The Seeker of Peace


Yearning for Kyoto
May 1, 2009, 8:38 am
Filed under: Non-duality, spirituality, Suffering, World | Tags: , , , ,

Even in Kyoto,
I yearn for Kyoto
– Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694)

I found this poem in the prelude of Mary Pipher’s recent book, “Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World.” See uses it to illustrate the point that, “Embedded in the concept ‘seeker’ is the less flattering word ‘dissatisfied.'” Matsuo-san’s poem resonated with me deeply, and in a very literal sense. You see, even when I was in Kyoto, I did in fact yearn for Kyoto.

The year was 1997, and the trip to Kyoto was an arduous one. It involved a flight from the USA to Tokyo, a connecting flight to Osaka, and then a 45-minute cab ride to Kyoto. That last segment I shared with several coworkers, making the airplane parts of the ride seem roomy by comparison.

This was a period when my Crohn’s Disease was flaring up badly, and as a result, my immune system was not working well. Thus, it as no surprise that, by the time I arrived in Kyoto, I had picked up a nasty cold. This proved to be even more of a problem than I could have expected. I was chairing committee meetings throughout the trip. There was a large population of Europeans and Asians at this meeting, and they politely expected to be recognized by the chair before saying anything. This was true even if two of them were carrying on a debate among themselves. At least I had a microphone, allowing me to quietly croak, “Go ahead,” rather than having to raise my voice to be heard.

During that week, I yearned for the other Kyoto. I wanted to see the Imperial palace. I wanted to eat some Japanese food, rather than the greasy and awful Italian, Chinese, and American fare I received. I wanted to see the town, not be stuck in a windowless conference room.

Yet, mulling over Matsuo-san’s words, I can now see another side to the trip. I [u]was[/u] in Kyoto. I got to marvel at the sophisticated features of the Panasonic toilet seat in my hotel room. I could appreciate the beautiful courtyard garden of the hotel. I laughed at the fact that Japanese hotel rooms, unlike their American counterparts, include a complementary adult diaper should you need one.

Thinking back on it makes for a very valuable cautionary tale. How much more would I have enjoyed the trip had I allowed myself to be in Kyoto instead of yearning in Kyoto? And how often, even now, am I still not present, still yearning for something else?



Why Do Anything?
January 28, 2009, 1:13 pm
Filed under: Non-duality, World | Tags: , , , , ,

For a while now, I’ve struggled with the motivation to do anything. It’s not that my ego doesn’t find worldly distractions to keep me busy. Rather, it’s been hard to see anything as too important. As I wrote three months ago about working in a world of illusion, non-dualistic traditions teach that the world is illusory. So, why put a lot of effort into work, retirement planning, home maintenance, etc.?

There are people who are enlightened (or at least claim to be) and live with very little material wealth, doing very little in the material world. Would that be easier and a less encumbered path? While that didn’t feel right to me, I thought it might be my ego attachment to worldly success.

Fortunately, I had a realization today that gave me new clarity. Yes, the world is illusory and meaningless. However, what I perceive is a reflection of what I do. If I do something that is an expression of joy and love, then my (illusory) world will contain more joy and love.

The enlightened people who seem to tread lightly on the material world are probably doing more than I realize to express their love. Certainly, being apathetic is not an expression of love at all. This speaks strongly towards the importance of doing something that brings more love and joy into my world.

I spend a lot of time doing things that are counterproductive in this sense. Reading the news, which is usually bad news, hardly brings more love and joy. Whereas writing that story that’s been bouncing around in my head, if done with the right attitude, could be an expression of love.

Perhaps this is the explanation of the old Zen saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” I had thought that the saying meant that you still have to do your worldly chores after awakening, but now I think it goes deeper. Maybe it means that after awakening, you can do the same tasks as manifestations of your love.

For an unawakened person such as myself, making tasks a manifestation of my love might be a good place to start. As an approach, it’s certainly a way to snap out of apathy.



Making Decisions
November 2, 2008, 9:00 am
Filed under: Forgiveness, Non-duality | Tags: , , , ,

Today, I’m on lesson 64 of A Course in Miracles. This lesson mentions that the decisions I’ll make today “are all really very simple. Each one will lead to happiness or unhappiness.” That’s great to know, but how do I tell the difference? I’ve spent a fair chunk of time reflecting on that this morning. (My Crohn’s Disease woke me up around 3:00 AM, which gave me several hours to think.)

As I’ve mentioned in several recent posts, I’ve realized that judgment is the key. Passing judgment can’t create happiness. This meshes well with what Byron Katie teaches in The Work. It’s clear from her writings that she never passes judgment on what’s happening. She gives her books names like “Loving What Is” and “Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are” for a reason.

To date, I’ve focused my efforts to be less judgmental at people. However, I see now that I’m still passing judgment on everything that happens throughout the day. My illness is causing me pain – that’s bad. The stock market is up – that’s good. My daughter’s meeting was rescheduled, making me change my plans for the day – that’s bad.

I think that the real decisions throughout the day are whether we’ll judge what’s happening. There’s a Zen story about a boy who gets a horse as a gift. A series of events ensue that everyone judges as a good or bad, but the alternating nature of the events makes clear that the judgments are worse than pointless. That story never really struck me before as it does now.

Not judging people is an important goal for me. However, it’s simply a part of the larger goal: not judging life. Everything that happens to me forces a decision: to judge or not? As I think it through, the answer is obvious.



Voices in My Head
October 28, 2008, 9:13 am
Filed under: spirituality, Suffering | Tags: , , , ,

I wrote a few days ago that I’m getting better at recognizing the tricks my ego plays. Since then, my ego has launched a particularly aggressive strike: making my head so full of thoughts that it’s hard to focus on spiritual practice.

In the past, I’ve had success quieting my mind using a mixture of a Zen technique and the Sedona Method. The Zen technique is to catch each thought I have, and consciously repeat it. The Sedona Method part I added is to find the want underlying each thought and release it. So, I might catch myself replaying a client meeting that went well, and say, “I’m reliving that meeting, because I want approval. Could I let go of wanting approval?” Doing this consistently has always helped.

This time, it’s as if my ego is launching an all-out attack. Every time I clear my mind, the thoughts come rushing in. Trying to clear my mind is like a battle.

Just today, a member on a Sedona Method board I follow made a very relevant point (it’s message #6 here). (Maybe it’s synchronicity, or not.) He said, “If happiness comes from accepting what it, then that would include our thoughts.”

I’ve had an expectation that, as I follow the path, my mind will become quieter and quieter. An expectation is just a belief, and beliefs are never helpful.

So, my ego’s latest trick is more subtle than I had appreciated at first. I’ve locked myself into an all-out war around clearing my mind. The result? I can tell you it’s not inner peace. In fact, a friend told me yesterday that I looked unusually tense.

I hope I can stop judging my progress. Ironically, usually I would use Byron Katie’s The Work to stop judging. However, she doesn’t explain how one does a turnaround when the subject of your judgment is “my thinking!” With luck, just recognizing the judgment and its underlying belief will be enough.



Absence of a Breakthrough
October 21, 2008, 5:57 pm
Filed under: Non-duality | Tags: , , , , ,

A few days ago I wrote about how I was feeling stuck in my spiritual progress. I realized that part of my frustration is that I’m hoping for some sort of massive breakthrough.

I’ve read many accounts of people who had dramatic shifts in perception, often overnight. Byron Katie, Karl Renz, Echkart Tolle, and Lester Levenson all had quick transitions from deep depression to a peaceful sense of oneness. While Levenson worked to trigger his transition, the others I mentioned all had their breakthroughs seemingly without conscious effort. Apparently, these people got a helicopter ride up the mountain, while I’m taking the walking path!

In talking with a friend today, I began to wonder if I’m reading too much into these people’s seemingly random progress. All of them were in states of very deep depression when they had their breakthroughs. I know what it’s like to be deeply depressed, having gone through a bout of suicidal depression as a teenager. If I had suddenly leapt from that state to my present state of consciousness, it would have seemed like a tremendous enlightenment experience.

I am much more loving and forgiving than I used to be, and less likely to be upset by the vicissitudes of the world. If I came here suddenly from deep depression, it would have been such a transformation that I would have wept with joy. There would be no doubt in my mind that something profound had happened.

What if I have underestimated my progress? I’m waiting for the day where I wake up and suddenly perceive non-duality, see everyone as a loving reflection of myself, and transcend the illusions of my ego. Maybe I’m already close enough to the goal that I haven’t recognized my gradual progress, and maybe my further progress will seem gradual too.

Karl Renz speaks about a definite shift from dualistic to non-dualistic perception, and Jed McKenna similarly makes it sound like there’s a definite point at which one is “enlightened.” Yet I have to wonder whether Renz and McKenna actually made it to the end of the path, or just became stuck in a cul-de-sac. Both of them seem to find their states lonely and empty. I’m therefore hesitant to look towards either of them as role models.

Maybe the point of Zen’s “gateless gate” is that there’s no well-defined endpoint to the path. I know Levenson kept studying and learning long after his transformation. Byron Katie sounds like she had to keep forgiving and consolidating her gains.

As a comment on my post about feeling stuck pointed out, “Expecting something – looking ahead – is another way of avoiding the present moment, yes?” I think that my expectation for a grand breakthrough is, indeed, another ego trick to interfere with my practice.



Working in a World of Illusion
October 20, 2008, 3:33 pm
Filed under: Non-duality, World | Tags: , , , , , ,

One thing all non-dualistic teachings share is that the world, as we perceive it, is illusory and won’t provide happiness. Sri Ramana Maharshi said, “The reality which shines fully, without misery and without a body, not only when the world is known but also when the world is not known, is your real form.” The very first lessons in the workbook of A Course in Miracles are about how we don’t see anything real, so what we see is meaningless. Not only do all the traditions share the message, but most make it one of their central and first topics for students.

I’m finding that this presents a dilemma for me. My intellectual grasp on the idea of non-duality hasn’t translated into a shift in perception yet. As a result, I find my ego complaining about the effort I put into life: “You’re living in an illusory world, yet you’re still working hard, raising kids, and dealing with paperwork! What’s the point?”

The irony is that I know I’ll still be doing those things once my perception changes. After all, one of the most famous Zen sayings is, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” I’ll still be in the world; I’ll just realize its true nature and thus not let it get to me in the same way.

For now, I’m finding myself less engaged in parts of the world. I still carry out my work, take care of my family, and see my friends. However, I’m feeling much more detached from the vicissitudes of life. My feelings about the dilemma of goals, which I wrote about a few days ago, are another aspect of the same feeling.

I don’t feel as if I’m in any position to decide whether this detachment represents progress or a dangerous ego-led deviation. On the bright side, it does reduce both the mental clutter and time spent on major projects, leaving me in a better position to make progress on fixing my perception.

I wrote yesterday that I felt I should spend more time in spiritual practice. I know that many people have experienced God sending them messages to encourage them on their path. I have to wonder if I got one today. I met a friend for lunch at a Chinese restaurant. My fortune cookie said, “Clear your mental, emotional and psychic space and you’ll see.” I’m not normally one to go for the “fortune cookie from God” theory, but this sure seems like synchronicity.

(My fortune cookie also taught me the Chinese word for “salt,” which is apparently 盐. While the fortune itself really struck me as relevant, I’m guessing that 盐 and the six “lucky numbers” aren’t divine messages. If they are, God will have to provide some clarification!)