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Archive for the ‘Quotes’ Category

It seems that so many people around me are being confronted with how they identify themselves. Things that they have taken for granted as part of their daily lives — part of who they are — seem to be popping up in new ways or slipping out of their grasp. I’m not entirely sure why, but that’s been my observation. It could be a function of the various things that have been going on with and within our world. It could also just be another one of those phases that cultures go through.

I have observed several people (myself included) reacting in various ways to this, with only a few having any real awareness as to just what has been making life so frustrating lately. There has been weariness, there has been anger, hurt, betrayal… resignation. There has also been acceptance, and letting go, and a general sense of hope that we’re finding new parts of ourselves that we’ve been searching for, even if we weren’t sure of what we would find.

I can’t help but think of how scientific discovery keeps moving toward the idea that there is really no such thing as “hard divisions” in material form, just different vibrations and resonances of the same “stuff” of which everything is made. I’m wondering: could the same be said for our minds and selves? Our thoughts, words, actions… personalities?

How much hard division is there between who we are, those who are around us, and that same “stuff” of which everything is made?

Here’s an old Zen quote that offers an answer:

天地同根      Heaven and earth and I are of the same root,

萬物一體      The ten-thousand things and I are of one substance.

Zen Master Sêng-chao/Sõjõ (僧肇 384-414), from Sacred-Texts.com

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I have been quite aware of how strong an influence is  our baseline state of mind. I’ve noticed myself feeling tense and weary, then checked to find I was carrying a sense of being drained and overwhelmed.

I have been practicing taking a deep nourishing breath, and releasing that baseline mental pattern of stress. I recognized the beauty and generosity of Life, and remembered what at gift it is to have this experience. This lifted off much of the weight that I felt, and allowed me to begin to feel more energized and relaxed.

Soon after I realized this as a conscious practice, I came across this quote. May it help you learn how to frame your own mindset into who you would prefer to be!

You become that which you think you are. Or, it is not that you become it, but that the idea gets very deeply rooted – and that’s what all conditioning is.

– Osho

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I’m sitting here processing the news that a loved one has lost a loved one whom I didn’t know well, but treasure for his place in my loved one’s life. I’m too far away to be able to offer my direct support, so I’m putting extra focus in my heart to give the indirect support I can.

It’s putting my mind on how we each process sorrow. I’m turning to my own spiritual gumbo of “Christian Zen Taoist” and so on and so forth… and realizing how tough it can be sometimes to communicate exactly how I experience the world and the people who share it with me, particularly in times like this.

I know I’ve written before that when I consider the Buddhist ideal of “non-attachment”, I view it similar to how Alan Watts spoke of “not getting hung up about things”. It’s not that we don’t develop deep and meaningful connections; rather, we practice holding in our hearts and minds the interconnectedness of all things when those individual connections are severed.

It can be a pretty painful practice while we recover from a severed connection, though.

In a well-lived life, there will be people, places and things we will love. We will treasure when they are near, and miss them when they are gone. We will feel bright joy and tranquil comfort, and if we practice we can even feel those warmths deeply while we are within them. We can also feel hot anger and cold sorrow, and it’s important to practice feeling those consciously as well. We need to not fear painful emotions, nor get caught up in the idea of them. We need to develop the strength and courage to walk through the fire and ice of our own soul, without imagining that they are anything greater than any other step on our journey to becoming skillful, powerful human hearts.

Tougher, yes. But not greater.

I think that’s part of the practice, too. Letting it be tough. Letting it feel senseless. Letting the emotions wash right over us and even carry us away for a little while, if that’s the path we’re on. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Take care things don’t get too carried away, sure, but there is nothing to fear in letting ourselves feel anger, or sorrow, or fear. We have these emotions because we’re trying to tell ourselves something, or work through something. So by sitting with ourselves and letting these lessons flow through us, we can get where we’re headed and set the baggage aside once we’ve gotten all we need out of it.

I think I’ve talked myself out on this for the moment, so I’ll just share a bit from Alan Watts’ words from his Lecture on Zen:

Jon-Jo said ‘the perfect man employs his mind as a mirror. It grasps nothing, it refuses nothing. It receives but does not keep.’ And another poem says of wild geese flying over a lake, ‘The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection, and the water has no mind to retain their image.’ In other words this is to be–to put it very strictly into our modern idiom–this is to live without hang-ups, the word ‘hang- up’ being an almost exact translation of the Japanese _bono_ and the Sanskrit _klesa_, ordinarily translated ‘worldly attachment,’ though that sounds a little bit–you know what I mean–it sounds pious, and in Zen, things that sound pious are said to stink of Zen, but to have no hang-ups, that is to say, to be able to drift like a cloud and flow like water, seeing that all life is a magnificent illusion, a plane of energy, and that there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Fundamentally. You will be afraid on the surface. You will be afraid of putting your hand in the fire. You will be afraid of getting sick, etc. But you will not be afraid of fear. Fear will pass over your mind like a black cloud will be reflected in the mirror. But of course, the mirror isn’t quite the right illustration; space would be better. Like a black cloud flows through space without leaving any track. Like the stars don’t leave trails behind them.

– Alan Watts, in “Lecture on Zen”

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I’ve been thinking again about the addictive nature of certainty, and how tough a habit it is to break. Our Commander Brain tends to require certainty in order to feel it knows who “I am” and has the control “I need” to keep structure and predictability in our lives. That’s why it’s so important to first learn how to break the addiction to certainty, so we may be able to learn HOW to learn more about what we don’t yet know.

To break this addiction, I once spent possibly a whole year practicing being uncertain. Each time I felt I had a solid ground to stand on, to start building a new “what I know” foundation, I deliberately went searching out alternate ways to think and feel, pulling the rug back from underneath my feet. I wanted to stop allowing the habit of trying to find one solid place to stand firm forevermore. I wanted to get used to walking a path of personal growth and lifetime discovery. There will always be core values that will guide and comfort me, but these are gifts I carry in my heart, not anchors that hold me down.

Allowing myself to be trapped in the comfortable chains of certainty endangers that freedom to learn and grow.  I have to thank an article I read today for describing these dangers:

Certainty is the most dangerous emotion a human being can feel in politics and religion. Certainty stops all outside thought or reason. It closes the door and is a metaphorical spit in the face of anyone who disagrees. Changing one’s mind is the essence of critical thinking. As Thomas Jefferson himself said, “Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.”

Fox News tried to tear my family apart: How they failed to incite my father, by Edwin Lyngar on Salon.com

We are blessed with a bright and beautiful world, and equally bright and beautiful minds with which to enjoy it. Let us practice freedom and skill in our minds, that we may live our lives with skillful freedom.

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I didn’t get the chance to log in last night, so I’m posting a back-dated thought.  Later today I’ll finish the thoughts I wanted to post last night.

The seeds of change are being planted all around us all the time. Some grow underground, unseen, for a long, long time before they come to fruition. We shouldn’t confuse the seeds with the full-flowering plant.

from  When Did “The Sixties” Really Begin? Here’s Why It Matters by Ira Chernus, @ Common Dreams   

We also shouldn’t confuse the fact we don’t yet have a full-flowering plant as discouragement from tending to our seeds.

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Sometimes I get to thinking about how much more difficult it is to live a mindful life while dealing with mind-numbing frustration and chaos. I’ve never read The Brothers Karamazov, but I remember being told about the exchange where the brother in the monastery was told how good and moral he was. He replied to the other brother that it’s easy to be good when in a monastery; it’s a real task to face down the troubles and temptations of the world outside. Paraphrased, obviously, but that’s how I remember hearing it.

I think of this whenever I hear of the old honored tradition of a man leaving his family life at a certain point to study Buddhism, or otherwise remove himself from everyday life to seek wisdom. (Rarely, there are stories of women doing this, but it was at times expected of men at a certain age.) I have often envied that notion — not leaving my family, but leaving off having to keep up with the everyday hassles we face.

But as I sit here dwelling in the idea, I can’t imagine that living a life of nothing more than chores and meditation would help me nearly so much as learning how to live life alongside so many others just trying to make sense of it all. It’s tough, and it’s frustrating, and it’s wearying. But the process of learning to allow it to be smoother, to become more accepting, and to find the quiet strength within… I can’t imagine that would come faster if it wasn’t so deeply needed.

While spending time recharging in quiet and calm and supportive retreat is kind of required, I don’t think it’s as helpful for that to be the only life we live. It removes us from the very purpose of being human: living with and loving one another.

I’ll let a quote from The Brothers Karamazov express what I’m feeling on what we can best learn as a lifelong spiritual practice:

Love all God’s creation, both the whole and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of light. Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing. If thou love each thing thou wilt perceive the mystery of God in all; and when once thou perceive this, thou wilt thenceforward grow every day to a fuller understanding of it: until thou come at last to love the whole world with a love that will then be all-embracing and universal.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

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I’ve been posting fairly late at night, which is why my thoughts have been in haiku a couple of times.  I sort of like the format though, as it has helped me distill my thoughts into just a few lines.  As someone who types extremely fast — almost as fast as her stream of consciousness — I can sometimes use the help in brevity.

That said, I also can tend to assume that people are familiar with things I reference, but maybe a little reminder might help.  Yesterday’s haiku on meeting the Buddha refers to the old koan attributed to the founder of the Rinzai sect:

If you meet the Buddha, kill him. (逢佛殺佛,逢祖殺祖)

Apparently, he has a longer piece on this, as well:

Followers of the Way [of Chán], if you want to get the kind of understanding that accords with the Dharma, never be misled by others. Whether you’re facing inward or facing outward, whatever you meet up with, just kill it! If you meet a buddha, kill the buddha. If you meet a patriarch, kill the patriarch. If you meet an arhat, kill the arhat. If you meet your parents, kill your parents. If you meet your kinfolk, kill your kinfolk. Then for the first time you will gain emancipation, will not be entangled with things, will pass freely anywhere you wish to go.[7]

Can you see what he’s saying there? Linji worked pretty hard to help his students let go of the conceptual understandings of their own essential nature, once they had the full concepts down. See, the more we know, the more we start to identify with that information. We forget that knowledge and images and understanding and even letting go isn’t our essential nature. It’s just the fun our essential nature gets to have.

So the “killing the Buddha” bit isn’t about ending a life, it’s about ending a life of looking outside oneself for the most innate truths we can experience. As soon as you see something that appears to be outside yourself, it’s important to find a way to cut through that barrier and recognize how all you observe is a reflection within your own self.

Look at it this way: everything you hear, it’s your own ears sending signals to your own brain to decode using your own filters and understandings. Same with things you see, taste, touch, dream… all that. Any understanding you have is just making connections among your own internal wiring — you must already have the tools and the materials within to create anything for you. Others can help trigger these, sure, but that’s the same thing as coming across new blueprints. YOU engage with them. YOU make sense of them. YOU build further within yourself the plans YOU perceive in them according to YOUR nature.

At its core though, that nature is the same essential nature shared by all. Underneath our etchings and fiddlings with our memories and habits, our core nature retains its purity as the uncarved block. As fun as it is to see things outside ourselves as particularly wise, or beautiful, or sacred, eventually we have to set aside our mask and recognize we aren’t looking at something outside ourselves; we are viewing ourselves through a different mirror.

When you see the Buddha, then, go ahead and bow. Just recognize that you aren’t bowing to a greater or lesser being. You’re bowing to that essential nature that is also you, yourself.

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I’m listening to my baby babble happily to his mobile as he’s taking his time getting to sleep, and it’s a beautiful sound.  He’s one reason I’ve devoted myself to getting my focus together to create things that feel important to me, since I want him to own his voice and use it wisely and well.  I figure the only way I could hope for that through him is to first try to make it real through myself.  Example is the strongest teacher, especially when it contradicts the words.

I was just responding to the patient and poetic J. A. Jordan about creativity, and it set my mind on the topic.  I keep meaning to get back to themes and values in When Atlas Shirked, but I want to close out the week by talking about why I think it’s important to continually participate in conscious creation.  And I don’t just mean what people normally think of as creation, as in inventing things or writing or creating other types of art.  I also mean the creation and re-creation of ideas, and values, and emotions, and understanding — continually creating who we are.

Here’s what thoughts rambled off the tips of my fingers:

I always need to be creating something.  To me, that’s what life is, a continual act of creation – either we work to create consciously, or are created by the haphazard influences of our subconscious internalization of our environment.

Someone once said something to the effect that “To be alive is to experience constant change, a continual farewell to who and what we have known. So we can either participate in constant creation and truly live, or cling to the past in stagnation. Only the dead do not change”

I then went to go look up where I had last read something like that, and found it was an old philosophical text I was working on at one point, modeled after the Hagakure.  I only got three chapters in, and it’s in a pretty dry style since I was modeling off a pretty dry translation, so I’ll have to think about whether it’d be worth y’all’s time posting it here.  Especially since that would seem to me like an inherent dare to finish it.

Regardless, I know I’m not the only person to have thought this way, so I think you’ll have some understanding of how I feel.  Stagnation brings a heavy, frustrating feeling of stuckness, and has the same general effects on our health and psyche as being physically caged.  (In my own observation)  And the longer we feel stuck, the more we feel being lost to or drained away by a bad situation, the harder it is to pull ourselves out of the mud and move on.

What’s worse, we can feel so invested in our stuckness, it seems like a bad investment to let go and move on.  I think that ties in to our fear of death, which to me seems like a fear of losing what we know to face what we can’t be sure of.  But to me, that’s what life is all about.  We are continually losing the present into the past, to face the future for all its hopes and fears.  In order to make use of the present, we have to let go of all that and free our hands up to create every single moment as best we can.

I thought I shared this thought here already, but I couldn’t find it, so here goes:

Be careful that you don’t become like the gambler who bets what he can’t afford to lose on a hand that just can’t win.   He’s lost so much already, he can’t bear to cut his losses and walk away.

I hope that conveys what I’m trying to convey, because I’m finding this difficult to pin down.  I think I’m going to accept that as the nature of my thoughts right now.  Rather than try to force them into a particular shape, I believe it’s best to let them go to be as they are.

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Today I’m blogging off a comment I put down for Jo Ann J. A. Jordan, one of WordPress’s many genuine poets.  While writing it, I realized I want to tell this to everyone, and for them to feel the truth in it. Let’s see how this goes…

One of life’s tragedies is that we feel as though we have to seek permission to honor in ourselves the ways we follow the calling of our souls.  It’s like we don’t have the right to be who we know we must become, unless some group of people with sufficient authority grants us their permission through honors or awards.

Alan Watts got it right when he said it’s a mistake to to try to separate something being done from the thing that’s doing it.  As I ended up writing it once, truth lives not through nouns, but through verbs.  We are what we do.  If one writes, one is a writer.  If one sings, one is a singer.  If one dances, one is a dancer.  If one creates, one is a creator.  That’s because a writer is one who writes, a dancer is who sings, and so on.  Descartes had it backwards: I am, therefore I think.

Somehow, we lost that.  I won’t get into my theories on how this happened, but we got trained to look outside for validation.  This oppressive need for outside validation is part of what makes people arrogant and obnoxious over whether they or others have a rightful claim to particular nouns.  Some people get pompous and ridiculous over nouns they seize, further discouraging the humble among us from feeling like we can use them.

Forget about all that.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is who you do, because this is what creates who you are.  You create to feed a hunger in your soul.  Let it feed you.  Don’t question whether you have a right to how good the soulfood makes you feel — it’s yours.  You need it.  EAT IT.

Would it be great for more people to find and enjoy and reward you for your work?  YES!  Is that needed for it to be valuable?

No.

You are a part of this world.  That means your presence inherently makes a difference in what the world becomes.  You can’t escape that.  When you care for yourself and find value in this, then your difference is a good one.

And that’s what matters.

So please, do what brings you joy.  Remember to smile at yourself, and feel the warm glow of doing what you cherish.  That right there is the greatest service to world peace.

If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.

Thich Nhat Hanh

And because I promised, a poem on sports for the Poem a Day challenge:

My doubt falls away

I no longer need to win

Running is the race

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Came across this quote recently, which struck me as perfectly speaking to the mindset of someone I know. Maybe it’ll have some things to say to you, too…

The thing about Zen is that it pushes contradictions to their ultimate limit where one has to choose between madness and innocence. And Zen suggests that we may be driving toward one or the other on a cosmic scale. Driving toward them because, one way or the other, as madmen or innocents, we are already there.

It might be good to open our eyes and see.

Thomas Merton

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