self-exploration

We could say that meditation doesn’t have a reason or doesn’t have a purpose. In this respect it’s unlike almost all other things we do except perhaps making music and dancing. When we make music we don’t do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best. Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.

Though this post is written mostly from my perspective and my experience, it’s based on a dynamic that my girlfriend and I are consciously working with in our relationship. Much of the awareness I have gained in the last two years has been sparked by our interactions and deep discussions about our relationship and our own inner work. To make things more interesting, I’ve asked her to add her feminine voice/perspective here and there. In this process of discussing, editing and polishing this post together, we basically wound up co-writing it. In that sense it is very much a joint effort, and Beth has offered many insights and observations regarding her sense of these dynamics that have helped me deepen…

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LOVE ONE ANOTHER

What makes for a meaningful life? I consider each day, not just the life as a whole. I look at four ingredients. First, was it a day of virtue? I’m talking about basic Buddhist ethics—avoiding harmful behavior of body, speech, and mind; devoting ourselves to wholesome behavior and to qualities like awareness and compassion. Second, I’d like to feel happy rather than miserable. The realized beings I’ve known exemplify extraordinary states of well-being, and it shows in their demeanor, their way of dealing with adversity, with life, with other people. And third, pursuit of the truth—seeking to understand the nature of life, of reality, of interpersonal relationships, or the nature of mind. But you could do all that sitting quietly in a room. None of us exists in isolation, however, so there is a fourth ingredient: a meaningful life must also answer the question, “What have I brought to the world?” If I can look at a day and see that virtue, happiness, truth, and living an altruistic life are prominent elements, I can say, “You know, I’m a happy camper.” Pursuing happiness does not depend on my checkbook, or the behavior of my spouse, or my job, or my salary. I can live a meaningful life even if I only have ten minutes left.

The ego, which has traditionally been the enemy of the spiritual aspirant, is not just an individual entity. It also has a collective dimension. The collective ego is your culturally conditioned self-the conglomeration of conscious and unconscious ideas that represent the way you assume life is supposed to be. It is all of the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” you have absorbed from those around you and from the shared history of your culture or ethnic background. It is a set of subtle and not-so-subtle beliefs, ideas, and ways of seeing the world that you deeply subscribe to but may not even be aware of. So much of the individual that you experience yourself to be has been created by the cultural worldspace that you were born into. And that’s not a bad thing, in and of itself. It only becomes a problem when you don’t know how conditioned you are. But the more you are able to shed light on all the different ways in which you are conditioned, the more space will open up for real autonomy-freedom of choice to be the person you want to be. So the culturally created ego is a very significant dimension of the self that needs to be brought to light in your own awareness. And it is not an easy task. It takes an inspired degree of mental focus and a willingness to deconstruct the very foundations of who you think you are-over, and over, and over again. But this process is a critical part of human evolution and spiritual transformation.

Freedom means being able to choose how we respond to things. When wisdom is not well developed, it can be easily obscured by the provocations of others. In such cases we may as well be animals or robots. If there is no space between an insulting stimulus and its immediate conditioned response—anger—then we are in fact under the control of others. Mindfulness opens up such a space, and when wisdom is there to fill it one is capable of responding with forbearance. It’s not that anger is repressed; anger never arises in the first place.

There is more to desire than just suffering. There is a yearning in desire that is as spiritual as it is sensual. Even when it degenerates into addiction, there is something salvageable from the original impulse that can only be described as sacred. Something in the person wants to be free, and it seeks its freedom any way it can.

As the well-known contemporary Indian teacher Sri Nisargadatta, famous for sitting on a crowded street corner selling inexpensive bidis, or Indian cigarettes, once commented, “The problem is not desire. It’s that your desires are too small.” The left-handed path means opening to desire so that it becomes more than just a craving for whatever the culture has conditioned us to want. Desire is a teacher: when we immerse ourselves in it without guilt, shame, or clinging, it can show us something special about our own minds that allows us to embrace life fully.

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re really seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

When we are not attached to who we think we are, life can move through us, playing us like an instrument. Understanding how everything is in continual transformation, we release our futile attempts to control circumstances. When we live in this easy connection with life, we live in joy.

As the Buddhist view has consistently demonstrated, it is the perspective of the sufferer that determines whether a given experience perpetuates suffering or is a vehicle for awakening. To work something through means to change one’s view; if we try instead to change the emotion, we may achieve some short-term success, but we remain bound by forces of attachment and an aversion to the very feelings from which we are struggling to be free.

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earthdrop
Beginner’s Mind

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.

- Shunryu Suzuki

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