• August 6, 2019

    There are very few sacred spaces left on this earth, it seems to me. What is a sacred space? It’s a place where the veils of ordinary existence are thinner and it is more possible to engage and penetrate the subtle worlds of feeling and meaning which are so easily hidden by worldly engagement. The ancients built temples for this purpose, to create or shelter such valuable places where real prayer and invocation could occur.

    Perhaps you are aware of such a place. The question then is can you enter it? Can I pass through the doorway? Special efforts are required.

    This is why our zikr often begins with questions. Can I be here? Can I sense my body? Can I sense my breath? Can I relinquish my connection to the past, to the future, to any other place or time, or any relationship, other than to the zikr chamber and the circle of friends within it? If my attention remains intentionally or unintentionally on other times, places and people, I will not be able to pass through the narrow entrance.

    The way itself is very broad but the entranceway cannot accommodate any baggage. He who is within demands our full attention and presence.

    My entry is by way of humility, submission and apology for having forgotten. These are the secret keys that open the heart and show me where to step, even though I have broken my vows a thousand times.

    Tags: , , , , , ,

  • June 13, 2019

    I am sure you know this, but I will say it anyway. There is a great difference between entering the present and being present. But perhaps this is a distinction that is easy to lose?

    From my perspective, entering the present is perhaps the most important transition that I can make of my own will. I voluntarily bring attention into my sensations and surroundings. I enter present time…not the illusory future or the invented past where I tend to spend most of my energy. I sacrifice thinking about the things that are not part of my immediate experience.

    Now, you may disagree that this transition is an action of my will. Perhaps I am surprised by something beautiful, a sound, a word, a gesture that draws me into the present. True, but even then, I agree to be drawn or the drawing quickly passes.

    But who enters the present? Why me, of course. I have identities, history, future engagements, places to go and people to meet, but I have temporarily brought attention out of them and into the present. Nonetheless, these realities inevitably shape and limit the present that I engage with. And if I react to incoming stimulus, my reactions will likely be my standard, habitual reactions.

    If my presence should happen to become present in the present, something very different occurs. I am no longer me. The presence of my presence has entered the present and I am temporarily unidentified. This immediately opens up space for seeing and responding differently. Past and future still exist but they are not me, they can be present in an expanded Present Moment without determining my state. What is it that makes the invocation of presence into the present possible? In my experience, it is an act of submission, of giving myself up.

    Tags: , , ,

  • September 2, 2018

    I am receptive to the view that Vajrayana Buddhists have of what happens after death…that our consciousness enters a bardo between death and rebirth where we re-experience mental simulations of the unresolved emotional states of our life. I am also careful to say that I do not know any of this for certain and I have yet to meet anyone who does. I therefore do not intend to roll out all the concepts and imagery of the Tibetan traditions.

    But I can engage in a thought experiment. What would be my experience if I continued to be aware without a physical body? Would it be something like the dream state?

    Let’s say that I am conscious but I have no means to engage in current sensations…only the memory of them…and I am no longer ‘located’ in physical space. Having no body, I am not actually anywhere in a real sense.

    In ordinary life, I experience the reverberation of the physical and the mental. A sense experience gives rise to related or associated mental content which in turn engages further sensations. This is what my ordinary ‘emotional’ life consists of…identification with one thing or another, reactive ping pong between mind and body, punctuated by horizontal sleep.

    Now, let’s remove the physical side of the equation. Remove the ping. Now I am ‘living’ within the mental simulations of my own undigested experiences, memories, the same repetitive loops of thought, fear, anxiety, jealousy, anger, greed that characterized my reactive, identified life in the body…but without the grounding of tangible sensory input or the possible shock-interruption of something new from outside.

    Feeling claustrophobic yet?

    My ‘experience’ would be just projections of my mental states with nothing to contradict them. Where is there a refuge from this tedious, repetitive self-expression? Voluntary presence and attention? Have I learned to sustain them while in the body, when it is so much easier? Or do I find that voluntary presence and attention are impossibly fleeting, quickly overwhelmed by the internal roar of associative thought projections powered by habitual identifications? Can I interrupt the flow of otherwise unimpeded thought loops?

    This is why we have the black room…a room with absolutely no visual references, no sense of location. This may be somewhat like life after death if it exists. Can I sit in that room and maintain presence and attention? Do I remember the tricks we have discussed for doing so? Or do I immediately fall into associative thinking or even sleep? Voluntary attention and presence open the possibility of choice, of movement, of contact outside yourself. Perhaps, when you are dead, you will wish you had learned to sustain them amidst the flow of personal experience.

    Why sit in the black room? Perhaps to prepare for your death.

    Tags: , , , , , ,

  • May 24, 2018

    One of the mysteries of zikr is that it seems to take place in another country which is not known to me in my ordinary state.

    In my everyday life, I know where I am.  I have a physical and psychological orientation, a map of my personal territory, which is as fixed as a street address. My movements take place around a few locations. I am placed within my tasks, my obligations. My life is a construction of things learned, past events, failures and successes, relationships won and lost. A thousand associations and habits keep me in my place.

    There are things that I do and things I do not or cannot do. The culture says I can be or do whatever I want if I follow my dream. This is foolish. Clearly I have limits in my life and whether they are self-imposed or imposed by others, many of these limits are real and true. A street address says not only where you are but also where you are not. I learn that there are places that are not for me.

    Work on self begins to peel away the layers of this onion, separating true from false. Impartial observation begins to whittle away at the reactions, judgments and justifications which maintain my location. Inwardly, I gain degrees of freedom from self. The world becomes larger. I find that there is an ‘I’ that is not constructed, not limited by a local fixed address and this ‘I’ explains the best of my doings.

    Work on self is not self-improvement but rather deconstruction, from the outside in. That is one direction for change. It is slow but certain.

    Zikr is in another direction. Its location is not in my ordinary world and I can’t get there when I am myself.

    Can I simply step outside of myself? This may seem illogical. For it to be true, I must magically be that ‘I’ which is not part of the construction, temporarily leaving it behind. How is this possible?

    The present is a crack in the cosmic egg. Without past and future, now being all the time there is, my presence is called to be, replacing my identities. ‘I’ enter. Can I can enter the present so fully that I no longer have a fixed address? This is what zikr is. This transition is made possible by several factors. First, it is most helpful to have a special space that is removed from my ordinary life, a chamber oriented by repeated use to have access to another country. These spaces are in part made by our efforts but it is also true that they are first found to exist because they are aligned to factors outside of the ordinary world.

    Second, it is most useful to have the collected attention of a number of participants. This creates an attractive consort for the forces that can assist the zikr and attract them.

    Third, I must be willing to surrender myself and cease to be the center, the active agent.

    Finally, I must ask for the transition. This is invocation which is, along with attention, a great and inexplicable mystery.

    These factors attract help of another kind. I am drawn into contact with another reality.

    Last night, entering the zikr chamber, sitting together, watching the breath, a subtle presence entered.

    It is sometimes possible to re-cognize the nature of a guest, to know it as one knows something of oneself. I cannot re-cognize a stranger, only someone known to me.

    The one who has entered is the Friend. Who is the Friend? The Friend is that one who is more me than I am. A friend is remembered. This Friend is remembered. His signature is always there in me even though I constantly forget.

    Can I open myself to my Friend without reservation, allowing Him to search every corner of myself, to see every bit of deceit and arrogance? This exposure is a whole sensing of who I am without Him. It is a great relief to admit this search, to allow my secrets to be seen. It brings us closer.

    Zikr is in the heart tonight. It aches with pleasure.

    Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

  • May 12, 2018

    When I say ‘I’, where does this word resonate in me? What is the sensation? This is an important question. ‘I’ is a very powerful word and it tells me a great deal about myself.

    Do I avoid the word ‘I’ in my speech? Do I say tend to say ‘we’ or ‘you’? Why would I do this?

    For example, I may say: ‘We don’t seem to take such and such issue seriously’ instead of ‘I don’t seem to take this issue seriously’. Am I really able to speak for a collective? Perhaps I should just own up to my own opinions rather than generalizing them?

    Every time I say ‘I’, there is an opportunity to observe myself. When I use other pronouns, am I deflecting attention away from me because I do not wish to observe myself?

    Then there are those masters of circumlocution who twist their sentences around to avoid the use of ‘I’. They try to make their statements impersonal or general in nature to avoid the appearance of ego or subjectivity. Perhaps this has a limited application in academic discourse but it also leads to abstractions that limit communication and may make false claims to universality. Can I stand for what I say? Can I bring who I am to what I say?

    Consider the different ways I may start a sentence:

    I think….

    I believe…

    I know…

    I sense…

    I feel…

    I hear…

    I want…

    I wish…

    I agree…

    I don’t…

    Each of these formulations brings something different to what I say because each verb is active and activates something in me; each has the possibility of beginning in a different place in me and ‘sounding’ differently. What makes each verb unique is the possibility that at the moment of saying ‘I’, I observe myself and that places ‘I’ inside of what I say.

    Can I sense where my ‘I’ is when I speak? Can I observe the impact of that location on my state and my connection to the one I speak to? When my presence is present in the present, where is I?

    Tags: , , , , ,

  • December 28, 2017

    For me, obligations are a heavy weight. Caring about others enmeshes me in a world of worry, frustration and anger. These seem to me to be obstacles to work. I think I would benefit from fewer attachments to the world around me.

    You have described precisely the field of our work on self. Without these difficulties, which are very real, nothing would be possible in this work. Swimming in a sea of self-indulgence leads to nothing. And let us be clear. Most of what we think of as spiritual practice is really self-indulgence.

    I obligate myself and I feel resentment that I cannot be at peace looking after my own preferences. I care about others and I feel anger and frustration at their pain and disappointment. This path requires that I learn to deal with these reactions, and not by avoiding them. It is not the obligation that weighs on me and it is not the caring that diminishes my potential. Rather, it is my habitual reactions that reduce the range of possible engagement to a few predictable defensive contractions.

    The problem is that I am partial. I want things to be a certain way. Consequently, I do not see what is actually happening in my life and I constantly lie to myself. To be impartial is to be free of personal demands. To be impartial is to be completely honest with oneself.

    This path is not one of disengagement but rather one of direct and open-ended engagement, without judgment, without blame and without self-pity.

    Can you discern a boundary that divides attachment from love? I cannot. Yes, I may have wrong attachments that cater to my self-lying and self-importance, attachments that cover me from my own sight. But it seems to me that attachment is also the secret purpose of the universe.

    The Buddhists teach a process called Trekcho, ‘cutting through’. The inner stage is impartially observing my reactions, not justifying them, releasing them and engaging with life from a place of freedom, a place of spontaneous presence. The state of spontaneous presence arises more often as my reactions subside.

    Resentment becomes agreement, not a ‘yes’ when you really mean ‘no’ but an inner alignment with the task required of you. The action is therefore joyful.

    Feeling the pain and disappointment of others could mean to suffer their circumstances while feeling love, compassion and the joy of relationship, rather than frustration and anger. This is not possible from a place of judgment. Why do we judge? Because we cannot bear the extreme contradictions of a fully human experience. The juxtaposition of opposites is both exquisite and excruciating. It is easier to divide the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’.

    Cutting through is a process of self-purification which cannot be accomplished without obligation and caring. In obligation I can learn to do things for their own sake, not for reward or the final result but simply because I said that I would. This is a doorway to impartiality and the joy of service. In caring I place the feelings of others ahead of my own. This is a doorway to the joy of sacrifice. Both actions deliver small defeats to self-importance that over time can make all the difference. As the Buddhists suggest, these experiences may lead to an insight that my personal self is essentially empty, having no independent existence.

    There are some schools that propose non-attachment as the goal. I propose a path of complete attachment…embracing the full catastrophe of human existence…its sorrow and its joy…attachment not limited by my personal preferences. The key is in knowing that it’s not about me. Attachment is only a problem when I make it about me.

    Can I be a medium through which the universe loves itself and celebrates its attachments?

    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,