• July 1, 2020

    It is very difficult to live in this world without an ego that seeks for its own satisfaction. You may have a negative view of ego but its capacity for identification is essential for almost all of our actions and the motives behind them. As the Buddha said, there is almost nothing that we can think or do that does not aim to get what we want or avoid what we do not want. These are the two fundamental gestures of human beings…affirming and denying, or as he said, clinging and averting. This is ego and this is what ego does.

    Do I know what it would be like to have no ego? Would I get up in the morning? Would I have anything to say? To be without ego, even just for a little time, is like being naked before the world. It takes great courage and immense capacity to initiate even the most basic actions.

    As Buddha said, ego is the root cause of unhappiness, the source of our conflicts and disappointments but it also protects us from the terror of meaninglessness. Its contraction around itself shuts out the fearful immensity of space. Ego is the gravity that shapes the world and gives it coherence.

    The ego hides itself in its identities which it justifies and promotes…identities such as father or mother, friend, teacher, worker, employer…any role I assume to give my life structure and purpose. We find meaning in the identities we have accepted, which are nothing more than the conditioning and habits formed around the ego to act as its container and protection. Ego has no independent existence, no substance other than what it borrows from the things it identifies with.

    So, is that all there is? Does ego define and explain everything we can think and do? I suggest there is something else quite mysterious and completely unlike ego which is virtue. Virtue is an action for its own sake, something that arises outside the ego, without identification, which offers satisfaction and contentment without self-seeking. In virtue, we sit in the lap of angels and do the work of another world. Your ego will seize on this as something for it to achieve but virtue does not come from us. It’s a gift, a trickle of grace come down from heaven. This is what distinguishes virtue…it is not ours and it does not depend upon us for its existence. We cannot make it but we can destroy it.

    I experience a spontaneous impulse of compassion or kindness towards another human being or animal. At the very moment of this impulse, it is decided whether it is virtue or not. If I claim it for myself, feel proud or important or virtuous, the impulse is diverted and is no longer virtue. If it is allowed to flower in the moment of its expression without identification, virtue lives as a corridor for the descent of higher qualities.

    Can virtue be facilitated? Perhaps. There is a third gesture between clinging and averting…the gesture of releasing…Buddha’s middle way. When my ego reaches to grab what is good for itself, can I release the gesture of grabbing and allow the good to stand without me? This is the gesture of freedom which allows virtue to exist and flower. Every virtue allowed to unfold without my appropriation blossoms into love.

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  • May 15, 2020

    The fourth secret of the work: there is nothing I can affirm that is worth a plugged nickel because my ordinary efforts come from my personality. This is not to say that I do not experience exalted states from time to time. But they are not from me or by my effort. They are gifts.

    Let us say I notice that I have a tendency to exaggerate and that I often claim to know things that I do not know. I wish to break this habit and be more honest and sincere. Can I decide to be honest; can I affirm the quality of honesty without self-flattery, in a sincere way?

    I am willing to bet I can’t affirm a positive quality. Any quality. Perhaps I can fake the behavior or posture…the outward appearance of sincerity…in a convincing manner but my habitual tendency to lie will reassert itself. Over years, I have accumulated a persona built on reacting to stimulus using a range of behaviours learned from mimicking those around me. This persona is the counterfeit, preventing the unfolding of real being. Anything flowing from the persona is a substitute.

    There is another way: to become sincere, can I observe my lying objectively…perceive its every nuance in real time, the fluttering sensations that lead the mind down false alleys into the momentary pleasure of deceiving and exaggerating. When I know it well, in real time, I no longer experience the attractions of lying. Then l can call upon the quality of sincerity.

    Every good and bad thing can be called to us, voluntarily or not. By observation of self, without justification or judgment, we are able to discard the unreal and open a space for the real to be invoked.  The undesirable must be relinquished before the desirable can be attained. Note the word ‘relinquished’. When we know something very well, we can let it go… the habitual substitute is no longer needed.

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  • May 5, 2020

    I wish to have a deeper experience of my life. Do I know where to begin? Knowing where to begin anything is critical. Every good thing must be approached correctly. Before love, humility. Before humility, remorse. Before remorse, confession. Before prayer, an apology. Know the steps. The inner world is not commanded, it is seduced by delicacy of manner.

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  • January 31, 2020

    The most important tool for work on self is attention. Without access to attention, there is no work.

    Perhaps you think you can develop your attention, that you can have more attention if you make efforts. There are qualities that can be developed over time with effort but, in my experience, attention is not one of them.

    The secret to accessing more attention is to observe and understand inattention. This is yet another example of the via negativa. The problem is that the ‘me’ that would practice attention is itself the source of inattention…the source of distraction. Attention itself is not a property of the ordinary world and it is not something that can be manipulated by the elements of this world for more than a few moments. Instead, can I observe my tendency to be distracted?

    Attention is a natural function of the universe by which it establishes connections with itself. Attention is the very life of the universe, the means for knowing itself in its particulars. This will not make sense to you until it is part of your experience.

    One thing I can do to enhance my access to attention is to clean up the vestiges of past attention. I leave behind me a trail of connections which are held by attention…things promised but not completed, unnecessary worries, possessiveness about things like a car, a wallet, a future meeting and so on. Can I lift attention from these small fixations when it is not needed there? Is this something I ‘do’ or is this simply allowing attention to call itself back from the places where it has been left and is no longer needed or where it is not needed now?

    Let’s call this ‘retrieval’. Can I retrieve misplaced attention? Can I invoke attention and then allow it to call to itself the scattered bits of itself that are not needed where they are? Obviously, this does not include removing attention where it is properly placed on people, things and tasks you are committed to.

    Invocation of attention is a potent tool. Attention can attend to itself. In fact, only attention can attend to itself; everything else is too slow.

    The secret? Learn how to summon attention and learn how to submit to it. Presence is your reward.

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  • January 13, 2020

    This is my failsafe, my touchstone. Can I let my mind rest upon nothing? Just for a moment? I am not talking about blanking out the mind or stopping thought. This is the opposite of control. Can I let go, fully release? Can I, in one moment, completely submit…my self, my breath, my posture. And if I can? I get an immediate hit of ecstasy.

    Now I’ll warn you about this ecstasy thing. It’s not the same as extra joy, not euphoria nor extreme happiness. Ecstasy is laced with pain, with sorrow and with exaltation. Its exquisite intensity is inherent in its contradictory nature. Ecstasy is not one thing but rather the simultaneity of many things…a dose of another reality. This is the door-opener that takes you to the heart of the Universe.

    This is not something that can be maintained for long periods, at least in my experience. But if I can perform this maneuver, it’s like being shot out of a cannon and I have a moment when the work can be remembered and understood.

    The key is submission. Can I learn to submit? The whole of life is a lesson in submission. Every sacrifice I make for another’s sake, every sincere confession of my limitations, every time I voluntarily give up my point of view, I am learning the path of submission.

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  • December 22, 2019

    Why is Christmas still celebrated all over the world after 2000 years? Apart from the Christmas story, not much from 2000 years ago is still remembered. Perhaps you dismiss this simply as a naïve religious superstition slowly fading from the world over time. But it continues to influence the thinking and emotions of billions of people. Perhaps this is worth going into more deeply?

    Ideas have enormous power to shape and sustain a narrative that changes the way we experience our life. For example, all of us are now powerfully shaped by the idea of progress which is only about 300 years old. What ideas are contained in the Christmas story? The innocence, vulnerability and humility of a child borne in poverty in a manger attracts angels, Kings and shepherds. This is not a story before Jesus’s birth. It is a new story. The old stories are about the privilege of high birth and favor from the gods. This is no such story.

    O yes, stories of the miraculous birth of other ‘special’ beings were standard lore for centuries before the Christian birth but those stories did not survive the passage of time. And the qualities these other stories celebrated were not the qualities of innocence, vulnerability and humility.

    Let’s suppose just for a minute that the story of the birth is not only true but also intentional. Something new is being inserted into the human psyche. The pageant, for that is what I think it is, celebrates a change in human thinking.

    Could you think of the psyche of human beings, our interior life of mind and emotion, as a vast ocean? The changing notions of who we are as human beings are the tides on which we rise and fall. Not all the denizens of that ocean are kind. Strangely, some full of light yet they are not swept away. They continue to hold together despite the maelstrom of confusion humans live within.

    In the human psyche are many creations, some of our making, some from unknown sources. Angels are one of those creations, as well as a star that hangs in the heavens above a manger. You may dismiss the notion that the world of the psyche has its own creatures not found in the physical realm but this is very limited thinking. The world of the psyche is larger, more varied and more powerful than the material world. History is the proof. And consider what you know about yourself. I cannot see what I have decided is not there and I cannot know, understand and experience what I have already rejected.

    Consider that Christmas still has the power to reach into hearts and change us. Stories like this are a miracle. Their presence in our collective psyche is absolutely necessary. Do not let them pass without hearing them and wondering how they can be.

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