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!)

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.

 

The Middle Way

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trees

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?

Distinguish-ation

Woof.

Woof.

Our senses distinguish…. That is not an incomplete sentence.* I was going to write ‘Our senses distinguish things’.. but I stopped myself. Our senses make things.. through distinguishation.  Wow, that is an ugly made-up word! Lol. Distinguishation. Perhaps differentiation is better.

So, our eyes see brown, our hands feel roughness, our nose smells cinnamon**, our tongue tastes wood***, our ears hear… cracking?,… our mind makes soup with them and it becomes Bark. Bark soup.  Now, it is our brains making bark… but surely the bark had to pre-exist for it to make our mouths taste cinnamon. We didn’t just make that up!!

So, Is it possible that the Universe is simply a creation of our brain’s soup making? Is it possible that soup is made from the Universe?

I remember reading about a Zen teacher who said that when our minds cease to exist, the Universe ceases to exist. This is a tough pill to swallow.. surely before I was born and certainly after I die, the Sun will still rise in the East.. for billions of more years.. it doesn’t rely its existence on me! OR does it?! How could it? It is such a super-selfish way of thinking.. The Universe literally exists for me… because of me!!

Now, it is not that way, not exactly. But there is something there… Something to think about.. Why would a teacher of Zen teach something that seems to reinforce the importance of EGO? Surely he should do the opposite! Lol.

I thought lots about this. Why would he say that?

Lets think about it…

The Buddha said that our lives are like dreams…. Not dreams, but like dreams… they are illusionary.. they are real, but not what they seem. Where does this life-long illusion come from? Our Ego-mind. Our perception that we are separate from the Universe. ‘There is the Universe and then there is me.’ This separation is illusionary, so when we realize this, not simply understand it, but realize this, both our ‘mind’ and the ‘Universe’ cease to exist.

The Buddha, when he realized his Enlightened nature, he did not disappear into thin air! Lol. He taught, he walked, he ate and urinated and defecated. And if someone yelled over to him ‘Yo Gautama, over here dude!’****, he would understand that he was being called. Although he realized his selfless nature, he still understood what Gautama meant.

So, when we die, the Universe, our illusion of the Universe dies too. Is there a real Universe beyond the illusion? Is not the illusion based on something?  The Buddha said our lives are like dreams, but he did not say they are dreams.

So, if a Zen Master picks up a rock and asks you if that rock exists.. how do you answer? If you say no, it doesn’t it is just an illusion, he may hit you upside the head with it, perhaps saying ‘How’s that illusion feel now?!’ Haha. If you say yes, it does exist but you do not know its reality beyond its illusion, he may throw it at you and make you duck, saying ‘if you do not know what ‘rock’ is, then how did you know to duck. You know rock.’

* Well, perhaps it technically is an incomplete sentence, I don’t know.. I am a scientist not a writer, lol.

** Cinnamon is just a type of tree bark, though not the one pictured above.

*** Why are we licking bark? lol

**** Gautama is one of the Buddha’s names.

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…

Shortcomings

A different night to the story below, but the song remains the same. Love.

A different night to the story below, but the song remains the same. Love.

Being kind to ourselves is sometimes the hardest thing to do. We constantly judge ourselves and perhaps magnify what we feel are our shortcomings. We never therefore are the person we think we should be. Who should we be if not who we already are?

Now, I feel I should be an understanding father, for example. And sometimes,  when I am feeling ill, for example, I will not be so understanding as a father. The other night, when reading bedtime stories to my 4-year-old son, he said he was thirsty. I was tired, in pain and wanted him to fall asleep already. I was impatient and the thought of having to walk down the stairs to get a glass of water made me imagine the burden on my hurting legs. I was fed-up. He also said his feet were cold and wanted socks on. I admit, I brushed his requests off and told him no, and to go to sleep. I was almost angry. Then I looked at his face.  He is 4. He was sad. He was cold and thirsty and I was being, well, frankly a jerk. To my own son. I swallowed my ego-mind, looked at him in the eyes and told him I was sorry, and I will get him water and kissed his head. His sad face melted a bit. After I got his water and he was drinking it, I got him some socks and put them on his feet for him. We laid down and he held me tight., now with a smile. I read him a story from his favorite night-time book and he quickly fell asleep.

I would have cried if I wasn’t still feeling angry.. though my anger was now at myself. I accepted my shortcoming and moved on…. But getting back to my opening … I think I should be a better father, and this keeps me trying,trying trying to always be the best father…but it also means I never accept myself for who I am right now. Sure, I never want to be complacent and think I am the world’s best papa, but I also know living in the future of some version of myself is not helpful.

So, there is a balance. Accepting who I am right now, but not giving up on becoming more… to unfold the Buddha already inherent inside me.

Reading a bedtime story can be the best Buddhist practice. Learning about compassion is there. Learning about Ego is there. Learning of acceptance and non-attachment is there. Learning about love is there.

Bam!

The Universe is exploding with wonder and dleight!

The Universe is exploding with wonder and delight!

In my last post, I wrote that compassionate acts are the Way. I also wrote that acts of horrific violence are also the Way. I feel I need to ensure it is clear what I mean by that. I do not condone acts of violence. Acts of violence will not help dissolve the illusion of our ego-mind. In very practical terms, they are not the Way. However, what I was doing, was referring to the operation of the Universe. In one sense, if any actions do not violate the laws of physics, then they are the Way of the cosmos. The Way is not merely the laws of physics though.

So, what am I saying? I suppose it is all about natural function and flow. I am reminded of the following comic:

cartoon

Now, a penguins natural function is not to climb trees. It can sure as hell try, and may even get somewhere. What is a humans natural function? What is you natural function?

Now, of course, the great thing about evolution is that animals (and plants, etc) can adapt so over time, a penguin would become an excellent tree climber!* So, there is a dance. We must learn our natural function and be in tune with that, but also be open to the fact that our ‘natural function’ is empty of inherent substance. It is always in flux. So we dance with our abilities, what we have been adapted to do, along with those things we are not adapted to do and therefore sometimes we trip and fall flat on our face!

I have veered away from my point however, lol. In the end, our natural function is about allowing the Universe to flow freely through us, beyond us. Our ‘free will’ and our ‘fate’ both dissolve into meaningless…. Neither exist as the Universe flows.

When we dissolve our ego-minds, who is left to experience free will or fate? Both are illusionary traps.

I trust the Universe and the Universe trusts me, we make the best team, the natural team, its our natural function, is it not?

 

*I seem to recall that maybe there are some tree climbing penguin species down in South America’s tip perhaps. Maybe I am wrong though!

Smoke and Mirrors

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If you meditate, who do you do this for?

Often we hear that before we can help others we must help ourselves. Well, maybe we don’t hear it often, but it is said from time to time. lol. There is a lot of value in those words, and they certainly have helped people turn their lives around. However, it is completely false! Well, sort of. Kinda. Perhaps. lol.

What do I mean? Well, we may feel that to better help other people, whether this may be our partner, our family, our society, or even extend to other animals and the whole world, that we must make sure we are in pretty good shape. Perhaps this means toning up the trifecta of mind, body and spirit. We may go to the gym, read lots of books and sit and meditate every day. That will gear us up to helping others, and we feel ‘prepared’ for it now.

But in reality, this ‘better-ing’ oneself, may reinforce the dualism of ‘us’ and other beings. In a way, it could prop up our egos.

Now, I am not saying that exercise, reading and meditating are bad news! Certainly not. But we must be clear about the reason we do these things. Even if the reason is to help other brings and our world. We can easily, without realizing, have our selfless ambitions turn into a ‘self’ affirming machine! So be careful and keep being awesome.

In the end, we don’t need to be physically fit, be well-educated nor meditate for hours every day. All we need to do is allow our heart-mind to be open. That’s really it. Nothing special. Sometimes it is painful, sometimes joyous, but when open, the love and compassion naturally flow and know where to go…. without effort… just like a puff of smoke disperses without effort, our love does too. No amount of cross-training, PhD’s and meditation retreats will supply it for you!

Your brain is smarter than you!

Is this gorilla's brain smarter than you?!

Is this gorilla’s brain smarter than you?!

Our brains are amazing things… lots of activity happening even when we are not thinking about anything at all… Well, we might think we are not thinking, but our brains don’t think that! lol.

I was talking with some friends recently and I said “your brain is smarter than you”!

What does this mean? lol. I didn’t mean ‘Your brain is smarter than you realize‘… I meant, quite literally, that ‘your brain is smarter than you‘! lol.

It means that we tend to think,think,think, about the past, about the future, about 10 different things at once, it is what defines who we are, in a way. But, that’s just who we are…. our brains, however, are much smarter than all that noise. They quietly chug away, processing, making connections, finding solutions…. making hypotheses and testing them… all behind our backs! They care not about who we think we are, they just keep on chugging away… being much smarter than us.

Our hearts have neurons, our noses have metal in them, so we can tune into magnetic North… and our lungs can ‘smell’… what we think we know about ourselves sometimes isn’t complete and can limit what we realize…

Many decisions we make are already made by our brains before we think we make them! lol

So, what does this all mean? Who are we really? The facade of who we think we are making our decisions, or the brain behind those decisions, working away in ways we could never fully grasp through thinking? Of course, we can say it is the dance between the two, our conscious selves and our unconscious brain work-horse. Of course, then comes the question, who is the true master?

In the end, can we not just put all these thoughts down and realize who we are is nothing more, nothing less, than the collection of many things? Does this not expand to things outside of the body? We see a powerful ape and this triggers a release of chemicals inside our brain, which transforms our thoughts, and these thoughts transform our actions…. Where does ‘who we are’ stop? Can it stop?

Dropping these thoughts and simply returning to deep questioning, with an honest and open heart… who are you? Who am I? When we delve deeply, we may realize that the question itself doesn’t actually make sense.

When in evolution did 'we' slip from outside of our own brains?

When in evolution did ‘we’ slip from outside of our own brains?