First of all, reader, I appreciate you. Whether I know you or not, thank you for reading my words and wanting to look into my thoughts and feelings. I do realize that most blogs aren’t this personal and seem to be more focused on being an enjoyable read and/or a way of catching up with the stories of someone’s life. This blog is all in my head, a bit like me I guess. It’s good for me to put these thoughts down. I hope they are of some use to others or I wouldn’t put them out here. It’s the kind of blog I would love to read if I knew the person.
Anyways, you may or may not know that I attended a Vipassana meditation retreat recently. I’ve been telling everyone how excited I am to meditate and learn how to do it better and to experience the dynamite feelings of tranquility. Well, it was good but I ended up staying only 2 days instead of 10. Why? Well I had a different reaction to it this time. Both times before I felt it was absolutely the best thing I could do and no way should I leave. This time I just felt like I got some benefit from it and was ready to go after two days. They frown on that there, which I understand, and it is a bad idea for a new student to leave before the end.
I truly did learn some important things in those two days, two days of silence—outer silence. I had trouble quieting my mind but got better at it over time. It did feel quite clear, though, at times, and in those times I had some useful realizations. (Before I go I should say that the retreat was at a genuine temple out in the woods. Beautiful everything! Barebones facilities though. It was actually abandoned for three years because the man who built it went bankrupt in the process, so that’s the first time it’s been used in three years. They had to clear it of ghosts first!)
At these retreats (this being my third) the first 2.5 days are Anapana, the remaining are Vipassana. Anapana is simply awareness of breath, focusing on the in and out and sensation of breath and nothing else for prolonged periods of time. It develops the faculty of awareness or mindfulness. It helps you to “be here now.” Vipassana is also simple but not as much. Once you get into it, it consists of sweeping the body with your awareness, being aware of sensations as they arise and pass away. It’s deep and profound and intense.
Vipassana was the part I was excited about. I confess I wanted the altered state. However, the practice of Anapana really clicked for me. Of course I have to keep doing it to get it right. It was rare for me to be able to concentrate on my respiration for a full minute without following a train of thought. It was so simple and pure. The whole concept and feeling of BE HERE NOW was just so right for me! Long story short I realized that I got what I came for and wasn’t going to be able to commit mentally or physically (because it is definitely both!) to the extreme rigors of the course. I didn’t want rigor. I wanted to simply be present in the moment and start really living my life.
So I exited as gracefully as I could, but not before a real-deal old Buddhist monk asked me if I could please stop with the knuckle cracking. “It’s disturbing the other meditators,” he said very kindly. In hindsight I can’t believe I didn’t consider that in the stark silence of the meditation chamber, but I’m sure it had to do with distracting myself from the agony in my back and legs. (I knew that would be there and it didn’t drive me away. It just made it not a vacation.) So….sorry Mom and Dad! I guess I needed to hear it from a monk to really start thinking it may be time to wean myself of that fixation.
So where was I? Ah yes, Be Here Now. Lemme just copy/paste that. I’m probably going to write it a lot…..but pasting it wouldn’t be very Be Here Now would it? Oops! Just did it! I feel like I woke up juuuust a little bit more to how I can be more alive in the present moment. How I can actually experience life more and be happier and more peaceful simply from being aware of what’s happening. There’s a lot of beauty, a lot of grace. Life is rich. The moment is full. You could use anything as an example: looking into someone’s face, hearing children in the background, eating a peach, washing the dishes, taking a walk. It’s not that the content of those experiences is gonna dazzle me like the new Batman movie. My experience during those two days was that if I let go of expectation and….all the rest and just be there in that moment, taking in what He is providing at that moment, that, for me at least, it will be enough. It was enough in that environment. The environment, inner and outer, in my everyday life is not so hospitable to that state of mind, but I can change both, especially inside.
Actually, when I think of it, my life now is just fine for that, for being mindful. I’ve got a great chance to focus on that in my activities, and to do things that lend themselves to mindfulness, such as perhaps exercise and, well, lots of things: teaching, walking, studying the Faith, breathing meditation, chores. It threw me for a loop to feel this way, though, because when I start feeling in the moment I realize I’ve been going about living my life and making plans in a really skewed way. I’ve got to start over aaaagain. That’s how it goes though, for me at least. This time feels big though, like a synthesis of a lot of things. I won’t say that it’s anything. ACTION is something. These are just more words.
I’ll tell you what really throws me for a loop. It’s a loop inside a loop inside an Irish knot. When I calm down and clear my mind and settle into the present moment and just feel OK for long enough to get a little used to it, there’s something that happens to me. I didn’t see it clearly before but now I do. When I am at peace I am drained of all goals, dreams, aspirations, intentions, plans, machinations, etcetera! After a little peace I find myself back where I began. For example, this time, after this period of relaxation and letting go, releasing that grip, I found that I wasn’t excited about graduate school particularly. I didn’t feel the energy or drive—if that’s what it was—to go back to school and become a professional. I didn’t feel like I was on a path leading me to these goals I have a vision of. It was all blown away and I was just standing there, alive, breathing.
My first reaction to this was, “NOT AGAIN! OH I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN! I’ve dropped the ball again. Why can’t I maintain any motivation or goal long enough to make any progress? Same old Daniel! Wishy-washy waffling Charlie Brown. The cycle continues….now I’ll agonize over it more, weigh the pros and cons of this and that all over again. I disgust myself!” That was my first reaction. I’ve come to see this losing-hold-on-plans-and-goals-and-continuing-to-drift thing in me as a weakness, a sickness. I describe it, visualize it in negative terms, in terms of what it has cost me, of what I’ve lost, of how I’ve disappointed people, not realized my potential. “Coulda, shoulda, woulda” was my mantra for a long time. It’s still imprinted on my mind. Another mantra could be phrased, “There’s still time to make it right!”
Something clicked in my mind this time though! This time when it happened I saw it differently! During my meditation an amazing image came to me. I visualized myself like Sisyphus, pushing a great ball up an incline. The ball was as big as me and as round and smooth as a billiard ball. The ball was my thoughts, my dreams, my hopes and fears, the things I think about, focus on. It was my mind. I saw myself very clearly. I was pushing that ball dutifully up the incline toward somewhere. I said to myself, “Step aside…..and let the ball roll down and down, and let it roll around and wobble and finally find its place.” So I did. I stepped aside and let the ball go. It rolled down and, after a while, found its natural resting place. It was still. My mind was clear, clean, wide open, free. It was still, at rest in the present moment. The future and past were of no concern. I was at peace. The way forward was clear.
Then before I knew it I was rolling that great ball up the hill again! Again I stepped aside and let it roll down to find rest. And again and again. I believe I’ve found what meditation is to me, at this time in my life at least. It’s not a way to transcend mundane existence and find another level of experience, another way to perceive or live—an altered state. It’s about helping me to be content with normal life! When the ball is at rest I am not bored, not anxious, not lonely, not obsessive, not confused, not regretful, not caught in bad habits! I’m simply there…breathing, existing…alive in a body. The moment stands before me, each moment fresh and new.
In such a state my inclination is not to react or to follow some habit, neither is it to strive toward what I should be doing, what will “fix the problem.” In that moment there is no problem. There is only the feeling in me of being here now. Being me, Daniel. My heart responding to the wisdom that God has treasured in me. Simple, pure, joyful steps on the skipping, singing walk of life. In that moment I also have a feeling of being part of something greater than myself, something wonderful and incomprehensible, something I trust and I know that I must surrender myself to, like a simple plant choosing not revolt against nature but to be a harmonious, growing part of it. In that moment it is not an idea! It IS. Like the sun and moon and grass and mountains. It is.
In that state my inclination is to take that next step simply, joyfully, slowly, wisely. And then to take another. And another. And a lifetime of steps. Be Here Now. Live. Truly live your life Daniel! This is what my heart says to me in the silence and stillness. The future will take care of itself! The past is gone! The Kingdom of God is all around you and within you! It is closer than your life vein! Let the ball roll down…and roll around…and wobble…and rest. Be mindful. Be entirely present. Let all the impurities drain out of you. Drink in His presence. Practice virtue. Pass by all wrong doing as you would a shifting mirage. Allow yourself to love. Cease holding it back! Trust in Him! Rest in His palm.
For the first time in memory—literally!—I believe I’m starting to understand how to live my life in actual practice, not just theory. Beginning, only beginning to understand. It’s a beginning I must cherish like a newborn child. I must protect it and nourish and be mindful of it every day. I must cause it to flourish and not neglect it!
So what does that translate to in action? It means now is not the time to dwell on the past. I let it be past. Now is not the time to make plans for the future. Plans must stand on the solid ground of a mindful present. My ground is shaky—quaky! I must firm it up so much! I must make my present so much more solid and balanced before I build plans on it. So no plans. No graduate school. No counseling. No China. No career. Nothing of the sort. Only my life now—my life, which is like a wonderful garden pregnant with fruits and vegetables and flowers and herbs of all kinds, needing only to be tended, needing only a mindful gardener! Now is the time for me to be the mindful gardener of my life.
Before I became a Baha’i at age 17 I had searching for truth for a little while. It really started when I was 15 or 16. I had been exposed to spiritual writings and deep conversation for a while by that point but I started having nature experiences that really helped me to come out of the trance or whatever I had been in. I had a real moment of awakening on a hillside in the Olympic Mountains in the summer of ’92. At that time I started reading a book about Edgar Cayce. I don't remember anything about it but it was the first “spiritual” book I picked up and took with me and read through. Not long after, in this time of communing with nature, I read the Tao Te Ching. It opened something in me. It spoke to me in ways that touched me and it gave me the sense of perceiving truth in glimmers. It was the first book, I think, to do that for me. I responded to it. I felt like I was a Taoist. I resonated with the message. I wanted to practice that way of life. The Tao Te Ching helped me to open my heart and mind to walking a spiritual path in life, to living by principles, following a Way, seeking understanding and wisdom and wholeness.
In the years since, I really haven’t picked it up much. The few times I have I didn’t feel as open to it. Me and Lao Tzu weren’t seeing the same thing. I have a copy with me here. Thinking about all this I glanced at and thought, “Maybe there’s something in there for me.” I opened it up to a page on which was written the following:
Stop thinking, and end your problems.
What difference between yes and no?
What difference between success and failure?
Must you value what others value,
avoid what others avoid?
Other people are excited,
as though they were at a parade.
I alone don’t care.
I alone am expressionless,
like an infant before it can smile.
Other people have what they need;
I alone possess nothing.
I alone drift about,
like someone without a home.
I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.
Other people are bright;
I alone am dark.
Other people are sharp;
I alone am dull.
Other people have a purpose;
I alone don’t know.
I drift like a wave on the ocean,
I blow as aimless as the wind.
I am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.
I was just amazed. I felt, at that moment, I was seeing what Lao Tzu saw. I felt that it was not just the old sage speaking, but my heart of hearts. I felt His presence in those words, He who knows my heart completely! He know that, like every soul, I am unique, I am special, and there is a unique path for me in this life that flows in accordance with His divine will as well as with my own individual nature. Like a stream winding its way from the spring, running naturally over the landscape, letting itself be directed, I have a way through this life, a way for me alone. A way that only He comprehends. I accept this. I am content to be this one stream. More than content! It is my bliss to be this stream. I will follow my bliss!
I don’t know what the future holds for me or for any of us. Living life now will prepare the way for living life then. I am alive in this world. I am the soul they call Daniel, and I am a stream of water. The way for me is clear. Now but one thing remains! To flow. And to flow. And to flow.
The Sounds of Christmas: Outro
3 years ago