Embracing Your Light–Summer Solstice & End of Chemotherapy Meditation

This year, June 20th marks the summer solstice and June 21st marks the final day of my 5-month journey with chemotherapy. This has been a long voyage, and while my healing will continue for much longer, this feels like an auspicious time to celebrate a transition: individually for me, but also collectively and planetarily for all of us.

To honor this moment, I invite you all to join me for a synchronized meditation this Saturday.

The exact moment of the solstice is 3:43 PM MST, therefore the meditation will be from 3:20 PM – 4:10 PM MST. I will also sit a second time to allow my friends in Asia to participate from 7:00 PM – 7:50 PM MST.

I included a time zone converter below. Even if you are only able to join for five minutes, please take this opportunity to celebrate your own light as you also celebrate the end of treatment with me.

What is the meaning of the Summer Solstice?

What is special about the solstice? It marks the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere and the first day of summer. The solstice is a peak, a climax, a completion, and a beginning all at once. This year it also nearly coincides with a new moon and solar eclipse (only visible in Africa), which have their own powerful influences on us.

Many ancient civilizations dedicated rituals and festivals to the summer solstice. They intuited and realized the significance of this moment. While there are external and astronomical aspects associated with this day, for those spiritually inclined it represents an opportunity for an inner transition.

Wyld Witchery says:

The Summer Solstice is aligned with the element of fire, passion, will and drive. This is the time to seek right action, to choose to walk in alignment with your beliefs. Now is the time for you to look at the grander scope of your life and spiritual path and take note of what is out of alignment. What doesn’t serve you? What things do you tell yourself or others that are not in line with what you preach? What things do not serve your personal and spiritual growth?

There is also a slow side to the summer solstice – it reminds us of the importance of patience:

There is the slow, sure rhythm of time that events will enter into our lives if we let them. We can’t hurry things, but if we just relax and let go, things will reach their fullness without effort or the striving of ego on our part. The seeds of spring have been planted, we’ve labored over them all spring-now it’s time to let nature take its course.

And finally, there is our relationship with the element of fire. The sun is, literally, all fire. And for nearly 24 hours a day, the northern hemisphere is soaking up all that fierce, intense, electrifying, invigorating, exhilarating energy.

That means there is an absolute abundance of that rich fire energy available for you and me to soak up as well. We can use that energy to inspire up, to uplift us, to energize us. To light our fires and to allow us to embrace our light and share it with others.

How to Participate

Find somewhere to sit quietly without distractions. This can even be done in bed (as you’ll see it’s very late/early in many time zones). Meditate however you wish, connecting first to yourself, then to each other, eventually to the entire planet. No special technique is needed. If you are a regular meditator, choose whatever method helps you connect with your heart and to expand your awareness as wide as possible.

This will not be a guided meditation – we will all simply sit at home in silence at our own pace, absent technology.

Join one or both of these two meditations on Saturday, June 20th (the first one is more potent as it is the exact time of the solstice).

Clicking the link one will take you to an app that will determine the time in your location.

𝐌𝐞𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 # 𝟏

𝟑:𝟐𝟎 𝐏𝐌 – 𝟒:𝟏𝟎 𝐏𝐌 𝐌𝐒𝐓 (June 21st in Asia)

𝐌𝐞𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 # 𝟐

𝟕:𝟎𝟎 𝐏𝐌 – 𝟕:𝟓𝟎 𝐏𝐌 𝐌𝐒𝐓 (June 21st in Europe and Asia)

This weekend I will be fasting from the Internet and social media, so I will not be online until Monday. I wish everyone a beautiful solstice, meditation, and weekend.

The Religion of Tomorrow – A Book Review

Last night I finished a rather thick and dense book by Ken Wilber called The Religion of Tomorrow. All 806 pages. I dove in two months ago upon a recommendation from my friend Bodhi. I’ve been generally interested in Ken Wilber’s teaching and work around Integral philosophy, spirituality, psychology, etc.… the Integral Center used to be a thriving institution in Boulder. However, I sadly missed participating much during its prime years as I lived in Thailand. The Authentic Relating movement that I am now more intimately connected with had its roots here… as did many other beautiful offerings.

Part of my logic of tackling such an academic project was to combat the expected and very real chemo-brain that comes with extended chemotherapy treatment. Netflix series would not be the solution! Chemo-brain is a catch-all for a variety of brain-relating malfunctions such as:

  • Difficulty concentrating on a single task
  • Problems with short-term memory; forgetting details of recent events
  • Feeling mentally “slower” than usual
  • Confusing dates and appointments
  • Misplacing objects
  • Fumbling for the right word or phrase

And yes, if you ask anyone who has spent time with me the past three months, these factors have been present in various degrees. Similar to avoiding issues with old age, an antidote to such malfunctions is exercising the brain: crosswords, reading, playing games, etc. Hence this book…

image
It made my hair fall out

The premise of The Religion of Tomorrow is that the great religions of the world are at a crossroads. First, Wilber commends the major paths for helping countless individuals awake to the astonishing reality of the true nature of themselves and the universe. Then he explains how, through centuries of cultural accretion and focus on myth and ritual as ends in themselves, this core insight has become obscured, and religions risk disappearing along with their powerful awakening potential for individuals.

Wilber argues that for the great religions to survive into the future while remaining faithful to that original spiritual vision, they must incorporate the extraordinary number of scientific truths learned about human nature in just the past hundred years–for example, about the mind and brain, emotions, and the growth of consciousness. The original practitioners of the great religions were simply unaware of and thus were unable to include in their meditative systems.

What got me very excited about the book was that Wilber declares in the beginning that he would take Buddhism as an example, partly because it is the main religion that he has studied and practiced over the years, and also because in many ways, it is poised to take what he calls ‘a fourth turning’.  The third turning he argues happened almost 1000 years ago. Buddhism is also the religion I have studied the most formally myself.

Wilber demonstrates how his comprehensive Integral Approach–which is already being applied to several world religions by some of their adherents, can avert a cultural disaster of unparalleled proportions: the utter neglect of the glorious upper reaches of human potential by the materialistic postmodern worldview. Additionally, he shows how we can apply this approach to our personal spiritual practice.

For those who have studied Integral before, much of this book will be repetitive. Wilber has a very circular way of writing which is great for learning but he does chew up a lot of pages to reiterate certain points. He spends most of his time reviewing States and Stages (hundreds of pages). Wilber writes that states and structures of consciousness are two of the most important psycho-spiritual elements that humans possess, each having their own development spectrum. States, states of consciousness, or spiritual experience are those that the religions have explored for thousands of years. Wilber refers to these as the WAKING UP process.

Stages or stages and structures of consciousness is what Wilber considers spiritual intelligence and necessary for GROWING UP. 

Oversimplifying greatly here, Wilber argues that the great traditions are not taking into account the modern developments in structures of consciousness that humanity and individuals have developed over the past hundreds of years. And because of this, a spiritual master may have achieved the highest state of nondual consciousness possible, but be stuck in a lower stage of development and manifest that nondual spiritual religion through an ethnocentric or mythic worldview. Wilber refers many times to the challenges and problems that arose as many highly state developed East Asian Buddhist teachers began integrating with a western society that was more evolved from a stage perspective (views on race, sex, etc.) and the confusion and pain this often created.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book – for me it served as in introduction to Integral teachings: quadrants, levels, lines, states, etc. I also appreciated how Wilber can quickly move between very academic and scholarly language and then suddenly be guiding a meditation on nonduality. I had some inspirational moments of reading this in the middle of the night in chemo and steroid-induced mental states.

I also appreciate gaining a new understanding of the stages of consciousness and their relationship to spiritual development. Wilber shed light on a number of confusing situations I have experienced where highly realized (states) teachers were manifesting their teachings and actions from a lower vantage point (stage) of realization. It helps remind me of the criticality of taking a more holistic approach to development in life in general (cognitive, interpersonal, moral, spiritual, emotional, somatic, etc.). High states are not enough.

Finally – Wilber tangentially dives into teachings on chakras, subtle and causal bodies, shadow work, culture wars, state and stage dysfunctions, and a number of other areas that are definitely worth a read.

One of my main disappointments of this book is that Wilber never actually reaches the point of discussing how the fourth turning of Buddhism will manifest – after addressing this in the introduction and promising that he will use Buddhism as an example, he simply never returns to it. My hunch is that after 800 pages he decided it warranted another book, which I just discovered has been written (The Fourth Turning), somehow in the years before The Religion of Tomorrow

Spring Equinox Meditation–TONIGHT

Hi All – I’ll be hosting a synchronized spring equinox meditation this evening. Join for all or part of it if you can!

This is an auspicious time and day in which our intentions and wishes that were planted and have been germinating within the previous season have the potential to burst forth in wild, optimistic color. Let’s dedicate this meditation to the healing and wellbeing of the planet and all beings.

Find somewhere to sit quietly with distractions set aside. This can even be done in bed (as you’ll see it’s very late/early in many time zones). Meditate however you wish, connecting first to yourself, then to each other, eventually to the entire planet. ‘See’ you there.

The exact moment of the equinox is 21:49 on March 19th in Colorado, so the meditation will be from:

21:25 to 22:13 MST

A few other time zones:

March 19

20:25 – 21:13 PST

22:25 – 23:13 CST

23:25 – 00:13 EST

March 20

4:24 – 5:13 (Europe)

5:25 – 6:13 (Israel)

10:25 – 11:13 (Thailand)

Image result for equinox

Vision Quest

I am sitting cross-legged before an odd altar – a hawks feather, animal bones, a meteorite, a power stick and a wooden Buddha. I’m dirty, sore, sunburned, and very hungry. I have been fasting for 3 days on the top of this lonely mountain. Sitting quietly at 12,500 feet in arguably the remotest part of Colorado. No trail took me to where I am now. It is just an hour before my solar return- the moment the sun returns to the same exact location in the sky as the moment of my birth. Not just any solar return. This is will complete my 40th trip around the sun. Before I cross that threshold, let’s discuss how this all began.

IMG_1178

Three months ago, I enjoyed a retreat with my dear dharma friends Peter and Eveline in there hermitage in northern Bali. Often, the three of us would find ourselves in shared conversation after meals or during breaks. At one point, Peter shared his experience of a vision quest in his 40’s, pointing to some of the incredible insights that he received during his time on the side of mountain in Cyprus. The seed was planted.

In ancient cultures throughout the world, Quests were used as doorways to enter spiritual realms. A Quest could take the form of a retreat into nature, a Vision Quest, or a pilgrimage. These extraordinary journeys often revealed sacred visions, personal direction and life purpose to those who pursued them. Western culture has no modern equivalent- so I decided to craft my own quest to seek the ream of mystery and spirit beyond the senses.

Originally I considered a 7-day and 7-night quest, but when an opportunity arose to join a men’s retreat in the days leading up to my birthday, I settled on 4 days and 3 nights, as an extension of the group retreat. I will write separately about the men’s retreat- but for now, know that I departed from that group of men virile, inspired, and open-hearted.

I drive away from the retreat center, send a final text to my sister informing her of my plans shortly before I lose signal. I park my car at 2 in the afternoon at the trailhead. I gather my belongings. It feels odd to fill a backpack for 4 days without a morsel of food. Everything ready, I sign in at the trailhead register. Only 12 entries over the past 2 years. I will be alone, no doubt about it.

I walk excitedly towards the place I had pinpointed in advance, researching between topographic and google maps. I expected about 5 miles of walking and 2,000 feet of elevation gain. I walk for a while, my new boots feeling good on the ground. My mind racing from an encounter with a beautiful woman just hours earlier… I hear Chris, my retreat leader, in my head saying – the first tool in uncovering your purpose is to eliminate distractions! Slowly the physicality of the uphill hike with a heavy pack takes over and I return to my breath and the beauty of the surroundings: wildflowers, running streams, snow-laden peaks.

I decide to sit down – I watch a large moose across the meadow, unnoticed for a while. Eventually she catches my eye and jots into the distance. She pauses, looks up, as if to show me something. I follow her gaze upwards. I spy two beautiful rock outcroppings on top of a distant mountain. Something clicks. That is where I must go. Vision quests are all about paying attention to signs – not necessarily planning every detail but trusting your inner compass can be guided by the natural world.

I check my map. A 12,600 foot peak, no trail, and steep terrain leading to its summit. I make a plan, step off the trail and start walking. No coincidence that the men’s retreat was called Ascending the Sacred Mountain. I pass a pile of bones from a recent kill. Another sign. I stow the sacrum, pelvis and a leg bone in my pack. I keep walking ahead…Its getting late, exhaustion is setting in. I can no longer see the top, I’m somewhat lost and disoriented in a forest of deadfall. Should I just stay here? A voice in my head propels me upward. As sunset nears, the trees thin, a herd of elk greet my arrival above tree line. Alpenglow shines in all directions as my destination is reached.

I set my pack down. Its late, I’m exhausted and I decide to just lie down. Reaching for my water, I realize it is all gone. One small but important detail before I fully settle down. I vaguely remember a patch of snow as I first glanced at this peak – I set out in search, luckily discovering it a few hundred feet downhill. Filling my bottles with the snowmelt, I make my way back up, and fall blissfully asleep in the silent dark.

Drop, drop, drop… rain falls, accelerating in intensity. I should have known better – the weather can change up here in a moments notice. I scramble to erect my rain tarp amidst the gusty winds – with an odd combination of stakes, rocks and trekking poles it will work for the night.

In the morning I proceed to officially create my Sacred Circle, a detailed process that I will refer you to the books I used to support my process. It involves setting up a series of rocks and sticks in the cardinal directions, ritually opening and closing the circle, invoking the spirits of the cardinal directions and a few other details. Maybe now is a good place for a disclaimer: If anyone is generally interested in this kind of process, its highly recommended to do your first quest supported by others, not to just strike off alone like I did… Two great resources that supported my Vision Quest are the following books:

1. Quest by Denise Lynn

2. Vision Quest by Steven Foster

Both can help you understand more of the details and guide you to sources that offer supported Vision Quests…

Now the rest of the time up there started to get interesting- as I reflect on those days – there existed an overlapping mix of subtlety, exquisite detail, and magic.  I can continue to write about the details of the outer journey – as in when my sleeping bag was caught by a wind gust and launched over 60 feet in the air, nearly getting stuck on a rock, well out of reach…. but these were minor compared to the inner details that were unfolding.

I examined my life. I looked at my fears and attachments. I offered gratitude, I called for a vision.

I stretched, I meditated, I journaled, I slept, I waited out rain storms.

My friend Peter, mentioned earlier, had suddenly passed away 10 days earlier in a traffic accident in Bali. His inspiration and presence were with me often– he being one of the few people I know who would have also done something as crazy as this. I felt close to him and as if I was supporting his passage with my own process – in addition to offering this quest to all beings, I specifically offered it to Peter.

The second day the hunger really started to set in, and I felt as if I was hallucinating that afternoon. I was called out of my circle for a short period to explore the rock formation around me. I observed the exquisite details of the ancient lichen surviving on stone, I collected what appeared to be a fragment of a meteorite, I stumbled in the awe and beauty of the majesty that was around me, in me, through me. Seeking something from the sky for my altar, I as if by magic a large feather floats from the sky and lands at my feet.

I find myself on a delicate rock outcropping, a few exposed 4th class moves to a seat sitting high over a precipice. I sit on this ledge for hours. It seems the totally of my first 40 years were coming to meet me right then and there. The pains, the joys, the loves, the heart breaks, all of my relationships, all of my missteps, all of my successes, all of my guides and allies and enemies. Right there on that rock. By any imaginable standard I would have appeared mad- sunburned and dirty, screaming and shaking my fists and stick into the air, then laughing hysterically, then crying with gratitude to all and everything. Over, and over and over…  darkness approached and I made my way back to my circle. Two coyotes, as if waiting for me to leave, ascended the rocks and howled into the evening sky.

IMG_1179

The third day I didn’t leave my circle, sitting, sitting, lying, stretching, counting the hours until my solar return meditation.

And now I’m back to the beginning. Its 3:43 on July 23rd, and I complete my 40th year. I meditate another hour to appreciate the power of the hiatus. Did the vision come? Was it too obvious or too subtle to see? Time will tell. A few days later I am still processing insights and moments of reflection from those days.

I planned to spend that final evening in an all-night vigil of sorts – I remember Peter telling me about the Death Lodge practice on the last night of his quest. Where the aspirant builds a circle of stones too narrow to lie down within, and commits to remaining awake until dawn and not moving outside the circle. One spends the night envisioning ones own death and inviting in all of one’s fears and all of ones relationships into that space.

After my solar return meditation, there was a clear feeling that it was time to go. I underestimated the physical exertion of climbing to high altitude and fasting for 3 days. My death lodge will have to wait. I packed up my things and prepared to head back down the trail-less mountainside.

Before leaving, I glanced around in all directions, thanking this mountain and its spirits for hosting me, and inviting me into its womb. What had I offered in return? My mind went to the most prized item in my possession. My yak tooth mala (beads) that I purchased in Nepal 10 years ago and that have accompanied me everywhere since… I slip them off my wrist, offer them to the mountain, turn around and start walking.

An hour after leaving the summit, a dark and ferocious storm rolled in. I had to take cover from hail for a while – at one point I looked back up to see the rock I camped next to being struck directly by several bolts of lightening. I am glad I trusted my intuition.

Absolutely depleted, as darkness envelops the landscape, I put one foot in front of the other until I return to the trailhead and my car.

Missionary Position

Now that I have your attention, this post does not have anything to do with sex. Sorry.

missionary-1556656275

I’m referring to the position of being a missionary, rather than missionary position. First made famous by the Christians, this attitude and practice has long been adopted by many sects, ideologies, and groups to promote their vision and ideals.

Last year the yoga community I was living in imploded after a series of sexual harassment claims were directed at the founder and main teacher. Sadly, this triggered a series of events that dispersed many in the community to far corners of the world.  I observe my friends, many trained in yoga, mediation and tantra for over a decade, attempt with varying levels of success, to build their own personal brands and offer teachings around the world.

I also have this calling – to share, to give back just a small portion of what I have received. I have been examining this impulse closely over the last months and have observed that this missionary energy is well-established inside me too. 

Where did it come from?

One of the great gifts that my yoga teacher possessed is of inspiring others to practice yoga. I cannot tell you how many people took their initial steps on the path of yoga after hearing one of his lectures. In the 500-hr. teacher training program, which I completed in 2013, there were a series of commentaries on the great Bhagavad Gita, specifically two aspects: where:

1. Action is said to be superior than inaction (promoting the path of karma yoga in the world, and teaching spirituality) and

2. Where Krishna instructs the protagonist Arjuna that of all those in the world, those who teach yoga properly are most dear to him.

Inspiring, no?

What is interesting is that my initial background in Zen Buddhism was in strong contradiction to this view. Zen is what you can call a very anti-missionary teaching. Even people who come and knock on the door of the monastery are often turned away or forced to endure some kind of initiation that proves that they are sincere seekers and not just following a fad or looking for food and shelter.

When I look into my heart and question why I want to share, I find two aspects, one is the genuine desire for others to experience the beneficial aspects of the practices that I have personally befitted and observed others benefitting from.

Then there is the shadow side of this missionary desire. The one that seeks to justify one’s own choices, lifestyle and habits by proclaiming it superior to other ones. When we make choices there often residues of doubt, uncertainty. What if I took the other path? And this can lead to a doubling-down on your choice, and missional practices.

Today I decided to actually look-up this statement in the Bhagavad Gita – from Chapter 18, the Chapter on Liberation from Swami Sivananda:

67. This is never to be spoken by thee to one who is devoid of austerities, to one who is not devoted, nor to one who does not render service, nor who does not desire to listen, nor to one who cavils at Me.

68. He who with supreme devotion to Me will teach this supreme secret to My devotees, shall doubtless come to Me.

69. Nor is there any among men who does dearer service to Me, nor shall there be another on earth dearer to Me than he.

While this can be interpreted as those who teach are very dear to God, a critical caveat is made here – that yoga should not be taught to anyone who is not interested in it or prepared for it. Therefore the Bhagavad Gita is not actually advocating a missionary-based approach to spirituality.

This is a work in progress for me – recognizing the world has changed a lot in the last several thousand years since this text was written and the original practices of yoga were unfolding.

I once asked another one of my yoga teachers “Who am I to teach” after completing a training program with him and being a novice in meditation and yoga. His response was “Who are you not to teach?”

My feeling now is that the best path is to continue deepening my own understanding, seeking community and sangha to practice with and within. Foremost a practitioner and student, secondarily a teacher when called upon by the circumstances. Following the impulse to illuminate, not the one to justify or defend.

To be continued…

Recollection of Certainty

Kalisada, a place promoting a peaceful life. Timeless rhythms of nature, an abundance of vividness.

Practicing alone together. Sangha is a precious gift. The mutual body, studying the mystery with many different eyes.

I feel a link to the past. Not surprisingly to the other places and times of immersion in meditation and nature. A recollection of certainty. No place to go, nothing to do, no one to become.

This little vow reaches so far.

Maybe when I retire I will create a lifestyle like this. Wait, aren’t I already retired?  The French origin of the word means to draw back  ( re – tirer).

Must communion with Self and nature wait until later?

image

I must leave today – the time is near.  The scenery will change, the rhythm uprooted.

A sense of sadness, like that one as you awake from a beautiful dream as it fades from awareness.

It’s difficult to express this recollection in words. Yet it is deeply embedded in my cells, in my bones. Like a lotus bud waiting to bloom.

Jungle Zazen

5am

religious chanting echoes in the distance

early morning light nudges away the darkness

walking the stone path towards the little wooden zendo

a glance upward and I meet the volcano, serenely present

3 bells

the scent of sandalwood

black cushion supporting my spine

in breath, out breath

stillness

not yet – this isn’t the zendo I’m familiar with

one bird, two bird, many birds

geckos skip across the roof

two frogs communicate their love across a pond

all of this is happening, just outside

outside what I wonder?

this jungle is inside, how can it be otherwise

zazen expands

fully alive

IMG_0918