Heartbreak | Sitting in Turbulence

I feel oddly inspired today to thread together a few different experiences and ideas with a couple quotes. May this share my inspiration precisely as the etymology of that word implies: others breathing in the animating spirit of the ideas here for their own benefit.


I’ll start with some morning pages from today. I’ll cut a bit for brevity, but I was surprised at the vulnerability and feelings of mistrust that spilled out. I know that I have these feelings, but generally, they aren’t this intense. The sudden burst surprised me, but it’s an interesting change in the death I’ve described in recent posts and leaves me wondering about my future and whether focusing on compassion is the better direction for a fuller life, rather than the egoic hurt of identity and love. I’ll expand on that in the second section after morning pages.

Second, but it came up first emotionally and in order of events, I just saw one of my poems to [the person] briefly as I flipped this open. So many things like that come back to mind now and make me feel like a complete idiot.

I mean, it just emphasizes the feeling of unfairness, of not being seen, of not being valued. She told me that the poem was “the sweetest thing anyone had ever done for me”. Yet, now, it’s buried in some corner, forgotten, just like I am. Does intense effort even matter in the end? I honestly don’t even know, and I ultimately don’t know that I can ever really trust anyone to value me back. I keep thinking: “I need a spiritual friend,” and my mind replies with – “My friends! There are no friends!” I’ll keep meditating and building gratitude, like in this moment.

Myself – Morning Pages Journal

I know this feeling is there. I told a friend a while ago: “What do you do when you tell a person your heart beats for them, and they basically react with: “That’s nice. Whatevs.”? How do you trust love at all after that?” That’s part of where I’m at, beyond the feelings that it’s unlikely that I will find someone who is highly compatible with me. How do you trust? The vulnerability of putting your heart out there to care, to give, to love is intense. I think I’ve felt unseen one too many times, and this time, it just feels too fundamental for me to really trust the process of others. I’ve always operated from a hermeneutics of trust when it comes to love. I don’t know if I can do that anymore.

As a counterpoint, I want to return to a beautiful moment from last night and cap it off with a couple quotes. This experience is the reference in the final line above of “keep meditating and building gratitude”.

Last night, I went down to the sea and pumped up my inflatable paddleboard to enjoy perhaps the last really warm evening before the rains of fall. It was right before sunset. I put in my headphones, went down to the water, and paddled out into the cool breeze. I paddled north – my destination about a mile down the shore, a set of pillars where I had spent some of my favorite moments from this year with the person. She introduced me to paddleboarding and to my destination. The water rippled with every stroke, gliding along with my arms’ strength. The movement felt peaceful and empowering as post-rock accompanied the changing colors, graceful flows of birds in the sky and waves beneath me alongside the misty mountains in the distance like something out of Tolkien.

When I reached my spot, I stopped and stretched my legs. I’m still no good at standing up, so I tend to kneel and paddle. It makes my legs stiff after a bit. I looked at the mountains, and my board slowly turned with the waves and faced the beach. I saw many people there, catching the final gasps of summer just like me. I switched to sit cross-legged and set the paddle across my lap. I realized that this could be a great way to meditate, as my heart struggled with the mix of the beautiful scenery with my myriad associations of love and loss. I put my hands in a zen meditation mudra, with the paddle on my lap, after changing the music to a fittingly deep song for the moment (will cross-post to a post on that song soon!). I breathed in, feeling the rocking of the waves, letting my eyes gently unfocus, seeing the beach and people there with me. My mind shifted to a version of the equanimity meditation I had been doing a few months ago – thinking of all their own lives, stories, motivations, and struggles. I repeated the mantra: “All beings are heirs to their karma,” and felt my heart gently open to the sensation of life rocking up and down, being moved by things beyond our full control, the life-waves pushing us about, just as the waves bobbed my board up and down. My resolve grew to sit in this and open my heart with equanimity.

I had to stop a couple times to avoid the waves of boats or reposition to not bob too far out or in, but I spent several minutes like this, and my heart felt much more open to the world around me and the pains of others, including my own. The thought occurred to me and did again this morning: “What’s my own karma right now, and how can I be more accepting of it and myself in it?” I don’t have an answer yet, but my heartmind is trying to sit with that.

Here are two quotes from two recently discovered books that I read after writing morning pages this morning. I feel they expand on these ideas in even grander and more inspirational directions and depths than anything I have written (or could write here):

It’s clear, in this peaceful desert, that peace is not the opposite of violence. Peace is in violence. It can only be seen by the open eyes of awareness. Peace is itself. The experience of peace I’m discovering in the desert had always been with me in the city. I hadn’t let it in.

The peace being expressed in these writings doesn’t come from the mind, the lips, or from gentle actions. It doesn’t come from legislation made by governments or peacemaking movements. It’s a peace that appears without effort. Like the desert filling up my eyes. It appears like snow, wind, or rain. Peace arrives on its own if I don’t resist it.

During years of chanting and meditation, the habit of fighting against what was in front of me rose and dissolved like waves in an ocean. There were times when I asked questions, critiqued, and took action. And there were times when confusion took over, the mind doubled down on itself. The only thing to do during those times was to breathe and be still. The body knows when to do this. Stillness is inherent. After suffering and resistance, the only thing left is contemplation of life and after contemplation, stillness, and after stillness, peace.

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel – The Deepest Peace: Contemplations from a Season of Stillness, pp. 12-13.

More than any other aspect of embodied spirituality, I have found that living more fully from our hearts is the single most powerful step for many of us. The shift from thinking of the heart abstractly to actually feeling physical heartbeats can transform us in the moment. Try it when you are already in a fairly present state and let it deepen. Then try it when you are emotionally stuck and see what happens.

Susan Aposhyan – Heart Open, Body Awake: Four Steps to Embodied Spirituality, p. 15.

May this inspire others to sit and open their hearts, even in the pain of loss, in the trauma that breaks trust, and in the stillness underneath the ever moving turbulence of movement and violence.

Gassho!

A Lotus in the Muddy Water

Recent times have been a struggle for me, as I’m sure they have been for so many. I sit mired in unemployment, and it doesn’t seem that countless job applications are going anywhere. Furthermore, virtually every other aspect of life feels stagnant. There seems no hope any time soon of moving forward out of the muck, despite my best efforts. In my worst moments, I feel the downward pull into those murky depths of depression.

Thankfully, I’ve been trying to really focus on mindfulness and meditation practice again. Thus, in a couple of my worst moments recently, I’ve tried to stop, focus on my breathing, and just let thoughts pass through as I let my attention take in not only them but my body and all the sound and world that is my greater sphere of experience and interdependence, which is so muted and out of focus when the narrative, samsaric mind revs up into full gear. When I’ve done this, I’ve found moments of light kensho where the self seems to just melt away, and everything is just happening, one becoming, rather than “I” and world. I’m not sure what word to use for it. It’s “peaceful” and “compassionate”, but these are both inadequate somehow, as it’s no longer a reaction of me as the observer and judger of what’s happening. It’s just becoming. Afterwards, everything seems more worthy of acceptance and gratitude as it is, and reactions of anger or judgment seem silly — from a misplaced, reactive, and self-protective stance that misses key aspects of how others are wrapped in their own stress and confusion.

I’d remembered the phrase “a lotus in the muddy water” when thinking about these experiences and it struck me as a good metaphor. Our samsaric lives are right in the middle of the chaotic churn of karmic mud. The water can’t help but be muddy. However, in trying to escape, we only rile it up more and more. Yet, there’s beauty in seeing that this isn’t some terrible, profane thing that we must overcome. The chance at peace is right there in the middle of it by taking root and growing in it. Only then can you truly blossom.

May this help others find the ability to pause and open their minds and hearts in their most trying moments.

Gassho!

Musings of an Aspiring Oneironaut: Interconnected Awareness in Dream?

I recently had a dream in which I went to a doctor — and there was a weird sexual temptation and gender-bending with this doctor, but hey, dreams are weird that way. I don’t recall the reason why I was visiting this doctor, but the doctor was known for having unique and alternative methods to address issues.

At some point, the doctor kneeled before me and induced a trance in me by looking me in the eye directly and asking me a question (although it’s a couple weeks later, so I don’t remember what the question was). The important thing was my answer. In my trance, my eyes closed, and I saw a beautiful golden statue of the Buddha. It emanated wonder and peace – a soothing certainty that the universe is an unfolding connection in all aspects, not only in those I like, and I felt myself dissolve into that interdependence. Along with this feeling came the words, “I love the Buddha. I am a Buddhist.” Yes, not nearly as profound as the emotion, but it capped off the whole experience and made it even more personal.

This feeling that I tried to describe just now is an intense insight that I’ve been lucky enough to feel a few times in meditative practice, an embodied experience of interdependence and the other seemingly mysterious and abstract ideas of Buddhist cosmology. Then again, I had the first experience of this before I had fully read up on these ideas, perhaps its what made them sensible to me – having already sensed them.

The interesting thing about the dream is that this is the first time I’ve had this experience within a dream. I have read a lot about all the amazing things that are possible in lucid dreams, but I hadn’t expected that deep meditative insight could be experienced in dream.

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I take this as an exciting inspiration. I have ups and downs with dream yoga, but this experience shows me that the potential of it is just as deep (if not more so) than waking life.


May this inspire you to feel interdependence in your waking life and to deepen your own pursuits of insight, whether waking or dreaming.

Gassho!

Reactivity

Careening –
Toward, against
Retreating –
Away, behind
Reactivity
On course?
No, bound

Locked, empty, and confused
Seeking to wrest control
From the jaws
Of existential angst
– A threat to overcome
A life overrun

Where is there to be found
A freedom from endless rounds?
– In letting go
In just this

meditation-2

 


When you encounter difficulties, the feelings and stories that arise in reaction are just that, feelings and stories. They are whirlwinds of confusion, based not in what is happening now but in deeply held beliefs about you and your relationship to the world. Let them swirl — leaves in the wind. Sometimes you fall back into them and lose touch with the present, but a moment of recognition always comes. Right then, come back to your body, come back to your breath, and rest. The confusion, the stories and the feelings are still there. They continue to swirl, but you are not lost in them.

Just rest. Do not try to control your feelings. Open to all the stories and feelings as much as you can without being consumed by them. You will experience shock, disorientation, anger and self-blaming — reactive mechanisms that protect you from the full impact of what has happened. Sit patiently and let your system sort itself out.

As you rest in the confusion, bit by bit, you separate your confusion from the challenge you are facing. Still the impulse is to oppose. Ask yourself, “What am I opposing?” Then, “Do I need to oppose this?” And, finally, “Is opposing called for at all?”

When you no longer oppose what is happening in you, you are able to rest and see more clearly. What do you see? Look in the resting. Rest in the looking. In doing this, you are mixing awareness with what you experience and what you experience with awareness. Keep coming back to the clarity without losing the stability. Keep coming back to the stability without losing the clarity.

Learn to trust that clarity. Over time it enables you to act without relying on conceptual thinking or strategizing.

– In “Reflections on Silver River: Tokme Zongpo’s Thirty Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva” by Ken McLeod

May this inspire you to rest in your confusion and find the clarity to act with freedom rather than reacting from your stories.

Gassho!

Experience in Meditation

What arises in this moment?
“Joy”?
“Agony”?
“Nostalgia”?

Can you openly be present to it?
Whatever it may be?
So many butterflies
And moths, flitting about…

Don’t react. Just feel–fully.
Just anger.
Just lust.
Just sadness.

No narrative yarns following these swarms.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
No attachment.

Buddha-9897


May this inspire you to meditate.

Gassho!

Nothing to Do…

If, if, if…
A set of checkboxes
Mark them all, and…
Get happiness?
Even a spiritual path–
A pursuit of spiritual materialism
An accumulation of ego
The doing of an “I”
“My attainment”
A misperception
Of Truth
“I” am not solid–an illusion
The word, a placeholder,
A Transcendental Unity of Apperception
My “Higher Self”?
Not like anything conventionally conceived:
The ebb and flow of everything
Not separate from it-
A divine chaos–unfolding
The beautiful, empty, mysterious Tao
Emerging-abiding sway of all difference
The path: There’s nothing to “do”
Nowhere to “go”
Enlightenment is here: in this moment
Nirvana in samsara
Just live: realize this one step.

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Inspired by a wonderful meditation this morning and all the wise things I regularly read: in this case, I’ve been particularly moved by Dainin Katagiri’s You Have to Say Something. This passage clarifies some of the final lines:

So, how can we practice zazen as an end in itself? All you have to do is take a step. Just one step. Strictly speaking, there is just one thing we have to face, and nothing else. If you believe there is something else besides this one thing, this is not pure practice. Just take one step in this moment with wholeheartedness. Intellectually, we think about the past and the future, but if we take one step, this shore and the other shore are now. Taking one step already includes all other steps. It includes this shore and the other shore. This one step is zazen.

I’ve also been amazed by a recent find of Loy Ching-Yuen’s The Book of the Heart: Embracing Tao. I would put it up alongside the Tao Te Ching and the Dhammapada; it’s a beautiful intertwining of Taoism and Buddhism written by a true master from about a century ago. I plan on writing about several passages in the future. For now, enjoy these selections from the sections On Tao:

3. Life is a dream,
the years pass by like flowing waters.
Glamour and glory are transient as autumn and smoke;
what tragedy–for with the sun set deeply in the west,
still there are those
lost among paths of disillusionment.

Our heart should be clear as ice.
Forget all the worldly nonsense.
Sit calmly, breathe quietly, heart bright and spotless as an empty mirror.
This is the path to the Buddha’s table.

5. What labor we expend sorting out our mundane chores year after year.
But doing them without regret or tears,
without resistance,
that’s the real secret of wu wei
like the mountain stream that flows unceasingly:
Elsewise, all we do goes for nought.

We can hold back neither the coming of the flowers
nor the downward rush of the stream;
sooner or later, everything comes to its fruition.
The rhythms are called by the Great Mother,
the Heavenly Father.
All the rest is but a dream;
We need not disturb our sleeping.

To see his brilliant fusion of Buddhism and Taosim better, compare this quote with my analysis of wu wei here and my analysis of the famous lines about flowers falling in Dōgen’s Genjōkōan here.
Finally, my words here make subtle references to Chögyam Trungpa, Immanuel Kant, Martin Heidegger, and Gilles Deleuze, and this meditation and wordplay would never have come to be if I hadn’t recently read the Dalai Lama’s How to See Yourself as You Really Are, all of which (these myriad sources!) I highly recommend to anyone willing to begin a spiritual path with heart.


May this inspire your own investigations and journeys along the path, fellow wanderers. May you find ideas to play with and solace in the beautiful words of all these masters who have brought these insights into my life.

Gassho!

Open, Bare Gratitude

Gratitude for all–whatever arises. It’s beautiful yet nearly impossible to cultivate. It takes a radical acceptance, an embrace of the world as it is. We’re far more likely to get caught up in our minds–in our interpretations, in how we think things should be.

Near the end of my shift yesterday, I went for a walk during a break. The afternoon sunshine shone brilliantly as I did laps around the building. Cars whizzed past excitedly as people left to return home for the day. I went around one corner of the building and nearly gasped aloud as I looked up at the sky. The clouds were so crisp, their edges so intricate and nuanced with definition and color. I continued my walk in an ongoing meditation–open to each moment without grasping onto it. The birds chirping as they fly overhead… The bee buzzing by me to gather pollen… The wispy, white cotton from the trees in bloom floating on the wind… The people at the bus stop chatting as they wait for the bus… My feet thudding softly on the asphalt, feeling every shift of bone and muscle in the dynamic change that is a step forward…

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Being open and aware like this, even for a few minutes, is no small feat. Indeed, the discursive mind waits at the fringes, looking for a moment to jump in and comment–grasping at further analysis, and I have a particularly long-winded discursive mind! However, we mistake this analyzer for the depths of thought, for the mind itself, yet underneath its myriad words, there is the open, bare gratitude of being present. Before the reactions of dis/liking, commenting, and analyzing, there is just letting be. This ground is always open, waiting for us to slow down and embrace it with gratitude and wonder.


May this post help you find that open, bare gratitude.

Gassho!

Stopping to Look – The Invitation of Every Moment

[After journaling at length about a frustrating morning.]

I stopped just now and focused on my coffee cup. The swirls of oil film across the surface, moving slowly, dreamily. The steam wafts off the top, lazily unfurling into swirling waves, loops, and whorls. I touch the handle, looking at my single finger lining up with the edges of the curve. I focus on the sense of touch–the smoothness of the glaze, the comfort of the solid pottery bearing the weight of my finger. I feel my touch extend to the table bearing the weight of the cup, the table’s rest on the floor, and the floor extending to the entire room of people around me and the whole world outside the window just beyond them.

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It’s so easy to get involved in our own pain to the point of overlooking the entire universe outside our heads, but it’s all there–just a breath away. All it takes is only a second to stop and look. The best part? Every moment is an invitation to do just that.

Mantra for Presence

One of the experiences that returns again and again in meditation is the flow of various thoughts.  At times, it can be difficult not to get swept away in the current of them all; rather than watching them wash by, rippling up and disappearing again, you can get pulled along and no longer see them as separate and impermanent. Getting carried away by them like this keeps them going and makes them seem solid, permanent things which are part of “me“.

Keeping a mindful presence is the challenge and boon of meditation. Returning the mind to breathing and sitting can save you from the ongoing rush of thoughts by opening some gaps–gaps of simple attentiveness and peaceful presence. One key to this in shamatha or shikantaza is labeling thoughts as “thinking” or more descriptively, “anger”, “lust”, “escapism”, etc. I’ve found that using the label “elsewhere” as a simple reminder that I’m not staying fully present here with my breath and body is effective. However, sometimes, a little more push can help. The other day, I came up with this mantra, repeating it in my mind when struggling with thoughts. It was quite helpful, and I thought it worth sharing:

Be a Buddha

As you think this line, let all of your conceptual resonance for “Buddha” (e.g. mindfulness, equanimity, presence, compassion, images of the easy smile, etc.) pull you back to practice. Try to embody these concepts as inspiration for you to return back to your breath and be present to it. Let yourself adopt that gentle smile. It’s very likely that you’ll find you can’t stop…

If you need further focus, say this as well:

Smile at Mara

Mara is the demon that tried to tempt the Buddha and smite him down in the story of his attainment of Enlightenment. Those difficulties we encounter in life can be greeted with a smile: acceptance and equanimity. This transforms the swords and arrows of Mara into flowers, as in the Buddha’s tale. The swords and arrows of our own mind as well as our own tempting thoughts can be metamorphosed into calm and peace–the basic goodness of mind can be recognized as a lotus opening within the rippling thoughts. In saying this line, realize that you don’t have to master the thoughts. Rather, open yourself to them. Surrender to them. Act through inaction. Smile at them. In letting them be and surrendering to their flow, you’ll find that they aren’t solid at all, and they really aren’t about “me”. Rather, your mind is that calm lotus, and the thoughts flow past, impermanent, fluid, ephemeral.

Be a Buddha
Smile at Mara

May these words bring your mind peace.

Gassho


On the night on which he was to attain enlightenment, the Buddha sat under a tree. While he was sitting there, he was attacked by the forces of Mara. The story goes that they shot swords and arrows at him, and that their weapons turned into flowers.

What does this story mean? My understanding of it is that what we habitually regard as obstacles are not really our enemies, but rather our friends. What we call obstacles are really the way the world and our entire experience teach us where we’re stuck. What may appear to be an arrow or a sword we can actually experience as a flower. Whether we experience what happens to us an obstacle and enemy or as teacher and friend depends entirely on our perception of reality. It depends on our relationship with ourselves.–Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, p. 65

Free Meditation

This is a beautiful work of sound, and it’s very soothing. Enjoy!

John Burggraaf SoundDesign©

Enjoy my FREE MEDITATION! You can also use this as relaxing music, even to easily fall asleep. Thanks for liking and sharing in order to reach and help lots of people.
John

https://soundcloud.com/john-burggraaf/singing-bowls-and-ireland-nature_sounds

Singing Bowls - Cliffs of Moher Singing Bowls – Cliffs of Moher

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