Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Meaningful Life

I haven't posted much recently, even though i would like to. In a sense, i feel that i've run out of words. I sit down at the computer (or more accurately, i lay down with the computer on my lap) and my fingers just dangle there at the end of my hands doing nothing; zippo; nothing comes out of them. And then on other days i feel that there's too many words i want to say; so many, in fact, that my fingers get confused and don't know where to start.

To make matters worse, i have always been a proponent of the concept that it's infinitely better to keep your mouth shut and have people "think" you're a fool than to open it and prove it for them. But i spent the entire day today at home with the radio and CD player off, doing nothing but reading and reflecting. It was a gloriously peaceful day.

Part way through the day one of those completely unpredictable thoughts popped into my head from god knows where and for reasons unknown but which would be interesting to figure out. The thought was a remembrance that sometime last year i had posted a very nice poem by Czeslaw Milosz. I remembered the gist of it, but not the poem itself so i went back and dug it up.

I found the poem in a post i had called "Death & Dying On The Border" and it is just as beautiful today as i remember it being when i first read it over a year ago.

This Only
A valley and above it forests in autumn colors.
A voyager arrives, a map led him here.
Or perhaps memory. Once, long ago, in the sun,
When the first snow fell, riding this way
He felt joy, strong, without reason.
Joy of the eyes. Everything was the rhythm
Of shifting trees, of a bird in flight,
Of a train on the viaduct, a feast of motion.
He returns years later, has no demands.
He wants only one, most precious thing:
To see, purely and simply, without name,
Without expectations, fears, or hopes,
At the edge where there is no I or not-I.

"At the edge where there is no I or not-I." That borderland where meditators go to die. That lost colony to which you can only go if you agree to kill yourself before crossing the border. And all who go there go willingly, even enduring years of effort just to find the border. And the good news is that you don't have to go anywhere to get there. That borderland is right under your zafu and that lost colony is right where you sit each and every day.

The road there runs, as i have said many times, right down that path found between two thoughts. When you first sit down the path may not be seen, it may be completely invisible. As time passes, though, that first gap makes its appearance, slowly widening with each mindful, quiet, minute that passes until, after a while, the path opens, wide as a summer prairie in the US midwest and as inviting as the eyes of the most beautiful of seductresses.

It's when you climb through that gap and reach the silent center of who you are that you are able, as Czeslaw says, "to see, purely and simply, without name, without expectations, fears, or hopes." And ohhhhh the beauty you see. Being, in all it's glorious splendor.

In the Burnt Norton chapter of that magnificent Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot puts it like this:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.

"Except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance." There is only the dance, nothing more. Some call it the Tango, others the Fox Trot, others Walking to the train station, others Reading a magazine, others Washing the dishes, others breathing...

The dance of life, in whatever form you are participating at the current moment, is only possible because of that still point, that silent center that you get to between two thoughts. It's not "out there" or "in here;" it's not danced today, yesterday, or tomorrow. It's danced now, and only now.

Eliot continues from above with:

Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

When you are lost in the past and future you are barely conscious. Maybe enough to breath, to walk, to eat, and to do those mind numbing routines that you call Existing, but not enough to really Live. Enough to live life, to experience being in all it's glory. To be conscious, to Be, is not found in time, it's found in that borderland, that lost colony.

I remember reading recently in an online blurb for Phillip Moffitt's book Dancing With Life the publisher's comment that the book would be of interest to anyone who is searching for a meaningful life. I think that is what the person in Czeslaw's poem was searching for. I think that's what all of us are searching for, but the person in the poem had seen where that might be found.

Get out of your routines, get out of your rut, get out of the jail that you currently call You and reach for that still point, that silent center, that place where you can see, purely and simply, without name, without expectations, fears, or hopes. It may seem impossible when you first step on the path, but it's when you dare the impossible that the path opens up. As Osho said in that same post of mine last year:

"...[U]nless you can help a person to have a glimpse of the impossible, and you create a desire in him to long for the impossible, to desire the impossible, to be passionately, intensely in love with the impossible, you have not helped. If you can create this desire, he has a meaning."

In love with Life. In passionate love with the thought of the impossible. Coming to the realization that it's not impossible if you only quit searching, if you simply give up and be who you are, if you stop pretending to be something that you aren't.

Get to this place and you will have found a meaningful life, whether you've read Moffitt's book or not.


Elle said...

Hi Lao. So glad to read this post at this exact moment. I had lost sight of my path and succumb to habitual thought processes of anxiety and fear. This i think was due to my ill health still persisting - i only had a few days of feeling ok after finishing my medication before i got ill again. I'm being mindful not to identify with the illness but it's difficult as the fear is ingrained.

It was so refreshing to read your post and be reminded of the beauty of being and as a result return to my still point. Thank you ;)

I hope life is treating you well and you are getting through Geshe Tashi Tsering's book without too much headwork!


Lao Bendan said...

Thanks for the note and glad to hear that you at least had a few days of feeling better. I think you are right, the key is learning that the illness is not who you are. It's difficult and it's not enjoyable, but who you are is far removed from anything that happens to the body.

Life is treating me well, but the book is still a hard read. Unfortunately i'm starting to think/realize that i'm not smart enough for these philosophical books, but i still enjoy reading them, even though i forget everything the next day. :-)

As for fear, Francis Lucille, a wonderful Advaita Vedanta teacher, has a very nice excerpt from his "The Spiritual Plant" DVD available on his web site that deals with exactly that issue.

The web site is

A direct link to the video is

It's a short 8 minutes, but it's definitely worth watching. His point? Look at the fear as an opportunity to investigate Life. When it comes up, don't run away, run straight at it.

Let me know what you think of it after you watch it.

Have a good day.

Elle said...

Lao, hello, so nice to be able to leave you a message and feel good in myself at last. My illness/depression/stress/anxiety lifted yesterday very quickly as i started to get better and got more sleep. Yes i'm starting to see that i'm more than just a body but still see that i have fear about what happens to my body.

I did watch the Francis Lucille video a while ago but can't find it again now to comment. You say that when it comes up then take the opportunity to deal directly with it, and yes that's what i'm doing but so far have been lost for a source. I still have a wonderful health anxiety and fear of death, lol! I get so scared when my little babies get ill it's just stupid. i'm working through it but it's hard on my nerves. Been doing a lot of breathing exercises and meditation but i have to do guided meditation because the fear of just free running my thoughts is just too much for me. I'm working on approaching meditation with love and devotion but the fear is still there.

I have one theory. While i have been doing yoga nidra recently i have been experiencing out of the body feelings like i was just floating around in the fetal position even though i'm lying on my back. It's like although i know i'm lying down and that my hands are by my sides and legs are straight in front of me, i feel that i'm curled up in a ball and i'm free floating and i just feel fear. It's strange and i'm not sure why this happens. I guess when you start meditation then lots of things/emotions just come up. A year ago i also had an emergency c-section with my second baby who was born 9 weeks early. I guess i'm just going through an emotionally concentrated time in my life right now.

I don't know if i told you but about a year ago i also had a massive kundalini experience whilst meditating and that was very unnerving too. Although it was great and humbling and changed everything for me i think that has been a source of fear/anxiety too.

So sorry to just rumble on to you. I feel you have experience that maybe i can learn from. I feel that you are like a father figure to me. It sounds stupid but when i was ill on two occasions i felt that you send some good wishes my way. I felt that i my heart even though it could easily have been my imagination!

I totally agree with you about the philosophy reading. It made me laugh when you said about loving to read the stuff but forgetting the next day! I do the same but know that i'm taking it in on some level, even if i can't recall it, spiritually it's always there when i need it.

Lovely to see your new porch, well done you for putting in the hard work. I have intentions of building a dry stone wall but have to wait until i'm a bit more strong, and it stops raining for a day too.

Best Wishes
Elle x

Elle said...
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Elle said...
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Elle said...

...i deleted the last two posts because it said i couldn't post such a long piece so i tried to post it in two parts, after not realising that it posted it anyway...bloody computers!

Lao Bendan said...

Hello Elle,
"...bloody computers!"
Ha, ha, ha... Thanks for making me laugh. There are days were i completely agree with that sentiment. :-)

What an interesting and varied life you seem to live. So many varied experiences.

I don't understand what you mean when you say that you are "lost for a source" when referring to looking your pain directly in the eyes. A source of a way out of the fear? The source of the fear?

Remember, the Four Noble Truths don't say that pain will go away if you follow the path, only that the suffering you add to that pain can be eliminated. There is a big difference. Suffering is the issue, not the pain. We're human beings, we'll always find pain here and there -- we just don't need to add the suffering over that.

There's nothing wrong with guided meditation. Keep it up; as the hours add up your thoughts will eventually begin to slow down and you will find more and more peace in your life. Promise.

Glad to hear that you and the kids are well. And yes, i do send you my best wishes. Always.

Elle said...

Good Evening Sir, how is your studying going? The book 'Dancing with Life" sounds really interesting. I have decided to go back and re-read Mindfulness in Plain English and use Yoga Nidra and other guided meditations to strengthen my awareness. I have come to the conclusion that there is no 'source' to my fear (as i thought before) and that it must just be the result of years of unhelpful mental habits, and that becoming more mindful will help me to undo the knots!

I had a beautiful day yesterday which began at 6am with meditation, and I really did manage to slow right down all day. I had a wonderful Yoga practise and did more meditation in the afternoon. It's amazing how the mind is so much more functional (and less prone to anxiety) when the thoughts are slower and more considered. Indeed there is less suffering and more peace in this state of mind.

How is your meditation practice going? Do you meditate ever day? I dipped into Bhante's second book on Jhana and was reading about the different states of consciousness one can reach. It's facinating but to me it seemed scary that in the higher states a person cannot be roused and the practitioner has to preset a time to come out of the meditation. Have you ever reached this Jhana?

Also wanted to say thanks for pointing me in the direction of Francis Lucille. I'd never come across Advaita Vedanta. For about a year now i have been considering Buddhism v Hinduism and not knowing if i should commit to either or just explore both. It was a great surprise that i could have the best of both worlds! I found this link below on Advaita Vedanta which i found really interesting.

I've always been interested in Indian philosophy so am going to take a year long distance course in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and then maybe devote a year to studying Buddhism and then see how i feel. Have you always been Buddhist?

I hope you don't mind my questions. It's so lovely to meet someone who has similar interests.

Lao Bendan said...

"...there is no 'source' to my fear (as i thought before) and that it must just be the result of years of unhelpful mental habits..."
Yes. The source of your fears is in your very own mind.

"How is your meditation practice going?"
Well, i'm not sure how to answer you. You ask that as if to mean, is it getting better? Is it improving? Am i seeing progress?

Meditation isn't like that. You don't do it to improve yourself. A period of meditation with no thoughts is no better or no worse than one with a zillion thoughts. It's all in how you deal with them. Meditation is not a self-improvement project. Your life will improve, but you don't set that as a 'goal' or 'purpose' of meditating. If you do, you're wasting your time.

Once you come to understand that you'll see that you can meditate anywhere, even off the cushion. And especially while doing your yoga. In my class last night we spent 15 minutes on very long and slow repeats of just three poses (summit, down dog, and child's) allowing us to meditate on our breath the whole time.

By "Bhante" do you mean Sangarashita of the FWBO? If so you have found some very good reading. In addition to him, i especially like many of the teachings given by Padmavajra on their 'Free Buddhist Audio' website.

If you plan to study the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, you might want to check out this series of 85 videos on them available on YouTube.

I rarely call myself a Buddhist, but have been one since i opened my first book on it back in 1973 or 1974.

Have a good day.

Elle said...

Hello, and thank you for all your interesting links. I'm looking forward to Swami Rama's understanding of the Sutras.

No i didn't mean Bhante Sangarashita but now i'm glad i've come across him. What an amazing man, and i've found a link through his site to a city not too far from me (30 miles). Maybe i'll check it out.

You've got me thinking about why i choose to meditate. Yes i see that we can meditate anywhere and I also last night spend a long time in just a few positions concentrating on the breath. Yes i want to improve my life by doing it but my main objective was always relaxation and now it is to remain in the present and to view reality as close as it is to realities true nature. Am i missing the point? Surely there is some goal to meditating? I probably am missing the point! Lol!

Also, please let me know if i'm bothering you. I'd hate to think i was just getting on your nerves. I always feel like people would rather be doing something else rather than speaking to me, don't know why :)

Lao Bendan said...

So sorry i forgot to respond to your last post. No, never think that your questions bother me. It is always a pleasure to hear from you.

Have a good day.