An Unlikely Friendship Chapter 4

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A rock on a log with a stick.

Click for previous chapters: 1,2,3.

Years went by after that time in the book store…..and he never actually thought about it again. That is, until one day, while he was out driving. He was speeding ,which he didn’t normally do, but he was late. As he sped down the highway, his mind was thinking about how late he might be, what he could do to mitigate the situation and the like, when.. out of nowhere…

“hello”

“Holy moly! Rock?!” He thought, and although he was asking for confirmation, he also needed none.

He just continued driving, speeding but safe, and for several minutes there was silence. Not the silence he remembered all those years ago as he could feel the rock with him and they both we simply enjoying each other’s mere presence.  Then he began to think about all these past years… how could he possibly have never thought about this all these years?  Then he thought about the last place he saw the rock… on his dresser… he knows it’s not there now, and he can’t remember moving it or seeing it… what happened to it?! Where is it right this very second?

“doesn’t much matter…. does it?”

“True I suppose but I feel like I failed you.. to protect you… to listen to you, learn from you”

He didn’t get words for an answer but felt it…. it was like a very very long, almost infinite plane of solid rock, almost humming – very deeply – very very quiet – almost beyond sound, or inside sound – the vibrations of the atoms in the air – so quiet yet almost infinitely loud. It didn’t make sense when he tried to comprehend it but when he simply felt it, he understood….. Protection is meaningless to the rock … how could the inside of a vibration need protecting?! And even that thought, he knew, failed to explain what he felt.  He also understood that he couldn’t fail the rock… how could the rock judge another’s vibrations? And it’s not even like that he thought… those vibrations…that ‘sound’ it pulses into everything ,everything is pulsing into everything .. to judge would be like snake attacking its tail…. It can be done but it’s not very helpful!

“police car”

“um huh?”

“POLICE”

He didn’t understand exactly but trusted the rock and he slowed down to the speed limit and sure enough after half a mile he saw a patrol car behind some shrubs with a radar gun.

Although he had plenty of reasons to be blown away already, this really floored him. Did he really just have an imaginary rock help him avoid a speeding ticket?!  His brain began freaking out somewhat and he couldn’t control the expanse of thoughts and hypothesis to explain this all. Nothing could explain it that didn’t involve some level of sounding completely crazy. He realized he probably shouldn’t tell anyone .. he was not even sure if he could believe himself, so how could he possibly expect anyone else to?

He tried desperately trying to talk with the rock but his brain was buzzy with so much internal noise he couldn’t hear the soundless sound anymore.  Although he kept trying, he knew the rock wasn’t going to reply to his calling out “Here rocky rock, here boy” as if he was calling a dog! But he was desperate. It was years since he last communicated with the rock and was afraid he may never again communicate with it.

He arrived a little late, which caused some issues, but nothing he didn’t sort out, but his mind the whole day was elsewhere.

Outrageous!

bumper sticker

(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.

 

 

Rivers

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The water thought cycle: Ocean to clouds to rain to land to rivers to ocean. 

Using our minds we can explore the nature of who we are.

The short question we can ask is: Who am I?

This simple question can be expanded as far as we like to help us, or to hinder us.

When I probe this question, I always do so from an analytical mind-frame. So, I always will go through the normal facts of what I can define myself by.. I am an animal, a mammal, human. Step one done, lol.  Next I may probe deeper… ‘who is thinking this?’ and then I quickly answer myself ‘Richard’, lol. So I change the question to ‘what is thinking this?’ .. and I will then ascend to how the human brain biologically functions.. and review all the various scientific articles/books/etc I have experienced over my lifetime.. how the brains thoughts are almost all hidden from our outward consciousness .. how our brains are bendable… how there may be some ‘hard-wiring’ in place, but how almost all the wiring is soft and we can unplug some wires and plug them into other sockets. ..

A river carves the earth without choice. Depending on the underlying densities of soil and rock and slope of the land, the water will form the shape of the river, without effort. Our brains are like the Earth, they are bumpy. External stimuli are like the rain falling on our brains… they enter our world and transform it.. they form rivers of how to think again when the same stimuli happens again, the path has been laid. Over time, the river gets deeper and stronger and sometimes, no matter how hard we try to stop going down a certain river in our brains, we are dragged along.  Say, for example, a child was raised by racist parents and everytime the child saw a person of another race, their parents would talk badly of those people and tell the child how bad people of that race were. Over time, whenever this child would see a person of another race, they would have this channel, this river entrenched in their thought processing, this soft-wiring, kicking in and the thoughts would be taken down this racist river. Say, for example, as an adult, this person comes to understand that racism is nothing short of ignorance mixed with fear, they will still struggle deeply from flowing down the racist river in their mind when presented with the stimuli of a person of another race. This person, as all of us, can perceive this river, comprehend it, and we have the power to redirect that river. It is super hard to do, yet, in an instant, it can be without effort and a new non-racist river of thought can flow.

In Buddhism, we talk about letting go… that our thoughts, no matter what they are, are OK, so long as we are not attached to them…. We must realize that almost all of our thoughts are created by the attachment we have with our rivers… the path of least resistance. It is difficult to paddle upstream. So, in a sense, I am saying that almost all of what we think is a form of attachment! So stop thinking! Lol. We can’t stop the generation of thoughts, so what can we do? First, we must be so very kind and gentle with ourselves.  Enlightenment does not take place when we align all our rivers appropriately or something like that, however, we can provide better nutrients for the unfolding of Enlightenment if we are mindful of our river management. Sometimes a painful river, one that brings you to rage and fury, for example, can be completely dried up in an instant once we flow upstream and see the origin of this toxic river. Enlightenment won’t remove the entrenched rivers of thought, but it removes their power. If a river is healthy and part of our natural function and nature, it is maintained. If a river is toxic, it will naturally dry up over time and fade away, perhaps leaving some scars behind.

Then I will come back and say, what was I asking myself again… oh ,yeah.. Who am I? lol. I have this thing called a brain, which evolved through the influence of everything around it over time, making its origin outside of ‘me’ and this brain thingie also operates and is shaped by the external stimuli as well.

Then I think, man o man, I have only approached this so far from one angle. The biological brain. But what about my heart? My body? What about far-out theories too?

The path of questioning of who we are is endless, and at some point we may realize… we are endless.

That is who I am.

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.

I See …

green, brown, bird, plump, flightless?, orange stick legs, ....

green, brown, bird, plump, flightless?, orange stick legs, ….

What are your first thoughts when you see the image above?

Think about how much processing your brain cranks out just to have some thoughts about the image. Think not only of what you come up with, like: “short, fat bird, possibly flightless, pretty earth colors” but also the gates that those thoughts flew past….. like, you almost instantly recognize it as a bird. What made your brain think that? Can you put your finger on the complex thoughts and preconceptions that must exist for you to think “bird” straight away?

Can you imagine just looking at this ‘bird’ without thought? without thinking? what does your brain say before it is allowed to rush through all those preconception gates?

Now, those gates are very, very important…If this was a tiger and you were in the wild, you better process through those gates quickly before you get eaten! So never underestimate their value!

That said, it is always good practice for your minds to think about what our brains are doing! Think about thinking! lol.. Or better even, thinking about ‘before-thinking’! Step it up again, and fall into the ‘before-thinking’ mind!!

I think I got a headache but I do love this pretty bird!

The need for a teacher

What makes a 'good' teacher? If they are human, you can Dharma-battle with them to try to gauge their understanding and suitability... But is not all the whole of the Universe our 'good' teachers? This cat in a bowl... when my heart is honest and open, what does this cat in a bowl not teach me? Nothing to teach, nothing to learn, just a cat in a bowl and the Universe is complete. Now I think my cat heard something about cooking blackbird pie and is trying to get into the action! lol

What makes a ‘good’ teacher? If they are human, you can Dharma-battle with them to try to gauge their understanding and suitability… But is not all the whole of the Universe our ‘good’ teachers? This cat in a bowl… when my heart is honest and open, what does this cat in a bowl not teach me? Nothing to teach, nothing to learn, just a cat in a bowl and the Universe is complete. Now I think my cat heard something about cooking blackbird pie and is trying to get into the action! lol

The Buddha said to be your own guiding light. This was his last teaching as he died. So, where does having a spiritual teacher fit into this all then? I mean, on the one hand, if you listen to the Buddha, you may decide to have no teachers at all! Quickly, or not so quickly perhaps, one realizes that, well, if you took the Buddha’s advice, as your teacher, then well, you already failed! lol.. Hey, who said Zen came from Nepal to China via Bodhidharma! Buddha already was a Zen master! lol. Okay, now lets give the Buddha the benefit of the doubt, after all he is the ‘origin’ of Buddhism, so, well, if anyone has a say on what Buddhism is, he gets top authorization! lol. So, the importance of a good Zen teacher, or any Buddhist teacher, has been made clear over the centuries… It is said to be near impossible, sometimes it is said to be totally impossible, to realize your inherent true nature (ie. Enlightenment) without a proper teacher to guide you, to coach you, support and nurture you.  Well, one may quickly realize, or maybe not so quickly, that hey, the Buddha did it…. he didn’t have a teacher to help him!! Yes, he had teachers prior to his Enlightenment, but not ‘Buddhist’ teachers…He had to create Buddhism, or rather discover it. But, again, we may give him the benefit of doubt, so to speak, and say, well, ok, he is an exception… But if we do that, what does that mean? It means we already place the Buddha above us…. We already have failed then. We are all Buddhas already, just as much as Buddha was… we are too. That’s what is so wonderful and beautiful and powerful about Buddhism…

Anyhow, getting back to the importance of the right teacher…. I can not really say…. I never had a direct relationship with a Buddhist teacher, though I have some personal interactions with some Zen teachers. Maybe I need a really good teacher.. maybe not…. Either way, I feel, if one decides that a good teacher would help them, then that’s great! But be careful! A student must attack their teacher! Attack attack attack!! lol… Dharma attack that is…. test them, attack them, see if their wisdom, their clarity, shines directly into your heart… Do they help open your heart? Honestly? Not just opening your heart.. but opening up your honesty… That’s the crux of it all… when we are 100% honest with ourselves, truly, wholly, completely, totally honest, we are no different than the Buddha. Honesty is where it’s all at. Sometimes being honest with ourselves hurts. No one ever said Enlightenment is full of happy fluffy bunnies!!! lol….. well….. when we are fully honest, even if it hurts deeply to our core for whatever reason(s) (ie. past traumas, guilt, etc), we find liberation, relief and unbounded joy at this discovery of pure honesty. Perhaps ‘honesty’ isnt the best word… hmm…. but it really fits so well!!! lol. Well, I suppose one can become very attached to their own honesty, which would be a hinderance… but I do wonder if attachment can thrive, or even exist at all, when one is in complete honesty…. As in complete honesty is complete openness, and that openness is open to, well, attachment, and being open, attachment has nothing to attach to! lol.

I don’t know. Maybe I need a good teacher to read this and hit me with their keisaku!!  lol.

Built for purpose

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I know what I should be doing! I am right at home!

The beetle in this photograph is ‘built for purpose’. His/her form has evolved overs millions or years to perform certain functions. Hard armor for protection, wings for flight, colors for camouflage and mating. Claws for climbing and grasping… When a beetle is born into its natural habitat, it can survive and can flourish.

The same is true for all beings, whether a beetle, a cow, a pigeon, a whale, a snail… You get the idea. It also holds true for plants, the trees, the flowers, the bushes…. All beings….

So, where are we? Humans are the same. We have a habitat for which we evolved to be able to survive and flourish. We also are able to survive in very different climates through our clever-ness!…. Big warm parkas are pretty clever!!!

But, where is our natural home for our minds?

Can we find where our minds feel safe, and at home? This ‘natural’ home is healing and beautiful. When we are home, then we can feel safe to wander, to leave home, as we know where it was born from.

Our own light is always there, guiding the way.

Rebirth; Part 2

looking into my heart

looking into my heart

Last time, I talked about rebirth and I rambled a bit. The reason I have been thinking of rebirth recently is multi faceted, although it mainly rests on two recent major events in my life. One horrible, and one fantastic.

My uncle passed away last month and this really sent me into deep mourning. He was someone very special in my life. He was a very intelligent scientist, a chemistry professor and the associate vice president of research at a major American university. I always held him in my mind as a model, a role model really. He was not just smart, but also wise. He always had this humorous glint of excited wonder in his eyes. He always seemed to be thrilled to be involved in this process we call life. I always had such admiration and respect for him. I miss him dearly.

This past week, my wife and I welcomed the birth of our second child, a baby girl. Did she choose us as parents? Where did she come from? Who was she before? Was she anything before? Does it matter? I feel an instant deep thankfulness and gratefulness for her entering into my life. Her older brother has been over the moon. He is three and has been truly in love with her. It is so beautiful. My daughter, being over 5 weeks premature is still in hospital, but doing very well. My son, wife and I were in a family room, about 25 feet from our daughter when my son heard a baby cry. He stopped what he was doing and ran to her yelling ‘my baby, my baby’ ever so concerned she was in distress! How proud a parent I am, I cannot express! I have to say, it wasn’t even my daughter who was crying but someone else’s baby!

So, I will keep this short, but perhaps we all can have an open and honest discussion with our true selves as to where we all were before we were born? Were we a human? a dog? a tree? a rock? or just simply nothing but random atoms and molecules that come together via genetic coding? Open and honest with ourselves… what do we know, how do we know it? What does our answer mean? Can the answer be refined and expanded? Can we probe deeper into our honesty? Earlier this evening my son was explaining that a huge snake had died and now has become a dog! Where this came from, I do not know, but it is interesting!

My baby’s past has become her future but what exists here and now is my unrelenting love for her in the present.

Mindfulness, or lack thereof!

Tree to trunk to leaves to green back to leaves to strength to focus to autumn to death to rebirth.... thoughts come and go .... but keeping tree as just tree.. how difficult for me!!

Tree to trunk to leaves to green back to leaves to strength to focus to autumn to death to rebirth…. thoughts come and go …. but keeping tree as just tree.. how difficult for me!!

One thing I have noticed is that I am awfully good at following my thoughts, how they arise and disperse and their origins and not becoming attached to them… However, I have realized that I am awfully bad at focusing my thoughts. I wasn’t always this way, I used to be quite good at it.

I recently began an 8-week treatment program to help manage my chronic fatigue syndrome. It is a ‘mindfulness’ course, which is right up my alley, so to speak. After the first session, last week, I realized how difficult it was for me to keep my thoughts focused. It was very interesting. We did a ‘body scan’ exercise, basically a body visualization meditation, where we slowly focused our mind on different body parts, starting with the toes, working our way up to our heads. I was surprised at how my brain reacted to this. I thought I would find it easy to be honest… but it wasn’t… But what was really surprising was how it wasn’t easy…It felt physically difficult to do, not mentally… almost painful to keep my mind focused on each body part… I realized that my brain chemistry has been affected by my condition(s) (I also suffer from sarcoidosis), to a much larger extent than I had realized previously. It was exhausting… draining… like holding up a big bag of potatoes over my head.. It was very odd, but also very illuminating. I think, just like physical exercise, that this mindfulness exercising will prove very beneficial. I think my Zen practice over the years has been much more of ‘no-mind’ practice than anything else… I need my mind back a bit I think! Lol.

This past week or so has been a very eventful one, which I may write more about in the future, but suffice to say it has been a very difficult one to manage. I think the timing of this treatment course I am on has been well placed. Not free will, not fate, but as if many compassionate bodhisattva’s have played their role in presenting it to me. In reality, it could be no other way, as we are all connected, forever throughout time, so I thank them with all my heart and I will try, try, try to guide my light with its correct function.

The Tip of the Iceberg

Are brains are powerful things... We get conditioned over the years to trust them.. Do you see blue and green spirals in this picture? Really? Look carefully? Still convinced?

Are brains are powerful things… We get conditioned over the years to trust them.. Do you see blue and green spirals in this picture? Really? Look carefully. Still convinced?

The tip of an iceberg…. When in a boat and we see an iceberg, we can understand how actually most of that iceberg is not visible to us, it is hidden underneath the surface of the water. Just because it is not visible, does not mean it doesn’t exist.. Just think of the Titanic!

But this being said, just because we visually see the tip of the iceberg, does not mean we understand that tip completely. For example, suppose that tip is not flat, and it is large. There may be a penguin behind part of it that we can’t see. My point is that, we use various ‘tools’ to understand the reality. Our brains use the tool of cognition to understand that the majority of the iceberg is underwater, we use the tool of sight to see the contours of the tip. Each has limitations yet each has the power to illuminate our understanding. In fact, the limitations of the tools are the very thing that gives them power. The limitations of sight, for example, allow a focusing of understanding to occur in a specific way. Our ‘tools’ inherently focus various types of information so they can help us live our lives, make decisions and to understand our reality, our world, our Universe.

So what happens when the use of all our tools is left behind? When our toolbox is thrown out? Is it possible? Is this the Zen of No-mind?

The Buddha understood we all have tools, we are all human, and they exist. How can we live with these tools and yet become enlightened to our true nature? Our tools usually are a hindrance to our awakening…As we grow up, our tools become refined and through trial and error, they get tuned in such a manner in which they work really, really well. We learn what a cloud looks like and we understand that a dog barks. After countless confirmations with our senses and our brains, we no longer have a need to question these tools and their interpretations. This is why optical illusions can be so mind-blowing… and fun! They show us how entrenched our tools are and also how they are limited and also how they are not reality itself.

We need to remove our toolbox from our perception that this is who we are. We are not our toolbox, yet our toolboxes have become our master. We need to learn that we are the master of our toolbox, and not the other way around.

Ultimately, there is no toolbox, and no user, no master. Letting go of our grip is scary and is rooted in the inherent danger of being eaten by a lion if we abandon a tool that has saved our life before, for example!

So, it comes down to attachment, we must learn to not become attached to our tools, use them when they are needed, but let go when they are not and to do this, we must understand the nature of our tools, their origins and their limitations.

Chunk of ice, in our path, our eyes spy… our brains navigate.  As we pass it, it is left behind and our sight sees the other shore and we paddle on.

A close-up, and we may begin to see that the 'blue' and the 'green' are actually the same exact color! It is still hard to see, but they truly are. I had to cover up parts with paper to convince myself, that is how powerful our brains are at making us believe what they tell us!

A close-up, and we may begin to see that the ‘blue’ and the ‘green’ are actually the same exact color! It is still hard to see, but they truly are. I had to cover up parts with paper to convince myself, that is how powerful our brains are at making us believe what they tell us!

*These photos/graphics are not my own.