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?

Monday, September 01, 2008

More on Dissolving Knots

Marigold in Water
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

The water method of Taoism is initially strong on the dissolving, or the breaking up of energy in the same way that water wears away a rock.
If you throw sugar inside of water, after a while it breaks the sugar down.
The water completely emulsifies it.
B.K. Frantzis

Well, just like that “Bruce Lee” did bring a visitor who left a comment on my last post.
Actually, he is a fan of B.K. Frantzis and he mentioned a nice link to a more detailed explanation of “dissolving.”
I want to share that here in a more up-front manner, as I think my Taoists friends will find it interesting.

These words by B.K. Frantzis touch on several things that interest me.
I've mentioned that my Taoist practice aims at creating “good human beings.”
Seems to me a lot of this transformation involves “dissolving” those “hot button issues” we all carrying inside our psychologies.
Adya also mentioned that he finds most students could benefit from psychotherapy either before or after awakening.
However, Frantzis seems to be saying meditation doesn’t work on the level that psychotherapy does. ... Or maybe "level" leads to mispintrepretation, and it'd be better to say the "methods" aren't equivalent. Here is exactly what he says:

Frequently I am asked if this method of Taoist meditation can replace the need for psychotherapy. Generally speaking, no. In modern life, you have to make a living and interact with other people. You can't withdraw to a monastery or ashram where all your needs are taken care of while you work through your problems…

Psychotherapy is more appropriate for dealing with the dysfunctionalities of a level of emotional development where taking full responsibility for one's emotions is not yet within an individual's capacity.

In Taoist meditation a worthy student was one whose emotional suppressions were such that the individual could feel that what was emotionally arising within themselves was essentially their own responsibility and not being caused by something outside themselves. …

Ahh! Actually, this is exactly the ability I developed through my Taoist practice.
I’ve learned to sit alone or with a group letting loose powerful emotions deep inside and when told to take a bow and stop meditating, I can quietly do that too.

Clearly there are different methods within Taoism.

Perhaps, we could say I have now become a “worthy student” having recovered from the great dissolving initiated by that awakening I had in 1975. Within a year that awakening had blossomed into a full spiritual emergency rather than emergence. The knots were not dissolving but were unwinding like supercoiled rubberbands generating so much heat that I was essentially fried.

Frantzis clearly describes working with the dissolving I spoke about last time, and he takes the consequences in an interesting direction:

All of these basic lower emotions are dealt with by first ferreting them out of where their energy is embedded in the actual tissue of the body; secondly by actually going into the energy channels of the body where they are located; and finally dissolving them all the way inside the system.

Then you start to literally transform these emotions as they extend outside of your physical body. Your own personal field has the ability literally extend to the end of the Universe.

If you do not clear out your own energy fields beyond the body, then all energies coming in from an external environment activate the unresolved energies in your own personal Qi. This causes you to be somewhat manipulated like a puppet by the energy emanating from the huge Qi fields of the stars. This creates a pattern that comes back in. That is what astrology is based on.…

Whoa! Astrology. Or why we can feel the feng shui of life.
And then Frantzis takes us back into the physical realm and very practical concerns as to “What does this mean for Me?” He shows me why meditators can sometimes become plagued with physical challenges, and why we should remain open to and respectful of paths that others tread.

When you start reaching into the emotions it is important you start tapping directly into the glandular system, as well as into your internal organs.

There are so many techniques it depends upon which ones are appropriate for a particular type of person or a certain situation. I am not going to get down and just talk about this technique or that technique. That is like a cookbook approach and the fact is that human beings don't quite work that way.
B.K. Frantzis

Not exactly my path, but Frantzis is well worth reading. In fact, here’s one final link that explains even better the process of dissolving those inner knots via the Water method of Taoism.

Namaste and Enjoy.