Thursday, September 15, 2011

Drop That

Canvas F by Seeking Tao
Canvas F, a photo by Seeking Tao on Flickr.
Do not mistake understanding for realization, and do not mistake realization for liberation.
Tibetan Saying

I mentioned yesterday that "I am suspicious" - that what I experience may be what Maharishi called Cosmic consciousness and God consciousness. I wanted to just leave a note on how that suspicion arose. I also want to emphasize, this is just a suspicion. Something to consider, a possibility to inquire into. So, here’s how the suspicion arose.

My friend, whom I call my little spiritual irritant because just about anything she says seems to have this way of irritating me, sent me a quote. We have been at this for two years now, and I am finally looking at these little irritations as marvelous invitations to explore where some misconception has velcroed onto spaciousness.

So, my friend sent me this quote. She actually thought I’d like it:
I am pleased enough with the surfaces - in fact they alone seem to me to be of much importance. Such things for example as the grasp of a child's hand in your own, the flavor of an apple… the abrasion of granite and sand, the plunge of clear water into a pool, the face of the wind - what else is there?
What else do we need?

Edward Albee

Well, I really took issue with the phrase, What else is there?
What else is there? … there’s the infinity of pure being!
The absolute never changing seemed to get ignored with this concentration on the surfaces of the ever changing, and I found that really irritating.
So, I offered back quotes of Andrew Wyeth:
Most people come to my work through the realism and then discover the abstractness.
A sea shell lying on the sand is frozen in time, eternal.

I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show.

She smiled at the thought of irritating me and explained:
I find those details to BE the essence of the abstract, at every moment, in each precious sensation or experience or whatever.

I didn’t find that explanation helpful to my irritation. But, I read it over several times, slowly, trying to get what she was saying…
details are the essence of the abstract…
the essence of the abstract… is the details

Bam, it hit me. That is a statement from the point of view of Unity, Oneness.
The understanding immediately brought back a saying we’d previously argued over:
The world is illusion.
Brahman alone is real.
The world is Brahman.

My friend speaks from the perspective of that last line: The world is Brahman.
And I am sitting there trying to get her to agree that Brahman alone is real.
I was arguing from the perspective of duality – of Cosmic consciousness and God consciousness.
My next thought was, “Wow! Why do that? Drop that!”
Shortly after that, I realized I was taking my position because that is what I know. It's no theory.
I stagger through this world of illusion day after day, taxing my body, trying to ignore this “radical duality” between Brahman and the world.

Then there was a quiet "hummmm". And the suspicion arose. Is that’s what’s going on here?
This might be what's called Cosmic consciousness and God consciousness.
That was rather surprising.
And, upon this suspicion another thought rose.
Perhaps, I should consider Unity. To that point I'd no idea what Unity might feel like on an experiential level.  What if I looked...
It’s almost as if by simply allowing “perhaps the time is ripe,” actually permitted experience to shift.
Now, as I re-read this, I can only think, "Thick as a brick!"  How'd I miss this?  And so simple! Drop one belief and everything shifts on its own...

So, this Sunday I leave for a week’s retreat with Adyashanti. Last year I asked him about being stuck in the witness and he told me I’d have to discover for myself how to “witness from your heart.” I had NO IDEA what that meant. He said it was something like that Catholic image of ripping open the flaming heart of Jesus. I knew the image, but it was no help.

However, from the moment of the thought, “Drop that!” something shifted. First, the witnessing became quite intense. An abstract infinity seemed intent upon pouring down into my head. It obviously needed to work its way throughout my body. And that wasn’t happening. I ended up missing a fair amount of work and sleeping 12 hours a day as my body tried to adjust. The strain seemed to throw me into vertigous migraines.

Something also seemed to happen with my heart. I began to see deeply into the simplest moments: a freshman wandering the halls looking at science posters, an old woman walking up the street … noticing could reduce me to tears by the beauty that was revealed. I began to notice how things are one, as direct experience.

Last weekend, I went to a workshop with my Taoist Teacher. My silent request was for the energy imbalances of my physical body be soothed. Energy work is a Taoist forte and they didn’t let me down. In essence, my heart was ripped open in a meditation. I discovered that sacred flaming heart… words do not suffice, and the classic image is right on. With that opening the infinity stuck around my head descended into heart and from there belly.  There's physical comfort now.

So, that’s the note. I’m not sure that any of this matters. But, oddly, just as I was convinced there’s no point in this blog, several people wrote and said “thank you.” So, oh well. Here’s a note. And maybe this is the best way to end for now:
Anyone who has “seen the nature” is unlikely to claim to be an enlightened person, even when a master has confirmed the experience; he or she simply knows what a glimpse of enlightenment entails. Indeed, anyone claiming to be enlightened is probably acting erroneously from an inflated ego, which a teacher has been unable to contain. Simple humility alone will normally prevent any such claim.
Sheng-yen, Illuminating Silence: the practice of Chinese Zen

I know times change. But, this rings true to me. I like it very much.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Staying True to Your Own Experience: One Step

Carousel Monet by Seeking Tao
Carousel Monet, a photo by Seeking Tao on Flickr.
The psychological ‘I-concept’ has no nature of its own, is no ‘thing’, and could not possibly create genuine ‘bondage’. There cannot be any such thing as bondage at all, but only the idea of such. There is no liberation, for there is no thing from which to be freed. If the whole conceptual structure is seen as what it is, it must necessarily collapse, and the bondage-enlightenment nonsense with it. That is called Awakening, awakening to the natural state which is that of every sentient being.
Wei Wu Wei

I have been spinning round and round for some time now trying to answer the question, “Am I awake?” And I haven’t been able to decide.
This seems ridiculous to me, as I had assumed it must be very self evident.
But, for months and months now there’s been this internal debate running in a circle.
Just when I think, “ Yes. I’m awake.” … doubt creeps in…. “No. Look at that.”

However, there has been this kind of slow slide, until at some point a couple weeks ago I had the thought, “I have the suspicion that this is Cosmic Consciousness and God Consciousness.” (see definitions below if needed)

It was a strange thought to me.
First, it seemed rather disappointing. “This is it!?” Not what I’d expected!
Secondly, it seemed strange that I could now have a strong suspicion, and yet still really resist making any claim. Declaring anything just felt/feels all wrong., not ture.

Still, over time it seemed at least the suspicion has a solidity that seems genuine. It has an integrity that isn’t going to slip away.
So, I was going over all this in my head to a friend with whom I argue over expressions of awakening. My friend is clear: She is awake and she is liberated, "free".
Then, in my head there was the thought, “I have a suspicion that this may be CC or GC. But still, I cannot say that I am free.”

I cannot say that I am free.
I heard those words and came to a full stop. I thought them very strange.

I cannot say that I am free.
It was utterly nonsensical to me. Why?

What does it mean to be free?
I had no idea!
I realized that desiring to “be free” wouldn’t even cross my mind if my friend hadn’t dropped the phrase in there. That was part of the strangeness. What was that desire about?

What is there to be free from?
I had no idea! Absolutely clueless…
I looked around my backyard, at the trees, the sky, the dancing of the leaves. I looked inside myself… I looked outside my body…

I could not find anything to be free from…
And that was when I realized why I would never say, “I’m free.”
There’s nothing to be free from.
There is only One. There is not Two.
It all rests within myself. Inside, Outside: there is only One.
And Momma, there is no “free from.”
The issue cannot even come up. And that's why is made no sense.

Oh! Well, that sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it.
But, I never saw it coming.
I was stunned by my own innocence. (I've heard all the phrases ad nauseum)

But, all I saw was what I couldn’t say.
And I had to laugh. It all felt a bit back-asswards.
But, how else would a Bralley do it? I am a bull and not a ballerina.

Doctrines, scriptures, sutras, essays, are not to be regarded as systems to be followed. They merely contribute to understanding. They should be for us a source of stimulation, and nothing more... Adopted [as a belief], rather than used as a stimulus, they are a hindrance.
Wei Wu Wei

I'd like to post this here by way of a thank you to the friends who take the time to talk.  We may not agree.  But, if we use the words of wisdom as a stimulus, the results can be a spontaneous and innocent inquiry.
And a moment’s realization... still not making any claims.  And I am sure my friend understands, completely.
End Note.  Maharishi Mahesh Yogi described three levels of enlightenment or knowledge of the Self:
Cosmic consciousness so named because it is all inclusive—it simultaneously includes transcendental consciousness along with waking, dreaming, and sleeping. Adyashanti has described this as “radical duality” as the witness so strongly sees the world as illusion and the Self as Reality.

God consciousness is cosmic consciousness coexisting with the development of refined sensory perception such that perception and feelings reach their most sublime level. On a practical level, people feel an incredible expansion of the heart. In practice, the heart is crying “No!” to the duality described above.

Unity consciousness occurs as one experiences Being, the substance of transcendental consciousness, or pure awareness, as the basis of and permeating all aspects of life: everything is perceived as nothing but expressions of Being. Even though the diversity of life is still appreciated, what dominates is the experience that all aspects of life, are nothing but the self-interacting dynamics of pure consciousness.

Monday, September 12, 2011

listening at dawn by Seeking Tao
Be soft in your practice. Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall. Follow the stream, have faith in its course. It will go its own way, meandering here, trickling there. It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices. Just follow it. Never let it out of your sight. It will take you.

I’m going off to practice for awhile.
This seems a nice thought to share upon parting.
Oddly, perhaps, Sheng-yen was a Zen Master cultivated amidst the classic rigors… and then he leaves us with these words: Be soft in your practice.
Perhaps softness allows better for the living of paradox.
Perhaps softness allows better for simple stopping, the simple dropping.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Memes and the Tortoise and the Hare

Petri Plate 4 by Seeking Tao
Petri Plate 4, a photo by Seeking Tao on Flickr.
A meme is an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures…It was coined by the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976).

Here are some points I have been thinking about:
1)   Spiritual Paths seem to change with time. Advaita now has neo-advaita. This causes arguments.
Some say you can become enlightened in about 30 minutes and “I’m done.” Some say it can take a life time and always opens up to greater depths. This argument is getting very nasty in some places. (Curiously, what doesn’t change is the presence of fundamentalism: rigidity and the willingness to destroy in the name of Truth.)
2)   We used to think that enlightenment changed the personality into that of a saint. Now, there’s clearly a distinction. It’s been put this way for clarity: Saints are those who display the ideals human behavior. Sages are those who have realized the true nature of the Self. This dichotomy began with Eastern teachers’ sex and money scandals. The behavioral license seems to have been cut loose path direct path emphasis of no-self. There’s no one to be a jerk. Jerkiness just happens, while no-me is free.
3)   Spiritual paths aka “how we spiritually evolve” are memes. Thus, we can expect “the teachings” to follow the laws of genetics: to change and mutate into new and fitter forms with time.
4)   The ability to evolve itself evolves. Thus, if you wanted to graph the speed of evolution, at some point you’d expect it to go parabolic.

Point Four comes strictly from concerns of molecular geneticists (of which or whom I’m one).
The ability to evolve, or “evolvability”, seemed really obvious to me the first time I heard the phrase. It’s not just that everything else in Creation evolves, so why not the ability to evolve… but there seemed to be the whole specific history of genetics revealing that Life (genes) invent new mechanisms to evolve at every major evolutionary transition.

So, when I hear that many people are awakening by directly inquiring into no-self, I cannot dismiss the possibility that awakening can be quicker now than in the past.
If spiritual paths are meant to evolve our consciousness,
If a shift in consciousness is the only means a person has to escape suffering,
If a shift in consciousness is the only hope our species has for survival,
If the ability to evolve evolves –
HEY! I should be hoping and expecting enlightenment to take less time.

That said, scientists NEVER think things are that simple. Turns out, they have only recently completed an experiment that demonstrates evolvability. I find the details illuminating:

A long-term evolution experiment on E. coli has been running for more than 50,000 generations. Two beneficial mutations arose in some strains prior to the passage of the first 500 generations. The researchers dubbed the strains that carried these mutations at 500 generations the eventual winners (EW) and those lacking the mutations the eventual losers (EL).

Surprise #1:  The fitness of EW and EL was compared. Both strains EW and EL had significantly higher fitness than the ancestral strain. But early on, the EL appeared fitter than the EW. The EW strains were at such a disadvantage that if these strains had not accumulated additional mutations, they would have gone extinct in just 350 more generations.

Surprise #2:  But, over time the EW acquired more beneficial mutations than the EL. These “later date” mutations enabled the EW to overcome their fitness disadvantage. In other words, the EW during their period of lesser fitness actually possessed a greater evolvability than the EL. You could see this difference in evolvability intially.  That's not so surpising.  The influence of genes isn't always obvious on the surface.

This saga of the bacteria reminds me of the tortoise and the hare.
The hare could get there quickly, but he had an arrogance that laid the ground for his ultimate defeat.
The tortoise in his own slow careful manner got there in the end.

These bacteria also make me wonder if perhaps the same thing isn’t happening with the memes of our spiritual teachings?
Direct path is great! Bam, you’re there: No-self. “I’m done.”
But, maybe, that leads to something of a dead-end evolutionarily (aka, eventual losers).
Meanwhile, some poor schlep of an Advaitan tortoise actually sits and meditates for 10 years, 20 years.
When he awakens, sometimes there may be no-self and sometimes there is an ego that could stand a little therapy and responsibility for that is taken.
And so change continues. Insights go deeper. Curiosity is maintained.
Maybe this is the EW, the deeply embodied enlightenment because the ability to evolve, evolvability is alive and well.  (for a different way of saying this, BATGAP has a really nice interview with Adyashanti regarding keeping a teaching fresh)

Does the world need more sages or more saints?
Does spiritual bypassing ever really work?
Does throwing a bomb for peace bring an end to war?

The other day I offered this quote, perhaps it’s again a good way to end:
Practice begins with enlightenment.
Suzuki Roshi

It's Not Your Life

Grandma  by Seeking Tao
Grandma , a photo by Seeking Tao on Flickr.
It's Not Your Life
It's not your life you said
And I remember exactly where we were
Not the time of year
Or even the weather
But the place on the levee
With the river on the right
As we walked back
And the rusty pump
Down the bank
Among the rocks
And the kingfisher
Cackling in the cottonwoods

And you were fierce
The way you said it
Not detached and indifferent
Like the night before in Forestville
But frustrated almost
Wanting me to get it
Urging me to catch up
So we can play together
On the same court

And I felt so ashamed
For complaining
For having the selfishness
To claim this series of events
As my own
To doubt the authorship
Of this particular short story
And the meanness
To question
The hand I was dealt
When it was not even mine
And I knew it

But mainly I was ashamed
For showing you my ugliness
For letting you see
My limbs bleeding with the pain
Of not getting it

But we played big stick with Honey
And walked on
Back to the car
Between the vineyards
Watching the evening settle over Healdsburg
And slowly my life became a memory
A series of shots
Like this one
With no place left to ask the question
Then whose life is it

For it's not that it's not my life
Over the hills and down the river
Houses friends and harpsichords
Whose life could it be
But mine
No we're not disputing that…

What we're saying
Back at the car now
Honey climbing in
Doors closing
Click of seat belts
Engine starting
The sudden contentment
Of nothing left to talk about
Is that
This simple crunch
Of tires on gravel
This hum of happiness
This wet dog smell
Is life
But unaddressed
        Tony Kendrew

I wanted to post this poem so I wouldn’t lose it. It seemed so perfect that I couldn’t bring myself to read another word. So, I can’t say I know Kendrew’s work. But, I discovered him through Pamela Wilson’s site.

If you don’t recognize what Kendrew is talking about, count yourself lucky.
If you do, count yourself as blessed.