Monday, March 28, 2011

Listening for Ourselves

We often hear, 'Let go and let God.' How does that work? Surely it's helpful to loosen our grip on what's making us crazy. Surely it's helpful to dialogue with God, speaking our heart, listening in that particular kind of pregnant silence. But, how does it work? The 3 readings for this week point in that direction.


Insight into emptiness and compassion for the world are two sides of the same coin. To experience ourselves and the world as interactive processes rather than aggregates of discrete things undermines both habitual ways of perceiving the world as well as habitual feelings about it. Meditative discipline is vital to dharma practice precisely because it leads us beyond the realm of ideas to that of felt-experience. Understanding the philosophy of emptiness is not enough. The ideas need to be translated through meditation into the wordless language of feeling in order to loosen those emotional knots that keep us locked in a spasm of self-preoccupation. --Stephen Batchelor

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. --from 1 Corinthians 13

Any real teacher is only a pointing finger. In the end, we may find out more by not following our teachers but by following what our teachers follow for ourselves. From a good teacher you may learn the secret of listening. You will never learn the secrets of life. You will have to listen for yourself. --Rachel Remen

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Pulling into the church parking lot this morning I saw a crow pecking at a rabbit. The crow flew away as I got closer, and the rabbit tried to drag itself away. It had most likely been hit by a car. Back legs smashed, intestines extruding. This was what the crow had been eating.

I stopped the car and got out. The rabbit, propped up on its front legs, looked steadily at me. Didn't seem to be afraid. I studied it (him/her?).

Beyond repair.

There was a small pile of logs nearby, leftover from brush removal this past weekend. I walked over and picked one up and came back and squatted close to the rabbit.

I don't know any prayers or blessings to say before what I did next. All I knew to do was to keep looking at those wide brown glistening eyes for a good long while and to feel the deep sadness of both what had happened and was going to.

I said as evenly as possible, 'I'm so sorry,' then hit him on the head as sharply as possible. Then twice more to make certain.

The words that rose up were, 'you put it out of its misery,' which is true enough. But in doing it I seem to have taken into myself a good dose of misery too.

Thanks to Linda Kinnear, another reflection:

Traveling Through the Dark, William Stafford

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.

By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.

My fingers touching her side brought me the reason--
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.

The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.

I thought hard for us all--my only swerving--,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Most people would like to make their lives better but don't really trust that it's possible (without winning the lottery or inheriting a beach house, etc.) But it is possible.

Yet when we explore this very possibility, there's no other way to experience it than as both good news and bad news. Changing our lives for the better is completely possible and unavoidably uncomfortable.

If you explore the lectio readings this week you'll encounter three helpful (but perhaps unattractive) words: Patience, Prudence, Contingency. Each suggests a practice that has great potential for life change. Each practice also regularly brings us to places that make us queasy.


Discipline provides the support to slow down enough and be present enough so that we can live our lives without making a big mess. It provides the encouragement to step further into groundlessness. The power of the paramita of patience is that it is the antidote to anger, a way to learn to love and care for whatever we meet on the path. By patience we do not mean enduring--grin and bear it. In any situation, instead of reacting suddenly, we could chew it, smell it, look at it, and open ourselves to seeing what’s there…. The journey of patience involves relaxing, opening to what’s happening, experiencing a sense of wonder. –Pema Chodron

The very word itself—prudence—sounds crabbed, miserly, puckered. We see it as a trait of those who overvalue personal safety and comfort. Yet for much of Christian history, prudence has been the primary cardinal virtue. To the ancients, prudence referred to the “perfected ability to make right decisions.” Prudence in this original sense describes a kind of spiritual vision, the capacity to see and comprehend the nature of reality. This clarity of vision allows prudent people to discern the truth of a situation and to recognize what particular action they must take that will lead to the good. Then it enables them to follow through. –Paula Huston

Everything that happens emerges out of what preceded it. Everything we do now becomes a condition for what is possible later. –Stephen Batchelor

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spiritual Practice Is Also a Verb

At times in my life I wish it were otherwise, but spiritual practice is verb-ish. It takes consistent effort. But however irksome it is to work at it, the outcome of steadily moving toward what we value, becoming more whole, being the person we recognize as our truest self is worth it, is worth it, is worth it.

Here are a few helpful reminders:

From Galatians 5
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-discipline. There is no law against such things.

From The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
Goodness and compassion naturally radiate out from us and bring joy to others....The whole of life is a teaching of how to uncover that strong goodness, and a training toward realizing it. --Sogyal Rimpoche

The heart gradually deepens in knowing, compassion, and trust through the hundred thousand repeated practices and heartfelt sincerity of a regular spiritual discipline. --Jack Kornfield

The first five transcendent actions (paramitas) are generosity, discipline, patience, exertion, and meditation. These are inseparable from the sixth--the prajna that makes it impossible to use our actions as ways of becoming secure. Prajna is the wisdom that cuts through the immense suffering that comes from seeking to protect our own territory.

The very words generosity, disciple, patience, and exertion may have rigid connotations for many of us. They may sound like a heavy list of 'shoulds' and 'shouldn'ts.' They might remind us of school rules or the preaching of moralists. However, these paramitas are not about measuring up. If we think they are about achieving some standard of perfection, then we'll feel defeated before we ever begin. It is more accurate to express the paramitas as a journey of exploration, not as commandments carved in rock. --Pema Chodron