Finding the Space Between

What do you think about? Images come to us, strange and vivid; the stories our brain spins for us as it works through the events of the day. The mind is constantly busy coming up with stories to cope with the flow of information coming from the world around us as well as our memories and imaginations. Our brains are very smart – they manage an array of information that we aren’t consciously aware of, constantly trying to keep us safe from danger, fed, healthy, and connected socially.

When we start to meditate we become aware of the stories we tell ourselves, the hopes and fears that our minds come up with in such a torrent. In fact, for a while, it seems as if the mind gets even more busy with these stories, as a way to cope with the unfamiliarity of the practice. What’s this sitting around all about? There must be something I should be doing or thinking right now! The torrent of thought that happens in the new-found stillness of meditation points to the wisdom that thoughts, like dreams, are one of the ways we work with the changing landscape of our lives. In fact, we can be grateful for the marvelously inventive thought-process we have because it’s what makes us so successful as a species. Narrative is the origin of our creativity. Frankly, our stories can be quite fun, when we aren’t feeling trapped by them.

It’s ok to think. Really. Our success as a meditator does not rely on stopping thoughts. Rather, we notice the thoughts and come back to the breath. We practice coming back home to the sensation of the body breathing. There is an awareness between the thoughts; that’s how we know we are thinking. In that way, thinking is our ally: a bellwether showing us the space in our mind.

So, how do we work with all that thinking in our daily life? It’s similar to meditation – come back. There is a reality that is deeper than thought. Between the thoughts, in the body, where awareness rests. Whenever you think of it, take a moment to bring your awareness down into the body and you will find it every time. That’s a reality you can rely on; a reality that transcends all the stories we tell ourselves.

I guarantee that if you do this, you will take your stories a lot less seriously, and this will help you to be kind: not just to others but to yourself as well.

Winter

It’s cold out there; even colder than the Arctic chill at Times Square. The country seems to be at its own throat. It’s hard not to choose sides in the struggle for America’s soul, but whatever side you choose it still seems like everything has fallen apart. Society is in chaos, there seems to be no road to true progress. When will people learn to talk to each other? Where is the solution to all this coming from?

I don’t know what will happen. We all depend on one another for survival, but we don’t seem to trust one another. It’s easy to try to place blame for this mess, but is that helping?

This is Winter. When there is no road ahead, the only thing to do seems to be to despair, but the wisdom of the seasons tells us: this is the time to wait. More than that, this is an opportunity to see the world with fresh eyes. The very fear that we experience is a reminder of just how much we rely on one another. If I am fearful, what must my neighbor feel? Maybe that’s a good place to start.

Let’s try to find, in this new year, a way to be interested in those around us. Let’s take stock of what we have – the earth we stand on. What do we have to be grateful for? And what can we offer?

We are all in this together.

The sun will rise tomorrow, or maybe it won’t, but let’s try to wake up now.

At Least Remember Tacos

You’re never alone.

No, seriously.

Yes, you.

I don’t care what horrible thing you think makes you special. I’ve been through some bad shit; my parents went through worse. I got friends who are going through impossible circumstances and somehow managing to love one another and share laughs, and still trying to help the world around them.

Oh, but it was something bad that you did? You’re still beautiful; I don’t care.

Own up to who you are. But own up to all of it, please. Remember that you love dogs, or your kids or your parents, or tacos. Remember those amazing people who make tacos and think how grateful you could be for them. There’s someone out there just like you who is so down on their-self right now that the only thing they can think of is that they love tacos. Feel compassion for that person right now. And then – feel compassion for you.

I can’t figure out how to embed this, but here’s a bit by Maria Bamford on why you don’t need to hate yourself.

This Awkward Moment

“Awkward is not the enemy” ~Nick Kranz

Yes, it’s true. Absolutely. That moment when you’re not sure what’s going on, when your heart is in your throat, when the ground seems tenuous, that moment – when you notice it, it becomes right now. Feel yourself breathing, bring your awareness down into your chest, into your belly. Then look up and out into the sky around you.

No idea what’s going to happen next? That’s awesome. This is the moment.

Loneliness

I was lonely, so

I went looking for my friend,

But when I arrived at the usual place,

all I found there

was the red lady.

All gone, she said,

Gone beyond, gone

beyond the beyond.

 

The air shifted, the speakers crackled

To life, the sound of deep voices

OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHIH:

And a great wind blew through the space,

And all was still and silence.

 

My heart is full, dear one,

As I gaze into the space where I sought you.

Tears fall down my face.

But I have to get back to work.

Wheel of Existence

House of Cards

So, I spent another morning on Facebook. I think it’s probably a distraction for me – a distraction from being with myself. I won’t say that I don’t like me; that’s just not the deal. What it is, is that I am afraid, maybe. Existence comes with so many reminders of imperfection and decay. My left hip is tingling right now, just to remind me that someday my walking will be even worse than it is now. Hey, maybe I will even be in a wheelchair someday! Nothing I can do about it now except move in spite of it. The doctors can’t find anything going on there besides a touch of arthritis. So, ya know, just take the pills every day. And the pills cause damage too, while still allowing me to work and live a bit longer. But who knows when it all falls apart?

I am afraid.

I was sitting at practice this morning, and I had this glimpse of vision that the sadhana is like a house of cards – tenuous, illusory, fragile. But maybe the wisdom in that is the realization that existence itself has that same quality. It all falls apart. That it was ever in one piece is the miracle, and maybe the sadhana is an attempt to see the deity that exists in the worn-down, falling-apart existence that we so often wish to denigrate – the decay that we avoid seeing.

Reality appears to me in the form of a deity – shining with white light and with a compassionate face. He says, look: it’s all falling apart. This is the way things are. The sun rises and sets, mountains rise and fall, planets spin in their decaying orbits, and humans are born to die. The only ones upset by this are those who try to avoid this fact or take refuge in some form of salvation. Feel your heart and open your eyes. There is something you will never possess nor understand; take refuge in that. It’s ok to be afraid; find me in the fear.

Find reality within the fear.

When I find myself spinning my wheels, it seems like a good time to stop for a moment and touch my heart. Bringing my awareness into my body, into my heart center, gives me the stability to be present with this decaying body, this messy apartment, this messy fucked-up life. It lets me be present with my emotions without repressing them or acting them out. In short, being present allows me to see the sacredness of this existence and give all beings the respect they deserve.

As a practical application, being present with myself gives me the ability to stop spinning my wheels avoiding the present reality and apply myself to a path of study and practice. It allows me to see my own sacredness within the decay and imperfection of existence.

Picture credit: P. Roelli, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=392461

Tigers Above, Tigers Below

So, as I once heard, the story went like this: A young woman ran, pursued by a tiger, and climbed down a vine over the edge of a precipice as her pursuing tiger looked down on her from above. Looking down, she discovered another tiger waiting for her at the bottom of the precipice. Just then she noticed two mice, one black and one white, gnawing on the vine that held her above the ground. Casting about for what to do she spied a strawberry, plucked it and ate it. It was the sweetest strawberry she had ever tasted.

Here in a completely different life, but perhaps connected, I am waiting to hear from Social Security about whether I still have an income. They asked for information from me accounting for my various caregivers recently so that they can evaluate my disability status. I feel that they might decide I don’t need them anymore, but then what? So much of my survival is contingent on my SSI status – medicaid, food stamps, even rent assistance all hinges on it. And I don’t think I can get a job in NYC that will cover the loss of these services.

My life, as I know it now, hangs in the balance.

So, here I am on Youtube, listening to a crowd of people waiting for a concert to begin, singing Bohemian Rhapsody. And it is the sweetest sound I have ever heard.

 

White Pigeon

I gotta stop trying to preach at you folks, as if somehow I know things. All the time I’m trying to teach, I’m not saying anything. I might as well be farting- not even real down to earth honest farting that has a real aroma to it, and you can definitely say, “who farted?” but only some fake digital fart that you can’t even point to.

So, I’m gonna stop doing that. Hopefully, from now on, when I fart, you will know that I farted.

Anyway…

Today was good.

 After several days of sitting in, reading, getting nowhere in my studies, I got fed up with not having any of the food I’ve been craving – simple things really, a bit of chicken, some chocolate maybe, instead of the steady diet of end-of-the-month bologna, crackers, and processed cheese. I had roughly $20 in my account and tomorrow is the first, so I decided to splurge.

On my way to the store, I sat down by the Grand Concourse on one of the metal benches and watched the cars go by back and forth in front of me, making turns – and the people going by, crossing the intersection, singing to themselves, talking on their cell phones, walking with their kids… And the sun was rising to my left; I could see it out of the corner of my eye as I sat there in the shade, and eventually the light was in full force on my face, shining in my eyes.

In that brief moment, I tried to understand how I could be not-seeing the beings in front of me. Beings are right there, aren’t they? I know that I am projecting onto them, but they are still there, right? But what’s there beyond my projection? What is really there?

I think it’s all changing. We exist in a state of flux. Perhaps we are not individuals, but rather processes. But all I see, I am told, is a series of snapshots. So I sat there, watching and trying to understand that I wasn’t really seeing. And then, a white pigeon waddled towards me, shining in the rising light. As I watched it, it crossed in front of me, and then as a bus approached the curb, it flew suddenly, up and away, it’s wings flashing. And I thought, maybe that’s it.

And the sun shone full on my face, and it was warm. So I got up and walked to the store.

Tara, embodiment of the goodness within all of us, you exist in the nirmanakaya as the rising full moon. Help me to see clearly and to communicate goodness to suffering beings.

Gently

“I look at you all; see the love there that’s sleeping…”

I watched the debate tonight. Along with many of my friends, I reacted with the expected horror at the continued inability of our would-be leaders to understand the implications of their behavior. And yes, as a socially liberal New Yorker, I think you know who I was rooting for, and also at whom I spent that two-hour span throwing my derision. Yes, I had fun exorcising my horror at the current state of political affairs. My friends and I bolstered one another’s sense of humor in the face of circumstances that seem incredibly horrible.

But today is John Lennon’s birthday, so if only in honor of him, I feel ready to calm down and look at the situation. What I see is suffering beings. On all sides of the Hillary (and/or Bernie) v. Trump situation, I see fear. I don’t understand all the causes and conditions for this, but I do know that those who would cause suffering are themselves suffering. It’s sort of like the physical property of equal and opposite force: the pressure inside a structure must be equal and opposite to the pressure applied from the outside or a structure will not maintain coherence.

Think about it for a moment: the suffering we feel inflicted on us is equal in force to the suffering we would cause in turn upon beings around us. That some of that suffering actually comes from within doesn’t matter; we still react to it, and those reactions cause suffering.

All I know for sure is this: I am afraid. And the people on the “other” side are afraid. And the people who seem to be egging on the people of whom I am afraid are themselves afraid. And if we are afraid, then there must be something we think we must protect. We love our children, our way of life, our connection to the divine. We all have a sense of something good; something worthy of our care.

As we enter the last few weeks of the election cycle, I feel that it is important to contemplate the suffering of those who seem frightening to me, and to realize that this suffering joins us together in basic goodness.

Please get out there and vote. But please also try to be gentle in spirit towards those who frighten you.

Nothing else really helps.

*****