January 30, 2006

Little Blue Bowl

Sometimes on the spiritual journey we come face to face with painful realities of our human experience. For me, one reality that rises with some frequency is that my human heart holds onto sadness. My heart remembers deep sorrows – even when I don’t want to remember. These sorrows feel so heavy at times; out of the blue sadness will come over me and cover me with the earnestness of dark clouds. Some days it casts secret shadows within, and, at times, lends itself over to what feels to be an unrelenting self-loathing. Yes – I have hated myself for feeling so much sadness, for the shame that I couldn't "get over it," and for ‘losing it’ at times and places where culture restricts. For a long time, this feeling of self-loathing over my own sorrow was confusing to me. Aki suggested to me that we tend to put our difficult feelings, memories or intrusive thoughts into a closet, and an energy field seems to form around it. “It’s better,” he said, “to have our sorrow out where we can know it, honor it, and use it.”

This little teaching touched me, gently at first, and then in more potent ways. I had never thought of honoring my sorrow. I had never thought of loosening my grip from it, of placing it on the shelf, so to speak, and looking at it from a little distance. My sorrow stemmed from a great personal loss. When I tried holding this sorrow with honor rather than with shame, slowly it began to take on the character of a great gift. Aki’s words rang true, “Held with honor, sorrow, angst, and self-loathing have their places.” “Wounds inflict blessings,” he told me, “When we move toward our wounds, we will see, deep within them, what is needed. In them we find compassion.”

With heavy hearts,
broken hearts
we fall into life day after dry day.
What can contain the heaviness
that colors a life with deep violets,
with the indigo of hidden tears?

A friend made me some little blue ceramic bowls. I have one on my desk and I have come to regard this bowl as a place to hold my sorrow. With cupped hands, I gently, and with honor, place some sorrow there from time to time. Sometimes I imagine that this little bowl can contain all the sorrows of the world within it. It is like a magic bowl. A little, magic, blue bowl to hold all the blues of the world.

Without those blues
there could be no gold and no crimson.
There would be no emerald lakes
and turquoise rivers, no mountains
of umber and sienna.

Without those blues
There would be no real joy
of any depth
no pure joy
without those blues.

I offered a little bowl to Aki as a place to hold his sorrows. He thanked me, and placed it on his desk. Later he said, "What I did not realize was the capacity of this little, blue bowl. I started small, placing a little pain there in the bowl. And it held it. And I was impressed by anything that could silently hold pain and not complain. You know what I'm talking about here? Can you feel the release just in that? In the meager knowing that there was something that could hold what it shouldn't be able to hold, yet it holds it? It holds the war, the aggression, the deaths of fathers and sons, on both sides. Little by little, everything went into that bowl. Its capacity for holding - for warmth and love, for acceptance, for forgiveness and generosity - was infinite."

Aki said, “The bowl provides a symbolic space where all this carnage can be held, while one moves into the bright sunlight, out into the deep water of the river; playful again, a child again, rediscovering an abundance of warmth and love, the heart's capacity for renewal, the spirits ability to resurrect; finding heaven and earth together, sad/joyful hearts willing to shed into innocence; unclogging the wellspring of genuineness..."

I, too, am amazed at all it can hold; a little blue bowl containing so many tears and angst, yet it never fills. Amazingly, it holds not only the tears and sadness we offer it; it also holds compassion, warmth, love, acceptance, forgiveness and generosity. Wow! Look at those jewels! Jewels that shimmer light right into our darkest shadows. Who could have known the power of a little blue bowl?

Now sorrow has a place.
It only needed a place.
Shadow only asks
for a place to be.

How can I have light
without darkness?
Now, there is a place
for darkness,
and I live in light.
I feel, in gratefulness,
I feel.

Thank you, dear Aki.

January 21, 2006

Polishing the Mirror

I love the look and fragrance of clean –of fresh air, polished wood, and uncluttered shiny surfaces reflecting streams of sunlight. Because of this I sometimes get into little cleaning frenzies. Today has been that kind of day – a Meredith cleaning frenzy. I began cleaning something and then just went on and on and on with cleaning everything, every nook and cranny, emptying drawers and dusting behind the books, washing the woodwork and polishing the mirrors. I call this my cleaning meditation. When I’m cleaning, many thoughts drift up within me and I realize that important cleaning and clearing out gets done in me, too. My thoughts move about flowing in a stream of consciousness, resting momentarily on anything that needs a little dusting and polishing. I examine these thoughts, and then try to let them go.

Dear friend, your heart is a polished mirror.
You must wipe it clean of the veil of dust
that has gathered upon it, because it is destined
to reflect the light of divine secrets.

As I cleaned, I thought about that metaphor of polishing the mirror. When I look at my mirror, what do I honestly see? What is this cloudiness that covers my heart? What is this dusty veil of accumulation preventing the reflection of my purer presence?

In my cleaning meditation, I come up close to dirty things I don’t like about myself – for me they include many self criticisms and judgments of others, as well as egoic feelings of envy, pride, desire and arrogance. These attributes don’t match my larger Self-concept. These are qualities I usually keep in the shadowy dark recesses, or at least I try to keep them there. Occasionally, they pop up when I don’t expect them to. Anything suppressed is likely to try this maneuver. These qualities painfully remind me of my humanity. As I brought them forward in my cleaning I looked at them more honestly, and turned each of them as I dusted.

If you could get rid of yourself just once,
The secret of secrets would open to you.
The face of the unknown, hidden beyond the universe
Would appear on the mirror of your perception.

I wondered if my egoic self really could ever clean away such sticky debris to reveal the face of the unknown. It was so easy for me just to sit with the admission and the resulting guilt of these messy attributes themselves; getting stuck on self criticism comes easily. But I knew I must keep moving, keep clearing out, and keep letting go, even of the self criticism, to allow the hidden to manifest. After tears helped me with the cleaning, I began to feel compassion flowing toward myself. Compassion came when I was able to identify the truer intention of my heart, which has always been a move toward profound love.

Let go of your worries and be completely clear-hearted,
like the face of a mirror that contains no images.
When empty of forms, all forms are contained within it.
No face would be ashamed to be so clear.

A wise teacher once said that unexamined likes and dislikes layer the heart with expectation. Even pleasant emotions, such as fascination, can be a veil over the heart. This teacher said, “We need a free, discriminating attention and wakefulness.” He went on, “All relationships should be governed by conscious reflection and a sensitive heart.”

When I am immersed in this deep cleaning, focused on a refining examination of my small self, I see my own inner preoccupations, my likes and dislikes, my fascinations and fictions. I become brutally honest. I feel shame about the qualities of negativity, conditioning, hypocrisy, secrecy, and distorted desire swirling within me. But when I become discriminating, I also sense something else. Shame dissipates when I acknowledge this larger, much purer Being within me – reflecting outwardly as barely perceptible qualities without images, without form. With discriminating attention, these unseen qualities are highlighted.

Everyone sees the Unseen in proportion to the clarity of his heart, and that depends upon how much he has polished it.
Whoever has polished it more sees more –
more unseen forms become manifest to him.

Awareness assures me that the outward projections I clean are only a fragment of who I am. This deeper yet larger and more important part of me, the ‘Unseen’, such as my intuition, compassion, and the deeply loving capacity of my heart, exists within as a pure light. When I am able to clear the mirror of projected and superficial contents, I discover this light within me reflecting so much more clearly, resembling glistening surfaces reflecting streams of sunlight. As the wise teachers have said, when I polish this mirror of awareness, over and over again letting go of the debris of small self, the purer light of my Being is more clearly reflected.

There is a polish for everything,
and the polish for the heart
is the remembrance of God.
~A saying of the Prophet Muhammad

During this cleaning meditation, as my small self-awareness finally slowed, I noticed purity in the silence. In these moments a presence, a small voice within, begins to gently nudge me, making itself known. My consciousness meets this presence, and my awareness expands. This presence is permeating, gentle, and breeze-like. This presence is beyond the myriad of imperfections of self I have spent the morning cleaning out. I see small dust particles dancing with a kind of delight in the midair. I stop what I am doing, just to watch the dust, to witness the light stream through the insignificant, and to feel this same light warmly stream through me. My heart softens. I am filled with a subtle but unmistakable remembrance of God. Inhaling, I celebrate the gift of breath itself. I feel sunlight reflecting off of me; my heart expands with Graceful Presence.

January 17, 2006

Living Inward

Meredith: Aki, my friend, often you have told me to watch for little synchronicities, which always feel exciting and magical to me. Well, here is today's synchronicity. This quote came from Nipun's weekly meditation, and I was delighted at the way this teaching folds right into the dialogue we have been sharing. I share it with you:

Living Inward

To be and to be fully is Nature's aim in us; but to be fully is to be wholly conscious of one's being. This movement of going inward and living inward is a difficult task to lay upon the normal consciousness of the human being; yet there is no other way of self-finding.

To those into whose composition there has entered the power of a more inner living, the movement of going within and living within brings not a darkness or dull emptiness but an enlargement, a rush of new experience, a greater vision, a larger capacity, an extended life infinitely more real and various than the first pettiness of the life constructed for itself by our normal physical humanity, a joy of being which is larger and richer than any delight in existence than the outer vital man or the surface mental man can gain by their dynamic vital force and activity or subtlety and expansion of the mental existence. A silence, an entry into a wide or even immense or infinite emptiness is part of the inner spiritual experience; of this silence and void the physical mind has a certain fear, the small superficially active thinking or vital mind a shrinking from it or dislike -- for it confuses the silence with mental and vital incapacity and the void with cessation or non-existence: but this silence is the silence of the spirit which is the condition of a greater knowledge, power and bliss, and this emptiness is the emptying of the cup of our natural being, a liberation from its turbid contents so that it may be filled.

In fact, this inward turning and movement is not an imprisonment in personal self, it is the first step towards a true universality; it brings to us the truth of our external as well as the truth of our internal existence. For this inner living one can extend itself and embrace the universal life, it can contact, penetrate, englobe the life of all with a much greater reality and dynamic force than is in our surface consciousness at all possible.

Our outmost universalisation on the surface is a poor and limping endeavor -- it is a construction, make-believe and not the real thing: for in our surface consciousness we are bound to separation of consciousness from others and wear the fetters of the ego. There our very selflessness becomes more often than not a subtle form of selfishness or turns into a larger affirmation of our ego; content with our pose of altruism, we do not see that it is a veil for the imposition of our individual self, our ideas, our mental and vital personality, our need for ego-enlargement upon the others whom we take up into our expanded orbit.
So far as we really succeed in living for others, it is done by an inner spiritual force of love and sympathy; but the power and field of effectuality of this force in us are small, the psychic movement that prompts us is incomplete, its action often ignorant because there is contact of mind and heart but our being does not embrace the being of others as ourselves.

--Sri Aurobindo


Meredith: Some inward silence today. This silence found some tenderness. When Sri writes that our outmost universalization on the surface is a poor and limping endeavor, I know what he is referring to. A limping endeavor. Often though I see the make believe quality of the play of our lives, I so often feel separate, oddly uncomfortable in my own skin. Outmost universalization is difficult to hold.

Slowly I go inward, deep into the silence, quiet enough to penetrate the emptiness. This emptiness can be overwhelming, but as Sri so beautifully articulates, "this emptiness is the emptying of the cup of our natural being, a liberation from its turbid contents so that it may be filled." How haltingly I enter this region, even though there is such cleansing here. Internal and external existence is something like a paradox to be reconciled. Being filled requires this emptiness from us. It requires a graceful allowing. Allowing brings into the open a force of love – a warm and permeating energy filling the emptiness. This love is what truly merges us, allowing us to embrace the being of others as ourselves. This is to be, and to be fully.

Akilesh: When the subtleties and pervasiveness of self-identification come home to us, we begin seeing how what we thought was altruism and pure good will and kindness is actually "a subtle form of selfishness" and something which is an "affirmation of our ego." This is disillusioning and often brings sadness and humility. When we see how our doing of good deeds is something we take subtle pride in, it begins to dawn on us that they exist on top of ego-fixation, and reflect a "pose of altruism." It begins to dawn on us that all our so called righteousness is actually self-righteousness and "a veil for the imposition of our individual self, our ideas, our... personality, our need for ego-enlargement." This is sobering, disillusioning and enlightening. This is what it means to be de-hypnotized, to overcome the veil of our conditioning.

Forget about holding "outmost universalization." I can hardly pronounce these words. Instead look right now upon a naked tree outside your window, and there find your teacher. You are a beautiful openness that is awake, just like that tree. Is that tree difficult to hold in your empty awareness? It holds you in its empty awareness. In purity, emptiness and ease, in innocence and love, you hold each other.

You think you are penetrating the emptiness haltingly, but actually the emptiness is penetrating you, to the degree you are allowing it to. You are not actually going anywhere, rather you are opening, and your receptivity is inviting your true nature to come back home, to come back into the light, to re-emerge from the background where it had been patiently abiding, allowing the ego, the thinking and doing, the "turbid contents" of the mind to occupy center stage in your "normal" consciousness.

As you observe in your own experience, it is about allowing. As you allow, you make space for spirit to fill you, and you realize this is most cleansing and healing, and leads to tremendous warmth and wisdom as the light fills you, fills your Being, takes up its natural place. This light and warmth is who you are.

Please, I invite you, your friend Aki invites you, if at this moment you wish to be filled with Wholeness, with God, with Light, please let the following words of the mystic penetrate you to the core:

Being filled requires this emptiness from us. It requires a graceful allowing. Allowing brings into the open a force of love – a warm and permeating energy filling the emptiness. This love is what truly merges us, allowing us to embrace the being of others as ourselves. This is to be, and to be fully.

Being is not miserly. Any allowing, even ungraceful allowing, gives Being an opening to pour into us. Isn't that beautiful? Beauty does not come from something you have, but from what you allow.

January 15, 2006

Bounty of the Skies

As I stand in my own small space of the planet, reveling in the power and the beauty of the heavens, I feel a great unity with all beings. I know that somewhere there is a herdsman in the Sahara Desert who is also gazing at the stars of our common universe. I know there is a lamb in New Zealand romping in the sunlight that also bathes my skin. I know there is a cactus blooming in Mexico under the same sky as mine. I know that all of us are drinking in the wind and living under the beauty of the heavens. I know that all of this is a dance of oneness amid the bounty of the skies and I am grateful.

- The Cosmic Dance

January 14, 2006

Diamonds on Your Pillow

I shall leave diamonds
on your pillow tonight. There will be
little words of love, reflections of
light and shimmering brilliance, of tenderness and joy,
of tall green trees, overflowing rivers and endless skies -
thousands of radiant expressions of the Beloved.
From everywhere this reflection returns
so you may see this light shining from you,
the Lovelight, the Source, in your very own heart.

January 12, 2006

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world,
and am free.

~Wendell Berry

January 4, 2006

Koan of Self

Re: Self and ego

Meredith: I feel an ambivalent relationship with myself. As I let my ego recede, then where is self? The self that carries my heart, my loving nature - this I love and nurture. The self that comprises my very life - that part I love, too. I love my life! Increasingly, I have a strong sense of self; I am more and more comfortable just being me. Yet, there is that ego that we’ve talked about. I realize I need my ego, it is useful, but I do not always love it.

Lately, in meditation, my 'self' more easily moves to the background. My ego fades. Thinking and feelings ebb, I become rather lost to my self. An image is created in me of a plain chalice holding nothing other than breath and loving energy.

Out in the world, working, relating, responding, my ego moves forward. I frequently rub up against a part of my self, call it my ego, which is in the way. Though I am generally good-natured and kind hearted, my ego can be cold and protective, holding others at a distance. My ego can be self aggrandized, arrogant. This part is hard to love. Yet this is an ambivalent feeling, because without a strong sense of myself, I cannot love fully nor do the work I do. Each time I read your notes about ‘ego-identified self’ I feel a cognitive dissonance – as in what the hell do I need to do with this phrase – how to think about it, how to not-think about it, how to work it?

Then a fresh day dawns and I let go of this question. Perhaps I push it aside - the question is too difficult to answer.

Akilesh: Your reflections are wonderful. They should be meditated upon, explored, contemplated. Honest examination over pretense. Let's not lose the spirit of inquiry that is so present in these words. Let's not let these gems pass down river so quickly. Let's look deeply into them, without fear, without distracting ourselves with other, perhaps prettier words. Too often I have fallen under the enchantment of painted pink sunrises. It is a good exercise for me to look closely and clearly within and ferret out the pseudo, sort out the unreal from the authentic. I will meditate upon these words and offer reflections, and I invite you to do the same. They hold great potential, beyond what you can imagine.

Please do not dismiss these words too quickly. Invite them back in. Let them work on you like a Zen koan might work on you, in you. Let the words go deep and see what comes up. It is not something that can be figured out with the mind. Some Zen practitioners would spend eight or ten years living and breathing a koan. Eventually it breaks open and reveals something. We should not be too eager, too aggressive, too quick to try to figure out what this something is. This only adds to the "problem," the barrier. Instead let the koan percolate, be with it, until it opens on its own, without the use of your hands.

The "problem" of the self you raise in the passages above goes to the heart of the whole spiritual journey. This "problem" is what we often seek to avoid at all costs. There is an incredible amount of spiritual distraction and preoccupation, (bound by a "golden chain," marked with the "stink of Zen") which translates into our efforts to escape "The Big Problem." Seekers dance around this, escape from this over and over and over again. And over and over and over again existence brings us back to it. Eventually it will have to be faced. Without fail you will be brought back to it repeatedly until you take the leap. The blessing of existence is that all things seem to be perfectly orchestrated to contribute to our awakening. And it takes as long as it takes.