Overwhelmed.

Dragonfly, dragonfly, fly me up to the sky, drag down the Moon, bring her to me, in our hearts we shall sing.

Its been a stressful time in my life, on many fronts. Some very positive, some not so positive. I am moving house soon, and this is a welcome event, though wrapped with stress and complexities. My health has been sub-par recently and I find my brain sputtering, like a car engine with bad spark plugs. My glands are painful and I am very run down.

I am an American living in the UK and I am recently experiencing feelings of being a foreigner due to some restructuring at my employment. Although I have permanent residency here, I am still technically an alien and this might cause some issues in keeping my job. I have verbal assurances it wont but nothing in writing yet.

So, in times like these, where I have to be very focused and attentive and keep track of multiple highly important things going on, I have been keeping a quote from Pema Chodron in my mind: “Start where you are”.

I love this saying. It is so obvious, so simple, yet so full of wisdom. I am frequently feeling overwhelmed and lacking the necessary cognitive tools to navigate through this phase of complexity; however, keeping this phrase in my mind’s eye has proved very helpful and calming. Centering.

This, and also lists, many many lists!!!

Most people have times in their lives like this… very complex, very busy and feeling more than just a bit under the weather… During these times, meditation is very interesting to say the least. We see how fast our minds are racing, for me, my thoughts seem to be a collection of many many dogs, all of whom are chasing their tails…. All these thoughts going circular, never settling and just creating more stress . Clearly seeing our situation, whether calm or chaotic, is very important. My ‘vision’ is very hazy right now, due to my brain’s sparkplugs needing cleaning, so to speak, but I can see clearly that I am foggy, and that’s ok. I still know the moon is up there, behind those clouds, beyond my foggy ground and its pull, its gravity, can always be felt and I can never be separate from it, even if I tried!

My deep faith in the Universe’s love makes me smile, that, as well as coming home to my wonderful wife and my little boy, 2 years old, who now regularly is calling me ‘papa’. How wonderful!

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Our Path

Is our path clear? Is it the right path? Do we have a path? What lies when the path ends?

Sometimes our path is clear.

Sometimes our path is confusing.

Sometimes our path is no path.

Mindfulness unfolded from the Love of the Universe, itself unfolds deeper Love. The dancing of emptiness through our Buddha nature is our Path, or is it where our path leads us to?

Some paths are straight, some curved, some solid and some not so. Some paths are better suited to some people and other oaths for other people. As the Buddha said, be a lamp unto yourself.

This will illuminate your path, and dancing naturally follows.

When Do Dead Atoms Become Alive?

Life emerges out of lifelessness… Just as the separation between self and other is an illusion, the difference between what is alive and what is not is also not real. This tree’s trillions of atoms.. how many are the same as when it was a seedling? Not many, so what exactly is this tree? What exactly are you?

So, all living materials are fundamentally constructed of non-living atoms. All living things, can be broken down into 92 or so different atoms, 92 or so different pieces of all living puzzles. In fact, all things, living or not, all matter that exists, is made up or no more than 92 or so these different atoms, pieces, ‘building blocks’. Sounds like such a small number to me, to explain all that exists! Yet, then there’s the thought of computers, all ones and zeros, on or off, open or closed, only 2 ‘atoms’. So, 92, maybe its a big number actually.
Since humans have figured out how to play within the atom, not merely with them, but play inside them, the number of elements, or different kinds of atoms, has increased. Plutonium, for example, is ‘man-made’, and there are plutonium atoms existing on the Earth right now. However, some of the heavier ‘man-made’ elements only can exist for very short amounts of time, being radioactive, it decays quickly into a different element.
Anyhow,
Life evolved on Earth with the 92, for the most part, and it is an inherent quality of the nature of atoms that life has come into existence. The most logical explanation for life being a favorable outcome of the nature of how atoms work and interact, is through the idea of energy transformations. The Universe has a powerful quality of trying to ‘share’ its energy evenly throughout the Universe, a quality also that could be termed entropy. Through this Universal function of ‘compassion’, atoms move and interact with this ‘compassion/sharing of energy’ quality. The energy transformations that occur between atoms are directed toward maximizing the amount of energy to be transferred, always transferring the energy from higher to lower, a giving quality. Living material, life, is composed of atoms in such a way that has formed a positive feedback loop of energy transformations. We, if you will, are, by default, all beings of compassion, sharing our energy, on the most basic level, with the rest of the Earth and Universe.
So, what is the level at which a level of organization by atoms form a relationship in which energy transformations are self-regulating does this become life? Well, I think it’s exactly when these energy transformations are self-regulating. If self-regulating doesn’t mean life, i don’t know what does!
So, thinking more about it, each atom is involved, they are the basis, the foundation, so the atoms, by the definition above, are in fact living. They are self-regulating energy transformations. For example, just as multicellular organism’s cells evolved by incorporating bacteria to make mitochondria, bacteria incorporated atoms to make a nucleus. Life envelops itself, wrapping and winding up, hugging and processing the energy, adding to the dance of the Universe.

Or something like that.

(I originally wrote this back in February 2010)

Ego-mind and the Four Noble Truths

There is a way out of Samsara…

In Buddhism, it can be said that the ego-mind is an illusion and we should practice hard to realize that this is true. The Buddha laid down the 4 Noble Truths, which is the foundation of Buddhism and they are:

1)      Suffering is real and it is ultimately inescapable. (How very depressing!!)

2)      Suffering exists because the human mind creates attachments.

3)      Suffering can be overcome.

4)      There is a Way, the Eightfold Path, which leads us to overcome suffering forever.

So, ‘suffering’ is at the heart of Buddhism. The Buddha came to the realization that all beings will experience suffering at some point, without exception.

He then figured out that this suffering is, to put it bluntly, ‘all in our mind’… This is because when we create attachments, of any kind, we create a false reality, a model of reality. A simple example would be: A person sees a horse for the first time ever in their lives. They never realized how HUGE they are in person and becomes a bit nervous/scared. In the future, they may say, “Oh, I am afraid of horses!”… this is because of attaching to past experiences. Perhaps the next time they see a horse they will not be afraid, but if they hold onto their thought that they are ‘afraid of horses’, then it kills any openness in seeing horses again. Of course, the next time they see a horse they might get even more afraid! Lol. But the point is, it is when we attach to our thoughts that we become separate from the present, we are not living in reality, but a created model of reality. This, of course, can have benefits…. Say it was a shark and not a horse… it may well be very wise to be afraid of a shark!* Lol

So, can we take heed of what we learned and experienced in the past without being attached to those experiences? The Buddha said yes, which is the 3rd Noble Truth.

The way it is done is the 4th Noble Truth.

Now, the Buddha, through his own strong effort and practice, realized the 1st and 2nd Noble Truth. He then had a deep faith that the 3rd Noble Truth was true, without yet realizing it. He had to experience/realize the 4th Noble Truth to confirm the 3rd Noble Truth. I think this is a very important point. It shows that deep faith is critical in our practice. Without having this deep faith fully cultivated in our heart and mind, we will always fail to realize the 4th Noble Truth.

So, we must ask ourselves, what is the state of our faith in the Buddha’s teaching? If you waver and think “Oh, maybe, just maybe, the Buddha got it wrong” then failure is assured. However, having blind faith in the Buddha’s teaching also ensures our failure.

So what is left? Well, the Buddha had deep faith in the 3rd Noble Truth before he could confirm it by realizing the 4th Noble Truth. He did it without faith in his own teachings but rather with the faith that suffering can be overcome. So, our faith must reside in this, not the Buddha, not his words, but that faith is personal, it is our own and ours alone, and we must ask ourselves:

Do we believe it is possible to realize our true Enlightened nature?

*Sharks are actually fairly safe to humans, overall, but I used it as a ‘scary’ example.

Heart and mind dancing in embrace….

no brain, no heart, trees still grow without hinderance.

flowing up and down
round and round
without a sound

heat flush
red rush
head expands
sweats commands

thoughts race
making haste
barreling over
brain brace

over the cliff
thoughts catapult
thoughts return
with insult

leave this domain
remove your stain
release this pain
is this sane?

overcome and
overwhelmed
thoughts overload
this brain abode

the heart weeps
and breathes in deep
flows fresh blood with its spirit,
it can seep
deep into this brain
and end all pain.

“I will never forget you”
“I will be your servant, that is my role”
thinking brain says
“you saved my life”
“you saved my soul”

The heart replies
“yes, I saved your soul”
“But I am selfish too, you see”
“Your soul is nothing, if not only me”
“think for me, that is my command”
“I only feel, i only heal”

This is a poem from April 2010.

Living with Disease and Living with Zen

Sometimes, it feels like the light is only shining on part of ourselves, yet we must remember that we are always fully present, even when we have craters damaging our body.

I have two chronic diseases, sarcoidosis and also CFS/ME. The first one, sarcoidosis is an auto-immune disease. No one knows how people get it, what causes it and there is no cure. It can range from being mild all the way to deadly. It can affect various organs in the body, from the lungs, the heart, brain, skin, lymphatic system, eyes… basically anything in the body. My case of the disease is a chronic form, which basically means I have it for the long haul. (Although there is no cure for it, some people have an acute form, whereby all symptoms fade away after a little bit of time). My lungs have been effected the most, though other symptoms blur into my other disease.. CFS/ME is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Basically, I constantly feel like I have just run a marathon, my body feels wiped out of energy.

These are crude simplifications, and I have a host of various symptoms, but my point is simply that I live in a constant state of discomfort. Sometimes it is quite bad, sometimes though, I feel perfectly healthy. It is a strange way to live, as I usually am feeling very run down. Sometimes, walking up some stairs is a huge effort. Even during those times when I am bad, it is strange, because, I know, if I had to, I could run/sprint in an emergency. I know I can muster up the energy to do explosive physical action… so it is a very strange feeling… It sorta feels like I am lying to myself! ‘Oh, I am not that sick if I can run and jump up and down’ ‘Oh , I am just a lazy person’.

They used to call CFS/ME ‘yuppy flu’. I totally understand this. People can (and I am sure some people probably do) make this up. So, I understand why people are skeptical…. Even I am skeptical of my own illness! Lol.

It is always very easy to make excuses for not practicing. ‘I don’t have time’ ‘I don’t have the right space’ ‘I don’t have the right cushion’ ‘I am too ill’. What happens when we have all the things we think we need to practice ‘properly’? No excuses… so if we ‘fail’, we can only blame ourselves… People don’t like this! Far better to be able to blame being ill, or blame the noisy neighbors, or to blame the uncomfortable cushion!

There is a saying about how a good craftsman never blames his tools.

The Universe has provided us with the tools. Sometimes the tools seem like the wrong ones! ‘I wanted a hammer, not a screwdriver!’ lol . However, in Buddhism, we must have deep faith and trust that the Universe knows what it is doing. It has been doing it for billions of years, so it has a good grip on how things work by now! Lol.

This also ties in with the saying about God.. How he never gives us more than we can handle and gives us what we need.

When I sit, sometimes I feel my lungs not working 100%, sometimes I feel my lymph glands screaming in pain in my armpits. Sometimes I feel my brain mis-firing, thoughts get lost being transferred around the processing centers in my head. Yeah, my diseases have made me stupider at times. So, I sit, and I feel my body not functioning properly.

In Buddhism, ‘proper function’ is a very important thing. Realizing Enlightenment is realizing our proper function as human beings.  So, is my body really not functioning properly? Do I need my brain to always fire properly to realize my inherent nature? Enlightenment can not be realized through rationalization, so my mis-fires are not a problem. In fact, I must embrace them as my teacher… Hey, they help me lose attachment to my thoughts by destroying them! Lol.

But in all seriousness, practicing the Way whilst ill presents itself with certain challenges, but also with certain opportunities.  Most of the time, I find myself not thinking of my illnesses and simply have accepted them into my life. However, there are some times when I do get fed-up with being ill. I get tired of being tired! This is because of my attachment to a life when I was healthier. This attachment then makes me suffer. But this is a great teacher. I can use this awareness of being attached to my former self to help break the attachment.

Sometimes, I ignore my illnesses, and pretend I do not have them. This is not healthy, because ultimately I will let myself and other people down… I need to accept the limitations I have placed upon myself. It is a fine balance though.. It would be unhealthy to totally ‘give in’ to my diseases, yet it would also be unhealthy to totally fight my diseases. Fighting them is different from trying to get healthy. So, a balance is required.. I must accept my situation, but also work hard to try to change the situation… So I try to exercise and eat well, I try to think and act well. I try to listen to my body and react accordingly. Sometimes I fail but sometimes I find a good balance.

All this said, I ask: Who is not in this situation? Are we all not confronted with some situation that we must find a balance? If it is not illness that affects our practice, does not something else come into play? Do we not all have multifaceted things effecting our practice?

It has been said that there has been no Enlightenment that has occurred without circumstances. I think this is a very very important thing to realize. No one becomes enlightened in a vacuum! The Buddha’s circumstance was seeing Venus…. And BAM! He realized in an instant his true nature.

The Universe has been unfolding circumstances since the beginingless beginning. It unfolds buddhas, who then unfold more buddhas… more and more circumstances unfold into more and more buddhas.  The Universe is very clever! I know it is cleverer than me and I will always trust it fully. I know I will not always understand it, but I know it has my back, even when it makes my lymph nodes stab into my lungs, when it loses my train of thought and when I am completely out of breath from walking up some stairs.

I like to sometimes think fun thoughts… like The Buddha has unfolded the Universe so that he is poking my chest via my glands via the disease.  A direct connection to me over thousands of years… Like a ‘butterfly effect’, the buddha knew what the Universe was doing and he poked the air 2500 years ago or so and he knew it would help more unfolding… and it is like a knocking from him on my chest. So, I try to take the pain as a pleasure, in a way, a teaching tool, a motivational prod! This is a fun thought, my heart-mind likes it too, and it helps me remember the Universe has got my back, is on my side, even if how I got to that conclusion is maybe flawed, yet fun.

Oxherding X – Fruit For All

Attributed to Shubun. Photo taken from Zen Ink Paintings by Barnet and Burto.

A being who has realized their inherent Enlightened nature (a buddha) has a natural function to help free beings from suffering. This is a natural reaction from a buddha. It is not a choice of conscience, it is not thought out nor planned.

You see, in Buddhism, practitioners of the Way, are taught to cultivate loving kindness. We are taught to consciously be aware of helping all beings, and we have lots and lots of thoughts created to help us in our goal. But, this is only needed when we feel we are separate from suffering beings. A buddha, an Enlightened being, understands that all beings suffering is their own suffering, as there are ultimately no distinctions between all beings.

Just as one hand will, without thought or question, come up to protect the other hand that is being attacked, by a dog, for example, a buddha will help all beings who are suffering. A buddha doesn’t think of ‘saving all beings’ even, as he knows there is no difference between himself and all beings.

He enters the suffering world and is naturally a doctor. He helps those who are ill. He understands there is no difference between himself and others and therefore he bears no signs of Enlightenment. He could be standing next to you in the store, or she could be sitting on the bench at the train station.

There was a popular song back in the 1990’s that had a verse something like: ‘what if God was one of us? just sitting on a bus’.

Buddhas are all around us.

So, how does a buddha sitting next to us on a bus, apparently doing nothing, help end people’s suffering?

Buddha’s do not have plans. They live as the weaving fabric of the cosmos…

Now, on that bus, you may never even have noticed a buddha. What if, on that bus, each day you take it, more and more of the passengers are buddhas? Then one day, you are sitting on a bus full of buddhas. Would you notice? There would be no idle chatter. No gossiping. No loud music. It may be a little un-nerving! ‘What are these people up too?!’ Must be no good! Hahaha.

Those who are Free tend to frighten and unnerve those who are not, but also tend to draw them near. It is in this drawing near, where the Dharma is turned.

Water does not think it needs to turn to ice at 32 degrees F, it is just its inherent natural function. A buddha does not think it needs to save all beings from suffering, she just does it.

Let us keep out eyes and hearts open, maybe you will sense a buddha today!

Grandfather

In Buddhism, meditation is practiced so we can realise our inherent true nature. And this true nature, it is pretty fabulous! And when we are living outside our true nature, it is pretty awful. Sometimes it is okay, sometimes fabulous as well, but, in the end, the cards are stacked against us. All things fade away, so a good situation will turn sour eventually… though, of course, a bad situation will eventually ripen into a wonderful fruit. Sometimes these things take longer than our lifetime, so we can not bank on things changing for the better, though, of course, we can not bank on a good situation not to turn sour before we die.

Dogen, a Zen Master from centuries ago, said we must practice Zen with the fever as if our hair was on fire. If we catch our hair on fire, we instantly drop all thought and go straight into action… smacking our head!!! Put that fire out!!!

My grandfather was a quiet man. He always called me Richie or Richie-boy, even though I am fully grown and 40 years old now. I loved that. I do not really know much about who he was, even though I spent lots of my childhood around him. When I went to my grandparents house, which we did regularly as a child, he would sit quietly in his recliner chair, maybe reading the newspaper, maybe watching tv.

I am in England, his funeral has just occurred and I could only attend in spirit. An expired passport, expensive plane tickets and, finally ‘Superstorm Sandy’ made my return to the States not possible. I feel guilty even though it was out of my control.

What happens after death? I took a walk in the woods a couple of days ago, after I learned of his passing. I felt like he was there with me for a bit. Was he? I do not know. It could have been my brain creating things, or it could have been him there, somehow. I discount nothing. Part of the walk, he talked about his life after 40 years old, my age. He told me that by that age, he had his past separate from his future self. I am not exactly sure what this meant, but I felt it was to do with making peace with one’s past and do not let it be a burden for growth.

He drove locomotives for a living in New York City. During my walk, there were train tracks close by. I could hear a train, not moving, just sat on the tracks, idling, mostly hidden behind trees, but I could get a glimpse of its headlights. It just sat there. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151500891008277

Sure, it was just waiting for the signals to change to allow it to proceed. But it also was symbolic for me. It was quiet and just in the middle of a stretch of track, not at a station or anything.

I stood and watched the train for a while. feeling my ‘Pa’, as I called him. I then continued my walk, and it was after this when i had the ‘conversation’ with him I talked about above. When I had that talk, and he finished telling me his advise, the train released its brake and starting on its journey.

My heart felt him stop the train, get out and talk to me and then get back aboard and drive off …

My mind said otherwise, just thoughts made up in my grieving brain…

I let my heart win, it was stronger.

So, I say goodbye to my Pa, thank him for his visit, and send loving thoughts to my grandmother, Ma.