Good Friday

It was 1958, and as I recall, it was an unseasonably warm day for San Francisco. The Bay Area was typically much cooler for that time of year. Our local parish Church, St. Thomas the Apostle, was packed for the Good Friday services, and since this was before the Second Vatican Council, the somber proceedings were conducted in Latin, which lent a timeless and mysterious air to the theater.

All of us from 1st through 8th Grade at the adjacent Catholic School, coincidentally named St. Thomas the Apostle, were forced to attend the 3-4 hour long holy ritual commemorating the passion and death of Jesus Christ. This involved squeezing into narrow pews, and then kneeling, standing up, then kneeling again repeatedly as the various droning litanies were recited and requisite prayers offered up to the invisible Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and the numerous saints and blessed ones.

As a highlight to the ceremonies, Fr. Barron the Pastor (formerly an army chaplain) led the congregation through the Stations of the Cross –also known as the Way of Sorrows or Via Crucis — a consecutive series of painted images depicting Jesus Christ on the day of his crucifixion, as things went from bad to worse for him, culminating in his famous death.

There were 14 of these pictures lining the Church walls, and Fr. Barron, accompanied by a costumed retinue of altar boys and various clerical functionaries, stopped in front of each picture of Jesus for far too long, it seemed to us, in order to recite tedious and incoherent prayers, while an obnoxious incense was being waved back and forth by a smirking altar boy, nearly smoking out the people who happened to be in the adjacent pews as each station was attended by the formal crew.

The ordeal began at 12 Noon, and ran at least through 3PM, the time God was finally killed on the cross. I began the event feeling a lot of sympathy for the poor guy, but by the end of the production, I just wanted them to finish him off so I could get the hell out of that building. Is this what I had to go through every year, just to get some stupid Easter basket filled with a lot of fake colored grass and stale candy?

In any case, it must have been a combination of stinking incense, the endless moaning chants, the tragic story being played out at each station, the crush of kneeling bodies crammed together in the pews, and the exceedingly stuffy atmosphere, but at around Station #12, I fainted. I remember feeling increasingly dizzy, and then suddenly it was lights out.

Sometime later I was groggily coming to outside on the Church steps, and a nun was staring down at me with a mean look, accusing me of faking it. I assured her that was not the case, but she thought that she had me figured out, and so pulled me up by my sweater and marched me back inside. The rest of the assembled parishioners, including my classmates, were either appalled or amused, and I recall a blur of funny looks and whispers as I was summarily shoved back into my pew.

Fortunately, I had missed the actual crucifixion, so that was one upside to the debacle, and now I only had to sit through another hour of Mass and Communion in order to complete the ritual and finally get released. My initial religious sentiments had long since been replaced by some serious questions regarding the sanity of what I had been forced to endure, as well as the rationale behind the event. As I walked slowly down the hill and home that day, I had a lot to ponder.

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My First Zen Sesshin

In order to fulfill my obligation as a designated Conscientious Objector (rather than going to Viet Nam and participating in that insanity), I was working as a Child Care Counselor at a residential youth facility in Ukiah, California. The year, if I recall correctly, was late 1969 or early 1970, and I had been studying Zen Buddhism for a number of months, since returning to San Francisco from the Sierras, where I had lived in a tent by the North Fork of the Yuba River. I had camped there to renew myself after dropping out of the Catholic Seminary in Mountain View (now Silicon Valley). It was there that I first read about Zen in a little book a friend had lent me, and where I had my first modest experience (or taste) of the awakening to which Zen pointed.

As I sat on a boulder by the river, contemplating what I had been reading, I was suddenly struck by the realization that everything was just appearing as itself, being itself, perfectly and completely. The trees were just treeing, the stream was streaming, I was selfing, and it was all connected in a most amazing way. There was nothing in need of fixing or manipulating — total freedom was always and already the case! There was nothing to search for, nothing in need of redemption, nothing to grasp or discard. I burst out laughing at the obviousness of it all, as shivers of ecstatic release coursed through my body. A big chunk of the Catholic conditioning program dissolved on the spot, and so I was determined to learn more about this Zen matter.

When I returned to the City, I found the San Francisco Zen Center in the phone book, under “Meditation”. I went over to their location, and met Suzuki Roshi, who had a book out called “Zen Mind Beginners Mind”. I was taught how to sit in the correct posture of Zazen, and immediately began the practice of counting, and then following, the breath. I devoured the book, almost to the point of memorization, and began to attend lectures. However, I was soon forced by my federal obligation to find qualified work, and so ended up a few hours north of the City, in Ukiah.

Nevertheless, I continued my sitting practice, and since I worked 3 days on and 3 days off, I took advantage of one of my “off” periods to participate in a Zen meditation retreat (Sesshin) at the Zen Center. Despite the increasing challenge of painful back and knees (unaccustomed to hour after hour sitting), I managed to get through the sittings. My position was situated facing a stippled, avocado-green wall, a view that became very familiar to me. I can still see it now. Oddly, a chief memory I recall is a wonderful slice of poppy seed cake and cup of green tea that was served during a break between sittings – it was the most delicious food I had ever eaten!

After the third day’s events, I returned to my family’s house in San Francisco. They were all off somewhere, so I had the place to myself. I found a menu and ordered some Chinese food, while I sat and stared into an empty fireplace, listening over and over to a record, “Music for Zen Meditation”. As I smoked a few cigarettes and assessed the Sesshin experience, I felt like something profound had taken place, but what that amounted to was not at all clear to my thinking mind, so I just enjoyed the music and the chow mein, while the evening closed in, and the room grew dark.

About a year later, I found myself living in a Zen Monastery, and eventually attended over 20 Sesshin (the full 7 day experience) as a resident there, but experienced nothing much different than the first one I attended back in San Francisco. Certainly, I had a lot of interesting and seemingly profound experiences, but they are all mostly forgotten these days, as if it was all a kind of dream, and indeed, that is pretty much the size of it, as far as I can tell now — dreaming, dreaming, dreaming . . .


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Waking Up in the Operating Room

A writer sits down before a screen and keyboard and attempts to re-arrange the Mystery with their particular fantasy of interpretation on memory and perception. The reason they are never ultimately satisfied with their literary lies is because their fantasy is always changing, as are their interpretations on whatever memory or concept first inspired them to write.

Show a writer their work, and they will always think of ways to re-write, edit, add, or subtract. Walt Whitman spent much of his life re-writing his famous “Leaves of Grass”. Really, if you want to see the final version of a piece of literature, wait till the author has passed on. Even then, some researcher may discover hidden notes of revisions to this or that novel, poem, or essay.

Just so, please consider the story which follows as just that: a fantasy of interpretation, based on a vantage point that even now has shifted far from the original events. Regardless, there is still a curious impulse to report on recent experiences in my life, knowing full well that what results will more than likely be merely another fractal of a living kaleidoscope, an angle of vision that points and paints, but can never itself be true. Really, there is no “truth”, only subjectivity (aka dreaming). If we are to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves, we can come to no other conclusion.

Health-wise, 2016 had gotten off to a difficult start. It began with a radical procedure to remove a cancerous prostate, which in turn required an extended period of healing on several levels. Just as I was beginning to return to some semblance of physical normality, I was awakened one night with intense abdominal pain. After enduring it for 14 hours, I eventually followed my wife’s advice and went to the local hospital’s Emergency Room. They performed a number of tests and finally decided to admit me to the hospital’s critical care unit. For the next 10 days I was given one diagnosis after another, one treatment regimen after another, and in the meanwhile contracted a wicked flu and even pneumonia.

As the days progressed, I only seemed to worsen, until a consulting surgeon indicated that the problem might be my gall bladder. I was subjected to a number of further tests, which eventually confirmed the diagnosis, but since so much time had elapsed since I was first admitted, I was told that it would be too dangerous to remove the offending organ immediately. Instead, a tube was surgically inserted directly into my gall bladder, dripping bile fluids into an attached plastic bag. I was to wear this contraption for the next two months, and only then would I be fit for the surgical removal of the organ.

Now, after two months, the date for surgery had finally arrived. Before taking the trip to the hospital, I chanced upon a helpful quote from a Tibetan adept, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche: “No matter what you do, no matter what situation you are in — whether walking, sitting, eating or lying down — always suspend your attention within the nature of nondual awareness. That’s it!”

This seemed like eminently practical advice, and I took it to heart as I was admitted into the pre-operative area at the hospital. Everything achieved a kind of equality as various experiences unfolded (including nearly a dozen failed attempts to insert an IV needle). Even when I was told that the operation was being pushed back a few hours, I was still able to rest as simple awareness, until an interesting recognition began to dawn.

In previous reports, I have mentioned experiences of attention being suspended from the body-mind matrix, the most dramatic of which occurred in 1984, during an automobile accident. It was during that “no-time” that I was shown the illusionary nature of existence itself – its utter transparency. Nevertheless, when attention returned to the bio-vehicle, phenomena once again resumed a kind of solidity, as if the objective world was indeed “real”.

Now, however, it suddenly became apparent that I was literally occupying the body identity in the same way an actor occupies a theatrical role. This was not a mere intellectual acknowledgement, but a palpable realization, as if one were to find themselves in a clown suit and yet realize full well that they are not the clown, but only wearing the temporary costume. Somehow, we forget who and what we really are, and mistake ourselves for these flimsy but rather ingenious identities, complete with feelings, sensations, thoughts, memories, and a corresponding stage on which to perform our little life dances.

I was greatly amused, along with the accompanying recognition that this was all a show, a creative play that I was somehow participating in as the actor. This vision confirmed my prior realizations, and yet was even more vivid than I can possibly relate. I was being given a rare peek behind the curtain, so to speak, at the mechanics of this life-drama, and it was utterly plain to see that, no matter what transpires, everything is OK – nothing real is ever threatened, it is a virtual reality all along!

Finally, I was wheeled into the operating arena, and I couldn’t help smiling widely, as several technicians went about their business of prepping the body, asking me the usual questions, and redundantly informing me of what was about to happen. The surgeon, a very nice Christian gentleman, came over and chatted for a while. I wished him good luck during the procedure, by way of encouragement. He said he didn’t believe in luck, but rather in God’s grace, and then asked if I minded if he prayed over me. I said, “By all means, please feel free!” He began by providing God with a detailed report of what I had been going through, just to get God up-to-date with the situation. Then he opened his heart in a quite lovely and intimate way to the Divine, and I felt the light pouring forth in shards of bliss.

Then another nurse came over and informed me that she was going to put a little “happy juice” into my IV tube to relax me. I was already feeling quite relaxed, but in the next instant I noticed some discordant rock music playing near me, and two unfamiliar female voices discussing some disappointing romantic incident in their lives, and reaching the conclusion that men are no good. Then one of those very men, dressed in a hospital gown and mask, was suddenly leaning over me, asking me if I knew what had happened, and where I was.

The body felt horrible, consciousness itself felt horrible. Something about this new reality was very twisted, as if I had been instantly shifted into a strange “Twilight Zone” world. I tried to say something, but I felt like the effort was akin to futilely grasping through quicksand at a sinking man’s arm.

The only thing that helped was remembering the admonition from Tulku Urgyen, to suspend my attention as simple awareness no matter what appeared. Somehow, I had entered a kind of hell realm, people seemed wrong, everything seemed wrong. I fought back a fear that I had suffered some kind of brain damage, and the signs were not looking good. Somebody else was now peering down at me, and informing me that the surgery had been successful.

That was the least of my concerns, however. I managed to mumble out my wife’s name, and was told that she had been informed. I felt so much love for her that the sun seemed to break through the gloom, the sun of love, and things eventually began to transmute into the normal consciousness, as the anesthesia gradually wore off. I was able to request that they switch the station they had on the radio, as I drifted in and out of consciousness.

Finally, my step-daughter arrived to pick me up – I was so grateful to see her — and I was eventually released to go home. For the next week, however, I found myself despairing about the world in general, and humans in particular. Even amidst the fresh beauty of a mountain Spring season dawning, this realm seemed like a primitive, harsh environment, fraught with ceaseless turmoil. Humans, racing to extinction with their casual cruelty and self-absorption, seemed nearly unredeemable. I wanted nothing more to do with any of this drama, I was weary of it all – with consciousness even.

It was only while watching a televised program (Skinwalkers: The Navajo Mysteries) that I began to snap out of my heavy gloom. At a critical moment, the wise wife of a troubled Navajo detective turned to him and said something to the effect that, “you can see the world as filled with hate, or you can see it as filled with love. It’s a matter of perspective.” That simple reminder was what I needed too. I am not only the actor, but also the co-creator and producer. Reality is arising co-dependently, and mind can make it either a heaven or a hell. There is always a choice – we are after all directing the show, whether we are aware of it or not.

Another image comes to mind, that of the little girl in the brilliant red dress, wandering through the otherwise black and white scenes of the holocaust in the movie “Schindler’s List”. She was not there to save anybody, but just to be present. I saw that love does not dissolve negative phenomena, or somehow neutralize the ugly and evil. It is just here, present, right in the midst of the horror, right alongside the calamity, not offering an escape, but merely a shift in the focal point of attention — another choice, or option of perception.

Beyond that, there is awareness. Awareness is the platform for the alternating play of light and dark that we take to be reality, and yet just as the screen is not affected by what transpires on it — the good movie or the bad — so too are we that fundamental basis, the Source of all the holographic universes and their virtual realities. Again, this was not an intellectual conclusion, but was made abundantly apparent throughout the ordeal. Consciousness is what we dream, and like all dreams, it comes and goes, but only awareness remains.

girl in red

(from the film “Schindler’s List”)

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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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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


Feeling deeply into this moment, can’t we see that there is something terribly heart-rending about the exquisite fragility of any and all appearances? Really, just to pause for a moment and allow our feeling being to communicate from the depths of itself is a truly courageous act — an art in itself — because everything we can see and taste and hear and know is permeated by the looming transiency of existence.

In such recognition the first impulse may be to simply go numb, or to engage in any manner of distraction, due to the overwhelming nature of it all. Nevertheless, for those who are willing to bravely plunge below the surface levels of these feelings in order to inquire at their root, there is a further revelation waiting. That is all I will say about that, except that the effort is a worthy one, regardless of the outcome.

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 the awareness of my own 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 dramatic 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 the “person” I had assumed myself to be. Now all that was in question. I fell into a state of utter not knowing, and any remedial efforts would quickly prove to be nothing more than distractions from the fundamental truth of my inherent ignorance.

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. Nevertheless, I felt moved to test my hypothesis by entering into a Catholic Seminary, where I spent 7 years exploring that institution before coming to the conclusion that there was nothing there but more ignorance.

Eventually, I realized that any answers would have to come from within myself, and yet I also recognized 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 was merely another mental construct, and a second-hand one at that.

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 but still rather primitive animals, often clever and quick to violence, and mostly imbued with certain conflicting traits, such as greed, envy, hatred, and above all, fear. These afflictive qualities 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. I spent time living as a mountain hermit, and later spent 3 years living with a Zen master in a Rinzai Zen Monastery, studying that branch of Buddhism. Although I found much that seemed agreeable and even revelatory, in the end, I came to see all the various concepts as comparable to paintings – subjective fantasies of interpretation that merely served as artful descriptions of that which is ultimately indescribable.

Moreover, as the years passed, I had filled my mind with a great gallery of these magnificent paintings, and yet, despite my appreciation for their awesome beauty, they belonged to someone else. They were not my own experience, in other words, but the renderings from the experience of others. Certainly, there were a number of seemingly profound experiences, but they too soon became artifacts of memory, and although I may have been show amazing revelations, none of it had the power to touch the deeper yearning at my core. Thus, I came to understand that no experience, in and of itself, is anything more than a modification of consciousness, subject to the mind’s conditioned filters.

Prompted by continuous self-inspection (and augmented by a powerfully transformative experience during a near-fatal automobile accident), I arrived at a summary realization that it all must be discarded, every last painting, every memory and trace of identification. There needed to be a systematic room cleaning, right down to the bare bone rafters, and only then perhaps would I be able distinguish the real from the merely provisional.

In the course of this conscious process, I came to understand directly that the only recourse, finally, is silence. Only by plunging resolutely into the heart of silence could the original nature of awareness spontaneously shine forth and reveal itself as it is — both empty and at the same time pregnant with a mysterious impersonal knowing.

In such silence, all thought, feeling, perception, inclination, attachment, and position are naturally transmuted into a kind of wordless wisdom – not as an acquisition, but as revelations of the native state or original nature of being itself. All are intimately unified in the recognition of their inherent indivisibility, and appreciated as nothing less than the manifested display of a divinity beyond words or stories, an unconditionally loving divinity of which I and everyone are unique and completely free expressions.

Indeed, everything is rapturously painting itself on a canvas of its own being, and even though it is akin to writing on water, what beguiling pictures emerge to shine, linger for a moment, and then dissolve back into the Great Emptiness from which they arose! Rather than mourning their fragility, we can delight in the astonishment prompted by the appearance of anything at all – the great magic and miracle of consciousness itself, which expands to infinity like a beam of clear white light, traveling on through the ebony void of endless space and time.


Ashes and Snow 15

See also:

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