Among The Thistles

How can one sleep with a moon like this?  It’s so early it’s not even early, it’s late.  I mean early, you’re not up yet, not awake yet, slurps of hot liquid with eyes closed, fan of the mind humming, oscillating between two levels of consciousness, tendons shortened, digestive organs finishing up their work. 

Ten-thousand pinpricks of light still glimmer overhead, and you’re already out walking.

Hormones have been secreting, cells have been forming in your bone marrow, the liver is a tireless magician, the sublime workhorse of your heart has been laying low, half-drunk old man in a hammock.  And, like a gathering wind in the distance, love rises. 

It rises above lies and dictations, the sound of the mind.  It rises above the texture of your words, the swirling ether of your thoughts.  It blows among the thistles, it blows through your whole life.

A love so impossibly vast, unbearable its confinement.

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A Passage From Natalie Goldberg’s Long Quiet Highway

The following passage is from one of my favorite books of all time, Natalie Goldberg’s Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up In America, the story of her 12-year relationship with her spiritual teacher, Zen master Katagiri Roshi, until the time of his death.  Interwoven with her experiences as a Zen student is a memoir of her life, beginning in 1950’s Long Island, and how her journey to free the writer within herself was connected to her journey as a spiritual seeker.  This passage resonates with me because it points to the true depth of responsibility involved in taking the seat of a teacher, and the potentiality of a beautifully functioning teacher/student relationship.

“We have an illusion that a certain time, a certain place, a certain person is the only way.  Without it, or them, we are lost.  It is not true.  Impermanence teaches us this.  There is no one thing to hold on to.

Once, a few years earlier, I told Roshi in anger ‘I’m never coming back here’.  He laughed and said ‘The gate swings both ways, I cannot hold anyone’.  Yet when I returned two months later I could tell he was happy to see me.  But he had to go beyond his personal likes and dislikes.  He could not say to me ‘Please Natalie, don’t go.  I like you’.  He was my teacher.  As a teacher, he had the responsibility to teach me, to put forth the depth of human existence, whether he or I liked it or not.

Meetings end in departures is a quote from the early Sutras of Shakyamuni.  No matter how long the meeting, or what the relationship, we depart from each other.  Even marriage or monkhood end in death.  ‘In the face of that truth’, he said, ‘you can go or come’.  He was not tossed away by personal preferences.  It was his practice to stand on something larger, regardless of his subjective feelings.  And if I returned, the choice had to be mine.  I was responsible for myself.

I drove my thick carcass out of Minnesota.  I did not thank him for his great effort, did not bow in front of him, present him with a little spice cake, an orchid, a wool cap to keep his shaved priest’s head warm.  I know he understood.  He did not teach in order to receive anything, but gratitude may be the final blessing for a student.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  I know what I have received.  Knowing that, the duality of teacher and student dissolves.  The teacher can pour forth the teachings; the student absorbs them.  No resistance, no fight.  It is a moment of grace.”

 

Making Use of Heat

C.M. Rivers

Then you come to that place of burning through the atmospheric fabric of consciousness.  You learn how to make use of the intensity of heat, and you use it to burn through thoughts and emotions, fears and desires, to purify and transform. 

Because you are not your thoughts, emotions.  You are not the sum of your fears and desires, however enslaved to them you perceive yourself to be.  You are a thread in the fabric of consciousness.  You are part of the awareness that witnesses all things in this field of time, this dimension of duality.

So you can stop trying to hold on to your identity as it is defined by others.  You can start to let go of how others might see you, how they might judge you.  And you can start to release your own judgments, assumptions, and misconceptions about others.

You might arrive at a place…

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Ubuntu, Yoga, and the Illusion of Separation

Ubuntu is an ancient South African term meaning “connectedness to others”.  It points to the human virtues of humanity and compassion.

Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning “union”, “connection”, or “to join”.

Between all the reading I’ve been doing and my recent journey into yoga teacher training, I have noticed an idea that comes up again and again.  It’s the concept that our ego constantly tries to convince us that we are all separate (the ego’s effort to build and maintain any self-identification that supports the illusion of control), when actually we are all interconnected in ways that are beyond our conception.

For instance, having your body tattooed with an image that is meaningful or beautiful to you.  I have several tattoos.  I like my tattoos, but I also see them for what they are: my ego’s effort to qualify the identity it thinks it is.  It’s my ego working hard to define itself, to project a self-image it finds favorable.

The identity our ego insists is real, is of course not real.  It is an illusion brought about by the fact that we exist in a world of forms and so our thinking is limited to forms.  Who we truly are is beyond forms, and is concerned with awareness, not thinking.  When one recognizes the illusion as an illusion, it begins to die.  It dies because its survival depends upon it being thought of as reality.

The power of a yoga practice is that it teaches you to be vulnerable and humble.  From there, you begin to open up.  Stuck places inside you slowly, slowly start to move, like a dam being deconstructed one stone at a time.  Maybe life has hardened you in certain ways, and these hard edges start to soften, as you devote yourself to returning to the practice again and again.  Your awareness increases, and you begin to notice the difference between awareness and thinking.

“One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human.  Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation.  It speaks about our interconnectedness.  You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.”  –Archbishop Desmond Tutu

“Don’t seek the truth, just cease to cherish opinions.”  -Zen saying

“Our separation from each other is an optical illusion of consciousness.”  –Albert Einstein

“Give up defining yourself, to yourself or to others.  You won’t die.  You’ll come to life.” Eckhart Tolle

“Don’t become too narrow.  Live fully.  Meet all kinds of people.  You’ll learn something from everyone.  Follow what you feel in your heart.”  -Yuri Kochiyama

Luggage

Identify the contents.  How do they serve you?  Decide what to set down, what to carry.  Letting go is difficult.  Holding on is difficult.  Maybe you learn how to shift the weight, carry it differently.

Tree

The next time a storm comes, set your eyes upon a tree.  The branches toss and turn, flail and bend – and wisely so, for what happens to things that don’t bend?

But then, beneath the boughs and limbs, the trunk.  And beneath that pillar of power and stability, the roots – firmly fixed to the earth.

 

Darren Main on the Source

“If you’re able to keep returning to your focus point (in meditation), you can move still deeper into the mind and experience the true Self, because underneath these three basic levels of consciousness (conscious mind, semi-conscious mind, unconscious mind) there is a fourth.  For simplicity, I’ll refer to it as the source.  It’s important to note that all minds originate from the same source point.  This point has many names originating in many cultures.  A simple Western name would be God.  Eastern names would include the Tao and Brahman.  Albert Einstein referred to this source as the Unified Field.  Whatever you call this Source, it’s important to remember that it exists within every mind.

This source point is the origin of all thought……it’s a formless thought of pure joy, bliss and love.  This thought is present within you at this very moment and at every moment, though it’s likely to be buried under layers of physical, emotional and psychological baggage.

It is this source point that we’re trying to realize when we practice yoga.”

-Darren Main, Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic