Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Looking for Mushrooms at Sunrise

dragon carrots
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

Certain words now in our knowledge we will not use again, and we will never forget them. We need them. Like the back of the picture. Like our marrow, and the color in our veins. We shine the lantern of our sleep on them, to make sure, and there they are, trembling already for the day of witness. They will be buried with us, and rise with the rest.
Language, W.S. Merwin

On the News Hour last night I chanced upon an interview with the poet W.S. Merwin, of whom I had never heard.
Of course he was speaking about words and so have you and I of late.
So my ears perked up.

Merwin, now in his eighties with such a clear and kindly face, was reading from his poem, In the Start.
I thought, “Oh, I have to share that!”
But, I can’t seem to find the words online.

Instead I came across these excerpts (and I do not even know the order in which they belong). But, they too must be passed along.

In the dark while the rain fell
The gold chanterelles pushed through a sleep that was not mine
Waking me
So that I came up the mountain to find them…

I am not ashamed of the wren's murders
Nor the badger's dinners
On which all worldly good depends
If I were not human I would not be ashamed of anything…

Where they appear it seems I have been before
I recognize their haunts as though remembering
Another life

Where else am I walking even now
Looking for me

from Looking for Mushrooms at Sunrise.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Bit of History

donna de varona, 1964
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

Well-being I won
And wisdom too.
I grew and took joy in my growth:
From a word to a word
I was led to a word,
From a deed to another deed
From the Old Norse, Poetic Edda, (ca. A.D. 1200)
as quoted on Margo’s Magical Letter Page.

After what was then a lifetime of abstinence, I started drinking coffee in my early forties.
My morning routine became: get up, have a cup, climb into the big, old, claw-foot bathtub and soak.

Thus, the fifteen minutes of caffeine-induced luminescent awareness (in which everything that crossed my mind was totally fascinating) occurred in the tub.
These revelations so amused, I felt compelled to share them out the bathroom door.
From the kitchen I would hear polite or bemused responses until I became just too outrageous.
Then, my partner’s head would appear in the doorway,
“You really ought to have your own early morning radio show.”

And that is how it began: oracular bathtub broadcasts.
And not long after that “Word of the Day” became part of the show.
Some word would burst into my consciousness bringing with it tribal rhythms, promised implications, and delight.

Perhaps my fascination with the power of a word began with Donna de Varona, the great Olympic swimmer of 1964.
Her name drove me crazy as I watched her race on TV.
Was it just such alliteration? Donna de Varona! Or was it the snare drum rat-a-tat or the announcer screaming o’er the crowd?
Donna de Varona!
The name pulled me to my feet, set me pacing until my circuits overloaded.

Chalk squeaking on a blackboard never bothered me a bit. But, this name drove me nuts.

I’d turn to my father hoping he might understand or perhaps explain.
“Donna de Varona, Donna de Varona, Donna de Varona!”
Pop just grinned back at me. He did not get it, but seemed fascinated.
He’d just repeat the chant right back to me.
Neither of us understood.

We were discovering the power of a word, specifically a mantra.
“Donna de Varon, Donna de Varona, Donna de Varona.”
I’d say it quietly during the day.
I’d repeat it mentally as I swam my own practice laps with just a bit more power.

Some languages are sacred.
Some languages insist that name and form can become one.
When this happens the gap between word (the name that we speak out) and form (that which word denotes) begins to close.
This is not a horizontal phenomenon, but rather vertical.
Union is gained by going deep within our own consciousness.
It is transcendence that makes language sacred.

I became interested in sacred language when I learned that mantras work via “name and form.”
I became interested in etymology when I realized that Gertrude Stein used it to make poetry, to dive deep within the word and into herself, and that even English retains a hint of sacredness:

a noun is the name of a thing,
and therefore slowly if you feel inside that thing
you do not call it by the name which it is known.
Everybody knows that by the way they do when they are in love
and a writer should always have that intensity of emotion
about whatever is the object about which he writes.
And therefore I say it again more and more one does not use nouns…

I called them by their names with passion and that made poetry.
Gertrude Stein

Well, so much for history.
I haven’t broadcast from the tub in years and
I'm trying now to cut back on caffiene.
But, as I mentioned, we recently formed a “Taoist Coven” filled with women’s weedie-weedie as much as meditation.

I have unwittingly stepped into new energy
and with that step the revelatory Word has reappeared.

We are simply playing with a word. But play can have an impact.
How many myths begin with a gentle slipping, as our heroine’s attention is diverted she wanders deep into the woods and into mystery.
Sometimes, I think the whole story of spiritual cultivation, the Tao, the whole of Life and by that I do include biology can be approached via sacred language and linguistics.

Which I guess is just my own way of coming to the Biblical:
In the beginning was the Word.

So, it seems I’m returned to oracular bathtub broadcasts, except that now I blog – and since the ole blog has fallen into a somewhat quiescent state of late – I thought I’d share the Word of the Day with you all.

But for today, in honor of roots and origins, let’s just go with:
“Donna de Varona, Donna de Varona, Donna de Varona.”

Not at all our usual Word,
but rather a name, one that carries history and my father’s smile.

Oh and hey, guess what.
After Donna de Varona retired from her pool ... she herself went into broadcasting. I hear her now on NPR.

See! It all begins to come together, our connections become more obvious, when you turn inside.

All praise for the Word of the Day!


(Postscript: a friend recntly sent Mom this clipping from our hometown paper. I was somewhat rattled that my own life was slipping into camp - I share it here by way of apology to Donna and for your curiosity. "The History Corner," indeed. I quess that's why my body feels like it does each morning.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Word of the Day: Specious

blue leaf's revelation
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

Some of my Taoist Coven members and I have slipped into the celebration, revelation, and just plain silliness of proclaiming the spontaneously arising, “Word of the Day”
I thought it might be nice to share.

Today’s word is “specious”
Now, a dictionary will tell you that it means:
plausible but false;
"a specious claim";
"spurious inferences"

But, the dictionary doesn’t know that as Word of The Day, “specious” has arisen from the subconscious of a rather wacky Taoist Coveness thus insisting upon a bit more depth.
Perhaps the dictionary definition is somewhat rather specious in and of it’s own self.

Google on:

There seems to be something called the “Specious Present”

An idea to deal with the problem that we can apparently only be aware of what is present,
and what is present must be momentary
(otherwise it would include the future or past and not be all present),
yet anything real must exist for at least some time:
so how can we be aware of anything real…
Introduced by E.R. Clay and quoted William James (1842-1910) in The Principles of Psychology (1901).

The specious present is a short period… allegedly presented to consciousness as all present at once,
though in reality never more than one moment is present at once
(hence the 'specious').

Well, I never knew.
1901 and William James.

All I know is that many of us are trying to stay present in the moment.
We have made it into a spiritual exercise that we can wrestle with and fail.

Maybe we need to realize there is long standing argument that that is all there is.
Will that make it any easier?

And how interesting that when we accept this point of view of being in the present, we really have to question what is Real.
Will that make it any easier to smile? To cease the struggle? To laugh? To love?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Checking In for Christmas

pome and chops
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

It’s been a while since I checked in with Byron Katie to see what she is up to. And since today I have the time, I Googled.

I found this. It is worth sharing. She’s addressing thoughts very much like those I’ve had, very much like thoughts my friends have.

I wonder if similar thoughts haven’t crossed you own mind in the last month.

Katie is responding to someone who has written to her from Texas. I have shortened their exchange a bit. But, you'll get the point:

Dear Katie,
Now that Obama has won, I'm noticing friends of mine are going to the gun store and buying more guns and ammunition. This seems ridiculous to me, but when I ask them why, they reply, "because Obama will take away our guns."

What is wrong with these people?
I tried to talk to them about racism and their feelings before the elections, but nothing would change their minds. I'm sad and upset that these "friends" of mine are so narrow-minded and racist.

What can I do to change them? They are normal, decent people in most ways, except when it comes to politics.
love, J

Dear J,
…I invite you to personally work with “Obama is going to take away our guns” and see what it might be like to walk in your friends’ minds, world, and internal life and fears.

I invite you to look at taking away the gun that you are aiming at your friends, the judgments that you are shooting at them inside you.
Also, try working with “There is something wrong with these people,” “They need to wake up,” “I need to do something to change them,” and “They are not decent people when it comes to politics.”

For now, let’s look at “These friends of mine are narrow-minded and racist.”
Is this true?
Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
Can you absolutely know that it’s true that your friends are narrow-minded and racist? Notice that your mind wants to defend your position, to justify, to show proof of why it is true.
Notice this and return to a simple yes or a no.
Commit to one answer or the other. The Work stops working the moment your mind moves away from the questions and into its old pattern of justification and defense, winning and losing.
Just notice these tendencies and continue to answer the questions.
Give them a respectful amount of time…
There is wisdom beneath the surface answers, there are answers that are pure gold to you, and they offer freedom that you cannot imagine.
When you have given the first two questions plenty of time and answered them, please gently move to the third question.

How do you react when you believe the thought “My friends are narrow-minded and racist”?
Do you feel sick to your stomach, disgusted, sad, even frightened for them? For you?
Do you see images of them using the guns?
Notice how you react when you believe that thought.
Do you see yourself as superior to them?
How do you treat yourself when you believe this thought, how do you treat them?
Give this question some time, be still with it for a while.

Who would you be without the thought “My friends are narrow-minded and racist”? Would you be less frightened, less separated from them, lighter, easier of mind, less judgmental?
Would you be happier thinking of and being with your friends, a closer listener, really hearing their minds, hearts, and fears without separating yourself from them?

Now turn it around. Are you being narrow-minded, sweetheart?
Have you ever experienced yourself as racist, even a tiny bit?
Have you been prejudiced against prejudiced people?
Are you seeing these friends of yours as less enlightened than you, less rational, less wise, less open?

…Find at least three examples of each turnaround, and continue with the next turnaround, or begin to work with another judgment that you are holding on to.

Because until you do,
you are the cause of the separation that is happening in the human race
and that separation in the world is what you are putting out there.
It is what you teach those in contact with you…

I want to deal with anything within me that would separate me from anyone or anything. This is intimacy, oneness, love.

Ahhhh. Turns out Katie wrote a pretty good Christmas Letter for me.

Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Winter Silence

Fall bounce 2
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
I have become very quiet on these pages, I know.
Maybe it's the winter days now, grey, silent.... marvelous.

I have managed to make some visual art - this little leaf and acorn caught my eye the other morning and brought everything to an immediate halt. I bent over and looked closely, then ran and got the camera.

If you want to read more, go here and visit with Jeanette Winterson.

Or, I found these words of watching and silence yesterday as I inspected a Christmas book:

To have watched from one of your patios
the ancient stars
from the bench of shadow to have watched
those scattered lights
that my ignorance has learned no names for
nor their places in constellations
to have heard the note of water
in the cistern
known the scent of jasmine and honeysuckle,
the silence of the sleeping bird,
the arch of the entrance, the damp
these things perhaps are the poem.

Jorge Luis Borges

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Irrational Exuberance aka Life

I actually wrote the entry, Roots, two weeks ago. But, I never posted.
It seemed too goodie-two-shoes to me.
Too exuberant.
However, today is “hostess’s” birthday and this morning I was once again noticing the straw as I came to work. So, I thought I’d post belatedly as something of a birthday salutation.

In this interim two weeks, I also celebrated my mother’s birthday.
I took her out to Sunday brunch and because the restaurant surprises birthday celebrants with a slice of cake and candle, we knew that the family at another table was also celebrating.
I was already making my way out when Mom said, “I’m going to wish this young girl happy birthday.” So I turned back and waited. By then, Mom was in conversation and had discovered that actually both birthdays were the next day.
“I am going to be eighty-three. How old will you be?”
A universal, “Ahhhh,” went up from the group.
The girl’s mother and my eyes met right then in the midst of that Ahhh. And we smiled.
It was just a moment, then we looked away.
But, in that moment we had got it.
The unspeakable miracle of a single life, of family, of love was right there, an understanding shared amongst complete strangers.

It goes beyond the rational and it is such fullness it must be exuberant...

So, Happy Birthday: Mom, Lily, ... and to all of us!


We’ve started a women’s meditation group. We do meditate, but our talking sometimes leads us rather far afield, though no one is complaining.
Last night, we found ourselves speculating on the meaning of the root “dox.”
Thinking of “Doxology” I’d suggested “god.”
Our hostess immediately replied, “No…” and bowed her head in thought.

She began with “paradox” and “orthodox” and so suggested “idea.”
(If memory serves, I think that was the word.)
But, anyway, she didn’t go with “god.”

The next morning I awoke to find an email: “We were both right!!”

Greek doxa, opinion from dokein, to think; see dek- in Indo-European roots.
Greek doxologi, praise: doxa, glory, honor from dokein, to seem; see dek

Well, this only makes it clearer, I think.
Dek reminds me of the Sanskrit deva:
Deva (meaning "radiant" or "shining") refers to a "god" or "deity"…

I left last night's meditation singing the Doxology to Mary, with whom I car pool.
Had she sung it in her church? When I was a kid we sang it every Sunday after they’d completed the collection.

In many ways, the Doxology brought the service to its peak for me:
The ushers marching up the aisle to lay our money upon the altar
(no fatted calf I grant you but the next best thing, we were Presbyterians, for God’s sake)…
the congregation rising to its feet to sing in unison:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all Creatures here below.
Praise Him above Ye heavenly hosts.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

The organ pipes rang out as we all swelled heavenly,
and then we'd return to earth with this natural bowing of our heads.
This was high ceremony to me. It made me want to drop to my knees and cross myself (but we were Presbyterians...).

I found myself singing again this morning, as I negotiated the path between the parking garage and the construction site that's expanding the School of Public Health.
They’ve scattered straw and grass seed over major excavations, torn up roads, and made a huge mess.
But this morning, right next to the newly poured cement a flock of sparrows was busy gobbling up seeds from beneath the straw.
The sight stunned me, stopped me in my tracks.

It is 35 degrees outside. Winter has arrived in Georgia.
The impatience are frozen solid on my deck.
And here are these little birds, the softest puffs of feather, burrowing along like fuzzy hamsters while in my head I am hearing:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all Creatures here below…

What praise right here at my feet! In the softness, in the Life, with these little birds.
Doxology and doxa, dokein, dek and deva. Right here!

Deva most likely from the Proto-Indo-European deiwos, originally an adjective meaning "celestial" or "shining." But, I prefer the verb: diiv meaning "to play."

As in little birds rummaging through scattered seeds or a good tune running through your head.

As in irrational exuberance.

Happy Birthday, Lily, Mom, and one and all.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Girl on Horse
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
This morning as I did my asanas I listened to Rachel Naomi Remen being interviewed on Speaking of Faith. The program closed with this story.

The most important questions don't seem to have ready answers, but the questions themselves have healing power when they are shared. An answer is an invitation to stop thinking about something, to stop wondering. Life has no such stopping places, life is a process whose every event is connected to the moment that just went by. An unanswered question is a fine traveling companion. It sharpens your eye for the road.

In some fairytales, there is a magic word which has the power to undo the spell that has imprisoned someone and free them. When I was small, I would wait anxiously until the prince or the princess stumbled on the formula and said the healing words that would release them into life. Usually the words were some sort of nonsense like "Shazam." My magic words have turned out to be "I don't know."
Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal

I’ve posted here some teachings regarding stories. Byron Katie is huge on how they hide us from the Truth about ourselves. We tell ourselves stories and make the situation worse. She encourages us to look closely at what we say and ask, “Is that true?” Usually, we must reply, “I don’t know.”

Well, Rachel Naomi Remen takes just about the exact opposite approach. But, it doesn’t mean she comes out in so very different a place.

Here is a story regarding tikkun olam, “restoration of the world.” I have also posted about tikkun before.

In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. And then, in the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light, and they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.

Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It's a very important story for our times. And this task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It's the restoration of the world.

It's a very old story, comes from the 14th century, and it's a different way of looking at our power. And I suspect it has a key for us in our present situation, a very important key. I'm not a person who is a political person in the usual sense of that word, but I think that we all feel that we're not enough to make a difference, that we need to be more somehow, either wealthier or more educated or somehow or other different than the people we are. And according to this story, we are exactly what's needed. And to just wonder about that a little, what if we were exactly what's needed? What then? How would I live if I was exactly what's needed to heal the world?

You can find the complete transcript of the interview with Dr. Remen here. It’s good.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Ghosts Inside Your Genes

Spinal Tap
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
For years I pulled my own existence out of emptiness.
Then one swoop, one swing of the arm, that work is over…

Do you think I know what I am doing?
That for one breath or half-breath I belong to myself?
As much as a pen knows what it is writing,
or a ball can guess where it’s going next.
Rumi, as quoted by Suzanne Segal, in Collision with the Infinite.

Today’s title comes from the subtitle of a lecture I went to yesterday on epigenetics.
The speaker, Dr. Michael Skinner (here he is on the BBC) opened by saying,
“My grandmother’s environment will cause me disease as an adult.”

This is not biology as usual and I have written about epigenetics before.
What Dr. Skinner pointed out was that the current paradigm for the genetic basis of disease does not explain well established observations:

1) There are regional differences in diseases. In Japan, for instance, there’s a lot of stomach trouble, but cardiovascular systems are strong. The reverse is true for the U.S.
2) There is a relatively low frequency of genetic diseases. E.g., only about 5% of breast cancers have the BRAC 1 and 2 genes. 95% of breast cancers are caused by something else.
3) Identical twins have different frequencies of disease.
4) Many environmental toxins don’t mutate the DNA, but they do cause disease.

Skinner’s list went on, but you get the point I hope.
We do inherit diseases tendencies, but that is not the entire story.
Diseases don’t always arise because a healthy gene mutates.
And yet, the environment is clearly doing something to our genes.

If a mother is exposed to an environmental toxin, her offspring can be affected in an “non-Mendelian” manner.
Usually, an inherited trait diminishes in frequency with each new generation.
But, Skinner spoke of finding 90% of off-springs affected even in the fourth generation- so we’re talking here about a great-great grandmother as if she was just yesterday.

My daughter was birthed in a darkened room, so she wouldn’t be shocked by bright lights, into a large basin filled with warm water to ease the transition…

How can one describe a baby being born to no one?
She had no mother, yet the birth occurred just fine, and in the years to come the mothering function would take care of her…

she was an extraordinary child who showed no signs of being traumatized in any way… I was able to “fool” everyone into thinking I was just as I used to be…. How extraordinary the mind thought. There is no one here, and it’s apparently unnecessary to be someone for mothering to take place.

Mothering mothers, just as talking talks and thinking thinks.
The mind has a hard time getting used to this.
Suzanne Segal, Collision with the Infinite, on the birth of her daughter, Arielle.

We are all conditioned to have expectations, both in life and in science.
Buddhists call it conditioning. Scientists speak of paradigms.
Something’s got to give in our preconceptions for progress to occur.

Dr. Skinner is working with “endocrine disruptors,” molecules that bind to hormone receptors, molecules like phthalates. They are in shampoo, that new car smell, plastic bottles, the fungicides for fruits including those for wine.

What he’s found is that exposing a mother to these poisons, or rather, exposing her embryos (for we’re talking rats here) led to a huge array of adult onset diseases.

The genes themselves are not changed in the sense of being mutated.
Rather, the DNA in the embryos is being methylated in new patterns.
The new pattern of methylation turns some genes on that usually would be off, while other genes, usually on, are forever silenced.
In the past when I’ve heard of this it was called imprinting.

We have such potential within our cells. We begin life truly “totipotent.”
Development and growth requires turning off most of that potential.
We need to differentiate into tooth and claw and hair to become our human selves.
We get a double dose of most chromosomes, one paternal one maternal.
Often that’s too much. Imprinting can silence genes and whole swaths of chromosomes.

But, that full potential still resides inside us.
And while some environmental inputs to our mother’s womb cause hyper- and hypo- methylation that drive us to disease, there’s no reason a priori that these shifts must all be detrimental.
Some changes may be beneficial. And they definitely impinge on evolution.
Dr. Skinner is licking his chops on that angle and I am intrigued myself.

To Arielle, who was born into the infinite…

She was a delightful, happy child who was constantly impressing people with her precociousness. She was able to laugh in the face of any challenge…
I was relieved to see her so happy, since I had repeatedly wondered whether …the radical shift of consciousness that had accompanied the last five months of my pregnancy had left any problematic impressions on her.

Whatever impressions may have been left did not appear to have traumatized her. As she has matured into a teenager, she has continued to exude the wise happiness that has always radiated from her… In fact, she has frequently expressed a clear knowing that she is both different from and the same as other people.

At times she finds this confusing, and generally she would rather not speak about it. But on at least one occasion she has said, “You know, Mom, when people look at you and they think you’re someone, but you know you’re not that person?”

“Yes, sweetheart,” I’ve answered, “I do know that experience.”
Suzanne Segal

Friday, November 07, 2008

Why This Goes So Deep

marigolds and cathedral
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

We are birthed into sangha, into sacred community. It is called the world.

Yesterday, a friend in Mexico sent me this quote regarding the election:
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the Hawaii Legislature in 1959, two years before Mr. Obama was born in Honolulu, and declared that the civil rights movement aimed not just to free blacks but "to free the soul of America."

My friend also sent this picture from her neighborhood in Mexico.
It reminds me of other words of Dr King regarding visions of the Promised Land,
and, much to my chagrin, it reminds me of Ronald Reagan’s “Shining City on the hill.”

Actually, this is a Catholic edifice built by the Spanish on top of an Aztec structure, the world’s largest pyramid.
I deliberately divert my attention from the subjugation of the Spanish act.
I choose instead to focus on these words of Isaac Newton:
If I have seen farther than most men, it’s because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.

Words. Visions. Souls and politics. We are in this all together.
For days now, I have been trying to articulate what has touched me so deeply about Barack Obama’s election. For me, it’s hasn’t really felt about race and civil rights.

"I’m white. I can’t really get what this means to African Americans. All I know is that deep inside my heart and belly, something has grabbed a hold of them. Something huge has been stirred. There’s joy and tears and I cannot find the words. But, is has to do with Goodness."
This is what I told a black friend, a Dutch citizen, on the morning after.

My friend’s eyes blazed. “Pat, that’s exactly how I feel!”
She too couldn’t really attribute the depth of her feelings to issues about race.
Only later, after she heard from overseas relatives would she come to me and say,
“Pat, in Holland, they call you nigger right to your face.”

Yes, huge issues regarding race are being addressed. There is that level. But, even my black friends feel there's something deeper going on. Something else eludes my understanding.

A day later, I still hadn’t found the words.
But, I had recognized that the stirrings deep inside is exactly what I feel when I truly hunger for the Divine.
There is joy because I can intuit what is possible.
There is heartbreak because I know I am not there.
And all the hope and joy and heartbreak exist beyond all words,
exist beyond all superficiality.

How very strange.
Why should an election feel the same as hunger for the Divine?
Then, I recalled the first time Obama made me cry.
It was his 2004 speech to the Democratic Convention.
I cried as he made me recall the Goodness of our nation’s ideals.
I cried as he recalled in me my sense of separation from our Goodness.
I cried as he stirred up the vision, the hope, that as a country we might one day live up to our potential.

Then, on the drive in to work this morning there was an old Jim Croce song on the radio:
Like the pine trees lining the winding road
I’ve got a name …
Like the singing bird and the croaking toad
I’ve got a name…
And I carry it with me like my daddy did
But I’m living the dream that he kept hid

I hadn’t heard the song in years.
It conjures images of idealistic college days and little kids marched on stage to sing for parents swelled with pride.
It seems a song about potential.
But, today I noticed that it also sings “living the dream that he kept hid.”

That’s it.

There is a dream, a hope, a profound hunger, at the core of each and every human being.
And, we keep it hidden.
Our deepest dream is far too precious, too heartbreakingly beloved, to risk revealing consciously even to ourselves, let alone admitting it aloud to the World.

It is our hope of one day reuniting with our own Divinity.
We not only keep it hidden, usually, we down right deny it.

We aim for something much more superficial, something more obvious and of the World.
We become under-achievers and over-achievers, drug addicts and CEOs.
We become smart and suave and cynical.

We revel as our children sing in innocence,
yet we hide our hearts in unconsciousness.
We become Adults: conservatives, liberals and libertarians, black and white and multi-racial.

We tie ourselves into knots.
We divide against ourselves as we live separate from our true Self.

Then this skinny, young, black guy comes out of nowhere
and has the audacity to offer us Hope!
And guess what…The American people stood up and shouted, “Yes, we can!”

Last night as I mulled this over more words came to mind.
They are the words with which Thomas Jefferson concludes the Declaration of Independence:

… with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Yes, Dr. King was right.
This is a matter regarding our souls.
And that is why my heart is breaking and my tears are those of joy,
And why the election was indeed about Hope.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I kept breaking into tears yesterday.
And it's not about the economy, stupid.
It was about my heart opening in a deep and rather inarticulate manner.
It's about Hope.
It's about Goodness.
It's about All of Us.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

I am awaiting Tuesday night eagerly. I early-voted last Friday. Two and a half hours in line, in the cold, and doubled-packed in tight long hallways.
I wouldn't have missed that for the world.
Like serving on jury duty, meeting my fellow voters restores my faith in the basic goodness of the American people. (Which is not to say... there are not some real idiots.)
But, we all seem to sincerely want what we think is best.
We vote our hearts and pain bodies.
Here's hoping!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Hopes and Dreams

girls 60 celebrate
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
On Friday, four friends and I head to the South Carolina beach for a long weekend.
Ostensibly, we’re celebrating the 50th birthday of the youngest of our crew.
Here’s a snap from an earlier 60th celebration. (You get the idea.)

One of us reads the New Yorker regularly and so could describe this cartoon:
There’s a fellow sitting in his doctor’s office.
The doctor says, “Well, I can fix your back so it won’t hurt anymore. But, I can’t guarantee that you’ll have anything left to talk about.”

Ah, point well taken.
Luckily, we have a tradition that for years has helped shaped our discussions.
Once comfortably fed and settled in, one by one each is asked to describe her hopes and dreams for the coming year. And each must field all the questions. Not a corner is left to hide. Your turn can last a long time. Kleenex can be involved.

I used to love this exercise. To be heard, to be understood. To be loved.
But, I find it’s getting harder and harder to participate.
I have no idea of what to say. And even worse, the next day I can only hold my head and moan, “My god, why did I say that!”

As far as inner transformation is concerned, there is nothing you can do about it.
You cannot transform yourself, and you certainly cannot transform your partner or anybody else.
All you can do is create a space for transformation to happen, for grace and love to enter.
Eckhart Tolle

For a life-long, self-identified “seeker” – doing seeking – working on transforming and evolving… this is devastating news. And I’m really beginning to realize that it’s true.
Still, I keep on trying.
I’m like some guy crawling cross the dessert on his belly. I keep trying the next spiritual transformation.
I know I can’t make that final shift in consciousness for which my heart so deeply longs. But dang, I keep on trying.
Futility. Stupidity. Ego.
What is this, if not Hope?

Hope is what keeps you going, but hope keeps you focused on the future,
and this continued focus perpetuates your denial of the NOW
and therefore your unhappiness.
Forget about your life situation for awhile and pay attention to your life.
Your life situation exists in time. Your life is NOW.
Your life situation is Mind-Stuff. Your life is REAL.
Eckhart Tolle

More and more, I realize I am compelled by a primitive, irresistible force within me.
Maybe, that is actually Grace. But, I struggle too much to use that word voluntarily.

And so I get so grouchy, thinking about us sitting round the table or before the fire.
I get all irritated and frustrated, and cannot think it through with any clarity.
Hopes and dreams! Oh, pah!
Fruitless, pointless, mocking. I do not want to do this! And I’m going to tell them!…

All inner resistance is experienced as negativity in one form or another.
All negativity is resistance…
Negativity ranges from irritation or impatience to fierce anger, from a depressed mood or sullen resentment to suicidal despair…

Ah, gotcha once again. And Tolle proceeds to say:

Once you have identified with some form of negativity, you do not want to let it go, and on a deeply unconscious level, you do not want positive change.
It would threaten your identity…
You will then ignore, deny or sabotage the positive in your life.
This is a common phenomenon.
It is also insane.

Yes. I know it’s true.
Have you noticed? It’s very interesting.
I can feel how getting all stirred up, even down right suffering, has this hidden edge of pleasure.
Anger allows me feel my power.
Drama helps me get my point across.
Suffering brings me sympathy.

But, if I don’t call a spade a spade at least within my own head – where can I start being truly honest.
And I do value honesty. And truth.

So, so much for Hope.
Let’s move on to Dreams.

Years ago, this weekend’s Birthday Girl told me that I had the densest pain body of anyone she knew.
Speaking of such people Eckhardt Tolle says:

…your desire to awaken, to finally get out of this misery is much greater than a normal person's desire to awaken. …[for] when your dream turns into a nightmare, then you really want to awaken from that…

My desire to awaken is certainly more than normal.
But, I’d not say life is anywhere near nightmare status these days. There is just that primitive force at work deep inside me. And, I’d like to think that that is Grace.
But the fact remains that I am definitely in resistance to this whole “Hopes and Dreams” format. I do not want to look.

So, three dear friends get to spend six hours in the car with me come Friday. I hope I’ll be on better behavior.
And I’m going down there “unrehearsed.”
Luckily, we have promised not to discuss anything real juicy on the drive down.
We’re pledged to wait until we’re all together.

And I figured we will need a good two days simply to be debriefed on Marv, the man of Linda’s dreams – or not. We will have to see.
And maybe, I’ll print this out and read it as a manifesto. (It will not stop their probing, nor get me off the hook. But, it may divert attention.)

Meanwhile, I plan to take my camera and tripod. That should keep me focused on something like the Now.
That’s my plan… not my hope… not my dream.
It’s a plan.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Blue Guitar and the Blackbird

The biggest challenge for most spiritual seekers is to surrender their self importance, and see the emptiness of their own personal story.
It is your personal story that you need to awaken from in order to be free.
To give up being either ignorant or enlightened is the mark of liberation and allows you to treat others as your Self.
What I am describing is the birth of true Love.
Adyashanti, How to Treat Others.

I have come across a couple poems by Wallace Stevens.
I have also read that in The Man with the Blue Guitar, Stevens was exploring whether our thoughts and mental images can represent reality as it actually is?

How do we see Reality? Through the glasses we have on, be they smokie, rose, or clear.
Through the stories that we tell, be they short or sweet or sad.
But, is any of that really Real?

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."

So went the first cantos of the poem I found yesterday.
And then this morning, I came across Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, from which I offer the first five:

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

I know I am being rather vague as to what my point is here.
I’m talking about making it through life in an honest manner. Sometimes it gets rather hard to see the truth.
Personally, I’ve come to believe in two trustworthy clues.
Is there love or silence in the telling? … the blackbird whistling or just after.

Perhaps you can take the poems and run with them yourself.
You might like to try this suggestion offered by Jeanette Winterson, at whose website I originally found the Blue Guitar.

Here’s a tip – and a mystery of its own – if you learn a poem, and then repeat it out loud in front of a mirror, watching yourself, you will discover something more about the poem, and something unexpected about yourself.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Sound of One Hand Clapping

Krish self portrait
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
My nephew, Krishan, came over this past weekend to teach me how to make HDR (high dynamic range) photographs. As I worked at my computer processing the images I’d taken, Krish sat right next to me and made this self-portrait.

I mention all this because in a self-portrait the perceiver and the object of perception are one and the same. And, an identity between subject and object forms the essence of non-dualism.

So today, when I came across this explanation of the Zen koan regarding the sound of one hand clapping, suddenly Krish’s self-portrait became quite appropriate.

This discussion is by Ken Wilber. I don’t read him all that often. But recently, I have found some of his stuff quite helpful. For instance, I have never had much grasp at all of this koan (or really, any other). Though, I am given to picturing trees crashing to the ground with quite a thud in my absence.

But, I digress:

Usually, of course, we need two hands to clap - and that is the structure of typical experience. We have a sense of ourselves as a subject in here, and the world as an object out there. We have these "two hands" of experience, the subject and the object. And typical experience is a smashing of these two hands together to make a commotion, a sound. The object out there smashes into me as a subject, and I have an experience - the two hands clap together and experience emerges.

And so the typical structure of experience is like a punch in the face.
The ordinary self is the battered self - it is utterly battered by the universe "out there."
The ordinary self is a series of bruises, of scars, the results of these two hands of experience smashing together. This bruising is called duhkha, suffering.
As Krishnamurti used to say, in that gap between the subject and the object lies the entire misery of humankind.

But with the nondual state, suddenly there are not two hands. Suddenly, the subject and the object are one hand. Suddenly, there is nothing outside of you to smash into you, bruise you, torment you….

So what is the sound of that one hand clapping? What is the taste of that One Taste? When there is nothing outside of you that can hit you, hurt you, push you, pull you - what is the sound of that one hand clapping?...

As a Zen Master put it, "When I heard the sound of the bell ringing, there was no I, and no bell, just the ringing." There is no twice-ness, no two-ness, in immediate experience! No inside and no outside, no subject and no object - just immediate awareness itself, the sound of one hand clapping.

Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything. Chapter 13.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Sorry, but I Can’t Resist!

Sarah Palin
Originally uploaded by etchasketchist
It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where—where do they go?
Sarah Palin to Katie Couric

I’m sorry, but if I don’t find something to laugh about regarding Sarah Palin, I am afraid I may join a friend who emailed today to say that the Republican VP candidate had her in a complete swivet.

Yes, swivet.
I had never used the word before, never even heard it. So, I Googled. ...

Which always leads to interesting things… and I just had to share this article on sentence diagramming.
And so, while politics should probably be eschewed here (I don’t usually use that word either. But, I do know it.)… eschewed here, language is very much about consciousness and that is right on topic.

And besides, laughing is so necessary.
God, help us!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Regrets are Clarified. Chi is Rectified.

listening at dawn
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, …the glory of everything….

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren, dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart.
She was in a class by herself.

It is not that often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.

Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White

During the past year, perhaps my greatest regret regarding the demise of my twenty year relationship is that I also lost my paddling partner.
No more of our paddling alone-together into remote wilderness.

There are not many people with whom you can share deep silence,
who can paddle on their left,
and adjust the camp stove’s Whisper Lite fuel system when you come home hungry.
Becky was master of all three.

And every time I realize this, these lines of Wilbur’s mourning of Charlotte come to mind.
I have to smile even as I feel the sadness.
No more paddling alone-together.

It’s a wonder the dreams haven’t started up again.
For years, I had this recurring dream about paddling up a river.
I believe the roots lie in an afternoon I spent, some forty years ago, with my best high school buddies.
Somehow, that day we managed to get our boat way up the river that formed Lake Decatur.
We were well past all our usual skiing routes.
We’d reached into the Sangamon itself. It was not a place anyone ever motored.
And we ourselves hadn’t really planned to go there. But something just kind of pulled us on.

Vivid in my memory is that the river possessed the most curious luminescent yellow light and the softest, deep silence, even as a bunch of teenagers picnicked and joked.
I dropped a line into the murky waters and pulled out the stubbiest brown catfish. We wondered if perhaps it weren’t an evolutionary fossil.
I resolved to return one day to those waters so full of mystery. But, I never did.
Instead, we graduated and scattered to the winds.

Some years later, the dreams began.
They came in a couple different versions: a gravelly put-in below the dam, an icy winter rendezvous at an 1840’s village – but always, there is the longing to return;
return to the far upstream, beyond all the usual routes.
To return to the Mystery.
And always in these dreams, I am thwarted by logistics.
The ice is too thick. The food runs out. Time’s too short. People don’t show up.

Then four years ago, in a nameless creek, off a lake formed by the Allagash River in Maine my paddling partner and I proceeded till the rocks would let us go no further.
There we sat, in the sun and silence and simply felt what that all was like.

Silence. No one else.
Well, maybe a moose.
Quiet, now. You’d hear the breath or soggy footstep first.
Silence. An insect buzz.
Suddenly, I realized, “This is the river of my dreams.”
I’d made it.

What a wonder it was to sit there wide awake in what had been a dream.
I made plans to go back the next summer, but logistics got too complicated.
And then, by the year after that, we had fallen all apart.
No more paddling partner.
No more access to the silent wilderness.
No more paddling on the river of my dreams.

I have sat many evenings in my backyard watching the trees, grieving this loss...

Now, the Garrison Institute, located on cliffs high above the Hudson River, is “conveniently located just one hour north of New York City”
and certainly not wilderness.
But most curiously – revolutionarily – I discovered there, in the midst of 170 people on retreat, that I hadn’t really been seeking wilderness at all.
Nor, had I been seeking isolation or even the river itself.
I had been seeking Silence.

I discovered there at Garrison that the Silence in the trees, on the wind, in the sky and lilac blossom, is the same Silence deep within the wilderness.
It is the same Silence (though I never called it that)
which has transfixed my attention these past few months right in my own backyard.

It’s the same Silence I have been sitting in and staring into with unseeing eyes.
The same Silence I have been sitting in and bemoaning my perceived regrets.

…if you want to wake up, you need to hang around awakened beings.
It can be awakened human beings, awakened trees, awakened mountains, awakened rivers…
When we expose ourselves to that awakeness, to that environment where spirit and matter are harmonized, it helps us to awaken.
Ultimately, that’s what satsang is.
That’s also what meditation really is…

When I sat and listened to Kwong [Roshi] talk at retreats, sometimes I was very interested so I would really be listening…It happened on one of those days I wasn’t listening quite as much…All of a sudden it was like smoke, that subtle stream of presence was sensed.
I knew, “That’s what he’s doing. It’s not about all this talk, talk, talk.” …that’s not what was going on…
for some reason, through no choice of his own or of any of us present, there was a magnification of something very subtle, very pervasive…
we think nothing is happening…
So I had missed it until that day and that one talk, when I experienced that subtle source, and it was just shining.
I saw it and sensed it, and then it was shining inside me, too…

I wouldn’t call this true awakening, but it was a foretaste of awakening: realizing the sacred presence. …

The old Taoists would call this “rectifying the chi.”…
That’s why scriptures have advised us to hang out with awakened beings.
The awakened one could be a human being, a tree being, a street-corner being. Expose yourself to them… and this rectification happens.
Adyashanti, Emptiness Dancing

Or, as Wilbur might say, expose yourself to “the glory of everything”
including your own backyard.

You might just find that all those distractions and pollutions of the city are remarkably similar to thoughts in meditation.
In meditation we learn that thoughts do not have to be banished into the mental hinterland.
When thoughts are given permission to “just be” then you are freed to settle into the Silence that is there all along.
Life can be just like that too,
once your chi’s been rectified a bit.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Form and the Formless

Feather in water
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

I am having a quiet day at work. It seems no one else bothered to show up or even call.
My experiment is in the centrifuge and I have a moment free to polish up what I’d planned for my next entry here.
Some notes are in a spiral notebook which I’ve pulled out of my bag to reference.

It’s just this notebook I picked up before I went to the Garrison Retreat. It seemed to have some empty pages. I didn’t know, or care, what else was in there.

So, I was flipping through the pages just now when my eyes happened upon what follows.
I’m interjecting it here since it comes so closely on the heels of Eddie's passing.
Also, I spent last weekend with my Taoist teacher, Wong Loh Sin See, and these words fit with that experience also.

The Teacher and I hadn’t seen or spoken to each other for six months, yet he opened the workshop with these words, “Patty, life and death, what is the difference?”
The question took me by surprise, but after some reflection, I replied, “A form is either here or gone.”
He asked me to say more, and our whole exchange seemed an exercise to re-enforcing a moment I’d experienced with Eddie.
As I'd sat with him, I noticed that the Silence within me was also within Eddie. And, I knew that Silence would continue even after Eddie’s form was gone.

Apparently, The Teacher wanted me to see this once again.
And apparently, The Teacher also wanted to show me that there is a formless Consciousness “out there” that personally listens in upon my thoughts and musings. (He does that every workshop.)

So, this passage in the notebook has caught my eye.
I don’t remember ever writing any of this down.
It begins with a quote. My guess is that this is Eckhart Tolle speaking:

Death means a form is dissolving.
It dissolves and then what’s left is formless Consciousness…

When you observe how your breath moves out,
the end of that breath is also a little death,
and there is a moment of stillness…

Any ending is helpful in that way.
Because any ending is the end of a form
and it is always some kind of death.

When you accept it fully, it is an opening
into the formless…
And you want to hold onto the form,
(a recipe for unhappiness)
not realizing that the very reason why this [moment] is meaningful
is that it takes you beyond form.

So the more you welcome all the endings in your life,
“Good-bye! Ah, a form is going,”
the more formlessness there is in life.

The egoic entity works the opposite way.
It hates this. It thinks, “Oh, no! I want to keep this.”
But, it’s going, going, going. Everything.
If you are old enough and can see the death of this physical form approaching
that can be very beautiful too…
Let it push you into being present.

Just that.

I can remember that the last few years of my father’s life
he grew quieter and quieter at family functions.
I see him seated there at the head of our table.
Watching, smiling, sometimes somewhere else, and then back to offer a brief comment,
he was no longer the central presence, no longer “The Rock,” as we had called him.

I got a call from Peggy last night. She was in New York having just spent a one-day Thanksgiving upstate visiting her mother.
I could feel the tears brimming in her eyes as she described,
“Ninety-one. Her health is good. They do all these things… but, she’s turned inside.”
I said, “The actress no longer speaks to the back of the room.”
Nor does she pay her children all that much attention.
But, she has discovered Nature.
Now, she’ll stop to look closely at a bud and comment to her daughter, “I never knew!”

But, we all know, somewhere deep inside.
We know about the formless and the form, and the play between the two.

It’s just that
Being awake requires such a light touch.
Being awake requires letting the treasured dissolve away.

Monday, September 22, 2008

At a Loss

Enlightenment, in the end is nothing, more than the natural state of being…Natural of course means a state of being which is not contrived, a state of being which does not need effort or discipline to maintain, a state of being which is not being enhanced by any sort of manipulation of the mind or the body. In other words, a state of being that is completely natural and spontaneous.
Adyashanti, True Meditation, CD 1, track 4.

In true meditation we’re starting from the foundation of allowing everything to be as it is… In true meditation we’re not moving towards the natural state, or trying to create the natural state, we’re actually starting from the natural state… and that’s what I started to discover when I allowed everything to be as it is… the peace and the silence and the stillness I was trying to obtain was actually already there… and all I had to do was stop trying to attain it.
Adyashanti, True Meditation CD1, track 7.

Being in silence, at the retreat at the Garrison Institute with Adyashanti, was defined as: no talking, no whispering, no gestures, no passing of notes. We weren’t even supposed to read, or allowed to takes notes during satsang. Eye contact and smiling were fine, but we were not to necessarily expect any return of recognition.

I was quite comfortable with these restrictions. I found I didn’t even want to write – (though journaling was permitted.)
And I did write a single entry:

September 12th - At a Loss

Adya has effectively stripped away every to-do, every move of spiritual jujitsu that I am aware of.
There is nothing, no effort I can make to bring me enlightenment.
It has to come from Grace.
And so I find, I am at a total loss.

What am I to do?
Surely there must be something!

Well, alright then. How ‘bout this: the effortless-effort?
I will think of life as meditation.

We sit to meditate knowing that effort on our part is incorrect technique.
Meditation must be effortless.
Yet still, even in True Meditation, as we allow everything to be simply as it is… we do have obligations.
I set the intention that when I recognize that I have become absorbed in thinking I will return to the breath.
It’s this one responsibility that distinguishes meditation from just sitting there.
After that the mind just does it thing – which usually means a bunch of babble.
And I have seen, time and again, that such babble doesn’t really prevent settling down into the Silence.
In meditation we don’t go to war against our thoughts. They are simply there.

But Adya mentioned last night something quite remarkable to me.
He asked, “What brings us out of thoughts when we become absorbed by them?”
I have always assumed it was my intention (long forgotten) – some seed planted in my subconscious that will call me back.
But Adya called it Grace!
A small and delicate impulse, Grace awakens me to the fact that I have been lost in thoughts.

And so it seems with life.
The ego can not participate in its own demise.
About the only practice I can do throughout the day is Tolle’s being with the Now,
which is just another way of saying accepting things as they are.
Or, as the instructions go for meditation, it is “allowing things to be as they are.”

And so I wait for Grace in Life to intervene and take me home.
I wait for Life to carry me through Life.

Or as Maharishi said in his commentary of the Bhagavad Gita, “The Self unfolds itself, by Itself, to Itself.”

So ran my thoughts during the retreat.
Since then, I have had time for more reflection.
This whole discussion leads to interesting considerations as to the relationship between Grace and the subconscious.
It’s another doorway into what I’ve written about before: scientific evidence that our thoughts come from “somewhere deep inside.”
I always thought of this as simply the subconscious. But, it is also the depths of consciousness, and somewhere in that Ocean of Wholeness flows the current we call Grace.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The End of Retreat

Eddie's feather
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

The end of retreat is when the real retreat begins. When you go back to your ordinary life of work, family, and friends, this is where true spirituality begins.
This is where the spiritual rubber hits the road.

Whatever you may have realized about the truth of your own being will be called forth in life…in the way that you move through the world…
Adyashanti, the little card that was on our cushions the last time we met for satsang.

I got home later than expected Friday night. Eddie didn’t greet me at the door which didn’t surprise me as cats can be… well, you know.
Though, it was a bit unusual. Arising from his love of Annie, his black cocker compadre, for years Eddie tried to behave something like a dog.

It was not until I read the pet sitter’s note, that I started looking for him.
“Eddie stopped eating this morning and was yowling. If you weren’t coming home today, I would have checked again after midday,”

I found him in the back bedroom. He didn’t move for a long time as I talked to him.
But, he started purring. I tried to clean him up a bit, and the floor, and opened the windows for some fresh air. There had been the multiple disasters of bowel and stomach.
That was when hospice for Eddie began.
After 18 years together, he deserved the best.

I called Becky and left a message.
Eddie was the last surviving member of what was once the Butler-Bralley household.
When I moved to my new house Becky insisted on paying for a cat door. She called it “child support.”
We had found Eddie while canoeing in North Georgia. We’d just gotten our canoe loaded back on top of the car when there was this screeching.
I looked up searching for a hawk. But, the sky was empty. I was confused.
Then I saw this little kitten barreling up the dirt road, small lungs screeching like some great killer bird.
We scooped him up and took him to McDonalds for a hamburger. He ate it all, insisting on the pickle too. From the bit of blood on his hind leg and his fear of the ceiling fan in our kitchen, we invented the story that Eddie was the sole survivor of a litter dumped on the banks of the Etowah River – the rest had been devoured by the hawks.

Saturday morning, I called Mom from the backyard deck of my house.
I wanted to report a safe return and knew she’d love to hear all about the retreat. I was going through that story when I noticed small downy gray feathers falling from the sky. I’d never seen such a thing. They came right out of blue sky like snow.
I watched them drift down for several minutes, but kept on with the telling of my tale. Then, Eddie’s history with hawks came stunningly to mind.
I blurted out to Mom, “Eddie’s dying!”
The snow fall of feathers continued for a good fifteen minutes, until the deck was covered with feathers.

I figured a hawk must be devouring a bird in the oak branches overhead.
But, I didn’t see or hear a thing and I’ve never heard of such behavior in the red tail hawks around here, though I did see one swoop up a squirrel once.
After the phone call, I continued sitting in the silence.
Suddenly, dropping out from the oak, came a huge bird – I thought “great blue heron.” But, the herons around here don’t sit high up in oak trees. So I changed my answer to “must be a hawk.”
And I knew it as a sign.
Then, as the day was finishing there was another startling rupture right before my eyes. Hovering a moment, breast and wings ablaze with the light of the setting sun, was the great red tail hawk.
Then, in a flash he flew past me into the West and was gone.

I wondered, “What is going on? Eddie’s just cat.”

Sunday, the next day as if deliberately flaunting any doubts, feathers of the softest down still fell from time to time, as I sat with Eddie waiting.
Even after he lost his purr, he seemed to want me by his side. So, we did just that.

I watched my aversion and grief arise. And I watched the silence – in me, in Eddie, and in the trees around us.
Twice Eddie disappeared - escaped.
Twice I got a phone call from neighbors down the street and went to bring him home. Later, I realized he had dragged himself down to the house where Oliver, the young black cocker, lived.
I don’t think Eddie knew Oliver. But, you know cats… they never tell you everything.
And Eddie had once adored a black cocker, a long time ago, when the Butler-Bralley household was a family.

And I mulled over how very curious it was that on the morning Becky and I realized that we were no longer meant to be together, a great blue heron had flown right up our driveway. Startled from our analysis and heartbreak, we took it as a sign.
And, as if Creation nodded in agreement, minutes later a red tailed hawk flew in from the West and settled in the tree right outside our door,
his chest a blaze with the glory of the sunrise.

Now, it seemed as if these signs had come round one final time as our final child took his leave. And then, as now, the issue wasn't about love, but rather time. Our time was up.
I find it all so very strange and rather miraculous and beautiful beyond what I could design.

So, Eddie finally passed on Monday afternoon.
He was just a cat.
Just a cat that kind of stirred all of Creation.
Just a cat that came from the Silence and then emerged back into It.

And I am no longer so clear on just where Retreat ended and where it started.


Eddie asleep in sun
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
Fast Eddie Butler,
The Ed-Man,

1990 - September 15, 2008.
He was a good guy.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Seeker and Fear

Diving Within
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

We all have a deep longing and a Deep Fear of the discovery of what we are, and the mind devises any way it can to avoid this discovery.
The most effective way it (the mind) AVOIDS Awakening is to SEEK it.
Tony Parsons, The Open Secret

This Sunday I leave for a five-day silent retreat with Adyashanti.
I’ve been wondering if I’ll ask him a question.
And if I do, how can I word it?

Just now, I began it this way:
“I’m not sure if I have some strange metabolic state, some aberrant physiology that makes my daily consciousness seem strange, OR if I am ‘treading water on the void’.”
I then heard Adya say, “You know which it is.”
And tears broke into my eyes.
I do know.
I am treading water.

Some time ago, I gave a synopsis of Adya’s discussion with a woman who was also treading water.
She was using doubt, always doubting her experience, as a means of preventing herself from going deeper.

I am using fear. …Ok, and throw in a dose of doubting intellect and a dash of core issues regarding love.
But, for now let’s look at fear.

Fear in one form or another keeps coming up these days.
One version is intense anxiety. In the characteristic manner of painbody flare-ups, these attacks are way out of proportion to precipitating events.
The causes of my anxiety can almost elude my awareness and are simply the same daily pressures I have dealt with for years. But now, my reaction seems to fill every cell within me. Something obviously is going on.
So, it’s been easy, if quite uncomfortable, to simply focus on the physical sensations.

During these times of intense anxiety, I have some version of these words of Suzanne Segal running through my head:

Behind most spiritual practices is the belief that you have to get someplace you’re not- a destination called realization or enlightenment. But realization isn’t someplace else...

For example, when I described how much fear was present, people told me the fear meant that something must be wrong, because fear was an indication that I wasn’t in the proper state. But fear is just what it is, and it’s there too in the vastness of who we are.

And, just like that I can see the anxiety is on the level of something like a broken arm - I can feel it and it's no more a part of Me than, let's say, that chair. And then I try to see what IS me... and do not like the view. I do not like to even put the words to what I see. For, that is far too scary.

So, other times, there is simply down right fear.
For instance, recall awhile back I mentioned The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep? It’s been an interesting teaching and I was enjoying the book,
Until I came across these words:

The second way of understanding the practice is to realize that waking life is actually the same as dream,
that the entirety of normal experience is made up of the mind’s projections…
This is one way of articulating the realization that all phenomena are empty and that the apparent self-nature of beings and objects is illusory.
There is not an actual “thing” anywhere in waking life – just as in dream –
but only transient, essenceless appearances.
Arising and self-liberating in the empty, luminous base of existence.
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

This passage is now highlighted in yellow and in the margin you will find, scribbled in blue pen, “I hate this!”

I mean really, who wants such a vision?
Nothing is really real! Only temporary dreams rising and dissolving into emptiness!
(Yet, those trucks will flatten you.)
Sometimes, the paradox is so ludicrous I find it truly a cosmic joke and am filled with laughter.
But mostly, it makes me kind of cringe or leads to down right panic.

So, I have adopted a strategy. It consists of largely trying to ignore the vision, or quietly accepting it with a kind of periphery vision.
Either way, I consciously avoid looking at the situation all too carefully.
And if such behavior isn’t treading water, then I really don’t know what is.

In some version or another, this has been going of for years.
Years – Years! of suffering and drama to the point of near exhaustion and what a waste of life.
No not waste, it’s just the way I’m going about things.
But clearly, it is time for resolution.
And I have no idea of how to go about that.

Oh, I know the words comprising one answer or another.
Adya, has addressed it many times.
So have many others whom I do not even know, but I do enjoy their words:

One of the things I came to see is that Enlightenment only becomes available when it has been accepted that it cannot be achieved.
Doctrines, processes, and progressive paths which seek Enlightenment only exacerbate the problem they address by reinforcing the idea that the Self can find something that it presumes it has lost.

It is that very effort, that investment in self-identity, that continuously recreates the illusion of separation from oneness.
This is the veil that we believe exists.
It is the dream of individuality…

But your mind is frightened to let go and still has an idea that something special should happen…
Tony Parsons

Something special, yes. We all expect a bit of flash.
But, I think that in the end it just takes simple Grace.

...once again there was a pervasive silence and once again I waited for the onset of fear to break it up. But this time the fear never came. . . . Within, all was still, silent and motionless. In the stillness, I was not aware of the moment when the fear and tension of waiting had left. Still I continued to wait for a movement not of myself and when no movement came, I simply remained in a great stillness.
Bernadette Roberts

Have a nice week while I am gone. I will get back with you later.

PS - If you miss reading a post midweek, take the time to GO HERE and read an interview with Bernadette Roberts by Stephen Bodian. It's an old interview but rather remarkable, RE: The Void.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Fishing with Mystery

Coi smokin'
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
at some point in my life, fishing was a way of achieving a timelessness, especially fishing in rivers because rivers have a very timeless quality.
They're always flowing, flowing, flowing.
They're flowing down to the sea.
The clouds form, they float over the countryside, the rain falls, they fill up the ground, the springs…
The stream is kind of this immortal entity, at least in my mind…
and you kind of get swept up in this immortal cycle and kind of lose yourself.

Naming gives us the illusion that nature is fixed, but it is as fluid as the language used to describe it.
It is a challenge of the artist (if no one else) to un-name and re-name the world to remind us that fresh perspectives exist.
James Prosek

On Speaking of Faith last Sunday Krista Tippett interviewed artist, trout fisherman, and something of a mystic, James Prosek. I loved the show.
I’ve written before about the limitations of naming.
Prosek probably shares this critcism, but he arrives there from such a different path it’s well worth walking with him for awhile:

When I was four or five years old, I would draw birds at the kitchen table.
As I finished each piece I asked my mother to write the names of the birds beneath the pictures…Somehow a picture wasn’t finished if the animal’s name wasn’t there.

When I learned to write, I scrawled the common and scientific names of each creature beneath my drawings myself— by example of Audubon, or any others who made paintings in the natural-history tradition.
At nine I developed a passion for trout and began to compile a list of all the diverse types…

As I painted trout through my late teens, major shifts in trout taxonomy were taking place… I began to understand that species were less static than the fathers of modern taxonomy… once believed.

That nature was static and classifiable was an idea perpetuated by the natural history museum (repository for dead nature), the zoo (repository for living nature), and the book (repository for thoughts and images related to nature).
These mediums were all distillations of nature, what individuals of authority deemed an appropriate cross section to present to the public.
None had adequately represented Nature—at once chaotic, multifarious, and interconnected…

I was conflicted—I loved the names that had first led me to recognize the existence of diversity… but as I learned more I wanted to throw away the names, step beyond those constraints, in order to preserve a sense of wonder that I had felt from an early age.

Such thoughts were the origin of the curvilinear lines in my present work….
The first paintings I did with lines emanating from creatures were meant to be imaginings of what God’s or Nature’s blueprint of a particular creature might look like. … The lines activated the space around the animal in a satisfactory way, erasing the need for the name to be written beneath….

James Prosek, The Failure of Names

Such lines also bring to mind the Australian aboriginal Songlines.
During the Dreamtime, archetypal ancestral spirits are said to have wandered across the Earth creating and naming trees, rocks, waterholes, animals and other natural phenomena.
Their dreaming and journeying trails became the songlines, an intricate series of song cycles that identify landmarks and serve as subtle tracks for navigation.

To me, Songlines seem an earthly version of the energy channels and flowing Qi that one becomes aware of through meditation and an illustration of the Taoist emphasis of the connection between macrocosm and microcosm.
That Prosek seems to have discovered similar lines and meanings really delights me.

Click Here, if you’d like to see a “The Myth of Order,” a video of Prosek’s art accompanied by his own narration.
It’s well worth the three minutes –just be patience for Krista Tippett’s face to disappear.

Or, Click Here to see a tattooed Buddha – another artist’s vision of the energy channels?