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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?

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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.

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

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

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I love you if

You expressed I love you in a poem. Six months later you took it back. Accused of manipulation, I respond in kind. The lack of eye contact should have been a warning sign. Pouring my insecurities and shadows into your lap, little did I know they were being weaponized. Saved for an opportune moment, to unleash the rage of all times. Attacking a fly with a grenade, clearly there was something amiss in your promise. Maybe it had to do with the omission of the word if.

I love you if you do not confront my insecurities; I love you if you do not challenge my ego; I love you if you constantly show me the reflection of my own masks in your eyes. Is that what you meant to write?

Blame me, blame a community, blame the style of relationship. Blame anything except your own wounded pride.

For the sake of the next one, please don’t forget the if.

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Crisis of Meaning

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.

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…

Questioner: I am what I know myself to be.

Nisargadatta Maharaj:  You cannot possibly say that you are what you think yourself to be! Your ideas about yourself change from day to day and from moment to moment. Your self-image is the most changeful thing you have. It is utterly vulnerable, at the mercy of a passerby. A bereavement, the loss of a job, an insult, and your image of yourself, which you call your person, changes deeply. To know what you are you must first investigate and know what you are not. And to know what you are not you must watch yourself carefully, rejecting all that does not necessarily go with the basic fact: ‘I am’. The ideas: I am born at a given place, at a given time, from my parents and now I am so-and-so, living at, married to, father of, employed by, and so on, are not inherent in the sense ‘I am’. Our usual attitude is of ‘I am this’. Separate consistently and perseveringly the ‘I am’ from ‘this’ or ‘that’, and try to feel what it means to be, just to be, without being ‘this’ or ‘that’. All our habits go against it and the task of fighting them is long and hard sometimes, but clear understanding helps a lot. The clearer you understand that on the level of the mind you can be described in negative terms only, the quicker you will come to the end of your search and realize your limitless being.

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