Cruel game

 

There are many reasons why I wouldn’t be a good teacher, at least not of the traditional type. Apart from not being qualified in any way, not being trained, and not enjoying projections coming my way, I often feel that traditional spiritual teachers play a cruel game with their students.

There is a reason for that cruel game, of course, and it is a quite innocent one. When there is an awakening, it is natural for many to want to share it. And when there is an absence of awakening here, combined with neediness at a human level, it is natural to seek something that will fill that hole, and spirituality can be one of those things.

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Stable attention and pointers

 

A friend of mine with a great deal of experience with Buddhist practice, uses the word “concentration” practice for what I tend to think of as stable attention.

As usual with these things, it is an opportunity for inquiry, for trying it out.

What I know for myself, is that several of the usual tools work quite well for me with the stability practice.

I can bring attention to the sensations at the tip of the nostrils, or something the belly, or the whole-body experience of the in-breath and out-breath. (There is a quite noticeable change throughout the whole body from the ordinary in- and out-breath.)

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Opening up or closing down

 

Again, it can seem obvious:

How I receive life opens it up for me, or closes it down.

And that is true for spiritual practices and traditions as well.

When they are taken as questions and an invitation for exploration, they may open up the world.

For instance, precepts can be a wonderful opportunity for exploration.

What happens when I encounter the precept? When I try to follow it? When I can’t follow it? Do I notice the symptoms of triggered beliefs? What do I find when I investigate those beliefs?

What are some of the layers I find when I work with a precept? What are some of the ways I can understand and apply it in daily life? How does this change over time?

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The Way of Selflessness

 

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The Way of Selflessness is just out, and I can highly recommend it.

Written by Joel Morwood, the spiritual director of the Center for Sacred Sciences in Oregon, it is the product of 20 years of working with students and studying the mystical core of the different traditions, all from within a clear and genuine awakening. It is practical, span the traditions, and gives pointers for what you may encounter at different points on the path.

If you take the main practices and teachings of mystics from the main traditions and boil it down, as you would if you boil an ox down to a bullion cube, you will get something like this.

For all its strengths, it may have a few drawbacks as well.

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Adaptogens

 

rhodiola1

Adaptogens are herbs that normalize and strengthen, such as ginseng, eleuthero, rhodiola (my favorite right now), tripala, astragulus root, arjuna and many more.

These are the major herbs in herbal medicine. They are the ones most commonly prescribed and they can, in most cases, be taken throughout life.

The minor herbs, sometimes called “poisons” (!), act in one direction and are prescribed in only certain situations and for shorter periods of time.

This is a rich analogy for spiritual teachings.

First, we can see spiritual teachings and tools as medicines. Each one is a medicine for a specific condition. They have meaning and usefulness in the presence of a specific condition. And there is no “truth” to them, no more (or less) than there is truth in a shovel or lawn mover.

Then, we can look at teachings and tools as either adaptogens or “poisons”.

Some practices are quite adaptogen-like, such as shikantaza, bringing attention to sensations, inquiry and self-inquiry, prayer and so on. And just as an herbalist will most often prescribe an adaptogen to a client, a spiritual teacher (and tradition) will most often prescribe one or more of these practices. They tend to work in a gentle way, normalize, can be used at any phase of the process, and their effects are most noticeable when used regularly over time.

Other teachings and practices are more “poison” like in their effects and work in only one direction. And just as an herbalist will prescribe these herbs in only very specific situations and for shorter periods of time, a good spiritual teacher will use these teachings and tools only sparingly. Some examples here may be teachings aimed at “shocking” or shaking students out of complacency. It may be very helpful and just the right medicine in some situations, but works best if used judiciously.

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Practices and talks as distractions

 

Anything can be used as a distraction, a way to escape noticing what we really are – that which already allows experience as it is.

And that includes anything that we label spiritual, such as talks and practices.

I may listen to a spiritual talk while going for a walk or before falling asleep at night, and notice a slight compulsion to do so. A slight resistance to allow experience as it is. Listening to a talk becomes an escape from noticing what is here in experience, including physical pain or certain emotions or images surfacing.

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All awake to itself

 

I am attending an intensive for the type of bodywork I am doing. The bodywork itself is a laboratory for practice and exploration, for self-inquiry, and it is a wonderful practice in many ways. Deep, nourishing and soulful. 

But one thing is left out, and it is a crucial step – and also quite obvious when we see it. 

With its emphasis on mindfulness of the “me” only (the human self and its identities and dynamics), an identification as first the doer (shifting into observing) and then the observer may easily become “invisible”. If it is habitually there anyway, it may not be strengthened, but there is also not a direct invitation to bring it to attention and notice it. The sense of “I” may continue to lurk outside of attention. 

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Any practice has elements of inquiry, devotion, integrity and service

 

Any practice has elements of inquiry, devotion, integrity and service.

It can be an expression of love for reality (God, Buddha Mind). It can be an expression of curiosity: what happens if…? It can be an expression of integrity, a sincere intention to live more aligned with reality. And it can be an expression of service, of realigning this human life so it better can be of service to the larger whole.

So there is fertile ground for exploration here. Any of those four is a practice in itself, and it includes elements of each of the other ones. What is the devotion component of inquiry? What is the integrity component of service? What is the service component of devotion? What do I find in my own experience?

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Truth or Buddhism

 

Awakening is an awakening out of stories, and that includes whatever guidelines (if any) used to invite in the awakening. As Gautama Buddha said, the teachings are a boat designed to get you over to the other side. No need to carry it with you after you land.

This is good advice at any phase of the process, whether it is before or within awakening.

And it is also good advice when the veils are thinning, since attachment to teachings as true may be among the last identifications. There may be an identification with the viewpoint of these teachings and all that comes with it, including dentification as content of experience, and as an I with an other.

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Living our history

 

We live our history, before and even within awakening. We can’t help it since that is all our human self has to go by.

And when others live from a conditioning that is quite different from my own, it is easy to notice that we all live from our own history.

Here is a good example for me:

Two spiritual teachers appear to sometimes live from the story they should have told me. In one case, they should have told me about no-self. (That it can be recognized.) In the other case, they should have told me about the dark night. (How stark it can be.)

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Bøygen

 

Bøygen [2] represents an apparently unmovable obstacle that it is often tempting to avoid and walk around, which is sometimes a good idea. But other times, it may be good to stand our ground. To hold and allow it, stay with it with some receptivity and curiosity, take our stories as questions, take it as an invitation for exploration. 

For me, one bøyg is Bernadette Roberts. From the descriptions in her books, it seems that her awakening is the garden variety one, the one mystics from all the great traditions attempt to describe and point to, Ground awakening to itself. At the same time, she insists that it is not. It is different somehow, although  – to my limited knowledge – she is not all that specific or clear about how. (She may well be somewhere.) 

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Teachings as entertainment

 

Some ways to take spiritual teachings…

They can be taken as entertainment in a conventional sense. As fun ideas to play with, whether we take them on as true or not. 

They can be taken as questions and pointers for own exploration. 

And they can be taken as entertainment in the lila sense. The teachings and our own explorations are the play of God, of what we are. 

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A few resources

 

As of August 2009: See this page for updates.

A few resources I have found helpful…

Books

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A more practical approach

 

Here are two approaches to any teachings, and any pointers – and stories – in general.

One is to take them as right or wrong, and come from identification with stories and their views.

The other is to see them as tools only, and as any tool, apparently useful in some situations and used in a particular way, and less so in other situations and when used in other ways.

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Already know

 

One of the many teaching tools is to say that I am reminding you of what you already know.

And as for any teaching, the question is when it may be helpful, and when not.

First, this pointer is obviously a supplement to other pointers. It gives a slight tweak to other pointers, inviting us to notice what is already here and not expect it somewhere else – in the future, in others, in the past, in a different state and so on. What I am looking for is already here, I just need to notice.

In that sense, it can be very helpful in many different situations.

There may be an awakening here, but not quite clear and embodied, and the pointer you already know is an invitation to notice and then trust what is already here. What we are looking for is not in the future, others, in a different state, but right here now. Other pointers give us more specific guidelines for inquiry, and this one is an invitation to sincerely look at – and trust as sufficient – what is here in immediacy.

Also, something may be true for us but we don’t act on it due to a (contrary) belief. In this case, you already know may be just the encouragement we need to trust it a little more and eventually act on it. (True for me right now.)

And if there has not been any awakening yet, you already know is – again – an invitation to look here. To not expect it in the future, in a different state, and so on.

Then, when may it be less helpful?

As with any teaching, it may be less helpful as soon as it is taken as anything else than a question and an invitation to explore for ourselves. For instance, if I take it to mean that my stories about anything at all are true and valid, it is obviously a sidetrack. A very understandable sidetrack but still a sidetrack. It is a distraction from a more sincere and honest inquiry into what is here in immediacy.

So as with any teaching, it all depends on how it is received. And when students are likely to receive it in a helpful way, the statement may be just right. If not, something else may be more helpful. Or this one may still be helpful if presented in the right context.

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The many uses of audio teachings

 

I sometimes listen to audio from different teachers such as Adyashanti, Byron Katie, or one of the CSS teachers. Most of the time, I do it for a short period of time and then allow it to stay with me for a while.

So I got curious about what function it may have to listen to this type of audio.

For some, it is comforting and gives a good feeling. It helps alleviate suffering in the short term, which is beautiful.

It can stir curiosity and clarify an intention to grow and wake up.

It can plant a seed… emerging later in whatever form it takes, as insight, inspiration for practice, a shift in perception, or something else.

It can be an inspiration for own practice.

It can deepen trust… in pointers, practices, what we are.

It can be a pointer for practice, as I am listening or later.

I can notice my beliefs around what I hear, and inquire into them, finding what is more true for me than the initial belief. (The Work.)

And, I am sure, much more that does not come to mind right now.

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I am not… and yet am

 

It is common to hear folks say you are not your thoughts or emotions, or anything within experience. (Well, at least common among people interested in those things.)

And this is a good illustration on how teachings are pointers only, or medicine aimed at a specific condition. In this case, it is aimed at the condition of (blindly) identifying with thoughts, emotions, or content of experience in general.

As with any other statement, it is a pointer and a question. As any other teaching, it is medicine aimed at a specific condition, helpful in some situations and not other, and without any inherent truth. And as any other story, there is a grain of truth in its reversals.

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You are That

 

I am that. You are that. All is that.

Or as in the Bible, I am that I am. (Taken as a story reflecting something here now.)

It is one of the most profound pointers, and –  depending on how it is received, as with any teaching – one of the most helpful ones as well.

And as with any statement, it is a question and an invitation to explore for ourselves.

What am I really? Am I what I take myself to be? When I look here now, what do I find that I take myself to be? Is it in content of awareness? Is it something that comes and goes? Is what I really am content of awareness? Can it be? Is it something that comes and goes? If I am not what I take myself to be – this collection of sensations, sounds, sights and images – what am I then?

First, these may be insights coming from contemplation, from within stories. Then, as we explore what is here in immediate awareness, we can have genuine glimpses of what we are not, and what we are. And after a while, after getting more and more familiar with it, the center of gravity of our identity may shift from content of awareness and into what it all happens within and as – either gradually and slowly, or suddenly, or both.

In addition to sparking curiosity and exploration, it can also spark a desire to know, it can help us form an intention for inviting what we are to wake up to itself. And that too can be immensely helpful.

Don’t take it as true

 

Don’t take it as true. Try it out for yourself.

That is how the Buddhist teachings are presented, and it can be understood in a couple of different ways.

Don’t take it as true. Try it out for yourself. See if it is true. See if the stories are true.

Or… Don’t take it as true, because no story is true. Use it as only as a pointer for your own exporation.

Teachings as supplements

 

Teachings, as any story, are questions. They are pointers and guides for own exploration. They are medicines aimed at specific knots.

And they are also supplements. They are supplements to each other.

I may have a main teacher, and follow one particular teaching as a main guideline for practice. And anything else that comes my way can be helpful pointers as well. I can explore when and how they each are useful.

Some may invite what I am to notice itself. Others may invite the soul level – in some of its many aspects – into the foreground. Some may invite in healing and maturing at a human level.

Some may be quite useful as they are. Others may need some tweaking here and there, especially if they are not quite aligned with the larger picture of what we are.

But all in all, they are all supplements to each other. Each can function as a helpful guide in certain situations, and in exploring certain facets of who and what I am. The only question is how and when. And whatever temporary answers I find are questions, as any other story. A temporary guideline in itself.

So here too, even as I may be familiar with any number of maps and theories, and trust and follow the teachings of my main teacher, it all still comes back to don’t know. The open spaciousness of don’t know.

The main question in all of this is the usual one.

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Evaluating teachers and teachings

 

Teachings can be seen as medicine. As any medicine, it is applied to a particular condition. And as any medicine, it doesn’t have much meaning or value outside of that context. 

As any story, it is a temporary guide for how we live our lives. It has practical value in some situations, less value in other situations, and no inherent or absolute value. 

As any story, it is a lie that can have practical value in some situations. 

So when we evaluate teachings – and teachers – we can do it according to some fixed and abstract criteria. Is there a Ground awakening there? Does he/she address who + what we are? Is there soul level awakening there? And so on. This can be helpful at times.

But it is often more interesting to look at when any particular teaching appears to be the right medicine and to what extent a teacher is able to meet his/her students where they are. Of course, we cannot really know in advance when a medicine is appropriate, and we cannot always know afterwards either.

Still, some teachers appear more skilled than others here. Some have a narrow repertoire and are very clear about it. (Skilled in its own way.) Others may have a relatively narrow repertoire, but they are skilled at adapting it to the conditions of their students. And others have an obviously wide repertoire. (Tibetan teachers especially.) 

This came up for me around an interview with Adyashanti for globaloneness.org. His teachings there are more general and inspirational, very much appropriate to the audience. In other situations, for instance when speaking directly to an experienced student, his pointers are quite different. Much more specific and aimed at helping the student notice where they are still stuck, still identified with a story. 

We all do this, of course. We all adapt what we say and how we are saying it to the audience. Teachers are no different. 

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Clarifying and channeling motivation

 

Draft…

When I look at desires and motivations, I find two main types.

One type of desire comes from our human self. We want to get something. And mainly, we want to avoid suffering and find happiness. 

This makes sense in an evolutionary perspective. It is how the human individual and species takes care of itself. 

And it is also what happens when we identify with any story. There is a sense of an I with an Other. And we want to take care of that I. 

Another type of motivation is a quiet love for God or truth. This seems to be more of a remembrance of what we are, and a quiet longing back. 

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Waking up out of stories

 

When we notice – quite clearly – what we are, there is a waking up out of stories

There is a waking up out of the story of I. A doer. Observer. Thinker. An I with an other. A center with periphery. An inside and an outside. 

And with it is a waking up of any other story as well, including the stories of maps, models, religions, spirituality and practices.

We see that what we – already and always – are, cannot be touch by any of those stories. They can be very helpful in a purely practical sense, for this human self to function in the world and explore who it is and what it really is.

But they are also, quite literally, imaginary. They are creations of the mental field, overlaid on pure perception. And reality cannot be touched by any of them. Not in a conventional sense. And not in the context of all as God.

Each story has a temporary and practical value only. 

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Teachings as pointers

 

Spiritual teacher Adyashanti describes how in the development of human consciousness, there comes a shift from a sense of a separate self toward the experience of unity. He points out that the fear of losing our individual identity keeps us from making this shift, and by confronting our fear we come into love. Adyashanti also suggests that reaching a point of crisis can allow an opportunity for consciousness to shift, individually and collectively.

Any teaching is an explicit pointer for inquiry. Is it true? What do I find when I explore it for myself?

And any thought – independent of source or content – is really a question. Is it true? What happens if I use it as a temporary guideline for action? Is there another that seems more appropriate in this situation? When is this particular thought helpful as a guideline? If I can’t find anything else, maybe it can help loosen identification with its reversal?

So even a simple summary of a teaching – such as the one above – can be very helpful. (Here is the video it refers to.)

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Feeding Your Demons: Ancient wisdom for resolving inner conflict

 

I have read about half of Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict by Tsultrim Allione, and am as impressed by the book as I am by the practice. It is beautifully written, simple, insightful and always very practical and helpful.

The five steps of the practice itself is outlined at her Kapala Training website.

Teachers as models or annoyance

 

Through a body oriented practice I am doing, I am required to listen to a particular teacher for about 40-50 hours once or twice a year. I find that he is pushing a good number of buttons for me (including about what is “good teaching”) which is uncomfortable for me but also invites me to notice and work with some deeply held beliefs.

Through this, I see more clearly that a teacher can either be a model or an annoyance, and that each has its value. In Zen, I am used to a teacher being precise in words, yet also challenge their students in different ways – often through their behavior.

But here, it goes even further since the words themselves push buttons. (Some of my stories about it: Imprecise, coming from a “should” about needing to shock his students, talking down to his students, pretending the teachings are more profound or unique than they are, being deceptive about the hierarchy of the organization and the history of the practice, and so on).

It is easy to relate to a teacher who is obviously a good model, such as Byron Katie, Adyashanti, Joel, and others. It is comfortable, and also very helpful.

And while it can be tremendously difficult to deal with teachers who show up more as an annoyance, it can also take me even further. I am directly faced with some deeply held beliefs that sometimes remain more hidden when I am with “good teachers”, the teachers who follow my expectations.

These beliefs will of course come up anyway, just through living my life, but in the presence of these types of teachers, they are dredged up more thoroughly and directly. I sit in the fire whether I want to or not, and have to face it. (Including the belief that since life will trigger these beliefs, a teacher don’t have to.)

This particular teacher comes from the Gurdijeff lineage, so I shouldn’t be surprised by this since it is an important element in that particular tradition.

I may not like it. I certainly wouldn’t have sought him out if it wasn’t a requirement for doing the body work (which I love). I may not chose to act in that way myself. But, although I don’t like to admit it, his teaching style is helpful to me. Through pushing so many buttons in me, I have to face them.

I have to reluctantly admit that it works, whether it is intentional from his side or not.

It is even possible that rather than being a “bad” teacher who unintentionally is a “good” teacher, this is all intentional… How would I receive it differently if I knew it was all intentional?

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Teachings as medicine

 

Teachings can be seen as medicine.

We have a fixed position, which creates wounds, immature behavior and a sense of an I-Other. And the teaching is designed to nudge us out of that fixed position, either directly or through offering us a tool which invites the shift when applied.

That is one reason why there are so many – apparently contradictory – teachings. They each are designed to invite us out of a particular fixed position and belief. (There are of course other reasons for teachings, but this is an important one.)

From this, it is easy to see a “good teacher” as someone who is fluid among a wide range of views and positions, and can take any one of them according to what seems most helpful in the situation. And that is certainly true from a conventional viewpoint.

But I also find that teachers who take a somewhat fixed and rigid position can be very helpful. Maybe more helpful, in some ways, because they bring my attention straight to my own hangups.

I may have an expectation of the teacher being fluid, so get to notice and inquire into that belief. I may agree completely with the teacher, which then feels a little stale after a while, so I get to inquire into the stories I agree with. And I may disagree with the teacher, which is stressful, so here too I get to notice and inquire into my fixed positions.

In the first case, the teacher is fluid and models it for me. I get to see my own fixed views in contrast to the fluidity of the teacher, and am inspired and invited to move in the direction of a similar fluidity.

In the second case, the teacher is rigid, which in different ways also brings my attention right to my own fixed positions. And here, I have to do the work myself, which in many ways is more powerful.

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Fresh words

 

I notice how I am drawn to teachers who speak with fresh words. Who go to what is alive here and now, and find words for it as if it was the first time. The words are alive and juicy, and often different from how they have talked about it in the past, or how others talk about it.

Other teachers may also go to what is alive for them here now (or not), but then use familiar phrases to describe it. It can sometimes feel a little predictable or stale, even if the content is excellent.

In either case, it is how I receive it that matters. Do I use it as a pointer to look for myself, here now, in a fresh and alive way? If I do, it doesn’t matter whether the teacher speaks with fresh and juicy words or not. Although the fresh and juicy words so obviously comes from an alive experience, so that is a reminder and encouragement to find it for myself.

Also, when I write about these things here, when do I go to old and familiar phrases, and when am I free enough to use fresh and alive words? And what happens for me, in each case?