And So It Is Christmas

Spent Christmas Eve morning at the doctor’s. Possible pneumonia, so prescribed a heavy-duty antibiotic. The Doctor’s waiting room is a zendo, and today the sermon was a Disney Christmas movie playing on the corner wall TV, beaming down artificial cheer from actors pretending to be the characters in the contrived plot.

Somehow, this year seems a bit more transparent. Maybe it’s just me (still immersed in complications from the recent cancer surgery), but doesn’t the whole Holiday Spirit thing seem a bit more subdued this season, a bit more of an effort to celebrate, like going through the obligatory motions, but more of a perfunctory ritual, empty of any inherent pizazz? Anyway, just another thought.

Here now, all of us in the waiting room are pretending to be various persons with a variety of bodily complications. Most ignore the Disney movie beaming down from the wall, choosing instead to thumb their electronic devices, and generally ignoring the people they came in with, even though they are sitting right next to them.

How many different dimensions are being currently occupied just by the people in this room? The intricacies of this tiny slice of consciousness are beyond the comprehension of the human intellect. The mind cannot go there, it falls silent. In that silence, we are all sitting, unaware of the vast implications of being anywhere at all — just taking it all for granted. Amazing!

In the midst of this unspeakable wonder, the staff behind the desk are all talking with each other about their Holiday plans, as if all of this was undeniably real. I go along with the merry charade, tacitly confirming the solidity of the collective perception — that we are in a literal place, that something is happening, that we are all separate, and that this is a special time in the midst of timelessness, a magical time in which we grant a consensus significance to the celebration of a mythical story about a divine baby who incarnated in the Middle East millennia ago to redeem the dream world from its sins. I’ve heard that God can do things like that!

Now I notice the arising movement of mind on contact with phenomena, and how it instantly creates and confirms a whole vibrating scenario. So this is delusion! I also see how even the slightest effort to mentally modify it in any form of strategic method merely adds to the complication. Even the movement to just observe has an artificial quality, so another layer down, and that effort is let go. The teacher said: “Do not try to have good thoughts, do not try to keep away bad thoughts, do not try to stop thoughts, and do not try to go after them. Rather, rest in a state of being aware . . .”

Soon, there is nothing but the appearance, the sound of the TV, the chatter of the staff, and then that too gradually fades, as if attention is submerging in a kind of void, and within this void, a subtle intuition seems just about to reveal itself, when in the far distance a voice is calling my name, the word that I offered to them to represent myself. “Robert, Robert . . .”

My head raises up, I blink my eyes, I am in a waiting room at the Doctor’s office. I am surrounded by fellow beings. It takes a while to get my bearings. Yes, my name. I stand up and hobble over to the door. I am admitted to the inner part of the office, where my body is weighed. It seems that it has lost some weight, which is noted in the device the nurse thumbs.

Then I am led to a small room to wait for the Doctor. I am asked if I can say my last name and birth date. With no effort at all, I am able to provide the requested information. Then the blood pressure in my arm is checked. The nurse says a number, as if I am going to approve or not. I just Thank her for the number.

Now, I am ready to see the Doctor. I am told the Doctor will be right along. The nurse remembers something as she is going out the door. She turns slightly in my direction, and says “Merry Christmas.” When I return the saying, she seems satisfied that the proper ritual has been observed, and closes the door.

After the visit, I walk out into the chill air, and light is falling everywhere. I am that same light, moving within itself, remembering and forgetting and then remembering itself again and again. There is a wordless recognition, and it is enough. It has always been enough. Later tonight, they say we may get snow.

“As long as you, like most people, fail to recognize the true value of human existence you will just fritter your life away in futile activity and distraction. When life comes all too soon to its inevitable end, you will not have achieved anything worthwhile at all. But once you really see the unique opportunity that human life can bring, you will definitely direct all your energy into reaping its true worth by putting the Dharma into practice.”

~ H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

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Spam

As a young child growing up in the early 50’s, I was fed a pretty basic diet, often consisting of Spam and canned vegetables for dinner. Both my parents worked long hours, and so those were easy-to-fix convenient foods of the day, which now would probably translate into microwaveable dinners from the frozen foods section. Back then, frozen foods consisted mainly of of frozen orange juice, fish sticks (which we got on Fridays, being Catholic) and ice cream.

In any case, there were just so many Del Monte canned peas and carrots I could gag down (not to mention the salty Spam that I imagined came from a square-shaped animal). I would often be left staring forlornly at my plate, until my Mother would chime in with her classic suggestion that I think of all the starving children in India or China.

As much as I tried to picture such scenes, I didn’t really know what life was like in those places, although growing up in San Francisco, I had seen Chinese people and they didn’t appear to be starving. Nevertheless, I understood her point, and I wished that those starving children could somehow take these cooling overcooked vegetables from my plate to relieve their hunger, since I had no further use for them, and it was a sin, I was told, to waste food.

Even now, I make a concerted effort to eat everything on my plate, since by doing so I might be doing my part to stave off world hunger. Plus, Mazie’s cooking is really good! Lately, however, I have been stopping when I feel full, even if there is still food on the plate. I just save the left-overs for the next day. I still believe that wasting food is not right, given all the starving people in Africa.

Perhaps my Mother is standing over me from the Spirit World, approving my dining behavior. Even though I haven’t touched Spam in decades, I do understand that it is considered quite a treat in Hawaii. Maybe my parents will be re-born there some day, to enjoy that canned delicacy once again, and clean their plates to prevent world hunger!

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Spit In Your Shoe

I had recently turned 10, as I recall, and it was a lazy San Francisco Summer Saturday in the late 1950’s. By that age, I had mostly lost interest in the televised Saturday morning cartoon programs that had once amused and captivated me. Instead, I had been sulking around most of the day, becoming increasingly frustrated with the apparent options of experience, as if I had already sampled everything life had to offer, and none of it seemed to have any enduring power to attract me.

This darkening mood was unusual. Previously, I could usually find absorbing stuff with which to happily occupy myself, even if it entailed just lying out in the backyard, watching the white clouds drifting through blue sky. That day, however, the world seemed devoid of interest, and I felt no joy or passion for any of it.

The existential angst of my situation finally came to a head, and I decided to seek out some wisdom from the best source available. I went into the kitchen to find my father, who was enjoying one of his favorite snacks — canned sardines on soda crackers. I proceeded to confront him, complaining that I was bored. I whined that there was “nothing to do”, to which he smiled, focused his gaze intently on me, and exclaimed with gleeful enthusiasm, “Nothing do? Spit in your shoe!”

My jaw dropped open. The nonsense phrase seemed so astounding and unexpected that my mind simply couldn’t process it, and so fell silent. A vast universe of potentialities rippled out before me, beyond any sense of boundary or personal limitation. There was the tacit recognition that reality was not at all the fixed proposition which I had assumed it to be, but instead was tantalizingly opened-ended, and even delightfully absurd. Moreover, rather than being merely a localized and confined matrix of perception, I intuited that I was so much more – inconceivably more — and that behind the superficial facade of boredom, I was happiness itself, now and always.

I burst out laughing, and from that day forward, I was never really bored again. I will remain forever grateful to my Dad for inspiring that first “Zen” kensho (glimpse of true nature), though I must say that I never actually spat in my shoe.

 

bored kid

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A Painting

“The coming and going
of birth and death
is a painting.

Unsurpassed enlightenment
is a painting.

The entire phenomenal universe
and the empty sky are nothing
but a painting.”

~Dogen Zenji

Lying on the lawn in my backyard garden, I would spend hours as a child utterly losing myself in the endlessness of blue, watching the white clouds drifting and changing into shapes both familiar and strange, and letting my consciousness expand out to merge with the totality of the Mystery.

From time to time I would be moved to ponder the nature of the appearance of the world of things, including my own appearance. Inevitably, however, I would always get to a point beyond which my mind could not go, and so I would sink back into the comfort and relative safety of mindless abandonment in the beauty and silence of the infinite display above and all around me.

Since I had no way to account for my own awareness of being-ness, I realized intuitively that it could come and go. After all, I was apparently here now, but could just as easily not be. In that sense, my life and consciousness seemed totally arbitrary, and hence there was no real security in any object of attention, whether it be a self, a person, a cloud, or a thought.

This recognition immediately disabused me of any notion of permanence, and though I had not yet witnessed the death of a loved one, I knew that nothing that I loved or cherished or even didn’t like would survive the play of time. It all could go away, just as it did when I drifted off to sleep, and like a vanishing ripple on a pond, it would be as if it all never happened – this ripple of my life, of this world, of consciousness itself.

At the young age of 8 I had a defining experience of total dissolution – all of my existential supports just dropped away in a sudden moment, flinging me into the vast unknown, and leaving me bewildered and mute. It was this experience – the culmination and exclamation point to my backyard lawn inquiry — that profoundly changed my relationship to the world, as well as my sense of self. I could never look at things the same way again, from the viewpoint of a “person”.

Although nominally raised as a Catholic, I did not turn to the religious dogmas in order to make some peace with my experience. All the pious platitudes spouted by the nuns and priests seemed shallow and irrelevant, and certainly unable to touch the depths of what I was feeling and recognizing.

Somehow, I knew that any answers would have to come from within myself, and yet I also realized that my own mind had no way to account for that which preceded it – for whatever it was that pertained prior to the arrival of my own consciousness. Calling it “God” was utterly beside the point, since it could not be grasped by any modification of attention or perception.

Furthermore, who or what was “myself”? Whatever self-image that tried to coalesce as an identity was sooner or later replaced by another, and so there was nothing that I could really grasp that was “me” or “mine”. Settling on or fixating on any particular self-sense was strictly related to immediate circumstance, but had no staying power. Only awareness itself persisted, but what is the source of awareness?

Being de facto inconceivable, any effort to comprehend it all by using the mind was clearly futile, and so this left me with a momentary sense of meaninglessness. Even that sense, however, was soon recognized to be a temporary and non-binding superimposition on the Mystery, and so I was left with no foothold to gain some philosophical traction or security. There was nowhere to hide, nowhere to dwell.

Moreover, the concerns of my peers held little interest, consisting mainly of exploiting the possibilities of gross energies for the purposes of self-confirmation, petty gain, and mere entertainment. Observing the lives of my parents and other significant adults, I saw little difference, except in scale. Unwitting players being spun around on a great wheel beyond their knowledge or consent, they seemed not unlike a herd of sheep being led from birth through an often stressful life and then on to a waiting death, without ever seriously comprehending their purpose or true nature.

Paradoxically, a spontaneous feeling of real affection for everyone and everything was discovered pulsing behind the intellect’s impossible search for meaning. This sense of affection had no need for some mental justification and required no rationale. It simply presented itself in my feeling being as a natural characteristic to being alive – this sincerely loving regard, without clinging or attachment, to the appearance of anything and everything. Whatever is, whatever I happen to encounter, is loveable and even beautiful in and of itself, especially considering its poignant brevity and dream-like quality.

However, the pragmatic evidence of experience in the world of relationships also taught me over time that such emotional vulnerability which love and affection elicit could prove dangerous. Humans are complex critters, and are imbued with certain conflicting traits, such as ignorance, violence, and self-interest. These afflictive traits make navigating through their midst somewhat perilous, and so I was forced to learn to discriminate in the objective world, at least until I could find the circumstances in which my accumulated armor could be discarded and I could stand naked and free to be myself, whatever that might be revealed to be in the company of Love.

For decades, I diligently studied the various wisdom traditions, strategies, and doctrines that have been promulgated by the spiritual heroes of humanity, and although I found much that seemed agreeable, in the end, I came to see them all as paintings – subjective fantasies of interpretation that merely served as artful descriptions of that which is ultimately indescribable.

Thus, I arrived at the summary realization that the only recourse, finally, is silence – silence, and unconditionally loving beyond all reason, limitation, or consensus constraint. In such silence, all thought, feeling, perception, inclination, attachment, and position are surrendered, released. In such unconditional love, all are unified in the recognition of their inherent indivisibility, and appreciated as nothing less than manifestations of a divinity beyond words or stories.

May all beings enjoy their own natural freedom and happiness!

Ashes and Snow 15

See also: https://travelsindreamland.wordpress.com/2012/09/26/pretending/

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Mary Rose

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Late spring in San Francisco, 1958, and it had been such a beautiful day! I remember this 9 year old physical body seated at a wooden desk in the back of a grammar school classroom, oblivious to the yammerings of some black-cowled nun at the front. Meanwhile, in my spirit form, I had slipped out through the open windows, expanding into the endlessness of blue, the timeless sky home of my child heart, the empty airy radiance of wordless boundless ecstasy.

Rudely drawing me back down from my happy flight, the bell that regulated time and activity at the school eventually sounded to close the day’s lessons and set the children free. As it noisily clanged, I realized once again that I was supposed to assume the form and behavior of this little person that people seemed to take me to be, and so I found myself walking with the other kids out the door and off into the sunny afternoon.

I recall that there was such a softness swirling of energies, a poignant gentleness of commingling shapes in motion, blurring colors and sounds — sound of many voices in one, whirled together in a sweet cacophony of children thrilled by life, still amazed by the appearance of anything as they raced off to wherever their feet and desire would lead them, and then suddenly I found myself at home.

I walked through the front door and then headed directly towards the back sunroom, where my grandmother was rocking my three-month old sister, Mary Rose. I was so taken with that little being I could almost burst with love — this exquisite angel in my dear grandmother’s lap — but when my grandmother looked up and saw me, she said quietly, so quietly I could barely hear: “She’s gone, Bobby. Our little Mary Rose is gone . . .”

The room was filling with a presence, and in retrospect it was not so much that the room was filling, but that everything else except this presence was falling away like filmy veils slipping off a statue, until there was only this luminous, potent presence of Love, and I suddenly burst into weeping — not at the loss, but at the magnificence of this Presence.

Then my grandmother did something that at first bewildered me, but later I understood. She took some water from a glass next to her chair to baptize my sister by her own hand “in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”. Then she leaned back, at peace, and shone the most loving, tender smile, a smile I will never forget, and whispered with utter assuredness, “She is with God now, Bobby.”

“Yes, I know.”I replied. I do not know how I knew, except that I understood from the same place in which I had been taken the previous summer, the place in which all the galaxies appear as small playthings in the unspeakable delight of Love, and so I said, “Yes…”

Later that day, one of the nuns from the Convent up the hill came calling at the house to speak with me. She asked if I knew where my little sister had gone, and I answered, “Yes, she is with God.”

Strangely, the nun insisted that, since Mary Rose had not been formally baptized in the Church, she was relegated to the place where “all the little un-baptized babies go”, to some kind of lesser “Limbo”, rather than directly to heaven with God.

I protested, “No, she was baptized, and besides that, things are not the way you say! God is everywhere, and everything is with God.”

At that moment, I decided that I would become a priest, and 4 years later entered the seminary, at the age of 13. I was going to clarify this matter, so that all could know the reality of the Divine Presence that out-shines death and man’s religion.

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Golf Club Cane

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4/1/2003

Over the course of their 56 years together, my parents accumulated a vast assortment of material “stuff”. When they both passed in 2002, my three siblings and I spent a number of days cleaning out their home in San Francisco, dividing up some of the possessions, and consigning the rest to charitable organizations like Goodwill, or in some cases to the trash heap.

That same year I divorced my first wife to be with Mazie, leaving her (1st wife) everything but my clothes and a few odds and ends that Mazie and I would need to get started. Mazie herself came with 2 duffel bags filled with clothes and note books, a beat-up computer, a bag of cooking spices, and a big Smile.

Among the items I found in the basement at the San Francisco house, an old mahogany walking cane with the head in the shape of a golf club caught my eye. My father had been an avid golfer, and the stick felt good in my hand. Since the car accident in ’84, I often use a cane to ease the weight from my shattered left heel, and my then current one was in need of a rest.

Later that day, back in Martinez, I drove with Mazie down to our usual bench near the Marina pond to feed the ducks and watch the sunset. We never knew what to expect there, but the magic was strong, and our hearts were open to letting it all in.

I decided to try out the golf cane I had picked up from my parents’ garage earlier that day, to accompany me on our evening stroll along the Marina. It was an especially beautiful late afternoon settling in over the Carquinez Straits, and we were happy to be together with a bag of bread crusts for our friends.

When we came to the train tracks that intersect the Marina entrance, the passage was blocked by a big yellow train that appeared to be stalled. We waited in line behind a few other vehicles, rolled down the windows of the car, and admired an overhanging Eucalyptus. I remarked to Mazie that I had spent most of my life impatient. I had inquired into this persistent quality over the years, dealing with it from just about every level, and yet it remained a stubborn personality trait, felt as a chronic contraction that resisted my efforts to overcome.

As I sat with Mazie waiting for the train to start up and clear the way, I gradually realized that I now felt no sense of impatience at all, contrary to my habitual pattern. In fact, I realized that I hadn’t felt that old nagging knot for quite some time. Indeed, I now saw that this impatience stitched through the fabric of my life had been nothing but an inner urgency to be with my Beloved again, even though I had no idea where or who she would turn out to be until a year ago!

Now I was perfectly happy to sit in the car all night with my Beloved if that was the way this thing wanted to unfold, just praising the wonder of that Mystery that had brought us together once again! As this realization settled in, the train began to slowly pull forward, boxcar after yellow boxcar, blowing its whistle and building up speed. It looked like we would soon be on our way until the train ground to a halt. I looked to see if the impatience would return, but this feeling of deep peace had not left.

After some time, the train began to move, but backwards this time, and of course you can probably imagine what metaphors now blossomed in the minds of two love-mad poets! Eventually, the tracks were cleared and we proceeded on to the intended destination. We parked and began walking to the pond, just as the sun was setting over the nearby hills on the bay.

As we approached our usual spot on the shore of the pond, I noticed a young girl – perhaps 7 or 8 years of age, dark-complexioned, but of no readily-identifiable nationality – happily using a golf club to make carvings in the sand near our bench. She turned to look at us, and I held up my golf club cane to show her I had one too, and she smiled such a beautifully rich, mysterious smile that it took my breath away. I sat down on the bench with Mazie, but hardly even noticed as she began feeding the friends.

I looked over to the young girl, and at that moment she returned a gaze that pierced me! I started to say something to Mazie – something about that girl not being an ordinary human – when suddenly my mind just dropped away, and I was left speechless. There were no ducks, no pond, no sunset, no hills, no Mazie and Bob, nothing! Everything was just as it was, but at the same time it was not! There was no matrix of perception, no place where anything could “mean”, no sense of self distinguished from something “else”.

It was not as if it was all happening over a length of time, as in some sort of cinematic slow motion. The whole experience itself seemed lifted somehow “out of time”. Although my eyes were wide open, the swirling crowd of seagulls circling our heads made no impression. I just stared straight ahead, trance-like, while my breath held itself somewhere. Mazie later recounted how her tongue had spontaneously curled back in yogic fashion into her throat in some kundalini effect, and also reported that a super-conscious sublimity descended upon her too, as she beheld the girl.

When we “returned to normal”, the girl was gone, but “she” had left her sand carving for us. I remember saying something to Mazie about Divine Mother, and as we inspected the sand writings, our jaws dropped open yet again. Written in the most beautiful lettering were the words

“One Love”.

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Grace Via Murti

In the latter half of the 1990’s, I was working in southern New Jersey, USA, directing the natural & organic products division of a prominent nationwide wholesale food distributor. After several decades in this business, I had achieved a level of success within my field that had brought me all the material and social blessings that I could have hoped for. Moreover, almost 3 decades of Zen practice had disabused me of the notion that any of it amounted to anything “personal”. It was simply service, and I also recognized intuitively that none of it was “my doing”, that I was simply being used. This had always been my “prayer” — that I might be an unobstructed instrument for the highest good of all — “Not my will, but Thine” — and helping to make natural and organic foods more widely available seemed in-line with that aspiration, particularly given the pervasive chemical adulteration and corruption of the food supply by mainstream purveyors.

At the time, our office had just been wired for the internet, and I was naturally curious about this new capacity, never having had a chance to explore it till then. During free moments, I began by browsing into “spiritual” topics, and was amazed by what was available for perusal. One late morning, in between financial spreadsheets and store designs, I happened upon a site that featured a picture of an Indian woman called Mother Meera. I had recently come across an article about manifestations of the Divine Feminine Principle in a magazine that featured a story about her, but I was unprepared for what followed.

As her “murti” (a pictorial image that expresses a Divine Spirit) slowly opened on my screen, I fell into a stunned silence, and over an hour passed before I felt that I was even able to actually exhale. I then rose, somewhat dizzily, from my desk, informed my secretary that I was going out for lunch, and drove to a near-by pond to walk along the banks and let what had just “happened” sort itself out.

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Within moments into the stroll, I found my gaze lifted towards the sky, and as I glimpsed the brilliant sun above my head, a sudden unexpected water-falling cascade of deep sobbing tears erupted from my deepest core. I fell down on my knees, utterly overwhelmed and engulfed in wave upon wave of fluid blissful “Mercy”. That was the word that came to mind later, when trying to account for the experience. This was like nothing I could have ever imagined! I was devastated by the experience, and I could not cease from frequent bouts of weeping over the coming months. All my previous experiences could not touch this — it was a total vulnerability to the slightest appearance of anything, coupled with a tender rawness that found me broken open and flooded by a love I had no name for.

Although I had toyed with poetry back in college, I hadn’t written a word for 30 years, but now I suddenly could not stop — it was as if something urgently wanted to communicate itself. I was merely the vehicle for this majestic lovingness that wanted to express itself, and so I found myself scribbling spontaneously, repeating more often than not that “love is all that matters”.

After several months of this “communion”, I received an interior guidance that turned me over to a rather intense character I had never heard of – Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. A woman friend who was undergoing cancer surgery told me during a hospital visit that she had no idea why, but she felt compelled to offer me a book that had come into her possession. It was a book of dialogues with Nisargadatta, called “I Am That”. Every day at lunch I read several paragraphs, and then spent the rest of the time allowing that amazing text’s teachings to seep in and penetrate. They both revealed the true nature of my previous experiences, and also clarified the whole field of “spiritual” pursuit.

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As it so happened, this was time well-spent, and that’s an under-statement, for sure! I will be forever grateful for the Love that opened my heart, and then led me to the Teacher who would point me back to myself – to my true identity. Furthermore, the way was now prepared for me to meet my “Twin Flame” once more. A miraculous series of events immediately followed in quick succession, which conspired to move me back across the country to California, where I was to find my immortal Beloved in the form of the darling angel heart named Mazie, the one for whom I was meant, and the one who was meant for me.

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