There is a way

There is a way

That cannot be found by

Going out from here

That cannot be found in

Some future time

There is a way

That does not ask us to

Be better or different or

To wait until we have achieved

Some special inner state

There is a way

That calls on us to

Dive into love

Without any thoughts of

Gain or loss

Without any strategies or

Expectations

There is a way

That calls us out beyond

Ideas of me or myself

That invites us to gamble our

Smallness

That plunges us into

Indivisible wholeness

There is a way

That if we choose it and

At our last breath

Discover that we were wrong,

Will leave us rich with

Overflowing love

Photo by Chris Ensey on Unsplash

Perfect medicine

I don’t love the maze of similarly numbered freeways that dissect parts of California, but there I was with GOOGLE Maps taking me along the I-880 on my way to a hotel in San Jose. Even with the map APP talking to me I was concentrating on the road, the various exits and the flow of traffic. So, it was a shock when the low fuel icon flashed on to the gauge in front of me.

Driving is an area of my consciousness where pride and arrogance remain in need of loving awareness. Believing myself to be a good driver includes things like, maintaining tire pressure, oil levels and of course fuel. When the low fuel flashed on, my mind replied – I DON’T RUN OUT OF GAS!  The idea of being low on gas flooded my system with fear and shame. “How could you forget to gas up,” “What an idiot.” My mind was racing, my breath was erratic, and I was having a hard time thinking clearly – fully triggered.

I was frantically looking for a sign indicating a nearby gas station, wondering which exit to take and in the middle of that, my mind cleared enough to see that the entire reaction I was caught up in was out of proportion to the situation. Running out of gas is just that, no big deal. And, I wasn’t even out of gas yet. I found myself in two places at once. In one place I was in reaction and in the other I was witnessing and releasing. Off the freeway, I pulled over and sat, trying for some internal calm. My mind whip-sawed from calm witnessing to self-recrimination.

That inner voice was so harsh, judgmental, and unforgiving. It’s a voice I would never turn on anyone else and yet there it was inside my mind. I sat on the side of the road with that voice rushing at me, flowing around me like a raging river, but I stayed present. I could hear my mother shouting at four-year-old me, “What’s wrong with you,” when I didn’t know what was wrong with me, only that something must be wrong, that I must be wrong in some way.

There’s no way I can know how accurate that memory is and it’s not important. What matters is what I internalized – it’s scary and dangerous to be wrong, to make mistakes, to misunderstand how things work, and to forget to do what you are supposed to do.

I say to people, “Everything is perfect medicine if we will let it be.” It is a radical statement. Everything that life brings us, no matter how horrible or how wonderful, has the power to be our perfect medicine. It’s another understanding of the teaching to “Accept what is.” For me it goes beyond accepting “what is” to embracing it, seeing that “what is” in this moment is exactly what is needed.

Sitting on the side of the road, my breathing slowed and steadied, the mind cleared, and I received an inflow of insights into long-standing patterns of fear and reaction. How could I ever have guessed that (almost) running out of gas would be perfect medicine? Medicine, because it heals.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

A story: What we are

I was taught to look outside of myself for God, Divinity, for any sense of supreme power. It has taken a lifetime to come home and find that Divinity within.

As a child growing up in a home with two parents who argued, fought, cried (my mother) and slammed tables and slammed doors (my father), life didn’t appear to have any meaning. That apparent absence of meaning scared me. I fantasized about a world where things either came together in a coherent way or I was invincible, powerful—in control.

My brother and I were taken to Sunday School, where we were told Old Testament stories that, to my mind, reinforced the appearance of an insane and violent world. By the time I was 4 years old I began asking questions: “Why would God want to kill the first-born son in every family? What had those babies done wrong?” I was a son and the idea that there was such an angry, vindictive, and arbitrary force was the stuff of nightmares.

Sadly, I never met a minister or any adult who could offer anything better than a sop: “We cannot understand God,” “God moves in mysterious ways,” or the all-encompassing, “Have faith.” So I abandoned God and to a large extent I gave up on adults as a source of reason. At least, I gave up on their words; I found their actions much more informative.

I’m very grateful to my parents. Despite the on-off emotional chaos in our home they each showed me what they believed-in through their lived actions.

My father lived from a place of faith that I didn’t really recognize until I was in my mid-teens. That faith meant he trusted that what he needed and what our family needed would be there when we needed it. He demonstrated, too, that LIFE gives us what we need when we meet life with a willingness to do our part: show up and get engaged.

I was going to have to go into life and experience all my own chaos and my own violent responses to fear, and I’m not sure I would have made it through without the benefit of my parents’ demonstrations of a deep faith in the goodness of life. A goodness that was expressed in kindness to neighbours and to strangers; expressed through sharing when there was little to share.

In my own journey the anger and fear from my childhood set me on a self-destructive trajectory starting at age 12 and ending with a crash and a whimper at age 34. In those 22 intervening years I put tremendous energy into not believing in a supreme intelligence and into fighting against my own deep devotional inclination. This was a fight with God, and so it was a fight with the essence of what I am. It’s not a path I would recommend.

When I quit drinking alcohol in 1983 and began looking for a way to believe in something greater than myself, I had a transformative experience. While walking on a local beach, I suddenly fully heard the ocean’s waves as they washed up on the shore and felt the wind on my face, in my hair and tugging at my body. I heard a gull cry. I was engulfed in the wholeness of that place and that moment. I KNEW for the first time that I, this separate feeling self, did not create, could not create, any of this. And, in my spirit, I stopped fighting.

That moment marks the beginning of my conscious search for a living connection with Spirit/God/Life.

In the years since, I have engaged in workshops and trainings and meditation, all aimed at bringing me to a place where I could know who and what I truly am. At times I have wanted to give up in frustration, believing myself too weak, too lazy, lacking in commitment, and perhaps even inherently bad. Thankfully, the yearning to KNOW has never let me quit.

I believed that one of my great strengths was that I knew how to work hard. When I quit my first job out of high school they had to hire two people to do what I had been doing. Like all strengths, this turned out to be, if not a weakness, a handicap. I worked similarly hard at waking up, and that approach succeeded only to the extent that it exhausted me and brought me to the point where I stopped pushing and began to learn to relax.

In the past two years, I have eased out of searching and seeking and, little by little, relaxed into being. With this change in orientation, insights have begun to arrive. These insights aren’t anything I can claim to own; they present themselves to me like gifts, to be accepted or not.

This brings me to what I am and what we are. I am not any story I may tell about my self, nor are you reducible to any story you may tell about your self—no matter how enthralling or beautiful or sad.

WE, each of us, and every particle of existence, in form and formless, are all expressions of the SOURCE. In our known world of form, none of it can be judged better or worse, good or bad, right or wrong. This source is infinite potential expressed exactly as it is. As I understand it at this point, I and everyone are God’s expression of the infinite, and any limitations I believe in are only concepts; they do not exist in reality and are not inherent to the truth. We each choose the limitations that allow us to stay within a certain zone of comfort, and we can choose differently.

I have had experiences where I have seen—really seen and entered into—Oneness. And seen that “I” is integral to Oneness and that there is a single “I” seeing through all eyes. My intuition is that every time I or you or any person fully awakens to the Truth of this Oneness, we set our self and every other self free. It may not be the absolute freedom of enlightenment, but there is a setting free, nonetheless. The seemingly single point of awakening is in fact the epicenter of a great ripple AND, for me, that is the most compelling motive for any “personal” awakening journey.

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

When Shiva came calling

That day when Shiva came calling
and dragged me, eyes and mouth open
all the way out onto his dance floor.
I had been standing, timid and
off to one side, afraid of stumbling
and getting it wrong.
My heart thundered as I joined the great
ecstatic whirling.
Formless flowing into form
and back again into formless.
Everything spun out of the radiant
black center, the whirling emptiness.
Everything spun back into the Nothing
that rests, unmoving.
I see every particle of Self
caught up in the flung-out galaxies.
See that I am this.
Life itself.
Boundless and indestructible; at
Home in the dance.

Image by Stux, thanks to Pixabay.

Who do I think I am?

Do you ever ask yourself, “Who am I?” I have been curious about who or what I might be from as early as I can remember. Brought on, in part, by this feeling that I wasn’t quite real. I never verbalized that and I’m not sure I could have, but somehow, looking in at myself felt like looking in on my dreams. There were shapes and forms and some semaphore-like story line, dotted and dashed to the point that it was impossible to decode.

I’m not sure that it’s possible to live your life without forming some structured sense of self. So, I did what humans do: I took on an identity. More accurately, I learned to present an identity that was part authentic expression, part other people’s opinions and beliefs, and part reflection of the cultural soup in which I grew up. The author Kurt Vonnegut says, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” This is the aspect of identity that fascinates me, what is pretense and the habit of pretense and what is true, truer, Truest.

In my childhood and into early adulthood I studied people and situations, trying to understand what threat or promise they held and who I would have to appear to be in order to avoid the one and capitalize on the other. It’s a terrible way to live. I couldn’t have people from separate parts of my life in the same room at the same time for fear they would see what a fake I was. By the age of thirty I wondered if I was insane.

The next four years became a dark passage where I felt increasingly unreal. I was either acting a part or drinking myself unconscious. I could not stand being alone with my thoughts and wondered if death was the only way out.

It might sound strange, but I’m grateful for that descent into darkness and grateful that I reached the place where going on like that was no longer possible.

In 1983, a few months before my 35th birthday, my ability to carry on ended. The thing about a healing crisis is that the one in crisis doesn’t know or see the healing aspect. All you have is the experience of that crisis, however it plays out for you. In my case, there was a little death—and the discovery that death can be a blessing. The path I had been following came to a cliff edge; beyond the edge was a complete unknown. I was scared because I couldn’t see what was ahead, but then I had been scared for a long time.

The wonderful thing about intense fear is that it does not leave you with the option of doing nothing. Fear forced me to do the thing I least wanted to do—ask for help. And help appeared, as the fairy tales tell us. Help came from my father and his simple matter-of-fact acceptance of the mess I was in. Help came from new friends and one or two old friends who were willing to see me change. Help came from books, books, and more books and from workshops and retreats.

I stepped off a well-worn path that was going nowhere good and onto the path that I am still exploring. A path that is revealed and created with each step.

At first, I worked very hard to know where I was going. Slowly I learned to trust the journey (mostly) and my curiosity returned. I love the expression, “Follow your nose.” My nose led me back to the essential question, “Who or what am I?”

Questioning like this has driven me a little crazy at times. I struggled, and it took an embarrassingly long time to realize that I was looking for an actual, intellectual answer, and that no such answer is possible. I had to learn that the intellect and reason can only help me to see what I am not, and that the answer to Who or What am I appears as an intuitive knowing that cannot be Thought.

More and more, I am the inquiry. If there is an answer it seems to be—Awakening. Whatever I truly am is this unfolding mystery.

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

Shifting identity

A couple of years ago, when I was feeling that my meditation practice and my inquiry into who/what am I was stalled, three people within 10 days engaged me in conversation about Ayahuasca—a psychedelic plant that has been used for healings and visions in the Amazon for hundreds of years. I had not taken any mood- or mind-altering substances for over 35 years and was surprised to find myself “called” to try psychedelic plant medicines. I decided to go to Peru for a three-week Ayahuasca retreat.

The retreat was beyond anything I expected or hoped for. All the medicine ceremonies took place in sacred space, facilitated by shamans who have worked with healing plants for decades. What we were undertaking and why we were following specific protocols was thoroughly explained and questions were encouraged and answered.

The medicine is not something that can be taken lightly; you know that as soon as you see the thick black brew that the shamans call “Tea.” The ceremonies I participated in began at 7 p.m. and ended sometime between midnight and 4 a.m. Here’s how they unfolded:

When we begin, the great conical-roofed Maloca is dark except for eight candles, their flames flickering in the humid jungle breezes. Each participant is called up to receive the medicine and blessed with, “Journey well.” The candles are extinguished, leaving the hall totally dark, and the medicine begins to move inside me.

There are four phases to my medicine journeys. First, I feel an energetic movement throughout the body, with an increasing sense that I need to vomit—and the vomiting happens. Second, there is an intense psychedelic experience with visions and a continuation of the strong energy flowing throughout the body. Third, I meet Ayahuasca as a presence. I feel her as a powerful being and we are meeting in a space between imagined worlds. Ayahuasca dances me, she shows me whatever fear is present, whatever love is present. She shows me a great moving portrait of what I am—beyond a personal body-centered identity. Fourth, I emerge, in stages, from the deep psychedelic space into a deeply relaxed contemplative space. Here I begin to receive insights that stay with me and guide me. I see the patterns in my life that support my wholeness and the patterns that keep me small.

The plant medicine is an expression of Life’s wisdom, a movement toward wholeness, showing me that I am not simply interconnected but interconnectedness itself. Whatever is happening to the least of my brethren, is happening to me.

Integrating the insights and changes that flow out from this work is ongoing. I’m always bumping up against old thought patterns, habits, and fears. With halting steps, the sense of “I” is softening and less fixed.

The I-self that seemed so solidly located in the body and the mind is now often experienced as non-located or everywhere-located. There is more often a sense of fluidity, moving from embodied and solid to diffuse, to no-where/every-where and to no-thing/every-thing.

Identity becomes an open question, an exploration. Inquiry as a living presence has displaced curiosity and any sense of being an observer. It seems to me at this point that identity, held lightly, can be functionally useful, a way of taking a stance in order to achieve a practical outcome. And that identity is only a problem when I start to believe that it’s what I am and all that I am.

Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash

Life 1

Rocks, roots & tree stumps,

mushrooms, green moss,

a clutch of ferns.

Bands of light and shadow

through the forest, a fallen tree,

one end in bright sunlight.

A single leaf spiralling downward

needles of pine, cedar & fir

scattered.

And leaves – all colours,

among stones, gravel

and dark mud.

The feel of wind, how

it sounds in the trees,

a bird’s song.

A stream – water running

fast and slow

over rounded stones.

Where is the many

where is the one.

Photo by Ryan Lara on Unsplash