last interviews, he discussed his violent days, and the few times he took it out on the women he knew. This was an intense admission. Naked, as he was. Imperfect and embarrassing. How did this stand with his pleas for peace and love? “Its the violent ones that know how important peace is”, he said. During the inevitable backlashes that seem to rise against his legacy, like mother waves every 8 years, when people then look for arcane scenarios to defrock him, they will claim that his pleas for world peace and invocations of a very practical common kitchen sink version of sanity, were fraudulent. He is routinely discredited because he was violent, rude, hurt people and smelled badly. Well, you know what? I believe that those are exactly the reasons his statements are valid. He understood the hurt the world suffered. He experienced it from both ends. He was imperfect, flawed, and had a heart only an Irishmen could bear. And bear it he did. In public, learning as he went. Learning as we all went. We grew up together. We hurt and loved and laughed together.  The pain that made him flawed, made him human, made him genius and made many of us love him. 

During one of his last interviews in 1980, Lennon was asked if, in light of the drastic political swing to the right under Reagan and Thatcher, and the gross commercialization of music, art and life, if he looked back on his days espousing peace and love with any regret or embarrassment.

Lennon replied, “If you smile and someone punches you in the face, it was still a smile. You can’t take that away. The smile has always been there.”

And the smile will always be there for those with the courage to come screaming in without embarrassment, with their full heart. And, for those of us who need it most, the idea of imagining peace is most important and real.