Tag Archives: dharma

Ripples in the Pond

We have never once in our history been separate. We have always been linked to one another for survival, and our joy and our sorrow have never truly been our own.  Every action, every word, every thought… they broadcast new strands of connection at every moment.  This is an inescapable truth- we cannot disconnect these strands, and we cannot stop creating them.

When we try to sever or deny their existence, any perceived success is only a numbing of our awareness, and this numbing prevents us, not only from seeing each other, but from sensing our own Self.

It is only possible to say that we don’t want to be involved because we are numb to the truth that we already are.

Every action we take has an effect on our community.  Likewise, every success and failure we experience is due, at least in part, to the previous actions of others- every law that protects us or puts us in harm’s way, every invention that eases our lives or pollutes the environment, even social conventions like family structures, greetings and the amount of eye contact we make all shape our overall wellness for better or worse.

It is common in spiritual life to honor the teachings, teachers, lineages, and traditions that have made it possible for us to walk on the path. With this comes the realization that even our walking is not our own- it is driven by every foot that has stepped before us.

This is true in every aspect of our lives…

I become aware of this with every new melody that soars from the lips, every word that descends to the page from the pen, every metaphor and poetic form, every spark of creativity arising from contemplation. My mind is simply a pot stirring its influences, and even this stirring is the product of cause and effect.

Was it the rock that created the ripple? Or the fallen branch that dislodged the rock? Or the wind that snapped the branch? Or the heavy rains that weakened it?

Of course it is the interaction of all of it, and it is in this systemic view of things that we gain a glimpse of something bigger, deeper, whole.  It is a great honor when we can witness this Totality through our own work, when it coalesces through our individual awareness to form a new nexus in the web of life.  

These words are one such nexus. They are meant to inspire us to turn towards each other. They show that our only true possession, if there is any at all, is our sense of duty to one another.

These words are meant to inspire the next nexus of creation. The ripples in the pond inspire the frog to leap from the lily pad, and this makes new ripples.

From the first eruption of the Big Bang to the creation of carbon in the stars, these ripples pulsated through the cold depths of space and time until that right moment when the first human could translate them into words. They have since been echoed by spiritual teachers, philosophers, activists, scientists, and yes, even the lily pad in the pond. It is these ripples that convince me we are not separate, that prompted the lifting of the pen to paper, that prompted the typing of keys, that prompted the clicking of “publish.”

May this little post continue the spreading of ripples until all beings are free.

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Bracing Against the World

Our samskaras, or the accumulation of habits formed from past action and thought, are deep impressions that have dug themselves into our mind-body system. These samskaras manifest in the form of bracing. We tighten in our mind-body in order to push away unpleasantness or to grab at the desirable. It is this contraction that creates the illusion of separation. By bringing our awareness to these deep holdings, they begin to loosen on their own, returning to their natural state.  We stop bracing against the world.

We often think of this in terms of our personal life. We brace against our relationships to other people, to work, and to ourselves. But, there is another set of deep contractions that we rarely, if ever, talk about.

We constantly brace against the immense suffering that surrounds us and the inevitable guilt we feel as an accomplice. Every time we buy something… anything, drive a car, turn on the electricity in our homes, or even travel to a dharma retreat, our mind-body braces against the horror of our involvement in the exploitation of people and the planet, and we brace again to stave off the helplessness of having no escape in sight. It is this bracing that allows us to continue without fully acknowledging our role as accomplice, or if we do it stays hidden from sight or subdued as a subtle whisper.

We brace out of the mistaken fear that we will drown in the world’s pain, but what we seek to protect is merely the outer shell of our Being. By protecting it, we not only create a dam from the world, but also from ourselves. The world’s suffering is our suffering. We spend precious energy maintaining this illusion of separation.

When we lower the floodgates, this outer shell begins to crumble against life’s oncoming river. What remains is something remarkable- the fierce courage of an open heart.  This heart carries the tides of grief and beauty on its inhale and exhale like a billowing sea, informing the way we inhabit the world and animating each step. This heart sings the song of the world.

For most of us, this is not a one-time event, but a continual and gradual letting go. I have found that each time I allow myself to feel, I discover a new part of me that is still holding on, not yet ready to let go, still believing in a someone to protect from a world out there.

But this also leaves me with a strengthened faith in the process, for an open heart is inherently satisfying. It teaches that the world’s pain contains seeds of its power. And, if we are ever going to change the oppressive power structures at play, we will need that power to do so.

Problems cannot be solved without being acknowledged, and all of us, I don’t care if you have spent years in spiritual retreat or years protesting on the streets, can go a little deeper.

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The Dharma of Our Times

Now published on the Be Here Now Network.

I have spent years trying to find that morally superior stance that could acquit me of the suffering of society.  As a young environmental and human rights activist I found solace by making corporations the enemy. They were the cause of our suffering. Eventually that no longer worked, and so I had to find another strategy. As I moved away from activism and moved towards a deeper sense of spirituality and alternative living, the goal became to remove myself from the system. Yet, no matter how much I gave up, how much I shopped at co-ops, drove gas made from veggie oil, or moved onto an off-the-grid eco village, I couldn’t escape it. One day it dawned on me that even if it was possible to be totally off the grid, totally unreliant on any fossil fuel or system of government, totally in a sustainable way, I would still be responsible. It would require me to be completely removed and isolated from society while knowing what was going on. And how could I sit by idly while others were suffering? Wouldn’t my lack of engagement still hold me responsible?

The world is a messy place. Global warming, habitat loss, pollution and overpopulation are destroying the planet. We have corruption at every level of government. It seems we are constantly bombarded by signs telling us we are not good enough and pushing us to buy more. Our world is in a perpetual trance of war, and there are countless instances of needless suffering.

And there is no perfect solution to make it all go away or to absolve us of this. This doesn’t mean we don’t try. We should still work to end suffering and to live life in a way that is in harmony with our values. But forming an identity from this weakens our effectiveness.  It actually pushes the world away as we run into the safety of our labels and self-identifications.

The immensity of our global situation leaves us coping with strategies to keep it at bay. Some of us develop scapegoats, some of us ignore it through entertainment or our own personal concerns. Some of us try to escape through spirituality or alternative living. Some of us convince ourselves its not really a problem, or even if we admit it is, we don’t fully acknowledge it for fear that we will drown in a sea of unbearable guilt, fear, sadness and rage.

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