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.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why It is Actually a Good Idea to Celebrate Your Birthday

So, okay, first my confession: for all of my adult life I chose to keep my birthday a sort of elusive secret. Sure, my family knew when it was, and girlfriends would find out, and potential employers would have to have a record of it, but otherwise my response to kind inquiries about the day would be, “Sure, it’s on February 31st” and we would have a good laugh together.

I think the issue for me was just one of not wanting to bother with it or for people to make a fuss. I absolutely didn’t want a party or any cards or presents or any acknowledgment at all. I also came from a spiritual tradition that frowned on focusing on the individual, and part of my interpretation of this stance was that one should not be special or stand out in any way. So, the 30th birthday came and went, then the 40th and the 50th and all the birthdays in between, and the same routine of keeping quiet would remain intact.

Then something interesting happened. Two years ago, very innocently, someone who had access to my personal records kindly wished me “Happy Birthday” on a conference call, and the cat, as they say, was out of the bag. Because the actual birthday date was not mentioned, some friends who were on the call emailed me to find out the exact day, so I just thought, “Well, what the hell, I will post the date on Facebook, and then those folks will know.”

Now we come to the point where a grand discovery was made. People started to write in to wish me a Happy Birthday—mostly people whom I knew directly, but then old friends from high school, and then friends from my years in Germany, and then others and more others. I thought, “Wow, look, because of this I get to be in touch with these incredible folks! They are such a rich part of my life, and many of them I hardly get to see at all.” I was so touched by the notes they wrote, and it seemed entirely fitting and proper to write them right back with my own thanks. In the same way that they appreciated the opportunity to offer their gratitude to me, I felt such a joy to be able to offer it right back to them.

And this is how I discovered why it is actually a good idea to celebrate your birthday. It isn’t an excuse to fixate on oneself. No, not that at all. It is about being with the people we love in this way and having that opportunity to share our loving affection for one another. If they wanted to express their gratitude to me, that felt so natural, because I so much wanted to express my incredible gratitude for them. What better way for people to come together? Really, what better way for people to come together than in dear, sweet love.

So, yes, today happens to be my birthday, and the day has been such an absolute joy. Each time I receive a new notification of a message on Facebook, it is a total touching-in between friends, which is then naturally shared with many other friends. I get the chance to bask in the love that is provided so generously and to wish it right back to the generous giver.

Over the next 365 days, all of us will have a birthday, and what I know now from finally becoming open to the idea of acknowledging birthdays is that it is a marvelous time to be aware of one’s many, many blessings and to experience the thanksgiving for the people we have in our lives. Yes, there it is: I feel such gratitude for all of you and the lives we are leading together and for what is possible for us. Pondering that graceful blessing once a year for myself, and with all of you on your birthdays throughout the year, has now become a joyous occasion which I will look forward to for many more years to come. Thank you all.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Word Euphoria, One Sound at a Time

(Dear Friends, these paragraphs below may appear to be total nonsense unless I first explain that they are meant to be a celebration of words and their melodious sound. I found a few lists of what people felt were the most beautiful sounding words in the English language, and I took the words and pieced them together in a sort of prose poem. So, that is what you have below: a celebration of the most wonderful sounds in the English language!)

Oh, melody, oh, beauty. The lyrical sound takes a shape; mellifluous music flows and the redolent word entices. An elixir so secret that only the poet knows. Dulcet tones wafting freely with no author. Extraordinaire! Gossamer threads of reverie touching another.

Nightingale heralds, wood thrush embellishes, peacock astounds.

Epiphany bubbles forth: luminescent, illustrative, delicious —succulently filled with the intonations of harmony. Resonant, yes, ever so subtle. Nothing superfluous.

Evanescent and ephemeral these echoes may be, but yet alluring and enticing themselves into memory.

Allegory: precipitous terrain without a guide. The mist departs.

Sweet serendipity collecting its members: sea-foam green and tangerine merging into aquamarine. Glistening azure.

Balancing cinnamon, a dollop of fudge and sweet lavender, what to choose? A lollypop of all? Serene shapes flourishing in chiaroscuro—a velvety overlay with chimera at the edges. No mere disconnected paraphernalia here; all woven together.

Salvador in paradise… him?? Finding sanctuary in the Elysian fields, halcyon days hinting at the ineffable. Resurrection. Shining aurora above the citadel on the hill. Sylvan sights for sure: the autumnal Worchester meadow rich in harvest, bordered by a brook. No saturnine threats from the heavens, ever.

What? No meaning here? Think again.

The feminine sway: curvaceous line—smooth, lithe, dancing vivaciously. Or did he mean to say voluptuous?

A loquacious ingénue’s silhouette swishing into shadow, both of them sashaying to a chosen place more cozy. A fetching bride she might be? (Voices heard off stage): “Arianna, so narcissistic, and then her shenanigans with no cachet, oh vey.”

Henri in ennui, lackadaisical, stuck in the mud of shilly-shally. Dressed in melancholy for the party. Not enough courage for soliloquy.

Back from the boulevards of Vienna and down the cellar door, slowwwwwly, languorously, lugubriously. Sanguine and serene, listen there: suave whispers that curve and don’t collide—cursive forms meandering along. Pandemonium avoided; good for that!

Assuage the predatory and savage, conciliate with the raging.

Pensively flabbergasted at the marvelous, amazed when the enigma loosens its grasp. Conflagrations extinguished. Nothing askew. Acquiesce to the opulently miraculous. Silence, as awe envelopes.

Bamboozled no longer, dear whimsy, let us have more of it!

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Hum of Bliss

Stunned into silence by gratitude, I am freed from the bondage of the merely apparent. However long You may have been drowned by the deceptive drone of busy-ness, Sweet Presence, NOW You disclose Yourself. The hum of bliss is Your song, and every speck of space sings it.

Pervasive, infinitely potent, forever existing but hidden, You slip back the veil and reveal Yourself as overwhelmingly present, despite the distraction of the 10,000 things. You have been a most illusive bride, but in this instant you are no longer concealed. Blessed are the ones who are allowed to glimpse You.

Dearest, You have never left me, so leave me no more. You have only concealed Your mystery by virtue of Your grandeur. With no lack, feeling no hindrance, seeking nothing, the search evaporates like spilled water on a blazingly brilliant day.

Yes, the hum of bliss…hummmmm…sustaining all, unfolding in ever more astonishing variety, but never once departing from the here-and-now. Sweetness, oh love, oh joy, You burst forth unasked. Courageously we leave all of what is familiar and grasp Your hand.

Your beauty is indescribable, but only because it is too vast for human words. Bride of my heart, I adore You. I forsake all others. None of the heedless can wed You, but I know that You are not far away. Whisper in my ear once more, for I never grow weary of Your coaxing. Come to me, Dearest, I will be a faithful lover.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Words from the Heart, To the Heart

Today I would like to speak of something of great interest to so many of us, and it has to do with how profoundly intimate communication can take place. We so much want to connect with one another in a meaningful way, but the commonplace give-and-take of daily life usually leaves us lacking. We attend to an onrush of words from so many sources, yet we get very little sustaining nourishment from these words, which are typically given and received without passion or conviction. There is no fault-finding intended by saying this, only to point out that we do not often find ourselves in situations where the deepest aspect of another is touching the deepest part of us.

Somehow, through an extraordinary good fortune in my privileged life, I have come to know of something different from this. When I was a young lad of twenty-seven I first came to India, a place I found to be very exotic and mysterious—filled with myriad contradictions and incongruities. One evening I ended up almost by accident at a large gathering where a very highly respected spiritual teacher would be speaking. I had no real interest in such things, but I was sufficiently curious that I went nonetheless.

What happened next was beyond anything I had ever experienced before. This woman was speaking in Hindi, a language I did not understand at all, about ideas completely unfamiliar to me, in a context that I had never been in before, but yet when I got up from my seat at the end of her talk, I knew that everything she had said had gone right into my heart. Something had been communicated which would totally change my way of seeing the world, and yet I had not understood a single word. What is this?

I speak as a person who does not at all tend towards the spectacular or the fantastic, but this was my direct experience. A person spoke, and something remarkable was communicated that did not come from the words that were spoken. It was a direct transmission that allowed an essential intercommunication to be imparted directly and immediately through non-verbal means. Having had this experience, it made me wonder what it implies about the nature of all communication.

But the example I just gave may be so unfamiliar and unlikely for most people as to be unhelpful, so let us look instead at more viable instances in life where such communication can take place. Can one envision a bond between two people, totally relaxed with each other, easefully coming together in unconditional love and respect, where the words that were spoken came directly from the heart and are received devotedly in the heart?

Not demanding anything from one another, perfectly present in the here-and-now, speaking and listening from a place of not-knowing, completely freed from the cage of narrow notions of who one is or who the other is. Hearing everything as if for the first time, without goal or obstruction, open in a way that merges the space between the two.

For this to be so, what would be required? Well, nothing additional is required. There is no effort to make, no habits to be corrected, no attentiveness to be created or obligation to be fulfilled. It is simply a matter of allowing our moment-by-moment attention to be undistracted. We may have been trained in life to follow after all our thoughts and emotions and all our judgments and assessments, but instead, for short moments many times, over and over again we keep returning to our own natural intelligence that is open and vast.

We discover this place again and again and grow more and more confident that it is not distant from us. We sense to our delight that no one is a stranger and that every sound calls us back to that place. When the heart is at rest in this place of peace, then it is not distant from other hearts that are at rest. From this place of non-separation, the most intimate of heartfelt communication takes place.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Stand By Me

Oh, wow, life’s little serendipities! Yesterday a friend introduced me to something that has really caught my attention: a group of people who want to inspire, connect and bring peace to the world through music, and the approach they have used brings the concept of “a connected world” alive in a really remarkable way.

What this group does is to have various musicians from around the world play the same song without actually coming together physically. So, for instance there are musicians in California, New Orleans, Paris, Italy, Senegal, Mali, South Africa, India, the Netherlands or wherever else being recorded singing or playing this one song, and then their parts, either vocal or instrumental, are woven together on a soundtrack and video. First you see one singer, then you see another and then another, but all the while the music that all of them are playing together is going on. As the scene shifts from country to country, one is always hearing this unified sound, so beautifully mixed together with all their contributions, totally connecting with the listener/viewer all the way through.

The blazing metaphor is unavoidable: people all contributing their talents, coming together to produce something that thrills millions of people. There are women, men, blacks, whites, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Rastafarians, long-hairs, short-hairs, old and young—and none of those categories matter in the least bit. It is the coming together that matters. Music is so totally a universal language, and it extremely powerful in the way that it can unite us regardless of our political, ethnic, geographical or ideological diversity.

It so happens that the most popular song from this group, with over two million hits on YouTube, is “Stand By Me,” a song that I have known since I was very young and which I have enjoyed over and over throughout my life. The basic lyrics go like this:

“When the night has come, And the land is dark, And the moon is the only light we’ll see, No, I won’t be afraid, no, I won't be afraid.
Just as long as you stand, stand by me.
If the sky that we look upon, Should tumble and fall, And the mountains should crumble to the sea, I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no I won’t shed a tear. Just as long as you stand, stand by me.”

So many of us want to come together and find a way to dwell with one another in unity—to stand by one another. This song project is just one example of this longing, and there are so many others. I do know one thing though: the peace we are seeking will not come from nations or leaders or peace conferences or even from beautiful songs; it will come from us, the people of the world, discovering our own inherent peace. True world peace is not going to come about in any other way. How could there be world peace with a world full of unpeaceful people?

First we find peace within ourselves, and then we live a life that responds to the world from that place of peace. As more and more people discover that place of peace, automatically a grassroots movement of peace-recognizers will form without anyone really trying to do so. People will be choosing peace for themselves, one moment at a time, and others will be inspired by this example. They will recognize the benefits, want those benefits for themselves, and the candle flame will continue to pass from one peace pilgrim to another.

What is beginning in small ways amongst scattered groups of people will build relentlessly in momentum, and at some point it will be unstoppable. “Stand By Me” indeed! Slowing but surely, more and more peaceful people will stand together and will choose peace for themselves. It begins with each of us, one moment at a time.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Marriage of Total Grief and Total Joy

We are told throughout our lives to believe that our emotions have power over us. We learn that if we are, for instance, sad or depressed or grief-stricken, then this emotion is solid and real and it has the capacity to rule us for as long as we are wrapped in it. We are also led to believe that two opposing emotions cannot coexist at the same time. So, say for instance, one could not possibly feel great sadness and great happiness at the same time, as those two solid and substantial states would necessarily crowd one another out.

I now know from my own direct experience that all of this is completely untrue.

Recently I was waiting to go up to speak to about seventy lovely friends, and five minutes before that talk was to begin, I was given the unexpected news that a dear friend, a lovely young person full of kindness and compassion, had died suddenly. For a moment I simply stood there in shock with my hands clasped over my face. The grief came pouring in and I was totally absorbed by it. I felt all the deepest feelings welling up, and I was about to break into tears. But I also recognized that I would need to be at rest with this flood of emotion, because I would be momentarily addressing people who had not yet heard the news and that this was not the proper time to inform them.

I recollected myself, stood quietly for a minute and let everything be as it is. I then went up front to the stage, trembling with emotion as I sat down in the chair in front of a sea of wondering faces. When it was my turn to speak, I had no idea what I would say. However, all of a sudden a vivid image came into my head: the lovely lupine flowers that we have beside the roadside in summer. I spoke of how when the lupines are picked and placed in a vase, they still have the life and intelligence to move towards to sun, separating themselves from one another to give each stem enough space to grow. I described how these flowers, like all the seasonal flowers, had a time of life and then they died. The metaphorical relationship between the flowers and what had happened with our young friend was very present for me, and I was engulfed by intense grief.

But then, as I just sat there and let the emotions wash over me, I could see that grief was not the only thing present, even if it was overwhelmingly present. Simultaneous to the grief and equally at hand was an awe-inspiring joy and gratitude. I could not say that the joy and gratitude was for anything in particular, but there it was in equal measure to the crushing grief.

How could this be? I was not in a position just then to figure it out, and thank goodness for that. Instead, I was in a very auspicious instant of total clarity, watching something quite extraordinary happen: two tremendous feelings that I had never experienced at one time together were totally and completed wedded to one another in that precious moment.

We completed the talk, and I think that it is fair to say that I came off that stage a different person from the one who went up to it. I had seen, in my own direct experience, that the names for emotions don’t matter. Whatever description we give to things, it is all one incredibly beneficial energy flowing in a marvelous and miraculous way. Once this is seen, then it is also seen that there is nothing to be avoided and nothing to be afraid of. Life in all its glory is ever-present in the here and now, and it is only our descriptions that distract us from that gift.

I am reminded of an ancient teaching which I will paraphrase here: Wisdom is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. If we wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is merely the play of the mind. When the deep meaning of things is not understood, the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail. Be serene in the oneness of things, and such erroneous views will disappear by themselves. With a single stroke we are freed from bondage.