Monday, June 19, 2006

Meditation Corner

Okay boys and girls, here we are in my newly designated "meditation corner." I am no dharma teacher (that would be bad karma!) however, after meditating for 12 years I have noticed a few things. First of all, through the process of meditation, we tend to peel off layers of the constructed self. This is well discussed by many real dharma teachers all over the world, and yet even very advanced dharma practitioners seem to miss it. It reminds me of that scene in Star Wars III where the governor (or whoever that guy is who brings Darth Vader over to the dark side) morphs into his true self. Now actually, in terms of the path of meditation, that is not actually his true self. His face changes and he becomes incrediby deformed. (I totally love that scene). This happens often to meditators who begin genuine seeking. After a time, they may become sick or strange or not recognize themselves in the mirror. Often times this is misunderstood, as I myself did, as a discovery of who we "really are." More accurately, this would be described as "who we really think we are." Sometimes, under a layer of personality, lies a hidden (to our conscious psyhes) self-loathing, a belief that we are useless or undeserving. When this emerges as the only accessible layer, we mistake it for our real and hidden identity, which is simply a part of the layer. On the flip side, some find a layer of arrogance. Some meditate for years, something falls away, and suddenly the meditator thinks they are Jesus Christ. Again, it would be a mistake to think that this was a discovery of the true self. It is simply a layer of identity. Most of us have all of these layers which we must peel away at an excruciating rate. Unfortunately, people can get stuck at certain layers. What happens if a meditator has an experience of a state which is blissful, perhaps buddha-like? Their particular layer of unconscious material might say, "I knew I could get enlightened, and it's happening right now." What then? Where in these traditions is there a checks and balance system for this type of experience? It is important to remember that all of these experiences are relative experiences. From the perspective of the self, the ultimate does not even exist, only more layers of self. From the perspective of the ultimate, the self doesn't exist. Reliance on the guru these days does not insure, unfortunately, a proper reflection.
Just some things to chew on.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Satin or Satan?

Well I got the first comment on my blog which was an accusation that I am in fact really Satan. Or actually, the person wrote "Satin" and though I was flattered, I knew what they really meant. It is actually perfect because my good friend Annie Mcquade at Integral just gave me a sticker that says, "Even the Devil is God," and I just put it on my car. Don't get to leave anything out, do we? Too bad! (Or too satanic), (Or not satanic enough-which is it?)
So, I wanted to clarify something about "chosen form." This term in no way refers to the kind of new age interpretation of picking and choosing pieces of spirituality and mashing them together into a sort of "everything is truth that has been done in the name of spirituality" pile of goop. Chosen form is spirituality which comes from a definite depth of practice, where the imposed super-ego of religion which says, "if you don't do this you are not getting any dessert" or whatever it is, is gone. In fact, it comes with the realization that there is in fact no dessert, only dinner, which we are already eating. In this sense, chosen form could be absolutely anything in terms of tradition and practice, as there is no longer the pointed finger wagging at the book of right and wrong, which doesn't exist anyway.
For many indigenous people, there is seemingly a different process, as the form was never imposed to begin with, but rather integrated into their cultural living in such a way that they actually identified positively with it. This is not always true, however, but perhaps appraoches explaining why this process of moving from imposed to chosen is more of a modern issue.
[I am only explaining this in order to clarify the point of view of the blog.]
So let's say for instance that your first imposed form was Christianity. After which, you realized it was imposed and moved to a supposedly chosen form of Buddhism. After years of practicing Buddhism as a religion, you realize that you are practicing Buddhism in almost the same way as you practiced Christianity only now the voice is inside your head instead of outside, so it was MUCH harder to hear. The forms assisted you in hearing this however (as they were created by someone practicing authentically chosen forms), and now you must transition to authentic chosen form, letting go of whatever outcome the super-ego has set for you.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Child Prostitution and Expensive Dharma

Okay, I said that was it for today but I was wrong. I just saw the movie Water which was truly an astounding representation of widows in India in the late 30's at the time of Gandhi's influence. I will not ruin it for you but suffice to say it is a shocking account of the suffering and oppression of women, recommended for all but very young audiences.
I began to think again of my irritation at spiritual teachers who claim that prayer and meditation are what we need to reconcile the pain of this world. This, in my opinion, is utter bullshit, and serves to reveal the low level of psychological development that most spiritual teachers have, in that they cannot accept the fact that the pain of this world is unreconcilable but that does NOT mean that we as a species reach our highest evolution when we cease to involve ourselves with those who cannot free themselves from it. In fact, if we deny our human connection to those with "negative karma" we are denying the most basic and fundamental and simple potential of human life, which is compassion and love. How will we find out how human we are without feeling helpless and stupid? I believe it is surely impossible, and furthermore realizing our humanness is our only hope for any type of realization. For what humans became other than human when they realized the Truth??
A particular source of irritation for me (and I have many as you will see as this blog progresses) are "spiritual" teachers who charge exorbitant rates for their teachings, like upwards of $3000 - $4000 for a retreat that they claim is the only way their students can receive the REAL spiritual truth. This is simply not true and never will be: No one individual has the corner on the truth, or anyone's individual path of the unfolding of their wisdom. Luckily this unfolding comes in as many forms as there are sentient beings. When a teacher says, 'But you must come to this retreat. This is where it's happening. Don't think about the money. The money will come." What about lowering the cost of the retreat? Evo Morales, Bolivia's president who calls himself an "Amerindian President," immediately cut his salary by 57% in the old way of teaching by example. But also there was a razor sharp practical edge to Morales's salary cut. In order to accomplish his aim's, the people needed more money. In the Buddhist world, I think there is a major slip up by teachers who have accumulated fame through their albeit genuinely helpful teachings: They seem to feel that fame, and the current rate of inflation, justifies giving teachings that are only accessible to a certain socio-economic group. This group not only has lots of disposable income, but they also have the ability to leave their job at a whim and spend weeks or months even on a retreat. Or conversely, they are willing to risk being homeless and jobless to spend all their savings, and leave their job for too long. This is a select group of people, many of whom have family who will help them, or nest eggs set aside in the 80's, or are self employed. Interestingly, many jobs that bring people closer to society and it's needs and ills, those who work in the trenches (yes I am in this group working at a homeless shelter) who are spiritual in their desire to serve, are the very ones' stuck in a working class category that looks at this other socioeconomic world through a bit of glass. Sure I would like to go on a retreat for a month that costs $3000, but I am a bit concerned with losing my health insurance. And since I only make $35,000 and have large student loans from my Master's in Buddhism, I have no real savings to speak of, so hopefully I won't lose my job.
But here is the kicker: part of these teachings are about facing fear, losing ground, stopping being controlled by a consensus society that fabricated rules and boundaries which keep you imprisoned in a non-existent self which is the root of all suffering. Tie that with a message of "don't fall into a poverty mentality around money, don't be afraid to take risks" and I might just be singing up on my credit card for a $4000 month long retreat, with my deep longing for inner and outer peace, and my connection to the teacher who leads the retreat.
It is not the retreat itself that is the problem, or the teacher, or the teachings. It is simply the cost of the whole thing and the lack of recognition of most people's actual financial situations. It reminds me a bit of private schools, GRE prep courses, and all the other ways we self select in this country who gets to be educated. It has become the same with some spiritual "journeys." All I am saying is, let's look at cutting costs. Let's cut the teacher's salary in half, like Evo Morales! Maybe the teacher should live in an apartment, instead of a house, until he gets enough students at a reasonable rate to fund his savings account, and he can have enough for a down payment. Sounds more normal, more integrated. Don't these teachers want to understand their students? And if not, why not?
It was hard for me, when the beloved Jack Kornfield came to Mount Madonna Center where I lived at the time, gave beautiful teachings to largely middle to upper class people, and young people willing to risk homelessness to see him, for exorbitant rates, and then I laid a check for thousands of dollars, his payment for 3 days of teaching, next to him expensive leather shoes.
Not that he shouldn't have nice shoes! He should. But like his students, he could save for them. Perhaps, as well as setting a spiritual example, he could set a financial example. This is how you charge for your services so whomever wants to receive teachings and meditate with me can do so. This is how you live, so you are not using money from spiritual teachings to live far above the living standard of most human beings in the world. This is how you live. What a teaching that would be, to me.
Part of the problem is these large conglomerate organizations that form around Buddhist and other spiritual teachings, and then have to be maintained with lots of money. They have to be cleaned, the mortgage and taxes paid, they need an accountant, a web designer, they need office staff, etc. Part of the work gets done by volunteers who are on retreat at the center, but it's not enough, because they simply have to keep up with the salaries of their staff, including the teachers. It is honorable to provide a good salary for a job well done. However, again, there could be another way. Buying land in the most beautiful and expensive parts of the country are an aspect of most retreat centers. What about lowering expectations with the idea of serving more different kinds of people? Isn't access to the teachings more important than peaceful serenity of nature?
Yes, I am ranting, but I just saw Water and child prostitution makes me SERIOUSLY pissed off. We need more hands. More encouragement for us all to come together about spiritual answers, spiritual answers that nourish people, and meet them where they are.
Signing off.

Fuck Fear

Perhaps the title of this post is a tad immature but really we are all just talking to ourselves right? The purpose of this blog is not necessarily to offend (though that is an honest by-product of any good critical writing), but to thoroughly explore spirituality for the true seeker, those wishing to evolve to their greatest potential. Our evolution could be measured by how easily our authentic self is offered to the world. Right now I am calling this exploration "beyond spirituality," as it is my experience that we get on the train of seeking through imposed form, only to be dropped off eventually in a no-man's land called "our life." One could also call this "our self." For me, religions such as buddhism, taoism, and hinduism allowed me an opportunity to aquire tools for looking deeply, and transforming states of mind. I still use these tools regularly, namely meditation and various forms of prayer, but the questions have changed from "What religion am I?" and "Who is my Lama?" to "What do I enjoy?" and "What other way can I say fuck you to fear?" In truth, I thought I was beginning my quest with these questions, as a nineteen year old girl really into drug abuse and for some reason dying to learn meditation. However, as a thirty-one year old, I realize now that these new questions are being asked with a much deeper level of authenticity. This is the type of authenticity that can only be reached through having gone through many states of consciousness, none of which have conceptual frameworks or explanations, but which elucidate simply how much the human mind cannot grasp. In addition I have the benefit (ha!) of having to deal and have dealt with various formations of trauma and difficult psychological states as many of us had, plus three wonderful years of therapy. So in other words, the simplicity of "beyond spirituality," which perhaps should read "beyond spirituality: life as it is," has been reached not through a morning whim but through a hard won occasional emergence from undying complexity.

That said, onward:

"Beyond spirituality" has an underlying question: once we have emerged from imposed form, into chosen form, do we then create framework again? I suspect this is choiceless, as framework is simply a part of the mind, so then how do we create a framework based on chosen form in spirituality? I suspect that this is precisely what Ken Wilber is doing and I seriously need to do my homework and read more of his Integral Theory. However, not having done that, I still enjoy speculating about a theory of seeking truth which has eliminated imposed form and instead integrates chosen form. I believe this is what many artists have been doing since the beginning of human thought. Art for me is a particularly exciting chosen form as it is by nature limitless.

I am curious also about the need for my extreme irritation toward buddhist communities and yoga communities (not all of them I am sure, just the ones I have encountered so far!) If we are all truly needed exactly as we are as a perfect compliment to the universe as it is (and I do believe this is true even though we are un-pin-downable, and ever-changing) then surely my irritation is welcomed as well! That is also a part of this blog: a channeling of irritation with spiritual community that cannot entertain chosen form, or at least in an evolved sense. I do not say this lightly, as I myself have been harmed by the imposed form view (that is, those who will tell you you are going to buddhist hell for telling an enlightenened being that they are, simply, wrong), and so this blog is also an important opportunity for me to become less insecure with the self authority of chosen form.

I will stop there for today.