12/30/2011

The World Is Not Such a Violent Place

The world is not such a violent place. It is really quite lovely. And it's not on the verge of extinction.
Research indicates that "a smarter, more educated world is becoming more peaceful in statistically significant ways." In one of several new books about the decline of violence in our world, Harvard scholar Steven Pinker writes, "The decline of violence may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species." ('The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined'). 
According to Pinker and other researchers: 
* The number of people killed in battle – calculated per 100,000 population – has dropped by 1,000-fold over the centuries as civilizations evolved. Before there were organized countries, battles killed on average more than 500 out of every 100,000 people. In 19th century France, it was 70. In the 20th century with two world wars and a few genocides, it was 60. Now battlefield deaths are down to three-tenths of a person per 100,000.
* The rate of genocide deaths per world population was 1,400 times higher in 1942 than in 2008.

* There were fewer than 20 democracies in 1946. Now there are close to 100. Meanwhile, the number of authoritarian countries has dropped from a high of almost 90 in 1976 to about 25 now.
So why do so many of us feel emotionally jolted, with a sense that the world is on the brink of chaos? It's partially do to the media, of course. Given a thousand stories about peace-making and one about violence, the media repeat the violent image 24-7 and ignore the other stories.

But the media is just imitating an age-old trick of human thinking. We project the shadows of our own mind on the world outside, and see what we want to see.
People in the anti-war movement are vested in seeing a world at war: it gives them an identity. Religious fundamentalists are vested in seeing a world of evil: it gives them a sense of righteousness. Marxist ideologues want to see rich people exploit the poor. It makes them uncomfortable to meet wealthy men and women who are generous and kind. In the same way, laissez-faire capitalists who read Ayn Rand look for poor people who are lazy and deceitful, disregarding any evidence to the contrary.
We perceive the world, not as it actually is, but according to the predilections of our ideology; and we look for conflicts that correspond most readily to our own conflicted thoughts. Most of today's warfare is not in the material world but inside us, on the plane of emotional energy and mental imagery. It is astral warfare, not physical.
That is why humanity's problems cannot be solved merely by political or economic activism: for they are not essentially political-economic problems. They are spiritual problems, solved by the inner activism of mindful and heartful practice. If we do not accompany our politics, our protests, and our Occupy movements with inner activism, we'll just kick the same can round and round.
If you think the world is such a violent place, take a walk down your street. Walk all day through the town and countryside. You'll be hard-pressed to experience a single act of violence.
Now go to the most troubled nation on earth. Even there, the vast majority of people live perfectly non-violent lives. Kids are playing in empty lots. Women are walking down the street together. Men are sitting in village squares, smoking, laughing, sipping tea. Folks are working at their ancient daily tasks. Many of the poor are quite happy. Many of the wealthy are quite miserable. 99% of the time, in 99% of the places, the earth is not violent: it is quite peaceful, and quite ordinary.

In those few places where violence does break out, the press sets up its cameras. By the evening news, they've convinced us that the whole world is on the verge of Armageddon.
A Chicano friend of mine recently told me what a fun place Mexico City is. "I thought it was very dangerous," said I,"with all those drug cartels and murders." He looked at me with pathos, knowing that, as an "educated" U.S. citizen, I am misinformed by a ceaseless barrage of skewed information guaranteed to inflame my prejudices and confirm my suspicions.
I traveled up and own the coast of West Africa as a Merchant Marine seaman, visiting seven different countries. They are nations which the American media portray as violent and dangerous. I certainly experienced a constant buzz of potential violence from American seamen aboard the ship, who were often in advanced stages of alcoholism. But when I went ashore, I walked through cities and villages, nourished from the well of hospitality that is the heart of African people. Fed with friendship and generosity, taken into huts at night by the poorest of village people, I never felt more safe.
TED Talk by Steven Pinker

12/29/2011

Freedom is Non-Resistance


Do you want to know my secret? I don't mind what happens.
~J. Krishnamurti

The gist of ignorance is believing that we have some control over what befalls us. The future is not an option, not a choice. I have no idea what will happen, and neither do you. Our only freedom is to be, or not to be, in the present moment.

Suffering is resistance to change.  ~Maharshi Mahesh Yogi

 Of course, I can't control the present either, because it's already happening. Freedom does not lie in choosing what happens, but in choosing how to receive it. I can embrace what is with spacious love, or I can resist. 

Do not resist.  ~Jesus, Sermon on the Mount

Our culture claims to be Christian. Yet the One we call savior said, Do not resist... the meek shall inherit the earth. Yet ours is a culture of resistance. Resistance is chic. Resistance is politically correct. Our schools teach the intellect to protest, to object, to argue. They do not teach our hearts how to surrender to Presence. Our government is all about resisting the opposition. Our religion consists in resisting the world, the flesh, and the devil. Our medicine constantly battles drug-resistant bacteria. Our economic system is the survival of the fittest, where every business competes with every other. This regards non-resisters as cowards and weaklings. Yet resistance only deepens our suffering.

Is it possible for us to evolve from a culture of resistance to a culture of non-resistance? To open up, bend our stiff joints, expand our embrace, and become empty?

Emptiness laughs and nods in agreement. ~Zenrin Kushu

Hope lies not in controlling the future, but in embracing the present. Let the fierce onslaught of now, containing the whole freight train of the past, flow right through you. Eternity doesn't resist time, any more than the sky resists clouds. What arises and dissolves is the world, not you.

12/27/2011

I Don't Know

"When you seem to understand a situation and label it, This is how it is, that is the beginning of your problem. Problems arise from knowing, not from not knowing. Suffering is a product of limited knowledge.

"When an event occurs, there could be many possibilities to explain it. You label it wrong from limited knowledge. But when there is amazement, patience and joy, you are in a state of I don’t know, may be, and life shifts from the limited I know to all possibilities.

'Stop seeing intentions behind others' mistakes. Then you stop bearing grudges. Your mind drops craving and aversion, and you become free.'    ~Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Thank you, Beloved Teacher. Humbling me, you expand me. Emptying me, you fulfill me.

12/26/2011

Peace


Peace to you...

The Peace that only comes when the mind is quiet, and the heart spills over with the innocence of a newborn child.

This morning, every body is flawless, every atom is pure, every photon of light is perfect, and there is nothing that is not made of this perfect light.

In the whole cosmos, the only thing that is not perfect is the thought, "This is imperfect."

Celebrate the birth of divine love in the human heart. All holidays, all rituals, are just re-enactments of love's breath.

With a mind spacious and free from judgment, with an innocent heart and the eyes of a newborn child, observe what is; deeply, deeply observe what is.

Peace be yours...

For only the action that flows from Peace, makes Peace.

12/23/2011

Christmas Message of the Hubble Snow Angel




Learn the lesson of a single snowflake.

Isn't every flake flawless in its unique and sacred geometry? The intelligence who perfects a snowflake designs this whole creation.

Divine Mother pours perfection upon us, and weaves the very molecules of our flesh from the fibers of her beauty. She is not only Holy Mater, she is Holy Matter. Like a snowflake, each sub-nuclear spark of the physical world is an instantaneous revelation of God, and a momentary effulgence of heaven on earth.

Merry Christmas from the inconceivable, born in every photon of your perfect body. Though you dwell in form, form does not confine you, for each particle of you is boundless, and eternity infuses all that appears to change and die. Physicists confirm this: an electron is surrounded by a photon-cloud in which each instantaneous photon of light has an energy charge that is infinite. Your body is made of no-thing but the boundless self-luminosity of the void.

The illusion of imperfection arises because I resist the ordinary, I react against the suchness of what simply is. The master, MMY, once told us, Suffering is just resistance to change. When I relinquish my resistance to the tidal wave of this present moment, eternity washes over me in waves of time, and this finite body dissolves into galaxies of bliss-consciousness.

Each one a masterpiece of pure mathematical intelligence, millions of perfect snowflakes fall around me. Do I appreciate the fact that I am inundated with miracles? Or do I take the miraculous for granted and call it ordinary?

When I was living in a Trappist monastery, I discovered that the liturgy of daily chant and mass are called the Ordinary of the Seasons. It is only in the depths of the ordinary that we find miracles.

But such is the gift of freedom that I super-impose my own mental qualities on the fresh miraculous suchness of the earth. I see what I choose to see. And what I too often choose to see is a drab and fallen world.

Seeing is an act of creation.

When the busy innkeeper met Mary in Bethlehem, he saw a pregnant, homeless, immigrant girl and offered her no resting place. But when the simple-hearted shepherd and the Eastern sage met that same lady, they saw a mother of God.

12/19/2011

Reason is a Hoax


Thoughts that feel good in our hypothalamus and reticular activating system we call rational. Thoughts that don't feel good we call irrational. The gist of our thinking is more often determined by what we had for dinner last night than by any inherent quality called reason. The most radical wisdom requires no thinking, no reasoning at all.

Reason is a hoax. For example, the invasion of Iraq felt good to millions of Americans in 2003. Thus it felt perfectly reasonable to bankrupt our economy, exhaust our military power, kill a million people, and hand Iraq over to Iranian influence. This idiotic scheme seemed rational because thinking was simply a disguise for sweet feelings of revenge in our primitive brain.

On the other hand, when Osama bin Laden sent us a message in 2004, explaining the reasons for his antipathy toward U.S. foreign policy, we heard it as the ranting of a madman. What he offered was to end the war if America fulfilled three conditions: show neutrality rather than prejudice in the Israel-Palestine conflict, withdraw military bases from Muslim holy lands in Saudi Arabia, and stop supporting oppressive Arab dictators. These were perfectly rational ideas, but not to Americans.

Here is a case in point for why, if we wish to survive, human culture must turn from the value of thinking to the value of Awareness.

Neither reason in the cerebral cortex, nor emotion in the primitive brain, have anything to do with Awareness. Awareness is the infinite self-radiant space that was already here before the brain or the elements of this body were formed. And Awareness will be here long after human physiology has dissolved back into the cosmic soup.

Have you considered the possibility that you can shift your attention from thinking to Awareness?

You can relax from the tangled skein of your neurons, which is the primitive web of karma, into the pure space that pervades the atoms and the galaxies. For Awareness is never trapped in a nerve cell or contained in a thought, just as water is never caught in a net.

This very moment, as Awareness, you are already free. You are neither the mind, the body, nor last night's dinner. You are all-pervading clarity and joy.

The solution to our conflicts is Awareness, not reasoning.

Photo, Indra's Net, by Doug Benner: Link

12/18/2011

'I Have Too Many Thoughts'


"I have too many thoughts in meditation."

So what if you have a thought? A thought is just a wave in the sea of silence.

Like right now, I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, and Sarah Palin covered in hot melted chocolate wrestling an elk, and Laotzu floating in an emerald sky, playing his pearl-encrusted violin from which stream melodies of silk connected to every star, as a radiant winged donkey with the eyes of Jesus alights on my brow, whispering lyrics of unpublished Elvis songs, which I will sing only to the children of the 60's who remember how we wept by the waters of Babylon, and hung our harps from the willows there, smashed on buds that sprang like green nipples from the sugary bosom of the Great Mother, whose black body of starry Silence dissolves all limits between form and formlessness, allowing us to dance in fractals of Delight, the only energy that is.

Welcome to the mirage, where boundless awakened space pervades every ripple of mind.

What Do You Say?

99% of what gurus say, you could say. You just don't have the white robes and long hair going for you. 
99% of what college professors say, you could say. You just don't have the capital letters after your name. 
99% of what politicians say, you could say. But you're too intelligent to talk like that. 
What I'm saying is, you are the supreme authority in your life, and no one else. What do you say?
My most exciting discovery on this journey is that spirituality has nothing to do with authority. Spirituality is an adult issue; authority is an infantile issue. 
Many follow a guru, a pope, a holy book, a charismatic preacher, not because they want to be free, but for precisely the opposite reason. They want a surrogate daddy. They want to give their innate authority away to someone else. The infantile comfort we get from giving up our self-authority accounts for much religious behavior.
I love my Guru: I do not give him authority over my life. My surrender to his Presence gives me infinite freedom to be myself, wherever I am. Real devotion, bhakti, flowers in a realm beyond should and should not, beyond authority.
I do not ask the Guru what I should do or believe. I do not ask anything. I let my heart dance in the breath of his divine silence.

12/17/2011

Christmas Card


Stop sending yourself postcards:
"Having a great time, wish you were here."
It's the picture of happiness we send ourselves
that makes us miserable.
You don't even know your address:
how will you get the Christmas card
you put in the mail box years ago,
full of sleigh bells and snowy farms
and mothers who never get mad because
they have no job but gazing at babies?
Fuck these Christmas lights.
You break one, and they all go out.
There's a better kind of light,
fainter but always glowing
in the darkness of your aching heart.
This light is never born
and never demands perfection.
It's your real home.
Rest here.
Don't send pictures.

12/16/2011

Awake



















Jesus said, 'I am troubled. I need you to hang out with me. Stop your work and come to the garden.' 

So I stopped work and went to Gethsemane, where I gave Jesus all my prayers. He said, 'I want your friendship, not your worship.' 

Then I told him my ideas about happiness, and gave him all the advice I could think of. He said, 'I love your presence, not your opinion.' 

I offered to serve him day and night, ending poverty, fighting for justice, cleansing the earth of corruption.' He said, 'I cherish your being, not your doing.'

Then I dozed off. After some time, his voice gently spoke again: 'I just need you to stay awake. That's all I ask. Just be with me, without going to sleep.'

12/14/2011

Between the Notes


Winter morning, between two junco songs. Wait, listen: a moment of silence is a note in the melody of Presence.

This momentous sliver of silence between sounds, between words, between thoughts, is treasure overflowing, inebriating nectar, and eternal healing. You can drink from this source any time of day, the infinitesimal serenity at your windowsill. If humanity practiced such listening for brief moments, we could transform the world very quickly.

Yet our schools and colleges never taught us to hear silence. From earliest childhood, they taught us to hear only the noise and sort it out, analyze it, argue with it, then make a louder noise to win the argument. None of our teachers said, "Listen to the silence between your thoughts."

That is the silence where we become waves instead of particles, waves of one another.

If you want your children to be creative, take them on a journey into the back yard. Show them the vast space between blades of grass. Then teach them to vanish through the portal between one junco's twitter and the next. In that brief Winter nothing is the first moment of creation, the silence that is always here before God says, 'Let there be light.'

Painting: "Winter Birds," Delilah Smith

12/12/2011

Warrior's Return



You enter my kingdom by ten thousand roads of death.
Each chariot wheel rolls toward its center.
No restless search for honey in some other garden,
but this dark syrup, blood thickening to stillness.
Some pray until dawn. Some ask, "Who listens?"
But you have become a wonder without words,
eyes dazed wide, worshiping the lance that pierced you.
Never crying, "Withdraw it!" you seek no immortality,
the whisper of your ebbing breath, my Name.
The song swells up your throat, a voice
that is yours and not yours, the way
smoke curls from a wick just blown out.
Then you return to my lips.

12/09/2011

Christmas Before Christianity


"God became human so that humanity could become divine." ~Saint Athanasius, 2nd Century

Before it became an imperial religion at the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, Christianity was no more nor less than the unconditional embrace of our own humanity as the dwelling place of God. There was no New Testament: the Word of God was our breath. There was no cathedral: the temple was our body.

Christmas is a story about the commonplace, full of objects that have absolutely no esoteric significance: a stable, a feeding trough, a baby, quiet animals in the hay. The Good News is clear: Incarnation is a gift. This body is not a limitation on our consciousness, but a vehicle to express the Spirit in form.

Rejoice in the grace of your humanity. Rejoice in the luminous suchness of things as they are. Only in the depths of the ordinary is salvation born.

Be infinitely local, be absolutely you, and you will be vast.

Ten Joyful Commandments


I've noticed that we Americans are often energetic, creative, smart, hard-working... and unhappy. That may sound like hitting four out of five, but if you're unhappy, the rest are zeros. You can have a lot zeros, but they aren't worth anything until you place a One in front of them. We need to return to the One, and place that One first in our lives.

Here are 10 joyful commandments designed for chronically-stressed, over-scheduled, hyper-active people. You may call them religious practices, but I regard them as survival techniques, intended first to get us in touch with our Joy, and second to restore our community. What is a community, after all, but. a place where people enjoy each other?

(1) Keep Sabbath
The Hebrew word, Sabbath, does not mean Sunday. It means rest. Its root means to stop doing. Keeping Sabbath means keeping a regular daily time of conscious rest, when we shift our gears from doing to Being. Conscious rest is not sleep or day-dreaming. It is gently focused, calmly alert, intensely refreshing silence. Conscious rest nourishes every cell in your body, sharpens your perception, makes your action more efficient. In the Bible, even God rests. Through rest, God enjoys his work. Work is sanctified in rest that returns us to the silent source of creation. From that source, Joy springs up. This Joy does not have to be earned; it is simply there.

(2) Breathe
Breathing is the first art we practiced in this life. We must learn how to breathe all over again. Breath indicates our mental state. Angry tense people breathe differently than people who are relaxed and happy. Many chronic illnesses can be healed by conscious breathing. In the Bible, the word for breath is also the word for Spirit. Breathing in, experience new life! Breathing out, expel the toxic worries, the stale past. To be in touch with the breath is to be in touch with the healing gifts of the Spirit, right here in this body. Just to breathe is the simplest form of prayer.

 

(3) Move from your head to your heart
When you find yourself stuck in worry or anger and your mind is just too busy with thoughts, then shift your attention from the head to the heart. I mean this quite literally: trust your body, particularly the heart. It is more than a physical muscle: it is a center of consciousness. Sink down with each breath. Feeling the heart's warmth, give it room to beat. This will short-circuit the destructive thought patterns you are locked in. You will open up the kingdom of the present moment and change your vision of the world. From the heart's eye, we see each blade of grass as a miracle!

(4) Let your feet touch the ground
When we walk, our mind is usually elsewhere. We are disconnected from our body and from the ground we walk on. This is the source of all our other disconnections: in relationships, politics, ecology. If our mind is not connected to our own body and to the earth we walk on, how can we be connected to our friends, to the poor, to the suffering in other nations? A Lakota medicine man said, "Let every step you take upon the earth be as a prayer. So take a walk every day. Be present. With each step, feel your sole touch the earth.

(5) When you eat, just eat (no committee meetings during lunch)
If you are too busy to eat, then you are too busy. One danger sign of an unhealthy community is that people fail to eat together. Even when they stop to eat, they don’t really stop; their minds keep doing business. Healthy people take time to acknowledge the gift of food, the nourishment of the body. During lunch, instead of doing business, chew. Taste. Enjoy the company of friends. Be there. This is your most important business meeting.

 

(6) Spend time with a child
Every week, if not every day, take a walk with a child. Or just sit down in the grass and Be with a child. Listen to her. Look into her eyes. Imagine your way into her world. You may catch a glimpse of something deep inside that you have lost or denied for many years.

(7) Leave blank spaces in your schedule
One sign of truly unhappy people is that they are chronically out of time. They deny their unhappiness by packing their schedules even fuller, and trying to fill ours too. Maybe you pride yourself in your busy-ness, but if you really want to accomplish something, leave some time unstructured and unplanned. In fact, leave a whole hour, a whole day! During this precious time, breathe and walk and be present on this earth, seeing through your heart. Because of this one hour, you may enjoy the rest of your life.

(8) Look at the sky
While it is still blue and clear, spend a few moments every day looking deep into the sky. Don’t look for anything, just look. See as far as awareness can fathom, intimately knowing the blue Unfathomable. Then close your eyes and experience the same depth inside.

(9) Drop all judgment
"Judge not, lest you be judged," said Jesus. We drain our energy passing judgment on other people, blaming our unhappiness on them. But our unhappiness is our own creation, and it is our very judgment that is robbing our Joy. Dropping all judgment, become light and free! We can never find Joy by trying to perfect others. Joy must be found in your own heart. Only then do we have something to give. Give people your Joy, not your blame.


(10) Talk to God
I don't say think about God or reason about whether God exists. And I don't care what religion you practice. I don't even care if you are an atheist. I advise you to call a moratorium on all that sort of thinking and just talk to God. Most of us do this at one time or another when things are going badly, when we run out of money or friends, when the earth quakes under our home, when we are at war. In such emergencies, we don't debate science and faith: we just start talking to God. Why wait until then? You can talk to God just as you are, with all your doubts, as you would talk to a good friend. God isn't interested in your reasons for believing or not believing: God is interested in your friendship. And when you are finished talking, as you fall silent in that deep blue sky at the center of your soul, you can hear God talk back to you. Not in an audible voice, but through sparkling streams of feeling that run through your heart, flowing from a Within more within you than your self. If people spent more time talking with God and less time arguing about God, the world would look very different.

12/06/2011

A Revolutionary Act


Even if you don't "think" your laughter is real, just laugh and it will be. Your body is the channel of joy, not your intellect. Your flesh knew the beauty of its smile before you ever conceived of  "happiness." Smiling takes you to your source. It is a revolutionary act.

Your laughter is more ancient than your cerebral cortex. It bubbles up your spine and flowers on top of your brain stem, which is the tree of life in the wildest garden of your physiology. New research in neurology indicates that consciousness reflects in the cortex only when the cortex is flooded by energy from the hypothalamus and reticular activating system of the ancient brain.

Whatever the problem, simply wrap it in a belly laugh and you will see the problem, quite literally, in a new light.

12/05/2011

Wake

It's so crystal clear that each morning we choose to wake up or to wake back down. The moment we awaken, we can start looking for the same patterns of stress and negativity in the news of the world that the mind was mired in yesterday; or we can wake to the miracle of Presence, welcoming the revelation of a Winter sunbeam, the symphony of a raindrop. The mouse-mind is free to click on 'Yesterday' or 'Today.'

Take No Thought

"Take no thought." ~Matthew 6

Five times in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, "Take no thought" (μὴ μεριμνᾶτε), which also translates as, "Don't worry." He says this with reference to our anxiety over food, clothing, the body, the future, and life itself.

Jesus offers us the stunning possibility of life free from care, without "taking thought" for even the most basic provisions. By today's standards, Jesus would certainly be considered irresponsible, and probably insane.

Even the most devout disciple replies, "All right, Master, I will enter the lovely silence of no-thought, after I have solved all my problems."

But what if the solution to all our problems is this very silence, free from thought?

12/04/2011

Blame Doesn't Work

Americans are paralyzed by a culture of blame.
Right and left, rich and poor, 99 percent and 1 percent, we blame each other. The tea party blames labor unions. Liberals blame corporations. The occupiers blame Wall Street, and are so disdainful of government they refuse to join the political process to offer real policy changes. College graduates blame employers for not hiring, yet seldom ask themselves, “Why did I major in sociology instead of engineering?”

Blame loves to generalize. All bankers are crooked, all poor people lazy. All government programs waste money, federal regulations always dampen growth, and capitalism always makes people greedy. Our national IQ is hardly bolstered by such mindless stereotypes.

The blame game cripples our two-party system. But Steve Jobs observed, “The axis today is not liberal and conservative. The axis is constructive-destructive.”

Let Americans develop marketable skills instead of blaming scapegoats for our non-productivity. We are masters of getting and spending someone else’s money, but can we make anything?

The problem is not wealth or poverty. The problem is creativity. Here’s a radical suggestion: Learn to make something people actually want to buy, then sell it to them. And when we get really good at it, we can hire others to help us.

We were created in the image of a creator, not a beggar. We were created to create: not merely beauty and peace, but mutual abundance. Let Americans build things again. Valuing our own worth, we can value each other, instead of blaming each other.

Published in The Olympian, Olympia WA, 11/12/2011