Winter Walking

The snow reveals the secret traffic of my yard. The tracks of rabbits, deer, raccoons, birds, cats, dogs and humans make zig zag patterns through ice and drift. Such quiet crossings, blanketed by night right under my nose! The snow tells on the white emptiness of winter–it says: you are not alone here.

***

The snow came this year suddenly, all at once, without warning. We went out in it, before the sunset last night, and walked through the woods, marching with each footfall through the drifts and the heavy boughs of bushes weighted down by snow, decorated by the hard red berries no bird will eat, left behind like a beautiful, forgotten string from a holiday parcel.

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Most amazing is how the snow illuminates the golden hues of sunlight; that interplay between snow and sun is magical.

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There is whimsy in the woods, signs of human life beyond ourselves, beyond the crunch of our footfall. We walk through space and leave something of ourselves, intentionally or not.  The earth can never forget us, we are ring pressed into her bark, but a moment in this evolving Universe.

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We emerge from the woods as the sun falls, cold, ready for the warm mist of stew and heavy bread, and the quiet of a dark, snowy evening.

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***

Walking in the woods, after the first snowfall of the year, may not thrill some. But it thrills me, because happiness is experienced in those seemingly insignificant spaces of nothingness. Peace comes not from winning all the wars, but from refusing to fight. Healing of trauma comes not from big excitement, but from nothing happening. Joy is glimpsed in the quiet posture of a tree accepting the weight and cold of snow upon its flesh.

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Trauma is big, spectral, overwhelming. It squeezes itself into the whole frame, leaving no space for anything else. It’s antidote is not something else that is big, but perceived as “good,” something that crowds the whole mental and physical landscape. Space, nothingness, quietude–these are ordinary and abundant. But in that abundant, ordinaryness lies peace.

Falling

We were broken together,

that jaundiced autumn.

I was at the end of a river,

stepping onto shore.

I thought you were too,

but time has taught me

that I don’t know what was up with you.

That was part of the problem,

I mistook the falling yellow

for the golden buds of spring.

There was so much I didn’t know

Didn’t realize

So much I gave, too much.

I wintered over alone,

sharp as ice, silent as snow.

Sometimes I pass that crooked tree

where we used to sit and discuss erotic things.

I salute your ghost and walk on,

for spring has come and the air is clear.

On “Being Right,” On Gentleness

This is not a post about “doing the right thing,” as much as it is about the internal pressure we often feel to “be right.” The need to “be right” is what often animates our conflicts, our fights, and our own unwillingness to see when we have “been wrong.”

I didn’t realize that I was living with the pressure of the idea of “being right” until a few days ago. A bubbling brooke of thoughts was churning through my mind as I went for a walk. This is nothing new; the mind babbles on and I let it do so, letting it pass by like leaves on a fast moving river. But then I noticed a feeling beneath a thought about being right–it was something in relation to other people, people I know and have known, a kind of resistance there against an imagined (or perhaps real) critique of other people against previous deeds/words of mine.

I noticed that the thoughts were of this sort: “Well, they may not like what I do when I did X, but they don’t know where I have come from…they haven’t walked a mile in my shoes…if only they could see things the way I do then…” And so on the thoughts went.

Then I realized that it wasn’t the thoughts themselves that caused the pressure, the tension that I felt beneath those thoughts–it was that those thoughts were being produced from a place of needing to feel “always right.” Immediately, upon realizing this, I released the need to be right and the thoughts withered on the vine, strange fruit that will never see fruition.

Nobody is “right” all the time. Sometimes, we are “wrong” in our actions and deeds. With gentleness and mindfulness, we veer ourselves towards light, forgiveness, and atonement. In this way, love and happiness flowers.

If you feel wronged by someone, tell them. It’s an act of love to reach out and say, “here is my wound and here is how you are connected to my wound.” The opportunity to apologize and atone is one of love–so welcome criticism and offer it to others, gently, when necessary.

***

This morning on my walk I was thinking about gentleness, about being gentle with ourselves and with other people. I sensed how gentle the universe is, with open spaces and flowering plants, and the subtle creak of the forest, and all of us creatures milling about.

I walk wrongly through these spaces. I walk rightly through these spaces. I walk gently through these spaces.

I walk.

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The sky this morning on my walk was glorious.

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The moon was still out. To my human eye it appeared much closer than it does in this photo, which I found curious and intriguing. As I walked, I thought of the moon and my eye and wondered if it was close or far–whose eye, mine or the cameras? Then I decided on both.

Presence and Relationships

Love the people who love you.

This is another way of saying don’t force relationships that don’t work. Don’t chase after dying friendships. Don’t try to create them when people give you the cold shoulder or the unenthusiastic response. When people shut the door, don’t try to kick it down. Walk away.

Sometimes these relationships don’t work out because you two were simply not at the same place; the interaction wasn’t well suited for your growth or theirs. Maybe you made a mistake that alienated the person from you, in which case your lesson already lies before you. If there is something to atone for, do so and move on.

But maybe also–and this is quite often the case–the person isn’t in a place to receive you for whatever reason (usually due to their own beliefs, ideology, and subconscious psychological habitual patterns). It could be any number of “isms,” racism, classism, homophobia, sexism, ableism. It could simply be that person’s judgment of your life choices: they don’t like you because of the race of your partner, or because you are a high femme or…whatever. It could be stylistic: they are reserved and you are boisterous or…whatever. Maybe you unwittingly offended the person and don’t even know it. If they don’t talk to you about it and instead just act weird, leaving you in confusion, that is a sign it is time to let go and move on. It is a sign that they have released the relationship. For the sake of your own growth, the situation calls for you to the do the same.

When we put our attention on those who do not love us, who do not like us, who cannot mirror the light of our open hearts, we naturally move into a place of contraction. We put ourselves in resistance to “what is” and therefore create misery for ourselves and for the people who have moved away from us, who have gone elsewhere, or who maybe never were able to meet you at your frequency.

This is okay. Release the situation in peace and love. In the same way that the penguin can’t live in the desert, so too you cannot abide with this person or those persons and they cannot abide with you. In the same way that a rose cannot grow in the North Pole, so too must you cultivate the seed of your attention on fertile ground.

There is no hatred for the desert, for the North Pole, the penguin or the rose. In fact, the penguin can admire the rose from a great distance. There is, instead, simple acceptance of the flow and natural alignment of things. Perhaps your journey with a friend has come to an end. Perhaps you are realizing that what you thought was a journey was really just a figment of your imagination and the person has been absent all along.

It is okay to let all of that go because wherever you are, someone is waiting for you to make space in your knowing for them. Maybe you know this person or maybe you don’t, but if you come into presence there will be space to better know those who are present and those soon to be present.

Though many of us are unpracticed at this, it feels good. It’s a shift from constantly reaching across a void to letting your arms come to rest and your body relax. It’s a movement away from strain into the peace of simply being. Be where you are, with whomever is there. Releasing the other person and/or persons is also an act of love for them, because you aren’t asking them to be elsewhere either. That is a powerful act of friendship, even as it involves–in many cases–saying goodbye (literally or figuratively).

So love the people who love you by being where you are and being in community with those who show up for you, your children, and your family. It is among these people that the powerful and transformative aspects of relationship unfolds.

Letter from a Seeker About Spiritual Doubt

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I recently received a letter from a seeker, who was feeling upset at continued suffering and wondering if the spiritual path is even worth pursuing. Below is my response:

 

Hi XXXXX,
Thank you for writing. Lately, I’ve had a profound shift in my experience and I’ll share what I know with you. I don’t know if I can help you–but I can simply be honest and share what I know.

a. First all, none of this matters. It doesn’t matter if “you” get enlightenment or if anyone does. This is all, indeed, an illusion. The feeling that something critical is at stake is a delusion, and as long as you hold on to it you will suffer. Enlightenment, in fact, doesn’t really exist as it is talked about in most of what you see written. More on that later.  But the main thing to know is that what is going on here is just like when you were in high school (though I don’t know how old you are). In high school, dramas ensue. And people can get really caught up in those dramas. Then, high school ends, years go by, and people look back and laugh at how silly it was that they were all caught up in those dramas–they realize that their sense that whatever was happening in high school was critically important was an illusion, a delusion, of their youthful mind. This mode of consciousness you are in, that most people are in, is a high school mode of consciousness. It thrives on drama and blindness. Because it is full of drama and is blind, it can’t see that none of this matters. You are in a high school mentality right now, thinking that all this matters, when in fact, it doesn’t. (Added to post: Though I emphasize the importance of doing no harm to others below, the reason to do no harm in a situation where nothing matters is that doing harm makes it harder for people to wake up and realize the illusory nature of this consciousness and creates more harm, which creates more forms-thought/feeling form and material form–which creates more unconsciousness, which only delays an inevitable awakening. This, of course, doesn’t matter either. The universe is transmuting part of itself through the fires of suffering, suffering is a tool of transmutation, and it will happen one way or another. )

b. Second of all, no one is guilty of anything. You cannot help what you do (right now) and no one else can help what they do, because they are asleep to the actual situation.(Added to post:  We are, actually, like sleepwalkers. People have even killed other people in their sleep, totally without conscious intention. To a certain extent, everyone is just like that.)  People believe that they are their thoughts and feelings, and so act accordingly. In other words, they believe their dream is real.  So if any part of your suffering is related to blame, of yourself or others, let it go. Nobody can help it; no one is guilty–not even Hitler is guilty because he “knew not what he did,” to quote Jesus.  However, most people are so attached to their anger that they will not want enlightenment if it means letting go of hating whomever they decide are “the bad guys.”  (Added to post: This is not to suggest that Hitler’s actions were not abhorrent. It is only to suggest that they arose, as do all harmful acts, out of deep unconsciousness.)

c. Third of all, you can begin to help what you do by realizing that what you think and feel operates in a separate register from what you actually do. (Added to post: In the same way that if you have a dream of a monster telling you to write “Redrum” on the walls in blood, you will not actually do it. That was just a horrible dream. Likewise, thoughts/feelings are an extension of the dream mind and have no basis in actuality. ) You can think/feel (dream) whatever, but what you do is another matter. Once you realize the bifurcation, the separateness, between thought/feeling and action, you can make sure your actions are never harmful—to yourself or others. But first, you must realize this next thing:

d. Fourth of all, whatever you think/feel doesn’t matter. WHATEVER YOU FEEL OR THINK DOES NOT MATTER. Not one bit. NOTHING YOU THINK OR FEEL MATTERS. That’s right. Your feelings do not matter. They are not important on any level. Therefore, whenever you try to control what you think/feel, you actually “charge” that part of your brain and build it up more, making it harder for those processes (thinking/feeling) to wind down. It is kind of like an addiction (thinking/feeling). Addiction works like this: your brain is soft, like a wax, vinyl record. The more you do something, the deeper you make the groove in the record. The needle will follow that groove and the deeper it is, the harder it is to get the needle out of it. Likewise, the more energy you put into your thoughts/feelings, the deeper you make that groove of consciousness. Observation isn’t the same as energy, isn’t the same as engaging. Being aware that a thought/feeling has arisen is one thing; battling those thoughts and feelings is another. Don’t argue with them. Don’t try to change them. Don’t judge them. Just don’t care about them at all. Treat every thought as if it were this one: “Oh look, a blue unicorn driving a car!”  You would not spend any time trying to fight that because you know right away it’s total bollocks. Well every thought/feeling you have is “a blue unicorn driving a car.”

So, you perceive suffering. First, recognize that a perception of suffering has arisen. Secondly, know that IT DOESN’T MATTER. Your suffering matters as much as the suffering of ants you accidentally (and unknowingly) step on as you go to work each morning–which is to say, in the grand cosmic scheme of things, not at all. But if you put your energy into fighting suffering, you will only make it stronger.

Suffering, and all thought/feeling processes, are like hydras. You can fight it all you want. You can cut off as many heads as you want; but fighting it only makes it bigger, makes it grow more heads, makes it more monstrous.

If you give your suffering food (energy) it will only grow. It doesn’t matter if that energy perceives itself to be “fighting” suffering or wallowing in suffering; thinking it is important enough to even be gotten rid of is giving it energy. IT DOES NOT MATTER. So what that you suffer? Who cares. Yes, there is suffering. And so what? You are human? Humans often suffer. You live, you die, sometimes you suffer, the end. Right now, the most you can hope for is that your “suffering” does not cause you to do things in an attempt to transfer and/or share suffering with others (harmful actions). Care less about your suffering and instead think, “I will transfer/share no suffering with others.” Because trust me, everyone else has their fair share of suffering to work through. And remember #2. Whatever people are doing, they can’t help because they don’t know that their thoughts/feelings are not “them.”

All thoughts/feelings are, at their root, insane. “I am suffering” is a thought/feeling. If there is no identifiable pain being caused (by say, a bodily injury or someone abusing you) then, your suffering is suffering without pain and is all smoke and mirrors. How do you fight smoke? You can’t. You can only wait for it to clear. Trying to fight it will only produce fire, which will produce more smoke (i.e. suffering).

e. Fifth of all, the desire for unending bliss is part of the problem. This model of enlightenment, of unending pleasure/bliss, is a dangerous way (in English) to think about enlightenment. In the Pali tradition, enlightenment means to be “blown out,” like a candle, and doesn’t refer to pleasurable mind/body sensations, but instead to stillness. It is like you are moving from being a planet to being dark matter; from a thing to a no-thing; from incessant activity to ultimate peace (stillness). So, the idea that somehow attaining this realization is the eradication of phenomena is incorrect. It is, instead, an experience of existence through the dimension of stillness and formlessness rather than through the dimension of activity and form. It is not that mind-blowing in terms of daily lived experience, XXXX. Most people would call this “boring.” As the old zen koan goes, “Before enlightenment, chop the wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop the wood and carry water.”  It is very peaceful. Nothing is happening here.

The fantasy of fireworks and endless pleasure and so on and so forth is just a fantasy. In this state, there is no drama, no fireworks, no-thing. It is a state of thinglessness. It is not a dualistc bliss which requires suffering as its opposite to exist. So if that is what you are thinking enlightenment is, you are right–it doesn’t exist. But the ego-driven thought/feeling process is invested in trying to get a “golden goody” of endless pleasure and so seeks enlightenment. Well I’m here to tell your ego to give up, because it doesn’t happen like that. But if you don’t want to give up, keep going. IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU DO OR IF YOU DON’T. But, “A fool who persists in his folly will become wise.” So do what you think you want to do, as long as it is harmless, and see what happens. This is all just high school shit anyway. You’re writing to me because you are obsessing about how to get on the varsity team. Does it really matter? No, XXXXX…it doesn’t.

f. Sixth of all, a metaphor to help. In a. I said that being in this mode of consciousness is like being in high school. Another way to think about it is that being in this mode of consciousness is like being in prison. If you think about it, earth is very prison-like, with a force field (gravity) that makes it very difficult for us to leave this environment, surrounded by an oxygen-less atmosphere where we can’t breath and there is no water or food–both of which are dependencies that makes us bound to this plane. The Gnostics certainly believed this to be a prison. So, as a metaphor it kind of works. It can also be made to line up with the first noble truth, “Life is suffering.” Most people do not know they are in prison, and so they conduct themselves as if there is something to gain “here.”  They seek power, prestige, money, (enlightenment, lol) and so on, thinking that this is the whole shebang, even though they know they will be released (death) at some point. They still think the entire universe amounts to what is happening to them within those prison walls.

Well, look XXXXX, we are all doing time (though time is an illusion of the prison as well). Suffering is part of that “time.”  If you resist suffering, you energize it and extend your “time” (reincarnation). If you do not resist, if you form no beliefs, if you live completely in the now accepting everything as it comes as a needed lesson, then your time winds down, the smoke starts to clear and the “prison” evaporates from around you, until you are transmuted into the other universal realms where arahats and non-returners go. What is that plane, I cannot say. But I do know that the suffering we are experiencing we are meant to experience and must not avoid it. Seeking to awake will not remove suffering, but bring you into closer contact with it. But eventually, you will stop taking the suffering seriously and it will evaporate, like smoke clearing. When it clears, you will laugh hysterically when you see that none of this matters and all you really had to do was eat, sleep, shit, fuck if you want, and then die in peace when the moment comes.  So do not lament the fact that you are suffering. Suffering is not a failure; it’s a tool. Do not fight it. Instead, trust everything that is happening and let it happen. Even death is not a problem. Nothing is a problem; let it unfold.

I have seen it put this way. “The universe uses time and pressure to transform a caterpillar into a butterfly and sand into a diamond. Whose to say it is not using those same things to transform you?”  If the caterpillar fights the pressure and gestation of its cocoon phase, not only will it fail to become a butterfly, it will die an early death. So, go with the flow. Relax. So what you’re in pain? So what you’re suffering? It is an illusion anyway, like a fun-house mirror, and you will be dead in no time. Don’t make it harder for other people to walk through this smoke, do not harm. It doesn’t matter if you are happy or sad; because these too, are illusions. The question is, can you find peace? That is all there is to know.

I do not know if it will help you. I do hope that something here strikes a cord in your mind and opens a door of insight for you so can see this.

YYYYY

Story of a circle

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Life is a walk in the forest, but the walk is a large circle. When we are not mindful, we circle again and again without realizing it. When we are unconscious, when we are asleep, we walk that circle repeatedly–lifetime after lifetime–without realizing we are walking that circle. But we are tired, we are stressed, we think we are getting somewhere at moments, and at other moments, feel as if we are getting nowhere. We suffer.

When we awake, we see that we are walking in a circle and we sit down and our suffering disappears. We are rested, we are mindful, we are awake to all that is unfolding around us. We realize that we never needed to go anywhere in the first place, that we could relax exactly where we are. When we sit down, our suffering abates. We come to stillness, we come to peace.