June 10, 2016 § 17 Comments
Standing before the ocean, I felt the rhythm of the natural world.
The waves relentlessly marched towards shore. Forming their swells, then peaking and crashing. All the movement seemed forward and aggressive.
But I looked again as the waves broke. When the frothy wave reached its furthest purchase, it began its return, gently sliding back to the sea. Back to its source.
Crashing forward, sliding back. Forward, back. Repeated endlessly.
Opposed motion, each existing apart from the other, each dependent on the other. The advancing waves would cease if the retreating water did not return, just as the receding movement could not arise without the crashing wave that gives it birth.
This rhythm, this pattern, recurs across the sweep of our endless natural world. It is in the wind and the tide, the trajectory of the sun, the garden out back. It is embodied in our breath and in the coil of life’s journey.
I often lose this sense of connection and oneness. Falling away, I am lost and adrift.
But when I take and hold this communion, when the truth of this lives in my bones, I feel safe and at peace. As I did this day, surrounded by the natural world and the others I love.
September 6, 2014 § 15 Comments
Days roll by.
I recall them as busy, sometimes even hectic. Fulfilling responsibilities. Work. Errands. You know, just what we call “life.”
And then I make those moments. Standing in the woods in the early morning, in wonder at the misty rays of light piercing through. Tasting a cup of tea. Noticing again the graceful way she moves.
All else just being busy. Dodging and weaving. Perhaps afraid to live. Easier to keep plugging, I imagine.
But the choice is a matter of life and death.
Moment by moment.
July 19, 2013 § 14 Comments
As I recall and ponder the dark moments in my life, I can see that although each one was uniquely poisonous, one thing ran through them, one constant tying them all together. In each such moment, whatever the particular form of my darkness, I was always either looking backward or forward in time.
In those dark moments of self-loathing, I needed to look backward, seeing in the wake of my life the countless failures and missed opportunities. Similarly, to feel real anxiety or deep fear, I had to conjure what was ahead and imagine just how unprepared and unworthy I would be.
The appraising gaze back and forth along time’s arrow. The posture of pain.
And so I understand. Stay here, right here, in this present moment.
So simple, and yet such a struggle.
January 24, 2013 § 24 Comments
We say, “Step by step I stop the sound of the murmuring brook.” When you walk along the brook you will hear the water running. The sound is continuous but you must be able to stop it if you want to stop it. This is freedom; this is renunciation.”
Sitting alone in the dead quiet room, I hear the bells.
I am blessed by an affliction that puts a ringing sound in my consciousness ceaselessly. When I listen for it, it is always there.
Sometimes it goes away. But it doesn’t really go away because the very moment that I think of it, the sound is there. It- the sound- is always there. But like the sound of the murmuring brook, I can stop it.
To stop the ceaseless tolling of those bells in my mind, I need to do only one simple thing- stop listening, stop looking, stop doing. Just stop. And be only and simply in the moment. In full acceptance of all that I am and all that is.
My affliction is like a murmuring brook I walk beside constantly. Always there. Ready to receive my renunciation. Ready to leave me in my freedom.
Such a blessing.
January 3, 2013 § 29 Comments
Today in the woods- deep snow, air so cold and sharp it tingled. Finding a sliver of bright sun, beneath the sky of infinite blue, I felt the sun’s warmth on my face. Standing there, I allowed the spirit of the trees and the sun and that sky that went on forever to come upon me.
How is it that I could be given such a moment? A moment of peace beyond peace.
And then I know. That moment belonged to me because I belonged to it. In that moment, no sense of time, no duality, no thinking. Just being.
The simple magic of pure existence.
October 25, 2012 § 33 Comments
She stands amidst the range of trees out back. A proud and massive oak, flanked by the maples. Her main trunk splits and she is slightly out of kilter, leaning to the west, but she wears her imperfections with disregard. Dressed now in the orange cloak of fall, soon she will stand nude through her winter vigil.
I have seen her limbs sway in the howling storms. Gracefully undulating to the forces of nature. Today the wind is down and she is still. Yet even in her still and silent posture I feel the energy and strength radiating outward.
Over the years I have spent countless hours in her presence. She watched over me as I buried Mike, our cat of 19 years, in her shadow. So many times, when I needed to return to the center, I stood before her and felt her presence. She is a living, breathing existence for me- not an object or a thing.
We choose how we live in and how we experience the world. She shows us the way.
Not loud, quiet. Not frantic, still. Not rigid, supple. Not drifting, rooted.
I see her now. She is simply and always right there.
September 25, 2012 § 22 Comments
I grew up with the surf and ocean as part of my life. My mother used to say that the first day of each summer season, I would always run screaming directly into the surf- full sprint- undiluted joy. I still feel that way about the ocean.
In my adult life, it is my sanctuary. A place of peace, a spiritual place.
I now understand that the ocean is also a great teacher.
When you are trying to paddle out against a strong surf, you soon discover that you can’t just bust through the big waves. You must learn to maneuver yourself and your board to create the least possible resistance to the wave and allow it to wash over you. Even the strongest surfer cannot bend the wave to his will.
And when the surf presents itself like a roiling cauldron, as on the eve of a great storm, and you go out without the board, you must give yourself over to the surf. You swim and struggle to get out but once in the midst of the raging surf, you’re best off just letting go. Letting the crashing and ricocheting waves bounce you around, push you under, and have their way.
The ocean is a mighty thing. When it rises up, resistance gets you nowhere. But letting go, accepting its power, can bring moments of great bliss.
This is true in life- everywhere, always. We do not achieve our moments of transcendent bliss by wrenching them out of the cauldron of our busy lives. Effort, thrashing about, resistance- not the path. Those blissful moments come to us only when we are open to the wonder and energy that surrounds us.
So I try to live the lesson the surf has taught me.
August 13, 2012 § 45 Comments
The first mile of my run is always the hardest. Before I find my rhythm, before my mind clears. Painful, labored, difficult.
But soon I’m just running. I am aware of my surroundings- I hear the birds, feel my foot strike the ground- but I’ve shed the dualistic and busy way of thinking of the first mile. No me and the birds, or me and the ground- just me, running. Feeling strong and sure.
I am drawn to simple, elemental sports. Running is the paradigm. But also snowboarding- a board, the mountain, and gravity. And surfing- a board, the ocean, and waves. To be just running, just boarding, just surfing is to be in that transcendent place where you are fully engaged physically but somehow utterly at peace.
You do not have to be on a wooded trail or a mountain to find this feeling. It does not come from the place or the nature of the activity. It is available to each of us in each moment, wherever we are, whatever we are doing.
When we lose the dualistic way of thinking, our mind clears and we settle into whatever we are doing. Just reading, just cooking, just being with the other person. The peace comes upon us.
So wherever you are, whatever you are doing, just be there.
August 7, 2012 § 31 Comments
The transition from sleep to awareness feels instantaneous. My mind has leapt into full alert- heightened in its capacity to catalog and elaborate on tonight’s list of difficulties and failings. Down each rabbit hole my mind plunges until I hit bottom- always a conclusion stunning in its simplicity and harrowing in its implications. Hopeless.
When I try to think my way out, I only get more entangled. Maybe it will work out for the best because of this or that, I say. But my ferocious mind pounces on that consolation, ripping it to pieces. Turning my pathetic efforts to climb out of the hole into further reason for my self-loathing. My nighttime mind can be horrifically brilliant in this way.
Night or day, trying to outthink your busy, ferocious mind is always a mistake. It will tear you to bits every time. Resistance only feeds the busyness.
The demons are always right outside the door. So when they knock, don’t try to bar the door or throw them out. Be the imperfect host. Welcome them in- and then pay them no mind. Soon the demons will retreat. Soon peace will come upon you.
They’ll be back. That’s for sure. But you’ll be ready.
July 31, 2012 § 13 Comments
A wise and lyrical passage.
Tozan, a famous Zen master, said: “The blue mountain is the father of the white cloud. The white cloud is the son of the blue mountain. All day long they depend on each other, without being dependent on each other. The white cloud is always the white cloud. The blue mountain is always the blue mountain.”
This is a pure, clear interpretation of life. There may be many things like the white cloud and the blue mountain: man and woman, teacher and disciple. …They are quite independent, but yet dependent. This is how we live, and how we practice zazen.
Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind