abandoned in a bountiful land

Christina's-world

So much is cracking open for me it’s difficult to settle down and try to write about it. I turned fifty in the midst of a great upheaval, and all around me the seas keep rising like mighty mountains, threatening the continued destruction of everything I’ve endeavored to construct to define myself. I’m hunkered down in my little raft, grabbing onto the gunwales and grinning like a mad fool, urging the storm on, shouting into the wind-driven spray, gibbering and dancing erratically, my eyes streaming with tears.

Nor have I learned moderation.

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I’m beginning to think it is not to be found in me.

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This spiritual path is my welcome undoing.

It is good that I didn’t understand what I was up to when I started out on it or I would have left the whole thing alone. I think that I really did believe that I was pretty much supergood, and smart and capable, and that really committing to a spiritual path would be like adding some really sweet and creamy frosting to a pretty wonderful cake- you know what I mean? That it would make me better tasting, more desirable, more attractive, all that. A better me, but, you know, still me.

What I’ve been in the process of discovering is that things are a little bit more dire than that. But also, confoundingly, much better than that, too. I am much, much worse than I’d ever been willing to see or admit, and yet, and yet, there’s this really limitless, profound, stainless, wise, compassionate aspect to my own fundamental nature that is vaster and more perfect than anything I could have imagined.

And what I’m experiencing right now is this kind of actual working of the teachings on me. I am engaged with full, unstinting commitment to this practice, and the results are manifesting. It is not anything you could describe as pleasant. It was horrifying to see, to really see, the lies I have been telling myself about myself just to get through the days. I have been engaged in this lifelong practice of subterfuge and posturing, lying to myself, lying to my loved ones, to my wife and daughter and everyone, about who and what I really was.

Maybe that’s overstating it a little bit- it’s not that there was a real other me inside- the real me was the false one, has been the false one. Now I’m left kind of in this empty landscape where what I was has been torn down, dismantled, the pieces carted off- a process for which I am profoundly grateful- but it’s unclear to me how to relate to this new place. It’s not that I am enlightened, or that all of my obscurations and defilements have been uprooted and purified, not that at all. But I think that I may be at a genuine starting point for discovering something profoundly true, a true way of being. One that is maybe not free from ego completely, but certainly is no longer enslaved by it, no longer blind to it- it is almost as if I’ve been cleaved in two and I can now really regard the creature that has been running the show for me for the last fifty years. I imagine a vast, empty, windswept plain, two figures standing there- a dark, twisted, golem-like thing, wincing and shielding itself from imagined blows, but still somehow boastful and proud, and this new man, naked, blinking a little bit in the new light, unknown to himself and to this new world.

I wish that I could take credit for being this new man, for finding and casting out the golem hiding within me, but I can’t. It wasn’t my doing- I am as astounded as can be by the whole mess. I believed that I was the golem, but I saw myself as the golem sees himself, not as he really is. I thought I was beautiful, handsome, precious.

If you didn’t see that, it was your fault. You didn’t understand me.

Ah, but there was another kind of ignorance in play. I didn’t understand me. I was maybe the only one who couldn’t see my real self. Or couldn’t see that there was a real self in there, hidden and concealed by the golem.

To protect me. To shield me from the real world.

So, yeah, not really my doing, finding myself in this new land. I mean, yes, yes it is my doing on one level- I certainly asked to be revealed, I asked to be known to myself, I embarked upon the path wholeheartedly- but it is the path that has done the revealing.

***

I am relieved, I think is the best descriptor. Horrified, ashamed, regretful, yes, and frightened, uncertain, too. But full of curiosity, and light, and love. Love for myself, love for you, love for this world and everything in it. Love for Buddha and his teachings, love for the teachers, love for those who have gone before me and are helping show me the way.

I know this path isn’t for everyone, and I’m sorry if my bald enthusiasm for this path is off-putting for you in any way, but it is mine and it is the work I am here to do. I can’t imagine anything more useful to do with this life I’ve been given.

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Thanks for listening!

May you be happy, may you be comforted in your time of need, may you be of comfort to others in their times of need, may we all know love as the very basis of our being.

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Namaste.

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Dynamics of interpersonal violence in “armed vs. unarmed” confrontations

 

Coffee break is over, back on your heads.

 

Who is the unarmed man in this picture?

Who is the one in danger?

ECQC Los Angeles 2011

Who is the unarmed man in this picture?

Who is the one in danger?

 

I just grabbed these pictures and threw them up because they’re from my own limited experience and they illustrate how unclear the dynamics can become in an entangled encounter between two men when one of them is armed and the other one isn’t.

If you haven’t ever been faced with this, it can seem like a no-brainer. The guy with the gun calls the shots. He has the gun, the other guy has to do what the guy with the gun says. You know, or he’s fucked. Dude’s gonna shoot him.

But in both of these pictures it’s pretty clear that things actually are not that clear at all. A gun in play, when things are up close and personal, is a gun in play. It’s not always the case that the guy who starts out with the gun gets to finish with it. Sometimes the bigger, stronger, more violent guy can take that gun away and use it for what he wants. Sometimes the bigger, stronger, more violent guy doesn’t even WANT the gun. He doesn’t need it. He’d rather use his hands to kill the other guy.

So, Ferguson, right? Michael Brown.

You guys all know I carry a gun and a badge so I must be on Officer Darren Wilson’s side. When cops look at this shooting of an unarmed teenager on his way to his grandmother’s house, we see a good shoot. I know it doesn’t look that way to a LOT of people, and frankly, I don’t expect it to. It should horrify people when an unarmed black teenager on his way to his grandmother’s house is shot by a white cop in broad daylight.

But that doesn’t make it a bad shoot. It just doesn’t.

And I’m not here to argue that it’s a good shoot and everyone should agree with me and move on, lets end the discussion. I think the discussion is so vital, so important, and so necessary. It really is. Because it’s totally fucked all the way through and we have this terrible tendency to look at the many facts involved and choose to see the ones that support our view as the ones that really, truly carry the most weight. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t facts that don’t support our view, it’s just that, honestly, those facts just aren’t as important as these other facts over here that really do prove that how I see it is justified.

So I have some limited experience with these kind of encounters, where there’s a fight, there are some punches thrown, there’s a struggle over a gun, and I just wanted to take a second and throw out some stuff to consider around that dynamic. And maybe I’m just sensitive about this issue because I know that one day I might be in Officer Darren Wilson’s situation and it’s a horrifying thought. And I’m not saying it’s not horrifying to find yourself in Michael Brown’s family’s position, either. It’s just that this was, in the end, a human interaction. Two human beings’ lives intersected in a moment of violence that changed both of them forever. There’s a human cost on both sides.

And, you know, I recognize that this isn’t going to solve anything, or change anyone’s mind about the significance of this shooting and the presence of racism in this country and the rage and helplessness that people feel when they’ve been on the receiving end of racist acts by the people who we pay to protect us and to enforce the law. I know that. And really, in the end, that’s the conversation that needs to keep going- how do we address these problems so we can drag them out into the light and uproot them?

But I keep coming back to this particular shooting and I want to poke around at the dynamics of the encounter because there are aspects of it that may not be apparent to people who don’t get in fights like this. And my heart goes out to Officer Wilson and his family and I want to come to his defense a little bit because I haven’t heard or read anything that sheds much light on this messy aspect of the lethal encounter.

So we know a couple of things about how the violence in this encounter began. We know we have a cop on patrol, in uniform, driving around the city he’s working, doing his job. And he’s heard this scanner traffic about this theft of cigars and a description of a suspect in a black shirt- he’s not going to the call, but he hears the traffic and it registers. Then he sees Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson walking down the street and he contacts them, tells them to get out of the street.

And we can shift our camera view now and look at this from Michael Brown’s perspective- he’s just walking down the street with his friend. He’s not doing anything wrong. He’s completely innocent. He might have boosted some cigars, he might have smoked a little bit of pot, but this cop right here doesn’t know any of that. As far as this cop right here knows, all he’s got is a innocent black man walking down the street, minding his own business, and now he’s trying to tell him what to do. Trying to tell a grown man living in a free country he can’t simply walk around with his buddy in the middle of the day doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG.

Both of them are coming at this thing from VERY different perspectives, and both of them have some justification for their points of view.

Officer Darren Wilson’s been on the job a while, he’s had plenty of encounters with people having bad days, people who are angry, who feel that they’re being harassed- this is not the first time he’s talked to someone who doesn’t want to hear what he has to say. He’s going to handle this contact, and the dude’s going to do what he’s supposed to do. And if there’s something up, if there’s something went down he thinks is criminal in nature, well, he’s going to do something about it. He’s not just going to let it go. That’s what we pay him for.

And I’ll bet that Michael Brown had had some contact with The Man before, too. And even if he hadn’t, he knew lots and lots of people who had. Men in his family, in his community, who couldn’t walk down the street without the po-po messing with them. He’d lived with it his whole life. I don’t know a single black American man who has not had some encounter with a cop that left him feeling harassed just for going about his business. So, yeah, it’s pretty easy to see that even if Michael Brown had been up to no good, he could seriously feel justified in saying to himself that this cop didn’t know anything about what might have happened earlier, and RIGHT NOW all he’s doing is walking to his grandma’s with his friend and fuck this cop if he is going to apologize for THAT because that’s bullshit.

So, things don’t start out well, and they get worse fast.

And there comes this point where Officer Wilson is in his car, seated, and Michael Brown is reaching into the unit and punching Wilson in the face a couple of times. And Officer Wilson gets his gun out and at some point the gun goes off, and then Michael Brown starts to walk or run away from Officer Wilson’s car.

And that fight in the car is where I think a lot of people might look and say that Officer Wilson is just not justified in trying to shoot Michael Brown at all. I mean, the guy is hitting him, or hits him, and the cop tries to shoot him, that’s an unreasonable use of force! That’s overkill. That’s racist or unfair or crazy bloodthirsty, just looking for an excuse to shoot a black man. And you know, maybe it was. I don’t know.

But I do know something. I do know that when you’re seated in your patrol car and there’s a guy reaching in through the window and beating you in the head, you don’t have very many options to unfuck your situation. I haven’t ever been hit in the head by someone who was 6’4″ and 280 pounds, but I’ve been hit in the head by some pretty big guys, and I’ve been hit in the head by little guys, too. And I’ve been hit by guys a lot when I’ve got headgear on and had my bell absolutely RUNG so that for a good long while I don’t know up from down- and that’s getting hit by a guy wearing big boxing gloves and hitting me when I know I’m going to be hit, and I’ve got a mouthpiece in, and headgear on, and I can defend myself.

I can tell you that it can be a very frightening, very disorienting, very unpleasant experience. It can make you want to cry, it can make you want to throw up, it can make you want to do anything in the world to make it stop. It’s fucking awful.

Now imagine that you are Officer Wilson and this guy is reaching in your car window and punching you in the head. You throw your hands up to protect your head and maybe block the punch a little bit, but how do you get the guy to stop doing what he’s doing? You can’t open the door because he’s blocking it. You can’t slide over because you’ve got your computer terminal and your radio and gun rack blocking you in, and there’s a cage behind you so you can’t jump back in the back seat. You have a baton, but you can’t get it out and if you could you couldn’t swing it. You’ve maybe got pepper spray, but if you launch that you’ll blind and choke yourself, too, and that’s no good. You know that any one good punch can knock you unconscious, and you know that whatever happens after that, it ain’t going to be good.

So you do the only thing left to do, and you take your gun out and hope you can get the guy to stop hitting you and chill out and let you arrest him, and if he’s not going to stop, well, then, you’re going to stop him. You’re not going to let him knock you out, take your gun, and kill you with it, which is a reasonable position to take.

But because he’s got a better position than you, he can see what you’re doing and he grabs the gun as you draw it out, and now you’re fighting over it. Now things really are pretty awful. Officer Wilson testified before the grand jury that Michael Brown grabbed his gun and twisted it down and into Wilson’s hip. This is really bad, any cop knows, because that’s where your femoral artery is, and if you take a shot into anywhere in the pelvic girdle you are in a world of hurt and you stand a very good chance of bleeding to death right where you’re sitting. You’d be dead long before any medics could get to you.

So now you pull the gun back and try to shoot through the door, but the gun won’t go off. If you look at that second picture up at the top, you can see that the top of the slide is slightly pulled back by the guy fighting for the gun. The gun is “out of battery” and will not fire in this position. In the picture, I am trying to keep the guy with the gun from shooting me, and I know that “out of battery” thing, so when I grabbed his gun I made sure to clamp down on the slide and pull it back towards him so he couldn’t shoot me even if he could get the muzzle pointed into my body.

Officer Wilson says he tries to pull the trigger twice, but nothing happens. His gun may have been out of battery from the struggle with Brown, and this statement to me is very telling, because it really tends to indicate that there was a struggle over the gun. That just wouldn’t have come up if there had not been some displacement of the slide of Officer Wilson’s handgun.

Then the third time he pulls the trigger and the gun goes off. This startles both of them, and Michael Brown breaks contact with Officer Wilson.

And so this is another point in the story where those of us who weren’t there can sort of slow things down and do some Monday morning quarterbacking, think of all kinds of different options to take so that what happens next, well, doesn’t happen next.

But what does happen is that Officer Wilson calls for backup, puts out “shots fired” on the air, and goes to try to stop Michael Brown from getting away so he can arrest him for the assault. Which is what we pay him to do, I mean, it’s his actual job. If he had just let Michael Brown walk away, he would have been violating the trust we placed in him. He swore an oath.

So, he goes to try to stop him.

And then things went one of two ways:

Michael Brown stopped, turned around, put his hands up, and Officer Darren Wilson shot him to death where he stood.

OR

Michael Brown stopped, turned around, and charged at Officer Darren Wilson, and Officer Darren Wilson shot him to death as Brown closed on him.

And I don’t know which one of those happened. I do know that Officer Wilson told the grand jury that Brown growled and put one hand down inside his waistband as he charged at Officer Wilson, and Officer Wilson shot a couple of volleys at Brown until Brown went down, which Wilson said happened after Brown lowered his head while charging and Wilson shot him in the top of the head.

 

And this is where my little bit of experience doesn’t really help. I think this part of the shooting- I’m not very sure that anyone is going to change their minds about it, because there’s just no way to know exactly. Eye witness accounts differ, and there’s no dispute that Brown was facing Wilson when he was shot. I’m inclined to look at the whole situation and to me it’s more likely that the guy who started handing out the violence kept handing it out, kept trying to hand it out- that whatever was in his head and in his heart that led him to start punching Officer Wilson in the face did not just suddenly go away when Officer Wilson had the drop on him. But I know human beings, too, and I know that sometimes adrenaline and terror turn into rage and violence, and maybe Officer Wilson shot Michael Brown because he was mad at him. Or maybe because he was black. Or because he was a teenager walking to his grandma’s house in broad daylight.

And here’s where the conversation, in my mind, needs to get a little bit more nuanced, more serious, more contemplative and less reactive. I think that what I’d like to see is that we don’t use Michael Brown as a symbol for all the dangerous, criminal, drugged out monsters who attack the police and make our world unsafe, and that we don’t use him as a symbol of all of the innocent young black teenagers who are violently gunned down in the street in broad daylight by racist white cops for no reason. And we don’t use Officer Darren Wilson as a symbol of all the badge-heavy, jack-booted, racist thug cops who are just looking for a reason, any reason at all, to gun down an innocent black boy. And we don’t hold him up as the shining hero who was out there trying to save the world (although, you know, I personally think there’s an aspect of that in his service to the community- my own bias, I admit.)

The fact is that there are two powerful forces in direct conflict here, and although race may play a part in them, I think that it’s a mistake to conclude that the encounter was all about race, or even about race at all. I think that there was a battle here between the drive for personal freedom and the state-sanctioned drive to control the citizen.

Call it freedom vs constraint, maybe.

I believe that what may have been driving Michael Brown was not a drive to kill a cop, or commit crime, or terrorize anyone. I think Michael Brown was probably, like all of us, simply trying to do what he thought would make him happiest. And getting hassled by the police for walking down the street, despite what he may have been up to earlier, threatened his sense of autonomy and freedom. It felt awful. It felt unbearable. It was unbearable. For whatever reason, he could no longer live with his freedom being constrained by some outside force that didn’t know him, didn’t understand him, didn’t care about him. It was intolerable. I think that is what may have driven him to reach into that police car and start punching away. I think that feeling only grew stronger the harder Officer Darren Wilson tried to control him, tried to stop him, tried to constrain him and take away his freedom.

And I think that Officer Darren Wilson took the job he took because he believed in the state’s right to constrain its citizenry when legally justified to do so. He probably thought that it was right and proper to constrain those who refused to follow the laws and rules of polite society. I think he was probably biased, not against any particular race or culture, but against those who feel that their needs outweigh the needs of others, those who feel that they can do whatever they like to others and not face the consequences. Officer Darren Wilson IS a consequence. And we asked him to take on that role. We gave him training and a uniform and a badge and a gun and paid him to go out onto our streets. We told him, “protect us.”

I think that’s what we rail against, and we’re really, really unclear about it. I don’t hear anything like this being said anywhere on the news or in the media. I mean, I get it, I do, most of our cops are white guys, and mostly we imprison our black males- there’s something wrong with that, there’s real racism active and alive in our society. But that’s true for every society. It’s not a black thing or a white thing, it’s a human thing.

But I look at so many of these encounters, and to my eyes it looks like the State taking individual enforcement action against the freedom of one of its citizens. I think the white cop arresting a black man might not see that. I think the black man being arrested by the white cop might not see that. It seems that the enraged protesters are blind to it, as are the talking heads on TV. If you ask a white cop if he’s racist, he’s going to deny it. He’s going to say he doesn’t give a fuck what color someone’s skin is, he just wants folks to do what they’re supposed to do, and when they don’t, he’s going to make them. A white cop can’t even hear you when you’re telling him he’s racist for doing his job. He knows that it just isn’t true. (Even for those white cops who actually are racist. Maybe especially them.)

Those roles are much deeper and more complex than skin color. It’s deeper than socio-economic status and culture. It’s a really primal thing that is beyond all of those factors. As a society, as a species, we value freedom. We hold it dear, and we’ve killed and been killed for it numberless times. And yet, conversely, we value safety and order. We value the laws and rules of society that allow us to go about out lives without having to carry our own spears and swords and machetes and guns around with us every day in case someone wants to take something that belongs to us- our property or our lives. So we pick a few of us to carry the spear, and we ask them to do the violence for us. On our behalf.

And that’s the discussion I wish we were having. That’s the discussion, it seems to me, that’s important to have and isn’t happening. It is terrible when one human being kills another human being, for any reason. We should be outraged. But we should seek clarity about what exactly we are outraged about. We want our cops to go out there and be brave and heroic and when things get ugly we want them to take care of business. But we don’t want them turning against us. We don’t want them out of control. What we really want is we want them to take it to the other guy, but to leave us alone.

And we should understand the moral weight involved in interfering with another human being’s freedom. As cops we should have the highest respect for the individual freedom of those citizens were are sworn to protect. Even the ones we’re trying to take to jail. The same white cop who can’t hear you when you call him out as a racist for throwing a stop and frisk on a young black man might actually stop and think about what it means that he’s constraining someone’s freedom if it was put to him in those terms. Yeah, okay, you’re not really racist, but you are powerist, you know? You’re exercising power on a brother. No cop can deny that.

And that approach, the one that kind of slips past the obvious, easy to see conflict and actually gets to the dynamic that’s really in play, that might open up some interesting conversations. Because then no one is put in the position of having to admit that they are wrong before the conversation can even begin. Both sides can sort of look at that like, you know, yeah, I’m exercising power over those people that I stop and make empty out their pockets or whatever. Or, yeah, I actually do value my freedom, and it isn’t so much that this guy who is hassling me is white, it’s that my sense of autonomy is being threatened, I’m being controlled by some outside force. That shit sucks, and it sucks if it’s a white cop doing it to me or a black one. It’s the interference with my autonomy that I cannot abide. It isn’t really what the guy dispensing it looks like.

I think it’s easy to imagine a world in which everyone was the same color. Do you think there wouldn’t still be these terrible shootings? There wouldn’t still be injustice? When a human being is the pointy end of our system, and it always will be a human being, then justice is going to be meted out in a human way. And that’s going to be messy.

When these two forces that are in direct opposition come together, it’s only natural for there to be serious conflict. But we need to understand that those forces can never be fully reconciled. It will never be possible to have laws and public safety without being willing to take away someone’s freedom. And we don’t want to give up our own personal freedom, even if we’ve done something wrong. So there are going to be fist-fights, and car chases, and foot chases, and people are going to get killed. It’s messy. It’s a philosophical quandary made flesh, and it’s ugly and horrific under the best of circumstances.

And I think it’s right that we get outraged. I think it’s proper that we examine these shootings and killings and take a look at what happened and see if there’s something we can learn, some way to make it as clean as it can be. But so many times, it’s not that the innocent teenager was really all that innocent, or that the cop was all that racist, or all that pure- it’s just that two opposing forces collided.

Forces we all hold inside us all the time.

We should talk about it.

 

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Namaste.

 

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Gratitude for suffering.

Via-Dolorosa

*

So. I have been engaged in some very difficult work in the past couple of weeks. Facing, at long last, some of the deep, dark, smelly shit of my own creating. It very much has felt like falling into a pit of filth, but I think what my practice has allowed me to do is not just splash around, gasping and retching and casting about for anything, anything that would get me out of it, but to actually dive down to the very bottom of the pit, reach around for the drain plug, and yank it out.

Drain the pit.

Now I’m still sitting in a deep pit, covered in my own shit, but I feel like I’ve really done something.

And I know that it’s because of my practice that I’ve been able to make this profound shift in my approach. Practice is what actually led me to the edge of the pit, and then it shoved me in. And then it told me to relax, to not fight it, but to go deeper into it.

And it gave me the wisdom to go all the way down, despite the horror and revulsion and fear that completely overwhelmed me. And practice gave me the tools to actually pull the plug and drain the cesspool.

And now practice is going to throw down a towel for me to wipe my face with, and it’s going to reach down a hand and help me out of the now empty pit. Give me a shower and take me to a table piled high with abundant blessings, wrap me in a cashmere shawl and anoint my feet with oil.

And then it will lead me to the next pit and push me in again.

***

HA!

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That’s the real path, brothers and sisters.

It’s not for the faint of heart.

***

But I got a real joy for it. I don’t know how to express what it’s like to do this, it’s absolutely the most difficult and profound work I’ve yet encountered. And I’m filled with love for it, I truly am.

I see how much I’ve cherished myself, how much I’ve given myself the benefit of the doubt, time and time again, when I’ve let others down, when I’ve failed to be a good man, a good husband, a good father, a good cop, a good human being. I always felt bad about my failures, yeah, but at the same time I secretly held the conviction deep in my own heart that I hadn’t really done anything wrong- that I had done the best I could under difficult circumstances, that there were other things going on, that I was having a bad day, that I didn’t really mean it, didn’t really mean to do it, it didn’t count- blah, blah, blah.

I might have hated myself, I mean, I said that all the time- but really?

I hated getting caught being myself.

*

And what this path is all about is coming to know yourself. What lies behind the lies you tell others, the lies you tell yourself? You know that mask you put on all the time, the many masks, really- the good friend, the kind stranger, the diligent employee, the thoughtful spouse, the caring parent- what happens when you drop all of those masks? Who is standing there naked and unprotected?

Who is that guy? What’s he all about?

Well, he’s a mess, is what. He’s confused about how things really are. He’s convinced that although he can see through the masks that others wear to protect themselves, no one can see through his. Of course, the truth is that everyone sees through our masks except us! They only hide us from ourselves, not from others.

It’s so embarrassing to realize this.

But if you have the tools that practice gives you, you learn to sit with this naked fool and get to know him. You really study how his mind works, and you see that it really is like the teachings say- he wants to be happy, but he doesn’t understand how things are, so he goes about it the wrong way, the way that leads, reliably and repeatedly, only to his own suffering, and of course, pain and suffering for others.

And you start to look deeply into that confusion and you find that there is another quality that lies beneath all of that confusion and suffering, something that seems to be a kind of basic goodness, a basic intelligence, something that isn’t really affected by the layers of pain and suffering and ignorance, the grasping and aversion.

And if you look really deeply, and keep looking, really probe and explore, you come to this understanding that the confusion and ignorance isn’t really yours in some personal way. It’s actually just the universal energy of those forces, or of those qualities. They exist and they manifest kind of continuously, they aren’t anything that you’ve created all by yourself. And the same thing is true for the basic goodness in you, you didn’t create that, either. They both kind of just exist as aspects of what you’re experiencing. So you can feel a kind of openness about them, a kind of relaxed approach to them can begin to take place in your mind.

And when you take away the masks, the various roles that ego plays, as some real and fundamental aspect of the self, and you take away the ignorance, grasping, and aversion that act as these obscuring veils over our basic goodness, you take them away as some real and fundamental aspect of the self, and then you take the next step and understand that the basic goodness exists independently of the self as well, then you’re left with all these things that clearly are not you, clearly are not the self in itself- but there’s also nothing left to point to as the self itself.

And this is where true freedom lies. This is where basic sanity begins. You may not be a Buddha yet, you may not be a Bodhisattva, a saint, or even a good person! But you understand a little bit now about how things really are, and you can begin to use this knowledge, this wisdom, and start to operate in a new way. Maybe cause less pain to yourself and others. Maybe expand your understanding of your own error to other people, open your eyes and your heart to the fact that everyone else has been engaged in the same mistake making process you’ve been so wrapped up in. And maybe that means that they aren’t so bad after all, that maybe they really are doing the best they can, and they don’t mean to harm themselves and to harm you. And maybe you can begin to cultivate some compassion, some real compassion, some real sense of sadness for their confusion, and of real hope for their eventual escape from that confusion. And maybe you decide you’d like to try to help.

***

So, that’s the process I’m going through at least. I share these thoughts with the prayer that they are of benefit to you in your own struggles. You are not alone. There’s nothing so intractable that we can’t work with it.

I am profoundly grateful to have found one big, nasty pit of my own ignorance and bad behavior and to have drained it at long last. I’m grateful for the suffering that led me to be willing to face anything, even my own lies, in order to stop it. I’m grateful to my teachers for undertaking their own spiritual paths and gaining the knowledge that they then have shared with me- going back all the way to the very first one who woke up to the way things really are. I’m grateful to everyone who shares this path with me, who wants my own success more than their own, who is willing to stand naked and unprotected, who is willing to do the difficult work of learning how to be a basically good human being.

And of course, I’m grateful to my long suffering wife, who has been the primary victim of my errors and confusion, the one I most often railed against when faced with my own real self, the one who loves me even though she knows me. I pray that she’ll benefit from this work most of all. She deserves to.

I pray that you are moved to look deeply into your own heart, and are inspired to find the courage to really see what’s there, to see both the confusion and the wisdom, and to work with what’s there as honestly as you are able to. And that you cast your love and compassion as widely as you can- to the very farthest reaches of the Universe.

We are all one.

***

Namaste.

*

Beauty, bliss, perfection: The Marriage of Emily.

thejohnsens

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Our daughter was married last weekend, I’m sure most of you saw The Woman On The Verge’s post about it, so this is, literally, last weeks news. But still. Here I go.

The-Woods-Are-Lovely-Dark-

This picture captures to me a little bit of what she was about to endure, what we were all about to endure through her and at her hands, what storm was coming into the world and into our souls, just before it blossomed into full throated roar. Darkness, yes, and solitude, and confusion, despair, danger. The woods were lovely, dark, and deep. Except not lovely at all.

And look at her now, with those babies and that beautiful man. In her glorious dress on her perfect day.

She really did go on the hero’s journey. And came back with the golden fleece. She saved herself and by extension, she saved us all. And made new babies. And so keeps the world turning.

I have never been more proud of a human being in my life and I love her to death for every second of it.

God save the Queen!

***

I have become unbearable in all of my particulars. Happy, contented, blissed out. Like George Bailey, running around shouting “HELLO BEDFORD FALLS!” at the top of my lungs everywhere I go.

I will celebrate it, though.

Haven’t we all of us earned our measure of happiness?

We have done.

***

Equal to the child that got married is her mother, my own woman. How a man may have two queens in one lifetime I am unfit to say, but I have them and have won them to me and have spent and broken myself upon them and for them and been patched and balmed by them in equal measure and truly where is the man with equal riches?

Not to be found on this green earth.

Nor in the glittering stars above.

***

Something going on as well on the spiritual front, astounding to experience and a bore to hear about I’m certain. All I will say on the matter is that every mystic who has gone before can vouch for me.

I am where all streams converge.

***

I am dedicated to your benefit from this moment on, forever. For each of you, for all of you, for all of us, without reservation or limit.

May all beings find happiness and the cause of happiness, 

may they be free from suffering and the cause of suffering.

May they not be separated from the great happiness which is free from suffering,

May they abide in great equanimity, free from attachment and aversion to those near and far.

***

Thank you all for your kindness and support all these years, especially through those handful of very dark, very traumatic ones. We always felt your love and it sustained us. It yet does.

***

Namaste, all y’all bitches.

***

We Are The Sinners In the Garden We Are The Wronged Gods

The-Creature-in-the-Garden-

In every way that matters, the picture above is a self-portrait.

I am covered in blood yet I claim that the creature in the garden tore him apart.

I am trying to escape blame for my actions, yet I am clearly the actor who bears sole responsibility.

I created the garden and placed the creature in it and I am of course both the garden and the creature.

I am the dead man and the detectives surrounding him.

I am the wrongly blamed creature and I am sad and hungry.

I am guilty but there’s no guilt in my eyes. I dare you to discover me. I am in awe of my own actions.

This is a picture of a man with a toy train.

***

What’s afoot?

A great uncoupling. If you begin where you are and face outward and decouple your sense of self from “what’s out there” and then turn around and decouple your sense of self from “what’s in there” and then you dissolve what’s left you will find what remains is just awareness itself.

I read Sam Harris’s book and was disappointed. I think he’s made a significant error in his approach.

I find myself giving rise to a deep sense of conservatism in my own approach to the Buddhist path. I understand the desire to strip Buddhism, particularly Tibetan Buddhism, of all of its cultural trappings and mysticism and just keep the spare and clean concepts of mindfulness and compassion and the human engineering aspects that are so helpful in gaining control over the tortured and confused mind. I get that, I do, and the appeal to that approach is that you can jettison everything in the teachings that makes one uncomfortable, that does not fit in with the framework of the modern western mind. No more worrying about the ideas of reincarnation, of the functioning of karma, of hell realms and pure lands, all this magical bullshit that reeks of provincialism and voo-doo. Just call it the leftovers of an ancient and primitive society and toss it out. Keep the framework of the scientific view in place, then, wherever there’s a little bit of space, you can take a piece of what’s left over and put it in where it fits. Then you get to keep the materialist, rational, scientific viewpoint and augment it with some very smart and proven techniques for human contemplative achievements and you’ll be good to go. Smart, and mentally balanced. Very nice, very neat.

And, I think, absolutely correct and beneficial if you want to be a calm, mellow, peaceful person who functions very well in our current society and culture.

I used to think that was my goal for myself. I think it was my goal. At least on some level. But it certainly isn’t my goal any more, and I think that it is the very strangeness and magical thinking aspects of Tibetan Buddhism that might be responsible for my abandoning that initial goal and shifting to this much stranger, much bolder, much crazier goal of attaining enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. Which is what I now aspire to.

And regardless of my ultimate success or failure on that front, it seems to me that there’s great benefit in making that effort, in binding myself to that outcome; body, speech, and mind. Because with that goal I no longer can maintain the old framework that I relied upon to ground my sense of reality. I have to abandon it entirely, dismantle it completely, and that’s a very strange and difficult thing to embark upon.

But it is the work that every mystic engages in. It is the real hero’s journey that Joseph Campbell talks about. And you have to go do it, you can’t read about it, you can’t watch someone else make the journey in a movie. And you have no guarantee about the outcome, no one can tell if you’ll make it back safe or not. I think Harris’s mistake is in his blindness to this journey- it’s not that he refuses to make the journey, to take the risk, it’s that he doesn’t understand that the journey is in fact the whole point of the teachings, of the Buddhist path. It’s not a set of self-help tools to make your existence in Samsara better, less painful, a little bit easier on you. The point of the teachings is to assist you and guide you in dismantling Samsara altogether.

Of course, the journey isn’t for everyone. At least, not right now. I believe, though, that it is one that each of us must make. I believe that it is a door through which you must pass and that until you do you’ll just keep circling in the same place- for the rest of your life and for a numberless amount of future lifetimes. You don’t have to make the journey, it’s not compulsory in that way, there’s no score keeper deciding if you can pass or not, I think it’s completely impersonal. I think, though, that it is a real thing, a real kind of evolutionary leap that must be made individually. Like we’re fish in a dammed up river and we’ve got to leap up over the barrier to reach the next part of the river or to make it to the sea.

So for me, I feel like I’ve decided, I’m going, I’m jumping out of the water and I’m flinging myself out into the void. And because this is my quest, this is what I’m committed to, I want the help of these teachings to guide me on the way. I want the real deal, not some piece-meal aggregate of the things that make sense to me now, at the beginning of my journey. I want it all. I trust that these teachings, especially the ones that make no sense, must be valuable and necessary later on, or they’d have been ditched long ago.

But they weren’t. So many, many men and women have made the leap themselves, and they stuck around and helped others do the same thing, and used these teachings to make their way successfully.

Maybe it’s strange, and even backwards of me, to turn my back on the rational world and the scientifically accepted view of the nature of reality in favor of a view of reality that originated in India twenty-five hundred years ago and that has undergone so many shifts and changes in that time. Perhaps so.

But what it feels like to me right now is that I have broken free from the dim darkness of the riverbed and flung myself into the raw sunlight and empty blue sky. I don’t know where I’ll land, but it won’t be where I began.

***

Namaste, y’all.

***

Body of Knowledge

Cradle of Man

I’ve been running trails a lot lately and really enjoying it. My mind and body both rejoice at being outside in the wild and it seems pretty clear that there’s this body knowledge that arises in that environment, as if my body is kind of cognitively disabled all the time when I’m indoors and then like Charlie in Flowers For Algernon it gets real smart again when it gets outside. It wakes up its brain somehow. There’s this especially wonderful feeling when I’m running through varied terrain, going from wide open grassland into the trees, or coming out of the trees onto a rocky hilltop, that is deeply thrilling to my body and makes me want to just keep on running all day. If I can hit a long section of trail that is in and out of trees, with lots of climbing and descent, and where the trail disappears ahead a lot and then reveals itself again when you top a rise or turn a corner, I’m in total heaven. My lungs can be heaving, my legs totally smoked, my feet pounded to a pulp, but goddamn I feel great.

The other day I was on this trail out in the boonies and I left the trail just to climb this big, rocky hill and see what was what. I knew the ocean would be visible from the top of the hill, and it was early and no one was around so I shot off and scrambled up. When I got to the top it opened onto a string of rolling crests that lead to the sea. A hundred yards ahead of me and upwind was a scattered handful of deer, two young bucks, some does with their fawns. I kept trotting along towards them and they’d run off a bit and then stop, turn back towards me, their ears sweeping the horizon like radar domes and then freezing. Then one would turn and start high-stepping out of there and in a minute the rest would follow. I went after them for about a mile and got closer and closer until I was only a handful of yards from them, about fifteen deer altogether. It was early in the morning, cold, the salt air from the sea blowing across the hillsides and making the dried grass flatten and twist and I felt pretty much like every human animal since the dawn of time has felt in that situation. I could feel the spear in my hand, or the bow, the heavy rock even. I knew I could keep on after them all day until they couldn’t go on and in a little bit I’d have dinner for my family.

It’s the same thing on the trail. It’s ancient. Totally pure human animal activity, running through the trees. And everything in me just wakes up. Comes vibrantly alive. Every rock in the trail shimmers and vibrates with specificity. Sometimes I’m filled with energy and I feel like I’m on the hunt, tracking something down that’s just ahead of me. Sometimes I’m pumping adrenaline and feeling like I’m the prey, something big and powerful on my tail, running me down for dinner. Maybe both at the same time. And the longer I’m out there, the weirder it gets, the more ancient and wild everything seems, me especially. I notice that I start seeing snakes everywhere after about an hour of running, especially if I’m motoring, every stick leaps out of the ground at me like a coiled package of danger, my body shouts “SNAKE!” and jumps over it and by the time my mind says, “nope, just a stick” I’m long past it.

Probably I’m just nuts, but I run primarily for this experience of getting back to my cave man roots. And it’s why I want to run longer and longer, in ever wilder places. I don’t really want to race, I’m slow and old and although trail runners are great, friendly people, I want to be out there alone. I am lucky I’ve got access to a great bunch of trails out here and lots of time I can run off into the dark and tangly woods and not see another human the whole time I’m gone. It feels like I’m running backwards through time, that’s how I imagine it anyway. If I could run long enough and far enough when I popped out onto the grasslands I might bump into Homo Neanderthalensis coming back from his hunt.

We could grunt at each other, beat our chests, wave our bloody clubs in the air, then go off our separate ways.

*

For me, it’s as close as I get to being aligned with the millions of years of evolutionary history that is carried in my DNA.

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It’s good, too, to have this other thing, this thing that isn’t cerebral, that isn’t at all about what makes sense or doesn’t, but is all about what’s in my body and what it wants to be doing to feel alive.

*

Anyway, that’s what I been up to when I’m not working or sitting.

*

Namaste.

***

Working With Things As They Are

Las Hermanas Del Olvido

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We tend to think about death, when we do, as this thing that is going to happen to us, somewhere up ahead, some time still a bit distant from now, there’s room yet, some ability to maneuver around, to get to where we’re going, to get things sorted, to put our struggles behind us, to stand on our own two feet in the clear sunlight for a while, for a long time, maybe, before the shadows lengthen and we are called home.

It’s nothing that’s going to happen right away.

But, still, it’s strange and frightening to contemplate it, really. You wonder what it will be like to die- certainly there’s some trepidation there, but the nut of the thing is that being dead forever and what that is going to look like. You can’t really imagine it. A dreamless sleep from which you never awaken might hint at it, a little bit. Or, you know, heaven and the pearly gates, golden light, your loved ones all around and it never rains and everything is perfect forever and ever. Or whatever, somehow the story goes on. Back into rotation, another life, another body, another chance to fuck everything up, to spend your days and nights in terror and obsession, regret and denial, rage and fear. Another bite at the poisoned apple, another handful of glorious sunsets and sweet, lazy summer afternoons. Something, though. The void is just too strange to contemplate.

But we come from that void and return to it every night. We spent an eternity in it before we woke up here, and we spend half our lives safe in its warm and blank embrace.

It isn’t really so strange as we imagine.

Okay, that’s not exactly right, is it? It’s fucking odd as hell, still. We’ve got this big blind spot in our mind, in our whole conception of what it is that we’re living in, what it is that we are and what it is that we do. It’s a fuck of a lot stranger than our minds want us to grasp, and our minds, it seems to me, spend an awful lot of energy trying to keep us distracted from these big gaps that it doesn’t understand or even know how to represent to us. I mean, falling asleep is a very, very strange endeavor and yet it’s among the most intimate aspects of our lives. At any given moment you are only a few handfuls of hours out of the void yourself, today, this very moment. You just emerged, dripping wet as it were, from the vast sea of forgetting that you swim in nightly. And, yeah, it’s not that that time is all blank, there’s this whole dreamtime that colors and lights up our sleeping hours, but think about how that’s represented to you- you remember being sleepy, tossing around, maybe drifting off with lazy, half-formed thoughts, then nothing, then some wild, scattered, half-remembered dreams, then nothing, then another dream or probably not, but the feeling, the emotional aftertaste that reminds you that you were lost and scared, you were bereft, you fought and ran, you met this old friend, who was it?, and you know, it just drifts off like smoke on the water. But your mind shows you the dreams, sort of presents them to you as the evidence that things were still going on and it kind of hopes you won’t pay attention to that part of it where THE WHOLE FUCKING SHOW WAS SHUT DOWN.

I don’t know, maybe it’s important, somehow. Maybe it’s a good idea to explore that aspect of our endeavor. It’s kind of like the visual field, right? You know, our foveal vision where things are in sharp focus is this tiny spot in our overall visual field, but because our eyes and brain work together to bounce the eyes all over the place continuously and then integrate all those visual signals into an illusion that everywhere we look, the world is in focus. But it isn’t. Not by a long shot. And there’s a goddamn blind spot right in the middle of our field of vision where the optic nerve attaches to the retina, and unless you use a little trick to make it reveal itself, you never know it’s there. And those are two kind of subtle indicators that things aren’t exactly the way that the brain wants us to think they are. But how about this one: you can’t see anything behind you! You exist in a 360 degree world but you only have 180 vision that’s obstructed by your eyelids into a narrow band so what you do see, what you think of most of the time as, well, everything, is really more like a flashlight beam of vision in a world of complete darkness. More than half of the world in our little 360 degree bubble is not visible to us, and yet we walk around pretty convinced that we’re pretty much seeing everything that’s around us. But it ain’t like that.

And everything is like that. We get a narrow slice of every set of data that our senses present to us, visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, everything. And there’s all kinds of information floating around our heads that we don’t even have sensors for, so we think they aren’t there at all. All kinds of shit. And this is true for our minds as well, we’re shut off from almost every single thing that happens in the dark vault of our skulls, and we mistake the tiny slice for the whole shebang. It’s a terrible mistake we make and we all do it all the time, and then we make all of these decisions about things based upon this very unreliable representation, and we’re totally convinced most of the time, hell, we don’t even have to think about it- we know how things are.

This is nucking futs.

Anyway, back to my point about death and the void of unconsciousness. There’s this whole, giant, intimately familiar and yet utterly strange relationship we have with essentially being dead and we really tend not to think about it. I have never read anything of substance about this issue, and that seems strange to me. I guess it’s difficult to write about something that has no content. I don’t know. It just seems like there’s this whole half of our existence that is very, very closely related to being dead, and yet we never think about it at all, and we almost never think about death but when we do it is this very frightening, very foreign country that we’re terrified to encounter.

I say that I have never read anything of substance about this, but that’s not actually true. Buddhist teachings are all on this shit like white on rice. There’s a lot of teaching on this, and many, many great teachers have investigated this phenomenon very thoroughly and have some profound instructions on it as a result. But it seems like a total void in the western cannon, at least as far as I’ve been able to discover.

And what do those Buddhists say about it? Yeah, you’d like to know that, wouldn’t you? I know I’m pretty interested in it. From what I’ve read and been able to figure out, there’s the understanding among highly realized practitioners that there’s a kind of awareness that permeates all states, a luminous ground of being out of which all experience, all thoughts, and all forms arise, and meditation practice gets us in direct contact with that ground of being. It is something that you can experience directly. Certainly it takes a lot of time and practice, but it seems to be a reliable phenomenon that is widely reported. And in dream yoga it is said that you begin with cultivating the connection to that awareness while you are awake and meditating, but then you can also cultivate that same connection once you’ve attained a stable lucid dreaming practice, you can actually connect with and rest in that awareness while you are dreaming. And then, eventually, with more and more practice and skill and determination and experience, you can maintain connection to that ground of awareness in the transitional states between wakefulness and sleep, between dreamless sleep and dreaming, really, you can maintain awareness continuously. And if you can do this, you can do the same thing in all transitional states, for example, between the bardo of living and the bardo of dying, between the bardos of death and of birth, just like the bardos of wakefulness, dreamless sleep, and dreaming.

I don’t know if that’s true or not. I believe that it is, in a lot of ways that makes sense to me, and I’m engaged in my own attempt to achieve that connection for myself. I’ll let you know how it goes.

***

All of this is tremendous fun for me. I am suited to the spiritual path and I enjoy thinking deeply about the nature of reality and the nature of what’s beyond the borders of the known. I love practice and I love the ways it is enriching my experience of being alive and being of benefit to those around me. And that’s the real point of this endeavor, after all. It isn’t so much about achieving spiritual creaminess for myself, to fully realize my own innate Buddha nature, although I am committed to doing just that, but it’s really and truly about being a good person, being a loving human being who makes things better for others, who gives love without regard for what comes back, who sees the beauty in everything, who turns away from nothing.

***

In all the ways that matter, this world is a dream. We’re here so provisionally, so briefly, and we spend our days distracted from what’s important, what really gives meaning to all the suffering and horror we’re absolutely going to undergo.

It seems like a great blessing to wake up, to understand what to let go of and where we should spend ourselves utterly.

What a shame to suffer all of this for nothing.

***

May you be happy, may you be at peace, may you be free from suffering.

***

Namaste, bitches.

***

What is burning? The world is burning.

Leaving-Winesburg,-Ohio-cop

 

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“What is burning? The world is burning. The trees are burning. The rivers are burning. The people are burning. Everything is aflame.”

 

*

I begin my days, as you know, with prayers and meditation. I wake from sleep, take a piss, make a cup of coffee in the dark, go as silently as possible out to the lair. I open my big plastic bin that holds all my meditation crap, my cushion and blanket and my pouch for my malas, my Sadhana texts, incense, lighter, little cloths I use for sliding my hands during prostrations, I open that up and set my cushion down in front of the altar, lay out the wool blanket, take out the lighter and incense and go kneel in front of the altar, light a candle, light the incense, bow, sit down. Arrange the blanket around me, set the coffee cup in front of me, begin.

The transition from the dream world to waking life is much more fluid than it used to be for me. Waking up is now more like a continuation of dreamtime. It’s still dark and silent and my mind is in that kind of dreamlike state before the world starts up. This effect is exacerbated by my dream yoga practice. It feels to me like I shift from one dream to another. During the coffee making and setting up time I come close to breaking through into “normal” waking, but as soon as I sit down then that hyper-clarity of the meditative mindset arises and I’m in a state somewhat different from what used to be “normal.”

There is a richness in practice that is difficult to describe, or even to understand. How something so simple, so empty of “doing” can open the door to, well, everything. Being new to practice and not understanding much, I’m at the point where I tend to get kind of astounded and worked up about what’s going on. I have these rich and powerful experiences and I get caught up in them, captured by them to a large extent, and it can be difficult to maintain my equanimity. It’s relatively easy for me to not follow the negative emotions and experiences, it’s relatively easy for me to recognize them as the reflexive churning of the mind and let them go, come back to the breath, bring my attention back to the moment. But when the moment gets all luminous and clear, blazing with powerful emotions of bliss and peacefulness and love, I tend to run after that. I tend to think that something wonderful is happening to me.

And this is where grasping and clinging can arise and kind of corrupt practice. I know intellectually that I shouldn’t grasp, should see these experiences as just as empty as anything else that arises, but it’s very easy for me to want to make them solid and “real” because they are so much what I was seeking when I first entered the path.

And this is just one of the experiences you can have on the path. There are many, many mistakes to be made as we learn. And luckily we have the instructions handed down from all of those who have gone before, made the same mistakes. We can refer back to the instructions for guidance and go back and sit some more and learn to make a new set of mistakes. Mistakes that you couldn’t even make before because you didn’t know enough to make them. And really, it isn’t exactly correct for me to refer to them as mistakes, they aren’t that at all. But there’s this constant process of fine-tuning, of going off a little bit in one direction, correcting, drifting the other way, correcting. There’s a lot involved in doing absolutely nothing.

The whole endeavor makes me very happy. The better my awareness gets, the more I can see my habitual patterns in action, the less I’m interested in protecting my ego, the more I want to just keep dissolving everything I’ve built up over the years. I believe that there is a way to do just that and I’m committed to doing it.

I love this path. I love my teachers and my fellow practitioners and everyone else, too. I feel as though I have fallen into a way of being that reflects my true nature, that is in harmony with how things really are, and the rewards are astounding.

And empty, yes- that too.

 

*

 

Lately I’ve been having the experience of the universe conspiring to give me exactly what I need exactly when I ask for it. Like the world’s most perfect English butler, silent, invisible, ever at my elbow, putting a needed book in my hand, introducing to me someone, opening a door, pressing my suit, shining my shoes, whispering the name of the person approaching me, putting a cool cloth on my forehead when I get overheated.

It’s an interesting experience.

Also, my family. As if everyone suddenly burst into flame, flowered, opened up, unfolded, got born into wild happiness. Marriage plans afoot. Babies and dogs under foot. Everywhere you look someone is smiling at you, in love. Ease and comfort, hard joy, blissful craziness, happy despair and longing, everything all the time.

A goddamn miracle of love is what.

*

 

Also, swimming in a sea of devotion. Exactly like the deepest, most powerful and vast ocean, profoundly impersonal, wind-swept, shocking in its scale and limitless seeming scope, absolutely overwhelming. Not something to reject or accept, really, it seems too vast for that. I could shut up and swim, but I don’t know that there’s anywhere to go and it feels like maybe its better to just lie on my back, float, and look up at the sky.

Devotion. Compassion. Wisdom. Awareness.

 

A strange county to enter after fifty years of wandering the deserts of loneliness, self-hatred, rage, despair, anxiety, bitterness, boredom, itchiness, ignorance, plain meanness and generalized angst.

 

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May you be happy, may you be at peace, may you be free from suffering.

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Namaste.

 

***

Dreaming Not Dreaming

smokers-copy

 

So I’ve been working on this whole lucid dreaming, using this book as my guide. Having some success, but mostly really benefitting from the mental work that has to be done in support of achieving lucidity in the dream world. This particular lucid dreaming approach, grounded in the Tibetan Buddhist practice, relies in large part on the understanding of the emptiness of phenomenon. In the Buddhist view, what we perceive as the world around us, our bodies, other people, our houses and roads and sofas and purses, telephone poles, all of it, isn’t really as solid and permanent as it appears to us to be. Everything that exists is dependent upon everything else that exists in order to exist, nothing is solid and real and permanent on its own- this is the basic view. Everything manifests, yes, it’s there, you can see it and interact with it, but it carries the nature of illusion. At its most basic, fundamental level, it is empty of anything you could call a solid, permanent, self-existing thing.

So there are a lot of things this book instructs us to do in order to prepare the mind for lucid dreaming within that context, and the one that I’m working with the most right now is this idea of talking to myself throughout the day, telling myself that what I’m experiencing in the moment is a dream. And to ask myself, too, as I do one thing and another, “Hey, is this a dream? Am I dreaming right now?”

This has a dual benefit. One thing is that by developing this habit of checking in with myself as various phenomenon arise and depart throughout the day, constantly asking myself if I’m dreaming all of this, there’s the increased chance that I will do the same thing while I’m dreaming, which will open the door for the possibility of a lucid dream. One of the hallmarks of the dreaming mind is a very strong, very durable sense of credulousness- no matter how strange the experience you’re having in the dream world, it almost never occurs to you that you are dreaming. You just think some weird shit is kicking off. So, develop the habit while awake and maybe you will ask yourself during the dream if you’re dreaming all of this, and then, pow, there you are- awake inside the dream world.

The other benefit, and one that is much more profound, is that you begin to experience waking life as if it were a dream. For me, what I find is that by telling myself that I’m dreaming right now, and really using all of my senses and imagination to support this thought, is that the world takes on this heightened feeling of strangeness, of possibility and potential. “Am I dreaming? No. Am I? No. Yeah, yeah, I am. Right? Well, what’s going on? Is that chair real? Is that woman sitting on it real?”

This experience gives me the intuitive, emotional, embodied experience of emptiness itself. It makes me see and experience the emptiness of phenomenon in the waking world. And it serves to illustrate for me the similarities between the two states of waking and dreaming. All phenomenon that arise in both states are not things themselves but only mental models and representations, right? I mean, inside my skull, there isn’t any light. There’s no color or shape or any movie screen playing “what’s out there” inside my head for me. There’s only electrical and biochemical storms going on in the brain. When I’m awake, those are a result of the input of the sensory apparatus. When I’m dreaming, they’re self initiated by the brain only- but there’s nothing in my brain that really knows the difference between the two. Dreams are every bit as compelling, often more so, than waking life.

So, that’s all by way of introducing this experience I had yesterday, which I want to explore a little bit because it was so strange, and, I think, helpful.

I was on this trail run at lunch, up in the hills overlooking San Luis Obispo. The day was hot and sunny, and I was on this trail system back in the hills, all alone, this narrow single track of red dirt and rocks winding between manzanita and chaparral, technical and demanding, but lots of fun to run. Lots of climbing, two miles of it, then up and down for a while, then back down and down and down. So, I’m running out there in the boonies, hot, sweaty, really in the groove, it’s beautiful and I’m really, really, happy. And I’m chanting some Buddhist prayers and meditating as I run, which I also really like to do. And then as I’m doing this, I’m telling myself, “This is a dream! I’m dreaming that I’m trail running, I’m dreaming that I’m meditating and trail running, saying prayers and practicing, this is AWESOME! I’m totally lucid dreaming, doing exactly what I most want to do!” And this really felt like what I was doing, it felt very much dream like. And the red dirt, the manzanita, the green serpentine rocks, the hot sun and wild blue empty sky, all seemed very dream like, hyper-real and unreal. It was a long, long, beautiful sustained dreamlike experience.

So, cool on me.

Then, last night, I did all my dreamwork preliminaries and fell asleep and while I was sleeping I had the same dream. I was trail running, on the same trail, saying the same prayers, and I was so happy, so alive, it was so incredible- but I didn’t know I was dreaming. It wasn’t a lucid dream at all, it was just very vivid and enjoyable. And it was a very faithful rendition of the run I had done before- the emotional and physical content was the same- except that when I was really awake I had the experience of being in a dream world, and when I was “really” in the dream world, I was totally convinced that I was awake.

Awake, convinced I’m dreaming.

Dreaming, convinced I’m awake.

 

Very, very cool.

 

But only a preliminary step on the path to feeling that I’m dreaming when I’m awake and knowing that I’m dreaming when I’m asleep. Tying all of experience together, maintaining the same pristine, awake, awareness throughout all displays of phenomenon.

What does it mean for me? Only that my representational model of reality is just that, a model. It has no more connection to “what’s out there” than does my dream model. I’m embedded in two layers of dream time. Until I recognize this, until I know the truth of this in my own direct experience, waking up isn’t possible.

The goal is to wake up to the fact that dreaming is all we’re doing, all the time.

 

*

 

Namaste.

 

 

***

14th Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche’s remains cremated at Shar Minub Monastary

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http://www.kuenselonline.com/shamar-rinpoches-mortal-remains-cremated-today/#.U9pV2YsU_cs

 

Last night Shamar Rinpoche’s remains were cremated at his monastery Shar Minub on the outskirts of Kathmandu, according to his wishes and with the benevolent permission of the Neapalese government.

I am very happy that this ceremony was carried out according to his wishes. Many, many blessings will flow from this.

I have received so many blessings personally from my teacher, and these blessings have only continued and multiplied since his death. Since there’s no longer any differentiation for me between his physical being and his non-physical being, I find myself in his presence all the time, whenever I think of him. I know that I am not separate from him in any way that matters.

It is my profound wish that I can contribute to his goal- the enlightenment of every sentient being without exception.

*

Thank you to everyone who made this possible with your prayers and well-wishes!

 

*

 

Namaste!

 

***

 Here is a very beautiful and moving description of the cremation ceremony by my Dharma friend Jourdie over at purely subjective. It’s worth a read just for the writing and beautiful photographs, and it is a visceral, powerful example of the love and devotion that flows from a dedicated student to a highly realized teacher. I want to thank Jourdie for sharing her experience with us, it helps me feel almost as if I were there.

 

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