Tag Archives: Buddhism

The Crazy Element that Makes Art… Art

What Does Art Have?—

Aesthetics has always asked, What does all good art have in common? Is there some common denominator? What is art, anyway? What is beauty? There may be more than one answer to those questions. Sometimes art does different things and serves different purposes. Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes stood as art (and not Brillo Boxes) because of what they were “saying” about consumer culture. I spoke of that here.

Lessons Unit: Brillo: Is It Art? – The Andy Warhol Museum

As Immanuel Kant said, art invokes within us, a sense of awe and deep pleasure. Like nature, it takes us where words cannot.

This helps us understand what art does, but still feels inconclusive, as far as what art has. Or is.

Yet, after taking great interest in aesthetics as a philosophy student, through my 20s, I still couldn’t answer, at least to my own satisfaction, the question: What does all good art have in common? Even if there are multiple answers, or none at all. (Maybe it’s like asking what religion is… there is no common denominator. Only what scholars have termed “family resemblances.”)

Nonetheless, it is only now, through direct experience, after 30 years of painting in watercolor, and writing poetry… and writing in general, have I started to get a glimpse of what I feel to be a truthful response.

But first, indulge a memory with me… I promise, it’ll bring us back to the question of art!

The Storm Rolling In—

I remember running to the classroom window, pushing aside those heavy beige, vinyl drapes, to see the sky turning dark, and the sudden burst of light that illuminated the asphalt outside. Then the rumble. And the anticipation it brought on… how loud will it get? How close will it come?

It wasn’t merely because we rarely get ferocious storms in Southern California. My excitement, which I still feel when storms approach, reveals more than that. Alluding to Kant again, who recognized that nature most powerfully elicits that sense of awe, that all art is but a kind of exemplar of the sublimity we find in nature, we find our clue as to what makes both art and nature riveting in the same way. And, the storms outside of LA were all the more so.

It was in the Midwest somewhere… we heard it coming. Like a high speed train roaring. Getting closer. As we ran to open the door, the wind pushed it against the wall. Yet, we couldn’t resist and so we charged into the flurry and out into the middle of the street and it felt like the world was coming to an end. We stood and watched with wild hair and our arms outstretched against the electric jet stream of warm air. We were buzzing. Suddenly turned the heavens poured out a river and in 20 minutes, it was gone.

Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience—

I felt that frenzied excitement when I saw John Bonham’s son and his Led Zeppelin Experience last year. My own reaction was totally unexpected. But that’s the whole point, as I’ll explain below. A genuine reaction to art is, and has to be, totally uncontrived. And to do that, the art will possess some element that is wild, like the storms above. More on that in a moment. When those first notes of Immigrant Song exploded, I was, at that moment, like a teenager. I remember jumping up out of my seat, straining on my tiptoes to see… at any cost and discomfort… perhaps managing to blurt out Oh My God a few times because I couldn’t say anything else. Because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing or hearing. Because teenagers do crazy things. Because teenagers have energy (except for when they can’t get out of bed).

Presence (The location of Beginner’s Mind)—

More to the point, a youngster’s sense of physical presence exceeds their mental ruminations. And since thinking is draining, the result is vitality… and there has always been an inverse relationship between presence and the degree to which you are in your head. Meaning, the more you are in your head, in the world of thoughts, the less present you are. It starts when we become adults. When we become rational. Teenagers haven’t gotten there yet. So, they are still free.

That’s why we adults have so much fun at events like that, we don’t just act like teenagers for that moment in time. We become as kids again. Because we are in our bodies… not in our heads. The music (and all art… and nature) is a conduit for feeling. We are feeling the music, and leaving the world of thought behind for that moment. And thus, we have no sense of “should be’s.” We act naturally, in all our exuberance. In Zen, this is what it means to have a “Beginner’s Mind.” To be blissfully ignorant of the world’s ideas and judgments. And so, free to express oneself authentically.

Crazy… It’s The Same Criterion for Both The Artist and The “Feeler”—

It’s not holding back. When a singer moves us it’s because she’s not holding back. She’s willing to sing at the edge, right at the place where her voice might crack. But she’s not concerned with that. She’s not playing it safe. She’s not tightened or constricted or self conscious. It’s what good writers do. It’s what good actors do. She’s doing, in her art form, what we wish we could do in life. She’s purging emotions as we wish we could. And thus, there is a purification process in the art exchange, for both artist and viewer, through the feeling of release.

And so, we’ve come around to what I feel answers the question… What does all good art have in common?

It could be said this way: It’s the element of crazy. Something wild and crazy has to happen in that painting, in the dance, in the routine, in the song, in the performance.

Why? Because art unleashes something that has been laid to rest in the depths of our soul… Ultimately, it’s fear. At the very least, it reveals what we wouldn’t do in “real life.” In that sense, it is therapeutic. It is revelatory. It reveals the capacity to let go and to abandon ourselves. It reveals possibilities we thought weren’t for us… to be whimsical, carefree and unguarded. To be fearless.

Which ultimately means… To be FREE.

When asked, “what does freedom mean to you?“ the iconic singer Nina Simone simply said, “to be fearless.”

But we don’t dare, in our everyday lives. We were taught to be rational. We’re careful. We’re measured. We’re prudent. We’re tight. We don’t dare take a chance!

The Wild Stuff Makes it Special—

It’s the big, bold tree stroke in the foreground of a painting. The stroke that makes you think, as an artist, or someone watching from behind, as you’re about to do it, “Oh no!… You’re going to ruin it!“ because the background was done so carefully. Reason will dictate… Leave well enough alone.

That’s where art steps in. Art messes it all up, like crazy hair. Like that sky that turned black before it opened up and flooded the streets for those 20 minutes.

Art is where convention is, ipso facto, irrelevant, since creativity is by its very definition, the birthing, or the configuration of something new. And this process often looks weird or wild or simply… crazy. To be clear, this doesn’t and shouldn’t mean harmful. Nor necessarily loud. But it does mean bold… in myriad ways. Think John Cage in his silent symphony. Think Marina Abromovic, in her meditative, interactive art. Think Cindy Sherman in her performance pieces, which feature herself as objet d’art, in different guises. All pushed boundaries and convention in their own weird and wonderful way. Keep in mind, to sit still is bold. To be quiet is bold.

In a more prosaic example, I remember seeing footage of Joe Cocker singing at Woodstock, as a girl… I asked my mom what was wrong with him… why was he shaking? Yet I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.

Nothing new? The row over Marina Abramović's next show | Apollo ...

Beginner’s Mind—

It’s that element of crazy, again. It feels like freedom—the most basic human requirement. It’s the quality of being uncontrived. The Zen masters call naturalness. And it springs forth from the “Beginners Mind,” which is a mind that is free of concepts. In plain terms, it is a mind that is free of the “should be’s”. Free from fear of failure. Free from the corruption of other people’s judgments and opinions. Free from the rules of convention that we spoke of. Totally spontaneous and totally yourself. Joe Cocker let the spirit move through him (and the drugs). Cindy Sherman had to disappear, in a sense, in order to become the characters she became.

A Strange and Perfect Pairing of Chutzpah and Selflessness—

It’s chutzpah. It’s bold. It’s brave. It breaks the rules. It can’t be tamed. It’s why every new genre has to break from the past. It’s rock and roll. And by rock and roll, I don’t only mean rock and roll as we think of it today. Using it loosely at this moment, I mean that which possesses that quality of boldness that I have been speaking of… Vivaldi, by this standard, was as rock and roll as it gets, with his reputed flamboyance and innovative spirit. He just couldn’t “plug in.” He was wild, like all rockers, who do whatever the hell they want to do. They scream and yell and kick and move their hips, like Elvis. They growl like Gregg Allman and Leon Russell… just growl on tune!

But, in some measure of paradox, the artist has to lose himself, through the boldness. Or, said differently, the boldness must not come from ego, lest it be contrived, which is the antithesis of beginner’s mind. And the same is true for the viewer. And together, the journey is taken into abandon. And this is freedom.

It’s what good acting does… The actor loses himself. He lets go of control, for that moment. He becomes the character, as effort gives way to effortlessness. It’s why Joshua Bell, the violinist, once said that at the moment of performance, all practicing is let go of. He has to trust at that moment that it’s in his bones.

The Enzo Brings it Back Around—

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The Japanese Enzo displays this element of naturalness and spontaneity. Which is wild and irrational in its appearance of not-caring. And… free. Like all good calligraphy, you would never “go back over it.” Because perfection has nothing to do with it. Because perfection is in the head! The question is rather, is it “felt?” Not, “did you think it through?” Were you inspired at that moment? Was it free? Was it confident (and thus, bold)? Was it authentic?

Like me, at that concert… when we act naturally, out of beginner’s mind, there is no limiting or constraining sense of “should be”… there’s no sense of embarrassment. There’s no sense of “not good enough.” Like the wild storm, you just pummel through and do what you came to do… with no inhibition.

For a plant or a stone to be natural is no problem. But for us there is some problem, indeed a big problem… The true practice of zazen is to sit as if drinking water when you are thirsty. Then you have naturalness. ~Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (Shunryo Suzuki)

In this way, art conveys what we wish we could be in “real life.” We long for that spirit of abandon. It’s why we love road trips; it’s why we love falling in love (“we are not in our right mind”… it’s been called a kind of temporary insanity, but we love it). That’s why we miss being children.

The Magic that Happens in Stillness (The Four C’s”)

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In stillness… You go beyond the words and the names, behind the labels and the judgments, beneath the doubts and the mental commentary… to the raw experience of now. At this level of awareness, the distinctions between breather and breath, seer and seen, listener and sound, experiencer and experience, past and future… and between self and other… become blurry. There is just Christ consciousness… Om… emptiness… pure presence… samadhi… enlightenment… Source.

Any of the tools of spiritual practice serve as keys for entry. Breath, sound, prayer… or being in nature.

There is an anecdote about Buddha, and how breath is used to get to this place of stillness:

“How do you attain enlightenment?” One disciple asked.

“Simply be aware of your breathing,” he replied.

It’s not that the breath is all that interesting. It’s only a convenient focusing device. I remember my own Zen teacher calling it a “gimmick.” Zen teachers can be cheeky that way. He was driving home the simplicity of it… focusing on your breath gives your mind something to do, other than spin circles around. The Christians use prayer. The dervishes use the spinning motion of the body.

Out of the mind and into the body. And ultimately… into pure presence.

But here’s where it gets interesting. There’s magic and power there!

Not willpower… Because that would be about asserting the ego. That would be a self-righteous, “pushy” kind of power. That would be an agenda-driven, attachment-charged kind of power.

No. This kind of power comes from what Buddhists call the “unstuck mind.“ We’re not only aware of everything; we’re aware with everything.

In this place of alignment (which is always by degree, as long as we’re in human form) we are able to tap into what I have coined, The Four C’s”:

1. CONNECTION… This is the state of oneness that all spiritual traditions describe. This is the basic meaning of Yoga, “to connect.” Because now the divisive shell of ego has melted down.

2. COMFORT… This is the state of calmness, in which we feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. It is the place of surrender. It feels like everything is going to be okay. It feels safe. Because now the insecurities and fears of the ego self have subsided.

3. CLARITY… This is the state in which we are in touch with what is right for our soul, rather than the habit momentum of earthly addictions. Because here, the loud and conflicted voice of the ego has quieted.

4. CREATIVITY… This is the state in which we tap into what Law of Attraction calls, “the energy that creates worlds.” Because here, with the conventional routines of ego in the backseat, the flow of Chi is destined to expand.

The Magic Word for Fear & Doubt

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The Word—

“Despite.”

I share this word in hopes that you too, will find it to be, despite its simplicity (pun totally intended), the most utterly magical and miraculous method that I have found it to be. Think of it as a secret weapon… an invisible golden key that you wear around your neck, that sets you free of fear and bestows upon you… pure power.

The Set Up—
Tony Robbins says it is belief that makes the difference in the quality of your life. For example, the difference between whether or not you continue with a job you don’t enjoy, depends on your belief that it will pay off… or, on the deeply ingrained belief that one must toil in life… or perhaps, on the belief that you won’t find another one. Similarly, whether you stay in a relationship that is no longer satisfying depends on your belief that a marriage is forever, ’till death do you part.

And these beliefs prevent taking action. And in circular form, the lack of action reinforces the belief. And so, nothing changes. And then, with evidence of the same old circumstances repeating themselves, you have further reinforcement as proof.

Indeed.

So, the question then becomes… how do I change my belief?

So as not to leave you suspended in mid air, one way is to practice shifting your focus to what is good… to what is wonderful in your life. Be grateful for those things.

Indeed.

BUT… saying to yourself—right at that moment when you are already in the fire— “I will do this thing right now, DESPITE my anxiety,” enables you to get through the fire right now. On the spot.
For Example—
I will get blood drawn, despite feeling horrified of needles.
I will fall asleep, despite feeling anxious that I won’t.
I will do the speech, despite my fear of forgetting my lines.
I will start my business, despite fear of failure.
I will leave this job, despite my insecurities about money.
I will listen to my gut and walk out the door, despite my terror of turning my life upside down.

The Usual Approaches—
Fighting the fear is a form of resistance and just gives it more power. And fully accepting the fear sounds good in pop-Buddhist, self help books… but the reality is that it is more easily said than done. And it falls short of the howhow do you accept the fear when the habit pattern is woven into your very cells? Especially, on the spot. Right now. Not after years of commitment to some ongoing practice, whether it be the simple use of positive thoughts or gratitude for gradual reconditioning… or, a western based program involving hypnotherapy, CBT, or neurolinguistic programming, or an eastern influenced practice of meditation or some form of Yoga.
“Despite”—
“Despite” sidesteps all of that, right here, right now. It is saying… without even saying it… at a subconscious level… IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU ACCEPT OR WHAT YOU FEAR OR WHAT YOU BELIEVE OR WHAT OTHER THERAPEUTIC MODALITIES YOU MIGHT BE ENGAGED IN OR THAT YOU HAVE AN APPOINTMENT WITH THE THERAPIST TO DISCUSS THIS TOMORROW…

“Despite” cuts right through, as a newly sharpened knife snaps through a cucumber. It put all the mental noise and objections aside for now, ’cause there’s something else that’s more important right now… I’ve got to do this right now. We’ll deal with the fear, later.

It’s as one of my teachers, Guru Singh, says… “you can schedule a time for that.” You’re putting the concern aside. You’re not dealing with the messy job of trying to convince yourself of anything, or trying to come to a place of acceptance over anything. “I will do it despite the fact that I’m nervous… and the job will get done… and it’s happened countless times before… and it’s always fine and it’ll be fine this time, too.”

“I always do the thing fine, despite my fear.”
Wrap Up—
It “nonplusses” the fear, to use an Alan Watts word. Your thoughts, at that very instant, lose their power over you. It is akin to saying “thank you for sharing” to your fear, as you would to a toddler, before putting him in the backseat. By acknowledging its existence and going about your business, anyway, they lose their power.

It’s absolutely true that learning to shift our focus to what is good is a good idea. But the reality is that most of us perfectly imperfect humans will fluctuate in our ability to do that on any given day, depending on what kind of a day we are having. The negative mind is strong. Thus, we need a hack. We need a bypass modality for an on-the-spot SOS. At the moment of implementing “despite,” you are in a place that precedes all practice.

 

 

 

The Spiritual Dimension of Narcissism (& Narcissism in Relationships)

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Spiritual Ignorance—

What we call “spirituality,” in all its many guises and paths, is really all the same thing… getting closer to God. Or, better, realizing that we were never separate, in the first place. Hence the expression, “self-realization.” We can also call this “vibrating with source,” or “being twice born,” or “satori” … it doesn’t much matter what we call it, as it’s all about overcoming that sense of separation, which Buddha called avidya.

Although avidya translates as ignorance, it is not ignorance in the usual sense, rather it is the state of being unaware of the abiding connections between all of us and between everything (‘though there really are no “things”) in the universe. We can experience the feeling of connection in myriad ways, for example, through any creative endeavor, through deep encounters with nature, and through authentic connections with other people and animals.

Every spiritual path is built around the need to overcome ignorance and cultivate a sense of deep connection with all that is.

Why is it so important?

Because without it, we will have an ego-driven world, devoid of considerateness, and full of self-centered behavior.

Sounds a lot like narcissism.

Disclamer—
I wouldn’t be so bold as to say that the only difference between garden variety ego and diagnosable Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the location of where it falls on a spectrum, as there is still much to be learned about the brain and genetics and whatever else may be at work, physiologically and chemically, in producing psychological disorders. So, I will speak as an interested scholar, as a lifelong spiritual student and teacher, as well as someone who has been in relationship with others who embody and display narcissistic behaviors.

Narcissism and the Spiritual Path—
If the spiritual path is marked by the extent to which we become aware of our inherent divine nature, which the unchecked dominance of ego blocks out, then narcissism may be seen as a kind of chronic disunion. This is displayed as lack of empathy, which is always listed as its telltale, defining feature.

Without self-awareness, the narcissist will be oblivious to his/her behavior and how he/she is “coming off” to others. Thus, the narcissist will speak and act in offensive ways, and will be chronically lacking in thoughtfulness, due to the unchecked hyper-focus on his/her own needs, moods and whims.

This tendency may be displayed through disrespectful or inconsiderate communication styles, as well. For example, through a lack of ability to listen to the other, or persistent tendency to interrupt. This comes from either a conscious or an unconscious belief that his/her commentary is more important than anyone else’s, or a childlike lack of self-control.

Vulnerability—
The ability to be vulnerable is inextricably connected up with overcoming ignorance because without it, there is no true human connection being made. And without connection, there is no empathy.

A relationship with a narcissist is always described as one which entails unavoidable feelings of neglect and disappointment, since your needs, as the narcissist’s partner, will not be recognized. The lack of empathy bars this. This is why, besides “lacking in empathy,” the narcissist is often described as acting out of a “sense of entitlement.” This manifests when their need for comfort predominates, to the extent that the narcissist expects others to always accommodate them, eg, food choices, etc., without the genuine desire or ability to reciprocate and sacrifice for others, in turn.

In reflecting on the notion of vulnerability and its importance in cultivating authentic and safe-feeling relationships, I believe that the absence of it is an effect, rather than a cause of the existent narcissism. A narcissist is too afraid to ever let himself/herself be open and vulnerable.

And if vulnerability is by nature a spiritual quality in that it enables true closeness and connection, then without it, a relationship with a narcissist can never be spiritually fulfilling in an enduring and ever-maturing way.

In Summary—
The relationship with the narcissist will be chronically impaired because of the inability to compromise, make concessions and sacrifice for another.

Spiritually, if connection is our ultimate purpose and source of fulfillment here on earth, then the ability to be vulnerable is requisite. It entails the capacity, courage and emotional maturity to be truly open with another and further, to be in touch with others, in a way that reflects a true sense of concern about the other’s needs, comfort and well-being. The narcissist’s lack of maturity and insecurity, which lies below the gruff facade, keeps him/her stuck at the level of his/her own needs. This is avidya.

 

Do Your Eyes Work? What’s So Special about That?

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From my recent interview with Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, on the question of… What’s so great about now?

What is says in the great Mahayana teachings, the Heart Sutra… there is no place to go. This is the first thing people misunderstand about meditation. Now, I have to sit down and experience something cool. Something found. Something transcendent. Healing… that is better than my ordinary this moment, which is so boring and stressful. And of course, that is getting off absolutely on the wrong foot. It’s not about getting somewhere else. It’s actually allowing yourself to be where you already are.

So, you say, “what’s so special about where I already am?” Nothing, except everything. Do your eyes work? What’s so special about that? Are you breathing? What’s so special about that? Can you think and feel? What’s so special about that? Only everything. So, we take everything for granted, until we lose it. Until our eyes don’t work. Or we can’t catch our breath. Or, it feels like life is falling apart. Or, the body is falling apart.

Donna: I love that metaphor. It’s almost like, dropping in is turning our whole body and mind into a big sensory organ, like the eyes.

Jon: Which it is. The whole body is…

* The Whole Skyped Interview will soon be available to watch, on www.awaken.com (other interviews include, Dr. Dean Ornish, Byron Katie, Caroline Myss, and many others)

Why Gratitude Works

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My goal in this post is to say, as precisely and concisely as possible, why gratitude is a good thing. Because in spiritual parlance and self-help guides of all sorts, we hear it, and it sounds intuitively correct, but I’d like to be able to understand why gratitude heals, rather than have it feel like a dogmatic commandment.

The two teaching concepts I’m putting together here are Buddha’s Four Noble Truths and the Yogic model of energetic anatomy.

Buddha has famously pinpointed our attachments as the source of our chronic, self-inflicted, emotional  angst, in the second Noble Truth. He called it Trishna, which means thirst, but refers to any number of tangible and intangible attachments that we carry, at any moment in time. While this idea is often erroneously translated so as to make desires themselves the bad guys, it is rather, our attachment to them, that causes anguish. To make this less abstract, an attachment is any rigid preference. Any mental insistence that things have to be a certain way, or take a certain form.

We all have many of these attachments running, at any time, like open apps in our iPhones. For example, that I’ll never lose my money, or my job, or my car… that I’ll get the call back, or the publishing deal, or the award… that others understand me, that my peers respect me, that my family approves of my decisions, and on and on. Now, imagine if those attachments took the form of energetic cords, reaching out in all directions, plugging into those imaginary situations, out into the surrogate world, where fantasy exists… (see my drawing, above).

From the point of view of energetic anatomy, our life force, or prana, comes into our bodies through the crown of our heads. Like money given to us, it it now up to us, to manage it. If that energy gets siphoned off into myriad attachments, through energetic tendrils, reaching out into a hundred various and sundry fixations, then we’ve invested poorly and the result will be exhaustion at best, and illness at worst.

This is where gratitude comes in. Gratitude quells the inevitable discontent that comes from the endless reaching and grasping. If trishna is thirst, then gratitude is what quenches it, at the root level—from the inside, before those insatiable energetic tendrils even have a chance to stretch out and place their suction cups on anything, on the outside.

So, closing with the analogy of having open apps in our iPhones (something I didn’t know was a problem, until my grown kid looked at me aghast, while swiping them all up and making them vanish… how was I supposed to know?) Our attachments, like those open apps, sap our energy and drain our batteries. So, harnessing and managing our energy, as martial artists and Yogis have always known, becomes the whole game.

This stands from the point of view of healing and feeling better, which are really one and the same. Because the minute we find something to be grateful for, which is how to start, we instantly feel content with what is, rather than anxious about what isn’t. At that very instant, the inner struggle recedes, as we bring our focus on what we have, which feels good, rather than on lack, which feels bad.

I Don’t Have to Figure It All Out Right Now

A very simple question:

What’s the big deal about Now?

I remember one of the advanced monks asking this question to Roshi, at a Zen meditation retreat, many years ago. From Ram Dass’ 1971 classic, Be Here Now, to Eckhart Tolle’s contemporary bestseller, The Power of Now, and the ubiquitous self-help emphasis on mindfulness, it warrants the asking. It has become standard among mental health practitioners to champion this most basic of meditation practices, for its proven benefits for those suffering from depression, to PTSD to the more benign, but inescapable varieties of generalized anxiety, all as common as daily bread. And surgeons recommend it for pre-treatment nerves, as well as post-op recovery. Mindfulness is, at its most simple rendering, the ongoing act of bringing your attention to this present moment… here and now.

Sooo…..

What’s the big deal about Now?

First, let’s answer that question with another question…

Because… What if this moment, here and now, is full of pain and misery? (Why would we want to be present with it?)

The answer to this last question, is that this present moment is not full of anything, at all. It is only our heads that are full of commentary, or as my Zen teacher used to say, ruminations. He loved that word. It comes from the Latin word for chewing. Makes sense. We like to chew on stuff. And chew some more. Then, chew some more. Even when — and there usually isn’t, unless you’re solving some mathematical equation — there’s no nutritive value left in whatever it is you’re chewing on.

Why do we do this?

It’s a compulsion. And we all do it. We are all obsessive compulsive. We’re problem solvers. We want to figure out that which can’t be figured out. We want to solve… even when it’s unsolvable. And know the unknowable. We want to have all the answers, ironically… right now. We’re not so good with the idea that there’s more to come, just around the bend… and relaxing with that. It makes us feel nervous and insecure not to be sure… not to be certain about things. Although, as denoted in the Alan Watts book that started it all for me, The Wisdom of Insecurity, there is an unmistakable prudence in simply letting life dance its dance. We don’t obsess about getting to the end of the dance, or rush to get there.

When we can summon up enough faith to do that, we will have enabled within ourselves a different relationship with this moment.

And that is the answer to the first question… it’s not the now, that has so much importance, it’s our relationship to the now. When we’re living easily with what is happening now, then we will be resistance free. And being resistance free is what every spiritual tradition, everywhere, from the beginning of time, has extolled.

And how do we do that?

After 30 years of practice, I still wouldn’t call myself an expert at it. At all. But, that’s why they call it a practice. It’s never really, fully and finally, accomplished. But, I do like the Abraham-Hicks access code:

I don’t have to figure it all out, right now.

This is like a golden key. A doorway into the state of nonresistance… into a more peaceful relationship with whatever this moment holds. Use it like a mantra. Say it to yourself when panic taps its familiar tap. It works because it’s general. If it were more detailed, and applied to some specific problem, the mind would find some argument, and the ruminations would continue. But in generalized form, it dislodges the ruminations.

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Follow My Other Blog, Too!…

https://fiftyyearsafter.wordpress.com/

 

My New Year’s Message: Enter the Field of Magic

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The whole idea in life is to live in ease. To put it as Buddha did, to reduce suffering and mental angst. Finding a path of ease becomes our polestar. As Abraham Hicks says… “Whatever we do, we do because we think we’ll be happier in the doing of it.”

But, I have found that the approach to that place of ease is very different, depending on which spiritual teaching you embrace. For example, Abraham says:

“When you call source forward and you don’t block the current with contradictory thoughts, then it looks and feels like ease and grace and well-being.”

But mostly, we call sporadically, blocking that flow with our own doubts. We look too often toward other people’s opinions, and other people are not only fickle, but do not see the big picture, and are necessarily limited by their own experiences. More importantly, they have their own ideas of what constitutes a “good life.” But perhaps, most importantly of all, they came for a different purpose than we did and so, couldn’t fathom ours. Thus, by looking for their approval, we not only give away our power, but we invite confusion into our energy field. And in this way, we block our flow from source. As an analogy, it is like what happens when we pollute a river of clean, pristine, crystalline water flowing toward a feeding pond.

For most people…and for many well-meaning spiritual teachers, the answer is to “slow down the asking” because we’re not managing what we’re asking for. In other words, to stop desiring because unmet and un-manifested desires cause suffering. But that would be like saying the answer to the polluted river is to stop the flow, altogether. We’ve seen the havoc that dams create.

The answer is, rather, to enable ourselves to become a vibrational match to our desires. Said differently, to get the resistance out of the way, rather than slow the desires. You can’t drop desires anyway… the desire to take the next breath is, after all, a desire. And doesn’t the mere attempt to eradicate all desires make life dull?

The idea is to enable the desire to flow in ease, like the river. And better yet, to flow with the river. That happens when we stop slowing down the flow with doubt…when we stop sticking the oar into the mud with contradictory thoughts, which in turn, affect our overall vibration. The idea is that without resistance, we soar into a higher frequency mode of being and we come to match our desires. This is the field of grace, in which synchronicities occur.

How do we do this? By dropping into the realm of feeling, rather than overthinking. By using our “vibrational senses.” By becoming super aware of how our entire body feels in various situations and the signals it gives us. This is the feminine aspect of spiritual practice; feel the down flow of energy, the descent, rather than constant focus on the upflow, the ascent, into the concept known as “enlightenment.” Incorporate the Yin to the Yang. The “feel-flow,” like the Beach Boys song. And in this aliveness of body, step into clarity and easiness. Grace and magic. And total trust in yourself, without needing to know the details of how everything will unfold.

The Emptiness of Anger

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While working my way through a thick stack of homework papers recently, I came across one, written by a Chinese student who spoke of his hatred toward the Japanese. I’ve received other papers through the years, alluding to the very same grudge. This common resentment is because of the Japanese invasions into China during the 1930s.

I often wonder while reading, if they even know at whom they are angry, and whether the feeling is directed toward today’s generation of Japanese. I even wonder if it is a feeling at all. It is perhaps more like a cultural habit. 

Nonetheless, if the cynicism is directed toward today’s generation, then I wonder whether these young Japanese are even familiar with the history of WWII. If they’re like most young people, it’s just an anecdote in their history books.

They are a good three generations removed from the relevant, and “chargeable” generation. This generation is busy with the same personal concerns we’re all busy with, and worried about issues that affect us all equally, like the economy, or the environment. And in a more personal context, they’re worried about transferring to a good university, the problem they’re having with their girlfriend or boyfriend, and whether they’ve used too much data on their cell phones.

In this light, it is clearly pointless to be angry at these people.

So, then what about the older generation, those who were in their prime during WWII? The culprits. In a similar line of thought, my guess is that the average Japanese person back then, was waiting for news of the war, like the rest of the world…concerned most immediately, about the safety of their families…looking for assurance that life would continue in some semblance of normalcy…hoping that their village wouldn’t be crushed. They weren’t personally involved in acts of destruction, at all, and chances are, didn’t wish for it, either.

So, who should the culprit be? Perhaps the government, but that particular assemblage is now nonexistent.

The Chinese aren’t horrible for persisting in their anger toward the Japanese. If they are, then we all are equally horrible. We all do the same thing. The Buddhists call it ignorance.

 We condemn the Germans, as a whole, for the holocaust. But all it takes is remembrance of the many Germans who tried, themselves, to bring down Hitler, and the many others who took in Jews, at their own personal risk.

Ironically, it would be all too easy to direct the same bitterness toward the Chinese, due to their violent seizure of Tibet, but the ordinary Chinese people of today have not seized Tibet, and weren’t even around when the whole thing started, some 60 years ago, under Mao. They are getting along like the rest of us, doing the things the rest of us do everyday, and probably don’t know much about it, aside from what their Government, through heavy censure, has allowed them to know.

The point is, with deeper consideration, it becomes increasingly difficult to find a target, and to hold onto anger.

On the Fallacy of Spiritual Perfection

Don Quixote“I’m only human,” the saying goes. To my perfectionistic Virgoan ears, it always sounded like a cliché, or worse, an excuse for shoddy work or behavior.

But, thank goodness, like many other quixotic notions I have had to let go of, I unshackled myself of this, too. Not only does it make life harder and more stressful than it is supposed to be, but aspiring to the impossible is a most subtle form of arrogance, worn in the guise of “high standards,” or worse, spiritual advancement.

Of the latter, one of my teachers in the healing tradition, calls it “purple-washing.”

Because purple—color of the crown ckakra—is thought of as a spiritual color, this expression refers to the tendency of spiritual people to think of themselves as “above” certain emotions, fancying themselves, for example, invulnerable to fear, or anger.

“How lofty of me!” She jokes.

The reality is, perfection is unattainable for three main reasons:

1. Life is change. It was the Buddha’s starting point and the keystone for the body of his teachings. If all of life is impermanent, then we are too. Thank goodness! This means that we are always evolving. Perfection implies that a resolution has been achieved, and is, as such, a frozen state. Thus, perfection and change are a contradiction in terms.

2. The fantasy of perfection is born of ego. What would perfection even look like? It’s unanswerable, since for every ten people asked, there would be ten different answers. It’s relative. And why would we want to be perfect, when we saw, in the above passage, that perfection (if it existed) means no more growth? But back to the point about the ego…by virtue of the fact that perfection is nonexistent in any objective sense, its pursuit easily slides into the realm of narcissism. As psychoanalyst, Karen Horney, has pointed out, it is not narcissistic for a person to value a quality in himself which he actually possesses…the problem arises when narcissists admire themselves for qualities that have no foundation in reality. It seems the pursuit of perfection is the ultimate neurosis!

3. We are supposed to go through emotional trials. It’s part of the game of being human, of being part of this play that the Yogis call Maya. As a teacher, there is thought to be a practical purpose to it all; we go through our own challenges to be able to show others the way through. Having traversed the rough terrain ourselves, we can then show others the potholes. And from the perspective of a healer, we can better recognize the energetic vibration of what we have come to recognize in ourselves. Besides, in every wisdom tradition, from the Kabbalah, to the heart of Yogic wisdom, emotions are thought to be a compass, giving us feedback about where we are on our own journey. So, even as we’re pulling someone else up the mountain with one outstretched arm, we’re simultaneously clearing debris from the path with our other arm. The overarching point is that there is a reason for emotions that are considered “imperfect.” As the teacher of my teacher famously said, “we are spiritual beings having a human experience,” meaning both, that we are limited by virtue of our human embodiment and the challenges that come from limited seeing, and that we are subject to the experiences that come from being trapped in this realm and the duties and interactions that go along with it

In the meantime, we forgive ourselves and others as we stumble our way through the wilds of human life, as we search in vein for the way home. Because after all, as the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz discovered, and as we too will discover for ourselves…it was right here, all the time.