Sunday, May 27, 2012

Zen of the Earth

This morning, I gave my first Sunday morning talk at my home sangha, Clouds in Water Zen Center. When I was asked about six weeks ago if I'd consider speaking, it didn't take long for me to answer. The time felt right to step forth and offer something to the community. Of course, I have been heavily involved in other aspects of the sangha, including board leadership for half a decade now. But offering a teaching from what you have learned, however small an offering, is something different. And a humbling experience, if you have right relationship with it.

I chose too focus on the Earth. How the Buddha's story and so many of the teachings are all inclusive, endlessly reminding us to move past our human-centric obsessions. Buddha's awakening experience is entirely located in nature, his enlightenment confirmed and upheld by Earth itself. Modern Buddhism, especially convert practice, tends to de-emphasize the Earth and its creatures. In that way, although we are going against the grain by slowing down, listening deeply, and learning to let go of our numerous attachments, there's also an element of going along with the dominant culture as well. Namely, in echoing that cut off sense when it comes to our intimate relationship with the planet.

You can listen to and download the talk here.

I would like to add a few points that came out during the discussion following the talk. Multiple people spoke of their relationship to the media, and how important it has been for them to reduce or watch their intake of news. That sometimes, adding more stories about the awfulness present in the world is basically poisoning yourself. Creating an internal flood of overwhelm that destroys any ability to make changes and act beneficially.

Another issue that came up was how to practice meditation outside. One member said she sometimes gets distracted when sitting outside. I offered that it's always good to experiment with different approaches. Our head teacher suggested she try to open all of her sense gates. To just experience taking in everything through her eyes, ears, nose, etc. And I added that she could focus on one at a time, spending 5 minutes fully listening, and then moving on to another sense.

And finally, I gave some more information about the Whealthy Human Village Project, which I wrote about in this post.

May you enjoy the rest of this fine Sunday!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What is truly necessary for living a liberated life?

“We should not have anything that is not necessary.” San Francisco Zen Center founder Suzuki Roshi.

This morning, I stumbled upon this quote in a fellow Buddhist blogger's post. It got me thinking about stuff. Literally the things we claim ownership over. What fills our houses and apartments. And what often gets in the way of our liberation work.

I was a collector when I was younger. It was a family thing really. We had a lot of antique stuff, which bred other sorts of collections as well. Clothing in closets. Things to play with and forget about. A need for numerous boxes.

At some point or another, I had collections of the following items: political buttons, buttons for a local festival called the St. Paul Winter Carnival, rocks, bottle caps, old bottles, musical albums (particularly ska and indie rock), every book I could find by Herman Hesse, Janette Winterson, Robert Bly, Carson McCullers, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Joseph Campbell, Thomas Merton, C.G. Jung, and several others. Buddhist books. Newspaper clippings of sporting events. Sports memorabilia. A board of pinned butterflies and months. Bookmarks.

And that's only the things I can remember as I write this.

I have said to people many times that I'm kind of a minimalist. Which is definitely true these days, but actually wasn't true even six or seven years ago. Living without a lot of things around, as well as the compulsion to gather many more specific things, is something that developed gradually and I can't help but think as a result of all the years of Zen practice and study.

Somewhere along the line, collecting and hording started to drop off. The "need" to have every book or CD by so and so just didn't matter anymore. The idea that my free time should be structured in part around heading to some store to purchase some object ceased to call me. Which when I think about it, is a pretty major change.

I have written a lot about the sickness of consumerism, how it defines and limits our lives in so many ways. But until I saw that quote this morning, I hadn't really reflected on how far I have come myself.

Less than five years ago, a long term relationship I was in ended. And when I think about the time I spent with my ex-girlfriend, no small part of it seemed to be built around going to bookstores and CD shops looking for something or another. We also did a lot of hiking, traveling, and event going, but there was a default around shopping that is so very clear to me now. That relationship is just one example of many I could write about.

Humans are good at justifying wanting more and claiming it as "need." Our mainstream economy is built around making profit through those falsified needs.

When was the last time you asked yourself what is truly necessary for living a liberated life? Maybe it's a regular practice, and maybe you have never asked that question at all.

What have you collected over the years? Did it bring you joy in the past? Does it now? How much time and energy do you use to maintain said collections?

*In the photo, I'm hauling weeds to the compost pile. What "weeds" could you let go of today?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wasting Time

A friend of mine, who has been struggling to make a few key decisions in her life, said to me something like "I don't want to live the rest of my life doing the same things." But then she goes back to doing so, for now (that's what we all think, for now).

Like my friend, I have done the "for now" return many times.

This returning doesn't define either of us, but it does make me think that the mind is so desperate for things to be stable and predictable, even if it's causing a crap load of suffering.

We aren't patient enough to let things fall apart on their own accord. To do only what is necessary, and then get out of the way.

When Shitou wrote of not wasting time, I think he was talking about everything extra.

The endless rounds of blather about making changes (soon).

The pressured effort to make things change (sooner).

The fussing over or fighting whatever is happening now.

People, myself included, seem to do everything in our power to resist liberation. It's like we are addicted to punishing ourselves.

As if it's not enough to experience the pain the first time around.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Heart of the Earth, Awakened Within Us

Last week, my sister started a photo blog. Using her phone camera, she's offering a small snap shot of images from her daily life. Carrie has been a professional art photographer for a little under a decade now. She's done an amazing amount of work in a relatively short period of time, and has already won a major award, had a few photos in the New York Times, and has put together multiple book-length exhibits. I encourage you all to go take a look.

While I am more successful in the writing world, I also have a penchant for photography. One of the reasons I like Carrie's current project is that it's a similar approach to how I work. The cameras I have used have always been of average or even below average quality. I like the challenge of trying to bring an image alive through a limited means. In addition, I am often drawn to what might be considered the un-picture-worthy. Things like broken down buildings. Overgrowth and junk in alleys. Tree stumps.

Today, though, I want to offer you all some photos from the annual May Day festival we had yesterday in Minneapolis. For the past 5 months, I have been part of the core organizing/visioning team for an eco-centric offshoot of Occupy Minneapolis called the Whealthy Human Village. It's a multifaceted project that focuses on eco-centric life practices, food justice, indigenous rights, and healing arts. Underlying all of work, really, is the thread of interconnectedness. And everything we are doing and envisioning is about helping people uncover or recover their connection to each other and the planet.

I led a meditation to begin the day yesterday where we visualized our favorite plants, merged ourselves with them, and then experienced each stage of the life cycle, from seed to death. Afterwards, I did a short check in with the group about their experiences. One participant spoke of how she was surprised at how her emotions changed as the meditation unfolded. How she felt proud and powerful as her plant unfolded into it's mature expression, and also gratitude for having been able to make it so far in life. Another member of the group spoke of the sadness she felt when half of her beloved tree split off and died. A third member of the group spoke of his challenge to keep to one plant. That other "favorite" plants kept coming in, vying for attention.

The whole day was like this. One beautiful experience after another. And so, here are some photos to offer you a snapshot into what we all experienced. May joy permeate your life, even when deep suffering is present.

Friday, May 4, 2012

India Patents Yoga Poses

"India has made available a list of 1,300 newly registered yoga poses, compiled to prevent the ancient moves from being exploited by patent pirates, the Times of India said.

Hindu gurus and some 200 scientists compiled the list from 16 ancient texts to prevent yoga teachers in the United States and Europe from patenting established poses as their own."

Last year, I wrote a post about the lawsuits of hot yoga businessman Bikram against other yoga teachers using similar poses/sequences to the ones his studios off. In that post, I wrote the following:

I find lawsuits of this nature, involving attempts to control the spread of religious/spiritual practices and teachings, quite troubling. Finding the line between an individual or organization's new and original work, and the historical underpinnings of that work is rarely an easy task. In addition, the whole infusion of monetary settlements, patent rights, and proprietary controls, while seemingly a correct response in a capitalist society, creates a shift away from basic protections of religious/spiritual teachers and institutions, and towards a corporate re-culturing.

The decision to patent yoga poses is a direct response to the actions of people like Bikram. It's also an intelligent counter-use of a capital tool in my opinion. This isn't the first time India has gone this route. Some of you might recall that the neem tree was under threat for decades, until multiple court cases led to the revoking of patents in 2005. Biopiracy continues to be a major threat across the globe, however, as are other aspects of the modern colonialism, which is what the actions of folks like Bikram should rightly be called.

Trying to claim ownership over ancient spiritual practices is a pretty sick business. But it's been a quite popular one.

In the United States alone, the patent authorities have issued more than 130 yoga-related patents, 150 copyrights and 2,300 trademarks related to the ancient practice.

I'll be honest. The entire patent system is problematic in my view. It assumes a kind of individualism and separated genius I just don't believe in. And so, I hope actions like this one by Indian leaders might eventually lead to a rethinking of the whole works.