Mother’s Day May 12, 2019
I am 64 years old. It is feasible to think that over these years I have made or bought some 60 Mother’s day cards. This is the first year I did not. My mama passed this year and with her my last, first home.
Mother. Home. The word mother is overflowing with the essence, the very core of home. Mother’s womb, Mother tongue, Mother Earth, the Mother Ship—all as reference points. Here I am always welcome; here I am understood; here is my touch star; here is where I come from. Here is home.
As an adolescent I, as all adolescents, couldn’t wait to get away from home. Then in my twenties and thirties, I couldn’t wait to come back for a home cooked meal, to let my guard down. I couldn’t wait to be met at the door by my parents eager to wrap me in their arms and heap on me all the attention I could hold.
When my father passed, I realized just how much he too ‘mothered’ me. Rubbing Vick’s Vapo Rub on my back and sweeping me in his arms, telling me I was beautiful and strong; how proud he was, in between his worried look that someone was not mothering me while I was out of his sight. Who was changing the oil in my car? But the home In Jersey I grew up in was still there with my mother in place so the illusion held for a while longer.
When we sold that house and moved mom, it was another passing for me and my siblings. But mama was still mama, still firm as beacon even though the place of residence had moved. There were visits to that home and meals still eaten together and offers of pocket money. How does a child answer the perennial parent question—are you ok? Do you need anything? Even if they could not exactly provide what might be needed the offer was balm. The knowledge that someone, in that certain place called home, looked out for you; that home was always there no matter what chaos might be occurring.
Mother and Home. As I sit in a temporary apartment, in a new city looking again for home I am keenly aware that truly I am my own beacon; there is no other light out there pulsing specifically for me. ‘Home is where the heart is’ the saying goes. But now this brings ache not solace. My heart is broken and so pieces of me are strewn across the landscape. Where is home?
Of course there are many levels to this question. I yearn for an actual home, roots. To be rooted in place and community, to be part of some whole. But I know, home truly is where the heart is, and the great heart is within one’s own being. One day, with practice, that knowing becomes so full, that it spills out onto everything, and spontaneously home is wherever the gaze falls. I am grateful for this understanding and the path that permits me to go home. There is great comfort here. I shudder to think how I would be if not for my practice.
Still, I ache for home. I will remember my mama with stories shared with my siblings. I will send flowers to my mother-in-law. I will honor Mother Earth with a silent ceremony taking in her riches. I will continue to search on Redfin and Zillow for home and hope that it shows itself soon. I am not a mother, but I have mothered, and I will continue to offer my services and be ‘as mother’ where I am able to any child of the earth in need. And I will close my eyes, take a few tremulous breaths, settle and go home. Little by little I bring the sweetness of home up to the surface and the world is transformed.
This picture is of my mother, Carmella, Millie, gazing up at my Aunt Emma. I never met my aunt but am told I am just like her. I love looking at this picture and thinking about that.
See you in my dreams mama.
There is no shortage of people willing to tell us how things are in the world on both the grand and intimate stage. I’ve just moved to a new city. It’s both exciting and daunting. While it is important in so many ways, to get the lay of the land as it were, to see through the eyes of more than one’s self, caution is necessary.
There is the risk of simply assuming they— and there are many “they” to be had — are correct and in that assumption close off to any nuance or increase of perspective we may have. Of course, not all information and opinions are equal. We look to masters in every category and weight accordingly but this too must, as all in all data, move through our individual mind. It is of necessity colored by our emotional response and never taken in as neutrally as we like to believe.
We face this every single day in ways big and small. Who do we believe? Where do we place our trust? Yes, we aspire to trust in self, to have our own opinion which means we must first have our own experience, but again, this is never neutral to begin with. We come to the table with likes and dislikes firmly in place, all colored by our past experience and knowledge. We look to increase and refine that knowledge as it should be but something more is necessary.
To see with new eyes, with clear eyes, sounds promising but in reality, is so very hard to do. I long to throw up the neatly ordered deck of cards I keep in my pocket and see where they land, what new order arises and to surrender; to have the courage, the full weight of possible knowledge, the skill at hand to act efficaciously on that reshuffling.
The world does have building blocks. There is a certain order but where does that order arise? How does it arise? In the non-dual Śaiva Tantra teaching this is the purview of krama-śakti. The cosmic sequence generator. Know this more intimately, align with this power and the cards dance.
What shapes itself inside you moment by moment? What dictates, our likes and dislikes, our interests and personality? Why are we drawn toward or repulsed away?
Experience is a great teacher and in that, leaves a strong imprint. Keep the information and release the often too powerful emotional response that causes one to immediately cling or avert without reason. Meditate.
Resting awareness in the nirvikalpa, the non-conceptual, permits an opportunity to shape closer to the source what arises on the conceptual surface. And in that to act more skillfully, closer to our dearest values. Meditate.
As I navigate this new place, searching for home, for how I may fit in, how I may serve, I am keenly aware of what I bring to the mix. In my desire to belong, I am compelled to sit and face my Self.
Gratefully I meditate. I am growing in my self-sufficiency, and still, a friendly hand, a kind word, an opinion offered is so very welcome. Yet all of it, is ultimately up to me. There is responsibility and freedom in that and I wish to be ready. Meditate.
Sitting with Sorrow
What a gift we give when we sit in silent compassion with those in sorrow.
It is ingrained in us humans to want to assist those we see hurting. Especially when it is someone we hold dear, someone we love. I have found myself wanting to fill the space with something that might ease, that might offer some balm and so words, well intentioned, tumble from the mouth.
The words used, meant to assist the one suffering, to put things in perspective, to shine the light on what is good, for in truth something good is always burgeoning if we can relax the grip of sorrow, the words that reach to say ‘this too will pass’ often have the opposite effect.
Yes, it is helpful to put things in perspective and there is always someone suffering “more or less” this is the domain of comparison, but to deny one their full expression of pain is tantamount to saying even here, even in sorrow, you don’t quite measure up to those REALLY suffering. Even in sorrow then, I am unworthy.
We feel their pain and in some way, it becomes ours too and we seek to ease it.
What a great gift we give then when we simply sit in love and compassion, allowing the space for whatever arises to be and in the being to permit dissolution. This is the path that transmutes sorrow into its constituent essence which will permit the light to rise in new and wondrous ways.
We mirror the five divine acts: creation, manifestation, dissolution, concealment and revelation in our own small world. And while we are told, and understand to some degree, that these are happening simultaneously on both the cosmic and relative level, that they are not discrete, not separate, we cannot skip any of the first four in order to arrive more quickly at revelation. No matter how deeply and sincerely we desire it.
Dissolution is the active process that supplies the energy for what is new to arise; for what is concealed to be revealed.
It is in meditation that we dissolve, for a time, our sense of limited self and in rising back to the surface, claiming our individuality once more, we are re-formed. We are always becoming. Being vs Knowing. Being takes up all the space. It moves and expands into every corner, it pervades. Knowing is the recursive response to that being, doubling back to reflect and apply at some future time.
Little by little, we become something new. A more refined version of our whole self. It is the practice of meditation that permits me to hold sorrow in a new way. It also makes me keenly sensitive to the unintentional pain caused when those who love us try to make it better, to move us forward by looking elsewhere. This has its place and will come in time, and its time is aided by permitting the fire to burn. Meditation is the fire that ignites consciousness, burning off the dross allowing sweetness to rise to the surface.
What a gift we give when we sit in silent compassion with those in sorrow. Gift yourself. Meditate.
Instinctively we humans reach for the stars. We yearn to touch the sacred, the transcendent and in doing so, be touched, held, known. We are touched by life in so many ways, large and small, sweet and bitter. Yet we ache to be touched, to be truly seen.
It is from the gift of embodiment that we may touch, be touched, that all relationships may be known. We do our best to care for this body. It is the means of experiencing life and the vehicle of our every expression.
“When the body is well the spirit rises up” This touched me deeply. Ever alert for the many ways we humans may heal ourselves, I looked up the author.
Jan Vanier philosopher and theologian is the founder of L’Arche. There are 149 L'Arche communities in 38 countries around the world. It is a community for those with and without intellectual disabilities with the fundamental notion that from the body relationship grows. The body, with all its human frailties, as a gift of communication.
It is wholly steeped in physicality, touch - without the gloss of sex- as support, giving rise to feelings of security and revelation. Touch quite literally connects and holds, not as in possession or ownership but as supportive embrace.
In meditation we touch the deepest source of Self. In the turya state, the fourth state beyond waking, dreaming and deep sleep, is the state of nirvikalpa, the non-conceptual transcendent source that is, truly speaking, not a state but the natural circumstance in which individual awareness touches the wholeness of Self and in that is held, nourished, transformed.
It is the relationship of truest Self that supports and nourishes all other relationships. We thirst to touch the depths of our very being.
Vanier says that L’Arche is “a transmission of vision not a formula” to be replicated. We want to latch onto principles, onto doctrine but experience demands we go further.
How do we cultivate our ability to experience?
Śaiva Tantric meditation holds that the body is divine; it is the very means to experience not only the world of material reality, but the highest Self. Awareness is taken deep within, held in the embrace of purest love, met by the fullness of light that is the light of our own sweet consciousness. To develop this relationship, to touch the space of transcendence is too be more fully human.
Innocently, without agenda or force, awareness naturally explores its depths, and in that, we cultivate the habit of going deep into everything. Anywhere we place our awareness on the surface of life, any teaching, any circumstance, we dive fearlessly into the center. We touch its essence.
Nurturing, stabilizing this relationship, knowing Self deeply, permits one to be present without either attachment or aversion in the space of choice. We stand apart not in disinterest or separateness but in compassion love and wholeness. To do so, we must first experience and cultivate relationship with our truest Self. We must touch, be held in the embrace of Consciousness writ large. Know Self than the knowing of all else will be nourished.
More and more I experience the significance of what it means to say that meditation is both a gift and a tool. It is the means by which each individual may realize their birthright, to know, to experience the whole self, and in that deep experience, given the means to pierce to the core of absolutely everything.
Aristotle, one of the most influential thinkers in the history of Western thought whose works cover a vast range of subjects, including logic, ethics, metaphysics, politics, natural science, and physics, has at the core of his teachings the foundation of experience not intellect. This is a conundrum for those who call themselves Aristotelians. The question is how to experience these teachings, any teachings not just as an intellectual exercise but deeply felt and known? We study and contemplate yes, but experience demands we go further.
We want the profound and beautiful teachings of the masters of consciousness, the masters of philosophy, the masters of poetry and love to come alive. Those beings who stand at the pinnacle of each tradition but whose words have become rote and dry because we attempt to replicate instead of experience. To be in relationship with Self is to be in relationship with grace. To be touched, to be held by grace. And in that, to be truly known.
All humans yearn to be touched, to be held in one way or another. It is from the gift of embodiment that all relationships may be known. Cultivate your capacity to touch your deepest heart. Meditate.
Grace hidden yet always in plain site. It is the friction, the rub of life that removes the tarnish and reveals the luster of every moment. Dull and heavy, I sink. I break down in tears. But I am not lost. Yes, sink deep, permit rest in silent harmony. Oh how grateful I am for my meditation practice and the knowledge that supports what is happening in the space of my being!
March 21, 2019
Moving on. The last night in this house. I cannot close my eyes for want of drinking in what I created with so much love, care and devotion; where family gathered and students fed; where practice flourished and study deepened.
This one hurts. It is 4 am and I have been up since 2 wandering around looking at how the moonlight falls on the fireplace, how she caresses the now empty spaces.
Empty and yet so full. I know I will create anew. I know life moves on. I know practice will continue to flourish and study deepen and family will always be, but the shape changes.
Dissolution is another name for destruction. Its kinder cousin lending some softness to the blow but a blow it remains. This one hurts.
Oh there is so much to learn about the skillful dancing of life’s rhythms. Nataraja bangs on his damaru but I am no Pinocchio. I will not be tied to invisible strings. Yet I am not the choreographer.
Enough. Sweet śakti bless a few hours of sleep before the last day in this configuration begins.
March 25, 2019
Landing. The first day in Seattle. Safely traveled 2992 miles with Karma at our feet in first class. If one needs to leave a beloved home, then traveling first class with a puppy of love is the way to go. She brought so much joy to travelers in the airport and was so good on the plane, sitting alert and patient. This change has long been in the making yet not quite revealed. Now we rest once again in the middle, in temporary housing, things in storage, searching for home. Home.
Home. Yes I do know true home exists behind my eyes and am so very grateful even as I yearn for a space that permits life to grow exponentially on the outward plane. My fervent prayer, abundance, clarity and service. Listen. Prayer is speaking to a higher wisdom. Meditation is listening. It begins. Or more accurately shifts, morphs once more. This is the tender, intimate dance of sṛṣṭi, creation and sthiti, maintenance. Again and again the next picture is revealed, perhaps looking the same but look closer, it is slightly altered. How can I participate joyful, efficaciously in its movement directing revelation before saṃhāra calls again? This is what permits concealment to unfold into full revelation. So many levels. Grace is hidden yet always in plain site.
Good morning Seattle. Reveal yourself.
If you travel on the metro in London you are familiar with the call to “mind the gap.” The gap between the train and platform that is always present yet often not seen. We are called to bring attention to it in order to navigate successfully and avoid catastrophe.
There is always a gap between the way things are and the way we would like things to be. There is a gap between my authentic emotional response and the way I would like to spontaneously react. There is a gap between what is and what will be. There is a gap between what I know and what I yearn to know. There is a gap in who I know myself to be and who I truly am.
How do we mind the gap? How is it possible to be both authentic, respectful and honoring of what is at the present moment rising, and what we would like to participate in creating?
This is the practice of yoga. We go deep inside into that space that is prior, silent and restful, yet dynamically alive. The place that is not really a place; fathomless yet as measured as the next breath. It is the sacred middle, the madhya. It is this space we naturally expand in deep meditation.
Upon emergence from this vastness we come armed with some new sense of knowingness. What is it we know? We must pull on the tender threads. We must articulate to the degree possible. And then refine again and again and again so that we may get to the essence, to the core, to the white hot molten center of what ever is.
Resting in the middle space, the space of infinite potency, possibility yet born, we increase our capacity to create, moment by moment, a life of authenticity, discernment, respect, wonderment and love. We make space, stand apart, not as other or in detachment, but rather in compassion with full access to all our tools - emotional, mental, physical and all the subtle realms between. Moment by moment we are able to truly mind the gap between impulse and action. Senses heightened, mind sharp we are poised to choose, to live the best life possible under the current circumstances. We increase not only perspective, but knowledge of every sort; knowledge of our deepest self and what is necessary to bring the desired outcome to fruition.
Mind the gap. Expand the middle. Meditate.
Knowledge is an antidote to ignorance. This is not a surprising statement. Organizations, schools, various groupings of all sorts, are built around it and profess it’s attainment.
In the Indian mystical traditions, there is an important focus upon knowledge in overcoming of ignorance; more precisely, the illusion of ignorance. The prime reason ignorance is to be overcome is for the purpose of overcoming suffering. Simply stated, we do not know the truth of who we are, what we are made of, capable of, and in that, we suffer. We are under the illusion that the limited self we come to think of as “I” is pretty much the whole subject and the world of objects and indeed other beings, are separate from us. We walk around in our own, as Muktananda says, “play of consciousness.”
The goal in these traditions then is to overcome this circumstance. In Classical Yoga we find the topic of ignorance discussed in the Yoga Sūtra. In the sadhāna pada, which focuses on practice, we are told that the agenda of yoga is two fold: (1) to become immersed in samādhi, pure awareness and (2) to weaken the kleśa-s. We must therefore engage in the steady practice of yoga to fulfill this goal. It is a lifelong process.
There are five kleśa-s, which are described as the source of suffering. These include avidyā (ignorance), asmitā (limited ego), rāga (desire; dependence upon certain experience for fulfillment), dveṣā (aversion to certain experiences), and abhiniveśā (fear of death).
The first one, is ignorance, avidyā and its place of primacy is not arbitrary. If we look at all of the other kleśa-s, besides ignorance, we can see that they too are a result of avidyā. How? To the extent that we are ignorant of our true nature, and identify solely with our mind-body as the full description of who we are, and what we are capable of, we experience craving and aversion. We further the never ending inadequate strategy of comparison, sucking up all our energy in a game that can never truly be won. If this were all it would be terrible enough, but there is more. We then act from this place and since we are ignorant as to the truth of our fullness, we must of necessity act out of ignorance regarding that fullness. Therefore whatever we do will also be limited.
The tradition tells us we must refine the space of discrimination, the place of yes and no, the buddhi. Briefly, there are three parts of the mind: the manas, the ahaṃkāra, and the buddhi. The manas is the most surface-level part of the mind. It takes in sense perceptions, does surface-level functions; it organizes and categorizes. The ahaṃkāra is literally the i-maker, Aham = "I", kara = “author, maker”, it personalizes, brings all that the mind organizes around the orbit of self. The buddhi is that part of the mind that thinks deeply, decides, discriminates. It is also the storehouse of the saṃskāras, the karmic impressions, the residue left of every experience had, positive, negative and neutral. It resides behind the sense of self as described and is closet to the doorway of what the ordinary mind thinks of as consciousness, pure awareness.
A famous metaphor that is used to illustrate the role of discrimination is that of a snake and a rope. If the appearance of a snake slithers across our path, naturally we are gripped with fear and our heart will begin to race. A few moments later, low and behold, it turns out that it is not a snake, but rather a rope. So this illustrates the notion that what seems to be the case, but is actually not, can still have profound effects. It is neither fully really, nor fully unreal. But what is crucial is having the right kind of knowledge in order to discriminate what is most fully real.
The Śaiva Tantra tradition also places a great deal of importance upon the problem of ignorance. There are two types of ignorance and two types of knowledge: that type of ignorance which is related to the puruṣa -non-conceptual- pauruṣa ajñāna. One might think of this as the soul but that is fraught with many connotations. We can frame it as our pure awareness, unrelated to feeling, thinking, perceiving, or action. And then there is that ignorance related to the buddhi, the deepest level of our mind, bauddha ajñāna.
Regarding intellectual ignorance, we want to understand two things. The intellect spoken of is not merely the mind, though indeed that is to be refined and made sattvic. What is being spoken of is a specialized intellect. Bauddha, refers to the buddhi, that level of the mind, of citta, that is the most subtle, nearest the transcendent portal on the tattva schematic and, as stated, the place of discrimination as well as the storehouse of samskāras.
The light of consciousness flows through the layers of mind, or citta and we quickly comprehend the reason we seek to make the space of the buddhi, optimal, light filled, sattvic in nature.
How? See the agenda of yoga above. The first step is introversive, meditate. All of the limbs of yoga, asana, pranyama, etc says the great Śaiva Tantric master Abhinavagupta are in service of attaining the highest truth, sat-tarka. The truth of our nature and that of every knowable object. Not as an intellectual concept, or as a wish or hope or some late night dorm room subject, but as the living experience of the yogi.
We want to understand that these two types of knowledge and of ignorance are very closely related; they feed and support each other. As we deepen in our meditation we are experiencing the puruṣa more potently and yet at the same time, this experience is reflected through the citta. To permit the light to flow fully, the vessel it moves through must be refined.
We could make a good case that it would be easier or less challenging to maintain equanimity in a renunciatory setting in which the goal is to have as little to do with the world as possible. In a householder setting, in which one is constantly engaged in different relationships, various environments, work situations, etc., there are many more ways in which one can be overwhelmed, confused, and lose one's sense of freedom, peace, and bliss.
Yet, it is the engagement in this very setting that permits the frictional transmutation of the body-mind, the prakritic vessel, to occur. This is a deepening of the “dyeing of the cloth” nyaya. We must bring awareness in and out on a regular basis to wash clean and refresh; to strengthen what is brought out so that it may be utilized, lived. This is the second step, extroversive in nature, described in the Śaiva Tantra tradition.
Meditation then not only brings one knowledge of the Self, but makes the practitioner smarter. I will never forget the first time I heard Paul Muller-Ortega say, “want a better quality of thought? change the thinker.”
Knowledge is an antidote to ignorance. Meditate.
The Space Between Us
How do we stretch ourselves? Not just of body but mind and spirit?
Do we increase repetitive patterns or push ourselves - this pushing against something is a confrontation that is necessary to refine to expand to deepen. And it is the friction necessary to spur growth.
One should always keep something of beauty in the mind - Pascal
When you think the word beauty what pictures come to mind?
Beauty, the word that best relates is the classical Greek noun "kallos" meaning good or of fine quality. The combination of beauty and good is associated with truth.
Beauty - we yearn for it and it is everywhere if we have the capacity, the sense(s) to discern. We seek to bring beauty to impoverished spaces because experience, what we inhabit feeds our inner world just as knowledge of interiorized states is the fuel of outer manifestation.
We are each day creating our acts of beauty even in the making of daily life. Life exists in the space of how we go about it, with what intention and attention.
The Śaiva Tantra speaks of the madhya space. The Heart is madhya; it stands in the middle, it is intermediate standing between any two extremes. Between the inhalation and exhalation; between the beat of the heart; in the interval of pleasure and pain; between the thought and subsequent action. “It is central; it is the interior, which is the space or vacuum at the center of all things.” Paul Muller-Ortega
Kṣemaraja in the Pratyabhijna-hṛdayam, sūtra 17, speaks of the madhya-vikas̄a:
By the expansion of the center, one attains the bliss of consciousness.
This space is the dimensionless point of Śiva and Śakti, it is the union of power that creates all manifest reality and is alive in each one. Meditation then is the journey to the great Heart. Resting here, awareness steeps in creative power; expansion is known, and is palpably available to the practitioner in life.
Expand the middle. Stand on what Paul Muller-Ortega terms the “ledge of freedom.” From this ever expanded space, see clearly and deeply, choose wisely, create with love and efficacious power.
When we meditate, we meet in the space of the heart. It is that knowing that heals the individual and by extension, the world. Expand the middle, push the light of your own consciousness into every dark corner. Yes, this will shine a light on sorrow and ugliness as well, but in doing so, bring the fire necessary to transmute and create beauty. In that, the space between us expands with possibility and diminishes in differentiation and limitation.
Why do we humans cry? Not the philosophical, emotional or circumstantial reason, those are deep and vast, both universal and specific. No, I mean why do humans cry, what is the mechanism that brings water to the eyes? Why does it work in this manner?
I am not a biologist or whatever branch of science or medicine that explores this mechanism but it seems to me that perhaps we cry as an inner bath. A ritual cleansing as it were; an attempt by the physical body to remove the sorrow and the sadness that is blocking our natural light.
In Sanskrit the word is snāna. Snāna is the ritual bathing in sacred waters that cleanses purifies and makes ready. It polishes and honors the highest essence.
Perhaps this is why humans cry tears of water. We need to cleanse, to release, to purify so that we can see and hear more clearly. We need to bathe daily in the light of our purest Self.
Daily we bathe our bodies to cleanse and honor the physical self. It is natural that we would do the same for our subtler inner being. Especially when we consider it is this inner being that illuminates, supports and animates the physical self altogether.
So, next time you find yourself crying, let the tears flow knowing that with daily attention, in deep meditation, awareness is touching this source of purification, clarity and wholeness. And in the process. we are truly refreshed.
Cry for sorrow. Cry for joy. Let your individual awareness bathe in its oceanic source. Bathe in the water of highest consciousness. Meditate.
Disruptive forces are all around us, constantly.
When our world order is disrupted for what we term positive we call it miracle.
When it is disrupted in the negative we call it tragedy.
Disruption is another name for dissolution, the creative force that permits the new iteration. Operative on the cosmic and relative level symbolically portrayed in the dance of Nataraja.
The panca krityas, the five acts: something is always being created, maintained, dissolved, concealed and revealed. How do we mirror? How do we cooperate or fight? It is in the fight that we cling or avert and in that suffer greatly. It is in the cooperation that we dance and are fulfilled and in that we experience joy.
Meditation is the invitation to increase our ability to cooperate. Daily steep in the source of creative disruption.
Transformative power lies underneath the issues expressed on the surface of life. Transformative power lives in the elusive language of the transcendent. We must go deep to hear, to touch, to taste.
Walter Brueggeman says, “poetry opens and doctrine closes” listen to the poetry of your heart. Open, commune in the silent potency of the word. Meditate not as some doctrine pledging allegiance to any grouping, organization or teacher but as the means that permits your highest voice to be heard. Rich language opens the divine to our everyday existence. In that there is both poetry and love.
The world needs you. To most efficaciously offer your gifts, each one needs to learn a practice of authentic meditation and the theory that supports its growth. In that there is both poetry and love.
Begin your New Year by inviting your poet voice. The world needs you.