Archive for the ‘Buddhism’ tag
I was fortunate to get this photo from the ground as the nest was set quite high on a pole found on the cutline south of Canmore. I walked far enough away up hill in order to attempt to get more than a bit of the osprey’s head in the image. For those interested in learning more about osprey birds, check out the wikipedia entry here.
Being a parent is a great experience and I treasure all the moments of fathering and parenting two daughters and one son. They have grown up and are now experiencing the role of parent as well. As with the baby birds in this nest, the children grow up and leave “home” to make their way in the larger world. For a parent it is as if things have fallen apart, as if one’s world has been broken. As I get older, I am finding more and more that things are falling apart. But what is important for me to understand is that in falling apart, things transform. Life presents me with an opportunity to be a new and improved version of myself.
Things fell apart for me in a significant way during the past winter as many of my readers know. I have finally reached the point where I am somewhat thankful for this. Without the falling apart, I would have delayed even longer the healing that was waiting deep within. Perhaps I would have waited too long, never getting the opportunity to put things right for my soul, my heart.
“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. (Chodron, When Things Fall Apart, p. 8)
As I drove towards Canmore on Sunday for my Grassi Lakes hike, I stopped at Dead Man’s Flats in honour of the many other times I had stopped there while taking my children to visit family on Canada’s west coast. It became a tradition of sorts. I stopped because I saw the moon in the morning sky above one of the mountains and thought that this would be an excellent opportunity to capture that photo. Of course, once I was out of the car I began to wander and be present with where I was. I followed my ears as they lead me to Pigeon Creek. Once at the creek I was surprised by beautiful wild flowers. The time out had worked wonders for me and I was ready to head back to the car and complete the drive to Canmore. But, before I reached the car on my way back to the village, I saw this coyote who was calmly making his way into the edge of the hamlet. And in that moment, a bit more of my spirit was healed.
“Almost everyone who undertakes a true spiritual path will discover that a profound personal healing is a necessary part of his or her spiritual process. When this need is acknowledged, spiritual practice can be directed to bring such healing to body, heart, and mind. This is not a new notion. Since ancient times, spiritual practice has been described as a process of healing. The Buddha and Jesus were both known as healers of the body, as well as great physicians of the spirit.” (Kornfield, A Path With Heart, p. 40)
It has been gray and wet here in Calgary quite a bit this spring. Warm and sunny days are not frequent, not as frequent as I am used to at my home in Saskatchewan. The gray skies continue this morning though the light drizzle has stopped for now. Everything is wet and the trails for hiking are a bit sloppy making hiking more of a chore than an exercise in exhilaration. All of this combines to make this analytic journey in Calgary one that is even more of a challenge. In a way, it becomes more of a journey of trial, a pilgrimage of sorts.
Last night I watched a movie, something I rarely do for some strange reason. I have this absurd idea that I “should” be doing “work” while in Calgary as being here costs in terms of money (significant) and lost time in terms of relationship with my wife who waits in Saskatchewan. I push myself until I go blank and in that blankness, there is no energy or ambition to even watch TV. Slowly, I am learning to relax and just be myself, and as part of that initiative to relax led me to watch a movie. The movie was called, The Way, a movie that talked of el camino de Santiago. I had heard of this pilgrimage a number of times over the years and had entertained, briefly, the idea of one day walking the path of the pilgrims.
Watching the movie and seeing how the journey worked with transformative power, I was reminded of the journey of individuation that I am following consciously and unconsciously. My journey combines Jungian analysis with Buddhist meditation and dharma. As well as working consciously with these tools, I try living the changes that are happening within me each time I make the journey back to my home, another pilgrimage of sorts on its own. There is no question about the fact that each time I re-enter my home I do so having undergone yet another transformation regardless of how small that change might appear to others.
One of the lessons I am learning is that I have become a permanent pilgrim. I have entered into a journey of transformation that will last until my last breath as a human.
My life is messy, I have to admit it. I have these visions of being the perfect husband, father, psychotherapist, friend, world citizen – but, I wake up and find myself, warts and all. I get lazy in so many things, I sometimes forget to shave for a few days and end up looking like some grizzled old geezer. I procrastinate and then forget what I was putting off. Left on my own I am a bit of a mess. My children know the truth of this and accept this as okay. In a way, perhaps it makes it easier for them as it would be hell to try and live up to model of someone who somehow managed to not be messy.
This afternoon, I found another book in the library that almost jumped of the shelf as I walked by in order to catch my attention. The book is called, The Buddha Walks Into a Bar, and is written by Lodro Rinzler. Now this, is a book that sounds promising, so I picked it up off the self and began to read it. The first words in the book confirmed what I suspected, that this book will get some of my time. Listen to Rinzler from this opening paragraph in the book:
“This isn’t your grandmother’s book on meditation. It’s for you. That is, assuming you like to have a beer once in a while, enjoy sex, have figured out that your parents are crazy, or get frustrated at work. It’s a book that doesn’t put Buddhism on some pedestal so that you have to look up to it. It’s about looking at all the nooks and crannies of your life and applying the Buddhist teachings to them, no matter how messy that may be.” (Rinzler, The Buddha Walks Into a Bar, 2011, p. xi)
Now this is what I thought I was going to find when I adopted Buddhism as part of my way of being and living. For some reason I got caught up in the words of Buddhist teachers whose words have been recorded over the past two thousand and five hundred years. I have to admit that those words often felt “distant” to me, words that talked of a life and culture that are far removed from my experience of life. A few voices along the way such as Chogyam Trungpa’s provided a context that was more relevant to the world I live in, but even Trungpa understandably brings his Tibetan way of being and knowing into his presentations. I would have to say that it was my Sangha teacher who is much closer to my own experience of the world, a modern western world, that showed me that Buddhism was for “us” as well. Discovering this American Buddhist’s book promises to be a book that will find its way here in posts to come.
I saw a number of these sand secretions, structures that had no meaning but were rather a product of simply living such as this sand worm cast which I found in Thailand. Simply living and being present and participating in life is all that is needed, but that is something I find quite hard to do. Rather than just letting life be as it is, I often escape either into the past or fantasize about the future.
A good example of that would be how I try to understand the past events that have landed me in analysis or looking towards a future day when analysis is over. Somehow, engaging in these polarity positions, I don’t have to face the fact of what I am doing in the present, looking at how I am in the present. It is a hard habit to break and one that causes some sense of fear. Why fear? Well, what if in paying attention, being present, I fail? What if I am rejected even by my analyst, my family, my friends and acquaintances? Better to bury the fear in telling tales in which I look better that I was, to paint a future that shows me as an accomplished and successful person, perhaps even somewhat famous. Being stuck in the now leaves me so ordinary, less than ordinary in my own eyes. And so I become defensive stuck in fear.
“Fear does not allow fundamental tenderness to enter into us. When tenderness tinged by sadness touches our heart, we know that we are in contact with reality. We feel . That contact is genuine, fresh, and quite raw. . . .
Sometimes people find that being tender and raw is threatening and seemingly exhausting. Openness seems demanding and energy-consuming, so they prefer to cover up their tender heart. Vulnerability can sometimes make you nervous, It is uncomfortable to feel so real, so you want to numb yourself. You look for some kind of anesthetic, anything that will provide you with entertainment. Then you can forget the discomfort of reality. People don’t want to live with their basic rawness for even fifteen minutes. When people say they are bored, often they mean that they don’t want to experience the sense of emptiness, which is also an expression of openness and vulnerability. So they pick up the newspaper or read anything else that’s lying around the room – even reading what is says on a cereal box to keep themselves entertained.” (Trungpa, Smile at Fear, pp 58-59)
I find myself doing this too much, finding creative ways to distract me from being present in life: problems with sitting still in my meditation, drifting into a mindless experience with Netflix, surfing the Internet to read almost anything just so that I can be distracted from my self. Being present is too much hard work. Being able to actually hold emptiness, to hold the idea of vulnerability, to hold onto the fact that even the idea of who I am is a fiction leaves me feeling very raw indeed. So, like almost everyone else I find some way to avoid all of this, even if it is just to once again do a statistics check to see meaningless data about this blog site. I don’t like coming face to face with shit, with my shit, and calling it shit. It is best to flush it away and pretend that it never existed, better to imaginary castles and kingdoms inhabited by heros and villains and gods and goddesses. Or, so I try to convince myself.
But in the end, I can’t escape the rawness, the vulnerability, the emptiness.
I took a tour of a pioneer site in the centre of Calgary with my brother. Yes, this scene was found in Calgary – Heritage Park. In the background are the Canadian Rocky Mountains. I am continually amazed at the sheer size of the city in terms of area and how much of that area is covered in green spaces, protected spaces. I could easily imagine myself sitting still on the grass lost in meditation with my eyes wide open. The scene invites me to wonder, to being fully present.
My recent sessions have focused on “presence.” By presence, I mean presence in the world of others, presence in the moment, and presence with my own fullness of self. My dreams have echoed this need for presence. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to me that I find a synchronous echo in my reading:
“When we take the one seat on our meditation cushion we become our own monastery. We create the compassionate space that allows for the arising of all things: sorrows, loneliness, shame, desire, regret, frustration, happiness. In a monastery, monks and nuns take robes and shave their heads as part of the process of letting go. In the monastery of our own sitting meditation, each of us experiences whatever arises again and again as we let go, saying, “Ah, this too.” This simple phrase, “This too, this too,” was the main meditation instruction of one great woman yogi and master with whom I studied. Through these few words we were encouraged to soften and open to see whatever we encountered, accepting the truth with a wise and understanding heart.” (Kornfield, A Path With Heart, p. 36)
I, like most people, put a lot of effort in preventing stuff from rising out of the depths, old emotions and feelings that got buried so that childhood was tolerable. A lot of effort was put into disguising, denying, forgetting, abandoning ourselves. The result left us, left me disconnected from myself and from most of the world. I have been blessed that photography has allowed me a portal in which I can “sit” for a moment and safely plumb some of those shadow relics. And in the process, I begin to grieve for what has been. Psychoanalysis provides me with another portal with which I can recover a fuller sense of self, drawing out what is hidden and buried. And now, taking my meditation seat, I open a bit more and allow the “rising of all things.”
“To take the one seat requires trust. We learn to trust that what needs to open within us will do so, in just the right fashion. In fact, our body, heart, and spirit know how to give birth, to open naturally, like the petals of a flower. We need not tear at the petals nor force the flower. We must simply stay planted and present.” (p. 36)
The first words of the photo’s caption are taken from a song called Suzanne. Earlier this morning I was playing this song on my guitar, working on the fingering for the melody between verses. This song by Leonard Cohen is one of my favorite songs along with a few others by him and by another Canadian singer, Gordon Lightfoot. Both of these men came to my attention when I was a teenager so many years ago. Both men wrestled with what it is to be human, the human condition of suffering which is the first of the four noble truths in Buddhism. My current reading of Chogyam Trungpa’s book, Smile at Fear, is allowing me to look at the nature of suffering and in doing so, allowing me to come to accept the naturalness of my own suffering as a child and youth, not accepting the suffering in terms of being a victim of that suffering, but accepting the fact that I am a human, not a superhuman as I had hoped for in my desperate desires to escape life as it was given to me.
Like everyone else, I was afraid and I did my best to hide my fear, to hide from the broken and bruised parts of my self as I knew me. I pushed back at the shadows and the darkness that was lurking within the depths of whoever it is that I was. Like everyone else I invested in the outer world, in work, in activity, in relationships and in trying my best to grasp at happiness in any form in which happiness decided to present itself. I played music and sang for others hoping to not only create a sense of happiness but also a sense of being confirmed through their listening and their positive responses. I wrote and sought the same result when others would read the words, a result that said that I was worthy of relationship, worthy of happiness. I invested in my work, in my play, in my athletic pursuits, in parenting, in loving, in teaching, in counselling, in listening to the suffering of others. Somewhere in all of that engagement with the outer world I had hoped that the inner world of darkness would simply disappear or somehow be transformed into a place of pure light and joy. But, now I find that I must finally face my fear of that inner darkness if I am to be whole. And, as Trungpa counsels, I must “smile” at that fear.
Playing music such as the songs of Cohen and Lightfoot were and remain authentic ways in which I have looked my own fear and darkness in the eyes without realising exactly what I was doing. Picking up my guitar off and on over the years to gently approach this inner sense of self has kept the darkness from overwhelming and possessing me. And now, thanks to daring to smile at fear through a combination of analysis, self-reflection, music and Buddhist meditation, I am beginning to learn that there really is light as well as darkness in the depths of whoever it is that I am.
I know that I am more than my ego, more than the bits and pieces of thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations and physical aspects of Robert. I am not any of these things. These things are hints or signs of a deeper, fuller Self. It somehow gives a sense of relief to not be limited and defined by my ego, to have the freedom to be more, much more than the conjurings of my thoughts, my complexes, my fears and hopes. Like everyone else, I am a human and it is okay to be afraid. The trick is to acknowledge that fear and to smile at it rather than flee from it.
Today is the day. This afternoon I join into a community of like-minded souls that have adopted a Tibetan Buddhist (mahayana) view of the world. This act of taking refuge is not about becoming Tibetan, or a monk, or a lama or about becoming anything more than myself. Taking refuge is in a way, finding that space within myself that is the bedrock of who I am as a spiritual, ethical and whole human that recognizes that I am not alone but am held within the collective of humanity, a child turned adult of a culture that extends back millenia carrying the heritage of the past into whatever the future holds for myself and all of humankind. Of course, I have had to think long and hard on taking this step. I had to come to understand exactly what taking refuge meant both within the Buddhist frame of reference and within the frame or through the lens of how I see and know the world and myself.
Taking refuge – refuge being a physical place of safety, or a mental state of being in which one can find protection. Why do I need to take refuge, to find this place both internal and external in which I can be safe? I guess I would have to say that it is about creating a space and place for my soul/psyche to nurtured and mature, a place that will act like a protective shell in a world that has little concern for the truly spiritual and psychological well-being of individuals. In psychological work, there is a need for a place of temenos, a sacred space/place/container in which one can risk facing inner demons with the purpose of finding personal healing and mental and spiritual health
Today I will take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Taking refuge in Buddha is a state of mind, not some external God to whom one prays. The Buddha is that state of mind that “enlightened” or in Jungian terms, one in which the psyche has individuated into a state of wholeness (holiness) where self and other are seen as inseparable parts of a whole. Dharma is the path – the teachings and practice. One can’t know everything or how to get there on one’s own. If there was a book with all the questions and answers to guide us through every situation in life, it would be a big help. But information is not enough, we also need help in developing the practices to make our lives better and to heal our souls which enter the world bruised. Tibetan Buddhist teachings come first from the work and the words of Siddhartha Gautama (Shakyamuni Buddha). These teachings have one goal in mind, that of waking up to the fullness that is enlightenment or nirvana. C.G. Jung is not in the same league as Buddha, but he did work and put forth his ideas within the context of a modern western world culture for the same purposes. The goal, consciousness a consciousness that is both personal and universal. Sangha is the community that exists within which one finds support for this journey of dharma towards awareness, consciousness, wholeness. Community is important in helping one stay strong as well as helping us get back up off our knees when we fall on our journey. In spite of the fact that the journey is individual, the fact that one can know that in spite of doing this lonely work, one is connected to others and held within a family of spirit, a family of intention. In Jungian psychology, there is a hint of this when one joins within a collective such as a Jungian Society, when one takes part in workshops and seminars where the spirit is uplifted and the hard work of individuation is supported.
So, in a way, taking refuge is like adding another layer, adding another dimension to the work within which safety and support are held sacred.
I found this image somewhere on the ‘net a few weeks ago and thought it would be a good image to use today. Tonight I go to the Marpa Gompa sangha for an evening of meditation and reading from a book called The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, by Gampopa. I missed last Thursday’s session because of fatigue and wanting to spend some precious time with my wife while she was in Calgary. I don’t want to miss tonight’s session as on Sunday I will be taking refuge.
For those who don’t know what refuge is in terms of Buddhism, it is the process by which one becomes a Buddhist. I am becoming a Buddhist following the Karmapa school of Buddhism, a form of Tibetan Buddhism. What is important to note is the fact that I am not becoming a Buddhist monk. My hair stays on my head and I continue to wear normal clothing and lead a normal life. What changes is the addition of a spiritual dimension that has a form based on the eightfold path, which is divided into three main sections called prajna, sila and samadhi. I have borrowed from Wikipedia (edited of course to highlight the keys for me and how this will help guide my “process” of becoming a healthier human.
- Prajna is the wisdom that purifies the mind:
- viewing reality as it is, not just as it appears to be;
- intention of renunciation, freedom and harmlessness.
- Sila is the ethics or morality:
- speaking in a truthful and non-hurtful way;
- acting in a non-harmful way;
- a non-harmful livelihood.
- Samadhi is the mental discipline required to develop mastery over one’s own mind:
- making an effort to improve;
- awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness, being aware of the present reality within oneself
- correct meditation or concentration
I will keep an open mind about this process and listen carefully to my own inner core when there is anything that doesn’t seem to fit. I will be looking very closely at how Jungian psychology and Buddhism mirror each other. And likely, that will be done here in the future as my experiences with Buddhism become deeper rather than just depending on information from books.
I have no wish to be more than I am for to wish to be more, is to wish to be other than myself. To believe that I am more than I am is hubris.
I have no wish to be less than I am for to wish to be less, is to wish to be other than myself. To believe that I am less than I am is hubris.
Hubris is defined as overconfident pride and arrogance. Immediately most of our political leaders, corporate leaders, social leaders come to mind. But o course, these are the people in the spotlight. Within each of us, hubris rears its ugly head. The moment we think ourselves “better than” an other or others, we are under the spell of hubris. We are in a state where we can’t see the other or others with any clarity at all, for to see them and ourselves as we really are would dispel the attitude of hubris. Understanding this, one is then led to acknowledge that adopting the opposite belief, that of being “less than” an other or others is also an act of hubris. How many of us cherish our wounds, savour the pain as we come to believe that we have the greatest wounds, take the most pills, suffer the most, have the heaviest load to carry? We wear our negated worth with pride demanding that all take note of our “greatness.”
That said, I do want to “be.” But what is it that I want to be? It might sound quite simplistic, but the truth is, I just want to be me whatever and whoever that might be. I want to know me, not just the leftover edges of various shadows and actions and projections and distorted memories that have collected in my cerebral data banks called my brain. Each of the facts as I know them of who I am are not much more than subjective illusions. I know that I am not a hero or a saint. I also know that I am not a demon or a coward – but I don’t know the essence of who or what I am. Perhaps it is because I am not as singular as I have been lead to believe. Perhaps I am only an temporary presence in a temporary form of something that is timeless and formless.
Now if I could rid myself of these vague thoughts and intimations I might just be able to be someone special perhaps a real saint or a real intellectual or a real artist. But even looking into a mirror tells me the lie of who and what I am for the eyes and face staring back are constantly shifting as time passes, if time passes. I just keep shape-shifting. So I learn silence and drop pretense an disguises and leave the hoarding of fame, fortune and infamy to others. And as for me, breathing is enough.