Monday, April 30, 2012

Where Everything Belongs

Every Monday morning a group of 6 or 7 meets for an hour or so here at St. David's to support one another in living mindfully. We start with lectio--slow, reflective reading and reflection. We are a group that meets to savor wisdom.

A different person reads each section. We pause after each reading--sitting quietly for a minute or two after the 'whole' is finished.

Then each person is invited to quote the phrase that somehow 'spoke' to them.

After everyone has had a chance to speak, we read the whole thing again. Same process--only at the end each person is invited to say, in a minute or two, something about what it was that spoke to them.

There's no cross-talk or conversation. We 'just' listen--and do our best to 'hold' what each person says with interest.

Then we meditate for 20 minutes. At the end, anybody who wants to can speak again.

Finding practices that slow us down to savor and steep in wisdom is one of the most helpful and healthy things we can do for ourselves.

Here's the lectio we used this morning:


Being alive is itself an expression of mystery. The clues to our real nature are always around us. When the mind opens, the body changes, or the heart is touched, all the elements of spiritual life are revealed. Great questioning, unexpected suffering, original innocence--any of these can require us to open beyond our daily routine, to 'step out of the bureaucracy of ego,' as the Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trunpa counseled. Every day brings its own calls back to the spirit, some small, some large, some surprising, some ordinary. 
--Jack Kornfield, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

I want to tell you right now that the basis of this whole teaching is that you’re never going to get everything together. As long as you’re wanting to be thinner, smarter, more enlightened, less uptight, or whatever it might be, somehow you’re always going to be approaching your problem with the very same logic that created it to begin with: you’re not good enough. As long as you’re wanting yourself to get better, you won’t. As long as you have an orientation toward the future, you can never just relax into what you already have or already are. To me it seems that at the root of healing, at the root of feeling like a fully adult person, is the premise that you’re not going to try to make anything go away, that what you have is worth appreciating. But this is hard to swallow if what you have is pain.
--Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are
At the heart of the deepest spiritual understanding and experience is paradox. There is so much we want to exclude, yet at the heart of reality, in the heart of God, everything belongs.
--Richard Rohr (Everything Belongs, [paraphrased])

Saturday, April 28, 2012

What Do You Mean, NO SELF?!

The Buddhists put a lot more work into letting go of our false selves. But the way they name and describe the work scares the crap out of most of us Westerners. They usually call Big Self 'NO SELF'--which immediately puts many of us into some kind of existential annihilation funk.

However, since Buddhists have been seriously practicing letting go of small self for two and half millenia--and because they've been practicing it wisely and effectively--it would be a real shame not to learn from them.

Below is a 'practice' from Jack Kornfield's book, The Wise Heart. Since Jack is an American, he mediates the language--gives our Western Sense of Self a little less vertigo.

I find it helpful to take the Buddhist teaching of No Self both seriously and with a grain a salt. As we begin to find and trust Presence in our selves, we will certainly discover that our 'Self' is not what we've thought all these years. We'll see a lot of misconceptions--which, thanks be to God, makes it a lot easier to take our tight old sense of self with a grain a salt as well.

I still prefer to name our best selves Big Self rather than No Self. In the end, however, both names point to the same reality, the same truth, the same experience of having so much more room for life and love. Obviously, that's what really matters.

"To say there is a self is not true. To say there is no self is not true. Then what is true?" —Ajahn Chah

The creation of self is a process that can be observed moment to moment. It arises when we identify with some part of our experience and call it “me” or “mine”: my body, my personality, my views, my things. We can become mindful of the creation and dissolution of the sense of self. We can see what it’s like when the identification with self is strong, when it is weak, when it is absent.

Choose a day to study the sense of self. Every half hour check in and notice how strong the sense of self is. At which times of day is it strongest? In what roles/situations? How does it feel when self is strong? How does the body feel? How do others respond to this strong sense of self? What would happen in the same situation without a strong identification with the self?

Notice when the clinging to self is mild or absent. Is it reduced when you relax or when you prepare to sleep? How is it when you take your role lightly? Let yourself experiment with caring but not taking things so personally. Can you operate well when the sense of self is not strong or even absent? Play with the sense of self. Notice what ideas, sensations, emotions you hold most strongly and identify with. Which ones do you easily release and let go? How about if you reverse it, release the strong ones and identify with the weak ones?

Become mindful of the comparing mind. See how the sense of self arises when we compare ourself with others. How does this form of self feel when it is grasped? How is it when it is absent? Then notice what happens when you are criticized. If someone insults or disparages you, notice the strength of the sense of self. With strong identification you get anxious, angry, upset. Without much identification you can laugh.

Finally, try this. Pretend there is no self. Let all experience be like a movie or a dream, without grasping or taking it seriously. See how it lightens the heart. Instead of being the star of your own movie, pretend you are in the audience. Watch how all the players act, including “yourself.” Relax without a sense of self

Friday, April 27, 2012


Wanna find God? Simple. Drive slower--God doesn't break the speed limit unless somebody's pregnant and needs to get to the hospital.

Wanna find peace? No problem. Let the worries of your driven self race on ahead while you stay behind with what's left.

Wanna be joyful? Easy. Chew slow enough to taste your food. God prepares a table for us every day--and even though it's often in the presence of our 'enemies,' each bite of God's cooking is too good to miss.

Do these and similar things figuratively and literally.

By 'literally' I mean at least once a day drive slower than usual. Use your car as a hermitage. Be kind. Make room for others on the road. Take the scenic route.

When you feel anxiety like a squirmy bunch of catepillars in your gut, pick one, just one, and watch it until it metamorphs into a moth or butterfly and under it's own power flies away.

At 3:45 in the afternoon say to yourself, "How about a nice cuppa tea?" Then put a kettle on and call the time it takes to boil a sabbatical.

All those wise ones over the years are right, you know?

Going faster than the actual speed of life keeps us perptetually just out of reach of what life actually can be--Real, Pithy, Delightful, Full of Flavor.

Wave your wand. Take one small step...backward. Exhale. Move at the pace of Life.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mindful Walking & Reflection

Mindful Walking & Reflection (25 minutes)

  1. Find a nice place to just walk for10 minutes
  2. Try to keep your attention in your senses
  3. Stop someplace you especially like
  4. Read 'The Summer Day'
  5. Find a ‘THIS’ (like in line 4)
  6. Linger
  7. Do what Mary Oliver does with your 'THIS'

The Summer Day
Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Powerful Attraction

Before our brains are 'fully' developed they are already powerfully 'formed.' Mostly from our DNA. Yet also powerfully from our family systems and our culture. 

Most of us humans have a really hard time remembering that we're animals. That we have literally been animals for millions of years. The gift of life has come to us through many other forms to get into who we are now. And we've kept a heap of what we've been even before conception--as well as a heap of what we've experienced in our 'formative' years. 

So...we have 'tendencies'. 

Ha! Lord God Almighty--do we ever! Whenever we become aware of something we'd like to change about ourselves--and are game to try to do it--we experience the steady stubborn power of what we have been up to this moment. Something in us is slow to change (this should be all caps and red letters). do we change? How do we 'evolutionary' and 'family of origin' challenged humans work within our reality?

Rumi said, "I am iron resisting the most enormous magnet there is." But he was most definitely not talking about our evolutionary DNA.

For Rumi, and many of us, this magnet is God. Or Wisdom. Or...(how would you name it?).

Faith, trust, hope--awareness--bring us into the reality of another force--something more powerful than our DNA--and faster acting! Our human nature has been developing over millions of years. But the magnet Rumi is pointing toward can pull us to Itself in one lifetime. 

Consider the very simple directive, "Let Go." What happens when we let go? Don't just consider what we're letting OF. Consider what we're letting go INTO. 

We are iron resisting the most enormous magnet there is. And though our resistance is ancient and powerful--Something Else is way more attractive.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Being Underneath

Below is a very concise 'how to' from Eckhart Tolle: How to be happy. How to grow in love and sanity...maturity... awareness.

Note: he uses the words pain-body together to name something like our feeling selves--which is counter intuitive to most of of us. Not that we don't all experience plenty of emotional pain. But we also experience and enjoy positive feelings. His concept of pain-body and thinker is the same thing as the Buddha's catch-all word for life's most deep-seated problem: SUFFERING: the thing about human existence that makes us hurt and keeps us unhappy; the very thing we need to understand and learn to work with in order to be happy. it a few times. Then read it again a few times. Then, if you're able, come back and read it more. And more.

If Tolle's words don't ring true for you find something that does.

You know, unfortunately, insight by itself doesn't change us much. We have to steep in it. We have to live with what makes us whole at least as much as we live with what makes us crazy, fragmented, and unhappy.

It's just the way it is. Awareness is not a quick fix--it's a path. We're either on it or we're not.

For love (and life) to flourish, the light of your presence needs to be strong enough so that you no longer get taken over by the thinker or the pain-body and mistake them for who you are. To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment.

To disidentify from the pain-body is to bring presence into the pain and thus transmute it. To disidentify from thinking is to be the silent watcher of your thoughts and behavior, especially the repetitive patterns of your mind and the roles played by the ego.

If you stop investing thinking with “selfness” the mind loses its compulsive quality, which basically is the compulsion to judge and so to resist what is, which creates conflict, drama, and new pain.

In fact, the moment judgment stops through acceptance of what is, you are free of the mind. You have made room for love, for joy, for peace. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

God Loves Us IF?

God always entices us through love.

Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. 

What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change, is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change. If the mystics say that one way, they say it a thousand ways. But because most of our common religion has not been at the mystical level, we’ve been given an inferior message—that God loves you “when” you change (“moralism”). 

It puts it all back on you, which is the opposite of being "saved.” Moralism leads you back to “navel-gazing” and you can never succeed at that level. You are never holy enough, pure enough, refined enough, or loving enough. 

Whereas, when you fall into God’s mercy, when you fall into God’s great generosity, you find, seemingly from nowhere, this capacity to change. 

No one is more surprised than you are. 

You know it is a gift.     

--Richard Rohr, from Following the Mystics

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Remembering to Breathe

Mindful Presence
is like breathing.
Just as life-giving
and life-sustaining.

It's just that
this time
we have to discover
its necessity

And remember.

to open our lives
to God's Breath
every second.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Shoot Her Every Minute of Her Life

A character of Flannery O’Connor in “The Misfit” famously said, “She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” 

A gun to the head is too violent an image, but most of us do recognize how much we need to be reminded of something we already know and trust in our deepest selves. Something really important. Something that connects us with being “good” people. Something that makes life itself really, really “good.”

When I read and re-read the passage below from Eckhart Tolle, I’m reminded of what I keep forgetting. And I feel a welcome immediacy confirming how good life is each time I remember it.

Most people pursue physical pleasures or various forms of psychological gratification because they believe that those things will make them happy or free them from a feeling of fear or lack. Happiness may be perceived as a heightened sense of aliveness attained through physical pleasure, or a more secure and more complete sense of self attained through some form of psychological gratification.

This is the search for salvation from a state of unsatisfactoriness or insufficiency. Invariably, any satisfaction that they obtain is short-lived, so the condition of satisfaction or fulfillment is usually projected once again onto an imaginary point away from the here and now. “When I obtain this or am free of that — then I will be okay.”

This is the unconscious mind-set that creates the illusion of salvation in the future. True salvation is fulfillment, peace, life in all its fullness. It is to be who you are, to feel within you the good that has no opposite, the joy of Being that depends on nothing outside itself. It is felt not as a passing experience but as an abiding presence.

True salvation is a state of freedom — from fear, from suffering, from a perceived state of lack and insufficiency and therefore from all wanting, needing, grasping, and clinging.

It is freedom from compulsive thinking, from negativity, and above all from past and future as a psychological need.

Your mind is telling you that you cannot get there from here. Something needs to happen, or you need to become this or that before you can be free and fulfilled. It is saying, in fact, that you need time — that you need to find, sort out, do, achieve, acquire, become, or understand something before you can be free or complete.

You see time as the means to salvation, whereas in truth it is the greatest obstacle to salvation.

You think that you can’t get there from where and who you are at this moment because you are not yet complete or good enough, but the truth is that here and now is the only point from where you can get there.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

More Capacity Than We Know

We have more capacity than we know. We, our 'selves', are More than we know. But our culture, our families, our basic instincts don't really 'know' this.

And so we experience and navigate a diminished life.

The word diminished comes from the Latin minutia, 'smallness.' Being so deeply immersed in little things, we rarely see and so don't 'believe in' and rarely experience Bigness.

Intentional awareness (mindful practice) is one the wisest ways we've figured out over millennia to get beyond smallness. When we're intentionally aware, we pay such attention to the minutia that we finally begin to see it for what it is.

And, amazingly, the very experience of seeing it for what it is AND holding it as it is shows us our bigness.

We're BIG ENOUGH to hold it--with room to spare.

And in this ROOM TO SPARE we begin to experience another whole dimension of life.

Stuff that scares us, bores us, challenges us--we can stop avoiding it and start to let it into awareness where it begins to become obvious what to do with it.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Try Something Different

...Weep and then smile.
Do not pretend to know something
You have not experienced.

There is a necessary dying,
Then Jesus is breathing again.

Very little grows on jagged rock.
Be ground.  Be crumbled.
So wild flowers will come up
Where you are.

You have been stony for too many years.
Try something different.  Surrender.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Searching for Judas

Today, Holy Saturday, some dare to entertain the notion that Jesus is in hell--looking for Judas. Grabbing him up in his arms, holding him, forgiving him--fixing the devil in a clear steely gaze and daring him to try to take Judas again.

Some Christians over the centuries, knowing the bigness of God's love, couldn't help entertaining this notion. And it surely has a kind of tough, stubborn positiveness that comes as a sharp ray of light before Easter morning.

A story on the opposite side of the scale comes from a Native American tradition. A young man, just finished with a week-long and transformational vision quest is climbing back down a mountain. He meets a rattle snake who says, "Please, young man, carry me down the mountain with you--I've stayed too long here in the sun. Night approaches and I will freeze on these heights."

The young man says, "But you'll bite me, poison me, if I pick you up."

"Never, my friend," says the snake, "for you will be saving my life."

So the young man picks the snake up and carries him all the way down the mountain, setting him, just before sunset, gently on the ground.

And the rattler bites him.

The young man, in utter disbelief, stunned and heartbroken says, "You promised me!"

The snake answers, "You knew what I was when you picked me up."

We all to learn to live somewhere between fearless compassion and wise caution. There's never complete certainty. Most of the time we keep to the safe side--and probably should.

Yet the yearly plunge we take Friday and Saturday of Holy Week always has the potential to put caution, even wise caution, in perspective.

It seems to me that there's no arguing with this tension. There's just navigating the Path. Sometimes Love is simply bigger than Anything.

Jesus was not young or naive. He still picked up the snake.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday: Kindness

Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Our Gatekeeper Selves (3)

So (continued from the past two posts)'ve given the Gatekeeper her or his instructions: "Whoever or whatever comes, open the door. Invite them in...."

The "Treat each guest honorably" part is not really the Gatekeeper's job. The essential part of the Gatekeeper's job is openness. Opening the door and keeping it open. No judgment. No discriminating. (Though it's really helpful for the Gatekeeper to begin to trust what happens once the guests come inside.)

But what happens once the guests come inside is the job of Presence--whose voice, whose eyes, whose arms are always saying in one way and and another, 'Come to me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest."

The starting point and ending point of mindfulness is this thoroughly saturating habit of receptive, attentive kindness. Rumi says, "Treat each guest honorably." Jesus says, "How I've longed to gather you under my wings like a mother hen gathers her chicks." The Buddha says, "Love the whole world as a mother loves her only child." And each of these teachers shows us how to embody both in and outside ourselves.

It's remarkably simple. The Gatekeeper lets them in. Presence (the Host) treats each guest--whether a thought, a feeling, an event, or another person--honorably. Seeing each one clearly and loving each one dearly--like a really good mother loves her kids.

This 'simple' practice potentially holds the whole world--one guest at a time--in clear compassion.

Yet as crucial as it is to understand this, understanding it is never enough. This is where 'religion' is always falling short. To 'get' this, we're called beyond just understanding or believe it, we're called to embody it.

And to embody it we have to do it.

And to do it with any kind of consistency and skill, we need to practice it.

That's why we purposely set aside time for mindful practices. It's amazing what happens when we get serious about training in the 'skill' of attentive kindness--first in our selves and then in our out-in-the-world lives.

If you're new to this, simply set aside a little time. Slow down. Breathe. And practice this:

Allow every thought and feeling that comes 'up' to come 'in'
See 'each' just as it is 
Hold each like a mother holds her child
And let it go.

Then do it again. And again. 

(If you're theologically inclined you may be interested in the relationship between 'divine' presence and human presence as we experience it in prayer and practice. Or maybe not! Either way I hope to say something about it soon.)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Definitive Gatekeeper's Job Description

The two reasons why the weary and burdened bits of our estranged selves aren't coming into sacred space and finding healing and rest are:

  1. Our Gatekeeping Selves have mostly been taught to keep them out.
  2. Our Temple Selves don't know or don't yet trust how healing and rest consistently 'happen.'

Mindfulness practice and Contemplative Prayer both offer degree programs in Gatekeeping and Healing.

When we're new to either practice it can be hard to believe how much good stuff happens when we're simply still and receptive.

At first the course work of being still can feel daunting--we worry that just being still and 'doing nothing' will be about as rewarding as sitting on top of an ant hill.

Or glimpsing our shadow sides (previous stuff we've repressed and tried to keep a lid on) our brains usually release a little dose of terror that says, DON'T DO THIS.

Contemplative practice often bores us and sometimes scares us. But...when we're game to do it anyway, here's the thing--it also regularly delights, enriches, heals and restores us.

So how do we retrain our Gatekeepers?

Here's how.Tell him or her (again and again), "This being human is a guest house--every morning a new arrival! Welcome and entertain them all--even if they are a crowd of sorrows who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still treat each guest honorably."

Rumi wrote The Definitive Gatekeeper's Job Description. It's what 'happens' when we do gatekeeping 'right.' Or...when we do it more wisely and with deeper understanding and with a little playfulness.

What it boils down to is that we commit to no more door slamming. Whatever thoughts or feelings come to the threshold of our awareness are welcomed in.

At least, that's our intention.

In practice, our gatekeepers are so used to slamming doors that before we even get a glimpse of who's there, bang! the door shuts. And then even when 'we' reopen those slammed doors, whoever or whatever was there has often slipped away.

Yet as we stick with it, there's less and less slamming.

Sit. Walk. Breathe. Be aware. Alone or in company, welcome whoever/whatever comes. No discriminating.

And then...treat each guest honorably....

(More on that, God willing, soon)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Our Gatekeeper Selves

In Gone With The Wind, Scarlet O'Hara famously says,  "I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow."

What is the 'That' we can't think about right now? And who is it, what part of 'me' or 'you' is always deciding what makes us crazy (or not) and when we'll get around to thinking about it?

Who is the Gatekeeper? Who is it that lets some thoughts in, keeps some thoughts out, and either makes time or not for attention?

One of the psalms says "I'd rather be a gatekeeper in God's house than live comfortably in the tents of the wicked." (Apparently, the wicked lived better than temple gatekeepers.)

I don't want to push the metaphor too far, but it's not much of a stretch to experience our own self, our own being, as a temple, a holy place, a place where God, where Being is.

One of the first jobs of mindfulness is learning how to be a decent gatekeeper. God's not interested in keeping the riffraff out of the Temple. And, as we began to witness and experience how limiting it is to live fragmented, un-whole lives, neither are we. We want each bit of our scattered selves to come in out of the rain

Jesus said, Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. We could inscribe those words on the gate. Or maybe they're already inscribed there--and our untrained gatekeeper selves have been so busy excluding worrisome 'stuff' to notice.

We have a lot of thoughts, memories, worries, pains that need a place to rest. Yet our gatekeepers often block their entry.

When I get still enough to notice, my gatekeeper self often seems to be 'me' as a boy. Younger than Scarlet, yet still overwhelmed by certain aspects of life. Scared because certain issues in life seemed too dangerous to let in. I didn't know what to do with them--so it just seemed 'best' or sometimes 'necessary' to keep them out.

Who trained me to do that? Nobody, I suppose. Fear, self-protection 'trained' me.

You? Who trained your gatekeeper self?

All of us, over time, need to retrain the gatekeeper. Let him see for himself there's Somebody inside that knows how to work with 'crazy.' Let her see and experience for herself the safe, sacred space where the weary and burdened begin to find rest.

(I hope to pick up this thread again soon)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Joy of Complaining

To complain is always non-acceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.

Ordinary unconsciousness is always linked in some way with denial of the Now. The Now, of course, also implies the Here. Are you resisting your here and now? Some people would always rather be somewhere else. Their “here” is never good enough.

Through self-observation, find out if that is the case in your life. Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options:
  • ·         remove yourself from the situation
  • ·         change it
  • ·         or accept it totally.

If you want to take responsibility for your life, you must choose one of those three options, and you must choose now. Then accept the consequences. No excuses. No negativity. No psychic pollution. Keep your inner space clear.

(If there is truly nothing that you can do to change your here and now, and you can’t remove yourself from the situation, then accept your here and now totally by dropping all inner resistance. The false, unhappy self that loves feeling miserable, resentful, or sorry for itself can then no longer survive. This is called surrender. Surrender is not weakness. There is great strength in it. Only a surrendered person has spiritual power. Through surrender, you will be free internally of the situation. You may then find that the situation changes without any effort on your part. In any case, you are free.)

                   --from Eckhardt Tolle, The Power of Now