"Every living thing
~ Jim Dollar
"What I propose is that we take the concept of physical fitness and just move it over wholesale into the realm of the benefits of meditation....It seems to me that now, with the way we understand the benefits of meditation, we're pretty much where we were in the 1960's with physical fitness."
~ Kenneth Folk
"It is probably the case that our very ancient ancestors—before the arising of civilization, when we were still in a tribal state—lived an awful lot of their lives in a meditative state just naturally.
And then, with the arising of civilization, that becomes lost and it's necessary to create conceptual frameworks and specific practice techniques to get back there."
~ Shinzen Young
What is serious to [humans] is often very trivial in the sight of God [aka Nature, Time, Source, Mystery of Life]. What in God might appear to us as "play" is perhaps what God takes the most seriously. At any rate the Lord plays in the garden of creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear God's call and follow in the mysterious, cosmic dance. We do not have to go very far to catch echoes of that game, and of that dancing. When we are alone on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children; when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet Basho we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash -- at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the "newness," the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.
For the world and time are the dance of the [Source] in emptiness. The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity, and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it or not.
Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.
I went to a Quaker high school in Washington, Sidwell Friends School, and we had meeting for worship once a week. It was, I don't know, 45 minutes or something like that of sitting together in silence and, when moved to speak, people would speak. It didn't happen very often. And then around graduation, everyone would get up and cry and that was the speaking.
There was always one teacher who spoke and, as slightly cynical teenagers, we weren't going to speak. But nonetheless, the quiet was very important. I even understood that then. But more importantly, the perhaps three minutes of silence with which we began the day, I cherished that then. That overrode all teenage restless silliness. I knew that that moment of inner listening would have analogs throughout the day, if you know what I mean.
That sort of chunk — and right now you can't see me because we're on the radio, but I'm holding my fingers together in a little rectangle. You know, so like, that chunk that smaller than a brick-sized chunk of contemplative silence with which to simply listen and take stock would be something that I would need to call on throughout the day. I think that's a very, very important way to be able to go through life. And I think that poetry can provide those kinds of chunks.
You know, right before the inaugural, the day before, there was a sound check and the sound guy asked me to — you know, the microphone. Oh, my goodness, just this amazing instrument, this finely calibrated, you know, kind of the Hope diamond of microphones — so he said, "OK, why don't you say some poetry" — that was his phrase, say some poetry — "so we can see how it works on the mic." And the day before, Washington was full of people. People were already coming to the inaugural and the mall was quite full with lots of folks, and it was just me up on the stage and no one was looking at me. And I recited one of my favorite poems, Gwendolyn Brooks' "Kitchenette Building," which starts out:
We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. "Dream" makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like "rent," "feeding a wife," "satisfying a man."
And then I continued with the poem which asks about could a dream rise up through onion fumes and yesterday's garbage ripening in the halls? It's extraordinary, beautiful, tiny, tiny sonnet. And let me tell you, hundreds of people literally stopped in their tracks to hear this unknown-to-them person recite a poem by someone unknown no doubt to most of them. And these hundreds of people, I watched them sort of gather in a darkening sort of cluster and then, when the poem was over, they clapped. In other words, they knew it was something about the form of the poem, right?
I didn't say who I was or what I was doing or ask for their attention. The poem asked for their attention inherently. And the poem is about people in Chicago. She's describing poor people in the 1940s living in these kitchenette apartments, under really difficult circumstances trying to find a way to imagine something else, something beautiful. It's about a very important topic that transcends time and space. You know, how can the imagination and the spirit lift us above our quotidian difficulties.
by Gwendolyn Brooks
We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. "Dream" mate, a giddy sound, not strong
Like "rent", "feeding a wife", "satisfying a man".
But could a dream sent up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday's garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms,
Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?
We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.
We Real Cool
by Gwendolyn Brooks
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
As a guiding principle, to progressively realize what is not absolutely True is of infinitely more value than speculating about what is. Many people think that it is the function of a spiritual teaching to provide answer's to life's biggest questions, but actually the opposite is true. The primary task of any good spiritual teaching is not to provide answer's to your questions, but to question your answers.
In our modern society we expect to have everything given to us in easy-to-consume bite-size portions, preferably very quickly so that we can get on with our hurried lives. But Truth will not conform itself to our frantic avoidance of Reality or our desire to have the whole of something for the very least investment of time and energy.
Summary of the Teaching
Question every thought.
Contemplate the source of Reality.
And keep your eyes open. You never know when something that seems entirely insignificant will split your whole world wide open into eternal delight.
Shinzen Young, in reponse to a Brain Pickings post on seventeen historically significant mathematical equations:
Just for the record, here's my all-time favorite equation:
First, let me admit that the way I just wrote it involves some abuse of notation. Properly, it should be written this way:
But I think the former form is justified for the visual effect.
To the eye, it seems to equate two closed curves that have symmetry: A regular triangle, with 3-fold rotational symmetry (the minimum possible) and the circle with infinite rotational symmetry (the maximum possible).
This equation is one of the broadest statements of balance in nature. Phenomena as different as three-dimensional thermodynamic equilibrium and four-dimensional relativistic motion can be described by this equation.
To me, it's a reminder that "mutually-canceling polarities" play a fundamental role both in the physical world as described abstractly by scientists and in the spiritual world as described concretely by mystics.
I've been sick lately and I actually had a bone marrow transplant back in October and was in the hospital for quite a long time. And one of the things, poetry died for me for a while. I found that it just wasn't speaking to me. I think I had certain expectations that took me awhile to realize were false expectations. I think we often talk about poetry getting us beyond the world, taking us to the very edge of experience and then getting us into the ineffable. I have to say, when I was faced with the actual ineffable, I didn't want poetry that gave me more of the ineffable. What I wanted was some way of apprehending the world that was right in front of me that was slipping away.
I wanted the world in front of my eyes, and the poems that I found useful were absolutely concrete, sometimes not at all about religious things and not at all about spiritual things, but simply reality and reality rendered in such a way that you could see it again. There's a great quote from the mid-20th-century literary critic R.P. Blackmur. He was talking about John Berryman. He said that his work, you know, "adds to the stock of available reality." It added to the stock of available reality, and that's a good way to think about what a real poem can do. It suddenly makes the amount of reality that you have in your life greater. You're able to apprehend more of it.
...Physics is so fascinating to so many of the contemporary poets. [mabye because] there is some kind of reality that's being revealed that we can only reach through oblique ways. You know, I think it reaches way back. It's why I'm drawn to mystics like Meister Eckhart and more contemporary ones like Simone Weil and language of Apple Faces, where you state something, but the statement sort of unstates itself. So that Meister Eckhart said, you know, "We pray to God to be free of God." We ask God to be free of God. And I don't think he wanted to, you know, give up his religion. The idea wouldn't have occurred to him, but he wanted to give up that idea of God as being this thing outside of our consciousness.
I think one thing poetry can do is take us to those places where reality slips a bit. You know, what we think of as reality slips a bit, like those equations in physics and suddenly we're perceiving something differently than before. And it's not — it's not all airy-fairy mysticism either. It's quite angular and hard-edged and that's what I think the analogy is with physics and with physical science.
...We tend to think of love as closing out the world and we can only see the face of the beloved. Everything else goes quiet or goes numb, but actually what I experienced was that — and I've experienced it again with my children — is that the loved demanded to be something else. It demanded to be expressed beyond the expression of the participants. You know, it kept demanding more. That excess energy, I think, is God and I think it's God in us trying to return to its source. I think it's — I don't know how else to understand it, but if I think of myself as having returned to faith, and I do think of that, although I feel like I'm a desperately confused person and when people look to me for advice or direction on faith, I just feel sometimes like it's hilarious.
But I think we have these experiences and they are people reacting against the word spiritual these days. But, uh, I don't know what other word to use at this point. They are spiritual experiences. And then religion comes after that. Religion is everything that we do with these moments of intense spirituality in our lives, whether it's whatever practice we have, whether it's going to church, it's how we integrate sacred text into our lives. Being religious or taking on some sort of religious elements in your life, you're not necessarily saying I agree with everything that this religion says. What you are saying is that I have had these incredible experiences in my life of suffering or joy or both and they have demanded some action of me and demanded some continuity of me, and the only way that I know to do this is to try to find some form in it and try to share it with other people.
...The way I've defined it to myself is I think of belief as having objects. Faith doesn't have objects. Faith is an orientation of your life or it's an energy of your life or however you want to define it. But I think it is objectless.
That has helped me to at least understand those terms somewhat and to explain to myself why I do need some sort of structures in my life. I do need to go to church. I need specifically religious elements in my life. I find that if I just turn all of my spiritual impulses, if I let them be solitary as I am comfortable in being, I'm comfortable sitting reading books and trying to pray and meditating, inevitably if that energy is not focused outward, it becomes despairing. It turns in on itself and I will look up in a couple of months and I find that I'm in despair. So I think that one of the ways that we know that our spiritual inclinations are valid is that they lead us out of ourselves.
"Faith precedes belief systems. That means that faith is the consent or surrender to the divine reality — or to the ultimate reality or whatever its name is in the different religions — before it's broken down into different belief systems which are bound to be influenced by the cultural conditioning of the person or the reformers who worked on that religion. So faith, when it becomes contemplative, begins to perceive the oneness behind all the religions — before the experience of God was broken down into various belief systems. " ~ Father Thomas Keating
Meditation has nothing to do with contemplation of eternal questions, or of one's own folly, or even of one's navel, although a clearer view on all of these enigmas may result. It has nothing to do with thought of any kind — with anything at all, in fact, but intuiting the true nature of existence, which is why it has appeared, in one form or another, in almost every culture known to man.
The entranced Bushman staring into fire, the Eskimo using a sharp rock to draw an ever-deepening circle into the flat surface of a stone achieves the same obliteration of the ego (and the same power) as the dervish or the Pueblo sacred dancer.
Among Hindus and Buddhists, realization is attained through inner stillness, usually achieved through the samadhi state of sitting yoga.
In Tantric practice, the student may displace the ego by filling his whole being with the real or imagined object of his concentration; in Zen, one seeks to empty out the mind, to return it to the clear, pure stillness of a seashell or flower petal.
When body and mind are one, then the whole thing, scoured clean of intellect, emotions, and the senses, may be laid open to the experience that individual existence, ego, the "reality" of matter and phenomena are no more than fleeting and illusory arrangements of molecules.
The weary self of masks and screens, defenses, preconceptions, and opinions that are propped up by ideas and words, imagines itself to be some sort of an entity (in a society of like entities) may suddenly fall away, dissolve into formless faux where concepts such as "death" and "life", "time" and "space", "past" and "future" have no meaning.
There is only a pearly radiance of Emptiness, the Uncreated, without beginning, therefore without end. Like the round bottomed Bodhidharma doll, returning to its center, meditation represents the foundation of the universe to which all returns, as in the stillness of the dead of night, the stillness between tides and winds, the stillness of the instant before Creation.
In this "void", this dynamic state of rest, without impediments, lies ultimate reality, and here one's own true nature is reborn, in a return from what Buddhists speak of as "great death".
[Thanks, Whiskey River!]
How could I not think of her when reading this interview in today's New York Times with Philip Connors who wrote a book about his experiences as a fire lookout in New Mexico? He says, "There’s a certain amount of freedom and liberation involved in detaching yourself, at least temporarily, from anyone’s expectations of you."
Here's an excerpt from his book, Fire Season: Field Notes from a Fire Lookout:
"Having spent eight summers in my little glass-walled perch, I have an intimate acquaintance with the look and feel of the border highlands each week of each month, from April through August: the brutal winds of spring, when gales off the desert gust above seventy miles an hour and the occasional snow squall turns my peak white; the dawning of summer in late May, when the wind abates and the aphids hatch and lady bugs emerge in great clouds from their hibernation; the fires of June, when dry lightning connects with the hills and mesas, sparking smokes that fill the air with the sweet smell of burning pine; the tremendous storms of July, when the radio antenna sizzles like bacon on a griddle and the lightning makes me flinch as if from the threat of a punch; and the blessed indolence of August, when the meadows bloom with wildflowers and the creeks run again, the rains having turned my world a dozen different shades of green. I've seen lunar eclipses and desert sandstorms and lightning that made my hair stand on end. I've seen fires burn so hot they made their own weather. I've watched deer and elk frolic in the meadow below me and pine trees explode in a blue ball of smoke. If there's a better job anywhere on the planet, I'd like to know what it is."
The mind can’t fathom that there can be a true intelligence, a transcendent intelligence, that isn’t the product and outcome of thought and conceptual understanding. It can’t fathom that there could be wisdom that’s not going to come at you in the form of thoughts, in the form of acquired and accumulated knowledge.
The true spiritual urge or yearning is always and invitation beyond the mind. That’s why it’s always been said that if you go to God, you go naked or you don’t go at all. It’s the same for everybody. You go in free of your accumulated knowledge, or you are forever unable to enter. So an intelligent mind realizes its own limitation, and it’s a beautiful thing when it does.
When you stop holding on to all the knowledge, then you start to enter a different state of being. You start to move into a different dimension. You move into a dimension where experience inside gets very quiet. The mind may still be there chatting in the background, or it might not, but consciousness is no longer bothering itself with the mind. You don’t need to stop it. Your awareness just goes right past that wall of knowledge and moves into a very quiet state…
…Once your conceptual world of knowledge gets put in its rightful place, it is transcended. You see that you are eternal consciousness now appearing as woman or man, this or that character. But like every good actor, you are not what you are appearing as. Everything that exists is consciousness appearing as, or God appearing as, or Self appearing as, or spirit appearing as. The Buddha called it no-self. When that’s seen, you see Unity. There is only God. That’s all there is: God appearing as floor, as a human being, as a wall, as a chair.
No knowledge, no statement of the Truth touches what’s eternal, what you really are. And no statement about how to get there is true either, because what gets one person there doesn’t get another person there. A mind that likes to look for the one truth path cannot find it. Of course, the mind doesn’t like that. “No right path? Nothing that could be said or read that ultimately, in the end, could be true? The most enlightened being can’t speak the Truth?”
No. It’s never been done, and it never will be done. The only thing you can do is to put a pointer on the way that says, “Look that way.” A false spiritual arrow is one that points to the wall and says, “Look this way.” A true arrow is one that points beyond the wall of concepts.
The literature on creativity is full of tales of breakthrough experiences. These moments come when you let go of some impediment or fears, and boom—in whooshes the muse. You feel clarity, power, freedom, as something unforeseeable jumps out of you. The literature of Zen, on which I have drawn heavily because of its deep penetration of the breakthrough experience, abounds with accounts of kensho and satori—moments of illumination and moments of total change of heart. There come points in your life when you simply kick the door open. But there is no ultimate breakthrough; what we find in the development of a creative life is an open-ended series of provisional breakthroughs. In this journey there is no endpoint, because it is the journey into the soul.
In my own life, music taught me to listen, not just to sound but to who I am. I discovered the relevance of our many mystical or esoteric traditions to the practical life of art making. “Mysticism” does not refer to cloudy belief systems or to hocus-pocus; it refers to direct and personal spiritual experience, as distinct from organized religion in which one is expected to believe secondhand experiences passed on in sacred books or by teachers or authorities. It is the mystics who bring creativity into religion. The mystic or visionary attitude expands and concretizes art, science, and daily life as well. Do I believe what “the Man” tells me, or am I going to try things out for myself and see what’s really true for me?
Creativity is a harmony of opposite tensions, as in lila or divine play. As we ride through the flux of our own creative processes, we hold onto both poles. If we let go of play, our work becomes ponderous and stiff. If we let go of the sacred, our work loses its connection to the ground on which we live.
Knowledge of the creative process cannot substitute for creativity, but it can save us from giving up on creativity when the challenges seem too intimidating and free play seems blocked. If we know that our inevitable setbacks and frustrations are phases of the natural cycle of creative processes, if we know that our obstacles can become our ornaments, we can persevere and bring our desires to fruition. Such perseverance can be a real test, but there are ways through, there are guideposts. And the struggle, which is guaranteed to take a lifetime, is worth it. It is a struggle that generates incredible pleasure and joy. Every attempt we make is imperfect; yet each one of those imperfect attempts is an occasion for a delight unlike anything else on earth.
Most of us are perfectly capable of making distinctions within the Christian world. The fact that someone is a Boston Roman Catholic doesn’t mean he’s in league with Irish Republican Army bomb makers, just as not all Orthodox Christians have ties to Serbian war criminals or Southern Baptists to the murderers of abortion doctors.
Yet many of our leaders have a tendency to see the Islamic world as a single, terrifying monolith. Had the George W. Bush administration been more aware of the irreconcilable differences between the Salafist jihadists of Al Qaeda and the secular Baathists of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the United States might never have blundered into a disastrous war, and instead kept its focus on rebuilding post-Taliban Afghanistan while the hearts and minds of the Afghans were still open to persuasion.
Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative is one of America’s leading thinkers of Sufism, the mystical form of Islam, which in terms of goals and outlook couldn’t be farther from the violent Wahhabism of the jihadists.His videos and sermons preach love, the remembrance of God (or “zikr”) and reconciliation. His slightly New Agey rhetoric makes him sound, for better or worse, like a Muslim Deepak Chopra. But in the eyes of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, he is an infidel-loving, grave-worshiping apostate; they no doubt regard him as a legitimate target for assassination.
For such moderate, pluralistic Sufi imams are the front line against the most violent forms of Islam. In the most radical parts of the Muslim world, Sufi leaders risk their lives for their tolerant beliefs, every bit as bravely as American troops on the ground in Baghdad and Kabul do. Sufism is the most pluralistic incarnation of Islam — accessible to the learned and the ignorant, the faithful and nonbelievers — and is thus a uniquely valuable bridge between East and West.
The great Sufi saints like the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi held that all existence and all religions were one, all manifestations of the same divine reality. What was important was not the empty ritual of the mosque, church, synagogue or temple, but the striving to understand that divinity can best be reached through the gateway of the human heart: that we all can find paradise within us, if we know where to look.
Excerpt from “Holding Life Consciously,” a Speaking of Faith conversation with Arthur Zajonc, Director of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and Professor of Physics, Amherst College (June 24, 2010):
So the contemplative becomes an avenue not only into a kind of interiority for ourselves, you know, our own moral and, say, lives of purpose and meaning and so forth that we may brood over, which is something different than meditating. But also there's an objective character to the contemplative inquiry, the kind that [Rudolph] Steiner is interested in where one is oriented towards the other, towards the world around us, towards nature.
And one comes to know the interior of the exterior. One comes to know the inside of every outside. It's not only human beings that have an interior or an inside, but that the world around us as well can be known inwardly. Strike a bell and you can listen to the sound, but you can also move towards the qualities that are more aesthetic and even moral in nature that deal with the sounding bell or the particular color or that painting that's there or the music that you're hearing.
So life is dense with those levels of experience, but we need to calm ourselves, get clear, get quiet, direct attention, sustain the attention, open up to what is normally invisible, and certain things begin to show themselves. Maybe gently to begin with, but nonetheless it deepens and enriches our lives. If we are committed to knowledge, then we ought to be committed also to exploring the world with these lenses, with this method in mind and heart.
You know, otherwise we're kind of doing it halfway. And then when we go to solve the problems of our world, whether they're educational or environmental, we're bringing only half of our intelligence to bear; we've left the other half idle or relegated it to religious philosophers. But if we're going to be integral ourselves, you know, have a perspective which is whole, then we need to bring all of our capacities to the issues that we confront, spiritual capacities as well as more conventional sensory-based intellects and the like.
Excerpts from “Hallucinogens Have Doctors Tuning In Again,” by John Tierney, New York Times, April 12, 2010:
Researchers from around the world are gathering this week in San Jose, California, for the largest conference on psychedelic science held in the United States in four decades. They plan to discuss studies of psilocybin and other psychedelics for treating depression in cancer patients, obsessive-compulsive disorder, end-of-life anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction to drugs or alcohol.
…Scientists are especially intrigued by the similarities between hallucinogenic experiences and the life-changing revelations reported throughout history by religious mystics and those who meditate. These similarities have been identified in neural imaging studies conducted by Swiss researchers and in experiments led by Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins.
…“There’s this coming together of science and spirituality,” said Rick Doblin, the executive director of Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. “We’re hoping that the mainstream and the psychedelic community can meet in the middle and avoid another culture war. Thanks to changes over the last 40 years in the social acceptance of the hospice movement and yoga and meditation, our culture is much more receptive now, and we’re showing that these drugs can provide benefits that current treatments can’t.”
…Dr. Charles S. Grob, a psychiatrist who is involved in an experiment at U.C.L.A., describes it as “existential medicine” that helps dying people overcome fear, panic and depression.
“Under the influences of hallucinogens,” Dr. Grob writes, “individuals transcend their primary identification with their bodies and experience ego-free states before the time of their actual physical demise, and return with a new perspective and profound acceptance of the life constant: change.”
1. Know when you're not in pain.
2. Do not feel bad about feeling bad.
3. Do not feed the monsters.
4. Start every thought with kindness and humor.
Read more about these steps on the Huffington Post.
Meng was one of Google’s earliest software engineers and now serves as Head of the School of Personal Growth for Google University. One of his projects is the Search Inside Yourself program which is based on mindfulness and emotional intelligence. Norman Fischer has taught for the program and I just read a tweet from Meng indicating that my mindfulness teacher, Shinzen Young, is visiting Google today.