Tag Archives: meditation

Unexpectedly Awake

 

One morning about 20 years ago, I was standing in front of my bedroom closet, looking for what to wear to work.  I’d just gotten out of the shower, and I was trying to decide what to wear to work.

Nothing in my life was going the way I wanted it to, I was deeply dissatisfied with just about everything around me, and I couldn’t see a way out of any of it. Not immediately, anyway.

I had a job I didn’t like, doing work that didn’t suit me, at a company I resented. I wasn’t making nearly enough money to support my household, but the economy was unfavorable, and I didn’t feel I had the skills or the time or the energy to go out and find another job.

I didn’t like any of my clothing. It was all frumpy and boring and not very attractive. It didn’t suit me at all.

I didn’t like the apartment where I lived. It was cheaply constructed of flimsy materials, the refrigerator kept icing up, my landlord was a hard-ass, my neighbors were loud, and it was too small for my family.

I had money problems. I was deeply in debt, my credit rating was abysmal, I could never seem to get ahead, and the expenses just kept piling up. My partner and I had lost one of our beloved cats while living in that apartment, because we didn’t have the money to get her the necessary medical treatment when she needed it.

My marriage was under intense stress, too. My partner was usually angry with me, we were fairly estranged, and we couldn’t seem to overcome our differences. Many of our problems were related to money and social isolation, and those problems didn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

Everything around me seemed to be falling to pieces. My car had nearly been repossessed, and it wasn’t even worth the $400 I paid the repo man to keep it from being towed away. We had nearly been evicted from this apartment for a check that bounced, and there was never enough money to do anything we wanted — or even needed — to do. My partner was not able to get adequate medical and dental care, and she had a lot of physical ailments that had been problematic for some time. I couldn’t see my way out of the mess we were in, and any kind of positive change seemed miles away. I was operating in a constant state of low-level desperation, just trying to keep a few steps ahead of what seemed like total disaster.

I meditated regularly, and I often did feel bliss when I was deep in my meditative state. It was the one refuge I had in the midst of all the craziness around me. But the real world with its aggravations was always waiting for me when I “got back.” Frankly, it often just pissed me off, and I regretted sitting at all.

By no means was I in a mental, emotional or spiritual space that prepared me for what happened that morning.

As I stared resentfully into my clothes closet, suddenly I was suffused with a Light and a Knowing that I cannot fully describe. In an instant, the dresses and shirts and pants hanging in front of me blurred and melted away, and I felt all the world around me blend into one continuous, uninterrupted whole. The heavens above seemed to open up, and I saw the dark and luminous universe filled with pinpoints of starlight cascade down towards me. I also felt myself opening up to it, melting into the celestial heavens above — and from above and below we merged as one. There was no “them,” there was no “me,” there was no separation, there was no differentiation. There was nothing but the Truth that I was One with All.

In an instant, everything was revealed as Right and in Divine Perfect Order. Everything was Whole. Everything was intimately meshed with All That Is, and I was smack-dab in the middle of it. There were no clothes on hangers in the closet in front of me, no fabrics, no shirts or pants or shoes. There was no job, no apartment, no schedule, no bedroom, no indoors, no outdoors. There was no separation, no differentiation, no distinction at that instant.

There was only Wholeness. Completeness. The Knowledge that All Is Well and Everything Is In Its Right and Proper Place.

At that moment, I knew — beyond a shadow of a doubt — I was ONE with All. I was One with my crappy, demeaning job, I was One with my unattractive wardrobe, I was One with my nearly-estranged partner, I was One with my rusty, dilapidated car, I was One with my run-down apartment. All was One. I wasn’t just right in the middle of it — IT simply WAS. And everything — without exception — was in Perfect Divine Order.

I froze for a few moments, transfixed by the realization. I said nothing. I had no words for what I was experiencing. I could not move. I could not speak. All I could do was simply stand there, staring at my clothes, feeling the expansiveness grow and swim within me. I felt my cells come to life, pulsing with light that unfolded to the stars… into the earth… melting and melding into the flowing vital essence that permeated everything in that room, all my atoms mixing and blending with the atoms of every created thing on this plane and all others. The universe in all its immensity expanded around me, then made itself known in my heart. In that moment, it felt as though years, even lifetimes, of blame and fault and error were wiped clean and made completely new. Everything that was or had ever been “wrong” in my life, no longer mattered. Not in the least.

It wasn’t the first time that sort of experience had ever happened to me — but it was the first time it had been that intense. It would also not be the last — though I haven’t yet had another experience of that magnitude.

For years after that, I would frequently get surges of bliss, first thing in the morning after I got out of the shower, while I was standing in front of my clothes closet, thinking about what to wear. It seems an unlikely time and circumstance to receive an incredible reminder of the truth about the my place in the universe would pulse through me, enlivening my cells and thrilling my entire being with an exhilaration that still to this day amazes me … but I’ll take it.

Nothing about my experience of life has been the same, since that moment. Now two decades past, it still seems like yesterday. My entire world view changed “in the twinkling of an eye,” as they say. I’ve tried to describe this experience many times in many pages of writing, but it hasn’t been easy — it’s difficult to describe in words something so experiential.

Words cannot do that experience justice.

Ever since that day, I sense no real separation between this person I call “myself” and others. I sense no division between religions or faiths. My life has since been marked by a combination of earthbound disorientation, divine indifference, lack of attachment, unconditional acceptance, intimately indescribable connection to All, moral weightlessness, peace that passeth understanding, and a sense of Love that is unparalleled by any human interaction I’ve ever had. It is both personal and impersonal, transmuting and transfiguring my life, yet wholly transcending it.

It has taken me many years to come to terms with it, to get past the isolation and frustration of watching others behave as though there were only separation, devoting their lives to conflict and self-serving, hurting themselves far more than they could ever hurt another. It’s not easy, walking into a room and getting the distinct impression that you’re the only one who realizes you know everyone who’s there — and you’re the only one who really wants to. Our world as we know it thrives on separation and artificial gravitas, judgment and games, and even those who profess to enlightenment invest an awful lot of time in dividing and conquering.

Knowing what I came to know in that moment — and many moments after that — sets you apart in ways that are all but impossible to describe with words. And yet, it joins you… incorporates you… involves you… implicates you… in every single aspect of life that you experience as Completely Wrong. When you become One with All, you truly become ONE with ALL.

And it’s taken decades for me to be able to put that into words. Even so, it doesn’t feel like I can.

In the end, though, after all the words fail, the experience defies describing, the separation and the unity blend into an impossible spaghetti ball of complement and contradition… all I really need to know is…

there is Love.

 

 

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No Buddhists, only Buddha

The first Buddha whom modern Buddhism is based on was a regular human being. He searched and searched for the answers. Then he sat.

And he awoke.

My question is: If he was a normal human being, and he awoke by sitting, why do we think we need to do any differently?

And if he got where he was going — which is where so many of us want to go — by not searching, by not chasing, just by stopping and paying attention… why do we search and chase after what teachers promise to teach us, in hopes of getting what he got?

Why do we search and chase after what he said and did and taught?

At all?

If we human beings awake — truly awake — by cutting out interruptions and distractions and having regular direct contact with All That Is, why would we even bother with the teachers, the scriptures, the teachings, the dogmas, the discussions, the critiques… ?

If we awaken by listening to our own hearts… why ask another to tell us what is in our heart? Shouldn’t we develop that listening skill ourselves?

If we awaken by being present with What Is, right in front of us, here and now… why spend our too limited time looking for someone who will direct our attention to what that may be? Shouldn’t we get in the habit of getting real and just being honest with ourselves?

Why not just pay attention to what truly works, and what doesn’t, and then try again next time?

If we awaken by having direct contact with that which is around us… why would we for a moment spend what little precious time that we have, re-routing our attention away from our direct experience… over to a teacher… and then back to our experience?

We are so often deluded, that’s for sure. And we tend to need help, sorting things out.

But it seems to me that good energy, active direct experience, and a sincere willingness and diligence about awakening would be no less of a path than studying and following the teachings of other human beings who seem to think (or at least have been told) they’ve got it all sorted out.

The path of Living What Truly Is, without dogmas, without trappings, without theories, is just different from the established path.

But it’s still good.

The two-fold path

 

I’m sure plenty of other people have written, thought, talked, and meditated about this in the past, but it occurred to me the other day after a “sit”.

Essentially, I am on a two-fold path — the path of DOing, and the path of BEing.

The two paths do not diverge for me

Many other people have different definitions of “The two-fold path”. This is mine:

1. DOing – The path of being active and engaged in all the details of my life.

2. BEing – The path of knowing just who I am and what I am.

It’s been my experience that sitting and meditation are often associated with the BEing part of things.

We sit in order to realize the truth of our nature.

We sit in order to BEcome enlightened, awakened, or just less prone to suffering.

It seems a bit passive, and that’s not always helpful for me.

Reading Shosan, I am struck by the strong DOing aspect of his version of zen. Nio Zen. The zen of the fierce guardians, the protectors, the DO-ers at the temple gates, who vanquish evil spirits.

He exhorts his students — everyone, really — to cultivate their ki, to have buoyant spirits, and to approach their practice with a vengeful spirit. At least, that’s what comes through to me, after centuries of space between us, and who knows how many translations and re-interpretations…

To BE the energy of the Nio, and to DO your work with that energy.

This seems to combine a BEing with a DOing, and it appeals to me very much.

I like it, so I do it.

My sit today was very much about staying focused, staying alert, being “on point” and holding my attention and my posture firmly in position. A few times I slacked — that happens.

Then I came back to where I wanted to be.

These things take time. They take practice. If I didn’t need to practice, I probably wouldn’t be doing it in the first place 😉

So, I do it.

BEing.

DOing.

And as I write this, I am keenly aware of my posture, my focus, and the encouragement of Shosan to practice in any circumstances, especially difficult ones… to stay engaged in life and incorporate zazen into one’s daily activities, no matter how pedestrian they may seem.

So BEing supports DOing.

And vice-versa.

Which is good.

 

 

 

What never leaves

I used to sit anywhere, anytime I needed to. Especially at work.

balance-stones

Still…

Then life happened, and I drifted away from that practice. Some really tough situations showed up in my life that shook my faith to the core.

Someone close to me died.

Someone even closer to me nearly died.

Family connections frayed and snapped.

Friends both turned on me and disappeared from my life.

The company I worked for underwent radical restructuring, and I “moved on to other opportunities,” changing jobs every year or so for a number of years.

When I left that stable job, my sitting practice — in meetings and in my personal life — stayed behind. As did my faith. As did my willingness to trust again. All the peace I had found before… well, it simply evaporated, and I went into the kind of survival mode that scoffs at any kind of spiritual practice.

180 degree turn. In a completely different direction.

It’s taken me years to get back to it… in an ongoing process of fits and starts, of beginning and interrupting, and really questioning if this is what I want, if it’s what I want to be doing, and if I actually have what it takes to sustain a regular practice.

I’m back now. At least for today. And I can’t help wondering — just about every time I sit, or think about sitting — if I will be able to continue this with as much commitment as I had, 20-some years ago.

Looking back, I’m tempted to tell myself that I failed somehow, when I left my regular practice. I’m tempted to believe that I abandoned my practice and abandoned myself in the process… That I was a fair weather friend to sitting, and I didn’t have what it took to stay firm in my commitment.

I’m tempted to suspect everything I say and think and write about sitting, meditating, zazen… you name it. After my abandonment, and derision, who am I to even approach these things again?

And yet, here’s the thing — we all do it. At least, those of us who are fully involved in everything life throws our way. We all need to test our faith and our practice in the real world, in order to prove it out. To see if it’s really “a thing”, or if it’s just something we do to pass the time and get our minds off our troubles.

Looking back, I can see how I once used my sitting as a way to escape the discomforts of my life on a regular basis. I was present to some things, yes, but I was also getting high as a kite and skating past a lot of really grimy human experiences that I didn’t feel like dealing with. Coming out of those sessions with a buzz on, convinced me that all was well and dealt with

But that was far from the truth.

Many, many times, my sitting was far more of an escape, than a way to fully engage with my life. And that was a practice I needed to leave behind me. I needed to abandon the old way, and then really test it. Somehow I knew it wouldn’t survive, if I didn’t push it up against the truly unpleasant facts of life-as-it-happens, to see if it had what it took to just deal.

And what I learned was… It does. My practice, my sitting, my unitive experiences and connection with the unbroken wholeness of ALL… it’s a thing. It’s real, it has substance, it’s still a part of me. It’s very different now, than it was all those years ago, but it’s still there.

And test it though I may, it truly never leaves.

Which is good.

Sitting… anywhere

20-some years ago, I started sitting regularly, I did it because someone I knew and trusted said it had helped her grandson, who had been in trouble with the law and couldn’t seem to get his act together. She had him stay with her, one summer, and each morning at 6 a.m., no matter what the weather, they went outside and sat. And he stopped getting in trouble.

I’ve been in and out of trouble, myself, over the years, and this sounded like the kind of bad-ass practice that would appeal to me.

A challenge.

With some potential.

So, I started sitting regularly. And after a few years of intermittent intentional sitting, I had some pretty incredible experiences.

Ecstatic experiences.

Unitive experiences.

The kind of moments where everything folded into itself, ceased to be separate, and became one continuous Creation that had both no reality and every reality.

Which was phenomenal. It changed me forever, no doubt.

Then I changed jobs, I started an official career doing professional work, and things changed in my practiced. I continued to sit semi-regularly, and things were still good. But I was getting busy. And the professional world was really starting to intrude on my practice.

So, I changed how I sat. I started sitting at work — not taking time away from my work for a few zazen moments in a quiet room, but sitting in the midst of work. In meetings, especially, when tensions were starting to flare, and I was really losing my cool, I would sit.

Adjust my posture.

Breathe slowly and steadily.

Focus on what was happening, then and there, keeping any distractions away from my attention.

And I can tell you, those sitting times were some of the most productive ones I’d had in a long time. It became regular practice for me, to attend meetings with a zazen frame of mind — centered, focused, just sitting and being fully present for that 50 minutes or so, not allowing any aggravations to get hold of me, not allowing any fleeting anger or tension or discord to turn into anything more than a passing sensation.

It made me better at meetings. It made me a better team player. It made me a better individual contributor. It made me better at life.

Sitting anywhere, anytime, whenever I needed to… it just made me better.