Too Many Teachers

When I was young and started practicing 30 years ago, Zen was not a fad. It was gaining in popularity, but the number of books on the subject was in the tens, not thousands.

Similarly, there weren’t so many teachers, and certainly not so many made famous by media. Now it seems like there’s a teacher du jour – Eckhart Tolle this month, Adyashanti the next, and on and on.

I actually love those teachers. I love many teachers. But at some point you know you’ve heard everything there is to say. Intellectually, you get it. I don’t need to cram any more information in my head. As Steve said, what I need to realize is that I don’t know anything. As every teacher I respect would say, it’s not about learning what to do to get to a place of peace. It’s realizing that who I am IS peace. I am not these thoughts rushing around in my head. I’m not I’m not I’m not.

I believe Cheri would say I’m in the grips of conditioning, because the last thing I want to do is just let go and be happy. It’s time to take myself in hand.

So here I am again, putting something forth that I can practice today. And the winner is . . . “the one you’re looking for is the one who’s looking.” Hopefully I’ll get another glimpse of the truth of who I really am and report back soon.

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Back in the Saddle

You know, it’s January. So here I am.

The days are getting longer. It’s both pleasantly and eerily sunny and warm. Spring in January, kind of like last year. I feel myself coming out of hibernation, like putting the TV back in its closet and embracing the things of life. And the main thing for me for embracing life is always this – remembering my true nature.

And then the next logical question is how am I going to do that. A question only ego asks. Ego doesn’t want to be left out of this journey to disidentify from ego. And then I’m off on another project to get somewhere other than right where I am. I’m writing a post or reading a book or listening to a wise teacher to get me closer to the truth, which is right here, gleaming and obvious if I would just stop trying to get anywhere but here.

Funny – I haven’t meditated in a while. I don’t Really want to give up the chase and settle down right here. And yet, truth be told, this isn’t a whole lot of fun – always on the run, searching for happiness, living in a cesspool or regret, dissatisfaction, what ifs, and maybe in the future. When it comes down to it, really at the base of all of it, is fear. Fear that I am not enough, this is not enough, there won’t be enough in the future, and I’ll be on my death bed wondering at what point I went spectacularly wrong and wasted my precious life. At least shortly thereafter those questions will be put away forever and I will be free.

So I could get pretty worked up about this. And I do at times, but usually it’s just a steady stream of anxiety producing thoughts quietly whispered into my being keeping me on my toes, making sure my frontal lobe is active and needed every moment of the day. My dreams have been pretty anxiety ridden too, so every moment of the night as well I suppose.

Here I am again. I’ve forayed down a path that leads to suffering and I must turn around. The good news is just a single conscious breath and I’m back on the right path again – the pathless path – because in that moment of just resting in what is really here there is peace. And in peace, there is no place for ego.

Ego – frontal lobe tensed up. Present with things exactly as they are – ease and relaxation.

So if I have to have a project, it’s got to be this – be with things exactly as they are. The simplest way I can think of to do that for a frontal lobe that has taken over is to notice the breath. So simple. So calming. So free. Aaaaaah.

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Identified

My teacher had another way of expressing being stuck in ego. She called it being identified. Identified with an illusory separate self who I need to protect and promote. I found myself in just such a predicament yesterday. I was walking the dogs and noticed I was worrying about how I looked breathing through my mouth, which I do a lot when I’m getting exercise. Would I offend people with my ugliness? It was a small hellish view – one I remember having as a child during all of my school years. I walked around constantly wondering what other people were thinking of me.

It’s interesting that after many years of maturing and practicing and developing a life that feels settled, I can still have bouts of insecurity that is no different than my life at eight.

So here’s the difference: now I have moments where I come to. I realized what I was doing and remembered that what I’m really looking for is just about the opposite of what I’m looking for when I’m identified. When I’m identified I look outside myself to others to approve of or reject me. When I’m not identified I realize that what I’m really always looking for is the one who’s looking. The one who’s closer than my own skin.

I believe this is right view. I think it’s hard to have right view while living in the world with a job and a kid and pets and a husband and neighbors. The one I’m looking for is the one who’s looking. I remind myself of this again and again. It’s like coming home. Every time.

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Half the Worry

Here’s what occurred to me at a one day sitting today with my beloved Zen teacher Norman Fischer. Go for 50% of the worry. It occurred to me when I thought about what I’d like to have accomplished by the age of 50 (a period of zazen can be shockingly constructive for life planning). Cut my worry by 50%. It seemed like a good way to put a quantity to this thing I wanted to change.

I used my new goal during zazen. When I caught myself thinking, I would think “half the worry,” and I would instantly relax. It was like a trigger I often use with hypnosis – a word or something I do with a client to get her to let go and relax during labor. I think of my goal: “half the worry by 50.” And of course who doesn’t want to start working on that right away. My thoughts quiet, my mind and body release a whole bunch of tension.

I’ve developed a slight phobia of tunnels in the last couple years. On the way home, as I approached the tunnel I needed to pass through out of the headlands, I felt a little panic arise and thought, “half the worry.” And there I was, relaxed and fine.

It is non-threatening to tell yourself you’re going for half the worry. No punishment for the worrying you just did. In order to meet your 50% goal, you just won’t do that right now. Not saying you can’t worry at all – just half. The thought of what might happen, how out of control I might be without my precious worry need not cause me to worry further. It’s right there available to me. Just half as much. Let’s see if my life goes on without 100% of the worry. Let’s just see.

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In My Head

This is where I’ve been living a lot lately. There are repetitive songs. There is a finance calculator running in the background. Phrases that I think I need to remember and figure out are playing over and over. I think it’s safe to say I’m being tortured by my own brain.

So what do I do with this? I think the universal answer from any teacher I’ve studied with would be “nothing.” But then that would be qualified by, realize who you really are. You’re not these thoughts. You are not the one being victimized by them either.

So what am I? Nisargadata said “I am that.” I’m going to try this today. Simply coming back again and again to “I am that.”

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Being Bored

I am writing this as a parent of a six year old, only child who can’t read yet and whose screen time I have just cut to zero. Add to this that it is summer break and she is not in camp. I am needed a lot. Today Steve is giving me some of the day off. I am planning to write and do yoga and meditate and garden. But I am also going to take moments to stop, look around, and just be.

My daughter has been saying to me a lot this last week since I cut her off from TV and computers, “I’m bored.” I remember being bored as a child, actually whining up the stairs to my mom, “I’m bored.”

“Go run up and down the driveway,” she’d say just about every time. That shut me up. I never ever took that advice. That sounded far worse than being bored. When you’re bored, you want to be entertained. You want someone to read to you, or engage you in some way, or give you cake, or, naturally, put a movie on for you.

But those moments of boredom, I see now, were opportunities for me. I would go outside and sit in the sun, look around at the flowers and insects. I remember magical moments catching moths and butterflies between my cupped palms and opening them enough while pressing against my cheek to feel them flutter against my face.

So here I am with a day that is partially free. I also am not watching TV or playing video games. I am planning things to do, to make my time useful so that I feel I’ve accomplished something. But what if I accomplished nothing? What if I took more time off to just be, to look in the garden and see what’s happening there? Maybe I’d do yoga and meditate. Maybe I’d wander into the kitchen and cook something creative. Maybe I’d take the dog for a walk. What if there was space, even though it may be occasional, to be bored and see what wonderful things grew out of that.

I’ve got two hours. I think I’ll just see what happens next.

 

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Dropping Off

How to realize no self. How do I realize that I am an illusion, that all of this is unreal, that the way I perceive everything is wrong, that an attachment to this body, these thoughts, these feelings – to call them me – is completely and utterly wrong. How do I drop off body and mind?

I wrote that first paragraph almost a week ago, when Steve and Phoebe had headed out for vacation and the week stretched before me full of possibility for contemplative practice. As I read it now, it feels full of grasping, wanting a state other than the one that is here. After a week of little stress and few demands, I feel peace and am able to return to the fundamental point of Zen – one of the first things a student learns, the thing almost everyone thinks of when they hear the word Zen – be in this moment. No past. No future.

In a lecture I listened to this evening, Adyashanti said he was happy to realize there was no point in looking back. Although I try to hold it loosely, the memory of the deep insight I had many years ago stays with me, and there is a desire, so often there somewhere in my mind when I am practicing, to repeat that experience, to take it further, and make it stick. What I see right now is that the truth can only be found in this moment. It’s so obvious, but it’s taken this long, cool drink of all this space for me to see it – that mind and body are already dropped off. Life is living effortlessly right here and now. All I need to do is open my eyes and see the miracle.

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No Thought is True

I think I’m on to something with this lobotomy business. It is both obvious and impossible to get that all I have is this moment in which to realize the truth. Over and over. And over and over I’ve been doing this thing of relaxing the brain and realizing that the truth of this moment does not include me, you know – as I think of me.

How can I describe this. It’s kind of like this – in a given moment I decide to see the truth, which I can clearly, instantly see is not any single thought I might have. Including subtle thoughts like “that bird is outside of me.” And here’s an interesting thing about that one – look at something with great awareness, even something beautiful like a little finch chirping around the yard, and notice that when the mind is engaged around that, even saying something like “what a pretty bird has come to grace my presence,” there is anxiety. And the reason for that is that that bird is not out there. It is me. When I look inside and see that everything outside is actually inside, there is relief, relaxation, freedom. Because that is the truth. You might have to look closely for the anxiety that arises when you are looking at, say, a beautiful sunset, but look closely and you will see there is some grasping or aversion in relation to everything if we think it is outside of us. Because it isn’t.

But to realize the truth, I don’t have to force myself to see that that finch is not outside of me. I just have to realize that there isn’t a single thought I can have about that bird that is true. And then I stop trying to define the bird, or myself in relation to the bird, or the moment at all. And then what’s left?

Exactly. What is left.

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Who am I Really

My friend Jill sent me a quote by Ramana Maharshi. The great Ramana Maharshi. Had a sudden intense fear of death at 17, examined what it was that would die – realized he was not his body, he was not his ego, and that what was left was what had always been there – the divine consciousness that illuminates everything. And that was it. No more fear of death. No more identification with a separate self. Boom. Done. Oh man, I wish it had been that easy for me.

Oh but where’s the fun in that?

So I pulled out The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi. After my own brush with realization, I was fascinated by these Indian teachers – Nisargadata and Ramana Maharshi. They talked over and over and over and over about exactly what I’d seen. With them, there was nothing else to talk about. You are God. There’s only one thing. Realize your true nature. Everything else is illusion.

I saw it and I lost it and I’ve been trying to get back there ever since. So I’m on about this again. There’s nothing like having your life completely shaken up the way mine has been lately to cause you to re-examine what really matters to you, and this is the thing that matters to me most. No matter how many times I forget and look elsewhere for happiness, I know everything but this is misguided.

And of course my approach here is likely going to miss the mark too. But I’m on fire with this desire to find the truth. Looking intently for this true nature. Trying to relax everything else I do so I can realize the thing that’s always been there. Because that’s a phrase that’s been sticking with me as I do this self inquiry. What has always been here? In Zen, they talk about it as your original face before your parents were born.

What seems to be helping me with this is trusting that it has always been here and it’s here right now and it’s right in front of my face and so I am opening my eyes and looking. What is this that has always been here? What is true right now? Just that seems to be the closest I can get. What is true right now? As always, I’ll report back soon…

 

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Don’t Make Something Out of Anything

Last night when I was practicing yoga, the teacher said to focus on one thing that would help our practice. The helpful phrase that came to mind is one I’ve used and taught hundreds and hundreds of times – “relax your brain.”

So that’s what I did as I practiced yoga. I was surprised to find how often I had the opportunity to relax my brain, which was not relaxed. What I found is that even looking out the window I tried to make it pretty, looking at my bed I imagined it a king instead of a queen, feeling a pain in some part of my body I anticipated how I might be further limited in what I could do in the future. This practice of relaxing the brain felt like a lobotomy – my brain didn’t like it much – “don’t take that away from me” it cried. But I had promised to practice this one thing just for an hour, and I kept doing it, and what I saw was that my mind kept trying to make meaning out of things. I kept relaxing my brain and the “meaning” kept dropping away. Although part of me resisted this, the effect was….aaaah – relaxing. So I’m updating that old saying, “don’t make something out of nothing” to “don’t make something out of anything,” because in reality, it’s all nothing. Relax the brain. It works in labor. It works in yoga. I’m going to dare it and take it out into my life. Report back soon…

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