Saturday, April 18, 2020

Rabindranath Tagore - The song within the Song

This song of mine will wind
its music around you, my child,
like the fond arms of love.
This song of mine will touch
your forehead like a kiss of blessing.
When you are alone it will sit
by your side and whisper in your ear,
When you are in the crowd
it will fence you about with aloofness.
My song will be like
a pair of wings to your dreams.
It will transport your heart
to the verge of the unknown.
It will be like the faithful star overhead
when dark night is over your road.
My song will sit in the pupils of your eyes,
and will carry your sight to the heart of things.
And when my voice is silent in death,
my song will speak to your living heart.

from "Collected Poems and Plays of Rabindranath Tagore "


"When dew falls as tears from the morning sky,
When riverside trees sparkle in sunlight,
So close in my heart their shadows fall,
Then I know
The Universe is a floating lotus
In the holy lake of my mind.
Then I know:
I am the voice within the Voice,
The song within the Song,
The life within the Life,
The light breaking through the heart of Darkness."

From "A Flight of Swans", translated by Aurobindo Bose

thanks to Carol Grayson


Thursday, April 16, 2020

Charlotte Joko Beck - Observing

 What we ordinarily think of as the self has many aspects. There is the thinking self, the emotional self, and the functional self which does things. These together comprise our describable self. There is nothing in those areas that we cannot describe; for instance, we can describe our physical functioning: we take a walk, we come home and we sit down. As for emotion: we can usually describe how we feel; when we get excited or upset, we can say that our emotion arises, peaks, and falls in intensity. And we can describe our thinking. These aspects of the describable self are the primary factors of our life: our thinking self, our emotional self, our functional self.

There is, however, another aspect of ourself that we slowly get in touch with as we do zazen: the observing self. It is important in some Western therapies. In fact, when used well, it is why the therapies work. But these therapies do not always realize the radical difference between the observing self and other aspects of ourselves, nor do they understand its nature. All the describable parts of what we call ourselves are limited. They are also linear; they come and go within a framework of time. But the observing self cannot be put in that category, no matter how hard we try. That which observes cannot be found and cannot be described. If we look for it there is nothing there. Since there is nothing we can know about it, we can almost say it is another dimension…

I have been asked, “Isn’t observing a dualistic practice? Because when we are observing, something is observing something else.” But in fact it’s not dualistic. The observer is empty. Instead of a separate observer, we should say there is just observing. There is no one that hears, there is just hearing. There is no one that sees, there is just seeing. But we don’t quite grasp that. If we practice hard enough, however, we learn that not only is the observer empty, but that which is observed is also empty. At this point the observer (or witness) collapses… Why does the observer finally collapse? When nothing sees nothing, what do we have? Just the wonder of life. There is no one who is separated from anything. There is just life living itself: hearing, touching, seeing, smelling, thinking. That is the state of love or compassion…

We don’t have to try to find it. It’s our natural state when ego is absent.

--Charlotte Joko Beck, from Everyday Zen

thanks to JoanTollifson

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Joan Tollifson - Do we have a choice?

One neuroscientist calls the sense of being a self with agency a neurological sensation. But if we watch closely as choices and decisions unfold, we can see that it is all happening by itself. There is no little helmsman, no self, no “me” inside our head sitting at some giant control panel pulling levers or authoring our thoughts. Our desire to get drunk or sober up, go into therapy, take an aspirin or march for civil rights is all an expression of the totality, as are the outcomes of all such actions. Our emotional reactions and ruminations, our thinking, our apparent successes and failures—this is all happening by itself. The little “me” who seems to be authoring my thoughts and making my choices is not actually doing any of that because that “me” is nothing but a mental image, an idea, a thought-form.

That “me-thought” arises spontaneously either before an action or after an action, taking credit or blame. “I should do that,” or “I did that.” In any moment when that thought-sense of being a separate and vulnerable “me” is absent, nothing is taken personally. We are no longer concerned about outcomes in the same way. We are no longer plagued by guilt, shame, blaming others, or the anxiety of thinking we might “get it wrong” and “ruin our life.” We are simply doing what life moves us to do, as is everyone else, which has actually always been the case. We naturally have compassion for ourselves and others being just as we are in each moment. And the “we” in all these sentences is only a grammatical convention. The sense of separation is absent, and even when it shows up, it is only an appearance. No wave can ever go off in a direction other than the one in which the whole ocean is moving. We are all a movement of the whole, not isolated agents capable of going the wrong way.

But this gets very subtle. It doesn’t mean becoming passive, or picking up the belief that “I” have no free will, that “I” am a helpless robot being pushed around by the universe. That belief is still centered around the idea of a separate entity, a self, now believed to be powerless. That is delusion. Our urges, interests, actions—and our sense of choice—are all part of how life functions and moves. And we are not separate from, or other than, life itself.

The capacity to make better choices can obviously be developed through education, athletic training, psychotherapy, meditation, yoga, and in all kinds of ways—all of which happen choicelessly, even as it appears that “I” am choosing them.

There is a palpable shift that occurs when attention drops out of the thinking mind into stillness and presence. When that happens, in the light of awareness, there is an increase in responsibility (response-ability), the ability to respond rather than react, to move in a more wholesome—holistic, whole, intelligent—way. This is the beauty of meditation, psychotherapy, various forms of inquiry, and somatic practices such as Feldenkrais, Continuum or yoga. They bring awareness to where we are stuck and show us what else is possible. We become less ensnared in old conditioning, and a new range of possibilities opens up. The habitual me-system is no longer always running the show. We are no longer totally a slave to conditioned neurology. We (as awareness) have more choices, more possibilities, at least sometimes.

Of course, this shift out of thinking and into aware presence happens choicelessly, in that there is no “me” who can bring it about by an act of independent will. But this shift may indeed require an apparently intentional move that we call a choice, a movement that itself arises choicelessly. The possibility of taking a time-out when we’re angry, of not lighting up a cigarette when the urge arises, of choosing to meditate when we feel upset, is only there when it is. Whatever happens is always a movement of the whole. But our functional sense of agency is part of that larger movement, part of how the universe, or consciousness, functions. In a sense, we have no choice but to act as if we have choice.

We can’t land on either free will or no free will because both are conceptual abstractions of a living reality that cannot be captured in any conceptual formulation. The map is not the territory; the word is not the thing. Therefore, it’s so important not to get fixated on one side of a conceptual divide between two abstract ideas, such as choice or choicelessness, self or no self, practice or no practice, effort or effortlessness, because neither side is totally true. It’s very easy to turn what begins as a genuine insight into a limiting or oppressive belief, a new fundamentalist dogma that we then cling to and defend.

from my newest book, Death: The End of Self-Improvement (available from Amazon)



Monday, April 13, 2020

Leonard Jacobson - The Walk

A man went for a walk one day. As he walked, he became aware that he was feeling lost and alone. Rather than push the feelings away, he allowed them to be present with him. "I'm lost. I am all alone," he cried to himself. A deep sadness arose within him.

Suddenly a voice arose from a deeper level. "If you are lost, then where are you?" It was the voice of his Being. It was the voice of truth.

The man paused to consider the question. "If I am lost, then where am I?" he asked aloud. He sat down and as much as possible, he became present with his feelings.

"I am lost. I am all alone!" he repeated several times.

Once again the voice of his Being gently challenged him. "You say you are lost. Then where are you?"

The man tried to see where he was. Suddenly, it became clear to him.

"I am lost in my mind!" he cried.

It was so simple. He was lost in his mind. He was lost somewhere in his remembered past. Or somewhere in his imagined future. One thing was clear. He was not here now. He closed his eyes and became very still. He became very aware of his body and his breath. He became very aware of the sounds around him. He could feel the soft caress of the breeze upon his face. He became silent. He began to feel very present. The feeling of being lost and alone disappeared. He paused for a few moments in silent gratitude. He opened his eyes and his heart exploded with joy as a bird soared into the sky.