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What we look for beyond seeing
And call the unseen,
Listen for beyond hearing
And call the unheard,
Grasp for beyond reaching
And call the withheld,
Merge beyond understanding
In a oneness
Which does not merely give rise and give light,
Does not merely set and leave darkness,
But forever sends forth a succession of living things as mysterious
As the unbegotten existence to which they return.

       ~Lao Tzu

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Today as I glanced at my YouTube feed I noticed an odd video: Dave Rubin and Eckhart Tolle discussing mindfulness, consciousness, and spirituality as a means to bring balance to one’s life. Huh? I rub my eyes – this cannot be, guys like Dave Rubin focus on political and intellectual issues whereas Eckhart Tolle focuses on spirit and awakening.

Most of you have probably heard of Eckhart Tolle, the famous spiritual teacher and best selling author. However I bet that many of you have never heard of Dave Rubin or his show.

How did I get interested in a guy like Dave Rubin? Well, over the past few years  I found myself increasingly fed up by the polarization of left and right, not just politically and socially but also in the media. Many organizations consider themselves ‘non-biased’ but hold strong ideological leanings – Fox on the right, NY Times on the left, and the list goes on and on.

The icing on the cake last year was observing how so called journalism played a role in the collapse of my yoga school. A number of ideologically charged, biased and slanderous opinions were put forth from reputable news organizations as ‘journalism’. Attention was not paid to details or to facts. Today, simply observe headlines from different organizations referring to the same news events – the bias is already there in the title and headline.

Generally what I see are individuals and organizations lining up along ideological lines – and anything that doesn’t align with their message is considered wrong or even dangerous. The term used for this today is Identity Politics. For many years I considered myself a left-leaning liberal, but I started to notice that the left was taking positions on issues I simply did not agree with. I could no longer easily identify myself along traditional political lines.

The big thing missing in today’s conversation is CRITICAL THINKING. It’s so much easier to repeat talking points or take a pre-defined stance on the big issues. But have you ever actually sat and pondering any of them? Have you listened to alternative view points on big issues like race, feminism, immigration or economics?

I starting seeking alternate voices.  I found them in the so called intellectual dark web or IDW. Jordan Peterson, Joe Rogan, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, Claire Lehmann are some of the leading voices in this movement. Quillete.com is a blog that publishes articles considered to ‘radical’ for the mainstream media. The traditional media establishment is trying to define this group into neat ideological corners – conservative, liberal, radical, this or that. However they do not form alliances based on their identities or tribal affiliation. They vary in gender, sexual orientation, race, and political affiliation. But they all share two distinct and (now) uncommon qualities. First, they are willing to disagree fiercely, but talk civilly, about nearly every meaningful subject worthy of public discourse: religion, abortion, gender identity, race, immigration, the nature of consciousness. Many of the opinions they hold on such topics can sometimes be in contrast with the orthodox opinion of their respective tribe. Second, they are intellectually honest and thus resist parroting what is politically convenient or politically correct.

In essence, they are critical thinkers, not aiming at political correctness. This gets them attacked in the public at large, even to the point of losing their jobs or speaking engagements. Yet, due to the rise of alternate media like YouTube, they have managed to find wide audiences and are being heard. For example, Jordan Peterson has over 2.1 million followers on his YouTube channel. A good introduction to this movement can be found in this video from the Rebel Wisdom YouTube channel.

I may write more on this in the future, but to be honest I hesitate and fear posting any political or ideological thoughts online in the current climate – it almost feels dangerous.

Coming back to the beginning – I always saw my spiritual pursuits and my intellectual/political interests as very distinct boxes or compartments in my life, with very little overlap. To see these two boxes come together, really brought a ton of joy to my heart – and I genuinely hope that as part of an overall healing and evolution of public discourse and human evolution we will see more and more of this integration.

Enjoy:

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You are beautiful, youthful, radiant. Each time we meet, my wide smile is a testament to your effect on me.

There is an intensity in your eyes, in your words and in your life. A touch, a whisper or a small glance sends shivers up my spine.

A seemingly unending reservoir of power, your myriad emanations continually grace me.

Your insatiable sexual desire is quenched only through our union; seeking the ineffable, the elevated, the eternal through the merging of our interlaced bodies, hearts and minds. Dancing in the sublime, we discover endless, transcendent time.

You have contemplated your mortality, you have gazed at your shadows, you seek to discover your unknown potentiality.

In this empowering presence you invite me to meet you from my own masculine centeredness. My heart exposed, my vulnerabilities laid bare, you invite my trust, if I so dare.

You see relationship as a deep dialogue, not a lifeless contract easily abdicated. Monogamy and polyamory are just words to you – you flow easily where you need to.

Blonde or brunette, tall or short, herbivore or carnivore – just minor details in a love that is based on so much more.

If this is you, please swipe right.

Tinder

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The best neighborhood to live in. The top career. The perfect partner. The most excellent time to visit a place, the finest month to begin a project. The preeminent spiritual practice, the greatest teacher.

In a time of fluctuation, I observe thoughts like these- comparative thoughts. They all revolve around a common theme- control. Or the illusion of it. A belief that if I make first class decisions, I will have a most excellent life. As I wrote about recently, the freedom of individualism has come at a cost. The cost is that we are fed an illusion that we are in complete control over our lives.

As I sit quietly in the jungle, I am reminded that it is simply not the case that we really have control. A strange sounds arises from beyond the pond. I am told- “that’s the sound of a snake eating a frog. The snake isn’t poisonous, so it will take a while”. Life and death. Always present.

Relishing in this jungle hermitage retreat, I am reminded of importance of simple, attentional awareness to our moment-to-moment activities. The divine interplay of breath, body, phenomena and the realization that if any effort is expended, it is best directed to accepting this interplay rather than trying to control it.

I leave you with one of my favorite poems from Hafiz, who beautifully expresses this dilemma:

What is the difference
Between your experience of Existence
And that of a saint?

The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God

And that the Beloved
Has just made such a Fantastic Move

That the saint is now continually
Tripping over Joy
And bursting out in Laughter
And saying, “I Surrender!”

Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.

~ Hafiz, I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy

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Recently I have been spending a fair amount of time exploring the question of meaning – what exactly is it and where do I find it? Why does the search for it feel like such a driving force in my life as well as the lives of those close to me? I’m turning 40 this year. Traditionally this is the time of the mid-life crisis, which essentially is a crisis of meaning. This is naturally coinciding with a rather large transition in my life.   “What the hell am I doing?” and “Where do I find meaning? are constant mental companions.

I read an article this week that focused on some of the cultural shifts in the search for meaning in recent decades. The article is politically charged, however I feel the point the author makes about how the secularization of society along with the rise of individualism has contributed to this crisis:

Liberalism is an existential paradox. By unshackling humans from traditional cultural and social structures, it has freed us to pursue aspirations and experiences based on our own personal interests. This liberation has allowed many to explore a wider range of paths to meaning but it has also unrooted many from the most reliable sources of meaning. It has ushered in an era of individualism. The more people privilege an individual self (a self defined by personal attributes and interests) over an interdependent self (a self defined by cultural roles and duties), the more vulnerable they are to feeling like they don’t matter, that they lack social significance.

I see how this has been, and is still true in my own life. Even when located and rooted in a community, a spiritual teaching, a relationship or friendship that offers meaning, the mind and heart still seek for something better. The fact that we are so aware of other options diminishes the psychological security of the ones we already possess.a-27

One of the challenges I see connected to this paradox is what appears to be a search for the most meaningful pursuits. As if meaning was an objective, quantifiable commodity. It’s not, and never will be. Society may value some pursuits or paths more than others, but fundamentally, meaning is personal and subjective. The rising intellectual dark web (IDW) star and clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson, claims that responsibility lies in "finding the largest burden that you can bear and bearing it.”  There is some truth to this – especially for those who lack any motivation or responsibility in their lives. Yet what about those who do have responsibility already? Family, companies, students? And despite this load, are still are wondering what it is all about? In another context he says:

There is no more effective way of operating in the world than to conceptualize the highest good you can imagine and then strive to attain it. Do you really have anything better to do? If you don’t, then why would you do anything else?

This one resonates with me strongly – it reminds me of something my Zen teacher, Zentatsu Baker Roshi has spoken about on several occasions – in a lecture he asks us to imagine the most perfected human being in the world and to try to envision their qualities. Then he asks us where to find them – and obviously the audience is silent as this person doesn’t exist. The only solution, therefore, is to become that person yourself.  And then he usually says “Do you have anything better to do?”  Oddly similar ideas from two radically different spheres of thought.

No, I don’t actually have anything better to do. Yet now we have another question at hand – what is the highest good or person I can imagine? This where the work is. Peterson will say, don’t wait until you answer this question, your idea of the highest good will evolve and change as you pursue it. I see this is where I get caught up at times. Analysis paralysis, so to speak, again weighing the many options that this time of individualism offers, seeking to step into the most meaningful direction.

When I sit deeply with this question, my fundamental Buddhist vow of living for the benefit of all sentient beings arises. For some years now this has taken the form of becoming a spiritual teacher – guiding others in meditation and yoga. What seemed so obvious for a while now is now not so obvious.  Living for the benefit of others – does this require one to be working directly in a field of service? Teaching, healthcare, therapy, etc.? I’m not so sure any more. I believe there are numerous means to benefit all beings, even if one chooses a life of greater isolation and introversion. (A topic I will explore in a future post).

That’s it for now. Please comment – I would love to begin a discussion on this topic.

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The month was April 2009. I had recently separated from IBM after 8 years of service. My executive MBA diploma from the University of Denver was still hot off the printer. My two old cars were sold, my possessions stored neatly in my friends basement. A one-way ticket to Japan was my hands. 

It is now April 2019. I am spending my days in a small hermitage in northern Bali. Reflecting on these 10 years and inquiring into the 10 ahead. I recently gave up my home in Thailand, sold my possessions and now have a one-way ticket to Colorado in my hands.

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This blog began 10 years ago as I sought means to document my explorations and my travels and to keep in touch with loved ones I was so far away from. Quickly I discovered I was less interested in the outer journey than I was the inner one. I discovered Zen Buddhism, traditional hatha yoga, tantric shaivism, and so, so much more. This impulse and the desire for shared practice and community eventually rooted me on Koh Phangan in Thailand the last 4 years. Everything changes, however.

There are a number of reasons for my departure from Asia, and a number more for my return to Colorado. I wish to unfold a number of these reasons in words in the weeks ahead for you, dear reader, but mostly as an act of solidifying and deepening my own comprehension of events and experiences.

In this moment I am simply filled with gratitude and awe for all that I have seen, experienced, received. The list of individuals and places that I wish to express gratitude towards is overwhelming. That ‘guy’ from 2009 shares my name and appears to be a slightly younger and fitter version of me – however sometimes I wonder if he had any idea what was in store for him over the next decade and of how many guides and inspirations he would meet on his path.

At one point, as I formulated my plan to move back to the US, I had a feeling of being a dog returning home with his tail between his legs, as they often do when they lose a fight. Returning because I didn’t know what else to do, therefore retreating to my place of safety. YET, I see now this returning is actually an active decision, a decision that is less of a going-away from, but more of a going-towards, something. That some-thing, is yet to be determined.

To be continued…

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The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered:

 

Man.
Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money.
Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.
And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.

dalailamaThe Dalai Lama, referring to humanity in this quote, definitely touches something close at heart for me. Since returning from abroad last month, I find myself pulled towards this idea of earning money. Of course there is nothing negative or wrong about earning money, yet for many of us this can become end in itself, rather than a means. When it becomes an end to itself, you can easily sacrifice your health (not just physical, but mental, emotional and so on), as well as creating the conditions to not really live in the present, living from the past and fearing the future.

First, let me address the obvious response to what I’m saying: “That would be great if I didn’t need to earn money, yet I have a mortgage, kids, and have to eat somehow”

Clearly one needs to support oneself and honor their commitments to their loved ones. Yet you can still ask yourself, is the work you do fulfilling beyond its ability to earn money to meet these commitments? I’m extremely fortunate in this time to have the ability to support myself and my partner on savings. This won’t last indefinitely, but at the present time this allows me to really ask myself, what kind of work do I want to do?

My first few days back in the United States were very difficult. I felt a collective energy towards being productive, towards contributing towards the greater good, whatever that is. I felt a heavy anxiety, thinking it would not be a good idea to live off of investments and savings, that I should keep the piggy bank full. This feeling lasted for several days – until at one point during a meditation, I observed it drop away. It wasn’t really my anxiety – it was the collective anxiety, the anxiety that first tells us that we need to earn money no matter what, and second, that we should subtly encourage others – our friends, children and colleagues that they should too, because it justifies our behavior.

This is completely new territory for me right now. My ego craves a career, to be able to label myself as xyz, to have a defined place in society. Yet when I deeply look into my values, the vows I’ve made to myself, they don’t align with this movement of the ego. My values involve seeing deeply into the nature of self, strengthening my relationships, nurturing my health and the health of the planet. On a daily basis I find myself confronted with my own patience and resolve in sticking to my values, rather than conforming to that which society and others suggest. Even my closest friends, those who have a sense of what I’m about and what I’m doing subtly challenge me – because whenever you live in atypical fashion, it in a way is forcing those close to you to question what they are doing to. For those unused to actually looking at themselves, this might not be easy.

I am no exception to the human behavior of seeking justification for my actions. Isn’t writing this post or some of the others I’ve written recently doing exactly this? This moves into a another territory of discussion around standing upright in the world, resting in your own certainty and trust. This is a real focus for me – trusting in nothing outside, carefully listening to my heart and my deepest longing, cultivating a profound faith and patience that everything is at it should be.

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