From the roof, I can see coconut palms, stretching out as far as the eye can see, in three directions. To the west, is the Arabian Sea, disappearing over the horizon. It’s gorgeous, and new, but totally posting a podcast is impossible. I take a morning walk to the Goddess pujas (Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Uma) through tropical garden paths, and stroll the bridges over the backwaters, which is totally conducive to meditation, but not broadcasting. Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) was here for a couple of days, between tours. She hugged us, and gave us spiritual teachings, and passed out rice and dahl for 2000, and generally imbued the space with holiness, and I’d love to say I’ve got a podcast with her coming up, but she was pretty busy. Which is cool, I’m ok with that. Jungle Podcasting is difficult.
But I did want see if I could sneak this little post up through my 3g hotspot. (1 gig for 185 rupees) I had every intention of getting a couple of episodes out much sooner. For those of you that don’t know, I experimented with living in a yurt on a hillside in Marin County. And while that had some of it’s own first world level connectivity issues, it was lovely. Until it wasn’t. There was really heavy rain last month, and a lot of the area flooded, highways got shut down, and the yurt turned into a wet, moldy mess. So we (the gorgeous Somya Devi) and I packed up our stuff in a super big hurry, vacated by the end of the month, and hightailed it out of the country. It was a sprint, and didn’t really leave any time to post the two episodes I have on the hard drive. Now things have calmed down, there is plenty of time for this sort of thing, and the atmosphere is sublime, it’s the technology that’s off. Podcasting is apparently a first world activity. A privilege of sorts. But, I digress, and I’ll leave the politics and social justice talks for people who are better suited.
So, I beg the forgiveness of Vraja Kishor, and Noah Julian, who played their parts amazingly well. They showed up, and shared of themselves, their wisdom, their struggles. I really look forward to you hearing them. And, while at the ashram, I also ran into Prajna Viera. We did a session on location, overlooking the sea, as her husband laughed at us the entire time. It came out pretty good, even if the sound is a little off. So, as soon as I’m back in a place where uploading is possible, that’s not one, not two, but three recordings of conversations with some very brilliant, interesting, and patient people.
At every breath I’m happier
What’s this? Am I mad again?
I went mad once, then again.
At every breath I’m happier.
I sneeze: an explosion of ash, puff!
The city blazes, disappears.Once again I’ll build myself
A house, fire-proof, pleasant.
I begin carting bricks, with others.
The cornerstone is laid, my dream
Indestructible. But Then I sneeze-
The city rises like the phoenix.
I was talking to an old friend from The Philadelphia Satsang the other day, and she wanted to know what I was reading. That’s one of the kind of things we talk about. Better that than gossip, right? I was excited to answer, because I’m on this Zen Poetry kick. I don’t like saying things like ‘I’m on a zen poetry kick right now’, because I think it sounds pretentious, I can hear John Cusack’s character from High Fidelity making fun of Tim Robbin’s character, ‘he wears rings and reads zen poetry’.
I went up to Oregon last month, to help my friend pick out a little school bus to transform into an rv/tiny house. On the way back down, I stopped in Eugene, my stomping grounds from 95-00. I wanted to do some of the old things I used to do. One of my old rituals was, I’d go to John Perry’s yoga class, and then I’d spend an hour or two going through the yoga section at Smith Family Books. They shared a building. It’s really where I got my initial yoga education. Their yoga book section was huge, and was mixed in with books on channeled pleiadian teachings, buddhism, shamanism. It’s where I first really dug into Ram Dass.
So, It was college, and I didn’t have a ton of money to spend on extra books. I could do the Ramen Noodle equivalent of book collecting. And so, I read what I could while I was there, and I would also look for tiny little gems, needles in haystacks. How much wisdom could I buy for the smallest amount of money? What does $3, $4 worth of enlightenment look like?
Well, this trip, $4 bought me a copy of Afterimages: Zen Poems By Shinkcihi Takahasi. Shinkichi was born in 1901, and didn’t spend his entire life cloistered. So there are modern references, of TV, of Mexico, and even some romantic references, that I didn’t quite expect:
Thistles bloom in the vast moonlight
Cup of the Mexican Sands
Thistles bloomed on the round hillock
of a woman’s heart.
And he’s funny, “Exactly thirty years ago my father died, While Autumn flowers were fading. What’s happened since? Don’t ask him-”
And at the same time profound. The poem that I opened this post really spoke to me about the way the mind moves in meditation. Creating entire worlds, destroying them, building them up again, only to have them washed away by forces beyond our control. It happens over and over again, even in a short session, and there is nothing to be done other than to continue breathing, and continue observing. We get taught that all things are impermanent, that all things appear to rise, stay for a time, and then pass away. And we internalize that insight, and start to see it in our lives. But most of the time, when we talk about it, or read about it, it is in a dry, technical way. This is, of course, problematic. Our minds, and our soul require a certain amount of poetry. Poetry shines a light into corners of our mind that a lecture (like this one) just can’t. It’s almost like a little secret. You get it, and a wry smiles crosses your lips, and you grow.
Muso is much more old school. Born in 1275, he lived as a monk from a very early age, and sought a ‘special transmission outside the scriptures’. He became well respected for his insight, so much so, that several warlords and emperors all sought his audience, asking him to live at their various temples. In his later years, he took to tending the temple gardens, and is known as the father of the zen rock garden. Much of his work still stands today.
It is said that he attained enlightenment late in the evening while walking through his hermitage. He had no light, but thought he knew exactly where he was. He put his hand out to steady himself on a wall that was supposed to be there, and instead, found himself lying on the ground. In this moment, he broke through to the other side. He then wrote his satori poem, which is as follows:
Year after year
I dug in the earth
Looking for the blue of heaven
Only to feel
the pile of dirt
Until once in the dead of night
I tripped on a broken brick
and kicked it into the air
and saw that without a thought
I had smashed the bones
of the empty sky
And this is why I practice. It’s almost instinct to dig with the rational mind, to try to figure out heaven, to try to computate our way into heaven, and it never works. I need to be reminded to that the sky is above me, and all I need to do is lift my head up, and breathe it in.
It only gets better from there. Muso is full of them. I’d love for you to hear more of them, but I really don’t want to type them out any more. Pick up a copy for yourself, your students will thank you. ——–
Muddy Water is best Cleared By Leaving It Alone – Alan Watts (from The Way of Zen)
It is time to move away from the metaphor of ‘mud as concept’ and move into the understanding of ‘mud as process’.
We tend to think of our minds as a container, filled to the brim with the complicated details of our lives. We have so much to do, and so little time. So much is asked of us, and resources appear scarce. If we can just get a little quiet time, without pressing demands, only then we can relax.
This may provide some relief, but it doesn’t get to the root of the issue. As long as we think of the mud as being something outside of ourselves, we are a victim, powerless to forces outside ourselves. And this is no way to live.
The mud of life is just going to happen, there is nothing to be done about that. Unless we are in some kind of untenable or abusive situation, we need to deal with reality as it comes.
Closer to the truth, is seeing the mud as being inside of us. But the mud is not some kind of ‘impurity’ or bad energy . Nothing so maudlin as that. We want to step away from ideas that induce shame, or perpetuate self hate. We don’t need to cleanse. We don’t need to buy indulgences.
It’s much simpler than that. Our minds have a tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be. Hungry for meaning and spiritual satisfaction, the mind gnaws on the events of our life. It elevates the smallest details and the most irrelevant, irrational fears into high drama. Perhaps the mind is just trying to be helpful, but it often just really isn’t. It takes us out of joy and peace, all the while telling us it has our best interests in mind.
You can’t throw rocks at a ripple. There’s the rub. Hatred never ceases by hatred. (thats from The Dhammapada )
The best thing we can do, is leave it alone. If it wants to wrestle, let it wrestle itself. This is why we have our yin yoga and meditation practice. We put ourselves into poses, we breathe, and we let the mind do what it wants. Somehow, some-miraculous-how, it starts to settle all on its own. Something we couldn’t do, something we only made worse with our effort, just happens naturally, when we leave it alone.
I don’t practice Kundalini Yoga much anymore. I did it in college a bit, one of the few yoga centers in Eugene was a Kundalini Yoga center, complete with a Guru Granth Sahib. I thought Yogi Bhajan was amazing, and got to hear him speak in 2000, when I spent the week at Casa De Guru Ram Das. They kicked me out, eventually, which is a small point of pride, but I wish that I had done something more exciting to deserve it. That is another story. As my practice evolved, I gravitated towards vinyasa, and then yin. Kundalini fell by the wayside. My studies in ayurveda led me to the conclusion that I would be best served by grounding and calming practices, instead of kriyas that sought to force energy up my spine through any means necessary. I got an email from the wellness center down the way the other day, saying that there was a Kundalini Yoga teacher visiting from mexico, that she was offering a class, and it was ten bucks. I didn’t have any other plans for saturday afternoon, and decided to walk over and participate. I walked over as mindfully as I could. I have been reading The Miracle of Mindfulness By Thich Nhat Hanh, and have been redoubling my efforts to keep my mind in present time awareness. Its been a while since I’ve read any TNH, and I forgot how much I liked him. I might even ask my meditation and/or yin yoga students to give the book a try. So, I was walking, aware that i was walking. Then I was sitting in class with everyone else, aware that I was sitting in class with everyone else. I was ready to put my body in shapes, and be aware that my body was in those shapes. Practice began, and I was enjoying well enough. Ong Namo, Guru Dev Namo. It had been years since I chanted that. Rolling my hips open, Breath of Fire, many long minutes of leg lifts. Then I got grumpy. A voice in my head, one that is often convincing, told me, “I hate this. I hate this. I hate kundalini yoga.” I was aware that there was a voice in my head that was hateful. I was about to agree, to defer to the opinion of this voice. But then, another voice countered, “So what?” Yeah. So what? My body felt good, and my breath was flowing, and the hatred seemed pretty unsubstantiated. I went on back to practicing, the So What mantra spinning round the stupa of my mind. Inhale So, exhale What. The voice came back, it sounded younger this time, brattier, “I hate Kundalini Yoga!” “Why do you hate it?” “It’s Hard!” The voice whined, if it had feet, it would have stomped its feet. All I could do was offer a little internal shrug, explain that the yoga practice was going to continue, and that the voice was certainly welcome to vacate the premises should it so desire. So, that’s pretty much it. My back got a little tight after that, which also tempted me to slack off, but I decided that it was a pranic thing, and that by being mindful of the way that the energy wanted to move through my body, and practicing in a way that would support it would be the best thing to do. I think it worked. Class ended, and I was aware of it ending. So, class was good. I liked it. I doubt I’m going to go full turban or anything, but I think I’ll work it into my regimen a little more often. I know that its standard mindfulness jargon to discuss how we are not our thoughts. Its not uncommon for meditators to have a thought that they identify with, and then through practice have the insight that the thought is not them, and certainly not aligned with their highest aspirations. Its not even new for me. But, Its a good thing to remember, especially because thoughts can also come wrapped up nice and tight with a collection of unpleasant emotions. Thought have one way of convincing us, and emotions, another. Just like the book title suggests, getting enough space to see them for what they are is nothing short of a miracle. The brat was endearing, in its way, and it certainly felt good to relate to him with a bemused attitude and a firm hand. Brats need discipline. And I’m super fond of my new mantra, “So What?” I think I’m going to get a lot of milage out of that one. Today wasn’t the first day that I was confronted by a bratty voice shouting opinions that are both urgent and irrelevant, and I can’t imagine it will be the last. I’m glad I’ve got a response, and I am aware that I am glad.
I discovered Daniel Higgs, through the song, “Say God”. This poem/song/whatever is deeply moving to me, and it is the kind of thoughts that I would like to have rolling through my head all the time. Or, at least, I would like an abundance of thoughts like these to frame the lack of thoughts like these.
You click here to buy his stuff on amazon, of course