Low self esteem

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London palm. Wisdom radiates and pulses throughout the cosmos, straight into my heart. 

Sometimes during contemplative reflection I become utterly disgusted with myself. I amaze myself that I allow myself to think and do certain things, that, when I look back objectively, I am stunned at myself.

Having low self-esteem is not healthy, of course, and meditation is usually not thought of as something to make you feel worse about yourself! lol.

Confronting our true selves can be hard. It is painful to accept we may not be the person we want to believe we are.

Ultimately, our true self is not ourself, and although we must have individual responsibility, we can never bear the load alone, no matter how isolated that burden may feel.

(I must say that sometimes during meditation I become utterly elated with myself… and although this may feel super awesome, it has its own dangers… mainly of reinforcing the illusion of my own self ego, but that’s a whole other story!)

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Outrageous!

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(not my own photo)

I remember many years ago seeing a bumper-sticker and it really resonated with me. In our world, there are numerous things to be outraged about..and the more you look, ie. pay attention, the more outrageous things you will see.. and this will start to extend into things that are currently accepted as legal and normal…

I think the bumper sticker needs another verse however:

If you’re outraged, you’re not paying attention!

This brings it back home, back inside. … When we view our world, we may get full of rage, outrage… and feel more than justified… for example, feeling rage when learning about 53 people being murdered in a nightclub. No matter how justified we may feel with this emotion of hatred and rage, we should look at the origin of this feeling. (The origin is the shooting, idiot!) Anger and rage are natural.. why did we evolve these feelings? To help our survival… to put us in a fight-or-fight response. However, when we see these images on our computers, thousands of miles away perhaps, the flight-or-fight response becomes unnecessary…. we are too far away to help protect the people and too far away about trying to get away from the danger. Sure, you may say that rage fuels our fight response, which we can take to stopping others before they get the chance to do the same in the future. But this type of ‘fighting’ would require a strategy, and therefore the immediate ‘fighting’ could not be achieved (ie. the rage we may feel can not be acted up in a constructive way).

So, bringing it back inside ourselves… if we pay close attention, we do not need to be filled with rage, it will not help anyone. Sure, when we first learn of horrific events, we may feel anger and rage.. that is natural… but it is not natural to hold onto this anger… in nature, we evolved to have an immediate response to this anger…

When we look inside ourselves, we may see that running or fighting/protecting isn’t a valid choice given our position. So what shall we do? Let it fall away and see what remains… Once the anger and rage are released, we may begin to see things more clearly and have a better idea of what could be done.

 

 

Knots

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When you seek the origin of your thoughts, the origin of your being, you find that many knots that bound you become untied. Sometimes this is liberating as it yields freedoms we have long forgotten the taste of; however, sometimes this untying is terrifying as the rope that spines throughout our life becomes smooth with less and less to hold onto.

We all live in a gilded cage of one sort or another. We feel protected and safe within our cage, yet we live in our own self oppression.

The origin of ourselves…. Can it be inside the cage? We know the answer, so we may find we open the cage door and start exploring what is outside. We seek our origin, following and untying the knots on the rope as we go… We untie knot after knot and that lets us fly further and deeper….It seems like the knots will never end.

What is at the end of our rope? Is there an end? Can the knots ever end?

As long as our rope exists, one knot will always remain…. For at the very end of the rope, devoid of all knots, we discover it is tied to our minds.

What happens if we dare untie this last knot?

An Ox grazes on the lust spring grass as birds eat mites on her back.

We fall forever yet never before now have we felt the ground.

Stereotypes

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Can we focus properly? What does our own focus mean? We may see the moon brightly but not yet understand this Truth. In seeking understanding, we make many assumptions of what this Truth must be, yet, in the end, all assumptions fall short. One day we will simply reach up into the sky and pull down the moon with our bare hands and place it deep within our hearts to shine for all to see. 

Every person’s condition, situation, experience is unique…different. The interpretation, the fascination, the joy, the depression, the horror, the glee…

So much boils over inside us, … highs and low… maybe just mind-numbing evenness. Some are manic, some are calm.

I remember once a teacher in school once told the class… ‘Next time you are in the supermarket, just observe the people around you.. pick one person… study them, think about what their whole life is about, what their personality is like, what their shopping cart’s contents tell you about them, what their clothes say about them, what their hair… their grooming, their posture.. etc, etc.’

I remember doing this ‘exercise’ many years ago… and what it taught me was that I hold lots and lots of inherent stereotypes about people. That scared the shit out of me.  But it also taught me that this was natural. It is what we do with these stereotypes that matters. For example, if a 40 year old woman had Coco-Pops kids cereal in their shopping cart, I would stereotype her as a mother of young children/child. In and of itself, this assumption isn’t bad. But it could very well be totally wrong. She might love Coco-pops and never had children in her life! So, attaching ourselves to our stereotypes is where we run into trouble. If we think our assumptions are correct we run into danger. If we think are assumptions might be correct, then we are open to the new evidence that may prove our assumptions wrong. No one likes to be proved wrong. Perhaps it is even harder to admit to our own selves if we are wrong.

But here in lies a secret power we all have…. the power that emerges when we allow ourselves to examine our assumptions. In fact, we should always attack our assumptions head-on. Hey, this is what science does. Prove it, prove it , prove it! I will try my best to disprove your theory to see if it contains truth. Thats our secret power. To attack our own beliefs, assumptions, preconceptions, prejudices, stereotypes… Attack them with all we have to see what is left standing.

Ultimately, nothing would remain standing. Nothing has a leg to stand on.  All truths are stacks of cards. So what happens when you destroy your whole world? What good is that as a secret power?! lol.

With nothing left to lose, we walk as if we are already dead, free from the limitations of worry. Free from the confines of our illusionary self. We can roam the world free, with helping hands, to end all beings suffering, to hug them deeply with all our heart, to love them, cry for them, hold them until they see what burns infinitely bright inside them. That lamp is nothing short of the Entire Cosmos.

What a stack of cards we belong to! The whole Universe has got your back!

Terrorism and hate

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I look to the Buddha’s teachings to understand my own true nature. What I always find is that Love binds all beings.

Choosing forgiveness and love over hate and fear is sometimes portrayed as being weak, ignorant and unpatriotic. It is easy to let fear make our choices for us. We can even rationalize the prejudices they blossom.

When terrorists attack, fear is a natural state of mind. We naturally look for clues to keep us and our loved ones safe and protected. Sometimes we look at a particular aspect of the form. Take ‘Islamic Terrorists’. Yes, there are people who commit horrific acts who do so wearing the cover of Islam. Does this mean we should fear Islam? Should we let these people define our fear? And hence our modes of protecting ourselves? When we calm down and think deeply, we may begin to realize that these people do not represent their faith, that they want to play on our fears and their agenda grows strongest when anger and fear create separation.

So, instead of letting adrenaline focus our minds on the form, which is useful in evolutionary terms when identifying venomous spiders, let us focus our minds on the function. These terrorist attacks… they occur from human beings. These people are clearly suffering in their own minds and hearts. So much so they kill people such as they do. Killing is wrong. Hating hate is not useful. It spins the wheel of hatred. This is how the Islamic State grows. When terrorists are killed ‘pro-actively’, it breeds more hatred, on both sides, and simply makes the world more dangerous, not safer.

Do I suggest simply doing nothing and letting more attacks to happen? No, self protection is natural. But I do not suggest pre-emptive murder to protect against murder. We must look into the reasons why people become ‘radicalized’. After all, these are human beings. They must be suffering horribly to become convinced to murder. Love and compassion are the way to stop the violence. Now, angry dogs bark at buddhas… That means, some people will always be too ill in this life to grasp the nature of love and they will end up harming and killing people. Murder and hate will not be abolished fully. But thinking of terrorists as human beings is an important starting point.

Just as Islam has been hijacked by some, do not let your mind be hijacked by hate and prejudice. This is what the Islamic State, for example, wants. They want you to hate them. This is a part of their agenda. This makes them stronger. So, if you really want to protect the world from terrorism, put down your hate for them. As in Christianity it is said to Love they Neighbour. .. Love… not like, not tolerate, certainly not condemn and kill, but Love… Love they neighbour… It is the Way, the Light. Love.

I am human. When I see a terrorist attack, i feel fear and deep anger. Hatred for the horrific acts. My blood may boil. This is natural. This is human. I am not anything above this reaction, or below it.

We must learn to realize that we are human in our reaction to such events. But this reaction has evolved for a response almost certainly not applicable to these events, as we almost certainly will not be directly in the mist of an attack. If we are, then adrenaline is certainly our friend, and real time thoughts and actions are valuable. But, sitting on a warm couch, seeing things unfold on tv… our evolution betrays us… our natural reaction isn’t appropriate and not very useful.

We need to feel with our hearts, tempered by rational thought. To fill the world with love.

In Buddhism, there is the concept of Bodhisattvas…people who realize their own inherent Enlightened state but delay final release from human form in order to save all beings from suffering. All beings. Every single being. So they know their task will never end, but they also know it can only ever end this way. In the End, all beings will understand. We are all teammates, even the beings that we, as humans, may hate with all our being.

Wants Vs. Needs

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We need water to survive, we want it to be readily available, we are attached to its benefits. Who is this ‘we’ that thinks so much about water? 

 

I remember once when a student asked our Buddhist teacher, a former monk, something along the lines of this:

‘In Buddhism, we are taught that attachments are to be avoided, that they reinforce the illusion of the ego, and fed our desire-minds. I have an infant, a baby. I am deeply attached to my baby and I can’t see how this is a bad thing. I can see how attachment, in general, is to be avoided, so I am confused.’

To be honest, I forgot exactly how the teacher responded, as the question resonated within my mind. Like a bell being struck, the question kept bouncing around in my head.

Years later I read some teachings of Seung Sahn who wrote about form and function. What is a humans natural function? This teaching sticks with me daily.

A human mother’s natural function is to care for her baby. To achieve this, a deep attachment forms between her and her baby. That is natural. That is Zen. That is nothing secret, nothing special, but the most special thing there is.

Related to this, one may ask about the relationship between need and love. Thinking about the mother-baby relationship, the mother loves the baby and the baby needs the mother. Now, the mother may say she needs the baby, and while this may be true for her heart’s joy, one may say it is not technically true. How cruel am I? lol…. and the baby may certainly love the mother, but it doesn’t need to. (Wow, I am really cruel!). But what about other relationships? Those of friends, of siblings? of lovers?

We may build our lives with deep and supportive relationships… our mate may be the other parent of our children, so we feel a deep need for this person. Sometimes this makes people feel trapped, sometimes it makes people feel liberated. Sometimes it makes people feel both at the same time!

Humans need people, thats how we are. This is how we evolved. It is ‘natural function’. In modern times, a strong value is placed on being independent. Being dependent…is seen as a weakness, not a strength. And, sure, being able to be strongly independent has its merits, and there is real value in that, but, our natural function, how we perform best, how we live free, is by giving up some of that independence. We are, after all, social animals. We need each other. That is not merely ok, that is great! Now, expanding this further into Buddhist philosophy, all things need all other things to exist. Nothing is an island. All things and people are our teammates, even if we loathe them, lol.

So, how can one reconcile this ‘needing’ with not letting it be ‘attachment’? Is that even the goal?

I come back to: what is our natural function? As a mother, a father, as a mate or a sibling… as a friend, as a teacher, as a student… We are many things, but always human.

Of course, when we feel we need someone, something, we must be very careful about what this means. Often people may say they need something, but it really is just a want, a desire. But even that is OK… so long as we do not become attached to our desires. Easy right? HAHA.

So, what am I trying to say?

Trying to distinguish between what is a want versus what is a need is, well, dangerous… The act of thinking there is a decision to be made reinforces our ego-mind: It all comes down to Self. It is the Self that either needs or wants. When we let go our our attachment to our ego-mind, wants and needs disappear and our true natural function blossoms. We may discover we always were living our natural way, we just got in its way by trying to define it through our lens of Self.

Wanting something? Needing Something? Even attached to something or someone: They can all be OK, so long as our our Ego-mind is let go.

So, you may say I am basically saying do not be attached to your attachments! HAHA. Perhaps I am. Perhaps.

 

Love

Faith to get to the other shore

Faith to get to the other shore

Our brains are very strange things. Well, our thoughts are anyhow.. well, my thoughts perhaps, lol. But seriously… Our thinking minds create the Universe. Things that consume our minds with worry are usually things that don’t warrant that level of attention.

I am not the best Buddhist. When I think deeply about myself, my thoughts, I realize I am truly deeply attached to my desires… I constantly desire to rid my body of the disease it has, I desire this, I desire that, and it goes on and on… it will never end if I let it ‘run its course’.

It’s funny, because although in my heart I know that all this desiring is unhealthy, and although my mind can rationally understand why it is unhealthy, my mind still chugs along, giving my heart and my analytical mind a giant middle finger. So, who is in charge? It almost feels like I am the captain of a strange spaceship that is out of control…. Like it is flying straight towards the sun because it is shiny and pretty… even though I know in my thoughts and my heart it is foolish and destructive…. Yet my spaceship keeps heading there… blinded by desire.

I also understand that there is no spaceship, no sun, no desire.

Who is in charge of the thing that is charge-less?

I suppose it is my deep faith, my heart’s understanding of the truth of the Buddha’s teaching that keeps me pondering, keeps me going, keeps me grateful.

I feel the deep love that the Universe is. I feel the Universe perceiving itself through my mind, my thoughts, my actions, my love.

Life is too miraculous, too wondrous, too short to flounder. Even when we do not know what else to do but flounder, which for me, is often, one needs to embrace the floundering, and have deep faith… in the Universe, in yourself…

The first Noble Truth is that life is suffering (as well as the opposite, mind you). Why does life involve suffering? That does not seem right, does it? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It is a very good thing to contemplate, and contemplate deeply. What does it mean?

All beings have been touched with death, whether a loved one, a friend, even a stranger, or a pet. It can tear one’s heart apart and some people never recover. It can simply be too painful to address. One day, for all beings, everyone one of us, it will be our turn. What then?

Dogen said we must practice as if our hair is on fire. There is a great urgency to what we must do with our lives. And this ‘doing’ is all about what we do with our hearts. We must see clearly our own heart, our own mind, see how it is nothing more and nothing less than all that exists propping it up, making it exist. We owe all we are to all that is. When we see the beauty of our own true heart, the Universe shines, we shine, and deep love cannot be anything but flowing, overflowing… The Universe itself cannot contain this Love.

Be kind with yourself, love yourself, with all your ‘faults’, all your mistakes, accept it all, leaving nothing out, and allow yourself to love, and deeply, and fully. It is all okay.

The Middle Way

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The Middle Way is an integral part of Buddhism… sometimes this distills into ‘everything in moderation’. While there is truth in this, there is also danger. You don’t want everything in moderation… you do not want any cyanide in your bloodstream! Lol.

But seriously, the Buddha practiced asceticism for years before he realized his Enlightened nature. I have written about this recently. By denying yourself of the nourishment it requires, this actually feeds your ego-mind. ‘I will deny myself pleasure. I will deny myself good health until I realize enlightenment. I will suffer.’ …. They all involve an affirmation of ‘I’.

I don’t think I need to discuss the opposite of this… of hedonism.

So I ask myself.. could the Buddha have realized his enlightenment if his body wasn’t taken care of?

The Middle Way is not about checking yourself if you have too much or too little. It is a result, not a precursor of realizing we are already complete, already buddhas. But certainly it is wise to follow the Middle Way before our realization.

All of the Buddha’s teachings are the natural function of realizing our Enlightened state.

There is a saying that God will never give you more than you can handle. In Zen, we say that a bad situation is a good situation. God knows what he is doing.. He is pure Love, no? He is the ultimate teacher so when we suffer, have a horrific situation… can we see good in that? I like to think these things out in extremes. For example, say we were witness to unimaginable massacres that do occur… We see family and friends murdered before our eyes. God as a teacher seems absent. We might not be able to handle it and have a mental breakdown. How horrible. Can we learn and grow from this experience? We might not allow ourselves to take anything ‘good’ from it, it may feel like we would be disrespecting what occurred. ‘I refuse to see anything good from such evil’. Does this not make the evil even more evil? Does it not make it triumph even more over us? I know if my family saw me killed in a horrific way I would want them to somehow learn from it. Mourning wouldn’t be diminished for this.

So, a bad situation is a good situation. It can provide us with the passion to find our true nature. Who we truly are. In times of extreme distress, nonreligious people will pray for God’s help, for a higher power’s help… desperate, they reach out for help… beg for help and offer repentance or service.

Zen Master Dogen said we must practice as if our hair was caught on fire….

Our hair has been burning for longer than time exists, we just haven’t realized it yet.

Seeking

leaves, green, photosynthesis, growth... what thoughts arise in an attempt to seek meaning of  experiencing 'leaves'. What remains when we let go of our seeking thoughts?

Leaves, green, photosynthesis, growth… what thoughts arise in an attempt to seek meaning of experiencing ‘leaves’. What remains when we let go of our seeking thoughts?

Our ears react to vibrations in the air and our eyes react to photons. Our nose reacts to chemicals as do our tongues….They do not seek these things, they simply experience them as they come and go. What is there for them to seek beyond this?

Only the illusion of our mind seeks meaning. The eyes see light, the ears hear sound, the mind … does it covet this information or does it let it go?

You know, it will come back if we need it… our minds build cages and build foundations and towers from the coveted information, transforming them into a grand illusions.

In Zen, we say, when we see a green light, we go, and a red light we stop. When the dishes are dirty, we wash them and when we are hungry, we eat. What about our minds? When we think deeply, we think deeply, when we don’t think deeply, we don’t. It doesn’t matter if we are smart or dumb…but are we wise?

Let us let the brain do what it does without the cages we have built up over the years. Zazen meditation… it isn’t to better oneself, to gain insights, or even to experience Enlightenment. It can be see as a tool, a diamond tipped tool with the finest blade. It cuts to the core of our house of cards in our minds. When we cut out the illusion we created of our own selves, who remains? what remains?

Our cages can be built as quickly as we tear them down. It is like land in New York City… you tear down an out-of-date building but it is replaced, with something you assume is better. The real estate in our brains is too valuable to not rebuild on! lol. Buy hey, what happens if we don’t rebuild? Can we focus on that moment? Do we see the rebuilding occurring? We can! We Can! So, WHO is rebuilding it! I didn’t authorize that! What is going on?

What dictates our lives?

We can mow the grass or let it grow...

We can mow the grass or let it grow…

Some people wander through life letting the circumstances surrounding them to dictate their lives. Some people carefully construct the circumstances around their lives so they can dictate their lives.

Now, life, and people, are not that simple.. though people can tend to fall within one camp or the other…. One side says that the World is the master and we follow it and the other side says we are the master and make the world follow us.

Of course controlling circumstances can never be a one-way street… so it is important to realize this two-way flow…. So, if you feel that ‘fate’ controls your life for the most part…. It is time to contemplate the fact that it controls less than you realize and that you have more control than you understand. Experiment, and find just how much control you have. Conversely, if you feel that your ‘free will’ dictates your life… it may be time to think about how little control you actually have… how much reliance is placed on external functions.

So, it is important to have a good balance… to make sure we do not have bad self-worth, but also to make sure we do not have too much self-worth! Lol. Both feed our ego mind.

In the end, fate and free will are inventions, illusions…. They depend on the separation of ourselves from the world, which is illusionary, so they crumble away in an instant.

So, there is this dance. I write often about this dance… the dance we have with the Universe. It loves to dance.. .to dance with us…a joyful give and take… full of love and interplay…