Saturday, October 29, 2011

Falling Deeply & Bathing The Brain

I am the one with the lovely grey coat and the blue accessories
Here is one the beings I had the good fortune to meet at the bottom of my driveway as I headed out for a little stroll in the woods last week.  Is it synchronistic that Eeyore appears to remind me of my eeyoreness?

I have been slipping effortlessly through the time and space of this planet, riding ferry boats, delivering people to train stations, sharing water with the rain, listening to wise people talk.  Right now I am sitting in a high-ceilinged coffee shop in a seaside town, watching cars glide through a foggy intersection. A lick of butterscotch light flashes methodically atop a stop sign.

We are the only customers in this deliciously "Dwellish" space. A stark chandelier in the front window reflects off the white concrete floor.  A coffee coloured beauty busies herself loading the dishwasher.  I have recently slurped down a dinner of angel hair pasta with bocconcini, garlic and tomato.  Have I traveled to a Deva realm?  I mean angel hair, really!

It is undeniably fall here.  Red and yellow maple leaves have pasted themselves artfully to wet sidewalks.  Earlier in the evening an icy shaving of moon hung over a finger of land reaching out into the sea.  Sleek snow geese covered the sky with sound as sips of rich red wine slid down my throat.

All this delicious fallness offered a smoldering contrast to a recent talk by Stephen Lewis on the aids pandemic ravaging many African countries,  reminding me how fortunate I am to have been born into my auspicious life circumstances, how little we have to whine about in the developed world, although mostly that doesn't stop us.  His stories clawed at our very skin.  Here is a man who is not afraid to feel deeply, to experience horror, the indifference of  the government and corporate world and still work tirelessly and with passion.  Here is a Bodhisattva who is truly alive.

On Wednesday night we navigated our way through streets overflowing with Vancouver hockey fans to find a talk given by the Thai Forest monk, Ajahn Sona.  His talk was titled, "Cool Mind, Warm Heart, Green Life".  Again I was reminded of the contrasts of this world.  An orange robed man who never eats after noon spoke in a neighbourhood of million dollar condos, across the street from a grocery store that flies in $200 loaves of bread from France.

Ajahn Sona poured many wise words on to our thirsty souls.  He reminded us how emotions like anger cloud our minds, twisting our view of any situation like a fun house mirror.  Words and actions from a "heated mind" are most often sources of regret.  He had some interesting things to say about the green life, how easy it is to become strident in activism over the environment.  So much is lost in this stance, including the cool mind and the warm heart which are essential gear in all situations.  He asked us to look at our emotions surrounding environmental issues.  Do we become angry, depressed, throw ourselves into despair, avoid thinking about it because it seems overwhelming?  Always an opportunity to practice and with our clear minds, find appropriate action.

My travels included a free art demo and a trip to my favourite spiritual bookstore.  I am looking forward to this rainy season to develop some new art skills and spend some time just mucking about in the studio.  I am reminded by a book I have been reading called "Buddha's Brain" to spend some time really letting the good things I experience sink in, perhaps changing a little of the neural landscape.  I invite you to do the same.  What are the good things you might like to bathe your brain in??

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Who Do You Think You Are vs Who You Are

work in progress
It is obvious that a thought about your mother is not your mother ( I borrowed this line from a wonderful Dharma talk by Howard Cohn).  But somehow it is less obvious to us that "who we think we are", is not who we are.  In a way this is related the "the straight jacket of insecurity" that I wrote about here because who we think we are is mostly less than we really are.  Cohn talks about this "personality view" that we have of ourselves and how it tends to be slightly (or not so slightly) on the mean side.

Think about it for a minute.  Think about how you normally see yourself.  Do you see yourself as a clutz, a poor public speaker, slightly lazy, not very focused, depressed?  Chances are the picture we generally snap of ourselves tends to be on the negative side.  It encompasses things others have said to us, what we've implied from looks and comments, our judgements of ourselves when things don't go the way we want and a multitude of things.

We are in fact much more than we could ever see from our vantage point.  We are like shadows standing in our own light.  We encompass both wholesome and unwholesome qualities which create a much larger picture than we ever focus on.

Since our "personality view" is likely flawed, and small, like a tight, slightly wart covered halloween costume, maybe we should just give it up, let it go.  Since we like to wrap things in little packages and have been doing this forever and a lifetime, it may not fly off instantly into the stratosphere.  But maybe, just maybe we should lighten up a bit and give it a little help.  Perhaps every time we think we know who we are and how we operate, maybe we could just let that float away like a kid's lost balloon.  Maybe after we have filled up the stratosphere with lost balloons about ourselves we will be free to be whoever we authentically are in the moment.

It's not about getting newer and shinier balloons, that say we're stellar, it's about letting our real self just be, that interesting, quirky, human self.  We don't need to be anyone.  We don't need to be any way.  What our soul really longs for is to be free,  free from who we think we are.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Muck Raking

Taken at the Japanese Garden in Seattle
I was muck raking yesterday.  No, really I was.  Not the gossipy, wrong speech kind of muck raking.  I had a big 3 pronged claw-like rake and I was pulling old snags (and young ones) from our pond.

The pond is ridiculously large and has been neglected for a long time.  One of our summer projects was to get out as much debris as we could while the water level of the pond was low.  But summer has morphed into fall and projects have stretched out like stale bubblegum and the rains have started.

This morning as I sat in meditation  thoughts bubbled up, some less pleasant than others .  This led the mind to snag onto thoughts about muck-raking.  As I dragged things out of the pond yesterday, the odour of all that rotting stuff was pretty pungent, (not unlike some of the thoughts that were bubbling up to the surface as I sat.)

I was reminded of a neighbour's comment when I suggested I might use some of the submerged leaves and muck on my garden beds.  As a master gardener with extensive gardening knowledge she said it might not be a good idea as the material was probably "anaerobic" (without oxygen).  I guess theory being, it might actually suffocate the soil.  Muck, lack of oxygen, I could feel my mind-pond gasping for air.  It reminded me that in this cerebral pond, instead of diving for cover and rejecting those thoughts I  categorize as unpleasant, I could simply provide some space and air, to simply let them bubble up and be.  I didn't need to do anything with them.  They could come to the surface of my mind-pond, let off their little stink and be gone (for now anyway).

After a number of days of muck-raking (down at the pond) yesterday I admired our work.  The shore, while still muddy was free from all the broken twigs and this year's fallen leaves.  Lots of the large, partially submerged branches had been pulled out so that the pond no longer looks like some crazy pot of dirty soup (at least at the south end).  The water suckers sprouting up from the alder trees were trimmed and some alders removed completely.  It was a pleasing, more orderly sight.

All this work reminded me of my own mind-pond.  It takes concerted effort to change the mental landscape.  It seems to me there are two kinds of mind-pond work.  We work with both inner and outer tributaries of the pond. We need to let those slightly stinky, submerged thoughts rise and pop like bubbles.   With this, we are injecting much needed oxygen, working with the outflow, cleaning the pond.  The there's the purification of the pond, the streaming in (or raining down) of clean mind-water, an important step that is often overlooked.  We can choose our thoughts.  We can choose to pour wholesome, helpful thoughts into our minds.  We can remind ourselves to be grateful for everything, to pour lovingkindess into ourselves to alkalize both our mind and bodies, instead of  continuing with our somewhat sour, acidic thoughts.

Both ponds, the one across the meadow and the one I carry with me are still in need of reparation.  There is still muck-raking to do, snags to snafoo, smelly stuff, prone to rot and suffocate the environment to be liberated.  So the process continues, the skillful, concerted effort of pond cleaning.

And like so many things in this life, (eating, washing the dishes) it's time to start all over again when we're done!  But we can do this muck-raking with joy and enthusiasm, knowing it is our work.  We are making this earthly environment better by our efforts.  And you will be glad that we are still at the point in our virtual life that there is no "sniff" function on blogger yet.  Now back to the muck raking

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Pride of Insecurity

I am thinking about insecurity this morning.  I have been thinking about it for a few days, remembering a teaching by one of the Zen monks from the OBC on how that feeling of "not good enough", a lack of self confidence is really a form of pride.  At first that seemed odd and confusing to me but then I got it.  We hold back, protect ourselves, lack confidence in our "little", ego bound selves because somehow we think we are better, should be better than we fear we are.  This whole little dance is really us wrapped up in the straightjacket of ego.  If we hold back and hide from life we can live in our little fantasy of who we are.  We don't have to face the uncomfortable fact that we are not superman or superwoman.

Something inside of me has decided I am tired of living in the straightjacket.  I think perhaps I am ready to walk up to the desk and check myself out of this padded cell joint I've been hanging out in.  Something inside of me is finally bored with my fantasy of who I should be, who I want to be.  There is a famous and wonderful quote about this (but I forget who said it), something to the effect that when it becomes to painful to be bound up, we break out of our chrysalis and become free.  And we become a butterfly in our willingness, our courage to really live this life, to strike out, to fall flat, to experience our shortcomings and carry on.  And in a strange way, we savour the taste of failure, simply because it is a taste, a bold taste that activates our tastebuds.  We forsake blandness. We are alive, fully alive.  Jon Kabbat-Zin uses the phrase full-catastrophe living.   Zorba the Greek showed us the truth of this way of living long before there was a name for it.

And thinking about insecurity, my western mind twirls over the balance bar and wonders about self-confidence.  Not that ego based, puffed up, I'm so great kind of self-confidence.  I'm thinking of a different type of self-confidence, that unshakable, centered confidence. It's like mushrooms, there are the delicious edible ones and then there are their dangerously poisonous look-a-likes.  Real self confidence grows on a whole different terrain than the ego based one.  The forest floor of our being is host to many weird and wonderful life-forms.

Here's what Tibetan teacher, Tarthang Tulku has to say about real self-confidence: "Once we go through a true process of self-discovery, no one can take away our self-confidence; the inspiration comes from within and we know without needing to be told."

So here's the invitation to join me, in an exploration of the inner and outer forest of our beings.  Fasten on your boots, sharpen up your tastebuds and prepare to pick me up off the forest floor a gazillion times.  I will do the same for you.