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Graciously Share Yourself

In the great rest and great halting the lips become moldy and mountains of grass grow on your tongue. Moving straight ahead [beyond this state], totally let go, washed clean and ground to a fine polish. Respond with brilliant light to such unfathomable depths as the waters of autumn or the moon stamped in the sky. Then you must know there is a path on which to turn yourself around. When you do turn yourself around you have no different face that can be recognized. Even if you do not recognize your face, still nothing can hide it. This is penetrating from the topmost all the way down to the bottom. When you have thoroughly investigated your roots back to their ultimate source, a thousand or ten thousand sages are no more than footprints on the trail. In wonder return to the journey, avail yourself of the path and walk ahead. In light there is darkness; where it operates no traces remain. With the hundred grass tips in the busy marketplace graciously share yourself. Wide open and accessible, walking along, casually mount the sounds and straddle the colors while you transcend listening and surpass watching. Perfectly unifying in this manner is simply a patch-robed monk’s appropriate activity.

~Zen Master Hongzhi

 

Excerpt from:

Cultivating the Empty Field: The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi,
translated by Taigen Dan Leighton with Yi Wu, Edited with Introduction by Taigen Dan Leighton, Revised Expanded Edition, Tuttle Publishing, 2000.

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Dalai Lama on Humanity

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered:

 

Man.
Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money.
Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.
And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.

dalailamaThe Dalai Lama, referring to humanity in this quote, definitely touches something close at heart for me. Since returning from abroad last month, I find myself pulled towards this idea of earning money. Of course there is nothing negative or wrong about earning money, yet for many of us this can become end in itself, rather than a means. When it becomes an end to itself, you can easily sacrifice your health (not just physical, but mental, emotional and so on), as well as creating the conditions to not really live in the present, living from the past and fearing the future.

First, let me address the obvious response to what I’m saying: “That would be great if I didn’t need to earn money, yet I have a mortgage, kids, and have to eat somehow”

Clearly one needs to support oneself and honor their commitments to their loved ones. Yet you can still ask yourself, is the work you do fulfilling beyond its ability to earn money to meet these commitments? I’m extremely fortunate in this time to have the ability to support myself and my partner on savings. This won’t last indefinitely, but at the present time this allows me to really ask myself, what kind of work do I want to do?

My first few days back in the United States were very difficult. I felt a collective energy towards being productive, towards contributing towards the greater good, whatever that is. I felt a heavy anxiety, thinking it would not be a good idea to live off of investments and savings, that I should keep the piggy bank full. This feeling lasted for several days – until at one point during a meditation, I observed it drop away. It wasn’t really my anxiety – it was the collective anxiety, the anxiety that first tells us that we need to earn money no matter what, and second, that we should subtly encourage others – our friends, children and colleagues that they should too, because it justifies our behavior.

This is completely new territory for me right now. My ego craves a career, to be able to label myself as xyz, to have a defined place in society. Yet when I deeply look into my values, the vows I’ve made to myself, they don’t align with this movement of the ego. My values involve seeing deeply into the nature of self, strengthening my relationships, nurturing my health and the health of the planet. On a daily basis I find myself confronted with my own patience and resolve in sticking to my values, rather than conforming to that which society and others suggest. Even my closest friends, those who have a sense of what I’m about and what I’m doing subtly challenge me – because whenever you live in atypical fashion, it in a way is forcing those close to you to question what they are doing to. For those unused to actually looking at themselves, this might not be easy.

I am no exception to the human behavior of seeking justification for my actions. Isn’t writing this post or some of the others I’ve written recently doing exactly this? This moves into a another territory of discussion around standing upright in the world, resting in your own certainty and trust. This is a real focus for me – trusting in nothing outside, carefully listening to my heart and my deepest longing, cultivating a profound faith and patience that everything is at it should be.

Sabotaging Life

Recently, I’ve observed a pattern that I would like to break. Its in the area of self-sabotage or sabotaging life. I’m trying to get at the root of this, as it’s a behavior that I find incredibly frustrating and corrosive. Some typical examples:

  • You spend an incredible evening with your lover, feeling close and full of love, and in the waning moments of the night you make a terribly insensitive comment, seemingly undoing the magic that just unfolded.
  • Its Friday night, and rather than go out with your friends you decide to stay at home and reflect in silence. You read a few pages of one of your most inspirational books, and as the last glimmers of sunlight fade into the night you are feeling incredibly open, connected. There is a sense of peace and serenity that you typically don’t find during your busy life. You feel like you’re losing track of time and space- yet before you actually realize what you’re doing, you have your iPhone in front of you and you’re reading some sort of news about some place in the world that serves to do nothing other than take you out of yourself.
  • You meet your best friend for lunch, and in typical fashion you jump into an intense conversation about life, dreams, frustrations, fears and aspirations. Your friend provokes your unwillingness to make a career shift, despite your constant complaining of your current situation. You find yourself coming up with excuses, citing the many reasons its not a good time to make change, how there will be a better time in the future. You head back to work, feeling terrible.

I’m sure we can come up with a few more.  Do any of these ring a bell?

What is at the root of these behaviors? I would like to focus mostly on the first two examples which share something in common: A fear of deep intimacy. Whether with another person or with the world (which at some level are the same thing), there is a pulling back from love, a return to the safety of one’s own shell. The insensitive comment or pouring your attention into the iPhone both serve a similar function: providing a separation between you and the world. By drawing this line, our ego can remain comfortable. It no longer has to worry about disappearing in the vastness. It creates clear boundaries between self and other and rests comfortably on its side of the line. On your side of the line, you can hide your vulnerability, you can choose to remain ambivalent to another man’s pain. You can rest comfortably in your own projected world, allowing your body, speech and mind to reinforce this projected world.

Yet what happens when you start to observe the patterns above? You realize that your actions are simply habits that serve to return you to your safety-net and reinforce your projected world of separation. In those deeply intimate moments with your lover or in nature, you can taste an entirely different way of being in this world. Just the thought of maintaining that level of intimacy in all your interactions is overwhelming. Yet why would you not choose this?

This returns me to the original question: How do I break these patterns? I don’t think there’s an easy answer. Developing the witness and noticing the patterns is the first step. Then slowly cultivating the ability to remain, or rest in these new and unknown situations of intimacy is the second.  Which I think also implies living in a way that creates the conditions for intimacy. For me, some of these conditions are: living with a lover, slowing down my pace, meditation and spiritual practice with others, being regularly in nature. Once the edges start to break from these habits, it’s a matter of time, attention and intention for them to dissolve more fully.

Blogging Evolved

Daily life tends to fluctuate between inward and outward patterns, sometimes moment by moment. On a deeper level, one’s life generally follows patterns of entering and pulling back from engagement with the world. After a long period of such pulling back, I’ve stared writing publicly again. I spent most of the past 15 months in practice environments. This time was split between my Zen Monastery in Crestone, Colorado and the Meditation/Yoga schools of Hridaya and Agama based in Koh Phangan, Thailand and Mazunte, Mexico. This time was focused very much on self-discovery, intimate relationship and seeking a truer way of life. While this inward journey continues, I find myself longing more and more for engagement – in a creative sense.  With and through others, developing a community of individuals seeking to come together around one of the most important questions – Who am I ?

My current writing is focused on my day to day experiences, re-developing a habit of writing and articulating inward experience to others. I find writing incredibly nourishing in the sense that it provides me the opportunity to pause and reflect in this world of ceaseless activity. These pauses enable me to more closely examine my life and make adjustments of my relationships to others and the world with a greater sense of clarity then simply going with the flow and relaying on a more frantic mind to make such decisions.

Regarding the title of this post, I want to share my greater vision for this blog and my writing. Speaking in a pure business sense, all of my writing and ideas are in a sense creating something like a brand. Just as one is identified in the world via their personality, their actions and words, a blog is an extension of this. So this Keith brand, what exactly do I want it to be about? I’m not necessarily talking about turning my blog into a business or something that generates income (although that would be nice!), but something that is an extension of who I am.  Well who am I then? This is where the blog evolves. As I continue to hold deeply to the question of Who am I? while engaging in the world, the evolution occurs.

As I see it right now, there are four themes that my life continuously engages in and that I would like to more deeply explore for myself and others:

  1. Meditation (and Yoga)
  2. Masculinity (and intimate relationship)
  3. Personal finance
  4. ~TBD

The forth category is quite broad at the moment and I need help refining it. It revolves around lifestyle and some of its main components:

  1. Simple Living
  2. Alternative lifestyles (Escaping the 9-5)
  3. Health
  4. a few more random topics

Somehow I want to create a place where these themes weave together in a way that will help me continue to evolve in my own life, intermingling the fundamental topics of meditation and spirituality along with the more conventional topics of finance, relationship and day to day life.

As a reader, I would really appreciate some feedback on this one – does it make sense to focus on these themes? Are they too broad/disparate? What areas would you individually like to read about?  Thanks in advance for your feedback!

Mountain Splendor

Yesterday I joined my friend Jason for a quick after-work rock climb in Boulder Canyon. We met at 6:30, hurrying to a crag near the road to try to beat the fast-approaching 7:45 sunset. Dancing around poison ivy on our way up the short and steep approach to the base of the climb, we quickly got ready and up I went. It was my first time on lead in almost a year and a half. As I inched up the nearly vertical wall, I noticed the bodily memory slowly returning  – shifting my weight slightly to clip a draw, crimping my fingers to gain a better hold and feeling the quality of the rock to evaluate its friction. What was not returning so quickly was my physical stamina and mental fortitude, often finding myself out of breath and a little scared at potential 15-20 foot falls.  That will return as I continue to climb and get strong.

After we both climbed the route, we took a minute to appreciate the last moments of the day, as nightfall descended on the canyon. We had a beautiful view in every direction, the sound of Boulder Creek heard below us.  The air was crisp, clean, nurturing. Jason made a comment to the likes of “I love being here”, and I couldn’t agree more.

It was May of 2011 the last time I truly lived in Boulder – I’ve had remarkable experiences in this time – but this is one of the things I missed most. Spending time with a good friend, having access to such incredible nature.  Resting in and enjoying that somewhat indescribable moment of joy after completing a challenging climb and taking a moment to enjoy the splendor of the surroundings. Climbing for me is much more than a sport – it’s an element of my spiritual practice. Pushing myself to the edge, getting to intimately know my body and its abilities, finding the elusive ‘no-mind’ as I move up a wall knowing a moment of inattention could result in my death or a nasty injury.

I’m finding incredible peace in my first two weeks back in Boulder. An ease might be the best way to describe it, an ease I had misplaced for a bit.

Looking for Your Face

From the beginning of my life
I have been looking for your face
but today I have seen it

Today I have seen
the charm, the beauty,
the unfathomable grace
of the face
that I was looking for

Today I have found you
and those who laughed
and scorned me yesterday
are sorry that they were not looking
as I did

I am bewildered by the magnificence
of your beauty
and wish to see you
with a hundred eyes

My heart has burned with passion
and has searched forever
for this wondrous beauty
that I now behold

I am ashamed
to call this love human
and afraid of God
to call it divine

Your fragrant breath
like the morning breeze
has come to the stillness of the garden
You have breathed new life into me
I have become your sunshine
and also your shadow

My soul is screaming in ecstasy
Every fiber of my being
is in love with you

Your effulgence
has lit a fire in my heart
for me
the earth and sky

My arrow of love
has arrived at the target
I am in the house of mercy
and my heart
is a place of prayer

~ The Love Poems of Rumi

Activity vs. Action

This morning I want to discuss the difference between activity and action. As far as the dictionary is concerned, there is not a big difference. Merriam-Webster defines activity as: the quality or state of being active. The definition of active leads us to: characterized by action rather than by contemplation or speculation. And finally action: the process of exerting a force or bringing about an effect that results from the inherent capacity of an agent OR an act of will.

So these words are closely related and even interchangeable at times, why bother? First, in my continued read of Tantra: The Supreme Understanding, by Osho I came across a section where Osho is commenting on how to be like a hollow bamboo, how to relax the mind and find ease in the body. In doing so, he looks specifically at these two words. The second reason is that this practice, of taking two closely related concepts and deeply examining them, is something my Zen teacher, Zentatsu Baker-roshi, often presents his students with. In the end, its not about finding the correct definitions or being right, it is an opportunity to examine the subtleties of our lives – to ultimately put these concepts to work for us and open us to greater possibilities of being. Maybe after reading this you will no longer view activity and action as the same thing, or you may notice similar structures of our language that you can explore in order to find something meaningful in your own life.

First, Osho’s words:

Remember two words: one is “action,” another is “activity.” Action is not activity; activity is not action. Their natures are diametrically opposite. Action is when the situation demands it, you act, you respond. Activity is when the situation doesn’t matter, it is not a response; you are so restless within, that the situation is just an excuse to be active.

Action comes out of a silent mind – its is the most beautiful thing in the world. Activity comes out of a restless mind – it is the ugliest. Action is moment to moment, spontaneous; activity is irrelevant. Action is moment to moment, spontaneous; activity is loaded with the past. It is not a response to the present moment, rather, it is a pouring your restlessness, which you have been carrying from the past, into the present. Action is creative. Activity is very very destructive – it destroys you, it destroys others.

I’ve heard it said that Osho is often over the top. Does activity really destroy? Remember he is pushing it to the edge so that we can see the differences.

Observing myself this past weekend while holding this passage in mind, I found it is quite difficult to define whether or not something that I was doing was an activity or an action. The truth is, according to Osho’s definition, most of what I was doing was a form of activity, based on habits or restlessness. Eating is often the easiest place to observe this delicate distinction. For example, you are hungry, then you eat – this is action. But many times you aren’t that hungry, and you go on eating anyway – this is activity. This is where Osho brings in the destructiveness: you destroy food, unnecessarily, to give you a small release of your inner restless ness. This destruction is sort of an unconsciousness violence.

Action is always spontaneous, it takes the total situation into account. It is a response to life, to the present moment without bringing in the past. You are hungry and find food, you are thirsty and seek water, you are sleepy and go to bed. We often rationalize our activities as necessary actions. “I became angry at this situation because of xyz and this was the appropriate response.” Its these very rationalizations that become what Gurdjieff called “buffers.” These buffers help us remain unconscious of the actual situation and action required of it, allowing us to rest in our old habits.

Many of us grow up with some version of the proverb “It’s better to do something rather than nothing.”  And because of this we have an obsession to be active, often meeting this obsession in useless activity. Thought itself can be an activity or action. Our your thoughts right now based on a total response to this very moment, or do they more closely resemble a mixture of your past with your current desires and needs?

Activity is your escape from yourself. In action you are; in activity you have escaped from yourself – it is a drug. In activity you forget yourself, and when you forget yourself there are no worries, no anguish, no anxiety. That’s why you need to be continuously active, doing something or other, but never in a state when non-doing flowers in you and blooms.

Action is good. Activity is ill. Find the distinction within yourself: what is activity and what is action; that is the first step. The second step is to be more involved in action so that the energy moves into action; and whenever there is activity to be more watchful about it, more alert. If you are aware, activity ceases, energy is preserved, and the same energy becomes action.

Action is immediate. It is nothing ready-made, it is not prefabricated. It doesn’t give you any chance to make a preparation, to go through a rehearsal. Action is always new and fresh like the dew drops in the morning. And a person who is a person of action is always fresh and young. The body becomes old, but his freshness continues.

Be aware. Feel the difference between action and activity. And when activity takes hold of you, when the activity possesses you, watch it, even if you have to do it, do it with full awareness. Let things drop, don’t drop them. Let activity disappear, don’t force it to disappear- because the very effort to force it to disappear is again activity in another form. Watch, be alert, conscious, and you come to a very very miraculous phenomenon: when something drops by itself, on its own accord, it leaves no trace on you.

Act more, and let activities drop on their own accord, a transformation will come to you by and by. It takes time, it needs seasoning, but there is no hurry.

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