Conduct and observance

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Wood and trees

Day before yesterday the local fire department cut down a beautiful old juniper tree next to the local skating pond in order to erect a massive flagpole.

I liked that bush. It had a presence and I'd been walking past it for years. From what I could see, there was room for the bush and the flagpole. In fact from my point of view it's the flagpole that seems superfluous. You can walk a hundred yards - maybe less- to the fire department itself and there's another huge, almost identical flagpole. Just how many assertive displays of patriotism do we need in a hundred yard radius?

I guess sometimes we can't see the trees for the wood.

Men like to make things out of wood. In our modern cultures of personality we cut trees down and then make objects and worship them. Buddhas, Christs, Shivas. Poles with flags on them. What have you.

In the old days, in the primeval cultures of essence, men used to worship living trees, not dead ones. They would go out in the woods and create the allegory of their spiritual food from the living roots and branches and leaves of the tree itself. Not a static, dead symbolic representation of a living truth- they fashioned their inner myths from contact with life itself.

Simon Schama wrote a great book about this called Landscape and Memory. Go check it out, it is very much worth reading. You'll discover that the origins of all human cultures spring from a deep relationship with the living earth, and that the earth shapes our cultures in subtle forms more than our cultures will ever shape the earth with machines. We are the earth- or rather, one particular expression of her. As we slowly hack her into pieces, we dismember ourselves.

In the early cultures of mankind there was an understanding of relationship with the planet. Not a romantic, naive one in which nature was a benign, compassionate Gaia. It was tougher and more resilient, and much more frightening and powerful, I think. There was a humility in it. We've progressively trivialized mother nature as we-in our imaginations, at any rate- grow more distant from her. It's only the occasional event like the tsunami of 2004 that remind us we're not in control- and then only for a moment. All too soon we succumb once again to that hypnotic sleep induced by technology and artifice.

Deepening our relationship with our practice involves reawakening an awareness of that connection. It is an awareness that extends not just upwards but downwards, until our cells themselves vibrate in an awareness of our connection to the planet. Extending our consciousness downward into the living roots it springs from creates a foundation for us. Without that foundation, the trunk of our inner tree is weak, and the leaves are feeble. So when I sit, I like to reach down inside myself seeking that living relationship first.

Then I wait to see what the heavens might show me.

The deepest heart

"There is no "I"- there is only Truth. The way to the Truth is through the heart."

One of my ongoing habits is to believe I can think my way into being loving and compassionate.

I am probably not alone. Mankind in general seems to believe this.

Our concepts of love and compassion are born of the ordinary mind, and our attempts to reach them are born of the ordinary mind. This leaves our love and compassion weak, because the ordinary mind is weak.

The emotions want to have their say in the matter, too, and that's equally confusing. They contradict the mind a lot of the time, and the mind and the emotions end up waging an inner war where we feel crappy and act crappy, despite the fact that most of us get up out of bed intending to act noble and feel noble. When it becomes apparent to us that the whole mess isn't working, instead of admitting to ourselves that we're without any real understanding in this area, we create elaborate mental constructions that support our emotional negativity by outsourcing the responsibility.

Where' s the nobility? Paramahansa Yogananda taught us that we should try to cast ourselves in the role of a hero in our lives. Let's face it- heroes don't sit around whining like I usually do. They uncompromisingly confront the truths of their reality and use right action to overcome adversity.

Trying to work through my heart-- my essence, the innermost being-- requires that I give my negativity up, and I am very greedy inside. I don't want to give anything up, especially the myth that I am already basically OK. Seeking life through the heart requires, first and above all, admitting I'm powerless. That is, alone, my ordinary mind can do nothing.

I think our lack of love and compassion stems in part from a kind of denial similar to what alcoholics go through. I know a little bit about this, because I am one. After 25 years of sobriety, I am still working on admitting that "I"-- meaning this thing we call mind-- is powerless over my state- whether that state is one of alcoholism or a lack of compassion.

Other parts have to get involved for anything to change. The whole organism has to get in on the act. Turning this matter of love and compassion over to a higher power, as is said in AA, and discovering the heart involves overcoming an inner obstacle that is physical in nature, not psychological.

Why do I say that? In my own inner practice, I have discovered that-- for me, at least-- there is a literal, physical blockage where my heart is that prevents me from breathing in what would be needed to change anything ...I have to be willing to use my attention and my intention to go to that place and help it to open. After that I have to be willing to suffer the consequences, which is to let something entirely new and perhaps even frightening enter. To surrender all that garbage I carry around in me which I love so much.

So what's that all about? I think it has something to do with centers.

In tantric art, one convention is to depict inner centers as flowers. These floral images are not allegorical. They represent deep truths about what we have in us. There truly are such flowers within our bodies. They are so hidden, however, that mostly we do not even know they exist. It's as though they were buried under the sands of Egypt.

Right now they are all closed up tight- just the tiny buds of plum blossoms, waiting for winter to end-- or even perhaps to bloom in the winter-- who knows! However, we can attempt to change that through diligent practice. Our inner flowers can be encouraged to open- to participate in a new kind of exchange. Furthermore, each flower contains a nectar which is specific to its own work.

If we meditate with enough diligence, we can begin to understand that more practically for ourselves. Then perhaps we can sip some little bit of that heavenly nectar.

The heart is one of those flowers. If I can help it open a little, then I may be able to experience a little real- as opposed to psychological- love and compassion. But in order to do that, I have to go against everything "I" am- I have to, as it were, destroy the ego. Not with a hammer, but by the gentle, gradual action of clouds and water.

And that's a long term job.

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