Joanna Macy – heart wisdom

Joanna Macy, a wonderful Buddhist teacher with many years of deep practice and profound teachings, shares this wisdom on the dark times we live in. I’m paraphrasing…

These times, The Great Turning, call for Shambala Warriors wielding the twin weapons of Compassion and Insight – Compassion to provide the heat and motivation to get out there and do what needs to be done and the cooling wisdom of Insight into the ‘radical inter-dependence of all phenomena.’ And we must understand that it is not a war between the good guys and the bad guys, but that ‘the line between good and evil runs through the landscape of every human heart.’

Deep wisdom that only true practice can help us bring into the world.

Joanna shares this in her movie, The Great Turning, and this clip is available to view on Vimeo – Joanna Macy on the Shambala Warrior.

Metta for All Beings

In these dark times, times that demand such awareness and commitment to strong action, we need to build each others’ heart strength for the suffering we will encounter, for the hard work we will do, for the long struggle we must endure.

One way of building this strength is to send out heart-felt messages to others, spoken and unspoken messages that come from the meditative state and have power to spread encouragement and support. In some Buddhist traditions, this process is known as metta, which is usually translated ‘loving kindness’, but goes far beyond that when part of a deep practice of compassion and compassionate action.

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel composed this poem, whose words speak to us so strongly in light of recent words and actions, in the spirit of that powerful form of metta:

 

For All Beings

May all beings be cared for and loved,

Be listened to, understood and acknowledged despite different views,

Be accepted for who they are in this moment,

Be afforded patience,

Be allowed to live without fear of having their lives taken away or their bodies violated.

May all beings

Be well in its broadest sense,

Be fed,

Be clothed,

Be treated as if their life is precious,

Be held in the eyes of each other as family.

May all beings

Be appreciated,

Feel welcomed anywhere on the planet,

Be freed from acts of hatred and desperation including war, poverty, slavery, and street crimes,

Live on the planet, housed and protected from harm,

Be given what is needed to live fully, without scarcity,

Enjoy life, living without fear of one another,

Be able to speak freely in a voice and mind of undeniable love.

May all beings

Receive and share the gifts of life,

Be given time to rest, be still, and experience silence.

May all beings

Be awake.

The poem was published in Turning Wheel by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in 2009. May it be spoken, heard, understood and enacted throughout the world.

Metta!

The Need for Silence

Reading a disturbing essay by Andrew Sullivan this morning, shared by my wonderful friend Melissa Stiers Kretzschmar, that articulates so well why we need meditative silence. Published in New York Magazine, his new venue I think, the essay is titled “I Used to Be a Human Being.”

Whatever we may think of Sullivan, (must say I’m not really a fan of Andrew’s, as he has been a leading conservative, neo-con, libertarian, neoliberal – God knows what he is) he’s an astute social observer for sure, and this account of his personal experience is telling. It’s also a chilling exposè/analysis of the dangers of the wired world… I say as I sit here blogging.

So this is not to be taken as the final word, but as food for thought. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been trying to measure and mediate my own interaction with the news & culture media stream, and I’ve found, as Sullivan articulates in great detail, that it’s hard. Once you slip back in, it begins to grasp you more and more. Though I am staying pretty clear of the political aspects that tend to really stress me out. Didn’t even watch the debate last night. Won’t read about it. Can’t deal with it…

But I do find what Sullivan says about how meditation and retreats helped him to be very interesting. This is not a guy you’d expect to hear these things from. He’s a gay, British Catholic conservative writer, so not someone I’d ever think would do a 10-day retreat… but apparently he did.

The article is long but well worth the read. A few excerpts on silence:

Among these meditators, I was alone in silence and darkness, yet I felt almost at one with them. My breathing slowed. My brain settled. My body became much more available to me. I could feel it digesting and sniffing, itching and pulsating. It was if my brain were moving away from the abstract and the distant toward the tangible and the near.

The reason we live in a culture increasingly without faith is not because science has somehow disproved the unprovable, but because the white noise of secularism has removed the very stillness in which it might endure or be reborn. …And yet our need for quiet has never fully gone away, because our practical achievements, however spectacular, never quite fulfill us. … Except, of course, there is the option of a spiritual reconciliation to this futility, an attempt to transcend the unending cycle of impermanent human achievement. There is a recognition that beyond mere doing, there is also being; that at the end of life, there is also the great silence of death with which we must eventually make our peace.

He also weighs in strongly in favor of a disciplined meditation practice:

I cut my daily silences from one hour to 25 minutes; and then, almost a year later, to every other day. I knew this was fatal — that the key to gaining sustainable composure from meditation was rigorous discipline and practice, every day, whether you felt like it or not, whether it felt as if it were working or not. Like weekly Mass, it is the routine that gradually creates a space that lets your life breathe.

I’ve experienced much the same decline in my practice, probably due to these same influences he describes, and lately I’ve been making efforts to get my practice re-established. But it may be that I have to make a cleaner break with the media stream to actually make this work.

I’m working on a new approach to both media and meditation… I’ll try to keep blogging through this process… but it may fall by the wayside also. A conundrum.

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.

A fine way to die

When I was about six years old, my maternal grandmother died.

I remember the ride from Valdosta, Georgia to Dixie, Georgia for the funeral, with my mother crying and my father quiet and serious. I remember that we passed a cemetery as we were leaving town, and I realized that the two things were connected, though I wasn’t sure just how.

I’m pretty sure my parents explained to me that Ma-mama had died, though how they explained that I don’t remember. She was not very old, in her early 60’s I think, she was not sick, and her death was unexpected. She went out to get a bucket of coal for the coal grate one night and never came back into the house.

She was very dear to me, a kind, sweet woman with long silver braids that she usually wore coiled on her head. I only remember seeing her with her hair down once, standing in front of her mirror brushing it out before bed. I think I remember it so clearly because she turned and looked at me, smiling as I watched her brush her hair, a smile full of the warmth and love that defines her in my mind.

I don’t remember what she said to me, but I remember well the soft voice speaking my name, ‘Johnny!’

I also remember very clearly Ma-mama in her casket. It is one of the transcendent experiences of my life, perhaps a seminal experience in my emotional development.

In the way of things in those saner times, Ma-mama lay in state in the front room of the old farmhouse where she had lived most of her life, the house my mother and all her five siblings were born in, and all her family and friends were there together. When we arrived, my parents I suppose were swept into the crowd there, leaving me standing there alone looking up at the casket. The casket was surrounded by a brilliant white light from the white-curtained windows behind it, a light that in my young mind was the light of very God himself shining down on my grandmother.

I had always, as a child, thought that the striated rays of sunlight shining through broken clouds – the phenomena many of the old folks called Jacob’s Ladder – was God. I’m not sure what parts of my religious experience in the Sunday Schools of the Southern Baptist Church had created that notion in my young mind, nor am I sure when it was dispelled, but it was an a priori belief for me.

So clearly, the light around my grandmother was God. That seemed quite natural and proper to me, as she was probably the most Godly, saintly, Christian – in all the truest senses of those terms – that I knew. And somehow, because of that light I was able to accept my grandmother’s death, despite being surrounded by the sadness and sense of tragic loss that filled the room.

Though the memory is not so clear, I know that my parents lifted me up and let me gaze into the casket, into the gray and lifeless face that even in death was as sweet as any I’ve seen, and that also helped me understand what was going on there. Helped me understand that, as my young son said when his great-grandmother died, “She can’t talk anymore.”

I have just today finished reading a powerful and life-changing book, Die Wise by Steven Jenkinson, and all through the reading I have had this growing sense that somehow, my upbringing, my experiences, had given me a wider perspective on death than seems to be common, at least based on his characterizations of how our culture views death.

As I’ve mulled over that, the clear sweet memories of my grandmother and her dying came to me, and I realized that from that early age, I was allowed to be in the presence of death, allowed to look at it straight on, rather than shielded from it and protected from the knowledge of its universality. Though my parents surely ascribed to the “better place” mythology their religion taught them, they never let that become denial of the reality that the person who dies is gone, never resorted to the total euphemisms that seem to be prevalent in our society.

When someone died, they said so, and I understood what that meant from earliest consciousness. I think that has stood me in good stead through the many deaths that I have seen in my life, and I hope that it will continue to help me walk into the ever closer deaths that advancing age brings my way.

I hope that it helps me learn to live, for the remainder of my years, in a way that will allow me to die wise.

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.

 

Barbara’s kensho

Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book, Living with a Wild God, is being wonderful! Not far into it, but I am finding it fascinating, funny, and astounding all at once.

The heart of the story is her early adolescent quest for Truth, and the “mystical experiences” that seemed to attend that search. Growing up in an entirely skeptical, atheist family, she was disinclined to accept anything remotely religious in nature, so discounted these experiences at the time, and only recently – the last few years – has come to reconsider what they mean. The book is her coming to terms with those experiences, and the general quest which she recorded in a diary of sorts.

This description of her first “experience” is so near to my own that I felt I must include it here:

And then it happened. Something peeled off the visible world, taking with it all meaning, inference, association, labels, and words. I was looking at a tree, and if anyone had asked, that’s what I would have said I was doing, but the word “tree” was gone, along with all the notions of tree-ness that had accumulated in the last dozen or so years since I had acquired language. Was it a place that was suddenly revealed to me? Or was it a substance— the indivisible, elemental material out of which the entire known and agreed-upon world arises as a fantastic elaboration? I don’t know, because this substance, this residue, was stolidly, imperturbably mute. The interesting thing, some might say alarming, was that when you take away all human attributions— the words, the names of species, the wisps of remembered tree-related poetry, the fables of photosynthesis and capillary action— that when you take all this away, there is still something left.

Ehrenreich, Barbara (2014-04-08). Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything (pp. 47-48). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

My own similar experience, as a considerably older seeker, is recorded in the earlier entry here as “Kensho, Krishnamurti and New Mexico“.

Mindfullness deconstructed

In a recent article posted on the Buddhist Peace Fellowship/Turning Wheel Media site, Jesse Maceo Vega-Frey, a vipassana teacher of the Mahasi lineage, deconstructs mindfulness practice, comparing the inner practice with the external practice of Marxism.

Vega-Frey says that most modern mindfulness practice is like the reformist version of socialism, whereas true Buddhist practice is comparable to the revolutionary approach favored by Karl Marx.

Essentially, the problem is – according to this author – that current fascination with meditation and mindfulness practices is aimed at using these to assist one along the path toward worldly success, rather than as a tool to transcend greed, anger and delusion – the three poisons. (Which are sometimes rendered as: ignorance, attachment, and aversion – perhaps a more accurate set of terms.)

The aspiration to attain worldly success through devotion is not at all new to Asian Buddhism but mindfulness-based meditation as an expression of it is new and seems to have parallel life throughout contemporary Asia as well. Thus, it is appears that this new phenomenon is not simply a cultural desalination program in the West that has turned the ocean of the Buddha’s teaching into vast warehouses of bottled water: It’s also a historical process of political economy, specifically, what Karl Marx termed the bourgeois relations of production.

….

But just as Marx did not call for harmony between classes as a response to the antagonisms at the root of bourgeois society, the Buddha did not call for a smoothing out of the rough edges of suffering or a negotiated peace with greed, hatred, and ignorance. He called for their complete usurpation, abolition, and annihilation by the forces of love and wisdom. He posited mindfulness as one essential tool for a process of disenchantment that illuminates the profoundly unstable, undependable, and disappointing nature of everything in existence: a revolutionary rather than reformist approach.

In the Satipatthana, Buddha explains the practice of the Four Foundations (or Establshiments) or Mindfulness as leading to a state where one finds oneself “…having gone beyond all attachment and aversion to this world.” This is the classic statement of the liberated mind. Certainly seems to me that the author is right in asserting that much of what goes on in the name of meditation these days has lost sight of that basic goal.

Vega-Frey continues:

… the inner revolution is not simply a matter of will-power but of committed ethical integrity, rigorous mind training, and deepening sensitivity to reality. Indeed, they often commit over many, many lifetimes, to cultivating wholesome mental qualities that will support them in the eventual overthrow of greed, hatred, and delusion. … Essential to this view is the understanding that the humility, kindness, and wisdom that come from this path are rewards of the practice in and of themselves and to look beyond them for our motivation, to external markers that satisfy our unexamined personal and social delusions, is folly. Keeping the north star of complete liberation always ahead of us is a fundamental part of staying on the path with integrity.

Even beyond this, Vega-Frey says that what’s like to happen is:

…the absolute bourgeoisification of mindfulness where the owning class and the bourgeois state try to use it as a tool for the reification of class dominance and imperialism.

If this sounds over-dramatic, consider another recent essay, “The Militarization of Mindfulness,” which highlighted a $4.3 million grant the U.S. Army and Department of Defense has provided University of Miami researchers for a so-called “Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training” for pre-deployment soldiers as well as $31 million for a “positive psychology” program that will include mindfulness education for 1.1 million soldiers.

He concludes with this thought:

Part of me longs for the day when a study proves, once and for all, that mindfulness is entirely useless for anything beside the development of wisdom and kindness.

It’s a long but very thought-provoking article. I welcome responses.

Collective delusion can unite us

Legacies of Collective Delusion

Delusion is one of the three poisons and according to Buddha’s teaching, is the root of  our suffering.

But as Funie Hsu elucidates in her amazing article on Turning Wheel, delusion can also bring us together. It is a wonderful article that deserves to be read in full. I will try to present highlights here in the interest of motivating you to read it.

Delusion in the Buddhist teachings is understood as the fundamental error of our mind, the dualism in our thinking, the idea that we are separate from others, from nature, from everything – as I have discussed here previously.

Hsu, a former teacher and now doctoral student at UC-Davis, relates our personal delusion to that embodied in the systemic oppression of people of color and other ghettoized segments of the population.

Drawing on the ideas of Wayne Yang about colonialism and post+colonialism, Hsu expands the notion of delusion to include our social order.

…K. Wayne Yang (La Paperson) cautions that viewing segregation as a cause of inequality situates the problem in the ghetto and further stigmatizes it. “More fundamentally,” he notes, “this view assumes the zone ‘outside of the ghetto’ to be the place of universal rights.” The solution, then, cannot be to simply get rid of the ghetto (whether by redevelopment, gentrification or other means) because racial/economic segregation is not the core cause. Rather, Yang argues, it’s colonialism.

Yang says colonialism is ongoing, and that ghettos are actually colonies, or dislocated territories whose existence in critical to the continued existence of the so-called ‘normal’ parts of our society.

They are [colonies] because of their alienation from the other parts of the city, which cannot distinguish themselves without their ghetto counterparts. These colonies are “dislocated” territories with residents who have been involuntarily dislocated from mainstream society. The violence that youth of color, especially black and Latino youth, endure in these colonial neighborhoods are a product of both racial and economic displacement stemming from the ongoing process of American imperial domination.

Then Hsu makes the leap: “We can also begin to see the inherent reality of our systemic and human interconnectedness. Even our systems of oppression are reliant upon interdependent relations to create privilege.

In other words, in spite of our delusion of separateness, our society relies on the essential interconnectedness among humans to create the class divisions that oppress us.

Indeed, our delusion [blinding us] to systems of oppression is a learned way of thinking, taught to us through many ‘benign’ lessons that illustrate seemingly benevolent relations. They distract us from understanding that individual lives are interconnected to broader (violent) systems and that individuals are connected to each other within these systems. In doing so, violence can be rendered an anomalous act, committed by one person against another, instead of being the effect of systemic oppression. When looking at our own communities, “the focus on ‘crime’ naturalizes violence to pathologized places, as something that ‘happens’ in the ghetto, rather then something that is ‘done’ to the people there…black on black violence is highlighted and institutional violence fades into the background.”

She ends with an amazing paragraph that presents this beautiful thought: “despite the widespread feelings of aloneness we all feel at different points in our lives, alienation—from the modes of production, from each other, from our hearts, from our environment—is a commonality that connects us to each other in our suffering and struggle. Though we try to delude ourselves by assuming an inherent duality from self and other, our interconnectedness remains a constant.”