I’ve had some epic spiritual experiences in my life, big Grand Canyon moments that changed the course of my life, but when I look back on my spiritual journey, I’d say that it’s the small things that have really made the deepest, most lasting change. Epic experiences are deeply powerful, and they’ve change the direction of my life, putting into focus what’s important and what’s not, but addressing more and more I think that it’s the little things that have helped me deal with my deep-rooted ego-issues. I’ve shed tears at the rim of the Grand Canyon, on the cusps of a major life change, but I think that there’s been more power in understanding an itch. Read more
Of course hiking isn’t all mountain top experiences or epic Facebook photo-ops. If you hike regularly enough, much of it can start to feel pretty ordinary, actually, like my hike last weekend, where I woke up in an out-of-sorts mood. It was one of those moods where the trajectory of one’s life just feels off track, yet upon further examination there’s really no particular reason to feel that way.
In the past, this melancholic frame of mind might really throw me off, leading to a variety of interrogations: perhaps I’ve not got my shit together in life, or maybe I haven’t been meditating enough, or perhaps I’m in hte wrong place, doing the wrong thing, and on and on, trying to locate what’s wrong or what’s off.
I don’t really take my feelings very seriously anymore. Does that sound drastic? I don’t know, maybe it is, but the mind and the heart are a bit crazy and seem to me to be so very random so much of the time. Frankly, it’s hard for me to take it all too seriously these days.
All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. ~ Pascal
In last week’s Hump Day Homily I talked about the hack that is my own spiritual journey, the convergence of Christianity and Buddhism. My formative years were exclusively Christian, and I continue to benefit exponentially from the teachings and stories and mythology within the Christian Bible, particularly the life and teachings of Jesus. (Perhaps more than any other biblical figure, Jesus has needed to be extremely sanitized for use in churches and public sermons.)
When I hit my mid-twenties, though, I realized that my ego had been running me up into some walls, and I’d been crashing pretty hard. It seems like this is kind of a thing that happens to many homo sapiens when we are at a certain age, in our mid-twenties to early-thirties. (I’ve heard it referred to, astrologically, as “the return of Saturn.”) We realize that the way we perceive the world is narrow and limited, and we begin to suspect that it’s our own fault, that these limitations largely exist to protect our ego.
I just concluded another round of listening to Joseph Goldstein’s 3 volume extended commentary on the satipatthana sutta, Abiding in Mindfulness, which I worked through at a pretty slow pace, listening to it for maybe like 15 minutes each morning before I meditate. (Taken in total, all three volumes are something like 30+ hours of dharma talks.)
The satipatthana sutta is the Buddha’s discourse on mindfulness (sati = mindfulness), and Goldstein summarized the sutta and all of his dharma talks by saying that the great message of the Buddha was simple:
1) The mind can be trained and
2) It’s just a matter of time
The key is to just start (with a meditation practice), and then after that, just keep going, sort of like, yo, just start walking down the road, dude, and eventually it will take you there.
How can I give love when I don’t know what it is I’m giving? ~ John Lennon, How?
Before I meditate in the mornings I usually listen to an audiobook with some teaching on the topic of meditation or mindfulness or spirituality. It gets me in the right frame of mind, especially since I meditate first thing in the morning, when my mind often feels very shifty, jumping about from one very random subject to another. One of my favorite teachers to listen to is Joseph Goldstein. He was one of a crop of young Americans who studied meditation overseas in the 60s and 70s and helped bring Buddhism to America and into the mainstream.
This morning Joseph Goldstein was discussing Meta practice, which is the mindfulness practice of loving-kindness and compassion. For Joseph, the idea of a practice of “love” always seemed quite abstract and lofty. It’s a bit intimidating. His suggestion was to make it practical and specific, as in to identify something specific about love, like kindness. Read more
“I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see. I sought my God, but my God eluded me. I sought my brother, And I found all three.” — William Blake
One of the central insights from Jesus’ teachings was forgiveness, and the central insight of forgiveness is its power to liberate us. To forgive is to let go, to release the anger and resentment that poisons the mind.
Metta is a basic quality of awareness itself
I was recently listening to Joseph Goldstein’s teachings on Mindfulness (Abiding in Mindfulness), and he said that “metta [loving-kindness] is a basic quality of awareness itself.” For me, the implication is that the Buddhist emphasis on mental awareness combined with the Christian emphasis on love and charity compliment each other, and perhaps are, in fact, simply different nuances of a luminous mind and an open, liberated heart.
It is a bright afternoon: what am I going to do? I am going to work with my mind and with my pen, while the sky is clear and while the soft white clouds are small and sharply defined in it. I am not going to bury myself in books and note taking. I am not going to lose myself in this jungle and come out drunk and bewildered, feeling that bewilderment is a sign that I have done something. I am not going to write as one driven by compulsions but freely, because I am a writer, because for me to write is to think and to live and also in some degree even to pray. ~ Thomas Merton, The Intimate Merton, September 27, 1958
As you can probably imagine, I’m having a hard time getting back to novel-writing. The hours pass quickly as I read article after article, click share, post thoughts, reply to thoughts, and delete or edit some of those #Ishouldhaveknownbetter replies . So, in lieu of working on my novel, I’m turning to this blog to process. What I mean, specifically, is that at this historic moment of terrible transition, I’m reflecting on my own mind and spirit. Realistically, we will have to fight to beat back the forces of evil or to hold them at bay, and the next few years will likely be violent and chaotic. They will bring out our demons and all the skeletons in the closet of our national history.
As a kid I remember singing a song about being in the Lord’s army. It was a fun song, probably one of my favorites. It was an action song, I think that was the appeal when I was such a young kid. There were these dynamic movements that had all of us Sunday School kids marching like we were in an infantry, spying on the enemy, and taking aim and firing a gun. That was a long time ago. Tomorrow I go on a meditation retreat. It’s a far cry from the Lord’s army or Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric that flirts so coyly with the idea of a holy war against Islam. I am, quite literally, going to sit on my ass for ten days. Read more
That’s me in the photo, about two years ago. It was the last time I completed an extended meditation retreat. A few months before the retreat, I was sitting in my office, in the village of Sinoni, a few miles from the city of Arusha in Tanzania. I was volunteering as the Finance Manager for a non-profit, and I had discovered that for a little over $300, I could fly to India and back. I couldn’t pass that up. Read more
Understanding what it means to be thankful has proved a more difficult task than I would have thought, and I’ve thought a good bit about it over the years. I mean really, I have, I’ve thought about it a good deal more than you might think I might have thought. Being thankful is a pesky problem, actually. Read more
I’m spending the winter in the Santa Cruz Mountains, south of the big San Francisco Bay area. I hide in the big redwoods. I hide from the city.
I went on a walk in the redwoods just yesterday. It’s easily one of my favorite activities, and good trails aren’t far. The trees are enormous, rising maybe a hundred feet or more, I’d say, towering above, making me feel a similar smallness that I experience when I look up at high rise buildings in the city. I often find myself smiling, the best kind of smile, spontaneous and unconscious, when my neck is craned, straining to take it all in, the spires ascending and forming a wild and sacred cathedral. Read more
We all live with fairly intense blindspots. It is, perhaps, one of those facts about human nature that can be funny, frustrating, and even infuriating. And as our stories tend to go, no one quite seems to know our blindspots like friends, families, and most especially partners, spouses, and boy/girl friends. In a perfect world, our blinspots would be pointed out to us, we would say, “Ah, thanks!” then make a few adjustments to our personality, tweak our persectives, and give ourselves a spiritual tune-up, so to speak. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. Read more