Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Making Up Stories

I'm working with someone who is going to Shikoku to make a documentary about the henro trail, or, more specifially, the life of a henro on the henro trail. My job is only logistics, nothing having to do with the making of the storyline or the movie itself. That requires people with brains and all i ever got when i made my apperance was a pair of boots, which i like to believe i've put to good use. :-)

But as the process is progressing, i find it fascinating to watch as the storyline is snapped together, scene by scene, like interconnecting squares that, when all snapped together, make one seamless floor in someone's garage or basement. Or, i suppose, to be more poetic, like brush stroke after brush stroke until the masterpiece is right there in front of your eyes and, in which, only experts see any brush strokes at all.

So what am i getting at? Someone standing outside the henro trail looking in, and then telling the story of what being a henro is like. In a way, defining, for everyone that watches the final product, exactly what a henro is and what the henro experience is all about.

I'm not criticizing or saying it's impossible, just noticing. And then pulling that back into my life, our lives. All but a relative minoriy of people in this world define themselves not by ideas or experiences they have had themselves, but by ideas and experiences that other people have had and told them they need to pay attention to.

The majority of people define themselves according to what they have been told by their parents, teachers, friends, co-workers, bosses, and many others. From the day we are born we are offered a carrot or a stick so that we learn to behave in one way or another, so that we learn to accept the 'story' about others that is accepted in our group, so that we learn what to feel is important, unimportant, valuable, worthless, correct, uncorrect. We are spoon fed these stories all our lives and most, without blinking an eye, simply accept them and believe we came up with them on our own.

Why then, do some brave people take those first tentative steps down the henro trail, whether on Shikoku or the generalized one in life? How do some get up the nerve the peek around the curtain and notice that life isn't really what we have been led to believe it is? I'm not offering answers here, just musing aloud. It's a fascinating question.

And an even more interesting questions for me personally is why do some who walk the henro trail on Shikoku actully rip the curtain down while others may peek around and then say, "OK, been there, done that," and then walk away from it?

I like to look at my days sometimes and notice, really, really notice that my day isn't one seamless continuum, that it's not this smooth continuous flow but one discrete experience after another, each in some way connected to the one before it and the one after it (cause and effect), yet each discrete and standing alone in it's own right.

And then i like to remind myself that there is a space, miniscule in size, between any two of those experiences. And that it is in those miniscule gaps where we make up our minds on what to do, what to say, how to react, how to respond each time. But this almost always takes place subconsciously, with no overt thought on what we think, how we feel, or the emotions that pop up. Why? Because we have been spoon fed that "story" all our lives and we have internalized it to such an extent that we no longer need to think about it.

Being on the henro trail is where i work on those gaps. While in everyday life they can be miniscule in size, in my boots or on my zafu, those gaps can, if i work at it, slowly expand, growing wider and wider, until they suddenly get wide enough for you to see what is actually taking place inside. And it will shock you when you see it.

Then, with just a little more work, the gaps expand until they cover the entire horizon, and maybe for the first time, you see reality as it is, from inside the gap, with those curtains pushed all the way to the side. Pick your favorite window at home; the one with the best view outside. Place a chair in front of the window and close the curtains. Then sit there looking at the curtain until you get calm and your mind quiets down. Then open the curtain and sit back down. Then pay attention and notice the difference in your body, your mind, your feelings, your emotions as the expanded view opens onto that scenery.

Now imagine how much more powerful it would be when that secenery is Life itself. Not your life, not my life, or anyone else's life. Life.

And you haven't bought boots for your trip to the henro trail yet?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Dave's Dog Pee'd On The Carpet

Mystic Meandering commented:
"I have not withdrawn from the world to intensely follow a 'path' so there is no in or out, and yet 'the world' with its requirements keeps pulling me back into its vortex and 'that Being' - that awareness of Being - keeps disappearing back into the smoke and mirrors... Very disconcerting..."

This is, i think, one of the hardest things i ever learned, or, maybe more accurately, the one that took me the longest — Getting over the disconcertedness of the path.

Why is anything disconcerting? Because it is playing with our emotions. Because something isn't working out the way we had planned or hoped it would. Because what we are experiencing isn't what we had expected when we first set out on our 'path.' Because our path is taking us in directions and/or to places we never, ever expected.

Two points here.
1) The thing to keep in mind is that 'that Being' never, ever, ever disappears. In your most beautifully sublime moments, during your worst case of vomiting and diarrhea, and everything in-between, Being is there. Always there. Being is all you are, all that is.

Nothing's disappearing, it's simply that we mindlessly allow the clouds of illusion to settle back over our minds keeping it just out of sight. And this is easy to fight, even in the most hectic life it's easy to notice when this awareness has slipped behind the clouds again.

I remember many decades ago when i heard Thich Nhat Hanh point out that, instead of getting frustrated when we get stuck at a red light when driving somewhere, tell the light thank you and take that one minute to turn the mind off and follow your breath, or just notice your breath, or whatever else you want to practice. That is one free minute of awareness training you wouldn't have given yourself otherwise, so say thank you to the stop light.

I fell in love with that practice immediately. Then took it into the grocery store. Instead of reading magazines while waiting in the checkout line, i would focus on simply Being. You don't have to think, when the person moves in front of you you move. If they don't, you don't. It's sort of like grocery store kinhin. Another great place to practice.

Then take it into any elevators you happen to ride on. Any lines at the coffee shop. Every time you hang up the phone, take two breaths and notice that you are.

Next time you look at your kids, or husband/wife/significant other, or the person in the car next to you, or the woman at the cash register at the store,..... remind yourself that that is you. Remind yourself that what you really are is manifesting as both you and that other person. Remind yourself as you look out the window and see a tree. And on and on. Every so often take no more than 5 seconds to say "will you look at that, i look different in that body than this one."

Training yourself to be aware more often throughout the day isn't all that hard. It just takes a little effort.

2) Expectations. Get over them.

I would guess that the hardest part of 'the path' for most people is that they go into it with expectations of some wonderful experience. Some lightbulb going off and changing the way they view their lives. They way they view Life. Some wonderful thing happening where the 'truth' is suddenly showed to them. Nonsense.

The 'truth' isn't some experience. It isn't any knowledge that you can explain to other people. It's not an aha moment where you suddenly 'know' something you didn't before.

The 'truth,' if we want to call it that, is nothing other than what is, is, and as soon as you apply thoughts, words, and concepts to it you've changed it and it's no longer the truth. When you sit at that stop light and just breath, silently, not thinking about anything, the truth is. When you play grocery store kinhin, just being for those few minutes, with no thoughts, but fully aware, truth is.

The truth is not an experience. The truth has no experiences, no experiencing, and nothing experienced. The truth is Being. Awarefully Being. Period.

Accept that, and accept that 24/7/365 you can be nothing other than Being, no matter what is happening in and with the life of the person whose body you happen to be manifesting in, and there is no reason to be disconcerted. Shit's happening? Well, look at that. Smashed that finger with a hammer? Well, look at that. My dog just pee'd on the carpet? Well, look at that. That person they call me just got a pay raise? Well, look at that.

We can train ourselves to see that we are not this body we inhabit. We are not this personality everyone blames us for. We are not the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that psychologist say we are.

We are. Period.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Winning By Surrendering

All right, i'm not leaving this house until i write something about the henro trail. I don't know why i have so much trouble sitting down and writing on this blog any more?

I guess the easiest way to get started is to thank Damian for his wonderful comments to my last post and say something about my reaction to those.

He wrote: "When I was on the pilgrim trail, I was often tired, sometimes wet, or hot, or lost, or unsure of where I would sleep that night, but I don’t believe I ever didn’t want to be there. Many a time, I remember thinking, regardless of what is happening around me, I don’t want to be anywhere else, doing anything else."

This is what i think of as the third stage of the henro life. As people set off from Ryōzenji, Temple 1, they are full of spit and fire (as my grandfather used to say) and are ready to conquer the world. They are thrilled to be on Shikoku and finally starting something that they may have been planning for years. I thought about it for a decade before i finally walked it the first time.

Somewhere near the end of the first week, some then start to notice thoughts floating through their heads along the lines of "What the heck am i doing here? Can i really do this? With these blisters ever heal? Will my muscles ever stop hurting? When will i ever find some real food again?" At this stage, you are still consciously thinking about the henro trail. In the first stage the associations are positive in the second stage the associations are questioning or negative.

For those that stick it out and settle into a routine, there is a sense of surrender, a sense of losing oneself into the routine of a henro's daily life. You're neither happy to be there nor unhappy for what you are putting yourself through. The daily hardships are over, your body is getting stronger, and since the routine from day-to-day varies so little, there really isn't anything that need to be thought about, considered, and decided. What will come up will come up. I'll find somewhere to sleep and will sleep. I'll find food and will eat when i do. I'll get to the next temple when i walk the requisite number of kilometers so there's no reason to keep looking at the maps. Just keep that subconscious eye open looking for that next little henro marker.

Once you settle into this frame of mind, 'contentment' is the best word i can think of to describe your life. Maybe 'equanimity,' but i prefer contentment. You don't want to be anywhere else, not because life is so great and you're having so much fun, but because, maybe for the first time, you are living, as opposed to existing, which, unfortunately, is what the majority of people alive do and call a life.

And when you settle into that frame of mind, you realize how beautiful it is and take your very first peak at why people pursue a spritual life. Even if you don't really understand it, you've had that first peek.

Damian also wrote: "I do not think of myself as having had “experiences” there. I just 'was' there."

Absolutely true. Why? Because in the act of surrender, whether you call it that or not, you have taken the first step in letting go of the ego. You have made that leap and found a way to live that is not driven by your ego, your personal wants, your personal agenda, your personal storyline, your personal desire to win, come out ahead, to get that job, to get that scholarship, to get that kensho experience, to get enlightened.

All of those 'experiences,' those daily interactions between a you, in here, and everyone and everything, out there, are just no longer important. All that matters anymore is getting up in the morning, walking during the day, eating enuogh to keep going, and going to bed at night. Then repeat one day at a time until you look up and find yourself standing in front of Temple 1 again.

This is a beautiful place to be. Amazingly beautiful. 'Experiencing' requires an experiencer and an object experienced. When you can get 'yourself' to that place where that is seen for the foolishness that it is, when you can intuitively see and feel that oneness with everything that is truely who you are, you find yourself 'being.' And once you feel it, you'll never forget it. Once you 'be' instead of 'do' or 'experience,' you're in love like you never have been.

Lastly, in regard to his simply 'being there,' Damian wrote: "Not very interesting, really."

Yes! Yes! Right on the money. Beautiful. It's not interesting. Not at all. Because to be interesting you have to be comparing it to other things. You have to be judging it, analyzing it. You have to take yourself OUT of that place to see whether it is interesting or not. When it wasn't interesting you had won the jackpot, drawn the winning lottery numbers.

When Being is all there is, whether that's on your zafu or in a pair of boots, you have found life. Not as 99.99% of the world's population would define life, but life as it really is. You have found Life, that awareness, that consciousness that is at the heart of who you are, that is all that you are, that is all that is, that is all that matters.

The key to Shikoku, though, isn't finding that. You apparently did. Wonderful! But, the key to Shikoku is the question, Does your henro trail end when you leave Temple 1 the second time and go home? Once you step on the bus and come back to this relative world of experiences and relationships, has that Being disappeared again into the smoke and mirrors that is sold as life in the modern world? Or are you able to keep it in your focus and readjust your life around that once back home?

The key to the henro trail is not what you see while there. Not what you do while there, Not how many temples you visit while there. The key to the henro trail is what do you drop off while there? What little pieces of that 'story that is you' can you let fall away with each footstep?

By the time a true henro returns to Temple 1, they have accumulated nothing but given up everything. And it's in this surrender and willingness to let go that they find everything.

Thank you so much for your comments!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

87 > 88?

You're standing in front of Temple 87 and, like most mornings recently, it's already warm. Somewhere deep inside you know that today, this very day, in not all that many hours, you will reach the 88th temple of this pilgriamge. Today. Soon. Number 88; of 88.

Those thoughts flicker through your mind as you set out, adjusting the weight of your pack like every other morning; trying to find a place of comfort, a place where the weight is supported even without thinking about it. But the strange thing is, this morning you notice that these thoughts are flickering through your mind. You notice, maybe for the first time, that in recent weeks, a lot of thoughts haven't been dancing here and there as you set out; that when you set out each moring you do so with a certain calm acceptance, a certain calm and quiet knowing that this is what you do in the mornings and there isn't anything to think about.

And as you notice the thoughts this morning, you catch yourself wondering about them. Where did they come from all of the sudden? Are they really all that important? Is there any reason to follow them? As they start to slip off the radar, is there any reason to pull them back and attach some importance to them? This is the 88th temple, after all. And then they just slip away and you walk.

In the end, it doesn't matter what you think. As you set out and settle into the now subconsious-level familiarity of just walking, peace settles over you again without your even trying. If you thought about that, you'd be surprised how good it feels. If you thought about that, you'd find immense amounts of comfort in this complete freedom of doing, while not doing anything. It's like crawling back into the womb where all is well, everything is taken care of, and all you have to do is Be. Yet in the back of your mind knowing that you will soon, very soon, accomplish what you are here for.

This is one of the milestones on the henro trail. A few lucky ones will actually notice it. This is one of the milestones on your pilgrimage, not just here on Shikoku, but the pilgrimage you sometimes flippantly call your life. That moment when you realize that it is now inevitable, that there is no longer any question that you will realize everything you had been working to realize. It will happen. Soon. And yet, you just can't get worked up about it any more. You'll be there soon enough, there's no reason to get excited. Even though the milestone is right there, right in the middle of the road where all who are attuned can see it, you know that while this was your aim, it turns out not to be where you're headed. There's still further to go.

Getting to the final temple turns out to be nothing more than the place where you can quit counting. From there you can leave behind your walking stick if you want, but even if you didn't want to, your body would take you back to Temple 1 where this all begain. And you are even aware, still standing here in front of Temple 87, that that's not the end of the walk, the end of this process you have committed to. Like a spark that aims to ignite something, anything, once the fire is started realizing that unless the flames are used to keep somebody warm or prepare their food, they are a waste of effort.

Or realizing that after a bachelor degree, a masters degree, and finally that long dreamed of Ph.D., unless they are put to use, the effort has been wasted. Likewise, all those countless kilometers, all those long hard days of walking mean nothing if everything ends at Temple 88. Once the flame has sprung to life, what will it be used for? To what purpose will it be applied? Over what wounds will the benefits of these efforts be spread in order for healing to begin? What lock will this key turn, allowing that long imagined door to finally open?

Certainly not your's, because as you take those first steps this morning, shaking your hips to get the pack to settle, there is no you, there is nothing noticable except the sound of a walking stick hitting the pavement and a breath that comes and goes more easily than it has in many years. A breath that seems to be all that you are. The sky is grey, the asphalt is black. And this walking brings Temple 88 closer with each step.

Yes, in many ways, what you see and learn at Temple 87 is vastly more important than anything you can learn at Temple 88. That day, those days, when sitting is still your daily practice, your daily focus. Those days before the teacher says it's time to move on, you've accomplished what we were supposed to accomplish. My spark is now your fire. Use it wisely. Use it well. Use it widely. Never think Temple 88 is the objective.

Two Thoughts, One Idea?

These are the same two verses of the Bhagavad Gita, 6:5-6, but offered by different translators.

One must deliver himself with the help of his mind, and not degrade himself. The mind is the friend of the conditioned soul, and his enemy as well.

For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy.

Bhagavad Gita As It Is

Reshape yourself through the power of your will; never let yourself be degraded by self-will. The will is the only friend of the Self, and the will is the only enemy of the Self.

To those who have conquered themselves, the will is a friend. But it is the enemy of those who have not found the Self within them.

Eknath Easwaran translation
(I love his translation. Buy the book!)

It's interesting to me. I can see that they say the same thing, but as i read them they offer me slightly different messages. To "deliver" yourself and to "reshape" yourself seem different to me; one is the goal of the spiritual path and the other is what i do on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour basis to mold myself, my personality, in such a way that this transformation/deliverence is able to take place.

And how do you do this? You use your will, that limited portion of everything that is you "mind," to make changes in your life, to your way of thinking, your way of looking at the world, your way of understanding the process of perception, your daily activities, and on and on, in order to effect changes in your personality. On the larger scale, though, it is only with the full power of everything that is the mind that deliverence can be achieved.

The mind is the friend of "the conditioned soul." Oh so true, and that's why it never wants to let it go. It is its only friend. If this friend ever understands the lies and deceit, the conditioned soul is a goner. It knows that.

Conquering the mind — conquering ourselves, is that the best choice of words? I don't look at this path as one of "conquering." It's like conquering mountains; you don't conquer Mt. Everest, you simply put in the work you know is required, never giving up, stumbling occasionally, but restarting after the shortest of breaks, and persisting. Eventually the summit comes into clearer and clearer views, until finally you find the views from the top stunningly, unimaginably beautiful, even though no one is seeing them as "you" are completely lost in "what is."

As you stand there, though, the rest of the world, back down below, still exists with people living out their fantasies, fools still fumbling around, and everyone wandering around blind to what and where you are. No, there is no conquering, the mountain is still there for others to climb, many people just don't have the will to make themselves do the work, or have no interest in mountain climbing because they have never seen the benefits of a world full of mountain climbers and summiters.

Same book, same verses, same intent, basically the same message. Different translations. Interesting.