just be it It’s about the work involved in establishing a dedicated practice to feelings of a bigger belonging through practices aimed at increasing feelings of compassion, gratitude and forgiveness
November, 2015

Cultivating Sensitivity and Humility to the Vast Mystery

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015


We’re continually seeking answers to this precious gift we call life. Where did we come from, who are we, how did we get here, where are we going, what are we here for, etc.? There’s a great freedom that comes when we open to deeper inquiry, humbled to the sensing we’ll never be ‘right’ in answering these questions from a dichotomous perspective of right vs. wrong. Yet, when we do hold stillness beyond the discursive mind, allowing the body/mind/spirit to receive a centered posture, we deepen our sense of gratitude, compassion and forgiveness. Somehow, we loosen the grips of greed, fear, anger and ignorance to our interconnection with the mystery. Our ego’s desire to have others think like we do diminishes. We can move from wanting others to ‘join’ our religion, political party, etc., to experiencing one another as already belonging to the planetary party. The communicative skills of persuasion diminish and skills of dialog, collaboration and listening strengthen. Letting go our ‘fixed’ notions is much like watching water freeze this time of year. If we keep moving as the water moves by wind affected action or current, we don’t seize up in sub-freezing conditions. Similarly, if we can hold an openness to difficult circumstance, seeking to understand with a flexible mind that’s sensitive to the vast mystery, we keep from seizing up. It’s why the number one lesson for any conflict resolution is to deeply put ourselves in the shoes of the perceived enemy. When we hold to our notions of having the ‘right religion’, ‘right politic’, ‘right constitution’, ‘right team’, etc., we can no longer deepen our sensitivity and humility to the openness that allows ‘maybe, maybe not’, to the vastness of the divine Mystery.

In the wake of increasing challenges to accepting the diversity and rapid changes of our planet, I find it helpful to return to a poem downloaded on 9/11 to the open, flexible mind of an eleven year old child facing the impermanence of his body with a life threatening disease. Mattie Stepanek will always be remembered by me as one of our great spiritual teachers:

For Our World
We need to stop.Just stop.Stop for a moment.Before anybody says or does anything that may hurt anyone else.

We need to be silent.Just silent.Silent for a moment.Before we forever lose the blessing of songs that grow in our hearts.

We need to notice.Just notice.Notice for a moment.Before the future slips away into ashes and dust of humility.

Stop, be silent, and notice.In so many ways, we are the same.Our differences are unique treasures we have.

We are, a mosaic of gifts to nurture, to offer, to accept.

We need to be.Just be.Be for a moment.Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting like children and lambs,never judging or vengeful like the judging and vengeful.

And now, let us pray,differently, yet together,before there is no earth, no life,no chance for peace.

September 11, 2001

What We Know From Cancer Research and How to Approach ISIS

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Traditional cancer therapies used a ‘good vs. evil’ approach with radiation and chemotherapies aimed to destroy mutated cells. The cancer cell is much like the suicide bomber. It will feed on the destruction of healthy cells, knowing full well it’s behavior will kill the whole organism. Oftentimes, when we attack mutated cells we only strengthen their desire to feed. We have seen how the benefit of killing a hundred terrorists is lost when we accidentally kill an innocent healthy cell in the process, what we’ve called collateral damage.

New science recognizes the value in training healthy cells to fight mutated cells (immunotherapies) and the value in cutting off food supply to mutated cells. As we look at the history of ISIS and other radical cells whose goal is to destroy the organism, we can see how our attacks only serve to strengthen them. We have a military industrial complex that’s fed billions of dollars to convince us they can do something about these mutations. We have politicians and media stressing the global organism with fear and loss of hope, weakening the healthy cells. We have ideologues who want to punish the very cells (kind, loving Muslims) that would be most instrumental in creating the ‘immune’ response needed to starve the cell. So how can we use biology and spirituality to transform/kill ISIS and other radical mutated cells?

The mutated cell lives under the premise it’s not connected to the whole organism. The fundamentalist has rigidly attached to a thought it’s willing to kill for, having some notion of payoff. True spirituality knows the mystery is far too big to ever absolutely know what the future holds. It values the precious gift of life and seeks to not cause harm, working in harmony with all it encounters. The body works this way as well. The body seeks homeostasis, a sense of balance where everything works for the benefit of all. Holding firmly to a ‘belief’ that we’re willing to harm others for is a mutation. We can always go deeper in our understanding. Even those who are deeply religious must hold a sense of wonder and awe at the unknown. It’s why some have said the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty. When we ‘think’ we have absolute answers we’re dangerous to others. ISIS and other mutated cells have been conned into believing they’ll be rewarded for being a martyr of the ‘cause’. Others try to con us into believing that killing from fear and anger will end these mutations. Our awareness of new cancer research and the mandates from ancient spiritual teachers inform us to not harm unless from love, in recognition that the mutation is us. As we go deeper in understanding what motivates and feeds the cell we can create a much stronger impact.

Recently, the PBS show Frontline did a show going inside an ISIS community. The adults were indoctrinating the children in the belief (held thought) of jihad. They were being trained to believe khalifah – the civil and religious leader of a Muslim state considered to be a representative of Allah on earth. Many radical Muslims believe a Khalifah will unite all Islamic lands and people and subjugate the rest of the world. This mutation of Islam has children being trained in weaponry and suicide bombing. Every bomb strike and terrorist killed serves to strengthen their conviction. The adults were joining ISIS motivated by a $700/month wage, a strong financial incentive to sign up. Joining the strength of commitment from revenge, the promise of a divine purpose and eternal reward, a sense of gang belonging and financial reward, we’ve got the perfect recipe for war that goes even further than Hitler’s con game. The organism (the global community) that wants to kill this mutation has to undermine the belief and confidence the mutant has in the story it’s been told. So how do we stop the food that’s nourishing the mutant cell?

We have to break the belief system. It’s going to the core of breaking the closed mind, opening up doubt. How many soldiers would continue to fight without financial benefit to their family? How many would continue to martyr themselves if they lost certainty in the ‘thought’ of what happens when we die? Can we offer the mutated cell a possibility of continued living through transformation? The word Islam means peace. The very thought of killing the whole organism for the benefit of a few is the antithesis of this. The Muslim community is over one and a half billion. The full strength of this faith community must join for the health of the global organism, doing whatever it can to cut funding to the mutated cells, to educate the children of the mutated cells, and create doubt in the fairy tales being told. The full strength of the global community must go to cutting off the financial food that’s growing these mutant cells. When we’ve diminished what’s motivating and feeding them, we can better determine which cells have to die. So how to we justify this with the spiritual laws of ‘no killing’?

A couple years after 9/11 our family attended a retreat with the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh and the Madison, WI, police force. Facing the mutant cell (terrorist) was part of the discussion. When asked about how to handle a suicide bomber running toward a building with a thousand people in it, given he had a gun to shoot the terrorist, the great leader of peace and harmony said, “I’d shoot him”. The crowd gasped. He then went on to explain his alignment to that action. It came from his connection with the bomber. His split second answer came from compassion for the suffering of the mutant cell. Given his experience of meeting the suffering of the terrorist, he had full confidence in killing him/her to reduce the negative karma accumulated from such a dreadful action. How we face the mutant cell, what motivates us, is what this spiritual journey is about. When we’ve broken the illusion of our separateness, touched our interdependence with one another, we can move to killing from love rather than fear.

This precious moment is a beautiful moment. Even in tragedy, beauty is asking to be seen. The love Thich Nhat Hanh had for the terrorist was palpable. He evidenced a spiritual security from years of dedicated practice in traversing the mystery, wonder and awe of ‘I don’t know land’. I am far from that place and it’s one reason I doubt I’ll ever own a gun. I would always hope I could hold my center, move closer to the mind of a cell aimed to hurt me, seeking understanding with faith in a less harmful action. When we see how violence robs opportunity, how our actions of harm impact the whole organism, and how the mystery is far bigger than we’ll ever know, sometimes the mutant cell transforms. If not, we sometimes have no alternative but to kill from love.

Invoking our Sensitivity to a Bigger Belonging

Monday, November 16th, 2015


All of our major spiritual teachers direct us to value and honor life. There’s a demand to love one another, even our enemies. The omnipresence of the divine is the message, which precludes the notion that we’re separate. Yet, it’s of human nature to feed the illusion of our separateness, to gravitate to smaller circles of belonging. We all want validation to our matter. We know we’re here for some reason and we want to make a difference. So what motivates us to action? Where do we find our strength to make what we believe is a difference? How do we honor the commitments to ‘love one another’, to not cause harm.

I write this on the heals of another terrorist attack. Apparently a group of men martyred themselves, killing and wounding hundreds of civilians having a night out in Paris. The nonstop mass media message focuses upon the horror of the event and the evil nature of the group claiming responsibility. The consensus political response is to defeat this group, yet it’s an ill defined group. For centuries, the human condition wrestles with individuals caught in their vulnerability, restlessness, and desire to belong in some way. They are caught in their thoughts and emotions, growing the negative mind with unwholesome desires to harm, even at the expense of ending their own lives. Ancient spiritual teachers and history would advise us to pause and seek understanding. Yet, the French government retaliated with violence and the world stage seems ready and willing to meet violence with more violence on the premise that somehow we can come to peace through feeding hatred with hatred. For me, the truly noble individual respects all life, holds pause and discipline to seek understanding, and forever drills deeper to non-violent solutions. Real exploratory media would do the real investigative work of ‘getting in the shoes’ of the martyr. Rather than strengthening their cause through validating their ‘belief’ in our evil nature, we’d create doubt in their mind about their thoughts.

I continue to be worked by a phrase from two Jesuit physicists quoted by Krista Tippet, “Real faith doesn’t have doubt as it’s opposite. The opposite of real faith is certainty.” Real faith forever has us humbled to how little we know. Real faith gives us strength to embrace uncertainty with wholesome thought. Yet, we’re caught with our impatience. We want things to be the way they were or the way we think they should be. We know that love (wholesome thought, emotion and action) is the single most potent force in the universe. It brings to its proper end every living thing. When we’re centered the transcendent reality enters the person and the center of the human microcosm meets between the human and the celestial realms. This is where spirit lives, where we touch that which offers real faith. This is where our spiritual practice cultivates ever increasing sensitivity to a bigger belonging.

Within the experience of bigger belonging we move past the ‘us vs. them’ thought that feeds revenge. Rather, the focus is upon understanding. We know this is a better way. We speak to the importance of gathering intelligence. Yet, our impatience has us making actions that ultimately make matters worse. Our spiritual intention must always be aimed at helping one another suffer less, even our perceived enemies. Making peace is a dire need of the human condition, even through difficult times like this. We are forever being asked to make peace with the world the way it “is”. The underlying premise to most conflict is, “The world has screwed with me so I have the right to be unkind because someone wasn’t kind enough to me.” The famous research on the topic of ‘forgiveness’, Fred Luskin, says, “It’s like we’re almost being trained to bring hostility forward.” Yet, our spiritual teachers and history show things work out better when we resolve to make the forgiveness start with each one of us. How can we make the events of our life feed kindness rather than using them as an excuse to not be kind?
Governments usually aren’t very good at this work of forgiveness. It takes great strength to acknowledge the harm we’ve caused others, to ask for their forgiveness. Yet, this very act is central to healing, to making whole. Today, we need to get into the shoes of those who would seek to harm us. We need to ask what can be done to stop the momentum of their negative dualistic thought. Can we do anything to help them move to a bigger sense of belonging? It’s not much different than the young gang member so desperately seeking membership. When asked to kill an opposing gang member as an act of initiation, he doesn’t hesitate. Belonging is that important. Suicide bombers and martyrs go back hundreds of years. The French were instrumental in using this practice during the Battle of Algiers in the 1950’s. Karma is a mysterious concept, however, we do know in physics how one force creates an equal and opposite opposing force. Our violence grows further violence. Our kindness grows kindness. Thoughts that break the illusion of our separateness heal (wholesome) our wounds. Thoughts that carry the illusion of separation further deepen wounds. It’s why I believe we make matters worse when trying to frame the world in terms of ‘good’ vs. ‘evil’. Either we follow the mandates of our ancient spiritual teachers and cultivate wholesome thoughts recognizing the bigger belonging that’s beyond dualistic thought or we feed divisive thought that grows greed, fear and our need to be unkind to those we ‘believe’ are not like us.
We need to go to those who desire to inflict harm on us and ask, “I hear you say what you wanted was______________, and what you got was ___________.” We can then reach out in compassion and understanding to hear how the other person is caught in suffering. Can we sit in softness and absorb this fully before we make a bigger mess of things?

When we sit in stillness we bring balance to the moment, we see the wisdom in patience and know that what will come in the future is largely dependent on how we are now. It’s big faith in cultivating big belonging and big hope. It’s feeding wholesome thought, emotion and action.

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises itself?

Lao-Tzu, Tau-te-Ching


Standing Strong in the Realm of Uncertainty

Friday, November 13th, 2015


I recently heard a quote from the famous interviewer and author, Krista Tippet, referencing a quote from two Jesuit physicists. They had been having a discussion on faith and science and presented the following insight: The opposite of faith is NOT doubt, it is certainty. They referenced how vast the Mystery is. Real faith cultivates the unborn security to stand tall in the face of the unknown. No doubt, each moment is filled with the next unwholesome dividing thought or emotion tied to the poisons of greed, fear and our ignorance to our connection with all things. They create the illusion that we know. Perhaps we attach to this sense of ‘knowing’ and we then elaborate on it, and ultimately either develop anxiety/insecurity about it or we set out to fight others who don’t ‘know’. Yet, real faith is filled with openness to what’s coming up. There’s a cultivated sense of confidence and calm that has us humbled to the bottomless mysteries of life. As we practice with our ‘awareness mind’ we water the wholesome thoughts and emotions of unity, healing from our history of division. Breaking the illusion of our separateness, we water the seeds of kindness, compassion, generosity, forgiveness, dialog and gratitude. Further developing balance and sensitivity to what’s coming up, we’re open to receive the gift of the mystery. For many, this opening comes in our darkest hours. Katagiri Roshi describes this in Each Moment Is the Universe:

If you realize the bottom of suffering, you will find egolessness and emptiness there. At that time impermanence turns into the truth. That is the experience called wisdom. Wisdom is a very deep, profound knowing. It is wonderful. But you cannot stay with the truth you touched because you must be right on the flow of impermanence, constantly one with the moment. If you stay, you die; your life becomes stagnant water. pp. 49-50

He goes on to describe how we must keep moving. Our ‘sense of knowing’ must constantly change as a function within the realm of impermanence and the complexities of our interconnection. He notes that we gain our wisdom from touching (bouncing) the truth of the moment, where there’s no sense of ‘you’. This momentary experience moves and we then return to our dualistic world filled with thought. He notes that when we touch egolessness and emptiness, we find wisdom and truth. When we we bounce back, knowing that we’ve touched it, it’s faith. It’s this faith that has fed the dedicated practice of meditation. It’s how we’ve come to develop a deep spiritual and scientific appreciation for the benefits of holding stillness, freed from the weight and suffering of the dualistic realm.

One of my favorite song lyrics is the old spiritual “Stand By Me”. It powerfully waters the seeds of our belonging and connection. It says that no matter what, we can’t be alone. We can’t not belong. This is what we wake up to when cultivating balance and sensitivity in the face of impermanence.

When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we see

No I won’t be afraid
I won’t be afraid
Just as long, as you stand by (in, around and through) me.

So stand by me, yes, stand by me
Stand by me, stand by me

If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
And the mountains crumble to the see
I won’t cry, I won’t cry
No I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand by me.

So how do we stand tall in the face of such uncertainty? Again, Katagiri Roshi addresses this in Each Moment is the Universe:

How can we live peacefully in this world of constant change? It may be difficult for you to believe, but we should appreciate maintenance and destruction. We are dissatisfied because of destruction, but that dissatisfaction is why we are willing to study and practice. And without destruction there would be no change. The destruction of one moment creates an opportunity for a new moment to arise. Because of maintenance and destruction we can have hope for the future and make every possible effort to deepen ourselves.
Change is the basis of human life, so don’t attach yourself to birth and death, continuation and discontinuation. Just live right in the middle of the flow of change where there is nothing to hold on to. How do you do this? Just be present and devote yourself to doing something. p. 43

He speaks to this fully devoted action as being ‘wholehearted’. When our being and doing are joined from complete alignment of head and heart in full attention we’re meeting the moment anew. This is the creative experience, fed from faith, standing tall in humble confidence to our connection with the mystery. Grounding ourselves in a deeper knowing we stand tall to face and embrace uncertainty, ready for more balanced and sensitive actions aimed to not cause harm.

My son recently told me of my oldest grandson’s reaction to the first snow of the season. He had his snow clothes on before daylight, went out to build forts, walls and snowmen with his school friends, and was totally immersed in the moment. He looked up at his dad and said, “It’s like joy is in the air.” That’s a sensitivity that honors the wonder of the moment. He recognized the beauty that was there, ready to be acknowledged. A deep practice always humbles oneself in gratitude for the opportunity to participate, even in our darkest hours. So stand tall ‘right in the middle of the flow of change where there’s nothing to hold on to’. That’s real faith.

Wholesome Thought, Wholesome Life

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

I Have Learned So Much

So much from God
That I can no longer

A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,
a Buddhist, a Jew.

The Truth has shared so much of Itself
With me

That I can no longer call myself
A man, a woman, an angel,
Or even a pure

Love has
Befriended Hafiz so completely
It has turned to ash
And freed

Of every concept and image
my mind has ever known.

From: ‘The Gift’
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky
This poem by Hafiz captures the essence of ‘wholesome’ living. It moves past the divisiveness created from our language and accumulated identities. When we attach to notions of static identities and fixed belief systems, we’re no longer free. Yet, the wholesome life moves fear to love, bondage to freedom and ignorance to understanding. Wholesome thought quiets the mind, leads one to a peaceful heart, increases our awareness of love, and clarifies the intersection of the Divine and human. So we must go inside to find love, not outside. While words can point to ‘wholeness’, the stilled mind is the true receptor to what God can really teach us. When we’re aligned in silence to the precious nature of life the notion (thought) that we’re separate vanishes. The illusion created from the divided, divisive, discursive mind makes itself available. We deepen our intention to cause no harm. We clearly see that when we hurt others we hurt ourselves. When we take from others we steal from ourselves. When we’re unkind to others we’re unkind to ourselves. When we objectify each other for what appears to be the illusion of personal gain, we objectify ourselves.

When we ‘turn to ash’ every concept and image the mind has ever known we meet the response of emptiness and fullness as one. It’s where can can find love in our deepest sorrow. It’s the essence of the healed response. This is wholesome thought and practice that leads to wholesome action. It’s really what we’re here for. Moment by moment we’re challenged by the supposed ‘real world’ to survive in a win/lose battle with others. Yet, our real life challenge is to love, always. All this takes is the strong intention to pay attention to love. Citizens of love move beyond difference in appreciation to our inter-Being with all things.

This practice has been extremely beneficial for me. I used to frame my thoughts as dualistic vs. non-dualistic. I find deeper meaning when framed as wholesome vs. unwholesome. Try it out. Anytime your separating yourself from another through an identification of difference, label it as ‘unwholesome’. I like applying this to the Buddha’s Fourth Noble Truth in practicing the Eightfold Path. Instead of using the prefix ‘right’ (i.e. Right Action, Right View, Right Intention, etc.), replace it with the word ‘wholesome’ (i.e. Wholesome Action, Wholesome View, Wholesome Intention, etc.). This practice captures the essence of Hafiz’ poem. It moves beyond our classes, beyond our judgments of ‘right vs. wrong’, ‘good vs. bad’. It expands our sense of belonging to that place where we realize we can never be alone. Our separateness is illusion. That’s what we’re waking up to when we still the mind from divisive thought.

Is Anger Ever Justified?

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

Examining the wake of our actions, thoughts and emotions


This has been one of the more difficult spiritual questions. No doubt, as an emotion, we can’t stop anger from bubbling up. But what happens when we water the seeds of anger, growing our discontent, attaching to our justification for it? I posed this to our prison sangha (spiritual community) yesterday and received some insightful replies. Some spoke to the need for anger to motivate us to do something when we perceive something’s ‘not right’. One inmate spoke to what we do when our ‘core beliefs’ are threatened. I then asked what a belief was, suggesting that any belief we hold is a continued attachment to a thought. The Buddha said we suffer to the extent we attach to our thoughts, emotions, stuff, etc. Our peace and freedom are found in a skill at letting go these attachments. As we grow our greed, fear and illusion of separateness we grow our suffering. As we water and grow the seeds of generosity, compassion and sense of belonging we decrease our suffering. So how does that relate to effectiveness in social change? No doubt, many of our most significant social changes have come through strong justification of anger. Individuals and groups have felt forced into a corner by a perceived adversary that threatens their very existence. Both parties have taken thoughts, elaborated on them, developed a strong opinion, and fed negative emotions that create a readiness to war actions. We can’t deny the effectiveness of ‘anger justified’ in progressing our society to more humane behavior. Yet, we can see how history has not been kind to those who started a movement in such a way. They create a backlash that often results in their death and our worship of the martyr. We can’t judge the positive or negative value of this since life is simply too complicated. However, we must never stop asking how we can do it better. We must forever review history and examine the results of our ‘justified anger’.

Our spiritual teachers advise us to always humble ourselves to the vast mystery. When we act from humility and faith to life’s uncertainty and our limited information, we’re much more careful. Wisdom has shown us that ‘the problem is never what we think it is’. Our spiritual teachers have directed us to non-violence, to let go our anger, and to water the seeds of our compassion for one another, even our perceived enemies. Most of our military conflicts have been initiated on faulty information. In my life, most of my personal conflicts have begun on incorrect premises. When we see how huge the mystery is, when we step back with a bigger awareness, we get bigger than the perceived problem. The operative phrase is, “When the problem seems big, get bigger than the problem”. Our current political system no longer meets the needs of our rapidly changing world. Our political leaders and potential candidates are locked into ‘justified anger’, holding what I see as ‘small minds’ to a much bigger issue. Greed for power and special interest, fear of things not going the way we’d like, and attachment to small belonging and persuasion threaten our planet. This is a sure fire recipe for justified anger and impulsive behavior. The most obvious symptom from this ‘dis-ease’ is inability to listen and anger. The attached mind refuses to listen to possibility for another map. They’ve concluded the map they’ve drawn in their minds is the ‘right map’. They see their job as one of convincing others to agree with their map. Yet, the territory is way too big. The mystery is bottomless and the only appropriate response is to listen to one another, rely on divine Providence to offer up bigger solutions, as we silently humble ourselves to cultivate a deeper sense of interconnection, of a bigger belonging.

We spend months and billions of dollars going through our political election campaign. To me, the most important skill for leadership is effective listening. Yet, our media channels don’t want this. By definition, they’re motivated by conflict. Their job is to increase viewership by generating a fighting climate that thrives on ‘justified anger’, ‘fixed maps’, ‘fighting debates’, ‘monolog and persuasion’. The concept of non-violence doesn’t seem to be in their agenda. They seem to only base their comments on who won, who was most greedy and effective in the power game, who sold the parent (Big Daddy take care of us) image, who raised the most money for their support and their ability to demonize their competitor. Yet, most of our great leaders, over the course of time, come to see the value in collaboration and sophistication in dialog skill. Media only wants to speak to skills in negotiation and debate. The divided mind is forever asking how it can win. Donald Trump may be the most extreme example of this. These power brokers feed on the weak mind, seeking to gain confidence from their followers, and personify the essence of the ‘con man’. It’s someone who persuades you to believe their map, convincing you that it’s the territory. They work to justify their fixed thoughts and opinions, seek to justify their anger, hope to bring you to agreement so they can act upon their incomplete map.

Today is Veterans Day. It originally started as Armistice Day, a day to lay down arms in recognition to our divine interconnection. In pause to the horrors of WWI, 11/11 was set aside as a day to cultivate the oneness of humanity, the non-dualistic mind and the commitment to not harm one another. It’s been transformed to pause in respect to the pain and suffering experienced by those who’ve fought in military conflict. To me, it will always be a day to strengthen our commitment to listen deeply to one another, acknowledging the fact that we can never understand each other. Yet, deeper listening will move us closer to understanding, will lesson our need and greed to change one another to our map, will loosen our attachment to anger and fear, and will bring us closer to a non-violent outcome.

We’re not born with sophisticated listening skills.  It’s a skill set that takes a dedicated practice and years of training and application.  It’s a spiritual path that cultivates our interdependence, that mandates ‘anger is never justified’, and always aims to cause no harm in faith to the vast Mystery (Source, God, etc.).   It’s leadership that balances the body, mind and spirit in deep stewardship to the precious nature of life, forever humbled to the omnipresence of the Divine.  In vetting a future leader I’m most interested in how they take care of themselves, how they’ve found similarity and openness in diversity, how they take care of nature, and most importantly, how well developed they are in active listening skills. If they’ve locked into a ‘justified anger’ rant it’s my opinion they’ll take on a powerful position with potential to truly create a mess of things.  How do I know?  It’s what my personal experience has been over decades of living.  It’s been far better to always save my anger for another day (Solomon’s Wisdom).  Amazingly, when that next day comes I can see how things have changed and my actions cause less harm as I diminish growing and justifying my anger.

Deepening Balance and Sensitivity

Monday, November 9th, 2015
Breath in 'yes', breath out 'thank you'

Breath in ‘yes’, breath out ‘thank you’

Where do we find our grounding…that silent confidence that’s providing our stability, even when the earthquake happens? There’s an awareness beyond the physical and emotional that allows the energy of the world to pass through us, to reveal itself, without getting caught, wounded or conditioned by it. This gaining balance and sensitivity comes through the “awareness” or witnessing mind. This cultivation of balancing body/mind/spirit takes dedicated practice. Some have called this an investment in ‘unborn security’. It’s that grounding that knows we’ve been placed here for a purpose…to experience this moment. It’s about beauty. It’s about cultivating that awareness and space to find the gift in the given. Even in the most terrible of places, beauty is continually asking to be seen. We’re constantly being asked to make peace with the world, just the way it “is”.

Can you imagine how diplomacy would change if we honored this practice in all of our meetings? Rather than prayer to another’s ‘belief system’, all parties would sit in silence, breathing together, thinking of goodness and intentions to heal. Even if this were just for a minute, people would have a chance to develop a new habit as they all took an affirmative “yes” breath in and a gratitude “thank you” breath out. This practice develops grounding, balance and sensitivity to hearing one another as each other. This is how indigenous cultures approached difficult meetings. There was first a period of breathing together in silence. This process humbled them, allowed them to align with one another’s humanity, and opened the door to gentler solutions. Actually, this is what I read the Declaration of Independence to mean through it’s mandate to “surrender to divine Providence”. It asks the participants to surrender their fixed notions of solution in surrender to a bigger solution that will bubble up when all parties set mutual intention for what’s “best for all with harm to none”. Obviously, this approach went by the way with lobbying, super pacs, and other forms of special interest groups. When we have an interest we’ve attached to, a thought we’re fixed on, an issue to push, we’re no longer ready, willing or able to meet one another with the open mind. Our capacity to cultivate balance and sensitivity to a bigger, gentler solution has been thwarted. Rather than dialogue, there’s a turn taking monologue. Rather than bigger solutions, there’s compromise. The dualistic power element of this view of diplomacy is framed in ‘winners and losers’. The failure of the parties to get bigger than the problem almost always results in a limited solution that comes back to haunt us. The beauty that’s continually being asked to be seen has been blocked by the closed mind.

As we deepen our balance we deepen our sense of ‘being’. And to ‘just be’ means to awake, be alive and creative. In this space of ‘being’, you have to live in full gratefulness. In this grounded space we wake up to a new calm, a deeper sense of fulfillment, a feeling of support and uplifting, and a stronger sense of a bigger belonging. Brother David Steindl Rast calls these the ‘rooms of gratefulness’ and highlights the opposite end of the spectrum when touching them:
When we’re the most calm we’re the most energized.
When we’re the most fulfilled we’re the most open and receptive.
When we’re uplifted and filled with a sense of support, standing taller, we’re humbled, brought closer to the earth.
When grounded, filled with a sense of connection, we’re totally unconcerned about ourselves (ego).
He goes on to say that when dealing with the paradoxical nature of the above, he’s pretty sure we’re dealing with the Ultimate. When your awareness opens to how the opposites coincide you water the seeds of faith, hope and love. You find a bigger trust that takes a bigger courage. Brother David asks the following: “Are you a person of hope or hopes? Can you tell, when all hopes go down the drain, that you’ll come back tomorrow with new hope? Are you forever open to surprise? Open to receive that not everything will come out well?” He calls this the “yes to belonging” with your whole being and points out how we can’t have gratefulness without acknowledging this belonging. To really come alive we deepen our balance and sensitivity to our interdependence, what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “inter-Being”. We experience the mystery in ourselves, yet we don’t know ourselves as we discover ourselves through our choices. We develop increasing awareness in seeing the divine in everything we see. We carry a receptiveness that’s open where our very life, our living and thinking, is totally mysterious to us as we meet surprise. There’s a circle dance of gratefulness as the source continually gives itself into the manifest and we give this back in thankfulness. This dance deepens our sensitivity to life, to the moment, grounds us, and as we cultivate gratitude, the creative experience gives itself up. Suzuki Roshi refers to us as “creative artists of life” as we grow this awareness, deepening our sense of balance and sensitivity. It’s what real listening is about and it begins from sitting together in silence, breathing in ‘yes’ and breathing out ‘thank you’.

What Seeds of Thought and Emotion Do You Water?

Friday, November 6th, 2015

The famous Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, often speaks of the storehouse we each have that’s filled with positive and negative thought and emotion. We don’t control how they bubble up through our life experience, but we do control how we water these, attach to them and grow them. Do we water the seeds of anger, insufficiency, jealousy, greed and separation? Do we water the seeds of joy, compassion, forgiveness, love? As we witness our actions, thoughts and emotions, can we further develop awareness to the effects they have? Can we better see them as an examination of the ‘wake of our life’.

We currently know of no one who’s escaped the truth of aging, sickness, releasing the physical body, or escaped the day we say goodbye to all our friends, family and stuff. We try to deny these truths and we must have tremendous courage to not grow depressed when faced with the pain that comes from our transitory nature. Yet, something does remain. The wake of our life actions, thoughts and emotions. Some have called this karma. In physics we can see how energy disperses with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Yet, in reality, when everything is connected, nothing disappears. Spiritual and physical law says we can’t be separate. We’re not an island. What we do, think and feel affects everything. The seeds we water do carry a result that lives on past residing within these bodies. It’s why we must be so careful to not harm ourselves, other humans, all beings and all things. This is real love and compassion, watering the seeds of our belongingness. Some have said our greatest life work is to forever expand our ‘circles of belonging’.

The other day I was paddle boarding on the surface of forty degree water. At this temperature the water takes on a thick metallic reflective quality that’s much like a mirror. The lake embodied stillness and balance. The visual made it almost difficult to see what was reflection and what was supposedly real. At one point I came upon two remaining loons and I stopped paddling. I almost lost my balance as the wake of my board unexpectedly passed under. I turned to see my wake dispersing across a vast portion of the lake. In the lake’s stillness I could better see the results of my actions. This is why stilling the mind is so important. The more we settle the turbulence of our thoughts and emotions the better we see the results of our actions. This process helps us better set intention to at least cause less harm and hopefully move us to help others suffer less. Isn’t that what we’re really here for? Living in witness of the non-separated mind, isn’t it just common sense to treat others as ourselves since we deepen our awareness to the fact that we are each other. When we water the seeds of separation, the results of these thoughts end up hurting us. The illusion of the divided mind simply can’t feed our peace and joy.

I used to focus on my actions. I was critical of the press when they spoke to Jimmy Carter’s acknowledgement of lust during a Playboy Magazine interview during his presidency. He had been true to his wife, never had an affair, and was truthful when he acknowledged that sometimes he had lustful thoughts. I thought, “Who hasn’t?” Again, we can’t deny what bubbles up. Yet, when we attach to thoughts of ‘subject vs. object’, when we ‘objectify’ others for our ego’s sense of personal pleasure and gain, the results of this grow suffering. It’s why we want to carefully witness the seeds of thought, knowing they live on as well unless we dismiss them before they gain momentum.

No one escapes pain. No one escapes the suffering that comes from attaching to our pain. Yet, our experience of joy and happiness while residing in these bodies is directly proportional to our capacity to witness and let go negative seeds, and hopefully grow the positive seeds. It’s a turbulent process, much like the river flows through rapids and calm. Had I been paddle boarding in typical busy waters churned up by wind and other people it’s almost impossible to see the wake of my paddling actions. When we’re stilled in our mind we’re more sensitive to the momentum of our spiritual journey. It’s the real meaning behind the biblical phrase, “Be still and know I’m God.” Be still, find your center and no you can’t ‘not belong’, watering the seeds of positive thought, emotion and consequent action.

The Value of Meditation in Training to ‘Not take things personally’

Thursday, November 5th, 2015


Wave Hitting Lighthouse


The Four Agreements:  1. Be impeccable with your speech. 2. Don’t take things personally.  3. Don’t assume 4. Be/do your best.


Our great wisdom teachers suggest we’ll have a more peaceful life if we can not take things that others say personally. When we can accept that everyone is processing their world differently we can relax our desire to have them think and experience like us. We all build a map to the territory and try to do what we think is best. Yet, that’s all it is, a map. The map can not and never will be the territory. Actually, that’s what language is. We’ve taken arbitrary symbols, put them together, and assigned meaning to them. Yet, that meaning will always reside in the minds of each of us. Their are a couple illusions we have to break to have a peaceful life.

First, to break the habit of taking things personally, we have to see that our notion of personhood is a concept. Our mind has taken various identities and to function in the relative world, we’ve attached to these. Some have called this the ego, that sense of being a fixed entity. Yet, when we explore deeper, we can see that ‘who’ we are is a huge mystery. Some have said our life will go better when we function as ‘awareness residing in a body’. This practice of witnessing our thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc. seems to work better in leading a skillful life. We can see how we suffer to the degree we attach to our discursive thoughts and we find peace and freedom to the degree we can release them, coming back to the ‘here and now’ witness mind. This takes dedicated practice since the next thought is just around the corner, ready to take us for a ride.

Secondly, when we truly get the notion that ‘meaning is found within the experience of the mind/body concept and NOT within the word’ we cultivate a deep respect for our primitive attempts to understand one another. The complexities of the universe far exceed our collective level of knowing. Our ignorance is correlated to our felt sense of ‘knowing we’re right’. When we ignore the mystery, ‘thinking we know’, we’ve attached to our thought, elaborated it, given it momentum, and now are ready to go to war over it. Our refusal to see the limitations of language results in great suffering throughout the planet.

So what can we do? Perhaps the most important skill is to train in the ability to witness our thoughts. When we can just watch them arise, let them go, and return to the non discursive reality of the moment, we can re-align the body/mind. We can better tune ourselves to the moment for a more conscious, skillful action. We’re deepening our sensitivity to this precious gift of life, softening the assumptions we carry, opening ourselves to the creative experience. We can also develop better listening skills. This is especially important given the downward spiral of communication skills resulting from our addiction to devices. Face to face communication is diminishing and we’re losing all the nonverbal cues that make up a large part of the message. Tension and misunderstanding are rising because we assume of written message is somehow being understood, even though it has just a small fraction of the message. Even before we had all our devices, however, we were quite primitive in understanding the skill of active listening.

When we’re humbled to the complexities of communication, we no longer assume we heard the message. We’re humbled past our tendency to judge another, and in compassion, we’re ready to explore and dig deeper into the message. Basically, this body/mind concept I have experiences and so does yours. We can never have each other’s experience, only our experience of the others’ experience. They also have this. Now we can deepen our understanding of that experience through our willingness and skill at suspending our opinions, beliefs and thoughts. Some have called this the ‘open mind’. Active listening commands this. Without it we’re blocking our journey to understanding with the reactive mind. This mind is attached to the ‘meaning’ as something fixed, rather than a fluid target we’re trying to synchronize to. This deeper listening is filled with phrases like, “I heard you say ____________. Am I close to what you mean?”, “Tell me more about that”, etc. It’s a listening that aims to drill deeper. It’s the opposite of persuasive speech which assumes one is right and the other is wrong. The deeper we go the more intimate (into me see) we experience one another. With practice and skill development it’s hard to avoid the empathic response. There’s a place where we get closer to touching the experience of the other to the extent we lose our concept of being separate. This is the synchrony of body/mind/spirit, where we break the illusion of dichotomy. It brings us back to the illusion of our ‘personhood’. It feeds our capacity to meet another’s suffering, what we call compassion. It loosens the rigid, suffering, judgmental mind to forgiveness and gratitude. It results in healing (discovering our wholeness in one another) over the wounding that comes from functioning in our dichotomous world of ‘knowing’ and ‘thinking we’re right’.

It’s my experience that meditation and active listening go a long way to leading a more peaceful, joyous life. It’s my thought and consequent opinion that training in these skills should take far greater precedence in the educational process that limited focus on technology. It’s my opinion that the very health of our planet rests on our capacity to teach this skills so the body/mind/spirit can synchronize to the experience of humility, gratitude, forgiveness, and consequent joy. It’s really what all our great spiritual teachers have said. It’s not religion. It’s skill that needs development for a better life. Meditation (resting in the non-discursive experience) and active listening are key components to the creative experience. Isn’t that what we’re here for?

The Practiced Mind: Cultivating Balance and Sensitivity Through the Non Discursive Mind

Thursday, November 5th, 2015


We can experience through the mind of discourse, through the dichotomous nature of language/thought or we can experience through the ‘no thought mind’, the awareness that comes from direct experience in the gap between thoughts. The degree to which we practice within these realms determines our skill at functioning in them. Essentially, it’s the law that what we put attention to grows stronger and what we don’t diminishes. When we embark upon a skill it’s almost always necessary to engage the linguistic mind as we receive direction from books, various media platforms and teachers. Our mind is filled with linguistically based instructions. The more we practice the less we need to be separated from the activity by the thought filled mind. The ‘practitioner’ eventually develops greater balance and sensitivity to the skill to eventually touch the nonverbal. Many factors go into the speed with which this happens, perhaps the most important being whether or not the student has practice in extending the ‘no thought’ gap. This place of deepening balance and sensitivity has sometimes been labeled as ‘flow’, ‘in the zone’, ‘peak experience’ and it’s always referring to that experience that’s outside the bounds of language limitation. There’s usually a report of letting go the abstract notions of time and space. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity takes on new meaning. While it seems most of us never have this experience, we can identify it in others. Their performance carries a depth we can’t deny and it’s always got the element of ‘no effort’. It’s as if they’ve surrendered to something that’s bigger than their ego identity and we witness the richness of the creative experience.

Today we place great emphasis on those individuals who practice daily their attachment to the thought filled mind. The linguistic thoughts they carry deepen as they seek out others who carry the same thoughts. The skills at presenting these fixed thoughts improve with practice and they deepen their ability to persuade others to carry the similar thoughts. Nationalism, religion, political parties and attorneys depend upon this. Our educational system does little to promote the practice of the open, no thought mind. For many, this very concept is foreign and here I am using language to point to this practice. Yet, this non discursive mind has carried huge benefit to my life and the various skills I’m passionate about. It’s given me deep respect for the depth of skill we’re today seeing in sports and music. The ‘no thought’ mind surrenders to explore new territory in confidence to a bigger support. The cultivation of balance and sensitivity is outside the realms of needing approval from others. It’s experience from the ‘whole heart’, coming from the non dualistic mind. It’s intimate, stylistic, harmonic and balanced. Some would say it’s the real meaning of intercourse. We all touch the beauty of the practitioner well versed in the non discursive mind. Opening the hand of no thought comes from disciplined practice. We experience, in our awareness, the depth of balance and sensitivity and consequently are inspired.

Clearly, we need to practice the linguistic mind and develop skills from thought based systems. Yet, when we see that as the limit of skill, our performance will always just be at a plateau. Our body/mind/spirit growth will stall. Our choice to participate in the vast opportunities life presents will freeze as we close out diversity and seek a homogenous universe of those who think like we think. The creative experience commands the mind that’s open to ‘no thought’ awareness. Some have called this the art of awareness, and I’d tend to say it’s a skill and art that takes a dedicated practice. If we want a balanced, sensitive universe, perhaps we need to put more of an emphasis upon it’s development within ourselves. We’re all creators of the universe.