Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happiness is a side effect... Let Freedom Ring!

It's got to be about freedom.

I was looking at this today. Specifically, I was bringing the best teachers ever to walk this earth to mind, and asking myself how they pointed out this way of living as awakeness. It's quite an activity, actually bringing to mind the superstars of wakefulness and comparing yourself to them. It's thrilling and inspiring, and also scary; it has the potential to sound cocky, even like you've gone right off the deep end. People have been ostracized and even killed for talking like I'm about to talk, for heaven's sake.

It's also a perfectly reasonable thing to do. If you bring to mind your own work on this earth, whatever that might be, isn't it a great idea to emulate the best and brightest? If you are an aspiring quarterback, wouldn't you benefit by studying Peyton Manning's methods, tactics, capabilities, and strengths? Not to become a blind imitation, but wouldn't you do so to determine how you might benefit by incorporating the best of what you see into your own unique way?

So bringing the best to mind, and pondering how they pulled off such spectacular teaching, I found the following:

The Buddha invited us to Be Awake. The name Buddha is nothing more or less than the Sanskrit term for The Awakened. He didn't call himself The Happiest or The Peacefulest. When he saw what he saw, he found himself so transformed that he felt it important to rename himself, and he called himself The Awakened. His description, and this is the best I've gathered from all the third generation reading I've done, admitting freely that I haven't studied the direct translations much; his description of the transformation was having been liberated from that conditioned belief in himself as one bound by the suffering inherent in this conditioned way of being. (What a Catch-22, eh?) For the Buddha, it's about freedom. Freedom accompanied by a big side order of happiness.

Jesus offered salvation. What do we need to be saved from? Can I put it in the following way?: We are saved from all the conditioned habits and patterns, labeled sin in most people's understanding and languaging of Christianity, that leave us feeling separate from the direct experience of the Divine, or the direct experience of God, in Jesus' language. How are we saved from all these? By forgiving ourselves and others of the painful conditioned habits and patterns we all share and instill in each other. Recognizing the depth and breadth, the pervasiveness, the universality of these conditions, and the fact that we're all co-creating the very system of it, forgiveness is almost moot. We are simply saved by the realization that since we're all in the same boat, nobody's any better or worse off than anybody else and let's just give up all this judging and self-recrimination. Let's all grant ourselves our own freedom, and in doing so we naturally and instantly grant everyone else the same. What happens when we stop judging ourselves and everyone else for all the stuff we literally can't help happening? There is a huge sigh of relief, and I mean HUGE. The first time I experienced it fully, I couldn't stop laughing at myself and the world, and this was in the middle of a silent retreat!

Let's look at an even more modern example: the Dalai Lama. Here's his Facebook post (yes, the Dalai Lama is on Facebook, and he wants to be your friend!) from September 23rd:

To be kind, honest and have positive thoughts; to forgive those who harm us and treat everyone as a friend; to help those who are suffering and never to consider ourselves superior to anyone else: even if this advice seems rather simplistic, make the effort of seeing whether by following it you can find greater happiness. 

Sure, the Dalai Lama most often speaks in ways that point to developing and supporting happiness for ourselves and others. Nevertheless, look closely at this quote. Isn't he saying that, to attain happiness, we need to give everyone their own autonomy and full worth? "Treat everyone as a friend" and "never to consider ourselves superior to anyone else," what are these but instructions to stop the attack and defense mode of living?

I say, announce the  universal surrender and liberation already and enjoy some peace, and yes, happiness that is not dependent on the vastly inferior and impermanent stuff you've been trained to believe in. Go after real freedom, and notice how much happiness comes along with the bargain. Seeking after happiness is a fine way to get started, but if it remains your only goal, you may have some hard falls in moments when it feels as though happiness is nowhere to be found. Freedom is always available. Granting yourself the freedom to be exactly who and what you are, even feeling not at all happy, this gives you a strange and paradoxical gift of being perfectly happy in your grief, or fear, judgment, whatever. (And just to reassure you, you'll find that the grief or fear or judgment doesn't tend to stick around very long, when you grant it true freedom to be. It only stays if you hang on to it or try to get rid of it. That's going back into that damnable Catch-22. Don't fall for it!)

Being perfectly free and happy while prideful or fearful, or joyful for that matter, being free in all conditions feels so open and fine that you stop needing to manipulate conditions around you to support that old habit of material-based happiness. So no more falsely manipulating people or possessions to find happiness. Imagine the energy you would free up for yourself if you retired from THAT job! Yes, you'll still interact with the world, still do whatever you do to eat and such. But you'll have freed yourself from the vast majority of the work you currently do. It turns out that it's really hard work, staying in judgment, scrabbling after and constructing possessions, conditions and relationships that you keep believing are the source of your happiness, even though they never, ever deliver in a lasting way.

Free yourself. Notice when you're experiencing limitation, and ask yourself if you can be free instead. You don't need to go anywhere else to be free. You don't need anybody or anything else to be different. You don't even need anyone else to be any more or less awake to their own freedom than they are right now. You just have to give yourself your freedom. Give everyone their freedom, to be as free or as confused as they are. Make freedom the top dog. Really give yourself and everyone else their freedom. It's infectious. Try it just even a little, and see what happens to your attitude, to what comes out of your mouth and where your feet take you. Try it and see. See if you awaken. See if you're saved. See if you feel the direct presence of God. See if you experience a form of happiness unlike any you've consciously felt before. And also, see if you start to act in ways that eliminate all the old questions about the right way and the wrong way.

This is the most important part. It's frankly the only thing that works. Try it and see for yourself. You know you want to!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Is anything ever lost?

Here's an article I wrote that was picked up by the Concord Monitor today. This points to an episode of contraction, a moment of perceived loss. 

Wisdom says, open your arms wide and also tie up your camel. Heart says, try staying wide open and see what comes of it. And I just keep stumbling forward, noticing both views coming and going...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Can you follow the shape of yourself?

Can you follow the shape of yourself?
Can you follow this shape, into a fiction we call the future?
There are ten thousand versions of me, all around,
each calling out my name.

This one points a finger at me, and shames me into stepping toward it.
That one is perplexed, not knowing a single thing.
Another is intrigued by the adventure of the moment, asking
What is it like, to follow a me?

There’s one who sobs in the corner, so you go there and find
a new you,
sometimes one that scoffs,
or commiserates,
othertimes pities,
or simply sits, attending to the grief.

What do I find, when I step into a shape?
What could you ever find, but a new mountain of roles and scripts,
pouring in through the mailslot?

There are ten thousand versions of me, all around,
and ten thousand versions of every other.
The stage traffic gets to seeming impossibly heavy.

It’s good to blink in and out, not clutching or avoiding,
And get cool with the rest just doing the same.
You and I, we’re trying out different us’s against each other,
Just trying out
until we settle, and expand, into the parts we love to play.

--Margaret Fletcher
(note: this is one in an occasional series I call Bad Poetry. I don't know anything official about Good Poetry, so I call it Bad Poetry for truth in advertising purposes. Enjoy.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Quit working! I can show you how, call before midnight tonight!

(A note to readers: please make sure you have a relatively quiet space, and a good 15 uninterrupted minutes to read this. There is some homework baked into this post, so it's best to read this when you can give it your full attention. Thanks.)


You make the world. You make life, entirely, constantly. You can make this whole adventure called life into a constant struggle, a never-ending work project of unlimited scope, or you can live a life of ease. Which one sounds like what you want?

This is a serious question. Lots of people claim they would enjoy nothing better than to relax, smile, and enjoy life. These people would dearly love to stop arguing, railing, feeling annoyed, depressed, just to stop whatever version of overriding discomfort they're suffering from. And these same people are working very hard to maintain their own steady diet of work:  drama, conflict, self-righteousness, self-defeatism, self-improvement and/or just plain busy-ness to exhaustion.

What do you really want? Shakespeare tells us, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts."If you love the drama, the whole show, and you don't want to walk out from the great comic-tragedy role you are playing your life out as, then don't read on. However, if you know that you really want ease and joy, more than anything else, read on. Read on with an open, curious mind. If you read on, do so with the mind that senses potential for something radical, new and even miraculous.

Stop for a moment, right now, and consider the real possibility of something vastly transformative. Please take the time, lower your eyes, and call this forth for yourself, the possibility of not working one second longer than you already have...

And now notice the quality of this moment. How does your body feel, and your breath? What's present in your mind? When there's mystery and promise and pure potential present, what do you feel? Consider, never working again... Take another moment, really answer this for yourself ...

Now see if you can stay with that felt sense of possibility, and the quality of being that accompanies it, and keep reading...

So continuing... how is it that you are making all this work for yourself in the first place? You make the world, so you must make the work, every bit of it. This feels absolutely backwards to most people. The common perception is that the world is a big place someone or something else made, and that it's throwing all kinds of stuff (people, conditions, events) at you. Some of the stuff you like a lot, and lots of it you really can't stand. So with that as a foundation, the deal must be to work hard to get what you like, to work hard to avoid what you dislike, and maybe to find a few moments between the bouts of work where you can experience some peace and enjoyment. This is a system that most of us believe in and follow. We believe it so much that we don't even see it AS a belief system. It is THE WORLD. With this foundation, this widely accepted belief system, the world is made to be so, just like this, by all who accept and follow it. It's stronger than a religion, because we don't even see that we are subscribing to a belief system. There are so many people making this belief-world of constant work, in fact, that it seems ridiculous to question it. It seems deeply counter-intuitive, the idea that there could be another world, another dimension if you will, that doesn't ask you to live out your life as Sisyphus. You remember, that poor king in Greek mythology whose lot was to roll a heavy rock interminably up the same hill. He would get a little break every now and then to watch the rock roll down, then he'd have to trudge down and start pushing it up again. Does life feel like this to you? Do you notice that this heavy load is a constant, and that you're pushing it up hill with every major and minor annoyance and argument and egoic injury you sustain?

If you've read this far and you find yourself already scoffing or rejecting these ideas, you're done, and you could stop reading because you're back to work now. One of those Shakespearean dramas is now playing out, and you are working the role. It's probably a role you've played before, so you're very good at it, and it's difficult to step out of the role once you've identified with this strong character. You might be taking the role of the Undeserving One, or the Superior One, the Long-Suffering One or the Sick One, the Over-burdened One or the Skeptical One. For whatever character, there is a degree of work required. It's hard work to keep maintaining the character. For some of the characters, it may be enjoyable to play their scene out for a while. But their useful time never lasts very long, and then it's a pile of work because you want to keep them going when their scene and lines have truly run their course. For other roles, they're just outright unpleasant, but you have no idea how to climb out of the costume and exit the theater.  Or there are just the ones where you're lost entirely, don't have a clue what the script is, and what the other players are at or about. In any case, with any of this, the accustomed character keeps working the scene, on and on, until a new character takes over.

It's not a problem that this happens, by the way, getting lost in the role. It happens to everyone from time to time, myself included, and getting lost will last as long as it lasts. Whether over the short or long term, the role has to play itself out. In fact, paradoxically, the role itself is the means to seeing through all of the work. The role provides you with the means to become thoroughly tired by or simply to question the necessity of all the work the role demands.

To repeat, getting lost in the role is not a problem. It's an opportunity. You get lost in the demands of the role to find your way out of the demands of the role.

As you are considering that as a possibility,  if you are, just in the moment as you read this, is it possible to feel yourself directed back to that open, curious attitude? And pause?... Pause and notice what is present...  What's different, if anything?... In that movement away from scoffing or rejecting and toward openness and wondering, is there a noticeable shift?  And with the shift, is there a release of the constant work project?  Check this; lower your eyes again and investigate this. Notice your breath and the muscles in your body, and your attitude. Take your time...

If the answer is "yes, I sensed the shift and felt the change," you are now in the "other" world, the world where there is curiosity, openness, no struggling. As this shift occurred, you released the work of that moment. Here's how this happens. For instance, if you were reading and your reaction was to scoff, one of your characters, the Superior One, entered the stage. This role is hard work, demanding that you hold yourself better than others. There's even a sense of enjoying being the one who knows more than everybody else, even with the stiff back and gut, tense jaw, and the holier-than-though attitude that believes something like "I know how the world is, it is certainly not the way it's described here, and this writer is way off base." When your attitude moved away from identifying as better than, and back to curiosity, you released the work required to protect or defend the firm belief. With the release of that attitude and character, there is the release of the associated work, and then there is ease, an openness to all possibilities. In this openness, you open to the infinite universe of moments that are available to you. Can you sense, is this other place full of wonder and potential? Is there any work to being here? (and if your answer above was no, please notice what is still present in this customary world... are the body and mind tense, contracted, is the jaw tight, the face set? Do you discover somewhere the unnecessary work that is happening in the body and attitude? Now ask yourself if it needs to be this way. Repeat as necessary.)

Now please notice: with this shift, you didn't go anywhere physically different. You didn't undertake a project to fix yourself or to change any condition around you. You just asked the question, is it possible that the world is other than the way I have always thought it to be? And when you asked the question, without pushing anything away, the work of maintaining the Superior One naturally released, and you found yourself naturally in the world of curiosity, ease and openness. Simple, right now, right here.

This shift is a waking up, to the fact that you had been lost for a time, and to the sense that you no longer want to live that old life of hard work. (Bonus Tip #1: the waking up habit is helped along significantly by cultivating the human capacity for consciously attending to what's happening in each moment. In other words, meditate. Consciously set aside time daily to hone this skill. This invites more attending to what's happening, more curiosity, more awakening, more frequently, and therefore less life-as-work. You see? You can hone this skill in many ways, not just by sitting on a cushion, by the way. In whatever activity you choose, notice the moment-to-moment coming and going of the sense of difficulty, of "work," and notice the effect of asking if it needs to be hard work. Do this as a sincere training. Repeat as necessary, and notice the cumulative results over time.)

Okay, admittedly, maybe when you started reading this, you thought I was going to tell you that you don't have to get up in the morning any more and slog to the office, or the airport or garbage truck, or wherever your place of employment is. So if you feel cheated, by all means ask for your money back. But if it's been worth your time to read this, take this away with you: 

There is a different world, a new world with an entirely different foundation. It's right here on earth. It's right in front of your face. It is peopled with the very people you know, covered with the same roads and businesses and meadows and forests you know. In this world, ease is always available. It's available at your home and at your place of employment. It's available as you move into the repetitive, daily, necessary work of living, and it's available when you decide to toss off an old job that just doesn't fit anymore. This world's defining characteristic is ease. It accompanies all the joy, the tears, the expansive brightness and the peaceful smallness that naturally comes to everyone over the course of a human life. To live in this world, it's only necessary that you begin to experience it a little, and see that it is possible to live your life in ease, every moment. 

As you become familiar with this new world, you will also notice that there are ten thousand ways you leave this world each day to go back to the old work. However, it's not actually necessary for you to inventory and dismantle all ten thousand ways. You only need to experience the truth of this: if your life feels like work, right now, you only need to ask yourself if it has to be that way. Once you ask the question, if you've spent any time at all in the world of ease and joy, the answer will always be obvious. (Bonus Tip #2: once the answer is obvious, it will also be obvious if it's time to change something. Maybe slow down? Maybe stop doing what you're doing? Maybe do more of it, and dump the plan for doing another thing that you actually don't need to do but were worried about? Maybe take a break? Maybe spend more time with people who support your new sense of the world, and less time with those who only like the drama? Maybe ask for help if you sense assistance would usher you more efficiently into this world? Many options, no rules. Just try dancing with it!)

Remember, just ask, do you prefer to do all that work, or would you rather spend your days in the world of openness, curiosity, ease, and joy? 

With true curiosity and a willingness for any answer to be true, just ask: Does this need to be so hard?

What do you discover when you ask? What world do you gravitate toward? Does the play "play on," or are you willing to step off the old, accustomed stage and explore the spontaneous, the unknown?

There are literally infinite places to take this exploration from here. I'll say one more thing for now, which is that there are so many questions people have about how it's possible for life to continue responsibly in this new world. They are good questions, really important questions, and I'd be happy to look into them with you. And they are all questions coming from those inner characters who want to keep you pinned in the work world. Just so you know. Therefore, it's critical to look into them, otherwise they will keep you solidly planted in your 24 X 7 work detail.

Please enjoy exploring the truth of what's offered here, for yourself. And if you'd like to look into these things, together, please bring your questions to satsang. It's a place that always locates itself in the new world, so it's the right place to explore the questions. The schedule for White Mountain Sangha satsang meetings can be located at: http://whitemountainsangha.org/calendar.html

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

For Those Interested in Awakening

I write this to state as clearly as I can what is possible for those who want to live honestly, fully, in and as awakeness.

First, there are two conditions necessary. For one, you must know that you’re lost, at least somewhat lost. You must see that something is off, that something doesn’t add up, that there’s got to be a better way somehow to do “this,” (“this” being LIFE.) The other is that you must truly desire to remedy this situation, and the desire must be greater than the habit of living in this accustomed, seemingly safe, but actually often lost and uncomfortable way.

When these two conditions are present, you can wake up to a new way of living. You can see the value of living as your true self, your natural self, that which is not attached and confused by the habit of being lost. Once you experience living as your natural self, you are waking up.

You can experience awakening right now. Locate yourself in a relatively quiet place for a few minutes. Lower or close your eyes, and begin attending to the spaces that occur between thoughts arising in your mind. Don’t worry about the thoughts, what kind, the content, how charged, anything. Let thoughts be. Only continue attending to the spaces between thoughts. Attend in openness to the quality of being you experience when no thought is happening.

Experiencing the quiet between thoughts may be fleeting at first, just glimmers of space between the busy output of thinking that has been cultivated in you and that you habitually experience as yourself. This is not a problem. Relax and be willing to let the momentum of mind spin it’s energy out. Trust that the spaces are there now, and that your ability to attend to this quiet, to experience your natural self, will grow as you attend in this way.

Continue attending to your natural self. Move your attention gently in this direction as often as you sense the possibility, the invitation to do so. Over time you will observe that it’s possible to attend in this way not only sitting quietly by yourself, but also when you’re in company with others and even as you are involved in movement and conversation.

Along with attending to your natural self, you must become curious about how much you are still lost, how often, how long, how deeply. You must be willing to observe that instilled in you is a deeply held belief in yourself as a person who only knows being lost. And, you must be willing to question this belief, and remember the new experience of living as your natural self. You must remember the desire for, and the enjoyment of living in the relaxed openness that you have discovered. You must remember that the desire to live in this awakened way of being is greater than the habit to live in the old accustomed, uncomfortable way.

Evidence of living in the lost state includes experiences of fear, anger, self-judgment, frustration, greed, superiority, judgment of others, futility, depression, inferiority, jealousy, despondency, annoyance, worthlessness, and also includes the behaviors that come from acting out of these states. The defining characteristic of the lost state is discomfort, unsatisfactoriness, that old sense of something not being right. The reason it has always felt as though it’s not right is that, it’s really not right!  When these states are observed, please don’t make a problem of experiencing them as they continue to arise. They have a lifetime’s worth of momentum carrying them, so it takes time for them to spin out. Just as with allowing thoughts to arise without becoming caught up, you must allow these experiences to arise, be met fully, and pass away, without becoming caught in them. As experiences come and go, simply continue to attend to your natural self as often as the space arises to invite that. This is the way that the habit of being lost naturally, spontaneously falls away. Making a project to actively dismantle the habit of lostness only directs your attention toward the old ways, which is how the habit of lostness gained such power in the first place. Don’t succumb to this temptation! Simply notice having been lost, notice this without judgment, and redirect attention to the growing, ever-strengthening association with the natural self.

Judgment of yourself for not being “awake enough” or clear enough, or kind enough, or fill-in-the-blank anything enough, is evidence of living in the lost state. Judgment of others for not being “awake enough” is, equally, evidence of living in the lost state. Everyone is lost sometimes. We are all either living out some state of being lost, or we are living as the natural self available to each of us equally. When we are lost, we have no control of it. If a person could awaken in any given moment of being lost, they would and they do. Having experienced the movement between being lost and awakening, this is recognized about all others, and compassion arises. It’s painful to be lost. It’s like if you’ve experienced the pain of a certain illness. When you hear of someone else with that same illness, your heart just goes out to that person fully. When you are living as your natural self, seeing someone experiencing that condition of being lost that you yourself know so well, your heart just goes out.

As the awakening process continues, you will experience awakeness and the experience of feeling lost. As you continue to live out periods of feeling and acting lost, you must continue to cultivate the new habit to direct your attention toward living as your natural self. At any time as you experience the habit of being lost, this habit of believing yourself to be lost can be recognized. This is the perfect moment just as it is, without any reason to analyze or judge having been lost. It’s perfect because the recognizing is the waking up. Now you are awake, or better said, you are living as awakeness. You are living as the Awakened Presence that you are. There is no need to take any further action in terms of waking up. So you can relax.

Your natural self is Awakened Presence. You are Awakened Presence. There is no separation, no you that is different from Awakened Presence. You = Awakened Presence. This equation is equally and absolutely true for all beings. And as you more and more clearly associate with Awakened Presence, you know that each life around you is sharing in this Awakened Presence. All = You = Awakened Presence. When you are experiencing connection with another, this is Awakened Presence recognizing and enjoying Awakened Presence. This is profoundly delightful when known in its full context. It is impossible to overvalue this experience.
When you begin to live as Awakened Presence, you will start to feel the ever-shifting energies of that begin to move through you, through your life movements. Different life conditions call out different aspects of Awakened Presence to move through you. The names we give these energies are love, compassion, joy, kindness, connection, wisdom, generosity of spirit, clarity, humor, equanimity, peace. They are all natural facets of Awakened Presence. You have experienced these purely many times, so you can rest assured that you have lived spontaneously as Awakened Presence many times without understanding it in this way. Now the invitation is to live constantly as Awakened Presence, and to see that these energies are the ones associated with your natural state. You may also recognize what it feels like to try and “fake” any of these qualities. Forced kindness or peace is not natural and does not serve any good purpose. Better to become quiet instead and attend to what quality of the lost state is actually arising, so that it can be known, seen and allowed to spin out its’ momentum.

Awakened Presence knows what to do with whatever worldly conditions are calling for attention. Now let Awakened Presence guide action or non-action. There is no rule book about what to do, if this or if that. There is no need for commandments for Awakened Presence. If there is acting out of lost emotions, once this is seen from Awakened Presence there is knowledge on what to do to correct the direction. If there is lost action in others, Awakened Presence knows how to move to meet that with wisdom and an open heart. If there is any question, abide in the quiet of Awakened Presence, and follow your feet where they take you.

This term I am using, Awakened Presence, and all terms used here, are mine. They are relative to my experience, and therefore most meaningful to me. Find your own language for all of this. This will make it most meaningful, powerful and available to you.

To summarize! Three instructions:
·        -Attend to your natural self, Awakened Presence.
·        -If you are experiencing fear, disconnection, or emotional pain, you are temporarily lost. Notice this without judgment. That which notices without judgment is Awakened Presence. You are Awakened Presence. In the simple noticing, you return to your natural self. Direct your attention to your natural self, Awakened Presence.
·        -Enjoy yourself!

Please freely enjoy the unfolding of yourself as Awakened Presence, and that means enjoy all of it. Hold all experiences as precious in the unfolding process. When you are waking up from an episode of being lost, sense the gratitude in now knowing another aspect of the old habit that can be seen, and thus allowed to naturally unwind. When you are enjoying life as the many facets of Awakened Presence, sense the gratitude in receiving the gift of such a life. It is all precious and deserving of your reverence and delight.