Beyond Impossibility

Living in a world of “conditioned existence” as Buddhists say,
is living in a world of possibilities, and impossibilities.

Freedom lies beyond impossibility.
All the Teachers know it.

Hence the koans:
What is the sound of one hand?
How does one pinch smoke?
What did you look like before your grandparents were born?

The voice of God from the whirlwind:
Can you bind the Pleiades?
Were you there when the morning stars sang together,
and the sons of God shouted for joy?

The eternal questions of the gurus:
What am I?
What is happening right now?
Is reality really real?

The questions of almost every child
until they learn that one shouldn’t question
the things that others no longer question:
What is beyond the end of space?
Can God make a stone so heavy he can’t lift it?
Who made God?

The questions that we don’t laugh at
because they return years later:
Why am I here?
What am I supposed to do?

Beyond impossibility
is this.

Thomas Merton Square

The Louisville Metro Council last month named the intersection of 4th and Muhommad Ali Blvd. "Thomas Merton Square," in honor of Fr. Thomas Merton’s epiphany.  To my knowledge, this is the only occasion of any government recognizing an event related to awakening. The occasion was reported in the Lousville Courier-Journal, .with some excellent writing that actually understood Merton and the meaning of his experience.

As Carl McColman at The Website of Unknowing observed: "It’s rather neat to see a landmark named in honor of a mystical experience!" I’ll say! And I’ve never seen a secular newspaper report so well the meaning of a mystical experience. The times, they are a-changin’! Thanks, Carl, for letting us  know about this wonderful news!

You think that…

I recently saw a video of Eckhart Tolle teaching at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. One of the stories he shared was of another teacher, Byron Katie, who was visiting some patients in a cancer ward. She stopped in a chatted with a very depressed woman who had a massive tumor on one of her legs.  The prognosis wasn’t good; she was probably going to die.

Byron Katie asked her why she was so depressed and said, "I don’t see what the problem is."

Needless to say, that angered and depressed the patient even more.  "Here," she said, throwing off the sheet, "Look! My right thigh is twice the size of my left!"

"Oh, " Byron Katie said, "Now I understand. The problem is that you think that your right thigh should be the same size as your left!"

And for the first time in months, the woman with the cancer laughed.

Isn’t it interesting how insignificant most problems shrink when viewed in just the light of the present moment without  that odd imaging we call the  "future?"

Journaling

I’ve kept a journal at several key times in my life, but never really threw myself into it until 1998, when I read The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. If you’ve never read the book, well, you should. I don’t want to go into my "frimmin‘" superlatives here, but The Artist’s Way is a book that truly changed my life. It’s largely a workbook, filled with exercises to do. Unlike other spiritual self-improvement workbooks,such as Brezhny’s Pronoia, these exercises aren’t meant to entertain you by reading about them… they are really meant to be done, and the more of them you do, the more you will discover about yourself and the more you open up to Isness.

The primary exercise of The Artists’s Way is journaling, specifically a style of journaling Cameron calls "morning pages," writing out exactly three pages by hand, at the very beginning of the day, keeping the pen moving… no censorship, no editing, no revision, no effort to record the previous day’s events. The only goals were complete honesty and stream-of-consciousness itself. Morning pages is essentially letting your soul "take a dump" just as your body does. 

As for the other exercises, a group of friends and I regularly met to discuss them and do them. More often than not, though, I was the only one who did them, and (surprise!) I was the one who benefited most. The effects were tremendous. Really, the me of of 2007 2008 is pretty different from the me of 1998. The Artist’s Way had a part to play in that.

After a year or so, I began doing the morning pages less faithfully, and although I still journaled sporadically, when I started blogging, my private journaling virtually came to a standstill.

One of the reasons why I’ve been blogging less, is that I’ve started journaling again. My style of journaling now isn’t morning pages, per se, but it is just as uncensored and spontaneous. What I do now is carry my oh-so-trendy little Moleskine notebook with me almost everywhere I go. When waiting for someone or something, I have time to write a little. After a meal, I often have time to write a page or so. (Moleskine pages are pretty small). Sometimes I’ll make several little entries in a day. Other times, I’ll go several days between entries.

Is it dangerous to keep my most private thoughts and feelings in a concrete form where they could easily be read by others?  Not really. Since I started journaling again, it’s been in Esperanto!

Time for a change!

I fit the stereotype of the computer geek who lives mostly in front of a screen, at work because it’s my job, and at home because it’s fun. However, this lifestyle has its price… I’m fat, or as the Department of Health would put it, clinically obese.

I’ve lost the weight twice before… in 1989, I began exercising (and stayed with it till it started becoming enjoyable) and cut most of the junk I previously called "food" out of my diet. I began to feel better than I ever felt in my life, than I ever knew it was possible to feel. In Ohio, I found intense exercise difficult to keep up during the long winter , so over the years some of the weight came back, but it wasn’t too bad.

However, when I discovered the Web in 1995, my physical activity level plummeted. Pounds began piling on quickly. I was able to take them off once again in 1999-2000 when I did the wretched Atkins’ diet, with the predictable result afterwards. Since then, my inactivity and eating habits have mostly gotten worse. I need a lifestyle change.

Of course, I’ve known that for years, and not yet been motivated enough to DO it.  But something interesting is going to happen: at work, some of us have agreed to play "The Biggest Loser" amongst ourselves… and a few side bets on it kind of sweetens the pot, in a non-caloric way!

An American with bad eating habits is up against some formidable obstacles–there is more at work that simply weakness vs. willpower. Some of these obstacles might better be called dark forces… There are the demons of self-doubt, etc. (although I’ve kicked that one’s ass back to hell!)  Then there are demons that twist minds in corporate boardrooms away from quality and towards hooking people into greater and deeper addiction to worse and worse food. I watched Spurlock’s movie, Super-Size Me again tonight for added motivation and inspiration.  Yes, it gave me that, but it also made me cry.

They are not only wrecking our own health on a nation-wide scale, but exporting insanity and obesity to the rest of the world. When there’s a MacDonald’s in every Baghdad neighborhood, then we can rest assured that Iraq has been defeated as soundly as we have.

So the challenge I face isn’t merely of calories and motion, but also of faith and spiritual warfare, that thing that spiritual warriors train for. It’s about overhauling myself. I’m remembering that St. Paul said "Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold," and I want to take that to heart… I’m going to practice meditation again regularly, which I haven’t done for a long time. There are habits I must break, and others I must form. It’s time for  a change.

 

An Experiment

"Your life is your practice." The masters all say it. My teacher says it, Socrates said it to Dan in Peaceful Warrior, Tolle teaches it in his books. St. Paul taught the principle (Whatever you do, do as for the Lord). The list goes on.

And yet for me, it’s been hard to resist a certain escapism in my spirituality. I think I might know the reasons for this, but it’s certainly related to the fact that in everything, my attention is almost always divided between a "here" and a "there." The emphasis on the present moment seems sometimes a hopeless ideal… I’ll be thinking about being in the present moment rather than just being in it right now. My mind creates a meta-reality that often feels more natural for me than simple Isness. And regarding my life as practice, I’ve got to say my life would not strike anyone as being marked by any degree of consciousness or mastery at all.

I procrastinate like crazy. I have huge avoidance issues when it comes to something I "have" to do, particularly if it’s "uninteresting." I’ve tried many times to get a handle on this… listening and reading the self-help masters, trying to be "more disciplined" (whatever that means), and so forth.  So many of their ideas have so much merit, yet my mind still ends up enticing me away from my life.  In the Zen ox pictures, that’s illustrated by the mind (the ox) leading the person.There’s always something more interesting to do than this, always somewhere other to be than right now.

This weekend, as I was catching up on a massive stack of overdue mail, I wondered: What would it be like if I found whatever I need to do fascinating? What if I really accepted that there’s no "escape" (and no need for one)? What if I were devoted to living my life well, with full devotion and attention? To some of you this may seem so obvious as to nearly be incomprehensible… how could anyone not actually take their life as their foundation for what they will do?  But for me, this is a radical experiment. I’m practicing being fascinated by what I need to do.

More later.

See Peaceful Warrior Free

Peaceful Warrior posterAnyone who knows me well knows that in my opinion, far and away the best movie of 2006 was Peaceful Warrior, based on Dan Millman’s beloved autobiographical novel Way of the Peaceful Warrior, which has been a portal to the inner path for many. Simply put, there is no movie I am aware of that more honestly and movingly shows what learning with an authentic spiritual teacher is like, capturing the traps, lessons, pains, and joys experienced upon the way.

I paid to watch Peaceful Warrior three times in theaters last year. This weekend, I’m going to see it for free. Universal Studios is offering $15 million dollars worth of free tickets to see the movie in the first weekend of its general release, starting from today through Sunday.

Claim your tickets here!

The Swimming Pool

swimmingpool1.jpgIn January, 2006, I had an experience that I sometimes think of as “the empty holodeck.” It was jolting and mildly disorienting, but I consider it one of the most important spiritual experiences of my life. This last January, I had another, very brief feeling of a something in that no-thing. And as I’ve written some of these later posts on love and the “law of attraction,” there’s been a metaphor in my mind that I haven’t shared yet: the swimming pool. The “holodeck” appears to be empty to the mind that seeks to know. Although every manner of experience is possible in the holodeck, investigation reveals it to be nothing more than an interactive program that changes patterns of light in mesmerizing ways.

But there remains a medium. So another analogy might be that of a swimming pool. In a swimming pool, the medium is very, very obvious: water. Experiencing water is the whole point. Water is fluid—it parts to accommodate whatever comes into it.

What people are calling the “law of attraction” seems to me to be the recognition of the responsiveness of the medium we are in. Receiving water, when you’re in water, is as simple as opening your hand. All you have to do is make a space. Space for receiving has to be created, and in this medium in which we “live, and move, and have our being,” everything we do has some effect… thoughts, feelings, and actions all are felt, all move the water.

Whatever motion you make is felt to some degree throughout the pool. Smooth, gentle motions create smooth, gentle waves. Harsh, choppy motions create harsh, choppy waves. And whatever waves you create will come back to you.

Also note that the water cannot be controlled. People want the water to assume this shape or that. Creating the manifestation of something particular requires energy and action. Having water is effortless—more than you have it, it has you. Even though you are mostly water, you’ve been given a shape of your own for a while, and cannot breathe it directly. You can’t support the water. You must let it support you.

Like all metaphors, this is terribly imperfect. But when you consciously love others, you feel the love you send, not as something leaving you, but as something coming to you. This is because it is just there. Love is there, as God is there, as the water in the swimming pool is there. The water itself hardly moves at all. Waves are energy moving through the water.

Note that “pushing-against” actions are very inefficient in the pool. Try to push the water away, and it does more than instantly refill the gap, it prevents a gap from ever being created. And when the wave you make hits the edge of the pool, it will bounce back to you.

As The Secret briefly mentioned to its credit, “anti-” activities are not very productive. Anti-war movements often have the effect of prolonging wars. Wars on poverty, drugs, and terrorism are “pushing-against” actions which ultimately have no effect on poverty, drugs, or terrorism except to give these forces even more energy. And wars in general usually have little effect except to plant the seeds of resentment that spring future wars.

Yes, you can push against another person in the pool, but the result will be that you move away from them more than you make them move in any intended direction. You can not change another person. You can only move yourself. Learning to move efficiently in the water is a skill that takes practice. Fortunately there are teachers who not only know the water intimately, but who also live in the awareness of what is beyond the pool.

The edge of the pool is the only thing that you can really push against. When you’re in contact with it, you can launch yourself and move rapidly through the water. Even though you live out this life in the pool, what’s beyond the pool remains important. As the pool holds you, there is That which holds the pool. It is the foundation of the universe.