Beautifully Flawed — from Ramblin’ Rose

Source: Beautifully Flawed

My blogger friend Rosemaryanne, of  “almost dropped out”, has hit another home run!

This is a great insight into the truths we live with in the practice life, and so sweetly and personally related I had to share it. This is the central point, though it’s all worth reading:

I knew little about meditation before I began practising and like many newbies, I thought it would help to get rid of the nagging voice in my head. It doesn’t. It does help me to recognise her though and to stand back from her sometimes. I assumed that after many years of practice, I might become a “better” person. The coach thinks its all part of her strategy.

The Fire Next Time

That summer, in any case, all the fears with which I had grown up, and which were now a part of me and control my vision of the world, rose up like a wall between the world and me…

–James Baldwin

Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me – about which I blogged earlier this week – sent me back to reread James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, which I had not read since 1999. And there, on page 27, is the quote above with its unattributed reference to the same line from Richard Wright which gave Coates his title.

Wright’s poem of the same name, from White Man Listen! (1957), says:

And one morning while in the woods I stumbled suddenly upon the thing,

Stumbled upon it in a grassy clearing guarded by scaly oaks and elms

And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting themselves between the world and me….

These lines have drawn me in to the many points of similarity in the two writers, and especially reminded me of how much power and depth there is in James Baldwin.

Coates has drawn much inspiration from Baldwin, and seems poised to fill Baldwin’s role as a leading intellectual and articulate voice for the inchoate rage now welling up among Black Americans and their friends. Coates and Baldwin both reject the church, the street, the schools, and all other forms of escape and denial as beneath us, distractions from the worthy goals of freedom and dignity.

Both maintain that the same forces that have driven black people into slavery have created the degraded forms of life now ruling the ghettos and the suburbs alike, and promise to destroy all that is lovable in human life as well as threaten the very biosphere – at least the parts of it that we depend on. Baldwin sees our only salvation in “transcendence of the realities of color, of nations, and of altars.” [p. 81]

In The Fire Next Time, Baldwin lays down the philosophical basis that informs much of Coates work, the idea that white people – or people who “think they are white” as he says in the essay “On Being White… And Other Lies” – are harmed as much by racism as are black people, and that it is in order to maintain their very grasp on reality, their sense of themselves, that white people today cling to racism so tenaciously.

White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this – which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never – the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed. [p. 21]

Baldwin is profound in his understanding of the realities of life, and warns against retribution: “I am also concerned for their dignity, for the health of their souls, and must oppose any attempt that Negroes may make to do to others what has been done to them. I think I know – we see it around us every day – the spiritual wasteland to which that road leads. It is so simple a fact and one that is so hard, apparently, to grasp: Whoever debases others is debasing himself.”

His deep spiritual understanding of life is reflected also in these incredibly beautiful, perceptive and sensitive lines:

Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us. [p. 90-91]

He doesn’t shrink from the horrors of the American system or the cruelty of the situation, but he finds, as does Coates, some light of hope for our future. “…the white man himself is in sore need of new standards, which will release him from his confusion and place him once again in fruitful communion with the depths of his own being. And I repeat: The price of the liberation of the white people is the liberation of the blacks – the total liberation, in the cities, in the towns, before the law, and in the mind. … In short, we, the black and the white, deeply need each other here if we are really to become a nation – if we are really, that is, to achieve our identity, our maturity, as men and women.”

Gate Gate…

Gate Gate, ParaGate, ParasamGate, Bodhi Svaha.

Doing the dharani this morning during my meditation. A nice round of 108 of those does wonders for one’s stress level. Which I was definitely needing this morning.

The chanting and a few capsules of “Calm the Bitch” and I’m feeling much better! Ah, yes, that’s an herbal blend with an inappropriate name, perhaps, but an effective blend and a perfectly descriptive name!

Not sure exactly what’s in it as it’s a personal blend from our friend Hsin-Hsin, a Chinese Medicine practitioner who manages the herbal pharmacy at East-West College of Natural Medicine. One of her students gave it the name after discovering its power to calm anger and relieve stress. Mostly citrus and a little He Huang Pi (Collective Happiness bark), I think.

But, back to the chanting. It’s the dharani from the Heart Sutra, one I’ve been chanting for nearly 30 years now. Its literal meaning, if such can be assigned to a dharani, is something like: “Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond. Enlightenment be praised.” Some English versions include the phrases “gone to the other shore” and “having never left.”

Its real meaning is more in the sound of it than the words, and that sound can be transcendent. Especially if one is immersed in the Heart Sutra itself. But that’s way beyond the scope of this blog entry! Red Pine has a great book on the sutra if you’re interested.

Chanting dharanis or mantras is not something I do much of. It is more like medicine to me than a practice. I use it often when driving to help with the stress of that situation. I don’t think a practice built on daily chanting has the power to bring the kind of liberation, deep and wide liberation, that I see a true meditation practice as capable of bringing. I could be wrong about that, but it seems so to me.

I needed its medicine today, though.

Life has been rather loaded with stress, even anger, lately. I find that dealing with the stress via meditation and herbs is better than living in denial or escape. Much of the social malaise which plagues us nowadays could be laid at the feet of a public who would rather ignore, escape from, or deny social problems.

Much of my stress comes from the deeply sad, wounded nature of the world today. Though I live in this quiet, lovely community, word seeps in of the incomprehensible terror and pain that so many in our world, our sweet and beautiful world, live in. So many of my fellow beings, human and otherwise, find their daily lives surrounded by a hostile world of greed, anger and delusion, a world where these three poisons are taking human form in monstrous ways….

Monstrous ways that seem to threaten the very lives of all of us on so many levels. If it is true, as some propose, that we humans have developed to be the means by which this planet or even the entire cosmos is self-aware, then we are sensitive to all this pain and agony to good purpose. Which is why I think it’s better not to hide from or deny these realities. But it can be unpleasant and stressful, to say the least.

This stress can impact our lives and relationships in many ways. The most difficult thing for me, in trying to live a meditation-based life, is that I find myself in a near-constant state of frustration that cascades into irritation and anger, with an occasional outburst leading to more stress and unpleasant, hurtful feelings for ones I love.

A recent outburst and the fallout from that is a big part of my current need for stress medication! Things are improving greatly today, but the last few days were — well, not so good.

The positive side – the “wisdom side” as the Tibetans say – of this experience has been that it shows me once again how important it is to be consistent and deep and real in my meditation practice. My first Zen teacher always said that his teacher said, “One hour or meditation, one hour of enlightenment.”

Keep sitting.

Or, as that great philosopher Dave Mason said long ago, “Can’t stop worrying about the things we do. Can’t stop loving, without it nothing would seem true.”

 

 

Inspiring conversation on racism

A recent post on Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s Turning Wheel media has inspired really interesting conversation about racism, white privilege, and what we all can do to further the cause of peace and justice is this beleaguered country.

Posted by Katie Loncke, the essay on “Direct Action Gets the Goods” addresses the controversy over the disruption of a speech by Bernie Sanders at a Social Security/Medicare rally.

The article and most of the comments are excellent and all worth reading, as they show something of the pervasive nature of racism in our society. A comment by Eko Joshua Goldberg contains this gem:

To me, the real power of this action and the earlier disruption at Netroots Nation was not that it made Bernie Sanders’ campaign get real and improve its position on white supremacy, racism, and anti-black violence (although that does seem to have happened). It was the exposure of the reality of the present moment, both in showing the deep love, strength, and courage of black movements and black women to speak truth to power in the face of tremendous violence and repression; and also nakedly exposing white supremacy and racism among many white “progressives”

Eko is answering some who seemed to take umbrage at the disruption. Yes, even in this context, the progressive members of a socially engaged Buddhist organization, there is division and misunderstanding of the nature of white privilege.

Eko also provides this very revealing list of things that we all could do to be part of the solution:

For my part I vow to:
* work diligently to stop forgetting the reality of white supremacy, i.e., to see more clearly
* be honest about my white privilege and use it to help build anti-racist movements
* challenge systemic racism, colonialism, and white supremacy
* challenge interpersonal violence, hatred, and bigotry rooted in racist, colonial, and white supremacist thinking
* talk with other white people about how white supremacy, white privilege, racism, and colonialism plays out in our lives and in our communities, talk about what we can do to change that, and then follow through with action
* celebrate, appreciate, and promote the survival and liberation work being done by Indigenous people and people of colour, and provide solidarity/support in ways that are requested
* listen when I get called out for my deluded thinking and mistaken behaviours, and learn from my mistakes
* invite advice, critique, and comment

I’m thinking of adding his list to my morning vows.

P.S.: Another deeply moving comment from one of the participants, Dr. Amie Harper:

So, just let me know when it’s ‘okay’ to ‘disrupt’ the system of racism and anti-black violence that could kill me, my dad, my mom, and my beautiful lovely 1, 4, and 6 year old children. Let me know when you ‘approve’ of how I do it. Let me just sit here and wait for the ‘okay’ and cross my fingers that my brother will be okay. That my 6 year old son, while playing at the playground, won’t become the next Tamir Rice. Perhaps as I move to the next new job I get, hundreds of miles away, I won’t become the next Sandra Bland. Let me just sit here patiently and wait for those who are ‘irritated’ to let me know the CORRECT way for me to make sure we don’t inconvenience you with our lack of ‘civility’ in doing through the ‘proper measures.’ Let’s spend more time debating that than you actually doing something more. And please, let’s save the, “Breeze, you just don’t understand. For change to happen, the best way for [Black women] to be taken seriously is to go through ‘proper’ procedure, like voting or engaging with the political system another way, or getting ‘real’ jobs (because activism isn’t a ‘real job’ for some.”

Dr. Harper was inspired by the discussion to post the article from which this quote is taken on her blog.

Real practice

I missed two days of sitting last week, and there were good, reasonable excuses for it each time, excuses not worth going into.

Because the real reason I don’t sit, when I don’t, goes deeper than these perfectly reasonable circumstantial issues. The real reason I don’t sit is because sitting can be hard. Not in the physical sense really, or even the boredom of which people sometimes complain.

Sitting can be hard because it reveals truth about me that I don’t always want to see.

——-

That’s why a real meditation practice requires more than a cushion, schedules and good intentions. Real practice requires moral courage and unflinching dedication to knowing those truths about oneself that are unflattering, difficult, even painful.

——-

Of course, that is the point. Unlike “McMindfulness” – as David Loy has called superficial practices – a real life practice is not undertaken to make one more productive at work or reduce anxiety in social situations (which it certainly will do), it is part of the heart’s commitment to living one’s life in an authentic way, aligned with the highest aspirations that we humans can generate: to be compassionate to everyone, to contribute to making life meaningful and happy for all, to being all those things we mean when we say “a good person.”

It’s not an easy commitment to make, and it’s not easy to remember that this is why one practices. That’s why daily vows are a good idea, because they keep that promise fresh in our minds.

And it’s not easy to stick with it day after day, because on the cushion we see clearly all those points of deviation from the path over the past day – and in our life in general. We see clearly all those things we’d rather ignore in our relationships, our work, our living.

So if there’s an excuse not to sit, we take it.

——-

Those days we don’t sit, though, do also show us the value of it, even in ways beyond the increased levels of stress and anxiety we may experience. Because if we get back to the cushion soon enough after the missed session, we may see what it was we were really avoiding.

And that’s real practice.

——

Related Links

My post on McMindfullness.

 

David Loy of BPF on McMindfullness.

 

My post on solutions that work for everyone.

Returning to the Sanity of Our Hunter Gatherer Origins (Pt 1)

Returning to the Sanity of Our Hunter Gatherer Origins (Pt 1).

Humanity has seemingly wandered up a blind canyon.

The process of human evolution, cultural development, and technological advancement seems to have led us to the point where our crowning accomplishment is that we can destroy the earth, and seem hell-bent on doing so. Wars, cruelty, competition and environmental degradation of our own making threaten to destroy human life, if not all life, on the earth.

But what if this whole process has been one of learning the lessons we need to move forward into a more wonderful, beautiful world where the values of compassion and cooperation, sharing and creativity are dominant?

Is it possible to see through the miasma of our current world to a world where humans live together in peace, security, and abundance? The post linked above and parts 2 and 3 of the series present a case for that future, and present at least a glimpse of how it may be possible to get there.

As 2015 begins, it seems we all need to be willing to look at new ideas, new ways of understanding the human condition, and open ourselves to the possibilities that a new vision of human nature – one based on a very old and very successful model of living – can present.

These three essays are an invitation to do that. Do yourself and the future a favor and read them. Give a new way of living a chance in your mind.

As has famously been said, we have only our chains to lose.

The end of war

Charles Eisenstein, my recently favorite author, articulates what is essentially, tho not explicitly, a Buddhist approach to the conflicts going on in the world today.

Eisenstein speaks of “interbeing” – a term most prominently used by Thich Nhat Hanh – and the general notion of interconnectedness as understandings that bring us to a new approach to dealing with all the issues that face us. He says:

…people who do evil things are not doing them because they are evil people; that therefore, tactics based on demonizing them are grounded in delusion and may be counterproductive; finally, that such an approach is an expression of the very same mentality of conquest and control that lies at the foundation of our civilization’s depredations.

… Deeply conditioned to view the world in terms of good versus evil, we seek to understand complicated social problems through the simplistic lens of perpetrators and victims. Who is the bad guy? Who can we fight?

He articulates this fully and in a very clear and easily comprehended form in his recent essay “The End of War.”

It challenges me to more fully understand how to bring the Buddhist principles I profess to bear on my own life.

Get Smarter, too!

As much as some practitioners – and sometimes I feel the same – would like to say that meditation is only good for spiritual development – liberation -, evidence mounts that it does lots of good things for us.

It may even make you smarter. And help you avoid senile dementia.

Just this morning I’m reading about a  2011 study that shows meditators may increase the volume of the gray matter in the hippocamus. Published by Sara Lazar in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, the study recommends 30 to 40 minutes of meditation daily.

The study is mentioned in an article in a popular magazine (Real Simple) which claims that meditation, as well as several other activities like eating Omega-3, drinking lots of coffee, walking, and learning languages will increase your “brain power” as well as keep the brain healthy and functioning longer into old age. I don’t know what happens if you do all five.

I’m sure these studies on meditation are valid, as the traditional sources of meditation have always said that it’s “good for you” in various ways. But keep in mind that these traditional teachers and texts also warn against making that your reason for meditating.

Trungpa says, “We are not particularly seeking enlightenment or the simple experience of tranquillity — we are trying to get over our deception.” A major part of his teaching was on how to avoid the pitfalls of “spiritual materialism” – practicing for self-improvement, self-aggrandizement. The Zen tradition advises to sit ‘without gaining ideas.’

Zen master Yasutani warned against seeking ‘spiritual visions’. “Don’t squander your energy in the foolish pursuit of the inconsequential,” he said. Ignore them; keep sitting. Perhaps good advice for us who are sometime lost in this flurry of scientific evaluation of meditation.

I think what we in this modern, scientific environment need to realize is that all these various claims for the efficacy of meditation are perhaps true and perhaps desirable, but possibly only attainable if one is not entering into the practice with the goal of self-improvement.

Which certainly fits with the notion that the basic intention in our practice is to lose the illusion, the deception, of self.

A meditation practice fairly entered into – at least in the Buddhist tradition – is aimed at experiencing the truth of existence, the essence of things, because this experience of truth will make one able to function effectively, harmlessly, and compassionately in the world.

Any benefit that flows to one’s own life is considered a side effect.

 

Economic Injustice and Buddhist Teachings

A recent article by my online friend Maia Duerr, writing on the Turning Wheel Media site, addresses issues that are central to my own concerns recently: how do the Buddha’s teachings, and our practice, relate to the social, environmental and political problems that threaten to sink our society and indeed humanity?

This article focuses on Economic Injustice. Maia points out that the Buddha clearly gave his teachings a social dynamic:

We so often ignore the most basic teaching of the Buddha, that interconnection is the truth of things as they are. We forget that when Shakyamuni Buddha had his own awakening, from the get-go he put it in this collective context: “I and all sentient beings on earth, together, attain enlightenment at the same time.”

She goes on to point out that these social problems all have roots in our individual and collective ignorance of this interdependence, and the cravings and aversions that arise out of that ignorance.

(I would add again, the three poisons – rendered in the article as greed, anger, and delusion – I think are easier to understand as ignorance, attachment, and aversion. But that’s another post.)

Identifying racism, classism and corporate control of resources as some of the social manifestations of the three poisons, she says we’ll only begin to address these problems when we understand those roots.

As Thich Nhat Hanh suggested, when our practice begins to mature, we find ourselves ready to get up off the cushion and address the problems in front of us.

Lojong # 13 Be Grateful to Everyone!

Wonderful wonderful Lojong here!

“Be Grateful to Everyone” is such a positive admonition. Kongtrul, in his older version of these slogans, renders it as “Contemplate the great kindness of all.”

This is part of the ‘poison as medicine’ theme, or Transformation of Bad Circumstances as it’s called in Trungpa’s rendering. In this theme, the idea is that all the people and events of our lives are things to be thankful for because they are what provide us with the opportunity to practice, to follow the path, which means the opportunity to get beyond self.

Without all these apparent ‘obstacles’ in our lives, there is no path, no way to proceed on the project of developing patience and compassion, ways to transcend our normal ego-centered, reactive approach to everything. The contemplation of just how indebted we are to the others around us becomes a major part of each meditation, as well as an important piece of the mindfulness that helps us to get through the day without stressing ourselves and the others around us.

Becoming able to actually feel gratitude to someone who has hurt you or caused difficulty for you, intentionally or not, is a great transition in life. It’s not easy and it doesn’t happen in a short time, but with patience, it will come. It just takes ‘practice!’

This Lojong slogan is very close to the Christian idea of “Praise God in all things” as well as the Chinese notion of ‘disaster as opportunity’.