Monday, August 29, 2011

Bumper Sticker: I Break for Wisdom

A monk asked Yun Men, “What are the teachings of a whole lifetime?” Yun Men replied, “An appropriate statement.” –The Blue Cliff Record (a collection of 100 koans, circa 1100)

Put yourself in Jesus’ shoes. You’ve been in a new town a few days, trying to convey to those who are curious something of who God is and what God makes possible. A largish crowd is seated around you. You’re sitting, too.

There’s a commotion. A small group of men shoves a woman forward. One of the men says, “This woman was caught in the act of adultery. You know what the Law says: ‘She must be stoned.’ What do you say, teacher?”

If it were you in Jesus’ place, what would your reaction or your series of reactions be? What would you feel and think first, second, and so on? What’s your most effective way of getting to an appropriate response?

Maze: A complex network of paths and passages; a confusing mass of information.
Amazement: A feeling of shock, surprise, great wonder.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tripping over Paul

Paul, Dialectal not Dualistic (by Richard Rohr)

Often Paul appears to be a dualistic teacher, but actually he is a dialectical teacher. In dialectics we use two different ideas and use them both to overcome their apparent contradictions. Paul often talks in terms of law and freedom, flesh and spirit, nature and grace, weakness and strength, but he is usually not presenting a strict dualism—although we hear him that way because the Western mind is well-trained in dualistic thinking. The nature of a transformed consciousness, however, is that such a mind and heart can deal with paradoxes and seeming contradictions. I call this nondual thinking, contemplation, or even “prayer.” (See my book, The Naked Now.)

Once we know that Paul is speaking from this larger and even mystical level, we will stop trying to pull him down into our either/or mind. We often think he is making a total elimination of one or the other when he really isn’t. Let me use the most problematic issue with Paul’s language of flesh and Spirit, which could appear to be a total dualism between bad and good. The flesh is often another word for the false self or the ego, and the Spirit is certainly the true self that we are in God; yet they both are essential parts of the human self—that God works with and loves! Finally, human life is a dance between the True Self (Spirit) and the false self (the flesh), they both allow and draw from one another. Your false self never fully goes away, nor does it need to. The only problem is when you do not even know that you have a True Self to ground you, draw you forward, pull you deeper, and forgive the very weaknesses of the false self! (Think about that for awhile, please!) This is dialectical thinking at its best, and might even be called wisdom."

(Whether Paul is dualistic or dialectical, we surely have to be dialectical in our understanding of his letters-MH)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Emptiness and Spaciousness

Emptiness as jargon or doctrine is not appealing to me. Yet behind jargon and doctrine there's some very tasty fruit.

The experience of emptiness in mindful practice is very close to the experience of spaciousness. As we become more and more aware of the way our habits of thought and feeling seep (or flood) into the present moment and color our experience, as we notice how in one way and another all our life we’ve been ticking off categories--been there, seen this, done that--as we start paying more careful attention, we discover we haven’t summed things up accurately or completely at all. Integrity may well pick up the pencil again, turn it around, and erase those check marks. The boxes we once ticked are now empty. There’s room to reconsider. When the old patterns and their certainties are not ‘here’ something else can be. -MH

Monday, August 15, 2011

4 Things


Understand it. Stick with it until anguish (at least sometimes) ends. Don’t stop—cultivate a life of understanding and ending anguish. This is how Gotama, the Buddha, summed up what woke him up.

We come to understand anguish by slowing down and noticing it. When the uncomfortable sensations that we name anguish come, we don’t turn quickly away to something more pleasant. We let it be what it is. We work toward empowering that part of our mind that specializes in observing it. It doesn’t take long to begin to understand much or at least some of what anguish is about.

Once we glimpse what anguish is about, once we begin to see what causes it, we begin to be willing to let go of some of those causes, and (no surprise) we have less of it—which gives us confidence to keep working with understanding anguish and letting go of what causes it.

With this understanding and this experience of more freedom and this growing confidence in our own ability to understand and let go of anguish (in other words to begin to wake up), we very naturally put more and more energy into working the wisdom of this practice into the ground of our lives.

(This is all paraphrased from Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism w/o Beliefs)

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I come back over and over to Abraham's and Sarah's journey, God's saying, "Leave the familiar and go the place I will show you." Along the way God speaks again: "I will bless you so that you will be a blessing."

This sketches for me the arc of a meaningful life. Setting out with vision. Losing the way. Achingly lost. Finding the way again. Being (and feeling) blessed. Losing the way again. Realizing that it's impossible to be blessed without becoming, ourselves, a blessing.

Rachel Naomi Remen is a sage for me. Perhaps she is for anybody who starts being more curious about how to be a blessing. Here's just one of a rich supply of examples from her writing:

As a counselor to people with cancer, I used to be ashamed of not being able to provide a more cognitive framework for what I do or offer a theoretical rationale for why I say what I say. I no longer feel this way. I also used to believe that things that could be expressed in numbers were truer than things that could only be said in words. I no longer believe that either. It has been my experience that presence is a more powerful catalyst for change than analysis and that we can know beyond doubt things we can never understand. --Rachel Remen

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Who Said This?

Something whispered something
that was not even a word.
It was more like a silence
that was understandable.
I was standing at the edge of the pond.
Nothing living, what we call living,
was in sight.
And yet, the voice entered me,
my body-life,
with so much happiness.
And there was nothing there
but the water, the sky, the grass. --Mary Oliver

Monday, August 8, 2011

Words that lead to Wordlessness

It’s hard to teach without using words. Words point the way to so many places. Yet to get where we’re going in meditation at some point we have to leave words behind. Words like spaciousness, clarity, humor, lovingkindness, letting go each point toward an experience that aims to be wordless.

I remember watching four or five people each carrying hang gliders up the last bit of a mountain. They’d gotten near the top with cars and trucks, but the last eighth of a mile was an obvious struggle. Then they got to the edge of a massive rock face and, waiting till the wind was right, they just leaned forward and pushed off. The wind—and significant, learned skill—did the rest. --MH