Sunday, March 24, 2013

"I See You"

Many years ago I was on the adventure of my life, driving in a VW van with friends across the Alps, through northern Italy and into southern France. On the Saturday night before Easter, we arrived in the beautiful ancient city of Arles. We parked the van and quickly found a seat in a café in the main square, very eager to observe the holiday crowd doing all the interesting things that crowds do.

Many of the local young men had been drinking heavily throughout the evening, and all around us was noise and mayhem. Suddenly, two men began shouting at one another, and as they grew angrier and angrier the conflict escalated into a right violent fight with lots of flying fists. As they were too drunk to land many blows, they grabbed one another’s shirts and continued the struggle.

Both of the men were completely lost in their anger, and this little episode was surely not meant to have a peaceful outcome, but then something quite extraordinary happened. One of the men happened to glance into the eyes of the other, and then amidst the struggling, he kept looking. His opponent could comprehend that the other man was actually seeing him for the first time---not as an enemy but as another person. At once both men looked deeply at each other, they held the gaze, smiled, gave up their struggle and began to dance together in one another's arms. Yes, dancing together in one another's arms!!

In the whole of my life I will never forget this, and it is not only because we were saved one bloody fistfight on an Easter evening that I remember this so clearly, but also because this is such a grand metaphor of how life can be. When we actually SEE one another as fellow human beings, then our apparent differences look a lot different. We can have wildly divergent life’s opinions, be of different ethnicities, have opposite views of politics and have no language or culture in common, but we can surely SEE one another despite all that.

There is a beautiful greeting in the Zulu language: “Sawubona.” It means “I see you,” but this lovely phrase is not meant only in the common way of, “Oh, there is a body standing there,” but “I SEE you in all your humanness and in our commonality as people.” When we see another in this way, we are seeing the essence and we are not being distracted by all the distinctions. When we have this clear vision, we allow our recognition of the oneness of all things to be sustained. We hold this truth to be self-evident---that there is only one thing here, and when we SEE, that is what we see.

“Namaste” is another lovely greeting that exemplifies what I am pointing to. This is a greeting used in India; the word comes from Sanskrit and is a combination of “nama” and “te.” "Nama" means to bow, make reverential salutation or have adoration for, and “te” means “to you.” Its deeper meaning is “the god in me bows to the god in you,” and the greeting is done with the two palms brought together in front of one’s heart to symbolize the oneness. How wonderful a way to greet and be greeted and how brilliant a reflection of the way things really are!

As noble and as inspiring as these customs are, clearly we need reminders of this nobility as we move through our lives in day to day existence. We are constantly coming into contact with people with whom we wildly disagree, people who we feel are getting it totally wrong, and we sense the need in ourselves to make them see their wrongness. It may well be that at some level for us all these people are getting it wrong, but where is our attention directed? Are we seeing only our disagreements, or are we truly able to SEE them as non-different from ourselves?

When we observe a passenger at the railway office shouting and cursing at the employee because the train was late, we can be pretty sure that the passenger has lost sight of what really matters. If, however, we can see the evidence of loving support, respectful relating and gracious kindness---even in the midst of grand disagreement---then we can be equally certain that the important things are being acknowledged.

As with all things, it is a choice we have. No outer circumstance can force us to forget our commonality; we decide that for ourselves. As for myself, I know for sure that I want a life that is filled with joy and peace and which finds the end to conflict. Only by each of us making that choice in each moment and in each encounter will the war-ravaged world we live in change for the better. Hmm, better to dance than fight, wouldn’t you say!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Baking Cookies

Sometimes the simplest of acts can be the most instructive. We can surely appreciate the grand and dramatic gesture now and again, but for me, simple is best. And along with “simple” as a totally admirable descriptive quality, I would also add direct, skillful, clear, beneficial and absolutely appropriate.

As we rush about with our busy minds, we often pass over what is plainly obvious and right in front of us. Unless we are careful, we can become like inattentive, phone-obsessed teenagers who are oblivious to anything else that passes in front of them. We may also be blinded by inherited notions based on conventional thinking; we may not be able to see how we have been boxed into corners by thousands of years of conditioning and practiced habit.

Everyone reading this article knows very well where they were when they heard about or saw the horrific events occurring in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. The sight of airplanes flying into buildings and then those buildings disappearing into the ground was not anything that one would easily forget. People were completely transfixed by shock and did not know where to turn. There was no precedent for something like this, and no one had a script for how to respond.

One response was from people who immediately wanted revenge. There were shouts of, “Go bomb the bastards,” and “Kill all the rag heads.” Some version of the theme was heard over and over again, “We have been hurt, and now we need to hurt back.” People who looked “foreign” were singled out and threatened or even physically attacked on the streets.

But other people had a different response. For them the choice was not to lash out in hatred, but to ask themselves, “How do we deal with our own pain and the pain of others; what can be done to help those in need?” Some people actually got in their cars and drove up to New York to get right into the work of recovery.

I heard a wonderful story about a woman who, like everyone else, saw those images of airplanes flying into the twin towers and was shocked, and like so many people she wanted to do whatever she could to help. Now for her, New York was very, very far away and there were immediate obligations that needed to be dealt with in her own place, but still the movement was there to somehow offer help in this trying time.

So, what did she do? Well, she baked cookies. Yes, she baked cookies and then took them around to offer to people. Now, I suspect that it was much more than cookies that she was offering when she went around, as I should think that she wanted to find a way to comfort, reassure and console people who could certainly use a dose of that. I feel fairly certain that this notion to bake cookies for people arose quite spontaneously and without great planning, and it was done in an effortless and unpretentious way.

When I first heard this story, it just warmed my heart. Of course, it is not so much about the cookies--and I am a big fan of cookies, I might add!--but about the skillful means in time, place and circumstance. It need not be, as I said before, a grand gesture. Something simple and kind in a completely ordinary way can be the most helpful response.

I have found this example so instructive, and I am eager to find ways to put the same wisdom to work in my own life. What I do know for sure is that being a part of the solution sure beats being a part of the problem! That would mean, for instance, that if one is attacked or defamed in any way, the most helpful response is not to do the same in return. It is clear that Gandhi’s quote in this regard is so relevant. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

It may even be that no response at all is the best response, but there is no rulebook for any of this. If we are truly relying on open intelligence, there is no predicting what the response will be. Everything is discovered spontaneously, and everything is ever new in each appearing here-and-now. I am so cheered and encouraged to look around me and see the kindness, benefit and graciousness that come from people doing just that. The world is so filled with negativity, selfish concern, close-mindedness and intolerance, but how beautifully these noble traits shine in contrast.

We are the ones who create the world we live in, and each and every moment provides us a choice as to how we will receive that moment. What joy it is for me to see the choices that more and more people are making to love one another into being. Yes, truly, there are a lot of cookies being baked out there.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Authorship Thinning into No-thing

When anything is said or written, where does it come from, and who says or writes it? Who can claim authorship, and how verifiable is that claim? The answer on a conventional level would seem to be so very obvious: “Well, I said it; I am the author!” But like all things that seem so obvious, there is another way of looking at this, and it is a fortunate person who is led to ask these deeper questions and to keep asking them until the “obviousness” of the usual answer becomes less certain.

In order to look into this inquiry deeply, we need not formulate any grand philosophy; we only need to closely observe our own experience. In any given moment, when a person becomes very settled, rested and still, when they want nothing and know nothing and are freed of the need to defend or defeat, then an authorless place is allowed to appear. From that authorless place, one is not speaking from memory or relating the present to the past. The complete reliance on the here-and-now in that immediate time, place and circumstance invokes an intelligence from which the ever-new can appear.

The speaker in that case would be hearing what is being spoken as if it were spoken by someone else; the speaker would be the first one instructed by what is being spoken. That is to say, the speaker is being educated and enlivened by what they themselves are speaking---how extraordinary! One cannot actually identify the source, as what is being expressed is not limited to the personality of the one expressing it. This need not sound odd to anyone of us who has ever found speech or writing occurring completely spontaneously and openly, without preparation or goal.

This authorless expression is not something that is cultivated, contrived or aspired to. It may seem to be a rare thing only because of our lifelong allegiance to the rumblings of the mind: the thoughts, emotions, experiences and stories that have seemed to be so very real for us. When we relax our hold a bit and allow all of these things to be as they are, we then allow this intelligence to reveal itself that is not bounded by the thoughts, emotions and experiences. The mirage created by thought is seen through, and once we are no longer transfixed by the mirage, something quite marvelous occurs.

For short moments, many times we continue to allow this authorless place to become unconcealed. This movement of unconcealing may happen sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but this doesn’t matter. We persist, never letting loose of our genuine enthusiasm and courageousness. We are sustained over and over again by the brilliant practice of short moments many times, the skillful means of a loving teacher and a direct teaching, and the support of a community of fellow discoverers.

We gain more and more confidence through our own direct experience that this authorless place is ever present and ever sustaining and is not something that we need to earn or acquire. When words are authorless, then the perceived gap between speaker and listener is given up, and no one is a stranger. Authorship thins into no thing or no person in particular, and what seemed impossible for a person before is now gloriously possible.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Exaltation: now there is a word that does not generally come up in polite conversation! To exalt others, to exalt ourselves and to exalt the lives we are living is, well, not generally on everyone’s daily to-do list. For many of us such a thing might appear to be not only mightily inappropriate but also totally impossible. “What, me exalted? Come on now.”

We have grown up with a barrage of perceived limitations, wrongdoing, faultfinding and diminishment, such that we would find it difficult to imagine a life free of such things. Quite apart from what we might hear, for example, in church or synagogue, totally permeating all of society is a pervasive flavor of original sin, of being flawed, of being thrown out of the garden. This same mind set might be extended to include karma and reincarnation and other beliefs that diminish us. We have been trained up in and grown so accustomed to these powerful forces of internalized oppression that there seems to be no other way of being.

We can easily recognize externalized oppression in countries with dictatorships, tyranny, political repression, extreme class, ethnic or gender bias and overt discrimination in its many forms, and we can not only recognize these things but also acknowledge the total revulsion we have for them. However, within ourselves, these profound levels of internalized oppression are just assumed, sustained and perpetuated from one generation to the next. “Wrong, wrong, wrong; bad, bad, bad; insufficient, insufficient, insufficient.” Ironically, even in cases where the opposite seems to be manifested--“I am the greatest; look at me”---there is nevertheless still a basic sense of wrong-ness present.

Well, what to do? My experience has been that there is nothing to be accomplished by trying to talk ourselves out of this. We can do all the positive affirmations we want, but at some point that is going to break down. We could undertake massive self-improvement projects, but as long as the basic, underlying configuration of negativity is in place, the methods that are applied will always be arising from the same flawed context which they are meant to defeat.

Ah, but there is a way out! Or, better said, there is actually no way out and no way in, because we have never been apart from that which is totally untouched by any of this---the pure, pristine, primordial open intelligence that pervades all things. We are resting in that intelligence at all times and have never left it; we have only been distracted by things that caught our attention over and over again. So, instead of constantly focusing our attention on the flaw, we simply let things be as they are. Without grasping, without improving, we simply let things be as they are for short moments many times. Without seeking or wanting anything, we rest and relax into the pervasive open intelligence that becomes increasingly evident once we choose to put our attention there.

This is such an incredibly simple practice and is sure to bring the result. It is a time-tested method that actually works; the benefits are not theoretical but actual and provable. This simple practice of relying on open intelligence for short moments many times is the first of four sustaining foundational mainstays. The second mainstay is to be supported by a person who has more experience in this practice and who knows all about the things we will be going through along the way---so, a teacher or trainer who helps bring us along. The third is a sustaining training with media that elucidate and reaffirm and clarify at every step. Whether the message comes through texts, audios, videos or direct trainings, it is an unvarying beacon towards truth. The fourth mainstay is a worldwide community—a community that no one need join and from which no one can be excluded.

So, now we come full circle back to the original theme: exaltation! Through a simple practice and the support of all these mainstays, a crack begins to appear in the bastion of wrong-ness that has so dominated our lives. We just relax, and then we relax again, and by doing so we are pulled out of the mud and our eyes are opened to possibilities never before imagined. We see the exaltation in ourselves and in all of life that is unearned and unaccomplished---the exaltation that is the natural luminosity of open intelligence.

Our vantage shifts almost without our noticing how or when; where once we saw flaws in ourselves and others, we see exaltation. Life has a spark and a power that it seemed to have lacked before. We are not embarrassed by the idea that we are indeed exalted beings whose birthright is one of joy, courage, wisdom and ease of being. We never meet a stranger, and what we see in ourselves we see in others. We discern that no matter what possible criticism can be leveled because of claiming these things to be true, we know our own experience and we are undaunted.
Exaltation, exaltation, exaltation.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Knowing Nothing, Wanting Nothing

When I was a young man, I was very much in search of heroes. I saw so many things around me that were uninspiring and insufficient, and I knew that I wanted something in life that went beyond the mundane compromises that filled my life and the lives of others. I did everything I could to discover people who had lived lives that were worthy of emulation. I found a goodly number of people to admire: Albert Schweitzer, Mahatma Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Raoul Wallenberg and Mother Theresa, among many others.

One literary figure in particular stood out for me: the Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis. Most people wouldn’t know him, or if at all they would know him for his novel, “Zorba the Greek.” But I was interested in him more for his spiritual yearning and the passionate writings that came from that, such as “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “Saint Francis” and his most significant work for me, “Report to Greco.”

Kazantzakis was a rebel who would not be limited by conformity or orthodoxy, and he was eventually excommunicated from the Greek Orthodox Church. Due to this excommunication, when he died he could not be buried in a cemetery. He was instead buried on the city walls surrounding Heraklion, Crete. I was so moved by his intense devotion to the inquiry into truth that I made a sort of pilgrimage to his grave site — with “Report to Greco” firmly in my hand. When I came there, I found an intriguing epitaph on his gravestone which read, “I hope for nothing; I fear nothing; I am free.”

I felt immensely inspired by those words, but I don’t think I really had any clue at all as to what they actually meant. I could understand the virtue of fearing nothing, but how could someone hope for nothing? From a conventional point of view, “to hope for nothing” appears to be a stance of complete nihilism and pessimism. What would life be if we could not hope for anything? That idea perplexed me. But the more I pondered the deeper meaning of the idea, and the more I had rich life experiences that pointed the way towards freedom in immediate perception, and the more I saw incredible people courageously living in that way, the more it dawned on me what this could mean.

This phrase is pointing to an incredible teaching that can set one free from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. By hoping for nothing, we are in a totally alert and easeful relationship with life; we are not resistant to what is. This is NOT a stance of passivity and inaction; no, not at all. Quite the opposite: it is the hero’s stance, one of complete strength, vision, trust, courage, commitment and service to the benefit of all. The hero’s stance is always right now — not lost in the figures of the past or fearing the challenges of the future. Gain and loss, coming and going, death and disease, joy and love — all of it flowing to us in an unbroken stream without the resistance of hope or fear. Right now, right now, life in all its abundance and in all its many twists and turns, right now.

There is another way to perceive the hero’s way. We could call it the path of knowing nothing and wanting nothing. Once again, if this is understood in the wrong way, it would seem to point to a lifeless and vacant response to life. Oh, my goodness, how very much it is the total opposite of that! To know nothing is to be in a beautiful dance with all of life, where we are seeing everything as if for the first time. Because we are not at all relying on all the burdensome prejudices of the past, we see with complete clarity and openness. In knowing nothing, we have open access to all knowledge. By no longer relying on our vague notions, we emerge into a profundity of seeing that is unimaginable from the mere vantage of fixed ideas and small-minded opinions.

To know nothing and to want nothing…it takes some getting used to, doesn’t it! Because this is so unfamiliar to us. We were never educated or encouraged to know nothing or to want nothing. Quite the reverse, of course: we have been trained our whole lives to gather ideas and forms that will keep us safe and to acquire people and things that will complete a life that is seen to be incomplete.

To know nothing and to want nothing is the vantage that will best serve us when death finally comes to us. At the point of death, wanting and knowing will be of no use to us. We don’t know what our death will bring, and nothing we can hope for will prevent its coming.

Wanting nothing and knowing nothing, we truly live the life that is right here, right now. We are heroes in the greatest sense of the word; we are mastered by nothing and limited by nothing. All of what is possible is available to us without having to ask for more.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Education in the Nature of Mind

Once upon a time I was a young lad of sixteen, very much like most of the other sixteen year-olds who surrounded me, and I was set to begin a life devoted to the values of the culture in which I grew up in the southern U.S. I was meant to follow a familiar path, one laid out for me by my family and community, whose lives were also consciously or unconsciously shaped by the values passed down to them. The swirl of school, sports and the social activities surrounding country club, debutante balls, dances and girlfriends swept me up and carried me along. This was all I really knew, and it all seemed fine to me. Some version of this lifestyle was what was probably meant for me for the rest of my life.

Then something very interesting and unexpected happened. Suddenly and without any cause, reason or forewarning, while sitting in Mrs. Sutherland’s class at Myers Park High School in Charlotte, NC reading a psychology book, a strong notion just arrived in my mind stream: “They haven’t told us everything.” Now, at first glance that might not sound like much of a revelation, but for me it was an incredibly powerful eye-opener and motivator. I knew very directly and immediately that there had to be more to life than what was being presented to me, and that whatever this “more” was, it was very much worth discovering. But where could I go and what could I do to find this “more” that they hadn’t told me about?

This slight break in the worlds — this glimpse into a higher significance in life — set me off on a lifelong journey. My approach altogether was very much like trying to put lots and lots and lots of puzzle pieces together, form a coherent whole and then figure out the whole cosmic picture through intellectual means. The first step on the journey was one taken in the direction of wanting to learn EVERYTHING. This meant reading every book possible, asking every question and looking under every rock. It then also took the form of extensive travel over a period of many years and a broad exposure to other cultures. I had concluded that if I could live for an extended time in other countries, learn the languages, read all about everything and be totally conversant with the history and culture, then I would be on the right track.

The next step on the journey was to go off to India and immerse myself in the spirituality available there. I would eventually find a number of wonderful teachers and would end up spending a number of years there in a monastic setting. I was dedicated to a meditation practice and intensive study and was living quite an austere and introverted life, and this was very satisfying and inspiring for me.

Now, please let me make it perfectly clear that I do not for one instant regret any of this journey. It was a completely wonderful adventure which provided me so much, and I am extraordinarily grateful for all that I learned, experienced and received. However, this “more” that I had been looking for from an early age remained elusive. Along the way I had heard very wonderful descriptions of it, and I had had glimpses of what it might be, but the ongoing, moment-by-moment experience of that special something still seemed to be out of reach.

This was to change. Through a very simple teaching that pointed to the basis of all things through my own direct experience, I came to see that nothing had ever been lacking. The “more” I had been seeking is not a “more,” but is just this, right here and now, with nothing needing to be added. This essential knowledge is available for everyone; it is our birthright and is not earned or achieved.

The good news is that now I can say with full conviction that whatever it was that I was looking for has never been out of reach. The deliriously joyous fact is that what I and so many others have been looking for is that which was doing the looking; that which we were looking for is simply what was looking! Who would have known! It was never a matter of finding something, accomplishing something or being something other than I already was.

What is required to come to this recognition is an education in the nature of mind. Another way of saying “education in the nature of mind” is “unerring instruction in and direct experience of the nature of existence.” This knowledge of the basis of the mind is the knowledge, knowing which, all things come to be known. It is the most essential and fundamental knowledge, but it is for the most part completely lacking in our schools, universities or anywhere else in society for that matter. We may know every possible fact in every available field, but if we are lacking in the education of the nature of the mind, then the basic knowledge necessary in all fields will be lacking. How ironic — we have seen so much advancement in learning as well as an exponential increase in educational resources through the Internet, but yet the most crucial form of education has remained neglected.

It also became clear to me that the apparent diversity that we perceive is in fact all one thing — uncreated, indivisible, timelessly perfect, uncompounded and totally permeated with pure benefit. No matter what appears, it is nothing other than this profound intelligence that fills every speck of space. We have gone through our whole life convinced that thoughts, emotions, experiences and all phenomena had an independent existence; however, through education in the nature of mind we come to see that we have merely been falsely educated in this matter; that is all.

It is just a simple matter now of being rightly educated. What is required for this right education to occur is an openness and interest in what is true. If openness and interest are there, then upon introduction to the education in the nature of mind and with further immersion in unerring instruction, a new vantage will be trained up.

I am not describing some theoretical circumstance which will occur at some distant time in the future. This is my own lived experience and the experience of so many others. I do not have the depth of vision to predict what will happen in the future, but I know that right now education in the nature of mind is spreading around the world and is influencing thousands of lives for the better. Right here, right now, the teachings in the education in the nature of mind are available for all.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ship-Shape, Bristol Fashion and Amazing Grace

This is a message addressed to a place which I have never visited and to the people living there, many of whom I have never met, but for whom I feel such affection and appreciation. These are people who are living a life of passionate service to others, and this is my love letter to them in thanks for that service. In acknowledging them as one shining example of benefit for all, I thereby acknowledge as well all the people all around the world who are living in the same way.

So, first to the title and the reason for this letter: “Ship-shape and Bristol fashion” is an old expression in Britain that almost no one uses anymore, which means “efficiently arranged, in good order.” It comes from the fact that the city of Bristol was once one of the busiest ports in England, but it is located on an estuary where the tidal range is ten meters. So, at high tide the ships are floating on ten meters of water, but at low tide many of the ships would end up touching the bottom of the harbor and could tip to one side. Everything on the ship needed to be properly secured; otherwise, it could tip over and break. Hence, the sailors needed to protect the cargo so that it would be “ship-shape and Bristol fashion.”

Another aspect of Bristol’s maritime history is that in the 1700s it was the leading port for slave ships going to Africa and then to America. Over a hundred-year period, as many as 2,000 ships left Bristol to transport almost a half million people into slavery. One of the many slave-ship captains in those days was a man named John Newton. He was originally pressed into involuntary service in the Royal Navy as a young man, and he was known to be one of the most disobedient, disrespectful and foul-mouthed sailors on any of the ships. He had frequent arguments with the officers, and he was actually imprisoned for a while for his bad conduct. Nevertheless, through his intelligence and sailing skill, over time he gained the respect of his superiors and was eventually promoted to the position of captain on some of the slave ships.

While he was on a ship sailing in the North Atlantic, a huge storm blew in and battered the ship so violently that everyone onboard was sure that they would sink and drown. Newton felt the fear and emotion so completely that in that moment he experienced a spiritual conversion. He gradually gave up his old ways and decided to begin a new life, and he would eventually write a hymn of redemption and liberation that is known all over the world—“Amazing Grace.”

So, now, how does all this tie together and what is this “love letter” really all about? I so enjoy looking at words in a new way and seeing a meaning that was not apparent before, and when I first heard this phrase “Bristol fashion,” an image came into my head and I understood that phrase is a manner vastly different from the one which it had originally.

I happen to have many friends in Bristol who are a part of a worldwide community of people who are devoted to serving all, and who exemplify a way of life that is a model for how people can live together happily. I feel sure that, based on this and other models of its kind, more and more communities around the world will emerge in which the culture of gratitude and service is pervasive. The more I thought about this incredible change in the world—that people can come together in harmony with one another with the intention of serving one another and serving all—the more I came to understand the phrase “Bristol fashion” in a new way.

This way of life, this Bristol fashion, has a lot to do with the recognition that John Newton had and why he was moved to write a song about amazing grace. His song is about finding a simple and sincere way of living that liberates through faith: “I once was lost but now am found; Was blind but now I see; Was grace that relieved my fears, that gave me a life of joy and peace…bright shining as the sun,” and so many other bountiful lines.

However, these would only be so many words if they were not actually realized in the lives of people. But, yes, these words are coming alive in people all over the world. This Bristol-fashion way of living has a lot to do with making a simple change in one’s life—a change in which one relies on one’s own inherent peace, harmony and clarity, rather than being ruled by all the wild promptings of thoughts and emotions. It is such a simple choice and a simple practice: over and over again, regardless of what arises, one rests in that place of peace. This directly and inevitably leads to freedom from the enslavement to a raging mind. When one makes that choice over and over again for short moments many times and then can come together with others who are also living that way, marvelous things can happen.

So, this little love letter to those people in Bristol and around the world who are living in the Bristol fashion is an act of gratitude on my part—gratitude for wonderful people who are dedicated to bringing joy and abundance into the lives of others. How empowering it is for me to write these words and feel such confidence in their coming into fruition—that there will in fact be the amazing grace of people living all over the world in the Bristol fashion.