Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Song of the Day, Today

This is the movement of the seeker, but it’s also the movement of the me because the me is always interested in opposite and equal reactions, trying to sustain one experience and avoid other experiences.
That’s what the me does.
It chases after the good and avoids the bad.
Adyashanti, Emptiness Dancing

Well actually, it was just the song on the radio this morning singing about Sugar.

…Which made me want to look up once again Adya’s comments on spiritual addiction:

A spiritual person can become addicted to spiritual highs and miss the experience of Truth…
There is no drug more potent than spiritual experience. The intellectual component of this addiction is the belief that if you just had enough of these experiences, you would feel great all the time….
Spiritual experiences often become like this, and the mind puts them into its familiar pattern, thinking, “If I had this experience all the time, that would be freedom.”…
That’s the mindset of an addict: “I got it and I lost it. I need it. I don’t have it.”
Once these high and low experiences have played themselves out for a long enough period of time, it starts to dawn on you that maybe the high spiritual experience is just a pendulum swing followed by a low experience. At some point, you may have an ordinary moment and get on to the fact that these pendulum swings are equal and opposite reactions. You realize it’s impossible to sustain one part of the pendulum swing because its nature is to move back and forth.
Adyashanti, Emptiness Dancing

…Which made me think of how Life has recently pushed my nose flat into reality.
“This is It.” Are you going to accept and embrace it?
Can you?
Should you?

Long story short - a friend commented yesterday (in an email from her work) that she wished she could go back on vacation. And I jokingly replied, “Vacation is now.”

I wish I could recall where I read that the great thing about travel and going to new places is that they wake you up. Your vision hasn’t gone to sleep.
You appreciate everything around you.

And on the radio today when Norah Jones started her song I flashed back to a quiet, sun-filled coffee house on an island off the coast of Maine. My companion and I were the only people there, save the owner who had spread her maritime navigation books upon the table and was deep in thought. The place seemed magical to us.  The moment is frozen in time.
And what about this morning's drive to work?
Can it be seen as any less vibrant (or mundane) than that coffee shop?

I may have posted this recently (if so, sorry), or it may have never escaped from the draft I put it in… and so, I’ll share these words:

Zen teachers don’t explain anything in an abstract way, which is both the beauty and the terror of it. My teacher’s way of explaining this would be to hold up his staff and say, “This is Buddha.” Then he would bang it on the ground, and everyone would think, “Wow! That’s really wild Zen stuff. I wish I knew what he was talking about.”
Then he would go—bang, bang, bang, bang—and he would say, “This is Zen. This is it!”
And everybody would react, “Oh wow!”
People would wonder, “What? Where?”
But nobody would say, “It couldn’t be that because that’s just beating a stick on the ground.”
Since it’s not all One to the mind, the mind keeps looking for it, “Where is it? What state is it?” Because the “me” references everything to its own emotional state, that’s what it uses to decide what is true.
It thinks that what is true is always a spiritually high emotional state, but this stick pounding is not a very spiritually high emotional state.
Then, to make it worse, to make it more horrifying, he would say, “This is a concrete description of the truth. This is Buddha.”

And this is what I’m beginning to get… as my nose is pushed down to the ground.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

When N = 1

blue egg & wisteria
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

An uncomfortable feeling is not an enemy.
It’s a gift that says, "Get honest; inquire.”

The world is nothing but my perception of it.
I see only through myself.
I hear only through the filter of my story.

Byron Katie.

Katie gives us lessons that we all can use, but today I want to approach them through the lens of cancer… and statistics.

When I revived after surgery, I asked my first question of my doctor and chemotherapist: "What is the best technical literature about mesothelioma?"
She replied, with a touch of diplomacy… that the medical literature contained nothing really worth reading…

The literature couldn't have been more brutally clear: mesothelioma is incurable, with a median mortality of only eight months after discovery.
I sat stunned for about fifteen minutes, then smiled and said to myself: so that's why they didn't give me anything to read.
Then my mind started to work …
Stephen Jay Gould, The Median Isn’t the Message

My niece, Eve, has had a recurrence of her cancer.
Since we got the news several weeks ago, all my spiritual learning seems to arise from that reality.
I have been questioning many of my beliefs with new urgency.

I have been reading the latest literature on Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stem cell transplants, curcumin, inflammation, macrophages, CD68...
I have been pushed to look deeper until there seems no difference between the spiritual and the totally pragmatic, nitty-gritty of “you bet your life.”

So much is shifting, I have been struggling to process all of it into a useful form.
I can only imagine how it’s been for Evie.
It doesn’t feel like I have been all that successful in my efforts to organize my thoughts and now, the easiest way of sharing seems to simply tell a story.

Ah stories, I love them. What else is there?
Byron Katie

So, here is one regarding N = 1:

My internist and I spent at least two years trying different medications for lowering my blood pressure. Then, I happened to get laid up in bed unable to eat. That got me off drinking coffee without even trying.
After that, I noticed that my blood pressure finally normalized.

I took a month’s worth of the numbers to my doctor.
Yes. Caffeine seemed to be the culprit.
We were happy for a moment, and then he said, (I guess because he knows I do research)
“N equals one.” … in short, my experience didn’t prove a thing to him.
It took a few hours before the stupidity of his comment really began to sink in.

Well, Hell!
N did equal 1, but when that One refers to me, that’s all I need to know!

Suddenly, I realized that my doctor and I had different interests, maybe even conflicting interests.
He wants to know what will work in general for the whole panoply of patients that cross his threshold.
Meanwhile, I want to know what will work for me.
And now I see, the same holds true for cancer patients.

What does "median mortality of eight months" signify in our vernacular?
I suspect that most people…would read such a statement as "I will probably be dead in eight months" - the very conclusion that must be avoided, since it isn't so, and since attitude matters so much.

Stephen Jay Gould

In his essay Dr. Gould explains his rationale as a scientist who knows statistics.
And I wish all cancer patients could know his story.
He didn’t swallow the statistics naively.
He interpreted them with an eye to N = 1 and in a scientific manner.
He lived for twenty years after his diagnosis with his mind clear, at least on this point.

He lived to tell his story.

Which kind of brings me back to Byron Katie.
She likes to begin spiritual inquiry with two questions regarding the thoughts we think:
Is it true?
Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

Ask yourself these questions and you’ll soon discover that usually the answer is either “No” or “I don’t know.”

For instance with Hodgkin’s statistics, by the time my head allows for four different forms of the disease, four stages, two sexes, a bimodal distribution in age, bulky or non-bulky, treated with these drug or those drugs, that number of cycles, radiation or no radiation, I have no idea how many in the study are actually closely matched to Eve.

So, what do these statistics really say to me, the N = 1 that really matters?
I don’t know.
The doctors don’t know.
NO one really knows.

The door to God is the insecurity of Not Knowing anything,
Bear the grace of that insecurity, and all wisdom will be yours…

Adyashanti, Emptiness Dancing

Not knowing isn’t an easy place to be. It can be quite uncomfortable.
But it is an honest place.
And it is as good a place as any to rest and to take the next step forward.

How do you get back to heaven?
To begin with, just notice the thoughts that take you away from it.
You don't have to believe everything your thoughts tell you.
Just become familiar with the particular thoughts you use
to deprive yourself of happiness.
It may seem strange at first to get to know yourself in this way,
but becoming familiar with your stressful thoughts
will show you the way home to everything you need
Byron Katie

Enjoy Gould’s essay and grow strong.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy July 4th

Me 1956 b
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

Enlightenment happens when it is perceived that the notions of “non-existence” or “void” or “emptiness” are indeed futile and empty.
Such notions are merely the indications or pointers that the end of the intellectual road has been reached.
Appreception happens the moment the seeker turns around and finds that he is already at the destination.
He is home.

Ramesh Balsekar, The Final Truth

I found a copy of The Final Truth yesterday while cleaning out my mother’s house.
This morning as I perused it, I came across these words.
And something began to click.
Perhaps it was because I had just read and was seeing my way through these words:

Whatever is conceived as the “void” or nothingness cannot be an object at all.
It is what the perceiver of it is.
It cannot be seen either to exist or not exist, for it cannot be seen at all!
What really happens is that the perceiver at this junction is trying to look at what he is after having reached a sort of dead-end.

Having been at this dead-end many times it seems quite familiar now, and I do make it into an image… then I had the thought, “my” thought, not Balsekar’s:

There is nothing I can do, because there’s nothing to do.

I was thinking about all the teachings that point out that all the ego’s attempts to transcend itself are logically impossible and thus requirea moment’s Grace to sweep one away.
But, I’d never really seen it being impossible because there is nowhere to go, nothing to do.
You’re there. You’re home, having “turned around” (which is ridiculously easy) …

I read:
What should really happen now is that the perceiver should turn around and wake up to the truth that he is face to face with his own nature.
The void of the dead-end is precisely what the eye sees when it attempts to look at itself.

And I thought about when I was five and wondering, “What was it like before I was born?”
(Never doubting my immortality, the question had arisen because I had suddenly been gripped by a fear that being dead for eternity would be boring.)
Trying to recall my existence before birth, I saw a vast, dark emptiness. Nothing! And too, no boredom!
I stopped worrying and finished my task of returning the milk to the refrigerator.

And I shall probably spend the rest of my life obfuscating the point I saw clearly when five years old.

This may be why the old Zen masters sometimes simply pound the stick upon the ground and shout, “This is It!” ... What's it take to wake you up?

There’s nothing I can do, because there is nothing to do… and still, there is a path we have to walk. Such a delicate, delicate, beautiful, paradox.

Happy Independence Day!