Purpose Statement

Exploration -> Experience -> Feeling -> Awareness -> Understanding -> Transformation -> Liberation

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nailed by Marie Louise

For the time being one is doing this or that, but whether it is a woman or a job, it is not yet what is really wanted, and there is always the fantasy that sometime in the future the real thing will come about.... The one thing dreaded throughout by such a type of man is to be bound to anything whatever. - Marie Louise von Franz, Puer Aeternus

Rereading my essay On Karma, the part about following my bliss sent me to one of my favorite books where I rediscovered this quote.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Why are you so hungry?

Bones - a reflection on John 6:1-21
William Loader

Dust on her muddy feet,
still smeared from the wet and now blue with cold,
hands stretched out in a meaningless pose of begging;
for UN relief supplies reach the camp only late in the afternoon.
Drawn faced children with bulging bellies,
listless, some sleeping, many dying.
Time.. time to live and time to die.
Time to think - if only, but too tired, too undernourished,
time but no strength to be profound, to reflect, to meditate;
makes the dying easier, the pain less revolutionary.
So don't ask me to think.

Why do you want to tell me stories about food?
Why torment me with your miracles of plenty?
Where have the bread breakers gone?
If only there were such multipliers of loaves and fish.
We'll give them the fish. We'll offer the loaves.
But these are your fantasies,
romantic images of antiquity,
best left to their glint and passed by.
They never were a model for future followers.
At most they are remnants of propaganda,
stunning feats to woo the faithful,
who crown him king.

No bread left over for us,
all the baskets are empty.
All the bellies are full, bloated with nothingness,
crimping weak limbs.

Why are you so hungry?
Why so insatiable?
Why so greedy?
Why so obsessed to munch on stories of plenty,
meals you will never understand,
cardboard catering,
hamburgers and slick chicken served with chips,
feasts at every corner,
gorging without the world's consent,
consumption without communion?

Come with me to the dark places.
See the stones that cry out.
Watch him, poised to market bread from rock,
poised to fail, poised for fantastic feats.
Watch him pathetically hungry,
see his dark eyes,
hear his words, not even his own:
not by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
The mouth of God,
not all consuming,
but giving: words of grace, of hope, of counsel.

See him that dark night
upon the deep restless craving
that threatens to engulf him,
drawing him into universal oblivion,
the ocean of acclaim,
ready to drown the spirit,
swallow the word.
He beats a path on the deep,
the magic of the monsters
turned triumphant for good
and light and life and generosity.
'It is I!'
'It is I!'

Yeah, it's him alright.
Come on you guys, James and John,
Let's drag the boat up,
look at this pile of fish!
How many do you reckon? 153.
Funny kind of a breakfast, BBQ style.
And so it all began: the BBQ.
Put some more snaggers on there,
turn up the gas, makes them real brown.
Here's the tomato sauce,
bloody tomato sauce, can't do without it!

Bloody tomato sauce,
bloody good wine.
It's blue under my skin when I'm cold.
You can see it.
It sticks out, sometimes with little nobs,
bits where there's a crossover or a junction.
When you've got no fat,
you can see them like rivers, rivers of blood,
running down your bones.
One thing about bones;
everything else goes, but they're still there,
like coat hangers, coat hangers for corpses.

There's always this ache,
down here.
Always this ache.
You fill it with Coca Cola,
but it's still there.
It needs blood.
It needs wine.
It needs bread.
Why don't you feel the ache?
Why don't you feel the ache?

I am going to die, like my son.
Corpse, bones, innocent, unbroken.
Don't feed me, not now!
No offerings.
Just receive my word,
the voice of an old dying woman,
who has given birth.
And don't cry for me.
Cry for my children.
Here, look, my son, my children.
Here, look: bread and wine.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

On Karma

“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” – Matthew 12:35

Several years ago, my shrink gave me a brilliant little book titled “Reaching Out” by Fr. Henri Nouwen. The gist of the book is this:

  • There are 2 ways of being in the world:
  • A positive way wherein you are confident, secure, and full of faith
  • A negative way wherein you are insecure, fearful, and anxious
  • Your way of being, positive or negative, determines how you relate to:
  • Your Self
  • Others
  • God

If you are at peace internally, you will create a beautiful life. If you are riddled with self-doubt and insecurity, if you are fearful and anxious, you will tragically avoid life. Great, I thought after reading the book. All I have to do is be confident and secure.

But the reality is that everyone is riddled with varying degrees of insecurity and self doubt, even the most beautiful, popular, successful people. When we are small and powerless, bad things happen to us - people use and abuse us, people we depend on abandon us – and we develop defense mechanisms to protect ourselves. We come to anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong, and we organize our lives to protect ourselves from those potentialities. One day, if we are lucky, we realize that in insulating ourselves from negative potentialities, we have also insulated ourselves from love, joy, and spontaneous creativity. Life has become too risky to live and we have become what Jesus called “the dead.”

Buddhism says that life, the universe and everything are essentially empty of any meaning or significance, and that we project meaning and significance onto our life experiences. The mechanism that determines what we project, Karma, is entirely a function of our past; our past thoughts, words, actions, intent. Karma predicts our behavior, our response to life, exactly as Nouwen predicts.

The good news from Buddha (and Jesus) is that, even though we are riddled with insecurity and anxiety and consequently run away from life, there is a method to transform our Karma from a negative projection machine into a positive projection machine.

“Hatreds do not ever cease in this world by hating, but by love; this is an eternal truth … Overcome anger by love, overcome evil by good. Overcome the miser by giving, overcome the liar by truth.” – Dhammapada

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” – Luke 6:27

It is completely counterintuitive, but the way you change your Karma is by giving away exactly what you want. If you want more financial security, give money to charity (like www.imagodeischool.org). If you want more friends, visit lonely people. If you want to be healthy, take care of sick people. If you want to lose weight, feed people healthy food. If you want to be smarter, teach remedial students. If you want to be confident and secure, validate needy people.

My favorite part of the Sunday service at Saint Philip’s is when we pray “send us now into the world in peace and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.” Translating this prayer into my own vocabulary: “Give me the confidence and security to follow my bliss.” You see, what I want more than anything is to follow my bliss, to pursue my dream, but I just don’t have the courage – yet. So in the meantime, I am trying to help other people pursue their dreams, and I can honestly say that I feel my self being transformed. Changing one’s Karma is a process of letting go of attachments and inhibitions and becoming receptive to change.

On Emptiness

“Shariputra, all things are essentially empty” – The Great Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra

“In the beginning was Logos” – John 1:1

The monsoon had blown itself out in the afternoon. A cool damp breeze carried the smell of wet desert and the sound of celebratory bird songs across my back porch. I settled into my lawn chair, a tall glass of lemonade at my side. The sun dropped below the mountains (or did the mountains rise above the sun?) and the bottoms of the clouds began to glow an intense orange and then a soft pink. My body still, my mind at peace, my heart rate slowed and I slipped into an accidental meditation. The colors that I saw across the sky; where did they come from - the sun, the clouds, my retinas?

Venus, the evening star, which is no star at all, appeared between the clouds and slowly glowed brighter (or did the sky slowly darken?). Stars twinkled, dusk settled into night, water condensed and dripped down the side of my glass making a puddle on the porch, and the fatigue of the day settled into my bones. Too tired to get up and go to bed, I rested in my lawn chair, eyes open but no longer seeing, mind conscious but no longer thinking.

A scream jolted me from my peace. A child! The neighbor’s child! The neighbor’s little girl is screaming! I bolted from my chair. She’s in the wash! She’s hurt! She’s been bitten by a snake! A mountain lion or a dog has attacked her! I fumbled with the lock on the gate. Keys. My keys are in the house. I turned back to the house, but picked up a shovel to beat off the mountain lion and turned again to hop the fence. But the screaming had stopped. What? Is? Happening? I noticed I was breathing, and my heart was pounding.

First I heard a solitary coyote yelping, but then the jamboree started. It sounded like 50 coyotes, but it was probably half a dozen. It was a celebration. They had killed a rabbit and would live another day. Their riotous yelping said, “Thanks be to God for the abundance of this life!”

I leaned the shovel against the gate and walked back to my lawn chair. The rabbit scream had been terrifying. It sounded just like a human child. The scream had said, “Oh my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Now full of adrenaline and energy, I sat down again and sipped my lemonade, the glass dripping moisture into my lap, and contemplated what I had just experienced. The coyote ate the rabbit; great for the coyote, but it sucks to be the rabbit. I thought esoteric thoughts about how life is simultaneously beautiful and horrible, about natural selection and the cycle of life and how a species transforms over countless generations, each generation making a seemingly insignificant contribution that somehow ultimately totals up to evolution.

And then it occurred to me that what had happened – the coyote ate the rabbit – was essentially empty of any meaning or significance. The coyote, the rabbit and I had all experienced the same event, but the meaning and significance of the event were very different for the three of us. I realized that meaning and significance are not universal and are projected onto events by the individuals who experience the events.

I remembered that 2500 years ago the Buddha told Shariputra that “all things are essentially empty” and 500 years later, St. John wrote that it all begins with Logos. Perhaps, I thought, Logos is the projector within me that projects meaning and significance onto the events of my life. The sun burns, the earth spins, clouds turn vibrant colors, and I have no control of these events - they are “in the hands of God” we might say. But it was clear to me that as I watched a monsoon sunset, I was creating my experience of those events.

The lemonade gone and my heart rate returned to normal, I got up to head off to bed, but one last question arose within me: If I am creating the meaning and significance of my life, am I creating something beautiful and life affirming, or am I creating something tragic, life avoiding, full of fear and anxiety?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More Monsoon

Climbing the Lemmon

Sunday's bike ride:

Distance: 23.4 miles up + 23.4 miles down
Elevation Gain: 6,404 ft
Estimated Calories Burned: 2,858 C

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dreaming the Whale Song

We acquire our perspective, our point of view, from our culture. It becomes so fundamental, it is (almost) impossible to perceive anything without looking through our distorted lenses. The Buddhist understand that everything is essentially empty and we get to create meaning and significance, but even with that recognition, what we are capable of imagining is still quite finite.

Our egocentricity gave us the illusion of dominion over all of creation - we have souls but the animals are for us to exploit. Anyone who suggests that humans and animals are not so different is accused of anthropomorphizing.

I hope someday to dream a human song like brother whale.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

April the Hunter

April just brought a dead quail into the house. I don't know if she killed it or found it dead in the back yard. She's quite the hunter.
Sent from the field.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Imperial Sensibilities 110 Years Ago

The White Man's Burden
Rudyard Kipling

Take up the White Man's burden-
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man's burden—
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another's profit,
And work another's gain.

Take up the White Man's burden—
The savage wars of peace—
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man's burden—
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper—
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living,
And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man's burden—
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard—
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:--
"Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"

Take up the White Man's burden--
Ye dare not stoop to less—
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.

Take up the White Man's burden—
Have done with childish days—
The lightly proferred laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

All in the Family

Left to right:
Aunt Nancy, Dad's sister
Aunt Joan, Dad's sister
Uncle Ron, Joan's husband
The fantastically handsome fellow is me
Uncle Henry, Dad's brother
Dad took the picture.