The Privilege to Rest in Being

It’s such a blessing to have a free day, a day in which the movement of Being is unfettered and flowing. Today has been just such a day, off from work, a morning unscheduled. I woke at 7:30 to the bright cold, laid and lit a fire, meditated, ate. I split wood and kindling, ate lunch, brewed and drank coffee. Read.

Recently I read an article in National Geographic about the three happiest places to live. In each, Denmark, Costa Rica, and Singapore, the common denominator was a governing infrastructure that guaranteed physical well-being: work, income, housing, healthcare and access to food. I do not for a moment take for granted their role in personal happiness, my own included, although our government does not guarantee these to us, not in practicality. I have been blessed to work in my field for forty years, to come to a point of financial security and simplicity such that I am now able to support myself working part-time. I have investments that, potentially at least, should guarantee me a fairly secure elderhood. I trust that this will be so.

What I am feeling into today is the way Being shows up when we have the freedom to rest. When our immediate needs are met, and we are able to live in the flow of what arises. Today, it is ease and well-being, physical strength necessary to keep my home comfortable, the food to sustain me, shelter that is able to withstand the weather. I have love, companionship, and a direct line to the Divine Nature that is in everything.

It is not always so, not completely. Some days, I struggle with the demands of earning my living, warming the house, driving the car, being with others. Nevertheless, the direct line to the Divine Nature is always present. Sometimes it shows itself in the natural world; sometimes it is in the kindness of strangers; sometimes it simply arises out of the smoke and ash of my own emotional discomfort. It’s like my heartbeat. I’m not always aware of it, but it’s always there, steadily keeping me alive, upright, awake, aware.

There are spiritual teachings that encourage us to subdue difficulty, to repeat the mantra this, too, shall pass. Teachings that encourage us to find our bliss, transcend the body, to treat death as a non-event, in which grief is a weakness, a belief in an illusion. I know that these sorts of teachings have their place; they made up some of the paving blocks on my path. But coming to the place of Sahaj Samadhi, the simultaneous realization that I AM THAT, and that I am also this body, both awareness of consciousness and its lived expression, has changed all that.

I’m discovering a new and deeper understanding of the nature of embodiment. It’s been slowly coming forward in me as I continue to navigate my embodied conscious awakening. My knowing of it is rooting itself deeper and deeper into my very cells, each one an arising of Consciousness. There is no separation between Me and Myself. I know myself in, as, and through, this body. It is a highly sensitive receptor of stimuli. My yoga training gave me the language of the koshas, the sheaths of the body: Pranamaya kosha, energy; Manomaya kosha, mind; Vijnanamaya kosha, wisdom; and Anandamaya kosha, bliss. They are merged into the skin, nerves, muscles, tendons, organs, bones, and blood of me. In any given moment, I am knowing myself as Consciousness through one or more of these sheaths. When I’m relaxing in the morning sun, I may access most of them; when I’m reactive to slights, disappointments, delays, I may access some. But I am always accessing them; they are the network of my aliveness to which I am fully awakened.

The Dharma of Trillium Awakening is, in a way, a Tantric Dharma. It is an outpouring of harmonized masculine and feminine energies. It is not transcendent. It is embodied. To fully know ourselves, our Dharma says, we must come to a place of “radical embrace” of all of our parts. Radical is the right word for it, drawing its meaning from the word radix, or root. We must come to the root of ourselves, and be willing to not just tolerate, or accept, but embrace what we find there.

This can be a slow process. Everyone’s awakening is different. Everyone’s conditioning is different. The shell that separates us from our true nature may be more or less dense depending on a multitude of factors. But once we catalyze the process, we can be sure that it will take us with it to the eventuality of a deep knowing of all that we are.

If you’re reading this, then you may already be in its embrace. Maybe you are one with it, and maybe you are wrestling. But you know its hold, and you can be sure that it is not going to let go. This is a beautiful thing.

With some luck, you have a good roof over your head, food in your belly, meaningful work. You are free to explore the regions of awakening without worrying about your physical well-being. You can rest in Being and let it unfold itself in you like the kaleidoscope it is. You can become its unfolding, multicolored, infinitely changing self and know it as the Self, your true and total nature.

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Coyotes Sing when They Kill

From the hot tub

I see the deer

atop the northern hill

a small herd

big racked buck

in silhouette.

When I look next

they’re gone

but the song goes on.

I soak under the gray

shadowed dawn

the world awakening

to its hungers and griefs

their calls companion

to my solitude.

Later, in my room

kneeling in prayer

for this life of love

and loss I hear them

still in the rapture

of communion.

What they take

Oh Lord of light

and dark, sustains them.

Would that it were so

for us.

 

Relaxing into the Feminine

In Vedic astrology, my chart has two exalted planets, Jupiter and Saturn, the Guru, and the master of difficulty, delay, and setbacks. It’s a powerful combination as it requires me, or maybe predisposes me to seek the wisdom of what is difficult. Recently when the Cassini space shuttle beamed pictures of Saturn, I was thrilled to have their up close views of that majestic planet. They revealed what is typically unseen.

When he was in Kindergarten, my nephew Stephen, when asked why fell behind in his school work, said, “There’s a lotta things out there and they all gotta move.” There are a lot of things out there. The universe is teeming with the unseen, both manifest and unmanifest, beings and fields of energy. This is the creation point of the Feminine mystery. It can be very subtle, but it is ever present. When we contemplate, meditate, or pray, it’s this mystery that responds. It shows up in intuition, synchronicity, coincidence. The knock on the door, the lump in the throat, the gaze that finds ours across space. When we find ourselves moving in harmony with what is happening, we are in the arms of the Feminine. This is true free will; we follow where we are led.

When we relax into the Feminine, we create a receptacle, a place and a way to hold what arises. We are receptive and vulnerable without being passive. We create the space, set our intentions, and focus our awareness on what is arising. It’s a stance of being rather than doing. Yet it can be difficult to differentiate between these, between the healthy Feminine and the healthy Masculine, which are only facets of Being, dancing, interacting forces. For me, the symbol for Ying and Yang is useful here, the way the dark and the light flow against each other. Or the nearly permeable boundaries between colors in a rainbow. Where does one end and the other start?

Holding the Feminine is like that. The healthy Feminine shows discernment when we heed our intuitions, when we lean into the rub between idea and reality, when we allow ourselves to feel what is painful knowing that it will stretch us beyond our comfort zone AND that we have the resources to remain grounded in consciousness even as our hearts are breaking.

There is so much that is unseen, in our own bodies, and lives, and in the world around us. A woman in China holds her new baby. A man in Norway gazes out a hospital window. Your neighbor is answering a phone call that will change her life. You cannot see them, but they are there: love, loss, birth, death, mercy, cruelty, generosity, manifestation of your deepest desires and fears.

When we risk resting in what is, we are rewarded with the experience of life. When we resist, we limit our ability to know deeply the texture of human existence. Resting opens us to pure feeling: joy, love, grief. Resisting hardens us into deflecting shells. We fear that we cannot contain it all. It will overwhelm, even annihilate us. So we turn away, close our eyes, ears, hearts. We harden ourselves with the belief that it makes us safe.

Meanwhile, life continues to unfold, blossom, ripen, fade, and die over and over and over again. You are big enough. You contain multitudes. There is always more room to receive, but only if you allow yourself to relax and expand. To stretch until it hurts and then resting, stretch again. This is the Feminine principle at work, like birthing; once it begins, we cannot choose to stop it. We must open to it to bring it into the light. Once there, it can be seen, known, familiar, more manageable. Breathe into your own dark, tender places. What do you find there?  Can you open to it, speak it, know it? Can you relax into the mysterious embrace of the Feminine?

National Gratitude 

Waiting for our flight from Ubon back to Bangkok from this airport built by the US military as a bombing base during the Vietnam Nam war. I wanted to capture this image. There’s a monk sitting under the sign, so I took the picture from across the way. I’m continually struck by the relationship between the Thai people and Buddhism. Every location has a shrine to the Buddha with incense lit daily to honor their ancestors. It’s about gratitude rather than worship. Our guide was “so proud” of our familiarity with Buddhism.

I’m continually struck by how the Buddhist precepts infuse this culture. Adjacent to our hotel in a sort of suburb of Ubon is the regional prison with its hydroponic gardens and palm groves just outside the inmate area with its barbed wire and guard towers. How unlike the typical US prison, off in some isolated no-man’s land far from families and difficult to reach without a car.

For all our religious righteousness, we often fall short of compassion. We could take a page from the Buddha’s teachings and be better for it.

Pilgrimage 

So here we are in Ubon Ratchatani in a hotel on one of the main streets. Karaoke and linen tablecloths in the restaurant. Another day of travel.

Ubon is the location of Wat Nong Pa Phong, the monastery founded by the Venerable Ajahn Chah in 1954 that put the Buddhist Thai Forest tradition on the map for Western seekers for many decades.

When I told one of the hotel employees on Koh Samet this morning that we were traveling to Ubon to visit this Wat, his face lit up. “Are you a Buddhist?” he asked me. How to answer clearly through cultural and linguistic differences?

No. I am not a practicing Buddhist today. But almost a decade ago in the depths of my seeking, I was led to Theravada through first Vipassana, then Insight meditation practice and ultimately through teachers who had trained with him, to Ajahn Chah. His writings were the metaphorical raft of the Buddha’s teaching that carried me across a difficult stretch of water. I spent a summer reading one of his books on the stoop of my house. It was, He was, my “balm in Gilead.”

I had studied with two of his students, Thanissara and Kittisaro, at the Insight Meditation Center in Massachusetts and heard their stories about their time at the monastery. So when the opportunity came to travel to Thailand this year, it was an easy decision to add Ubon and Wat Nong Pa Phong to my itinerary.

Tomorrow our driver will take us there, to the place where Luang Por founded a sanctuary and passed his remarkable life. My days as a Dedicated Dharma Practitioner in the Theravada tradition are behind me, but the wisdom of Luang Por, with whom I share a birthday, and the hours of darkness lit by those who followed in his path, reside in my spiritual DNA. It will be a pilgrimage in the truest sense of the word. Decades later, I will sit with him in spirit, in reverence, in the place that he carved out of the wilderness for all who came seeking the light.

Homelife

This morning is bright and breezy. The shades slap in against the screens. It’s cold, 30 degrees below the forecast high. It’s summer. Fire season. Dry and windy.

Yesterday I picked and froze another few gallons of raspberries. There should be a word for them this time of year like pride of lions, or murder of crows. They are an army of jewels, gumdrop sized, purple shading to red, fragrant and sweet, and hot with juice. They are a monstrosity of joy. Relentlessly ripening.

In the afternoon I worked on continuing to fire-proof our yard, cutting the dead and dying grasses, raking pine needles and cones, instant tinder, and hauling it by handcart halfway down our driveway far enough away from the house to be less of a hazard. It was hot and dry and dusty. But the yard is an oasis of green: grass, garden, aspen trees, tall stately pines, all ringed by golden grass hills.

That’s where the fire was three years ago. It swept across the hills behind our house and ran downhill to a few feet from our garden, stopped by a trench hand dug by firefighters. It melted the irrigation hoses into black, geometric tattoos. We spent a day dousing brush fires around the yard, watching the groves of aspen and cottonwood along the irrigation line burn and smolder. It was heartbreaking.

But. We were spared the great loss of home. And now we tend it like our bodies. Like our selves. How can I explain how dear this is? The privilege to live here in this precious nook above the Valley floor. To hear by seasons the river, the aspen leaves’ inimitable breath, the birdsong of early morning and in winter a silence so brilliant it sings.

It is perhaps a cliche to say “chop wood and carry water,” but if it is a cliche, it is also true. We live on, in, and through this landscape. We feed it, and it feeds us. There is always work to do, the work of living so close to nature. Our best efforts are fragile and flimsy and need constant attention. We are here but a short while and by the grace of God. So another day begins.

Exit 0: Coming to the End of Suffering

New Jersey, where I grew up, is bisected north to south by two major highways, the Garden State Parkway and the Turnpike. If you’re a South Jersey Girl, like me, they take you home from metropolitan environs of New York to the rural, marshy farmlands of this small, coastal state. The terminus of the Garden State Parkway, Cape May, the southernmost tip of the state, is Exit 0.

I was thinking of this recently while pondering the frequent refrain of students of spirituality: I want an end of suffering. I was struck by the image, both a little trite and at the same time extremely accurate, of life–especially spiritual life–as a journey. We could say that life is a journey to liberation for, as all life ends in death, with its unknowable terrain, at death we are free from life and all it brings. The ancient Greeks believed, as spoken by Sophocles’ chorus at the end of Oedipus Rex ,”Count no man happy until he dies, free from pain at last.”

For most seekers, suffering is something to be avoided at all costs through a variety of bypassing behaviors. And yet, paradoxically, we cannot come to the end of suffering until and unless we have passed through it, not by it. To evoke my journey metaphor, if we go through life in the express lane, never taking the roads through the small towns of suffering, we have no experience, no understanding of it. We haven’t seen its byways, tasted its flavors, smelled its odors. It’s not possible to live without suffering, so to pretend to do so by avoiding or ignoring it, is to pass through life being only partly alive.

In the work of Trillium Awakening, we teach students how to live fully as themselves. Our tools of greenlighting, holding, and feeling deeply with and as the body, develop our capacity to live the paradox of our limited humanity and our boundless divine nature. Resting in this paradox brings about a Second Birth into a life of authentically being who and how we are. And as we arrive at this portal of embodied awakened life, we continue to integrate our experience of suffering, which has helped to shape us into the human beings we are. We arrive at our destination: a deepening ability to fully feel all that life holds. And yet the journey is not complete.

Second Life is a process, an unfolding, a continually expanding capacity to be with what is. Like Exit 0, which is both a beginning and an ending, Second Birth is a portal, a culmination of one process and the beginning of another. And suffering is part of the landscape we traverse along the way. It becomes a part of our lived experience, more familiar so that we can open our hearts to it with vulnerability, compassion, and trust in the nature of Being. We cannot live and be completely free from pain. To fully awaken as embodied consciousness does not give us a free pass from life’s often unfathomable and painful mysteries, but it does give us more heart, greater sensibility of the nature of our aliveness. It gives us a way to trust in Being.